Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Health bill survives attacks — vote by week's end?

Senate panel kills health 'Public option' A White House-backed overhaul of the nation's health care system weathered repeated challenges from Republican critics over taxes, abortion and more on Wednesday, and the bill's architect claimed enough votes to push it through the Senate Finance Committee as early as week's end.

"We're coming to closure," said Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., the committee chairman, as President Barack Obama lobbied at least one wavering Democrat by phone to swing behind the measure.

Baucus said, "It's clear to me we're going to get it passed," although he sidestepped a question about possible Republican support. Olympia Snowe of Maine is the only GOP senator whose vote is in doubt, and she has yet to tip her hand. While she has voted with Democrats on some key tests — to allow the government to dictate the types of coverage that must be included in insurance policies, for example — she has also sided with fellow Republicans on other contentious issues.

In a reflection of the intensity on both sides of the Capitol, Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson of Florida was unrepentant after claiming the Republican plan for health care was for Americans to "die quickly." Refusing to apologize, he said, "People like elected officials with guts who say what they mean. ... I stand by what I said."

That controversy aside, House Democratic leaders struggled to reduce their legislation to the $900 billion, 10-year cost that Obama has specified. Officials said numerous alternatives were under review to reduce subsidies that are designed to defray the cost of insurance for millions.

Passage in the Finance Committee would clear the way for debate on the Senate floor in mid-October on the bill, designed to accomplish Obama's aims of expanding access to insurance as well as slowing the rate of growth in health care spending overall. The bill includes numerous consumer protections, such as limits on copays and deductibles, and relies on federal subsidies to help lower-income families purchase coverage. Its cost is estimated at $900 billion over a decade.

While the legislation would not allow the government to sell insurance in competition with private companies, as Obama and numerous Democrats would like, the White House was working to make sure that some version cleared committee.

via Health bill survives attacks — vote by week's end? - Yahoo! News.

With the shape the economy is in now, I don't think we can afford this.

FBI denies editing Oklahoma City bombing tapes

Raw Video: New look at Oklahoma City bombing The FBI says it did not edit videotapes of the aftermath of the 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building before turning them over to an attorney who is conducting an unofficial inquiry into the bombing.

The FBI turned over more than two dozen tapes taken from security cameras on buildings and other locations around the federal building to Salt Lake City attorney Jesse Trentadue, who obtained them through the federal Freedom of Information Act. Trentadue said the tapes are blank at various times in the minutes before the blast.

"They have been edited," Trentadue said Wednesday.

The soundless recordings show people rushing from nearby buildings immediately after a 4,000 pound fertilizer-and-fuel-oil bomb detonated in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on April 19, 1995, killing 168 people, including 19 children, and injuring hundreds more.

Some show people fleeing through corridors cluttered with debris. None shows the actual explosion that ripped through the federal building.

Trentadue said the absence of footage before the blast indicates something was on the tapes that the FBI did not want to make public.

"They don't do anything by accident," he said.

A spokesman for the FBI in Washington, Paul Bresson, said in an e-mail to The Associated Press that the agency did not edit the tapes before turning them over to Trentadue.

Bresson said the FBI identified 26 videos in its files in response to an April request by Trentadue for video from security cameras in 11 different locations. FBI agents did not report finding any security tapes from the federal building itself.

"The FBI made no edits or redactions in the processing of these videos," Bresson said. "The tapes are typical security cameras — the view switches camera to camera every few seconds."

Bresson declined to expand on the FBI's e-mail statement when contacted Wednesday.

via FBI denies editing Oklahoma City bombing tapes - Yahoo! News.

Spiritual Women Have More Sex

Is it sexy to be spiritual? New research has found that spirituality has a greater effect on the sex lives of young adults - especially women - than religion, impulsivity, or alcohol.

"I think people have been well aware of the role that religious and spiritual matters play in everyday life for a very long time," said Jessica Burris, one of the study's researchers at the University of Kentucky. "But in the research literature, the unique qualities of spirituality - apart from religiousness - are not usually considered."

According to a research measure known as the Spiritual Transcendence Scale, those qualities are connectedness, universality, and prayer fulfillment. But the data found that of the three, connectedness plays the largest role in spiritual sexuality and leads to more sex with more partners, often without the use of condoms.

"Believing one is intimately tied to other human beings and that interconnectedness and harmony are indispensible may lead one to believe sexual intimacy possesses a divine or transcendent quality in itself," Burris writes. "In fact, ascribing sacred qualities to sex has been positively associated with positive affective reactions to sex, frequency of sex, and number of sexual partners among university students."

The study's participants indeed were university students; 353 undergraduates (61 percent of whom were female) answered a questionnaire that asked them about their alcohol use, impulsivity, religiousness, spirituality, and sexual practices. The statements on spirituality, which were ranked by level of agreement, included "In the quiet of my prayers and/or meditations, I find a sense of wholeness," and "Although individual people may be difficult, I feel an emotional bond with all of humanity."

The study found that spiritual men weren't sexually affected - in fact, their frequency of sex decreased. The researchers figure men might not view spirituality as sexual because they biologically don't think of sex as a gateway to emotional intimacy.

For women, however, spirituality was the strongest predictor for the number of sexual partners, the frequency of sex, and the tendency to have sex without a condom.

"It is possible female young adults yearn for greater connectedness with other humans," Burris writes. "Spirituality, at least for women, could be considered a risk factor." ...

via Spiritual Women Have More Sex - Yahoo! News.

Nero's rotating banquet hall unveiled in Rome

An unidentified man talks to the media, near a recently unearthed brick Not only was Nero a Roman emperor, it turns out he may also have been the father of the revolving restaurant.

Archaeologists unveiled Tuesday what they think are the remains of Nero's extravagant banquet hall, a circular space that rotated day and night to imitate the Earth's movement and impress his guests.

The room, part of Nero's Golden Palace, a sprawling residence built in the first century A.D., is thought to have been built to entertain government officials and VIPs, said lead archaeologist Francoise Villedieu.

The emperor, known for his lavish and depraved lifestyle, ruled from 37 A.D. to 68 A.D.

The dig so far has turned up the foundations of the room, the rotating mechanism underneath and part of an attached space believed to be the kitchens, she said.

"This cannot be compared to anything that we know of in ancient Roman architecture," Villedieu told reporters during a tour of the cordoned-off dig.

She said the location of the discovery atop the Palatine Hill, the rotating structure and references to it in ancient biographies of Nero make the attribution to the emperor most likely.

The partially excavated site is part of the sumptuous residence, also known by its Latin name Domus Aurea, which rose over the ruins of a fire that destroyed much of Rome in A.D. 64.

The purported main dining room, with a diameter of over 50 feet (16 meters), rested upon a 13-foot (4-meter) wide pillar and four spherical mechanisms that, likely powered by a constant flow of water, rotated the structure.

The discovery was made during routine maintenance of the fragile Palatine area, officials said.

Latin biographer and historian Suetonius, who chronicled his times and wrote the biographies of 12 Roman rulers, refers to a main dining room that revolved "day and night, in time with the sky."

Angelo Bottini, the state's top official for archaeology in Rome, said the ceiling of the rotating room might have been the one mentioned by Suetonius, who wrote of ivory panels sliding back and forth to shower flowers and perfumes on the guests below.

"The heart of every activity in ancient Rome was the banquet, together with some form of entertainment," Bottini said at the dig. "Nero was like the sun, and people were revolving around the emperor."

via Nero's rotating banquet hall unveiled in Rome - Yahoo! News.

Dig reveals ancient fields discovery of a prehistoric irrigation system in the Marana desert is giving archaeologists a deeper glimpse into one of the first groups of people to farm in the Tucson basin.

"What we're looking at is, perhaps, the earliest sedentary village life in the Southwest with people depending on agriculture as a primary food source," said project director Jim Vint.

For more than 3,000 years, an elaborate ancient irrigation system has remained hidden deep beneath the sand in Marana.

In January, excavation at the Pima County Regional Wastewater Reclamation Facility at Ina Road and Interstate 10 revealed the ancient irrigation system. It is said to be the most intricate system of its kind uncovered in North America.

"We've uncovered dozens of these fields. We can see the actual holes where they planted the corn in many instances" geologist Fred Nials said. "We can completely reconstruct their irrigation system."

The $6.8 million project at a site — called "Las Capas," or "The Layers" — is part of an expansion of the Pima County Regional Wastewater Reclamation Facility. The excavation, by Desert Archaeology Inc., complies with state and county regulations requiring that a site be excavated before development of land that may contain historical artifacts.

