Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Very illuminating (below).
From what I gather we are having skirmishes with the right. In Guerrero, Mexico, in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, and all over the world. They pay paramilitary armies, and if we are to believe Zelaya, rightist forces have taken over governments, they are above President Barack Hussein Obama.
In my last visit to Huitzuco, I witnessed some of this real power behind the official power, organizing to defend their privileges.
Going back to Karl Marx, we are witnessing the Class Struggle. This explains, past, current, and future history: Amen!
The explanation is actually simple. Five hundred years ago, the Americans got sick with European diseases, and were enslaved. Five hundred years have passed, these Americans are immune now to European diseases, and they know how to grow food.
I predict that in a few years time, we won't have poor peasants anymore.
Monday, May 30, 2011
70% of Science Award Finalists Are Children of Immigrants | Science, Math & Engineering Education | National Foundation for American Policy | LiveScience
Sunday, May 29, 2011
Who cares in the Middle East what Obama says?
President Obama has shown himself to be weak in his dealings with the Middle East, says Robert Fisk, and the Arab world is turning its back with contempt. Its future will be shaped without American influence
Monday, 30 May 2011
This month, in the Middle East, has seen the unmaking of the President of the
United States. More than that, it has witnessed the lowest prestige of
America in the region since Roosevelt met King Abdul Aziz on the USS Quincy
in the Great Bitter Lake in 1945.
While Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu played out their farce in Washington
– Obama grovelling as usual – the Arabs got on with the serious business of
changing their world, demonstrating and fighting and dying for freedoms they
have never possessed. Obama waffled on about change in the Middle East – and
about America's new role in the region. It was pathetic. "What is this
'role' thing?" an Egyptian friend asked me at the weekend. "Do
they still believe we care about what they think?"
And it is true. Obama's failure to support the Arab revolutions until they
were all but over lost the US most of its surviving credit in the region.
Obama was silent on the overthrow of Ben Ali, only joined in the chorus of
contempt for Mubarak two days before his flight, condemned the Syrian regime
– which has killed more of its people than any other dynasty in this Arab "spring",
save for the frightful Gaddafi – but makes it clear that he would be happy
to see Assad survive, waves his puny fist at puny Bahrain's cruelty and
remains absolutely, stunningly silent over Saudi Arabia. And he goes on his
knees before Israel. Is it any wonder, then, that Arabs are turning their
backs on America, not out of fury or anger, nor with threats or violence,
but with contempt? It is the Arabs and their fellow Muslims of the Middle
East who are themselves now making the decisions.
Turkey is furious with Assad because he twice promised to speak of reform and
democratic elections – and then failed to honour his word. The Turkish
government has twice flown delegations to Damascus and, according to the
Turks, Assad lied to the foreign minister on the second visit, baldly
insisting that he would recall his brother Maher's legions from the streets
of Syrian cities. He failed to do so. The torturers continue their work.
Watching the hundreds of refugees pouring from Syria across the northern
border of Lebanon, the Turkish government is now so fearful of a repeat of
the great mass Iraqi Kurdish refugee tide that overwhelmed their border in
the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf war that it has drawn up its own secret plans
to prevent the Kurds of Syria moving in their thousands into the Kurdish
areas of south-eastern Turkey. Turkish generals have thus prepared an
operation that would send several battalions of Turkish troops into Syria
itself to carve out a "safe area" for Syrian refugees inside
Assad's caliphate. The Turks are prepared to advance well beyond the Syrian
border town of Al Qamishli – perhaps half way to Deir el-Zour (the old
desert killing fields of the 1915 Armenian Holocaust, though speak it not) –
to provide a "safe haven" for those fleeing the slaughter in
The Qataris are meanwhile trying to prevent Algeria from resupplying Gaddafi
with tanks and armoured vehicles – this was one of the reasons why the Emir
of Qatar, the wisest bird in the Arabian Gulf, visited the Algerian
president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, last week. Qatar is committed to the Libyan
rebels in Benghazi; its planes are flying over Libya from Crete and –
undisclosed until now – it has Qatari officers advising the rebels inside
the city of Misrata in western Libya; but if Algerian armour is indeed being
handed over to Gaddafi to replace the material that has been destroyed in
air strikes, it would account for the ridiculously slow progress which the
Nato campaign is making against Gaddafi.
Of course, it all depends on whether Bouteflika really controls his army – or
whether the Algerian "pouvoir", which includes plenty of secretive
and corrupt generals, are doing the deals. Algerian equipment is superior to
Gaddafi's and thus for every tank he loses, Ghaddafi might be getting an
improved model to replace it. Below Tunisia, Algeria and Libya share a
750-mile desert frontier, an easy access route for weapons to pass across
But the Qataris are also attracting Assad's venom. Al Jazeera's concentration
on the Syrian uprising – its graphic images of the dead and wounded far more
devastating than anything our soft western television news shows would dare
broadcast – has Syrian state television nightly spitting at the Emir and at
the state of Qatar. The Syrian government has now suspended up to £4 billion
of Qatari investment projects, including one belonging to the Qatar
Electricity and Water Company.
Amid all these vast and epic events – Yemen itself may yet prove to be the
biggest bloodbath of all, while the number of Syria's "martyrs"
have now exceeded the victims of Mubarak's death squads five months ago – is
it any surprise that the frolics of Messrs Netanyahu and Obama appear so
irrelevant? Indeed, Obama's policy towards the Middle East – whatever it is
– sometimes appears so muddled that it is scarcely worthy of study. He
supports, of course, democracy – then admits that this may conflict with
America's interests. In that wonderful democracy called Saudi Arabia, the US
is now pushing ahead with a £40 billion arms deal and helping the Saudis to
develop a new "elite" force to protect the kingdom's oil and
future nuclear sites. Hence Obama's fear of upsetting Saudi Arabia, two of
whose three leading brothers are now so incapacitated that they can no
longer make sane decisions – unfortunately, one of these two happens to be
King Abdullah – and his willingness to allow the Assad family's
atrocity-prone regime to survive. Of course, the Israelis would far prefer
the "stability" of the Syrian dictatorship to continue; better the
dark caliphate you know than the hateful Islamists who might emerge from the
ruins. But is this argument really good enough for Obama to support when the
people of Syria are dying in the streets for the kind of democracy that the
US president says he wants to see in the region?
One of the vainest elements of American foreign policy towards the Middle East
is the foundational idea that the Arabs are somehow more stupid than the
rest of us, certainly than the Israelis, more out of touch with reality than
the West, that they don't understand their own history. Thus they have to be
preached at, lectured, and cajoled by La Clinton and her ilk – much as their
dictators did and do, father figures guiding their children through life.
But Arabs are far more literate than they were a generation ago; millions
speak perfect English and can understand all too well the political weakness
and irrelevance in the president's words. Listening to Obama's 45-minute
speech this month – the "kick off' to four whole days of weasel
words and puffery by the man who tried to reach out to the Muslim world in
Cairo two years ago, and then did nothing – one might have thought that the
American President had initiated the Arab revolts, rather than sat on the
sidelines in fear.
There was an interesting linguistic collapse in the president's language over
those critical four days. On Thursday 19 May, he referred to the
continuation of Israeli "settlements". A day later, Netanyahu was
lecturing him on "certain demographic changes that have taken place on
the ground". Then when Obama addressed the American Aipac lobby group
(American Israel Public Affairs Committee) on the Sunday, he had cravenly
adopted Netanyahu's own preposterous expression. Now he, too, spoke of "new
demographic realities on the ground." Who would believe that he was
talking about internationally illegal Jewish colonies built on land stolen
from Arabs in one of the biggest property heists in the history of "Palestine"?
