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Update as of December 21st, 2006
One in five species of livestock endangered: FAO
ROME (AFP) - Some 20 percent of the world's livestock species -- cattle, pigs and poultry -- are threatened with extinction, with one breed disappearing each month, the Food and Agriculture Organization warned.
Over the past five years alone, some 60 breeds of cattle, goats, pigs, horses and poultry have become extinct, the Rome-based UN agency said in a draft document, blaming globalization as the "biggest single factor" in the erosion of livestock biodiversity.
"Of the more than 7,600 breeds in FAO's global database of farm animal genetic resources, 190 have become extinct in the past 15 years and a further 1,500 are considered at risk of extinction," the draft says.
Some 150 experts from 90 countries met in Rome this week to review the findings, the first of their kind on a global scale.
"The globalization of livestock markets is the biggest single factor affecting farm animal diversity," the FAO says.
"Traditional production systems require multi-purpose animals, which provide a range of goods and services, (while) modern agriculture has developed specialized breeds, optimizing specific production traits," the report says.
"Maintaining animal genetic diversity will allow future generations to select stocks or develop new breeds to cope with emerging issues, such as climate change, diseases and changing socio-economic factors," said Jose Esquinas-Alcazar, secretary of the FAO's Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.
Rearing livestock contributes to the livelihoods of one billion people in the world, the FAO says.
A final report will be published for the first International Technical Conference on Animal Genetic Resources, to be held in Interlaken, Switzerland in September next year.
Update as of September 18th, 2006
Warming -- Signed, Sealed and Delivered
agree: The Earth is warming, and human activities are the
Oreskes, NAOMI ORESKES is a history of science professor at
UC San Diego.
AN OP-ED article in the Wall Street Journal a month ago
claimed that a published study affirming the existence of a
scientific consensus on the reality of global warming had
been refuted. This charge was repeated again last week, in a
hearing of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.
I am the author of that study, which appeared two years ago
in the journal Science, and I'm here to tell you that the
consensus stands. The argument put forward in the Wall
Street Journal was based on an Internet posting; it has not
appeared in a peer-reviewed journal — the normal way to
challenge an academic finding. (The Wall Street Journal
didn't even get my name right!)
My study demonstrated that there is no significant
disagreement within the scientific community that the Earth
is warming and that human activities are the principal
Papers that continue to rehash arguments that have already
been addressed and questions that have already been answered
will, of course, be rejected by scientific journals, and
this explains my findings. Not a single paper in a large
sample of peer-reviewed scientific journals between 1993 and
2003 refuted the consensus position, summarized by the
National Academy of Sciences, that "most of the observed
warming of the last 50 years is likely to have been due to
the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations."
Since the 1950s, scientists have understood that greenhouse
gases produced by burning fossil fuels could have serious
effects on Earth's climate. When the 1980s proved to be the
hottest decade on record, and as predictions of climate
models started to come true, scientists increasingly saw
global warming as cause for concern.
In 1988, the World Meteorological Assn. and the United
Nations Environment Program joined forces to create the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to evaluate the
state of climate science as a basis for informed policy
action. The panel has issued three assessments (1990, 1995,
2001), representing the combined expertise of 2,000
scientists from more than 100 countries, and a fourth report
is due out shortly. Its conclusions — global warming is
occurring, humans have a major role in it — have been
ratified by scientists around the world in published
scientific papers, in statements issued by professional
scientific societies and in reports of the National Academy
of Sciences, the British Royal Society and many other
national and royal academies of science worldwide. Even the
Bush administration accepts the fundamental findings. As
President Bush's science advisor, John Marburger III, said
last year in a speech: "The climate is changing; the Earth
To be sure, there are a handful of scientists, including MIT
professor Richard Lindzen, the author of the Wall Street
Journal editorial, who disagree with the rest of the
scientific community. To a historian of science like me,
this is not surprising. In any scientific community, there
are always some individuals who simply refuse to accept new
ideas and evidence. This is especially true when the new
evidence strikes at their core beliefs and values.
Earth scientists long believed that humans were
insignificant in comparison with the vastness of geological
time and the power of geophysical forces. For this reason,
many were reluctant to accept that humans had become a force
of nature, and it took decades for the present understanding
to be achieved. Those few who refuse to accept it are not
ignorant, but they are stubborn. They are not unintelligent,
but they are stuck on details that cloud the larger issue.
Scientific communities include tortoises and hares,
mavericks and mules.
A historical example will help to make the point. In the
1920s, the distinguished Cambridge geophysicist Harold
Jeffreys rejected the idea of continental drift on the
grounds of physical impossibility. In the 1950s, geologists
and geophysicists began to accumulate overwhelming evidence
of the reality of continental motion, even though the
physics of it was poorly understood. By the late 1960s, the
theory of plate tectonics was on the road to near-universal
Yet Jeffreys, by then Sir Harold, stubbornly refused to
accept the new evidence, repeating his old arguments about
the impossibility of the thing. He was a great man, but he
had become a scientific mule. For a while, journals
continued to publish Jeffreys' arguments, but after a while
he had nothing new to say. He died denying plate tectonics.
The scientific debate was over.
So it is with climate change today. As American geologist
Harry Hess said in the 1960s about plate tectonics, one can
quibble about the details, but the overall picture is clear.
