Saturday, March 15, 2008


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Don’t believe the lies. They stopped using mercury in dog vaccines in 1935. The adverse reactions were too dangerous, Eli Lily reported. They removed mercury from cattle vaccines in the early 1990s; too damn harmful for the beasts of burden. But mercury-laced vaccines for your baby? The government said that was just fine.

Thanks to monstrous oversight by government health agencies, American infants were injected with high levels of mercury, part of a mandated program designed to protect our children. Just how much mercury was delivered into the bloodstreams of vulnerable babies? By the time New Jersey representative, David Weldon, demanded an answer to this very question in 2003, mercury was routinely used for as many as 30 infant vaccinations.

The truth was damning: a baby receiving all her recommended vaccines would, by the age of just two months, have received 118 times the acceptable daily dose of mercury for a full-grown adult.

Autism rates increased tenfold during a period in which the rate of mercury-laced vaccines, foisted on an unsuspecting public, tripled.

Coincidence? Only in the official memos of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Unofficially, the truth was known. Leaked internal correspondence at the CDC shows department fears and an attempt to cover-up the mistake.

“We are in a bad position from the standpoint of defending any lawsuits, and I am concerned,” noted one CDC advisor. The agency’s concern with its image greatly outweighed its desire to protect the health of 40 million infants vaccinated in the 1990s.

Peter Patriarca, then with the Federal Drug Administration (FDA), voiced his alarm that his agency would be found “asleep at the switch for decades by allowing a potentially hazardous compound to remain in many childhood vaccines…”

This ‘potentially’ hazardous heavy metal was finally outlawed from the majority of infant vaccinations in late 2002, some 67 years after it was deemed a danger to canines. Even then, the CDC refused to admit its gross negligence, claiming there was no evidence that thimerosal, a mercury-containing preservative used in vaccines to prevent bacteriological infections, had any negative affect upon children, and could not be linked to the sudden rise in autism.

The sudden removal of thimerosal in 2002 was parlayed as a precaution, and despite overwhelming evidence of a correlation between mercury and autism in infants, no government agency is yet willing to admit the link, not even the FDA which recommended pulling mercury from over-the-counter drugs in 1982.

Why do these agencies continue to stonewall?

In the 1970s, a mere one child in every 10,000 developed autism. By the late 1990s, when mercury was being used in MMR, HIB, and Hep-B vaccines, the rate had shot up to one child in every 500. Current statistics from the CDC now place rates of autism at one child in every 150.

Any admittance of mercury’s link to autism would cost the healthcare industry hundreds of billions of dollars. The recent class action lawsuits against both the asbestos and tobacco industries would pale by comparison. A link would also undermine the government’s program for child immunization and potentially set back our fight against diseases such as rubella by decades.

That the CDC, FDA and other agencies are able to deny mercury’s link to autism lies in ignorance. To this date, no comprehensive study detailing the affects of ethylmercury (metabolized by the human body through the injection of thimerosal) has been produced, despite its use in infant vaccines for 70+ years. Scientists make an incredulous assumption that ethylmercury behaves the same as methylmercury (metabolized through the consumption of fish) in the human body. The CDC may claim it is unaware of a link between mercury and autism simply because it hasn’t bothered to look.

Others have.

In 2001, members of Safe Minds published a report in the journal Medical Hypotheses, detailing the relationship between autism and mercury toxicity. They highlighted the case of Pink’s Disease, prevalent in the 1950s, which presented very similar symptoms to autism. Pink’s Disease was linked to the common use of mercury-laced tooth powder. Once the product was removed from store shelves, Pink’s Disease rapidly disappeared.

A 2003 study showed that healthy children excreted eight times more mercury through their hair than did autistic children, suggesting mercury was a root cause of the incurable disease.

A CDC study suggesting that the rise in autism might be attributable to diagnostic substitution (where doctors are more comfortable admitting the presence of autism rather than some other condition) has been debunked by Mark Bloxhill, a board member of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Astonishingly, thimerosal was allowed to bypass mandatory toxicity testing, even after regulations for reviewing vaccines required it.

“The absence of appropriate preclinical testing of thimerosal is a staggering oversight,” FDA drug reviewer, Dr. Eric Colman wrote in 2002.

Today, vaccines for the flu shot still contain mercury. Pregnant mothers are expected to receive the shot as a standard preventative measure here in the United States.

Further complicity comes from the White House, where in July 2007 President Bush announced his intent to veto FY2008, a Health and Human Services Appropriation Bill that would have banned thimerosal from childhood flu vaccines. Clearly, the frightening increase in autism does not concern Washington, at least in the dens of those politicians whose children are fortunate enough to have escaped the autism lottery.

But with autism levels still increasing, many families have firsthand experience of the suffering and anguish this disease brings. As more parents, particularly politicians, doctors and lawyers, discover that their children share the fate of millions, alive but locked within the silence of autism, the pressure to provide answers becomes unavoidable. Soon, the State’s ability to manage the needs of the autistic community will require a tremendous financial influx, both within the health and education industries. The latter, at the local level, is already feeling the strain of coping with the special needs of so many victims of our vaccination programs.

In what might be a landmark case, the parents of a nine-year-old girl have successfully litigated that her autism was caused by vaccines. Jon and Terry Poling, from Athens, Georgia, claimed that a series of five vaccines given their daughter in one day, eight years ago, resulted in the onset of autism. Government officials agreed to pay the Polings from a federal fund that compensates people injured by vaccines. The compensation amount was not disclosed.

Terry Poling is a doctor, her husband a lawyer. Americans well-positioned to blow the lid off the vaccination-autism scandal are emerging. The Georgia case will result in similar appeals, further studies and, eventually, the end of lies.

One day, the personal suffering of enough doctors will clash with their career goals, and the love for our children will win out. Autism denies its victims a sure voice, and the CDC, FDA and other agencies have effectively stymied calls for review. But as the rates of autism continue to increase, while drug companies continue to circumvent regulation, while big Pharma continues to lobby Washington for special treatment, the evidence awaits to be discovered.

