Can I Catch Swine Flu From Eating Parma Ham or Salami?

In the grip of this virulent news meme known as swine flu there are some serious dietary questions that need to be considered.

Can I catch swine flu from eating pork products?

Not if you cook them properly, all the way through. The virus is destroyed above 160 F (85 C) so that even boiling it will kill any virus or bacteria that had made a comfortable home lodged in the flesh. The US Center for Disease Control is disingenuous here, firstly flatly stating that one cannot catch swine flu from any pork product, then covering its back saying best to cook it.

Can I catch swine flu from eating cured pork products like Parma ham and salami?

Good question; so much so that the Consorzio del Prosciutto di Parma (Parma Ham Consortium) had to issue a public statement reassuring consumers that Parma ham was absolutely safe to eat. You can read it here, if you can read Italian.

The press release gave three reasons why their ham is safe to eat. Firstly, there is no research linking the swine flu virus with transmission through eating pork. True, but see the previous advice. Secondly, the designation "Parma Ham" - or more accurately "Prosciutto di Parma" - is a protected name with many rules and regulations regarding quality control, including the source of the pigs themselves. So, trust us, our pigs are healthy and safe to eat! However, the best reason is saved till last: that the curing process destroys any viruses that may have been present. Parma ham is cured for at least 12 months and from research done viruses die in such an environment after 3 to 6 months. Again, no research has been done on this particular swine flu virus.

So in some respects this is good news for Parma as it trumpets its own superior quality. As to other cured meats just make sure they've been cured for at least 6 months to be safe. Cooking Parma ham is a sheer waste of an expensive delicacy but one can quickly fry salami - slam in a couple of eggs and I've been told it's a popular breakfast in Mexico, of all places! Any product that is on the shelves at the moment is going to have been produced months if not years ago so is almost certainly safe. With regards to any pork product made by Smithfield Foods... erm... the decision is entirely yours!

Just hoping the price of Parma ham drops during this period.

Swine Flu Meme Spreading at the Speed of Panic

Swine flu is this week's big hype. The information meme is spreading faster than the biological virus. This has all the symptoms of another engineered social experiment. As the viral meme is faster than the virus, one would hope that an informed public would act rationally and head off the virus at the next pass - wrong!

Here are a few facts.

Every year in the USA alone some 25-35,000 people die from flu - that's about 80 people every day. The corporate media are silent on this. Sure, these are largely old people and young children, the most vulnerable people to flu. I haven't yet found any data on how many of these deaths are actually due to flu vaccines, but that's another story.

So before swine flu is tagged as a "pandemic" it has to do a bit more outreach work. The media love "pandemics", with their end of the world connotations compared to the rather boring but more accurate "epidemics".

Swine flu symptoms are pretty much the same as any other human flu. Given the levels of panic, if you know of anybody with the sniffles then they should go to a doctor immediately rather than hanging around waiting for it to run its course. Remember, doctors always tell us that antibiotics do not work against the flu as it is caused by a virus rather than a bacterium.

Actually there are two products that are alleged by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) to work on this swine flu: oseltamivir and zanamivir. However, a look at research for oseltamivir (Tamiflu) is less than conclusive. A Vietnamese study conducted on avian flu victims concluded that the drug was "useless". The psychological and neuropsychatric problems from taking oseltamivir have been well-documented in Japan, the country that has swallowed the majority of the world's production of this drug. Self-harm and suicides have been documented, especially among younger patients. Roche's typically stone-walling response is that influenza itself may cause psychological problems. Yeah, sure, many people commit suicide after a few sneezes - the loss of balance during a sneeze can cause disorientation and an inability to see on-coming traffic!

Also, just take a step back... go on... slowly back away from the hype, the media, the government. Try it, it's good for the soul.

“It makes me think back to 1976, the first year I served in the Congress,” Ron Paul has said in a video update. “We had a vote on the swine flu. Back then there was panic, they said it was going to sweep the nation and they rapidly came up with some flu shots and the government was going to inoculate everybody and save the world from this disaster.”

“It turned out that our instincts were correct.” the Congressman, also a medical physician, commented. “… the flu came, the flu went and one person died, except for those individuals that died from getting the flu vaccine.” At the time, Ron Paul was one of only two Congressmen to vote down the vaccination program - just two! And note, most people died from the vaccine!

Read Swine Flu Expose by Eleanora I. McBean, PhD, ND.

"A radio newscast (Jan. 77) reported that one of the paralyzed swine flu victims has filed a $5,000,000 suit against the vaccine promoters for causing his paralysis in December of 1976. His suit is against the instigators of the flu epidemic scare, who are Dr. David Sencer of CDC (Center for Disease Control) who spearheaded the vaccine campaign, and Dr. Theodore Cooper of WHO (World Health Organization), the Health Departments which promoted the shots and the six drug houses making the swine flu vaccine. (Why not Ford also and his Congress who financed it?) His complaint was that they had put out propaganda promising that the vaccine had been thoroughly tested and was perfectly safe, and that the swine flu was contagious and people could die if they didn’t get vaccinated, and that they would be protected if they had the shots, and that the side effects, if any were "inconsequential."" Ring any bells?!

So what is an individual to do?


The numbers are really small - you can keep track of this "pandemic" at wikipedia. If you have flu symptoms then go the doctor sooner rather than later. There are enough medicines (on the assumption they work) to treat those with flu symptoms - there are not enough for a mass preventative prescription, although given the side-effects would you really want to? There are no vaccines yet for this particular strain.

If you think that face masks are going to be the new must-have fashion accessory than make sure they are certified N99 and not the cheaper off the shelf ones numbered N95. Is there a crime such as "coughing with intent to infect"?

If you're lucky the schools will close, the transport system will be empty and you can take a short holiday.

Stay alert but not alarmed.

You Might Be Rich! Find Out at Dateline NBC

In the midst of a recession, unemployment and stock market turmoil it would be a dream come true if you suddenly discovered there was a pot of gold hidden away, just for you!

