Saturday, August 31, 2013

Favorite One-liners


 I used to work in a shoe-recycling shop. It was sole-destroying.
I'm in a same-sex marriage... the sex is always the same.

The Pope is a lot like Doctor Who. He never dies, just keeps being replaced by white men.

 You know you are fat when you're cuddling a baby and suddenly you lose it.

 I was adopted at birth and have never met my mom. That makes it very difficult to enjoy a lapdance.

The good thing about lending someone your time machine is that you always get it back.

I said to the Gym instructor "Can you teach me to do the splits?'' He said, ''How flexible are you?'' I said, ''I can come any day but Tuesday".

Two aerials meet on a roof - fall in love - get married.  The ceremony was a tangled mess - but the reception was brilliant.
Doc, I can't stop singing the 'Green Green Grass of Home'. He said: 'That sounds like Tom Jones syndrome'. 'Is it common?'I asked.  'It's not unusual' he replied.

I'm on a whiskey diet. I've lost three days already. 
My mother-in-law fell down a wishing well, I was amazed, I never knew they worked.

 I went to buy some camouflage trousers the other day but I couldn't find any.

When Susan's boyfriend proposed marriage to her she said: ''I love the simple things in life, but I don't want one for a husband''.   

 My therapist says I have a preoccupation with vengeance. We'll see about that.

  I called the police station, I said, ''I want to report a nuisance caller'', he said ''Not you again''. 

  Slept like a log last night........ Woke up in the fireplace.

  A priest, a rabbi and a vicar walk into a bar. The bartender said, ''Hey, is this a joke?''

 A sandwich walks into a bar. The barman says ''Sorry we don't serve food in here''

  The other day I sent my girlfriend a pile of snow. I called her, I said ''Now, do you get my drift?''.

  I cleaned the attic with the wife the other day. Now I can't get the cobwebs out of her hair.

Went to the paper shop - but it had blown away.

  Four fonts walk into a bar the barman says ''Hey- get out! We don't want your type in here''

 A man entered a local pun contest. He sent in ten different puns, in the hope at least one would win. Unfortunately, no pun in ten did.

 I went down to the local supermarket, I said, ''I want to make a complaint, this vinegar's got lumps in it'', he said, "Those are pickled onions''.
  I backed a horse last week at ten to one.  It came in at quarter past four.
  A truck-load of tortoises crashed into a trainload of terrapins, What a turtle disaster

Two Eskimos sitting in a kayak were chilly. But when they lit a fire, it sank, proving once and for all that you can't have your kayak and heat it.

You see, my next-door neighbour worships exhaust pipes, he's a catholic converter.

I wanted to get in shape; I tried water polo but my horse drowned.
  I'll tell you what I love doing more than anything: trying to pack myself in a small suitcase. I can hardly contain myself.

 I went to the corner shop today - bought 4 corners.   

A seal walks into a club...   


  A woman has twins, and gives them up for adoption. One of them goes to a family in Egypt and is named 'Amal.' The other goes to a family in Spain, they name him Juan'. Years later; Juan sends a picture of himself to his mum. Upon receiving the picture, she tells her husband that she wished she also had a picture of Amal. Her husband responds, ''But they are twins. If you've seen Juan, you've seen Amal.''  

A group of chess enthusiasts checked into a hotel and were standing in the lobby discussing their recent tournament victories. After about an hour, the manager came out of the office and asked them to disperse. ''But why?'' they asked, as they moved off. ''because,'' he said ''I can't stand chess nuts boasting in an open foyer.''

 A young blonde woman is distraught because she fears her husband is having an affair, so she goes to a gun shop and buys a handgun. The next day she comes home to find her husband in bed with a beautiful redhead. She grabs the gun and holds it to her own head. The husband jumps out of bed, begging and pleading with her not to shoot herself. Hysterically the blonde responds to the husband, ''Shut're next!''

Red Line

Friday, August 30, 2013

Obama considers "Limited Act" Against Syria


Barack Obama: "We're not considering any boots on the ground approach"

President Obama has said the US is considering a "limited narrow act" in response to the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Syrian army. Mr Obama stressed that no "final decision" has been made, but ruled out putting American "boots on the ground".

