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Buy this essay and others in Jim's new book Being Sovereign.

The Indomitus Report
Volume 2, #15

2 May 2005
Out of Control

Being Sovereign

      "Beneath our poised appearances, the truth is, we are all completely...out of control!"

      - The Merovingian, "The Matrix Reloaded"

The three "Matrix" films, the related collection of animated short films, and the video game depict a world some 200 years in the future. Artificial intelligence dominates the Earth, mankind is a slave race, and a quarter million refugees fight a continuous battle against a ruthless enemy. Amidst war, death, terror, and literally mind-bending control, free people resist and, ultimately, win liberty.

Control is an illusion. In its most stable form, control is willing self-control. Where the individual consents to limitations, based on expectations of advancing his own self-interest, self-control provides an amazing level of order, stability, spontaneity, and functionality. Enormously disparate populations of creative, educated, talented people are capable of cooperating at projects of great cost, years of concerted effort, across vast distances because they each see their own self-interest advanced.

Where self-interest motivates self-control, anything is possible. Cornucopia is available here on Earth. Productivity, creativity, and intellect are capable of creating enormous wealth, fantastic affluence, an end to any specific impediment to progress, access to a universe of plenty. Obviously, the study of applying self-interest to motivate self-control is the study of free market economics.

Where people are most free, they are also most prosperous. Where people are most subjected to external coercion and imposed control, they are least prosperous and generally shabby. These are not difficult concepts to grasp. Most people understand them intuitively: as a plant seeks light by instinct and through various phototropic mechanisms, so individuals seek greater individual liberty.

One of the ways to seek individual liberty is to move. People move from places of concentrated abuse, coercion, and imposed control to places where these are absent or very limited. For generations, people have sought to come to the United States because of a widespread, and previously well-founded perception that there was a scarcity of authoritarian control here.

Another way to seek individual liberty is to resist. Resistance takes many forms. Some resist publicly, by objecting to terms of control which are inconsistent with the traditions of liberty. Public opponents of control will speak out, write lengthy diatribes (some as often as 42 times a year!), organize demonstrations, petition for redress, and march in the streets. Others will monkey wrench, entering the system of control in order to undermine it. Still others will drop out, become anonymous, operate through front organizations and with the help of willing associates.

Ultimately, resistance escalates from objecting, monkey wrenching, and dropping out of the system to rioting, rebellion, and revolution. Those who seek to impose control find this tendency everywhere.

It seems to surprise them, actually. Remove the French from French Indochina and the Vietnamese do not welcome the American military presence. Remove Saddam from Iraq and the occupying American military is also targeted by resistance forces. For some time, we've been watching the quagmire of Afghanistan and Iraq, the contemporary land war in Asia, function like a tar baby. No matter how it is twisted and turned, it won't come unstuck.

The comparison to Vietnam is very much against the current war. Vietnam's rate of escalation in dead and wounded American military personnel was slower from 1961 to 1965 than the death and casualty rates for Afghanistan and Iraq from 2001 to 2005.

From the point of view of an occupying army, it takes twenty military personnel, twenty soldiers for every resistance fighter in the enemy camp in order to maintain order. That doesn't mean preventing all attacks, it doesn't mean avoiding all casualties, it simply means maintaining order. The USA military cannot maintain order in Iraq, therefore it is facing more than 7,500 resistance fighters (assuming we aren't being lied to about the approximately 150,000 USA troops in Iraq - keep in mind we were lied to repeatedly about the level of USA military presence in Vietnam from 1961 through 1963, and about the entire USA military presence in Cambodia and Laos through the release of the Pentagon papers). Very likely, there are upwards of 100,000 resistance fighters and sympathetic civilians providing various levels of assistance, just within the two countries now occupied. Should the USA attack Iran or Syria, the numbers of committed Islamic resistance fighters would skyrocket.

There are approximately 300 million people in the USA. Although the last census counted about 280 million of them, a great many Americans resisted the census. Illegal aliens have always been highly motivated to avoid being counted. By some private estimates there are one and a half billion functioning firearms, including antiques, in the USA. In other words, there are about five guns for every American.