Dateline NBC avoids asking serious questions about the current wealth destruction by selling pipe dreams. Yes, there is unclaimed money lurking in various databases - not surprising as people move. Yes, probably worth a quick check... this is like a free lottery ticket, right?! Then most people can go back to figuring out what to do with their lives.

Seems like some people are still falling for the old scam that to get hold of your money you need to pay an agent. If nothing else, this programme should remind everyone that if there is a pot of gold with your name on it, then it's yours for free - no agent required.

Be Careful What You Blog - FBI Arrest Twitt

A man from Oklahoma has been arrested for wild threats made against the authorities on Twitter.

Daniel Knight Hayden, 52, was arrested by FBI agents who identified him as the Twitter user CitizenQuasar. In a series of tweets beginning April 11, CitizenQuasar vowed to start a “war” against the government on the steps of the Oklahoma City Capitol building, the site of that city’s version of the national “Tea Party” protests promoted by the conservative-leaning Fox News.

His challenge to the authorities was: “Send the cops around. I will cut their heads off the[ir] heads and throw the[m] on the State Capitol steps.” Hayden’s MySpace page is filled with conspiracy and surveillance links - not in itself a crime given that so many governments are on the path of control by stealth.

Hayden was arrested at his home on the 15th April. He was arraigned on the 16th, and ordered released to a halfway house pending trial — a move that suggests the magistrate judge does not consider him a genuine threat. At least a judge showed some sanity as Hayden's rants have all the signs of mental instability.

But what is important here is that the authorities really do track the stream of words that are the internet. For anybody who thinks this is pure paranoia this is incontrovertible proof. When I wrote on flash mob techniques used by demonstrators - again using Twitter - I voiced my scepticism that this would be but a minor irritation to security forces as they too would be tracking the public messages. Keeping secrets secret needs to be a bit more ingenious.

The FBI have successfully added another non-entity to their War on Ghosts. But make sure you keep idle threats to yourself rather than blabbing them on the net - unless a visit from the feds will brighten up an otherwise dull day.

Downloaders of Free Music Are Also the Most Likely to Pay Too

This bit of news is no news at all if one looks all the way back to vinyl records. The people most likely to download from free P2P services are also the very same people most likely to pay for new music. People who enjoy music... enjoy music! People will pay for what they feel is worth paying.

I can remember the days of vinyl records and cassette tapes. Friends would each buy a record and then make copies for each other. The simple fact is that we couldn't individually afford to buy the whole collection. Without the tapes we would probably each have the same number of records. Both mediums were lossy, in that records got scratched and tape quality deteriorated over time. Those same people paid to upgrade to CD when they became available - Dark Side of the Moon being the most famous example. Now those same people have the same music downloaded to their MP3 player. How many times must one pay for the same song?

The research now says exactly the same thing as it did back in those analogue days. Music lovers will have a mixture of paid and copied content. Remove the copied content and they will not necessarily pay for it. The real problem globally is in those countries where apparently genuine products are actually themselves copies. But why go for the real targets when music corporations can try to make individuals feel like criminals?

And by doing so they alienate their fans even further. Music lovers enjoy the music, they don't really care what the record label is. There is further research showing that online sales are growing especially in the direct channels with musicians and fans enjoying a closer relationship and therefore bypassing the music industry channels.

As technology increases the distribution of the creative arts so corporations always try to grab back control to further their profits. Nobody will remember this, but there was a time when there was no recorded music - everything was live, or silence ruled. Enjoy the music!

Geocities and Compuserve to Close - do you care?

Yahoo has finally decided to bury its dreadful Geocities free websites. Finally! If I see a URL with geocities in it I generally avoid it. To be assaulted by their crappy adverts and pop-ins on every page is just no fun. With the growth of blogs there really is no excuse for anyone to use such a user-unfriendly service. Surprised it has taken Yahoo so long to bury this great idea from the 1990s.

Compuserve is also adding itself to the dinosaur graveyard. I'm not even sure what their primary objective is these days. I remember it from the days of private networks like AOL, CIX (even the URL is parked!) Claranet and so on. The idea was to dial into the network and you then got access to whole internet as part of the package. I never saw the point. perhaps London has been fortunate in always having cheap no-thrills direct internet access. These companies should have gone into managing corporate intranets.

I can't say I'll miss either Geocities or Compuserve. Will you?

YouTube Goes RealTime - Get an Invitation and Share Videos Live

YouTube has a new real-time product that adds an extra social layer to YouTube, allowing friends to share the videos they’re watching with each other in real time, without having to turn to outside chat programs or Twitter.

Before now, there was no particularly good reason to create friends on YouTube apart from subscribing to new uploads from a user whose videos you liked. The viral marketing of YouTube videos generally took place off-site through instant messaging, Twitter and social bookmarking websites. All that has now changed.

RealTime appears as a toolbar at the bottom of every YouTube page. The Online Friends tab shows which videos your friends are currently watching. It also allows you to send an invitation to come and watch the video you are currently watching. This invitation will pop up on their screen - and this feature can be turned off if annoying - thereby allowing instant sharing of videos.

RealTime is still in public beta and YouTube are using an invitation system, similar to the early days of Gmail, to spread the word. Every user to get invited gets 25 invites of their own. This means that as of now you'll need to beg for an invitation! This seems a strange marketing method but, on second thoughts, I wonder if this is also a way to test the system as it grows exponentially.

So... if you have a spare invite please post it below or, perhaps easier, if you want an invite just post your YouTube username and beg! :-)

What's a Freegan?

Freegans are people who employ alternative strategies for living based on limited participation in the conventional economy and minimal consumption of resources. Freegans embrace community, generosity, social concern, freedom, cooperation, and sharing in opposition to a society based on materialism, moral apathy, competition, conformity, and greed.

