Wednesday, August 31, 2005
Thursday, August 18, 2005
Strange fossil defies grouping
A strange 525 million-year-old fossil creature is baffling scientists because it does not fit neatly into any existing animal groups.
The animal, from the early Cambrian Period, might have belonged to a now extinct mollusc-like phylum, academics from America and China say.
Other researchers have suggested the creature could represent an early annelid or arthropod.
Details are published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
It is another strange thing from the Cambrian
Jonathan Todd, Natural History Museum, London
The 5-10cm-long (2-4 inch) fossil, from Anning in China, had a flattened body and horizontal fins which, researchers think, could have been used to support it as it moved along the sea floor. It also had well developed senses, including a pair of eyes on stalks.
The trouble is the animal, named Vetustodermis planus, did not possess a set of features, or characters, which placed it clearly within any known group.
When it was first described in 1979, Vetustodermis was included in the annelid category. Later researchers argued against this classification, saying it was, in fact, either an arthropod or a mollusc.
According to the latest study, the weird creature seems closest to molluscs, primarily because it had a snail or slug-like flat foot. However, the researchers say, it does not sit happily in this group.
"Phyla are defined by an organism having a set of features called characters, and currently there are no animals that we know of which contain the set of characters that Vetustodermis has," co-author David Bottjer, of the University of Southern California, US, told the BBC News website.
Vetustodermis planus, USC
Vetustodermis planus does not fit comfortably within any known phylum
"The phylum with which it shares the most characters is the Mollusca, but squeezing Vetustodermis into the mollusca is a somewhat messy job."
Since Vetustodermis requires some "pushing and pulling" to force it into any known phylum, Professor Bottjer and his colleagues are tempted to speculate it belonged to a different group entirely; one which flourished and faded within the Cambrian.
"We have always been intrigued by the many molluscan features of these fossils, but in the great menagerie of organisms that have inhabited Earth through life's long history, we may come to conclude that Vetustodermis indeed represents a new phylum," he said.
Jonathan Todd, a palaeontologist from the Natural History Museum, London, UK, is also mystified by the baffling animal.
"It is an intriguing beast," he told the BBC News website. "It is another strange thing from the Cambrian. It doesn't look much like an arthropod and I don't find its molluscan affinities particularly convincing."
However, Dr Todd is reluctant to create a whole new phylum to accommodate Vetustodermis; that, he thinks, would be premature.
"Some scientists have thought that there were so many distinct phyla in the Cambrian," he said. "They came to that conclusion because they were not thinking in the phylogenetic sense, they were thinking 'hey, that is a unique set of features - it must be a distinct phylum'."
So rather than creating new phyla every time something doesn't fit an existing one, the really interesting exercise, Dr Todd thinks, is to establish just how Vetustodermis slotted into the greater evolutionary tree.
If, indeed, it did belong to a different phylum, how did that group connect to the molluscs, annelids and arthropods?
"We don't really know the phylo-genetic relationships between the extant phyla," he said. "Molecular genetics has only gone so far. But recent phyla have got to connect somehow. These fossils really offer the opportunity to tie together recent phyla."
Tuesday, August 16, 2005
Brave New World?
UK scientists clone human embryo
British scientists say they have cloned the country's first human embryo.
The Newcastle University team took eggs from 11 women, removed the genetic material and replaced it with DNA from embryonic stem cells.
The aim of this kind of work - the subject of fierce debate - is to make cloned embryos from which stem cells can be used to treat diseases.
Meanwhile South Korean scientists say they have created stem cells to match individuals for the first time.
Stem cell lines were created by taking genetic material from the patient and putting it into a donated egg.
The resultant cells were a perfect match for the individual and could mean treatments for diseases like diabetes without problems of rejection.
Therapeutic cloning - believed to have huge potential to treat disease and disability - is allowed in Britain.
Reproductive cloning - the cloning of human embryos with the intention of creating a baby - was made illegal in 2001.
The UN recently voted in favour of a ban on all human cloning, but this was non-binding which means the UK can continue to do therapeutic cloning.
The use of embryonic stem cells is controversial, with opponents arguing that all embryos, whether created in the lab or not, have the potential to go on to become a fully fledged human. Others fear there are safety concerns.
Supporters of cloning say it could offer numerous benefits in the future, such as fighting disease, battling infertility or preserving endangered species.
'Unsafe and inefficient'
Criticising the Newcastle research, Julia Millington from the ProLife Alliance said cloning for research purposes was profoundly unethical.
Josephine Quintavalle from CORE said: "No matter how it is created, a human embryo's destiny should be to live and not to be turned into human stem cells."
Life said cloning was "unsafe and inefficient", and involved exposing women to dangerous fertility drugs in order to collect sufficient eggs.
In the Newcastle research, three of the resultant clones lived and grew in the laboratory for three days and one survived for five days.
The critical factor for success appeared to be how quickly the egg was collected and manipulated, Professor Alison Murdoch and colleagues found.
The clone that lasted for five days had been collected and manipulated within 15 minutes.
Stem cells have the ability to develop into virtually any tissue in the body and could, in theory, be used to replace damaged cells in conditions such as Parkinson's disease and diabetes.
But Professor Murdoch said this was still a long way off.
"We are talking about several years before we are talking about a cell-based therapy that can go back into the patient," she said.
Colleague Dr Miodrag Stojkovic said: "I'm really happy but I know that this is just the beginning of a long journey so we have to continue to try to derive stem cells that will definitely help us one day to cure diseases."
The UK research is published in Reproductive and BioMedicine Online.
Cells made to haul tiny cargoes
Scientists in the US have managed to get single cells to ferry objects up and down tiny chambers.
Harvard University experts say, in future, cells could be harnessed to perform micro-scale mechanical work.
The researchers attached a cargo of polystyrene beads to the backs of green algae cells and used light to guide them up and down the chambers.
Details of the work appear in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
"We have basically developed the system of moving objects with micro-organisms," co-author Douglas Weibel, of Harvard University told the BBC News website.
"We harness their motors to make them perform unconventional tasks."
The team have coined the term "microoxen" for the load-bearing microbes.
The Harvard researchers, led by Professor George Whitesides, used the single-celled photosynthetic algae Chlamydomonas reinhardtii.
The algae are about 10 microns long and propel themselves by beating their two whip-like tails, or flagella, in an action similar to the breaststroke. This action is driven by a type of molecular motor.
The researchers used chemical bonds to attach a cargo load of specially coated polystyrene beads to individual algal cells.
Then they used light of different intensities to guide them up and down the chamber. High-intensity light repels the organisms while low-intensity light attracts them.
Attaching the cargoes seemed to have little or no effect on the speeds at which the cells moved. The loads were unhitched by exposing the algae to ultraviolet light, which broke apart molecules in the coating on the beads.
Dr Weibel said the technique had many potential uses in areas such as molecular medicine.
"You could have a bead that picks up a toxin. So you send them to swim off into a sample of liquid, and when they return, you can carry out analysis on the bead," he said.
There is considerable interest in harnessing biological motors to perform micro-scale mechanical work.
However, most research in this area has focused on isolating the motors within cells and rebuilding them elsewhere, rather than using the living organism to perform the tasks required.
'Stop stealing our F**king signs'
Nun protests at Da Vinci Code filming
A Roman Catholic nun has staged a protest over the filming of the Da Vinci Code at Lincoln Cathedral. Sister Mary Michael knelt in prayer outside the building for 12 hours to object to the production of the film, which stars Tom Hanks [...]
Channel Five's *Nessie* dupe
Sightseers were duped into believing they had seen the Loch Ness Monster as part of a TV experiment. Channel Five spent £100,000 creating an animatronic beast which it submerged in the Scottish loch for two weeks, filming the reaction of tourists.
More than 600 people were filmed trying to catch a glimpse of the 16ft "creature" at the tourist spot.
The result of the experiment will be revealed in Loch Ness Monster: The Ultimate Experiment on 28 August.
Producers of the programme said the reaction to the "monster" varied greatly from those who believed it was true to those that knew it was a hoax.
"Some people were thinking 'what is it?' - they couldn't quite work it out - whereas other people thought it was the waves and some were saying they had definitely seen a green hump," said a Five spokesman.
"I think it shows that people still want to believe in the myth."
Part of the tour
The creature, named Lucy, was made by a special effects company owned by Jez Harris, who helped create Star Wars character Jabba the Hut.
Divers had to aid the creature under water.
"Making the monster itself was not difficult, it was getting it buoyant so it could raise itself to the surface," said Mr Harris.
Ronald Mackenzie, who runs Royal Scot boat cruises, said he was surprised when he first saw the monster because he was unaware Five was putting it in the water.