Put another way, using the 20:1 ratio of occupying troops to resistance fighters, if the entire population of the USA were committed to resistance, it would take the rest of the world's population to maintain order, leaving no one to grow crops, distribute food, or make ammo.

The problem, of course, is that not everyone is committed to resisting. Many people choose to collaborate, either from ignorance, from political sympathy with a totalitarian system, out of a misguided belief that they would become powerful cogs in the machine of control, or out of despair.

The good news is: it doesn't matter. Where systems of external coercion and imposed control are tolerable, people are able to work out methods for circumventing the rules and prosper to some extent. When the systems become unwieldy and inflexible, it becomes impossible to work around their limitations, and poverty results. Inevitably, poverty and disaffection breeds malcontents who understand that their difficulties are caused by an unjust system.

Moreover, prosperity is an adequate reason to put up with a certain amount of idiocy. Prosperous people don't revolt because they don't want to rock the boat. They don't see an immediate advantage to shaking up a system which has, thus far, provided some opportunities for advancement and at least the illusion of prosperity. Sure, their home equity loan may be a constant burden, sure their wages barely make ends meet, but as long as they can afford a twelve-pack of beer every evening at quitting time, they aren't going to do much that is radical. They will continue to keep up appearances, maintain that "poised" façade, and polish the veneer of civilization as best they are able.

Put them through two years of hyperinflation to destroy the value of their savings, eliminate their illusions of a secure retirement income, and shatter their economy, and all that poise will vanish. Scratch the surface of society and you'll find the ravening barbarian hordes are not very far below the surface. They come out of hiding and commit every wanton act of desecration, every atrocity known, as soon as self-interest fails to motivate self-control.

People who have been through combat express their views on their experiences very differently from those who imagine what it would be like. The enemy become subhuman, do not enter into moral equations, are targets for hatred, violence, and incredible acts of aggression. What's wrong with people? They only have so much self-control. Place them in a position of being unable to survive without acting violently, and they will quickly adapt themselves to act with amazing levels of violence. Keep it up long enough and they become inured to violence and no longer horrified by it.

Free market economies create prosperity. Individual liberty creates free market economies. Destroying individual liberty causes free market economies to move underground, to have difficulty, and to provide intermittent prosperity or none at all. People suffering economic privation take up arms to resist and overthrow oppression.

It never fails. It happens time and again through human history. The scale of the horrors differ each time. Sometimes, people are disarmed first, during the end of a period of prosperity or shortly after, and become subject to genocidal insanity. But, all examples of totalitarian control are examples of failed control. Sooner or later, those in power give up brutalizing people in order to "allow" for some economic prosperity to leak in. Or, they are overthrown from within or from without.

So, it doesn't matter if people are at first reluctant and unwilling to resist. Sooner or later, the attempts to control their behavior limit their economic prosperity. As the bureau-rats and politicians become more determined to exert more control and impose more coercion, prosperity disappears. Money flows away from places where it is subject to high taxes, burdensome regulation, and outrageous levels of corruption, and toward places where these things are scarce. Keep the authoritarian heat high enough for long enough, and the economy breaks down. Privation and suffering follow, and the memory of prosperity motivates people to resist.

Why don't people obey authority, instead? Essentially, because people are not ants. The "myrmidons" of Achilles, people descended from ants, were a bad dream of some bard who preceded Homer. Although people willingly cooperate in hierarchical groups, their personal loyalty is necessarily directed toward advancing their own self-interest.

In that case, why don't people in authority understand the limitations to their own power and act accordingly? The problem here is largely one of discontinuity. Individuals tolerate limitations and control, obey mindless bureaucratic nonsense, make a sincere effort to follow "the rules," until they don't. While their own best interests seem to be served by obedience, people try very hard to obey even the most idiotic of directives. When it becomes clear that they cannot prosper, or may not even survive, following the rules, they revolt. It should come as no surprise that people have limits, that there is always a straw that breaks the camel's back, but the perception of people accepting more and more nonsense as they try to "go along to get along" misdirects those in power to believe they can continue to be arbitrary and capricious far past the breaking point.