After years of trying to boycott products from unethical corporations responsible for human rights violations, environmental destruction, and animal abuse, many of us found that no matter what we bought we ended up supporting something deplorable. We came to realize that the problem isn’t just a few bad corporations but the entire system itself.

The word freegan is compounded from “free” and “vegan”. Vegans are people who avoid products from animal sources or products tested on animals in an effort to avoid harming animals. Freegans take this a step further by recognizing that in a complex, industrial, mass-production economy driven by profit, abuses of humans, animals, and the earth abound at all levels of production (from acquisition to raw materials to production to transportation) and in just about every product we buy.

Perhaps the most notorious freegan strategy is what is commonly called “urban foraging” or “dumpster diving”. This technique involves rummaging through the garbage of retailers, residences, offices, and other facilities for useful goods. Despite our society’s stereotypes about garbage, the goods recovered by freegans are safe, usable, clean, and in perfect or near-perfect condition, a symptom of a throwaway culture that encourages us to constantly replace our older goods with newer ones, and where retailers plan high-volume product disposal as part of their economic model.

Product Planner Maps Out How Popular Sites Function

When it comes to building a website, one of the key factors in establishing a sizable user base is your site’s ability to ‘go viral’. While there isn’t any magic secret to accomplishing this, there are a few things that can help - namely, making it as easy as possible for your users to sign up, and helping them invite their friends. But this is easier said than done, and determining exactly how to implement these seemingly obvious steps can play a huge role in a site’s success.

Product Planner, a new site that launched this week, is looking to help companies tackle this issue. The site has visually mapped out over 100 ‘flows’ that visually depict exactly how many of the web’s most popular services operate. For example, Gmail’s signup flow consists of inviting a visitor to first click ‘Sign Up for Gmail’, followed by a form asking for information, and finally a confirmation button that says ’show me my account’. It may sound simple, but being able to see each of these side by side can be invaluable when it comes to actually building your site. (TC)

Easy! A great tool for webmasters. However, what is more important than knowing the flow structure is that the user actually has that flow visibly available. Hugely irritating signing up for something to then find there is another page of crap to fill in! Knowing it in advance means one can decide whether to go ahead. Of course, for some sites getting the user stuck in the flow is part of their... erm... charm.

Having said that, Product Planner does little to show its depths. Navigation is largely iconic and only by clicking deeper do you find out that there links to useful articles about specific aspects of the flow; be it about viral marketing or click through rates. So, ironically, it's not just about flow, but also about looking down at the plumbing.

The Pirate Bay Found Guilty

The four co-founders of website The Pirate Bay have been found guilty of assisting the distribution of illegal content online by a Swedish court today and have been sentenced to a year in jail and a $3.6m (£2.4m) fine.

"Stay calm – nothing will happen to TPB, us personally or filesharing what so ever. This is just a theatre for the media," said one of the founders. They all plan to appeal. This seems like the kind of verdict where everyone claims some kind of victory and yet nobody is entirely happy.

Thing is, can't the charge of "assisting making available copyrighted content" be levelled at search engines too? What about Usenet? Anyway, with servers in Russia it is unlikely the corporate media will try a similar trial there. They actually held a party in Moscow to "celebrate". Why were they celebrating?

A nice timeline of the whole Pirate bay trial is here at Dipity.

Population Growth and Fertility Controls

This tempered voice from Thomas Kostigen pours some tepid water on the propaganda advocating population control. Sir David Attenborough, the well-known naturalist, came out in support of the Optimum Population Trust - a think tank that believes there are just too many people (themselves excluded, no doubt). Kostigen begs to differ and points out some of the inaccuracies in the models used to sustain what is essentially a neo-eugenics movement masquerading as an environmental cause.

"The Optimum Population Trust is a registered charity funded by membership, donations and bequests. It receives no political or government funding and is independent of political or commercial interests." At £15 a year basic membership that doesn't buy a lot of thinking, but a list of members and hence funders is currently unavailable.

The ghost that haunts this topic is that of the Reverend Thomas Robert Malthus. Although he died in 1834 sadly his treatise "An Essay on the Principle of Population" didn't die with him and is summoned by every innumerate eugenicist ever since. "The power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man. Population, when unchecked, increases in a geometrical ratio. Subsistence increases only in an arithmetical ratio. A slight acquaintance with numbers will show the immensity of the first power in comparison with the second." A better acquaintance with numbers would reveal how hollow the whole treatise is. Note that this is not a scientific theory but a hugely simplistic mathematical model based on... contemporary propaganda.

The Rev Malthus was a clergyman with little faith in humanity and a lot of faith in the power of money. He wanted more money given to the Church so that it could preach to the poor about how worthless they really were, except in the eyes of God. His treatise was to give a scientific veneer to a policy promoting Christian sexual morals - family planning being the current euphemism.

Kostigen challenges the model but not its creator. The infantile mathematical model is just not true. The declining birth rates in many industrialised countries shows how social changes affect population numbers, with much of the numerical growth coming from immigrants rather than indigenous births. The Malthusian "axiom" that populations grow geometrically, is just plainly false.

But the Optimum Population Trust likes to look at the other half of the Malthusian fantasy - the food supply. Even that cannot hope to increase arithmetically forever. One stark statistic noted in the article is that if everyone on the planet consumed as much energy as the average American then we would need five planet Earths! I don't know where the author got that figure from but, suspending disbelief and assuming it were true, surely that calls for a spirit of innovation, not a culling of humanity.

The thing that makes me highly sceptical is that there is a lot of important research on energy that is getting very little funding. I have written before on how Shell has pulled the plug on its alternative energy research. The drive towards biofuels rather than electric or hydrogen cars is taking more and more land away from food production. So is the much-feared food shortage actually being manipulated? Is this population control by stealth? We shall see, but if laws to curb the population were already in place then perhaps you wouldn't be here to read this. Malthus needs to be buried again!

Ashton Kutcher Overtakes CNN on Twitter

A marketing dream for Twitter, for Ashton Kutcher and, almost by accident, for CNN. With prizes now on offer to the millionth follower of either Kutcher or CNN, what was a genuine phenomenon has been turned into a manufactured competition. Thing is, one cannot now unfollow either of them.