When it does, millions of young Americans will not be able to say, ‘I told you so.’ For them, any revelation of truth will come too late.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008


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The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.

H.P. Lovecraft

A belief in ghosts is as ancient as the campfire and the burial ground. Man’s fascination with death and the unknown fortunes beyond is matched only by his continuing quest to dispel the darkness with the clarifying light of knowledge.

Science plays the counterpoint to culture’s mythic, primitive instinct, which lingers still with the fear that things unseen yet go bump in the night.

But the old ways die slowly. Our scientific age refutes talk of spirits from beyond the grave, while polls suggest one in three Americans still cling to a belief that the dead sometimes return to haunt the living.

Now, a team from University College London has published findings which hope to demystify the legends. Ghosts, they claim, despite fervent eyewitness testimony, exist only in the observer’s head.

Publishing in the journal PLoS Computational Biology, Professor Li Zhaoping suggests that context is key in determining what we think we see. Our eyes deceive us, adding fanciful detail when conditions such as dim lighting provide insufficient material information.

It’s why indecisive brush strokes present as lucid details, says Zhaoping, referring to our innate ability to intuit minutiae from an Impressionist painting, noticing forms that the artist never put to canvas.

“The paintings are vague,” Zhaoping says. “But I speculate that perhaps because of the vagueness, viewers are free to use their vivid imaginations to fill in the details.”

It’s also why we perceive faces in marble tile, ships in clouds, even Jesus in potato chips.

“Everything we see is an hallucination generated by the virtual reality machine inside our head,” says Professor Mike Morgan of the City University London.

And when the right conditions present, the hallucination fools our senses into seeing phantoms.

The deliberate imprecision of Renoir’s brush strokes fuel our imaginations, much like the dimly-lit corridors of suspected haunted houses. The darkened context, married to a pre-existing openness to the supernatural, allow ghosts to rattle their chains. Few specters are spied in daylight. This, claims Zhaoping, is not coincidental.

Zhaoping and her colleagues asked 18 observers to concentrate on the center of a black computer screen. Every few seconds the observers were required to judge whether or not a small, dim, gray rectangle briefly flashed on the monitor. Test results suggested people have no trouble identifying the object’s presence when viewed against a bright, white background. But against a darker, poorly-illuminated background, observers often reported seeing the target when, in reality, it did not exist.

The experiment emphasizes what most in the scientific community have long believed: ghosts are nothing but the product of overactive imaginations.


But Zhaoping’s work falls short of proof, and ignores a significant percentage of ghostly encounters. The spirit world cannot be reduced to mere glimpsed sightings. There’s far more substance to ghosts.

Take, for example, events last month at a boarding school in Malaysia. The school was shut down for several days after hundreds of students saw apparitions flying around their classrooms in broad daylight. Hysteria ensured in dormitories and the assembly hall. Events repeated the next day, and many children were sent home with parents, while staff and Department of Education employees attempted to regain order.

Mass sightings such as this cannot be explained by Zhaoping’s team. The context for sensory deception did not exist as the events played out during daylight hours. Group hysteria can be induced by narcotics or environmental stimuli, but such paranormal activity, witnessed by so many, and over an extended timeframe, ought to send science back to the lab.

Ghostly encounters contain many more elements than poor lighting and momentary glimpses of uncertain shapes. The history of haunting makes for fascinating reading, and even a brief snapshot shows that any scientific theory needs to account for sustained visual and auditory phenomena. Many sightings even include olfactory clues and a measurable temperature change.

One of the earliest encounters is recollected by Pliny the Younger (circa 50 AD). He tells of the philosopher Athenodorus, who rented a property in Athens, only to be bothered by a restless spirit, complete with jangling chains. The revenant would appear before Athenodorus and beckon him follow to the courtyard. There, the philosopher dug and discovered the bones (and chains) of a man buried without proper funereal rites. After rectifying this injustice, the philosopher was never again bothered by his undead visitor.

In the First Book of Samuel, King Saul has the Witch of Endor summon the spirit of Samuel, while Jesus Himself is mistaken for a ghost by the disciples following the resurrection.

The city-states of Mesopotamia believed that to neglect the dead meant inviting the undead to practice evil upon the living. The later Greek states included many accounts of ghosts, some evil, others impartial to their breathing neighbors. One legend has Euthymus boxing a ghost at Temesa, rescuing a local girl as a result of his victory.

Most themes prevalent in ancient ghost stories are still present today. The account of Athenodorus could easily be modernized to any New England setting at the start of the 21st century.

Specters such as Resurrection Mary still prowl the streets of Chicago, since an initial encounter in 1934. Like many encounters, Mary is no mere fleeting image at the periphery of vision. Indeed, Mary is only recognized for the ghost she is after dematerializing. She often vanishes through the cemetery gates on Archer Road, in Justice, after a prolonged presence among the living, sometimes dancing in clubs, sometimes eliciting a ride ‘home’.

Stories of ghostly hitchhikers are popular urban legends, yet their roots lie in well-documented events, events which still occur today with alarming regularity.


What, then, are we to make of these ghostly goings-on?

Some, no doubt, are the remnants of dreams. The bedroom visitor is among the more popular spirits, and observers on the cusp of wakefulness are prone to fall foul of Zhaoping’s contextual hallucinations.

Electromagnetic energy in the immediate vicinity of observers can change melatonin levels within the brain, resulting in distorted perceptions. A thunderstorm produces significant electromagnetic build-up, and none may deny its association with ghost stories.

Cultural stimuli play their part, too. Some people are prone to experience paranormal phenomena more than others, and perhaps this prevalence is due to a deep-seated desire to encounter the unexplained, which in turn leads to the misconception of events.

