Thursday, April 28, 2011

People Are Awesome

Chuckles...An Affair to Rememeber

A married man was having an affair with his secretary. One day they went to her place and made love all afternoon.

Exhausted, they fell asleep and woke up at 8 PM.  The man hurriedly dressed and told his lover to take his shoes outside and rub them in the grass and dirt.  He put on his shoes and drove home.

'Where have you been?' his wife demanded. 'I can't lie to you,' he replied, 'I'm having an affair with my secretary. We had sex all afternoon.'

She looked down at his shoes and said:  'You lying bastard! You've been playing golf
A middle-aged couple had two beautiful daughters but always talked about having a son. They decided to try one last time for the son they always wanted. The wife got pregnant and delivered a healthy baby boy. The joyful father rushed to the nursery to see his new son.

He was horrified at the ugliest child he had ever seen. He told his wife: 'There's no way I can be the father of this baby. Look at the two beautiful daughters I fathered! Have you been fooling around behind my back?'

The wife smiled sweetly and replied:  'No, not this time!'
A woman was in bed with her lover when she heard her husband opening the front door. 'Hurry,' she said, 'stand in the corner.'  She rubbed baby oil all over him, then dusted him with talcum powder.
'Don't move until I tell you,' she said. 'Pretend you're a statue.'

'What's this?' the husband inquired as he entered the room. 'Oh it's a statue,' she replied.  'The Smiths bought one and I liked it so I got one for us, too.' No more was said, not even when they went to bed..

Around 2 AM the husband got up, went to the kitchen and returned with a sandwich and a beer. 'Here,' he said to the statue, 'have this. I stood like that for two days at the Smiths and nobody offered me a damned thing.'
A man walked into a cafe, went to the bar and ordered a beer. 'Certainly, Sir, that'll be one cent.'
'One Cent?' the man exclaimed. He glanced at the menu and asked:  'How much for a nice juicy steak
and a bottle of wine?'  'A nickel,' the barman replied.  'A nickel?' exclaimed the man.

'Where's the guy who owns this place?'  The bartender replied:  'Upstairs, with my wife.' The man asked: 'What's he doing upstairs with your wife?'

The bartender replied: 'The same thing I'm doing to his business down here.'
Jake was dying His wife sat at the bedside. He looked up and said weakly:  'I have something I must confess.' 'There's no need to, 'his wife replied.  'No,' he insisted, 'I want to die in peace.
I slept with your sister, your best friend,  her best friend, and your mother!

''I know,' she replied.   'Now just rest and let the poison work.'

Royal Wedding

Are the Brits getting ready for the Royal Wedding. You bet they are.
 Flag lined streets
 Household Cavalry Lifeguards at wedding rehearsal
 British taxis
Camping outside Westminster Abbey to get the best view
Royal Coach at wedding rehearsal
Patriotic monarchist to the core

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Intriguing Mysteries

The Carnac Stones

If erecting Stonehenge seemed to have been a tremendous groan, think about how backbreaking it must have been for the folks responsible for the Carnac stones. On the coast of Brittany in northwestern France are over 3,000 megalithic standing stones arranged in perfect lines and spread out over 12 kilometers. The local myth is that a Roman legion was on the march when the wizard Merlin turned them into stone. A more rational stab at an explanation by a researcher who studied the stones purported that the stones may have been an elaborate earthquake detector. The identity of the Neolithic people who built them is unknown.

The Bog Bodies

Even CSI's best efforts wouldn't go very far in solving the mystery of the bog bodies. Hundreds of these ancient corpses have been discovered buried around the northern wetlands of Europe. Researchers who inspected the remains have reported tell-tale signs of torture and medieval foul play. Such gruesome clues have some suspecting that the dead were the victims of ritual sacrifice.

Lost City of Helike

Greek writer Pausanias gave an account of how a great earthquake destroyed the city of Helike. Moments later, a tsunami swept away what remained of the once-flourishing metropolis, which had been a worship center devoted to Poseidon, earth shaker and God of the sea. No trace of the legendary society existed outside of ancient Greek texts until 1861 when an archaeologist found a bronze coin with the unmistakable head of Poseidon. In 2001, a pair of archaeologists located the ruins of Helike beneath coastal mud and gravel. They are now working to unearth what some consider the "real" Atlantis.

The Lost Roman Legion

After the Parthians of Persia defeated an underachieving Roman army led by General Crassus, legend has it that a small band of POWs wandered through the desert and were eventually rounded up by the Han military. First century Chinese historian Ban Gu wrote an account of a confrontation with a strange army that fought in a "fish-scale formation" unique to Roman forces. An Oxford historian who compared ancient records claimed that the lost roman legion founded a small town near the Gobi desert named Liqian, which in Chinese translates to Rome. DNA tests are being conducted to settle that claim and hopefully explain some of the residents' green eyes, blond hair, and fondness of bullfighting.

The Tarim Mummies

During an excavation beneath the Tarim Basin in western China, archaeologists were surprised to discover more than 100 mummified corpses that dated back 2000 years. But a college professor named Victor Mair was downright stupefied when he came skull-to-skull with some of the blonde-haired and long nosed Tarim mummies after they were dug up and put on display at a museum. So in 1993, Mair returned to collect DNA samples from the mummies. Test results ultimately validated his hunch that the bodies were of European genetic stock. While Ancient Chinese texts from as early as the first millennium BC describe groups of far-east dwelling Caucasian people, there is no mention of how or why they ended up there.

