How The Media Will Report The Apocalypse

How The Media Will Report The Apocalypse.

December 17, 2013

In early 2014, a series of devastating catastrophes bring about Armageddon. Papers of record like the New York Times soberly report this news.

In early 2014, a series of devastating catastrophes bring about Armageddon. Papers of record like the New York Times soberly report this news. & Computer Earth

The Guardian tries to provide comprehensive live coverage of the end of days.

The Guardian tries to provide comprehensive live coverage of the end of days., Stokkete, Ilya Andriyanov, Jeff Thrower

Striving for balance, the BBC makes sure it also gives airtime to the views of the radioactive mutant zombies:

How The Media Will Report The Apocalypse
BBC & Orion Pictures / Via &

The Daily Mail saw all this coming.

The Daily Mail saw all this coming. & Ronald Sumners/Melkor3D/udra11


How The Media Will Report The Apocalypse.

State surveillance of personal data is theft, say world’s leading authors

State surveillance of personal data is theft, say world’s leading authors | World news | The Guardian.

500 signatories include five Nobel prize winners
• Writers demand ‘digital bill of rights’ to curb abuses

Author composite including Tom Stoppard

Clockwise from top left, eight of the people who have signed the petition: Hanif Kureishi, Björk, Arundhati Roy, Don DeLillo, Ian McEwan, Tom Stoppard, Margaret Atwood and Martin Amis

More than 500 of the world’s leading authors, including five Nobel prize winners, have condemned the scale of state surveillance revealed by the whistleblower Edward Snowden and warned that spy agencies are undermining democracy and must be curbed by a new international charter.

The signatories, who come from 81 different countries and include Margaret Atwood, Don DeLillo, Orhan Pamuk, Günter Grass and Arundhati Roy, say the capacity of intelligence agencies to spy on millions of people’s digital communications is turning everyone into potential suspects, with worrying implications for the way societies work.

They have urged the United Nations to create an international bill of digital rights that would enshrine the protection of civil rights in the internet age.

Their call comes a day after the heads of the world’s leading technology companies demanded sweeping changes to surveillance laws to help preserve the public’s trust in the internet – reflecting the growing global momentum for a proper review of mass snooping capabilities in countries such as the US and UK, which have been the pioneers in the field.

The open letter to the US president, Barack Obama, from firms including Apple, Google, Microsoft and Facebook, will be followed by the petition, which has drawn together a remarkable list of the world’s most respected and widely-read authors, who have accused states of systematically abusing their powers by conducting intrusive mass surveillance.

Julian Barnes, Martin Amis, Ian McEwan, Irvine Welsh, Hari Kunzru, Jeanette Winterson and Kazuo Ishiguro are among the British authors on the list.

It also includes JM Coetzee, Yann Martel, Ariel Dorfman, Amit Chaudhuri, Roddy Doyle, Amos Oz, David Grossman, and the Russian Mikhail Shishkin.

Henning Mankell, Lionel Shriver, Hanif Kureishi and the antipodean writers CK Stead, Thomas Keneally and Anna Funder are other globally renowned signatories.

The Guardian has published a series of stories about the mass surveillance techniques of GCHQ and its US counterpart, the NSA, over the past six months; two of the most significant programmes uncovered in the Snowden files were Prism, run by the NSA, and Tempora, which was set up by GCHQ. Between them, they allow the agencies to harvest, store and analyse data about millions of phone calls, emails and search-engine queries.

Though Tuesday’s statement does not mention these programmes by name, it says the extent of surveillance revealed by Snowden has challenged and undermined the right of all humans to “remain unobserved and unmolested” in their thoughts, personal environments and communications. “This fundamental human right has been rendered null and void through abuse of technological developments by states and corporations for mass surveillance purposes,” the statement adds.

“A person under surveillance is no longer free; a society under surveillance is no longer a democracy. To maintain any validity, our democratic rights must apply in virtual as in real space.”

Demanding the right “for all people to determine to what extent their personal data may be legally collected, stored and processed”, the writers call for a digital rights convention that states will sign up to and adhere to. “Surveillance is theft. This data is not public property, it belongs to us. When it is used to predict our behaviour, we are robbed of something else – the principle of free will crucial to democratic liberty.”

McEwan told the Guardian: “Where Leviathan can, it will. The state, by its nature, always prefers security to liberty. Lately, technology has offered it means it can’t resist, means of mass surveillance that Orwell would have been amazed by. The process is inexorable – unless it’s resisted. Obviously, we need protection from terrorism, but not at any cost.”

The intervention comes after the Guardian and some of the world’s other major media organisations, including the New York Times, the Washington Post and Der Spiegel, began disclosing details of the extent and reach of secret surveillance programmes run by Britain’s eavesdropping centre, GCHQ, and the National Security Agency.

The revelations have sparked a huge debate on the legal framework and oversight governing western spy agencies. Obama has launched a review of US intelligence operations, and earlier this month the UN’s senior counter-terrorism official, Ben Emmerson, announced an investigation into the techniques used by both US and British intelligence agencies.

Civil liberties groups have criticised the UK government for putting intense political pressure on the Guardian and other media groups covering the leaks rather than addressing the implications of the mass surveillance programmes that have been uncovered. But campaigners hope Tuesday’s statement will increase the pressure on governments to address the implications of the Snowden revelations.

“International moral pressure is what’s needed to ensure politicians address the mass invasion of our privacy by the intelligence services in the UK and US,” said Jo Glanville, from English Pen, which along with its sister organisations around the world has supported the Writers Against Mass Surveillance campaign. “The signatories to the appeal are a measure of the level of outrage and concern.”

Tuesday’s statement is being launched simultaneously in 27 countries, and organisers hope members of the public will now sign up through the website.

Eva Menasse, one of the group of German writers who initiated the project, said it began with an open letter from a group of authors to the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, when the first Snowden revelations came to light. “When we started, we did not know how far we would get. But more and more colleagues joined us and within the last weeks we were sitting at our computers day and night, using our networks as more people came forward. This started as an entirely private initiative, but now has worldwide support.”

Another author who helped set up the campaign, Juli Zeh, said writers around the world had felt compelled to act: “We all have to stand up now, and we as writers do what we can do best: use the written word to intervene publicly.”

Winterson told the Guardian she regarded Snowden as a “brave and selfless human being”.”We should be supporting him in trying to determine the extent of the state in our lives. We have had no debate, no vote, no say, hardly any information about how our data is used and for what purpose. Our mobile phones have become tracking devices. Social networking is data profiling. We can’t shop, spend, browse, email, without being monitored. We might as well be tagged prisoners. Privacy is an illusion. Do you mind about that? I do.”

Editors on the NSA files: ‘What the Guardian is doing is important for democracy’

Editors on the NSA files: ‘What the Guardian is doing is important for democracy’ | World news | The Guardian.

On Thursday the Daily Mail described the Guardian as ‘The paper that helps Britain’s enemies’. We showed that article to many of the world’s leading editors. This is what they said

A child holds a cut out of Edward Snowden.

A child holds a cut out of Edward Snowden. Photograph: Philippe Lopez./AFP
New York Times masthead

In a democracy, the press plays a vital role in informing the public and holding those in power accountable. The NSA has vast intelligence-gathering powers and capabilities and its role in society is an important subject for responsible newsgathering organisations such as the New York Times and the Guardian. A public debate about the proper perimeters for eavesdropping by intelligence agencies is healthy for the public and necessary.

Jill Abramson The accurate and in-depth news articles published by the New York Times and the Guardian help inform the public in framing its thinking about these issues and deciding how to balance the need to protect against terrorism and to protect individual privacy. Vigorous news coverage and spirited public debate are both in the public interest. The journalists at the New York Times and the Guardian care deeply about the wellbeing and safety of their fellow citizens in carrying out their role in keeping the public informed.
Jill Abramson, executive editor, the New York Times

Der Spiegel masthead  

The utmost duty of a journalist is to expose abuses and the abuse of power. The global surveillance of digital communication by the NSA and GCHQ is no less than an abuse on a massive scale with consequences that at this point seem completely unpredictable.

Wolfgang Buechner It is understandable that the governments of the US and Britain aren’t pleased that journalists, with the assistance of informants within government ranks, are exposing this abuse of power. It is a classic approach for governments to attack media that have the courage to publish such stories with arguments that they threaten national security or that they are supporting an enemy of the state. And it is a tragedy that media outlets aligned with governments are now accusing the journalists uncovering these abuses of “lethal irresponsibility”.

In terms of DER SPIEGEL’s position on this affair: With each story we have published, we have given both the NSA and GCHQ the opportunity to comment prior to publication and to alert us to aspects that could be highly sensitive. The NSA took advantage of this opportunity, GCHQ did not.