What the archaeologists found was more than they ever expected, said Desert Archaeology President Bill Doelle.

"Usually what people have found when digging in the flood plain is the main irrigation ditch that diverts water out of the river; they'll just see that ditch," he said. "We had no idea that whole field systems are also preserved in that flood plain sediment."

The field system, which spans about 60 to 80 acres, is just downstream from where the Cañada del Oro and Rillito join the Santa Cruz River. The site was revealed by scraping away thin layers in broad 7-foot sections using a backhoe.

"If you take that really thin scrape, it's really amazing how features can just appear from a couple inches of soil being removed," said Loy Neff, program manager at the Pima County Cultural Resources and Historic Preservation Office.
The archaeologists were able to recognize the outlines of fields, canals, pits and housing sites by different compositions that appeared in the dirt. For instance, the flow of river water through canals and into fields left sediment that could be seen as soil was scraped away.

"What you get is differences in color and texture in the soil that form patterns," Neff said. "When you scrape, suddenly you get a rectangular pattern or a linear pattern; they just pop up."

The group has now discovered more than 200 individual maize fields and more than 170 canals of various sizes throughout six major layers of sediment. The topmost or most recent layer dates to 800 B.C., and the sixth layer, which is about 13 feet underground, dates to about 1200 B.C.

These "layers," produced by periodic flooding of the river, reveal the story of one of the first groups of people to recognize the enormous potential of the Santa Cruz River and agriculture. These pre-Hohokam peoples, thought to be ancestors of today's Tohono O'odham Indians, depended on the river for their livelihood. ...

via Dig reveals ancient fields | ®.

Hyenas cooperate, problem-solve better than primates

September 28, 2009 By DeLene Beeland

Spotted hyenas may not be smarter than chimpanzees, but a new study shows that they outperform the primates on cooperative problem-solving tests.

Captive pairs of spotted hyenas (Crocuta crocuta) that needed to tug two ropes in unison to earn a food reward cooperated successfully and learned the maneuvers quickly with no training. Experienced hyenas even helped inexperienced partners do the trick.

When confronted with a similar task, chimpanzees and other primates often require extensive training and cooperation between individuals may not be easy, said Christine Drea, an evolutionary anthropologist at Duke University.

Drea's research, published online in the October issue of Animal Behavior, shows that social carnivores like spotted hyenas that hunt in packs may be good models for investigating cooperative problem solving and the evolution of . She performed these experiments in the mid-1990s but struggled to find a journal that was interested in non-primate social cognition.

"No one wanted anything but primate cognition studies back then," Drea said. "But what this study shows is that spotted hyenas are more adept at these sorts of cooperation and problem-solving studies in the lab than chimps are. There is a natural parallel of working together for food in the laboratory and group hunting in the wild."

Drea and co-author Allisa N. Carter of the Univ. of California at Berkeley, designed a series of food-reward tasks that modeled group hunting strategies in order to single out the aspects of cooperative problem solving. They selected spotted hyenas to see whether a species' performance in the tests might be linked to their feeding ecology in the wild.

..."I'm not saying that spotted hyenas are smarter than chimps," Drea said. "I'm saying that these experiments show that they are more hard-wired for social cooperation than chimpanzees."

via Hyenas cooperate, problem-solve better than primates | Source: Duke University (news : web)

One theme that shows up if you've been monitoring the progress of our research over the last five to ten years is that our anthropocentric ideas about intelligence miss a lot of subtlety in animal behavior. We now know that some fish have very good memories and learning abilities:
"The public perception of them is that they are pea-brained numbskulls that can't remember things for more than a few seconds," she told the Telegraph. "We're now finding that they are very capable of learning and remembering, and possess a range of cognitive skills that would surprise many people."

Laboratory tests on other fish have found that they can store memories for many months, confounding the belief that they forget everything after a few seconds. - telegraph

We know now that honey bees can count, dolphins can communicate and plan complex coordinated actions, understand sentences in sign language, ... and so on.

With regard to animal cooperation, the behavior of hyenas makes sense because in nature there are two strategies of collaboration that out-perform all others:
... Tit-For-Tat (TFT) and Win-Stay,Lose-Shift (WSLS)... In a live webstream from the Royal Society in London Professor Martin Nowak of Harvard University explains why. To watch a recording of the webstream. ...

Selfishness does not work in long run

Rationally speaking the best strategy is actually not to cooperate - you will always do better in the short-term if you act in pure self-interest. ... However, over the longer term, the other team members will start to retaliate against you and everyone, you included, starts to lose out. -  bioteams

I find this comforting. If humans are smart enough, in an evolutionary sense, our long term forecast is very bright. As a species we will eventually discover that war is "country selfishness," and it is not in our best interest. Too bad it is taking us so long to learn, but I think the Star Trek vision of the future were we learn to cooperate as a planet is our destiny.

From one perspective, each animal is the expert at being exactly what it is. I'd think we will eventually understand that for some, even being unintelligent is an evolutionary strategy.

Utahns Abducted by Aliens

Touched by an Alien: Some Utahns claim their encounters with extraterrestrials are too close for comfort.

They first came for Don Anderson’s son in 1984. It was 11 p.m. on a June evening in Mapleton, Utah, when 25-year-old Anderson shut off the TV in the bedroom of his mother’s basement where he was staying. He glanced down at his 4-year-old son who sat on the edge of a mattress on the floor playing with a truck.

Suddenly, he noticed a gray alien floating in the middle of the room. “We looked at each other. He pointed to my son, as if he were asking to take him,” Anderson recalls. He returned the alien’s gaze and telepathically communicated, “OK, let me go with him. If I go with him, he won’t be afraid.”

He says a ray of blue iridescent light shot through the room. He took his son by the hand. They jumped into the light ray and followed the gray alien across the basement, through the wall and upward through the ground to the grass outside.

Anderson says they moved toward a huge, saucer-shaped spacecraft across the street that hovered 60 feet in the air. “It was 30 feet across with red and blue lights that strobed through the neighborhood, flashing off houses in the area,” he recalls. He wondered why no one in the neighborhood was waking up to notice the ship. “It was deadly quiet. There were no dogs barking or crickets chirping,” he says. “All I could hear was the hum of the ship.”

He says that as he, his son and the gray alien traveled upward to the bottom of the ship, they felt a tingling sensation as they passed through telephone wires. He then remembers walking around the polished interior of the ship. “Everything was metal and really shiny, like it was made from stainless steel. I was walking on a cushy black catwalk.”

Anderson and a tall blond woman who seemed somehow familiar to him walked and telepathically communicated with each other. After he asked her if she could heal a serious stomach disorder he was currently experiencing, he heard her laugh. “The moment her eyes caught mine, it was like she said, ‘Don’t worry, you will be OK.’”

Anderson then saw his son and another boy through an arched doorway. They stood beneath a metal column, holding what looked like a hand-held shower massager. “My son grabbed it from the kid he just met and put it above his own head. Blue volts of what looked like electricity shot over his body. He cracked up and thought that was really funny. I watched them each use that about three times. I think the aliens took me there so that my son would know I was around and not be frightened, and I would know he was safe.”

Before long, Anderson was back in the front room of his mother’s house. “The screen door was open, and I could look through and see the ship hovering and whirring outside.” He says the room was also filled with elderly strangers he had never seen before. “They stood motionless, like they were in a coma. We were all sitting there watching and listening to the sound of this flying saucer across the street.”

He looked at the clock, and it was 6 a.m. “I sprang out of bed and thought, ‘Whoa.’”

Ron Johnson was 14 years old in 1968 when he spent a month helping his aunt and uncle on their California horse ranch. One night, he woke about midnight. “I remember seeing the clock on the wall,” he recalls. “All of the blankets were on the floor at the foot of the bed. There was a very scary feeling, and I knew someone was there.”

Leaning his head back, he caught sight of a tall, thin alien bathed in a greenish glow. “He almost reminded me of an anorexic person with hollow cheeks, a pointed chin, and long bony arms and hands. He didn’t say anything—just stood there and looked at me. "

Terrified, Johnson, now 55, remembers closing his eyes and wishing the entity would leave. Though it was gone 10 minutes later, he kept his eyes closed and lay awake in fear until morning. Then he went to the living room and lay on the couch. Whenever he stayed at his relative’s house after that, he slept in the car.

via Utahns Abducted by Aliens Page 1.

