Xenophilia (True Strange Stuff)

Blog of the real Xenophilius Lovegood, a slightly mad scientist

Archive for November 15th, 2008

UN report finds pollution ‘brown clouds’ over much of world are newest environmental threat

Posted by Anonymous on November 15, 2008


A dirty brown haze sometimes more than a mile thick is darkening skies not only over vast areas of Asia, but also in the Middle East, southern Africa and the Amazon Basin, changing weather patterns around the world and threatening health and food supplies, the U.N. reported Thursday.

The huge smog-like plumes, caused mainly by the burning of fossil fuels and firewood, are known as “atmospheric brown clouds.”

When mixed with emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases blamed for warming the earth’s atmosphere like a greenhouse, they are the newest threat to the global environment, according to a report commissioned by the U.N. Environment Program.

“All of this points to an even greater and urgent need to look at emissions across the planet,” said Achim Steiner, head of Kenya-based UNEP, which funded the report with backing from Italy, Sweden and the United States.

Brown clouds are caused by an unhealthy mix of particles, ozone and other chemicals that come from cars, coal-fired power plants, burning fields and wood-burning stoves. First identified by the report’s lead researcher in 1990, the clouds were depicted Thursday as being more widespread and causing more environmental damage than previously known.

Perhaps most widely recognized as the haze this past summer over Beijing’s Olympics, the clouds have been found to be more than a mile thick around glaciers in the Himalaya and Hindu Kush mountain ranges. They hide the sun and absorb radiation, leading to new worries not only about global climate change but also about extreme weather conditions.

“All these have led to negative effects on water resources and crop yields,” the report says.

Health problems associated with particulate pollution, such as cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, are linked to nearly 350,000 premature deaths in China and India every year, said Henning Rohde, a University of Stockholm scientist who worked on the study…. – lat

And therefore we must change our habits, reduce our population, or slowly get sicker and sicker.

Posted in Earth, Health | Leave a Comment »

Not Giving Up The Ghost: Mars Spirit Rover Lives

Posted by Anonymous on November 15, 2008

NASA had not heard from the 5-year-old Martian rover for four days. Just when engineers feared having to give up the ghost, the aptly named robot radioed back to Earth on Thursday that it survived.

Engineers shouted “she’s talking,” at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, Calif. They were afraid that a dust storm had drained Spirit’s solar batteries, triggering it to shut down. Spirit’s batteries are low, but working.

Spirit and its twin, Opportunity, are living long past their planned three months on Mars. – AP

Posted in Space | Leave a Comment »

Marine animals found 20 million years earlier than expected

Posted by Anonymous on November 15, 2008

20081114_diatomsPhoto Credit: Prof. Gordon T. Taylor, Stony Brook University, USA. See this and other images by Prof. Taylor in the Smithsonian’s Science on Sphere exhibit in the new Sant Ocean Hall (Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. Link, link, link.)

Though they are baffled as to how it got there, scientists have discovered a menagerie of perfectly intact marine micro-organisms trapped in tree resin at least 100 million years old.

The unexpected find in the Charente region of southwestern France pushes back by at least 20 million years the period when a type of single-cell algae known as diatoms are known to have appeared on Earth.the forest producing the amber was very near the coast. The tiny organisms, largely made up of prehistoric plankton, were either carried inland by strong winds or flood waters during a storm, the authors write.

“This discovery will deepen our understanding of these lost marine species as well as providing precious data about the coastal environment of western France during the Cretaceous Period,” which spanned from 145 to 65 million years ago, the researchers said.

It also challenges certain theories about the evolution of these organisms, and vindicates the research of molecular geneticists, said co-author Jean-Paul Saint Martin, a scientist at the National History Museum in Paris, France.

Using “molecular clocks,” biochemists move backward in time to figure out at what point in the evolutionary process certain plant and animal species split off into different branches.

“We had no record of these micro-organisms over a period of 20 million years. These fossils have filled that void in the most extraordinary manner,” said Saint Martin. -cosmos

Posted in Archaeology, Biology | 1 Comment »

Indian probe touches down on Moon

Posted by Anonymous on November 15, 2008

India’s first unmanned lunar spacecraft, Chandrayaan 1, has placed a probe on the surface of the Moon.

The probe, painted with the Indian flag, touched down at 2034 (1504 GMT), the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) said. It will perform various experiments, including measuring the composition of the Moon’s atmosphere. The mission is regarded as a major step for India as it seeks to keep pace with other space-faring nations in Asia.

