Friday, September 30, 2005

Bird flu 'could kill 150m people' - BBC

Last Updated: Friday, 30 September 2005, 08:35 GMT 09:35 UK
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Bird flu 'could kill 150m people'

Experts fear birds will carry the virus across borders

A new flu pandemic could happen at any time and kill between 5-150 million people, a UN health official warned.
David Nabarro, who is charged with co-ordinating responses to bird flu, said a mutation of the virus affecting Asia could trigger new outbreaks.
"The consequences in terms of human life when the pandemic does start are going to be extraordinary and very damaging," Dr Nabarro told the BBC.
Bird flu has swept through poultry and wild birds in Asia since 2003.
It has killed huge numbers of birds and lead to more than 60 human deaths.

Principally an avian disease, first seen in humans in Hong Kong, 1997
Almost all human cases thought to be contracted from birds
Isolated cases of human-to-human transmission in Hong Kong and Vietnam, but none confirmed
In pictures: Indonesia alert
Q&A: Avian flu

"It's like a combination of global warming and HIV/Aids 10 times faster than it's running at the moment," Dr Nabarro told the BBC.
The UN's new co-ordinator for avian and human influenza said the likelihood that the Asian virus could mutate and jump to humans was high.
Because it has moved to wild migratory birds there is a possibility "that the first outbreak could happen even in Africa or in the Middle East", he warned.
The comments came as agriculture ministers from the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean) endorsed a three-year plan to combat the spread of the virus, and pledged $2m to fund research and training.
Limiting the damage
Dr Nabarro stressed he would be working hard to control bird flu through contact with farming communities and markets where birds are sold and looking at the migration of wild birds.
He said the number of deaths from any future influenza pandemic would depend on where it started, how quickly it was discovered and the kind of response they got from governments.

Bird flu
"The range of deaths could be anything between 5m and 150m," said Dr Nabarro.
"I believe that the work we're doing over the next few months will make the difference between, for example, whether the next pandemic leads us in the direction of 150 or in the direction of five. "So our effectiveness will be directly measured in lives saved and the consequences for the world."
The appointment of Dr Nabarro is an indication of how seriously the UN is taking the threat, the BBC's UN correspondent Suzannah Price says.
In his new role, he is meant to ensure that the UN has a co-ordinated response to bird flu and that it helps global efforts to prepare for any human flue pandemic, our correspondent says.

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Thursday, September 29, 2005

Gore: Right economic choices address climate change and create wealth - WEF website
Gore: Right economic choices address climate change and create wealth

"The world is entering a 'Period of Consequences'" as a result of global warming and climate change, said former US Vice-President Al Gore in a presentaion to World Economic Forum staff in Geneva. Recent occurences of phenominal weather conditions demonstrate that "we are witnessing a collision between the current design of our civilization and earth", and this is transforming humanity's relationship with our planet, he said. He outlined changes in global climate patterns - flooding and storms; drought and desertification; thaws in glaciers and permafrost - which have contributed to a rise in pestilence and recurring infectious diseases, infrastructure damage and pressure on food and water supplies. Choosing between the economy or the environment is a "false choice", said Gore. He pointed to a "striking contrast" between expert opinion and the mass media and lobbying campaigns, and underlined the existence of a scientific consensus. The consequences of global warming will reap a diminished ability for the world's citizens to enjoy our planet, according to Gore, and the "right economic choices create wealth" and sustainability, including that of the environment. The challenge of global warming can be met, he argued, stressing that humanity already possesses the technology and knowhow to solve the problem. He cited the diminished hole in the ozone layer of the earth's atmosphere as evidence that governments and business can come to a consensus on environmental challenges."We must keep our eye on the prize. We have to find a way to come together and solve the problem," said Gore. He proposed the World Economic Forum's Annual Meeting in Davos as the place to meet the challenge of global warming, as "the one place where politics, business, civic and NGOs come together to explore a change in consciousness". He argued that humanity has no alternative but to address the problem. " What gives us the right to inflict this experiment on future generations?," he asked.

Finland tops USA in competitiveness - usatoday/reuters

Finland tops USA in competitiveness
GENEVA (Reuters) — Nordic countries, with Finland in the lead, have some of the world's most competitive economies, despite high taxes and extensive social security systems, according to a study issued on Wednesday.
In the study, the Geneva-based World Economic Forum set the United States second after Finland in its annual competitiveness ranking but recorded growing business concern over the Bush administration's handling of the nation's finances.
Apart from Finland, four other Nordic nations — No. 3 Sweden, No. 4 Denmark, No. 7 Iceland and No. 9 Norway — were among the top 10 in the table issued with the Forum's Global Competitiveness Report 2005. The others in the top 10 were No. 5 Taiwan, No. 6 Singapore, No. 8 Switzerland, and No. 10 Australia, up from No. 14 last year.
The study, based on economic data and business opinion surveys in 117 countries, said the north European nations "are challenging the conventional wisdom that high taxes and large safety nets undermine competitiveness."
The Forum is organizer of the annual gathering of global business and political leaders in the Swiss mountain resort of Davos.
Finland, the USA and Sweden also occupied the top three places in the table last year, but the report indicated that the USA could have emerged on top but for worries about current policies and attitudes in Washington.
The U.S. ranked 47th out of the 117 countries studied on the health of its economy, echoing, the Forum said, growing international concern about economic imbalances, "especially as regards public finances."
Dropping down the list were Japan, from ninth to 12th, and Hong Kong, at 28th from 21st in 2004 — the latter because of "a tangible deterioration in the quality of the institutional environment" affecting the law and property rights.

Google and Nasa in space venture - BBC

Last Updated: Thursday, 29 September 2005, 05:33 GMT 06:33 UK
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Google and Nasa in space venture

Could Google help to land humans on the moon again by 2020?Web search firm Google has formed a partnership with US space agency Nasa in an effort to harness new technology which could boost the space programme.
Google is to build a new office complex on the site of Nasa's research facility in California, close to its own headquarters in Silicon Valley.
The two companies will co-operate in a range of areas including IT solutions, data management and nanotechnology.
It would look to "bring entrepreneurs into the space programme", Nasa added.
A new frontier?
The two companies have signed a memorandum of understanding, although the financial terms of the joint venture were not disclosed.
Google is expanding rapidly and recently raised more than $4bn for new projects by selling shares in the company.
As part of the venture, Google will develop one million square feet of real estate at the Nasa Ames research centre.

Google and Nasa share a common desire
Eric Schmidt, Google
The centre, built in 1939, has been at the heart of the US space program for many years, conducting research into the Apollo moon missions between 1963 and 1972.
Nasa recently unveiled plans to make another moon landing by 2020.
Examples of areas of potential collaboration include the development of new types of remote sensors and improving analysis of engineering problems.
"Google and Nasa share a common desire, to bring a universe of information to people around the world," said Eric Schmidt, Google's chairman and chief executive.
"Imagine having a wide selection of images from the Apollo space mission at your fingertips whenever you want it."
Scott Hubbard, director of Nasa Ames Center, claimed the partnership could provide a huge range of potential benefits to the space programme.
"While our joint efforts will benefit both organisations, the real winner will be the American public," he said.
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EU's biggest economies becoming less competitive - EU Observer

Most competitive economies include Nordic countries (Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark), other western countries like the USA, Australia, Switzerland & Iceland + East Asian industrialized countries like Taiwan & Singapore.
The Global Competitiveness Index is composed of
1. Technology Index
2. Public Institutions Index
3. Macroeconomic Environment Index


EU's biggest economies becoming less competitive
29.09.2005 - 09:30 CET By Honor Mahony
Nordic countries have once again been ranked as among the world's most competitive economies, according to a World Economic Forum (WEF) report published Wednesday (28 September).Finland comes out on top with Sweden and Denmark falling into third and fourth place behind the US."The Nordic countries share a number of characteristics that make them extremely competitive, such as very healthy macroeconomic environments and public institutions that are highly transparent and efficient", said Augusto Lopez-Claros, Chief Economist and Director of the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Programme.Finland has been top of the world rankings for four of the past five years.Estonia, which the WEF says is "by a significant margin the most competitive economy among the 10 countries that joined the EU last year" is ranked 20 while other important movers are Poland which moved up nine places to 51st place and Ireland ranked 26 - up four places from last year. Big EU countries slip downwardsFor other European countries however, the news is bleaker. Many of the big European countries have slipped down the rankings. Neither of Britain or Germany, the EU's two biggest economies feature in the top ten, with the UK ranked at number 13 and Germany moving down two places to 15.France, meanwhile, moved from 27th place down to 30th place, while Spain and Belgium moved down six places to 29th and 31st ranking respectively.Among the worst performing EU countries are Italy and Greece, the lowest ranking EU countries bar Poland. Italy is ranked at 47th place while Greece slipped down nine places to 46th place.According to WEF, Greece's poor performance is "driven by a ballooning budget deficit and increasing pessimism on the part of the business community about the short-term economic outlook". The survey was carried out across 117 countries worldwide with over 11,000 business people polled for their views.The top ten places are: Finland, the US, Sweden, Denmark, Taiwan, Singapore, Iceland, Switzerland, Norway, and Australia, while Guyana, the Kyrgyz Republic and Chad are considered among the least competitive countries in the world.

