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Archive for January, 2011

The World’s Most Dangerous Zoo

January 17th, 2011 No comments

Tipped off to this by writer Jessica Amanda Salmonson, I am utterly in awe. Located in Luján, Argentina, Zoo Luján lets visitors play with the animals — all the animals. Provided you pay the $50 fee and sign an agreement not to sue the zoo if you mysteriously disappear inside the tiger cage, you can hop in the cages with big cats, bears and more.

There’s a great English-language blog post about it here, and The Sun also covered it. The Petition Site has the following to say about it, citing objections from UK charity The Born Free Foundation:

Lujan Zoo, in Argentina, controversially allows visitors to enter enclosures and cages to have their photographs taken cuddling and even sitting on the backs of some of the most dangerous prediators in the world. The animals appear to be very sedate and tame, with keepers seen ‘playing’ rough and tumble games with them.

Visitors can even hold the smaller animals and manhandle them, at risk to themselves and the creatures. Shockingly, there does not appear to be much by way of safety regulations to protect either visitors or the animals. Even children are allowed to enter the lion’s cage and fondle a range of animals that have the potential to maim or kill.

A bit hard to argue with the idea that this is sorta whacked. So what does the zoo have to say for itself? Since my Espanol’s a tad rusty, I plugged the zoo’s site into Google Translate. It doesn’t illuminate very much, but it sure generates that special kind of automated poetry that hints at the underlying beauty of getting eaten by wildlife:

A DIFFERENT PLACE SURROUNDED BY NATURE…COME TO ENJOY ALL THE ATTRACTIONS OF THE ZOO, WITH A SPECTACULAR TIME!

ZOO A DIFFERENT TO WHAT YOU KNOW!!!

We can consider this as a unique and innovative zoo where the animals live with humans from birth and throughout the course of his life, which is achieved through a dedicated process of taming that were characteristic to this zoo since its founding….A 15-year-old Lujan Zoo not only has become a highly attractive destination for visitors from all over Argentina, but has transcended borders to be recognized internationally with visitors coming not only from neighboring countries but also other continents who visit attracted by the type of management practiced with our dogs.

…In the emerging initial collection, now has more than 50 copies of African lions, 20 Bengal tigers, 12 cougars, about fifty different species of South American monkeys, camel breeding in the zoo and elephants from the remote island Sumatra.

[Link.]

Um…okay, whatever. Needless to say, if you speak the Spanish you’ll probably get more from the original site.

There are no photos of the multi-species frolicking per se on the zoo’s site, but I found the following photos at Desi Hot Masala (???), then again mirrored at ActiveBoards. They’re uncredited, so my guess is that both those sites may be, how to put it, a bit shady. I tracked down a slightly less shady posting of all the same pics here, so that’s the one I linked. But it’s all pretty shady…about as shady as letting your kids pet Sumatran tigers. Who knows?

The pics are amazing, however. There are many more than what’s thumbnailed here.

This one like teh pets...

Dis wun gots the hungries...

Dis wun being goodz...just havin a li'l taste...

Dis man look wisely nervous..."U shur he not take big taste?"

"We'll take big taste!"

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NASA Evidence: Thunderstorms Shoot Antimatter Into Space

January 16th, 2011 No comments

NASA’s space-based Fermi Gama Ray Telescope has provided evidence that thunderstorms on Earth generate antimatter streams. The team at the University of Alabama in Huntsville reported the results this past Monday during the American Astronomical Society meeting in Seattle.

Antimatter can be created in particle accelerators and occurs naturally in places like the Van Allen Belts around the Earth, and the similar belts around other planets like Jupiter, as well as being generated by radioactive beta-decay — all in extremely small quantities. This is the first time there’s been evidence that terrestrial lightning generates antimatter.

According to a story on NASA.gov:

Scientists think the antimatter particles were formed in a terrestrial gamma-ray flash (TGF), a brief burst produced inside thunderstorms and shown to be associated with lightning. It is estimated that about 500 TGFs occur daily worldwide, but most go undetected.

[Link.]

The way it works is this:

Fermi is designed to monitor gamma rays, and orbits along the Earth’s magnetic field.

High-altitude lightning in thunderstorms drive electrons upwards at almost the speed of light.

Sometimes these electrons collide with atoms, which then emit high-energy photons.