The theories are as numerous as the spooky graveyards that dot our haunted heartland, but no one satisfies as an explanation. Beyond the work of GNM Tyrrell in 1953, little academic research into the phenomenon of ghosts has been carried out.

Perhaps an investigation into this otherworldly topic is too creepy for most scientists (and their careers). The chains of establishment may prove stronger than those binding the spirits to their spooky domains.

Regardless, the mystery of ghosts and ghouls is sure to haunt us to the grave… and perhaps beyond.

Sunday, February 24, 2008


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Somebody call the Pentagon. It seems Africa may be harboring the world’s first, most highly sought, weapon of mass destruction. The Ark of the Covenant, commissioned by God, covered in purest gold, carried before the armies of the Lord, able to devour armies and halt the flow of rivers, has been found. Twice.

That most fabled of artifacts, rediscovered in public culture thanks to the movie theatrics of Steven Spielberg and Raiders of the Lost Ark, which has remained lost to humanity for at least 1,500 years, has resurfaced in Africa. The only problem is where, exactly. Is it in Aksum, Ethiopia, brought there by Menelik, the son of King Solomon and Queen Sheba? Is it in Zimbabwe, kept hidden by the Lemba tribe, true descendants of Moses himself? Or are both claims false, yet more examples of wishful thinking among scholars desperate to lay bare the divine, supernatural power of God?

The story of the Ark of the Covenant begins more than 3,000 years ago, when Moses ascended Mount Sinai and received explicit instruction from God on how to construct the Ark. It became a sacred container, holding the stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments and other sacred objects, including the rod of Aaron, and a golden jar holding manna from the journey across the wilderness.

We know much about the Ark thanks to the explicit descriptions provided in ancient Jewish texts. The container was a cubit and a half broad and high, two and a half cubits long (approximately 2’5”H X 2’5”W X 4’3”D if we assume Egyptian royal cubits were used). The Ark was built from acacia wood, was covered in purest gold. Its upper surface or lid was a mercy seat and at each end stood cherubim, their faces turned toward one another.

In battle the Ark was carried by priests a kilometer or more before the army. Then it would be wrapped in a veil, possibly tachash skins and a blue cloth, concealed from the eyes of those carrying it. The Ark burned thorns and other obstructions in the road. Tradition speaks of sparks emanating from the Ark, killing serpents and scorpions in its path. To touch the Ark directly meant death. Indeed, it proved a cursed item for many that possessed it, including God’s chosen people.

Despite its power, the Ark could not guarantee success in battle. Joshua brought forth the Ark at Ai, but experienced defeat. Against Benjamin at Gibeah, Joshua again lost despite the Ark’s presence.

The Ark was taken by the Philistines after defeating the Hebrews during the time of Eli. The trophy was taken on tour through the Philistine lands, but misfortune followed it, whether at the Temple of Dagon, Ashdod, Goth, or Ekron. People were smitten with boils, took to their beds. Many died from symptoms which today would be identified as classic radiation poisoning.

So dreadful was the Ark’s affect upon the Philistines that they returned this most holy of objects to their enemy after only seven months. It was set in the field of Joshua the Beth-Shemite. Again, those that gazed upon the Ark or dwelt near its presence, were struck dead. Some sources say 70 died in this manner, yet other manuscripts suggest as many as 50,000 perished from close proximity to the Ark (recent excavations at Beth-Shemite has uncovered the remnants of a vast iron-ore smelting city, conducive with the theory that a vast city-state habited the region during the time of the Ark's presence).

These accounts provide the best clues as to the true nature of the Ark of the Covenant. Might this device represent the harnessing of hitherto unknown energies, a true WMD wielded in battle more than 3,000 years ago? Had God (or some entity deified as such) provided the blueprints and the technical know-how to its chosen culture, allowing the use of some drastically anachronistic weapon against its enemies? What else might the Ark be used for?

Texts suggest that the Ark was also used for God to converse directly with high priest. Was the Ark, then, also a communications device? And more, some accounts suggest that the Levites chosen to carry the Ark were, in fact, carried by the Ark, held aloft several inches off the ground by the powers emanating from it (the terms Levi, Levite, and Levitate may be synonymous).

That the artifact existed is accepted in general principal by scholars. Its rediscovery today therefore would represent both the culmination of religious espousal and the opportunity to crack open the heavenly mysteries which shroud early human history.

The search to locate the lost Ark has captured the imagination of scholars, treasure hunters and theologians alike. Each quest for it turns up yet another theory as to where it might be located. A Common site touted is beneath the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, where the Dome of the Rock, one of Islam’s most precious shrines, now sits atop the spot where Solomon’s first temple once stood.

Others claim the Ark lies buried beneath the tomb of Tutankhamen, in France, or beneath a London tube station. Perhaps strangest is the theory that places it within the New World, whence came the Ark in the name Arkansas -- strange, but true!

Yet the ties to Ethiopia are stronger than most. The Ark fell out of history sometime around 586 B.C., during the Babylonian sacking of the temple in Jerusalem. Many believe King Nebuchadnezzar had the relic destroyed, but given the object’s value and power (both physical and spiritual) it is more likely the Ark was removed to a safer and now lost location.

There are suggestions that the Ark was never captured by the Babylonians, but that instead it was removed from the Temple prior to the attack and escorted to safety by prince Menelik, son of Solomon and Sheba, and taken to Ethiopia. The story is described within the Kebra Negast, which chronicles Ethiopia’s royal line. The Negast can be traced to the 14th century A.D. only, but faithful claim its origins lie in a 4th century Coptic manuscript, itself based upon earlier writings.

The links between Ethiopia’s Orthodox Christian faith and Judaism are many and often unexplainable. The region also claims to have been the hiding place of Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus, during the reign of King Herod, who sought the death of every male child under the age of two.

