|Clean Up Coal! |
The Pirahã, The Magic Noose!
Stonehenge Badgers, Assisted Suicide,
Indians Vs Texaco & More!
|Clean Up Coal: Kerry Pledges $10 Billion for Clean Power|
|By Chris Baltimore |
WASHINGTON August 20, 2004 (Reuters) — U.S. Democratic presidential challenger John Kerry on Thursday pledged $10 billion over a decade to help U.S. electric utilities find cleaner ways to burn coal, the nation's most abundant energy source.
In a bid to lure votes from coal-producing states like West Virginia, Kerry said that if elected he would offer incentives, like research grants, to encourage utilities to build coal-fired plants that give off almost no pollutants.
"Coal is abundant, coal mining creates jobs, and I believe that with the right investment and commitment, coal can be an even cleaner part of America's energy future," Massachusetts Sen Kerry said in a statement.
West Virginia's Democratic senators — Robert Byrd and Jay Rockefeller — endorsed Kerry's plan, as did unions representing utility employees and mine workers. Byrd also accused President Bush of ducking a campaign pledge to invest $2 billion in cleaner coal plants over a decade. That promise helped Bush secure West Virginia's electoral votes in the 2000 election.
The U.S. Energy Department did not return calls seeking comment on Kerry's proposal.
Soaring prices for natural gas have sparked renewed interest in "King Coal" as a source of electricity.
The United States is increasingly dependent on foreign countries like Saudi Arabia for its crude oil but holds about one-quarter of the world's recoverable coal reserves. At about 270 billion short tons, that's enough to last more than two centuries at current production rates, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates.
"The only way to do that at this time is the use of coal-fired generation."
|The Pirahã and Perception|
|Teachers College, Columbia University News Release |
August 19, 2004 - During the late 1930s, amateur linguist Benjamin Lee Whorf posed the theory that language can determine the nature and content of thought. But are there concepts in one culture that people of another culture simply cannot understand because their language has no words for it?
No one has ever definitively answered that question, but new findings by Dr. Peter Gordon, a bio-behavioral scientist at Teachers College, Columbia University, strongly support a "yes" answer. Gordon has spent the past several years studying the Pirahã, an isolated Amazon tribe of fewer than 200 people, whose language contains no words for numbers beyond "one," "two" and "many." Even the Piraha word for "one" appears to refer to "roughly one" or a small quantity, as opposed to the exact connotation of singleness in other languages.
What these experiments show, according to Gordon, is how having the right linguistic resources can carve out one's reality. "Whorf says that language divides the world into different categories," Gordon said. "Whether one language chooses to distinguish one thing versus another affects how an individual perceives reality."
When given numerical tasks by Gordon in which they were asked to match small sets of objects in varying configurations, adult members of the tribe responded accurately with up to two or three items, but their performance declined when challenged with eight to 10 items, and dropped to zero with larger sets of objects. The only exception to this performance was with tasks involving unevenly spaced objects. Here, the performance of participants deteriorated as the number of items increased to 6 items. Yet for sets of 7 to 10 objects, performance was near perfect. Though these tasks were designed to be more difficult, Gordon hypothesizes that the uneven spacing allowed subjects to perceive the items as smaller "chunks" of 2 or 3 items that they could then match to corresponding groups.
According to the study, performance by the Piraha was poor for set sizes above 2 or 3, but it was not random. "Pirahã participants were actually trying very hard to get the answers correct, and they clearly understood the tasks," Gordon said. Participants showed evidence of using methods of estimation and chunking to guess at quantities in larger set sizes. On average, they performed about as well as college students engaged in more complex numerical estimation tasks. Their skill levels were similar to those in pre-linguistic infants, monkeys, birds and rodents, and appeared to correlate to recent brain imaging studies indicating a different sort of numerical competence that seems to be immune to numerical language deprivation. Interestingly, Gordon noted, while Pirahã adults had difficulty learning larger numbers, Piraha children did not.
|Teddy the Terrorist|
|WASHINGTON August 20, 2004 (Reuters) - Sen. Ted Kennedy, the archetypal liberal Democrat from Massachusetts, is often called names by Republicans. But until this year he had never been viewed as a threat to U.S. air travel. |
Kennedy -- one of the most recognizable figures in American politics -- told a Senate committee hearing on Thursday he had been blocked several times from boarding commercial airline flights because his name was on a "no-fly" list intended to exclude potential terrorists.
