5 myths about gluten




By Alessio Fasano   Chicago Tribune  12.22/15

   When I founded our celiac center nearly 20 years ago, writers couldn’t spell “celiac,” and very few people had ever heard the word “gluten.” One of our primary goals has been to advance awareness of celiac disease to improve the quality of life for people with gluten-related disorders, and I’ve been amazed to see what has happened in 20 years. Most people have now heard of gluten, but many have a pretty poor understanding of what it is and how it fits into a healthy diet. An ancient and complex protein, gluten is a major component of wheat. It helps bread to rise and gives it a characteristic chewy texture. Similar proteins called secalin and hordein are found in barley and rye. We lump the three together as the only proteins we can’t digest and call this gluten. For people with celiac disease, a lifelong disorder, these proteins wreak havoc on the small intestine. For the rest of us, it’s a different story.  

1 Our bodies are not meant to process gluten, so no one should eat it.   Many people now vilify wheat as unfit for human consumption. Eating it “raises blood sugar levels, causes immunoreactive problems, inhibits the absorption of important minerals, and aggravates our intestines,” in the words of prominent bioethicist and futurist blogger George Dvorksy. This “sensational science” is fertile terrain for TV shows such as “Dr. Oz” and books that identify gluten as the villain of the 21st century. Gluten has been blamed for many diseases outside gluten-related disorders, and therefore some people have suggested that it should be completely banned from the human diet.   It is true that our bodies do not have the proper enzymes to break down the complex proteins found in gluten. The immune system spots gluten as an invader and goes into battle mode to get rid of it. But here’s the key: In most people, the immune system is able to “clean up” the gluten invasion, and then it’s back to business as usual.   For the approximately 1 percent of humans with celiac disease, the immune system can’t handle the cleanup. Instead, it goes into overdrive, producing autoantibodies that attack the tissue in the small intestine, leading to inflammation and tissue destruction. This leads to malabsorption of nutrients, which causes myriad symptoms, gastrointestinal and otherwise, in people with this autoimmune disorder.   Other people affected by wheat allergy or non-celiac gluten sensitivity may also find that their bodies react inappropriately after they eat gluten-containing grains. But epidemiological studies, including our 2003 study in the United States, show that the vast majority of us tolerate gluten without any problem. The fact that about 1 percent of the population is affected by celiac disease, while almost 100 percent of humankind is exposed to gluten-containing grains, is evidence that these grains are safe for most people. After all, our species has evolved during the past 10,000 years eating gluten-containing grains.  

2 Cutting gluten from your diet is beneficial, even if you don’t have celiac disease.   Approximately 1 in 4 U.S. consumers think that going gluten-free is good for everyone, according to the NDP Group, a market research organization. The same group reports that about 11 percent of U.S. households eat gluten-free. These people are probably following advice such as: “Eliminating wheat is the easiest and most effective step you can take to safeguard your health and trim your waistline,” from William Davis, the physician of “Wheat Belly” fame.   But only about 400,000 Americans have been diagnosed with celiac disease. This is a small fraction of the approximately 3 million people in the United States who have it; the rest remain undiagnosed. Wheat allergy sufferers number about 0.03 percent of the U.S. population. Because medicine has no reliable test for the condition, the number of people with nonceliac gluten sensitivity has not yet been established. Our center recently estimated it at 6 percent of the U.S. population, but it is only our best guess until we develop a biomarker to identify the condition.   For most of us, a gluten-free diet is not a naturally healthier diet. If you give up gluten-containing cookies, cakes and beer, and replace them with gluten-free cookies, cakes and beer, you will not lose weight or feel better. But while avoiding gluten itself won’t help, giving up many of the processed foods that contain it will. If you stop eating fried foods, highly processed foods and foods high in sugar, and replace them with fresh fruits, vegetables, olive oil, and protein from lean meat, eggs, seafood, nuts and beans (essentially, the Mediterranean diet), you will definitely feel better, unless you have an unidentified underlying condition. People who do undertake a gluten-free diet should work with a registered dietitian to make sure they’re getting all the vitamins and micronutrients they need.  

3 Gluten sensitivity doesn’t really exist. About five or six years ago, we began to see a new phenomenon in our clinic: people who reacted poorly to gluten but had none of the diagnostic or histological markers for celiac disease. Eventually, our group published a paper calling the condition “non-celiac gluten sensitivity” or “gluten sensitivity.” As celebrities from Gwyneth Paltrow to Novak Djokovic have espoused the “benefits” of going gluten-free, though, there’s been some resistance to the idea of gluten sensitivity; at this point, enough people have gotten on board with ditching gluten that it’s being mocked as a “fad” diet by people such as cookbook author and culinary historian Clifford Wright. Based on conflicting studies, the existence of gluten sensitivity has been challenged in the press. And until recently, the terms “celiac disease” and “gluten sensitivity” had been used interchangeably in medical literature, as Amy Brown noted in a 2012 article in Expert Review in Gastroenterology & Hepatology.   Many symptoms are similar, but the conditions are very different metabolically. In non-celiac gluten sensitivity, we don’t see the same intestinal inflammation we see in people with celiac disease. Also, some people with gluten sensitivity can tolerate small amounts of gluten, which is never the case with celiac disease.  

