Famine is the real 'F' word.
Part of the UN's Millennium Development Goals aimed for the year 2015 is 'halve the amount of population who suffer from hunger.'
It not only looks like the goal will not be reached. It looks like we're actually going backward. And every time I hear politicians justifying why those goals are so hard to accomplish, I feel a certain stiffness in my middle finger...
The Merriam Webster dictionary defines terrorism as "the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion."
Nowadays it's not difficult to think of acts that can be defined as terrorism: the media is constantly bombarding us with images of car bombs, hijacked airplanes, explosions in market places, etc. But now a Mexican government has added Twitter to the list:
A man and a woman are facing 30-year prison terms in Mexico for allegedly using Twitter to spread panic over a series of child kidnappings.
Gilberto Martinez Vera, 48, a private school teacher, and Maria de Jesus Bravo Pagola, a radio presenter, were accused of spreading false reports that gunmen were attacking schools in the south-eastern city of Veracruz.
The resulting panic caused dozens of car crashes after parents rushed to save their children from schools across the city and jammed emergency telephone lines, which "totally collapsed" under the pressure.
Gerardo Buganza, the interior secretary for Veracruz state, compared the ensuing chaos to Orson Welles's spoof news broadcast War of the Worlds in 1938. The two are facing charges under terrorism laws.
"There were 26 car accidents, or people left their cars in the middle of the streets to run and pick up their children, because they thought these things were occurring at their kids' schools," Buganza said.
The charges, which said that phone lines "totally collapsed because people were terrified" are the most serious charges to come from using Twitter to incite violence or chaos.
(Via The Guardian)
The incident occurred in the state of Veracruz. The governor of this state, Javier Duarte, is a fine example of the new generation of politicians coming out from the PRI, the political party that controlled the nation for over 70 years: authoritary, intransigent, and nostalgic about the good ole days when no one dared to question the decisions of the government.
This sort of news just illustrate the complete lack of preparedness governments show when dealing with the communication technologies of the XXIst century. I mean sure, I hate Internet trolls as much as anyone, and to use Twitter as a prank to disseminate false information is reprehensible. But does that deserve a conviction of 30 years? in a country where a Cartel hitman that has killed innocent civilians can walk out due to 'insufficient proof', where corrupt politicians can rest assured they will never be held accountable for all the frauds and abuses they commit? I mean, really!
The news provoked a justified outrage among online activists and human rights group. Being so close to the presidential election in 2012, which promises to become a 3-ring circus of accusations and public smear, who's to say some other governor or mayor won't be tempted to enforce the same measures against 'dissident' Twitter users?
In any case, it is very likely that the charges against Martínez and Bravo will be dropped, specially since it transpired that the panic allegedly caused by their prank had in fact started 2 hour before they sent the Tweets:
A story in the local newspaper Imagen (link in Spanish) from a Boca del Rio neighborhood noted that one stampede of parents started about two hours before the day's first tweet from Martinez. By 9 a.m. on Aug. 25, a Thursday, witnesses told the paper, parents were already rushing to the Luis Pasteur primary school after word somehow spread that kids were being kidnapped from campuses.
(Via Los Angeles Times)
The events unfolded during the Arab Spring of this year are sure to have caused a lot of concern among all the governments the world. They realized that social networks have the potential to empower citizens who were usually easy to control if you dominated the traditional channels of information: TV, radio and the newspapers. For an authoritarian regime, a blackberry has become more dangerous than a grenade.
This is particularly true for Mexico, where the government has forced the media to moderate their reports related to the violence caused by the War against the organized crime. Many newspapers and TV networks signed a national agreement in order to 'responsibly' inform about the violence --so if you want to learn what's really going on, one has to consult online sites like blog del narco.
The Internet has proven to be one of the more disruptive technologies in the history of civilization. No one could have predicted the vastness of its transformative power in such a small fraction of time. Even visionaries like Arthur C. Clarke, who could imagine manned space trips to the outer reaches of the Solar System to the last detail, turned out to be incredibly naive when it came to the ease of information access --on-line searches, he wrote in his novel 2061, would be incredibly expensive; so any time you complain about the lack of lunar stations, think of Google & Wikipedia to comfort you.