Disappearance of the Indus Valley Civilization

With a culture that stretched from western India to Afghanistan and a population numbering over five million, the ancient Indus Valley people—India's oldest known civilization—were an impressive and apparently sanitary bronze-age bunch. The scale of their baffling and abrupt collapse rivals that of the great Mayan decline. But it wasn't until 1922 that excavations revealed a hygienically-advanced culture which maintained a sophisticated sewage drainage system and immaculate bathrooms. Strangely, there is no archaeological evidence of armies, slaves, social conflicts or other vices prevalent in ancient societies. Even to the very end, it seems, they kept it clean.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Titanic Baby Finally Identified

Frederick Goodwin with his wife and children. The whole Goodwin family was lost

Five days after the passenger ship the Titanic sank, the crew of the rescue ship Mackay-Bennett pulled the body of a fair-haired, roughly 2-year-old boy out of the Atlantic Ocean on April 21, 1912. Along with many other victims, his body went to a cemetery in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where the crew of the Mackay-Bennett had a headstone dedicated to the "unknown child" placed over his grave.

When it sank, the Titanic took the lives of 1,497 of the 2,209 people aboard with it. Some bodies were recovered, but names remained elusive, while others are still missing. But researchers believe that they have finally resolved the identity of the unknown child -- concluding that he was 19-month-old Sidney Leslie Goodwin from England.

Though the unknown child was incorrectly identified twice before, researchers believe they have now conclusively determined the child was Goodwin. After his recovery, he was initially believed to be a 2-year-old Swedish boy, Gösta Leonard Pålsson, who was seen being washed overboard as the ship sank. This boy's mother, Alma Pålsson, was recovered with the tickets for all four of her children in her pocket, and buried in a grave behind the unknown child.

The effort to verify the child's identity using genetics began a little over a decade ago, when Ryan Parr, an adjunct professor at Lakehead University in Ontario who has worked with DNA extracted from ancient human remains, watched some videos about the Titanic. "I thought 'Wow, I wonder if anyone is interested or still cares about the unidentified victims of the Titanic,'" Parr said.

In 2001, with permission from the Pålsson family, the unknown child's remains were exhumed from Fairview Lawn Cemetery, one of the Halifax cemeteries where Titanic victims were interred. Parr had hoped to investigate the identities of other victims as well, though decomposition interfered. Two of the coffins held only mud, and only a 2.4-inch-long (6 centimeter) fragment of an arm bone and three teeth remained of the unknown child. But this was enough.

From these remains, Parr and his team extracted DNA from a section of mitochondria (energy-producing centers of the cells) that rapidly accumulates mutations, called HV1. Mitochondrial DNA is passed from mother to offspring, so the team compared the unknown child's DNA sequence with samples from the maternal relatives of the Pålsson child. These didn't match.

They broadened their search to include five other boys under age 3 who had died in the disaster. Alan Ruffman, who became involved in the project as a research associate of the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, ultimately tracked down the maternal lines of all six children (including the Pålsson child) with help from genealogists, historians, Titanic researchers, translators, librarians, archivists and members of the families.

By comparing the unknown child's HV1 with these other young Titanic victims, the researchers eliminated all but two of the boys -- Eino Viljami Panula, a 13-month-old Finnish boy, and Sidney Goodwin.  An expert analysis of the child's teeth put his age somewhere between 9 months and 15 months -- seeming to eliminate Goodwin, who was older. So, the researchers concluded the boy was Panula and, in 2004, published their results.

But doubts remained. Ultimately, a pair of leather shoes recovered from the unknown child and held in the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic caused the researchers to question the identification. The shoes had been saved by Clarence Northover, a Halifax police sergeant in 1912, who helped guard the bodies and belongings of the Titanic victims. When all the unclaimed belongings of the Titanic victims were burned, he couldn't bring himself to destroy the shoes. In 2002, Earle Northover donated them to the museum. These shoes were too large for a 13-month-old to wear.

Parr and his team attempted the identification again, this time with the help of the U.S. Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory. They looked at another, less mutation-prone section of the mitochondrial DNA, where they found a single difference that indicated that Goodwin might actually be the unknown child. The Armed Forces lab confirmed this when they found a second, single difference in another section of the DNA.

Before he died, Sidney Goodwin was traveling on the Titanic with his parents, Frederick and Augusta, and five siblings from England to Niagara Falls, N.Y.  Carol Goodwin, a 77-year-old Wisconsin resident, learned about the ill-fated family when she was growing up  from Frederick Goodwin's sisters, one of whom was Carol's grandmother.

On Aug. 6, 2008, relatives of the Goodwin family held a memorial service in Fairview Lawn Cemetery where they now believe Sidney Goodwin was buried under the unknown child's headstone. A cousin read the names of about 50 children who had also perished when the Titanic went down and a bell was rung for each, she said. A soft, drizzling rain began to fall as the first name was read, and stopped when the list was finished, she recalled. Ultimately, the family left the headstone and the grave as it was.
"The tombstone of the unknown child represents all of the children who perished on the Titanic, and we left it that way," she said.

The remains of the rest of the Goodwin family have never been recovered.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Taliban Inmates Tunnel out of Prison

Some 400 plusTaliban prisoners escaped from an Afghan prison overnight through a massive underground tunnel that inmates had secretly created, officials said Monday. The Taliban said it was behind the operation in Kandahar, the militant Islamist organization’s heartland in the south of the country, and that all of those who escaped were its members, many of them senior commanders, according to Agence-France Presse.

It was the second high-profile escape from the prison in three years, and is likely to be seen as yet more evidence of the country’s chaotic justice system.  “A tunnel hundreds of meters long was dug from the south of the prison into the prison and 476 political prisoners escaped last night,” said prison director General Ghulam Dastageer Mayar. The escapees came from the political section of the prison, he said.

Tooryalai Wesa, the governor of Kandahar province, said a total of 478 prisoners managed to escape due to “negligence” of Afghan security forces. He told Reuters the start of the tunnel had been traced to a house near the prison. The prison, which is supposed to be one of the country's most secure, sits on the outskirts of Kandahar city and holds both captured insurgents and criminal prisoners.

Taliban spokesman Yousuf Ahmadi said the militant Islamists were responsible for the mass breakout, claiming that more than 500 prisoners had escaped—106 of whom were commanders—during an operation that lasted several hours. A separate statement by Taliban militants said they started digging the 360-meter-long tunnel to the prison five months ago and that it passed below several government checkpoints.
In 2008, around 1,000 prisoners, including members of the Taliban, escaped after the militants used a truck bomb to blow open the gates.