The BBC’s Sanjoy Majumder in Delhi says the success of the mission has been hailed in India where many see it as another sign of the country’s emergence as a global power.

Earlier this week Chandrayaan 1 began orbiting the Moon some three weeks after it was launched from a space centre in southern India. The dropping of the Moon Impact Probe (MIP), weighing about 30kg, concludes the first phase of the mission.

“During its descent from Chandrayaan 1, an onboard video camera transmitted lunar pictures to the ISRO command centre,” spokesman S Satish said, AFP news agency reports.


In the days to come, the probe will measure the composition of the Moon’s ultra-tenuous atmosphere, or exosphere.

For the next two years, Chandrayaan 1 will map a three-dimensional atlas of the Moon and also check for the presence of water-ice with the help of instruments built by India and other countries including the US, Britain and Germany. – bbc


The MIP carried three instruments, and data was successfully transmitted from the 25-minute descent of the probe after it was ejected from the orbiting Chandrayaan-1. The impact, however caused a cessation of the instruments’ transmissions, but not before providing useful descent data. The ISRO has already released a couple of images. – universetoday

The Moon Impact Probe (MIP) essentially consists of honeycomb structure, which houses all the subsystems and instruments. In addition to the instruments, the separation system, the de-boost spin and de-spin motors, it comprises of the avionics system and thermal control system. The avionics system supports the payloads and provides communication link between MIP and the main orbiter, from separation to impact and provides a database useful for future soft landing.  – isro

Watch the isro site here for the latest moon photos. Look at the Earth photo compared to the Moon photo from Chandrayaan-1. Why does the quality of the Moon photo seem reduced?

Here is a video showing details of the mission:

Posted in Space | Leave a Comment »

Obama Meets Bush in Oval Office

Posted by Anonymous on November 15, 2008


US President-elect Barack Obama paid his first visit to President Bush in the White House in Washington since his election victory.

Soon after they arrived, the two leaders got down to business.

The meeting of the sitting president and the incoming president-elect is a long-standing tradition in American politics.

While neither leader released a statement about the face-to-face meeting, it was widely speculated that they talked about several major issues — including the challenges facing the economy and the transition of power that will take place over the next two months.

The meeting was also Obama’s first visit to the Oval Office.

Democratic strategist Peter Fenn said these types of post-election meetings are generally considered photo-ops.

“This one I think will be quite substantive and they’ll be discussing what can be done in the next couple of months,” Fenn told CTV’s Canada AM on Monday morning.

“Barack Obama said there’s only one president at a time — that’s not exactly true,” Frum told CTV’s Canada AM on Monday. “Power flows incrementally as well dramatically in January and they’re already taking many of the reins of power in their own hands.” – ctv

There is already a transition of power happening.

Posted in Politics | Leave a Comment »

Inmate escapes jail by mailing himself out in a box

Posted by Anonymous on November 15, 2008

human-in-boxA manhunt is under way in western Germany for a convicted drug dealer who escaped by mailing himself out of jail.

The 42-year-old Turkish citizen – who was serving a seven-year sentence – had been making stationery with other prisoners destined for the shops.

At the end of his shift, the inmate climbed into a cardboard box and was taken out of prison by express courier. His whereabouts are still unknown.

The chief warden of the jail told the BBC this was an embarrassing incident.

The prison authorities in Willich, near Duesseldorf, said the man, who was tall and broad-shouldered, had hidden in a box that was about 150cm by 120cm.

When the weekly express courier arrived to pick up several boxes of merchandise, the one containing the prisoner was also loaded into the back of the lorry.

Shortly after it had passed through the prison gates, the inmate made his dash for freedom by cutting a big hole in the tarpaulin of the lorry and jumping off.

The driver alerted the police after he noticed the tarpaulin flapping in the breeze. – bbc

Posted in Strange | Leave a Comment »

Woman Reaches US army’s top rank

Posted by Anonymous on November 15, 2008

_45208706_dunwoody_ap226An American woman has been promoted to four-star general – the first female to reach the US army’s highest rank.

In her acceptance speech, Ann E Dunwoody said she had never expected to rise so high in the ranks in her 33-year career.

She said no one was more surprised than she and her husband. “Behind every successful woman there’s an astonished man,” she added. There are 21 female generals, most of them one-star, in the US army.  Women make up 14% of the army’s active-service strength of more than 500,000 soldiers. …

Defence Secretary Robert Gates said: “History will no doubt take note of [Dunwoody’s] achievement in breaking through this final ‘brass ceiling’ to pin on this fourth star.” “But she would rather be known and remembered first and foremost as a US army soldier.”