This last aspect just illustrates how artificial the race has become. Many commenters at TechCrunch seem to think this is a good idea and that by not allowing users to unfollow these Twitts it avoids a mad frenzy of people quickly following and unfollowing in the desperate hope of being that one millionth follower. But this is completely dumb! All that will happen - and most probably already is - is that people will create multiple user accounts and follow both with each new account. Watch the followers plummet after the competition is over.

Surely Twitter's database is not so fragile that they can't figure out the millionth user from a simple query, even if people follow and unfollow quickly? It smells to me like a way to speed up reaching the million mark before people get bored. Twitter might have a problem counting up to a million as one screenshot shows CNN already having 1,963,482 followers, which one assumes is a million too many but also highlights a counting issue.

Why is Ashton Kutcher so popular? Yeah, I looked up who he is in the vain hope of an interesting celebrity. I guess one moral lesson is to use your psychological problems to make a career in the media rather than in prison.

Which Films Are Better Second Time Around?

Xan Brooks, a film blogger on The Guardian, has asked this same question a second time around, perhaps trying to achieve some fractal structure, or more likely just forgot. Anyway, it remains an interesting enough topic that it can be recycled ad nauseam.

My first real problem here, however, is why would anybody watch a film a second time if they didn't like it on first viewing? So the chances of this happening are serendipitous at best; perhaps a friend or partner wants to watch it and you don't have the conviction to pick something else, or possibly it's on TV and the remote control has gone AWOL. Whatever the reason, I suspect this scenario is fairly rare. Having said that, its rarity value may well make such events more memorable. Watching a film with someone who is enjoying it may shine a new light on it... or on your friend. So which films come out better after a second viewing?

The above blog has a lot of votes for Starship Troopers, which I can relate to. The film's satirical undercurrent often gets blasted away by action scenes, not unlike Robocop and Total Recall - all of them by Paul Verhoeven. Films are often sold as something that they are not, thereby misdirecting one's expectations. Once the disappointment evaporates then perhaps one can re-view the film without the marketing lenses.

I tend to avoid big budget, over-hyped films with a linear storyline as I just expect them to be puffed up like candy floss and bad for my teeth. Indeed the three Star Wars prequels come into this category. I grew up with the first three so telling us how it all began is just a very long and dull journey into the obvious. I later decided to give up on the thin story and to just enjoy the special effects. The Lord of the Rings trilogy is similar in that the crust has been cut off the plot and then filled with long tedious battle scenes - what happened to the relationship between the two magicians? These films seem to make more sense watching them with children, so assume that was the target audience. In contrast, the Harry Potter films have just enough wit and cleverness to keep the adults awake.

I didn't say this was going to be easy! But which films have you grown to appreciate after hating them on first viewing?

NASA to Launch New Module Name on Comedy Show

NASA is to officially name its new node for the International Space Station on Comedy Central's The Colbert Report, being screened later tonight in the US. Over a million people voted, with the whole marketing effort gaining momentum after being featured on Stephen Colbert's show.

NASA's own preferred name was "Serenity" but this has been relegated to the foothills of second place. NASA astronaut Sunita Williams is appearing on Stephen Colbert's show tonight to announce the new name. Some uncharitable souls have speculated that the new ISS module's toilet might be named after Colbert. "I certainly hope NASA does the right thing," said Colbert. "Just kidding, I hope they name it after me."

A marketing success for NASA and a marketing coup for Comedy Central. That's what it takes to push science into the celebrity market. Perhaps next time they should auction the name and sell advertising space on the module. Will the astronauts Twitter from space?

Goldman Sucks Blog Threatened With Legal Action

Good to see that bankers Goldman Sachs has its priorities in order. Not satisfied with needing to beg the US government for taxpayer money to stop it from becoming history, it has chosen to use some of those funds to attack a blogger.

Mike Morgan is a registered investment adviser who just a few weeks ago opened the site to push Goldman gripes and a selection of conspiracy theories. In response, Goldman Sucks has employed its rather expensive lawyers to send a cease and desist notice warning Morgan that he faces legal action if the blog is not taken down.

Although the blog has a huge disclaimer at the top, Goldman insists that the use of their name will cause confusion amongst its clients. This shows in what high regard Goldman holds its own clients. There are a few good posts and links on the blog - grab them before they disappear.

UK Teachers Press For Wi-fi Ban in Schools

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers called for classroom wireless networks to be suspended immediately until research has properly considered the threat to health.

Members said they were concerned by scientific reports linking wi-fi with impaired concentration, loss of short-term memory, chromosome damage and increased incidence of cancer, reports the MailOnline.

The ATL cited research from Sweden, where the government funds shielding agents, and Austria, where a government scientist has called for wi-fi to be removed from schools. As always, once new technology is introduced it becomes difficult to remove, with some 70% of UK secondary schools, and half the primary schools, having already installed wi-fi systems.

However, one disturbing trend I'm finding is the sanctimonious ignorance of the vast majority of commenters. These people claim to know so much about science but instead of thinking through the problem they come up with glib excuses. Most of the arguments could be lifted straight from the corporate denialist handbook. Just search for 'electromagnetic resonance' and even 'electromagnetic hypersensitivity'. Science propaganda works just as effectively as political propaganda.

What the teachers have really asked for is that the government initiates and funds some much-needed proper research. This is merely in line with the European parliament which has serious misgivings about the whole area of electromagnetic pollution and especially pulsed digital signals.

Celebrity Pseudo-Science Exposed... kinda!

"Behold, the most serious challenge to the Royal Society in that august body's 350-year history - the medical musings of Madonna, Gwyneth Paltrow and Stella McCartney. These women are not just singers, or actresses, or fashion designers. They are distinguished professors at the University of Celebrity, and are coating your understanding of science like a totally amazing organic body oil.