It is a very good thing powerful men are usually short-sighted. Had they foreseen the impact of social networks, it's very likely you would actually need to apply for a license in order to have a Twitter or Facebook account, Think about it.
Also think about the world we're living now today: a world in which someone like Orson Welles would probably end up in Guantanamo for having caused panic about Martians attacking New Jersey.
With each passing year, it's becoming clearer to me that there will come a day when traditional institutions and the brave new digital world will face each other on a final confrontation. Governments and personal computers are inherently incompatible; which one will prevail, it is up to us.
It's official --Industrial Light & Magic is the new Ministry of Truth:
When, WHEN is it going to stop? Probably by 2030, when all lightsabers are changed into puppies --you see, that was George's original concept all along!
53 lives lost in the attack --the media mentions 52, yet I'm counting the unborn baby carried by his pregnant mother; old (Catholic) habits die hard I guess...
President Calderón has been quick in lay responsibility of this tragedy to the Americans, both the authorities that can't (or won't) control the flow of weapons to Mexico, and to the public that refuse to quit the drugs provided by the cartels.
It wasn't the drug-trafficking what killed those 53 people. It was corruption.
The newspapers report a gang was blackmailing the casino owners, demanding 100 thousand pesos a week for 'protection'; the owners refused to pay. But why didn't he turn to the authorities and report the extorsion?
They didn't go to the authorities because the casino was illegal; it lacked the proper permits to operate. In fact, of all the gambling centers and bingos established in Mexico, most of them are not 100% legal, exploiting shady technicalities and the support of dirty judges who grant restraining orders called amparos, a legal immunity shield that makes you untouchable... if you have enough money and the proper connections, that is.
Did the gangsters choose this particular casino by mere chance, or were they 'tipped' about its legal situation, which made it a perfect blackmail opportunity? and if that was the case, who gave them the tip?
The brave firefighters that fought tirelessly to save as many victims as they could were so desperate they ended up making a hole in a wall. The reason? the emergency exits in the building were blocked. And where were the inspectors in charge of ensuring entertainment centers comply with all the safety regulations? fires are not the exclusive result of a terrorist attack after all --something Mexico likes to remember one tragedy at a time.
Not 200 meters away of the attack there were a group of policemen, as can be attested by the video-recordings of the security cameras. Why did they do nothing? why didn't they try to pursue the attackers?
Calderón wants to clean the police forces from the bottom up, while He vows to redouble his efforts to fight the organized crime. The philosopher Santayana wrote:
“Fanaticism consists in redoubling your effort when you have forgotten your aim.”
Calderón has it all wrong. If he were serious about fighting corruption, then he should start from the top to the bottom. He should incarcerate all the corrupt governors that robbed millions of dollars from their state budgets, along with all the dirty judges who have supported criminals and let them walk free. And let's not forget all the union leaders that use their position as a means to syphon out obscene amounts of money to their personal bank accounts, while they leave their union members without pension after a lifetime of work.
He should do all this, yet he won't. And the reason is simple: he wouldn't have become president in the first place, if it weren't for the help of those people.
Meanwhile he'll keep playing Russian roulette with our lives. And why wouldn't he? no matter the outcome, the house always wins.
A recent discussion held this week at Cryptomundo made think about some of the aspects I dislike the most about the 'skeptical' movement, and people who like to use that term but are in reality as fanatic in their denial as the true believers are in their blind faith.
You see, it's not only the problem that 'skeptics' claim the onus is always on the side of the ufologist/cryptozoologist/ghost-hunter/whathaveyou, even if they never bother to give solid arguments to sustain their refusal to merely entertain the possibility of something truly anomalous, no matter the amount of evidence gathered to support a particular case. What good is evidence --from the Latin word evidentia, implying it's clear and for all to see-- if you don't have the disposition to even look at it with an open mind?
