By Agence France-Presse 23rd March 2014. Find Article Here:-
Package sent to the Vatican from a South American country contained 14 condoms filled with £33,000 worth of liquid cocaine.
German customs officials have intercepted a package addressed to the Vatican containing 14 condoms filled with cocaine.
A government spokesman said a box packed with 340 grammes of the drug, valued at €40,000 (£33,470), was seized in January at the international airport in the eastern city of Leipzig.
The cocaine, posted from an unnamed South American country, was in liquid form. It had been poured into the condoms and placed in the package addressed to the main postal centre at the Vatican.
Authorities handed the parcel to a Vatican police officer with the aim of laying a trap.
But the box was not claimed. German investigators believe the intended recipient, who remains unknown, was tipped off about the interception.
The Vatican office of Interpol is working on the investigation with the Leipzig prosecutor’s office, which could not be reached for comment.
By Haroun Gajraj 23rd March 2014. Find Full Article Here:-
Why I’ve ditched statins for good.
As experts clash over proposals that millions more of us take statins to prevent heart disease and stroke, a vascular surgeon explains why he feels better without them.
When I had a routine health check-up eight years ago, my cholesterol was so high that the laboratory thought there had been a mistake. I had 9.3 millimoles of cholesterol in every litre of blood — almost twice the recommended maximum.
It was quite a shock. The GP instantly prescribed statins, the cholesterol-lowering drugs that are supposed to prevent heart disease and strokes. For eight years, I faithfully popped my 20mg atorvastatin pills, without side effects. Then, one day last May, I stopped. It wasn’t a snap decision; after looking more closely at the research, I’d concluded that statins were not going to save me from a heart attack and that my cholesterol levels were all but irrelevant.
When I informed my GP of my decision three months later, I wasn’t entirely honest. Rather than say I was sceptical about the drugs, I told my doctor I’d quit the statins because they were causing pain in my arm.
He didn’t bat an eyelid. Evidence from the drug industry published this month – evidence I suspect was heavily reliant on data from the drug industry, as Dr James Le Fanu pointed out on these pages last week – may suggest that side effects are uncommon, but previous studies have found that one in five people on statins suffers adverse side effects, from muscle pain and diarrhoea to memory loss and blurred vision.
The GP simply suggested I try another brand of statin. The sooner the better, he said, given that I’d already been off my prescription for three months. “Hang on,” I said. “Could you give me a blood test first?” When the results came back, he was amazed that my total blood cholesterol was lower than when I’d been on statins. After three months without the pills, it was 5.4mmol/l (5.4 millimoles per litre of blood) compared with 5.7 mmol/l a year earlier.
The only major changes I’d made to my lifestyle since coming off statins were eliminating sugar (including alcohol and starchy foods such as bread) and eating more animal fat. Many experts now believe that sugar is emerging as a true villain in the heart-disease story; while after decades of demonisation, saturated fat has been acquitted of causing heart disease by a recent “meta” analysis of 70 studies by Cambridge University.
Typically, I was eating red meat three or four times a week and enjoying butter, full-fat milk and plenty of eggs. You would have thought that after three months on a diet so high in saturated fat, my cholesterol would have shot back up to pre-statin levels — but no, it came down and has stayed down seven months on. Not only that, but my levels of LDL (so-called bad cholesterol) were also lower than when I’d been on statins, and my ratio of HDL (so-called good cholesterol) to LDL was under four for the first time, an excellent sign, according to medical wisdom.
Not that I cared about any of this.
Yes, it was the statins that originally reduced my cholesterol levels so dramatically. But so what? I believe that high cholesterol has been a scapegoat for too long. Yes, it may, in some circumstances, be an indicator of heart disease but there is no evidence of a causal link. In my view, high total blood cholesterol or high LDL levels no more cause heart attacks than paramedics cause car crashes, even though they are present at the scene.