 Kandahar is seen as the spiritual birthplace of the Taliban movement, and the city and surrounding area is the scene of some of the worst fighting in Afghanistan. The city has a population of around 990,000.
A Taliban suicide bomber dressed in police uniform killed the city’s police chief 10 days ago, dealing a serious blow to security in the province. Western analysts say Afghanistan’s prison and justice system is riddled with corruption. In a report last November, the International Crisis Group said the Afghan justice system was “in a catastrophic state of disrepair".

There are around 130,000 international troops in Afghanistan, two-thirds of them from the United States, battling the Taliban and other insurgents. The brazen jailbreak comes months before the start of a transfer of security responsibilities from foreign to Afghan forces in several areas. This transfer is part of the eventual withdrawal of the US-led troops from the country. Under the transition program, Afghan forces will begin taking over from foreign troops in a few areas, but should have control of the entire country by the end of 2014.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Buried Treasure Found in a Backyard....Austria

Vienna -- A man turning dirt in his back yard stumbled onto buried treasure ... hundreds of pieces of centuries-old jewelry and other precious objects that Austrian authorities described Friday as a fairy-tale find.

Austria's department in charge of national antiquities said the trove consists of more than 200 rings , brooches , ornate  belt buckles , gold-plated silver plates and other pieces  or fragments, many encrusted with pearls , fossilized coral and other ornaments . It says the objects are about 650-years old  and are being evaluated for their provenance and worth .

While not assigning a monetary value to the buried bling , the enthusiastic language from the normally staid Federal Office for Memorials reflected the significance it attached to the discovery . "Fairy tales do exist !" said its statement . "Private individual finds sensational treasure in garden." It described the ornaments as "one of the qualitatively most significant discoveries of medieval treasure in Austria."

The statement gave no details and an automated telephone message said the office had closed early on Good Friday . But the Austria Press Agency cited memorials office employee Karin Derler as saying the man came accross the "breaktaking" objects years ago while digging in his back yard to expand a small pond .The  Weekly Profit magazine idenified the man only as Andreas K . from Wiener Neustadt , south of Vienna, and said he asked not to be named.

While he found the ornaments in 2007 , Andreas  K. did not report it to the memorials office until after rediscovering the dirt-encrusted objects in a basement box while packing up after selling his house two years ago  , said Profil . The soil had dried and some had fallen off , revealing precious metels and jewels underneath.

He initially posted photos on the internet , where collectors alerted him to the potential value of the pieces , leading him to pack them in a plastic bag and lug them to the memorials office, the Magazine said in its Friday edition.

Neither Profil nor the memorials office statement said when Andreas K . first alerted Austrian authorities.  Memorials office president Barbara Neubauer told Profil the objects were a "sensational find." The Magazine said the finder was not interested in cashing in on  the trove and was considering loaning the collec tion to one of Austria's museums.

Nanotechnology in Medicine Here and Now

Recovery Slowed by People Searching for Momentos.....Japan

KESENNUMA, Japan - Sakuji Funayama watched intently as a giant steel claw tore chunks off the remains of his two-story home, ripped open like a dollhouse by last month's tsunami and washed up onto a pile of debris. Suddenly, he spied something, waved his arms and pointed. The claw froze and a half dozen construction workers scrambled into the wreckage, emerging a few minutes later with a battered backpack that belonged to Funayama's son, who moved away years ago.  He received it gratefully.

The race to clear the destruction from Japan's March 11 earthquake and tsunami so rebuilding can begin is a delicate process, with workers taking precautions not to damage bodies buried in the rubble. But the work has been further slowed by clearance crews who feel duty bound to help survivors search the rubble for lost possessions, precious mementos of their former lives. "Everyone has been very nice. They all stop whenever we see anything," the 77-year-old Funayama said.

With more than 10,000 people missing or suspected dead across Japan's eastern coast, demolition crews and teams of soldiers are trying to search through and clear the rotting debris summer's heat and humidity begin in about a month.
More than 90,000 homes were destroyed or heavily damaged in the disasters, according to police. Entire towns were smashed into miles of wreckage, and the government estimates that 250 square miles (650 sq. kilometres) were flooded along the coast.

The damaged neighbourhoods are a hazardous maze of tottering buildings, twisted metal and puddles of murky liquid. Heavy wrecking equipment is in constant use and large dump trucks race along the roads.
Officials said it could take a year to remove the debris, which will be moved to a site for processing and disposal, a project that will take an additional two years.

Cleanup crews have tried to respect the feelings of the survivors by telling them when they are beginning work on their neighbourhood, said a disaster management official from the Miyagi prefecture, who only gave his last name, Osamune. "We try to notify residents whenever we can so that they can oversee the operation," Osamune said. "They can stop the crew whenever they spot anything valuable, so that people can recover things before everything gets wiped out."

Crews also try to pick up photos and valuables they find and send them to a lost-and-found centre for survivors to sift through, he said. In Kesennuma, the tsunami lifted houses and buildings from their foundations and piled them in great heaps against inland hills. Six weeks after the disaster, teams a dozen strong work alongside cranes with claw attachments to comb through the vast expanses of rubble.

Emergency worker Katsuya Sasaki said his main concern is finding bodies; he's been told about 1,200 people are still unaccounted for here. When a body is found, work stops completely and special teams of troops or firefighters are called in to carefully extract, cover and carry it to a waiting vehicle.
"If we brought in some heavier machinery and just cleared the whole thing out, we'd be done by now," said Sasaki, whose team has been working on the same plot for over a week, pausing throughout the day for residents to claim belongings from the wreckage. "But we're all human beings, even if this does slow things down."