Elusive Giant Squid Finally Photographed - LiveScience/AP

Ever read "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" by Jules Verne?


Elusive Giant Squid Finally Photographed
By The Associated Press
posted: 28 September 200508:38 am ET

TOKYO (AP) -- The giant squid can be found in books and in myths, but for the first time, a team of Japanese scientists has captured on film one of the most mysterious creatures of the deep sea in its natural habitat.
The team led by Tsunemi Kubodera, from the National Science Museum in Tokyo, tracked the 26-foot long Architeuthis as it attacked prey nearly 3,000 feet deep off the coast of Japan's Bonin islands.
"We believe this is the first time a grown giant squid has been captured on camera in its natural habitat,'' said Kyoichi Mori, a marine researcher who co-authored a piece in Wednesday's issue of the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.
The camera was operated by remote control during research at the end of October 2004, Mori told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
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Mori said the giant squid, purplish red like its smaller brethren, attacked its quarry aggressively, calling into question the image of the animal as lethargic and slow moving.
"Contrary to belief that the giant squid is relatively inactive, the squid we captured on film actively used its enormous tentacles to go after prey,'' Mori said.
"It went after some bait that we had on the end of the camera and became stuck, and left behind a tentacle'' about six yards long, Mori said.
Kubodera, also reached by the AP, said researchers ran DNA tests on the tentacle and found it matched those of other giant squids found around Japan.
"But other sightings were of smaller, or very injured squids washed toward the shore -- or of parts of a giant squid,'' Kubodera said. "This is the first time a full-grown, healthy squid has been sighted in its natural environment in deep water.''
Kubodera said the giant squid's tentacle would not grow back, but the squid's life was not in danger.
Jim Barry, a marine biologist at Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in California, has searched for giant squid on his own expeditions without luck.
"It's the holy grail of deep sea animals,'' he said. "It's one that we have never seen alive, and now someone has video of one.''
New Zealand's leading authority on the giant squid, marine biologist Steve O'Shea, praised the Japanese team's feat.
"Through sheer ... determination the guy has gone on and done it,'' said O'Shea, chief marine scientist at the Auckland University of Technology, who is not linked to the Japanese research.
O'Shea said he hopes to capture juvenile giant squid and grow them in captivity. He captured 17 of them five years ago but they died in captivity.
"Our reaction is one of tremendous relief that the so-called ... race (to film the giant squid) is over ... because the animal has consumed the last eight or nine years of my life,'' O'Shea said of the film.
Giant squid have long attracted human fascination, appearing in myths of the ancient Greeks, as well as Jules Verne's "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.'' Scientific interest in the animals has surged in recent years as more specimens have been caught in commercial fishing nets or found washed up on shores.
Kubodera would make no claims about the scientific significance of his team's work.
"As for the impact our discovery will have on marine research, I'll leave to other researchers to decide,'' he said.
Other biologists saidi they expected the video would provide insight on the animal's behavior underwater.
"Nobody has been able to observe a large giant squid where it lives,'' said Randy Kochevar, a deep sea biologist also with the Monterey aquarium. "There are people who said it would never be done.''
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Fears over climate as Arctic ice melts at record level - The Guardian

One more report about the effects of Global Warming.


Fears over climate as Arctic ice melts at record level ·

Coverage is 20% below average for time of year · Destructive cycle could affect Earth's weather David Adam, environment correspondent
Thursday September 29, 2005
The Guardian

Global warming in the Arctic could be soaring out of control, scientists warned yesterday as new figures revealed that melting of sea ice in the region has accelerated to record levels.
Experts at the US National Snow and Data Centre in Colorado fear the region is locked into a destructive cycle with warmer air melting more ice, which in turn warms the air further. Satellite pictures show that the extent of Arctic sea ice this month dipped some 20% below the long term average for September - melting an extra 500,000 square miles, or an area twice the size of Texas. If current trends continue, the summertime Arctic Ocean will be completely ice-free well before the end of this century.

Ted Scambos, lead scientist at the Colorado centre, said melting sea ice accelerates warming because dark-coloured water absorbs heat from the sun that was previously reflected back into space by white ice. "Feedbacks in the system are starting to take hold. We could see changes in Arctic ice happening much sooner than we thought and that is important because without the ice cover over the Arctic Ocean we have to expect big changes in Earth's weather."
The Arctic sea ice cover reaches its minimum extent each September at the end of the summer melting season. On September 21 the mean sea ice extent dropped to 2.05m square miles, the lowest on record. This is the fourth consecutive year that melting has been greater than average and it pushed the overall decline in sea ice per decade to 8%, up from 6.5% in 2001.
Walt Meier, also at the Colorado centre, said: "Having four years in a row with such low ice extents has never been seen before in the satellite record. It clearly indicates a downward trend, not just a short term anomaly."
Surface air temperatures across most of the Arctic Ocean have been 2-3C higher on average this year than from 1955 to 2004.
The notorious northwest passage through the Canadian Arctic from Europe to Asia - where entire expeditions were lost in earlier centuries as their crews battled thick ice and bitter cold - was completely open this summer, except for a 60 mile swath of scattered ice floes. The northeast passage, north of the Siberian coast, has been ice free since August 15.
Springtime melting in the Arctic has begun much earlier in recent years; this year it started 17 days earlier than expected. The winter rebound of ice, where sea water refreezes, has also been affected. Last winter's recovery was the smallest on record and the peak Arctic ice cover failed to match the previous year's level.
The decline threatens wildlife in the region, including polar bears that spend the summer on land before returning to the ice when it reforms in winter. It is also the latest in a series of discoveries that have raised the spectre of environmental tipping points: critical thresholds beyond which the climate would be unable to recover. Duncan Wingham, an Arctic ice expert at University College London, said: "One has to be a bit careful with the notion of a tipping point because the situation is recoverable.
"If you drop the atmospheric temperature then the ice will come back again. There is a distinction between that and the Greenland ice sheet, which wouldn't reform because the modern climate is far too warm."
Prof Wingham is head of a European project that will launch a new satellite next weekend to monitor the thickness of the Arctic sea ice - and to check on the role global warming plays in its decline. Some had suggested that a periodic weather system called the Arctic oscillation had blown thick sea ice from the Arctic during the 1990s, leaving thin ice more liable to melting in its place.

Special reports
Special report: climate change
Special report: G8
Useful links
UN framework convention on climate change

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Anti-evolution Attacks on the Rise -

Anti-evolution Attacks on the Rise
By Ker ThanLiveScience Staff Writerposted: 27 September 2005 12:06 am ET

Historical Court Cases Involving Evolution
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…"
Over the years, people attempting to ban evolution in classrooms or to peddle creationism as science have constantly found their efforts thwarted by these sixteen words. Known respectively as the “Establishment Clause” and the “Free Exercise Clause” of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, these two statements together form the foundation of religious freedom in this country.

Evolving Issue
Top 10 Missing LinksDiscoveries that have helped build the puzzle of mankind's evolution.
Creation MythsLegends that helped define civilizations past and present.
Vestigal OrgansDarwin argued that useless limbs and leftover organs are evidence of evolution.

Of the many court cases involving government and religion, nine have dealt specifically with the treatment of evolution and creationism in public schools. LiveScience reviews them here:

Epperson v. Arkansas (1968)
In 1968, Susan Epperson, a high school biology teacher in Little Rock, Arkansas, was faced with a dilemma: the school district had recently adopted a new biology textbook that included sections on evolution, but according to state law, it was illegal to teach them. Yet, if Epperson didn't teach evolution, she risked disciplinary action from the school board.
Epperson sued the state, and the case was brought before the Supreme Court. The court ruled that the law violated the Establishment Clause and concluded that the primary motivation behind it was a literal reading of the Book of Genesis. In other words, the court found that there were no secular reasons for not teaching evolution, only religious ones.

Segraves v. State of California (1981)
Kelly Segraves sued the state when he learned that his three young boys were being taught evolution at school, arguing that his and his childrens' freedom of religion were being violated.
The California Superior Court disagreed, pointing out that by law, scientific class discussions about the origins of life could focus only on how life might have developed, not on what its ultimate cause might be. Therefore, the teaching of evolution shouldn't be construed as either an establishment of religion or as an infringement upon anyone's religious beliefs.