Delay in peace-making will undermine Israeli security, Obama announced –
apparently unaware that Netanyahu's project is to go on delaying and
delaying and delaying until there is no land left for the "viable"
Palestinian state which the United States and the European Union supposedly
wish to see.
Then we had the endless waffle about the 1967 borders. Netanyahu called them "defenceless"
(though they seemed to have been pretty defendable for the 18 years prior to
the Six Day War) and Obama – oblivious to the fact that Israel must be the
only country in the world to have an eastern land frontier but doesn't know
where it is – then says he was misunderstood when he talked about 1967. It
doesn't matter what he says. George W Bush caved in years ago when he gave
Ariel Sharon a letter which stated America's acceptance of "already
existing major Israeli population centres" beyond the 1967 lines. To
those Arabs prepared to listen to Obama's spineless oration, this was a
grovel too far. They simply could not understand the reaction of Netanyahu's
address to Congress. How could American politicians rise and applaud
Netanyahu 55 times – 55 times – with more enthusiasm than one of the rubber
parliaments of Assad, Saleh and the rest?
And what on earth did the Great Speechifier mean when he said that "every
country has the right to self-defence" but that Palestine would be "demilitarised"?
What he meant was that Israel could go on attacking the Palestinians (as in
2009, for example, when Obama was treacherously silent) while the
Palestinians would have to take what was coming to them if they did not
behave according to the rules – because they would have no weapons to defend
themselves. As for Netanyahu, the Palestinians must choose between unity
with Hamas or peace with Israel. All of which was very odd. When there was
no unity, Netanyahu told us all that he had no Palestinian interlocutor
because the Palestinians were disunited. Yet when they unite, they are
disqualified from peace talks.
Of course, cynicism grows the longer you live in the Middle East. I recall,
for example, travelling to Gaza in the early 1980s when Yasser Arafat was
running his PLO statelet in Beirut. Anxious to destroy Arafat's prestige in
the occupied territories, the Israeli government decided to give its support
to an Islamist group in Gaza called Hamas. In fact, I actually saw with my
own eyes the head of the Israeli army's Southern Command negotiating with
bearded Hamas officials, giving them permission to build more mosques. It's
only fair to say, of course, that we were also busy at the time, encouraging
a certain Osama bin Laden to fight the Soviet army in Afghanistan. But the
Israelis did not give up on Hamas. They later held another meeting with the
organisation in the West Bank; the story was on the front page of the
Jerusalem Post the next day. But there wasn't a whimper from the Americans.
Then another moment that I can recall over the long years. Hamas and Islamic
Jihad members – all Palestinians – were, in the early 1990s, thrown across
the Israeli border into southern Lebanon where they spent more than a year
camping on a freezing mountainside. I would visit them from time to time and
on one occasion mentioned that I would be travelling to Israel next day.
Immediately, one of the Hamas men ran to his tent and returned with a
notebook. He then proceeded to give me the home telephone numbers of three
senior Israeli politicians – two of whom are still prominent today – and,
when I reached Jerusalem and called the numbers, they all turned out to be
correct. In other words, the Israeli government had been in personal and
direct contact with Hamas.
But now the narrative has been twisted out of all recognition. Hamas are the
super-terrorists, the "al-Qa'ida" representatives in the unified
Palestinian leadership, the men of evil who will ensure that no peace ever
takes place between Palestinians and Israeli. If only this were true, the
real al-Qa'ida would be more than happy to take responsibility. But it is
not true. In the same context, Obama stated that the Palestinians would have
to answer questions about Hamas. But why should they? What Obama and
Netanyahu think about Hamas is now irrelevant to them. Obama warns the
Palestinians not to ask for statehood at the United Nations in September.
But why on earth not? If the people of Egypt and Tunisia and Yemen and Libya
and Syria – we are all waiting for the next revolution (Jordan? Bahrain
again? Morocco?) – can fight for freedom and dignity, why shouldn't the
Palestinians? Lectured for decades on the need for non-violent protest, the
Palestinians elect to go to the UN with their cry for legitimacy – only to
be slapped down by Obama.
Having read all of the "Palestine Papers" which Al-Jazeera revealed,
there is no doubt that "Palestine's" official negotiators will go
to any lengths to produce some kind of statelet. Mahmoud Abbas, who managed
to write a 600-page book on the "peace process" without once
mentioning the word "occupation", could even cave in over the UN
project, fearful of Obama's warning that it would be an attempt to "isolate"
Israel and thus de-legitimise the Israeli state – or "the Jewish
state" as the US president now calls it. But Netanyahu is doing more
than anyone to delegitimise his own state; indeed, he is looking more and
more like the Arab buffoons who have hitherto littered the Middle East.
Mubarak saw a "foreign hand" in the Egyptian revolution (Iran, of
course). So did the Crown Prince of Bahrain (Iran again). So did Gaddafi
(al-Qa'ida, western imperialism, you name it), So did Saleh of Yemen
(al-Qa'ida, Mossad and America). So did Assad of Syria (Islamism, probably
Mossad, etc). And so does Netanyahu (Iran, naturally enough, Syria, Lebanon,
just about anyone you can think of except for Israel itself).
But as this nonsense continues, so the tectonic plates shudder. I doubt very
much if the Palestinians will remain silent. If there's an "intifada"
in Syria, why not a Third Intifada in "Palestine"? Not a struggle
of suicide bombers but of mass, million-strong protests. If the Israelis
have to shoot down a mere few hundred demonstrators who tried – and in some
cases succeeded – in crossing the Israeli border almost two weeks ago, what
will they do if confronted by thousands or a million. Obama says no
Palestinian state must be declared at the UN. But why not? Who cares in the
Middle East what Obama says? Not even, it seems, the Israelis. The Arab
spring will soon become a hot summer and there will be an Arab autumn, too.
By then, the Middle East may have changed forever. What America says will
Every hundred years this state goes to war. Jose Maria Morelos y Pavon, was kept in a house downtown Huitzuco, the town my mother grew up in. He was fighting against Spain 200 years ago. Then my grandma's brothers, Abraham, and Mardonio Castro went to war on February 28, 1911, together with close to a hundred men from the town.
Both wars lasted ten years. The current one started December, 2006, with Felipe de Jesus Calderon Hinojosa, President of Mexico, therefore it will end around 2016.
I should leave, I am not a hero.
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
``On Tuesday, she captured 47 percent of the vote to Ms. Corwin’s 43 percent, according to unofficial results. A Tea Party candidate, Jack Davis, had 9 percent.''
Finally reason is coming back.
Scientists to study stem cells of New York Jews with East European roots to find out why so many live to 100 | Mail Online
``Lilly Port, who turned 98 last week, is one of the Ashkenazi Jews who will be taking part in the study, claims that she has never been ill.
'I always had good genes,' she said.
And even though she doesn't smoke, she does eat bratwurst and chocolate daily and drinks white wine 'when I want to relax'.
She told the New York Post: 'I limit my food intake, because I want to be able to fit into my clothes, but I'm in perfect health.'
It will be some time before the results have been carefully dissected and conclusions drawn, but this survey should go some way to unlocking the code to a long life.''
"Rooney is one of the best strikers in the world," said Mascherano. "He is a key player for them.
"Hernandez is a very, very good player. I knew him when he was in Mexico but it was a big surprise when he came to England.