Eager to clear the wreckage but unsure of the legal implications, local governments in the disaster zone sought advice from the central government on how to proceed. Last month, the Environmental Ministry issued guidelines saying destroyed or badly damaged homes can be cleared without their owners' permission.
But officials in hard-hit areas say that respect for those who have lost their homes come first, especially when they are looking for the bodies of lost loved ones. All along the coast, it is common to see residents wandering their former streets with masks and long sticks, poking among the debris that has yet to be carted away. Hiromitsu Iwama, an official in the local roads and parks department overseeing debris removal in coastal Natori, saw nothing wrong with this. "There are still about 1,000 bodies that haven't been found yet here. It's a kind of an unspoken decency," he said.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

'Trillions' of Earths Orbit Red Stars in Older Galaxies

Red sky at night: The view from a planet in our galaxy (left) but planets in older galaxies (right) are bathed in a rosy glow from the many red stars in the night sky (artist's impression) 

Astronomers say the Universe may contain three times the number of stars as is currently thought.
Their assessment is based on new observations showing other galaxies may have very different structures to our Milky Way galaxy. The researchers tell the journal Nature that more stars probably means many more planets as well - perhaps "trillions" of Earth-like worlds.

The Yale University-led study used the Keck telescope in Hawaii." There are possibly trillions of Earths orbiting these stars” says Professor Pieter Van Dokkum. It found that galaxies older than ours contain 20 times more red dwarf stars than more recent ones.  Red dwarfs are smaller and dimmer than our own Sun; it is only recently that telescopes have been powerful enough to detect them.

According to Yale's Professor Pieter van Dokkum, who led the research, the discovery also increases the estimate for the number of planets in the Universe and therefore greatly increases the likelihood of life existing elsewhere in the cosmos.  "There are possibly trillions of Earths orbiting these stars," he said. "Red dwarfs are typically more than 10 billion years old and so have been around long enough for complex life to evolve on planets around them. It's one reason why people are interested in this type of star."

Two-thirds of the observable Universe consists of spiral galaxies (L) like our own Milky Way. The remainder is made up of older elliptical galaxies (R)

The findings also help to account for what astronomers describe as the "missing mass" in the Universe.
The movement of galaxies suggests there is more material in the cosmos than can be observed, so scientists have suggested that some is invisible, referring to it as "dark matter".  Dr Marek Kukula of the Royal Observatory Greenwich (ROG), UK, said: "the discovery of more stars in the Universe means that we might not need quite as much dark matter as we thought to explain how the Universe looks and behaves.

"It also tells us something about how the very first galaxies must have formed from the gas left over from the Big Bang."
And Dr Robert Massey of the Royal Astronomical Society added: "Finding red dwarfs in other galaxies is quite something and shows how far we've come with the latest generation of large telescopes. "If these stars are more common in elliptical galaxies than in our own, it's also consistent with the idea that they have a larger number of older stars than us. The lifespan of red dwarfs is many times longer than that of stars like our Sun."

The probability of life on other planets looms larger. The prospect is exciting and at the same time, very frightening. It's brings a very fundamental belief system crashing down and only imagine how many other ways it would change our world.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Black Plants Could Grow on Exoplanets With Two Suns

Gliese 667 is a triple-star system with planets thought to be close in mass to our Earth

The flora may be black on distant planets orbiting dimmer stars.  Plants on distant hospitable planets could have developed black foliage and flowers to survive, according to a new study. Flora that would appear black or grey to human eyes could have evolved on planets orbiting dim "red dwarf" stars, according to unpublished research that is being presented at the National Astronomy Meeting in Llandudno, Wales.
This would enable plants to absorb more light to photosynthesise, using their star's light to convert carbon dioxide into organic compounds.

Jack O'Malley-James, a PhD student and astrobiologist, focused on multiple star systems thought to be common throughout the universe. He used models for star systems with two or three stars with various combinations of Sun-like and red dwarf stars. He then added planets to these models, orbiting around one or more of the stars.

The research presumes first that plant life similar to that on Earth could evolve on an exoplanet in the "habitable zone" around its star - which is not a given, but the odds of which are difficult to estimate.
The idea then is that photosynthesis there would resemble that seen on our own planet, whereby plants use energy from the Sun to convert carbon dioxide and water into oxygen and organic compounds, such as sugars. Flora on those planets would have to adapt to very different light conditions in order to photosynthesise.

"If a planet were found in a system with two or more stars, there would potentially be multiple sources of energy available to drive photosynthesis," said O'Malley-James. "The temperature of a star determines its colour and, hence, the colour of light used for photosynthesis. Depending on the colours of their starlight, plants would evolve very differently."

Gliese 667 is a triple-star system with planets thought to be close in mass to our Earth If a planet's light source comes primarily from a red dwarf, then O'Malley-James believes any possible plant life could be black or grey - but there are other outcomes which are more exotic still. One possible scenario is a hospitable planet that receives light from both a red dwarf and a more distant Sun-like star.  This could lead to two tiers of plantlife populating the same planet - plants using light from the Sun-like star which may be brighter in colour, and a second, darker array of plants using light from the red dwarf.

"Plants with dim red dwarf suns, for example, may appear black to our eyes, absorbing across the entire visible wavelength range in order to use as much of the available light as possible," said Mr O'Malley-James.
"They may also be able to use infrared or ultraviolet radiation to drive photosynthesis. For planets orbiting two stars like our own, harmful radiation from intense stellar flares could lead to plants that develop their own UV-blocking sun-screens."

Have Oman and Qatar Escaped the Arab Revolts?

Protestors camp outside Oman's Consultive Assembly demanding jobs

Student journalists launching a paper in Oman are happy there is more press freedom already

After revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, uprisings in Yemen and Syria, and serious unrest in the Gulf state of Bahrain, The World Tonight's Robin Lustig reports from Oman and Qatar on whether it is likely there could be more revolts there.
Usually when you see the word Oman, it is preceded by the word "sleepy".  It lies on the south-eastern edge of the Arabian Peninsula, and for centuries it has been valued for its strategic location at the mouth of the Strait of Hormuz, linking the Gulf to the Indian Ocean.  But over the past few weeks, Oman has been stirring from its slumber.