Just lowering cholesterol with drugs without sorting out the dietary and lifestyle factors that actually cause heart disease is nonsensical. Besides, there are plenty of other, more reliable indicators of heart-disease risk. What further astonished my GP was that on these indicators I was now apparently better off in other ways than when I’d been on statins. My blood pressure was down. For the first time in years, I was slimmer, especially around the belly. My triglycerides — a type of blood fat with a causal link to heart disease — were lower than at any time in the preceding eight years. My fasting blood glucose was at the optimum level, whereas a year earlier it had been too high. My total white blood count — a marker of inflammation — was lower.
My blood test for a marker called glycated haemoglobin (A1c), high levels of which are associated with heart disease and overall mortality, were bang on normal. Finally, my level of c-reactive protein (CRP) — a protein that rises in response to inflammation — was extremely low. So, biochemically, I was in excellent shape, better than when I’d been on the statins. “Have you taken up running?” asked my bemused GP.
No, I’d always run. For years, I’d exercised three times a week, eaten plenty of fish, refrained from smoking and tried to keep my stress levels low. The only thing I’d changed was my intake of sugar and animal fat.
That check-up was seven months ago and now, at 58, I’m not on a single tablet. My GP is happy. I feel better than I have in years and, at the same time, deeply concerned about proposals advising even wider use of statins.
Until 2005, statins were prescribed only to those with at least a 30 per cent or greater risk of having a heart attack within 10 years. This was then reduced to a 20 per cent risk. Now, draft NHS guidelines would have them dished out to those with just a 10 per cent risk — in other words, most men over the age of 50 and most women over the age of 60.
In some places, towns essentially shut down in the afternoon while everyone goes home for a siesta. Unfortunately, in the U.S.—more bound to our corporate lifestyles than our health—a mid-day nap is seen as a luxury and, in some cases, a sign of pure laziness. But before you feel guilty about that weekend snooze or falling asleep during a movie, rest assured that napping is actually good for you and a completely natural phenomena in the circadian (sleep-wake cycle) rhythm.
As our day wears on, even when we get enough sleep at night, our focus and alertness degrade. While this can be a minor inconvenience in modern times, it may have meant life or death for our ancestors. Whether you are finishing up a project for work or hunting for your livelihood, a nap can rekindle your alertness and have your neurons back up and firing on high in as little as 15 to 20 minutes.
Big name (and high-dollar) companies recognize this. Google and Apple are just a few that allow employees to have nap time. Studies have affirmed that short naps can improve awareness and productivity. Plus, who wouldn’t love a boss that lets you get a little shut-eye before the afternoon push?
A study from the University of Colorado Boulder found that children who missed their afternoon nap showed less joy and interest, more anxiety, and poorer problem solving skills than other children. The same can be seen in adults that benefit from napping.
Researchers with Berkeley found an hour nap to dramatically increase learning ability and memory. Naps sort of provide a reboot, where the short term memory is cleared out and our brain becomes refreshed with new defragged space.
So how long should you nap?
Experts say a 10 to 20 minute “power nap” is best for refreshing your mind and increasing energy and alertness. The sleep isn’t as deep as longer naps, which allows you to get right back at your day upon waking.
A 30 minute nap can lead to 30 minutes of grogginess, as you are often waking just as your body enters the deeper stages of sleep. You’ll experience some of that same fogginess if you sleep for an hour, but 60 minute naps are good for memory boosting.
The longest naps—around 90 minutes—are good for those people who just don’t get enough sleep at night. It’s a complete sleep cycle and can improve emotional memory and creativity.
Naps are good for you—physically and mentally. But don’t sacrifice night time zzz’s for an afternoon snooze; take your nap in addition to a good night’s sleep.
By Julia Llewellyn Smith 7th November 2013. Find Full Article Here:-
Once, pasta and bread were store cupboard staples. Now, many of us are replacing them with ‘healthier’ gluten-free foods. But are they really better for us?
In a corner of my local, shabby Tesco, whole new ranges of biscuits, breads, cereal bars and even fish fingers have suddenly arrived, all stocked under the label “gluten-free”.
Starbucks around the corner is suddenly offering gluten-free sandwiches, Carluccio’s has gluten-free pasta. A local church, I hear, has sourced gluten-free communion wafers made from potato. In the United States, friends tell me, there are even gluten-free dating sites, uniting enemies of all that’s dough-based.