The material contains myriad evidence of terrorist investigations. However, for good reason, we have refrained from reporting on these specific operations.

It is the indiscriminate mass surveillance of communications that DER SPIEGEL considers to be a scandal — not the search for terrorists. As we stated, it is the media’s duty in a free society to report on these abuses.

Exposing the intensity with which intelligence agencies conduct surveillance on the Internet does not provide proof that such reporting in any way assists terrorists.

It is common knowledge that security agencies monitor telephones, and yet, terrorists still use them.

What is clear is that the surveillance conducted by the NSA and GCHQ goes far beyond anti-terror measures.

It is for this reason that SPIEGEL and numerous other media outlets around the world will continue to take their duty seriously and report when a security apparatus spins out of control and acts beyond its remit.

During our reporting on the Wikileaks-files I worked very closely with Guardian’s excellent staff. And today, I am even more proud of the cooperation with colleagues who have such a high professional and ethical standard. They stand for freedom of information. And freedom of information is what we need more than ever.
Wolfgang Buechner, editor-in-chief, Der Spiegel

Haaretz masthead  

Journalists have only one responsibility: to keep their readers informed and educated about whatever their government is doing on their behalf – and first and foremost on security and intelligence organisations, which by their nature infringe on civil liberties. The Snowden revelations, and their publication by the Guardian, have been a prime example of fearlessly exercising this journalistic responsibility.

Aluf Benn In Israel, the media are subject to pre-publication review by a military censor of any news related to security and intelligence. Israeli editors are therefore relieved from the dilemmas faced by our British or American counterparts, who should judge what might harm national security. Nevertheless, we struggle endlessly to push back the walls of government secrecy and concealment and expand the scope of public debate.
Aluf Benn, editor-in-chief, Haaretz

Le Monde masthead  

The decision by Edward Snowden to leak to the media an important amount of top-secret documents showing the unprecedented reach of electronic surveillance was a historic event. It has raised major questions on the control of the internet, on the balance between counter-terrorism and civil liberties, on the oversight of intelligence activities by democratic institutions.

Sylvie Kauffmann The debate is open, and all actors of public life are legitimate participants in it. The heads of intelligence services are entitled to voice their concern at the extent of the leaks, as ordinary citizens are entitled to ask what use is made, by whom and to what purpose, of private data collected from their daily life activities. Editors of media organisations are central to this debate. The Guardian, with whom, among others, Le Monde collaborated in the publication of the WikiLeaks cables, made the right decision to publish the documents released by Snowden. It did so responsibly, acting in the public interest, as we had done with the WikiLeaks documents, and more recently with the “OffshoreLeaks” documents.
Sylvie Kauffmann, editorial director, Le Monde, France

El Pais masthead  

When a newspaper prints a story, or a series of stories, such as the Snowden case, the first attacks are always aimed at its editors and publishers. State or homeland security reasons are always claimed.

Javier Moreno It happened when The New York Times and The Washington Post printed the Pentagon Papers about the Vietnam War in 1973, and it happened with WikiLeaks. Now, the object of criticism is the Guardian for having printed Edward Snowden’s revelations. What is sad, baffling and dangerous is that the attacks now come not only from governments but from other newspapers too. In doing so, they are ignoring their first and utmost obligation. The press must serve the citizens and comply with their right to have access to truthful and relevant informations when it comes to public affairs. Newspapers have many duties. Having to protect governments and the powerful from embarrasing situations is not among them.

The Guardian’s work in the Snowden case is an example of great journalism, the kind that changes history and the kind that citizens need more every day, in a world where the powerful are increasingly trying to hide information from their societies. The real danger is not in the so-called “aid to the enemy” denounced by the hypocrites, but in the actions of governments and state agencies that citizens cannot control. To fight it we need newspapers willing to do their job, rather than those ready to cheer on the self-interested deceptions of the powerful.
Javier Moreno, director, El País, Spain


I have just been reading Tim Weiner’s history of the CIA, Legacy of Ashes, which is heavily based on leaked and declassified government documents. Over and again, one is struck by how poorly Americans’ interests have been served by secrecy – and by the folly, misjudgment, and abuse of power that might have been prevented by public knowledge. One does not have to admire Julian Assange or Edward Snowden to recognise that their revelations, filtered by scrupulous journalists, have served the fundamental democratic interest of knowing what our governments are up to and how they may be abridging our rights.

Jacob Weisberg The authorities seldom rate the public’s right to know very highly. Editors, by contrast, have an excellent record in handling the security concerns related to classified material. The New York Times withheld revelations about the NSA’s wireless wiretapping programme for a full year. Both the Guardian and the New York Times redacted or held back WikiLeaks documents that could have placed lives in danger. The Washington Post has been cautious and selective in publishing the Snowden material. Contra the Daily Mail, our best journalists very much are security experts, often with a better ability to make balanced judgments about disclosure than their security-cleared counterparts. Editors must weigh the potential security harm of public revelation again the certain damage to democratic accountability that comes from a public kept in the dark. It bears noting that in historical terms, the downside of disclosure has been very small, while the cost of secrecy has been enormous.
Jacob Weisberg, chairman the Slate Group

The Hindu  

As an editor I am confronted every day with difficult questions about what to publish and what not to. A newspaper comes across documents from all kinds of sources but authenticity is only a necessary but not sufficient condition for disseminating the information these contain.

Sensitive information must pass a twofold test: is publication in the public interest; and will it put lives at risk. Governments and intelligence agencies may have access to more information than the average editor but they do not have a monopoly over the ability to correctly answer these questions.

Siddharth Varadarajan Well before Edward Snowden came along, the editors of the Hindu have handled classified or sensitive information on a range of sensitive issues. Never has our newspaper behaved irresponsibly with that information. Those attacking the media on the NSA issue wilfully ignore the fact that what the Guardian, the New York Times, the Hindu and other newspapers around the world have published so far are details of snooping that is not even remotely related to fighting terrorism.

Osama bin Laden did not need Edward Snowden’s revelations about Prism to realise the US was listening in to every bit of electronic communication: he had already seceded from the world of telephony and reverted to couriers. But millions of people in the US, the UK, Brazil, India and elsewhere, including national leaders, energy companies and others who are being spied upon for base reasons, were unaware of the fact that their privacy was being compromised.

In the hands of an irresponsible newspaper, the kind of care the Guardian and others who are working from this material are taking may not always prevail. But as Glenn Greenwald said on the BBC, the only people who have been reckless with this material are those who acted irresponsibly in collecting it in the first place: the NSA and GCHQ.
Siddharth Varadarajan, editor the Hindu  

It is really striking and bold to accuse journalists of being allies of terrorism simply for performing their professional responsibilities. And it is even more dangerous when, in the name of a “national interest”, censorship and concealing information is sponsored on the ground that journalists are not “security experts” to judge what can and should be published.

Ricardo Kirschbaum Limits are only determined by the editors’ responsibility in a political and legal system that might protect the right to freedom of expression on a democratic basis. The Guardian has already been subjected to procedures that claim to infringe its independence and to intimidate its editors and journalists. This pressure must cease immediately.
Ricardo Kirschbaum, executive editor, Clarin, Argentina

Frankfurter Allgemeine  

The Snowden affair, one day, will be understood as a historic milestone at which democratic societies began to realize that the political cost of new technologies still needed to be negotiated. Hans-Magnus Enzensberger, one of Germany’s last great intellectuals and certainly not a leftist, sees it as a transition to a post-democratic society. And had the Snowden files not opened our eyes to this transition already, the way how the current debate about these documents unfolds, certainly did.These revelations are not only about secret services, but just as much about all the new social touchpoints of every citizen who is equipped with a smartphone and online access: Who controls and analyses these touchpoints and why? Is it so difficult to understand that in a world in which – according to Eric Schmidt’s concise formulation – the digital self not only mirrors but substitutes our true selves, all these issues become questions of human rights?

Frank Schirrmacher President Obama’s Berlin declaration that he would welcome a debate about the right balance between security and freedom gave room for hope. And different from the distant military threats of the Cold War, are we now exposed to threatening systems which seem to function only as long as they are deeply interwoven and are interfering with a civil society’s private communication.

Before Snowden, we knew about this interference only theoretically. Since Snowden, we know about empirically as well.There is no indication whatsoever that those media organisations who reported about the NSA and GCHQ files have endangered our national security. None of the newspapers involved did create artificial drama as would have been customary in the 1980s, just to increase copy sales. None of the newspapers involved has questioned the duty and legitimate need of governments to prevent terrorism. No one has defended the ideology of terrorists or has even hinted at the idea that terrorism suspects should not be screened.