In late February, at least two people were killed during clashes in the city of Sohar between security forces and protesters demanding more jobs. "Oman's stability was always just a cover," says activist Basma al-Kiyumi.  She gives credit to the country's ruler, Sultan Qaboos bin Said, for having responded promptly to protesters' demands, but says his words must now be followed by actions.
"Oman," she says, "is still a bomb waiting to explode."

Unemployment is relatively high in Oman, which has only limited oil reserves and is one of the poorest of the oil-producing countries.  Outside the Majlis al-Shura, the consultative assembly, there is a permanent encampment of protesters demanding jobs. They say they will not budge until their demands are met.
Sultan Qaboos has ruled as an absolute monarch for the past 40 years.  He has a reputation as a pro-Western reformer who introduced paved roads, schools and hospitals into what had been a remote and seriously under-developed nation.  But he is now facing unprecedented challenges from the streets as a direct result of the wave of uprisings that has swept through the region.

At Sultan Qaboos university, the country's only publicly-funded university,  students are celebrating the launch of Oman's first student newspaper.  "Just within the past few weeks, we've seen much more press freedom," one of them reports. "You can write things about ministers that never used to be said publicly. There really has been a big change."  The Sultan has been credited with reacting speedily to the protests in February and March.  "If you have everything you need, who needs democracy?”say the students.

He sacked 12 of his ministers, increased the minimum wage, and promised to create 50,000 new jobs.
His richer Gulf neighbours are providing cash to help him - after all, none of them wants to see chaos in a country where, because about 40% of all the world's tanker-borne oil passes through the Strait of Hormuz, stability is so vital to their own wealth.

As soon as you mention wealth you think of Qatar, a tiny pinprick of a country half way up the Gulf, sticking out like a thumb from the Arabian peninsula, and now reckoned to be the richest country in the world.
Its total population is around 1.6m, but of those, only about 250,000 are Qatari. The rest are foreign workers who keep the place going, build its gleaming high-rise offices and hotels, and staff its service industries.
Qatar is awash in oil and natural gas, and if you ask why there have been no protests in Qatar, the answer you get is: "Because there's no reason to protest." On the other hand, even if jobs are not a problem in a country with an economic growth rate approaching 20% a year, Qatar is still an absolute monarchy, with a ruler, Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, whose family have run the place since the mid-1800s.

So why are Qataris not demanding democracy, in the same way as so many others are elsewhere in the Arab world? "Brand Qatar" is recognised as its strategy of spending wisely and giving generously The repl yyou get from a Qatari student is simple enough: "If you have everything you need, who needs democracy?" But wouldn't they at least like a public debate over the Emir's decision to send Qatari warplanes to join the Nato-led military operation in Libya?  There is no need, they say, because just about everyone agrees that it is right for Qatar to help fellow-Arabs in their hour of need.
As for the paradox of a country with no semblance of democracy sending warplanes to help people fighting for democracy thousands of miles away - there's no paradox at all, they believe. The involvement in Libya is simply designed to help save lives. It has nothing to do with democracy.

Qatar prides itself on its ability to make friends (how many countries can you think of who manage to remain on good terms with both the US and Iran?).  "Brand Qatar" is what some people call it - spend wisely, give generously, and keep your name in the public eye.

And if it helps you to win the right to host the World Cup football tournament in 2022, well, no-one in Qatar is complaining

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Largest Fossil Spider Found In Volcanic Ash

The largest fossil spider uncovered to date once ensnared prey back in the age of dinosaurs , scientists find.

The spider, Named Nephila Jurassica , was discovered buried in ancient volcanic ash in inner Mongolia, China . Tufts of hairlike fibers seen on its legs showed this 165-million-year-old arachnid to be the oldest known species of the  largest web-weaving spiders  alive today  ... the golden orb  weavers , or Nephila , which are big enough to catch birds and bats , and use silk that shines like gold in the sunlight.

The fossil was about as large as its modern relatives , with a body one inch (2.5 centimeters) wide and legs that reach up to 2.5 inches (6.3) long . Golden orb-weavers nowadays are mainly tropical creatures , so the ancient environment of Nephila  juassica probably was similarly lush .

"It would have lived , like today's Nephila  , in its orb web of golden silk in a clearing in a forest or more likely at the edge of a forest close to the  lake," says researcher Paul Selden , director of the Paleontological Institute at the University  of Kansas , told LiveScience . "There would have been volcanoes nearby producing the ash that forms the lake sediment it is entombed within."

Spiders are the most numerous predators on land today , and help keep insect-spider  predator-prey relationship," Selden said , suggesting that golden  orb-weavers  have  been ensnaring insects and influencing their evolution since the Jurassic  Period.

"There were many large or medium-sized flying insects around at that time on which it would have fed indiscriminately," Selden said.

In Modern golden orb-weavers species , females  are typically much larger than males . This new fossil was a female, suggesting this trend stretches back at laest as far as the Middle Jurassic , Selden said ... that is , back before the first known bird , Archaeopteryx , or giant dinosaurs  such as Brachiosaurus and Diplodocus.

Although this is the largest fossil spider known to date , it is not the oldest . Two species from Cosely, England , Eocteniza silvicola and Protocteniza britannica , both come from about  310 million years ago.

Selden and his colleagues are now investigating other  fossil spiders  from China , "as well as those from elsewhere in the world ... currently Brazil , New Zealand , Australia , Italy  and Korea," he said.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Robots Report Radiation Readings at Fukishima Too High for Workers

Earthquake and tsunami left Japan with unparallelled devastation

Plant workers have accepted that this is probably a suicide mission

Robot made in Bedford Massachusetts by iRobot

These sturdier robots are also used in the damaged nuclear plant

Creepy spider robots are also used at the plant in hard to get to places

TOKYO - A pair of robots on treads sent to explore buildings inside Japan's crippled nuclear reactor came back Monday with disheartening news: Radiation levels are far too high for repair crews to go inside. Nevertheless, officials remained hopeful they can stick to their freshly minted "roadmap" for cleaning up the radiation leak and stabilizing the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant by year's end so they can begin returning tens of thousands of evacuees to their homes.
"Even I had expected high radioactivity in those areas. I'm sure (plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co.)  other experts have factored in those figures when they compiled the roadmap," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said.