As was documented in a recent Smithsonian article, the Ark is believed to be housed in a temple within the town of Aksum in northern Ethiopia, not far from the shores of the Red Sea. Proving the case for the Ark in Ethiopia remains impossible. Only the chosen guardian of the temple is allowed to view the sacred artifact. Daily he is said to kneel before the Ark and pray. Once a year, on the Feast of St. Mary, the chapel gates are opened to the public, but access to the Ark remains forbidden.

Yet now a new wrinkle has developed in the endless quest. Welsh academician Tudor Parfitt claims to have found the Ark, in Zimbabwe.

A professor at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, Parfitt has authored a new book entitled The Lost Ark of the Covenant, Solving the 2,500 Year Mystery of the Fabled Biblical Ark. Parfitt made a name for himself in the 1980s when he proved a genetic connection between the Lemba tribe of Zimbabwe and the descendents of Jewish Temple priests. Now, Parfitt claims the Ark made a voyage from Jerusalem and into the hands of the Lemba, which call the object ngoma.

The professor claims the Lemba migrated from Jerusalem via a spice route, arriving in the city of Senna, located in modern day Yemen. From a nearby port, the Lemba could conceivably sail down the African coast with the Ark. Parfitt’s search led him across the continent and eventually to a dusty museum in Harare. There, “amidst nesting mice, was an old drum with an uncharacteristic burnt-black bottom hole, the remains of carrying rings on its corners; and a raised relief of crossed reeds.”

Yet Parfitt’s drum fails to meet the specifications described in the Old Testament for the Ark. Furthermore, carbon dating pinned the Lemba object to circa 1350 AD. Parfitt claims the current Ark was created from the ruins of the previous one, which had destroyed itself.

Such a claim requires us to make several leaps of faith, although the Lemba connection to the ancient tribes of Israel – much like the links between Jerusalem and Ethiopia – require further research.

In the end, we may never know the final fate of the Ark. The prophet Jeremiah foretells that the Ark will never again be seen by man, and Revelation says is abides in the Temple of God, in Heaven. Thus, then, the most ancient of WMD proves to be just as elusive as its modern Middle-Eastern counterparts.

Sunday, February 17, 2008


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When the French government announced a ban on the use of genetically modified (GM) crops last week, it reignited a heated clash between Europe and the United States, between environmentalists and technologists.

At stake is the future health of the planet. One path leads to poverty, famine, death. The other promises prosperity, abundance, life. But which is which, nobody knows.

Environmentalists tout studies which indicate GM crops may lead to serious health risks, force low-income farmers to abandon their fields, lead to rapid urbanization, massive corporate growth, and threaten the vital diversification of global crops required to feed a growing populace.

In Europe at least, these green fears are prevalent, leading several European Union (EU) nations to ban the production and cultivation of GM crops. France joins Germany, Austria, Greece, Hungary, and Poland in banning MON-810, a GM corn engineered by US-based Monsanto, and designed to kill a pest insect known as the corn borer.

MON-810 is the only GM crop authorized for production in the EU. Its troublesome adoption suggests that GM foods may never grow roots on the continent.

The story is far different in the U.S., where GM foods are abundant and there’s little opposition to their introduction. A lack of labeling renders consumers blind to choice, and the implementation of GM food meets with no resistance from a government eager to place these products on the dinner table whilst creating an America monopoly in the burgeoning biotechnology industry.

Unfortunately for Monsanto and the America agribusiness, engineered seeds are far easier to export than the homegrown apathy to so-called ‘Frankenfoods’. Polls have shown that seven in ten Europeans will not eat genetically modified organisms (GMOs), regardless of any EU ruling authorizing their use.

French president Nicolas Sarkozy echoed his countrymen’s sentiment when he declared a ban on MON-810. The High Authority on GMO, a watchdog authority, gave its study January 9, concluding the existence of “a certain number of new scientific facts relating to a negative impact on flora and fauna” from the modified corn. France banned trials of MON-810 after they discovered that rats exposed to the GM seeds suffered kidney and liver damage.

Monsanto disagrees, and now the U.S. is taking its complaint to the World Trade Organization, in hopes of reversing the French decision. With European markets dwindling, American avenues to profits are blockaded. To date, the GM market is valued at $6.9 billion, with Monsanto enjoying an astonishing 90% dominance of the global biotech acreage, which is thought to double by 2015.

So are GM crops safe or not?

The answer must be a tentative yes, for now. Environmental fears of conventional crop failure, herbicide tolerance, transgenic mutations in the wild, and the outbreak of new diseases have failed to occur. GM crops have resulted in significantly increased yields, which have hopeful consequences for the Third World and drought-riddled regions elsewhere.

But more studies need to be carried out before we may be certain. And should we discover a flaw in our technological food basket, what might that mean to the hundreds of millions of us that, often daily, consume these products? The recent discovery of hitherto unknown conditions such as Colony Collapse Disorder and White Nose Syndrome, within bees and bats respectively, and both key pollinators, suggests we don’t yet know enough about the environment and the consequences of introducing new organisms into the food chain.

The decision to introduce GMOs into the United States, without both further studies and the restraint of a skeptical public, is troubling. Europe is to be commended for its caution. There, the only countries eager to introduce GMOs are the UK, the Netherlands, Sweden and the Czech Republic.

Yet the decision by France may not be a truly altruistic one. Rumors speculate that the government made a secret deal with the greens, banning GMOs while paving the go-ahead for the introduction of nuclear power stations.

The debate over whether or not to introduce GMOs is under discussion in Brazil and India. Brazil’s National Biosecurity Council has authorized the use of two GM corns, including MON-810. But Via Compasina, a rural watchdog, claims the council overstepped its boundaries and went against the recommendation of both the health and environment ministries.

India’s Supreme Court has requested top scientists frame guidelines for granting approval of GM trails. The Genetically Engineered Approval Committee warns that all aspects of bio-safety must be examined before introducing GMOs into the country.