"He is having a fantastic season. We have to be careful with both of them because they are really good players and really dangerous."
Monday, May 23, 2011
Reading Gleick's book, The Information, I just read about the ruler of Russia, many years ago, who started communicating his orders to the millions of his subjects, who were denied the right to call back, or talk among themselves with the, then modern, communication devices.
What a difference time makes. At the same time I am writing this in Chilpancingo, the Spaniard kids in Puerta del Sol in Madrid are organized through social networks. The "King" Zapatero lost the election.
The little people are coming through.
Here in Mexico a poet, friend of Ivan Illich, by the name of Javier Sicilia is confronting powerful drug lords in political circles.
The Chickens are Organized!
Sunday, May 22, 2011
Pumas' players celebrate after scoring during the Mexican soccer league second leg final game against Monarcas in Mexico City, Sunday May 22, 2011. Pumas won the championship 3-2 on aggregate. (AP Photo/Daniel Jayo)
He had a perfect score at the Closing Ceremony of the 1948 Olympic Games in Wembley, winning the Gold Medal for Mexico for Equestrian Jumping.
Next Saturday another Mexican, Javier Hernández Balcázar, will likely be in the same field, playing for Manchester United against Barcelona Football Club, for the UEFA Champions League.
I feel proud for my uncle, and for Little Pea (Chicharito) as we call Hernández in Mexico.
Update: Unfortunately Chicharito did not score and his team lost.
Long Live Lionel Messi!
Saturday, May 21, 2011
This teaches me the epochal change the world witnessed this year. No Apocalypse - sorry American Evangelists - maybe next time; I hope not.
Alpha males take over, rape our wives, and steal our money. This has been happening since we were in Africa!
We have to face the brutes and defeat them.
Long Live Javier Sicilia!
These news are better than the RAPTURE. I guess the Governator should act like one of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse:
Thursday, May 19, 2011
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Robert Fisk: President's fine words may not address the Middle East's real needs
In a keynote speech today, Barack Obama will try to redefine America's relationship with the Arab world. Our writer is sceptical
Thursday, 19 May 2011
OK, so here's what President Barack Obama should say today about the Middle East. We will leave Afghanistan tomorrow. We will leave Iraq tomorrow. We will stop giving unconditional, craven support to Israel. Americans will force the Israelis – and the European Union – to end their siege of Gaza. We will withhold all future funding for Israel unless it ends, totally and unconditionally, its building of colonies on Arab land that does not belong to it. We will cease all co-operation and business deals with the vicious dictators of the Arab world – whether they be Saudi or Syrian or Libyan – and we will support democracy even in those countries where we have massive business interests. Oh yes, and we will talk to Hamas.
Of course, President Barack Obama will not say this. A vain and cowardly man, he will talk about the West's "friends" in the Middle East, about the security of Israel – security not being a word he has ever devoted to Palestinians – and he will waffle on and on about the Arab Spring as if he ever supported it (until, of course, the dictators were on the run), as if – when they desperately needed his support – he had given his moral authority to the people of Egypt; and, no doubt, we will hear him say what a great religion Islam is (but not too great, or Republicans will start recalling the Barack Hussein Obama birth certificate again) and we will be asked – oh, I fear we will – to turn our backs on the Bin Laden past, to seek "closure" and "move on" (which I'm afraid the Taliban don't quite agree with).
Mr Obama and his equally gutless Secretary of State have no idea what they are facing in the Middle East. The Arabs are no longer afraid. They are tired of our "friends" and sick of our enemies. Very soon, the Palestinians of Gaza will march to the border of Israel and demand to "go home".
We got a signal of this on the Syrian and Lebanese borders on Sunday. What will the Israelis do? Kill the Palestinians in their thousands? And what will Mr Obama say then? (He will, of course, "call for restraint on both sides", a phrase he inherited from his torturing predecessor).
I rather think that the Americans suffer from what the Israelis suffer from: self-delusional arguments. The Americans keep referring to the goodness of Islam, the Israelis to how they understand the "Arab mind". But they do not. Islam as a religion has nothing to do with it, any more than Christianity (a word I don't hear much of these days) or Judaism. It's about dignity, honour, courage, human rights – qualities which, in other circumstances, the United States always praises – which Arabs believe they are owed. And they are right. It is time for Americans to free themselves from their fear of Israel's lobbyists – in fact the Likud Party's lobbyists – and their repulsive slurs of anti-Semitism against anyone who dares to criticise Israel. It is time for them to take heart from the immensely brave members of the American-Jewish community who speak out about the injustices that Israel as well as the Arab leaders commit.
But will our favourite President say anything like this today? Forget it. This is a mealy-mouthed President who should – why have we forgotten this? – have turned down his Nobel Peace Prize because he can't even close Guantanamo, let alone bring us peace. And what did he say in his Nobel speech? That he, Barack Obama, had to live in the real world, that he was not Gandhi, as if – and all praise to The Irish Times for spotting this – Gandhi didn't have to fight the British empire. So we will be treated to all the usual analysts in the States, saying how fine the President's words are, praising this wretched man's speechifying.
And then comes the weekend when Mr Obama has to address the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the biggest, most powerful lobbyist "friend" of Israel in America. Then it will be all back to the start, security, security, security, little – if any mention – of the Israeli colonies in the West Bank and, I feel sure of this, much mention of terrorism, terrorism, terrorism, terrorism, terrorism, terrorism, terrorism. And no doubt a mention of the killing (let us not use the word execution) of Osama bin Laden.
What Mr Obama doesn't understand however – and, of course, Mrs Clinton has not the slightest idea – is that, in the new Arab world, there can be no more reliance on dictator-toadies, no more flattery. The CIA may have its cash funds to hand but I suspect few Arabs will want to touch them. The Egyptians will not tolerate the siege of Gaza. Nor, I think, will the Palestinians. Nor the Lebanese, for that matter; and nor the Syrians when they have got rid of the clansmen who rule them. The Europeans will work that out quicker than the Americans – we are, after all, rather closer to the Arab world – and we will not forever let our lives be guided by America's fawning indifference to Israeli theft of property.
It is, of course, going to be a huge shift of tectonic plates for Israelis – who should be congratulating their Arab neighbours, and the Palestinians for unifying their cause, and who should be showing friendship rather than fear. My own crystal ball long ago broke. But I am reminded of what Winston Churchill said in 1940, that "what General Weygand called the battle for France is over. The battle of Britain... is about to begin."
Well, the old Middle East is over. The new Middle East is about to begin. And we better wake up.
Obviously he is not acting like the leftist he brags to be. Without knowing the verdict, he seems a phony to me.
The only interest in the masses of Africa he seems to have, is to get blow jobs. What is there for me? kind of mentality.
The facebook/Twitter youth of Tunisia and Egypt, have smartphones. Are they leftists?
I believe there is an element of bourgeois mentality in that movement. There are kids like that in Venezuela, Cuba, China, ...
I hope those young people side with the masses, and not just trying to be capitalists with pairs of shoes they won't use.
Maybe is a stage; I believe in young people. What else can I believe in?
Next term I have these courses assigned:
English, Logical Thinking, Complex variable calculus, Probability, Economics, Algebra, and Classical Mechanics.
Maybe Modern Algebra also.
Humans internalize speech, our throats are ready for complex sound production, and our ears for decoding the sound signals; the Information in the sound waves. Contrariwise there is no picture decoding tools, our hands make pictures, our eyes see them, and something decodes the intended Information in the pictures. This is new; it happened around 30,000 years ago. Homer recited the Iliad and the Odyssey, he didn't write them. Somebody wrote them later. The tools of the poet are older than pictures. Intonation, rhyme, and several other Information innate technologies for Information processing.