"There were a lot of Americans who were impressed, some people who believed it and others who thought it was just part of the tour," he said.
Confused lions 'hunt' small cars
Small cars driving through a safari park in Merseyside have been chased by confused lions who think they are prey.
Staff at Knowsley Safari Park are monitoring smaller vehicles, including Smart cars and Mini Coopers, after the lions started paying special interest. David Ross, park manager, told the BBC News website that a group of lionesses chased after one Smart car after being confused by its compact appearance.
He said staff were stationed near the enclosure to keep visitors safe.
'Raise an eyebrow'
Unusual features on cars can also spark interest by the 12 lions at the park, which are more used to seeing larger saloon cars. All vehicles are monitored by park staff on the way in.
Mr Ross said: "The lions will take an interest in peculiarities on cars and we always keep a close eye on the cars coming in.
"With Smart cars and sometimes Mini Coopers the lions definitely raise an eyebrow. It sparks their interest because of their size.
"We had an incident of two ladies in a car being chased by lionesses. [...]
Boomer the Pissed Kangaroo - Rough Cut Video
On a cold winter's day, there is nothing better than sitting by a warm fire -- at least for an young Australian kangaroo.
"Baby Boomer" is an 18-month old kangaroo who was brought up by Kathy Noble.
She runs the Comet Inn in Australia's Blue Mountains and Boomer's favourite place in the bar.
Boomer has developed a taste for beer after knocking over a can at an early age.
"Well, it's not every pub in Australia that has a kangaroo in the bar. He actually decided to do this himself. He just came in, actually what happened is that one of our guests let him in the back door and he caused such a riot. He often comes in by himself now," Kathy Noble said.
Noble found Boomer after his mother was killed by a car.
"Boomer is very special to us. We actually found him in his mother's pouch when he was ten, twelve weeks of age. You really bond with them, because they are on five bottles of marsupial milk per day and they are fed like a baby so you do bond with them very closely to them," Noble said.
Boomer is a hit with visitors, especially those from abroad who have never seen a kangaroo before.
"This is quite a treat for me to come down here and have lunch with a friend. We have Boomer as entertainment. He is an eastern gray and his is really lovable," visitor Margaret Weeks said.
Despite Boomer being part of the family, once he grows too big he will have to go to a zoo as his behaviour becomes more aggressive.
While Boomer enjoyed the warmth of the bar, wild kangaroos endured a cold winters day after snow fell on the Blue Mountains.
Australia's wild kangaroo population is conservatively estimated at more than 57 million.
BBC News | ENTERTAINMENT | The gospel according to Luke (Skywalker)
You may be a fan of the Star Wars films, but are you a follower? Moves are afoot to have the fictitious Jedi philosophy the movies espouse recognised as a proper religion.
If 8,000 New Zealanders have heeded an e-mail asking them to declare Jedi as their faith on this week's census forms, then Star Wars will have spawned an officially recognised religion.
Jedi master Yoda
"Miss Piggy my other job is"
Kiwis who went along with the jape may have to explain themselves to the authorities since it is an offence to enter false information in the census.
But then surely no one can seriously adhere to the "ancient" Jedi creed so keenly observed by Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker in the blockbuster series of films.
Wouldn't you have to be a crackpot to put any faith in "The Force" as explained by Yoda - a wrinkled puppet whose voice was supplied by Frank Oz, the vocal talent also behind Miss Piggy and Fozzie Bear?
Creed is good
Perhaps not. Godfather director Francis Ford Coppola suggested George Lucas should turn the Jedi philosophy he invented for Star Wars into a fully-fledged religious movement to mobilise the global wave of interest the films had sparked.
Fans at Phantom Menace premiere
"Would you like to read some of our literature?"
"I remember [Francis] saying: 'With religion, you really have power.' I told him: 'Forget it. I don't have any interest in power,'" the multi-millionaire Lucas has said.
Some moviegoers still regret the director's lack of ecclesiastical ambition.
''If George Lucas turned this into a religion, it would blow L Ron Hubbard's Dianetics [a central part of the sci-fi writer's controversial belief, Scientology] out of the window,'' Star Wars fan Won Park told the New York Times (while dressed as Jedi master Qui-Gon Jinn).
Other fans of The Force have taken it upon themselves to distil it into a religious cannon, taking the film scripts as their scripture.
The dialogue! It's all frightful rubbish!
Sir Alec Guinness, Obi-Wan Kenobi
The Jedi Creed is a website operated by fans revelling in such assumed names as Jedi Relan Volkum and Lord Scorn. It addresses such theological questions as "Should Jedi work for government?" and "Vomiting: Disgusting, or Lesson on Life?"
The central tenet of the creed is that The Force is "an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together", as Sir Alec Guinness opined in Star Wars (1977).
The Jedi Creed site suggests by using The Force (and doing some sit-ups), followers can reach their full potential. "Remember," it says, "our human brain only uses about 15 to 20% of its capability."
Luke Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Han Solo
"Couldn't you get a pew closer the pulpit?"
Star Wars fans have a reputation for being highly fanatical, says Kenny Baker, the man who filled the shell of R2-D2 in the films.
Baker, who now travels the world to attend Star Wars conventions, knows first-hand the lengths fans will go to to indulge their fascination.
"They're real eccentrics. They do things like ask you to sign their arm and then go off and get your signature tattooed," he says. "They are on a different planet. Definitely not of this world."
But among sci-fi followers it's not just Star Wars fans who seek spiritual guidance. Psychologist Dr Sandy Wolfson says Star Trek also boasts its legions of disciples.
"One respondent to a questionnaire wrote: 'I sometimes feel Gene Roddenbury [Star Trek's creator] may have been another coming of a Messiah.' He went on to draw parallels between Gene and Jesus."
George Lucas on the set of Phantom Menace
"You can play with R2 later, now get to Sunday school"
Dr Wolfson says the optimistic view of the future that is central to Star Trek, particularly its accent on multiculturalism and altruism, deeply inspires many fans.
"Some Star Trekkers even identify themselves as being part of a sect, persecuted for their interests and stigmatised by other people who consider them to be sci-fi anoraks."
Dr Mark Brake, a University of Glamorgan academic who studies the relationship between science fiction and science fact, says he is not surprised films, such as Star Wars, prompt spiritual musings.
The Two Ronnies in a Star Trek spoof
"They're all backstabbers, except for you, Spock"
"Ever since Copernicus found the Earth wasn't at the centre of the universe, we've been looking for something bigger than us."
The idea that our planet is not unique, that the universe may be full of inhabited worlds, has driven science fiction and helped "displace" religion, says Dr Brake.
So adopting Jedi as your faith is not so strange after all? Well, perhaps those Kiwis who converted to Jedi for the census (if any did) should have heeded Han Solo's advice to Luke Skywalker.
"Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid."
Monday, August 15, 2005
Thin skin will help robots 'feel'
Great, when they become intelligent, we can torture them!
Japanese researchers have developed a flexible artificial skin that could give robots a humanlike sense of touch.
The team manufactured a type of "skin" capable of sensing pressure and another capable of sensing temperature.
These are supple enough to wrap around robot fingers and relatively cheap to make, the researchers have claimed.
The University of Tokyo team describe their work in the latest issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Japanese researchers have developed a flexible artificial skin that could give robots a humanlike sense of touch.
The team manufactured a type of "skin" capable of sensing pressure and another capable of sensing temperature.
These are supple enough to wrap around robot fingers and relatively cheap to make, the researchers have claimed.
The University of Tokyo team describe their work in the latest issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Poetry - James Sinclair - Do not underestimate the power of Playstation - For years I ve lived a double life
Man in nappy is hunted by police
A man dressed only in a nappy who has approached a number of women on Teesside is being hunted by police.
The man has hidden in bushes in Eaglescliffe before moving towards the women and asking: "Are there any baby changing facilities in the area?"
Cleveland Police said they are becoming increasingly concerned about the man's behaviour after several incidents in the past few months.
They want anyone with information about the man to contact them.
The latest happened on Sunday night in a play area on Wentworth Way.
The man approached a woman walking her dog and said to her: "Are there any baby changing facilities in the area?"
The startled woman said no and walked off, leaving the man still running around dressed in his nappy.
Insp Ian Garrett said no-one had been assaulted but the man's antics were bizarre and a cause for concern.
He said: "There have been several reports of him having been seen in Eaglescliffe dressed only in a nappy and we are keen to trace him and speak to him."
Similar sightings earlier this year in the Stockton area of a man also wearing just a nappy are not being connected.
Commercial Breaks and Beats :: The UK TV Advert Music Database
Thought this may be use to Cap'n Jo and her Motley Crew o' Cutthroats...
