Friday, October 23, 2009


Super concrete in the U.S. military, Iran ... and the pyramids?

The story of geopolymers is worthy of a Dan Brown novel, with an unlikely cast including a maverick French scientist, a secretive caste of ancient stone masons and the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory. Along the way, the mystery of the pyramids gets solved, but it might just end with American bombs bouncing off impervious bunkers.

Geopolymers are technically described as synthetic aluminosilicate materials, but they might be more easily described as super-cements or ceramics that do not need firing. A mug made of Geopolymer will bounce off a concrete floor.

The technology of cement-making has been repeatedly lost and rediscovered. The Romans knew how to mix crushed rock (”caementitium”), with burnt lime and water to make a versatile building material. The Pantheon in Rome boasts the world's largest unreinforced concrete dome, still just as strong after 2,000 years. But cement was unknown in medieval times, with lime mortar serving as a poor substitute.

However, by the 1950s, it was obvious that much modern cement is not as durable as the ancient variety, and many buildings succumbed to concrete cancer caused by water penetration and chemical action. Ukrainian scientist Victor Glukhovsky looked into why the ancient cement recipes were so much more durable than modern ones and found that adding alkaline activators gave a greatly superior product. His work inspired Joseph Davidovits, a French chemical engineer, to discover the chemistry behind geopolymers and how it can be manipulated.

Professor Davidovits was awarded the French Ordre National du Mérite, and is President of the Geopolymer Institute. His most remarkable claim is that the pyramids were built using re-agglomerated stone, a sort of geopolymer limestone concrete, rather than blocks of natural stone. This would explain many of the mysteries of pyramid construction. Handling barrels of liquid concrete and casting in place would be much easier than moving giant blocks of stone. Remarkably, recent X-ray and microscopic study of samples has supported the theory that the pyramids are made of artificial stone.

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Prince Philip pictured at Nazi funeral

Prince Philip has broken a 60-year public silence about his family's links with the Nazis.

In a frank interview, he said they found Hitler's attempts to restore Germany's power and prestige 'attractive' and admitted they had 'inhibitions about the Jews'.

The revelations come in a book about German royalty kowtowing to the Nazis, which features photographs never published in the UK.

They include one of Philip aged 16 at the 1937 funeral of his elder sister Cecile, flanked by relatives in SS and Brownshirt uniforms.

[ ... ]

Philip was born Prince of Greece and Denmark on Corfu in 1921, the youngest of five children and the only son of Prince Andrew of Greece and Princess Alice of Battenberg. All four of his sisters married German princes and three - Sophie, Cecile and Margarita - became members of the Nazi party.

Sophia's husband, Prince Christoph of Hesse, became chief of Goering's secret intelligence service and they were frequent guests at Nazi functions.

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As the crises facing mankind multiply, NATO tries to find cause to celebrate new snooping gadget

From EuroHawk UAV Finally Goes Global :

Can a single unmanned aerial vehicle save the NATO alliance? Last week, German military brass and Northrop Grumman officials unveiled the EuroHawk, a UAV that performs long-endurance signal intelligence missions at more than 50,000 feet. (EuroHawk is an adapted Global Hawk, which the U.S. Air Force flies and plans to use to replace the U2 manned spy plane.) There were 300 guests and a lot of fanfare at Edwards Air Force Base during the event—especially considering the sale was for a single aircraft. If all goes well, Germany might buy four more EuroHawks in 2011. Why are hopes so high for the limited purchase of this aircraft? The reasons strike at the heart of some pressing defense issues facing Europe, NATO and the United States.

EuroHawk is a symbol that Europe is finally equipping its military with modern equipment, which might help bridge a chasm within NATO. European countries watched as the United States poured money into a host of new systems for use in Afghanistan and Iraq. These included new sensors, intelligence-gathering equipment and devices used by ground troops and commanders that could get real-time video imagery on demand. UAVs were, and remain, at the heart of the effort. At the same time, European defense spending languished, and the subsequent technology gulf between NATO allies is making it difficult for them to work together—especially during a challenging fight such as NATO faces in Afghanistan, where information is more critical than bullets. "The lack of a European platform means NATO relies on the United States for its intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance," says Guy Ben-Ari, a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "This is a crucial capability for battle-space management."