Citing a US intelligence assessment, Secretary of State John Kerry accused Syria of using chemical weapons to kill 1,429 people, including 426 children. Syria replied the US claim was "full of lies", blaming rebels for the attack. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad earlier said his country would defend itself against any Western "aggression". French President Francois Hollande has reaffirmed his support for the US stance. However, Russia - a key ally of Syria - has warned that "any unilateral military action bypassing the UN Security Council" would be a "direct violation of international law".
Speaking on Friday, President Obama said the alleged attack in Damascus' suburbs on 21 August was "a challenge to the world" that threatened America's "national security interests".
"We cannot accept a world where women and children and innocent civilians are gassed on a terrible scale.
"The world has an obligation to make sure that we maintain the norm against the use of chemical weapons."
But the US leader stressed that Washington was "looking at the possibility of a limited, narrow act", and there would be "no boots on the ground" or "long-term campaign".

Mr Obama comments came shortly after Secretary of State John Kerry laid out a d raft of what Washington said was a "high confidence" intelligence assessment about the attack.

  • the attack killed 1,429 people, including 426 children
  • Syrian military chemical weapons personnel were operating in the area in the three days before the attack
  • Satellite evidence shows rockets launched from government-held areas 90 minutes before first report of chemical attack
  • 100 videos attributed to the attack show symptoms consistent with exposure to nerve agent
  • Communications were intercepted involving a senior Damascus official who "confirmed chemical weapons were used" and was concerned about UN inspectors obtaining evidence
The US said its assessment was backed by accounts from medical personnel, witnesses, journalists, videos and thousands of social media reports. A team of UN chemical weapons inspectors investigating the alleged poison-gas attacks was due to leave Damascus by Saturday morning.
It could be two weeks before their final report is ready, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told diplomats. But Mr Kerry said the US already had the facts, and nothing that the inspectors found could tell the world anything new. He also described Mr Assad as "a thug and a murderer".  In response, Syria's state-run news agency Sana said Mr Kerry was using "material based on old stories which were published by terrorists over a week ago".

The UN Security Council is unlikely to approve any military intervention because of opposition from Russia - one of the five permanent members. Moscow, along with China, has vetoed two previous draft resolutions on Syria. The US was also dealt a blow on Thursday when the UK parliament rejected a motion supporting the principle of military intervention. The vote rules the UK out of any potential military alliance.

British Prime Minister David Cameron and Mr Obama spoke over the telephone on Friday, agreeing to continue to co-operate on international issues. The president told Mr Cameron he "fully respected" the approach taken by the UK government.

US officials said they would continue to push for a coalition, and France said it was ready to take action in Syria alongside the US. Mr Obama and French President Francois Hollande discussed the issue in a telephone conversation on Friday, Paris said. It said that both leaders wanted to send Damascus a "strong message" to condemn the alleged use of chemical weapons. Unlike Britain, neither France nor the US needs parliamentary approval for military action.

Another US ally, Turkey, called for action similar to the Nato bombing raids in the former Yugoslavia in 1999. Nato carried out 70 days of air strikes to protect civilians from attack in Kosovo, despite not having a UN resolution. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan also said that any military intervention should be aimed at toppling Mr Assad.

The use of chemical weapons is banned under several treaties, and considered illegal under customary international humanitarian law. The Syrian army is known to have stockpiles of chemical agents including sarin gas. The UN inspectors have collected various samples that will now be examined in laboratories across the world. The UN team is not mandated to apportion blame for the attacks.

US Secretary of State John Kerry did far more than set out a moral case for military action.
What he did was make it impossible for President Barack Obama to back away from it. He said if the US didn't act, history would judge them harshly. If they turned a blind eye, it would embolden dictators in Iran and North Korea and leave the US without credibility in the world. Mr Obama has made similar points himself. It is not the first time Kerry has made the case. But these were the strongest words yet.
When Mr Obama spoke he sounded pretty cautious by comparison, although he too pointed firmly towards some form of action.  But he was keen to stress that any action would be limited, unlike Afghanistan or Iraq, and would not involve boots on the ground. There are increasing mutterings from Congress, asking him how certain he is of that.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Obama...Still no Plan for Retaliation

President Barack Obama: ''I have no interest in any kind of open-ended conflict in Syria''
President Obama has said he has not yet decided on a plan for retaliatory action against Syria.
But he said he had concluded Syrian government forces were behind a recent chemical weapons attack near Damascus. Speaking on US television, Mr Obama said the use of chemical weapons affected US national interests and that sending a "shot across the bows" could have a positive impact on Syria's war.