McClean v. Arkansas Board of Education (1982)
Finding their efforts to outlaw the teaching of evolution constantly rebuffed by the courts, creationists tried a different tactic: If evolution can be taught in public schools, isn't it only fair, they said, that alternative theories about the origins and development of life be taught as well?
Legislators in Arkansas thought so, and passed a law requiring the “balanced treatment” of evolution with “creation science.” When the case reached a federal court, however, the judge struck down the law and ruled that creation science wasn't really science because its language was based on creationist text.

Edwards v. Aguillard (1987)
If you can't beat them, join them.
That was the thinking of Louisiana legislators when they passed the state's “Creationism Act,” which made it illegal to teach evolution unless creation science was taught as well.
The Supreme Court found the act unconstitutional. By implying that a supernatural being created humankind, creation science was an impermissible endorsement of religion. The court pointed out that teachers were never forbidden from presenting alternative scientific theories before the act was passed. Therefore, the real purpose of the act was to tack creationism onto any curriculum that included evolution.

Webster v. New Lenox School District (1990)
In 1987, an Illinois social studies teacher named Ray Webster began teaching creation science to his students after disagreeing with a textbook statement that said the earth was more than four billion years old.
A student complained, and when a school superintendent warned him to stop, Webster sued, claiming that his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights were being violated.
The case was eventually brought before the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled that teaching creation science for any reason was a form of religious advocacy and that schools could prohibit teachers from teaching it.

Peloza v. Capistrano School District (1994)
Turning the tables on the scientific community, high school biology teacher Ray Peloza sued the Capistrano School District in California, claimed that “evolutionism” was itself a kind of religion, one that promoted a secular worldview.
Teaching it in public schools therefore violated the First Amendment rights of both students and teachers, Peloza said, because it imposed a religion on the former and restricted the religious views of the latter.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals didn't agree and dismissed Peloza's claim, saying that it rested on the false assumption that evolution denied the existence of a creator. The court further ruled that a public employees right to free speech could be restricted while on the job because they are representing the government.

Freiler v. Tangipahoa Parish Board of Education (1997)
On the ostensible grounds of promoting critical thinking, the Tangipahoa School District in Louisiana passed a law requiring teachers to read aloud a disclaimer before teaching evolution. The disclaimer emphasized that evolution was only a “theory” and that teaching it was “not intended to influence or dissuade the Biblical version of Creation or any other concept.”
The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals saw through the creationist ruse, however, and found that the disclaimer did not in fact promote critical thinking because it essentially told students not to question what they already knew. The judges further concluded that the motivation behind the disclaimer was religious and therefore unconstitutional.

LeVake v. Independent School District 656 (2001)
When Rodney LeVake, a high school biology teacher in Minnesota, began teaching the students in his 10th grade biology class “evidence both for and against the theory” of evolution, the school principal became uneasy and reassigned LeVake to the 9th grade.
LeVake sued, arguing that he was being discriminated against because of his religion and that his right to free speech was being violated in order to silence his criticisms of evolution.
The district court judge ruled that it was a public school teacher's responsibility to teach evolution according to the curriculum and that teachers could be prevented from teaching a biology course if they couldn't adequately teach evolution.

Selman v. Cobb County School District (2005)
In 2002, Georgia's Cobb County School District began placing stickers in its newly adopted high-school biology textbooks stating that: "This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered."
Five local parents sued the school district, claiming that the stickers inhibited the teaching of evolution and promoted a view about the origins of life that was faith-based.
A district court judge agreed and said the sticker "misleads students regarding the significance and value of evolution in the scientific community." The judged ruled that the stickers undermined the first amendment and that the stickers must be removed.

SPECIAL REPORT: Evolution & Intelligent Design
Court Case Threatens to 'Drag Science into the Supernatural'
Nobel Prize Winners Speak Up to Support Evolution
Top 10 Missing Links in Human Evolution
Poll: Public Divided on Evolution
Evolution's Vestigal Organs
Top 10 Creation Myths

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Poverty in "rich" countries

The data is from UNDP's Human Development Reports (2005).

The International Poverty Line in rich countries - i.e. with a high human development level: income, health, education - is $11 (1994 prices) per day per person for a household of 3 persons. Following my estimates, that must come close to an income per household of $15,000 per year in 2003 (US price levels). It may be a bit different for other countries because the cost of living is not the same.

Here is the data:

USA: 13.6% of the population are "poor" (following this definition)
Germany: 7.3%
United Kingdom: 15.7%
France: 9.9%
Canada: 7.4%
Australia: 17.6%
Netherlands: 7.1%
Sweden: 6.3%
Finland: 4.8%
Norway: 4.3%

Actually, someone argued with me that the US poverty rates are lower than in Sweden. I found it unbelievable and I checked the data.
What is stricking is that the country with the highest average income per person (USA) also have one of the highest poverty rate (only Australia and the UK has a worse record)

Some European countries with relatively high unemployment rates (France, Germany) also have lower poverty rates. It seems to be a contradiction but it is not. The American "poor" population tends to be kicked out of the statistics simply because they are no longer accounted in the labor force. Someone who has been out of work for a while would not be part of the statistics of unemployment... He is not searching any more!


Monday, September 26, 2005

A Web of Faith, Law and Science in Evolution Suit - NYT

A Web of Faith, Law and Science in Evolution Suit

Ryan Donnell for The New York Times
Sheree Hied, second from left, supports the Dover, Pa., school district in requiring students to hear about alternatives to evolution.
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Published: September 26, 2005
DOVER, Pa., Sept. 23 - Sheree Hied, a mother of five who believes that God created the earth and its creatures, was grateful when her school board here voted last year to require high school biology classes to hear about "alternatives" to evolution, including the theory known as intelligent design.
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Forum: Human Origins

Ryan Donnell for The New York Times
Steven Stough and Bryan Rehm, right, are among 11 parents suing the district over the policy. The case is to open Monday in Harrisburg, Pa.
But 11 other parents in Dover were outraged enough to sue the school board and the district, contending that intelligent design - the idea that living organisms are so inexplicably complex, the best explanation is that a higher being designed them - is a Trojan horse for religion in the public schools.
With the new political empowerment of religious conservatives, challenges to evolution are popping up with greater frequency in schools, courts and legislatures. But the Dover case, which begins Monday in Federal District Court in Harrisburg, is the first direct challenge to a school district that has tried to mandate the teaching of intelligent design.
What happens here could influence communities across the country that are considering whether to teach intelligent design in the public schools, and the case, regardless of the verdict, could end up before the Supreme Court.
Dover, a rural, mostly blue-collar community of 22,000 that is 20 miles south of Harrisburg, had school board members willing to go to the mat over issue. But people here are well aware that they are only the excuse for a much larger showdown in the culture wars.
"It was just our school board making one small decision," Mrs. Hied said, "but it was just received with such an uproar."
For Mrs. Hied, a meter reader, and her husband, Michael, an office manager for a local bus and transport company, the Dover school board's argument - that teaching intelligent design is a free-speech issue - has a strong appeal.
"I think we as Americans, regardless of our beliefs, should be able to freely access information, because people fought and died for our freedoms," Mrs. Hied said over a family dinner last week at their home, where the front door is decorated with a small bell and a plaque proclaiming, "Let Freedom Ring."
But in a split-level house on the other side of Main Street, at a desk flanked by his university diplomas, Steven Stough was on the Internet late the other night, keeping track of every legal maneuver in the case. Mr. Stough, who teaches life science to seventh graders in a nearby district, is one of the 11 parents suing the Dover district. For him the notion of teaching "alternatives" to evolution is a hoax.
"You can dress up intelligent design and make it look like science, but it just doesn't pass muster," said Mr. Stough, a Republican whose idea of a fun family vacation is visiting fossil beds and natural history museums. "In science class, you don't say to the students, 'Is there gravity, or do you think we have rubber bands on our feet?' "
Evolution finds that life evolved over billions of years through the processes of mutation and natural selection, without the need for supernatural interventions. It is the foundation of biological science, with no credible challenges within the scientific community. Without it, the plaintiffs say, students could never make sense of topics as varied as AIDS and extinction.
Advocates on both sides of the issue have lined up behind the case, often calling it Scopes II, in reference to the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial that was the last century's great face-off over evolution.
On the evolutionists' side is a legal team put together by the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State. These groups want to put intelligent design itself on trial and discredit it so thoroughly that no other school board would dare authorize teaching it.
Witold J. Walczak, legal director of the A.C.L.U. of Pennsylvania, said the plaintiffs would call six experts in history, theology, philosophy of science and science to show that no matter the perspective, "intelligent design is not science because it does not meet the ground rules of science, is not based on natural explanations, is not testable."
On the intelligent design side is the Thomas More Law Center, a nonprofit Christian law firm that says its mission is "to be the sword and shield for people of faith" in cases on abortion, school prayer and the Ten Commandments. The center was founded by Thomas Monaghan, the Domino's Pizza founder, a conservative Roman Catholic who also founded Ave Maria University and the Ave Maria School of Law; and by Richard Thompson, a former Michigan prosecutor who tried Dr. Jack Kevorkian for performing assisted suicides.
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Forum: Human Origins