Controversial Groups Database - Cults Data Base - Articles About Cults
does what it says on the tin :)
A blog of a blog :)
Tsunami clue to 'Atlantis' found -AGAIN!!!
A submerged island that could be the source of the Atlantis myth was hit by a large earthquake and tsunami 12,000 years ago, a geologist has discovered.
Spartel Island now lies 60m under the sea in the Straits of Gibraltar, but some think it once lay above water.
The finding adds weight to a hypothesis that the island could have inspired the legend recounted by the philosopher Plato more than 2,000 years ago.
Evidence comes from a seafloor survey published in the journal Geology.
Marc-André Gutscher of the University of Western Brittany in Plouzané, France, found a coarse-grained sedimentary deposit that is 50-120cm thick and could have been left behind after a tsunami.
Dr Gutscher said that the destruction described by Plato is consistent with a great earthquake and tsunami similar to the one that devastated the city of Lisbon in Portugal in 1755, generating waves with heights of up to 10m.
The thick "turbidite" deposit results from sediments that have been shaken up by underwater geological upheavals.
It was found to date to around 12,000 years ago - roughly the age indicated by Plato for the destruction of Atlantis, Dr Gutscher reports in Geology.
Spartel Island, in the Gulf of Cadiz, was proposed as a candidate for the origin of the Atlantis legend in 2001 by French geologist Jacques Collina-Girard.
It is "in front of the Pillars of Hercules", or the Straits of Gibraltar, as Plato described. The philosopher said the fabled island civilisation had been destroyed in a single day and night, disappearing below the sea.
Sedimentary records reveal that events like the 1755 Lisbon earthquake occur every 1,500 to 2,000 years in the Gulf of Cadiz.
But the mapping of the island carried out by Dr Gutscher failed to turn up any manmade structures and also showed that the island was much smaller than previously believed.
This could make it less likely that the island was inhabited by a civilisation.
Superbugs found in chicken survey
Significant numbers of chickens on sale in UK shops are contaminated with superbugs, a scientific survey commissioned by BBC One's Real Story suggests.
Of the British-grown chickens analysed, over half were contaminated with multi-drug resistant E.coli which is immune to the effects of three or more antibiotics.
More than a third of the 147 samples, which included overseas and UK produced chicken, had E.coli germs resistant to the important antibiotic Trimethaprim which is used to treat bladder infections.
The Health Protection Agency scientists testing the meat also found 12 chickens had antibiotic resistant Campylobacter.
And VRE, or Vancomycin Resistant Enteroccci, were in 1 in 25 of the samples, although more tests would be needed to confirm the exact type of the bug found.
No organic chickens were used - 64 were from the UK and 83 from abroad.
The survey's results could partly explain a rise in the number of women whose bladder infections did not respond to standard treatments, a medical expert told the programme.
Dr Mike Millar, the head of Infection Control at St Barts Hospital in London, said: "Potentially this is very worrying.
"We've known for years there've been outbreaks of bladder infections in different parts of the world but we haven't really known where the germs have been coming from.
"Potentially food could be a source."
In worst cases, bladder infections could lead to kidney damage and the need for renal dialysis, he said.
Anna Sawkins, who suffered from recurrent bladder infections caused by E.coli, told Real Story how she "went back to the doctors hundreds of times and nothing was getting any better".
According to the latest figures, British animals consume 15 tonnes of Trimethaprim a year.
However, the Health Protection Agency says the main reason E.coli has become resistant to the drugs we use to treat bladder infections is the high use of antibiotics in humans.
The World Health Organisation has named antibiotic resistance as one of three major threats for the future.
Responding to the Real Story survey, leading WHO scientist Stuart Levy said: "Attention should be given to how antibiotics are used in animals so as to better treat them - but also to protect the spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria from the farms into the cities and into the people."
Bacteria in chicken is killed if the meat is cooked properly and hygienically but one in three people in the UK get food poisoning each year - and the most common cause of food poisoning is the bug Campylobacter.
Dr Caroline Willis, who led the team testing the chickens, said: "In terms of antibiotic resistance, about a quarter of the Campylobacters that we found were resistant to one or other of the antibiotics commonly used to treat it."
There's overwhelming evidence that the main reason for antibiotic resistance in humans is because of the antibiotics prescribed for us rather than animals
British Poultry Council
With regards to the VRE found in the samples, the Health Protection Agency recognised the problem but pointed out that although VRE in chickens can lead to VRE in the human gut, it mainly only affects people already ill in hospital.
The British Poultry Council disputed the validity of the survey, saying it was not detailed enough and that previous research pointed to lower levels of antibiotic resistance in chicken.
Spokesman Darren Pearson said: "There's overwhelming evidence that the main reason for antibiotic resistance in humans is because of the antibiotics prescribed for us rather than animals.
"It doesn't mean to say it's not possible for antibiotic resistance to be transferred from animals to man but I think you've got to focus on where the main concern lies."
Sunday, August 14, 2005
He didn't see this one coming- Psychic's crystal ball starts blaze
IF HERVE VANDROT, a French amateur psychic, took out a warranty on his crystal ball, he may soon be claiming on it. Instead of predicting that his flat would catch fire, the fortune-telling device was the cause of the blaze.
M Vandrot, 24, who is studying botanics at Edinburgh University, left the ball on his windowsill while he visited the city’s Royal Botanic Garden. By the time he returned, the ball had destroyed his own and two other flats, and had left several others uninhabitable.
The student, who uses the ball for psychic purposes, suffered blistering to his hand when he burst into his burning top-floor flat in the city’s Marchmont area in an effort to rescue his university course work. He was removed from the building by some of the 35 firefighters who had arrived to tackle the unforeseen inferno.
Marchmont’s streets of elegant Victorian tenements are popular with students. M Vandrot had moved in only two weeks ago.
M Vandrot, released from hospital after a night having his hand treated, denied that his crystal ball had been the cause of the blaze. “I don’t think it is capable of doing that. I think it was an electrical fault; the plug of my computer was melted.”
Edinburgh’s firefighters disagreed, and roundly blamed the ball. “Strong sunlight through glass, particularly if the glass is filled with liquid like a goldfish bowl, concentrates the sun’s rays and acts like a magnifying glass,” a spokesman said. The fire had been started by the ball concentrating a ray of sunshine on a pile of washing, he said.
One of M Vandrot’s friends, who was helping him to sift through the debris yesterday, said: “I don’t think it was the crystal ball. I have had crystal balls on my windowsills for years and nothing happened.”
One neighbour said: “I think he and his friends are all into fortune-telling and crystal-healing stuff. But I didn’t realise the crystals could have that effect. It was a terrible night for us.”
"Ghost buster" Robert Baker dies at 84
WASHINGTON — Robert Baker, a University of Kentucky psychology professor emeritus and a leading "ghost buster" who worked on the premise that "there are no haunted places, only haunted people," died Aug. 8 at his home in Lexington, Ky. He had congestive heart failure. He was 84.
Mr. Baker was foremost a skeptic, believing that one could not assume from the start that unusual phenomena — ghosts, UFO abductions, lake monsters, remembrances of past lives — were real. In books and scholarly articles, he argued that they could be explained as mental states, that abductions by aliens, for example, were hallucinations — or "waking dreams" — that occur in the twilight zone between fully awake and fully asleep.
Much of his work involved being a sympathetic counselor to those who thought they were being toyed with or tortured by unexplainable forces [...]
The Seattle Times
Baffling tracks left in Tornado's wake
F1 takes aim at Canisteo
CANISTEO - Reports of tornadoes touching down in Alfred and Canisteo Friday afternoon proved half-right.
A tornado touched down along state Route 36 in Canisteo at about 2:30 p.m. Friday, according to Jim Brewster, Binghamton-based meteorologist for the National Weather Service.
Most of the damage was confined to wooded areas and a cornfield, but Mike and Peggy Stewart of 4418 State Route 36, Canisteo, had significant damage to their property. The Stewart's have a dairy farm, and the high winds whipped a portion of their barn roof onto the hill above the barn.
"I saw enough evidence to confirm an F-1 tornado," Brewster said. "It appears as if it was a tightly wound, brief tornado that was about 100-150 yards in width and ran about a mile.
"It basically ran right along State Route 36," he added. "It came over Bush Hill and dropped down behind a residence. It was pretty much confined in the area between Gravel Run Road and Rock Run Road."
Stewart said the damage to the cornfield looked like crop circles, which Brewster said looked very unusual.
"That was very unique," Brewster said. "There was definitive damage in the storm track, then they had these other strange circular damages to the cornfield.