His comments follow a day of behind-the-scenes wrangling at the UN. The UK had been pushing for permanent members of the UN Security Council to adopt a resolution which would have authorized measures to protect civilians in Syria.

But Syrian ally Russia refused to agree to the resolution and the meeting produced no end to the diplomatic stalemate which has long characterized the UN position on Syria. The US State Department criticized "Russian intransigence" and said it could not allow diplomatic paralysis to serve as a shield for the Syrian leadership.

Critics have questioned what purpose a limited strike on Syria could serve, but Mr Obama told the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) it would send the government of Bashar al-Assad "a pretty strong signal that it better not [use chemical weapons] again".

The US has yet to produce the intelligence it says shows Mr Assad's government is guilty of using chemical weapons, and UN weapons inspectors are still investigating inside Syria. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said they need four more days to complete their investigations and has appealed for the team to be "given time to do its job".

Syria denies using chemical weapons and blames opposition fighters for the attack on 21 August, which reportedly killed hundreds of people near Damascus. It accused the West of "inventing" excuses to launch a strike.

In a sign of growing fears about an impending attack among Syrians, the Associated Press quoted Lebanese officials as saying at least 6,000 Syrians crossed into Lebanon in a 24-hour period through the main Masnaa crossing - compared to a normal daily tally of between 500 and 1,000 refugees.

"Isn't it enough, all the violence and fighting that we already have in the country, now America wants to bomb us, too?" one 45-year-old woman, entering Lebanon with her five children, told AP.

In Damascus senior military commanders are reportedly staying away from buildings thought likely to be targeted. You "could hear a pin drop" at one of them, a local resident said.

President Obama told PBS that the US had "not yet made a decision, but the international norm against the use of chemical weapons needs to be kept in place, and hardly anyone disputes that chemical weapons were used in a large scale in Syria against civilian populations".

"We've looked at all the evidence, and we don't believe the opposition possessed chemical weapons of that sort," he said.  He added he had concluded that the Syrian government carried out the chemical weapons attack.

"There need to be international consequences, so we are consulting with our allies," he said.
There was "a prospect that chemical weapons could be directed at us - and we want to make sure that doesn't happen". But Mr Obama said he had come to no final decision on what course to take.

In an open letter to the president, US House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner demanded he explain "the intended effect of military strikes", and how he would prevent the intervention escalating, if he wanted to win public and congressional backing for action. More than 110 members of Congress have signed a letter formally requesting that Mr Obama seek congressional approval for any action in Syria.

US officials are expected to give senior members of Congress a classified briefing on the evidence that the Syrian government carried out the alleged chemical attack on Thursday.
In Damascus, news agencies, quoting residents and some opponents of the Assad regime, have reported that some heavy weaponry has been moved out of bases and staff have partially vacated some headquarters.  It is logical for the Syrian army to have some sort of plan to protect itself from any attack, especially since the progress toward launching a military strike has been discussed so openly by Western powers.

The US has said it will not take action alone - but one of its primary allies, the UK, has agreed to wait until UN inspectors report back before taking a final parliamentary vote on potential action. Russia rejected a UK push to try to agree a resolution on Syria among permanent UN Security Council members on Wednesday, with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov saying the UN could not consider any draft resolution or proposed action in Syria before the UN weapons inspectors reported back.

The use of force without a sanction of the UN Security Council would be a "crude violation" of international law and "lead to the long-term destabilization of the situation in the country and the region", Mr Lavrov said.

Death Penalty for Nadal Hasan


Ft. Hood shooter convicted and sentenced to die

Army psychiatrist Nidal Hasan, the admitted gunman in the Ft. Hood shooting rampage that killed 13, had no apparent reaction when his sentence was read. The victims’ families spoke afterward, with one family member saying “a weight has been lifted off my shoulders.”


Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Malala to Receive International Children's Peace Prize

An image grab taken from handout video footage released by the Malala Fund on April 5, 2013

Malala Yousafzai will receive the International Children's Peace Prize on September 6th

A teenage activist shot in the head by the Taliban is to receive the International Children's Peace Prize. Malala Yousafzai was targeted as she travelled to school in Pakistan after campaigning for girls' education. The 16-year-old was treated in Birmingham where she now lives.