On top of this, they are best friends, so we can say their pronouncements are peer-reviewed in the best sense of that term. Can you imagine their gatherings? It must be as if Isaac Newton were taking antioxidant tea with Robert Koch and Marie Curie." Strident stuff from Marina Hyde.

OK, we've got the picture, now where's the organic meat on the bone? Madonna's Kabbalah water... yep, that's flakey! "And then there's Stella, who launched her organic skincare range with the warning that "lots of skin products use the same petrochemicals as the antifreeze in your car!", and is one of those celebrities who thinks they eat "chemical-free" food and use "chemical-free" products. I beg you not to tell her that water and trees are made of chemicals. The shock could finish her off." Here Marina Hyde is on shakier ground. Surely anybody but the purest pedant knows that "chemicals" here stands as a short-hand for synthetic and most likely toxic chemicals. Yes, everything is made up of chemicals, it's just that some of them are not very good for human beings.

So what's Gwyneth Paltrow's crime? Well, her concern is, yet again, those nasty chemicals and the inability for young children and foetuses to metabolise them. "The research is troubling; the incidence of diseases in children such as asthma, cancer and autism have shot up exponentially ..." Hyde yet again shoots down our celeb by stating that "there has been very little change in the rate of childhood cancers detected in recent years". How "recent" is that then Professor Hyde? So the impression given is that we shouldn't worry ourselves about the environment being polluted to the point that it is unfit for human habitation. After all, our scientists are doing a jolly good job looking after us, so these celebs should just get back into character and stop impersonating science writers.

Science Punk also quotes the above story but adds that Kelly Osbourne believes that microwave ovens cause cancer. How we laugh at such superstitious nonsense! Except that the Soviet Union banned the sale of domestic microwave ovens because of their carcinogenic effects. Once the FSU turned capitalist they dropped the ban as sales are more important than health.

What strikes me is that most of these celebs are unable to properly articulate any science that they may have learnt and so it comes out as opinionated ramblings. Most of their concerns have legitimate scientific research to back them up - apart from Madonna, who is just morphing into a new species. That they may not always be mainstream views shows the power of corporate science rather than that those concerns are unfounded.

also posted at A World Beyond Belief.

Where Are My Western Friends?

Mikheil Saakashvili, the Georgian president, is a man under seige. With Russia nibbling away at its border and seemingly also funding the current wave of domestic protests, Saakashvili is also ruing his faith in America.

At the time of the fighting in South Ossetia I did wonder whether the Georgians were pushed into the conflict. A few things just didn't ring true. Blackwater was conducting exercises there at the time, supposedly helping Georgian forces. Always good to find news reports close to the event, before there is time for the editorial hand to spin a convincing narrative. Russian reports had found Blackwater troops had been killed in the fighting. Also, if you or I had planned such a manoeuvre we would have looked at all the possible Russian responses and our counter-measures. But footage at the time showed a president running for his life - scared and clueless. Maybe, just maybe, he really didn't know what was going on.

Speculations, sure, but look at the situation now. Georgia's attempts to join both the European Union and NATO are in the slow lane. Saakashvili can rightly feel let down by his Western friends. Some accommodating agreement between Russia and the USA has obviously taken place and Georgia must be feeling like a rather minor player in a much bigger game. However, the Newsweek interview given by Saakashvili has a few revealing nuggets, especially about who his Western friends truly are.

"Of course, my best friend was always John McCain. You can say he is Georgian already. We expect McCain to come and visit us in a week or so. I have good relationships with Hillary Clinton, Joseph Biden and especially Richard Holbrooke—he is my teacher. I learned a lot of great things from him."

Richard Holbrooke! The same Richard Holbrooke who is currently United States Special Envoy for Oil - sorry, for Afghanistan and Pakistan. The same Richard Holbrooke who was on the Board of Directors of AIG for seven years until July 2008. The Georgian President should reflect on his choice of friends.

There is also a wise saying from Machiavelli: keep your friends close, and your enemies closer still. He seems to have done neither.

Bigorexia - Blame Charles Atlas

If you thought obsessing over one's body image was a largely female occupation, then think again. Bigorexia is both a big business and a big problem. Sometimes referred to as reverse anorexia, people suffering from bigorexia obsess over their muscle tone and dream of being Charles Atlas.

The medical term muscular dysmorphia was coined in 1997 to describe this new form of obsessive compulsive disorder. Most researchers seem to blame the media's own obsession with promoting infeasible standards of beauty coupled with an individual's own poor self-image. I think there is also a large element of drug addiction here - an addiction to the endorphins released during strenuous exercise. One study suggests abnormal serotonin levels, so such individuals find it difficult to chill out. Strangely, many sufferers of bigorexia also suffer from depression so that what started out as a way of looking good ends up as an obsession that one will never look good enough.

Building those bulging muscles is not very difficult to achieve - just look around the weights room of any gym. I was into it many years ago as an antidote to a sedentary lifestyle but soon realised that it had the potential to become addictive. I stopped. Those with bigorexia just can't.

The guy below has gone way past the body beautiful and heading towards Hulk territory. Next time you see a muscle-bound hunk think about whether they're really happy or not.

Best Surgery Videos on YouTube (not in the least bit gory... honestly!)

Who needs medical school any more? You can now watch the world's surgeons do their thing from the comfort of your laptop.

From open-heart surgery to amputations, sex-change operations to autopsies, the operating rooms of the world have gone online. One website, OR-Live, regularly broadcasts live from the O.R. For example, tune in next week to watch a hysterectomy. These broadcasts, and dozens of other videos posted to YouTube, draw hundreds of thousands of viewers. We've got four words for you: advertising-supported health care.

For your voyeuristic pleasure, Wired has compiled what they bill as the "10 Gory Surgical triumphs on YouTube". They also go out of their way to forewarn the viewer that "some of these are grisly, and all of them are graphic." This is after all, surgery we're talking about, not a visit to the physio (which can also be grisly), so why the melodrama? Did any Wired writers faint on the job? It's humans on display - we're allowed to ooze on an operating table stuff we wouldn't be proud of in public.