In the "Matrix" films, it is this ability to take choices that appear to be discontinuous or illogical (not to mention impatient) which baffles the various methods of control. In reality, it is not an artificial intelligence, but human intelligence, which fails to understand this character trait, or which ignores it in the corrupt desire for power.

Free Market Money

      "Moreover, if we could once overcome the many obstacles in the way of a scientifically managed world system, it would not add much to our difficulties to give it a gold camouflage. Provided that the world's currency system is managed with plenary wisdom by a supernational body, and provided that, as a part of this scheme, gold is everywhere excluded from the active circulation, then - since we can make the gold standard what we choose - the ideal standard of value, whatever that may be, is compatible with the forms of a gold standard of value; - it is only necessary for the Supernational Authority so to manage gold as to conform to the ideal standard."

      - John Maynard Keynes, Treatise on Money, 1930

Fabian socialists, progressives, and other "scientific government" fantasizers have supposed that the world should be ruled by a scientific elite who would govern with unbridled power. Inevitably, whenever their dreams of world rule fail, such people blame those parts of the world or of the economy outside their control. Their own failures are discounted, their own limitations are glossed over, and the impossibility of their dream of centralized planning, command, and control is ignored. Worse, these people are scum, who assert a governmental power to steal, cheat, lie, deceive, murder, rape, and enslave any individual at any time for any or no reason.

But, let's see how they are handling this business of having a supernational body managing a multinational currency system. Doing so should give us insight into the potential for success or failure of a world currency scheme.

It turns out that even a supernational body such as the European Union, or the European Central Bank is unable to manage a currency with "plenary wisdom." According to The Economist for 26 March 2005, the European countries which had pledged to keep their debt and deficits under control have enacted a huge variety of exceptions which effectively abandon any such standards.

Of course, the alternatives are pretty sad, too. The USA dollar is being mismanaged toward hyperinflation by the Federal Reserve. The British pound is the currency of a socialist country seemingly unwilling to reduce its governmental obligations. The Japanese yen is the currency of a nationalist and socialist country with incredible debts. The Chinese yuan renmimbi is pegged to the dollar, and therefore being inflated in a huge way resulting in enormous investments being misdirected; it is the currency of a communist country with no free speech and only current policy to thank for selected economic liberties - which seem largely arranged to maximize the wealth of key government officials. (The difference between the protests in China that were brutally repressed at Tianmen Square and the protests in Moscow which overthrew communist rule in 1991? The Russians brought their guns.)

Countries with strong mining economies are, sadly, not much better off. Canada, Australia, and South Africa should see their currencies boosted with higher mineral prices, but are also terribly socialistic. It seems likely that South Africa will follow Zimbabwe toward economic and cultural break down under what amount to communist leaders. Perhaps Balkanization is the best hope for some communities in South Africa.

Countries with less than average socialism and world-traded currencies? New Zealand and Switzerland would be on the very short list. Remember Jim Rogers at the 2004 New Orleans Conference? As reported in these pages, he said that his baby girl has a bank account with Swiss francs. Fortunately, there is still time to buy into either currency before the world flees from the disasters of the USA dollar, EU euro, British pound, Japanes yen, and other socialist excesses. Try Frank Trotter's Everbank for a certificate of deposit in a foreign currency of your choice. There's probably also an effective short play on the euro, pound, dollar, or yen to be made in the currency markets.

How about gold camouflage? Clearly, Keynes would argue that one of the key problems for the EU euro is the failure of European powers to restrict the buying and selling of gold. Gold has not been excluded from active circulation, and we are better off as a result.

The EU central bank does have gold in inventory. A December 2003 World Gold Council report indicated 766.9 metric tonnes of gold in EU central bank inventory. (EU member France had 3 kilotonnes; Germany 3.44 kilotonnes, Italy 2.5 kilotonnes, about 2.3 kilotonnes among other EU member states.) In 2004, the sundry central banks of the world asserted they would sell up to 500 tonnes of gold per year, but no word on whether this assertion has reduced EU gold inventories. Of course, this gold doesn't bear any meaningful relationship to the EU euro, just as the gold in the USA Treasury and in Federal Reserve inventory, if any such has an existence that would survive an audit, has no relationship to the USA dollar. There is no provision for redeeming the EU euro for gold.

The one thing that Keynes reveals in his treatise is a desire to manage the value of gold. Endless evidence, links, and stories on this topic may be found by visiting GATA or Michael Bolser's Interventional Analysis site.

It seems appropriate to reflect on one further thought with regard to currencies. The USA dollar is not imposed on the American people through a coercive legal tender law. The "legal tender" law on the books only says that the government printing office may put the words "this note is legal tender for all debts public and private" on the Federal Reserve notes. (Note, this statement is clearly fraudulent.) There is no penalty for refusing the Feral Reserveless nothing. Therefore, free market money has, presently, what may be its only significant opportunity to challenge nationalist and socialist currencies. It is up to us to make it happen.

Gold Mining

Here's how the stocks we presently suggest in this area look right now (evening Monday 2 May 2005):

Company Symbol C$ US$
D
Exploring
Almaden AMM.TO 1.70 -
-C$0.04
Free Gold ITF.TO 0.125 0.096
- C$0.28
Luzon LZN.V 0.24 -
-C$0.05
Western WNP.V 2.75 -
C$1.01
Holding
Lumina LCC - 5.78
1.14
Silver Standard SSRI - 10.60
-2.18
Vista VGZ.TO 3.52 -
- C$1.48
Mining
Newmont Mining NEM - 37.72
-5.58
Northgate NXG - 1.08
- 0.57

The above listed suggestions continue on our "buy" list.

Free Market Money

Gold tapped $436 twice on 26 April and again on the 29th, then fell back to $426 and is now $428.20 (evening Tuesday). Perhaps it will go much higher when central banks are both out of gold and willng to admit as much.

Silver is at $6.89/ounce.

Copper is $1.5103/pound.

U3O8 is up to $26.25. The price curve has a nice skyrocket look, so there may be a pause coming. However, the price has plenty of room to move higher before being over priced.

The three stocks we've suggested in this sector are PVH, GBH, and MCG.

Company Symbol gAu
D
Gold Barter Holdings GBH 0.11

- 0.89

MicroCasino MCG 0.60

+ 0.087

Pecunix Venture Holdings PVH 0.018

- 0.032

Gold Barter Holdings paid a dividend at the end of April. This dividend is the second paid out by the company. No annual report has been published that we've seen.

Space Frontier

      "We are privileged to live in an age when we can realistically expect to search for Earth-like planets around nearby stars, and to look for evidence of life on those planets. ... We now possess the technical ability to carry out the dream of really finding out."

      - Coronographic Methods for the Detection of Terrestrial Planets, 6 February 2004

A large number of planets have now been detected which are beyond our Solar System. These extra-Solar planets are all gas giants, in some cases super-giants. Four methods have been used to find these planets.

These methods are: (1) the Doppler shift of the parent star induced by the planet in its orbit; (2) occultation of the star by the planet; (3) pulsar timing; and (4) gravitational microlensing. It is likely that astrometric motion of the star induced by its planet should reveal more large planets. All of which is great, but we don't live on a planet like Jupiter. The ability to detect planets the size of Earth or Mars is critical to our finding planets capable of supporting life similar to our own.

Very recently, light from a giant planet was directly detected. That's great news, and warms us to our subject. To directly detect the light from a terrestrial planet, two methods have been proposed. One method is an interferometer operating at thermal infrared wavelengths. The other is a coronograph operating at visible wavelengths. (The opportunities for puns on "coronographic" and "pornographic" shall be resisted.)

The idea of a coronograph was first conceived by Lyot in 1939. It is a device to suppress instrumental light diffraction using a sequence of stops. It was originally designed for viewing the Solar corona, which is hard to detect except during eclipses owing to the overpowering luminosity of the Sun. A coronograph for detecting planets by their reflected visible light would be able to suppress the noise associated with stellar light by rejecting it from an area of interest in the focal plane of a telescope.

A coronograph associated with a single telescope or an interferometer should be able to detect the visible stellar light reflected from a terrestrial planet within two dozen parsecs of Earth. It may also be able to detect atmospheric oxygen, cloud cover, planet temperature, planet radius, rotational period, and moons or rings. Detection times for different features may range from about two to about 80 hours. The above captioned paper discusses studying stars within 25 parsecs of Earth. A parsec is about 3.26 lightyears. There are thousands of stars within 80 light years of Earth (a sphere 160 light years across).

From existing star surveys, it appears that not more than 50% of stars form the necessary circumstellar disk to form planets. Whether young stars without disks are also without planets is not entirely clear, but seems likely. It is also uncertain what percentage of stars which have a planetary disk go on to form planets - the disk may dissipate without any planet formation in some cases. If so, the probability of any planets would be reduced.

While very exciting, what would the detection of extra-solar terrestrial planets mean? First, it would be a step toward characterizing another element of Drake's equation. Drake's equation multiplies the probabilities of such things as planet formation and life arising to establish the likelihood that we'll make contact with another intelligent species beyond Earth. Second, discovering extra-solar terrestrial planets would give us targets for future scientific missions, perhaps funded by free market methods. (Imagine the advertisers who would sponsor the first spacecraft to orbit an Earth-like world orbiting another star.) Third, we may be able to detect Earth-like target worlds for human exploration or settlement. Space tourism beyond the Solar System is going to make the Virgin Galactic trips into suborbital space look like amusement park rides.

Wouldn't travel to another star be exhausting? Stars within 80 light years could take as long as 800 years to reach at a tenth the speed of light. So, either some longevity discoveries would be needed, or some form of suspended animation, or both. Of course, nothing prevents us from getting closer to the speed of light, and time dilation effects near lightspeed would make trip times seem less for the travelers. Even so, the discovery of a faster than light "star drive" would be very handy. Perhaps in the flat regions far from the influence of the Sun's gravity, such technologies would be easier to discover.

Knowing that an Earth-like destination world exists would be highly motivating for the development of all areas of science and technology related to reaching that world.

SpaceDev is at $1.60. It is up $0.10 since we first suggested it.

Launch Technology

Richard Branson has a problem. He's British.

Ordinarily, that would be problem enough for anyone to overcome. British subjects, even knights and peers are property of the monarchy. Very occasionally, one or two British subjects do something which is noteworthy or credible, and by the graciousness of the Queen, are allowed to keep some of their wealth.

In this case, the problem Sir Richard has isn't being caused directly by the Queen. This time, the problem comes from the USA government export control laws which pretend to license the export of technology that could have military applications. Even though Scaled Composites developed its SpaceShipOne technology for American Paul Allen and did so entirely without government assistance (and, as Rutan explains above, in the face of direct government attempts to prevent it), the would-be masters in the USA government wish to prevent the licensing of SpaceShip technology to Virgin Galactic.

It's a bit of a pity, too. Virgin Galactic has already booked revenues of $20 million from their hundred customers who have signed contracts for $200K trips into space. Virgin Galactic has a further $580 million in anticipated customer advances from the 29,000 people who have been asked to pay $20K deposits on future flights (yours truly included). Assuming that all trips are sold for $200K per person, the space tourism market is at least $5.8 billion in revenues.

Naturally, the whores in government are doing everything they can to prevent this industry from coming into existence. It was easier when all they had to do was throw false charges of felony gambling promotion of a lottery at two entrepreneurs from Houston. It was a bit more complex when Walt Anderson arranged to fly space tourists to Mir, and Mir had to plummet to an untimely death through the machinations of diplomacy. Then NASA tried to drag their heels on letting Dennis Tito aboard the Internationalist Socialist Space Station, but as Russia had control over who it flew there, NASA ended up unable to stop the first space tourist flight.

Now, you might think that Britain is a friendly country. They are, after all, one of the few coalition partners left with troops on the ground in Iraq. Oh, sure, there was that messy business in 1812 with the Russians keeping Bonaparte busy and the red coats sacking Washington and setting the White House ablaze, along with nearly every copy of the constitutional amendment punishing titles of nobility. So, what's wrong with a few Brits buying some space tourism craft?

"At this point, due to uncertainty about possible [export] licensing requirements, we are not able to even view Scaled Composites's designs for the commercial space vehicle," says Will Whitehorn, president of Virgin Galactic. "After US government technology-transfer issues are clarified and addressed if deemed necessary, we hope to place a firm order for the spacecraft."

Isn't that special? Burt Rutan invents a safe way to fly people into space on routine, airliner-like operations, winning a ten million dollar prize posted in part by an Iranian multi-millionaire. Virgin Galactic plans to operate its commercial spaceflight services within the USA. Yet, the USA government won't let the British nationals even look at the designs for their spaceships. A great way to put a wet blanket over a $5.8 billion industry and smother it. What's next?

They've already locked Walt Anderson away on trumped up charges of tax fraud. Shall we anticipate an IRS audit for Burt Rutan?

"This is a subject that FAA seems to be afraid of," says Burt. "They seem to be happy that they're not required...to certify these ships. I think it really comes down to the problem that they flat don't have the people that are qualified to do it."

You can see where things are going. If the USA government is so blind it cannot permit a $5.8 billion industry to get going, where are the tax revenues going to come from to pay for their multi-trillion-dollar budgets? The system is reaching that dizzying level of authoritarian control where it is too rigid to do anything. And, as Gerard K. O'Neill, Ph.D., pointed out in 1992, a system is at its most rigid just before it fails completely.

New Country Developments

      "At least 15 people were killed and nearly 40 wounded on Tuesday in a bomb blast at a Mogadishu stadium where Somalia's transitional prime minister was addressing a large crowd."

      - Police and hospital officials, 3 May 2005

Eight people died on Tuesday and the other seven died at area hospitals. It appears from the reports of damage that the blast was caused by a bomb, possibly carried to within about 26 feet of the "prime minister" by a bodyguard for a local militia commander.

In a significant twist of irony, the pseudo prime minister, Ali Mohamed Gedi, whose foreign-appointed government remains in exile in Kenya, said in his speech that he was willing to drop plans to move the government to Baidoa or Jowhar if security in Mogadishu was enhanced. "We will relocate to Mogadishu if security improves." Followed by a bomb exploding. Macabre and ironic.

Under an African Union mandate, the seven-member east African Inter-Governmental Authority on Development is expected to deploy as many as 10,000 peacekeepers. Yeah, funny thing, a development agency with its own army, huh?

Soldiers from Uganda's UPDF are not to deploy, according to security sources in Kampala quoted by AllAfrica.com. It is unclear what the position of the "Sudan People's Armed Forces" or SPAF may be. "Sources said Uganda's decision was based on the stand taken by Somali warlords against withdrawing their fighters from Mogadishu, vowing to fight the peacekeepers."

So, as per usual, Mogadishu is in chaos. The UN and IMF and similar scum are determined to impose a government there in order to see the impoverished Somalis taxed to pay the debt accumulated by their last dictator. The various civilian and military authorities in Mogadishu are not exactly eager to have an externally imposed, coercive, nationalistic, socialistic government imposed on them.

Some years back, one of these temporary UN attempted governments sent census takers through Mogadishu. Knowing that a census always precedes a tax, the Somalis took the prudent step of killing the census takers. Subsequently, the same government sent tax collectors around to the shops in Mogadishu. Very few shopkeepers paid any tax, since they had, in most cases, better armed security than did the tax takers. Within six months of this experiment, the "Arta" transitional government of Salad Hassan was governing a territory of six adjacent streets within Mogadishu. A year later they were gone.

Somalis don't want to be governed by outsiders, whether these outsiders find some Somali figureheads to put on display. Somalis don't want to pay taxes. Somalis do have a form of government called "kritarchy" by those who have studied it in person. Most of the country, outside of Mog, is peaceful and getting along with trade and commerce. As near to Mog as the town of Marka, ships visit every month to bring supplies to the Coca-Cola bottling plant. Somalis still have the best international telephone service on the continent, at the lowest prices. Competition is a marvelous thing.

It seems unlikely that the internationalists, socialists, and banker scum who seek to dominate Somalia will give up. But, it is amusing that the peacekeepers they've found come from the Sudan. One does wonder what it has been about the "peace" in the Darfur region of Sudan that recommends these "peace" keepers. The only difference between the genocidal Sudanese military in Darfur and, say, the Romans is: they already had a desert, so they didn't have to make one and call it peace. (With apologies to Calgacus.)