"You'd see one, then walk through several good rows of corn and you'd see another one," he added. "I've seen a lot of cornfield damage from tornadoes in Nebraska, but this was unique. It looked like there had been multiple spin-ups in the tornado."
Brewster said there have been three confirmed tornadoes in Steuben County since 1950, but said he didn't think there had been one confirmed for quite some time.
"This isn't tornado alley, but it's not completely unusual," he said.
Howell Evening Tribune
Spirit: Martian dust devils
Mars dust devils caught in action
One of the US space agency's robot rovers on the Red Planet has captured whirlwinds, or "dust devils", churning their way across the Martian plain.
Spirit recorded images of the dust devils on 15 and 18 April; and these have now been turned into an animation.
The movies give mission scientists their best look yet at these mysterious planetary phenomena as they swirl across the surface of the Red Planet.
The Spirit rover has been exploring Gusev Crater since January 2004.
It has been using its navigation camera to routinely check for dust devils and began seeing the whirlwinds last month in individual frames captured with the camera.
Mission scientist Dr Mark Lemmon, a rover team member from Texas A&M University in College Station, said: "We're hoping to learn about how dust is kicked up into the atmosphere and how the wind is interacting with the surface.
"It's exciting that we now have a systematic way of capturing dust devils in movies rather than isolated still images."
Similar phenomena - also called dust devils - occur on Earth. The Martian whirlwinds also resemble the tornadoes and waterspouts seen on our own planet.
The ultimate cause of the Martian phenomena remains unknown, but may be related to rising air heated by sun-warmed rocks and soil.
Intriguingly, rover engineers have noticed unexplained increases in the power available to Spirit.
One possibility is that dust devils passing nearby or above the rover have been cleaning its solar panels.
Egyptian Repairs With His Feet - Rough cut without narrative
Ragab Mohammed Mohammed Abdel Maqsoud was born with no hands, but he hasn't let it stop him from getting on with his life. The 27-year-old Cairo man has made a living by first teaching himself to repair watches, and then computers, with his feet. Inspired by his father, who was a watchmaker, Ragab trained himself to fix watches using his feet at the age of 15. Soon he was proficient at using his feet to fix the intricate instruments. Ragab also taught himself to read and write without attending a school.
After 12 years of fixing watches, Ragab moved into fixing computers. He noticed his friends using computers. So he bought one himself and taught himself to use it, even though he neither speaks nor reads English.
At first he started to take a computer to pieces and put it back together again. Then he started to learn the system of the computer and how to repair any error in the system. Two years on, Ragab is proficient at fixing computers.
"I found that life develops and that my friends started to get computers," he said.
"So I bought a computer even though I don't know English. I pulled it to pieces to learn how to fix it and now I have become professional at fixing and using the computer."
Ragab's ambitions did not stop there. He has just created a motorcycle which he can drive with no hands. He uses his feet to turn the key in the ignition and then uses his feet and legs to drive it down the street.
The motorcycle has no legal licence in Egypt since it is the first motorcycle to be driven by legs but no police have ever asked him for a licence because they are proud that he has created a motorcycle for people like him.
Ragab hopes his invention can be used by other handicapped people.
Bull Friendly Acrobatics
It is the land of wine in Spain where green vineyards welcome visitors to Rincon de Soto, a small village set in the province of La Rioja. It is August, bullfight and fiesta season, but this year there is also entertainment for those who don't like to see bulls dying.
Outside the improvised bullring young men dressing in white, stretch before the hard work. They are about to face 400 kilograms bulls with no other defense than their bodies.
"Respect, not fear because I enjoy it, because I like it since I was a child. If I was scared to be in front of a bull I wouldn't do it because then, the bull will hit you. Of course you have certain feelings before going there (the arena) but it is not fear," says Jose Santander who has been practicing the bull jump (Recorte in Spanish) for four years now.
In fact, as Santander says, as the beginning of the show approaches, they look nervous, some of them are praying.
The Bullring is packed, spectators are waiting, and the first bull is in the ring. From that moment and with six bulls in total, the acrobatic young men spend the entire afternoon sparing the animals' lives, leaping over their heads as they approach, above the horns, swerving in front of the bull in a kind of risky familiarity with the animal and tremendous self-confidence, especially in their legs, while their companions prepare a nervous dance to attract the animal's attention and get ready for their 'flying bullfight'.
Spectators clap and dance as they finish the show. Bulls leave the bullring dragged back to the pigsty by friendly cows. They are going to die later but not in public.
"I like more the fact that the bull enters the bullring, makes people happy and then leave the ring alive. It is more logic that the bull being killed," says Manolo Torreoz who says he never attends bullfights because of the great pain that it represents for bulls.
French bull jumper David Casarin, a former bullfighter, agrees with Torreoz.
"It is an art that I like very much because it is a free body work with the bull and that is a demonstration of respect and love for the bull. It is a sensation different than bullfighting with a cape," says Casarin who came to participate in this show from his hometown of Mont-Marsan in southern France. The afternoon is over and happy spectators leave the bull ring, ready to continue with the fiesta.
The recortadores bullfight is an ancient tradition practiced today in Spain by many young men who like the bull's art but prefer to have fun without killing the animals.
Stoked Mice Ride The Waves
Shane Willmot trains mice to surf in his bath tub on Australia's Gold Coast. When he feels their skills are up to grade, it's time to hit the beach and mouse-sized waves. Willmott has made mini surfboards for his charges and is also working on a mouse-sized wave runner. It's been Willmott's mission since childhood to teach mice to do water sports.
Willmott is a tough coach, but he's also making sure his charges have everything from a custom made luxury villas to mini jet skis, so they can relax after tumbling off the surf boards and into the surf.
Over the years Australia has made some of the world's best surfers, and now they're producing the world's first surfing mice. Gold Coast resident Shane Willmott has a dream, to make his rodents ride gnarly waves. You may ask, why? and quite simply Shane admits he has too much time on his hands. "It's something we did as a kid, we had no XBox, no Playstation when we were young, so if I wanted to have fun we had to use our imaginations," he said.Willmott trains the mice vigourously in his bath tub, and when they're good enough takes them out into the surf.
Willmott's a tough coach, but he also makes sure his student's have a comfortable life, with custom made luxury villas and mini jet skis, so they can relax after a hard days surfing. They sometimes even get groovy hairstyles.
"I usually colour his hair up. Because he's white, when he gets in the whitewash it's hard to find him," adds Willmott.
It's hard to tell if the mice actually enjoy surfing, as most of the time the sea is too rough and the water too cold.
Renee Bunney, Reuters
Scientists aim for lab-grown meat
Developments in tissue engineering mean that cells taken from animals could be grown directly into meat in a laboratory, the researchers say.
Scientists believe the technology already exists to directly grow processed meat like a chicken nugget.
The technology could benefit both humans and the environment.
"With a single cell, you could theoretically produce the world's annual meat supply. And you could do it in a way that's better for the environment and human health.
"In the long term, this is a very feasible idea," said Jason Matheny of the University of Maryland, part of the team whose research has been published in the Tissue Engineering journal.
Growing the meat without the animal could reduce the need to keep millions of animals in cramped conditions and would lessen the damage caused by the meat production to the environment.
Laboratory-grown meat could also be healthier, proponents say.
Mars probe launches at third try
The $720m (£397m) Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) blasted off at 1243 BST (1143 GMT) on Friday after being delayed for two days running.
A launch attempt on Thursday was scrubbed due to a sensor malfunction.
MRO will arrive at Mars in March on a four-year mission; its cameras will send back the clearest images yet of the planet from space.[...]
EDITORIAL: Since the mission has already experienced such bad luck has it been marked for attention by the 'Great Goul of Space' - the entity that some NASSA engineers blame for the disapearance of so many of the Mars probes.
Saturday, August 13, 2005
Man-eater shark sighting 'error'
Basking shark: picture source
Amorous basking sharks are being blamed for a spate of sightings of potentially dangerous mako sharks off Cornwall. A second suspected mako - Maori for man-eater - was seen off Bude in the north of the county on Tuesday night.
A fisherman said he saw a 12 to 15ft-long mako - the fastest fish in the sea - leap out of the water.
But a shark expert told BBC News that he suspected harmless male basking sharks, seen nearby in the morning, were showing off to female mates [...]
The record for the biggest fish ever caught off the UK was a mako, hooked off Plymouth in 1971 and there were confirmed sightings going back to the 1950s.
But makos were still a rare find and if they did visit the area, they would normally remain off-shore, hunting for food.
Mr Herdson is convinced that a previous sighting of a mako, which led to surfers being called out of the water at Gwithian on 20 July, was not a mako, but a basking shark.