Having said that I'm sure the one everybody wants to watch is the sex-change operation, so why should I disappoint...

Retail Anarchy

Now, this is the kind of random stuff I like to find: an anti-trend setter added to the trend-setting noise. Retail Anarchy is a blog about the follies of consumerism and the desperate attempts by companies to turn lame products into lifestyle choices.

Sam Pocker is an author, film-maker, and tours the country as a “Stand-Up Economist”. Alex is from St. Petersburg, Russia, and has lived in America for 10 years. His place on the show comes from his mutual love of a bargain, and his frustration with the typical “I want it all” American consumerism. The other partners in crime can be found at the blog.

One irony is that Retail Anarchy also have a product to sell: their book of the same name. But what the hell, people have to live! The blog seems to have struck stardom as Ari Shapiro interviewed Sam Pocker on NPR.

Great timing, as consumers on limited budgets seek discounts, freebies, special deals - basically anything that drives the price of products down to something reasonable. If you're a pro at this you may even be able to drive the price down to the point where it hurts the company. They think they're buying future loyalty whereas you'll do the same again in the future. A product is a product, you either like it or you don't, you either want it or you don't. In the future you may want something different.

In the spirit of Retail Anarchy don't waste your money on the book, just read the blog and listen to the radio show.

How the Date for Easter is Calculated

In contrast to Christmas, which always takes place on a fixed day, Easter has always been a movable feast. Christian Easter and the Jewish Passover are intimately linked and their calculation is very similar - the differences are now largely due to the differences in the Gregorian and Hebrew calendars but the fundamental ideas remain the same. Indeed, in most languages other than English the word for Easter is a derivation of Passover - the latinate adjective 'paschal' illustrates this link.

To calculate the date on which Easter falls using the Western Gregorian calendar is relatively straight-forward. Firstly, take the 21st March as the ecclesiastical vernal equinox. Then find when the first full moon occurs after this date; yet again, for calculation purposes this is taken as the 14th day of the lunar month. Then just find the first Sunday after this full moon: that will be Easter Sunday.

If one dispenses with the above protocols and uses up to date astronomical data then Easter will still fall on the same day for the vast majority of years as the Gregorian calendar adjusts itself to keep as closely as possible to the solar cycle.

I will pass over the theological links between Judaism and Christianity, save to say that some form of spring celebration has always been held, even in pagan times. The Anglo-Saxon word for Easter, being derived from a fertility goddess, and also the root of the name of hormone oestrogen, illustrates how Christian Europe adapted a celebration that already existed. After all, bunny rabbits and eggs seem to have little to do with Christianity and a lot to do with fertility.

In 2010, Easter Sunday will fall on April 4 for both Western and Eastern churches. This year, 2009, Easter is on April 12 for Western Christianity and on April 19 for the Orthodox Churches.

Aggregated Assault by Online Newspapers

It's difficult to compete with free! But this is the challenge facing newspaper owners. William Dean Singleton, a newspaper publisher and chairman of the Associated Press, says online news aggregators are making him "mad as hell and we are not going to take it any more." reports MarketWatch. Such targets include the likes of Google and Digg, who are accused of linking to news stories without paying.

Firstly, news websites have RSS feeds for free. Why don't they just remove them? If Google is such a menace then they could block their spiders in their robots.txt file. But Google claims to send a billion clicks a month to originating news sources from their news aggregator. I guess Singleton and his rags could go get that traffic elsewhere. News aggregators are straw men set up by stuffed men. The real problem is supposedly the whole business model of paying for news.

Before the internet most people would buy a daily newspaper. If you worked or frequented a place that would buy all that day's newspapers then you could read a variety of versions of the same story and then make up your own mind. But for most people this wasn't the case. Over time they would stick to one, or maybe two, papers that they liked - newspapers that had the same world view as the reader. But this is the point: it is an illusion that newspapers sell news - what they sell is a social perspective on the news.

What newspapers sell is a spin on the news to further a particular social and political, even economic, point of view. News aggregators obviously in no way dilute the news; if anything they magnify what is popular. But what aggregators are doing is diluting the spin. A single reader may end up on a dozen different originating news websites, each for a different story. The coherent spin is thereby lost. That's what newspapers want back - their spin-wagon.

Let's see how their "business model" will adapt to this internet landscape whilst reclaiming their influence as propaganda organs. I've said this before, but it puts a new light on why newspapers, in the shape of media companies, are buying into the social networking model. It also shows why the ultimate owners of many media companies have nothing to do with entertainment per se. It is not just the obvious advertising to get you to buy products, but the content itself is advertising to make you buy into their world view.

Kutner Suicide Sparks House Search

Nothing like a suicide to get tongues wagging and fingers tapping as the American portion of the internet seems to have erupted in a frenzy of speculation about the death a TV character. Lawrence Kutner (played by Kal Penn) committed suicide in tonight's episode of House, the immensely popular medical series starring Hugh Laurie as the sarcastic and brilliant doctor.

Good news for the producing network, Fox, but are plot stunts the best way to give oxygen to a series running out of puff? I like House. I've watched it since it was first aired in the UK. An inspired, and rare, character for mainstream television with all the flaws and successes of an eccentric genius inflicted upon patients who expect a tranquillizing bedside manner. But is it just me, or has the writing been going downhill for a long time? Stealing the format of The Apprentice felt lame and I looked forward to fast-forwarding all those obvious competitive clich├ęs. The Apprentice itself works on a voyeuristic level because they are real people. The same format in a scripted series smells like writers without a clue.

Since then we have been subjected to a confusion of characters. House's old team has not left but breeze in and out like ghosts, meaning that the new team has not had a chance to lay claim to their characters. The question being dangled in front of the audience is whether the previous team would return, but isn't this just too obvious? We know Robert Chase, Allison Cameron and Eric Foreman; give the others a chance. Instead we're inflicted with Foreman hanging around like nemesis. House has a living team and a shadow team - perhaps a psychoanalytic metaphor but I don't think it works.