Yet some climate-change deniers insist that the observed
changes might be natural, perhaps caused by variations in
solar irradiance or other forces we don't yet understand.
Perhaps there are other explanations for the receding
glaciers. But "perhaps" is not evidence.
The greatest scientist of all time, Isaac Newton, warned
against this tendency more than three centuries ago. Writing
in "Principia Mathematica" in 1687, he noted that once
scientists had successfully drawn conclusions by "general
induction from phenomena," then those conclusions had to be
held as "accurately or very nearly true notwithstanding any
contrary hypothesis that may be imagined…. "
Climate-change deniers can imagine all the hypotheses they
like, but it will not change the facts nor "the general
induction from the phenomena."
None of this is to say that there are no uncertainties left
— there are always uncertainties in any live science.
Agreeing about the reality and causes of current global
warming is not the same as agreeing about what will happen
in the future. There is continuing debate in the scientific
community over the likely rate of future change: not
"whether" but "how much" and "how soon." And this is
precisely why we need to act today: because the longer we
wait, the worse the problem will become, and the harder it
will be to solve.
Update as of September 8th, 2006
Zoroastrians Keep the Faith,
and Keep Dwindling
BURR RIDGE, Ill. — In his day job,
Kersey H. Antia is a psychologist who specializes in panic disorders. In his
private life, Mr. Antia dons a long white robe, slips a veil over his face and
goes to work as a Zoroastrian priest, performing rituals passed down through a
patrilineal chain of priests stretching back to ancient Persia.
After a service for the dead in which
priests fed sticks of sandalwood and pinches of frankincense into a blazing urn,
Mr. Antia surveyed the Zoroastrian faithful of the Midwest — about 80 people in
saris, suits and blue jeans.
“We were once at least 40, 50 million —
can you imagine?” said Mr. Antia, senior priest at the fire temple here in
suburban Chicago. “At one point we had reached the pinnacle of glory of the
Persian Empire and had a beautiful religious philosophy that governed the
“Where are we now? Completely wiped
out,” he said. “It pains me to say, in 100 years we won’t have many
There is a palpable panic among
Zoroastrians today — not only in the United States, but also around the world —
that they are fighting the extinction of their faith, a monotheistic religion
that most scholars say is at least 3,000 years old.
Zoroastrianism predates Christianity and
Islam, and many historians say it influenced those faiths and cross-fertilized
Judaism as well, with its doctrines of one God, a dualistic universe of good and
evil and a final day of judgment.
While Zoroastrians once dominated an
area stretching from what is now Rome and Greece to India and Russia, their
global population has dwindled to 190,000 at most, and perhaps as few as
124,000, according to a survey in 2004 by Fezana Journal, published quarterly by
the Federation of Zoroastrian Associations of North America. The number is
imprecise because of wildly diverging counts in Iran, once known as Persia — the
incubator of the faith.
“Survival has become a community
obsession,” said Dina McIntyre, an Indian-American lawyer in Chesapeake, Va.,
who has written and lectured widely on her religion.
The Zoroastrians’ mobility and
adaptability has contributed to their demographic crisis. They assimilate and
intermarry, virtually disappearing into their adopted cultures. And since the
faith encourages opportunities for women, many Zoroastrian women are working
professionals who, like many other professional women, have few children or
Despite their shrinking numbers,
Zoroastrians — who follow the Prophet Zarathustra (Zoroaster in Greek) — are
divided over whether to accept intermarried families and converts and what
defines a Zoroastrian. An effort to create a global organizing body fell apart
two years ago after some priests accused the organizers of embracing “fake
converts” and diluting traditions.
“They feel that the religion is not
universal and is ethnic in nature, and that it should be kept within the tribe,”
said Jehan Bagli, a retired chemist in Toronto who is a priest, or mobed, and
president of the North American Mobed Council, which includes about 100 priests.
“This is a tendency that to me sometimes appears suicidal. And they are prepared
to make that sacrifice.”
In South Africa, the last Zoroastrian
priest recently died, and there is no one left to officiate at ceremonies, said
Rohinton Rivetna, a Zoroastrian leader in Chicago who, with his wife, Roshan,
was a principal mover behind the failed effort to organize a global body. But
they have not given up.
“We have to be working together if we
are going to survive,” Mr. Rivetna said.
Although the collective picture is
bleak, most individual Zoroastrians appear to be thriving. They are
well-educated and well-traveled professionals, earning incomes that place them
in the middle and upper classes of the countries where they or their families
settled after leaving their homelands in Iran and India. About 11,000
Zoroastrians live in the United States, 6,000 in Canada, 5,000 in England, 2,700
in Australia and 2,200 in the Persian Gulf nations, according to the Fezana
This is the second major exodus in
Zoroastrian history. In Iran, after Muslims rose to power in the seventh century
A.D., historians say the Zoroastrian population was decimated by massacres,
persecution and conversions to Islam. Seven boatloads of Zoroastrian refugees
fled Iran and landed on the coast of India in 936. Their descendants, known as
Parsis, built Mumbai, formerly Bombay, into the world capital of Zoroastrianism.
The Zoroastrian magazine Parsiana
publishes charts each month tracking births, deaths and marriages. Leaders fret
over the reports from Mumbai, where deaths outnumber births six to one. The
intermarriage rate there has risen to about one in three. The picture in North
America is more hopeful: about 1.5 births for one death. But the intermarriage
rate in North America is now nearly 50 percent.