How many of you have fantasized with your favorite skeptic being the actual witness of a UFO landing, a Bigfoot encounter, or a ghost apparition? how many of you have wished them to be on the other side of the experience for a change?
Well, I've got news for you: it wouldn't matter anyway.
Even if something truly anomalous would happen to them, not only would they find plenty of 'resons' to doubt their own subjective experience --Michael Shermer is very fond of saying that trained observers are just as bad as regular Joes when it comes to interpret the things registered by their crappy mammalian optical nerves (think about that next time you take a flight trip) in order to easily dismiss the evidence presented by researches like Leslie Kean without breaking a sweat-- chances are they would probably not register it into their conscious memories anyway!
Either that, or it would be swepped away into their mental 'meh' cabinet file, the same place most folks keep their weird anecdotes so they can focus instead on their day-to-day problems.
When thinking about this, I remembered the ending of the movie The Perfume [spoiler alert] and how Jean-Baptiste Grenouille manages to escape his public execution by exposing the mob to his magic perfume, causing a wonderful massive orgy right in the middle of the town's square:
After the sated peasants come to their senses and quickly gather their clothes, the narrator tells how instead of agreeing never again to discuss their forbidden debauchery, they simply erase it from their memory as if it had never happened. This, I think, is a great allegory of how the human mind usually deals with extraordinary experiences, as a control mechanism that permits a person to keep a preferred belief system even at the face of something that challenges it.
The will to believe is just as strong as the will to deny.
So what would prevent someone from dismissing the anomalous as a simple mental abherration? I guess the answer is: if the anomalous left an indelible trace in the person's life. Consider for example the tale of one Saul of Tarsus, a man who had a deep grudge against a new cult sweeping the ranks around the people of Israel, and was committed to hunt down these dangerous fanatics who called themselves 'Christians'. On his way to Damascus, he came face to face with something remarkable:
And as he journeyed, it came to pass that he drew nigh unto Damascus: and suddenly there shone round about him a light out of heaven: and he fell upon the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And he said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: but rise, and enter into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do. And the men that journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing the voice, but beholding no man. And Saul arose from the earth; and when his eyes were opened, he saw nothing; and they led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and did neither eat nor drink.
This account, which despite the source's credibility might just be based on a true event (and for the sake of argument let's assume it does) is relevant to the discussion not because of its religious connotation, but because Saul has no choice but to accept the objective reality of what happened to him... on account of him being blinded by it!
Granted, someone reading this could easily point out that everything I've written could easily be switched to the other side of the argument; that true believers' refusal to acknowledge evidence that debunks their favorite cases show the same type of bias and near-sightedness.
What I want to do is appeal for the middle road: being open to all these possibilities, yet remain emotionally impartial and unwilling to fully commit to neither. Accept that there is compelling evidence that suggests the factual existence of anomalous phenomena, but agreeing that so far the evidence does not constitute incontrovertible proof.
Because here's the thing: in their stubborn denial to acknowledge the possible validity of some of the cases presented thus far, and in their stead-fast insitence that the pile of evidence keep rising & raising until it becomes undeniable, I fear the skeptics are not considering the nasty side-effects this behavior causes in the end: the longer we refuse to change our cultural paradigm, the harder will it be for most of us to adjust to that new reality; and the more unpredictable the dominant institutions will become.
Just as the Classical philosophers in Rome and Alexandria never bothered to deal with the irrational currents coming from the Middle East, until they found the world as they knew it ceased to exist and was forgotten for a thousand years, the modern 'skeptics' should acknowledge they are not doing a service to Science by simply dismissing all the accounts given by honest individuals, wishfully thinking that if they heed no attention to them eventually they'll cease to exist.
The longer you stay in the dark, the more you'll be blinded by the light.
A humble construction worker from Guadalajara seems to have received the answer to his prayers, in the form of a tiny figure he alleges is an actual fairy.