What the newspapers involved did discuss is the integrity of the very democracies that terrorists are trying to destroy. We all can feel and witness each other’s tangible shock and dismay about the complete loss of democratic control over systems and secret services which seemingly feel entitled to decide on their own who is a friend and who is an enemy of our civil societies. We saw Jimmy Carter’s deep concern. We saw how even an influential and staunchly conservative security expert such as Germany’s Hans-Peter Uhl of the Bavarian CSU party defined the NSA files as a “wake-up call” that was hinting at a dangerous merger of private industries and secret services. If a conservative security expert like Germany’s Hans-Peter Uhl ventures into such territory, we should realize that this affair is about much more than only a few powerpoint presentations. Publishing the Snowden files has by no means been an attack on our freedom and security, but a crucial prerequisite for freedom to exist in the future.
Frank Schirrmacher, publisher, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Germany

New York Times masthead  

There is a superficial appeal in the argument that intelligence “professionals” know better than editors what information must be suppressed, even if it has already escaped their control. Particularly in this time of terror, much of the public is impressed by that argument and so are American attorneys and judges, causing David Rudenstine of Cardozo Law School to name this the “age of deference.”

Such deference was evident also when the Pentagon Papers case reached our Supreme Court. The Chief Justice compared the papers to the “White House silver,” which, had it come into our possession we would have surely returned. Other justices felt that even if the Constitution prevented our being censored, we deserved to be prosecuted under Espionage statutes for aiding the enemy.

Arrogant though it sounds, the fact is that experienced editors and correspondents who deal daily in the subject matter of “national security” know better than most judges and prosecutors whether a given piece of information could seriously threaten lives or damage national defence. Moreover, if in doubt, we have usually asked officials to demonstrate the danger of publication and in a minority of cases accepted their argument. But we have demanded persuasive argument that distinguishes between a genuine threat and mere bureaucratic embarrassment or inconvenience.

Max Frankel Why, ultimately, does experience argue almost always in favour of publication? Because a secret once lost by government, even if important, cannot be “returned”. It can fly across the globe in an instant and even if momentarily suppressed, it must inform all those who have learned it as they in turn inform others. Even more persuasive is the reality that neither officials nor journalists can ever be sure of the consequences of publication: facts once distributed, like seeds in a garden, acquire a life of their own with consequences that can be salutary, malignant, both, or neither. So while intelligence agents perceive a professional duty to cloak all their deeds and knowledge, it is a newspaper’s duty to publish what it learns without presuming to predict a good or ill result. The tension thus created is probably the only tolerable way to proceed.
Max Frankel, former executive editor, The New York Times

The Washington Post  

Journalists have not only the right but a responsibility to challenge government – its behaviour, its reasoning and its assertion of fact. There will always be times when an editor has to rely on his own judgment in making decisions about what to publish and weighing the implications. Editors know these can be profoundly important decisions and they should listen with care to arguments from all sides, including government. Experience has taught scepticism.

Marcus Brauchli Official secrecy doesn’t just cloak the national-security state; it hides everything from bureaucratic bungling and politicians’ peccadillos to catastrophically bad policy. Officials can be just as aggressive in discouraging journalists from ferreting out mismanagement and waste as they often are in trying to block sensitive national security stories. That shouldn’t keep editors from thoughtfully considering officials’ arguments and at times being persuaded to hold something back. But there is inherent, inevitable and – in the US, anyway – by-design tension between government and a free press that reflects the institutions’ different functions. A responsible editor’s bias must be towards publication and an informed public debate. Without sight of the facts, how can a democracy chart its course?
Marcus Brauchli, vice-president, Washington Post Company


It is journalism’s most noble duty to write about and to describe what exists in our world. Our second duty is to add context to and to comment and to evaluate that which exists in our world. If it is a journalist’s duty, however, to describe what exists, then this inherently implies the duty to write about those things and events about which certain humans and institutions do not want us to write about. This tends to be case whenever journalists write about the activities of secret services and it was the case during these last weeks when The Guardian, the New York Times or Süddeutsche Zeitung have written about the British secret services, most especially about GCHQ.

Wolfgang Krach No secret service likes it when its methods are being discussed openly, which is understandable as long as a secret service focuses on its core duties, such as the surveillance of terror suspects. Once a secret service starts behaving like an octopus, though, with its tentacles reaching all across everyone’s life and putting whole societies under collective suspicion with everyone falling victim to total surveillance, then the societal contract has been broken. There is no justification for such violation. Yet it is fully justifies that journalists reveal such unlawful state action. This is what the Guardian has done. Nothing else.

To claim that the Guardian had shown “deadly irresponsibility” or that it was “helping the enemies” of the UK has no foundation and is appalling. To publish such claims means to slander those who consistently and carefully fulfill their journalistic duty to society.
Wolfgang Krach, deputy editor in chief, Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Germany

La Repubblica  

The accusations of “irresponsibility” that The Daily Mail addressed to the Guardian sound familiar to my ears. La Repubblica repeatedly received this kind of allegations too, after the numerous investigative reportings that we published to reveal Silvio Berlusconi’s network of corruption, abuse of power and manipulations during the many years in which he was at the head of the Italian government. We have been accused too of publishing documents, official wiretappings and revelations that – according to Silvio Berlusconi and his supporters – should have been kept secret, confidential, hidden. But the role of a free press in a democratic country is to be the guardians – not the spokesmen – of power. Media is part of the check and balances system of an healthy democracy and they would betray their duty if they only reported what the power considers legitimate to reveal to the public opinion.

Ezio Mauro A responsible press knows the difference between to always publish everything, and to choose, select and verify the news before publishing them. This is what we did at La Repubblica and what the Guardian does. From the Washington Post with the Watergate case to the New York Times with the Pentagon Papers, the history of journalism is full of revelations that, according to the people in power, should have been kept secret, but later it has become clear that to publish them was a service to democracy, not a “lethally irresponsible” act. After all our newspaper, as the media of many other countries, reported the Guardian’s revelations. The Guardian is certainly not alone in this battle for the freedom of the press. A newspaper answers to public opinion, not to the government.
Ezio Mauro, editor-in-chief, La Repubblica, Italy

The Washington Post  

Intelligence agencies in the United States and elsewhere have acquired enormous capacity to monitor the communications of their countries’ citizens, residents, and those who live elsewhere. While the purpose is counterterrorism and other foreign intelligence, surveillance of such massive scale has sharply eroded the privacy that many citizens feel they are entitled to enjoy in a democracy that respects individual liberties.

Citizens in a democracy are given the right to decide for themselves how to strike the proper balance between privacy and national security. They cannot do so, however, unless they know what their government is doing. A highly intrusive surveillance apparatus has been built without public knowledge and public debate.

Martin Baron President Obama has said the current debate over the tradeoff between security and civil liberties is “healthy for our democracy”. There would have been no public debate had there been no disclosure. Media organisations like ours consult closely with intelligence agencies in an effort to safeguard sources, methods, and lives, even as we seek to fulfill a central journalistic mission: bringing transparency to a government that wields enormous power.
Martin Baron, executive editor, the Washington Post, US


In its reporting on the NSA stories, the Guardian has played a vital role in the global debate on how society in practice weighs freedom of speech and thought versus our common need for security.

Hilde Haugsgjerd Truths are at times inconvenient, but inconvenient truths are at times of the highest importance. This is such a case, and we strongly support The Guardians decision to publish these stories.
Hilde Haugsgjerd, editor-in-chief, Aftenposten, Norway

New York Times masthead  

Back in 2006, Dean Baquet (who was then the editor of the Los Angeles Times and is now managing editor of The New York Times) and I (who was then executive editor of the New York Times) published a joint statement in our two newspapers addressing what was by then already a very old controversy: when is it acceptable for news organizations to publish secrets? We explained that these are excruciating choices made with great care, that as particular beneficiaries of democratic freedoms we take dangers to national security very seriously indeed, that responsible editors often (though for obvious reasons without fanfare) withhold information when we are convinced it could put lives at risk. The text is here.

In that piece, we quoted Robert G. Kaiser of The Washington Post, as follows: “You may have been shocked by these revelations, or not at all disturbed by them, but would you have preferred not to know them at all? If a war is being waged in America’s name, shouldn’t Americans understand how it is being waged?”