Soli Dastur, an exuberant priest who
lives in Florida, is among the first generation of immigrants who started the
trend. Mr. Dastur grew up in a village outside Mumbai, where his father was a
priest, the fire temple was the center of town and his whole world was
He arrived in Evanston, Ill., in 1960,
where he knew of no other Zoroastrians, to attend college on a scholarship
provided by one of the Parsi endowments in Mumbai, which have since provided
scholarships to many others. He earned a Ph.D., worked as a chemical engineer
and married an American Roman Catholic he met on a blind date 40 years ago.
Mr. Dastur is a priest in much demand to
perform ceremonies because of his melodic chanting of the prayers. He and his
wife, Jo Ann, have two grown daughters. Neither married a Zoroastrian.
“They’re good human beings,” Mr. Dastur
said. “That’s more important to me.”
The very tenets of Zoroastrianism could
be feeding its demise, many adherents said in interviews. Zoroastrians believe
in free will, so in matters of religion they do not believe in compulsion. They
do not proselytize. They can pray at home instead of going to a temple. While
there are priests, there is no hierarchy to set policy. And their basic doctrine
is a universal ethical precept: “good thoughts, good words, good deeds.”
“That’s what I take away from
Zoroastrianism,” said Tenaz Dubash, a filmmaker in New York City who is making a
documentary about the future of her faith, “that I’m a cerebral, thinking human
being, and I need to think for myself.”
Ferzin Patel, who runs a support group
for 20 intermarried couples in New York, said that while the Zoroastrians in the
group adored their faith and wanted to teach it to their children, they in no
way wanted to compel their spouses to convert.
“In the intermarriage group, I don’t
think anyone feels that someone should forfeit their religion just for
Zoroastrianism,” Ms. Patel said.
Despite, or because of, the high
intermarriage rate, some Zoroastrian priests refuse to accept converts or to
perform initiation ceremonies for adopted children or the children of
intermarried couples, especially when the father is not Zoroastrian. The ban on
these practices is far stronger in India and Iran than in North America.
“As soon as you do it, you start
diluting your ethnicity, and one generation has an intermarriage, and the next
generation has more dilution and the customs become all fuzzy and they
eventually disappear,” said Jal N. Birdy, a priest in Corona, Calif., who will
not perform weddings of mixed couples. “That would destroy my community, which
is why I won’t do it.”
The North American Mobed Council is so
divided on the issue of accepting intermarried spouses and children that it has
been unable to take a position, said Mr. Bagli, the council’s president. He
supports accepting converts because he said he can find no ban in Zoroastrian
texts, but he estimated that as many as 40 percent of the priests in his group
The peril and the hope for
Zoroastrianism are embodied in a child of the diaspora, Rohena Elavia Ullal, 27,
a physical therapist in suburban Chicago.
Ms. Ullal knew from an early age that
her parents wanted her to marry another Zoroastrian. Her mother, a former board
president of the Chicago temple, helped organize Sunday school classes once a
month there, enticing teenagers with weekend sleepovers and roller-skating
The result was a core group of close
friends who felt more like cousins, Ms. Ullal said recently over breakfast.
Both of her brothers found mates at
Zoroastrian youth congresses, and one is already married. Ms. Ullal stayed on
“There were so few,” she said. “I guess
you’re lucky if you find somebody. That would be the ideal.”
Ms. Ullal’s college boyfriend is also
the child of Indian immigrants to the United States, but he is Hindu. [They
married on Saturday and had two ceremonies — one Hindu, one Zoroastrian.] But
Ms. Ullal says that before they even became engaged, they talked about her
desire to raise their children as Zoroastrians.
“It’s scary; we’re dipping down in
numbers,” she said. “I don’t want to hurt his parents, but he doesn’t have the
kind of responsibility, whereas I do."
Update as of September 6th, 2006
The World Health Organization (WHO)
today expressed concern about the emergence of virulent strains of tuberculosis
(TB) that are virtually untreatable with existing drugs and called for the
strengthening of prevention measures.
Extensive Drug Resistant TB (XDR-TB) is
resistant to not only the two main first-line TB drugs – isoniazid and
rifampicin – but also to three or more of the six classes of second-line drugs.
Recent findings from a survey conducted
by WHO and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that
XDR-TB has been identified in all regions of the world but is most frequent in
the countries of the former Soviet Union and in Asia.
“XDR-TB poses a grave public health
threat, especially in populations with high rates of HIV and where there are few
health care resources,” said WHO in a statement issued in Geneva.
Separate data on a recent outbreak of
XDR-TB in an HIV-positive population in Kwazulu-Natal in South Africa found
alarmingly high mortality rates, said WHO. 52 out of 53 patients identified with
XDR-TB died within 25 days on average, including those benefiting from
WHO noted that its recommendations for
managing drug-resistant strains of TB include strengthening basic TB care,
ensuring prompt diagnosis and treatment of drug resistant cases, increasing
collaboration between HIV and TB control programmes, and boosting investment in
On Thursday, WHO will join other TB
experts at a two-day meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa, to assess the
response required to critically address TB drug resistance, particularly in
Update as of September 4th, 2006
Global warming is affecting the
intensity of Atlantic hurricanes, according to a new study by a university
professor in Florida who says his research provides the first direct link
between climate change and storm strength. Reuters
What Is the Latest Thing to
Be Discouraged About? The Rise of Pessimism
NY Times- The early stages of the Iraq
war may have been a watershed in American optimism. The happy talk was so
extreme it is now difficult to believe it was sincere: “we will be greeted as
liberators”; “mission accomplished”; the insurgency is “in the last throes.”