For a sense of how far behind the Germans are lagging, take a look at what the EuroHawk is replacing: the Breguet Atlantic, a 12-person airplane that was built in 1972. Only two Breguet Atlantics still serve in the German military, both of them wired for signals intelligence missions. (Known as "SIGINT," meaning snooping on communications and other electromagnetic emissions.) Since EuroHawk can stay overhead for long periods of time—more than 30 hours at a stretch—it can conduct more intelligence missions than any manned platform. That's good news for Germany and the rest of NATO. The treaty requires that Germany pony up a SIGINT platform, and EuroHawk will fill that membership requirement after the aged Breguets retire.

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Cultural consumers must have creative comforts despite economy new study finds

A new survey finds that cultural consumers--those who actively consume cultural goods (books, film, music, theatre) -- are still spending on creative comforts even in the face of a frigid economy. Seventy-eight percent continue to buy books, 73 percent are paying for cable, 67 percent are attending live theater and 63 percent are renting and attending movies.

The 2009 American Life and Culture Report by Patricia Martin, a leading expert on culture and commerce, surveyed 2,300 consumers in collaboration with Meaningful Measurement.

"Cultural consumers are making room in their budgets for traditional entertainment by increasingly attending free events," said Patricia Martin, lead researcher on the study. "They are not living a diminished lifestyle, just carefully selecting experiences that further their personal growth and help them continue to live a meaningful life."

[ ... ]

Additional findings from the study include:

Cultural Consumers Far From Socialists

Despite cries from conservatives, the research reveals that these politically progressive people have not adopted a socialist mindset -- 98 percent agree with the statement, "My success depends on me." Furthermore, nine out of 10 people believe that individual hard work leads to success.

Cultural consumers create echo effect that multiplies a message

Cultural consumers are influential when it comes to leisure pursuits. They are active and spend a good deal of time out of the home attending events and circulating in their communities. They organize outings with groups. The younger cohort maintains blogs (30%), and are social networkers.

Millennials create. Boomers consume.

Younger respondents are content creators; one-third actively blog and 82 percent said their peers consider them to be creative. More mature cultural consumers (46-65 year olds) create less, but still spend more than three hours a day online.

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Jack the Ripper's identity finally uncovered?

An historian has claimed to have discovered the real identity of Jack the Ripper, and believes the notorious Whitechapel murderer was also responsible for killing two more women.

Mei Trow used modern police forensic techniques, including psychological and geographical profiling, to identify Robert Mann, a morgue attendant, as the killer.

His theory, the result of two years intensive research, is explored in a Discovery Channel documentary, Jack the Ripper: Killer Revealed.

Trow's research is rooted in information from a 1988 FBI examination of the Ripper case, which had worked up a comprehensive criminal personality profile.

The portrait drawn up of Jack was as a white male from the lower social classes, most likely the product of a broken home.

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And Gog says to Magog: How about a little Armageddon at Megiddo?

Talk about a biblical reference. Greenpeace and World March activists staged a "die-in" to protest nuclear weapons at Mount Megiddo on Wednesday.

Megiddo, according to Judeo-Christian sources, will be the place where good and evil slug it out at the end of days. The term Armageddon is derived from the place name.

The protest came just days after US President Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize in part for declaring his intentions to rid the world of nuclear weapons.

According to Greenpeace, there are 23,000 nuclear warheads in the world, and just 500 detonated at once would cause an Ice Age for 10 years.

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Taryn Simon photographs secret sites

Taryn Simon exhibits her startling take on photography -- to reveal worlds and people we would never see otherwise. She shares two projects: one documents otherworldly locations typically kept secret from the public, the other involves haunting portraits of men convicted for crimes they did not commit.

About Taryn Simon

With a large-format camera and a knack for talking her way into forbidden zones, Taryn Simon photographs portions of the American infrastructure inaccessible to its inhabitants.

Chimamanda Adichie: The danger of a single story

Our lives, our cultures, are composed of many overlapping stories. Novelist Chimamanda Adichie tells the story of how she found her authentic cultural voice -- and warns that if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding.

About Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Inspired by Nigerian history and tragedies all but forgotten by recent generations of westerners, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novels and stories are jewels in the crown of diasporan literature.