4 People with celiac disease can eat a little bit of gluten. A group of scientists from St. Bartholomew’s Hospital in London published a study in 1988 concluding that adult celiac patients could safely consume a low-gluten diet, as opposed to a gluten-free one. Unfortunately, that misconception is still with us.   We now know this is not true, since we have pretty solid evidence that traces of gluten can be as harmful as large amounts, even if the clinical consequences don’t materialize until years later. People with celiac disease must avoid gluten at all costs. While eliminating the “big items” (pizza, pasta, cookies, beer, bagels, etc.) is painful but relatively easy, avoiding the traces of gluten found in many processed foods (gluten is a cheap and efficient filler) can be much more difficult. It takes only a tiny crumb of bread to set the autoimmune machinery into motion, creating the intestinal damage that leads to symptoms and nutrient malabsorption.   This is what makes the gluten-free diet so tricky, especially outside the controlled environment of your own kitchen. Think about celiac kids in day care centers or classrooms (craft projects and cupcakes), and celiac diners in restaurants, social settings and traveling away from home. People with celiac disease and parents ofchildren with the condition must be vigilant about what they put in their mouths every day in a way that the rest of us don’t need to be.   What makes this clinical chameleon even trickier is that you can have celiac disease (the intestinal inflammation and malabsorption) and not exhibit any symptoms, gastrointestinal or otherwise, for a long time. Meanwhile, damage to your intestine continues and could lead to the development of related conditions and, in extremely rare cases, intestinal lymphoma. The only way to identify these asymptomatic patients is through blood tests and an intestinal biopsy.  

5 If you have celiac disease as a child, you will outgrow it. This question comes up often in our celiac clinic because of the lingering misconception that celiac disease is a pediatric condition. In the 1930s and ’40s, children diagnosed with this mysterious gastrointestinal disease were fed a banana-based diet. The mortality rate was high, but the lucky children who survived were told that they could resume eating wheat after a period of time. This led to the idea that you could outgrow celiac disease. Years later, with advanced diagnostic tools, many of those “banana babies” were rediagnosed with celiac disease.   In the 1950s, a Dutch pediatrician named Willem-Karel Dicke determined that wheat flour was responsible for the symptoms he saw in his young patients. After watching the mortality rate of children with celiac disease drop during World War II, Dicke suspected that the decline might be related to the scarcity of bread at that time. Still, it would be decades before the notion that you can outgrow celiac disease was challenged. In 1958, Cyrus Rubin determined that pediatric and adult celiac were the same condition. With the development of the first diagnostic tools in the 1970s and blood-screening tests in the 1990s, the diagnostic rates for children and adults increased.   But the real breakthrough came in the 1990s, when researchers determined that celiac disease is not a food allergy or an intolerance, but a gluten-triggered autoimmune disease that patients cannot outgrow. Another milestone was when we determined that people can develop celiac disease at any time in their lives, even into old age. Now we know it is a lifelong condition, and the best medical intervention we have is a gluten-free diet. 

Washington Post   Dr. Alessio Fasano is the founder and director of the Center for Celiac Research & Treatment at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and the author of “Gluten Freedom.”



Why is English so Weird ?

English is not normal

No, English isn’t uniquely vibrant or mighty or adaptable. But it really is weirder than pretty much every other language

by John McWhorter     source  with video

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Death and the word; William conquers Harold and the English language. From Cotton Vitellius A. XIII.(1) f.3v. Photo courtesy British Library

John McWhorter is a professor of linguistics and American studies at Columbia University. His latest book is The Language Hoax (2014).

Edited by Ed Lake

Does English have any special merits that set it apart from other languages?

English speakers know that their language is odd. So do people saddled with learning it non-natively. The oddity that we all perceive most readily is its spelling, which is indeed a nightmare. In countries where English isn’t spoken, there is no such thing as a ‘spelling bee’ competition. For a normal language, spelling at least pretends a basic correspondence to the way people pronounce the words. But English is not normal.

Spelling is a matter of writing, of course, whereas language is fundamentally about speaking. Speaking came long before writing, we speak much more, and all but a couple of hundred of the world’s thousands of languages are rarely or never written. Yet even in its spoken form, English is weird. It’s weird in ways that are easy to miss, especially since Anglophones in the United States and Britain are not exactly rabid to learn other languages. But our monolingual tendency leaves us like the proverbial fish not knowing that it is wet. Our language feels ‘normal’ only until you get a sense of what normal really is.

There is no other language, for example, that is close enough to English that we can get about half of what people are saying without training and the rest with only modest effort. German and Dutch are like that, as are Spanish and Portuguese, or Thai and Lao. The closest an Anglophone can get is with the obscure Northern European language called Frisian: if you know that tsiis is cheese and Frysk is Frisian, then it isn’t hard to figure out what this means: Brea, bûter, en griene tsiis is goed Ingelsk en goed Frysk. But that sentence is a cooked one, and overall, we tend to find that Frisian seems more like German, which it is.

We think it’s a nuisance that so many European languages assign gender to nouns for no reason, with French having female moons and male boats and such. But actually, it’s us who are odd: almost all European languages belong to one family – Indo-European – and of all of them, English is the only one that doesn’t assign genders that way.

More weirdness? OK. There is exactly one language on Earth whose present tense requires a special ending only in the third‑person singular. I’m writing in it. I talk, you talk, he/she talks – why just that? The present‑tense verbs of a normal language have either no endings or a bunch of different ones (Spanish: hablo, hablas, habla). And try naming another language where you have to slip do into sentences to negate or question something. Do you find that difficult? Unless you happen to be from Wales, Ireland or the north of France, probably.

Why is our language so eccentric? Just what is this thing we’re speaking, and what happened to make it this way?