Most wildly optimistic of all was the goal: a military action transforming the
Middle East into pro-American democracies.
The gap between predictions and reality
has left Americans deeply discouraged. So has much of what has happened, or not
happened, at the same time. Those who believed New Orleans would rebound quickly
after Hurricane Katrina have seen their hopes dashed. Those counting on
solutions to health care, energy dependence or global warming have seen no
progress. It is no wonder the nation is in a gloomy mood; 71 percent of
respondents in a recent Associated Press-Ipsos poll said the country is on the
These are ideal times for the release of
“Pessimism: Philosophy, Ethic, Spirit,” by Joshua Foa Dienstag, a U.C.L.A.
political theorist. Mr. Dienstag aims to rescue pessimism from the philosophical
sidelines, where it has been shunted by optimists of all ideologies. The book is
seductive, because pessimists are generally more engaging and entertaining than
optimists, and because, as the author notes, “the world keeps delivering bad
news.” It is almost tempting to throw up one’s hands and sign on with
Pessimism, however, is the most
un-American of philosophies. This nation was built on the values of reason and
progress, not to mention the “pursuit of happiness.” Pessimism as philosophy is
skeptical of the idea of progress. Pursuing happiness is a fool’s errand.
Pessimism is not, as is commonly thought, about being depressed or misanthropic,
and it does not hold that humanity is headed for disaster. It simply doubts the
most basic liberal principle: that applying human reasoning to the world’s
problems will have a positive effect.
The biggest difference between optimists
and pessimists, Mr. Dienstag argues, is in how they view time. Optimists see the
passing of time as a canvas on which to paint a better world. Pessimists see it
as a burden. Time ticks off the physical decline of one’s body toward the
inevitability of death, and it separates people from their loved ones. “All the
tragedies which we can imagine,” said Simone Weil, the French philosopher who
starved herself to death at age 34, “return in the end to the one and only
tragedy: the passage of time.”
Optimists see history as the story of
civilization’s ascent. Pessimists believe, Mr. Dienstag notes, in the idea that
any apparent progress has hidden costs, so that even when the world seems to be
improving, “in fact it is getting worse (or, on the whole, no better).” Polio is
cured, but AIDS arrives. Airplanes make travel easy, but they can drop bombs or
be crashed into office towers. There is no point in seeking happiness. When joy
“actually makes its appearance, it as a rule comes uninvited and unannounced,”
insisted Schopenhauer, the dour German who was pessimism’s leading figure.
As politicians, pessimists do not
believe in undertaking great initiatives to ameliorate unhappiness, since they
are skeptical they will work. They are inclined to accept the world’s evil and
misery as inevitable. Mr. Dienstag tries to argue that pessimists can be
politically engaged, and in modest ways they can be. Camus joined the French
Resistance. But pessimism’s overall spirit, as Camus noted, “is not to be cured,
but to live with one’s ailments.”
President Clinton was often mocked for
his declarations that he still believed “in a place called Hope.” But he
understood that instilling hope is a critical part of leadership. Other than a
few special interest programs — like cutting taxes on the wealthy and giving
various incentives to business — it is hard to think of areas in which the Bush
administration has raised the nation’s hopes and met them. This president has,
instead, tried to focus the American people on the fear of terrorism, for which
there is no cure, only bad choices or something worse.
Part of Mr. Bush’s legacy may well be
that he robbed America of its optimism — a force that Franklin Delano Roosevelt
and other presidents, like Ronald Reagan, used to rally the country when it was
deeply challenged. The next generation of leaders will have to resell
discouraged Americans on the very idea of optimism, and convince them again that
their goal should not be to live with their ailments, but to cure them.
Update as of September 3rd, 2006
- A New study on mice suggests
exposure to ultrasound to effect fetal brain development, researchers say
the findings should not discourage pregnant women from having ultrasound
scans for medical reasons-CNN
- Alzheimer’s drug galantamine
protects guinea pigs from the effects of compounds in pesticides and poisons
that attack the nervous system, researchers at the Univ of Maryland School
of Medicine report-CNN
- In just one meal high unsaturated
fat can quickly prevent “good” cholesterol from protecting the body against
clogged arteries, a small study shows-CNN
- A 6.7 earthquake reported off coast
of Vanuatu US geological survey says, pacific tsunami warning center reports
higher initial reading of a 7.0 magnitude but said that there is no Pacific
Ocean wide tsunami threat. – CNN
- Philippines troops and officials
evacuated tens of thousands of villagers as the restive Mayan volcano showed
more signs of an imminent eruption. CNN
- UN’s Humanitarian Chief describes
Gaza as a “ticking time bomb” the head of a key foreign and donors meeting.