Nearly 70 percent of Argentine forests lost in a century partial view of the lenga's forest taken from the base of Perito Moreno glacier in 2008 in Patagonia, Argentina. Argentina has lost nearly 70 percent of its forests in a century, the Environmental Secretariat said at a UN conference on desertification.

Argentina has lost nearly 70 percent of its forests in a century, the Environmental Secretariat said at a UN conference on desertification.

Forests that spread across 100 million hectares (247 million acres) in 1900 have dwindled to 33.19 million hectares (82 million acres), officials said.

"In 100 years, we have lost between 60 and 70 percent of our forest heritage," Environmental Undersecretary Sergio La Rocca told reporters on Friday.

Forest destruction has accelerated in the past 10 years with the boom of soy crops, a major motor of growth in Argentina, the top exporter of soy flour and oil and the third-largest exporter of soy seeds.

The northern province of Salta alone lost 26 percent of its forests in the past 30 years, according to a study by the College of Agronomics at the University of Buenos Aires (UBA).

The UBA study found that in 2007, "the highest rate was reached: 2.1 percent of forests destroyed in a single year."

Faced with the breadth of the devastation in the province, the Supreme Court ordered a halt to deforestation in natural forests, following an appeal by indigenous populations.

The move ran counter to the provincial authorities, which had authorized forest exploitation.

La Rocca spoke at the ninth session of the conference of parties to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCDD) in Buenos Aires.

The scourge of desertification directly affects 200 million people, according to UN figures.

Buenos Aires will host the 23rd World Forestry Congress October 18-23, a forum where governments, civil society and the private sector exchange views to formulate forestry policy.

via Nearly 70 percent of Argentine forests lost in a century.

Bizarre Gelatinous Fish Found in Brazil

A bizarre fish recently caught off the coast of Brazil may not be a completely new kind of creature, as originally thought.

The six-foot-long (two-meter-long) gelatinous animal was found floating dead off the Bahia coast by researchers from Brazil's TAMAR Program, a sea turtle conservation group. (Related pictures: "Weird Fish With Transparent Head.")

Initial accounts quoted the scientists calling the creature "completely new, scientifically speaking."

But fish experts looking at video footage of the bizarre fish have identified it as a member of Ateleopodidae, a little-understood group of deep-sea fish known to science since the 1840s.

"As soon as I saw it, I knew what it was," said Dave Johnson, an ichthyologist at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

The Brazilian team that had found the fish could not be reached for comment by press time.

Deep-Sea Jellynose Fish

Ateleopodidae—also called tadpole or jellynose fish—are known for their soft, blunt noses and scaleless, tapered bodies.

The fish have small teeth and are thought to be bottom-feeders, eating whatever they can suck off the seafloor.

About a dozen known jellynose fish species exist worldwide, Johnson said.

They can be found off the coasts of most major continents at depths ranging from about 1,300 to 2,300 feet (400 to 700 meters).

Jellynose fish can grow to more than six feet (two meters) long and, like many deep-sea fish, they have gelatinous bodies consisting of very little muscle.

"You don't ever see any hard, muscular fishes like tuna in the deep sea," Johnson said, since at those depths there aren't enough oxygen and nutrients to feed dense muscle tissue.

It's unclear whether the new Brazilian specimen belongs to a previously unidentified species of jellynose fish or if it's a species that's been found before, Johnson said.

"I don't think there's anybody in the world who could say by looking at that one specimen that it's an undescribed species," he said.

via Bizarre Gelatinous Fish Found in Brazil.

UK Air Force kills Afghan girl with leaflet box

RAF C130 HerculesThe Ministry of Defence is investigating the death of a young Afghan girl who died after being hit by a box of leaflets dropped by the RAF.

The information leaflets were dropped in boxes from an RAF Hercules aircraft in Helmand province on 23 June.

The box failed to break apart in mid-air and landed on top of the girl who died later in hospital.

The MoD said it deeply regretted the "tragic incident", and a full investigation was under way.

A spokesman said the public information leaflets were dropped by the C130 Hercules in a rural area. The boxes are supposed to open in mid-air, scattering the leaflets over a wide area.

The unopened box seriously injured the girl who was treated at a local hospital in Kandahar.

"Despite the best efforts of staff, she died as a result of her injuries," the spokesman said.

Leaflet drops have been used extensively in Afghanistan by US and British forces in the battle to win the "hearts and minds" of the local population.

The MoD would not comment on what type of leaflet was involved, but past leaflets have included information about the election campaign, mine awareness campaigns, and warnings of impending military action in an area

In May, C130 aircraft based in Afghanistan with 904 Expeditionary Air Wing dropped 200,000 leaflets in support of the Mentoring and Reconstruction Task Force.

via BBC NEWS | UK | RAF leaflet box kills Afghan girl.

Census reveals extinction threat

Koala bearTasmanian devilAlmost 10% of the World's mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish are at risk of extinction, says an Australian report.

The animals face threats including habitat loss and climate change.

The report comes from Australia's Biological Resources Study, a project aiming to document all of the planet's known animal and plant species.

The study found that almost 1% of the World's 1.9 million classified species were threatened. This included 9.2% of major vertebrate species.

The publication, Numbers of Living Species in Australia and the World, is part of a major effort to document the entire planet's animal and plant life.

It said that 20% of mammals were endangered, as were 12% percent of birds and 29% of amphibians.

Almost 5% of reptiles were considered threatened, along with 4% of fish species.

Peter Garrett, Australian Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts, said:

"We need this essential information to do a better job of managing our biodiversity against the threats of invasive species, habitat loss and climate change."

Mr Garrett also announced a partnership between the the Australian Biological Resources Study, and the mining company BHP Billiton to name and describe 500 reef species over the next three years.

- via bbc

Denial of service denial

ddos-attack.jpgA way to filter out denial of service attacks on computer networks, including cloud computing systems, could significantly improve security on government, commercial, and educational systems. Such a filter is reported in the Int. J. Information and Computer Security by researchers from Auburn University in Alabama.

Denial of Service (DoS) and distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks involve an attempt to make a computer resource unavailable to its intended users. This may simply be for malicious purposes as is often the case when big commercial or famous web sites undergo a DDoS attack. However, it is also possible to exploit the system's response to such an attack to break system firewalls, access virtual private networks, and to access other private resources. A DoS attack can also be used to affect a complete network or even a whole section of the Internet....

Now, computer engineers John Wu, Tong Liu, Andy Huang, and David Irwin of Auburn University have devised a filter to protect systems against DoS attacks that circumvents this problem by developing a new passive protocol that must be in place at each end of the connection: user and resource.

Their protocol - Identity-Based Privacy-Protected Access Control Filter (IPACF) - blocks threats to the gatekeeping computers, the Authentication Servers (AS), and so allows legitimate users with valid passwords to access private resources.

The user's computer has to present a filter value for the server to do a quick check. The filter value is a one-time secret that needs to be presented with the pseudo ID. The pseudo ID is also one-time use. Attackers cannot forge either of these values correctly and so attack packets are filtered out.

One potential drawback of the added layer of information transfer required for checking user requests is that it could add to the resources needed by the server. However, the researchers have tested how well IPACF copes in the face of a massive DDoS attacks simulated on a network consisting of 1000 nodes with 10 gigabits per second bandwidth. They found that the server suffers little degradation, negligible added information transfer delay (latency) and minimal extra processor usage even when the 10 Gbps pipe to the authentication server is filled with DoS packets. Indeed, the IPACF takes just 6 nanoseconds to reject a non-legitimate information packet associated with the DoS attack.

via Denial of service denial.

Indonesia quake kills 75, thousands trapped + Donating to Red Cross by Text Message.

A man stands in front of a collapsed building after an earthquake ...A powerful earthquake rocked western Indonesia Wednesday, trapping thousands under collapsed buildings — including two hospitals — and triggering landslides. At least 75 people were killed on Sumatra island and the death toll was expected to climb sharply.

The magnitude 7.6 quake struck at 5:15 p.m. local time (1015GMT, 6:15 a.m. EDT), just off the coast of Padang city the U.S. Geological Survey said. It was along the same fault line that spawned the massive 2004 Asian tsunami that killed more than 230,000 people in a dozen countries.

A tsunami warning for countries along the Indian Ocean was issued, and panicked residents fled to higher ground fearing giant waves. The warning was lifted about an hour later.