Killing and dying in "the New Great Game": A letter to members of the US military on their way to Afghanistan

When you lace up your boots and head for the plane that will carry you to Afghanistan, you will be joining Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, ExxonMobil chief Rex Tillerson and Gurbangulu Berdimuhamedov in what has been described in the US Congress as "the new great game".

It is a "game" in which the US is seeking to plant itself near the heart of the energy complex of Central Asia, a region to the north and east of the Middle East that possesses important oil, natural gas and hydroelectric resources.

As you may know, Iraq has the world's fourth largest known oil reserves after Saudi Arabia, Canada and Iran. Major oil companies - ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, Chevron, and others - are competing for access to these reserves, courtesy of the US invasion in 2003 that ended Iraq's exclusion of Western firms. The US, acting on behalf of the energy companies, is also working to get access to Iraq's natural gas reserves, as will be discussed below. Permanent US bases in Iraq, although scaled back under an agreement with the Iraqi government, will give the US a credible military threat to back up its political and commercial demands in Iraq and surrounding Middle East countries.

[ ... ]

In February 1998, at a Congressional hearing of the Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific of the House International Relations Committee, then Congressman Doug Bereuter (R-Nebraska), chair of the subcommittee, laid out a vision, some might say a grandiose vision, for the US in Central Asia.

Opening the hearing, Congressman Bereuter said:

"One hundred years ago, Central Asia was the arena for a great game played by Czarist Russia, Colonial Britain, Napoleon's France, and the Persian and Ottoman Empires. Allegiances meant little during this struggle for empire building, where no single empire could gain the upper hand.

"One hundred years later, the collapse of the Soviet Union has unleashed a new great game, where the interests of the East Indian Trading Company have been replaced by those of Unocal (purchased by Chevron in 2005) and Total (a French oil company), and many other organizations and firms.

"Today the Subcommittee examines the interests of a new contestant in this new great game, the United States. The five countries which make up Central Asia - Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan - attained their independence in 1991, and have once again captured worldwide attention due to the phenomenal reserves of oil and natural gas located in the region ...

"Stated US policy goals regarding energy resources in this region include fostering the independence of these states and their ties to the West; breaking Russia's monopoly over oil and gas transport routes; promoting Western energy security through diversified suppliers; encouraging the construction of east-west pipelines that do not transit Iran; and denying Iran dangerous leverage over Central Asian economies.

"In addition ... the United States seeks to discourage any one country from gaining control over the region, but rather urges all responsible states to cooperate in the exploitation of region oil and other resources ...

"It is essential that US policymakers understand the stakes in Central Asia as we seek to craft a policy that serves the interests of the United States and US business."

The first witness at the hearing, Robert W. Gee, then assistant secretary for policy and international affairs in the US Department of Energy, under President Bill Clinton, explained the energy significance of Central Asia to the US:

"To begin, you may ask why is the United States active in the (Central Asia or Caspian) region? The United States has energy security, strategic, and commercial interests in promoting Caspian region energy development. We have an interest in strengthening global energy security through diversification, and the development of these new sources of energy. Caspian export routes would diversify rather than concentrate energy supplies, while avoiding over-reliance on the Persian Gulf ...

It is worthwhile to interrupt this testimony to make two critical points.

First, in this and other US official statements on Central Asia and Afghanistan the word "diversify" applied to export routes from Central Asia is a code word for building pipelines to Europe that do not pass through Iran or Russia and for building a pipeline or pipelines that pass through Afghanistan to serve Pakistan and India. A pipeline west to China is under construction.

Second, it is apparent that the US wants ready access to a source of petroleum products from Central Asia that will reduce its dependency on Middle Eastern oil and gas.

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Northrop profit tops estimates; 2009 forecast raised

Northrop Grumman Corp., the third- largest U.S. defense contractor, posted quarterly profit from continuing operations that exceeded analysts' estimates and boosted its full-year earnings forecast.

Income from continuing operations was $1.52 a share, including a one-time tax benefit of $75 million, or 23 cents a share, the Los Angeles-based company said in a statement today. Analysts surveyed by Bloomberg had estimated profit excluding some items of $1.18 a share.

Northrop raised its profit forecast for the year to $5 to $5.15 a share from an earlier projection of $4.65 to $4.90. The average estimate of 19 analysts was $4.86.

