Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Evidence of Hydrocarbon Lakes on Titan -

By Alicia Chang
Associated Press
posted: 25 July 2006
09:31 am ET

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Scientists said Monday they have found the first widespread evidence of giant hydrocarbon lakes on the surface of Saturn's planet-size moon Titan.

The cluster of lakes was spotted near Titan's frigid north pole during a weekend flyby by the international Cassini spacecraft, which flew within 590 miles of the moon.

Researchers counted about a dozen lakes six to 62 miles wide. Some, which appeared as dark patches in radar images, were connected by channels, while others had tributaries flowing into them. Several were dried up, but the ones that contained liquid were most likely a mix of methane and ethane.

"It was a real potpourri," said Cassini scientist Jonathan Lunine of the University of Arizona.

Titan is one of two moons in the solar system known to possess a significant atmosphere similar to that of primordial Earth. But scientists have long puzzled over the source of its hazy atmosphere rich in nitrogen and methane.

Scientists believe methane gas breaks up in Titan's atmosphere and forms smog clouds that rain methane down to the surface. But the source of methane inside the moon, which releases the gas into the atmosphere, is still unknown, Lunine said.

Last year, Cassini found what appeared to be a liquid hydrocarbon lake about the size of Lake Ontario on Titan's south pole. But the recent flyby marked the first time the spacecraft spied a multitude of lakes.

Cassini's next Titan encounter will be Sept. 7, when it will be 620 miles away.

Cassini, funded by NASA and the European and Italian space agencies, was launched in 1997 and took seven years to reach Saturn to explore the ringed planet and its many moons. The mission is managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.

Cassini's accompanying probe, Huygens, developed and controlled by the ESA, touched down on Titan in 2005.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Patch of Saturn's Moon Resembles Earth - Staff
posted: 19 July 2006
04:47 pm ET

New radar images of Saturn's moon Titan reveal dunes, hills, valleys and rivers that scientist say look a lot like home.

But on Titan, which is frigid and shrouded in smog, the features are likely carved in ice rather than solid ground.

The detailed view is of a bright area on Titan called Xanadu. It's about the size of Australia and has been studied from afar for years. Now scientists are getting a better look with NASA's Cassini spacecraft. Radar is bounced off the surface to generate an image that cannot be made using visible-light observations because the orbiting spacecraft can't see through the moon's thick atmosphere.

The observations reveal mountains about as high as the Appalachians.

"Surprisingly, this cold, faraway region has geological features remarkably like Earth," said Jonathan Lunine, a Cassini researcher at the University of Arizona.

The river channels are likely carved by liquid methane or ethane, as the moon is too cold for water to be liquid.

"Although Titan gets far less sunlight and is much smaller and colder than Earth, Xanadu is no longer just a mere bright spot, but a land where rivers flow down to a sunless sea," Lunine said.

Liquid methane might fall as rain or trickle from springs to create the rivers, Lunine and his colleagues figure. Perhaps the rivers carry grains of material that accumulate as dunes elsewhere.

"This land is heavily tortured, convoluted and filled with hills and mountains," said Steve Wall, the Cassini radar team's deputy leader at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "Xanadu has been washed clean. What is left underneath looks like very porous water ice, maybe filled with caverns."

· Image Gallery: Imagining Saturn and Titan

· Image Gallery: Cassini’s Latest Discoveries

· Cassini Sees Xanadu on Saturn's Moon Titan

Sunday, July 23, 2006

UN appalled by Beirut devastation - BBC

It's easy to see why the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas/Hezbollah is so chocking from the perspective of an outsider.
It's the full logic of "Collective Responsability".

Here is one country - Israel - making a whole population - The Lebanese - suffer death and destruction for the agression of Hezbollah against their own soldiers. Why do they do that? "Hezbollah has to be dismantled at all cost or else Israeli cities is under direct threat." That's the Isreali government perspective.
Here is one organization - Hezbollah - making a whole population - The Israeli - suffer death and destruction as well for the deadly retaliation of the Israeli army in Lebanon. That's the Hamas and Hezbollah perspective.

What do both perspectives have in common?
Collective Responsability:
The "enemy's" civilian lives have less value than their own loss of lives. Even worse, every "enemy civilian" is guilty of living in the territory where the other side is striking.
No words of appology from either Israel or Hezbollah.
This is the "us vs. them" mentality.

Why isn't this war more strongly condemned by world leaders? Why isn't Israel warned by US diplomats? Why don't other arab countries condemn Hamas and Hezbollah for their senseless agressions?


Scene of rocket strike on Haifa
Hezbollah rockets killed two, and left a car riddled with ball bearings
The UN's Jan Egeland has condemned the devastation caused by Israeli air strikes in Beirut, saying it is a violation of humanitarian law.

Mr Egeland, the UN's emergency relief chief, described the destruction as "horrific" as he toured the city.

He arrived hours after another Israeli strike on Beirut. Israel also hit Sidon, a port city in the south crammed with refugees, for the first time.

In Haifa, two people died as Hezbollah rockets struck the Israeli city.

Images of destruction in Beirut

Fifteen people were reportedly injured by the volley of rockets, which struck a house and an industrial zone.

The BBC News website's Raffi Berg visited the scene of one of the rocket attacks in northern Haifa.

He says the rocket exploded next to a carriageway, raking passing cars with shrapnel and ball bearings and killing a man in a nearby vehicle.

A later barrage of missiles was reported to have injured five people.

'Block after block'

Mr Egeland arrived in southern Beirut on Sunday just hours after Israeli strikes on the Hezbollah stronghold.

A visibly moved Mr Egeland expressed shock that "block after block" of buildings had been levelled.

Lebanon/Israel map

He said the "disproportionate response" by Israel was a "violation of international humanitarian law".

He appealed for both sides to halt attacks and said UN supplies of humanitarian aid would begin to arrive in the next few days.

"But we need safe access," he said. "So far Israel is not giving us access."

Israel has said it will lift its blockade on Beirut's port to allow aid through, but with roads, bridges and trucks among Israel's targets, transporting it around the country is difficult.

In other developments:

  • UK Foreign Minister Kim Howells is due to meet Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. A day after accusing Israel of targeting "the entire Lebanese nation", he said the British government understood Israel's need to defend itself and criticised Hezbollah for hiding weapons in civilian areas.

  • The US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is due to leave for the Middle East later on Sunday.

  • Israeli Defence Minister Amir Peretz said Israel supports the idea of an international peacekeeping force in south Lebanon, and suggested it should be led by Nato. A Nato official said there had been no discussion so far of any Nato role.

  • Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Israel had "pushed the button for its own destruction".

  • Syria's information minister said his country would enter the conflict if a major Israeli ground invasion of Lebanon threatened the security of Damascus.

  • An unarmed UN observer was seriously wounded during fighting between Israeli forces and Hezbollah fighters in the village of Maroun al-Ras, which Israel said it had taken control of on Saturday.

  • The French and German foreign ministers are also in Israel for talks on the crisis.

Sidon targeted

Israel's bombing campaign continued, with strikes on Beirut and on southern and eastern Lebanon in the early hours of Sunday.

When one Israeli soldier is kidnapped, the whole world goes crazy, but Israel kidnapped a whole nation

The Associated Press news agency reported at least eight deaths on Sunday - an eight-year-old boy, a Lebanese photographer, three civilians fleeing in a minibus, and three Hezbollah fighters.

One target was the southern port of Sidon, a city not previously targeted by Israel, where 42,000 refugees from the surrounding area have flooded in the hope of safety.

The BBC's Roger Hearing in the city reports that a mosque was destroyed in one strike, which hit less than 500m (550 yards) from a hospital. At least four people were injured.

While Israel said the mosque was a meeting place for Hezbollah militants, local doctors insisted it was just "a place for prayers".

Bombing intensifies

The BBC's Jim Muir in the southern city of Tyre reports intense bombardment, with Hezbollah firing missiles from the area and Israel launching air strikes in retaliation.

At least 15 civilian vehicles have been hit on the roads, including one taking injured people to a nearby hospital, he says.

Further east, more Israeli air strikes forced engineers to turn back who were trying to repair impassable roads so a UN-escorted aid convoy could get through, our correspondent reports.

He says that bombing has intensified in the region since Israel dropped warning leaflets on Friday, and the Israelis are now shooting at almost anything on moving on the roads.

At least 364 Lebanese have been killed in the 12 days of violence, many of them civilians, and angry protests condemning Israeli attacks have been held in cities around the world.

At least 36 Israelis have been killed, including 17 civilians killed by rockets fired by Hezbollah into Israel.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Risk Factors: Little Known Facts about Skin Cancer - LiveScience

By Robin Lloyd
Special to LiveScience
posted: 17 July 2006
07:24 am ET

The sun provides the energy for every single thing we eat, touch and enjoy. But its radiation is also deadly, especially for men.

Men fry more than women. Men over 40 have the highest exposure to the sun's harmful rays—ultraviolet radiation, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.

While men and women get about equal doses of sun from recreational exposure, which includes biking, walking, gardening and beach-going, "Men are more likely to get occupational sun exposure than women," says Alan Geller of the Boston University School of Medicine.

And this shows up in the cancer stats—about 60 percent of people diagnosed with melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, are white men over 50.

Complex picture

The story isn't that simple though. Melanoma is the most common type of cancer in women between the ages of 25 and 29, according to the New York Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center.

And in coming years, men's and women's skin cancer rates could equalize overall as the distinctions between women's and men's activities continue to vanish, Geller says.

More than 1 million new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed each year, according to the American Academy of Dermatology, which calls skin cancer an unrecognized epidemic. A bit more than 10 percent of these are melanoma, which kills some 8,000 U.S. residents a year.

One in five Americans will get a skin cancer diagnosis in their lifetime; that figure is one in three for Caucasians in the United States, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.

Melanoma is less common in African-Americans, Latinos, and Asians, but it is deadlier for these populations because it is more likely to develop undetected.

The other two most common forms of skin cancer, basal carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, are more common and less deadly for all, but also require vigilance and preventive measures.

The effect of advertising

Men take sun protection less seriously than do women.

Across almost all ages, women are about twice as likely to use sunscreen as men, Geller told LiveScience.

"There are a myriad of reasons, including the fact that, in general, women are more prevention-oriented than men," Geller said. "But also, women are more accustomed to using lotions, creams and moisturizers than men."

Advertising also could play a part, Geller found. He headed up a study of skin care advertising in 579 issues of 24 top U.S. magazines published from 1997 to 2002. More than 75 percent of all sun-protection products ads were published in women's magazines, with only 2 percent found in men's magazines.

"We know that men know much less about sun protection than women," Geller said. The study recently was published in the American Journal of Health Promotion.

He calls for more detailed advertisements that reach men and other potentially higher risk groups such as children and outdoor enthusiasts.

Skin protection secrets

Many people nowadays know the sun-skin basics—wear SPF 30 sunscreen if you'll be in the sun for more than 20 minutes; reapply after you swim or sweat or every 2 hours even if the sunscreen is water resistant; wear hats and even high-tech clothing, or at least tight weaves, that shield more sunlight.

Like most things, moderation is wise. The sun should only be enjoyed in small doses in order to minimize exposure to UV radiation, which plays a part in basal carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma.

A lot of people remain ignorant of the sun-skin details. For instance, sunscreen should be applied before you go outside so your skin absorbs the product and activates the SPF chemistry.

SPF 30, not 15, has become the recommended minimum, dermatologist Christopher Harmon, who practices in Birmingham Alabama, recommends you find sunscreen with zinc, titanium dioxide, avobenzone and/or Helioplex as the active ingredients. These are especially effective sun blocks.

Many people treat sunscreen like a precious commodity, smearing on the thinnest layer after arriving at the beach. A shot glass-full is the right amount for each full-body application.

Knowing vs. doing

And even though most of us know we should avoid the sun, less than a third of all adults and children routinely use sun protection. "Most people don't see the true benefit of using sunscreens, therefore they are not motivated to apply them on a daily basis," Harmon said in an email interview.

Here is some more motivation. Ninety percent of all skin cancers are caused by sun exposure, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. Some experts say to think of the sun's rays as little daggers.

Some people justify skin exposure to help the body produce Vitamin D, but that can be obtained more safely from food or vitamin supplements than from sunlight, experts say. Milk and orange juice typically are fortified with Vitamin D, and salmon, tuna, sardines, eggs, beef liver and Swiss cheese naturally have a lot of D in them.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Darwin's Finches Evolve Before Scientists' Eyes - LiveScience

By Sara Goudarzi
LiveScience Staff Writer
posted: 13 July 2006
02:00 pm ET

For the first time scientists have observed in real-time evolutionary changes in one species driven by competition for resources from another.

In a mere two decades, one of Charles Darwin's finch species, Geospiza fortis, reduced its beak size to better equip itself to consume small sized seeds, scientists report in the July 14 issue of the journal Science.

The finch once had its own kingdom on the Galapagos Island of Daphne Major. It had its pick of seeds to eat. But the arrival of another species of finch about 20 years ago, and additional food competition from a drought on the island in 2003, changed everything.

"When there is a severe drought on a small island, natural selection occurs," said study co-author Peter Grant of Princeton University.

The new larger species ate the larger and harder seeds on the island, food that the biggest members of the native finch clan normally ate.

"The recent immigrant species had almost eaten the supply of food themselves, so they almost went extinct," Grant said. "The resident species, the species that was there before the new species arrived, underwent a large shift toward small size in beaks."

Typically, the small members of the species can't crack the larger seeds. But with the depletion of the larger seeds, the small-beaked population, which could reach the smaller feed and needed less food to meet its daily energy needs, had a better survival rate.

This type of evolutionary change is known as character displacement.

"It's a very important one in studies of evolution because it shows that species interact for food and undergo evolutionary change, which minimizes further evolution," Grant said. 'It has not been possible to observe the whole process from start to finish in nature."

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Scientists Question Nature's Fundamental Laws -

Is there any "hard science" eternal truth? Well, two "constants" of nature are now in question. Empirical evidence brought by astronomical observations keep challenging our cosmological certainties.


By Michael Schirber
Special to
posted: 11 July 2006
06:05 am ET

Public confidence in the "constants" of nature may be at an all time low. Recent research has found evidence that the value of certain fundamental parameters, such as the speed of light or the invisible glue that holds nuclei together, may have been different in the past.

"There is absolutely no reason these constants should be constant," says astronomer Michael Murphy of the University of Cambridge. "These are famous numbers in physics, but we have no real reason for why they are what they are."

The observed differences are small—roughly a few parts in a million—but the implications are huge: The laws of physics would have to be rewritten, not to mention we might need to make room for six more spatial dimensions than the three that we are used to.

Lines of evidence

The evidence for varying constants focuses primarily on quasar studies.

Quasars are extremely luminous objects, powered by giant black holes. Some of them are so far away that their light was emitted 12 billion years ago.

The Other Side
Not all quasar data is consistent with variations. In 2004, a group of astronomers—including Patrick Petitjean of the Astrophysical Institute of Paris—found no change in the fine structure constant using quasar spectra from the Very Large Telescope in Chile. No one has yet explained the discrepancy with the Keck telescope results.

"These measurements are so difficult and at the extreme end of what can be achieved by the telescopes that it is very difficult to answer this question," Petitjean says.

Other experiments outside astronomy have found no evidence for variation in the fine structure constant (alpha), although they do not probe the same time period as the quasars.

  • Atomic clocks: By comparing extremely accurate clocks, researchers have shown that the current change per year in alpha is less than one part in a million billion.
  • Oklo mine: This uranium mine in Africa was the site of a naturally-occurring nuclear reactor two billion years ago. An early study concluded that alpha has not changed more than 10 parts in a billion since the reactor ran. But a more recent analysis shows that this depends on certain assumptions.
  • Anthropic arguments: For life to have arisen on Earth, many constants could not have been very different from what they are. For instance, if alpha changed by 4 percent, then carbon could not be made in stars.

Astronomers study the spectra of this ancient light to determine if the early universe was different than now. Specifically, they look at absorption lines, which are due to gas clouds between us and the quasars.

The lines reveal exactly what is in the clouds, since each type of atom has a "fingerprint"—a set of specific frequencies at which it absorbs.

In 1999, Murphy and his colleagues found the first convincing evidence that these fingerprints change with time. Using data from the Keck observatory in Hawaii, they detected a frequency difference between billion-year-old quasar lines and the corresponding lines measured on Earth.

Some of these Earth-bound lines were not well characterized, so Murphy and others recently performed careful lab experiments to confirm that there is indeed a shift in the quasar spectra. A spectra is basically light split into its component frequencies, much like when white light goes through a prism to produce a rainbow.

What's in a constant

Because the frequencies of absorption lines depend on various parameters, the quasar observations are sometimes interpreted as indicating that light was faster in the past, or that the electron had a weaker charge.

But theorist Carlos Martins of the University of Cambridge tells LiveScience that this is not entirely correct: "It doesn't make sense to talk about a varying speed of light or electron charge."

This is because the values of these parameters include units that might change. The speed of light, for instance, might be measured one day with a ruler and a clock. If the next day the same measurement gave a different answer, no one could tell if the speed of light changed, the ruler length changed, or the clock ticking changed.

To avoid this confusion, scientists use dimensionless constants—pure numbers that are ratios of measured quantities.

In the case of the shifts in Murphy's data, the relevant dimensionless constant is the fine structure constant (often designated by the Greek letter alpha), which characterizes the strength of the electromagnetic force.

The researchers found that alpha was smaller in the past, but other "famous numbers" would not be immune to the vagaries of time.

"You would expect variation in all the fundamental constants," Murphy says.

It was therefore not entirely a surprise when—in April of this year—Patrick Petitjean of the Astrophysical Institute of Paris and his collaborators detected a change in the proton to electron mass ratio from molecular absorption lines in quasar spectra.

The four fundamental forces can each be characterized by a dimensionless constant.

Strong: Glues together the parts of a nucleus.

Electromagnetic: Holds electrons around atoms; explains light.

Weak: Responsible for certain radioactive decays.

Gravity: Keeps planets, stars, glaxies from flying apart.

The mass variation can be interpreted as the strong force's coupling constant being larger in the early universe, Petitjean says.

A hole in the theory

Time-varying constants of nature violate Einstein's equivalence principle, which says that any experiment testing nuclear or electromagnetic forces should give the same result no matter where or when it is performed.

If this principle is broken, then two objects dropped in a gravitational field should fall at slightly different rates. Moreover, Einstein's gravitational theory—general relativity—would no longer be completely correct, Martins says.

A popular alternative to relativity, which assumes that sub-atomic particles are vibrating strings and that the universe has 10 or more spatial dimensions, actually predicts inconstant constants.

According to this string theory, the extra dimensions are hidden from us, but the "true" constants of nature are defined on all dimensions. Therefore, if the hidden dimensions expand or contract, we will notice this as a variation in our "local" 3D constants.

Even if string theory is not correct, the current model of gravity will likely need to be revised to unite it with the other three fundamental forces.

"We have an incomplete theory, so you look for holes that will point to a new theory," Murphy says. Varying constants may be just such a hole.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

The lessons of the World Cup - Bangkok Post

This year's World Cup has proven once again that football is the world's most popular sport; it has also proven that football is probably the world's most globalised profession. It is inconceivable that Brazilian, Cameroonian, or Japanese doctors, computer scientists, blue-collar workers or bank tellers could move from one country to another as easily as Brazilian, Cameroonian or Japanese football players do.

Indeed, London's Arsenal football club is composed entirely of foreigners, including a French coach. Even the captain roles are no longer reserved for domestic players: Thierry Henry, a Frenchman, is Arsenal's captain, Andriy Shevchenko, a Ukrainian, was often the captain of AC Milan and will play next year for the English champions Chelsea. Christiano Zanetti, an Argentine, is the captain of Inter Milan. Similarly, dozens of South Americans and Africans play in Russian, Turkish, Polish, and various Southeast European leagues.

Football thus provides a glimpse of how true globalisation of labour would work. In football, as in other occupations, restrictions on labour mobility came entirely from the demand side. No limits were ever imposed on players' movements, except by Communist countries. But the demand side was heavily regulated, owing to a rule that clubs could field no more than two foreign players in any single game.

The Bosman ruling, named after a Belgian player who successfully challenged the rule's application to players from other European Union countries, eroded the limit, which collapsed altogether under the onslaught of the richest European clubs' demand for a free hand in hiring the best players, wherever they might be found.

So wherever globalisation and full commercialisation reign supreme, there is an unmistakable concentration of quality and success. Consider the number of clubs that have qualified for the top eight slots in the European Champions League. If we look at five-year periods between 1967 and 1986, the number of different teams that qualified for the quarterfinals varied between 28 and 30. In the next two five-year periods, however, the number fell to 26, and in the most recent period (2000-04), there were only 21. The bottom line is simple: fewer and fewer clubs are making it into the European elite.

National leagues are similar. Since the English Premier League was started in 1992, only one championship has not been won by Manchester United, Arsenal, or Chelsea. In Italy, all but two Serie A championships since 1991 have been won by either Juventus or AC Milan. In Spain, all but three championships since 1985 have been won by either Real Madrid or Barcelona.

The reason for this concentration at the top is obvious: the richest clubs are now able to attract the best players in the world. This has arguably been accompanied by improved quality in the game itself, owing to what economists call increasing returns to scale. When the best players play together, the quality of each, and of the team as a whole, increases exponentially. When Ronaldinho and Lionel Messi, or Kaka and Shevchenko, play together, their combined output (number of goals) is greater than the sum of goals that each would score if he played in a different club with less talented co-players.

Free mobility of labour in other areas would probably produce the same effect. If doctors, computer specialists, or engineers (let alone the proverbial Polish plumbers) were allowed to move freely, the concentration of talent in the richest countries would most likely increase. Inequality in the distribution of talent across countries would rise, even if total world output of goods and services, and their average quality, improved, as with football today. Poorer or smaller countries could hardly dream of winning a European championship, as Steaua (Romania), Red Star (Serbia), or Nottingham Forest (now languishing in the English third division) once did.

But, while we see inequality and exclusion in club-level football, the opposite is true for competitions among national teams. The average winning margin among the top eight World Cup national teams has steadily decreased, from more than two goals in the 1950s, to about 1.5 goals in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, and only 0.88 goals in the 2002 World Cup.

The same is true of all games played at the final tournament, not only those among the top eight national teams. The decrease in winning margins is all the more impressive because the World Cup has grown from 16 to 32 national teams _ many of them new and rather inexperienced. Remarkably, they are not trounced by the traditional powerhouses. On the contrary, the elite eight teams of the last four World Cups have included two newcomers that had never been quarterfinalists, such as Turkey and South Korea in 2002.

There are again two reasons for this. First, free movement has meant that good players from small leagues improve much more than they would had they stayed home. A good Danish or Bulgarian player improves much faster if he joins Manchester United or Barcelona.

Second, that improvement in quality has been captured by national teams playing in the World Cup thanks to Fifa's rule requiring players to play only for their national teams. Samuel Etoo can play for any Spanish, Italian or English club, but in the national competitions, he can play only for Cameroon.

In other words, Fifa has introduced an institutional rule that allows small countries (in the football sense) to capture some of the benefits of today's higher-quality game, thereby partly reversing the ''leg drain''.

The same rule could be applied to other activities. Free movement of skilled labour could be accompanied by binding international requirements that migrants from poor countries spend, say, one year in five working in their countries of origin. They would bring home skills, technology, and connections that are as valuable as the skills that Etoo, Michel Essien or Messi bring back to Cameroon, Ghana or Argentina. Job placement would remain a problem, but the principle is sound: the world should learn from the World Cup.

Branko Milanovic is an economist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. His most recent book is ''Worlds Apart: Measuring International and Global Inequality''. Project Syndicate, 2006.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Science Confirms: You Really Can't Buy Happiness - Washington Post

Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 3, 2006; Page A02

When Warren Buffett announced last week that he will be giving away more than $30 billion to improve health, nutrition and education, people all over America reflected on his remarkable generosity, pondered all the noble things the gift would achieve and asked themselves what they would do if someone were to give them that kind of dough.

Halt that daydream: Turns out the Oracle of Omaha is a wizard at more than investing. When it comes to money, giving may buy a lot more happiness than getting.

Buffett may have been thinking of his soul -- "There is more than one way to get to heaven, but this is a great way," he said as he announced the largest gift in the history of the planet -- but he may also have been keeping up with the latest psychological research.

A wealth of data in recent decades has shown that once personal wealth exceeds about $12,000 a year, more money produces virtually no increase in life satisfaction. From 1958 to 1987, for example, income in Japan grew fivefold, but researchers could find no corresponding increase in happiness.

In part, said Richard Layard of the London School of Economics, who has studied the phenomenon closely, people feel wealthy by comparing themselves with others. When incomes rise across a nation, people's relative status does not change.

But surely a Buffett-size gift -- he wants to give away $4 million a day -- would make most people euphoric, right?

Temporarily, that is true, Layard said in an interview. However, social comparisons are not the only factor at play. Another big psychological factor is habituation: Dramatically changing one's wealth does create happiness, but it will last only until people get used to their newfound status, which can be a matter of months or a couple of years at most.

When people win lotteries, for example, Layard said, "initially there is a big increase in happiness, but then it reverts to its original level. So why do people want to win lotteries? . . . They have a rather short-term focus, and they don't seem to grasp long-term ways their own feelings work."

The journal Science reported last week yet more evidence and another theory about why wealth does not make people happy: "The belief that high income is associated with good mood is widespread but mostly illusory," one of its studies concluded. "People with above-average income . . . are barely happier than others in moment-to-moment experience, tend to be more tense, and do not spend more time in particularly enjoyable activities."

Wait, there's more.

"The effect of income on life satisfaction seems to be transient," the researchers added. "We argue that people exaggerate the contribution of income to happiness because they focus, in part, on conventional achievements when evaluating their lives and the lives of others."

Wow. Let's pause a moment to let all priests, nuns and anarchists take a bow and say, "I told you so!"

"People grossly exaggerate the impact that higher incomes would have on their subjective well-being," said Alan Krueger, a professor of economics and public affairs at Princeton University and an author of the study.

The problem is that once people get past the level of poverty, money does not play a significant role in day-to-day happiness, Krueger said. It certainly can buy things, but things do not usually address most of the troubles people experience in daily life -- concerns about their children, problems in intimate relationships and stressful aspects of their jobs.

When people daydream about winning big, Krueger said, "they focus on all the things they would buy, without recognizing that does not contribute all that much to their well-being."

In fact, the study noted, data from the Department of Labor show that the more money people have, the less likely they are to spend time doing certain kinds of enjoyable things that make them happy. High-income individuals are often focused on goals, which can bring satisfaction. But working toward achievements is different from experiencing things that are enjoyable in themselves , such as close relationships and relaxing leisure activities.

"If you want to know why I think poor people are not that miserable, it is because they are able to enjoy things that Bill Gates has not been able to enjoy, given his schedule at Microsoft," Krueger surmised.

Various studies have shown that people are enormously reluctant to accept a pay cut, even if that would give them more freedom, less supervision or a shorter commute -- all things that are tangibly associated with moment-to-moment happiness. The emphasis on salary is identical to the lottery ticket winner's mistake in thinking that money changes everything.

"One of the mistakes people make is they focus on the salary and not the non-salary aspects of work," Krueger said. "People do not put enough weight on the quality of work. That is why work looks like, for most people, the worst moments of the day."

Bush Gives Pep Talk to U.S. Forces - Washington Post

"Stay the course"... "stay the course"...
GW Bush goes on with the following fallacious logic:
1. Some US soldiers have died in Iraq
2. Their death can't be in vain
3. Pulling out the troops would mean their sacrifices were in vain
4. This is unacceptable
5. The troops must stay in Iraq until Iraq is... stabilised? peaceful? democratic?

Never mind the following logic would be more pragmatic:
1. Was the war justified?
2. Reply: No clear connections between Saddam's Hussein's regime and terrorist networks. No Weapons of Mass Destruction
3. If the war was not justified, are the Iraqis better off with foreign troops in Iraq?
4. Reply: Life is at least as tough for Iraqis as it was before the invasion. Sectarian violence has led to tens of thousands of civilian death (maybe even hundreds of thousands)
5. From the point of view of the Americans, has the occupation of Iraq improved the outlook
of the "war on terrorism"?
6. Reply: Any real progress has been achieved in other parts of the world where the coordination of police forces has led to the arrest of key terrorist ringleaders. However, the rise of anti-americanism means recruitment is easier for terrorist organizations.
7. Is the war on terrorism "winnable"?
8. To the extent that terrorism is a form of violence and not a coherent organization to dismantle, terrorism is likely to remain a threat in the future. Besides, the use of terrorism as a weapon means humanism (the respect of the dignaty of any human lives) is not widespread enough, therefore the challenge is more an ideological one than a military one.
9. Have the US troops brought democracy?
10. Scandals like the Abu Grahib prisoners abuse, the unlawful situation in Guantanamo, massacres in Iraq have spread the feeling that the US government is not practicing what it preaches. The democratic process in Iraq has been slow at best. By all means, the country remains divided by sectarian bloodsheds.

One good way to make sure that past casualties were not in vain is to prevent any more casualties in the future! Isn't it the role of politicians to prevent more suffering? Where is the evidence that the current policy will lead to less suffering?


Tuesday, July 4, 2006; 12:50 PM


Associated Press Writer

FORT BRAGG, N.C. (AP) -- President Bush, celebrating his fourth July Fourth as a wartime leader, said Tuesday U.S. troops will overcome persistent violence in Iraq and a rekindled insurgency in Afghanistan because the enemy is vulnerable.

"On this day when we give thanks for our freedom, we also give thanks to the men and women who make our freedom possible," Bush told an estimated 3,500 U.S. troops at an outdoor speech at Fort Bragg, home of the 82nd Airborne Division.

"You are serving our country at a time when our country needs you. And because of your courage, every day is Independence Day in America," he said.

Bush said that since the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, al-Qaida's leader in Iraq, coalition and U.S. Iraqi forces have launched more than 190 raids on targets throughout the country, captured more than 700 enemy operatives and killed some 60 more. They have captured caches of weapons, and have received intelligence to help capture insurgents, he added.

"At this moment of vulnerability for the enemy," he said, "we will continue to strike their network. We will disrupt their operations, and we will bring their leaders to justice."

The outlook was less optimistic in Baghdad.

Gunmen in camouflaged uniforms kidnapped Iraq's deputy electricity minister, Raed al-Hares, and 11 of his bodyguards in eastern Baghdad. The kidnapping occurred three days after gunmen seized a Sunni female legislator in east Baghdad; she and seven bodyguards are still missing.

Tense conditions also exist currently in Afghanistan, where U.S.-led troops are facing fierce resistance from the Taliban in southern sections of the nation.

Bush paid special recognition to members of the U.S. military services who have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003.

"I will make you this promise, I'm not going to allow the sacrifice of 2,527 troops who have died in Iraq to be in vain," Bush said to the crowd of uniformed troops, who responded with a chorus of "Hooah."

Before he spoke, Bush was shown an array of military equipment, including a loudspeaker used by a psychological warfare operations unit, by members of the 82nd Airborne and Army special operations units.

He shook their hands, squeezed their shoulders, patted them on the back. "Good job," he told a helicopter pilot who flew former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein from the hole where he was captured to an airfield in Baghdad. The pilot, whose name was not provided for security reasons because he is being redeployed to Iraq, briefed the president on his unusual mission.

Later, in a cafeteria at the base, Bush had lunch with military personnel, making himself a salad and grabbing a piece of fried chicken and some macaroni and cheese.

In his talk, the president did not any changes in troop levels, reiterating his refusal to set "an artificial timetable."

Such a strategy would be "a terrible mistake," Bush said,. saying that it would undermine the fledging Iraqi government. He also said it would undercut the morale of U.S. troops "by sending a message that the mission for which you risked your lives was not worth completing."

Bush planned to watch the Fourth of July national fireworks display from the White House, where he and his family will celebrate his 60th birthday on Thursday.

Among the estimated 150 people who were expected for the Tuesday night fireworks show were Bush friends Brad Freeman, Joe O'Neill, Mike Weiss and Charles Younger, who rode with him to Fort Bragg aboard Air Force One.

AP-ES-07-04-06 1101EDT

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Supreme Court Says Guantánamo Bay Military Commissions Are Unconstitutional; ACLU Calls Decision a Victory for the "Rule of Law" - ACLU


NEW YORK -- In a sharp rebuke to the Bush administration, the United States Supreme Court today ruled 5-3 that the military commissions system established by President Bush to try detainees at Guantánamo Bay is unfair and illegal. The American Civil Liberties Union, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case, applauded the decision.

“Today’s decision is a victory for the rule of law in the United States,” said ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero. “The Supreme Court has made clear that the executive branch does not have a blank check in the war on terror and may not run roughshod over the nation’s legal system. This decision moves us one step closer to stopping the abuse of power that has become the hallmark of this White House. Now that the Supreme Court has issued its decision, the president should make good on his promise and close Guantánamo.” The military commission rules do not guarantee an independent trial court, do not provide for impartial appellate review, and do not prohibit the use of coerced testimony despite extensive evidence that coercive interrogation techniques have been used at Guantánamo Bay and elsewhere.

“The government’s misuse of military tribunals is consistent with a larger pattern of abuse of power,” said Steven R. Shapiro, the ACLU’s national legal director. “This is an Administration that prefers to act outside the law and without judicial scrutiny. The Court properly rejected that anti-democratic view. Our own soldiers benefit as much as the Guantánamo detainees by the Court’s insistence that the administration comply with the Geneva Conventions and the rule of law."

The ACLU's brief in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld is available at: scotus/2005/hamdanv.rumsfeld05184/23395lgl20060104.html
Other materials in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld are online at: scotus/2005/23392res2006010405184/23392res20060104.html
To read ACLU Legal Director Steve Shapiro's 2005 Supreme Court summary go to