Rarely, these photons then strike a second atom that emits two particles — an electron and its antimatter counterpart, the positron.

Because both of these particles are charged, they are drawn along the magnetic field, which in this case led them straight into the maw of the Fermi telescope even though they’re not at all what Fermi was looking for.

In this case, the positrons then encountered electrons — that is to say, “normal matter” — within the Fermi telescope itself.

When antimatter particles hit their normal-matter counterparts, the particles annihilate each other, emitting gamma rays, and that’s what Fermi detected.

Or, as the sort of mind-bending video accompanying the NASA story puts it, “For an instant Fermi became a gamma ray source and set off its own detectors.”

Said video is short and well worth watching, as it makes the events clearer than I ever could. Plus there’s cool spaceship animations and stuffs.

Check it:

The incident described in the video occurred in December, 2009 when Fermi was over Egypt, but the storm producing the positrons was over Zambia, and thus over the horizon. Though lightning strikes can produce gamma rays, they travel line-of-sight. Therefore, the great distance between Fermi and the storm means that the detected gamma rays couldn’t have come directly from the storm

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Moon Porn Up for Auction

January 15th, 2011 No comments

Image from Zug.com.

Want a piece of classy retro porn that’s been around the moon? How does an exceedingly well-traveled image of DeDe Lind, Playboy’s Miss August 1967, sound? How about we add in a few Space LOLZ for good measure?

A short piece on Zug.com alerts me to the auction of memorabilia from the US Space Program, closing January 20 at RRAuction.com.

The saucy piece of va-va-va-voom at right was stashed in the Apollo 12 command module the Yankee Clipper, unbeknownst to the crew. It stowed away all the way through the module’s moon orbit in November, 1969. The “Dick” in question reportedly added the saucy inscription; that’d be Richard F. Godon, command module pilot, who relaxed with Ms. Lind’s fetching visage while Pete Conrad and Alan Bean descended to the surface in the lunar module, Intrepid.

The complete image comes from the Zug article; the auction site has even more thoroughly censored it. The latter describes it thus:

Measuring approximately 4.5 x 6.5, the topless image is an original taken from one of the 1969 calendars published by Playboy and features the month and year of the Apollo 12 mission—November 1969. Prior to the mission, it was affixed to a cardboard cue card and, unbeknownst to the crew, secreted onboard their spacecraft. Normal wear as one would expect from an object that made the approximately 475,000 mile round-trip journey to the moon and back, this flown iconic piece of 1960s pop culture still retains its Velcro strips which were used to affix it inside the spacecraft.

[Link.]

At press time, the bidding for the piece was up to $13,155.

Ms. Lind’s image wasn’t the only stowaway on Apollo 12; apparently the back-up crew had also reproduced Playmate images in the crew’s checklists with jokey sayings to provide their stressed-out compatriots with a few Space LOLZ.

Zug.com’s earlier article the top 3 NASA pranks actually mentions not only moon porn, but their April 1 proof of water on Mars. Laughing my space-ass off here, guys.

[Link to Zug.com article.]

[Link to Boston Herald article on the auction.]

[Link to the auction, running through Jan. 20, 2011.]

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Mandela, Bieber Whacked in Today’s Twurders

January 15th, 2011 No comments

Update, 9:51pm Pacific Time, 1/15/2011: Mandela’s death notice is gone, but “RIP Justin Bieber” is still trending more than nine hours later — clearly, these things take on a life of their own.

Currently trending on Twitter is the term #RIP Nelson Mandela, which — if it wasn’t a Twitter hoax — would mean the world was uniting to honor a fallen hero. Except it’s not touching, because the 92-year-old Mandela isn’t dead and Twitter is, in my estimation, increasingly besieged by douchebags.

Also not dead, today, is “Justin Bieber,” whose RIP notice seems to have shown up shortly after I first noticed Mandela’s, possibly in response to it. It seems to have shot more quickly up the ranks than Mandela’s, interestingly. There was also a counterattack by Bieber Lovers, the #appreciatebieber tag. That’ll show ‘em, kids! Keenen Ivory Wayans, meanwhile, is still alive, as far as I know.

Incedentally, it took the Ghana News to tip me off to the fact that Nelson Mandela was still alive, which of course I suspected before I even checked.

