Is fusion the future?
Scientists at the Lawrence Livermore Institute in California are on the verge of harnessing the power of nuclear fusion. This spring, they will concentrate a powerful laser beam onto a fuel source the size of the head of a pin — and hopefully create a controlled thermonuclear reaction. If it works, it will “mark the first step towards building a practical nuclear fusion power station and a source of almost limitless energy…”
The bubble mentality
Psychologists have found that even when an asset’s value is known and steady, traders will inflate its value far beyond fundamentals. The human condition makes a bubble-free economy almost impossible…
The debt mentality
The economic crisis is not just a structural problem, it is “a moral failure: that of a system built on debt. At the heart of the moral failure is the worship of growth for its own sake, rather than as a way to achieve the “good life…”
Tough times for the other woman
Eighty percent of multimillionaires who keep a mistress on the side say they are planning to cut back spending on their lovers. Only twelve percent say they plan to ditch the other woman altogether…
Young people watch less TV than their older counterparts, but only because they spend more time with other media…
Civil War redux
Are efforts by Southern politicians to block a bailout for the auto industry signs that the Civil War never really ended? What future does America have if its economic wars of attrition are internal? A house divided against itself cannot stand…
The morality of the abortion debate
In the political battle over abortion, the pro-life crowd has the upper hand because they “have the luxury of absolute moral certainty,” but for the pro-choice crowd it’s more complicated “because it’s not really about abortion at all…”
Blood and ink don’t mix
A lesson from Polish writer Krystian Bala: If you’re going to kill the man you suspect is sleeping with your wife, don’t write about it in your next best-seller…
A new computer model suggests the earth may have once had multiple moons…
RIAA sounds a new note
The Recording Industry Association of America has finally clued in that suing potential customers is not the way to end illegal music downloads. Their new strategy: Cutting off repeat offenders’ internet connections…
America needs to rebuild
Landing at JFK from Hong Kong, writes Thomas Friedman, is “like going from the Jetsons to the Flintstones.” How is it that poorer countries with much worse social problems enjoy a higher standard of living? “My fellow Americans, we can’t continue in this mode of “Dumb as we wanna be…”
Mobile phones and cancer
A survey of surveys has found that the rumors and assertions of cellphone-related cancers are true: Regular cellphone users are 50 percent more likely than others to develop brain tumors…
The solution to high gas prices: Eat more fatty foods
“Beverly Hills doctor Craig Alan Bittner turned the fat he removed from patients into biodiesel that fueled his Ford SUV and his girlfriend’s Lincoln Navigator…”
Bees on cocaine
Researchers at Macquarie University in Australia discovered that bees under the influence of cocaine behave exactly as humans do — they’re energetic, they talk a lot, and when they come down, they crash hard. No word on whether this was a behavioral experiment or just a way for scientists to entertain themselves…
Dubya’s judgment day must come
With Bush on his way out of the White House, the political mood turns to forgiveness, or at least forgetting. But this is the wrong attitude to take. The senior players in the Bush administration must be made to answer for their actions. “We cannot hope to avoid repeating the errors of the last eight years unless they are subject to a full accounting…”
And finally: What if dolphins evolved opposable thumbs? “That’s it for us monkeys…”
One hundred years of The Wind in the Willows
“‘He learnt to swim and to row, and entered into the joy of running water; and with his ear to the reed-stems he caught, at intervals, something of what the wind went whispering so constantly among them.’ If that sentence doesn’t give you goose bumps as if you were simultaneously riding in a canoe slipping through cat tails and approaching a Wordsworthian vision, you need to tune up your ear and your heart…”
Too much for the young mind?
Recent winners of the Newbery Medal for children’s lit have dealt with issues like death and autism. Is the Newbery providing a standard for serious kids’ lit, or is it turning kids off books?
Threat to human survival I: the dolphin!
We already knew that dolphins are smart, and that they are capable of complex communications. But now it turns out they can wield tools, too. Are dolphins going to take over the world?
Threat to human survival II: the peanut!