"There is nothing to be afraid of. Out of all the thousands of shark attacks in the world, only eight have ever been reported as a mako," he said.
"What we have to remember is that these sharks are highly specialised fish-eaters, not man-eaters. There has never been an unprovoked shark attack in UK waters."
New York releases 9/11 documents
Something for the conspiracists among us...
The city of New York has released thousands of fire department files from the attacks on the World Trade Center.
They include transmissions recorded on 11 September 2001 and testimonies from firefighters which were gathered later.
The city was forced to release the documents following a lawsuit filed by the New York Times, and supported by relatives of firefighters who died.
Records already published by the paper have raised questions whether some of the deaths might have been avoided.
More than 340 firefighters lost their lives on 11 September 2001. Many died after radio messages telling them to evacuate the north tower went unheard.
Last year a congressional inquiry into the attacks said there was a breakdown in communications between the emergency services.
The documents released on Friday include about 15 hours of radio communications between dispatchers and firefighters at the World Trade Center.
They also include more than 12,000 pages of individual oral histories compiled by the department in October 2001:
* A firefighter describes a woman leaping to her death from a tower and landing on a firefighter. "A lady in a blue dress came down. She went through the skylight and she hit this guy ... and she crushed him."
* "I'm trapped," says a civilian on a Fire Department radio dispatch tape. "I can't breathe much longer. Save me. I don't have much air. Please help me. I can barely breathe."
* A firefighter sees people falling from the twin towers. "I felt like I was intruding on a sacrament. They were choosing to die, and I was watching them and shouldn't have been, so me and another guy turned away and looked at the wall and we could still hear them hit."
* A rescuer expresses frustration with the co-ordination of the emergency operation. "I'm getting four different chiefs giving me four different command posts. ... Somebody at the scene has got to help me out and consolidate this."
The New York Times sought the records in 2002 under the Freedom of Information Act, and later sued the city when it refused to release them.
Earlier this year New York's highest court ordered that most - but not all - the documents should be made public.
The city has given several reasons for resisting the move - including concerns over interfering with the prosecution of 9/11 suspect Zacarias Moussaoui, and a confidentiality agreement with firefighters.
Some of the testimonies already leaked to the New York Times paint a picture of chaos and confusion on 11 September.
Firefighters recalled losing touch with one another and being unable to hear warnings about the imminent collapse of the north tower - the second of the two towers to fall.
Critics of the city's response - including relatives of those who died - hope the new documents will help them challenge the official conclusion that many firefighters heroically chose to ignore the warnings.
Friday, August 12, 2005
Royal News: Royal News Princess Diana Pregnancy Controversy
The needle returns to the start of the song...
Forceful fun of Lego Star Wars
Just read it!
Cuteness triumphs in Nintendogs
What is it with Japan and man's best friend? Not content with a flea-infested mongrel to dole out love to, our Asian cousins have spent years perfecting the electronic equivalent.
First came the cyber-pet craze, although our once beloved Tamagotchi have now passed onto that great cyber-kennel in the sky. Or the bottom of the sock drawer.
Then came Aibo, Sony's expensive robo-dog that relegated K-9 to the trash-heap.
No stranger to the odder side of gaming, Nintendo has created the perfect companion to their DS system with Nintendogs.
These virtual puppies have taken Japan by storm and European gamers will be able to see what the fuss is about on 7 October, with a choice of Labrador retriever, Miniature Dachshund or Chihuahua.
Cuteness on display
Stuffing the finer elements of a puppy onto a DS cartridge, Nintendogs allows players to name their pooch, take care of its every need and enter it into dog shows.
Much more than the rudimentary care given to Tamagotchi, Nintendogs can be stroked via the touch screen and taught simple tricks through the microphone.
Screenshot from Nintendogs
Gamers are responsible for the wellbeing of the dogs
The DS will even bark whenever another puppy is within wireless range.
And when it comes to walkies, you must bag whatever falls from Fido's backside, making this quite possibly the first game to have players packaging faeces.
Graphically there is not much going on here besides the brilliant dog models, which are animated in an incredibly lifelike manner.
With such cuteness on display, it is nigh-on impossible to resist giving your mutt a scratch under the chin.
It is easy to dismiss Nintendogs as nothing more than a passing fad, but there is no denying how much thought has gone into an experience that is quintessentially Nintendo.
It is unique, accessible and a joy to play for joystick junkies and non-gamers alike, while the polygonal pooches on offer here are better than the real thing in so many ways.
No vet bills, your leg remains unsullied, and you do not have to feel guilty when you bore of your bestial buddy.
Nintendogs for the Nintendo DS is out in the UK on 7 October
Wash capsules 'risk to children - Well, YEAH! THEY AIN'T TOYS!
Children may be at risk from washing machine capsules containing liquid detergent that could squirt in their eyes, doctors warn in The Lancet.
Staff at Children's University Hospital in Dublin saw six cases in six months in children aged 18 months to three.
Each had suffered eye damage after they squeezed a capsule, making it burst.
Doctors called for stronger warnings on packets, but manufacturers said there were clear warnings that the products should be kept away from children.
If they are in any way wet, they burst and splash
Dr Noel Horgan
They also suggested that manufacturers should modify the packaging to make it child-proof.
The capsules of concentrated liquid detergent are usually round or square and designed to dissolve in the wash, releasing their contents.
"However, they are of just the right size and consistency for kids to be interested in to squeeze," said Dr Noel Horgan, one of the consultants who wrote the Lancet letter.
"We want to raise people's awareness of the possible danger. If they are in any way wet they burst and splash," he explained.
All of the six children that he and his colleagues treated had suffered damage to the cells lining the cornea, the "window" covering the front of the eye.
If it is possible to reformulate the product so that it is not harmful, that would be the ideal
Child Accident Prevention Trust
Four had also sustained significant injuries to the conjunctiva, the thin transparent layer of tissue that surrounds the eye.
The children were admitted to hospital and kept in for two to five days.
Their injuries eventually healed, but Dr Horgan said they might still be at risk of longer-term problems.
He said the fluid, which is a strong alkali, could potentially damage cells that have the job of replacing older cells in the eye.
"Even though their corneas look healthy now, there can be compromise of these cells and some time in the future, these patients could be at greater risk of running into problems."
He said the injuries might have been more serious if water had not been promptly splashed over their eyes.
'No lasting damage'
The washing products do carry a label stating that they should be kept out of the reach of children.
Dr Horgan said: "We propose that the warning label should be more obvious."
They should be kept away from children...this is clearly communicated on the pack
Procter & Gamble
He said he had written to manufacturer Procter & Gamble.
In a statement, Procter & Gamble said: "Liquid Detergent Tablets have been on the market since Spring 2001.
"Like all laundry and cleaning products, they contain surfactant that under accidental exposure can cause irritation and discomfort to the eye; which is the kind of conjunctival and, in some cases, superficial corneal effects described by the authors.
"Like other laundry products they should be kept away from children, and in the event of such accidental exposure the eye should be promptly rinsed thoroughly with plenty of water and medical advice obtained. This is clearly communicated on the pack."
It said that safety evaluations had concluded that accidental exposure of the eye caused no lasting damage.
It added that child-proof containers caused "a significant proportion of the population very real difficulties and should only be applied when necessary."
A spokesman from the Child Accident Prevention Trust said: "If it is possible to reformulate the product so that it is not harmful, that would be the ideal.
"Failing that, we would be supportive for improving the storage instructions and looking into the issue of putting the product into child-proof containers."
EDITORIAL - MAybe havign an IQ in double figures before breeding would be helpful too, YA THINK!
How some people are born snorers
Scientists have discovered why it is that some people are chronic snorers.
By carrying out head and neck scans of snorers and non-snorers, the Slovenia team found it was down to the shape of the throat.
Snorers have narrower throats and the smaller the opening is, the louder the snore.
Contrary to popular opinion, nasal blockages do not cause snoring though they may "amplify the loudness", the researchers told Chest journal.
What makes a snorer
Dr Igor Fajdiga and his team studied 40 volunteers - 14 were non-snorers, 13 were moderately loud snorers and 13 were loud snorers, according to their spouses.
How loudly people snored was directly related to the extent that their throat narrowed when they inhaled during their sleep - the narrower the throat, the bigger the snore.
A culprit was the soft palate, which is the soft tissue at the back of the roof of the mouth.
The snorers' soft palates were much bigger than those of non-snorers, meaning it blocked smooth airflow.
Turbulent airflow is what creates the noise.
When we are awake we have enough muscle tone to keep the airways open. However, when we are asleep we lose this tone.
Being older and overweight can make the problem worse.