- Zimbabweans express outrage at
proposed legislation to monitor telephone calls and Internet use. BBC
- Nigeria’s police are planning to
buy 80,000 new firearms ahead of New Year’s Elections, a spokesman says. BBC
- Police say that a Connecticut
lawyer has been charged with 1st degree murder for allegedly stabbing his
59-year-old neighbor to death, after being told the neighbor had sexually
assaulted his two-year-old daughter. CNN
- Rules to stop convicted pedophiles
from committed sex abuse abroad are being evaded, campaigners say. BBC
Update as of August 31st, 2006
Almanac Predicts Unusually
LEWISTON, Maine -- After one of the
warmest winters on record, this coming winter will be much colder than normal
from coast to coast, according to the latest edition of the venerable Farmers'
The nearly 190-year-old almanac, which
says its forecasts are accurate 80 percent to 85 percent of the time, correctly
predicted a "polar coaster" of dramatic swings for last winter, editor Peter
Geiger said. For example, New York City collected 40 inches of snow even though
it was one of the warmest winters in the city's history.
This year, predicts the almanac's
reclusive forecaster, Caleb Weatherbee, it will be frigid from the Gulf Coast
all the way up the East Coast.
But it'll be especially nippy on the
Northern Plains -- up to 20 degrees below seasonal norms in much of Montana, the
Dakotas and part of Wyoming, he writes.
And, he says, it'll be especially snowy
across the nation's midsection, much of the Pacific Northwest, the mountains of
the Southwest and parts of eastern New England.
Last winter was the fifth-warmest on
average in the lower 48 states. Forty-one states had temperatures above average,
according to the National Climatic Data Center. That reduced energy demand by an
estimated 11 percent, it said.
This year's retail edition of the
Farmers' Almanac is the biggest ever, at 208 pages. It includes traditional
charts on astronomy, average frost dates, and planting and gardening calendars.
It also has the usual down-home features and cornball humor.
Update as of August 26th, 2006
What is it going to
look like in the future?
Ray Kurzweil, renowned
author and futurist, tells us
that in the future, medicine will use nano-bots, blood cell sized devices to
enhance our health from the inside out. For example if you have an ulcer, a
doctor would make a small incision, insert the nano- bots into your system and
the tiny machines fix the ulcers from inside of your body.
It's only a question
of time before these devices are being used in people's bodies on a more regular
basis. A New techonology
called MIKEY (Motorized Independent Kinetic Electric Yanni) is a small chip
that’s implanted in a body part (ie, hand). Test subjects can demonstrate the
ability to unlock a deadbolt by simply waiving their hand (with the implant)
near it. Some people enjoy the idea of having computer technology integrated
into their body, while others find it repugnant.
We have scientist
friends who tell us that alongside nano-bots, it's extremely likely that there
are also nano-bugs (viruses or bacteria fused into a nano-unit) in use or
in development. These could infect the body and do God knows what. This is
cutting edge science, and one can only imagine what's actually being implemented
and tested around the globe today. There's generally a lag time between
when something hits the streets and when the public at large becomes aware of
The character of
"Data" in the later Star Trek series could actually be walking around in
prototype form right now. Ray Kurzweil states that by 2030 there wont be a clear distinction between humans and
cyborgs, or androids, whatever you want to call them, and that there will also
be (and probably already are) people who are part machine, part human.
Could E-Voting Put
Your Vote At Risk?
Is our Democracy
60% of the votes in the 2004 Presidential Election were cast or tallied by
electronic voting machines, that may hit 80% by this November’s election.
28 States have
legislation or rules for a mandatory paper record of the vote, but 22 states
completely rely on electronics to deliver their vote properly.
Now activists are suing the
government for violation of state constitutions to force legislators to
require a paper trail on all electronic votes. Some cases focus on the
unreliability of the electronic voting machines, saying they can be
hacked or tampered with. The goal is the same; to make sure that a
permanent record exists of any election held in the United States.
A successful suit in New Mexico
forced the entire state to use optically scanned paper ballots, thereby
providing a sure fire way to validate results if necessary.
It’s come to the point to where
people actually have to sue to convince their state to use a method
which provides a tangible record of votes cast, otherwise legislators
won’t do anything about it.
Update as of August 25th, 2006
Global warming is affecting the
intensity of Atlantic hurricanes, according to a new study by a
university professor in Florida who says his research provides the first
direct link between climate change and storm strength. Reuters
David Copperfield says he has
found the “Fountain of Youth” in the southern Bahamas amid a cluster of
4 tiny islands he recently bought for 50 million, he tells Reuters the
water brings dying leaves and bugs back to life.
Scientists in the United States
say that the hole in the ozone layer above Antarctica appears to have
stopped growing and may now return to normal within the next 60 years or
so. At the worst the hole is a big as North America.
The ozone layer has been worn
down by human- made chemicals (CFC’s), international agreements have
banned the harmful substances to the environment, but with the solution
has come a major problem, cheap chemicals that have replaced CFC’s are
contributing greatly to Global Warming.
Nations are being forced to
acknowledge that without more intervention the progress in the South
Pole could be in vain. BBC News
Update as of August 24th, 2006
European unions have banned any
imports from the US into Europe after Washington’s admission that
commercial rice had been contaminated with an experimental strain of
Genetically Modified rice. This strain hasn’t even been tested on
humans, or even been approved for animal feeds. The US insists that it
doesn’t pose any risk to humans or to the environment. Japan already
suspended imports of rice from the US.