Bill Keller And that’s the question I would pose to citizens of free societies, and in particular to editors who join governments in denouncing the careful publication of secrets: which of the recent stories would you prefer not to know? Would you prefer not to be told how questionable intelligence led the United States and its allies into a misbegotten war in Iraq? Would you prefer to be ignorant of the existence of secret prisons, and the practice of torture? Would you really rather not know the extent of eavesdropping by governments or private contractors, and the safeguards or lack of safeguards against abuses of these powers? Democracy rests on the informed consent of the governed. Editors’ highest responsibility is to assure that it is as informed as possible.
Bill Keller, former executive editor, the New York Times

Dagens Nyheter  

Peter Wolodarski  The attacks against the Guardian by both the government and representatives of the British press are unacceptable. What the Guardian is doing is both brave and important for our democracies. We fully support the paper.
Peter Wolodarski, editor-in-chief, Dagens Nyheter, Sweden

La Stampa  

The freedom of the press is so precious that it cannot be restricted or compromised by the accusation of complicity with ‘the enemies’. This does not, of course, mean that newspapers can say whatever they want without any kind of control or any kind of responsibility. But from what I understand, the Guardian has carefully scrutinised the documents they received. This is important. In Italy we were very impressed with the time the Guardian took to publish these documents. It meant that you checked and scrutinised them. You cannot be accused of acting simply as a kind of post box. You received a lot of material and then you decided what was fit to print and what wasn’t.

In short, a judgement was made, and this cannot be underestimated.

Mario Calabresi I believe that this is the role of journalism in our society- to decide what is important- what is valid- for the public interest. Now, I can disagree perhaps with some documents you have published or some opinions that you have expressed but I cannot disagree with your freedom to do journalism. And journalism means taking on the responsibility of deciding what is important for the public interest. This is what newspaper editors have to decide. This role cannot be given to the government or the secret services.
Mario Calabresi, editor, La Stampa, Italy

Neue Zurcher Zeitung  

The position of Neue Zürcher Zeitung on publishing sensitive material is always based on journalistic, ethical and legal considerations. We do not accept intervention by third parties – neither private nor by the government. We consider public interest higher than state interest as a principle, however, and respect our responsibility to safeguard professionalism in investigation, analysis and judgment – based on our core values as a quality brand.

Markus Spillmann It is clear that MI5 has by logic another agenda than the Guardian. In a functioning democracy, however, both sides are entitled to do their jobs within the framework of legality and their professional duties.
Markus Spillmann, editor-in-chief, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Switzerland


Stephan-Andreas Casdorff As journalists, we are responsible towards society, not towards state institutions. This differentiation is essential for the work of an independent press. A diverse media landscape and freedom of speech are constitutive elements of democracy.

Edward Snowden’s revelations serve to educate society about transgressions by the government and potential abuse of power. To withhold such information would be a betrayal of a free press and would destroy its credibility.

Lorenz Maroldt The protection of privacy is an element of human dignity and has been defined as such in the universal declaration of human rights in 1948. Since only a few decades, the policies of human rights are beginning to bear fruit. To a good extent, this positive development has been made possible also through our work, the work of a free press.
Stephan-Andreas Casdorff and Lorenz Maroldt, editors- in-chief, Tagesspiegel, Germany

Gazeta Wyborcza  

It is with abhorrence that we have read today’s editorial in the Daily Mail attacking the Guardian’s coverage of Edward Snowden’s revelations and accusing its competitor of “aiding Britain’s enemies”. It effectively amounts to the accusation of treason.

Piotr Stasinski We fully support the Guardian’s relentless disclosures of secret services’ abuses of power and widespread spying on citizens, domestically as well as abroad. For many months now, the Guardian has been subject to unprecedented pressure by the British government, in order to discourage its reporters and editors from pursuing such stories. We are convinced that, in this case, the national security argument is largely overused; since the revealed massive surveillance of people cannot be justified by the war on terror.
Piotr Stasinski, deputy editor-in-chief, Gazeta Wyborcza

Der Spiegel masthead  

In October 1962 German authorities arrested journalists from the newsmagazine Der Spiegel, including its founder and publisher Rudolf Augstein. After having published a cover story on the sorry state of the German armed forces – “Partially ready to defend” – they were accused of treason. Spiegel offices were closed. Augstein remained in custody for 103 days.

Georg Mascolo, The so called “Spiegel Affair” became a cornerstone in recent German history. It changed the country. The public – and the courts – defended the principle of freedom of information and its importance for a democratic society.

And as of today fortunately German authorities have learned their lesson. Nobody would try to force German journalists to destroy computers in the basement. I follow the events in Great Britain with great concern. I was engaged in dealing with intelligence issues, secret documents for more than 20 years. I know how difficult it can be to make decisions about the publication of relevant information – and sometimes, in a very few cases, to take the decision to withhold information from publication. To uncover the (dirty) secrets of governments is an essential part of good journalism. Do journalists have to publish all and every secret? No. Journalists and editors need to weigh arguments. Journalists and editors have responsibility of their own. I am confident that journalists take this responsibility seriously.

Should we tell the names of sources, if their life might be endangered by being made public? No. Should we warn suspects, if we know, that authorities are after them? No. Should we report about the threat for our freedom being caused by he worldwide surveillance by intelligence services, the GCHQ or the NSA? We absolutely must.
Georg Mascolo, former editor-in-chief, Der Spiegel, Germany


Bo Lidegaard In an era of big data and big surveillance, we need a public and global debate on the borderlines between national security concern and democratic transparency. By publishing stories about the Snowden revelations, the Guardian has made a significant contribution to this important debate. Citizens all over the world must ask themselves if democracies risk being harmed more than defended by a surveillance that is not only secret to the broader public but also seems to be out of democratic control. It is essential that the press engage in this debate and provides documentation to inform it.
Bo Lidegaard, executive editor-in-chief, Politiken, Denmark

Knight Center for Digital Media  

Governments lie and keep secrets for all kinds of reasons. Sometimes it is to protect the public. Sometimes it is to protect the politicians and the officials who do their bidding, even when what’s being covered up is morally bankrupt or outright criminal. It happens again and again and again. Yes, governments need to keep some secrets. But secrecy takes hold as a value in itself, with corrosive effects. In western democracies, transparency is essential to secure the consent of the governed.

Dan Gillmor The Daily Mail apparently has absolute faith in the integrity and competence of its government on national security matters, despite the ample lessons of history. The Mail has a right to be the government’s toady. We’ll look elsewhere for actual journalism, which we still need.
Dan Gillmor, founding director, Knight Centre for Digital Media Entrepreneurship

The Hindu  

Edward Snowden’s release of an unprecedented mass of classified material on the NSA’s and GCHQ’s mass surveillance programmes and technologies, and their publication by the Guardian, have triggered a lively and important debate round the world, including in India – a country that is directly affected by this surveillance. The debate is essentially about the limits of surveillance carried out amid whole populations, domestic and external, by intelligence agencies in the name of the global war against terrorism. It raises urgent questions about accountability, and the absence of adequate lawful oversight over the mass surveillance programmes.

N. Ram As a former editor with some experience in investigating and exposing corruption and misconduct that the Indian state was determined to keep secret in the name of national security, I have the greatest admiration for the way the Guardian has handled the Snowden leaks. The moral courage, professional diligence, social responsibility, and editorial excellence that has gone into making this challenging mass of material, including technical information, accessible to general readers are in the finest traditions of public-spirited and impactful investigative journalism.

I am not surprised by the attacks, considering the level of importance, the magnitude, and the ongoing nature of the leaks. But for journalists to suggest that editors of newspapers, not being experts on security matters, are unfit to make decisions on publishing confidential material and must leave the whole field of surveillance and security to the state to handle as it thinks fit, under an impenetrable veil of secrecy, sounds to me like the worst kind of intellectual philistinism.
N. Ram, former editor-in-chief, the Hindu


The best way for government officials to avoid answering in public to embarrassing or illegal conduct is not to engage in it. Indeed, the free press has been the most reliable check on government officials lying to their constituents and violating their rights in the modern political era, at least since the Pentagon Papers revealed the deep deceit in American conduct in the war in Vietnam.

Ben Smith The free and responsible American and English press also have an appropriate tradition of taking seriously their governments’ concerns over physical safety and national security, which in some cases have themselves turned out to be overstated and deceptive.

Editors, government officials and citizens share an interest in ensuring that this important democratic tradition continues into a new media era shaped on one side by new access to undigested information and on the other by encroaching government controls. Readers and sources should expect that when a reporter learns of government misconduct, the default should be to inform the public, not to protect the government.
Ben Smith, editor-in-chief, Buzzfeed


Everybody is entitled to his or her own opinions, even if they are utterly absurd. A journalist calling the well documented and carefully researched exposure of serious governmental wrong-doing a “lethal irresponsibility”, of course, is such an absurdity: a professional forgetting the very purpose of his profession.