UPDATE: Today is the Day. So far so good. I do not see any RAPTURE.
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Sweet is snow in summer for the thirsty to drink, and sweet for
sailors after winter to see the garland of spring; but most sweet when
one cloak shelters two lovers, and the tale of love is told by both.
Read more: http://relevantscience.blogspot.com/2011/02/palladas-chapter-i-love-i-prelude.html"
Odysseus wept when he heard the poet sing of his great deeds
abroad because, once sung, they were no longer his alone. They
belonged to anyone who heard the song
--Ward Just (2004)"
From "The Information": James Gleick
Monday, May 16, 2011
From James Gleick "The Information."
Published: May 16, 2011
DURHAM, N.C.—The sign on the door at the renovated tobacco warehouse reads “Physcient.” Inside are a few rooms that, depending on where you look, seem like an artist’s studio, a machine shop or a natural history museum. A lathe stands next to a drill press; along other walls are vises, huge enamel-red C-clamps, microscopes and plywood frames covered in electronics. But there are also reed-woven sculptures of insects called water boatmen hanging on the walls, along with glass-fronted boxes holding preserved flying dragon lizards. Casts of human rib bones are scattered on tables. A huge cast of a fearsome pair of fish jaws rests on a row of books.
Physcient is, in fact, a medical technology company. But its décor speaks to the exceptional careers of its co-founders, Hugh Crenshaw and Charles Pell. They both got their start studying biomechanics — how creatures fly, swim and crawl. Mr. Pell built models of muscles and fish heads. Dr. Crenshaw earned his Ph.D. figuring out how single-celled creatures swim. And over the past 20 years they’ve profitably translated their understanding of biomechanics into inventions, from robotic submarines to pill sorters.
Now they’re turning their attention to the world of surgery. The instruments that surgeons use today, they argue, were invented before biomechanics became a mature science. They work against the physics of the body, instead of with it. “The technologies remain remarkably unchanged,” said Dr. Crenshaw. “Maybe we can do better.”
Dr. Crenshaw and Mr. Pell are starting with a kindler, gentler rib spreader. Surgeons often treat the broken ribs and other painful side effects of open heart surgery as inevitable. But Dr. Crenshaw and Mr. Pell have invented a new kind of rib spreader that takes into account how bones can bend, rather than break. Their preclinical studies on pigs suggest that it causes far less damage.
If it turns out to work as they hope, the inventors will turn their attention to other tools of the trade. “The entire surgical tray is going to be transformed,” said Mr. Pell.
As a boy, Mr. Pell was, in his words, “a congenital geek.” He spent his free time building rockets, cars and wave machines. He went to art school and earned a master’s degree in sculpture, but his sculptures were more like robots than marble busts. After graduate school, Mr. Pell headed for California, where he ended up director of research and development at a company that built robotic dinosaurs for museum exhibits. He continued to come up with strange designs, like a water-filled arch that fish could swim inside to travel from one pond to another.
To figure out if a fish could physically survive the journey through a water bridge, Mr. Pell called up Stephen Wainwright, a pioneer in biomechanics at Duke University. “He said, ‘Who are you, and why are you doing this?’ ” recalled Mr. Pell. Despite his initial misgivings, Dr. Wainwright ended the conversation by offering to fly Mr. Pell to Duke for a visit. Not long afterward, Mr. Pell became the director of the BioDesign Studio at Duke.
At the studio Mr. Pell helped Dr. Wainwright and his colleagues build models to test their ideas about biomechanics, creating models of spinal cords, muscles, jaws and dozens of other animal parts. “These models can physically surprise you,” said Mr. Pell. “They can show you things that you didn’t think of before you built them.”
One of Mr. Pell’s biggest surprises came when he tried to make a simple model of a swimming fish. He built a rubber tube with a rounded front and then stuck a rod a quarter of the way down its length. When he put the tube in water and turned the rod back and forth between his fingers, it generated a wave with its tail. While making a new version of that tube, Mr. Pell accidentally nicked the tail end. That new shape, he discovered, caused the water to flow in a different pattern around the tube, creating thrust.
Mr. Pell, Dr. Wainwright and their colleagues got a patent for the design and started a company called Nekton to develop products from it. First, they turned it into a commercially successful bathtub toy. But when the Navy discovered Mr. Pell and his colleagues could get fishlike thrust from something without any moving parts, they encouraged him to get into the business of building underwater robots. Mr. Pell and his colleague at Nekton ended up making a highly maneuverable yardlong robot called the Pilot Fish.
“We started out as a toy company; we ended up as a defense contractor,” said Mr. Pell.
One of the people who encouraged Mr. Pell to go into business was Dr. Crenshaw. At the time, Dr. Crenshaw was at Duke studying a particularly tricky question in biomechanics: how microscopic marine organisms swim. Most marine creatures smaller than three millimeters and larger than 30 microns swim in a corkscrew. “It’s the most common pattern of motion in the world,” said Dr. Crenshaw.
Despite these wild spinnings, spiral-swimming creatures manage to navigate very well. To uncover their trick, Dr. Crenshaw built a tank in which he could film organisms spiraling in three dimensions. Dr. Crenshaw found that the organisms navigate by sensing the intensity of a stimulus — light in some cases, a particular chemical in others. If the organism is heading straight toward the stimulus, the level doesn’t change. If it drifts off in the wrong direction, the stimulus fades. The organism can simply change the curve of its spiral to change direction. “It’s a really simple rule,” he said.
Dr. Crenshaw and Mr. Pell discovered their obsession with biomechanics ran equally deep. “Chuck and I would literally just wind up chatting in a room somewhere, and an afternoon would disappear and the chalkboard would’ve been erased four times before we were done,” said Dr. Crenshaw. One evening they scribbled a plan on a napkin for a robot that swam in spirals.
They won another grant from the Defense Department and began to build a new robot, which they dubbed MicroHunter. It was small — about the size of a cigar — and exquisitely simple. Dr. Crenshaw and Mr. Pell put a light sensor at one end, a propeller at the other. The propeller was programmed to push the robot in a corkscrew path, which could be adjusted as light levels changed.
Dr. Crenshaw gave the robot its first test in a Duke swimming pool. He turned off the lights in the room and put a light at the deep end of the pool. Then he put the robot in the shallow end, pointing the other way. “It turned around and came back and hit the light bulb,” he said. “It was a perfect first try.”
Dr. Crenshaw and Mr. Pell helped open the way for other biomechanics experts to turn their insights into technology. Some researchers are building self-burying anchors based on razor clams. Others are adding bumps along the edges of windmill blades to mimic whale fins.
After their adventures with MicroHunter, Mr. Pell and Dr. Crenshaw moved off in different directions for a few years. Dr. Crenshaw left Duke in 2001 to work at the pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline. He designed mazes of microscopic tubes, devices for testing potential drugs. Meanwhile, Mr. Pell continued to come up with new inventions at Nekton, like a rapid-fire pill-sorting robot. In 2008, the Massachusetts-based robotics company iRobot purchased Nekton for $10 million.
Dr. Crenshaw left GlaxoSmithKline in 2007 and began to lay the groundwork for Physcient. He decided to work in medical technology, hoping that his experience in biomechanics would let him spot opportunities to invent new devices. He lured Mr. Pell out of his post-Nekton retirement, and soon the two inventors found a medical device crying out for a biomechanical overhaul: the rib spreader.