When the quake struck, the ground was shaking so hard that people sat down on the streets to avoid falling over, footage shot in Padang and broadcast by local TVOne network showed.

Children screamed as residents tried to put out fires started in the quake. Thousands fled the coast in cars and motorbikes, honking horns.

Initial reports received by the government said 75 people were killed, but the real number is "definitely higher than that," Vice President Jusuf Kalla told reporters in the capital, Jakarta.

"It's hard to tell because there is heavy rain and a blackout," he said.

Health Minister Siti Fadilah Supari told MetroTV that a mall and two hospitals had collapsed in Padang — a sprawling low-lying city in Western Sumatra province of around 900,000 people that geologists have warned could be vulnerable to a massive quake or tsunami.

"This is a high-scale disaster, more powerful than the earthquake in Yogyakarta in 2006 when more than 3,000 people died," Supari said, referring to a major city on the main island of Java.

Rustam Pakaya, head of the Health Ministry's crisis center, said "thousands of people are trapped under the collapsed houses."

via Indonesia quake kills 75, thousands trapped - Yahoo! News.

Did you know you can donate to the Red Cross with a text message? I haven't tried it, but here are the details:

The national Text 2HELP Initiative is a partnership between the American Red Cross and The Wireless Foundation that allows customers of participating wireless carriers to send a text message to the Red Cross and make a donation to support the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund. This Fund enables the Red Cross to provide shelter, food, cots, counseling and other assistance to victims of disasters.

Subscribers of participating wireless carriers can donate $5 to American Red Cross disaster relief efforts simply by text messaging the keyword “GIVE” to “2HELP” (24357). Donations will appear on customers' monthly bills or be debited from a prepaid account balance. Standard text messaging rates apply. To opt-out, send "STOP" to 24357.

Participating Carriers:

U.S. Cellular
Verizon Wireless

Text 2HELP Frequently Asked Questions

You can help people affected by disasters, like the recent earthquake and floods, by donating to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund. On those rare occasions when donations exceed Red Cross expenses for a specific disaster, contributions are used to prepare for and serve victims of other disasters. Your gift enables the Red Cross to provide shelter, food, emotional support and other assistance to victims of all disasters. You may also call 1-800-RED-CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or 1-800-257-7575 (Spanish) or mail your donation, to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, DC 20013. Internet users can make a secure online contribution by visiting

Method to monitor quake fault strength eyed are releasing results of a study aimed at gauging the strength of earthquake faults, which could help them pinpoint weak ones at risk of breaking and unleashing temblors.

Earthquakes are caused by a sudden slip on a fault. This occurs because of stress buildup that causes the fault to fail or a weakening of the fault itself.

Until now, scientists have not been able to measure a fault's strength directly, said Taka'aki Taira of the University of California, Berkeley, who led the study.

Taira and his team analyzed 20 years of data at Parkfield, which sits on the mighty San Andreas Fault halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. It's the most studied earthquake zone in the world, rigged with sensitive instruments to detect minute changes in the Earth's crust.

The team noted small repeating earthquakes along the San Andreas three months after the magnitude-9 Sumatra temblor in 2004 that spawned a deadly tsunami.

In certain regions of the fault zone, they noticed the fractures were filled with fluid. The migration of fluid decreases friction in the fault zone, weakening the fault and increasing the likelihood of an earthquake, the researchers say.

Similar results were observed after the magnitude-7.3 Landers quake in 1992 that shook the Southern California desert.

The study was published in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature and was funded by the National Science Foundation.

Seismologist Susan Hough of the U.S. Geological Survey called the results intriguing but said more work needs to be done to determine the connection between powerful temblors around the world and their impact on the strength of faults elsewhere.

via Method to monitor quake fault strength eyed - Yahoo! News.

NASA Probe Snaps Photos of Mercury But Suffers Minor Glitch NASA spacecraft that completed its third and final flyby of the planet Mercury yesterday, snapping new pictures of the innermost planet, had a small data hiccup that has delayed release of the images, mission engineers said today.

The MESSENGER probe skimmed just 142 miles (228 km) above Mercury at its closest approach as it whipped around the planet during the flyby, the last of three designed to guide the spacecraft into orbit around the planet in 2011.

The spacecraft did snap several new images of the rocky planet on the inbound leg of its close approach.

"We do have some new science from the flyby," said MESSENGER project scientist Ralph McNutt of Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.

MESSENGER also took snapshots during its close approach, but "we had a little bit of a hiccup in the data" that has delayed the release of those images, said Eric Finnegan, systems engineer for the mission at Johns Hopkins APL. "It's coming," he added.

The anomaly appears to have happened right around the spacecraft's close approach, so there may not be images from the outbound leg of the journey, McNutt said.

"We missed a little icing on the cake," McNutt told

Despite the hiccup, the spacecraft is in good health, Finnegan told

"What is important is that the spacecraft and the instruments are healthy," McNutt said.

The team is sifting through all the data and new images to see just how much they got before the glitch, McNutt added.

via NASA Probe Snaps Photos of Mercury But Suffers Minor Glitch - Yahoo! News.

What shape was the hiccup and how fast was it moving? ;-)

Canadian circus billionaire heads to space station

Canadian billionaire entertainer Guy Laliberte, a crew member ...Canadian circus tycoon Guy Laliberte turned space into his big top Wednesday, boarding a Russian rocket and lifting off on a mission that mixes a serious message on water shortages with some clowning around in the cosmos.

Laliberte, an experienced fire-eater and stilt-walker who founded Cirque du Soleil, joined Russian cosmonaut Maxim Surayev and American astronaut Jeffrey Williams aboard a Soyuz craft that soared off the Kazakh steppe and set a course for the International Space Station.

The billionaire who calls himself the first clown in space paid a reported $35 million for his nine-day stay at the station, where he plans to publicize the world's growing shortage of clean water. His space extravaganza will culminate in a satellite linkup with shows in 14 cities across five continents featuring rock band U2 and Colombian pop star Shakira, as well as an appearance by former U.S. Vice President Al Gore.

With a puff of white smoke, the Soyuz craft carrying Laliberte and his crew mates shed its first rocket stage minutes after liftoff from the Baikonur launch facility and then disappeared from view.

Laliberte's friends and family on the ground waited anxiously and then burst into cheers when an announcement that the ship had reached orbit blared over a loudspeaker. There were ecstatic hugs, sobs of relief and chants of "Guy! Guy!"

They then broke into an impromptu rendition of Elton John's "Rocket Man."

"I'm very happy for him. It's amazing," said Laliberte's partner, former model Claudia Barilla, tears streaming down her face as she cradled their youngest son. "Now we know he's up there."

She wore a yellow clown nose as she watched the launch. Laliberte had donned a bulbous red nose before the launch and said he was taking nine of the novelty noses to the station for other occupants to wear. He has also mischievously warned he will tickle them in their sleep.

Also among the spectators was Quebec pop star Garou, a friend of Laliberte's.

"I feel a lot more mesmerized than I ever thought I would be," Garou said after the launch. "Having your friend rising up that fast and that impressively is beyond what I expected."

An acrobat, fire-breather, philanthropist and a keen gambler, 50-year old Laliberte plans to use his trip to publicize the world's shortage of clean water by holding a global artistic performance organized by his One Drop Foundation. The Quebec-born entrepreneur is worth an estimated $2.5 billion and holds a 95 percent stake in Cirque du Soleil, which he founded 25 years ago.

via Canadian circus billionaire heads to space station - Yahoo! News.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Military may lift ban on women in submarines

The Sea Wolf-class attack submarine USS Jimmy Carter (SSN 23) ...Top Pentagon officials are calling for an end to the U.S. military's historical ban on allowing women to serve in submarines.

Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the top U.S. military officer, advocated the policy change in written congressional testimony distributed by his office to reporters on Friday.

"I believe we should continue to broaden opportunities for women. One policy I would like to see changed is the one barring (women's) service aboard submarines," Mullen said.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said he was "moving out aggressively on this."

"I am very comfortable addressing integrating women into the submarine force," Admiral Gary Roughead, chief of naval operations, said in a statement.

Women account for about 15 percent of the more than 336,000 members of the U.S. Navy and can serve on its surface ships. But critics have argued that submarines are different, pointing to cramped quarters where some crews share beds in shifts.

Nancy Duff Campbell, an advocate for expanding the role of women in the U.S. armed forces, said it would be easy to resolve problems associated with so-called "hot-bunking."

"They say, 'How could we have the women sleeping in the same area as men?'" said Campbell, co-president of the National Women's Law Center (NWLC).