Monsanto faces an uphill battle outside the U.S. On the continent, it is viewed as an icon of soulless American greed. Stories abound of farmers losing their land rights, of generational farmers forced to move to the city, unable to pay the heavy toll for the new, improved seeds (which must be purchased yearly; harvesting seeds from planted GM crops is illegal). Every news story about herbicide resistance and GM contamination of conventional fields spawns immediate backlash against the biotech giant.

Ironically, Monsanto may yet prove to be the hero. As food prices continue to soar, as populations grow, as dramatic weather changes bring drought to once fertile regions, the need for dramatically increased yields beckon technological innovation.

Europe has the luxury to say no to Monsanto and its promises of an abundant future. Africa cannot be so proud. There, GMOs may solve a problem borne of harsh climates and harsher governmental regimes, where starvation and ethnic friction have devastated entire generations.

Ethics are the reserve of the prosperous. Europe is right to demand stricter GMO policies. The Americans should cease their bully tactics, understanding that further studies may serve to strengthen their position and pave the way for a global embrace of its golden, super food.

More food can only be beneficial. Let’s hope Europe will shine an ethical light on the distribution of crops, GM or not, ensuring they reach those that truly need it: the poor. Politics and profits be damned; our modern age ought have no room for famine.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008


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The greatest threat to mankind today is not nuclear proliferation, or terrorism, or even global climate change. No, the greatest threat comes from the most miniscule of predators: the virus.

H5N1, better known as the bird flu, has microbiologists deeply troubled. When they fear, I fear. And so should you.

Top scientists from the World Health Organization (WHO), the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and other renown entities agree that not only is a global pandemic inevitable, but also long overdue.

The last pandemic, the Spanish Flu of 1918, killed between 50 – 100 million people worldwide. Due to the nature of the current avian strain, the death toll, despite modern medicine, may be much higher. Just how bad might it be? Robert Webster, a leading expert on bird flu, reports that the virus may threaten the lives of billions.

Strange, then, how little publicity this virus receives in the media. You would think developments would be of international interest. Sadly, to learn of the latest outbreaks or the fight to protect our future, you need to hunt for the information yourself.

This news embargo may exist because the truth is too unsettling.

The Sky Falls In On Chicken Little

H5N1 spread rapidly after its discovery on a farm in Guangdong Province, China, in 1996. Outbreaks occurred in Hong Kong the following year in poultry farms and live animal markets. The first 18 human cases were reported, resulting in six fatalities.

The virus is now rampant across Asia, and has reached Africa, Europe and the Americas. The culling of poultry is commonplace wherever an outbreak of H5N1 occurs. Several million birds were destroyed this month, where the virus has again resurfaced in India and neighboring Bangladesh.

So far, the virus has had limited affect on humans. According to WHO statistics, only two hundred fatalities have occurred worldwide. The virus needs to undergo certain mutations before it poses a credible threat to the human populace. However, these mutations are now occurring and the question of a human-to-human strain of bird flu is about when, not if.

World governments are seeking methods to limit the spread of the virus once a pandemic erupts. The best defense against a lethal strain of influenza is a vaccine. U.S. scientists created a vaccine in the wake of the Hong Kong outbreak, but the drug was never fully developed or used, in large part because the strain of bird flu mutated, rendering the vaccine ineffectual. That this virus mutates may prove to be the biggest impediment in the fight to save humanity.

Playing the Vaccine Lottery

The reality is that no vaccine to fight human-to-human H5N1 bird flu can exist until the pandemic begins. Until then, we can only guess at what this strain would look like and how it would function. Once the virus is identified, then labs can begin to create a working vaccine.

However, it might take months to create such a solution. In the intervening time, the flu pandemic may have washed across the globe. The only short-term stopgap against H5N1 may be older vaccines (used on previous strains of bird flu) and preventatives such as Tamiflu.

Tamiflu, the brand name for a drug known as oseltamivir, is an antiviral touted as a cornerstone in the fight against pandemic flu. It can be used to help prevent a flu infection and, if taken within 48 hours of symptoms, may mitigate the worse effects.

Hospitals and clinics stockpile Tamiflu during peak flu season. In the event of a pandemic, it will be the main weapon used by doctors to limit the virus threat. However, Tamiflu is not a vaccine, is not designed specifically to combat H5N1, and may offer minimal protection. In other words, Tamiflu may not work against the bird flu. You may be better off washing your hands and staying home.

Even if Tamiflu proved moderately effective in combating bird flu, current stockpiles are woefully inadequate to treat all Americans, let alone the world.

And that’s the other problem plaguing vaccine manufacturers. Should a successful vaccine be produced, the number of doses required to fend off a pandemic are estimated at around 4.5 billion. It’s an unmanageable number.

Dr. Kuo Hsu-sung, Director General of the CDC in Taiwan, said it may take upwards of four years to get a new production facility online. Many are needed. It’s a gamble. The world must wait and hope it has that long before H5N1 transitions to humans. Should the virus transition into a strain that may travel from human to human before stockpiles are filled, hundreds of millions, if not billions, will be left helpless against infection.

In response, members of the U.S. congress requested an investigation into the effects and treatment of bird flu. The results were recently published by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). It cites a Dept. of Health and Human Services caveat that a pandemic vaccine might play little role in the early phases of a pandemic, because it will take 20 – 23 weeks to develop and produce a targeted vaccine. The report also cited the lack of sufficient production facilities.

The GAO overview received little media attention, and is damning proof that the United States is not ready for a pandemic. Further hampering efforts are poor surveillance systems used to detect outbreaks of bird flu, especially in Asia. If these outbreaks are not recognized initially, there will be no opportunity to harness preventive medicines.

Evolutionary War

Viruses were on earth before mankind. They will be here long after we depart. In a world where evolution is the key to survival, these invisible killers rule supreme. Their constant mutating keeps us guessing. The ability of the flu strain to adapt and evolve requires the same from our science. To date, viruses outpace our ability to constrain them.