Posture is a small component, but sleeping on your side may help some
Allen Davey, director of the British Snoring and Sleep Apnoea Association
Surgery is an option, but Allen Davey, director of the British Snoring and Sleep Apnoea Association, said this should be a last resort.
"It's irreversible and extremely painful and it doesn't always work. The long-term results are not terribly good."
He said shedding excess pounds, cutting down on alcohol and avoiding living in smoky environments could help.
Sometimes part of the problem is the tongue flopping to the back of the throat and obstructing airflow, he said.
Mandibular advancement devices - small plastic splints made to wear in the mouth at night - can help to keep the airway open.
"Posture is a small component, but sleeping on your side may help some," he added.
More than 3.5 million people in the UK snore. It's thought to affect four out of 10 men and up to three out of 10 women.
Physics enlisted to help singles
Successful couples are said to have chemistry, but a study by an Oxford graduate suggests that dating may actually have more to do with physics.
Richard Ecob adapted a system for modelling atoms in radioactive decay to investigate how we look for partners.
He found that "super daters", people who have many short relationships, have a good effect on others' lives.
This is because they break up weak couples, forcing their victims to find better relationships.
At the root of the system, says Mr Ecob, is the similarity between the probability of the nucleus of an atom decaying and that of a couple breaking up.
The decay of a nucleus is described in terms of "transit states": the series of change it has been through to get to its current situation.
The probability of someone having been in two relationships, for example, is the same as that of a nucleus decaying twice.
"We had an inkling that it might be the same because we saw similarities," he told the BBC News website.
"When we worked it out, the graphs we got were very similar."
To model the phenomenon, he wrote a computer program which placed "software singles", people seeking partners, in an imaginary social network.
Each single had a set of interests, which they also looked for in potential partners.
The research suggested that multiple daters, those who form many relationships, were less effective at finding the right partner than those who remained in one place and let others come to them.
"If you have a complex network and you stay in one site you see more traffic coming through," he said. "It's a denser network, so there are more possible matches."
Another surprising discovery was that an increased set of preferences made no difference to a single's chance of ending up in a relationship.
Despite modern people having more complex and varied interests than before, said Mr Ecob, this had no impact on their ability to date.
So long as they were still willing to accept partners who met only a fraction of their criteria, the number of potential matches remained the same.
The next stage of the project is to show that it can also be applied to business and political matches as well as it can to personal relationships.
"We think it'll match up the same," said Mr Ecob. "If you're with a phone company and you know they're not an ideal match, you're going to look for someone who is. It's a very similar situation."
Mr Ecob, who was recently awarded a first class Physics degree, undertook the study as part of his Masters research project. He worked closely with his supervisors, David Smith and Neil Johnson, who are now taking the study further.
They have entered the project in the prestigious Science, Engineering and Technology Student of the Year awards, which will be presented in London's Guildhall next month.
Frog with Norfolk accent returns
A frog species which had a distinct Norfolk accent, but which became extinct in England in the 1990s is being reintroduced.
About 70 northern pool frogs - one of Europe's rarest species - will be reintroduced to Norfolk by English Nature and partners on Friday.
The frog was thought to be a European import, but researchers have now found they are native to East Anglia.
Recordings of mating Norfolk frogs show they had a characteristic inflection.
Archaeological investigations revealed pool frog remains around old Saxon sites in Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire.
But fenland drainage led to the frog's extinction before its native status was recognised.
The pool frogs released on Friday were captured in a wildlife rich region in Uppsala in Sweden earlier this week.
The frogs will be released at a secret location near Thetford in Norfolk, to guard against theft by amphibian collectors.
'Real detective story'
Habitats at the site, including special ponds called pingos, have been restored by the Forestry Commission over the last few years.
English Nature's amphibian specialist, Jim Foster, said: "Piecing together what happened to pool frogs has proved to be a real detective story.
"The frog's distinctive Norfolk accent, the buried remains and genetic studies all provided crucial clues.
"It has taken nearly 10 years of research, involving people across Europe, to get to the bottom of this mystery and today is the culmination of all that effort."
Bereaved Parsley loses her fight
A donkey from a Lincolnshire park has died three weeks after a road accident which killed five stablemates.
The jenny, called Parsley, was in foal when she was badly injured by a car that struck a group of donkeys on the A158 near Wragby last month.
The animals had been released from Rand Farm Park during an attempted burglary in the early hours of the morning.
Parsley suffered cuts to her head and legs and appeared to be on the mend, despite losing her foal.
Children from across the county have been sending their letters, e-mail messages and pictures to the farm.
Kay Waring from the farm said: "We were extremely optimistic that Parsley was going to make a full recovery. She did incredibly well to survive the accident in the first place.
"Unfortunately she lost her foal the following Wednesday, but we were optimistic that would hopefully that would enable her to look after herself a little bit better."
She said Parsley was making fantastic progress but the donkey developed an infection in her leg wounds and that is being blamed for her death this week.
The family were woken in the middle of the night by the police who alerted them to a crash involving the animals which had been released from the farm and apparently ushered on to the road.
Eight donkeys made it to the main road, where six were hit. Five died in, or soon after, the crash.
Parsley appeared to pull through and two others were unharmed.
A police investigation was launched after the break-in which saw the donkeys make their way on to the A158 at Rand near Wragby.
The Christian Paradox (Harpers.org)
The Christian Paradox
How a faithful nation gets Jesus wrong
Posted on Wednesday, July 27, 2005. What it means to be Christian in America. An excerpt. Originally from August 2005. By Bill McKibben.
Only 40 percent of Americans can name more than four of the Ten Commandments, and a scant half can cite any of the four authors of the Gospels. Twelve percent believe Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife. This failure to recall the specifics of our Christian heritage may be further evidence of our nation’s educational decline, but it probably doesn’t matter all that much in spiritual or political terms. Here is a statistic that does matter: Three quarters of Americans believe the Bible teaches that “God helps those who help themselves.” That is, three out of four Americans believe that this uber-American idea, a notion at the core of our current individualist politics and culture, which was in fact uttered by Ben Franklin, actually appears in Holy Scripture. The thing is, not only is Franklin’s wisdom not biblical; it’s counter-biblical. Few ideas could be further from the gospel message, with its radical summons to love of neighbor. On this essential matter, most Americans—most American Christians—are simply wrong, as if 75 percent of American scientists believed that Newton proved gravity causes apples to fly up.
Asking Christians what Christ taught isn’t a trick. When we say we are a Christian nation—and, overwhelmingly, we do—it means something. People who go to church absorb lessons there and make real decisions based on those lessons; increasingly, these lessons inform their politics. (One poll found that 11 percent of U.S. churchgoers were urged by their clergy to vote in a particular way in the 2004 election, up from 6 percent in 2000.) When George Bush says that Jesus Christ is his favorite philosopher, he may or may not be sincere, but he is reflecting the sincere beliefs of the vast majority of Americans.
And therein is the paradox. America is simultaneously the most professedly Christian of the developed nations and the least Christian in its behavior. That paradox—more important, perhaps, than the much touted ability of French women to stay thin on a diet of chocolate and cheese—illuminates the hollow at the core of our boastful, careening culture.
* * *
Ours is among the most spiritually homogenous rich nations on earth. Depending on which poll you look at and how the question is asked, somewhere around 85 percent of us call ourselves Christian. Israel, by way of comparison, is 77 percent Jewish. It is true that a smaller number of Americans—about 75 percent—claim they actually pray to God on a daily basis, and only 33 percent say they manage to get to church every week. Still, even if that 85 percent overstates actual practice, it clearly represents aspiration. In fact, there is nothing else that unites more than four fifths of America. Every other statistic one can cite about American behavior is essentially also a measure of the behavior of professed Christians. That’s what America is: a place saturated in Christian identity.
But is it Christian? This is not a matter of angels dancing on the heads of pins. Christ was pretty specific about what he had in mind for his followers. What if we chose some simple criterion—say, giving aid to the poorest people—as a reasonable proxy for Christian behavior? After all, in the days before his crucifixion, when Jesus summed up his message for his disciples, he said the way you could tell the righteous from the damned was by whether they’d fed the hungry, slaked the thirsty, clothed the naked, welcomed the stranger, and visited the prisoner. What would we find then?