When you get the chance, have a look again at the first series. The writing was generally strong and the use of hallucinations, dreams and fantasies to manufacture faux suspense was not needed. Bring back some of the original writers like John Mankiewicz, or get the current writers to watch again why the series became a hit.

Super-Thermite Explosive Found in 9/11 WTC Dust Demolishing the Official Report

The mother of all smoking guns has been unearthed by scientists investigating the dust from the 9/11 World Trade Center collapse.

Published in the Open Chemical Physics Journal, no doubt a scientific journal unused to being headline news, Steven E. Jones and Niels Harrit make a stark and sombre discovery: that within the dust and rubble of the World Trade Center towers lies evidence of "a highly engineered explosive," contrary to all federal studies of the collapses. (Raw Story)

They claim their analysis has uncovered "active thermitic material": a combination of elemental aluminum and iron oxide in form of thermite known as "nanostructured super-thermite."

Thermite, used in steel welding, fireworks shows, hand grenades and demolition, can produce a chemical reaction known for extremely high temperatures focused in a very small area for a short period of time.

The sheer cost of super-thermite has limited its use to the defence industry and "is restricted under the International Traffic in Arms Regulation (ITAR), which controls the export and import of defense-related material and services."

This is going to have every investigator into the 9/11 scam jumping for joy. And great to see that not all scientists have been bought off by the authorities.

Flashmob Rules

In the wake of the G20 and NATO meetings there has been much froth in the online press about how social media tools are helping demo organizers to mobilize forces quickly. The term "flashmobbing" arose from the use of text messaging to quickly bring together a group of people to some event, such as a secret party. The term is now being used by demonstrators using sites such as Twitter and Facebook to announce rendezvous points just minutes before the expected swarm.

Twitter in particular, as a kind of online text messaging service, has grabbed much of the attention. However, once hooked, the demand for instant updates means that the twitters feel the need to transmit the most minuscule details of the experience, such as the desire for a nice hot cup of tea! Yes, there is serious stuff too, but just take a look at... picked at random, Comandante Flops and Climate Camp. I think it's great that organizers have that level of contact with people who come out and support them but the police are only one step behind. A group of police tweeters is going to be following every message and every move that hits the net. Public support requires public information. Hence, a secret demonstration isn't going to erupt unless the police are asleep on the job.

But just as the police record every incident with myriad cameras, including helicopter footage, so as to analyse mob dynamics, so the demonstrators should analyse police response dynamics. But then again, that's no doubt why it is now an offence to photograph a police officer in the UK. It can still be done covertly. Let the cat-and-mouse games commence in earnest.

Woman Found Dead After 18 Months as Nobody Noticed

Mary Sue Merchant died of natural causes in a tightly locked house on 25 acres in a small community in Orangeburg, South Carolina, with only a dog for company. Now her small town is reflecting on why no one noticed for 18 months.

Nobody knew the reclusive widow was gone — not even when the house was sold for back taxes while her decomposing body lay inside. Sometime later, the lonely dog died of thirst in the same room. This is indeed astonishing. The woman's phone was cut off, her lack of a tax return was noted, her house was put up for auction and sold but... all of this was done without anybody setting foot inside the property.

Yes, of course, the community is now bemoaning it's own lack of real community spirit. The police were also deeply apologetic, saying that they do make regular visits to about 200 old people known to be living alone but that in this case the woman was just not in their records. This person just fell through society's social cracks. Sad, but what is scary is how much damage can be done to a person without them even knowing it. With all the data being collected by governments against the war on ghosts - aka war on terrorism - this just shows that none of it is for the citizen's benefit.

If you're going to drop out of the government's matrix, make sure to do it properly.

Excited About Higgs Excitations

When was the last time an obscure bit of particle physics flashed into popular culture? Oh yeah, the Large Hadron Collider, with all the talk of God particles and Armageddon. Hence was surprised to find "Higgs excitation" bubbling up on Google trends. A new discovery, perhaps? Nah... just a geeky comic strip!

But if you're not mathematically challenged then XKCD has some funny cartoons. Rather hit and miss, but then so is a Higgs boson.

Just as a little info-bite, when physicists refer to the Higgs boson as being a massive particle they do not mean that it is huge in size, but rather that it has mass, or rather rest-mass. This is in contrast to, say, a photon of light which has no rest-mass and exists only in motion. In a very loose analogy this is somewhat like a ball being carried away by the wind. The wind only exists in motion - when it stops it disappears. But the ball, which is massive, still exists when it stops moving. Like I said, a loose analogy!

Demi Moore Twitters to Avoid Suicide

Twitter has been credited with potentially saving somebody's life, after actress Demi Moore used it to intervene in the case of a woman who claimed she was suicidal.

Moore picked up a message from a Californian woman who said she was planning to kill herself and rebroadcast it to more than 350,000 fans. As a result, Twitter users began to contact police to warn them of what was happening. Police later confirmed that the suicidal lady was taken into custody for evaluation.

Moore, who is one of the most high-profile celebrities to use Twitter, said she did not know the woman. In a response on the site, she said that the incident was a "prime example of the power of collective consciousness".

The miracle of Twitter! Is there anything it cannot do?! This does sound like a bit of puff care of Twitter's press office. People have been using forums, email lists and instant messaging services to air their problems for many years. Here, however, we see the power of the distributed network. With 350,000 other people listening in that lonely plea for help became amplified into real world action.

If only someone could figure out how to use this to solve so many other global problems.

Should Downloaded Music Be Free?

I saw this little article on TechCrunch, and then clicked on a link to a BBC article, and then, well... Google is offering free downloads of licensed music tracks in China. Of all the places in the world, China! This is because the biggest search engine in China, Baidu, also offers links to free downloads and that 99% of all tracks distributed in China are unlicensed. The market value of China's legitimate music sales is a pathetic $76 million. Yes, millions, not billions!

