Three ways that women are changing the world

Futurist  Annalee Newitz extrapolates predictions from current trends.


Michelle Bachmann, über-protectionist

On what point do Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) and Canadian Maoists agree? Opposition to globalized capitalism. In an interview with talk-radio jockey Scott Hennen, Bachmann said the following:

What really concerned me was Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner said that we don’t want to see one country’s economy doing better than another. What? This is the U.S. Treasury Secretary? We don’t want to see Zimbabwe’s economy do better than the United States? Aren’t we supposed to be about the United States and making sure that our economy can be the greatest in the world. If you look at the G20, what they’re trying to do is bind together the world’s economies. Look how that played out in the European Union when they bound all of those nations economies together and one of the smallest economies, Greece, when they got into trouble, that one little nation is bringing down the entire EU. Well, President Obama is trying to bind the United States into a global economy where all of our nations come together in a global economy. I don’t want the United States to be in a global economy where, where our economic future is bound to that of Zimbabwe. I can’t, we can’t necessarily trust the decisions that are being made financially in other countries.

Um… isn’t a prerequesite of a “greatest economy,” to say nothing of a merely “good economy” or even “functional economy”…trade? With…you know…other countries?

A cartoon

Darryl Cunningham on homeopathy.

Self-folding oragami

Science Daily explains:

Researchers at Harvard and MIT have reshaped the landscape of programmable matter by devising self-folding sheets that rely on the ancient art of origami.

Called programmable matter by folding, the team demonstrated how a single thin sheet composed of interconnected triangular sections could transform itself into a boat- or plane-shape — all without the help of skilled fingers.

Published in the online Early Edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) during the week of June 28, lead authors Robert Wood, associate professor of electrical engineering at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and a core faculty member of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, and Daniela Rus, a professor in the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science department at MIT and co-director of the CSAIL Center for Robotics, envision creating “smart” cups that could adjust based upon the amount of liquid needed or even a “Swiss army knife” that could form into tools ranging from wrenches to tripods.

“The process begins when we first create an algorithm for folding,” explains Wood. “Similar to a set of instructions in an origami book, we determine, based upon the desired end shapes, where to crease the sheet.”

The sheet, a thin composite of rigid tiles and elastomer joints, is studded with thin foil actuators (motorized switches) and flexible electronics. The demonstration material contains twenty-five total actuators, divided into five groupings. A shape is produced by triggering the proper actuator groups in sequence.

To initiate the on-demand folding, the team devised a series of stickers, thin materials that contain the circuitry able to prompt the actuators to make the folds. This can be done without a user having to access a computer, reducing “programming” to merely placing the stickers in the appropriate places. When the sheet receives the proper jolt of current, it begins to fold, staying in place thanks to magnetic closures.

“Smart sheets are Origami Robots that will make any shape on demand for their user,” says Rus. “A big achievement was discovering the theoretical foundations and universality of folding and fold planning, which provide the brain and the decision making system for the smart sheet.”

The fancy folding techniques were inspired in part by the work of co-author Erik Dermaine, an associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science at MIT and one of the world’s most recognized experts on computational origami.

While the Harvard and MIT engineers only demonstrated two simple shapes, the proof of concept holds promise. The long-term aim is to make programmable matter more robust and practical, leading to materials that can perform multiple tasks, such as an entire dining utensil set derived from one piece of foldable material.

“The Shape-Shifting Sheets demonstrate an end-to-end process that is a first step towards making everyday objects whose mechanical properties can be programmed,” concludes Wood.

Wood and Rus’s co-authors included Elliot Hawkes and Hiroto Tanaka, both at Harvard, and Byoung Kwon An, Nadia Benbernou, Sangbae Kim, and Erik Dermaine, all at MIT.

The authors acknowledge funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

UK report suggests fetuses incapable of feeling pain before 24 weeks

And yes, no matter how fake it looks, “fetuses” actually is the plural of “fetus.” Via The Australian:

THE human foetus cannot feel pain before the age of 24 weeks, says an expert review that undermines calls to cut the time limit for abortion.  Nerve connections in the foetal brain do not form fully enough to allow perception of pain until after the 24-week limit for terminating pregnancies, an expert report commissioned by Britain’s Department of Health concluded.The finding, by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, rebuts claims by anti-abortion activists that legal terminations can inflict pain on foetuses. It will undermine the efforts of MPs in Britain who have tried unsuccessfully to reduce the limit in the last parliament, to force another vote.