[ ... ]

Revenue increased at all of Northrop's five units, while operating income declined 18 percent in the electronic systems unit and 4.2 percent in shipbuilding, the company said.

The electronic systems business, maker of airborne radar for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, had “lower performance on government systems programs,” the company said in the statement. In the year-ago period, the unit had benefited from a $40 million patent-infringement settlement, Northrop said.

Aerospace Unit

Aerospace sales rose 4.6 percent to $2.53 billion in the quarter. Northrop's contract victories in the period included beating Boeing Co. for a $3.8 billion order to maintain the Air Force's KC-10 refueling tanker-fleet. Northrop will maintain the 59-tanker fleet for nine years.

Operating income at the information-systems business, which provides network communications systems and cyber-security products to defense and civilian government agencies, rose 32 percent to $206 million, the company said.

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Greg Hull: Peace put in perspective

... He, of course, was not dead. His brother had died, but a newspaper editor got the names wrong, and wrote his column expressing his opinion about the results of Alfred's life. The comments were less than flattering. But it did motivate Nobel to think about his own life. Seven years later, he signed his last will and testament, directing that the bulk of his estate would go to fund what we know today as the Nobel Peace Prize. In today's dollars, his estate was worth more than $100 million. Not all of it was from munitions, but plenty of it was. Some of his discovery was used to blow old stumps out of the ground to make farm fields like those in Silver Creek.

People wondered how, exactly, President Obama has accomplished Alfred's goals for peace. Frankly, I think he fits as well as some of the past recipients: Yasser Arafat (for his “courage” in shaking hands with Yitzhak Rabin), Mikhail Gorbachev (for apparently single-handedly ending the Cold War) and Al Gore (who let us know a hot summer we just suffered through is our own damn fault).

Consider a moment some of the folks who never were given the prize - including Gandhi, Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II. Apparently the Nobel Committee considered the entire lot a batch of unworthy trouble makers. ...

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Introducing Unredacted, an inside scoop on government secrecy

After nearly a quarter century of uncovering government secrets, the National Security Archive today opens its virtual doors with a new behind-the-scenes blog, Unredacted: The National Security Archive, Unedited and Uncensored. The Archive's own experience with thousands of Freedom of Information Act and Mandatory Declassification Review requests provides a wealth of data and fundamental lessons that we hope to share with you.

Unredacted will highlight never before publicly seen government documents as part of our regular “Document Friday” series.  The blog will feature commentary and analysis from our experts on current news stories, events, ongoing litigation and advocacy efforts, newly-released documents, and other hot topics.  We will regularly highlight some of our top document collections – including unpublished collections donated by top journalists and authors – that are available to researchers and the public.  The new blog will also tell you more about the Archive's global activities, including reports from the fields as Archive staff travel to document archives around the world, assist international courts and tribunals with human rights cases, support efforts to enact and implement freedom of information laws in other nations, and attend meetings and conferences with other NGO representatives and high-level government officials.

We would like this blog to be a forum for discussion and debate.  Please comment on our posts and let us know what you would like to see in this space.  If you are not familiar with our work, visit our web site at to learn more about our projects and publications and view thousands of declassified government documents.

Undercover film maker exposes racism in Germany

Guenter Wallraff blacked up and created the identity of Kwami Ogonno from Somalia for his documentary Black on White which opened in the country's cinemas on Thursday.

During a year undercover, he found campsites, flat rentals and job offers were all closed to him because of his skin colour.

Director Pagonis Pagonakis said the film showed racism was prevalent at all levels of society – and many were proud of their intolerance.

"After 14 months I realised how widespread everyday racism is," he said. "Not just the violence we read about in the media – the everyday racism.

"You can't find a flat, you can't get a job. You are sitting in a bar and someone says to you, 'you nigger'."

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The dark side of the ‘special relationship’

A silent battle has been raging right under our noses, a fierce underground struggle pitting the U.S. against one of its closest allies. For all its newsworthiness, the media has barely noticed the story – except when it surfaces, briefly, like a giant fin jutting above the waves. The aggressor in this war is the state of Israel, with the U.S., its sponsor and protector, playing defense. This is the dark side of the "special relationship" – a battle of spy vs. spy.