Has this now become a trend? A trend about the trending of trending? A morbid fascination with getting other people to do something, just to see if you can? What happened to good old-fashioned fun that couldn’t possibly hurt anybody, like tipping over port-a-potties?

Wouldn’t these idiots rather be writing outraged blog posts about how Central Asian villages need clean water and medical supplies, or something?

I wonder if the whole Twitter death hoax thing has, maybe, you know, jumped the shark. You think?

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Dartmouth Debates Humans vs. Zombies

January 13th, 2011 No comments

Screencap from HumansVsZombies.org

Back in my day, we just played Assassin and shot each other in the nuts with BB guns, talked about firing propane cannons filled with flour bombs at each others’ houses — and then proceeded to blow ourselves up.

I’m talking Junior College, mind you. Once I went away to Big Kids’ College, we were all too busy growing beards, writing bad anti-colonialist goth poetry, and plotting the downfall of Union Carbide, man, to have taken a Nerf gun to the zombies if they had showed up; those rotten bastards could have waltzed right in to the Porter Dining Hall and made a meal of our mildly left-of-center asses.

But those wacky kids on college campuses today, apparently, have been playing Humans vs. Zombies since at least 2005. Now Dartmouth is busily debating the very issue of whether Ugg-clad 20-year-olds shooting zombies with Nerf rocket launchers and smacking them in the face with socks filled with marshmallows might bring on a real zombie apocalypse.

Said debate occurs as the living of Dartmouth fight a brave struggle for the future of the human race against the invading contagion, blah blah blah. The game runs from January 11 to January 16, and Rachel Carter of campus paper The Dartmouth reports that, like the real struggle against world zombie domination, the game grows from one generation’s dreams for the future:

Moderators said they hope Humans vs. Zombies will someday join the ranks of the campus snowball fight and Polar Bear Swim as a highly anticipated annual tradition.

Prior controversies have led some officials on other campuses to ban Nerf guns. Players responded by inventing the “zombie blackjack” — a sock filled with marshmallows.

Does that mean that such games on safety-minded campuses have descended into nothing more than ultra-safe pillow fights? Hell, no! Look, I don’t know about you, but if I painted my face with stage gore and lurched around screaming “Brains!” every time I had a pillow fight, I’d never get anything done.

To elaborate, Carter in The Dartmouth describes the game thusly:

A cross between tag and Assassins, the interactive game — which was launched Jan. 11 and will continue through Jan. 16 at noon — pits students against each other as they enact a war between humans fighting for survival and zombies trying to eat their brains. Although Humans vs. Zombies draws on the competitive spirit of popular Dartmouth traditions like snowball fights on the Green, the game’s premise — a zombie-induced apocalypse on earth — makes for a singularly wacky recreational experience.

Student moderators said they were initially concerned that fears about safety and disruption of campus life would stop the game. To ensure the safety and appropriateness of the game, students began the organization process last term. Moderators worked diligently with a large group of administrators to ensure that students who chose not to partake in Humans vs. Zombies would not be inconvenienced by the game.

The Dartmouth community seems to have reacted positively to Humans vs. Zombies’ new presence on campus — a few professors have even asked if they could join the game, according to student organizers.

…Just like the real zombie apocalypse, I might add. Zombification knows no generational bounds! That Associate Professor who just greenlit your thesis project even though she knows your underlying premise is pedagogically corrupt? Drop your guard for one instant and she could be enjoying a big heaping handful of your undergraduate cerebellum!

Creative Commons image by Princess Froglips.

It really kinda puts your undergraduate studies in perspective, doesn’t it?

But wait, what about the claim that playing Humans vs. Zombies will ensure male players never get laid, or as one comedy duo at Ball State University put it, Humans vs. Zombies is the “anti-cologne”? What about the dangerous risk of your post-game love life being hindered by crotch shots with melee weapons? Well, a human-zombie crotch shot is just plain mean; everybody knows you gotta smack zombies in the head to bring ‘em down.

And as for a zombie-human crotch shot? C’mon. What could be a more appropriate social icebreaker for the era of the End Times?

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Water-Powered Jet Pack

January 12th, 2011 No comments

No need to despair about the flying car! The blog Techfyre points me toward a water-powered jetpack being flown over the Thames as part of the London International Boat Show this past week. Running off a water-hose intake, the JetLev jetpack can achieve a height of 30 meters and go 22 miles an hour.