Studies by the University of Wisconsin-Madison in October indicated that H5N1 bird flu had begun the transition into a form more readily conducive for human-to-human contamination.

Even as medical professionals wrangle with the complexities of H5N1, other, older, viruses are gathering strength.

Reports from Canada indicate that H1N1, a similar strain to that predominant during the Spanish flu pandemic, and a common influenza agent in North America, is showing an alarming resistance to Tamiflu this season.

Nearly 10% of H1N1 viruses tested so far by the National Microbiology Laboratory, are resistant to the antiviral drug. Resistance normally hovers around 1%.

Yet, we will continue to defend ourselves. British pharmaceutical Glaxo Smith Klein announced positive results in tests of a new bird flu vaccine, and the hope is it may prove effective against future mutations of the virus.

Fighting the future is literally what we must now do to survive. The longer bird flu delays its eventually transition into humans, the more hope we have. Governments are aware of the threat, but the wheels of industry turn slow. Perhaps a public outcry will draw more attention to the plight?

I say shout while you may, for soon an unseen enemy may silence your voice forever.

Saturday, January 26, 2008


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Something strange transpired in the night sky over Stephenville, Texas recently. In the weeks following, something truly out-of-this-world occurred on the ground.

In the early evening of January 8, the residents of this small farming community witnessed the most sensational UFO sighting since the Phoenix lights of 1997.

Dozens of residents, among them a certified pilot and a law enforcement officer, reported a UFO hovering overhead. Some saw the craft return minutes later, pursued (in vain) by two military jets.

By morning, newspapers and local radio were buzzing with alien activity. Unlike most UFO claims, it was clear the Stephenville incident could not readily be dismissed as a hoax, atmospheric conditions, or experimental weather balloon. And, equally bizarre, the media took a serious approach to the subject. As a result, this little community in the heart of the Bible-belt, received national, and then international, scrutiny.

Making accurate observations of aerial phenomenon is notoriously difficult. People tend to miscalculate size, distance, and speed. Which is why pilot Steve Allen became a key witness. A man used to flying these same skies, his judgment of events offered more validity than most.

“I guarantee that what we saw,” he said, “was not a civilian aircraft.” He described the object as enormous, perhaps a half-mile wide and a mile long. It was “bigger than a Wal-Mart.”

Allen claims the UFO sped across the skyline at speeds above 3,000 mph, while two fighter jets attempted to follow.


Where believers see UFOs, skeptics see mundane aircraft. With Allen and others claiming the presence of jets, the media turned to the military. The likeliest suspect was the Joint Reserve Base Naval Air Station, in Fort Worth.

If the base were running exercises over Stephenville that fateful night, all the UFO furor would surely die down.

But, said officials, no military planes were flying in the area that evening.

With a military denial, and so many residents reporting something extraordinary in the sky, the possibility of a close encounter loomed larger.

More residents came forward, admitting they, too, saw something unexplainable. At the weekend, members of the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON) set up business in nearby Dublin and began compiling reports. They received more than 50, an exceptional number from a church-going, sober (the county is dry), down-to-earth, farming region.

“I’d say a very small percentage of people who see these (UFOs) actually report,” said Kenneth Cherry, the Texas director of MUFON. If true, potentially thousands of bystanders witnessed something strange and seemingly unexplainable that night.

But then things got really weird.

The military reversed its position. Suddenly they did have aircraft in the vicinity the night in question. Not just one or two, either. No, they had ten F-16s on maneuvers.

Ten F-16s?! Okay, then…

Why the change in story? Major Karl Lewis, a base spokesman, said they were mistaken and wanted to set the record straight “in the interest of public awareness.”

After the announcement, the public was very aware, aware that something didn’t smell right in Fort Worth.

It’s likely that the incident would have passed quickly from the public conscience had the Air Force not fueled conspiracy fires with it’s dramatic new claim. Without hard evidence, even the strongest saucer sightings fail to entice lasting interest. Yet the reversal, if designed to abate talk of alien antics, only served to guarantee Stephenville a permanent place in UFO lore.

Why had the military first denied a presence in the area? Did they have something to hide? And what possible reason might there be for ten F-16s to be operating that night?

“This supports our story that there was UFO activity in that area,” said MUFON’s Cherry. “I find it curious that it took them two weeks to ‘fess up. I think they are feeling the heat from the publicity.”

And the publicity would increase. In the week ending January 16, “UFO photos” was the number three fastest-moving search term used on all web sites. Among news and media sites, “UFO sightings” ranked fourth among all U.S.-based searches.

Chat forums were alive with discussion. Everyone had an opinion about what took place over Stephenville, and few believed the military’s version of events.


The culture of UFOlogy is simple to appreciate. Those making the claims of flying saucers are branded as nutcases. Those debunking the claims are branded (by the nutcases) as government agents working to subvert the Truth. The media tends to ignore the subject except to occasionally offer a minute or two of tongue-in-cheek attention. The military sends out press releases explaining what really happened, reassuring us that the nutcases really are nutcases.

But the culture breaks down over Stephenville. You can’t brand an entire town crazy: Respected businessmen, a policeman, friends and neighbors all saw something peculiar. The media took a sober approach to the story, and the only nutcases in town appeared to be the experts, the military.

Just how gullible do they think we are?

First they claimed no presence in the region. Then they suggested that residents were letting their imaginations run wild. It was an optical illusion, they claimed, brought on by sunlight reflecting off two airliners.

Sunlight? Between 6pm and 8pm? In January?

Then the reversal. Then the F-16s.

Excuse me for believing your average Texan can tell the difference between an F-16 and a mile-long flying saucer. Even Mr. Magoo can ogle the disparity. And let’s not forget, several witnesses reported seeing the UFO and jet fighters. Explain that one, Major.