Every year, surgeons use rib spreaders to open the chests of an estimated two million people, repair their hearts, and then close them back up. All the rib spreaders in use today are variations on the model invented by the Argentine surgeon Enrique Finochietto in 1936. Mr. Finochietto used a hand-turned crank to ratchet open two metal arms.
The Finochietto rib spreader gets the job done, but it can cause serious side effects. Survey had indicated that somewhere between 10 and 34 percent of patients end up with broken ribs. Nerves are sometimes crushed, and ligaments can be ripped. After surgery, some patients require heavy sedation for the pain, and their shallow breathing can make them prone to pneumonia. Even after leaving the hospital, some patients continue to feel pain for months.
“There was room for something different here,” said Peter Smith, the chief of thoracic surgery at Duke University School of Medicine and an adviser to Physcient.
Given all these side effects, Dr. Crenshaw and Mr. Pell were surprised at how little research had been done on the forces generated by rib spreaders. “We can’t understand why people didn’t measure forces on ribs the day that there were strain gauges to measure them,” said Mr. Pell.
Dr. Crenshaw and Mr. Pell collaborated with Greg Buckner, an engineer at North Carolina State University, and Dr. Gil Bolotin, chief of cardiac surgery at Rambam Health Care Campus in Haifa, Israel. Dr. Buckner and Dr. Bolotin had developed technology for sensing forces generated by rib spreaders. Physcient licensed their technology.
The Physcient team began to measure the force of rib spreading on pigs, which are biomechanically similar to humans.
They found that a Finochietto rib spreader delivered jolts of force that increased until they equaled the weight of the pig’s entire body.
“It’s almost equivalent to hanging a patient by the rib after it’s opened — just hanging them in the air,” said Mr. Pell.
“I said, ‘Well, there’s a biomechanics project if I ever saw one,’ ” said Dr. Crenshaw.
Bones may be hard, but they’re not brittle like chalk. Stretchy collagen fibers and other elastic proteins allow them to flex, like a green tree branch. Bend a branch too quickly and it snaps. But deliver the same force slowly enough, and the branch’s fibers have enough time to stretch and shift.
Dr. Crenshaw, Mr. Pell and their colleagues set out to build a rib spreader that took advantage of the physics of bone and other tissues. In their office shop, they built a prototype that was smoothly opened by a motor instead of being jerked open by a hand crank. Instead of two straight bars, they devised two rows of curved metal hooks, each of which can independently cradle a single rib or part of the sternum.
They first tested out the device on sides of pork they bought from a butcher, recording the strain on the ribs at different speeds. They noticed that a few seconds before a rib broke, they detected tiny popping sounds. These were from individual fibers snapping inside the bone. Dr. Crenshaw and Mr. Pell realized they could use these pops to avoid breaking bones.
“If you pick up a twig and start bending it, you’ll hear something snap before you ever notice any real damage to the twig itself,” said Dr. Crenshaw. “We’re doing something similar here.”
Dr. Crenshaw and his colleagues programmed the rib spreader’s onboard computer to stop advancing it within a quarter of a second after sensing one of these pops. It allows the fibers in the bones and ligaments to shift and stretch before it starts to move again.
Recently Dr. Crenshaw and Dr. Pell collaborated with their North Carolina State colleagues to test their invention, in a study financed by the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. The veterinarians opened up the rib cages of 10 live pigs — half with the new design, and half with the conventional one. It took about the same amount of time to open up the pigs with both devices. But the traditional spreader cracked ribs in four of the five pigs. The Physcient spreader broke only one rib, in the second pig the surgeons operated on, and that was caused by an accidental jam. The researchers improved the design, after which none of the remaining three pigs broke a rib.
The researchers also found that in the Physcient trials, the pigs had higher blood oxygen levels than when the surgeons used the traditional rib spreader, because they could breathe more deeply. The pigs also needed fewer painkillers, and recovered more easily.
“We hit all the important pre-clinical endpoints that we were going for,” said Dr. Crenshaw. He and his colleagues are aiming to bring their rib spreader to market in late 2012.
If all goes according to plan, the inventors want to take a look at other surgical tools that push and pull on the bodies of patients. “We’ve got years of products to bring out,” said Mr. Pell.
Take something as simple as:
x = 0, calculate cos (x) = 1, do it again, cos (1) = 0.54, and again, 0.85, 0.65, 0.79, 0.70. 0.76, 0.72, 0.75, 0.73, 0.74, 0.73, 0.74, 0.73, 0.74, 0.73,0.73, 0.73, 0.73, 0.73, 0.73, 0.73, 0.73 , ..
I didn't round up, just copied the first two numbers, the ones I typed, do not change after 15 iterations, it remains 0.73. We have reached a limit point.
Meta in this context is, do it again, and again, in an infinite regression. This point is fixed, if we imagine doing it infinite times.
High school mathematics then, puts us in contact with infinite. Could it be, that by meditation we reach a fixed point, when we realize that more thinking won't change what we have found already?
More interestingly, could it be that recursive operations outside our calculators, even outside our brains, make the permanent world we perceive? Thus solving the problem of permanence of reality. Without permanence there is no thought, and finally no consciousness.
I am conscious, then I am; said Rene Descartes: Cogito, ergo sum.
Students are encouraged by the trust instructors put on them. The knowledge of the expert teacher is not the issue, the issue is how much the students feel motivated by the trust of the teacher. Only a fraction of the students take initiative and work as I expect. Here you have in Spanish, the report of one of those students on the book: Intelligence Reframed, by Howard Gardner.
What to do with the rest?
This is the hard part of teaching. I will address the issue in another note.
Sunday, May 15, 2011
What's Going On?
By GEOFFREY NUNBERG
Published: March 18, 2011
The universe, the 18th-century mathematician and philosopher Jean Le Rond d’Alembert said, “would only be one fact and one great truth for whoever knew how to embrace it from a single point of view.” James Gleick has such a perspective, and signals it in the first word of the title of his new book, “The Information,” using the definite article we usually reserve for totalities like the universe, the ether — and the Internet. Information, he argues, is more than just the contents of our overflowing libraries and Web servers. It is “the blood and the fuel, the vital principle” of the world. Human consciousness, society, life on earth, the cosmos — it’s bits all the way down.
Gleick makes his case in a sweeping survey that covers the five millenniums of humanity’s engagement with information, from the invention of writing in Sumer to the elevation of information to a first principle in the sciences over the last half-century or so. It’s a grand narrative if ever there was one, but its key moment can be pinpointed to 1948, when Claude Shannon, a young mathematician with a background in cryptography and telephony, published a paper called “A Mathematical Theory of Communication” in a Bell Labs technical journal. For Shannon, communication was purely a matter of sending a message over a noisy channel so that someone else could recover it. Whether the message was meaningful, he said, was “irrelevant to the engineering problem.” Think of a game of Wheel of Fortune, where each card that’s turned over narrows the set of possible answers, except that here the answer could be anything: a common English phrase, a Polish surname, or just a set of license plate numbers. Whatever the message, the contribution made by each signal — what he called, somewhat provocatively, its “information” — could be quantified in binary digits (i.e., 1s and 0s), a term that conveniently condensed to “bits.”