Gluten-free food, not so long ago a niche product for hippies and those with coeliac disease, is the sustenance of the moment. Socialite Nicole Richie rapped about “chillin’ in my crib makin’ gluten-free spaghetti”. Gwyneth Paltrow has put her children on a no-gluten diet.
Novak Djokovic, who attributes his gluten-free regime to transforming his tennis, now has his dog following it (though Andy Murray who beat him in this year’s Wimbledon final says the same diet made him “lose strength”.)
Even The Great British Bake Off recently devoted its quarter final to “free-from” cakes and loaves.
Perhaps my muscle aches and worsening hay fever isn’t the result – as I feared – of incipient middle age, but of my fondness for bread’s springy texture, something gluten makes possible. If only I could renounce it, maybe my health would improve.
I’m not alone in my doubts: every week another friend (usually one who’s been vegan and who’s done every diet from Atkins to the 5:2) serves me quinoa or macaroons – two gluten-free staples. In a recent survey, more than 25 per cent of Americans claimed they were trying to cut down on gluten or avoid it completely.
It’s increasingly easy to do so. While once gluten-free products were available only in the dusty corners of health-food shops, today 80 per cent of all such products are sold in supermarkets. According to the Food Standards Agency, the British gluten-free market is worth £238 million annually and grew by more than 15 per cent last year. In the US, it’s worth around $2.6 billion, a growth of 36 per cent since 2006, with predictions it may double in size in the next two years. Across Europe, demand is soaring – with even carb-loving citizens of countries like Italy now demanding gluten-free pasta and pizza. India with its growing middle class is also touted as a potential huge market.
A UK Daily Telegraph analysis reveals that many brown and wholemeal loaves of bread contain more sugar than their white equivalents, prompting concern from campaigners and nutritionists.
Many types of brown and wholemeal bread contain higher levels of sugar than white loaves, a Telegraph analysis shows.
A number of popular manufacturers are adding sugar to bread seen as a “healthier” option, while equivalent white loaves remain free of the substance.
Campaigners described the findings as “alarming”, suggesting that families who opted for wholemeal varieties for health reasons were being misled. One nutritionist said the added sugar partly undermined the benefits of eating wholemeal.
The disclosure comes amid growing warnings by scientists over the effects of sugar on health. Earlier this month the World Health Organisation said people should halve the daily amount of sugar they consume, in order to help avoid mounting health problems such as obesity and tooth decay.
This newspaper’s analysis found that some individual slices of bread contained more than half a teaspoon of total sugars. The WHO’s new draft advice recommends that the average adult should limit their intake of added sugar to six teaspoons per day.
The Telegraph analysed 15 wholemeal and brown loaves sold by major supermarkets, as well as their equivalent white products.
All of the loaves contain sugars which naturally occur in the bread. However, additional sugar was included in the ingredients of ten of the brown and wholemeal loaves.
In five cases the brown or wholemeal loaves contained a form of added sugar, while the white equivalent loaf did not.
Manufacturers said the sugar was needed to “mask” the “bitter” taste of wholemeal flour, insisting the ingredient appeared only in “negligible” amounts.
However, Dr Aseem Malhotra, a cardiologist and science director of Action on Sugar, a campaign group, said: “There is that there is absolutely no requirement for added sugar and it should not be included as any part of a balanced diet – just an occasional treat which we can all enjoy.”
He added: “Brown bread is believed to be healthier than white bread because of the fibre but the levels of sugar in some of these products is alarming.
“The primary aim of Action On Sugar is to get the food industry to reduce added sugar by 40 per cent in the next four years which will halt the obesity epidemic. As this investigation has revealed brown bread is certainly no exception.”
Ian Marber, a nutritionist, said: “It is particularly surprising to find added sugar in wholemeal loaves as they have a ‘healthier’ aura.
“As sugar seems to be added to mostly brown wholemeal loaves I can’t help wondering if it’s been added to sell more. Wholemeal contains a little more fibre than white bread and so it’s considered superior from a nutritional perspective. To some extent the addition of sugar counteracts that.”
State-rescued lender confirms total losses since bailout level with 2008 state bail-out.