The Senate Judiciary Committee heard Kennedy was eventually allowed on the flights, but it took numerous calls to the Department of Homeland Security to clear up the mistake and get his name off the list.
Noting it had taken him weeks to resolve the matter, Kennedy wondered aloud how difficult it might be for ordinary Americans to have their names removed if they were also mistakenly placed on the watch list.
A Kennedy spokesman said the whole thing had resulted from a simple error and had not been politically motivated.
Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge personally called Kennedy "make sure that the situation was remedied," said a spokeswoman for Ridge's department.
|The Magic Noose|
|CALCUTTA August 21, 2004 (AFP) - He retired after carrying out India's first execution in nearly a decade, but Calcutta's veteran hangman is still in the business. |
He is selling strands of his final noose -- rumored to have magical powers -- and finding both a ready market and revulsion.
|By Ellie Tzortzi |
ATHENS August 20, 2004 (Reuters) - The Athens Olympics organizers tried to ban this month's Greek edition of Playboy, objecting to an article featuring naked women, sports equipment, the Olympic rings and headlines like "Go For A Sexathlon Gold".
The magazine's lawyer said on Friday a Greek court had refused an injunction which Games organizers said they sought to protect their trademarked symbols and a suggestive reworking of the Olympic motto "Faster, Higher, Stronger".
The magazine remains on sale at Athens newsstands.
Sandwiched between glossy, statuesque nudes in sporting poses, the article offers tips on how to achieve "2004 Seconds Of Ecstasy" and "Improve Your Personal Best In Bed".
Editor-in-chief Giorgos Kyparissis said many of the pictures in question were not new but reprints of widely published shots by celebrated international photographers.
"There is no case of us ridiculing the Games or the Olympic symbols. In actual fact we dedicate many serious articles to the event in the magazine," he told Reuters.
"We are just having a bit of fun".
|By Matthew Jones |
STONEHENGE August 13, 2004 (Reuters) — Determined digging by badgers living near Britain's Stonehenge, a 5,000-year-old circle of megaliths, is damaging ancient archeological artifacts and human remains.
The shy nocturnal animals are burrowing into prehistoric burial mounds on Salisbury Plain, southern England. Their excavations have already disturbed some of the thousands of human remains and rare artifacts buried a few feet beneath the surface of the plain on which Stonehenge — a world heritage site — sits.
The danger posed by the badgers' homebuilding has become so serious that Britain's Ministry of Defense (MoD), which owns much of the land in the area, is trying to coax them away to less historically sensitive places.
"We have already moved badgers from two monuments located just north of Stonehenge," said Ian Barnes, one of four archeologists employed by the Ministry of Defense.
Barnes said Neolithic long barrows, burial mounds that date back to 3,500 BC, are most vulnerable to attack, with about half of the 20 sites showing signs of badger activity. Long barrows are elongated, roughly rectangular structures that can be more than 100 feet in length and several feet high.
The characteristic chalk and soft earth of the area is easy work for badgers, who are proficient diggers. The creatures, which have a distinctive black-and-white-striped head, often have more than one underground home, or sett.
Barnes said some monuments will have to be given up to the badgers because the damage they have caused is already too extensive.
There has been talk of culling the animals, but English Heritage, the government's advisor on Britain's historic environment which looks after Stonehenge, said it was not an option.
"Culling badgers has not been considered by English Heritage and is not our policy." an English Heritage spokeswoman said. "We have recently begun work on a project to assess in more detail the impact of the badgers on Salisbury Plain archeological sites. We will be continuing to work on this project over the course of the summer of 2004 and hope the results will help us understand more about the nature of badger damage so we can protect England's archeology as effectively as possible for future generations."
Barnes said the most effective way of moving badgers has been shutting them out of their homes. "A mesh link fence is built around the sett when the badgers are out."
The process costs thousands of pounds (dollars) because each site has to be examined for archeology before barriers are put up.
Badger groups agree the animals can be moved successfully and are working with the MoD and English Heritage.
"Where there are badgers causing problems they can be humanely excluded," said Elaine King, chief executive of the National Federation of Badger Groups. "Badgers can be successfully relocated, but it is important to understand their territorial behavior."
Not Everyone's Furry Friend
|Rovers Find Oddities|
|By Robert Jablon |
Pasadena August 20, 2004 (AP) — The twin Mars rovers have found a wonderland of weird rocks and enticing dunes, along with more evidence the Red Planet once had water, NASA scientists said this week.