She is now head of the Army Materiel Command, in charge of weapons, equipment and uniforms for the army. Women are barred from combat roles but have been allowed in the last two decades to serve in a wide variety of other positions.

“It’s been my experience in my 33 years in the military that the doors have continued to open and the opportunities have continued to expand,” she said. – bbc

Some history (her-story?)

… in June of 1970 the Army took the first step and promoted the chief of the Army Nurse Corps Colonel Anna May Hayes to Brigadier General – the very first woman to wear a star. Literally minutes later Colonel Elizabeth P. Hoisington, Women’s Army Corps Director, received her new star.- aug


THE FIRST TWO MILITARY WOMEN TO ACHIEVE GENERAL OFFICER RANK, Brig. Gen. Anna Mae Hays, Chief of the Army Nurse Corps (left), and Brig. Gen. Elizabeth P. Hoisington, Director, WAC (right), with Mrs. Dwight D. Eisenhower on their promotion day, 11 June 1970. – army.mil

Posted in Politics | Leave a Comment »

Painful microscopic shard of asbestos in my finger?

Posted by Anonymous on November 15, 2008

anthophyllite-asbestos-fibresI opened an 11 year old Hewlett Packard scanner today and handled a solid fiberglass looking bar inside with my bare hands. Since then I have had a sharp pain on the surface of my skin on one finger if I touch it, but I can’t see any splinters.  Did HP used asbestos in their scanners manufactured in 1997? Old scanners get very hot internally, so it would make sense for asbestos to be used.

“Asbestos Removal Technicians complaints of painful skin lesions that occur after exposure to asbestos and continue years later. The lesions are very painful and slow healing. This occurs when asbestos penetrates skin and becomes embedded.” -consultwebs

I hope I didn’t breathe any asbestos in the process. I’ll know in 15 to 20 years.

If you get asbestos fibers on your skin, very few of these fibers, if any, pass through the skin into your body. – cdc

I’m not sure about the validity, but one site says, “Asbestos can be removed in days from your vital organs by avoiding asbestos contaminated foods and drinking lots of fluids.”

Ah, on very careful inspection, with powerful lighting, I can actually see the little bugger embedded in my skin. Now I just need some very small tweezers.

Posted in Health | 2 Comments »

Weapons of Mass Deception: Fake TV News Widespread and Undisclosed

Posted by Anonymous on November 15, 2008

nfn_tvremote“It’s shocking to see how product placement moves secretly unfiltered from the boardroom to the newsroom and then straight into our living rooms,” said Diane Farsetta, a senior researcher at CMD and co-author of the report. “Local TV broadcasts — the most popular news source in the United States — frequently air VNRs without fact-checking, conducting their own reporting, or disclosing that the footage has been provided and sponsored by big corporations.”

Investigators captured 77 television stations actively disguising sponsored content from companies including General Motors, Intel, Pfizer and Capital One to make it look like their own reporting. More than one-third of the time, stations aired fake news stories in their entirety as their own reporting.

Despite repeated claims from broadcasters that they do not air VNRs as news, the new report reveals just the tip of the iceberg. Instances of fake TV news documented by CMD likely represent less than 1 percent of VNRs distributed to local newsrooms since June 2005. Fraudulent news reports have likely been aired on hundreds of more local newscasts in the past year. … Approximately 80 percent of the stations snared in the investigation are owned by large conglomerates. The list of the worst offenders includes Clear Channel, News Corp./Fox Television, Viacom/CBS, Tribune Co. and Sinclair Broadcast Group – whose Oklahoma City affiliate was caught airing VNRs on six separate occasions. … -prwatch

This from wikipedia:

A video news release (VNR) is a video segment created by a PR firm, advertising agency, marketing firm, corporation, or government agency and provided to television news stations for the purpose of informing, shaping public opinion, or to promote and publicize individuals, commercial products and services, or other interests. In this way, VNRs are video versions of press releases.

… Critics of VNRs have called the practice deceptive or a propaganda technique, particularly in cases in which the segment is not explicitly identified to the viewers as a VNR. Firms producing VNRs disagree and equate their use to a press release in video form. The United States Federal Communications Commission is currently investigating the practice of VNRs.