Royal Bank of Scotland has lost all the money invested in it by the taxpayer six years ago when the lender came close to collapse.
The bank has confirmed its total losses since its bailout have now drawn level with the £46bn pumped into it in 2008 in return for an 81pc stake.
RBS made a loss last year of £8.2bn, its sixth consecutive annual loss, taking its cumulative losses to £46bn.
The scale of the losses means that all the capital provided by the taxpayer has now been used up dealing with the toxic legacy assets on the bank’s balance sheet.
Losses at the bank came after it took a £3.8bn bill for customer mis-selling compensation and a £4.8bn impairment charge against the continued run down of its bad loans.
Excluding these costs, RBS reported an operating loss for the year of £2.5bn, with profits from its retail and commercial business falling 4pc year-on-year to £4.1bn, while its markets division reported a 58pc fall compared to 2012 making a profit of £638m.
Despite, the loss RBS said it had put aside £576m to pay staff bonuses for 2013.
Ross McEwan, chief executive of RBS, will use the results to set out his plans to turnaround the lender that has yet to report a profit six years on from its state-funded £46bn bailout in 2008.
Mr McEwan said his priority would be restoring trust in the bank, which is 81pc owned by the taxpayer, after a series of scandals.
“We want to be number one for customer service, trust and advocacy, in every one of our chosen business areas by 2020,” wrote Mr McEwan in a message to investors.
RBS operating structure will also be simplified and the business’s current seven divisions collapsed into three to reduce complexity and costs.
“Our three customer businesses will cover Personal & Business Banking, Commercial & Private Banking, and Corporate & Institutional Banking. Across the businesses we will have one management team, working to one joined-up plan,” he wrote.
RBS will embark on a new cost-cutting plan, and Mr McEwan said he would reduce the bank’s running costs by £5bn by 2017 in an effort to reduce the business’s cost to income ratio to about 50pc.
Mr McEwan has also set out how he will address RBS’s relatively weak capital base. At the end of last year the bank’s core Tier 1 ratio had fallen to 8.6pc, more than two percentage points lower than some of its peers.
Mr McEwan said he would be targeting a 12pc ratio by 2016 and that the rundown of the bank’s bad assets and the flotation of the US Citizens business would be the main boosters of core capital.
Citizens will be floated on the US market later this year and the RBS confirmed it had selected advisers for the multi-billion listing.
By Joe Wolverton, II, J.D. 28th March 2014. Find Article Here:-
Facebook may soon possess the power to match faces to users with almost human-like accuracy.
According to the social-media giant, sophisticated facial recognition software is currently being tested that would employ 3D face modeling to render with a 97.25 percent success rate what it calls “Labeled Faces in the Wild”; in other words — you.
Using a “nine-layer deep neural network,” the software known as DeepFace uses “more than 120 million parameters” to recreate the user’s face and then scans millions of photos to match the face to the person.
A Forbes article on a story published in the MIT TechnologyReview.com, reports, “DeepFace uses a 3D model for rotating faces virtually so that the person in the photo appears to be looking at the camera. The angle of the face is corrected by using a 3D model of an ‘average’ forward-looking face.”
Forbes adds, “The DeepFace algorithms have also been successfully tested for facial verification within YouTube videos” and that the technology could “improve Facebook’s ability to suggest users for tagging in an uploaded photo and for other potential purposes.”
Although this program is still being tested (Facebook’s Artificial Intelligence Group will present their findings at a conference in June), the prospects of these “other potential purposes” should frighten the 1.3 billion active monthly users of the site.
Particularly as Facebook isn’t known for more than token resistance to cooperating with the federal government’s quest to put everyone under the National Security Agency’s never-blinking eye.
According to a statement posted on the company’s website last June, government agencies — including federal, state, and local authorities — requested user data on between 18,000 and 19,000 account holders.
Following the negotiations in 2013 that opened the way for Facebook to report its cooperation with requests to hand over user information, Microsoft made a similar surveillance disclosure. A blog post on the Redmond, Washington-based company’s website declared:
For the six months ended December 31, 2012, Microsoft received between 6,000 and 7,000 criminal and national security warrants, subpoenas and orders affecting between 31,000 and 32,000 consumer accounts from U.S. governmental entities (including local, state and federal).