"But they already separate where the officers sleep from the enlisted, so it's not like it can't be done."

Roughead said the problem of sorting out accommodations on the U.S. fleet of 71 submarines was not insurmountable.

Allowing women on submarines would be another step forward in expanding the role of women in the U.S. military. Last year, a woman was promoted to the rank of four-star general for the first time.

Women are still barred from traditional frontline combat roles in the U.S. military. But female soldiers often run the same risks as men in Iraq and Afghanistan, where bombings and other insurgent attacks can happen almost anywhere and target any U.S. unit.

via Military may lift ban on women in submarines - Yahoo! News.

Cosmic Rays Hit 50-Year High - Yahoo! cosmic rays have just hit a Space Age high, new data from a NASA spacecraft indicates.

"In 2009, cosmic ray intensities have increased 19 percent beyond anything we've seen in the past 50 years," said Richard Mewaldt of Caltech. "The increase is significant, and it could mean we need to re-think how much radiation shielding astronauts take with them on deep-space missions."

The surge, which poses no threat to Earth, was detected by NASA's ACE (Advanced Composition Explorer) spacecraft. The cause of the surge is solar minimum, a deep lull in the sun's activity that began around 2007 and continues today. Researchers have long known that cosmic rays go up when solar activity goes down, because strong solar activity inflates and bolsters a protective bubble around our entire solar system.

Right now solar activity — marked by sunspots, solar flares and space storms — is as weak as it has been in modern times, setting the stage for what Mewaldt calls "a perfect storm of cosmic rays."

... Galactic cosmic rays come from outside the solar system. They are subatomic particles — mainly protons but also some heavy nuclei — accelerated to almost light speed by distant supernova explosions. Cosmic rays cause "air showers" of secondary particles when they hit Earth's atmosphere, where they can pose a threat to orbiting satellites — a single cosmic ray can disable a satellite if it hits an unlucky integrated circuit. Though some have suggested that cosmic rays might be behind the Earth's current warming climate, research has shown no firm link between these invading rays and global warming. Cosmic rays also pose a health hazard to astronauts. Several reports have outlined the risks from cosmic radiation that might exist for future missions to Mars or stints on the moon.

The sun's magnetic field — the heliosphere, which surrounds the entire solar system —is our first line of defense against these highly-charged, energetic particles. But the current state of solar activity means the solar system isn't as protected right now.

via Cosmic Rays Hit 50-Year High - Yahoo! News.

From NASA:
Galactic cosmic rays (GCRs) come from outside the solar system but generally from within our Milky Way galaxy. GCRs are atomic nuclei from which all of the surrounding electrons have been stripped away during their high-speed passage through the galaxy. They have probably been accelerated within the last few million years, and have traveled many times across the galaxy, trapped by the galactic magnetic field. GCRs have been accelerated to nearly the speed of light, probably by supernova remnants. As they travel through the very thin gas of interstellar space, some of the GCRs interact and emit gamma rays, which is how we know that they pass through the Milky Way and other galaxies.

The elemental makeup of GCRs has been studied in detail , and is very similar to the composition of the Earth and solar system. but studies of the composition of the isotopes in GCRs may indicate the that the seed population for GCRs is neither the interstellar gas nor the shards of giant stars that went supernova. This is an area of current study.

I was thinking, Yahoo! more energy! Lets tap it and use it ... but this changed my mind:
Cosmic rays in outer space are abundant and diverse. There's a whole periodic table worth of nuclei (mostly H, He, C, and Fe), electrons and positrons, neutrons, and high-energy photons (x rays, gamma rays) ... ejected by solar winds, distant supernovae, and all sorts of ill-understood processes.

At the Earth's surface things are completely different. The atmosphere is dense enough to stop basically everything that comes in (except neutrinos!) and only some of the secondaries, the by-products of the collisions that stopped the original particles, manage to percolate down. These secondary particles are typically lightweight (certainly nothing heavier than a proton) and most of them are pretty rare ... a few protons and a few tens of electrons, say, per square meter per second.

The one secondary that doesn't have to percolate is the muon. Muons produced very high in the atmosphere are able to penetrate all the way to the surface (and a ways underground as well!) without losing all of their energy. This is because they're very heavy (lots of inertia) and they don't interact strongly with nuclei (which is what stops cosmic-ray protons and neutrons so quickly). So muons are the most important component of cosmic rays at the surface.

When building and testing new particle detectors, we do see cosmic ray muons on a regular basis. They're a quick and dirty way to make sure a detector is working properly: if it gets triggered too often, or too infrequently, with respect to the cosmic ray flux, then you want to know why. The number to remember is ~70 muons per square meter per second, or one per square centimeter per minute.

As for the energy flux? First of all, it'll be fantastically small amounts of energy, when you think about it on the scales we're used to. The mean muon energy is ~4 giga-electron-volts (GeV), so that gives you an energy flux of 280 GeV/second. But one electron volt is ~10^-19 joules. That's fantastically small. This does't imply that we can't detect them; in fact, it's not too hard to detect them at all, as you know if you've seen a simple cloud-chamber setup. Fortunately, even a tiny amount of energy - a few electron volts - is enough to ionize an atoms, and free ions and electrons are what we detect. But you're not going to see your detector heating up.

You also mentioned one-foot-thick concrete walls and roof. Now, that will attentuate the muons somewhat ... if you want an order-of-magnitude answer we can ignore it. It'll be a factor of 2, not 10. This is calculable, though; check out Chapter 23 of "The Passage of Particles through Matter" in the Review of Particle Physics (click here). -

Toyota to recall 3.8M vehicles over floor mats

FILE - In this Aug. 16, 2009 file photo, the company logo shines ...Toyota Motor Corp. said Tuesday it will recall 3.8 million vehicles in the United States, the company's largest-ever U.S. recall, to address problems with a removable floor mat that could cause accelerators to get stuck and lead to a crash. The recall will involve popular models such as the Toyota Camry, the top-selling passenger car in America, and the Toyota Prius, the best-selling gas-electric hybrid.

Toyota said it was still working with officials with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to find a remedy to fix the problem and said owners could be notified about the recall as early as next week. Toyota spokesman Irv Miller said until the company finds a fix, owners should take out the removable floor mat on the driver's side and not replace it.

"A stuck open accelerator pedal may result in very high vehicle speeds and make it difficult to stop a vehicle, which could cause a crash, serious injury or death," Miller said.

NHTSA said it had received reports of 102 incidents in which the accelerator may have become stuck on the Toyota vehicles involved. It was unclear how many led to crashes but the inquiry was prompted by a highspeed crash in August in California of a Lexus barreling out of control. As the vehicle hit speeds exceeding 120 mph, family members made a frantic 911 call and said the accelerator was stuck and they couldn't stop the vehicle.

"This is an urgent matter," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement. "For everyone's sake, we strongly urge owners of these vehicles to remove mats or other obstacles that could lead to unintended acceleration."

The recall will affect 2007-2010 model year Toyota Camry, 2005-2010 Toyota Avalon, 2004-2009 Toyota Prius, 2005-2010 Tacoma, 2007-2010 Toyota Tundra, 2007-2010 Lexus ES350 and 2006-2010 Lexus IS250 and IS350.

Toyota's previously largest U.S. recall was about 900,000 vehicles in 2005 to fix a steering issue. The company declined to say how many complaints it had received about the accelerator issue.

The Japanese automaker warned owners that if they think their vehicle is accelerating out of control, they should check to see whether their floor mat is under the pedal. If a driver can't remove the floor mat, Toyota advises drivers to step on the brake pedal with both feet until the vehicle slows and then try to put it into neutral and switch the ignition to accessory power.

For vehicles with engine start/stop buttons, Toyota said the engine can be shut off by holding the button down for three seconds.

via Toyota to recall 3.8M vehicles over floor mats - Yahoo! News.

Floor mats eh? See my previous post Your Prius may try to kill you, accelerates by itself, Toyota denies it.

Tiny bird's incredible piggyback ride on hawk

Look out, it's the hitchhawkerThis is the moment a tiny but very angry kingbird hitched a piggyback ride on a red tail hawk.

The feisty little flyer began attacking the bird of prey after it ventured too near its nest.

Pat Gaines, 41, captured the moment at Bonny Lake park in Colorado.