English started out as, essentially, a kind of German. Old English is so unlike the modern version that it feels like a stretch to think of them as the same language at all. Hwæt, we gardena in geardagum þeodcyninga þrym gefrunon – does that really mean ‘So, we Spear-Danes have heard of the tribe-kings’ glory in days of yore’? Icelanders can still read similar stories written in the Old Norse ancestor of their language 1,000 years ago, and yet, to the untrained eye, Beowulf might as well be in Turkish.

The first thing that got us from there to here was the fact that, when the Angles, Saxons and Jutes (and also Frisians) brought their language to England, the island was already inhabited by people who spoke very different tongues. Their languages were Celtic ones, today represented by Welsh, Irish and Breton across the Channel in France. The Celts were subjugated but survived, and since there were only about 250,000 Germanic invaders – roughly the population of a modest burg such as Jersey City – very quickly most of the people speaking Old English were Celts.


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Crucially, their languages were quite unlike English. For one thing, the verb came first (came first the verb). But also, they had an odd construction with the verb do: they used it to form a question, to make a sentence negative, and even just as a kind of seasoning before any verb. Do you walk? I do not walk. I do walk. That looks familiar now because the Celts started doing it in their rendition of English. But before that, such sentences would have seemed bizarre to an English speaker – as they would today in just about any language other than our own and the surviving Celtic ones. Notice how even to dwell upon this queer usage of do is to realise something odd in oneself, like being made aware that there is always a tongue in your mouth.

At this date there is no documented language on earth beyond Celtic and English that uses do in just this way. Thus English’s weirdness began with its transformation in the mouths of people more at home with vastly different tongues. We’re still talking like them, and in ways we’d never think of. When saying ‘eeny, meeny, miny, moe’, have you ever felt like you were kind of counting? Well, you are – in Celtic numbers, chewed up over time but recognisably descended from the ones rural Britishers used when counting animals and playing games. ‘Hickory, dickory, dock’ – what in the world do those words mean? Well, here’s a clue: hovera, dovera, dick were eight, nine and ten in that same Celtic counting list.

Pretty soon their bad Old English was real English, and here we are today: the Scandies made English easier

The second thing that happened was that yet more Germanic-speakers came across the sea meaning business. This wave began in the ninth century, and this time the invaders were speaking another Germanic offshoot, Old Norse. But they didn’t impose their language. Instead, they married local women and switched to English. However, they were adults and, as a rule, adults don’t pick up new languages easily, especially not in oral societies. There was no such thing as school, and no media. Learning a new language meant listening hard and trying your best. We can only imagine what kind of German most of us would speak if this was how we had to learn it, never seeing it written down, and with a great deal more on our plates (butchering animals, people and so on) than just working on our accents.

As long as the invaders got their meaning across, that was fine. But you can do that with a highly approximate rendition of a language – the legibility of the Frisian sentence you just read proves as much. So the Scandinavians did pretty much what we would expect: they spoke bad Old English. Their kids heard as much of that as they did real Old English. Life went on, and pretty soon their bad Old English was real English, and here we are today: the Scandies made English easier.

I should make a qualification here. In linguistics circles it’s risky to call one language ‘easier’ than another one, for there is no single metric by which we can determine objective rankings. But even if there is no bright line between day and night, we’d never pretend there’s no difference between life at 10am and life at 10pm. Likewise, some languages plainly jangle with more bells and whistles than others. If someone were told he had a year to get as good at either Russian or Hebrew as possible, and would lose a fingernail for every mistake he made during a three-minute test of his competence, only the masochist would choose Russian – unless he already happened to speak a language related to it. In that sense, English is ‘easier’ than other Germanic languages, and it’s because of those Vikings.

Old English had the crazy genders we would expect of a good European language – but the Scandies didn’t bother with those, and so now we have none. Chalk up one of English’s weirdnesses. What’s more, the Vikings mastered only that one shred of a once-lovely conjugation system: hence the lonely third‑person singular –s, hanging on like a dead bug on a windshield. Here and in other ways, they smoothed out the hard stuff.

They also followed the lead of the Celts, rendering the language in whatever way seemed most natural to them. It is amply documented that they left English with thousands of new words, including ones that seem very intimately ‘us’: sing the old song ‘Get Happy’ and the words in that title are from Norse. Sometimes they seemed to want to stake the language with ‘We’re here, too’ signs, matching our native words with the equivalent ones from Norse, leaving doublets such asdike (them) and ditch (us), scatter (them) and shatter (us), and ship (us) vs skipper (Norse for ship was skip, and so skipper is ‘shipper’).

But the words were just the beginning. They also left their mark on English grammar. Blissfully, it is becoming rare to be taught that it is wrong to say Which town do you come from?, ending with the preposition instead of laboriously squeezing it before the wh-word to make From which town do you come? In English, sentences with ‘dangling prepositions’ are perfectly natural and clear and harm no one. Yet there is a wet-fish issue with them, too: normal languages don’t dangle prepositions in this way. Spanish speakers: note that El hombre quien yo llegué con (‘The man whom I came with’) feels about as natural as wearing your pants inside out. Every now and then a language turns out to allow this: one indigenous one in Mexico, another one in Liberia. But that’s it. Overall, it’s an oddity. Yet, wouldn’t you know, it’s one that Old Norse also happened to permit (and which Danish retains).

As if all this wasn’t enough, English got hit by a firehose spray of words from yet more languages

We can display all these bizarre Norse influences in a single sentence. Say That’s the man you walk in with, and it’s odd because 1) the has no specifically masculine form to match man, 2) there’s no ending onwalk, and 3) you don’t say ‘in with whom you walk’. All that strangeness is because of what Scandinavian Vikings did to good old English back in the day.