Turns out you can find out lots more at JetLev.com. The manufacturer describes the technology thusly:

Unlike conventional aircrafts and jetpacks, the innovative Jetlev concept greatly improves thrust-to-weight ratio by locating the propulsion engine, fuel and related systems on a separate vessel tethered behind the jetpack, and uses water as the jet propulsion medium because its high density can carry vast amounts of power at much lower velocities, and generate nozzle reaction forces much more effectively, than gases.

[Link.]

Check it:

Wanna know my very favorite part of the video? The disclaimer at the beginning:

What to think, then, of the fact that you can get your training on The YouTube?

Anyway, the fact that the JetLev can’t carry its own supply of water, of course, limits it applications, but as for having beaucoups fun while looking weird and slightly ridiculous, it seems to be perfectly applicable.

The Daily Mail says the thing costs £110,000, and JetLev.com says that it’s recruiting dealers, and you can fill out a form to be considered. It’s also licensed the technology to developers in Germany and Dubai.  The site still says it has “plans” to make a model available for demonstrations in Florida starting in November 2010, and that:

We are planning a limited rollout in select markets including South Florida, Hawaii, Bahamas, the Caribbean and the Asia-Pacific region, hopefully by December 2010. Other regions are also under consideration.

Given your other jet pack options, like commissioning a custom-made rig from Jet Pack International, the Rocket Belt, buying one from a more questionable dealer or building one yourself, if you’re dead-set on jet pack recreation, the JetLev looks like a bargain.

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How My Baby’s Cord Blood Saved Me From Vampirism

January 11th, 2011 No comments

Creative Commons photo by Gigibiru Kukuning.

Look, in case you are wondering, it’s not because I wanted to save my baby’s “cord blood” that I plugged the search term “blood” into Thesaurus.com. I don’t have a baby, and if I did my first act as the world’s crankiest father would be to lecture it on why it should keep its “cord blood” to itself.

In fact, it’s quite possible that my entry represented an impulse in the very furthest reaches of human experience from the breeding impulse, let alone the desire to preserve my baby’s cord blood.

What I was looking for was a far more prosaic thing than saving my own life or the life of a loved one. I wanted, of course, a decent synonym for “blood” so my hardboiled paramilitary splatterpunk apocalyptic deathrock vampire novel could have a title that screams “I’m a vampire novel! Buy me!” without resorting to one of those overused cliches that have signified two-bit one-handed escapism for monster-movie weirdos since long before any bats left any belltowers whatsoever.

Anyway, an advertiser on Thesaurus.com clearly purchased the search term “blood,” because — I’m just speculating, here, but this is what I think their marketing person must have thought:

“Hey, people searching for ‘blood’ on Thesaurus.com MUST be pregnant, right? We sell cord blood preservation kits, so if someone searches for ‘blood,’ they’re probably pregnant and would relish future access to life-saving stem cells, yeah? I’m sure they’re NOT just whacked-out urban-commando goth-damaged freakjobs writing blood-soaked vampire pulp but bored to tears with the sickly cliches of 21st-century culture, right? Right? Am I right? Of course I’m right.”

Marketing people talk to themselves a lot. Anyway, apparently the argument held water, which is how I came to know about CordBlood.com, the place where you can send away for a kit to save your baby’s “cord blood.”

Why the F*#$@$*!!!! would you want to save your baby’s cord blood? The answer is a simple and weighty “Life. Life itself, my friend.” And no, it’s not the same reason you’d want to eat your baby’s placenta; that’s a whole ‘nother thing entirely. It seems blood from the umbilical cord carries, you know, life-saving stem cells or something, as explained (vaguely) on the landing page:

Nothing is more important than protecting your family. Although your loved ones will never be immune from accidents or illness, you can have greater peace of mind by banking your baby’s unique cord blood stem cells. Cord blood has been saving lives for decades. Today, it is used to treat many life-threatening diseases, such as leukemia and other cancers.

The photo they chose to illustrate this inspiring and informative statement? It’s this ragamuffin on the right. Is it just me, or is the way Baby Cord Blood is looking down sort of reminiscent of horror-movie dismay? Your uniqueness will be added to our own, kid. Your cord blood will be assimilated.

Incidentally: For the record, CordBlood.com, there is one thing more important than protecting my family, and that’s finding a title for this goddamned vampire novel.