'I've never seen a hawk harassed so much. The kingbird pecked at its head as the hawk flew away screaming,' she said.

via Tiny bird's incredible piggyback ride on hawk |

Former FBI Agent Confirms: Bush State Official Was Target of 'Decade-Long' Espionage Probe

George W. Bush's third-highest ranking State Department official, Marc Grossman, who became the Under Secretary of State after previously serving as Ambassador to Turkey, was targeted as part of a "decade-long investigation" by the FBI, according to an 18-year veteran manager of the agency's Counterintelligence and Counterespionage departments.

For still-unknown reasons, the investigation, which also involved a multitude of cases involving Israeli espionage, was ultimately "buried and covered up," according to the official.

The comment from the former FBI official John M. Cole, in response to recent, stunning disclosures made by former FBI translator turned whistleblower Sibel Edmonds, helps to shore up a key aspect of her allegations. Cole is now calling for an investigation to help "bring about accountability" in the matter.

Edmonds' allegations of bribery, blackmail, and infiltration by foreign agents at the highest levels of the U.S. government were recently detailed in a remarkable cover story interview, as published last week by the American Conservative magazine.

"I read the recent cover story by The American Conservative magazine. I applaud their courage in publishing this significant interview," Cole says in his public response, as posted today at the AmCon website by interviewer and former CIA agent Philip Giraldi.

via The BRAD BLOG : Former FBI Agent Confirms: Bush State Official Was Target of 'Decade-Long' Espionage Probe.

Do you get the feeling that we know, like 1000th of what is really going on?

Brazil Declassifies New Set UFO Secrets Documents

Top Secret UFO FilesThe Brazilian Government has just declassified a new set of significant previously secret UFO documents, now covering the 80s. We already had disclosures covering the 50s, 60s and 70s, all with very important documents and information. So far over 4,000 pages have been disclosed.

The recent disclosure is particularly powerful because it contains dozens of reports of UFOs on May 19, 1986, considered the “Official UFO Night in Brazil”, when 21 spherical objects, estimated 100 meters in diameter – according to military sources – were detected by radars and spotted by civilian pilots, and literally jammed air traffic over the major Brazilian Airports, such as Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Then, several Mirage and F5 jets were scrambled to pursue them.

As a result of that “invasion”, the Air Force minister brigadier Octavio Moreira Lima went public about it the other morning on the national TV network, declaring all facts openly. The pilots who took part in the pursue and their commanders also spoke freely about the pursuits, which occurred over several hours.


via THE UFO CHRONICLES: News and Reports From Around The World.

Read more here.  Multiple radar sightings, at least one visual sighting confirmed by radar in the air and on the ground.

Mighty T. rex Killed by Lowly Parasite, Study Suggests famous dinosaur known as Sue — the largest, most complete and best preserved T. rex specimen ever found — might have been killed by a disease that afflicts birds even today, scientists now suggest.

The remains of Sue, a star attraction of the Field Museum in Chicago, possess holes in her jaw that some believed were battle scars, the result of bloody combat with another dinosaur, possibly another T. rex.

Now researchers suggest these scars did not result from a clash of titans, but rather from a lowly parasite. The infection in Sue's throat and mouth may have been so severe that the 42-foot-long, 7-ton dinosaur starved to death.

The ailment the scientists propose felled Sue and other T. rexes is trichomonosis, also known as trichomoniasis. In birds, the disease is caused by Trichomonas gallinae, a single-celled protozoan. Although some birds, such as pigeons, commonly host the parasite but suffer few ill effects, in birds of prey such as falcons and hawks, the germ causes a pattern of serious lesions in the lower beak that closely matches the holes in the jaws of Sue and occurs in the same anatomical location.

"It's ironic to think that an animal as mighty as 'Sue' probably died as a result of a parasitic infection. I'll never look at a feral pigeon the same way again," said researcher Steven Salisbury at the University of Queensland in Australia.

The researchers investigated the jaws of Sue and 60 other tyrannosaur specimens. Nearly 15 percent of them possessed lesions that had previously been attributed to bite wounds or, possibly, a bacterial infection. These holes were roughly 0.2 to more than 1 inch wide (0.5 to more than 2.5 cm), extending through roughly a half-inch (1 cm) of bone.

The scars of combat among tyrannosaurs and other dinosaurs are not uncommon, but differ notably from trichomonosis lesions, explained researcher Ewan Wolff, a vertebrate paleontologist at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. The holes the parasite makes are often neat and have relatively smooth edges, while bite marks are often messy, scarring and puncturing bone.

Tyrannosaurs are known to have fought amongst themselves and sometimes even ate one another. The parasite may have been passed through face-biting or cannibalism.

"We don’t think it is a coincidence that a significant number of adult tyrannosaur specimens show both face-biting marks and evidence of a trichomonosis-like disease," Salisbury said. "Previous studies have shown that up to 60 percent of tyrannosaur specimens display evidence of face-biting."

via Mighty T. rex Killed by Lowly Parasite, Study Suggests | LiveScience.

Negative subliminal messages work

Eye People can perceive subliminal messages, particularly if the message is negative, according to a UK study.

In three experiments at University College London, participants were briefly shown masked words and asked to classify them as emotional or neutral.

The study, published in the journal Emotion, says being able to react to tiny cues helps us to avoid danger and may have useful marketing uses.

But critics say there is no evidence this would work outside a laboratory. ...

They were able to accurately categorise 66% of the negative words compared to 50% of the positive ones.

'Evolutionary advantages'

Professor Lavie said: "We have shown that people can perceive the emotional value of subliminal messages and have demonstrated conclusively that people are much more attuned to negative words.

"Clearly, there are evolutionary advantages to responding rapidly to emotional information.

"We can't wait for our consciousness to kick in if we see someone running towards us with a knife or if we drive under rainy or foggy weather conditions and see a sign warning 'danger'.

Subliminal advertising is not permitted on television in the UK.

But Professor Lavie said her work could be applicable to marketing campaigns: "Negative words may have more of a rapid impact - "Kill Your Speed" should work better than "Slow Down".

via BBC NEWS | Health | Negative subliminal messages work.

The glowing frog who swallowed a Christmas bulb

Colourful calories: The Cuban tree frog took a gulp of the bulb and wouldn't let go'I began taking a few pictures from about four or five feet away because I did not want to scare him and make him move.

'I zoomed in and noticed that the wire was actually going into the frogs mouth, he had swallowed the entire light, he wasn't sitting on it at all.'

James, 29, said he feared the frog had been killed after it ate the bulb.

He said: 'I figured that he must be dead and because there was no fear of spooking him I got very close and continued taking pictures.

'But after few minutes I noticed one of his legs had moved, death spasm I thought for a second until he repositioned his entire body.

'Now with the realisation that the frog was indeed alive I wanted to keep him that way.

'So I fired off a few more shots, then gently grabbed the wire next to the bulb and slowly pulled it out for his mouth.

Because the wire was still attached to the light, Snyder was able to pull it gently from the frog’s mouth.

It seemed none the worse for its ordeal – apart from instantly losing its glow

via Pictured: The glowing frog who wanted a light snack and swallowed a Christmas bulb | Mail Online.

Just in time for Halloween...

Peaceful protest crowd stays peaceful, with effort

Other than body type, I saw no evidence that the men in masks in the crowd were undercover cops, or that they were trying to start a riot. Their behavior is hard to explain, however. Perhaps I'm in denial and just don't want to believe it.

Are agent provocateurs real? The Guardian says this:
... Liberal Democrat Tom Brake says he saw what he believed to be two plain-clothes police officers go through a police cordon after presenting their ID cards.

Brake, who along with hundreds of others was corralled behind police lines near Bank tube station in the City of London on the day of the protests, says he was informed by people in the crowd that the men had been seen to throw bottles at the police and had encouraged others to do the same shortly before they passed through the cordon.  ... - guardcouk

Plainclothes police with batons at G20 protests

Plainclothes officers, one with his baton drawn, are seen mingling with uniformed riot police in the City of London on 2 April: The Guardian's video evidence


"When I was in the middle of the crowd, two people came over to me and said, 'There are people over there who we believe are policemen and who have been encouraging the crowd to throw things at the police,'" Brake said. But when the crowd became suspicious of the men and accused them of being police officers, the pair approached the police line and passed through after showing some form of identification.

Brake has produced a draft report of his experiences for the human rights committee, having received written statements from people in the crowd. These include Tony Amos, a photographer who was standing with protesters in the Royal Exchange between 5pm and 6pm. "He [one of the alleged officers] was egging protesters on. It was very noticeable," Amos said. "Then suddenly a protester seemed to identify him as a policeman and turned on him. He ­legged it towards the police line, flashed some ID and they just let him through, no questions asked."