In 2004, as a share of our economy, we ranked second to last, after Italy, among developed countries in government foreign aid. Per capita we each provide fifteen cents a day in official development assistance to poor countries. And it’s not because we were giving to private charities for relief work instead. Such funding increases our average daily donation by just six pennies, to twenty-one cents. It’s also not because Americans were too busy taking care of their own; nearly 18 percent of American children lived in poverty (compared with, say, 8 percent in Sweden). In fact, by pretty much any measure of caring for the least among us you want to propose—childhood nutrition, infant mortality, access to preschool—we come in nearly last among the rich nations, and often by a wide margin. The point is not just that (as everyone already knows) the American nation trails badly in all these categories; it’s that the overwhelmingly Christian American nation trails badly in all these categories, categories to which Jesus paid particular attention. And it’s not as if the numbers are getting better: the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported last year that the number of households that were “food insecure with hunger” had climbed more than 26 percent between 1999 and 2003.
This Christian nation also tends to make personal, as opposed to political, choices that the Bible would seem to frown upon. Despite the Sixth Commandment, we are, of course, the most violent rich nation on earth, with a murder rate four or five times that of our European peers. We have prison populations greater by a factor of six or seven than other rich nations (which at least should give us plenty of opportunity for visiting the prisoners). Having been told to turn the other cheek, we’re the only Western democracy left that executes its citizens, mostly in those states where Christianity is theoretically strongest. Despite Jesus’ strong declarations against divorce, our marriages break up at a rate—just over half—that compares poorly with the European Union’s average of about four in ten. That average may be held down by the fact that Europeans marry less frequently, and by countries, like Italy, where divorce is difficult; still, compare our success with, say, that of the godless Dutch, whose divorce rate is just over 37 percent. Teenage pregnancy? We’re at the top of the charts. Personal self-discipline—like, say, keeping your weight under control? Buying on credit? Running government deficits? Do you need to ask?
* * *
To read the remainder of this essay, pick up a copy of the August issue of Harper's Magazine, on newsstands near you. Looking for a newsstand?
About the Author
Bill McKibben, a scholar-in-residence at Middlebury College, is the author of many books, including The End of Nature and Wandering Home: A Long Walk Across America’s Most Hopeful Landscape. His last article for Harper’s Magazine, “The Cuba Diet,” appeared in the April 2005 issue.
Siberia's rapid thaw causes alarm
The world's largest frozen peat bog is melting, which could speed the rate of global warming, New Scientist reports.
The huge expanse of western Siberia is thawing for the first time since its formation, 11,000 years ago.
The area, which is the size of France and Germany combined, could release billions of tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
This could potentially act as a tipping point, causing global warming to snowball, scientists fear.
The situation is an "ecological landslide that is probably irreversible and is undoubtedly connected to climatic warming," researcher Sergei Kirpotin, of Tomsk State University, Russia, told New Scientist magazine.
The whole western Siberian sub-Arctic region has started to thaw, he added, and this "has all happened in the last three or four years".
Western Siberia has warmed faster than almost anywhere on the planet, with average temperatures increasing by about 3C in the last 40 years.
The warming is believed to be due to a combination of man-made climate change, a cyclical atmospheric phenomenon known as the Arctic oscillation and feedbacks caused by melting ice.
But if the bogs melt, there is a big risk their hefty methane load could be dumped into the atmosphere, accelerating global warming.
Scientists have reacted with alarm at the finding, warning that future global temperature predictions may have to be revised.
"When you start messing around with these natural systems, you can end up in situations where it's unstoppable," David Viner, of the University of East Anglia, UK, told the Guardian newspaper. "There are no brakes you can apply.
"This is a big deal because you can't put the permafrost back once it's gone. The causal effect is human activity and it will ramp up temperatures even more than our emissions are doing."
The intergovernmental panel on climate change speculated in 2001 that global temperatures would rise between 1.4C and 5.8C between 1990 and 2100.
However these estimates only considered global warming sparked by known greenhouse gas emissions.
"These positive feedbacks with landmasses weren't known about then," Dr Viner said. "They had no idea how much they would add to global warming."
Experts 'decipher' Inca strings
Researchers in the US believe they have come closer to solving a centuries-old mystery - by deciphering knotted string used by the ancient Incas.
Experts say one bunch of knots appears to identify a city, marking the first intelligible word from the extinct South American civilisation.
The coloured, knotted pieces of string, known as khipu, are believed to have been used for accounting information.
The researchers say the finding could unlock the meaning of other khipu.
Harvard University researchers Gary Urton and Carrie Brezine used computers to analyse 21 khipu.
They found a three-knot pattern in some of the strings which they believe identifies the bunch as coming from the city of Puruchuco, the site of an Inca palace.
"We hypothesize that the arrangement of three figure-eight knots at the start of these khipu represented the place identifier, or toponym, Puruchuco," they wrote in their report, published in the journal Science.
"We suggest that any khipu moving within the state administrative system bearing an initial arrangement of three figure-eight knots would have been immediately recognisable to Inca administrators as an account pertaining to the palace of Puruchuco."
Most experts agree the khipu represented an accounting system, but until now, no-one had been able to decipher them.
The researchers said their findings support what is already known about the Inca society.
"This work gives us some sense of how this complex information was compiled, manipulated, shared and archived in the Inca hierarchy," Mr Urton said in a statement quoted by Reuters news agency.
He said that the discovery could help researchers build up an inventory of place names, marking the first time khipu have been associated with words rather than numbers.
Mr Urton said there are about 700 known khipu, two-thirds of which are arranged in a numerical pattern.
The others may hold the key to historical information and stories.
"We think those may be the narrative ones," Mr Urton said.
Hope for eliminating 'latent' HIV
Early research suggests a potential way to eradicate dormant HIV infection, scientists claim in the Lancet.
A University of North Carolina team has shown valproic acid - used to treat bipolar disorder - can prevent HIV persisting in this latent phase.
The findings may boost HIV treatment and be a step towards preventing HIV from being a chronic disease, they say.
But experts cautioned against premature optimism, and said much more research into the drug's effects was needed.
Thursday, August 11, 2005
IOL: Husband and wife discover they are siblings
August 06 2005 at 04:26PM
Phnom Penh - A Cambodian man's joy turned to dismay after he discovered that his long-lost mother, who had survived the bloody Khmer Rouge regime, is also the mother of his wife.
Tep Song, 35, and his wife Tep Ly, 38, had been removed from their village in the southern province of Svay Rieng and separated by Khmer Rouge troops in 1975 when they were five and eight, respectively.
The pair told aid workers they met again when Song was 17 and extremely ill in hospital in neighbouring Takeo province and Ly was assigned as his nurse. They fell in love and married soon afterwards, unaware that they had any more in common than having been born in the same province.
The couple had believed that the rest of their families had been wiped out. But Song, an itinerant worker, saved everything they had to make a trip to his home village to search for any surviving family - where he discovered his mother, Thit Sohn, 77.
'At first they were overjoyed'
"At first, of course, they were overjoyed, but then the son and mother began naming other relatives who had been murdered," Prom Bopha of the Collect Safe of People (CSP) aid agency said in a telephone interview.
"Ly was surprised, and told them these were also her relatives' names, and then they discovered they shared the same childhood memories, and before long they realised that they had the same father and mother," said Prom Bopha, whose group is caring for the family.
"It should have been a time of great joy, but now the mother cries all day and all night," Prom Bopha said. "They are surprised and very upset and all three are now very ill."
The couple has four children, aged between 14 years and 14 months.
The ultra-Maoist Khmer Rouge ruled Cambodia between 1975 to 1979. Up to two million Cambodians died during the regime's drive to turn the nation into an agrarian utopia, free of class systems, markets and money.
The regime emptied the cities and often removed children from parents to more easily indoctrinate them. Thousands of Cambodians are still searching for family members. - Sapa-dpa
Waiting for the Children to Die...
Couple claims to be world's oldest
Wed Aug 10, 2005 11:18 AM ET
TOKYO (Reuters) - A Japanese man aged 104 and his 103-year-old wife plan to claim the title of world's oldest married couple after hearing it had been awarded to two Americans.
Yoichi and Kazono Gomi, married 72 years, appeared to have difficulty recalling their ages during a televised news conference in their home town of Yokohama this week.
But family members said their combined age of 207 should entitle them to the record.
Philadelphia residents Herbert and Magda Brown, registered by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's oldest couple, are 105 and 100 respectively, giving them an aggregate age of 205.
"You have to have a lot of hope," said Yoichi, a former civil servant, when asked the secret of living a long life.
"You have to want to be alive," he said.
"What we enjoy most is spending time together," he added.
His wife, who once worked as a nurse, appeared to shake her head as he spoke.
"You get bored just living such a long time. I don't enjoy anything any more," she said.
The couple have three children, five grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
© Reuters 2005. All Rights Reserved.
Two Headed Snake Video
With four eyes and two tongues, this two-headed Corn snake hasdouble the hiss and double the slither.
The snake's owner says he's had it since it hatched. Two-headed snakes are rare, but not unheard of.