José de la Luz claims he found the etheric femunculus after it fell off from a tree. According to him, the little lady was still alive, but later she fainted and died. He then proceeded to put the little body in a glass with formaldehyde. [News source 1] [News source 2]
What's surprising about this strange news is not the actual claims of José, but the HUGE response it has received on his little humble community! Flocks of people are willing to wait hours on a line just to get a short glimpse of this magical corpse... after they pay a small fee to the proprietor, of course
By now it should be obvious to anyone reading these lines that the 'fairy' is nothing but a cheap plastic figurine, quite possibly one depicting Pixie, a somewhat-obscure character in the X-Men Marvel Universe. But what prevents all those fervent neighbors to realize the obvious?
Is it perhaps that the psychological tension caused by the constant bombardment of blood-soaked news and economic warnings brings people into a state of 'altered reality', in which anything seems possible --including sylphs and fairies and other denizens of the subtler realms?
Or maybe it's the need to believe in something --ANYTHING-- that might bring some pale shimmer of hope lest one fall into utter despair when standing at the brink of the precipice.
Whatever it is, this should be an interesting case study for any student of the Paranormal; for it seems to be an example of how in an environment heavily charged with anxiety, the strangest belief systems can rise & flourish --say, belief in the superiority of the Aryan race in Germany during the Depression years, for instance?
Mexico & the world face a plethora of difficult challenges ahead, and no amount of clapping is gonna fix them for us --Now, if you'll excuse me, Mr. Smee summons me to the deck... later.
Amid all the violence caused by government's war on drugs, it's strange to come across news of another radical group, but with a very different agenda.
Last Monday the Mexican TV media announced that two academic researchers working for the Monterrey Technological Institute had suffered injuries caused by an explosive device inside a package. A few days later it was known that an extremist group known as 'Individuals Tending Toward the Savage' --Individualidades Tendiendo a lo Salvaje (ITS)-- claimed responsibility for the bomb, and it is believed they are also responsible for the attack against another researcher occurred months earlier in a different technological school.
Their motive: to protest against the social & ecological damages caused by modern technology, and to warn against the dangers of nanotechnology, which has the potential to enslave mankind, and cover the entire planet in grey goo, as can be read by their manifesto, published on an extremist blog named Total Liberation.
"When these modified viruses affect the way we live through a nano-bacteriological war, unleashed by some laboratory error or by the explosion of nano-pollution that affects the air, food, water, transport, in short the entire world, then all of those who defend nanotechnology and don't think it is a threat will realize that it was a grave error to let it grow out of control."
The manifesto mentions and applauds the actions of Neo-luddite Theodore Kaczynski, a.k.a. the Unabomber, who is currently serving a life sentence for the mail-bombing spree that killed 3 people and injured 23 others.
Their motto: "Nature is good. Civilization is evil."
As oddly as it may sound, anarchist groups in Mexico with eco-extremist tendencies are nothing new. For the last few years sporadic reports of small home-made explosive devices targeting a McDonald's restaurant or an ATM have been claimed by anarchists who support animal rights and are against the economic system.
Added to their same M.O. they also share a penchant for colorful names: Earth Liberation Front, Eco-saboteurs Brigade for Non-forgotten Revenge, Animal Rights Militia, Clandestine Mexico, Eco-anarchist Cell for Direct Attack, and so on.
Authorities had regarded the statements and actions of these groups --who might very well be one and the same--- as little more than annoying pranks... until now, that is.
With all the more 'analogical' problems affecting the world right now, it is somewhat odd to deal with a group of young people --and their ideologies and methods seem to suggest we *are* dealing with young middle-class college-level individuals-- who have a deep grudge against modern technology... although not so deep that it prevents them from using it to spread their manifesto through the web! but congruency is something every terrorist organization seems to lack.
Personally, I find myself sharing many of the concerns that scientific research focused on profit might bring, yet that would never justify in my eyes the use of direct violence --not to mention that it is stupid, plain and simple.
Also, it seems that these 'individual savages' are basing their ideology more on Sci-Fi woes than in actual hard facts.
Nanotechnology has the potential to benefit humanity in ways we can hardly imagine right now, granting us access to incredible new materials, more powerful computers and cleaner energies.