When a school bus was recently evacuated because a peanut was spotted on the floor, it was just the latest sign that the peanut allergy is more than a rare medical condition — it is a symptom of a mass psychogenic illness…
And black is white, and up is down
The economic crisis is turning an entire generation of conventional wisdom on its head. Suddenly, state seizures of private assets might not be a bad thing, and big government is good for the economy… Oh, and maybe we don’t need a middle class anymore, either…
Globalization isn’t through with you yet
One-fifth to two-fifths of America’s remaining jobs are potentially offshoreable…
The silver lining
“Amid all the legitimate worries about deflation, it’s worth considering what may be the one silver lining in the incredibly bad run of recent economic news: The cost of living is falling…”
In the brouhaha over Rod Blagojevich, Barack Obama’s answers to reporters’ questions have been less than stellar. Observers can’t help but notice that the president-elect is taking his answers straight out of George W. Bush’s playbook…
Last nail in the coffin
With Russia’s announcement of a proposed new law that would allow virtually any critic of the government to be labeled a traitor, the curtain falls on the final act of Russia’s farcical courtship with democracy…
Censored, by popular demand
The rise of social networking sites as a source of everything from news to music downloads is creating a new form of censorship. The practice of “down-voting” a story or a song can drive a controversial or inflammatory issue right out of the public consciousness…
Running on fumes
Coffee can power more than just workaholics — it might power your car someday…
As if he hadn’t pissed off enough people by writing a memoir that was pure fiction, James Frey is now working on the “third book of the Bible” — in which Jesus performs gay marriages and shares a pad with a prostitute in New York…
How to find yourself a spouse
1. Go to a press conference in Baghdad. 2. Throw your shoes at the president of the United States. 3. Wait for the offers of arranged marriage to pour in…
A new understanding of HIV
For years it was believed that HIV entered the human body through breaks in the skin, particularly in the genital area. Now new research suggests that no skin lesions are necessary; HIV can pass through healthy tissue…
From the Dept. of Unexpected Statistics
Lesbian teens are likelier than heterosexual ones to get pregnant…
The Da Vinci doodle
A curator at the Louvre has discovered previously unnoticed sketches on the back of Leonardo Da Vinci’s The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne…
R.I.P. Deep Throat
W. Mark Felt, the FBI operative outed a few years ago as the man behind the code name “Deep Throat” who uncovered the Watergate scandal, is dead…
The crow as modern consumer
Masters student Josh Klein set up a coin-operated vending machine for crows. He showed a flock that pushing a coin into a slot would result in the appearance of peanuts. “Within a month, Klein had a flock of crows scouring the ground for loose change…”
The suspicious case of Ohio voter fraud and a single-engine plane
An IT consultant for the Republican party who was about to testify in a trial alleging voter tampering in Ohio in the 2004 election has died in a plane crash. Suspicious, to say the least; expect the development of a new conspiracy theory…
‘German changed me’
When bilingual people switch from one language to another, they also switch their personalities. “Identity is fluid, changing with the context…”
Chrysler’s class war
America’s third-largest auto manufacturer is shutting down production for a month. The blue-collar workers at the company’s factories will be out of a paycheck. Not so Chrysler’s white-collar workers…
Dogs, long known to be social animals, “are prone to bouts of envy and refuse to play if they are not treated fairly,” a new study concludes. This has implications for our understanding of the human animal. There can be no society without justice…
Rashid Dostum, an early ally of the United States in the Afghanistan war, oversaw the slaughter of some two thousand Taliban fighters in 2001. They were buried in a mass grave, which was recently emptied allegedly by Dostum’s forces. The UN and NATO knew of Dostum’s attempt to cover up a crime against humanity, and did nothing…
If it bleeds (money), it leads
“Gloomy financial news is actually supplanting celebrity culture in the public imagination,” writes Tim Dowling. “According to Google, search terms related to the credit crunch featured more often in 2008 than terms connected with celebrities. And what was the most popular subject after the financial crisis? Politics. And after that? Cupcake recipes. The economy may be going downhill fast, but the rest of us, it seems, are heading in the right direction…”
Joining the Santa conspiracy
Why are kids rarely ever angry at their parents when they discover that Santa Claus is a lie? Because they like being let in on the secret. “When they learn the truth, children accept the rules of the game and even go along with their parents in having younger children believe in Santa … It becomes a rite of passage in that they know they are no longer babies…”
If only Nixon can go to China, then only Buffett can admit to the class war
There is a class war in America, says Warren Buffett, one of the country’s wealthiest people. It’s being waged by the rich against the poor…
Mind control isn’t a dream anymore
By investigating how electrical impulses in the brain are translated into images, Japanese researchers have created a process to map dreams. Will the human mind soon be an open book?
Confronting the Bush reality, now that it doesn’t matter anymore
The investigation is done and the verdict is in: “The person who authorized all the abuse and torture at Abu Ghraib, the man who gave the green light to the abuses in that prison, is the president of the United States, George W. Bush…”
Greece riots: Not just about a dead fifteen-year-old
“The orgy of violence that has gripped [Greece] masks a deeper malaise. It is a sickness that starts not so much at the top but at the bottom of Greek society, in the ranks of its troubled youth. For many these are a lost generation, raised in an education system that is undeniably shambolic and hit by whopping levels of unemployment…”
The lone genius vs. the committee
As science and technology grow more complex, it requires larger group efforts to make progress. The days of the one-person powerhouses like Newton and Edison may be gone forever, replaced by the research departments of Lucent and Google. In such an environment, there is precious little room for the recognition of individual achievement. Was Albert Einstein the world’s last genius? Or is it time for a new approach to progress?