Armin Wolf The Guardian did what newspapers were invented to do: to make well-reasoned editorial judgements – in this case to reveal an abuse of power by American and British intelligence agencies on a scale which most people would have regarded unthinkable.

In my 28 years as a journalist, I cannot think of a single topic that would have been more justified being debated publicly in a democratic society than Edward Snowden’s, Glenn Greenwald’s and the Guardian’s revelations of these last few months. The former editor of the New York Times once said, it’s not their primary task to deliver news but to provide judgement. The Guardian provided both and did it brilliantly.
Armin Wolf, deputy editor-in-chief, ORF-TV, Austria

Portuguese are ‘working more for less money’

Jon Henley is travelling through Portugal, Spain, Italy and Greece to hear the human stories behind the European debt crisis. He hears from more readers in Portugal and Spain about their personal tales

People march during a protest in Lisbon

A protest in Lisbon this month. Thousands have marched against the government’s austerity measures. Photograph: Jose Manuel Ribeiro/Reuters

In Portugal, Claudia Barros writes that things are getting worse and worse:

Individuals filing for bankruptcy or having no money to purchase food, are becoming more and more common in Portugal. It’s not just what we’re used to having and not able to survive with less; people struggle to get a degree and then end up working 35 hours a week for €600 (£525) a month in supermarkets.
“And why is only the public sector going to have to pay extra taxes in November? I make €760 a month, work in the public sector, and am not happy about this at all. There are those who make €5,000 a month and will not be affected by this tax. Is it fair? In addition, public transport fares were increased in January, and again by 15% in September, with another 15% increase expected to happen next January. Electricity was also increased last month, and the tax on food went from 19% to 23%. Things will get worse before they get better.

Sergio Abreau, similarly, says:

The Portuguese prime minister has just announced more austerity on TV. One point of the agenda means no Christmas and summer bonuses for public sector workers who earn more than €1,000 a month in 2012, which means a cut from 14 to 12 pay cheques per year.
I’m a communication designer and I’m currently working for a Portuguese company that exports goods. These companies provide some kind of hope to balance our deficit. I’m almost 29, my car belongs to my family, I live in a rented flat and I have no kids. My generation is simply postponing its future. The result will be that in 10-15 years there will be a sudden decrease of the population. The younger generation will have gone abroad and the country will be left with old people.

Janet Sinclair in Braga isn’t happy and feels we’re sensationalising the issue:

The Portuguese are well aware that times are bad, and they have recognised that they are going to have to go through some tough times before the economy improves. Now they need to be allowed to focus on getting out of this mess without unnecessary pressure from the media whose interests in the crisis are far from objective.

Tiago Mota Saraiva, a Portuguese architect, sends a thoughtful post and argues the IMF‘s policies are not the right ones:

The general feeling of being in crisis has lasted almost a decade. Over that time wages have started to decrease, public investment in the productive fabric almost stopped and a huge process of emigration of the most qualified workers started. As is happening in other countries, Eurozone policies slowly damaged national economies. Portugal’s scale, economy and balance trade do not support a national currency that mirrors the German mark.
One of the consequences of this is that people that have a job are working more for less money. Another is a feeling of distrust on politicians and politics, that may open a door to populism and rightwing movements – as is already happening in other European countries. The last one, and the one that scares me the most, is the idea that we have to adapt ourselves to the conditions that are being imposed by the so-called markets.

This year, Portugal will be paying €7bnin interest rates to banks and sovereign debt speculators (the EU/IMF loan is still in its grace period). That amount is the same that Portugal will pay for all public officials. It’s unaffordable.
As we can see by Greece, austerity measures are not meant to rescue countries. Foreign interventions by the IMF are always meant to save speculators’ investments. As long as the IMF is in charge, the main policies will be focused on paying interest rates. In my opinion, we can only overcome this crisis, in Portugal and Europe, by rejecting and fighting back against the financial policies that are being imposed.

And moving on to Spain, Alex Watkins, a British journalist who works for the Costa Blanca News, writes:

There are a lot of issues here, ranging from home repossessions (16,464 so far this year) to expat families handing over their keys to the bank and simply going home – mostly because available work for them has dried up due to the soaring unemployment rate here.
A generation of young Spaniards dropped out of school to take jobs in construction during the property boom before the bottom fell out of the market, and they have now been left unemployed and unqualified.
Then there’s the regional government school building programmes which have been delayed for years, leaving pupils in overcrowded Portacabins which leak in the rain. One near me was built on reclaimed land in a ravine and actually moves when the rain is heavy.
Regional government cutbacks are biting and healthcare providers are threatening to suspend service if unpaid bills dating back several years are not paid.

Portuguese are ‘working more for less money’ | World news | The Guardian.

‘Portugal’s market has died. Banks aren’t lending. Everything is blocked’

‘Portugal’s market has died. Banks aren’t lending. Everything is blocked’ | World news |

Indignados Lisboa in Lisbon, Portugal

Indignados Lisboa planning Saturday’s demonstration in the Portuguese capital. Photograph: Jon Henley for the Guardian

There are maybe a 20 of them, sitting cross-legged on the grass as the shadows lengthen across the Príncipe Real gardens in Lisbon. A graphic designer, a primary school teacher, two economists, a photographer, a business intelligence analyst, an antique restorer, a tourist guide, aged from their mid-20s to their late 50s.

This evening they’re debating the main event of the weekend: Saturday’s demonstration and march through the Portuguese capital, finishing with a “people’s assembly” in front of the parliament building. What happens after that, they’re not quite sure; Lisbon’s last major protest parade, in March, saw 500,000 people take to the streets.

Indignados Lisboa, inspired by the Arab spring and the 15M movement in Spain, brings together people from all backgrounds: “Some are students,” says Luis Alves, a 30-year-old freelance graphic designer and one of the movement’s members. “Others took part in the 1974 revolution, and are sorry it didn’t bring about the society it should have.”

They are united by a desire for change.

“We believe that the people really do have the power,” continues Alves. “People think someone else will fix this, but we have to. The people who are supposed to find solutions, our elected representatives, clearly aren’t. We have to show we’re not merchandise in the hands of bankers and businessmen.”

The movement’s aims are ill-defined (“It’s normal, we’re only just beginning,” says Alves) but boil down, explains Pedro Murteira, a social education student, to common sense. A more participative democracy: a system that works for the good of all rather than the profit of a few.

“Something has to change,” says Alves. “We are not a rich country; the minimum wage here is just €485 [£425 a month] – even in Greece it’s €600. But taxes are going up, electricity’s being hiked by 30%, public transport too. People are getting desperate. There’s real despair.

“I have many friends who are thinking of emigrating. Only two of my friends have proper job contracts. I’m lucky, most of my work is for people outside of Portugal. The market here has died. Banks aren’t lending. Everything, economically and politically, is blocked.”

Murteira says he hopes the crisis will lead to “a whole new way of organising our lives, and of consuming. Not a personal perspective, but a collective perspective. Because the real problem isn’t the crisis, it’s the system. There’s a slogan, you know? No jobs, no houses, no security, no prospects – so no fear.”

After the May protests in neighbouring Spain, 50 or 60 Portuguese Indignados camped out for a week in Rossio square. They were heartened, Alves and Murteira say, by people’s reactions: elderly women who came to give them money; men in suits who brought bags of buns for breakfast.

“Sometimes,” says Murteira, “I think people understand. Then I walk through town on a Saturday night and I see the clothes and the shops and the consumption, and I doubt. But look, we have to come to our senses. The problems we face are so complex that we can only really solve them by a wholly new way of doing politics.”

• If you have a story to tell, know a person I should talk to or live in a place you think I should visit, please contact me:, or @jonhenley (the hashtag for this venture is #EuroDebtTales)

Decline and fall of the American empire

Two men walking along a dusty depression-era road, USA

Dust-bowl refugees walk towards Los Angeles during the Great Depression. House prices have now fallen further than in the 1930s. Photograph: Bettmann/Corbis

America clocked up a record last week. The latest drop in house prices meant that the cost of real estate has fallen by 33% since the peak – even bigger than the 31% slide seen when John Steinbeck was writing The Grapes of Wrath.

Unemployment has not returned to Great Depression levels but at 9.1% of the workforce it is still at levels that will have nerves jangling in the White House. The last president to be re-elected with unemployment above 7.2% was Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

The US is a country with serious problems. Getting on for one in six depend on government food stamps to ensure they have enough to eat. The budget, which was in surplus little more than a decade ago, now has a deficit of Greek-style proportions. There is policy paralysis in Washington.