Finally, as if all this wasn’t enough, English got hit by a firehose spray of words from yet more languages. After the Norse came the French. The Normans – descended from the same Vikings, as it happens – conquered England, ruled for several centuries and, before long, English had picked up 10,000 new words. Then, starting in the 16th century, educated Anglophones developed a sense of English as a vehicle of sophisticated writing, and so it became fashionable to cherry-pick words from Latin to lend the language a more elevated tone.

It was thanks to this influx from French and Latin (it’s often hard to tell which was the original source of a given word) that English acquired the likes of crucified, fundamental, definition and conclusion. These words feel sufficiently English to us today, but when they were new, many persons of letters in the 1500s (and beyond) considered them irritatingly pretentious and intrusive, as indeed they would have found the phrase ‘irritatingly pretentious and intrusive’. (Think of how French pedants today turn up their noses at the flood of English words into their language.) There were even writerly sorts who proposed native English replacements for those lofty Latinates, and it’s hard not to yearn for some of these: in place of crucified, fundamental, definitionand conclusion, how about crossed, groundwrought, saywhat, andendsay?

But language tends not to do what we want it to. The die was cast: English had thousands of new words competing with native English words for the same things. One result was triplets allowing us to express ideas with varying degrees of formality. Help is English, aid is French, assist is Latin. Or, kingly is English, royal is French, regal is Latin – note how one imagines posture improving with each level:kingly sounds almost mocking, regal is straight-backed like a throne,royal is somewhere in the middle, a worthy but fallible monarch.

Then there are doublets, less dramatic than triplets but fun nevertheless, such as the English/French pairs begin and commence, orwant and desire. Especially noteworthy here are the culinary transformations: we kill a cow or a pig (English) to yield beef or pork(French). Why? Well, generally in Norman England, English-speaking labourers did the slaughtering for moneyed French speakers at table. The different ways of referring to meat depended on one’s place in the scheme of things, and those class distinctions have carried down to us in discreet form today.

Caveat lector, though: traditional accounts of English tend to oversell what these imported levels of formality in our vocabulary really mean. It is sometimes said that they alone make the vocabulary of English uniquely rich, which is what Robert McCrum, William Cran and Robert MacNeil claim in the classic The Story of English (1986): that the first load of Latin words actually lent Old English speakers the ability to express abstract thought. But no one has ever quantified richness or abstractness in that sense (who are the people of any level of development who evidence no abstract thought, or even no ability to express it?), and there is no documented language that has only one word for each concept. Languages, like human cognition, are too nuanced, even messy, to be so elementary. Even unwritten languages have formal registers. What’s more, one way to connote formality is with substitute expressions: English has life as an ordinary word andexistence as the fancy one, but in the Native American language Zuni, the fancy way to say life is ‘a breathing into’.

Even in English, native roots do more than we always recognise. We will only ever know so much about the richness of even Old English’s vocabulary because the amount of writing that has survived is very limited. It’s easy to say that comprehend in French gave us a new formal way to say understand – but then, in Old English itself, there were words that, when rendered in Modern English, would look something like ‘forstand’, ‘underget’, and ‘undergrasp’. They all appear to mean ‘understand’, but surely they had different connotations, and it is likely that those distinctions involved different degrees of formality.

Nevertheless, the Latinate invasion did leave genuine peculiarities in our language. For instance, it was here that the idea that ‘big words’ are more sophisticated got started. In most languages of the world, there is less of a sense that longer words are ‘higher’ or more specific. In Swahili, Tumtazame mbwa atakavyofanya simply means ‘Let’s see what the dog will do.’ If formal concepts required even longer words, then speaking Swahili would require superhuman feats of breath control. The English notion that big words are fancier is due to the fact that French and especially Latin words tend to be longer than Old English ones – end versus conclusion,walk versus ambulate.

The multiple influxes of foreign vocabulary also partly explain the striking fact that English words can trace to so many different sources – often several within the same sentence. The very idea of etymology being a polyglot smorgasbord, each word a fascinating story of migration and exchange, seems everyday to us. But the roots of a great many languages are much duller. The typical word comes from, well, an earlier version of that same word and there it is. The study of etymology holds little interest for, say, Arabic speakers.

This muttly vocabulary is a big part of why there’s no language so close to English that learning it is easy

To be fair, mongrel vocabularies are hardly uncommon worldwide, but English’s hybridity is high on the scale compared with most European languages. The previous sentence, for example, is a riot of words from Old English, Old Norse, French and Latin. Greek is another element: in an alternate universe, we would call photographs ‘lightwriting’. According to a fashion that reached its zenith in the 19th century, scientific things had to be given Greek names. Hence our undecipherable words for chemicals: why can’t we call monosodium glutamate ‘one-salt gluten acid’? It’s too late to ask. But this muttly vocabulary is one of the things that puts such a distance between English and its nearest linguistic neighbours.

And finally, because of this firehose spray, we English speakers also have to contend with two different ways of accenting words. Clip on a suffix to the word wonder, and you get wonderful. But – clip on an ending to the word modern and the ending pulls the accent ahead with it: MO-dern, but mo-DERN-ity, not MO-dern-ity. That doesn’t happen with WON-der and WON-der-ful, or CHEER-y and CHEER-i-ly. But it does happen with PER-sonal, person-AL-ity.