Other double-headed snakes have been found in Honduras, Sri Lanka andArgentina.
Scientists say the snakes generally develop the same way siamese twinsdo - when a developing embryo partially splits leaving them joined.
Harry Potter and The Prisoners of Guantanamo
Harry Potter bewitches Guantanamo Bay prisoners
Wed Aug 10, 2005 11:16 AM ET
By Caroline Drees, Security Correspondent
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Harry Potter has bewitched detainees at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, where tales of the young wizard and mysteries by Agatha Christie top the list of most popular books, a prison librarian said on Tuesday.
"Harry Potter is a popular title among some of the detainee population," said the librarian, a civilian contractor identified only as "Lorie" who works at the prison camp for foreign terrorism suspects at the U.S. naval base in Cuba.
Lorie said the popularity of the best-selling Harry Potter books, which recount the adventures of a boy wizard as he triumphs over the powers of evil, was matched only by the prisoners' passion for Agatha Christie, some of whose murder mysteries are set in the Middle East.
The Guantanamo Bay prison -- which has come under fierce attack by human rights groups for its treatment and indefinite detention of prisoners -- holds about 510 suspects from 40 countries. Most are from Afghanistan and Arab states.
But even this remote prison has not escaped the world-wide frenzy over the escapades of Harry Potter and his friends at the Hogwarts School of Wizardry and Witchcraft. The sixth book in the series by author J.K. Rowling, which went on sale last month, is the fastest-selling book of all time.
"We have Harry Potter in four languages, English, French, Farsi and Russian. We have it on order in Arabic. We do not have books 5 and 6 in the series, at this time. We have had several detainees read the series," Lorie said in a written response to questions from Reuters.
"One prisoner has requested the movies," she said.
News of the series' popularity was first reported by The Washington Times on Monday.
Asked what other books were among the prisoners' favorites, Lorie said, "We have 12 different Agatha Christie titles in Arabic that are very popular. Also 1001 Arabian Nights."
Overall, the library contains 1,200 books, 164 magazines and 40 videos.
The prisoners do not need library privileges to read the Islamic holy book, the Koran, which is a "basic issue item" that each prisoner keeps in his cell, she said.
The United States opened the Guantanamo prison in January 2002. A total of 242 detainees have been transferred out of the prison to other countries either to be freed or for continued detention, while approximately 510 remain at Guantanamo, according to the Pentagon. Many have been held for more than three years and only four have been charged.
Human rights groups have assailed the United States for the indefinite detentions, and former Guantanamo prisoners have complained they were tortured, a charge the military denies.
Some critics have urged the Bush administration to shut the camp down, saying its treatment of prisoners encourages hatred toward the West and bolsters support for militant violence.
© Reuters 2005. All Rights Reserved.
Man accidentally runs over wife twice
BERLIN (Reuters) - A 75-year-old German was so shocked he had accidentally run down his wife he started forward and drove over her again, authorities said Wednesday.
Police in the western town of Bad Nauheim said the man compounded his 73-year-old wife's misery after an onlooker told him he had just run her over while backing out of a parking space. The woman was rushed to hospital and survived.
Pig brain cell transplant plan
Pig brain cells wrapped in a seaweed derivative could be implanted into human brains by next year to treat Huntington's disease, if approved.
Researchers at New Zealand's Living Cell Technologies in Auckland have already had good results in monkeys.
They told New Scientist they were seeking approval to do the same in humans in the US.
The Food and Drugs Administration has already approved trials with animal tissue for Parkinson's disease.
However, there is concern that using animal cells in humans could spread infections from animals to humans.
Huntington's Disease is an inherited condition caused by a single faulty gene and affects one in 100,000 people.
Although present from birth, symptoms normally appear when the person is between 30 and 50.
Cells start to die in an area of the brain which helps control the movement of the body's muscles.
Patients experience gradually worsening twitches, loss of muscle control, and memory loss and eventually die from the condition.
In an attempt to minimise this damage in primates, the New Zealand team used pig brain cells taken from the lining of a brain structure known as the choroid plexus.
These cells have a nurturing role, mopping up toxins and secreting a range of chemicals that are reduced in Huntington's and are essential for brain cell function.
To overcome rejection of the implant, which has been a problem in the past with work such as this, the team wrapped the cells to be implanted in alginate - a derivative of seaweed.
This protects the cells from the immune system.
Human trial hope
They put the implants into four of seven monkeys that were given a toxin to simulate the brain damage caused by Huntington's.
A month later, brain cell damage was five times less in the animals treated with live pig cell transplants than in the other primates - approximately 50% cell death versus 10%.
This work is yet to be published. Similar work in using pig brain cell implants in rats was published in NeuroReport last November.
Al Vasconcellos, head of the Biopharma subsidiary of Living Cell Technologies in Rhode Island, the US, which plans to carry out the human research, told New Scientist: "The findings are so remarkable that I am confident that the FDA will fast-track approval of clinical trials for early next year, and we will see product approval in two years."
A spokeswoman from the Huntington's Disease Association said: "We are always excited to hear about any research that shows promise for Huntington's disease.
"However, it would take many years to see if approaches like these would be safe and work in humans."
Dr Roger Barker from the Cambridge Centre for Brain Repair said he would like to see more work in animal models before moving to human research.
He said Huntington's damage progressed much slower in humans compared with the animal models and that it would be important to show that limiting the damage did have a clinical benefit.
Wednesday, August 10, 2005
Nanotechnology kills cancer cells
Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 August 2005, 09:38 GMT 10:38 UK
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Nanotechnology kills cancer cells
Fluorescence shows where the tubules have been taken into the cell
Tiny tubes are implanted in cancer cells
Nanotechnology has been harnessed to kill cancer cells without harming healthy tissue.
The technique works by inserting microscopic synthetic rods called carbon nanotubules into cancer cells.
When the rods are exposed to near-infra red light from a laser they heat up, killing the cell, while cells without rods are left unscathed.
Details of the Stanford University work are published by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Researcher Dr Hongjie Dai said: "One of the longstanding problems in medicine is how to cure cancer without harming normal body tissue.
"Standard chemotherapy destroys cancer cells and normal cells alike.
"That's why patients often lose their hair and suffer numerous other side effects.
"For us, the Holy Grail would be finding a way to selectively kill cancer cells and not damage healthy ones."
Many in cell
The carbon nanotubules used by the Stanford team are only half the width of a DNA molecule, and thousands can easily fit inside a typical cell.
Under normal circumstances near-infra red light passes through the body harmlessly.
But the Stanford team found that if they placed a solution of carbon nanotubules under a near-infra red laser beam, the solution heated up to about 70C in two minutes.
They then placed the tubules inside cells, and found they were quickly destroyed by the heat generated by the laser beam.
Dr Dai said: "It's actually quite simple and amazing. We're using an intrinsic property of nanotubes to develop a weapon that kills cancer."
The next step was to find a way to introduce the nantubules into cancer cells, but not healthy cells.
The researchers did this by taking advantage of the fact that, unlike normal cells, the surface of cancer cells is covered with receptors for a vitamin known as folate.
They coated the nanotubules with folate molecules, making it easy for them to pass into cancer cells, but unable to bind with their healthy cousins.
Exposure to the laser duly killed off the diseased cells, but left the healthy ones untouched.
The researchers believe it should be possible to refine the technique still further, for instance by attaching an antibody to a nanotubule to target a particular kind of cancer cell.
They have already started work on tailoring the technique to target lymphoma in mice.
Dr Emma Knight, of the charity Cancer Research UK, said: "Nanotechnology has a lot to offer biomedical science, and the results of this paper suggest yet another way in which it may help in the fight against cancer.
"However, this work is still at a very early stage. The researchers have shown that near-infra red light can cause nanotubes to produce heat that can kill cancer cells.
"But their work so far has focused on cells that have been grown in culture in the laboratory.
"Further research will be crucial to see whether these effects can be reproduced in the more complex environment of a tumour and, ultimately, the human body."
McKellen Slams Church's Stance Against 'Da Vinci Code'
British actor Ian McKellen has slammed the leaders of the Catholic Church for urging people not to read Dan Brown's controversial novel The Da Vinci Code. While the book has proved hugely popular internationally, the Vatican's reaction to the way its religion is depicted by Brown has been far from positive. But McKellen, who recently finished filming a movie version of the book with Tom Hanks, brands the church's stance against the novel "pathetic". He says, "People are always interested in mystery, but when it's a mystery that suggests that a major influence on all our lives - the Catholic Church - has perhaps been misleading us all this time, then it becomes spectacularly sensational. The idea that it shouldn't be read, which I think is the official Vatican line, is pretty pathetic."