Convicted spy Jonathan Pollard – now serving a life sentence – stole secrets so vital that an attempt by the Israelis to get him pardoned was blocked by a massive protest from the intelligence and defense communities. Bill Clinton wanted to trade Pollard for Israeli concessions in the ongoing "peace process," and he was only prevented from doing so by a threat of mass resignations by the top leadership of the intelligence community.

The reason for their intransigence: among the material Pollard had been asked by his Israeli handlers to steal was the U.S. attack plan against the Soviet Union. According to Seymour Hersh, then-CIA director Bill Casey claimed Tel Aviv handed over the information to Moscow in exchange for relaxation of travel restrictions on Soviet Jews, who were then allowed to emigrate to Israel.

The Pollard case is emblematic – but it was just the beginning of a years-long effort by U.S. counterintelligence to rid themselves of the Israeli incubus. Law enforcement was – and presumably still is – convinced Pollard was very far from alone, and that a highly placed "mole" had provided him with key information. In his quest to procure very specific information, Pollard knew precisely which documents to look for – knowledge he couldn't access without help from someone very high in government circles.

In addition, the National Security Agency (NSA) intercepted a phone conversation between an Israeli intelligence officer and his boss in Tel Aviv, during which they discussed how to get hold of a letter by then-secretary of state Warren Christopher to Yasser Arafat. The Washington spy suggested they use "Mega," but his boss demurred: "This is not something we use Mega for," he averred.

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The Case for God - by Karen Armstrong

... Her point here is a well-reasoned response to the so-called "new atheists," a trio of anti-religionists (Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens) who surprised the publishing world with their own series of best-selling books.

Armstrong rightly points out that these writers have committed literary sins - not so much with their disbelief in God - but in the way they seek to discredit all people of faith by focusing on the intolerant and sometimes violent message promoted by Muslim, Christian and Jewish fundamentalists.

In the process, Armstrong argues, Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens are guilty of the same narrow-mindedness that they seek to expose. "Like all religious fundamentalists," she writes, "the new atheists believe that they alone are in possession of truth; like Christian fundamentalists, they read scripture in an entirely literal manner."

This former nun and author of 18 other books on religious themes outdoes the new atheists with her own critique of contemporary religious fundamentalism. "It is essential for critics of religion to see fundamentalism in historic context," she writes. "Far from being typical of faith, it is an aberration." ...

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40 years later, ‘Chicago 7’ trial still an iconic event

Martha Neil reports for the ABA Journal:

A perfect storm of political unrest, generational conflict and a biased judge set the stage for a 1969 trial that is still memorable 40 years later for its drama and iconic import, participants in an American Bar Association panel told a standing-room-only audience Tuesday.

Although the months-long Chicago Seven conspiracy trial ignited international debate—one searing image was of a bound and gagged Bobby Seale, originally the eighth defendant in U.S. v. Dellinger, et al.—panelists offered a behind-the-scenes glimpse of little-known aspects of the high-profile trial. Brought against activists who participated in anti-Vietnam War protests at the Democratic National Convention in 1968, the federal case offered an opportunity for defendants including Tom Hayden, Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin to create a media circus, and they took full advantage of it.

The effort was aided by a trial judge who offered a substantial target for criticism at the best of times and for this case was "the worst possible judge," recounted partner Thomas Sullivan of Jenner & Block, who was then a young lawyer in Chicago. Baited viciously by defendants and counsel, U.S. District Judge Julius Hoffman eventually handed down hefty contempt terms that were reversed on appeal.

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Secret files reveal covert network run by nuclear police

The nuclear industry funds the special armed police force which guards its installations across the UK, and secret documents, seen by the Guardian, show the 750-strong force is authorised to carry out covert intelligence operations against anti-nuclear protesters, one of its main targets.

The nuclear industry will pay £57m this year to finance the Civil Nuclear Constabulary (CNC). The funding comes from the companies which run 17 nuclear plants, including Dounreay in Caithness, Sellafield in Cumbria and Dungeness in Kent.

Around a third is paid by the private consortium managing Sellafield, which is largely owned by American and French firms. Nearly a fifth of the funding is provided by British Energy, the privatised company owned by French firm EDF.

Private correspondence shows that in June, the EDF's head of security complained that the force had overspent its budget "without timely and satisfactory explanations to us". The industry acknowledges it is in regular contact with the CNC and the security services.

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