What’s the difference? It’s that –ful and –ly are Germanic endings, while –ity came in with French. French and Latin endings pull the accent closer – TEM-pest, tem-PEST-uous – while Germanic ones leave the accent alone. One never notices such a thing, but it’s one way this ‘simple’ language is actually not so.

Thus the story of English, from when it hit British shores 1,600 years ago to today, is that of a language becoming delightfully odd. Much more has happened to it in that time than to any of its relatives, or to most languages on Earth. Here is Old Norse from the 900s CE, the first lines of a tale in the Poetic Edda called The Lay of Thrym. The lines mean ‘Angry was Ving-Thor/he woke up,’ as in: he was mad when he woke up. In Old Norse it was:

Vreiðr vas Ving-Þórr / es vaknaði.

The same two lines in Old Norse as spoken in modern Icelandic today are:

Reiður var þá Vingþórr / er hann vaknaði.

You don’t need to know Icelandic to see that the language hasn’t changed much. ‘Angry’ was once vreiðr; today’s reiður is the same word with the initial v worn off and a slightly different way of spelling the end. In Old Norse you said vas for was; today you say var – small potatoes.

In Old English, however, ‘Ving-Thor was mad when he woke up’ would have been Wraþmod wæs Ving-Þórr/he áwæcnede. We can just about wrap our heads around this as ‘English’, but we’re clearly a lot further from Beowulf than today’s Reykjavikers are from Ving-Thor.

Thus English is indeed an odd language, and its spelling is only the beginning of it. In the widely read Globish (2010), McCrum celebrates English as uniquely ‘vigorous’, ‘too sturdy to be obliterated’ by the Norman Conquest. He also treats English as laudably ‘flexible’ and ‘adaptable’, impressed by its mongrel vocabulary. McCrum is merely following in a long tradition of sunny, muscular boasts, which resemble the Russians’ idea that their language is ‘great and mighty’, as the 19th-century novelist Ivan Turgenev called it, or the French idea that their language is uniquely ‘clear’ (Ce qui n’est pas clair n’est pas français).

However, we might be reluctant to identify just which languages are not ‘mighty’, especially since obscure languages spoken by small numbers of people are typically majestically complex. The common idea that English dominates the world because it is ‘flexible’ implies that there have been languages that failed to catch on beyond their tribe because they were mysteriously rigid. I am not aware of any such languages.

What English does have on other tongues is that it is deeply peculiar in the structural sense. And it became peculiar because of the slings and arrows – as well as caprices – of outrageous history.

Dam Hackers !


Iranian Hackers Infiltrated New York Dam in 2013

Cyberspies had access to control system of small structure near Rye in 2013, sparking concerns that reached to the White House

Iranian hackers infiltrated the control system of the Bowman Avenue Dam, a small structure used for flood control, near Rye, N.Y., in 2013.PHOTO: JESSE NEIDER FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Iranian hackers infiltrated the control system of a small dam less than 20 miles from New York City two years ago, sparking concerns that reached to the White House, according to former and current U.S. officials and experts familiar with the previously undisclosed incident.

The breach came amid attacks by hackers linked to Iran’s government against the websites of U.S. banks, and just a few years after American spies had damaged an Iranian nuclear facility with a sophisticated computer worm called Stuxnet. In October 2012, then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta called out Iran’s hacking, prompting fears of cyberwar.

The still-classified dam intrusion illustrates a top concern for U.S. officials as they enter an age of digital state-on-state conflict. America’s power grid, factories, pipelines, bridges and dams—all prime targets for digital armies—are sitting largely unprotected on the Internet. And, unlike in a traditional war, it is sometimes difficult to know whether or where an opponent has struck. In the case of the dam hack, federal investigators initially thought the target might have been a much larger dam in Oregon.

Many of the computers controlling industrial systems are old and predate the consumer Internet. In the early digital days, this was touted as a security advantage. But companies, against the advice of hacking gurus, increasingly brought them online in the past decade as a way to add “smarts” to U.S. infrastructure. Often, they are connected directly to office computer networks, which are notoriously easy to breach.

These systems control the flow in pipelines, the movements of drawbridges and water releases from dams. A hacker could theoretically cause an explosion, a flood or a traffic jam.

The U.S. has more than 57,000 industrial-control systems connected to the Internet, more than any other country, according to researchers at Shodan, a search engine that catalogs each machine online. They range from office air-conditioning units to major pipelines and electrical-control systems.

Security experts say companies have done little to protect these systems from would-be hackers.

“Everything is being integrated, which is great, but it’s not very secure,” said Cesar Cerrudo, an Argentine researcher and chief technology officer at IOActive Labs, a security-consulting firm. At a hacker conference last year in Las Vegas, Mr. Cerrudo wowed the audience when he showed how he could manipulate traffic lights in major U.S. cities.

Operators of these systems “don’t think about security,” he said.

The threat of physical damage is real. Last winter, the German government said in a report that hackers broke into the control system at a domestic steel plant and caused “massive” damage to a blast furnace.

The U.S. and other governments use cyberweapons, too. In the early years of PresidentBarack Obama’s term, the U.S. and Israel used a sophisticated computer program to disable centrifuges at Iran’s nuclear facility at Natanz, according to former U.S. officials. The virus unintentionally self-replicated and spread to other networks, including systems atChevron Corp. Executives at the oil company said no damage occurred.

The Department of Homeland Security has publicly warned industrial companies since 2011 to be more judicious in how they connect these systems to the Internet. One 2014 missive said the devices are poorly protected, “further increasing the chances of both opportunistic and targeted” hacking attempts.