So, are you still feeling guilty for downloading those music tracks from your favourite P2P file sharing platform? The days of paying for recorded music may be numbered. Google will share advertising revenue with those record labels that are partnering this programme, with some 350,000 tracks available. However,"Google said it had no plans to expand its music service beyond China." So, if you live in a part of the world where most music, and video, is copied and redistributed then you get rewarded for this by having the producers give it away for free anyway. If, on the other hand, you live in a country where you are told that it is immoral to copy material then you will just have to keep paying for it. Market capitalism is fantastic, isn't it?!

So, the question remains, not whether it is legal or not to copy and share files but whether you still feel... well... that it's somehow wrong! But even the record labels have given up on this argument, so why feel guilty when everyone has thousands of tracks on their computer? Also, with so much streamed music you can listen to what you want when you want so long as you have a decent broadband connection, and all for free (apart from the connection charge).

Let's look at it another way. Before recording media were available musicians made a living from playing live. That's all they could do. Some actually made money from their copyright on songs printed as sheet music so that other people could play the same tunes. Apart from that, it was either live, or you lived with silence.

Once music could be recorded as easily as printing a book then musicians suddenly became very rich. They just needed to record one song and have millions of copies made and they earnt money on every copy. Now, is one song worth millions of pounds? How many times would an artist have to play that same song live to earn the same million pounds? I'm not denying them the money, I just want to show that what was a live entertainment business had become a recorded entertainment business through technology, and that now the march of technology may well mean that it goes back to being a live entertainment business.

All of which means that we the consumers should also adjust our moral standpoint. Music means live music, with all the human interaction that comes with it. Recorded music is just what it is, an advertisement to get you to a live event. Enjoy the concert and enjoy the free music files.

The Queen Gives Orwell's 1984 to President of Mexico

During the G20 summit, the Queen met with all the heads of state, but surely the most bizarre gift was the one she gave to Mexican President Felipe Calderon: a first edition of George Orwell's novel 1984.

Calderon is apparently a great fan of Orwell and must have been elated at getting a leather bound copy of the 1949 classic. However, must surely be disturbing to the Mexican people to have a President who so openly admires such a totalitarian dystopia. Also fitting that the Queen of Airstrip One should oblige. The zero tolerance policing during the G20 meeting was also a reminder of how far the UK has come in emulating 1984 - except that Orwell wrote it as a warning!

Google in Talks to Buy Twitter

The rumour mill has gone into overdrive on this one, with TechCrunch assuring readers that talks are at an advanced stage. Twitter rejected an offer from Facebook just a few months ago that valued the company at half a billion dollars, although this was partially based on what was seen as over-valued Facebook stock. A Google bid is likely to be mainly in cash.

So why would Google want Twitter? Search, of course! The volume of traffic on Twitter makes it the best source for live keyword searches. There are already third party applications that display Twitter keywords in a format similar to Google Trends, such as Twopular. But Google's own Hot Trends is still only available for the USA, so hardly global. By adding Google's search power to Twitter's increasing traffic will produce a more meaningful, and global, analysis of the hottest topics.

But why does everybody have to follow the latest buzz? This is somewhat like ambulance chasing for bloggers. Does nobody have an original idea any more? Well, as always, the money is in corporations. Big companies wishing to push their latest and greatest gift to humanity no longer need to wait for the slow world of search engines. Now they can employ a phalanx of social media sales people to promote their products on a variety of social websites, including Twitter. Product keywords can spread at the speed of tweets and, like instant coffee, they get an immediate media brew at a fraction of the cost of banner advertising.

So it all makes sense, giving credence to the rumours. Another step towards the digital world giving rise to granular thinking.

President Obama gives Queen of England an iPod

President Barack Obama and wife Michelle yesterday met Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh for the first time. The traditional exchange of gifts between the two heads of state had a modern twist as Obama gave the Queen an iPod. Was this an April Fool's joke? The Queen was said to be "delighted" with her personalized iPod that included footage from her 2007 visit to the USA, as well as numerous Broadway songs.

Obama seems keen to reflect the incoming mood of economic depression, what with digging up the White House lawn for a vegetable garden and the parsimonious gifts. But then again, the Queen did better than British Premier Gordon Brown who was culturally assaulted with a bunch of Hollywooden DVDs.

Miss Universe has fun at Guantanamo Bay

Dayana Mendoza, Miss Universe 2008
For Miss Universe, the Venezuelan Dayana Mendoza, this surely must have been one of her more surreal engagements. Accompanied by her friend, Miss USA, the two sponsor girls paid a visit to the most notorious illegal detention centre in the world: Guantanamo Bay.

Now this doesn't sound like the kind of place to show off their swimwear or their love of animals, however, visions of the Playboy scene in Apocalypse Now duly vanished as Mendoza gushes,"We also met the military dogs, and they did a very nice demonstration of their skills."

"We visited the detainees' camps and we saw the jails, where they shower, how the[y] recreate themselves with movies, classes of art, books. It was very interesting." reports The Register.

Yes, she's 22 years old (and not 12) but, frankly, how many good things can a girl say about an interrogation centre. Mendoza also marvelled at the spectacular beach, perhaps forgetting that this is, after all, Cuba. They don't seem to have come face to face with any of the inmates as they were probably too busy "recreating themselves".

The joys of fame - but what was the point?

Well, the Miss Universe Organization is a Limited Partnership between Donald J. Trump and NBC Universal (itself owned by General Electric).

"The titleholders of the Miss Universe Organization personify the combination of beauty and intelligence that defines the 21st Century. In keeping with its global view and position as creator of role models, the Miss Universe Organization has a new corporate structure and enhanced corporate goals." And, of course,"These women are savvy, goal-oriented and aware." OK, this is starting to make sense: you too can look like Miss Mendoza if you would only just read more books.
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