The assumption is that the problems can be easily solved because the US is the biggest economy on the planet, the only country with global military reach, the lucky possessor of the world’s reserve currency, and a nation with a proud record of re-inventing itself once in every generation or so.

All this is true and more. US universities are superb, attracting the best brains from around the world. It is a country that pushes the frontiers of technology. So, it may be that the US is about to emerge stronger than ever from the long nightmare of the sub-prime mortgage crisis. The strong financial position of American companies could unleash a wave of new investment over the next couple of years.

Let me put an alternative hypothesis. America in 2011 is Rome in 200AD or Britain on the eve of the first world war: an empire at the zenith of its power but with cracks beginning to show.

The experience of both Rome and Britain suggests that it is hard to stop the rot once it has set in, so here are the a few of the warning signs of trouble ahead: military overstretch, a widening gulf between rich and poor, a hollowed-out economy, citizens using debt to live beyond their means, and once-effective policies no longer working. The high levels of violent crime, epidemic of obesity, addiction to pornography and excessive use of energy may be telling us something: the US is in an advanced state of cultural decadence.

Empires decline for many different reasons but certain factors recur. There is an initial reluctance to admit that there is much to fret about, and there is the arrival of a challenger (or several challengers) to the settled international order. In Spain’s case, the rival was Britain. In Britain’s case, it was America. In America’s case, the threat comes from China.

Britain’s decline was extremely rapid after 1914. By 1945, the UK was a bit player in the bipolar world dominated by the US and the Soviet Union, and sterling – the heart of the 19th-century gold standard – was rapidly losing its lustre as a reserve currency. There had been concerns, voiced as far back as the 1851 Great Exhibition, that the hungrier, more efficient producers in Germany and the US threatened Britain’s industrial hegemony. But no serious policy action was taken. In the second half of the 19th century there was a subtle shift in the economy, from the north of England to the south, from manufacturing to finance, from making things to living off investment income. By 1914, the writing was on the wall.

In two important respects, the US today differs from Britain a century ago. It is much bigger, which means that it benefits from continent-wide economies of scale, and it has a presence in the industries that will be strategically important in the first half of the 21st century. Britain in 1914 was over-reliant on coal and shipbuilding, industries that struggled between the world wars, and had failed to grasp early enough the importance of emerging new technologies.

Even so, there are parallels. There has been a long-term shift of emphasis in the US economy away from manufacturing and towards finance. There is a growing challenge from producers in other parts of the world.


Now consider the stark contrast between this economic recovery and the pattern of previous cycles. Traditionally, a US economic recovery sees unemployment coming down smartly as lower interest rates encourage consumers to spend and the construction industry to build more homes. This time, it has been different. There was a building frenzy during the bubble years, which left an overhang of supply even before plunging prices and rising unemployment led to a blitz of foreclosures.

America has more homes than it knows what to do with, and that state of affairs is not going to change for years.

Over the past couple of months, there has been a steady drip-feed of poor economic news that has dented hopes of a sustained recovery. Optimism has now been replaced by concern that the United States could be heading for the dreaded double-dip recession.

In the real estate market, which is the symptom of America’s deep-seated economic malaise, the double dip has already arrived. Tax breaks to homeowners provided only a temporary respite for a falling market and millions of Americans are living in homes worth less than they paid for them. The latest figures show that more than 28% of homes with a mortgage are in negative equity. Unsurprisingly, that has made Americans far more cautious about spending money. Rising commodity prices exacerbate the problem, since they push up inflation and reduce the spending power of wages and salaries.

Macro-economic policy has proved less effective than normal. That’s not for want of trying, though. The US has had zero short-term interest rates for well over two years. It has had two big doses of quantitative easing, the second of which is now ending. Its budget deficit is so big it has led to warnings from the credit-rating agencies, in spite of the dollar’s reserve currency status. And Washington has adopted a policy of benign neglect towards the currency, despite the strong-dollar rhetoric, in the hope that cheaper exports will make up for the squeeze on consumer spending.

Policy, as ever, is geared towards growth because the great existential fear of the Fed, the Treasury and whoever occupies the White House is a return to the 1930s. Back then, the economic malaise could be largely attributed to deflationary economic policies that deepened the recession caused by the popping of the 1920s stock market bubble. The feeble response to today’s growth medicine suggests that the US is structurally far weaker than it was in the 1930s. Tackling these weaknesses will require breaking finance’s stranglehold over the economy and measures to boost ordinary families’ spending power and so cut their reliance on debt. It will require an amnesty for the housing market. Above all, America must rediscover the qualities that originally made it great. That will not be easy.

Decline and fall of the American empire | Business | The Guardian.

Half of British fail to save for old age

Detail from photographic portrait of Charles D...

Image via Wikipedia

A new major study has found that almost half of the British working are failing to save enough for retirement, and one fifth do not save anything at all.

The study, the 7th Scottish Widows UK pension report, said only 51 percent of the population save adequately for their old age, the daily The Guardian reported.

The report is based on interviews with 5,200 adults, and shows there is “widespread and ingrained inertia” across the country, with savings levels remaining broadly consistent during the past five years, regardless of the economic downturn.

According to the report, people need, on average, an annual retirement income of £24,300 to live comfortably, down from the pre-recession figure of £27,900.

“Put simply, people need to save an extra £58 per month on average to prepare adequately for retirement and make up the shortfall we are seeing currently. That is roughly the cost of a cup of coffee every day,” said Ian Naismith of Scottish Widows.

“Even though for many this is realistic, and is in under the average £97.10 per month people say they can afford, we appreciate the difficulty in setting aside extra money. It’s about breaking through that inertia. And for some the amount that needs to be saved will be higher but it’s about taking small steps, getting on to the savings ladder and, more importantly, staying on it. Much higher saving levels are needed to get towards the average £24,300 a year people aspire to. The message is that everyone should be putting aside as much as they can afford for their retirement,” he added.

PressTV – Half of British fail to save for old age.

Mind-Controlling Fungus Are Among Us!

T. gondii constructing daughter scaffolds with...

Image via Wikipedia

Tuesday, April 19, 2011 7:04

We don’t have the world quite as figured out as we’d like to think. This is a major reason why most people aren’t as interested as others in exploring space; we haven’t even come close to exploring our own back yards. While I am looking forward to reading about further study of Mars, and beyond, I tend to agree.

Why just last year 145 new species were identified in Greater Mekong, and another 200 new species were discovered in Papua New Guinea. On top of all that, the year 2010 saw 1/3 of formerly extinct animals suddenly “resurrected.”

Among the creatures that scientists are studying further are a frog that sounds like a cricket, a “sucker fish” which uses its body to stick to rocks in fast flowing waters to move upstream, and something called a “dracula minnow.”

And then there have been some recent discoveries that sound like the stuff of classic horror films. One involves “four newly discovered species of fungus turn carpenter ants into zombie ants to help them spread their spores.” Another recent story involves a microorganism that rewires the brain of its host, causing the host to put itself into harm’s way.

The mind-controlling fungus is something that researchers have been aware of; but it hadn’t been studied and cataloged until recently. From an article at The Guardian:

Ants become infected with the fungus when spores land on them from above, or when they encounter them on the forest floor. Once attached, the spores use enzymes to get inside the ant’s body where the fungus begins to grow. Within a week or so, chemicals released by the fungus cause the ant to wander off and bite on to leaf veins and other vegetation, moments before dying. Many ants are found in places where the conditions are perfect for fungal growth.

Once the ant has died, the fungus slowly sprouts from its head and grows a pod of spores which are fired onto the forest floor at night, to infect other ants.

About the mind-controlling microorganisms, here’s something unsettling from The Guardian:

Toxoplasma gondii is a microorganism that likes nothing better than to set up residence inside a warm-blooded host, typically a rat. The only time it gets particularly fussy over its surroundings is when it comes to sex, which can only take place in a cat. That poses a bit of a problem for the parasite, as rats aren’t known for their fondness of the feline race.

But T. gondii has a very clever trick up its sleeve: it rewires the rat brain. Rodents infected with T. gondii lose their instinctual fear of cats and engage in reckless risk-taking that sooner or later puts them into the jaws of a passing cat.

Should we be concerned that around 40% of the human race is infected with T. gondii?

For a long time, nobody thought so. T. gondii is known to cause birth defects and precipitate spontaneous abortions, and for that reason pregnant women are warned to stay away from cats. But it’s also one of any number of bugs that we pick up in our lifetime without experiencing any noticeable effects.

That perception changed when a Czech parasitologist named Jaroslav Flegr decided to look for evidence that T. gondii’s mind-meddling extends beyond rats. Testing the blood of drivers responsible for causing traffic accidents, he discovered they were two and a half times more likely to have been exposed to T. gondii than the general population. Might these drivers have been unwittingly egged on by a tiny parasite?