High tech biometric cards were
supposed to be a fool proof way to check worker immigration status, but
evidence shows that is not the way to make sure temporary workers are in
fact temporary. Bio- metric smart cards, which contain memory chips can
be used to identify people using biologically individual markers such as
scans of a person’s iris and fingerprints. The Bush administration
claims that this could be a solution to our illegal worker problem -
creating a way for temporary workers to be identified and legally visit
the U.S. However, critics say there are may flaws to this concept.
Members of the House immigration reform caucus are promoting a
“solution” which is to create and implement a biometric social security
card. In that case, we’d all be issued new identification cards in the
form of our social security cards, but they’d have some new, extremely
personal information in a biometric data chip. The proponents of this
concept say that it will be much easier to implement, since the SS
system is already up and running.
We just saw a little blip on a
more fringe news program. It said that school children in a particular
state are forced to listen to a radio station as they ride to school on
the bus. What style of music? The quote from the news piece, said, “Not
to worry, it’s only patriotic music and chants.” Imagine that.
Update as of August 23rd, 2006
imports of US long grain rice
Brussels (dpa) - The European Commission on Wednesday slapped stringent testing
requirements on imports of American long grain rice in a bid to restrict entry
of unauthorized genetically modified foods (GMOs) into the 25-nation bloc.
The commission, the European Union's executive body, said all imports of US long
grain rice would now have to be certified as free of the unauthorized GMO LL
Rice 601 before being exported to the EU.
"The decision has been taken in light of the recent announcement by the US
authorities that this unauthorized GMO had been found in samples of commercial
rice on the US market," said a commission spokesman.
The emergency measures mean that, with immediate effect, only consignments of US
long grain rice that have been tested by an accredited laboratory using a
validated testing method and accompanied by a certificate assuring the absence
of LL Rice 601, can enter the EU, the spokesman added.
"We have strict legislation in place in the EU to ensure that any GM product put
on the European market has undergone a thorough authorization procedure based on
scientific assessment. There is no flexibility for unauthorized GMOs - these
cannot enter the EU food and feed chain under any circumstances," said Markos
Kyprianou, EU chief for health and consumer protection.
Under EU rules, national authorities are responsible for controlling imports at
their borders and for preventing any contaminated consignments from being placed
on the market.
In addition, controls will be carried out on products already on the market, to
ensure that they are free from LL Rice 601. European importers will also have to
ensure that the products they import from the US are free of the banned GMO.
The commission decision will be reviewed by national EU experts within ten days.
Once approved, the measures will remain in place for 6 months, after which the
situation will be reviewed again.
The US is a major supplier of rice to the EU, followed by India, Thailand and
US authorities informed the commission on August 18 that trace amounts of non-authorized
genetically modified rice had been detected in samples of commercial long grain
rice on the US market.
The EU decision has been criticized by environmental group Greenpeace
International as "a minimal response to a serious contamination problem."
Greenpeace said the EU should stop reacting to contamination "accidents" and
start preventing them instead.
Brussels and Washington have often crossed swords on GMOs in recent years, with
US officials complaining of overly-strict EU requirements which they say act as
a trade barrier.
The EU has argued that its hardline stance is only prompted by concerns for the
safety of consumers.
Update as of August 2oth, 2006
Long after mosquito bite,
ill effects could linger
KRISTINA HERRNDOBLER, The Enterprise
It has been
more than three years since Laura Booker was bitten by a West Nile-infected
mosquito - a bite she thinks might have caused her declining health.
A new study
suggests that Booker's ongoing health problems could be linked to West Nile
virus, an illness once thought to rarely cause long-term effects in those who
More than a year after being diagnosed with West Nile virus, half of the
patients have continuing health complaints, including fatigue, memory problems,
extremity weakness, depression, tremors and headaches, according to an article
in the current issue of Clinical Infectious Diseases, a medical journal.
Booker said joint pain and tremors, among many other problems, prompt frequent
"I don't know if all of it is because of West Nile," said Booker, 47, of
Nederland. "But I was perfectly healthy. I was never sick. And now all the
sudden I have all these problems."
The new study concludes that abnormalities in motor skills and executive
functions are common long-term problems among patients who have had the West
Nile viral infection.
"Patients with milder illness are just as likely as patients with more severe
illness to experience adverse outcomes," it states.
The majority of people infected with West Nile virus develop no symptoms, but
about 20 percent experience a flu-like illness called West Nile fever, according
to the study.
About 1 percent of patients develop more severe diseases such as meningitis or
encephalitis, it states. Patients who develop meningitis or encephalitis often
are hospitalized and some die, but the fever generally is considered benign and
That might be about to change, the study suggests.
"What we found is that there is a substantial amount of ongoing symptoms, both
among those patients diagnosed with West Nile fever as well as those with the
more severe diseases, encephalitis and meningitis," Dr. Paul Carson, lead author
of the study, said in news release.
The study involved testing and surveying 49 patients, all from eastern North
Dakota, who had lab-confirmed West Nile virus infections.
Beaumont physician James Holly said the problem with long-term effects is that
they are incredibly subjective.
"It is very hard to control for those subjective symptoms," he said, adding the
study contradicts what the medical field currently thinks about West Nile virus.
Holly himself was infected with West Nile in June. He had a fever, became weak
and had severe muscle soreness before being tested for the virus, he said.