"This is an attempt by the A.C.L.U. to really intimidate this small-town school board," said Mr. Thompson, who will defend the Dover board at the trial, "because the theory of intelligent design is starting to gain some resonance among school boards across the country."
The defense plans to introduce leading design theorists like Michael J. Behe, a professor of biochemistry at Lehigh University, and education experts who will testify that "allowing students to be aware of the controversy is good pedagogy because it develops critical thinking," Mr. Thompson said.
The case, Kitzmiller et al v. Dover Area School District, will be decided by Judge John E. Jones III of the United States District Court, who was nominated by President Bush in 2002 and confirmed by a Senate vote of 96 to 0. The trial is expected to last six weeks and to draw news coverage from around the world.
The legal battle came to a head on Oct. 18 last year when the Dover school board voted 6 to 3 to require ninth-grade biology students to listen to a brief statement saying that there was a controversy over evolution, that intelligent design is a competing theory and that if they wanted to learn more the school library had the textbook "Of Pandas and People: the Central Question of Biological Origins." The book is published by an intelligent design advocacy group, the Foundation for Thought and Ethics, based in Texas.
Angry parents like Mr. Stough, Tammy Kitzmiller, and Bryan and Christy Rehm contacted the A.C.L.U. and Americans United. The 11 plaintiffs are a diverse group, unacquainted before the case, who say that parents, and not the school, should be in charge of their children's religious education.
Mr. Rehm, a father of five and a science teacher who formerly taught in Dover, said the school board had long been pressing science teachers to alter their evolution curriculum, even requiring teachers to watch a videotape about "gaps in evolution theory" during an in-service training day in the spring of 2004.
School board members were told by their lawyer, Mr. Thompson, not to talk to the news media. "We've told them, anything they say can be used against them," Mr. Thompson said.
The Supreme Court ruled in 1987 that teaching creation science in public schools was unconstitutional because it was based on religion. So the plaintiffs will try to prove that intelligent design is creationism in a new package. Richard Katskee, assistant legal director of Americans United, said the "Pandas" textbook only substituted references to "creationism" with "intelligent design" in more recent editions.
Mr. Thompson said his side would prove that intelligent design was not creationism because it did not mention God or the Bible and never posited the creator's identity.
"It's clear they are two different theories," Mr. Thompson said. "Creationism normally starts with the Holy Scripture, the Book of Genesis, then you develop a scientific theory that supports it, while intelligent design looks at the same kind of empirical data that any scientist looks at," and concludes that complex mechanisms in nature "appear designed because it is designed."
A twist in the case is that a leading proponent of intelligent design, the Discovery Institute, based in Seattle, removed one of its staff members from the Dover school board's witness list and opposed the board's action from the start.
"We thought it was a bad idea because we oppose any effort to require students to learn about intelligent design because we feel that it politicizes what should be a scientific debate," said John G. West, a senior fellow at the institute. However, Professor Behe, a fellow at the institute, is expected to be the board's star witness.
Parents in Dover appear to be evenly split on the issue. School board runoffs are in November, with seven candidates opposing the current policy facing seven incumbents. Among the candidates is Mr. Rehm, the former Dover science teacher and a plaintiff. He said opponents had slammed doors in his face when he campaigned and performed a "monkey dance" when he passed out literature at the recent firemen's fair.
But he agrees with parents on the other side that the fuss over evolution has obscured more pressing educational issues like school financing, low parent involvement and classes that still train students for factory jobs as local plants are closing.
"There's no way to have a winner here," Mr. Rehm said. "The community has already lost, period, by becoming so divided."

Pakistani women speak up on rape - BBC News

Last Updated: Monday, 26 September 2005, 00:54 GMT 01:54 UK
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Pakistani women speak up on rape

After a series of rape controversies in Pakistan, the BBC News website spoke to women across the country to find out how this contentious issue was viewed.
Here they talk about women's rights, Islamic laws and foreign NGOs.

Uzma Saeed is campaigning for the repeal of the controversial Hudood laws, which rule that all extra-marital sex is illegal.
Hudood laws are a tool in the hands of men - with these laws they can rape women and be totally unaccountable.
Under Hudood if a woman makes a rape allegation she must provide four pious male witnesses or face a charge of adultery herself.
So a woman is in the ridiculous position of having to produce four Muslim adult male eyewitnesses, men who just stood there and watched.
If sex by force is not proved, this woman can be charged with "zina" - sex outside of marriage.

Uzma Saeed believes the Hudood ordinances should be repealedAbout 60% of women in our jails have been imprisoned as a result of Hudood laws.
I know many cases where a husband has wanted to marry again and so accused his wife of illicit relations with another man.
A repeal is essential.
I'm working on a legislative watch programme - the first of its kind in Pakistan. We are lobbying parliamentarians, media and political parties to raise awareness.
We are engaging village mullahs in this process. Rather than going on the defensive against extreme religious groups, we are playing on their own pitch.
Many religious scholars are producing research which says that these laws are not in accordance with the Holy Koran.
They are political tools to control women in our country.

Robina Nawab works for a radio network which produces programmes on women's issues. She says that coverage of rape in Pakistan obscures the achievements of women across the country.

Robina says that women in Pakistan can lead independent lives
I work for a radio project called "Hear My Voice".
We have covered rape victims, bonded labour, mine workers, drug issues and focus on subjects relevant to women and children. We go to rural villages and meet women in far-flung places to talk about their lives and hardships.
Having been exposed to the huge variety of problems across Pakistan, I can say that there is too much coverage of rape.
Such problems exist elsewhere in the world and I fear that the international community has the wrong image of women in Pakistan.
I encounter problems everyday on the streets with men staring at me, making funny expressions, sometimes touching me.
I show them that I am confident enough to face such challenges.
Our problem is not a high incidence of rape but laws which prevent women from reporting rape without getting jailed themselves.
But I believe the government is working to address it and I believe these changes will come.
Meanwhile, I live an independent life in my city.

Sadia Suhail works from inside the women's prison in Karachi for a legal aid organisation.
She meets women from the poorest sectors of society, many of whom have been imprisoned for extra-marital sex.
It is not that rape is a particular problem for Pakistan, but that this country outlaws extra-marital sex for women.
Our office is literally inside the premises of the Karachi women's jail. We have two windows which open onto the prison.
We are the only set-up in the world where a lawyer can meet their imprisoned client and also be sitting inside their office.
About half of the women in this prison are here because of zina. Some of these women are here for enticing another woman into zina.
These women are totally illiterate, hardly aware of their rights
Sadia SuhailMost of these cases are acquitted and many of the charges are false.
If a girl escapes from home and marries against the will of her family, they sometimes forge a prior marriage certificate to try and prove that she has married twice.
By the time the case is heard and she is released, she could have spent years in jail.
These women are totally illiterate, hardly aware of their rights, they don't know about zina laws and know nothing of the problems that exist for women in Pakistan.
Most of them are here without any support. Sometimes, their family is the cause of their plight.

Zunaira Mehfooz believes that NGOs publicise the issue of rape just in order to attract funding for themselves.

Zunaira is suspicious of the motives of NGOs

It's very easy to criticise Pakistan when you don't live there.
Rape is a problem in rural areas. But this needs to be tackled by the country and within the country.
I'm not convinced that NGOs do much to alleviate our problems. Their role has always been vague and I'm not sure they have played a significant role in enabling women in Pakistan.
They have their own agenda - they are run by the affluent and the rich and do not appear to be working seriously for the people.
A good way of getting foreign money is to highlight something and make it an issue.
Rapes happen all over the world but if we are serious about handling the issue in this country, we need to strengthen our laws and deal with village courts.
Speaking out to the world does nothing to address these problems.

Mussarat Shefi works for a women's crisis centre in Kohat in the North West Frontier Province.
She argues that the rural and provincial perspective is crucial for understanding the condition of women in Pakistan.