Professor Allan Templeton, president of the Royal College, who chaired the inquiry, said: “There’s nothing in the report that suggests any need to review the upper limit.”

The Royal College was asked by the Labour government to review the evidence for foetal pain and awareness after the Commons Science and Technology Committee criticised its last report into the issue, published in 1997, as out of date. The conclusions of a working party of doctors, scientists, midwives and ethicists were peer-reviewed by independent experts.

It found that nerve connections to the cortex, the part of the brain that deals with pain and higher mental functions, do not form properly before 24 weeks. “It can be concluded that the foetus cannot experience pain in any sense prior to this gestation,” the report said.

Research claimed by anti-abortion campaigners to show that foetuses feel pain was based on evidence from premature babies that did not apply in the womb, Professor Templeton said.

Another finding was that even after 24 weeks, the foetus is naturally sedated and unconscious in the womb. This suggests that even late abortions, which are permitted for serious abnormalities or risks to the mother’s health, are unlikely to result in suffering. The panel also advised that this sedation meant that anaesthetics, which can be risky, are not required when a foetus undergoes surgery.

A second Royal College report, into abortion for foetal abnormalities, advised that it would be impractical to draw up a list of “serious handicaps” for which late abortions can be permitted.

Some campaigners had demanded greater clarity following reports of late abortions for correctable conditions such as cleft palate. Ann Furedi, chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, said the issue of foetal pain had been politicised: “Women and doctors need to be able to make informed decisions based on what science says, not what advocates (whether pro-choice or anti-choice) wish it said.”

Anti-abortion groups said the report did not challenge other arguments for a lower limit. “Performing abortion humanely does not justify the fact that you are terminating a human life,” said Josephine Quintavalle, of Comment on Reproductive Ethics.

SCOTUS slaps down Vatican appeal; Roman officials could theoretically face subpoena in rape cases

Via the Raw Story:

The US Supreme Court declined Monday to hear an appeal by the Vatican in a landmark case that opens the way for priests in the United States to stand trial for pedophilia. Allowing a federal appeals court ruling to stand, the decision means Vatican officials including theoretically Pope Benedict XVI could face questioning under oath related to a litany of child sex abuse cases.

The Supreme Court effectively confirmed the decision of an appellate court to lift the Vatican’s immunity in the case of an alleged pedophile priest in the northwestern state of Oregon. The Oregon case, which was filed in 2002, does not directly address questions raised in a separate lawsuit in Kentucky alleging that US bishops are employees of the Holy See.

In recent months, large-scale pedophilia scandals have rocked the Roman Catholic Church in a number of countries, including Austria, Belgium, Ireland, Pope Benedict XVI’s native Germany and the United States. Senior clerics have been accused of protecting the priests involved by moving them to other parishes — where they sometimes offended again — instead of handing them over to civil authorities for prosecution. The pope, who has himself faced allegations he covered up the scandal, has repeatedly said priests and religious workers guilty of child abuse should answer for their crimes in courts of law [ if and only if they are legally culpable in the localities in which abuse actually occurred.]

There’s been much said about the religious imbalance on the court when compared to the religious (and irreligious) makeup of the country. With Stevens’ impending retirement and Elena Kagan’s imminent confirmation, the Court will have no Protestants, but will be comprised of six Roman Catholics and three Jews. In the general population, 53 percent of all Americans are Protestants in some capacity, 22 percent are Catholic, 17 percent are unaffiliated with any religious tradition, and about 2 percent are Jewish.

However, it is comforting to see the Catholic bias of the court does not affect its ability to impartially decide on matters pertaining to the Roman church. Also, it is, of course, comforting to see it is not a legal impossibility that culpability might be poured onto the heads of the Vatican. I don’t foresee it ever happening; but I’ve been wrong before, and will be again.

Giving peace a chance

Demonstrators rioted at the G20 summit in Toronto.

But I’m sure the few violent extremists don’t represent the protesters on the whole. I’m sure the peaceful and civic-minded Maoists in attendance had something reasonable and constructive to say that’s being overshadowed by the handful of extremists who show up at these things. It’s people like them who give anonymous masked thugs at incoherent public demonstrations a bad name–which is tragic, because there is no better way to make a stand for mutual cooperation and international solidarity than disrupting a summit of world leaders negotiating mutual cooperation in an expression of solidarity and recognition of cosmopolitan interdependence.

Anyone else staring to notice a pattern here?