From a 2006 article:

The Society of Professional Journalists estimates that the PR industry produces between 5,000-15,000 video news releases a year. Without disclosure, it is impossible to know how many of them end up being broadcast into U.S. homes. – cd

Integrity in broadcasting has been evaporating for a long time. In 1957 Rod Serling, who wrote the Twilight Zone series, complained that advertisers were destroying the integrity of writer’s work by ordering such things as rival buildings being painted out of the New York sky line as seen through an office window on his set. (See tvh)

The problem I have with VNRs is that friends of mine believe the hype and they end up using unhealthy products because they “saw on the news” that it was good for them. How about this: Lie on the news, or give incorrect information as fact without citing your source, and you lose your job.

Oh, and it isn’t just drug companies. In terms of VNRs we are also talking about political propaganda (lies).

saddamstatuefalls-reuters“Thank you, Bush. Thank you, U.S.A.,” a jubilant Iraqi-American told a camera crew in Kansas City for a segment about reaction to the fall of Baghdad. A second report told of “another success” in the Bush administration’s “drive to strengthen aviation security”; the reporter called it “one of the most remarkable campaigns in aviation history.” A third segment, broadcast in January, described the administration’s determination to open markets for American farmers.

To a viewer, each report looked like any other 90-second segment on the local news. In fact, the federal government produced all three.

Under the Bush administration, the federal government has aggressively used a well-established tool of public relations: the prepackaged, ready-to-serve news report that major corporations have long distributed to TV stations to pitch everything from headache remedies to auto insurance. In all, at least 20 federal agencies, including the Defense Department and the Census Bureau, have made and distributed hundreds of television news segments in the past four years, records and interviews show. bushturkeyMany were subsequently broadcast on local stations across the country without any acknowledgment of the government’s role in their production. – nyt

What no one is admitting how much of the Iraq / Bin Laden / al Qaeda news alerts are VNRs, propaganda to keep the money rolling in. This is from MediaCitizen, 2005:

In 2004 alone, the Bush administration spent $90 million on PR contracts, drawn from a $254 million taxpayer slush fund set up to manufacture White House-friendly propaganda.

… No wonder a USA Today poll reported that over 50 percent of Americans believed there was a direct link between the Sept. 11 attacks and Saddam Hussein, even though there was no evidence of such a connection. – ads

Posted in Politics | Leave a Comment »

Sea Ice Growing at Fastest Pace on Record

Posted by Anonymous on November 15, 2008

glass-seaRapid Rebound Brings Ice Back to Levels from the 1980s.
An abnormally cool Arctic is seeing dramatic changes to ice levels.  In sharp contrast to the rapid melting seen last year, the amount of global sea ice has rebounded sharply and is now growing rapidly. The total amount of ice, which set a record low value last year, grew in October at the fastest pace since record-keeping began in 1979.

The actual amount of ice area varies seasonally from about 16 to 23 million square kilometers. However, the mean anomaly– defined as the difference between the current area and the seasonally-adjusted average– changes much slower, and generally varies by only 2-3 million square kilometers.

That anomaly had been negative, indicating ice loss, for most of the current decade and reached a historic low in 2007. The current value is again zero, indicating an amount of ice exactly equal to the global average from 1979-2000.

Bill Chapman, a researcher with the Arctic Climate Center at the University of Illinois, says the rapid increase is “no big deal”. He says that, while the Arctic has certainly been colder in recent months, the long-term decrease is still ongoing. Chapman, who predicts that sea ice will soon stop growing, sees nothing in the recent data to contradict predictions of global warming.

Others aren’t quite so sure. Dr. Patrick Michaels, Professor of Environmental Science at the University of Virginia, says he sees some “very odd” things occurring in recent years. Michaels, who is also a Senior Fellow with the Cato Institute, tells DailyTech that, while the behavior of the Arctic seems to agree with climate models predictions, the Southern Hemisphere can’t be explained by current theory. “The models predict a warming ocean around Antarctica, so why would we see more sea ice?” Michaels adds that large areas of the Southern Pacific are showing cooling trends, an occurrence not anticipated by any current climate model.

On average, ice covers roughly 7% of the ocean surface of the planet. Sea ice is floating and therefore doesn’t affect sea level like the ice anchored on bedrock in Antarctica or Greenland. However, research has indicated that the Antarctic continent — which is on a long-term cooling trend — has also been gaining ice in recent years.

The primary instrument for measuring sea ice today is the AMSR-E microwave radiometer, an instrument package aboard NASA’s AQUA satellite. AQUA was launched in 2002, as part of NASA’s Earth Observing System (EOS). – dailytech

Posted in Earth | Leave a Comment »


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