He said on the day he first experienced symptoms, he spent 66 minutes on a
treadmill. This week, he has only been able to stay on the treadmill for 30
minutes - and that was at a reduced incline and a slower pace, he said.
But Holly does not believe he will have long-term health problems because of the
illness. He said it will take up to two months to get back to his pre-West Nile
"There is no doubt there is a physiological price you pay for having this
illness," he said. "But it is not a permanent physiological price until you
allow it to change your life."
Jefferson County officials Thursday said there have been eight confirmed West
Nile cases in Beaumont this year. Five of those were in Beaumont. One person who
had West Nile died, according to the Beaumont Public Health Department. There
have been no confirmed cases of West Nile in humans in Jasper or Newton
counties, officials there said.
There have been at least a half dozen West Nile-related deaths in Southeast
Texas since 2002, when someone died in Jefferson County, according to the Texas
Department of State Health Services.
Statewide, there have been 47 confirmed cases of meningitis or encephalitis
caused by West Nile this year. There have been five deaths, according to the
Department spokeswoman Emily Palmer said these numbers only include cases
confirmed in state labs. They do not, for example, include the recent West
Nile-related death in Beaumont.
In 2005, there were 128 human cases in Texas, including 11 deaths, according to
Nationwide, there have been 388 confirmed human cases in 26 states this year,
according to the most recent U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
numbers, released on Aug. 15. Thirteen infected people have died.
West Nile has been confirmed in mosquitoes or animals in 40 states this year,
according to the CDC.
West Nile virus first appeared in North America in 1999, many decades after it
was first reported elsewhere, the CDC reports. It was first isolated in the West
Nile District of Uganda in 1937.
Toni Matherne, 38, of Mandeville, La., became ill with West Nile in 2002. She
spent a week and a half in the hospital, but has generally recovered, she said.
"The only thing I noticed long-term is that my immune system is not as good,"
she said. "It is a coincidence that ever since getting West Nile, it has been
Update as of August 12th, 2006
Scientists measure the 'dark
matter' of the universe
Across the tapestry of the
night sky, hundreds or perhaps thousands of stars are doing frantic dances of
death, spinning wildly around each other and shooting off waves of invisible
gravitational energy like interstellar beacons.
In one of the most exotic
observatories in the world, Fred Raab is waiting for those waves to wash up on
the shoreline of Earth. When they do, they could change our understanding of the
"We've spent 400 years since
the invention of the telescope looking at a small portion of what exists," said
Raab, head of the LIGO laboratory in the high desert of southeastern Washington.
LIGO -- the Laser
Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory -- could reveal the rest.
"This gives us an observational
tool to probe the dark, strong-gravity part of the universe, which we've never
really done," said Kip S. Thorne, a California Institute of Technology physicist
who is one of the world's foremost experts on relativity.
Like the first bathysphere
diving into deep-sea trenches, the $300 million LIGO project, conceived more
than 25 years ago, is expected to uncover exotic creatures, such as dancing
neutron stars and binary black holes, circling each other like heavyweight
fighters. Physicists also may uncover the mysterious "dark matter" that is
believed to be all around us but has never been measured. Some think they might
find gateways into extra dimensions.
What makes LIGO different from
other observatories is that it doesn't "see" the cosmos by detecting
electromagnetic energy in the form of light, radio waves or X-rays. It feels it,
measuring waves of gravity that wrinkle space-time like ripples on a lake.
One advantage to gravity-wave
science over light-wave science is that whereas light bounces off solid objects,
gravity waves go through everything -- planets, stars, people's bodies.
Raab, Thorne and about 500
other scientists around the world caught up in the race to measure the first
gravity waves are essentially giving birth to a new science.
It has been gestating 90 years,
since Einstein theorized that large bodies moving through space would give off
waves of gravity, traveling at light speed, that would shrink and expand
The problem with gravity waves
is that they are so difficult to detect that many physicists long doubted they
would ever be found. In November, however, LIGO reached a level of sensitivity
at which Thorne and other experts believe they might detect waves.
Now excitement has gripped the
scientific community as it awaits word.
It can be felt inside the LIGO
control room, where Raab studies a series of constantly changing graphs flashed
up on the wall. Like a man translating a foreign language, Raab points to one
squiggly line that he says is traffic passing on the main road a dozen miles
away. Another is construction in the nearby cities of Richland and Kennewick.
If you know what to look for,
Raab said, you can pick out the seismic signature of ocean waves hitting the
shoreline of western Washington -- 200 miles away.
In the dun-colored desert-scape
of southeastern Washington sits the Hanford nuclear site. Plutonium for the
atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki was made here. Now, the signs of decay and rust
are everywhere. The site has become a relic of the Cold War.
Down a twisting side road, LIGO
appears out of the Russian cheatgrass and mustard plants, a bulky apparition
with two tubes extending at right angles into the desert.
The 2.4-mile-long tentacles are
the heart of LIGO. They are at right angles so that incoming gravity waves will
shrink one arm while lengthening the other. An identical facility sits in a
forest in southern Louisiana, so that the readings made at one observatory can
be cross-checked almost 2,000 miles away.
The National Science Foundation
has provided the funding.
Inside the arms is a laser
interferometer, which works by splitting a laser beam and sending one of the two
resulting beams down each arm. The beams then bounce around 100 times on a set
of mirrors before being sent back to a photodetector.