But wait, why would I want to do that when I can instead kill time by educating myself about saving my baby’s cord blood, in case I ever have a baby:

Stem cells have the power to save and change lives

Stem cells are the body’s “master cells” because they are the building blocks of organ tissue, blood, and the immune system. Stem cells from bone marrow were first used to regenerate blood and immune cells for patients who had received chemotherapy for cancer. In the late 1980s, doctors started using cord blood stem cells to treat diseases that had previously been treated with bone marrow transplantation. Today, cord blood stem cells are successfully being used and saving many lives. And they are also being researched in an exciting new area of medicine called regenerative medicine, where scientists are using cord blood stem cells in experimental treatments for brain injury and juvenile diabetes.

If you’re really smart, you can save not only your baby’s cord blood, but her or his cord tissue, which gives yourself two, two, two ways to save yourself and your family in the event of a life-threatening disease that responds to stem cell therapy.

In case you’re not convinced by all the touchy-feely language, check out the list of diseases stem cell therapy may treat — including autoimmune diseases, blood and solid-tumor cancers as well as other blood diseases including sickle-cell anemia and some metabolic disorders. If you’ve got a child with juvenile diabetes or cerebral palsy, or have a traumatic brain injury or anoxic brain inury, you can fill out a form to be contacted about enrolling in upcoming clinical trials for therapies to treat those conditions.

And if you’re the sort of person who watches these things, you can watch the inspiring video about “Keegan,” who was saved by his brother’s stem cells.

If you’d like a synonym for blood to use as a title on your superviolent cyberpunk vampire novel, though, you’re pretty much screwed.

My next strategy is to find a good synonym for “Night,” “Darkness,” “Kiss,” “Taste,” or “Bite.” Should be easy as postpartum placenta pie, right?

Gambino Craigslist Sex Trafficking Ring’s Unhappy Ending, Now With Anti-Semitic, Homophobic Conspiracy-Theory Action!

January 10th, 2011 No comments

FBI photo.

An FBI press release published today announced the guilty pleas of the final two defendants in a trial that includes a total of fourteen members and associates of the Gambino crime family, one of New York’s notorious Five Families.

Pleading guilty to various counts of racketeering, conspiracy to commit murder, narcotics trafficking, sex trafficking, and gambling-related crimes, the 14 defendants received sentences ranging from 5 years for 70-year-old capo Daniel Marino (for a single count of conspiracy to commit murder) to 30 years for 34-year-old Gambino associate, Thomas Orefice who, yes, I’m sorry, it’s my duty to inform you that Mr. Orefice is the pimp.

Look, I’m not saying that there aren’t probably a lot of perfectly respectable, stand-up men and women out there named Orefice who do things like fix washing machines, teach college, pilot commercial airplanes and say mass. Hell, my last name isn’t exactly Lovejoy. I’m just saying. His name’s Orefice. He’s a pimp. It’s kind of creepy.

Anyway, according to the FBI press release, Mr. Orefice pled guiilty to “racketeering conspiracy, with objects including extortion, sex trafficking, loansharking, gambling.” Orefice is the one who hatched the scheme to recruit females from strip clubs to work as prostitutes for $200 a session. However, he also recruited a 15-year-old runaway, who is unnamed because of her age.

That led to the sex trafficking charge and a shitstorm of bad publicity for Craigslist, including a highly-publicized ambush raid by a news crew that accompanied the most delirious moral panic I’ve ever seen on television. (Some reporter got a cookie for that one).

Remember how Craigslist pulled all its adult services ads? Thank Orefice!

What’s more, if you want to see just how far John Q. Public’s moral outrage can go, feast your eyes on this lovely thread from the forums on the website of secret-society conspiracy theorist David Icke, where a user posts this little gem in response to the Marino-Orefice et al case:

And in case you’re wondering — no, there’s no conversation prior to that indicating Newmark is gay or Jewish. (I have no idea if he is either — though he does have a BEARD…). The poster’s got some complicated reason that has to do with magic. I think it’s about human sacrifice. Apparently the kidnapping and human sacrifice of blond-haired, blue-eyed girls is related to being gay and/or Jewish, which you can tell by whether someone has a beard and/or wears glasses.