The women's crisis centre in Kohat serves the remote NWFP

Sexual abuse and rape is not the prevalent problem in this province.
In our crisis centre we deal with problems such as domestic violence, physical torture, harassment, illegal confinement, murder and elopements.
Poverty is a big issue and this is what prompts violence against women.
In 2002 we only handled one case of zina. But within the last eight months there were two honour killings here.
The main problem is that society is very conservative and extremely religious. Women are socially oppressed and cases of zina cannot be exposed because of social pressure.
The social set-up in this part of Pakistan is different. Local religious leaders find ways of protecting womenfolk who are sexually violated. Some people are armed.
Locals also have a very negative view of NGOs. Firstly, they think they are all funded by Americans or foreigners.
They reason that we belong to an Islamic society and that western-funded NGOs work against Islamic traditions and values.
But we have slowly won their confidence and trust. We have told them that this crisis centre is their organisation and we are here to solve their problems.

Biggest typhoon in 30 years hits south China island - Reuters

"Off-course, all these extreme weather are part of a cyclical pattern."
It's all happening at the same time...
The problem is this is not happening in the Atlantic Ocean.


Biggest typhoon in 30 years hits south China island
Monday 26 September 2005, 9:04pm EST
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BEIJING, Sept 26 (Reuters) - The strongest typhoon to hit China's southern tropical island of Hainan since 1973 swamped two villages on Monday after forcing the evacuation of thousands, the official Xinhua news agency said.
There were no immediate reports of casualties but the storm was moving westward and would sweep the whole of Hainan island throughout the day, officials said. Experts warned that rice, rubber and banana crops could suffer major damage.
The 18th typhoon of the year to threaten China hit land before dawn north of Wanning city in the east of the island often referred to as China's Hawaii, the official Xinhua news agency quoted Hainan meteorological officials as saying.
Typhoon Damrey was packing winds of 200 km (125 miles) per hour, Xinhua said, making it comparable to Hurricane Rita, which slammed into the Texas-Louisiana coast on Saturday, causing flooding but largely sparing the U.S. region's refineries.
"The typhoon, with the wind speed of 55 metres per second at the centre, dwarfed all those that had hit Hainan since 1960," apart from a storm that struck the province on Sept. 13, 1973, it quoted Cai Qinbo, deputy director of the Hainan Provincial Meteorological Station, as saying.
The two coastal villages were left under water one metre
(yard) deep after the 2,000 villagers had been relocated.
High tides also flooded another village in Xuwen County of Guangdong province, just to the north of Hainan, Xinhua said. More than 13,600 were evacuated to higher ground there.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Hurricane Rita Spins Toward Texas Coast - Washington Post

This monster hurricane is currently predicted to be heading towards Houston.
CNN said it is already the 3rd strongest hurricane ever recorded in history.
The fact that 2 category 4/5 hurricanes make landfall on US shores in the same season is also unprecedented.
If oil supplies are disrumpted for a long time, there could be major consequences for the US economy... and the world economy.

Recommended website for updates on the hurricanes:

Hurricane Rita Spins Toward Texas Coast
By ALICIA A. CALDWELLThe Associated PressThursday, September 22, 2005; 4:54 AM
GALVESTON, Texas -- Hurricane Rita grew into a monster storm with 175-mph sustained winds as it swirled toward the Gulf Coast, prompting more than 1.3 million residents in Texas and Louisiana to flee in hopes of avoiding a deadly repeat of Katrina.
"It's not worth staying here," said Celia Martinez as she and several relatives finished packing up their homes and pets to head to Houston. "Life is more important than things."

Automobiles line up to leave the Galveston, Texas area as people evacuate Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2005. (AP Photo/Houston Chronicle, Carlos Antonio Rios) (Carlos Antonio Rios - AP)
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As Gov. Rick Perry urged residents along the state's entire coast to begin evacuating well in advance of Rita's predicted Saturday landfall, New Orleans braced for the possibility that the storm could swamp the misery-stricken city all over again.
Galveston, Corpus Christi and surrounding Nueces County, low-lying parts of Houston, and New Orleans were under mandatory evacuation orders as Category 5 Rita drew energy from balmy gulf waters.
Forecasters said Rita could be the strongest hurricane on record to ever hit Texas. Only three Category 5 hurricanes, the highest on the scale, are known to have hit the U.S. mainland _ most recently, Andrew, which smashed South Florida in 1992.
Hundreds of buses were dispatched Wednesday to evacuate the poor and move out hospital and nursing home patients, and truckloads of water, ice and ready-made meals, and rescue and medical teams were on standby in an effort to show the lessons learned in Katrina.
"We hope and pray that Hurricane Rita will not be a devastating storm, but we got to be ready for the worst," President Bush said in Washington.
Early Thursday, Rita was centered about 540 miles east-southeast of Galveston and was moving west near 9 mph. Forecasters predicted it would come ashore along the central Texas coast between Galveston and Corpus Christi.
Hurricane-force winds extended up to 70 miles from the center of the storm, and even a slight rightward turn could prove devastating to the fractured levees protecting New Orleans.
The U.S. mainland has never been hit by both a Category 4 and a Category 5 in the same season. Katrina at one point became a Category 5 storm, but weakened slightly to a Category 4 just before coming ashore.
In the Galveston-Houston-Corpus Christi area, about 1.3 million people were under orders to get out, in addition to 20,000 or more along with the Louisiana coast. Special attention was given to hospitals and nursing homes, three weeks after scores of sick and elderly patients in the New Orleans area drowned in Katrina's floodwaters or died in the stifling heat while waiting to be rescued.
Galveston was already a virtual ghost town. The city's lone hospital was evacuated along with residents of a six-story retirement home.
Hurricane Rita Spins Toward Texas Coast
The coastal city of 58,000 on an island 8 feet above sea level was nearly wiped off the map in 1900 when an unnamed hurricane killed between 6,000 and 12,000. It remains the nation's worst natural disaster.
City Manager Steve LeBlanc said the storm surge could reach 50 feet. Galveston is protected by a seawall that is only 17 feet tall.

Automobiles line up to leave the Galveston, Texas area as people evacuate Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2005. (AP Photo/Houston Chronicle, Carlos Antonio Rios) (Carlos Antonio Rios - AP)
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"Not a good picture for us," LeBlanc said.
In Houston, the state's largest city and home to the highest concentration of Katrina refugees, geography makes evacuation particularly tricky. While many hurricane-prone cities are right on the coast, Houston is 60 miles inland, so a coastal suburban area of 2 million people must evacuate through a metropolitan area of 4 million people where the freeways are often clogged under the best of circumstances.
Galveston Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas said buses used to take people and their pets off the island were running in short supply Wednesday and warned that stragglers could be left to fend for themselves.
Officials in Corpus Christi were also preparing to load up about 100 buses Thursday morning to evacuate people who have no other way to get out.
Meanwhile, the death toll from Katrina passed the 1,000 mark Wednesday in five Gulf Coast states. The body count in Louisiana alone was put at nearly 800, most found in the receding floodwaters of New Orleans.
Crude oil prices rose again on fears that Rita would destroy key oil installations in Texas and the gulf. Hundreds of workers were evacuated from offshore oil rigs. Texas, the heart of U.S. crude production, accounts for 25 percent of the nation's total oil output.
Rita is the 17th named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, making this the fourth-busiest season since record-keeping started in 1851. The record is 21 tropical storms in 1933. The hurricane season is not over until Nov. 30.
Jennifer McDonald in Galveston planned to ride Rita out. She and her husband have enough food and water to last 10 days in their wooden house. If it gets really bad, the couple will take to the roof.
"If it goes, it goes," the 42-year-old nurse said of the house. "We're completely prepared."
Associated Press Writers Lynn Brezosky in Corpus Christi, Pam Easton in Galveston, and Juan A. Lozano in Houston contributed to this report.

Bush's words on Iraq echo LBJ in 1967 - Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Wednesday, September 21, 2005 · Last updated 8:17 p.m. PT
Bush's words on Iraq echo LBJ in 1967
WASHINGTON -- Bush officials bristle at the suggestion the war in Iraq might look anything like Vietnam. Yet just as today's anti-war protests recall memories of yesteryear, President Bush's own words echo those of President Johnson in 1967, a pivotal year for the U.S. in Vietnam.
"America is committed to the defense of South Vietnam until an honorable peace can be negotiated," Johnson told the Tennessee Legislature on March 15, 1967. Despite the obstacles to victory, the president said, "We shall stay the course."
After 14 Marines died in a roadside bombing on Aug. 3, Bush declared: "We will stay the course, we will complete the job in Iraq. And the job is this: We'll help the Iraqis develop a democracy."
The two wars were waged quite differently even though they shared similar aims.
About 500,000 U.S. troops were in Vietnam in 1967 after a three-year buildup, compared with about 140,000 in Iraq today. Heavy aerial bombing was a primary U.S. strategy in Vietnam while Iraq, after the initial campaign of "shock and awe," has been mainly a ground war. The U.S. negotiated for peace in Vietnam, but there is no single entity with which to negotiate in Iraq.
"The differences are so notable that it would take too long to list them," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld remarked recently.
Knowing the long, painful and divisive Vietnam War ended with an unceremonious U.S. withdrawal and the fall of South Vietnam, administration officials have blanched at comparisons with Iraq. The administration declined to comment on comparisons between the rhetoric of Johnson and Bush.
Johnson's main arguments were much like those Bush has employed: War was justified to protect the U.S. and to encourage freedom everywhere. When faced with mounting losses on the battlefield, both presidents offered the dead as a reason to keep fighting.
"When a war is long-lived and the outcome is not demonstrably positive, the lines of argument available to a president are seriously constrained," said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. "Democrat or Republican, 1960s or early part of the 21st century, you're going to hear a common rhetoric."
South Vietnam, politically unstable because of internal violence and corruption, stumbled toward elections to adopt a constitution and to select officials - not unlike the process Iraq is undergoing.
"Our nation was not born easily. There were times in those years of the 18th century when it seemed as if we might not be born at all," Johnson said in a speech on Aug. 16, 1967.
"Given that background, we ought not to be astonished that this struggle in Vietnam continues," Johnson said. "We ought not to be astonished that that nation, wracked by a war of insurgency and beset by its neighbors to the north, has not already emerged, full-blown, as a perfect model of two-party democracy."
Bush, too, has compared Iraq's difficulties in determining its political future to postcolonial America's.
In his radio address on Aug. 27, Bush said: "Like our own nation's founders over two centuries ago, the Iraqis are grappling with difficult issues, such as the role of the federal government. What is important is that Iraqis are now addressing these issues through debate and discussion - not at the barrel of a gun."
Bush has often linked the security and freedom of the United States to the war in Iraq. On Aug. 4 he told reporters: "We're laying the foundation of peace for generations to come. We're defeating the terrorists in a place like Iraq so we don't have to face them here at home. And, as well, we're spreading democracy and freedom to parts of the world that are desperate for democracy and freedom."
A secure and free America was tied to the fight in Southeast Asia, Johnson maintained. "What happens in Vietnam is extremely important to the nation's freedom and it is extremely important to the United States' security," he said from the South Lawn of the White House on Sept. 15, 1967.
The question of progress amid a rising death toll dogged Johnson as much as it has Bush. In part, Johnson measured progress by the number of enemy soldiers killed and the much smaller number of U.S. troops dying in Vietnam. Other Americans in uniform would carry on, the president pledged.
"Be assured that the death of your son will have meaning," Johnson told the parents of a posthumous recipient of the Medal of Honor during a Rose Garden ceremony on April 6, 1967. "For I give you also my solemn pledge that our country will persist - and will prevail - in the cause for which your boy died."
Speaking to military families in Idaho on Aug. 24, Bush said: "These brave men and women gave their lives for a cause that is just and necessary for the security of our country, and now we will honor their sacrifice by completing their mission."
Bush remains optimistic about the outcome of the war though just four out of 10 of those polled favor his handling of it.
A loss of public confidence overwhelmed Johnson. By March 1968, he had decided someone else needed to see the war to its conclusion - and startled the nation by announcing he would not seek another term.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Hurricane Rita May Rival Katrina's Strength, Forecasters Say

A storm/ hurricane frequently changes direction, therefore the forecast that it will hit Texas on Friday-evening, is to be taken with a lot of caution. It could well hit Louisiana again.


Hurricane Rita May Rival Katrina's Strength, Forecasters Say
Sept. 21 (Bloomberg) -- Hurricane Rita, moving westward in the Gulf of Mexico, may grow as strong as Hurricane Katrina, the most costly U.S. disaster, forecasters said.
The so-called Category 2 storm with 110 mph (175 kph) winds will become a Category 3 storm with at least 111 mph winds this morning and may strengthen to Category 4 this evening, according to an 11 p.m. National Hurricane Center advisory last night. Katrina was a Category 4 storm with 140 mph winds when it slammed Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama three weeks ago.
Thousands of coastal residents in Texas moved inland, including some refugees from New Orleans who fled there after the flooding that followed Katrina's arrival.
Rita is expected to hit land ``sometime late Friday,'' Colin McAdie, a meteorologist with the center, said in a telephone interview yesterday.
``If this becomes a Category 4 or 5 storm, we can expect the same type of damage in this area'' as with Hurricane Katrina, said Frank Gutierrez, the homeland security coordinator for Harris County, Texas, where Houston is located. Even with less flooding, ``we could have just as much damage here.''
Insured losses resulting from Katrina may be as much as $60 billion, making it the most costly disaster ever, storm modeler Risk Management Solutions Inc. said earlier this month.
May Strike Louisiana
While Hurricane Rita is forecast to land anywhere from Corpus Christi to Galveston, Texas, it may veer east and strike Louisiana's coast, the center said yesterday. The threat to the region devastated by Katrina prompted New Orleans's mayor to halt plans for residents to return and Texas officials to call for some evacuations.
Rita, the ninth named hurricane of the season, was about 95 miles (150 kilometers) west-southwest of Key West, Florida, as of 11 p.m. local time, the center said. The storm is moving west at about 13 mph.
Mandatory evacuations in the city of Galveston will start at 5 p.m. today, the Houston Chronicle reported last night. Galveston County announced that mandatory evacuations of nursing homes and assisted-living facilities would begin at 6 a.m, and moving out all others in the county will start at 6 p.m.
Galveston, about 50 miles southeast of Houston, is the site of the worst natural disaster in U.S. history, a hurricane that killed 8,000 to 12,000 in 1900. The city declared a state of emergency in preparation for Hurricane Rita. City services will continue, with the city council will stepping aside in favor of the mayor and the city manager.
Texas Prepares
Eighty buses will help evacuate people who don't have cars, Craig Eland, a member of the Texas House of Representatives told CNN. The bus drivers will be allowed to transport their families on the first run, he said.
Neighboring Brazoria County plans to begin mandatory evacuations at 6 p.m., John Vanden Bos, assistant emergency management coordinator, said yesterday. School buses will carry residents who can't leave on their own.
A mandatory evacuation requires evacuees to travel only to predetermined locations and allows them exclusive use of highways. Those who flee during a voluntary evacuation can go anywhere, Vanden Bos said.
A recorded message at the office of the Emergency Management Department in Corpus Christi, about 250 miles southwest of Galveston, said the department is ``closely monitoring'' Rita and urged residents to check back for ``any potential announcements.''
Texas Governor Rick Perry recalled the Texas National Guard and other state emergency personnel from Louisiana in anticipation of Rita. Emergency forces will be redeployed to areas near the Texas coast should current forecasts hold. Texas has 367 miles (591 kilometers) of coastline, according to the Texas Almanac.
The Texas National Guard and the U.S. Transportation Department are helping transport more than 7,000 Hurricane Katrina victims staying in coastal Texas communities to other states, Federal Emergency Management Agency spokesman David Passey said yesterday.
Four thousand evacuees staying in Houston will be sent to Fort Chaffee, Arkansas, and 3,000 staying in San Antonio will be moved to Tennessee. Texas state officials are requesting that Nebraska begin accepting some evacuees from various Texas cities tomorrow, he said.
Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco yesterday asked President George W. Bush to declare a state of emergency in the state in anticipation of Hurricane Rita. She said Katrina will result in as much as $1 billion less tax revenue.
New Orleans, Again
New Orleans, which is now 90 percent dry after draining flood waters caused by Hurricane Katrina, is now preparing for Hurricane Rita, which may bring rain and cause storm surges, Mitch Frazier, a public affairs officers with the U.S. Army Corp. of Engineers said. The corps plans to use sand bags and pumps.
This is the first time since 1995's Hurricane Tanya that the storms, named in alphabetical order, have reached the letter ``R.'' Hurricanes are measured on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale. A tropical storm becomes a hurricane when winds reach 74 mph. A Category 2 storm has winds of at least 96 mph, a Category 3 has winds of at least 111 mph, and Category 4 hurricanes have winds of 131 mph.
To contact the reporter on this story:
Heather Burke in New York at
Last Updated: September 21, 2005 00:18 EDT

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Iraq chaos threatens ancient faith - BBC

Last Updated: Monday, 19 September 2005, 15:10 GMT 16:10 UK
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Iraq chaos threatens ancient faith

By Kate Clark BBC News, Damascus

Mandean priests fear their creed could disappear completelyThere are fears for the future of one of the most ancient, as well as the smallest, communities in Iraq - the Mandeans.
Their religion, Mandeanism, comes from the same general background as Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
They share many of the same prophets, but particularly honour John the Baptist.
This is a religion almost solely confined to Iraq, but since the US-led invasion in 2003, many Mandeans have fled the country and now more than half of them live outside its borders.
The refugees speak of kidnap, murder and attempts at forced conversion.
The only surviving Gnostic religion from late antiquity
About 20,000-50,000 adherents
Centred in southern Iraq and SW Iran, but many living abroad
Focus on John the Baptist as central figure in faith

One woman, Ibtisam Sabah Habib, said there had always been some threats and pressure to convert to Islam, but under the previous Iraqi regime there had been limits.
"Now, there are no rules and no government," she said, describing how an armed gang of Islamic extremists had got into her house, killed her father and stolen all their money.
"They would telephone us at home, threatening us and trying to convert us. Then they tried to kidnap me.
"It was our neighbours who saved me. They're Muslims - not all Muslims threaten us. But the extremists are very strong now - our neighbours couldn't protect us all the time."
Ibtisam was speaking from the safety of Syria, where she has fled with her husband and children.
Mandeans have traditionally been protected under Islamic law, as believers in one god - like Jews and Christians.

It was our Muslim neighbours who saved me but the extremists are very strong - our neighbours couldn't protect us all the time
Ibtisam HabibBut since the war in Iraq, they have found themselves targeted by Sunni and Shia Islamic extremists, and by criminal gangs who use religion to justify their attacks.
One leaflet which Mandeans said had been distributed to homes in Baghdad gave this warning to both them and Christians (who form another of Iraq's minorities):
"Either you embrace Islam and enjoy safety and coexist amongst us, or leave our land and stop toying with our principles. Otherwise, the sword will be the judge between belief and blasphemy."
"They don't accept us," said Madeha Miran Daftah, who fled to Syria after her son was murdered and his corpse mutilated by people claiming to have killed an unbeliever.
"We don't know what to do now. We lost everything in Iraq. We used to feel it was our country, but things are different now."
One of her surviving sons, 24-year-old Shawq, who was kidnapped and tortured, said he could not imagine ever returning home. "I just want to live, not die like my brothers."
Another woman, Shada Hanal, said she used to work as a teacher until she was sacked for refusing to wear the Islamic headscarf. Then her brother-in-law was attacked in his shop.
"His attackers beat him up and stole everything," said Shada.
"When we went to seek justice, the judge said the Muslims had the right to steal from us. He said we were a sin in the world."

Individuals from all religious and ethnic groups are suffering criminal and religious violence in Iraq, but the United Nations Refugee Agency, UNHCR, has said Mandeans are particularly vulnerable.
"We're very concerned about them," said a UNHCR spokesman, Peter Kessler. "There is so much discrimination against them and even persecution, and the numbers coming out of Iraq have been enormous compared to their population there, which is so small."
Mandeans have their own language - Mandean - which is from the same family as Arabic and Hebrew.
Their central religious ceremony is baptism in flowing water, first in childhood, then marriage and at any time an individual wants to be cleansed of sin or make a life change.
Just 13,000 Mandeans are now left inside Iraq.
As the community there shrinks and people seek refuge outside, becoming a thinly scattered diaspora, many people are worried that their religion may not survive.
Maajis Saeb, a Mandean priest, says there are not enough men of religion to serve the various diaspora communities.
Luay Zahran Habib, a researcher in Mandeanism, is even more pessimistic: "Mandeanism may be finished in a few years' time if we're not gathered together somewhere, because it will be difficult to find marriage partners and perform our ceremonies.
"It's not that we want to leave Iraq for no reason. We just need a safe place."

Monday, September 19, 2005

Moon-to-Mars Plans Emerge: New Agenda or Apollo Retread? -

One question about this report:

What about international cooperation? Isn't it a bit too much ambitious/costly, even for the USA? At the least European Space Agency and the Chinese have an ongoing robotic program to the moon.


Moon-to-Mars Plans Emerge: New Agenda or Apollo Retread? By Leonard DavidSenior Space Writerposted: 19 September 200512:01 am ET
BIG SKY, Montana – NASA is set to unveil today details of its new space architecture, a "how-to" response to President George W. Bush's Moon, Mars and beyond vision speech made in January 2004.
Bush called for putting astronauts back on the Moon by 2020 and sending humans to Mars thereafter. Last week and Space News reported that NASA will announce today plans to send four astronauts to Moon in 2018.
More detail was provided here this weekend at a meeting of NASA officials and other space planners.
On the list: A re-usable vehicle that's safer than the shuttle; technology for extracting fuel from the destination; and an airbag landing upon return to Earth. Plans were also detailed for sending robotic scouts first.
Aspects are somewhat vintage Apollo in approach, but with numerous technical twists. For example, a four-person lunar expedition crew would make use of a Crew Exploration Vehicle that is outfitted with solar panels. The astronauts would rendezvous in Earth orbit with a pre-launched Earth Departure Stage, and then make the outbound voyage to the Moon.
Once in lunar orbit, all four crewmembers would ride down to the Moon in a lander. They would depart the Crew Exploration Vehicle, putting it in autopilot mode as they spend seven days on the lunar surface.
In comparison, six two-person teams landed at the Moon's equatorial region in the 1969-1972 timeframe as part of Project Apollo. Each expedition had an additional astronaut who remained in lunar orbit.
In NASA's new return-to-the Moon scenario, astronauts will cover much more territory than Apollo moonwalkers. A key goal is to use water ice that may be stashed within permanently shadowed craters at the Moon's poles.
Each team of Moon explorers would leave behind essential components for later use, as well as equipment that could constitute a lunar station. That base could well mirror the type of encampment now situated in Antarctica.
As a cost-saving measure, the NASA vision embraces the use of hardware and production capabilities embedded within the space shuttle program, to be closed down in 2010.
But the initiative also relies on harnessing a suite of advanced technologies: from self-diagnostic gear for boosters and sophisticated medical equipment for astronauts to on-the-spot processing hardware that churns out fuel, water and oxygen supplies from lunar resources. Down the road, the same approach would be used on Mars.
Given the green-light
"This is a go-as-you-can-afford-to-pay kind of program," said Rex Geveden, NASA Associate Administrator. Last week, the White House "green-lighted" the plan, he said, giving NASA Administrator Michael Griffin the go-ahead to proceed with rolling out details to Congress and the public.
Geveden joined current and past NASA officials, university and industry experts in the Inland Northwest Space Alliance (INSA) Space Policy Institute meeting, held here September 16-18. The Missoula-based INSA is a private group created by the University of Montana in 2003. INSA is focused on broadening space-related research and commercial applications, particularly in the inland northwest.
NASA's new space vision is one where "schedules are the independent variable," Geveden said. That's in contrast with the Apollo program where schedule was fixed and cost was variable, he said.
"We can't dial the cost here, in this case. So we've had to focus on affordability," Geveden added. Doing so means drawing upon a heritage of available hardware and workforce, he said.
For example, the still-to-be-built, post-shuttle Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) is capsule-shaped and would sit atop a four-segment Solid Rocket Booster -- a space shuttle component flown 178 consecutive times with no failures, Geveden noted.
Safer craft
The CEV will be tipped by an escape tower. With that tower, the capsule could be pulled free from a troubled booster ride. That hardware provides ten times a factor of safety than the space shuttle, Geveden explained.
An Earth-returning CEV would toss off its reentry shield after its fiery plunge. A parachute system would deploy, followed by a set of airbags to cushion the craft's touchdown on land, somewhere in the American West, Geveden said. Ocean recovery – like that done in the Apollo effort – is considered a contingency mode, he said.
A heavy-lift, cargo-only booster would also be shuttle-derived. That launcher incorporates the large shuttle external tank, use of a cluster of five space shuttle main engines, straddled by two five-segment solid rocket boosters. It would toss into orbit loads of hardware, like the CEV's Earth Departure Stage.
Geveden told that tapping shuttle hardware does not equate to maintaining today's entire shuttle workforce. "We can't have 10,000 people on the ground at the Kennedy Space Center," he said, integrating payload and launching that system.
"That's not affordable," Geveden said. "The future workforce for launch vehicles can't be as big as it is for shuttle."
In order to become leaner in mission launch and operations, Geveden added, more automation through better software, smart sensors, and greater test and checkout technology to ready boosters for flight is critical.
However, the shuttle derivative hardware – the CEV booster and heavy-lifter – must draw upon the existing tooling and fabrication facilities, supply chains, and workers to build those components or modify them, Geveden said.
South Pole analog
The long march to Mars will be challenging.
Geveden said 500-metric tons of fuel and structure have been scoped out in the NASA plan for a projected humans-to-Mars flight.
"One of our objectives will be to put a chemical plant on Mars", Geveden said, alluding to machinery to extract rocket fuel from the martian atmosphere for a return trip. In this regard, liquid-oxygen/methane burning engines are part of the lunar piece of NASA's vision. Those engines can be used for use on the martian surface, given the local resources on the planet, he said.
In moving from lunar stays by astronauts to a humans-to-Mars outing, will the Moon become discarded real estate in the process?
"I don't think it's a foregone conclusion that you may have to abandon the Moon," Geveden told the INSA audience. "What we're headed for on the Moon is a South Pole analog…some kind of camp that we set up and sustain ourselves for months at a time, not years."
Geveden said that thousands of people-hours went into charting the new NASA Moon, Mars, and beyond architecture. "We have animations. We have a very sophisticated study with data. It's a deep analysis, he said.
"But having said that…now we need people to take this from the concept stage to the time we're actually building hardware…and getting ready to launch these systems," Geveden concluded.
Robots first, humans later
An early element of dispatching people back to the Moon is sending robots.
Scott Hubbard, Director of NASA's Ames Research Center -- located in the heart of California's Silicon Valley -- said he and colleagues have been assigned the responsibility for the robotic lunar exploration program.
The first mission in the robotic lunar cue is the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter in 2008, Hubbard said. Following up on those findings are robotic landers, with Ames managing the suite of missions to assure that they are carried out successfully, he said.
"The point of the robotic lunar exploration program is engineering…technology testing and demonstrations…to prepare for human exploration," Hubbard told "It's not a science program. It will get us ready to return people to the Moon."
Items like lunar processing, precision landing, integrated health monitoring and management – these are items that can benefit from technology not available in Apollo-era exploration. "The important point is that this is not developing technology for something way in the future," Hubbard said, but for getting people back on the Moon in the 2015-2020 timeframe.
"The Moon is just three-days away," Hubbard said, a distance he's already covered vicariously as the former NASA mission manager for the Lunar Prospector robot. "That means you don't have a lot of time to do operations planning and software code writing en route. You've got to be ready to go…because whatever you've got, it is going to be used three days later."
Yawn of a new era?
Selling the vision won't be a cake walk. That was one take-home message from former NASA Chief of Staff, Courtney Stadd, now President of Capitol Alliance Solutions, a management consulting services firm located in the Washington, D.C. area.
"The challenges facing successful implementation of the exploration vision are formidable," Stadd said, "ranging from budgetary to the noise-signal ratio of competing priorities facing the political system."
Stadd said that he viewed NASA's Griffin and his leadership team as "literally the best in a generation in terms of being equipped to confront these and other challenges to turning the vision from Power Point charts to reality." That talent will be central to effectively navigating through the challenges facing the new exploration initiative in the months and years ahead, particularly moving the vision through the legislative and executive branches of U.S. government, he added.
Reaction to NASA's new visionary agenda at the INSA meeting was mixed. But the feedback seemed more a matter of age.
From several university students, "where do I sign up" was common. From others more senior, "yawn of a new era" seemed to rustle through the audience. "It looks to me like the Alzheimer's program…for those that don't remember Apollo," said one participant.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Recommending the "errorlevel" blog

I've come across that blog.
I found most of the posts interesting.
This one is about the principles of propaganda.


"When I think about Karl Rove making talking points for Bush, this quote also comes to mind: “The most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly…it must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over.” — Paul Joseph Goebbels, Nazi Propaganda Minister 1897-1945"

Friday, September 16, 2005

Severe hurricanes increasing, study finds - Washington Post / MSNBC

Severe hurricanes increasing, study finds
New data fuels debate over any link between global warming, Katrina

By Juliet Eilperin
Updated: 5:21 a.m. ET Sept. 16, 2005
WASHINGTON - A new study concludes that warming sea temperatures have been accompanied by a significant global increase in the most destructive hurricanes, adding fuel to an international debate over whether global warming contributed to the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina.
The study, published today in the journal Science, is the second in six weeks to draw this conclusion, but other climatologists dispute the findings and argue that a recent spate of severe storms reflects nothing more than normal weather variability.
Katrina's destructiveness has given a sharp new edge to the ongoing debate over whether the United States should do more to curb greenhouse gas emissions linked to global warming. Domestic and European critics have pointed to Katrina as a reason to take action, while skeptics say climate activists are capitalizing on a national disaster to further their own agenda.

According to data gathered by researchers at the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Georgia Tech and the National Center for Atmospheric Research, the number of major Category 4 and 5 hurricanes worldwide has nearly doubled over the past 35 years, even though the total number of hurricanes, including weaker ones, has dropped since the 1990s. Katrina was a Category 4 storm when it made landfall.
'Is this the whole story?'Using satellite data, the four researchers found that the average number of Category 4 and 5 hurricanes -- those with winds of 131 mph or higher -- rose from 10 a year in the 1970s to 18 a year since 1990. Average tropical sea surface temperatures have increased as much as 1 degree Fahrenheit during the same period, after remaining stable between 1900 and the mid-1960s.
Georgia Tech atmospheric scientist Judith A. Curry -- co-author of the study with colleagues Peter J. Webster and Hai-Ru Chang, and NCAR's Greg J. Holland -- said in an interview that their survey, coupled with computer models and scientists' understanding of how hurricanes work, has given the researchers a better sense of how rising sea temperatures are linked to more-intense storms.
"There is increasing confidence, as the result of our study, that there's some level of greenhouse warming in what we're seeing," Curry said. "Is it the whole story? We don't know."
Higher ocean temperatures result in more water vapor in the air, which, combined with certain wind patterns, helps power stronger hurricanes, Webster said. Small increases in sea temperature, he added, can "exponentially provide more and more fuel for the hurricanes."
Other studies and computer models also have pointed to an increase in storm intensity: Massachusetts Institute of Technology atmospheric scientist Kerry A. Emanuel wrote last month in the journal Nature that the duration and maximum wind speeds of storms in the North Atlantic and North Pacific have increased about 50 percent since the mid-1970s. The storms' growing violence stemmed in part from higher ocean temperatures, he concluded.
Some researchers, however, question the connection with more severe hurricanes and cyclones. Gerry Bell, the lead seasonal hurricane forecaster at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said the rise in strong hurricanes reflects a natural weather pattern spanning several decades. Hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean were more powerful in the 1950s and '60s, weakened in the 1970s, '80s and early '90s, and have strengthened again since 1995.
"It's not linked to global warming or anything like that," Bell said. "This is normal climate variability. It's just that this trend lasts for decades."
Florida State University meteorology and oceanography professor James O'Brien, who writes for the online free-market journal Tech Central Station, said his survey of government data on Atlantic storms between 1850 and 2005 shows that "there's no indication of an increase in intensity."
But both Emanuel and Gavin Schmidt, a climatologist at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said today's Science paper is important because it examines worldwide hurricane patterns.
"If you look at it on the global basis, it makes that signal of global warming easier to see," Schmidt said. "You have to be extremely conservative -- with a small 'c' -- to think [rising sea temperatures and stronger hurricanes] are not related."
And some hurricane experts who previously have questioned the influence of global warming now say the evidence is mounting that it has contributed to recent intense tropical storms.
Florida International University researcher Hugh Willoughby, who headed NOAA's hurricane research division between 1995 and 2003, said the recent two hurricane studies are "very persuasive" and helped move him "toward the climate corner" of the debate.
"It's really hard to find any holes in this, and I'm the kind of person who's inclined to look for holes," he said of the new study in Science. The arguments against the connection between climate change and more intense storms, he added, are "looking weaker and weaker as time goes by."
Debate rekindledKatrina reanimated a transatlantic argument over global warming policy as critics of the Bush administration have seized on it to promote mandatory limits on greenhouse gas emissions.
"The American president shuts his eyes to the economic and human damage that the failure to protect the climate inflicts on his country and the world through natural catastrophes like Katrina," Germany's environmental minister, Jurgen Trittin, wrote in an opinion piece printed Aug. 30 in the Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper.
But Bill Holbrook, spokesman for Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), said the senator has no intention of pushing for new emissions curbs.
"It is reprehensive for a politician to promote an agenda by taking a tragedy Americans feel so deeply about, particularly when there is no merit to his ideas," Holbrook said of Trittin. "Policy decisions should be based on sound science, and the notion that Katrina's intensity is somehow attributable to global warming has been widely dismissed by scientific experts."
Arguing that the science of global warming remains uncertain, President Bush in 2001 disavowed the Kyoto treaty that sets mandatory targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and he has pursued policies calling for more research and voluntary efforts to limit emissions.
© 2005 The Washington Post Company