Longevity

    "There are many cases where toxicity is desirable. For example, we might want particles that kill cancer cells or harmful bacteria. In other cases - like applications where particles may make their way into the environment - toxicity is undesirable. We're encouraged to see that controlling the surface properties of buckyballs allows us to dial the level of toxicity up or down, because making those kinds of modifications is something that chemists do every day in university research labs and in industry. Moreover, we believe the technique can prove useful in tuning the toxicity of other nanoparticles."

    - Vicki Colvin, Ph.D.,
    Rice Center for Biological and Environmental Nanotechnology director,
    Rice Sallyport, Spring 2005

We don't usually cover nano-technology in this report, although it is certainly an exciting topic with applications to launch technology, the space frontier, and longevity research. This month's Rice University alumni magazine included an essay by Jade Boyd which included the above captioned quotes from Dr. Colvin. This news is very exciting.

Bucky balls are buckminster fullerene, named after the architect and bon vivant Buckminster Fuller. Buckminster fullerene is a carbon molecule discovered at Rice University in 1985. The large molecules are similar in concept to one of Fuller's geodesic domes, only a full sphere rather than a hemisphere. Another analogous shape is a soccer ball with its pentagonal faces.

The nice things about buckminster fullerene, or bucky balls for short, is that the molecule is large enough to be manipulated with current-era instrumentation, is composed of a single atom - carbon - and is shaped like a big empty sphere so it can contain things. One can place something inside a bucky ball, or inside a tube formed from bucky balls called a bucky tube, rather like a carbon coating. And now, it appears, the surface of the bucky ball can be modified with widely understood techniques to increase or decrease the cytotoxicity of the bucky balls themselves.

Cytotoxicity is a measure of the toxicity to individual cells. The techniques Colvin and her associates have developed can modify the toxicity to individual cells by as much as seven orders of magnitude, or a factor of ten million.

"Cytotoxicity should not be confused with a full-fledged toxicological risk assessment," says Kevin Ausman, executive director of the Rice Center for Biological and Environmental Nanotechnology, co-author of the paper with Dr. Colvin, as reported in the Sallyport article. "Risk assessments take into account exposure rates, uptake mechanisms, transport within the body, and much more. Most often, cytotoxicity studies are used as indicators of whether more extensive toxicological study is needed. Based on our results, we think buckyballs should be studied in more detail, and we're already working to arrange additional studies."

Those who follow nano-tech closely would have noticed this study by Colvin and Ausman reported in Nano Letters for 2004, volume 4, number 10, published by the American Chemical Society. However, as we don't follow nano-tech closely, it was news to us.

The exciting thing here is that nano-tech seems to be quite close to significant meaningful applications. With a range of seven orders of magnitude for cytotoxicity, it seems quite likely that buckballs could be used as transport mechanisms for other materials or as nanotech agents themselves, with their surfaces designed to produce the results desired. Designing molecules for specific tasks is a nano-tech activity, just as designing proteins or pharmaceuticals is an old-style chemistry approach to similar goals.

What difference does it make? The difference is of scale and style, as well as substance. By designing molecules, in some cases atom by atom, the nanotechnologist works directly with small scale, often atomic-scale structures. The biologist and chemist work on much larger structures, which are often much more complex. Proteins, for example, are often extremely complex shapes, twisted strands wrapped and rotated in various ways.

A significant impediment to the application of the bucky ball has been its cytotoxicity. With that aspect of the problem now apparently under direct control, it should be possible to apply the bucky ball to a number of nano-tech problems where its toxicity had been problematic in the past.

For a generalist with interests in many areas, it is a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, nano-tech is a part of that great future ahead of us all. On the other hand, it was, like hot fusion, far enough off to be unlikely of early applications. And now, a closer look is in order. So, future issues of The Indomitus Report will include a number of nano-tech topics, probably under the longevity heading.

Elan Corp, PLC, was at $6.71 when we looked in on it today. We continue to investigate this company.


Publication Note: Also a day late.


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