Speaking of moral outrage, let’s get back to the criminals who actually, you know, committed crimes and stuff. All that explosive press coverage by reporters who had apparently never looked in the back of any of the six zillion alternative newsweeklies in the United States came right after the charges were filed in April, 2010, when the New York Daily News headlined its story on the matter “Mafia hits ‘new low,’” quoting Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Barhara.

FBI Photo.

The rhetoric is right out of a J. Edgar Hoovers speech — good to see the Feds are keeping the Hoov’s legacy alive:

“No crime seems too depraved to be exploited if it was a moneymaker, including the sexual exploitation of a 15-year-old,” added FBI Special Agent in Charge George Venizelos

The scheme to recruit girls from strip clubs to work as hookers was hatched by Gambino soldier Thomas Orefice, the feds said.

He personally looked over the 15-year-old, a 10th-grade runaway, and consented for his goons to sell her for sex, prosecutors charge.

“[She] looked much younger,” a law enforcement source said. “Like she wasn’t old enough to be even a Girl Scout, like she still played with dolls.”

But speaking of reaching a new low, according to the April 2010 FBI press release:

The defendants also made the women available for sex to gamblers at a weekly, high-stakes poker games that OREFICE and his crew ran.

…and when that happened, the gamblers reportedly put the $200 into the pot, instead of giving half of it to the girl. Just like stiffing your cocktail waitress when you get a free Captain Morgan’s and Diet Coke for gambling your kids’ college fund away at Circus, Circus or Harrah’s Reno!

Wow, I’m just glad this thing couldn’t get any sleazier. But wait! It can!! In October Orefice’s lawyer, Seth Ginsberg, was banned from a Manhattan federal prison facility after he brought pot when coming to visit his client (Ginsberg swears he wasn’t smuggling the pot to Orefice).

But bizarrely, amid all this moral outrage the one thing Dan Marino, the Capo of this operation, pled guilty to was conspiracy to commit the murder of Frank Hydell, his own nephew, who was shot to death in a strip club because he was suspected of being an informant. For this, Marino got 5 years. He was originally accused of plotting the murder of suspected informant Thomas Spinelli, but those charges were dropped. Reportedly, Dan Marino “kept clear” of the sex trade, according to court records. For what it’s worth, you wanna know who got twice as much time as Marino? Suzanne Porcelli, whose job, according to the FBI itself, was to coordinate the appointments. She got 10 years.

In case you’re wondering, yes, the Gambino family is John Gotti’s old family. His real family, thankfully, is much classier.

The Gambino Family was one of the original Five Families set up in New York City by Lucky Luciano in the ’30s, when it was called the Mangano family. It was thereafter called the Anastasia family, for boss Albert Anastasia, who was murdered in 1957. Under the authority of boss Carlo Gambino in the 1960s and ’70s, the Gambino crime family rose in prominence in the 1960s and 1970s until it was widely considered the most powerful of NYC’s Five Families. Gambino gave the family its current moniker, because he was boss at the time mob informant Joseph Valachi testified before the U.S. Senate, so that was the name by which Valachi knew the family.

After John Gotti assassinated Gambino’s hand-picked successor Paul Castellano in a widely-publicized hit in front of Sparks’s Steak House in midtown Manhattan in 1985, the family briefly recovered its prominence, owing partly due to Gotti’s flamboyance — but lost it when Gotti went away for murder after the flipping of his underboss, Sammy “The Bull” Gravano. After Gotti’s incarceration, the family had a succession of bosses, none of whom has been able to stop the steady hail of law enforcement attention. Other families in the New York area have, reportedly, picked up the slack and muscled in on the Gambino territory.

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Headless Bodies in Acapulco

January 10th, 2011 No comments

Mexican troops operating a checkpoint, 2009. Public Domain image by Holman05 from Wikipedia.

To those Americans among us who are of a certain age, the most traumatic memories the word “Acapulco” carries with it are of feathered hair and bad acting. But this past weekend, the resort town on Mexico’s Pacific coast was the site of another grisly discovery in Mexico’s ongoing war between paramilitary drug gangs — 15 decapitated corpses were found near a shopping center in a group of burning cars.

Since the victims were all of men between 25 and 30 years of age, and a 16th victim was found shot to death in a nearby car, the Guerrero State Public Security Office’s statement that “The killings are believed to be drug related” seems like a press release from Captain Obvious. CNN’s coverage was strangely garbled, with its trademark sidebar summary stating that the bodies were found near a shopping center frequented by tourists, but the text of the article stating that the shopping center was frequented only by local residents, not tourists, but that it’s not too far from tourist areas.