For the 12 months ended Sept. 30, the department had received and responded to reports of 295 industrial-control-system hacking incidents, up from 245 for fiscal year 2014, according to agency statistics shared with The Wall Street Journal. The problem doesn’t appear to be getting better. In June, the department said a “critical infrastructure asset owner” who suspected a breach hadn’t kept records of devices on its network, hindering the investigation.

Most of the time, the hackers appear to be probing systems to see how they are laid out and where they can get in, investigators familiar with the incidents said.

The incident at the New York dam was a wake-up call for U.S. officials, demonstrating that Iran had greater digital-warfare capability than believed and could inflict real-world damage, according to people familiar with the matter. At a congressional hearing in February, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper called Iranian hackers “motivated and unpredictable cyber actors.” Iranian officials didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The 2013 dam hack highlighted another challenge for America’s digital defenses: the fog of cyberwar. Amid a mix of three-letter agencies, unclear Internet addresses and rules governing domestic surveillance, U.S. officials at first weren’t able to determine where the hackers had infiltrated, three of the people familiar with the incident said.

Hackers are believed to have gained access to the dam through a cellular modem, according to an unclassified Homeland Security summary of the case that doesn’t specify the type of infrastructure by name. Two people familiar with the incident said the summary refers to the Bowman Avenue Dam, a small structure used for flood control near Rye, N.Y.

Investigators said hackers didn’t take control of the dam but probed the system, according to people familiar with the matter.

Homeland Security said it doesn’t comment on specific incidents. Spokesman S.Y. Lee said the department’s “Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team responds to cyber incidents, vulnerabilities and threats” to critical infrastructure across the U.S.

U.S. intelligence agencies noticed the intrusion as they monitored computers they believed were linked to Iranian hackers targeting American firms, according to people familiar with the matter. U.S. officials had linked these hackers to repeated disruptions at consumer-banking websites, including those of Capital One Financial Corp., PNC Financial Services Group and SunTrust BanksInc., the Journal reported at the time.

Intelligence analysts then noticed that one of the machines was crawling the Internet, looking for vulnerable U.S. industrial-control systems. The hackers appeared to be focusing on certain Internet addresses, according to the people.

Analysts at the National Security Agency relayed these addresses to counterparts at Homeland Security, the people said.

Eventually, investigators linked one address to a “Bowman” dam. But there are 31 dams in the U.S. that include the word “Bowman” in their name, according to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers records.

Officials feared that hackers breached the systems at the Arthur R. Bowman Dam in Oregon, a 245-foot-tall earthen structure that irrigates local agriculture and prevents flooding in Prineville, Ore., population: 9,200. The White House was notified of the discovery, on the belief that it was a new escalation in the ongoing digital conflict with Iran, three people familiar with the incident said.

In response to a request for comment, the White House referred The Wall Street Journal to Homeland Security.

Eventually, the trail led to the Bowman Avenue Dam, the people said, near the village of Rye Brook, N.Y., a 20-foot-tall concrete slab across Blind Brook, about 5 miles from Long Island Sound. It was built in the mid-20th century for ice production, according to municipal documents.

“It’s very, very small,” said Marcus Serrano, the manager of the neighboring larger city of Rye. In 2013, Mr. Serrano said, several FBI agents appeared at city offices and wanted to speak to the city’s information-technology manager about a hacking incident at the dam. “There was very little discussion,” Mr. Serrano said.

Chris Bradbury, administrator for the village of Rye Brook, said, “I couldn’t comment on that.”

The FBI declined to comment.

Sheep Dogs Save Tiny Penguins


Image result for middle island penguins photos


Phillip Root with the Maremma sheepdogs of Middle Island, Australia. The dogs were introduced there in 2006 to protect the little penguin, a native species. CreditDavid Maurice Smith for The New York Times

Australia Deploys Sheepdogs to Save a Penguin Colony
By AUSTIN RAMZY  NOV. 3, 2015  source

Penguin home page with videos.

Massacred,” read the banner headline in the local newspaper — just the single word, as if describing an act of war. Below it was a photo of dead penguins and other birds, the latest casualties in Australia’s long history of imported species’ decimating native wildlife.

Foxes killed 180 penguins in that particular episode, in October 2004. But the toll on Middle Island, off Victoria State in southern Australia, kept rising. By 2005, the small island’s penguin population, which had once numbered 800, was below 10.

Today, their numbers are back in the triple digits, and much of the credit has gone to a local chicken farmer known as Swampy Marsh and his strong-willed sheepdogs.

“The powers that be wouldn’t listen to me until it got down to six penguins,” said Mr. Marsh, whose long-unused birth name is Allan. “They were desperate.”

The farmer’s simple solution — deploy a particularly territorial breed of sheepdog to scare the foxes away — became local legend and, in September, the subject of an Australian film, “Oddball,” which fictionalized the story and made a lovable hero of one of the dogs. The strategy is now being tried elsewhere in Victoria, in hopes of protecting other indigenous species from non-native predators.
Dozens of Australian mammal species have gone extinct since European settlers began arriving in the late 18th century, bringing cats, foxes and other predators new to the ecosystem. A recently announced plan to cull millions of feral cats, which the government says prey on more than 100 threatened species, drew new attention to the problem while infuriating some celebrity advocates of animal rights.