The 457th Fighter Squadron uses the Brownwood Military Operating area for training exercises, which includes airspace above Erath County. Fighter jets over Stephenville, then, should not be uncommon. Residents would be familiar with their night lights, their sounds, their shapes in the sky. The encounter January 8 should be a regular occurrence in this part of the country. Only it’s not.

Something else happened. Some residents are whispering “cover-up.” And who could blame them?

The military’s appalling reversal and subsequent refusal to offer more information rates as an astronomical public relations blunder. When the official explanation sounds more bizarre than the suggestion of extraterrestrial visitors, you can’t help but wonder if there really is something to all this conspiracy talk after all.

At least the 17,000 residents are having some fun with the publicity. High-schoolers are selling tee shirts that read: “Stephenville: The New Roswell” on the front. The back reads: “They’re here for the milk!” and shows a flying saucer beaming up a cow. Maybe the military has a theory about cattle mutilation, too. Maybe it’s just the night sun reflecting off truck beds. Or maybe, finally, this is one Texas two-step for which the military can’t find a dance partner.

Saturday, January 19, 2008


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As a consequence of 9-11, the U.S. is at war with itself. The overwhelming majority of Americans dismiss this truth and, therefore, are destined for defeat.

At stake in this war is personal privacy. The Patriot Act was not the first blow against it, just the most brazen. Signed into law a mere six weeks after the terror attacks, and despite its assault on the Fourth Amendment, its swift passage provoked few complaints. Shaken to the core, American sentiment was near-unanimous: a lack of vigilance had allowed the enemy to strike at home. We would safeguard the future against any repetition, no matter the cost.

Yet, the cost of this, or any, security is the erosion of liberty. And that liberty is the citizenry’s sole defense against its own government. Because so few Americans are able to rationalize the State acting against the good of its people, the calculated overthrow of our privacy will be absolute.

"The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he did not exist.”

In 1948, George Orwell visualized a bleak world future, where personal privacy crumbled before state security. Big Brother pried open our lives, scrutinized our every behavior. The slightest disobedience was met by death or macabre re-education.

Despite the draconian message of 1984, the novel’s infrastructure is now prevalent in the U.S. The Thought Police are coming. The weapon fueling this putsch appears harmless, even mundane. And, like the plot of any good sci-fi, it’s already among us.

I write of the soon-to-be ubiquitous RFID tag.

RFID (Radio Frequency IDentification) tags are used in corporate security cards, at highway toll booths. They are the annoying clothing tags that set off store alarms. That these devices will be used to deprive us of our liberty seems absurd. But, as Verbal knew, that’s just the point.


Like a wily devil, RFID will greet you as a friend. It will smother you with gifts practical, quasi-magical, sometimes near-miraculous in their promise. Who wouldn’t want a refrigerator that could talk, tell you the milk’s expired, or that you are running low on eggs, that could even call the grocery store and place an order for you?

What dorm student wouldn’t love to toss the laundry into the washer, knowing the machine is smart enough to tell whites from colors, cold from warm, wool from blend?

Who wouldn’t want the blind to walk safely through town, any town, without the aid of a guide?

RFID is cool. You’re going to want it. The consumer-driven market will demand it. Soon, you won’t be able to imagine life without it. And that’s how, in a nutshell, we lose our privacy.

Because RFID is much more than a tool of industry. It’s a mechanism for surveillance; it’s spyware at its core. These tiny tags store information and, particularly in semi-passive and active models, transmit this data to a central reader for collection and collation, allowing Big Brother to keep tabs on you.

What information will be shared? Proponents suggest you have nothing to fear. No personal data will ever be transmitted. Buy a jacket from a retail store and the RFID chip sends product details to an in-house inventory database. Purchase a magazine and the chip will monitor which articles are read, but without revealing who’s doing the reading.

Yet it’s just not that simple. RFID tags can be illicitly tracked, revealing your whereabouts, your spending habits, your reading habits, and just about anything else that has RFID technology attached to it. Because RFID tags remain functional even after you have purchased a product, you become a walking transmitter of private information.

It gets worse.

Each tag operates on a unique frequency. If one tag can be linked to you, specifically, it allows for all other tags in operation by you, or near you, to be associated with you, thus creating an enormous, highly revelatory picture of who you are. A very personal, very private, picture.

Soon, anyone with the necessary know-how can access your intimate details. Think about this: every political article you read will be filed away. Every movie you rent, every book your borrow, every store you enter, every mile you drive, every person you talk to will be filed away, stored for a day when it may be used against you. In this digital age, where almost every transaction (purchases, emails, phone calls) create an electronic footprint, the infrastructure of RFID means the death to all our secrets.

Blinded by the light of these marvelous innovations, this technology’s dark side will pass unnoticed into our homes.


In early 2007, the Federal Drug Administration approved the use of RFID chips in humans.

The first victims are prison inmates. By implanting tiny microchips under the skin, the State may monitor these offenders’ every move. In jail, they track the location of gang members. On the street, they locate paroled sex offenders and observe their proximity to schools and parks.

Newer versions of the chip promise to allow the controller to send electric shocks through the implant, to discourage undesirable behavior.

Next come corporate employees., an Ohio-based security firm, was the first to require its employees to be implanted.

In Europe, and now in Florida, private citizens may volunteer for implanting. The perks of hardwiring include the ability to conduct financial transactions with a wave of the wrist. No need for cash or credit card. Thanks to RFID, you are your wallet. No more waiting in line. Guys gain access to club VIP rooms thanks to the implanted tag. It’s an invitation to instantly join the social elite.

In effect, RFID will create a police state. But unlike Orwell’s Oceania, we will be the spies. Further, unlike any time before, we won’t be spying on our neighbors, but on ourselves.


Several U.S. states have passed bills outlawing involuntary human tagging. Several more states have legislation in the works. Yet the technology drives the market and soon the price of opting out of the system will be too hard for the ordinary citizen to bear.