Like all technologies, it could also be abused in detrimental ways; but that has less to do with technology per se, and more with human nature.
Yesterday, as I came home from the office, tired but happy to begin a short & long-needed vacation, I started reading my copy of Jacques Vallee's Dimensions: A Casebook of Alien Contact [Amazon US & UK], when I suddenly found a rather startling paragraph, in light of the recent events transpiring in the global scene.
In the first chapter, Ancient Encounters, Vallee writes:
Celestial phenomena seem to have been so commonplace in the Japanese skies during the Middle Ages that they directly influenced human events. Panic, riots, and disruptive social movements were often linked to celestial apparitions [emphasis mine]. The Japanese peasants had the disagreeable tendency to interpret any "sign from heaven" as strong indications tat their revolts and demands against the feudal system were just, and as assurance that their rebellions would be crowned with success.
Naturally this paragraph caught my attention due to the current circumstances of disturbing riots occurring on several capitals of the world, specially on London. And then I remembered the highly-commented public disclosure by Mike Sewell, one of BBC Radio 5's sports reporters, in which he (rather grudgingly) confessed his personal shock caused by the sighting of a large disc-shaped object on the morning of August 4th, while he was driving to Stansted airport.
And then I started to wonder: could the UFO sighting be connected in some mysterious way with the London riots, which have amazed the whole world in part due to their rather abrupt eruption?
Granted, Sewell seems at the moment to have been the only person that observed the mysterious craft --aside from another motorist he claims was in that road at the time-- still, adding to all the examples Valle includes in his book chapter to illustrate the incidence of 'celestial phenomena' with popular insurrection in medieval Japan, there are a great deal of UFO sightings that have occurred during wars and battles, and not just in modern times but also in early antiquity.
Also, thanks to Google maps, one can compare the distance from Stansted airport --where Sewell was heading-- to the initial areas of the London riots. To a foreigner like me, they look pretty damn close!
Maybe the Ufonauts' interest is drawn toward the areas where social unrest and instability increases... or maybe I'm just too influenced by pop culture and Sci Fi? Let's not forget that in the first sequel to famous Predator franchise, the events unfold during massive riots in the streets of Los Angeles, a move no doubt intended to make use of the actual riots that exploded in LA during the 90s.
Of course this is purely speculative from my part. But even if I'm wrong, there's no denying that at its very core, the UFO has always been a symbol of change, and even if we now laugh at the 'deluded' claims of the Contactees of yore --or the Expoliticians of today-- UFOs have often functioned as a motor of social reform and the search for a new paradigm; something researchers like Jacques Vallee have pointed out again and again since the 1970s.
What matters here is the link between certain unusual phenomena --observed or imagined-- and the witnesses' behavior. These accounts show that it is possible to affect the lives of many people by showing them displays that are beyond their comprehension.
That's why the UFOs, even if they were nothing but cultural constructs, have always been so dangerous to the status quo.
In closing, I would like to direct your attention to the image shown below (which I found here) during my research of this blog post.
Yes, I know this is in all likelihood the image of an airplane captured by a low-quality cell phone camera... but it's still pretty darn evocative, don't you think?
Fox has just announced the green-lightning of a sequel to Cosmos, the award-winning TV show that launched the late Carl Sagan as iconic image of Science for an entire generation. Seth MacFarlane, the man behind such shows like Family Guy and American Dad, will be teaming with Sagan's widow, Anne Druyan, to produce the 13-episode series:
Envisioned as a successor to the Emmy and Peabody Award-winning original 13-part program, which was hosted by Sagan, the new Cosmos series will be hosted by renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. Underscoring MacFarlane's commercial appeal, Cosmos will air on Fox in primetime, something pretty unprecedented these days for a science documentary series on commercial American television. (The original series aired on PBS.) Fox will air Cosmos: A Personal Voyage in 2013, which is also when the network will launch MacFarlane's Flintstones reboot
Kind of an odd pairing, if you ask me; probably influenced by the prospect of Billions and billions... of dollars. Let's just hope it doesn't end up looking like this: