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May 13, 2007

Hiatus

I've been blogging here at PastPeak almost every day for three years, during which time the site's had 7.5 million hits, but lately I'm feeling like Sisyphus, condemned every day to push a boulder up a hill only to have it roll back down again. Time for a breather.

So I'm going to take a month off and see if that recharges my batteries. Come back and see us on June 13. Thanks!

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May 11, 2007

Friday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
 
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

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Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

President Bush's approval rating has dropped to an all-time low of 28%. Here's my question: Is 28% still technically an approval rating? — Jay Leno

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May 10, 2007

Thursday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
 
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

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Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

The last time the Queen of England was in the United States was 1991. An awful lot has changed since 1991. Back then, President Bush was fighting a war in Iraq. — David Letterman

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May 09, 2007

Support The Troops Iraq  Politics

In case you haven't already seen this...

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Simply Amazing Science/Technology

Amazing what some people can do. Makes you wonder about the brain's untapped potential.

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Towards A Rational Drug Policy Rights, Law

An article in The Lancet classifies drugs by the harm they do, rather by the social stigma attached to them. The results are interesting, though they shouldn't be too surprising. Telegraph:

Alcohol is ranked much more harmful than the Class A drug ecstasy in a controversial new classification system proposed by a team of leading scientists.

The table, published today in The Lancet medical journal, was drawn up by a team of highly respected experts led by Professor David Nutt, from the University of Bristol, and Professor Colin Blakemore, chief executive of the Medical Research Council.

The authors proposes that drugs should be classified by the amount of harm that they do, rather than the sharp A, B, and C divisions in the UK Misuse of Drugs Act.

They say the basis of the Act is ill-defined, opaque, and seemingly arbitrary and overestimates the risks of ecstasy, which kills around ten people annually of the half a million people who use it every weekend, while neglecting those of alcohol, a legal substance which kills more than 300 annually [in the UK] by acute poisoning, and many tens of thousands by road traffic accidents, cirrhosis, gut and heart disease.

In the paper, the team argues that it would make much more sense for drugs to be reclassified on a rational basis that can be updated as new evidence emerges, and more easily than the current rigid category system now in use. [...]

In the new system legal drugs, such as alcohol and nicotine, are ranked alongside illegal drugs.

The new ranking places alcohol and tobacco in the upper half of the league table. These socially accepted drugs were judged more harmful than cannabis, and substantially more dangerous than the Class A drugs LSD, 4-methylthioamphetamine and ecstasy.

"Alcohol is not far behind demonised terrors of the street such as heroin and cocaine," said Prof Blakemore.

But the conclusions are likely to be ignored, according to coauthor Prof David Nutt from the University of Bristol, who has worked with the Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs. [...]

Prof Nutt said that young people believe that the establishment lies and distorts the dangers posed by drugs and the only way to restore their confidence is to rely on hard evidence, not arbitrary classifications. [Emphasis added]

Makes sense, but we can expect it to be ignored by policy-makers (who are a hell of a lot more likely to drink and use tobacco than they are to take acid or ecstasy). Which will only add to the perception that most of what we're told about psychoactive drugs is BS.

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Same-Sex Parenting Study Rights, Law

A review of the research literature commissioned by the Canadian government found that same-sex couples (lesbian couples, in particular) parent as effectively as heterosexual couples. The study appears to have been suppressed by Canada's Conservative government. Its author had to resort to the Canadian equivalent of an FOIA request to get it released. The Province:

Parenting by same-sex families is just as good — if not slightly advantageous — for children when compared to heterosexual families, a [Canadian] Justice Department study has concluded.

Commissioned by the then-Liberal federal government in 2003 at the height of the same-sex marriage debate, the academic study was not released until recently when its main author, Professor Paul Hastings at Concordia University, obtained it by making a request using the Access to Information Act.

Hastings, with the assistance of research students, reached the study's conclusion after reviewing existing research relating to the impact on children of being raised in different family types.

The report says the strongest conclusion that can be drawn from empirical literature is that the vast majority of studies show that children living with two mothers and children living with a mother and father have the same levels and qualities of social competence.

"A few studies suggest that children with two lesbian mothers may have marginally better social competence than children in traditional 'nuclear' families, even fewer studies show the opposite, and most studies fail to find any differences," says the 74-page study.

The paper references about 100 studies on parenting and children's development.

The study found that most of the available research on gay parents is on lesbian mothers, which fits into other studies that conclude women generally spend more time with their children than men. But the report says there is still too little research, especially about gay male parents, to reach any final conclusions.

Hastings said it is only speculation but he believes that the study was being held back from being published by the Justice Department once Stephen Harper's Conservative government came into power in 2006. [Emphasis added]

When the facts fail to confirm your prejudices and preconceptions, suppress the facts. Ignorance is strength.

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Wednesday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
 
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

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Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

My favorite part of the debate was when Chris Matthews asked, "Who does not believe in evolution?" And Sam Brownback, Mike Huckabee and Tom Tancredo all raised their paw. They said they do not believe in evolution. Then they said the biggest threat to America is religious radicals living in the Dark Ages. — Jay Leno

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May 07, 2007

Colony Collapse Environment  Science/Technology

From GNN, a long survey article on Colony Collapse Disorder, the mysterious malady that's wiping out large numbers of honeybees. Excerpts:

[A] strange new plague is wiping out our honey bees one hive at a time. It has been named Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD, by the apiculturalists and apiarists who are scrambling to understand and hopefully stop it. First reported last autumn in the U.S., the list of afflicted countries has now expanded to include several in Europe, as well as Brazil, Taiwan, and possibly Canada.

Apparently unknown before this year, CCD is said to follow a unique pattern with several strange characteristics. Bees seem to desert their hive or forget to return home from their foraging runs. The hive population dwindles and then collapses once there are too few bees to maintain it. Typically, no dead bee carcasses lie in or around the afflicted hive, although the queen and a few attendants may remain.

The defect, whatever it is, afflicts the adult bee. Larvae continue to develop normally, even as a hive is in the midst of collapse. Stricken colonies may appear normal, as seen from the outside, but when beekeepers look inside the hive box, they find a small number of mature bees caring for a large number of younger and developing bees that remain. Normally, only the oldest bees go out foraging for nectar and pollen, while younger workers act as nurse bees caring for the larvae and cleaning the comb. A healthy hive in mid-summer has between 40,000 and 80,000 bees.

Perhaps the most ominous thing about CCD, and one of its most distinguishing characteristics, is that bees and other animals living nearby refrain from raiding the honey and pollen stored away in the dead hive. In previously observed cases of hive collapse (and it is certainly not a rare occurrence) these energy stores are quickly stolen. But with CCD the invasion of hive pests such as the wax moth and small hive beetle is noticeably delayed.

Among the possible culprits behind CCD are: a fungus, a virus, a bacterium, a pesticide (or combination of pesticides), GMO crops bearing pesticide genes, erratic weather. [...]

[A]utopsies of CCD bees showed higher than normal levels of fungi, bacteria and other pathogens, as well as weakened immune systems. It appears as if the bees have got the equivalent of AIDS. [...]

Bees certainly are important, and it will get ugly if we lose them. “It’s not the staples,” said Jeff Pettis of the U.S. Agricultural Research Service. “If you can imagine eating a bowl of oatmeal every day with no fruit on it, that’s what it would be like” without honeybee pollination. [...]

Honey bees are used commercially to pollinate about one third of crop species in the U.S. This includes almonds, broccoli, peaches, soybeans, apples, pears, cherries, raspberries, blackberries, cranberries, and strawberries. [...]

Recent military research at Edgewood Chemical Biological Center claims to have narrowed the likely cause of CCD to a virus, a micro-parasite or both. [...]

[A] suspicious fungus was also discovered in them, suggesting the possibility that the fungus is either an immunosuppressive factor or the fatal pathogen that kills the bees. [...]

Sharon Labchuk is a longtime environmental activist [in Canada]. In a widely circulated email, she wrote:

I’m on an organic beekeeping list of about 1,000 people, mostly Americans, and no one in the organic beekeeping world, including commercial beekeepers, is reporting colony collapse on this list. The problem with the big commercial guys is that they put pesticides in their hives to fumigate for varroa mites, and they feed antibiotics to the bees. They also haul the hives by truck all over the place to make more money with pollination services, which stresses the colonies.

Her email recommends a visit to the Bush Bees Web site at bushfarms.com. Here, Michael Bush felt compelled to put a message to the beekeeping world right on the top page:

Most of us beekeepers are fighting with the Varroa mites. I’m happy to say my biggest problems are things like trying to get nucs through the winter and coming up with hives that won’t hurt my back from lifting or better ways to feed the bees.

This change from fighting the mites is mostly because I’ve gone to natural sized cells. In case you weren’t aware, and I wasn’t for a long time, the foundation in common usage...produces a bee that is about half as large again as is natural. By letting the bees build natural sized cells, I have virtually eliminated my Varroa and Tracheal mite problems. [...]

Who should be surprised that the major media reports forget to tell us that the dying bees are actually hyper-bred varieties that we coax into a larger than normal body size? It sounds just like the beef industry. [...]

It is not an uncommonly held opinion that, although this new pattern of bee colony collapse seems to have struck from out of the blue (which suggests a triggering agent), it is likely that some biological limit in the bees has been crossed. There is no shortage of evidence that we have been fast approaching this limit for some time. [...]

This conclusion is not surprising, considering how the practice of beekeeping has been made ultra-efficient in a competitive world run by free market forces...Rare is the beekeeper that does not need pesticide treatments and other techniques falling under the rubric of "factory farming." [...]

Bees are finely tuned machines, much more robot-like than your average species. They operate pretty much like the Borg of Star Trek fame. A honey bee cannot exist as an individual, and this is why some biologists speak of them as super-organisms. They are sensitive barometers of environmental pollution, quite useful for monitoring pesticide, radionuclide, and heavy metal contamination. They respond to a vide variety of pollutants by dying or markedly changing their behavior....Some pesticides are exceptionally harmful to honey bees, killing individuals before they can return to the hive.

Not surprisingly, the use of one or more new pesticides was, and likely remains, on the short list of likely causes of CCD. But more than pesticides could potentially be harming bees. Some scientists suspect global warming. Temperature plays an integral part in determining mass behavior of bees. [...]

Erratic weather patterns caused by global warming could play havoc with bees’ sensitive cycles...[A Michigan beekepper] thinks CCD might stem from a mix of factors from climate change to breeding practices that put more emphasis on some qualities, like resistance to mites, at the expense of other qualities, like hardiness.

[A]nother possibility with CCD is that the missing bees left their hives to look for new quarters because the old hives became undesirable, perhaps from contamination of the honey. This phenomenon, known as absconding, normally occurs only in the spring or summer, when there is an adequate food supply. But if they abscond in the autumn or winter, as they did last fall in the U.S.,...the bees are unlikely to survive.

A bee colony is a fine-tuned system, and a lot could conceivably go wrong...[One] theory holds that radiation from mobile phones interferes with bee navigation systems, preventing them from finding their way home. German research has shown that bees behave differently near power lines. Now, a preliminary study has found that bees refuse to return to their hives when mobile phones are placed nearby. [...]

It should be noted that the CCD Working Group at Penn State believes cell phones are very unlikely to be causing the problem. Nor are they interested in the possibility that GMO crops are responsible. Although GMO crops can contain genes to produce pesticides, some of which may harm bees, the distribution of CCD cases does not appear to correlate with GMO crop plantings. [...]

[O]ther pollinators are facing problems too...[S]everal of the U.K.’s 25 species [of bumblebees] are endangered, and three have gone extinct in recent years....[T]he process is caused by “pesticides and agricultural intensification” which could have a “devastating knock-on effect on agriculture.” The disappearance of wildflower species has also been implicated in the British bumblebee decline. [...]

[In other words,] it’s an ecosystem thing. As with honeybees and CCD, the root of the bumblebee problem lies in our modern rationalist drive toward endlessly ordering the world around us. [...]

This truth may be generalized to most facets of our agricultural existence; the bees are just a warning. Wherever you look, pests are getting stronger as the life forms we depend on get weaker. Adding more chemicals isn’t going to help for much longer. [...]

“There used to be a lot more regulation than there is today,” says Arizona beekeeper Victor Kaur. “People import bees and bring new diseases into the country. One might be colony collapse disorder.”

“The bees are dying, and I think people are to blame,” is how Kaur puts it simply. “Bee keeping is much more labor intensive now than it was 15 years ago. It’s a dying profession,” he eulogizes. “The average age of a beekeeper is 62, and there are only a couple of thousand of us left. There are only about 2.5 million hives left...It’s too much work.” [Emphasis added]

Free market enthusiasts take note. Factory farming and other forms of profit-driven monoculture are, in the long term, suicidal. (Not to mention, murderous.) But the market rewards them in the short term. The big commercial monoculture players displace everyone else, and by the time we wake up and begin to realize what we have lost, it's gone. The fatal flaw of monoculture: when something goes wrong, it goes wrong everywhere, all at once.

The fundamental problem is a mindset that treats Nature as a dead thing to be engineered and manipulated, as if it were a machine to be pushed until it breaks, then thrown away. That mindset, together with the tunnel vision created by the ferociously single-minded pursuit of profit.

Greed kills. On a larger and larger scale. Inevitably.

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Monday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
 
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

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Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

The other bombshell coming out this week is former CIA director George Tenet has a new book where he says there was no serious debate within the administration about going into Iraq. It will hit the stores on Monday, under the title "No Shit." — Bill Maher

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May 06, 2007

Premise Four 9/11, "War On Terror"  Activism  Ethics  Rights, Law

Footage of the LAPD attack on the peaceful May Day immigration rights rally in LA. I recommend you watch it. The LAPD decided it was time for the people to leave and go home — "the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances" apparently having expired. They waded in with batons (i.e., clubs) and shotguns firing rubber bullets.

Bradblog (via Feral Scholar) has some amateur video, too, via the participatory panopticon. An LAPD helicopter flies over for a few minutes telling people to go home, then the black-uniformed lines of police march into the park and begin clubbing everyone within reach and firing rubber bullets at the almost universally peaceful crowd that included many families, women, children. You've probably read about it. But watch the videos.

It's food for thought on a number of levels.

For one thing, it's a stark reminder of the ongoing militarization of the nation's police forces. The police put on their black SWAT gear and inevitably their mindset is transformed. "To protect and to serve" becomes "to intimidate and to coerce." See also this — SWAT team deployments were once the last resort but are now happening more than 100 times a day, on average. Police forces everywhere want to play "war on terror."

For another thing, the usual rationale for the deployment of non-lethal weapons — that they will decrease the level of violence — clearly has it backwards. If the choice were between rubber bullets and real bullets, rubber bullets are better. Of course. But when it comes to domestic crowd control, that's almost never the choice. Instead, it's a choice between asking people to move along or opening fire with rubber bullets to force them to. Give a militarized police force non-lethal weapons and their use soon becomes the default. But "non-lethal" is light years away from appropriate, let alone harmless.

But the point I most want to make is this. In his masterful two-volume critique of civilization, Endgame, Derrick Jensen lists the twenty premises that inform his work. Here's the premise Jensen calls his favorite:

Premise Four: Civilization is based on a clearly defined and widely accepted yet often unarticulated hierarchy. Violence done by those higher on the hierarchy to those lower is nearly always invisible, that is, unnoticed. When it is noticed, it is fully rationalized. Violence done by those lower on the hierarchy is unthinkable, and when it does occur is regarded with shock, horror, and the fetishization of the victims.

One group of Americans puts on black uniforms and attacks another group of Americans who have done nothing to provoke the attack. But because the first group is directing its violence down the hierarchy, the violence is, at worst, regarded as a bit excessive. But imagine if the people in the park had attacked the police with clubs and shotguns firing rubber bullets. The response would have been apocalyptic.

Premise Four is such a fact of life that we scarcely notice it. But once it's pointed out to you, things never look the same again.

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28% Politics

The good news: Bush's approval rating is now a paltry 28% (Newsweek).

The bad news: "that sort of means you go walking down a street — or go to a mall — and more than 1 out of every 4 people you pass is completely insane" (Tristero).

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Sunday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
 
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

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Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

This week, all the Republican candidates will be coming to California to debate each other at the Reagan Library. The winner will then be selected by Exxon-Mobil. — Jay Leno

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May 05, 2007

Saturday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
 
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

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Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

How many of you saw the Republican presidential debate? There are ten Republicans who want to be president of the United States. Did you see them? I mean, they looked like guys waiting to tee off at a restricted country club. — David Letterman

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May 04, 2007

Using Nanotech To Heal Spinal Cord Injuries Science/Technology

An application of nanotech holds enormous potential for treating spinal cord injuries, Parkinson's, and Alzheimer's. ABC:

Samuel Stupp has a bunch of mice that used to drag their hind legs behind them when they crawled around his Illinois lab, but they have miraculously regained at least partial use of their rear legs.

Astonishingly, their severed spinal cords have been repaired, at least partly, without surgery or drugs.

All it took was a simple injection of a liquid containing tiny molecular structures developed by Stupp and his colleagues at Northwestern University. Six weeks later, the mice were able to walk again. They don't have their former agility, but their injuries should have left them paralyzed for life.

Stupp is on the cutting edge of one of the most exciting fields in medical research: regenerative medicine. If he and others in the field are on the right track, one of these days tragic diseases like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's will be a thing of the past. And the crippled will walk again as the human body repairs itself in ways that it cannot do today.

Preliminary results with lab animals have been encouraging, but what works for mice and rats frequently does not work for humans. But if it does, medicine will enter a new era.

Stupp's team concentrates on combining the incredibly small world of nanotechnology with biology, creating molecules that self-assemble into large molecular structures that can literally "hug" around cells in the human body. That allows them to take charge of key cells present in the body and dictate how they will perform, or, in the case of stem cells, what they will become. [...]

The mice in Stupp's lab can move about better these days because the designer molecules attacked the precise reason why a spinal cord is unable to heal itself. When the cord is severed, glial cells in the body create a scar called a "glial scar."

"The scar appears within weeks after the injury and this basically paralyzes the patient forever," Stupp said. "The scar is like a physical blockade that prevents axons from regenerating and growing."

Axons are fibers that extend out from nerve cells and attach to other cells, thus allowing the brain to command the body to carry out its functions, like moving its legs. Stem cells present in the body that have not yet developed into a specialized cell should be able to differentiate into new neurons, thus making regeneration possible, but often the stem cells become glial cells instead, making recovery that much more difficult by reinforcing the "blockade."

A couple of years ago, Stupp said, his team discovered that it could pack its nanostructure with a biological signal that commands the stem cells to turn into neurons, not glial cells. The same signal, he said, orders the axons to grow.

And that's just what Stupp and his colleagues found when they dissected the damaged spinal column in some of the mice.

"We see regenerated axons across the lesion," he said. "That's the exciting part. Regeneration of axons across the lesion is very significant."

What it means is that the spinal column is, indeed, healing itself, and without the aid of drugs.

But what happens to those nanostructures after they've done their work? [...]

"These nanostructures are completely biodegradable," Stupp said. "They disappear within weeks." [...]

Stupp is now expanding his research into Parkinson's disease.

"It's just the very beginning, so this is extremely early," he said. "We are introducing these nanostructures in the brain of mice that have Parkinson's disease. We have seen very interesting functional recovery." [Emphasis added]

Molecular biology and nanotech are two fields where knowledge is increasing at an exponential rate. That means that we can expect "miraculous" new developments to appear, seemingly out of nowhere, at an ever-accelerating rate. Nanotech's still in its infancy, but the next few decades will be revolutionary.

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Friday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
 
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

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Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

President Bush vetoed the Iraq troop withdrawal bill. He said it would turn the country into a cauldron of chaos. And you hate to see Iraq become unstable. — David Letterman

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May 03, 2007

The War Through Women's Eyes Iraq

This is an absolutely devastating video made by two Iraqi women who spent three months travelling around Iraq, visiting other women and filming what they saw. Life as it's being lived today in Iraq, especially by Iraq's women. It's worse than you think.

Watch (via Sabbah):

There was a time when we were told the "liberation" of Iraq would mean liberation for Iraq's women. Watch the video and you'll see what an unspeakably grotesque lie that has turned out to be.

It's a humble, low-key amateur production, eloquent in its simplicity, and that makes it all the more heart-breaking. A truly stunning document of the insanity of the US war.

Often, we're led to believe that the suffering and violence are confined largely to Baghdad, that elsewhere in Iraq things are relatively peaceful, life relatively normal. Watch this film and you'll see that nothing could be further from the truth. Iraq is in ruins. The US has committed a crime of unimaginable proportions, a crime which continues, and deepens. Shame on us all.

[Thanks, Miles]

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Thursday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
 
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

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Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

Four years ago Tuesday, President Bush gave his Iraq victory speech in front of the "Mission Accomplished" banner. Well, I'm glad that's all behind us. — David Letterman

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May 01, 2007

Narrowcasting Ads Via Focussed Audio Corporations, Globalization  Media  Science/Technology

Hearing voices? Maybe this is why. Boston Globe (via Cryptogon):

Advertisers have a new way to get into your head.

Marketers around the world are using innovative audio technology that sends sound in a narrow beam, just like light, making it possible to direct messages right into consumers' ears while they shop or sit in waiting rooms.

The audio spotlight device, created by Watertown firm Holosonic Research Labs Inc., has been used to hawk everything from cereals in supermarket aisles to glasses at doctor's offices. The messages are often quick and targeted -- and a little creepy to the uninitiated.

Court TV recently installed the audio spotlight in ceilings of bookstores to promote the network's new murder-mystery show. A voice, whispering, "Hey, you, can you hear me? Do you ever think about murder?" was beamed toward customers as they browsed the mystery section in several independent bookstores in New York.

For advertisers, the audio spotlight is a way of marketing to consumers, sending tailored messages without disturbing an entire store with loudspeaker announcements such as Kmart's iconic "Blue Light Special." The flat disk speakers with precision targeting have made sound possible in unlikely places -- from Boston's Museum of Fine Arts to the New York Public Library -- and are increasingly attractive to merchants trying to improve the shopping experience with a peaceful environment. [...]

Unlike traditional speakers, which broadcast sound in every direction, sound from an audio spotlight speaker can be focused directly at one spot, so no one else can hear it, or projected against a surface so that sound appears to come from the surface itself.

For example, a box of Fruity Pebbles can advertise its nutritional content, heard by shoppers only as they walk by boxes in the cereal aisle. The audio spotlight uses ultrasound to stimulate the air into making sound, which is emitted in focused, laser-like beams. [Emphasis added]

What an awful idea. First time I encounter one of these things in a store, I'm going to boycott that store for life.

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Tuesday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
 
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

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Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

"Congress has finally passed a bill that requires troops to start leaving Iraq. Bush has not had a challenge like this since Laura poured his Wild Turkey down the toilet. Bush is furious about it. He said, "We have come this far, this is no time to get rational." — Bill Maher

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