Officials said Monday that radiation had spiked in a water tank in Unit 2 and contaminated water was discovered in other areas of the plant, underscoring the growing list of challenges facing TEPCO in cleaning up and containing the radiation. They also described in more detail the damage to fuel in three troubled reactors, saying pellets had melted.

Angry at the slow response to the nuclear crisis and to the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami that caused it, lawmakers tore into Prime Minister Naoto Kan. "You should be bowing your head in apology. You clearly have no leadership at all," Masashi Waki, a lawmaker from the opposition Liberal Democratic Party, shouted at Kan.
"I am sincerely apologizing for what has happened," Kan said, stressing the government was doing all it could to handle the unprecedented disasters. TEPCO's president, Masataka Shimizu, appeared ill at ease as lawmakers heckled and taunted him.

Workers have not been able to enter the reactor buildings at the stricken plant since the first days after the cooling systems were wrecked by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that left more than 27,000 people dead or missing. Hydrogen explosions in both buildings in the first few days destroyed their roofs and scattered radioactive debris.
On Sunday, a plant worker opened an outer door to one of the buildings and two Packbots, which resemble drafting lamps on tank-like treads, entered. After the worker closed the door, one robot opened an inner door and both rolled inside to take readings for temperature, pressure and radioactivity. They later entered a second building. The robots reported radioactivity readings of up to 49 millisieverts per hour inside Unit 1 and up to 57 inside Unit 3, levels too high for workers to realistically enter.
"It's a harsh environment for humans to work inside," said Hidehiko Nishiyama of Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency.

Japanese authorities more than doubled the legal limit for nuclear workers since the crisis began to 250 millisieverts a year. Workers in the U.S. nuclear industry are allowed an upper limit of 50 millisieverts per year. Doctors say radiation sickness sets in at 1,000 millisieverts and includes nausea and vomiting.

The robots, made by Bedford, Massachusetts, company iRobot, which also makes the Roomba vacuum cleaner, explored Unit 2 on Monday, but TEPCO officials had yet to analyze that data.

The radioactivity must be reduced, possibly with the removal of contaminated debris and stagnant water, before repair crews would be allowed inside, said NISA official Masataka Yoshizawa.
Sturdier robots can remove some of the debris, but workers are needed to test the integrity of the equipment and carry out electrical repairs needed to restore the cooling systems as called for in the road map, Yoshizawa said.

"What robots can do is limited, so eventually, people must enter the buildings," TEPCO official Takeshi Makigami said. The robots, along with remote-controlled miniature drones, have enabled TEPCO to photograph and take measurements of conditions in and around the plant while minimizing workers' exposure to radiation and other hazards.
Separately, readings from a water tank attached to the spent fuel pool in Unit 2 showed a severe spike in radiation that NISA officials said might have been caused by the escape of radioactive vapour from a nearby containment vessel. They said, however, the possibility of damage to spent fuel rods could not be ruled out.

NISA also sent a report to the government watchdog Nuclear Safety Commission, saying that some fuel pellets and rods in the reactors in Units 1, 2 and 3 had become overheated and melted, the first time it had provided details of the damage to the fuel. Nishiyama, said the agency can only say "more than 3 per cent" of the fuel rods have melted.  A pool of stagnant radioactive water was also discovered in the basement of Unit 4.
With evacuees' ordeal stretching into the long-term, some began moving out of school gymnasiums into temporary housing. Hundreds who have not found apartments or relatives to take them in began filling up inns at hot springs. The evacuation will continue for at least another four months, according to the Japanese Government.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Mystery Illnesses Plague Louisiana Oil Spill Crews

Raceland, Louisiana : Jamie Simon worked on a barge in the oily waters for six months following the BP spill last year , cooking for the cleanup workers , washing their clothes  and tidying up after them.

One year later , the 32-year-old said she  still suffers from a range of debilitating health problems , including raceing heartbeat , vomiting , dizziness , ear infections , swollen throat , poor sight in one eye and memory loss.

Jamie blames toxic elements in the crude oil and the dispersants sprayed to dissolve it after the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon oil rig  exploded in the Gulf of Mexico about 50 miles (80 kilmeters) off the coast of Louisisna on April 20, 2010.

"I was exposed to those chemicals , which I question , and they told me it was just as safe as Dawn dishwashing  liquid and there was nothing for me to worry about ," she said of the BP bosses at the job site.

 The local doctor , Mike Robichaux , said he has seen as many as 60 patients like Simon in recent weeks , as this small town of 10,000 b ordered by swamp and sugar-cane fields grapples with a mysterious sickness that some believ e is all BP's fault.

Andy LeBoeuf, 51, said he was paid $1,500 per day to use his boat to go out on the water and lay boom to contain some of the 4.9 million barrels of oil that spewed from the bottom of the ocean after the BP well ruptured. But four months on the job left him ill and unable to work , and he said he recently had to refinance his home loan because he could not pay his taxes. "I have been sick for a long time , I just got sick  and couldn't get better ," LaBoeuf said , describing memory problems and a sore throat  that has nagged him for over a year.

Robichaux, an ear, nose and throat specialist whose office an  hour's drive southwest of New Orleans is nestled on a roadside marked with Handwritten signs advertising turtle meat for sale , saying he is treating many local patients in  their homes ."Their work ethic is so strong , they are so stoic , they don't want people to know when they are sick,"he said. "Ninety percent of them are getting worse ... nobody has a clue as to what it is."
According to a roster complied by the National Insititute for Occupational Safety and Health , a total of 52,000  workers were responding to the Gulf oil spill as of August 2010.The state of Louisiana has reported 415 cases of health problems linked to the spill , with symptoms  including sore throats, irritated eyes , respiratory tract infections , headaches and nauses. But Bernard Goldstein, an  environmental toxicologist and professor of the University of Pittsburg, said the US government's method of collecting health data on workers is flawed.
For instance, a major study of response workers  by the National Insititute of Environmental Health Sciences was not funded until six months after the spill, a critical delay that affects both the biology and the recall ability of the workers . "It's to late if you go  six months later," he told AFP.