Is the West losing faith in itself?
“There are many opponents of the open world - jihadists, but also the growing number of the young and nationalistic, alienated from what they see as the feckless, shifting (and now failed) world of liberal capitalism. I’ve met such people, in Russia and China, even in Canada, and they scare me…”
Show us the money
The US Federal Reserve continues to refuse to reveal who received $2 trillion in loans from them in the past several months…
The tsunami will be back
Looking at growth patterns of coral in the Indian Ocean, researchers have determined that the kind of massive earthquake that spawned the 2004 tsunami tends to come in a series of shocks just decades apart. We can expect another major tsunami in the coming years…
Which master, Margharita?
If polls are to be believed, Russians consider Mikhail Bulgakov to be the country’s second greatest writer. But Ukrainians consider him Ukraine’s third-greatest playwright. It’s a cultural cold war with little sign of tensions easing…
Canada’s toxic dollar
Canadians never got into subprime mortgages, but that didn’t stop Canada’s biggest banks from buying American ones. Now, the Bank of Canada, which issues the Canadian dollar, is selling the stable reserve of T-bills it holds as reserve on the currency, and buying banks’ risky real estate assets instead. Welcome to Canada, where you can’t get a subprime loan, but your currency’s value is based on them…
And finally: Pavlov’s dog reveals the truth about those experiments…
In this summer’s celebrated hit flick The Dark Knight, Bruce Wayne a.k.a. Batman develops a technology that turns every cell phone in Gotham City into a sonar device, mapping their immediate surroundings and allowing Batman to keep track of everything going on in the city — every conversation, every movement, every everything.
Pretty wild, sci-fi stuff, and a decent little cautionary tale about the price we may pay for our technological conveniences. Except that it turns out it’s more than sci-fi — we’re already half-way there.
A report at CNET News confirms that the FBI now has the capability to hijack your cell phone and use its microphone to listen in to nearby conversations. And, in some circumstances, it even works when the cellphone is turned off.
The technique is called a “roving bug,” and was approved by top U.S. Department of Justice officials for use against members of a New York organized crime family who were wary of conventional surveillance techniques such as tailing a suspect or wiretapping him.
Kaplan’s opinion said that the eavesdropping technique “functioned whether the phone was powered on or off” … Nextel and Samsung handsets and the Motorola Razr are especially vulnerable to software downloads that activate their microphones, said James Atkinson, a counter-surveillance consultant who has worked closely with government agencies. “They can be remotely accessed and made to transmit room audio all the time,” he said. “You can do that without having physical access to the phone.”
I find this pretty alarming. We already know that cell phones are essentially GPS devices that can pinpoint your location down to the square meter. But now they can listen in to your conversations as well, even if your phone is powered off.
It’s not hard to imagine computer viruses spreading through the cellular network, infecting phones and turning them into bullhorns that transmit every aspect of your personal or professional life to someone who by no means should be allowed to have access to this information — a competing business, a foreign spy, a disgruntled lover, a psychopathic killer looking for his next victim.
In The Dark Knight, Batman’s omniscient cell-phone powered machine was designed with a fail-safe: When its purpose was fulfilled, the operator needed only to punch in their name, and the machine self-destructed. It was a reflection of the kind of rigid, heroic ethics that unfortunately only exist on the silver screen. In real life, the surveillance tool in your pocket will only grow in strength and scope.
I know this video is everywhere, but I can’t resist putting it up, just because it’s one of those historic moments that say so much. Here it is (once again): Muntader al-Zaidi, broadcast journalist and instant hero to millions, throwing his shoe at George W. Bush with the words “Here is a farewell kiss, you dog!”
Two things strike me about this incident. The first is Dubya’s reflexes — the guy is good, he sees it coming, his eyes follow the projectile, and he ducks just in time. The second is the look on Dubya’s face immediately before and after the first shoe is thrown. He seems to be smiling, a kind of, well, bring ‘em on smile that you might see on the face of a teenage kid who just got himself into a food fight. And is it just me, or is Dubya chewing gum through all this?
And while we’re at it, here’s a clip of Bush on ABC News talking about his last trip to Iraq. It is brought to his attention, diplomatically, that there was no al-Qaeda operating in Iraq until after the US invasion. To which Dubya responds: “So what?”
So nothing, George. Go home already.
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