The two beams should recombine
at exactly the same time because they travel an identical distance.
But if a gravity wave passes
by, the beams will be thrown off as the arms are alternately stretched and
Detecting such a minute signal
has required extraordinary steps.
Because the site had to be as
flat as possible, satellites were used to survey the land, which was eventually
graded to within three-eighths of an inch over five miles.
To get around the problem of
air molecules shaking the mirrors, workers sucked the air out of the tubes down
to a billionth of an atmosphere. But that still wasn't good enough to make sure
the speed of light would be constant throughout the tubes. So the team had to
get the tubes down to a trillionth of an atmosphere.
The surface of the four 10-inch
mirrors in the arms is so smooth it doesn't vary by more than 30-billionths of
an inch. Thirty control systems keep the lasers and mirrors in alignment. The
vibration isolation system is so sophisticated, the only thing approaching it is
the mechanics used by semiconductor chip makers to etch circuits on the chips.
Even though ground was broken
for the LIGO project more than a decade ago, it was only in November that the
facility was ready to hunt seriously for gravity waves.
"We're operating right now
where we can see changes a thousandth the size of a proton," Raab said.
Some vibrations still manage to
"A bulldozer 10 miles away
knocks us offline," he said.
One recent problem was caused
by a stunt pilot practicing loops.
Since the November data run
began, LIGO has managed to get 10 weeks of clean data.
The hunt is on.
On the wall outside Thorne's
cluttered office at Caltech are framed letters containing the bets he has made
with other prominent scientists, including two with physicist Stephen Hawking.
Thorne won both.
In fact, Thorne has lost only
two bets, and both were over gravity waves. In 1978, he bet a dinner that
gravity waves would be found within a decade. It didn't happen.
The second time, he bet a case
of good California wine that the first gravity wave would be detected by Jan. 1,
2000. Once again, he had to pay up.
Thorne is no longer taking bets
on when gravity waves will be found. But found they will be, he said.
It just might not be with this
version of LIGO. Even though LIGO is operating within the range where gravity
waves are thought to exist, it's just barely there.
"We're at a level now where we
could see one every 30 years to every three years," said Jay Marx, executive
director of the LIGO program.
Those aren't great odds. The
solution is Advanced LIGO, a $200 million upgrade that will increase the
sensitivity by a factor of 10. Among the improvements are a more powerful laser
and more sophisticated vibration isolation hardware. Work is expected to begin
sometime after 2008.
After the improvements, a
gravity wave could be detected every three weeks, Marx said.
Thorne said: "We are at a level
where we could see waves now. After the upgrade we will be operating in a domain
where we are likely to see waves."
And if they don't find waves?
"That would show something is
wrong with our understanding of the universe," he said.
Update as of July 7th, 2006
Canada Confirms 6th Case of Mad Cow
TORONTO (AP) -- Canada
confirmed on Tuesday its sixth case of mad cow disease and said it would
investigate where the cow was born and what other animals may have eaten the
The Canadian Food Inspection
Agency said test results confirmed what was suspected last week. The animal was
at least 15 years of age, and was born before Canada implemented restrictions on
potentially dangerous feed in 1997.
The agency said it was
launching an investigation.
Mad cow disease is believed to
spread through feed, when cows eat the contaminated tissue of other cattle.
Humans can get a related disease, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, in similar
fashion - by eating meat contaminated with mad cow. There have been more than
150 human deaths worldwide linked to the variant.
Two of the six confirmed mad
cow cases in Canada have involved animals that were infected after 1997, when a
ban was instituted on the use of cattle parts in feed for cattle, or other
ruminants such as sheep and goats.
The agency says Canada's food
supply is safe, and the level of mad cow disease in the national cattle herd is
very low. Canada has an estimated national herd of 17 million cattle.
U.S. Agriculture Department
spokesman Ed Loyd said last week trade was resumed with Canada with the
assumption that more mad cow cases would be found. Loyd said U.S. officials have
"a high level of confidence in the safeguards and mitigating measures in place
in the U.S. and Canada."
George Luterbach, an animal
scientist with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, said the latest case should
not have any repercussions internationally.
"It is unwelcome news but not
necessarily unexpected news," Luterbach said, adding "it should have little or
no implications internationally."
Having tested 60,000 cattle
last year, Luberbach said the agency is confident that mad cow is not a common
in Canada or something that is growing.
Shipments of live cattle to the
United States were halted in 2003 after the first reported mad cow case in
Canada. Trade in young animals resumed last year, but there has been no word on
when the border may be reopened to older animals.
Hugh Lynch-Ftaunton, president
of the 90,000-member Canadian Cattlemen's Association, said some Asian and
European countries may wait to see the final report on the latest case before
reopening their borders to Canadian cattle.
"Some of the countries that are
on the verge of dealing with us differently will probably want to study the
report on this and that might slow it down marginally but I don't think it's
going to be make or break," Lynch-Ftaunton said.
Last month, Canada announced it
was broadening restrictions on animal feed in an effort to fight mad cow
disease. The Agency revealed measures, to be phased in over the next year, aimed
at keeping potentially risky cattle parts from all animal feed, not just feed
destined for cows.
The parts will also be banned
from pet food and fertilizers to avoid the risk of inadvertent
cross-contamination of feed on farms and ranches.