While recent research suggests that this microorganism isn’t able to impose the same kind of control that it can over a rat, the research does suggest that it is able to impose influence. You can read about Jaroslav Flegr’s traffic accident study HERE.

This find is intriguing. A microorganism that deliberately influences people and animals to engage in risky behavior is intriguing; and opens up many questions. Is this something to consider when hearing about someone who was gripped with the urge to drive into oncoming traffic? Is this microorganism something that could be utilized by us humans; for example, as a treatment for someone who is too shy?

Frank Swain looked at research linking changes in human behaviour to parasitic infection for a Radio 4 documentary Voodoo Wasps and Zombie Worms airing on Tuesday, and then re-airs on Thursday.

Mind-Controlling Microorganisms Are Among Us! | Before It’s News.

Natural disasters? Or Divine Retribution ?

David Smith

The Guardian. April 2,2011

At least since Noah, and likely long before, we’ve stared in horror at catastrophe and tried to suss out deeper meaning – it was but weeks ago that the Tokyo governor, Shintaro Ishihara, declared that the earthquake/tsunami/ reactor tripleheader was “divine punishment” for excess consumerism. This line of reasoning usually fails to persuade these days (why are Las Vegas and Dubai unscathed by anything except the housing meltdown?) but it’s persistent. We need some explanation for why our stable world is suddenly cracked in half or under water. Still, over time we’ve become less superstitious, since science can explain these cataclysms. Angry gods or plate tectonics? We’re definitely moving towards natural explanation of crises.

Which is odd, because the physical world is moving in the other direction.

The Holocene – the 10,000 years through which we have just come – was by all accounts a period of calm and stability on Earth. Temperatures and sea levels were relatively stable. Hence it was an excellent time to build a civilisation, especially the modern kind that comes with lots of stuff: roads, buildings, container ports, nuclear reactors. Yes, we had disasters throughout those millennia, some of them (Krakatoa, say) simply enormous. Hurricanes blew, earthquakes rocked. But they were, by definition, rare, taking us by surprise – freaks, outliers, traumas that persisted in our collective history precisely because they were so unusual.

We’re now moving into a new geological epoch, one scientists are calling the Anthropocene – a world remade by man, most obvious in his emissions of carbon dioxide. That CO2 traps heat near the planet that would otherwise have radiated back to space – there is, simply, more energy in our atmosphere than there used to be. And that energy expresses itself in many ways: ice melts, water heats, clouds gather. 2010 was the warmest year on record, and according to insurers – the people we task with totting up disasters – it demonstrated the unprecedented mayhem this new heat causes. Global warming was “the only plausible explanation”, the giant reinsurer Munich Re explained in December, of 2010’s catastrophes, the drought, heatwave and fires across Russia, and the mega-floods in Pakistan, Australia, Brazil and elsewhere were at least plausibly connected to the general heating. They were, that is to say, not precisely “natural disasters”, but something more complex; the human thumb was on the scale.

We still have plenty of purely natural disasters – though scientists can posit reasons climate change might make the world more seismically active, tectonic and volcanic forces seem beyond our reach; the great wave that broke over Sendai really did come out of the blue. But even in Japan, of course, the disaster was not entirely “natural”. The subsequent fallout was… fallout, the invisible plume streaming from one of our highest-tech marvels, a complex reduced in minutes into something almost elemental, a kind of utility-owned volcano.

In a sense Ishihara was correct when he decried “selfish greed”. It is consumerism that has flooded the atmosphere with CO2: the constant getting and spending, where $1 spent liberates roughly 1lb of carbon. We are remaking the world, and quickly; we are stumbling into a new way of thinking about disaster, where neither God nor nature, but man is to blame.

That changes the valence of catastrophe. Since warm air holds more water vapour than cold, the atmosphere is nearly 5% moister than it was just a few decades ago. That loads the dice for great floods of the kind suddenly so common. I lived through one in my small mountain town in Vermont two summers ago: the biggest thunderstorm in our history dropped buckets of rain in a matter of hours. Our town is almost entirely intact forest; it should have been able to hold whatever nature threw at it. But that rain fell on a different planet from the one the forest had grown up on; every road washed out, and the governor had to visit by helicopter. But at least we had the solace (or self-lacerating realisation) that we’d helped cause this deep change. Americans burn more carbon per capita than just about anyone; what do you say to a Pakistani farmer watching the swollen Indus wash away his life’s work? And since global warming seems to take first aim at the poorest places that have done the least to cause it, this is a question we may be asking ourselves a good deal in the decades to come.

Not every natural disaster is unnatural now, and we may be able to fool ourselves a little longer. But these days it’s the climate deniers who act like the pious of yore, unable to accept the truth. I was surprised, and impressed, to read a poll of Americans taken recently. By healthy majorities, this most religious of western citizenries said natural disasters were more likely to be a sign of climate change than of God’s displeasure.

Which is good news, because for the first time in human history we can prevent a great deal of unnecessary cataclysm in the years ahead. Not all of it – there will always be earthquakes and hurricanes. But every bit of carbon we keep out of the atmosphere is that much less extra energy we add to the system. It’s that much less disaster waiting to happen.

Japan earthquake

March: Earthquake of magnitude 9.0 off the north-east coast of Japan, followed by a 15-20m high tsunami
Human cost: More than 10,000 dead; 17,000 missing
Economic cost: £189bn
Survivor’s story: Taiko Sawadate, 59, nurse, Otsuchi City
When the alarms rang, I had about 20 minutes to evacuate with my mother. We drove even higher than the recommended safe area, so I was sure it was OK. Someone shouted, “It’s coming” and I got out to have a look. The waters were upon us. I just about got my mother out of the car, but she tripped over. As I reached out to grab her, the tsunami swept us away. I was sure I was going to die.

It was dark in the water and I was being hit by debris on all sides. At one point, I saw an entire house coming towards me. But the surge forced me forward and suddenly up into the air and on to a slope. At last I could breathe. I really don’t know how long I was in the tsunami. The whole thing probably lasted less than a minute.

Some people found me and gave me dry clothes. I dressed my own wounds. About 20 of us evacuated to a house high on one of the slopes. We found six bodies that first day and more on the second, including my mother’s. It wasn’t far. I wrapped it in the cleanest sheet I could find and put a stone border around it. Then I covered it with a futon, so the crows could not get at it. I said a prayer and left her there. There are so many bodies, the authorities are not sure what to do with them all.

On the second day, a fire broke out on the mountain, and we didn’t have much food – just one piece of bread or one rice ball each for the day.

On the third day, the winds turned bitterly cold, so we walked for an hour to a public shelter at a school. When we arrived at Otsuchi, the city was still burning.

I have nothing left. My savings, bank book and ID cards are all washed away.

Eventually I want to move away from the coast. I feel bad about that, as my family have been here for more than five generations. But I’m too frightened to stay.
Jonathan Watts

Brazilian landslide

January: Torrential rainstorms trigger mudslides in the mountainous Serrana region outside Rio de Janeiro, the worst natural disaster in the country’s history.
Human cost: 916 dead; 345 missing Economic cost £187m
Survivor’s story: Mauricio Berlim, 35, undertaker, Teresopolis
Only the following day did the scale of the disaster become clear. The first family came in at about 2pm – they had lost four relatives, three adults and one child. By 10pm, I was organising 50 burials.

That night, cars and vans started turning up at the city morgue with bodies inside. I stayed until 4am – the bodies never stopped arriving, there were so many desperate families trying to identify their relatives. It was madness. People couldn’t find their relatives because the bodies were so dirty. It was terrible.

After two days we ran out of coffins. On the Friday I called our supplier and ordered more; we got through 175. Because there were so many dead, they moved the morgue into an old church. The bodies were laid out on long tables covered in black plastic sheets. We started using a truck instead of hearses to transport the bodies to the funeral parlour. Instead of taking one body at a time, we would take 10 or 15.

Until 20 days ago there were still bodies inside the church. Now I think there are none left. The problem now is death certificates – none has been issued yet. Many people are still missing.

Thank God, nobody in my family was killed. I have one friend who had to leave his house, because there was no water or electricity, but that was all.

The city is returning to normal, but there was no carnival this year. Every week there are protests, demanding the impeachment of the mayor. Things are confused. Many people still have nowhere to live.

In front of my office you can see one of the mountains that collapsed; one report said boulders came crashing down at 180km an hour.