VeriChip Corp is the U.S. RFID market leader, having sold thousands of chips worldwide, more than a quarter of them designed for human implantation. China’s RFID market reached more than $500 million in 2007, growing over 50% since 2006, thanks in large part to its national ID card program.

The U.S. State Department now offers RFID-enabled passports for travel across the Americas. Drivers’ licenses are rolling out, too. Every player, from the U.S. military to Wal-Mart, is using RFID and penalizing suppliers that don’t.

Despite recent studies which indicate embedded chips induce malignant tumors in lab animals, there are no plans to slow the transition of chips to humans.

Likewise, despite vigorous warnings about the dangers of RFID chips from sources as diverse as terror experts, state senators, and the Center for Democracy and Technology, the federal government boldly moves forward with new RFID-based programs.

That terrorists may used RFID-based passports to identify U.S. tourists clearly is not a concern of our political leaders.

We should not be surprised. Do we really think the Patriot Act was conceived in a mere six weeks? Of course not. The root desire to increase state security at the expense of personal privacy was seeded long before the horrific events of 9-11. The current War on Terror has proved a catalyst for the coming agenda. What exactly that agenda is remains unclear. All that we can say for sure is that, like Winston Smith, we have reason to fear.

The enemy of the state might well be you.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008


I can’t help it. I cringe every time I hear the word Yeti. Mention Big Foot, and I’ll hide my face in shame. Go so far as to utter the words Abominable Snowman and I’ll flee in embarrassment.

I want to believe. I do. It’s just…an Abominable Snowman! For a guy who loves to talk conspiracy theories to three in the morning, who devours reports of UFO sightings over Phoenix and tapes all the reruns of the X-Files, admitting even a modicum of maybe about the existence of hairy ole Harry Henderson tends to discredit everything else I espouse.

There’s a thin line between true believer and gullible idiot.


So, it was with queasy stomach I read reports of fresh Yeti footprints in the Himalayas. This time the find was made by a US TV crew, filming for Destination Truth, a show investigating evidence of the fantastical.

That these tracks were witnessed is no surprise – mountaineers and local herders often claim such discoveries. No, it’s that these reports still garner media attention that befuddles me. I mean, our modern world is so small. When you can eat a Big Mac in Moscow, sip Starbucks coffee in Beijing and discuss Bay Watch in Bhutan, you wonder if this jaded world has any natural secrets left to divulge.

I was born a pleasant Sunday drive from the banks of Loch Ness and spent many childhood nights reading about Nessie and the possibility that dinosaurs might still roam this planet. As a child, the concept is easy to accept. There’s a magic to monsters that can’t easily be dispelled. Yet, as an adult, cynical reality stamps its scientific authority. Few places remain unmapped. Civilization’s thirst for expansion threatens every corner of the globe. Creatures once abundant now face extinction. Surely, there’s no chance that a beast as large as Yeti could avoid detection for so long?


Josh Gates of Destination Truth told the BBC in early December that his team discovered three prints, one a pristine right paw mark, 13” long, with a wide spread of five toes. Commentators familiar with such discoveries are quick to suggest the prints may belong to a Himalayan bear, native to the banks of the Manju River, where Gates and his crew were operating, some 100 miles northeast of Kathmandu.

As always, this latest sensation fell far short of proof. The history of the Yeti is filled with brief glimpses, mysterious prints, unearthly howls and legends aplenty. Missing are the physical clues, the substantive evidence that might peak the curiosity of Gil Grissom and his CSI colleagues. Primatologist John Napier, author of The Yeti and Sasquatch in Myth and Reality, claims Yeti evidence to be circumstantial. “…there is little uniformity of pattern,” he states, “and what uniformity there is incriminates the bear.”

Perhaps it’s our deep desire to cling to the mystical magic of youth, which enables us to see what surely cannot be. Whether it is the Yeti, Nessie, or dinos in the Congo, the evidence always, rightfully, favors the skeptic.

If such creatures do exist, they are to be found in remote wilderness. Our ocean depths are reluctant to reveal their secrets, but surely harbor the majority of what remains to be discovered. While our jungles and isolable realms still reveal a few surprises, they tend to come in smaller packages: frogs, insects, fish. The Yeti, you see, is just too damn big!


And yet, there’s just enough doubt to make me want to believe…

In 2001, a local Yeti-hunter and guide (yes, there are such things) led investigators into the Bhutan forests, where they took hair samples from a cedar tree hollow. Scientists at the Institute of Molecular Medicine in Oxford, England, were able to extract DNA samples.

“It’s not a human, it’s not a bear, nor anything else that we’ve so far been able to identify,” said Bryan Sykes, a professor of human genetics. “We don’t know what it is,” he confessed.

The remote Everest region warrants further investigation, if only because eye-witness accounts go back thousands of years.

The Yeti has long been worshipped in Tibet and Nepal, in scrolls, relief and annual festival. Alexander the Great wanted one until locals explained that the creature could not breathe properly at lower altitudes.

Pliny the Elder, in 79AD, wrote of the Land of the Satyrs where lived things able to run on two or four legs. They had “human-like bodies and because of the swiftness can only be caught when they are ill or old.”

In modern times, many renowned explorers share stories of the Yeti. The title of Abominable Snowman was coined in 1921 and resulted in a Royal Geographical Society expedition to find the animal. Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay reported large footprints while scaling Mount Everest in 1953 – hardly the location for a hoax. Many Sherpas claim to have seen the beast, typically during the winter or summer months when herds are taken to pasture, and Sherpas, you would expect, could spot the difference between a bear and a Yeti.

So, for now, I continue to cringe when tracks in the snow suggest the wily Yeti still roams unseen. I’ll be the first to say I told you so whenever science disproves these wild, outrageous claims. Or I’ll be the first to nod and say I knew it along, should one day someone prove my childhood convictions right and produce a Yeti in the flesh.

Until that day, I’ll go on doubting. In public, anyway.