The robotic vehicles landed in January and first found signs in March that Mars had water eons ago.
The Spirit rover has now rolled nearly two miles across the plains of its Gusev Crater landing site and into an area dubbed the Columbia Hills.
Perched about 30 feet above a plain, it recently found indications water had altered an outcropping of bedrock dubbed Clovis, said scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.
Sulfur, chlorine, and bromine found inside the rock were in much greater concentrations than in rocks on the plain. Those elements are commonly emitted from volcanoes and could have combined with liquid water or water vapor, said Doug Ming, a science team member.
"Here, we have a more thorough, deeper alteration, suggesting much more water," said Steve Squyres, principal investigator for science instruments aboard the rovers.
Meanwhile, halfway around the planet, the Opportunity rover has rolled about 32 feet into Endurance Crater, a stadium-sized depression. At the bottom, it found rippled dunes and a bizarre rock with a lumpy, rounded appearance. Scientists weren't sure how the rock was formed.
"I don't have an explanation for this one," Squires said. "It doesn't look like anything we've seen anywhere."
The team hopes the vehicle can examine the edge of the dunes, although it won't go out in them for fear of bogging down.
"We built a wonderful rover, but we didn't build a dune buggy," Squyres said.
Opportunity found profound differences in rocks that it bored into at different levels of a layered slope. Tiny ripples in a rock dubbed Millstone are clear signs that it had contact with flowing water, Squyres said.
The $280 million mission was designed to seek geological clues about whether ancient Mars had water.
In March, NASA announced that Opportunity found ripples in sedimentary rock that indicated a pool of saltwater — an environment that could have supported life — once existed at the landing site in the vast Meridiani Planum.
The next month, NASA said Spirit had found evidence that limited amounts of water had deposited minerals in a volcanic rock.
Overall, scientists said, the rovers are aging gracefully, despite far exceeding their planned mission times of about 90 days.
NASA's Rover homepage - http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov
|Assisted Suicide: 44% Dying Patients Favor It!|
|Oregon Health & Science University News Release |
PORTLAND August 19, 2004 - Researchers at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) have published the first study of dying Oregonians' attitudes toward physician assisted suicide (PAS). The survey, which involved family members who had recently lost a loved one, found that while very few Oregonians use PAS to end their lives, a much greater number of patients seriously consider it. Prior to this study, research focused on patients who had ended their lives through PAS and on physician's and specific patient groups' attitudes about the practice. The results of the study are published in the current edition of the Journal of Clinical Ethics.
"One of the most surprising statistics this study generated was that approximately 17 percent of dying Oregonians consider PAS seriously enough to talk with their family about it," explained Susan Tolle, M.D., director of the Center for Ethics in Health Care at OHSU and first author of the study. "However, when it comes to actually taking part in PAS, the numbers differ greatly. Approximately 2 percent of dying patients formally request PAS and about one in 1,000 patients die through the use of a lethal prescription. We had no idea prior to our study how many Oregonians personally considered the option."
The study also provided some valuable information about dying Oregonians' overall attitudes regarding PAS. Researchers learned that 44 percent of dying patients were in favor of PAS, 15 percent were neutral on the issue and 41 percent were opposed. The researchers considered this data notable, indicating that after six years of legal existence, those Oregonians who were morally opposed to PAS appeared to remain morally opposed. In addition, the study revealed certain factors that relate to a person's feelings about PAS. Those factors include race, socio-economic status, religion, education and age.
"According to this study, patients more likely to personally consider PAS are younger, white, not very religious and battling cancer," added Tolle, also a professor of medicine (general internal medicine and geriatrics), OHSU School of Medicine. "However, patients at various levels of education considered PAS. The educational data really stands out here because previous reports have shown that those who ultimately take a lethal prescription tend to have a significantly higher level of education."
To obtain their data, researchers conducted phone interviews with 1,384 family caregivers who lost an adult loved one through natural causes between June 2000 and March 2002. The family caregivers were identified through a random sample of Oregon death certificates.
The current issue of the Journal of Clinical Ethics contains a commentary on the PAS study also written by two OHSU authors not involved in the original research. The commentary investigates the possible meanings of the data and its relevance.
"One major question raised by the study is why many consider PAS but decide not to take part in it," explained Linda Ganzini, M.D., a professor of psychiatry and medicine (general internal medicine and geriatrics) in the OHSU School of Medicine. "There are a number of possible explanations for this. For instance, patients who consider PAS may later dismiss the idea after speaking with their physician about treatment options which include better pain control or treatment of depression. Referral to hospice may also affect a person's wishes for PAS. However, on the other hand, those already in hospice care who make the request are more likely to persist, having found that palliative care does not satisfy their end-of-life expectations."