Altogether, that means the accounts of approximately 50,000 Americans — accounts they believed were secure — were laid open to the eyes of government agents.
These revelations may be nothing more than cover fire to distract users from the collusion of these corporations with the NSA as disclosed by NSA whistleblower and former NSA subcontractor, Edward Snowden.
Under the PRISM data-gathering program, the NSA and the FBI are “tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies, extracting audio, video, photographs, e-mails, documents and connection logs that enable analysts to track a person’s movements and contacts over time,” as reported by the Washington Post.
The joint venture has been functioning since 2007, but came to light only in a PowerPoint presentation that was part of the cache of documents leaked by Snowden.
According to the information Snowden released, two of the tech companies that disclosed government surveillance requests — Facebook and Microsoft — were giving the government access to the private information of millions of users.
The New American has reported on the story in detail:
PRISM works in conjunction with another top-secret program, called BLARNEY, which, according to the program’s summary, “leverages IC [intelligence community] and commercial partnerships to gain access and exploit foreign intelligence obtained from global networks.”
PRISM allows the NSA to enter a company’s data stream and extract communications by keying in “selectors” or search items. The agency is mandated by law to conduct surveillance only on foreign operations within the United States, but the selectors are designed to produce at least 51 percent confidence in the “foreignness” of the data it collects, meaning it could be intercepting wholly domestic communications nearly half of the time. Training materials instruct new analysts to submit accidentally collected U.S. content for a quarterly report. But the training instructions also tell the analysts that “it’s nothing to worry about,” the Post said.
Possible details of just how the data flow were recently laid out in a report published online last summer.
Tech news website Mashable examined “press reports, the companies’ statements and what the Director of National Intelligence has disclosed” to figure out how PRISM functions. After its investigation, Mashable reckons that PRISM is “probably more like a data ingestion API [application programming interface — the way software components interact] system that allows for streamlined processing of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act requests. And Google revealed to Wired that its secret system to siphon data to the NSA was nothing more than a secure FTP [File Transfer Protocol].”
Perhaps the most disturbing revelation coming from the Snowden leaks about the NSA is the fact that it confirms that the government and their corporate partners consider the protections of the Fourth Amendment to be nothing more than a “parchment barrier” that is easily torn through. Now that the Constitution is regarded by the federal government as advisory at best, there is nothing standing between Americans and the construction of a domestic 21st century Panopticon.
In this country, then, every citizen is now a suspect, and the scope of the surveillance is being expanded to likely place every word, every movement, every text, every conversation, every e-mail, and every social media subject to monitoring by the federal domestic spying apparatus.
Imagine the increase of that capacity if a major player such as Facebook successfully deploys software that can almost perfectly match all the millions of photos saved on its servers to a name. Facebook would become a sort of virtual real-time resource for those who would be interested in compiling caches of personal data on everybody in the world.
Add that to the story The New American reported in December 2013 that revealed that an elite team of hackers employed by the FBI had developed an application that turns on built-in laptop cameras. According to details provided in a Washington Post article, the software can be turned on remotely by the g-men and perhaps most notably, the little green light that typically signals a “live” camera is not illuminated when this application is in use.
“I’ve called President Obama to express my frustration over the damage the government is creating for all of our future. Unfortunately, it seems like it will take a very long time for true full reform,” Zuckerberg writes in a blog post.
“The internet is our shared space. It helps us connect. It spreads opportunity,” he added. “This is why I’ve been so confused and frustrated by the repeated reports of the behavior of the U.S. government. When our engineers work tirelessly to improve security, we imagine we’re protecting you against criminals, not our own government.”
That all sounds very good, but the fact remains that Facebook has handed over access to user data to the federal government and the company is now near completion of a facial recognition tool that will give it nearly perfect perception.
Joe A. Wolverton, II, J.D. is a correspondent for The New American and travels nationwide speaking on nullification, the Second Amendment, the surveillance state, and other constitutional issues. Follow him on Twitter @TNAJoeWolverton and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.