Amos added: "He was pretty much inciting the crowd. He could not be called an observer. I don't believe in conspiracy theories but this really struck me. Hopefully, a review of video evidence will clear this up." - guarduk

If you are in a crowd at a peaceful protest and someone on your side tries to escalate it to a violent protest, do what you safely can to keep the peace. Outing plain clothes cops who wield weapons and try to get others to attack can save lives by preventing an incident.

I still find it hard to believe. Is provoking riots really an official policy of the police in the UK?

Inside the Apocalyptic Soviet Doomsday Machine

Chart source: Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Natural Resources Defense Council

...the lean and fit Yarynich is as jumpy as an informant dodging the KGB. He begins to whisper, quietly but firmly.

"The Perimeter system is very, very nice," he says. "We remove unique responsibility from high politicians and the military." He looks around again.

Yarynich is talking about Russia's doomsday machine. That's right, an actual doomsday device—a real, functioning version of the ultimate weapon, always presumed to exist only as a fantasy of apocalypse-obsessed science fiction writers and paranoid über-hawks. The thing that historian Lewis Mumford called "the central symbol of this scientifically organized nightmare of mass extermination." Turns out Yarynich, a 30-year veteran of the Soviet Strategic Rocket Forces and Soviet General Staff, helped build one.

The point of the system, he explains, was to guarantee an automatic Soviet response to an American nuclear strike. Even if the US crippled the USSR with a surprise attack, the Soviets could still hit back. It wouldn't matter if the US blew up the Kremlin, took out the defense ministry, severed the communications network, and killed everyone with stars on their shoulders. Ground-based sensors would detect that a devastating blow had been struck and a counterattack would be launched.

The technical name was Perimeter, but some called it Mertvaya Ruka, or Dead Hand. It was built 25 years ago and remained a closely guarded secret. With the demise of the USSR, word of the system did leak out, but few people seemed to notice. In fact, though Yarynich and a former Minuteman launch officer named Bruce Blair have been writing about Perimeter since 1993 in numerous books and newspaper articles, its existence has not penetrated the public mind or the corridors of power. The Russians still won't discuss it, and Americans at the highest levels—including former top officials at the State Department and White House—say they've never heard of it. When I recently told former CIA director James Woolsey that the USSR had built a doomsday device, his eyes grew cold. "I hope to God the Soviets were more sensible than that." They weren't.

The system remains so shrouded that Yarynich worries his continued openness puts him in danger. He might have a point: One Soviet official who spoke with Americans about the system died in a mysterious fall down a staircase. But Yarynich takes the risk. He believes the world needs to know about Dead Hand. Because, after all, it is still in place.

The system that Yarynich helped build came online in 1985, after some of the most dangerous years of the Cold War....

You either launch first or convince the enemy that you can strike back even if you're dead.


Perimeter ensures the ability to strike back, but it's no hair-trigger device. It was designed to lie semi-dormant until switched on by a high official in a crisis. Then it would begin monitoring a network of seismic, radiation, and air pressure sensors for signs of nuclear explosions. Before launching any retaliatory strike, the system had to check off four if/then propositions: If it was turned on, then it would try to determine that a nuclear weapon had hit Soviet soil. If it seemed that one had, the system would check to see if any communication links to the war room of the Soviet General Staff remained. If they did, and if some amount of time—likely ranging from 15 minutes to an hour—passed without further indications of attack, the machine would assume officials were still living who could order the counterattack and shut down. But if the line to the General Staff went dead, then Perimeter would infer that apocalypse had arrived. It would immediately transfer launch authority to whoever was manning the system at that moment deep inside a protected bunker—bypassing layers and layers of normal command authority. At that point, the ability to destroy the world would fall to whoever was on duty: maybe a high minister sent in during the crisis, maybe a 25-year-old junior officer fresh out of military academy. And if that person decided to press the button ... If/then. If/then. If/then. If/then.

Once initiated, the counterattack would be controlled by so-called command missiles. Hidden in hardened silos designed to withstand the massive blast and electromagnetic pulses of a nuclear explosion, these missiles would launch first and then radio down coded orders to whatever Soviet weapons had survived the first strike. At that point, the machines will have taken over the war. Soaring over the smoldering, radioactive ruins of the motherland, and with all ground communications destroyed, the command missiles would lead the destruction of the US.

The US did build versions of these technologies, deploying command missiles in what was called the Emergency Rocket Communications System. It also developed seismic and radiation sensors to monitor for nuclear tests or explosions the world over. But the US never combined it all into a system of zombie retaliation. It feared accidents and the one mistake that could end it all.

via Inside the Apocalyptic Soviet Doomsday Machine.

Dust storms spread deadly diseases worldwide

A dust storm blankets Sydney's iconic Opera House at sunriseDust storms like the one that plagued Sydney are blowing bacteria to all corners of the globe, with viruses that will attack the human body. Yet these scourges can also help mitigate climate change

Huge dust storms, like the ones that blanketed Sydney twice last week, hit Queensland yesterday and turned the air red across much of eastern Australia, are spreading lethal epidemics around the world. However, they can also absorb climate change emissions, say researchers studying the little understood but growing phenomenon.

The Sydney storm, which left millions of people choking on some of the worst air pollution in 70 years, was a consequence of the 10-year drought that has turned parts of Australia's interior into a giant dust bowl, providing perfect conditions for high winds to whip loose soil into the air and carry it thousands of miles across the continent.

It followed major dust storms this year in northern China, Iraq and Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, east Africa, Arizona and other arid areas. Most of the storms are also linked to droughts, but are believed to have been exacerbated by deforestation, overgrazing of pastures and climate change.

As diplomats prepare to meet in Bangkok tomorrow for the next round of climate talks, meteorologists predict that more major dust storms can be expected, carrying minute particles of beneficial soil and nutrients as well as potentially harmful bacteria, viruses and fungal spores.

"The numbers of major dust storms go up and down over the years," said Andrew Goudie, geography professor at Oxford University. "In Australia and China they tailed off from the 1970s then spiked in the 1990s and at the start of this decade. At the moment they are clearly on an upward trajectory."

Laurence Barrie is chief researcher at the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) in Geneva, which is working with 40 countries to develop a dust storm warning system. He said: "I think the droughts [and dust storms] in Australia are a harbinger. Dust storms are a natural phenomenon, but are influenced by human activities and are now just as serious as traffic and industrial air pollution. The minute particles act like urban smog or acid rain. They can penetrate deep into the human body."

Saharan storms are thought to be responsible for spreading lethal meningitis spores throughout semi-arid central Africa, where up to 250,000 people, particularly children, contract the disease each year and 25,000 die. "There is evidence that the dust can mobilise meningitis in the bloodstream," said Barrie.

via Dust storms spread deadly diseases worldwide | World news | The Observer.

LSD returns to university labs

lsdLSD is back in labs after years of disrepute, joining other hallucinogens as legitimate subjects of research, a researcher in Santa Cruz, Calif., said.

The first new studies of LSD in human subjects started at Harvard University last year. Scientists are looking into it as a treatment of cluster headaches, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Sunday.

A second research project is under way at the University of California San Francisco.

"Psychedelics are in labs all over the world and there's a lot of promise," Rick Doblin, director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies said. "The situation with LSD is that because it was the quintessential symbol of the '60s, it was the last to enter the lab."

"What poisoned the well was the widespread abuse being promoted by scientists to the public," Dr. John Mendelson, an associate professor of medicine and psychiatry at UCSF who is helping run the LSD study, said. "That put a lot of researchers off, and it made it very hard for researchers to justify getting back into the field. And there were no pressing health needs, no pressing treatments other than curiosity."

Private and non-profit groups are seeking funding sources, but it isn't easy to get an LSD study off the ground. Researchers first need approval from the U.S. food and Drug Administration and the Drug Enforcement Administration. They then need permission to use a specific batch of the drug.

It's also difficult to find volunteers. Subjects need to have done LSD previously, Mendelson said.