The war between drug gangs in Mexico has killed more than 28,000 people since it started in 2006, including many civilians. The primary conflict is between two main faction. The newcomer is a group led by Los Zetas, a gang made up of deserters from the special forces of the Mexican Army who were trained by the U.S. specifically in paramilitary drug interdiction. After they deserted, Los Zetas started working for the Gulf Cartel, then the biggest drug distribution ring in Mexico.

Having broken with the Gulf Cartel, Los Zetas now heads a loosely-allied group of gangs that includes the Cartels of Juárez and Tijuana and the Beltrán-Leyva family. They oppose a group led by the Gulf Cartel (centered in the state of Tamaulipas, on the Texas border and the Gulf Coast) that incorporates the Sinaloa Cartel (which operates out of Baja California, Sinaloa, Sonora and Chihuahua) and La Familia Michoacana (a Michoacán-based breakaway faction of Los Zetas), which should not be confused with the U.S.-based Nuestra Familia prison gang.

The factions are tentative at best, but the violence is not. The gangs are so well organized and equipped that they reportedly use helicopters and armored vehicles to fight each other, and Los Zetas have been reported to produce press releases that they then try to get covered in the Mexican press using the threat of violence. Much of the Los Zetas press has to do with how incompetent the Army is in fighting them, and with the brave efforts of local law enforcement (who are widely regarded as corrupt and in Los Zetas’ pocket).

An interesting sign of the times (actually from 2009) is the photo that heads this post, of Mexican Army troops operating a checkpoint. I haven’t confirmed this, but I’m pretty sure the troops have their faces covered to prevent later reprisals against them or their families by any drug gangs they run across.

Print-On-Demand Human Organs

January 10th, 2011 No comments

Late last month, Stephen Harris of the UK magazine The Engineer wrote up the staff’s Top 10 Technologies of 2010. Most year-end top-10 lists are reasonably predictable, and this one’s no exception, sporting the iPad, glasses-free 3D screens, brain implants for the paralyzed, the Terrafugia flying car (sorry, Moller) and two important British aviation developments, a new stealth fighter and an awesome unmanned non-scramjet spaceplane.

But the point of a top 10 list, for me, is to see how my memory is and to see what I missed. By far the coolest thing I missed on this list was The Engineer’s article on using the additive manufacturing technology in 3D printing to create human organs. 3D printing, in case you don’t know, is where a 3-dimensional object is created by laying down successive layers of materials. It’s used extensively for industrial modeling applications, and has been proposed for use in paleontology (recreating fossils) archaeology (mimicking priceless artifacts for study), forensic pathology and crime scene recreation.

Now, as it turns out, at the end of 2009 the world’s first 3D “bioprinter” went into experimental operation:

The first ’3D bio-printer’ for making human tissue and organs became available at the end of last year. Produced for a San Diego biotechnology company, Organovo, by Australian automation specialist Invetech, the machine is being evaluated by research institutions studying regenerative medicine – the technique of growing organs using cultures of a patient’s own cells.

The bio-printer is based on research by a group led by Prof Gabor Forgacs at the University of Missouri. It combines two separate disciplines: the layer-by-layer building of solid objects through a printing-related technology; and the still mysterious ability of proteins and other biological materials to organise and self-assemble into complex structures.

[Link.]

Wikipedia tells me that the device uses Organovo’s proprietary NovoGen technology. According to The Engineer, the technology promises to make the organ transplant list “a thing of the past.”  The current rendition of the $200,000 machines are strictly for research purposes, and are clearly a few years away from being in clinical use even on an experimental level. But proposed uses include creating skin grafts for burn victims as well as producing arterial grafts and ultimately solid organs.

What I didn’t realize is that additive technology, which is the underlying technology behind 3D printing, is already used to produce medical and dental implants, according to a related article:

…By far the biggest adopter of additive technology is the medical devices sector and, around the world, many patients sport hip replacements, dental crowns or even cranial implants that have been produced by clinicians on laser-sintering machines. Indeed, the largest-volume application of additive manufacturing is in the production of hearing aids, with customised hearing-aid casings now almost exclusively made using additive techniques.