Shannon’s paper, published the same year as the invention of the transistor, instantaneously created the field of information theory, with broad applications in engineering and computer science. Beyond that, it transformed “information” from a term associated with requests to telephone operators to an intellectual buzzword, bandied about so loosely that Shannon was moved to write a gently cautionary note called “The Bandwagon.” But unlike the equally voguish discipline of cybernetics proposed that same year by Norbert Wiener, which left little behind it but a useful prefix, information theory wound up reshaping fields from economics to philosophy, and heralded a dramatic rethinking of biology and physics.
In the 1950s, Francis Crick, the co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, was still putting “information” in quotation marks when describing how one protein copied a sequence of nucleic acids from another. But molecular biologists were soon speaking of information, not to mention codes, libraries, alphabets and transcription, without any sense of metaphor. In Gleick’s words, “Genes themselves are made of bits.” At the same time, physicists exploring what Einstein had called the “spooky” paradoxes of quantum mechanics began to see information as the substance from which everything else in the universe derives. As the physicist John Archibald Wheeler put it in a paper title, “It From Bit.”
Gleick ranges over the scientific landscape in a looping itinerary that takes the reader from Maxwell’s demon to Godel’s theorem, from black holes to selfish genes. Some of the concepts are challenging, but as in previous books like “Chaos” and “Genius,” his biography of Richard Feynman, Gleick provides lucid expositions for readers who are up to following the science and suggestive analogies for those who are just reading for the plot. And there are anecdotes that every reader can enjoy: Shannon building a machine called Throbac I that did arithmetic with Roman numerals; the Victorian polymath Charles Babbage writing to Tennyson to take exception to the arithmetic in “Every minute dies a man / Every minute one is born.”
But unlike chaos, information also has a human history. In a series of chapters, Gleick recounts oft-told tales about the invention of writing systems and the compilation of the Oxford English Dictionary along with the stories of lesser-known structures of coding and communication. In the late 18th century, long before Samuel Morse, for example, the Chappe brothers of France invented the first “telegraph” in the form of a network of hundreds of towers topped by semaphore arms with which the government could relay messages from Paris to Bordeaux in less than a day, weather permitting. One French deputy described the Chappes’ ingenious signaling system as one of the great inventions of history, along with the compass, printing and gunpowder. And once the Chappes’ optical telegraph had been replaced by the more democratic and versatile electric version, frugal customers hit on the similarly ingenious expedient of using economical abbreviations for common messages, like “gmlet” for “give my love to” — texting avant la lettre.
This is all engagingly told, though Gleick’s focus on information systems occasionally leads him to exaggerate the effects technologies like printing and the telegraph could have all by themselves. For example, he repeats the largely discredited argument, made by the classicist Eric Havelock in the 1970s, that it was the introduction of the alphabet that led to the development of science, philosophy and “the true beginning of consciousness.”
Such errors are mostly minor. But Gleick’s tendency to neglect the social context casts a deeper shadow over the book’s final chapters, where he turns from explicating information as a scientific concept to considering it as an everyday concern, switching roles from science writer to seer. For him, the “information” we worry is engulfing us is just another manifestation of the primal substance that underlies all of biological life and the physical universe — we are “creatures of the information,” in his phrase, in more than just our genetic or chemical makeup.
In an epilogue called “The Return of Meaning,” Gleick argues that to understand how information gives rise to belief and knowledge, we have to renounce Shannon’s “ruthless sacrifice of meaning,” which required jettisoning “the very quality that gives information its value.” But Shannon wasn’t sacrificing meaning so much as ignoring it, in the same way that a traffic engineer doesn’t care what, if anything, the trucks on the highway are carrying. Once you start to think of information as something meaningful, you have to untether it from its mathematical definition, which leaves you with nothing to go on but the word itself. And in its ordinary usage, “information” is a hard word to get a handle on (even after a recent revision, the Oxford English Dictionary still makes a hash of its history). It’s one of those words, like “objectivity” and “literacy,” that enable us to slip from one meaning to the next without letting on, even to ourselves, that we’ve changed the subject.
That elusiveness is epitomized in the phrase “information age,” which caught on in the 1970s, about the same time we started to refer to computers and the like as “information technology.” Computers clearly are that, if you think of information in terms of bits and bandwidth. But the phrases give us license to assume that the stuff sitting on our hard drives is the same as the stuff that we feel overwhelmed by, that everybody ought to have access to, and that wants to be free.
Like most people who write about the information age, Gleick can’t avoid this semantic slippage. When he describes the information explosion, he reckons the increase in bytes, citing the relentless procession of prefixes (kilo-, mega-, giga-, tera-, peta-, exa-, and now zetta-, with yotta- in the wings) that’s mirrored in the proliferation of smartphones, tablets, game consoles and windowless server farms.
But there’s no road back from bits to meaning. For one thing, the units don’t correspond: the text of “War and Peace” takes up less disk space than a Madonna music video. Even more to the point, is “information” just whatever can be stored on silicon, paper or tape? It is if you’re Cisco or Seagate, who couldn’t care less whether the bytes they’re making provision for are encoding World of Warcraft or home videos of dancing toddlers. (Americans consume more bytes of electronic games in a year than of all other media put together, including movies, TV, print and the Internet.)
But those aren’t the sorts of things we have in mind when we worry about the growing gap between information haves and have-nots or insist that the free exchange of information is essential to a healthy democracy. Information, in the socially important sense — stuff that is storable, transferable and meaningful independent of context — is neither eternal nor ubiquitous. It was a creation of the modern media and the modern state (Walter Benjamin dated its appearance to the mid-19th century). And it accounts for just a small portion of the flood of bits in circulation.
Even so, there’s enough information coming at us from all sides to leave us feeling overwhelmed, just as people in earlier ages felt smothered by what Leibniz called “that horrible mass of books that keeps on growing.” In response, 17th-century writers compiled indexes, bibliographies, compendiums and encyclopedias to winnow out the chaff. Contemplating the problem of turning information into useful knowledge, Gleick sees a similar role for blogs and aggregators, syntheses like Wikipedia, and the “vast, collaborative filter” of our connectivity. Now, as at any moment of technological disruption, he writes, “the old ways of organizing knowledge no longer work.”
But knowledge isn’t simply information that has been vetted and made comprehensible. “Medical information,” for example, evokes the flood of hits that appear when you do a Google search for “back pain” or “vitamin D.” “Medical knowledge,” on the other hand, evokes the fabric of institutions and communities that are responsible for creating, curating and diffusing what is known. In fact, you could argue that the most important role of search engines is to locate the online outcroppings of “the old ways of organizing knowledge” that we still depend on, like the N.I.H., the S.E.C., the O.E.D., the BBC, the N.Y.P.L. and ESPN. Even Wikipedia’s guidelines insist that articles be based on “reliable, published sources,” a category that excludes most blogs, not to mention Wikipedia itself.
Gleick wouldn’t deny any of this, but his focus on information as a prime mover and universal substance leads him to depict its realm as a distinct place at a remove from the larger social world, rather than as an extension of it. As he puts it, in the vatic tone that this topic tends to elicit, “Human knowledge soaks into the network, into the cloud” (more of those totalizing definite articles). In an evocative final paragraph, he pictures humanity wandering the corridors of Borges’s imaginary Library of Babel, which contains the texts of every possible book in every language, true and false, scanning the shelves in search of “lines of meaning among the leagues of cacophony and incoherence.” If it comes to that, though, we’ll have lots of help identifying the volumes that are worth reading, and not just from social networks and blogs but from libraries, publishers and other bulwarks of the informational old order. Despite some problems, a prodigious intellectual survey like “The Information” deserves to be on all their lists.NYT
I am reading this thirty dollar book. Fortunately I got a discount from Borders and I only paid twenty.