Little penguins, the smallest penguin species, were once common along Australia’s southern coast. But when red foxes were imported for sport hunting in the 19th century, they found the tiny, flightless birds to be easy prey. (So did cats and dogs.) The penguins’ colonies on the mainland began disappearing, which is why most are now found on islands.
Middle Island, near the city of Warrnambool in Victoria, was home to a deafening population of the birds until the late 1990s and early 2000s, when tidal patterns and increasing sedimentation began to make the small, uninhabited island accessible from the shore. Foxes made their way there, and the birds offered little resistance.

Mr. Marsh, who lives in Warrnambool, said he knew how to reverse that trend as soon as he heard about it. A farmer of free-range chicken, he had spent many long nights with a rifle trying to keep foxes away from his chooks, as Australians call chickens. It was in the middle of one of those nights that a better solution came to him.

“It was three o’clock in the morning, and the neighbors had a damn dog, you could hear it barking,” he said. “I was a bit slow off the mark. It took a few nights for me to realize it was barking at what I was trying to shoot.”



A little penguin, the name of the smallest penguin species, on Middle Island. The island’s penguin population has rebounded to 150.CreditDavid Maurice Smith for The New York Times 

Soon, he had acquired his own Maremma sheepdog puppy. Named for the region northwest of Rome where they originated, the dogs were bred to protect and live among livestock. They develop a keen sense of territory and are vigilant against intruders, though amiable toward familiar people and animals.
The farm’s first Maremma, Ben, took quickly to his new task, scaring one of the intruders away from the farm and into a road. “It got squashed,” Mr. Marsh said. “It was fox pizza.”

When the plight of Middle Island’s penguins became news, Mr. Marsh suggested that Maremma dogs could protect the birds — which, he reasoned, are simply “chooks in dinner suits.”

For a class assignment, David Williams, a university student who worked on Mr. Marsh’s farm, wrote up a proposal for deploying the dogs on the island, and later submitted a more formal version to the state environmental agency. But even as the penguin population kept dwindling, the approval process dragged on as the plan was vetted by overlapping government entities. “There was a lot of talking,” Mr. Williams said.

Finally, in 2006, the first Maremma was put to work: Oddball, a daughter of Ben (and the name of the new film). Since then, Middle Island’s penguin population has rebounded to 150, and not one has been lost to a fox, said Mr. Williams, who now works for Zoos Victoria, the operator of three zoos in the state.

Shelters made for penguins on Middle Island. The sheepdog strategy is now being tried elsewhere in Victoria, in hopes of protecting other indigenous species from nonnative predators. CreditDavid Maurice Smith for The New York Times
Maremma dogs are self-reliant; they can be left to defend a patch of land for long periods of time with a supply of food and water that they know not to wolf down right away. During the summer, when foxes pose the greatest danger to Middle Island’s penguins because of tidal patterns that form sandbars, the dogs can stay on the island for several days in a row, watching over the birds from a raised walkway.

Training them for the job involves introducing them to the penguin’s distinct odor. “Penguins don’t smell particularly nice,” said Peter Abbott, manager of tourism services for the Warrnambool City Council. “They look cute and cuddly, but they smell like dead fish.” Gradually, the dogs are taught to treat the penguins like any other kind of livestock, to be defended and not harmed.

Despite their decline in mainland Australia, little penguins are not considered threatened or endangered. But the success of the Middle Island program is significant not just for its small population of little penguins, but also for the potential to replicate the model with species more at risk.


Zoos Victoria is now trying to use Maremma dogs to reintroduce to the wild the eastern barred bandicoot, a small marsupial not seen outside captivity since 2002. Several previous attempts have failed, but Zoos Victoria, which has pledged to prevent the extinction of any terrestrial vertebrate in Victoria, hopes the dogs will make a difference.

A five-year trial is underway, with Mr. Williams training two puppies at an open-range zoo in Werribee, a Melbourne suburb. The puppies will learn to bond with sheep, which will also be present at the three trial sites, and with bandicoots, which are shy, nocturnal creatures, said Kimberley Polkinghorne, communications manager for the Werribee zoo.

“This trial draws on the success of the Middle Island project,” Ms. Polkinghorne said. “We are very excited about its potential to not just help bandicoots but other threatened species as well.”

On Middle Island, Oddball’s successors, Eudy and Tula (their names come from the word Eudyptula, the little penguin’s genus), are still keeping foxes away but, at 8 years old, are nearing retirement. Local groups managing the project recently raised more than $18,000 online to buy and train two new Maremma pups. The fund-raising effort got a lift from the film, a box-office success in Australia. “Oddball” depicts its hero as a mischievous beast that stays one step ahead of the local dogcatcher before finding redemption by saving the penguins.

Oddball herself, now 14, is retired and lives under Mr. Marsh’s house. “She comes out when she wants to,” he said. “She doesn’t do personal appearances.”



This story is part of the series  HOLIDAY GUIDE 2015

Hoverboard 101: What you need to know

They’re called hoverboards, or electric scooters. New York City just banned them for safety reasons and they can cost anywhere from $350 to $2,000, so what do you need to know before buying one?WCNC


Ever since Marty McFly zipped around on one inBack to the Future Part II, people have looked forward to the day they could own a hoverboard.

Here we are at the end of 2015 (the year in which that 1989 film was set), and though technically not a hoverboard, self-balancing boards are all the rage this holiday season and give the rider some sense of “hovering” above the ground.

If only, it actually worked like this:

The product, available from several manufacturers, is powered by a lithium battery and operated by leaning in and balancing. But with reports of injuries and a price tag that isn’t friendly for all budgets, the major question this holiday season is — to buy or not to buy?