Benzene , a known carcinogen present in crude oil , disappears from a person's blood within four months, Goldstein said. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon, or PAHs , are pollutants that can cause genetic mutations and cancer. They are of particular interest in studying long-term health , but without a baseline for comparison it is difficult to know  where they came from ... the oil spill or somewhere  else in the environment . "They last in the body for a longer period of time  but they also get confounded by, if you will, obscured by other sources  of PAHs ," like eating barbeque meat or smoking cigarettes, said Goldstein.

Local chemist Wilma Subra has been helping test people's blood for volatile solvents , and said levels of benzene among clean-up workers , divers, fishermen  and crabbers are as high as 36 times that of the general population. "As the event progresses we are seeing more and more people who are desperately ill ," she said.

"Clearly it is showing that this is ongoing exposure," Subra said , noting that pathways include contact with the skin, eating contaminated seafood or breathing polluted air. "We have been asking the federal agencies to please provide medical care from physicians who are trained in toxic exposure." She said she has received no response.

Asked for comment , BP said in an e-mail that"protection of response workers was a top priority " and that it had conducted "extensive monitoring of response workers " in coordination with several government agencies.  "Illness and injury reports were tracted and documented  during the response , and the medical data indicate they did not differ appreciably from what would be expected among a workforce of this size under normal circumstances ," it added.

Any compensation for sick workers would fall under state law , and "BP does not make these determinations , which must be supported by acceptable medical evidence."

Jamie Simon says her way of life has been completely altered .She says she takes pain relievers every day just to function. A  couple of weeks ago, she read in a local newspaper that other ex-cleanup workers were feeling sick too, and her grandmother urged her to see a doctor . "I never put the two together , I am just realizing that this is possibly related , she said.
Stay tune:  Updates as the become available

Obamas Earned $1.7 million.....Paid $454,000 Federal Taxes

President  Obama and his First Lady, Michelle, reported income of more than $1.7 million for last year, much of it from the sale of the president's pre-presidency books. They paid federal taxes totaling just under $454,000.

Genie Jokes

A guy is walking along the shoreline at the beach wearing just a pair of cutoff jeans. Sure enough he kicks up a bottle, pulls the cork, and out comes the Genie to give him one wish.

He pulls out a map of the Middle East, and asks the Genie if he can bring Peace to this part of the World. The Genie pales, and says, "Master, these people have been at war since time began. It is their nature, woven  into the very fabric of their lives. What you ask is totally impossible. It is probably the only wish I cannot grant you. Ask for anything else and I will make it happen."

"Okay", the guy says. "Tomorrow morning have my wife awaken me, with the best blow job I've ever had, on her own, without my begging and pleading - just because she likes it, because she wants to, and because it turns her on."

The Genie shakes his head and says, "Let me see that map again!

A guy walks into a tavern. As he walked up to the bar he noticed a twelve-inch man playing the piano, so he asked the bartender, "What's that all about?"

The bartender told him he that would tell him later. So the guy asked the bartender for a drink. The bartender said, "Before you get your drink, you get to rub the magic beer bottle and make one wish."

"Okay," said the guy. He went over to the magic beer bottle and rubbed it. Poof. Out came a genie. The genie, of course, said, "You have one wish."

The guy thought about it and then wished for a million bucks. A cloud of smoke filled the room, and then both the genie and the guy disappeared. In a few minutes, the guy reappeared back in the bar with a million ducks all around him.

The guy was astounded and said to the bartender, "Hey! I didn't want a million ducks." The bartender replied, "Do you think I wanted a twelve-inch Pianist?"

A guy goes into this bar, sits down and orders a drink. While waiting, he sees a guy sitting at the bar who has a very big muscular body but a little tiny head. So, he asks the guy, "How is it that you have such a huge body and a small head?"
The guy replied, "I was walking along the beach one day and I came across this bottle buried halfway in the sand. So I picked it up, brushed away the sand, and out popped this fine female genie. She said she would grant me three wishes for releasing her."

"For my first wish, I asked for ten-million dollars, and POOF right there on the sand was $10,000,00."
"For my second wish, I asked for a luxury yacht, and POOF right there on the ocean was a 90-foot yacht."
"Finally for my third wish, I asked to have sex with the genie, but she said that genies were not allowed to indulge in those kind of activities." So, I said, " c'mon, how about a little head?"

A guy and his wife went to an expensive golf course. He said to his wife, "Be careful of the expensive houses around us. I don't know if we can afford to break a window." His wife tees off and breaks the biggest window of the most expensive looking house.

He said, "Oh no! We had better go ask how much it's gonna be." So he and his wife go up to the house and see the door open. They went inside and saw the golf ball laying next to a broken glass bottle. A man walks up and says, "Thank you!"
The husband said, "I'm sorry about the . . . " And the man interrupts, "Oh don't worry about the window. I have to thank you for getting me out of the bottle. You see, I'm a genie. So you get one wish and your wife  gets one, but, in return, you have to give me one."
The husband asks for $100 million. The genie says, "Done." The wife asks for 80 exotic sports cars. Genie says, "Done. Now, my wish is to have sex with your wife because, you know, I've been trapped in that bottle for so long."
 They agreed, since their extravagant wishes had been granted. And so the genie has sex with the man's wife, not just once but many times. When they're done, the genie asks the wife, "How old is your husband?"

She answers, "33." And, the man said, "And he still believes in genies?"

A man stumbles across an old lamp while he was at his attorney's office. Figuring his luck has to change, he rubs the lamp and out pops a genie. The genie explains to him that he gets three wishes, and whatever he wishes for, his wife gets double.
The man asks for his first wish. "The first thing I want is a million dollars."
The genie says, "Okay, but you know that your wife gets two million."