He sets the stage for my Theory of Physics, something along the lines of Wolfram's, A New Kind of Science.
Keep posted; check this site for my thoughts.
By MARK MAZZETTI and EMILY B. HAGER
Published: May 14, 2011
ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Late one night last November, a plane carrying dozens of Colombian men touched down in this glittering seaside capital. Whisked through customs by an Emirati intelligence officer, the group boarded an unmarked bus and drove roughly 20 miles to a windswept military complex in the desert sand.
The Colombians had entered the United Arab Emirates posing as construction workers. In fact, they were soldiers for a secret American-led mercenary army being built by Erik Prince, the billionaire founder of Blackwater Worldwide, with $529 million from the oil-soaked sheikdom.
Mr. Prince, who resettled here last year after his security business faced mounting legal problems in the United States, was hired by the crown prince of Abu Dhabi to put together an 800-member battalion of foreign troops for the U.A.E., according to former employees on the project, American officials and corporate documents obtained by The New York Times.
The force is intended to conduct special operations missions inside and outside the country, defend oil pipelines and skyscrapers from terrorist attacks and put down internal revolts, the documents show. Such troops could be deployed if the Emirates faced unrest in their crowded labor camps or were challenged by pro-democracy protests like those sweeping the Arab world this year.
The U.A.E.’s rulers, viewing their own military as inadequate, also hope that the troops could blunt the regional aggression of Iran, the country’s biggest foe, the former employees said. The training camp, located on a sprawling Emirati base called Zayed Military City, is hidden behind concrete walls laced with barbed wire. Photographs show rows of identical yellow temporary buildings, used for barracks and mess halls, and a motor pool, which houses Humvees and fuel trucks. The Colombians, along with South African and other foreign troops, are trained by retired American soldiers and veterans of the German and British special operations units and the French Foreign Legion, according to the former employees and American officials.
In outsourcing critical parts of their defense to mercenaries — the soldiers of choice for medieval kings, Italian Renaissance dukes and African dictators — the Emiratis have begun a new era in the boom in wartime contracting that began after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. And by relying on a force largely created by Americans, they have introduced a volatile element in an already combustible region where the United States is widely viewed with suspicion.
The United Arab Emirates — an autocracy with the sheen of a progressive, modern state — are closely allied with the United States, and American officials indicated that the battalion program had some support in Washington.
“The gulf countries, and the U.A.E. in particular, don’t have a lot of military experience. It would make sense if they looked outside their borders for help,” said one Obama administration official who knew of the operation. “They might want to show that they are not to be messed with.”
Still, it is not clear whether the project has the United States’ official blessing. Legal experts and government officials said some of those involved with the battalion might be breaking federal laws that prohibit American citizens from training foreign troops if they did not secure a license from the State Department.
Mark C. Toner, a spokesman for the department, would not confirm whether Mr. Prince’s company had obtained such a license, but he said the department was investigating to see if the training effort was in violation of American laws. Mr. Toner pointed out that Blackwater (which renamed itself Xe Services ) paid $42 million in fines last year for training foreign troops in Jordan and other countries over the years.
The U.A.E.’s ambassador to Washington, Yousef al-Otaiba, declined to comment for this article. A spokesman for Mr. Prince also did not comment.
For Mr. Prince, the foreign battalion is a bold attempt at reinvention. He is hoping to build an empire in the desert, far from the trial lawyers, Congressional investigators and Justice Department officials he is convinced worked in league to portray Blackwater as reckless. He sold the company last year, but in April, a federal appeals court reopened the case against four Blackwater guards accused of killing 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad in 2007.
To help fulfill his ambitions, Mr. Prince’s new company, Reflex Responses, obtained another multimillion-dollar contract to protect a string of planned nuclear power plants and to provide cybersecurity. He hopes to earn billions more, the former employees said, by assembling additional battalions of Latin American troops for the Emiratis and opening a giant complex where his company can train troops for other governments.
Knowing that his ventures are magnets for controversy, Mr. Prince has masked his involvement with the mercenary battalion. His name is not included on contracts and most other corporate documents, and company insiders have at times tried to hide his identity by referring to him by the code name “Kingfish.” But three former employees, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of confidentiality agreements, and two people involved in security contracting described Mr. Prince’s central role.
The former employees said that in recruiting the Colombians and others from halfway around the world, Mr. Prince’s subordinates were following his strict rule: hire no Muslims.
Muslim soldiers, Mr. Prince warned, could not be counted on to kill fellow Muslims.
A Lucrative Deal
Last spring, as waiters in the lobby of the Park Arjaan by Rotana Hotel passed by carrying cups of Turkish coffee, a small team of Blackwater and American military veterans huddled over plans for the foreign battalion. Armed with a black suitcase stuffed with several hundred thousand dollars’ worth of dirhams, the local currency, they began paying the first bills.
The company, often called R2, was licensed last March with 51 percent local ownership, a typical arrangement in the Emirates. It received about $21 million in start-up capital from the U.A.E., the former employees said.
Mr. Prince made the deal with Sheik Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi and the de facto ruler of the United Arab Emirates. The two men had known each other for several years, and it was the prince’s idea to build a foreign commando force for his country.
Savvy and pro-Western, the prince was educated at the Sandhurst military academy in Britain and formed close ties with American military officials. He is also one of the region’s staunchest hawks on Iran and is skeptical that his giant neighbor across the Strait of Hormuz will give up its nuclear program.
“He sees the logic of war dominating the region, and this thinking explains his near-obsessive efforts to build up his armed forces,” said a November 2009 cable from the American Embassy in Abu Dhabi that was obtained by the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks.
For Mr. Prince, a 41-year-old former member of the Navy Seals, the battalion was an opportunity to turn vision into reality. At Blackwater, which had collected billions of dollars in security contracts from the United States government, he had hoped to build an army for hire that could be deployed to crisis zones in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. He even had proposed that the Central Intelligence Agency use his company for special operations missions around the globe, but to no avail. In Abu Dhabi, which he praised in an Emirati newspaper interview last year for its “pro-business” climate, he got another chance.
Mr. Prince’s exploits, both real and rumored, are the subject of fevered discussions in the private security world. He has worked with the Emirati government on various ventures in the past year, including an operation using South African mercenaries to train Somalis to fight pirates. There was talk, too, that he was hatching a scheme last year to cap the Icelandic volcano then spewing ash across Northern Europe.
The team in the hotel lobby was led by Ricky Chambers, known as C. T., a former agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation who had worked for Mr. Prince for years; most recently, he had run a program training Afghan troops for a Blackwater subsidiary called Paravant.
He was among the half-dozen or so Americans who would serve as top managers of the project, receiving nearly $300,000 in annual compensation. Mr. Chambers and Mr. Prince soon began quietly luring American contractors from Afghanistan, Iraq and other danger spots with pay packages that topped out at more than $200,000 a year, according to a budget document. Many of those who signed on as trainers — which eventually included more than 40 veteran American, European and South African commandos — did not know of Mr. Prince’s involvement, the former employees said.
Mr. Chambers did not respond to requests for comment.
He and Mr. Prince also began looking for soldiers. They lined up Thor Global Enterprises, a company on the Caribbean island of Tortola specializing in “placing foreign servicemen in private security positions overseas,” according to a contract signed last May. The recruits would be paid about $150 a day.