Here’s a guide to help you navigate the pros and cons, the safety risks and why the hoverboard has become the hottest gift of the holiday season.

Ease on down, ease on down the road: With a little practice and a lot of balance, these hoverboards are fairly easy to use. With a little effort (seriously, lean forward, go forward) you are on your way. As you get more comfortable on your board, it becomes easier to maneuver — it just takes a little practice. (Not to mention this has to be a great core workout!)

You can get one: Though the hoverboard is the hot gift to get, it is also the expensive gift to buy, with most costing $300 to $500, from various manufactuers. So while demand may be high, the price has kept these pretty easy to obtain — either via online retailers or through mall kiosks.

Not smaller than a breadbox, but smaller than a Segway: Self-balancing boards are much more compact than their handle-barred counterpart, the Segway, and they weigh much less. The average weight for these boards is 20 to 25 pounds, and they are small enough to stow away in a locker or a duffle bag for easy transportation.

No bus fare, no problem: Short on bus change? Not going far enough for an Uber? Feeling too lazy to walk? No problem. Grab your hoverboard and go. The self-balancing board can range in speed of up to 10 mph and travel 10 to 15 miles on a charge.

It’s all about the money, money, money: Today’s hoverboards do not come cheap. You are looking at spending upwards of $300 and some can cost as much as $2,000.

Ride over a crack … : If you are not careful, serious injury can occur while riding on your hoverboard. Scroll on down to our safety section for more.

I am smoking! No really, my board is en fuego: Several reviews show some brands of hoverboards have issues with overheating — some even to the point of catching fire. So if you are in warmer climates, you might want to wait until the temps are mild before going out on a long, leisurely ride. An Alabama man recently recorded his board catching fire after riding it a short distance, and in Lafitte, La., a family’s home was destroyed after a charging hoverboard caught fire.

You can’t ride that here: Many businesses and towns are putting limits on where hoverboards can be used. So though you may think it is cool to zip through the mall, mall security may not agree.

Is there a safe way to ride a hoverboard? 

Hoverboards may look like a cool way to glide around the mall or neighborhood, but learning to ride the board isn’t as easy as it looks.

Riding the board successfully requires a person to balance, which requires a lot of core abdominal strength, according to Robert Glatter, an emergency physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York.

He says the devices are problematic for several reasons.

“If you have a weak core or weak set of abdominal muscles, there is an increased risk of falling forward or backward, which can cause elbow fractures, ankle injuries, wrist fractures and there is a risk for traumatic brain injury or concussion,” Glatter told USA TODAY Network.

So even if things start out smoothly when riding the board, it just takes a moment to end up like this:

California recently passed legislation allowing hoverboards in areas where bicycles are allowed, but other cities, such as New York, have banned the use of the boards on city streets.

The electric boards require riders to steer with their feet and can also cause harm to others if the person isn’t in control of the board.

While celebrities and advertisements for the hoverboards may not show people wearing protection, Glatter said people should protect themselves if they chose to use the boards.

Tips to safely ride a hoverboard: 

•  Wear protection, and not just a helmet. That means you “have” to wear a helmet, pad around the knees, elbows and wrists.  People have broken their tailbones from falling backward off of the hoverboards, so padding the lower back is also a good idea, according to Glatter.

•   Hoverboards probably aren’t a good idea for everyone. When it comes to riding a hoverboard, not all ages are equal. “The elderly should be cautious because of the amount of balance and core abdominal strength required to balance on these devices,” Glatter said.

•   If you are using a hoverboard, avoid crowds unless you feel completely comfortable with the board.

•   When using the board, avoid using cell phones or listening to music. Focus on using the board, so you avoid collisions with cars or people.

•   Parents should use caution when buying the boards for children, especially because of the control needed to operate the board.

So how did the hoverboard become so popular? 

Google searches for “IO Hawk” and “PhunkeeDuck” –– the two biggest players in the hoverboard market –– remained relatively stagnant until earlier this summer when the hoverboard trend started to explode.

Search queries for the two-wheeled machines spiked in May and June, which correlate with a handful of viral social media posts from celebrities and athletes.

IO Hawk saw a surge in searches after pop singer Justin Bieber posted this video of him not-so-gracefully trying out his new toy:

Just two weeks prior, Kendall Jenner posted this tumble to her Instagram account:

Both have since garnered more than 1 million views on the social platform.

Another video, featuring Cleveland Cavaliers guard J.R. Smith rolling into the lockerroom during June’s NBA Finals, correlated with a spike in searches for PhunkeeDuck.

Since late spring, scores of celebrities and athletes have taken to social media to show off their new toys, including John Legend, Jamie Foxx and Sean Kingston.

Rapper Wiz Khalifa was restrained in late August at Los Angeles International Airportfor reportedly riding his hoverboard and refusing to “ditch the technology everyone will be using in the next 6 months.”

Pop star Joe Jonas was videoed riding his IO Hawk into a pool as early as April during the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival this spring.

Searches within Google Shopping seem to correlate with the machine’s popularity among celebrities and athletes

Terms for the industries leading products also saw a spike in mid-May, with relative search volume peaking in late July, but dipping again before another uptick a week out from Black Friday.

So, are you in or are you out?



The Hoverboard Mystery: Where Did The Holidays’ Hot Product Come From?

This holiday season, one item has been gathering popularity: Called “hoverboards,” they’re two-wheeled scooters that look like Segways with no handles. Audrey Quinn of Planet Money reports these hoverboards emerged not so much from an inventor but from a manufacturing system.


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