The man said, "That's okay. My second wish is for a large house on a remote tropical paradise."
The genie says, "Then your wife will have two beautiful houses."

The man replied, "That's fine. Now for my third wish. I want you to beat me half to death."

After a recent football game, the team went into the locker room to get out of their uniforms and to shower. In the showers, Bubba noticed that Duke has a cork shoved up his butt-hole. So, Bubba asked, "Duke, why in the world do you have a cork up your butt?"
Duke answered, "Last night when I was cleaning my antique brass lamps, a genie came out of one of them. The genie said that I had one wish. I was really startled and I replied, "No shit!"

Two guys narrowly escaped from a sinking ship on a life raft and discovered a magic lamp tucked away in a dark cranny. Figuring what the hell, one of the men gave the lamp a rub and "poof," a cloud of smoke. A second later, a genie appeared and said, "I will grant each of you one wish."
After thinking a while, the first man turned to the genie and said, "I wish I were floating on an ocean of beer." The genie granted the man's wish and disappeared.

The man's companion turned to him and said, "Way to go idiot. Now we have to pee in the boat."

One day a fellow came into the bar with a cat, not just any cat, but a mean-looking ginger tom. You could see the scars from across the room. But that wasn't the weirdest thing; a six foot ostrich  - eyes like golf balls, followed them in -  a real live ostrich!

I asked the man what he wanted. "I'll have a pint of bitter," he said. "A pint of lager for the ostrich and a gin and tonic for the cat." The cat hissed at him. "Make that a double gin and tonic. Thanks."

Well, I served the drinks, he paid, and they all knocked 'em back. Wasn't long before the ostrich came back to the bar, and made it clear that it wanted the same again. Well I poured them. I could feel the cat's eyes burning through me, as if he was checking that he got his double again. I took the drinks over to them, and the man paid, taking the cash from a purse tied around the ostrich's neck.

This went on for a couple of hours. The man and the ostrich buying alternate rounds, while the cat just sat on the window shelf with his drink, looking fit to kill.

The whole place got quiet. People sat and stared, and who could blame them? Eventually, I plucked up the courage to ask the fellow just what was going on.
"Can't a man have a quiet drink anymore?" he rasped. So I said, "No harm meant, but you've got to admit that you're a unique set of drinkers. He smiled, but there was no light in that smile. "Okay, you want to know? I'll tell you."
"I was across town the other week, working on the new road.  Amid the dirt and the rubble I turned up this old brass lamp. I rubbed it, thinking there might be a date or inscription or something. Anyway, out comes this cloud of smoke and a Genie appeared. You know - turban, scimitar, and the whole works. And he tells me I've got just one wish."

"And before you ask, yes, I did wish for a long-legged bird with a tight pussy. But this wasn't what I had in mind."

A nursing assistant was doing a little cleaning on a quiet afternoon. She was polishing the old brass lamp that an old lady had donated to the ward in gratitude for the fine care she had received there.
One of the floor nurses and the head nurse were nearby as the lamp suddenly produced a cloud of dark smoke, from which stepped a lady dressed in nineteenth-century nurses' uniform.

"I am Gina the Gray Lady of the Lamp," she said. "I am so pleased with the way you have taken care of my previous owner that I will now grant you three wishes." With a wave of her hand and a puff of smoke, the room was filled with flowers, fruit, and bottles of fine wine, proving that she did have the power to grant wishes - before any of the nurses could think otherwise.

Speaking up, the nursing assistant wished first. "I wish I were on a tropical island beach, with a single, well-built man feeding me fruit and tending to my every need." With a puff of smoke, she was gone.

The floor nurse went next. "I wish I were rich, retired, and spending my days in my own warm cabin at a ski resort with a well-groomed man feeding me cocoa and doughnuts." With a puff of smoke the floor nurse was gone.
"Now what is the last wish?" asked the lady. The head nurse said, "I want those two back on the floor at the end of their lunch break."

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Satellite Photographs 'Black Hole' on Earth

A Korean satellite has caught an eye-catching view of an Island in Mexico  known for a deep , rocky hole and waters so dark that they earned it the name  Holbox , a name  that means "black hole."

The photo was taken by the Korea Mulit-purpose Satellite 2 , or Kompsat-2 , and shows Holbox  Island and its lagoon at the northeast corner of  Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula .

Holbox Island is a 26-mile-long strip of land separated  from the mainland by the lagoon.

"The freshwater lagoon has a deep rocky hole that surrounds the island , making the water appear black ," officials with the Eurpoan Space Agency , which is a partner in the
Kompast-2 mission , explained  "it is thought that Holbox , which in Mayan translates as 'black hole,' was named after the dark laggon  water."

Holbox Island is situated at an b oceanic meeting points of sorts where the  Atlantic Ocean ,  Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean   converge .The mixing of three waters creates a nutrient rich environmrnt  that supports an abundant  array of marine life , ESA officials said .[The world's biggest Oceans and Seas ] At Caboe Catoche , a cape at the eastern tip of the Island , the mixing of the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico creates a veritable Kaleid oscope of watery turquoise and emerald colors .

Because of its hosts of marine life , Holbox Island and its surrounding Waters are protected  as part of the Yum Balam Bisophere Reserve .  The Islands beaches of white coralline  sand serve as a vital home for turtle nests and more than 500 species of birds , while dolphins , manta rays and several shark species swimmoff shore. The region is also home to the worlds largest known gathering of whale sharks , the largest fish on the planet ... for five months of the year , ESA officials said .

The Kompsat-2 satellite has been snapping photos of Earth from orbit since it luanched into space in 2006 . The Satellite was built for the Korea Areospace Rearch Institute to provide uninterrupted Earth  observation coverage following it's prodecessor  , Kompsat-1. 

ESA serves as  a third party  partner in the mission  and uses ground-based infrastructure  to receive , process and distribute the image from Kompsat-2.