Within months, large tracts of desert were bulldozed and barracks constructed. The Emirates were to provide weapons and equipment for the mercenary force, supplying everything from M-16 rifles to mortars, Leatherman knives to Land Rovers. They agreed to buy parachutes, motorcycles, rucksacks — and 24,000 pairs of socks.
To keep a low profile, Mr. Prince rarely visited the camp or a cluster of luxury villas near the Abu Dhabi airport, where R2 executives and Emirati military officers fine-tune the training schedules and arrange weapons deliveries for the battalion, former employees said. He would show up, they said, in an office suite at the DAS Tower — a skyscraper just steps from Abu Dhabi’s Corniche beach, where sunbathers lounge as cigarette boats and water scooters whiz by. Staff members there manage a number of companies that the former employees say are carrying out secret work for the Emirati government.
Emirati law prohibits disclosure of incorporation records for businesses, which typically list company officers, but it does require them to post company names on offices and storefronts. Over the past year, the sign outside the suite has changed at least twice — it now says Assurance Management Consulting.
While the documents — including contracts, budget sheets and blueprints — obtained by The Times do not mention Mr. Prince, the former employees said he negotiated the U.A.E. deal. Corporate documents describe the battalion’s possible tasks: intelligence gathering, urban combat, the securing of nuclear and radioactive materials, humanitarian missions and special operations “to destroy enemy personnel and equipment.”
One document describes “crowd-control operations” where the crowd “is not armed with firearms but does pose a risk using improvised weapons (clubs and stones).”
People involved in the project and American officials said that the Emiratis were interested in deploying the battalion to respond to terrorist attacks and put down uprisings inside the country’s sprawling labor camps, which house the Pakistanis, Filipinos and other foreigners who make up the bulk of the country’s work force. The foreign military force was planned months before the so-called Arab Spring revolts that many experts believe are unlikely to spread to the U.A.E. Iran was a particular concern.
An Eye on Iran
Although there was no expectation that the mercenary troops would be used for a stealth attack on Iran, Emirati officials talked of using them for a possible maritime and air assault to reclaim a chain of islands, mostly uninhabited, in the Persian Gulf that are the subject of a dispute between Iran and the U.A.E., the former employees said. Iran has sent military forces to at least one of the islands, Abu Musa, and Emirati officials have long been eager to retake the islands and tap their potential oil reserves.
The Emirates have a small military that includes army, air force and naval units as well as a small special operations contingent, which served in Afghanistan, but over all, their forces are considered inexperienced.
In recent years, the Emirati government has showered American defense companies with billions of dollars to help strengthen the country’s security. A company run by Richard A. Clarke, a former counterterrorism adviser during the Clinton and Bush administrations, has won several lucrative contracts to advise the U.A.E. on how to protect its infrastructure.
Some security consultants believe that Mr. Prince’s efforts to bolster the Emirates’ defenses against an Iranian threat might yield some benefits for the American government, which shares the U.A.E.’s concern about creeping Iranian influence in the region.
“As much as Erik Prince is a pariah in the United States, he may be just what the doctor ordered in the U.A.E.,” said an American security consultant with knowledge of R2’s work.
The contract includes a one-paragraph legal and ethics policy noting that R2 should institute accountability and disciplinary procedures. “The overall goal,” the contract states, “is to ensure that the team members supporting this effort continuously cast the program in a professional and moral light that will hold up to a level of media scrutiny.”
But former employees said that R2’s leaders never directly grappled with some fundamental questions about the operation. International laws governing private armies and mercenaries are murky, but would the Americans overseeing the training of a foreign army on foreign soil be breaking United States law?
Susan Kovarovics, an international trade lawyer who advises companies about export controls, said that because Reflex Responses was an Emirati company it might not need State Department authorization for its activities.
But she said that any Americans working on the project might run legal risks if they did not get government approval to participate in training the foreign troops.
Basic operational issues, too, were not addressed, the former employees said. What were the battalion’s rules of engagement? What if civilians were killed during an operation? And could a Latin American commando force deployed in the Middle East really be kept a secret?
The first waves of mercenaries began arriving last summer. Among them was a 13-year veteran of Colombia’s National Police force named Calixto Rincón, 42, who joined the operation with hopes of providing for his family and seeing a new part of the world.
“We were practically an army for the Emirates,” Mr. Rincón, now back in Bogotá, Colombia, said in an interview. “They wanted people who had a lot of experience in countries with conflicts, like Colombia.”
Mr. Rincón’s visa carried a special stamp from the U.A.E. military intelligence branch, which is overseeing the entire project, that allowed him to move through customs and immigration without being questioned.
He soon found himself in the midst of the camp’s daily routines, which mirrored those of American military training. “We would get up at 5 a.m. and we would start physical exercises,” Mr. Rincón said. His assignment included manual labor at the expanding complex, he said. Other former employees said the troops — outfitted in Emirati military uniforms — were split into companies to work on basic infantry maneuvers, learn navigation skills and practice sniper training.
R2 spends roughly $9 million per month maintaining the battalion, which includes expenditures for employee salaries, ammunition and wages for dozens of domestic workers who cook meals, wash clothes and clean the camp, a former employee said. Mr. Rincón said that he and his companions never wanted for anything, and that their American leaders even arranged to have a chef travel from Colombia to make traditional soups.
But the secrecy of the project has sometimes created a prisonlike environment. “We didn’t have permission to even look through the door,” Mr. Rincón said. “We were only allowed outside for our morning jog, and all we could see was sand everywhere.”
The Emirates wanted the troops to be ready to deploy just weeks after stepping off the plane, but it quickly became clear that the Colombians’ military skills fell far below expectations. “Some of these kids couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn,” said a former employee. Other recruits admitted to never having fired a weapon.
As a result, the veteran American and foreign commandos training the battalion have had to rethink their roles. They had planned to act only as “advisers” during missions — meaning they would not fire weapons — but over time, they realized that they would have to fight side by side with their troops, former officials said.
Making matters worse, the recruitment pipeline began drying up. Former employees said that Thor struggled to sign up, and keep, enough men on the ground. Mr. Rincón developed a hernia and was forced to return to Colombia, while others were dismissed from the program for drug use or poor conduct.
And R2’s own corporate leadership has also been in flux. Mr. Chambers, who helped develop the project, left after several months. A handful of other top executives, some of them former Blackwater employees, have been hired, then fired within weeks.
To bolster the force, R2 recruited a platoon of South African mercenaries, including some veterans of Executive Outcomes, a South African company notorious for staging coup attempts or suppressing rebellions against African strongmen in the 1990s. The platoon was to function as a quick-reaction force, American officials and former employees said, and began training for a practice mission: a terrorist attack on the Burj Khalifa skyscraper in Dubai, the world’s tallest building. They would secure the situation before quietly handing over control to Emirati troops.
But by last November, the battalion was officially behind schedule. The original goal was for the 800-man force to be ready by March 31; recently, former employees said, the battalion’s size was reduced to about 580 men.
Emirati military officials had promised that if this first battalion was a success, they would pay for an entire brigade of several thousand men. The new contracts would be worth billions, and would help with Mr. Prince’s next big project: a desert training complex for foreign troops patterned after Blackwater’s compound in Moyock, N.C. But before moving ahead, U.A.E. military officials have insisted that the battalion prove itself in a “real world mission.”
That has yet to happen. So far, the Latin American troops have been taken off the base only to shop and for occasional entertainment.
On a recent spring night though, after months stationed in the desert, they boarded an unmarked bus and were driven to hotels in central Dubai, a former employee said. There, some R2 executives had arranged for them to spend the evening with prostitutes.