My family has been in the funeral business for 106 years and no one had ever seen anything like it.Tom Phillips

Australian floods

November 2010-January 2011: Queensland and Victoria floods
Human cost: 37 dead, nine missing
Economic cost: £19bn – Australia‘s costliest natural disaster ever
Survivor’s story: Ashley Hay, 40, novelist, Brisbane
The silence was vast. There were no birds singing, no cars on the roads. The only sound was the tiniest turn of water retreating across our lawn. I had left home three days earlier, on a wet day, but a normal one, and came back to find my house a little yellow island jutting out of a wide brown sea.

Two days before, our suburb had been in a frenzy. My husband reported belongings being crammed into vans, trucks, cars – anything that would hold them. The traffic jammed as it tried to get to anywhere but here. Our grass, he said, was busy with flightless insects trying to get to higher ground: leeches, cockroaches, spiders. And it rained and it rained.

We knew how high the water had crept in Brisbane’s infamous 1974 flood. There were predictions of an extra metre this time. My husband took our son, some stuff, left most of what we owned, and went away.

Now, seeing our street, it was shocking. The Brisbane river had breached its banks, spilling across roads and parks, over cars and trees, to mark out a new shoreline, here, in our front garden. It was quiet and still and, the strangest thing of all, the sun was blazing down. The rain had stopped. The flood had peaked at 4.46m, a metre below the 1974 mark.

It was 13 January, and the water was ebbing towards the day’s first low. Suddenly, we knew the times and heights of the tides; suddenly we were attuned to its six-and-a-half-hour rhythm. Suddenly we were seafarers, watching our neighbours launch a boat from their drive. When the water drained away – it had gone by the next day – everything that had been immersed was a strange monochrome, halfway between brown and grey, fetid and slippy.

And then it began. Taking every single thing out, piece by piece, to decide if it could be saved. It was unreasonably exhausting. We washed; we dried; we papered the lawn. And after a few days, we threw it all away. Who cares about a notebook that stinks like a sewer? Who needs a Christmas decoration that drips dark muck from hidden crevices, no matter how many times you rinse it, shake it out, pat it dry?

Around us, houses were stripped and gutted – kitchens and bathrooms reduced to soggy piles of chipboard. A third of Brisbane’s annual landfill – more than 110,000 tonnes of rubbish – was dumped in a week.

The floods were almost three months ago now, and it’s still too quiet. We’re still the only people back on our strip. We tell ourselves we’re the luckiest people around.
Ashley Hay’s first novel, The Body In The Clouds, was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize.

New Zealand earthquake

February: Earthquake of magnitude 6.3 hit the city of Christchurch
Human cost: 166 dead
Economic cost: £4.5bn-£6.75bn
Survivor’s story: Anne Malcolm, 71, counsellor, Christchurch
I don’t normally work on a Tuesday, but our counselling agency had a meeting from noon to 1pm [on the fifth floor of the Canterbury TV building]. The meeting was drawing to a close when, with no warning, the room exploded. Everything began to fly in all directions.

There had been aftershocks from the earthquake in September – we were used to the building wobbling. This was different. The explosion was sharp, jagged. Massive. I remember this sound of the structure breaking. The next thing I recall was being completely buried. I had very, very heavy masonry and beams on me.

Our floor, the top floor, came right down. There were 10 of us in the room and some rode down on the descending wall, almost surfed down with the building. Somehow the shock and adrenaline seemed to protect me, so in those first moments I didn’t experience intense pain. I felt safe. I felt I would survive.

Two young policemen arrived within seconds. They clambered on to the rubble and began digging. Soon after, I was in the ambulance. I had surgery, and now I’m in a rehabilitation unit. I have only one functioning limb. I guess I’m here for at least another three to four weeks, until I can begin using these limbs again.

In hospital, I’m on the ground floor. I can’t imagine going into a building that’s more than one level. When the aftershocks come, my heart rate increases, but then a staff member arrives to see how you are. How I’ll be when I get home, I don’t know.

My local supermarket has gone, my post office has gone, my bakery has gone – everything that was part of my village life is gone.

Our much-loved computer whiz-kid, who had been with us for 10 years, died on our floor. But on every other floor in that building, it’s the other way around – one or two people were rescued, but everyone else was lost. We were the fortunate ones.
Toby Manhire

Sri Lankan floods

January-February: Devastating floods hit the country; more rain fell in Batticaloa than it normally gets in a year
Human cost: 62 dead; 1.1 million displaced
Economic cost: £300m
Survivor’s story: Milvahanam Loganadan, 40, driver, Batticalao
It was about 7.30pm and we were sitting down to watch TV when we heard people making a lot of noise in the street outside. “The water is coming,” they were shouting. “It’s a flood.”

I didn’t know what to do – we have a seven-month-old baby and a four-year-old. But even before I could get to the door, the water was coming into the house. It was rushing in, so we picked up the children, ran out and kept going until we got to higher ground.

I convinced a rickshaw driver to take the rest of my family to my wife’s mother’s house, which is on top of a hill. It was chaotic. There had been no warning on the television or radio, so it was totally unexpected. It had been raining, certainly, but not enough for us to think that a flood was on its way.

Once my family were safe, I went back to the house to get valuables and documents. Everything else was ruined. I checked on the neighbours. The navy and police had got to our street with boats to evacuate the ones who couldn’t move themselves.

Most people moved in with relatives, but quite a lot of people ended up in camps for the displaced. Happily, there were no deaths among my friends and family, although I know other people did die. There were snakes in the water; that killed a few, I heard.

We spent a week cleaning the house and then the waters came again and we had to evacuate again, and then clean it up once more. All our furniture has gone, and my motorbike, but it could have been worse. I’ve got a job, which helps a lot. Most of the farmers have lost a lot of their crop and other people needed the dry rations the NGOs were handing out to stay alive.

It is the fear that is the toughest thing to deal with. The children were really frightened when it happened and Laksher, my four-year-old, is still scared that the waters will come again in the middle of the night.
Jason Burke

Burma earthquake

March: Magnitude 6.8 earthquake struck about 30 miles north of Tachileik on the Thai-Burma border
Human cost: At least 75 dead; more than 110 injured
Economic cost: Not yet known
Survivor’s story: Sai Noom Khan (not his real name), 23, Tachileik
I was with my wife watching television when a loud knocking started suddenly. The room started to shake and all our photos fell off the wall. It was terrifying. I had never experienced an earthquake before.

I was worried the house would collapse, so I grabbed my wife by the hand and we ran. We ran outside, but the ground was shaking so much it was hard to stand up. It lasted only about 40 to 50 seconds.

We live on the top of the mountain, so there wasn’t too much damage. Since the earthquake, everyone’s been sleeping outside. It’s cold, but we’re too scared to sleep indoors.

Yesterday I visited the villages of Tarlay and Mong Lin, about 30 miles away. They were devastated. I was told more than 100 people died there.

Greg Lowe

Philippines floods

January-March: Heavy rains continued from December last year
Human cost: At least 75 dead
Economic cost: £27m
Survivor’s story: Ray Calleja, 43, hospital porter, Leyte Province
We lost everything. It was the morning of 17 March. I watched, helpless, as our home was taken away by the floods. The only reminder that our house stood there was a lonely post. This was the first time I’ve seen the waters that high. I’m 5ft 5in and the floodwaters could have easily swallowed me. My wife and I saved every peso so we could buy the things we need. But we couldn’t take anything. We had to save ourselves. How will I have a house again? I’m 43, I earn P6,000 (£86) a month. That house cost us P30,000 (£430). When I saw everything we worked for all these years had disappeared, I cried.
Purple S Romero

South Africa floods

January: Severe storms, lightning and floods
Human cost: 91 dead, 321 injured
Economic cost: £73m
Survivor’s story: Amos Ndlovu, 47, unemployed painter, Diepsloot Township, Johannesburg
I’ve lived here for 10 years and this is the worst flooding I’ve known. There was heavy rain and I was afraid because I didn’t even know where to put my kids. We couldn’t open the front door because more water would come in, and it wasn’t even safe to open the window.

We wanted to stay inside, but we could see the water was a metre high, so we used a hatch to climb on the roof – we waited there for four or five hours. It was raining hard. We couldn’t run away because we had to look after our property.

That day was a disaster. Everything was washed away. Before the flood, we had power in the house, but now there is no electricity. Until they fix it, there’s nothing we can do.

We are using candlelight and it will be cold in winter. I felt very sad. The most precious thing I lost was my car. It was stuck in mud and filled with water, and now it won’t start. I’m not working at the moment and I don’t have money, so I can’t fix it.

It’s nobody’s fault, but I’m worried that it might happen again. The local government could do more to protect us. The system here is badly designed. If you build homes here, you must make a way for the water to run.

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