Another key question raised by the original article and addressed by the commentary authors is whether legalization of physician-assisted suicide may actually limit its use.
"When you compare Oregon's data to other states where PAS is illegal, you find, on average, other states appear to actually have more PAS cases," added Ganzini. "About one in 1,000 Oregon patients die through receiving a lethal prescription. In other states, the average rate is approximately four in 1,000 - despite the fact that doctors in those states are breaking the law. One possible reason for this is that Oregon doctors feel they are under greater scrutiny and are therefore less willing to act outside of a safe harbor. Another explanation is that Oregon's Death With Dignity Act has significant hurdles and many patients simply can't make it over them."
The Center for Ethics in Health Care at OHSU remains neutral on the Oregon Death with Dignity Act, neither supporting nor opposing the option. The center conducts research on all end-of-life issues, including PAS, in its long-term efforts to ensure the comfort of Oregonians near and at the time of death.
Additional authors for the PAS study include: Virginia Tilden, D.N.Sc., R.N., who is now with the University of Nebraska Medical Center; Katrina Hedberg, M.D., M.P.H.. , of the Oregon Department of Human Services; and Linda Drach, M.P.H., Erik Fromme, M.D., and Nancy Perrin, Ph.D., from OHSU. Funding for the research was provided by the National Institutes of Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Steven Dobscha, M.D., of OHSU, is co-author of the commentary
Oregon Health & Science University - http://www.ohsu.edu
|Five New Moons for Neptune|
|Neptune August 18, 2004 (BBC) - Five new satellites - and one candidate moon - have been discovered orbiting the giant planet Neptune, bringing its tally of moons to 13. Two orbit in the same direction as the planet rotates, while the orbits of the others are opposite to Neptune's spin. |
The tiny outer satellites are probably captured asteroids, astronomers say.
Cataclysmic events connected to the capture of Neptune's moon Triton were thought to have destroyed any outer satellites the planet once had.
The new moons, named S/2002 N1 to N4 and S/2003 N1, are in eccentric, tilted orbits. They are all between 30km and 50km in diameter.
An international team of astronomers searched for the satellites between 2001 and 2003 using the 4m Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory and the 3.6m Canada-France-Hawaii telescope.
The researchers used a technique to look for the new moons that was originally developed to detect very faint objects in the outer Kuiper Belt.
They also observed a sixth candidate moon, which they have named c02N4. This was discovered on 14 August 2002 and seen again at the Very Large Telescope (VLT) on 3 September 2002. But further attempts to spot this object failed.
The researchers say this could be Centaur - an object that has migrated from the outer Kuiper Belt. But its lack of movement relative to Neptune is more consistent with it being a satellite.
The satellites are unlikely to have condensed from material around Neptune.
Instead, these so-called irregular moons may be the product of a parent body that collided with Neptune's moon Nereid and were then disturbed in their orbits by the capture of Triton from the Kuiper Belt.
|Indians Vs Big Oil: Ecuadorean Indians Challenge Texaco|
|By Amy Taxin |
Ecuador August 20, 2004 (Reuters) — After a decade of court battles, this week lawyers took a lawsuit by Ecuadorean Indians accusing U.S. oil firm ChevronTexaco Corp. of polluting the Amazon jungle into the field.
Scientists started taking soil samples from the Amazon, hoping to prove or disprove that a Texaco subsidiary contaminated groundwater supplies during its oil operations in Ecuador from 1972 to 1992.
The tests near the sweltering jungle town of La Joya de los Sachas marked the beginning of six months of inspections that plaintiffs and defendants believe will be definitive.
"I think we stand a good chance that science will provide the truth that everyone down here has been looking for for 30 years," said Steven Donziger, attorney for 30,000 jungle dwellers who accuse Texaco of polluting the environment.
The case is one of a kind in Ecuador. Lawyers sweating through button-down shirts trudged through high jungle brush to point out the sites they planned to have drilled, bringing the judge to the site of the evidence rather than filing it in court.
ChevronTexaco says the remediated pits pose no health risk.
