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Monday, December 05, 2005

Progress, capitalism and the state: authoritarian polyamory in action

A report by the National Nanotechnology Initiative provides more cause for concern when it comes to nanotechnology. Currently, $9 billion is being spent on nanotech research worldwide. Of that, $1 billion comes in the form of federal subsidy, of which, according to the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies’ head scientist Dr. Andrew Maynard, "approximately $39 million annually in government funds... are directed at environmental, health, and safety R&D... to explore possible adverse health, environmental and safety impacts of engineered nanomaterials or nanoparticles.”
“Specifically, out of a total of 161 federally-funded, risk-related projects, the Project’s scientists found only 15 relevant to occupation-caused physical injury (totaling $1.7 million), and only two highly relevant projects on the long-term environmental and occupational exposures that potentially could cause disease (totaling $0.2 million)."
Basically, what that means is that the nanotech industry, in its rush to capitalize on its heavily subsidized research, it passing off the health and environmental costs onto its workers.

That makes the new study by the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering, entitled "Nanoscience and Nanotechnologies: Opportunities and Uncertainties," seem awfully optimistic when it concluded, as reported on OUT-LAW.com, "that there were no significant concerns at present." Especially since products, including some involving food packaging, have increasingly arrived in the local store. Just check out Forbes lists of top nanotech products for 2003 and 2004 and you might be surprised. Sadly, while the wild enthusiasm of the scientists, salivating at the idea of expanding their control of the world to the nanometer scale, seems reassuring, the lack of research in the field proves that confidence to be largely ideological in nature.

Perhaps nothing highlights the danger of nanotech in consumer products more than the boom in nanotech applications in the cosmetics industry. As Lenka Contreras, vice president of research firm Kline & Company, says, "Women just don't mind spending a lot of money to look younger." And, so, exploiting the opening that patriarchal society has afforded them, (mostly male) researchers have forged ahead, experimenting on women's bodies without fear of regulation (the FDA does not have oversight power over cosmetics).

In an article in the Sunday Times, Lois Rogers reports that "The cosmetics giant L’Oréal is marketing a range of skin treatments containing tiny 'nano' particles, despite concerns about their possible long-term effects on the human body." The problem according to the prestigious Royal Society is, “We don’t know whether these particles are taken down through the skin and what the long-term effects might be in the bloodstream.” Rogers also reports that
L’Oréal, the world’s largest cosmetics company, is devoting much of its £350m research budget to nanotechnology, which it believes offers great potential for slowing the effect of age on the skin.
However, the problem is, as reported in the New York Times:
"It's too early to tell whether nanotechnology will be particularly advantageous in skin care, but there's no question that everyone is interested in exploring it," said Gerald N. McEwen Jr., vice president for science at the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association.
Whereas conventional cosmetics are generally designed to protect skin, nano-particles are designed to penetrate it, obviously increasing the danger.

Meanwhile, MIT news reports that researchers there have developed a way to create real-time maps of the city by tracking cellphones.
"For the first time ever we are able to visualize the full dynamics of a city in real time," said project leader Carlo Ratti, an architect/engineer and head of the SENSEable City Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "This opens up new possibilities for urban studies and planning. The real-time city is now real: a system that is able to continuously sense its condition and can quickly react to its criticalities," he added.
Translated: Bureaucrats and police will steal a little more of our autonomy from us, managing us subtly and more efficiently as we cruise around the city. From the researchers website:
[T]hese devices can be used as a highly dynamic tracking tool that describes how the city is used and transformed by its citizens. The polis is thus interpreted as a shifting entity formed by webs of human interactions in space-time, rather than simply as a fixed, physical environment. Mobile Landscape provides a platform upon which the contemporary city can register the flux and traces its self-constructing and open-ended nature.
Generally, the bureaucrats and police have been in conflict with spontaneity, "self-constructing" and the desires of people to control their own physical space, so this new tool will likely not be used in a libertarian way. But, any tool which permits them real-time analysis of the movements of people will certainly be presented by the authorities as promising more freedom to citizens, through efficiencies wrung out of the system by streamlining, reorganization and flexible planning. Unfortunately, the truth is that the regulation of the bureaucrat will only provide more space for exploitation by the capitalists, as they continue to prey on our free time like the wolves they are. Any freedom that peels off from the herd as a result will be picked off, for sure.

A little closer to home, the East Valley Tribune's Ed Taylor reports on
IntelaSight, a start-up company that creates and operates security surveillance systems for business customers, is only two years old and has just 15 employees. But Mesa officials hope it will become an engine of future economic expansion in their city.
David Ly, IntelaSight's president and chief executive, showing a criminal disconnect from reality, describes his company's mission this way: "We wanted to do something unique to the needs of society today. We believe that security will be at the forefront of our concerns as a society."
Linda Paul, director of marketing and communications for the Mesa United Way, which organized the mayor’s breakfast, said IntelaSight has the potential to become a hot growth company.

"Their product was so germane to the rest of the audience, which was mostly developers," she said. "This guy has a product that belongs in all of these projects."
What does IntelaSight do?
IntelaSight sets up camera networks at plants, warehouses and other places of business and monitors the activities 24 hours a day, seven days a week, from an off-site operations center in Phoenix. The company has 15 customers in Arizona and California, including a municipal airport, public school, large industrial sites and public storage facilities.

The firm uses the Internet to transmit the real-time images, allowing it to monitor locations virtually anywhere in the world from its Mesa and Phoenix operations centers. The owner of the business also can monitor the same images from laptop computer, cell phone, personal digital assistant or any other Internet-enabled device.

The system is equipped with software that helps to alert IntelaSight personnel if something suspicious is going on. IntelaSight will notify local police, the business owner or on-site security guards if anything is amiss.
It has obvious uses for security, but it also has implications for security guards, who would do well to interpret this as a technological attempt to de-skill them.
The company charges $30,000 to $40,000 to install hardware that can cover a 5-to 7-acre site. There’s also an ongoing monthly expense of $1.25 per hour per camera.

But the system reduces the need for on-site security guards who earn $15 to $20 an hour.
I'm not generally a defender of security guards, but at least you can bribe one, plant one, disable one or even just outsmart one. Apart from serving as a class war tool, the camera system definitely makes revolutionaries jobs a little harder, as well.

Finally, one bit of news for those who are concerned with the increasing frequency with which new diseases are jumping from other animals to humans, or with the increasing mutation and resistance of existing germs (see staph, strep).
A deadly bacterial illness commonly seen in people on antibiotics appears to be growing more common _ even in patients not taking such drugs, according to a report published Thursday in a federal health journal.

In another article in the New England Journal of Medicine, health officials said samples of the same bacterium taken from eight U.S. hospitals show it is mutating to become even more resistant to antibiotics
The previously rare germ, known as C-diff, which was responsible for perhaps as many as 200 deaths over 2 years in Quebec causes severe diarrhea and was previously limited primarily to patients taking antibiotics. Now, strains have emerged that are resistant to them, and have proliferated surprising many scientists. The Star Tribune reports:
Strains of the germ have been detected among people who have never been hospitalized, raising alarm that the infection may be emerging more widely and posing a broader public health threat, the researchers said.
Typical of this increasingly common phenomenon, the resistance most likely derived from overuse of antibiotics. "If you have severe diarrhea, seek attention from a physician," advises one doctor. Doctor, heal thyself.

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