"You don't want people who are looking for a legal way to get a first experience," he said. "This isn't fun. There's no Grateful Dead music playing. This is serious business."

via LSD returns to university labs -

Potent Placebos

In 1962, after a rise in birth defects, the U.S. Congress passed an amendment requiring pharmaceutical trials to include enhanced safety testing and placebo control groups, making Henry Beecher’s double-blind placebo-controlled RCT the new standard in testing. Beecher wrote a paper in 1955 that described how the placebo effect had undermined the results of over a dozen trials by causing improvements mistakenly attributed to the tested drugs. His findings have been proven true once again, after the success of mood enhancing drugs in the 80’s and 90’s enticed Big Pharma to promote remedies for a variety of disorders related to higher brain function, essentially attempting to dominate the central nervous system. However, it is exactly those types of ailments that are susceptible to the placebo effect described by Beecher.

From 2001 to 2006 the percentage of new products cut from development after Phase II trials (when drugs are first tested against placebo) rose by 20 %, and now half of all drugs that fail in late-stage trials are due to their inability to compete against sugar pills. Disorders engaging the higher cortical centers that generate beliefs and expectations, anticipate rewards and otherwise interpret social cues have been effectively treated with placebos.

Big Pharma is finally getting the message about how powerful the brain really is, requiring only the expectation of getting better in order to self-heal.

via Reality Sandwich | Potent Placebos.

This is another reason going to the doctor can make us feel better.  I believe in this healer's great powers (even though I am skeptical by nature) and this kicks in my body's healing powers based on my expectations.

HIV’s Ancestors May Have Plagued First Mammals

The retroviruses which gave rise to HIV have been battling it out with mammal immune systems since mammals first evolved around 100 million years ago – about 85 million years earlier than previously thought, scientists now believe.

The remains of an ancient HIV-like virus have been discovered in the genome of the two-toed sloth [Choloepus hoffmanni] by a team led by Oxford University scientists who publish a report of their research in this week’s Science.

'Finding the fossilised remains of such a virus in this sloth is an amazing stroke of luck,’ said Dr Aris Katzourakis from Oxford’s Department of Zoology and the Institute for Emergent Infections, James Martin 21st Century School. ‘Because this sloth is so geographically and genetically isolated its genome gives us a window into the ancient past of mammals, their immune systems, and the types of viruses they had to contend with.’

The researchers found evidence of ‘foamy viruses’, a particular kind of retrovirus that resembles the complex lentiviruses, such as HIV and simian retroviruses (SIVs) – as opposed to simple retroviruses that are found throughout the genomic fossil record.

‘In previous work we had found evidence for similar viruses in the genomes of rabbits and lemurs but this new research suggests that the ancestors of complex retroviruses, such as HIV, may have been with us from the very beginnings of mammal evolution,’ said Dr Aris Katzourakis.

via HIV’s Ancestors May Have Plagued First Mammals.

Some ideas about the origin of AIDS are opposed to the scientific consensus.  This study is iteresting:
We examined beliefs about the origin of HIV as a genocidal conspiracy in men and women of four racial/ethnic groups in a street intercept sample in Houston, Texas. Groups sampled were African American, Latino, non-Hispanic white, and Asian. Highest levels of conspiracy theories were found in women, and in African American and Latino populations (over a quarter of African Americans and over a fifth of Latinos) with slightly lower rates in whites (a fifth) and Asians less than one in ten). Reductions in condom use associated with such beliefs were however only apparent in African American men. Conspiracy beliefs were an independent predictor of reported condom use along with race/ethnicity, gender, education, and age group. Data suggest that genocidal conspiracy beliefs are relatively widespread in several racial/ethnic groups and that an understanding of the sources of these beliefs is important to determine their possible impact on HIV prevention and treatment behaviors.


Tsunami warning issued for New Zealand after 8.3 Pacific quake

Tsunami expected to hit New Zealand (Source: Geo Net)The tsunami generated in the Pacific is predicted to hit New Zealand's East Cape at 9.44am and will be approximiately one metre high.

Samoan reports say the wave that hit in Apia was 0.7 of a metre while the second, larger wave in Pago Pago was measured at 1.7 metres.

Most low lying coastal areas of Apia have been affected with damage to many homes but there are no reports of deaths or injuries at this time.

Sea level readings indicated a tsunami was generated in the Pacific and Warwick Smith, senior seismologist at GNS, told Breakfast that if there is a tsunami, it will hit the East Cape first at 9.44am.

It would then hit Gisborne at 10.00am, Napier at 10.40am, Wellington at 10.50am and Auckland at 11.12am.The warning is in effect for American Samoa, Samoa, Niue Island, the Wallis and Futuna Islands, the Tokelau atolls, the Cook Islands, Tuvalu, Kiribati, the Kermadec Islands, the Baker and Howland Islands, Jarvis Island, French Polynesia and the Palmyra Islands, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre said.

New Zealand's Ministry of Civil Defence Director, John Hamilton, says the Ministry has alerted the country's regional Civil Defence Emergency Management CDEM Groups, Police, Fire Service, Ministry of Health, Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and other government agencies, and media.

The Ministry has activated the National Crisis Management Centre and is co-ordinating central government response.

The Civil Defence Emergency Management sector is activating its emergency plans. Regional Civil Defence Emergency Management Groups are working urgently with local authorities, local emergency services and local media to warn and if necessary evacuate coastal areas at risk. -

Monday, September 28, 2009

Adolf Hitler suicide story questioned after tests reveal skull is a woman's

Adolf Hitler's suicide in a bunker has been called into question.Adolf Hitler's suicide in his Berlin bunker has been called into question after American researchers claimed that a bullet-punctured skull fragment long believed to belong to the Nazi dictator is, in fact, that of an unknown woman.

The four-inch skull fragment has a hole where a bullet reportedly passed through Hitler’s left temple when he shot himself and is kept in Russia’s federal archives along with what are said to be his jawbones. Together, they are all that is left of Hitler’s body, the charred remains of which Soviet forces first recovered in 1945. For years, the Russians have held up the artefacts as proof that Soviet troops found Hitler’s body in the ruins of Berlin and that he died on April 30 when he shot himself just after taking cyanide.

But a History Channel documentary programme broadcast in the US called Hitler’s Escape claims the skull fragment belongs to a woman under 40 and not Hitler, who was 56 when he died. It quotes Nick Bellantoni, an archaeologist and bone specialist who took DNA samples from the skull in Moscow and had them tested at the University of Connecticut. He and his colleagues are sceptical that the skull fragment could belong to Eva Braun, Hitler’s long-time companion, since she is thought to have committed suicide by cyanide rather than with a gun.

The findings are likely to revive conspiracy theories suggesting that Hitler did not die in 1945 but survived and fled to South America or elsewhere. Proponents of that theory believe Soviet troops found only his body double.

via Adolf Hitler suicide story questioned after tests reveal skull is a woman's - Telegraph.

World's tallest man on vacation

SULTAN KOSEN IN VIENNA: World's tallest man goes on holidaySultan Kosen, the tallest man in the world, has taken his second international holiday, leaving his native Turkey to visit Austria, where he reflected on the problems of being 8 feet, one inch high.

The 27-year-old farmer - whose towering status has been certified by Guinness World Records - signed hundreds of autographs and shook thousands of hands at a sun-kissed gathering of record holders in Prater park.

"I don't consider myself a star, but rather as a champion because I am the tallest," said Kosen, who surged in height from the age of 10 due to a tumour that caused too much growth hormone to be released from his pituitary gland.

"The advantages of being so tall are balanced by the inconveniences," he said, such as "the difficulty in finding clothes that fit and the acrobatics involved in getting into a taxi."

Kosen was in London earlier this month on his first trip ever outside Turkey, where his four siblings are all normal-sized.

Also appearing at the Vienna Recordia event on Sunday was Austrian strongman Franz Muellner, who set a world record for car-flipping as he overturned a red sedan eight times in five minutes.

via World's tallest man goes on holiday - Telegraph.

Scientists lay bare magic secret

Paul DanielsScientists have revealed one of magic's most closely guarded secrets - how a magician makes things disappear.

Researchers from Edinburgh University said illusions happen when blind spots prevent us from seeing change before our eyes.

When our eyes shift focus for just a few milliseconds, it is enough for us to lose our sight.

This is too short for us to notice, but long enough to miss changes in visual scenes.

The research team carried out experiments in which people looking at pictures often failed to detect deliberate alterations, such as objects becoming bigger or disappearing.

Prof John Henderson of the School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences said:  "We think our eyes show us the world in sharp detail all the time, but in fact this is not the case.

"Our studies show that our eyes do, in fact, miss a great deal.

"Our research gives us insight into how people see the world and ultimately how the brain processes information."

- via bbc