Plaintiffs filed suit in Ecuador last year after a U.S. court threw out the 1993 case over issues of jurisdiction.
|Genre News: AvP, Horror Channel, Nick Lachey Charmed, Nip/Tuck, Brian Wilson & Elmer Bernstein|
|Alien Vs. Predator (AvP) |
Review by FLAtRich
August 22, 2004 (eXoNews) - Two Big Bads from outer space really do their dance in AvP! What could have been another "let's milk the franchise" film may be a surprise to some because this one is pretty good, thanks to excellent special effects, quick editing, and two outstanding actors.
AvP was written and directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, who wrote and directed the original Resident Evil (2002) and directed the far more forgettable Event Horizon (1997).
Dan O'Bannon, who wrote the original Alien (1979) added some character writing to this one, as he did in the other Alien sequels. O'Bannon also wrote the screenplay for Total Recall and two lesser-known sci-fi favorites, Lifeforce (1985) and Screamers (1995). Jim and John Thomas, who wrote the original Predator films, also contributed on AvP.
Sanaa Lathan steals the show as Alexa Woods, the team leader. Miss Lathan recently got a 2003 Tony nomination for A Raisin in the Sun on Broadway.
She also played Ann Harrison in Out of Time opposite Denzel, for which she won a Best Actress Black Reel award and won awards for her work in Love and Basketball (2000).
A scene where she joins the hunt - Alien spear and shield in hand - is a picture of genre perfection on a Frank Frazetta level.
Lance Henriksen is the only cast member from the original Alien series to show up for AvP and his fans should be more than satisfied with his role as billionaire explorer Charles Bishop Weyland.
As Alien fans know, Mr. Henriksen was the android Bishop in Aliens (1986), a role he reprised in Aliens3 (1992) before becoming Frank Black in Chris Carter's MillenniuM (1996-1999), one of the great TV genre heroes of all time.
[I've been watching it for the last couple of weeks and man, MillenniuM was good TV! Ed.]
So how about the plot? Not to worry. Charles Bishop Weyland (Henriksen) mounts the expedition to a newly found mysterious temple under the ice, which is a remnant of a time when the Predator Big Bads used the Earth as a ritual hunting ground every century or so.
Their seeded prey, the Alien Big Bads. Earth people were on hand for gestating these and we do get to see some of this in a flashback, but not much time for that because the Weyland team discovery coincides with the return of the Predators.
While exploring the temple, Alexa (Lathan) and our band of heroes accidentally unfreeze an Alien queen, who proceeds to hatch lots of slobbering uglies for the Predators to fight.
MillenniuM Fan site - http://richlabonte.net/millennium
Horror Channel from Universal?
NEW YORK August 17, 2004 (Hollywood Reporter) - NBC Universal is considering creating a cable outlet devoted to horror-themed programing, drawing from a library of creepy film classics including marquee heavies Dracula, Frankenstein's monster and Wolfman.
NEW YORK August 19, 2004 (AP) - He had a crush on her, but Alyssa Milano doesn't mind — she thinks "he's hot." Nick Lachey told "Access Hollywood" in a recent interview that he had to tell his "Charmed" co-star about his former crush to avoid the humiliation of having her find out from someone else.
Joan Rivers Meets Nip/Tuck!
LOS ANGELES August 18, 2004 (Reuters) - Ribald radio host Howard Stern is making a new foray into television next summer, appearing this time as a teenage cartoon character of himself.
The male-oriented cable channel Spike TV said on Wednesday it has ordered 13 episodes of a new animated series tentatively titled "Howard Stern: The High School Years," which is aimed for launch in the summer of 2005, a network spokesman said.
NEW YORK August 17, 2004 (Hollywood Reporter) - Showtime will premiere a new documentary about the long-delayed completion of former Beach Boy Brian Wilson's album "Smile" Oct. 5.
[If you go to the movies, you've heard his music. It's really as simple as that. A great composer passes. Ed.]
Hollywood August 17, 2004 (Variety) - Elmer Bernstein, the Oscar-winning composer whose music graced such 1950s and '60s classics as "The Man With the Golden Arm," "The Magnificent Seven," "To Kill a Mockingbird" and "The Great Escape," died Wednesday afternoon at his home in Ojai after a long illness. He was 82.
He was nominated in every one of the six decades since the 1950s.
He was also a leader in the music community, serving as president of the Composers & Lyricists Guild of America throughout the 1970s. He also was a past VP of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, a founding life member of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, a former president of the Young Musicians Foundation and former president of the Film Music Society. He taught film-scoring classes at USC during the late 1990s.
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