Women's rights campaigner and 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winner Tawakkol Karman will present Malala with the International Children's Peace Prize in The Hague, Holland, on 6 September.

Marc Dullaert, chairman of the Dutch Kids Rights Foundation, which awards the prize, said: "Malala was already one of the nominees in 2011, but this year the expert committee unanimously decided not to nominate other children, but to award the International Children's Peace Prize to Malala."

Malala, then aged 15, and two friends were attacked on their way home from school last October.
Surgeons in Pakistan removed a bullet from Malala's head, then transferred her to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, where she had a titanium plate and cochlear implant fitted to help her hear.  She began attending Edgbaston High School in March.

Malala has been living in the UK since her father Ziauddin Yousafzai was appointed education attaché at the Pakistan consulate in Birmingham.  The Taliban in Pakistan has threatened the lives of both Mr Yousafzai and Malala since the shooting.

She has received support from around the world, with tens of thousands of people signing an online petition calling for her to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

She has also signed a three million dollar book deal.  Malala  says the memoir is her own story and that of millions of others denied the chance to go to school.

The US is Ready to Launch Syria Strike

American forces are "ready" to launch strikes on Syria if President Obama chooses to order an attack, US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel says.
"We have moved assets in place to be able to fulfil and comply with whatever option the president wishes to take," Mr Hagel said. The White House said the US would release intelligence on last week's suspected attack in the next few days.
A good number of Syrians, in particular those supporting the regime, believe the visit of the UN chemical weapons investigation team is nothing but a move to justify a military attack on Syria. The opposition, however, thinks that these visits will lead to some evidence being unearthed, proving that chemical weapons have been used against civilians by the Syrian regime.
Above all, fear and discomfort are palpable among those living in the capital. People are haunted by the possibility of a Western military strike on Syria, discussion of which is dominating the headlines of satellite channels.
"I don't want Syria to become another Iraq... Enough bloodshed," cried one Syrian woman.
"We, and thousands like us across Syria, will face any country that tries to attack us," threatened a young man, pointing at his weapon, which he uses to protect his neighbourhood. "These are Syria's problems and it is up to us, Syrians, to solve them."

The crisis follows last Wednesday's suspected chemical attack near the Syrian capital, Damascus, which reportedly killed more than 300 people.
US Vice President Joe Biden said there was "no doubt who was responsible for this heinous use of chemical weapons in Syria: The Syrian regime".
In a speech to a veterans' group in Houston, Mr Biden said that "those who use chemical weapons against defenceless men, women, and children... must be held accountable".
French President Francois Hollande said France was "ready to punish" whoever was behind the attack, and had decided to increase military support for Syria's main opposition.  Diplomatic correspondent James Robbins says the US, UK and France will now have the larger task of building as wide a coalition as possible to support limited military action.
Meanwhile the Arab League said it held Syrian President Bashar al-Assad responsible for the attacks and called for UN action. Syrian opposition sources have said they have been told to expect a Western intervention in the conflict imminently.
"There is no precise timing... but one can speak of an imminent international intervention against the regime. It's a question of days and not weeks," AFP news agency quoted Syrian National Coalition official Ahmad Ramadan as saying.
"There have been meetings between the Coalition, the [rebel] Free Syrian Army and allied countries during which possible targets have been discussed."
Russia and China, allies of the Syrian government, have stepped up their warnings against military intervention, with Moscow saying any such action would have "catastrophic consequences" for the region.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem has said he rejects "utterly and completely" claims that Syrian forces used chemical weapons, and his government has blamed rebel fighters. On Monday, United Nations weapons inspectors were fired on while investigating one of the five alleged chemical weapons attack sites around Damascus.

Mr Hagel said the US Department of Defense had provided President Obama with "all options for all contingencies". "He has seen them, we are prepared. We are ready to go."

Residents gather around a convoy of UN vehicles carrying a team of UN chemical weapons experts at one of the sites of an alleged poison gas attack in the Damascus suburb of Muadhamiya on 26 August 2013
US weapons inspectors spent three hours in Muadhamia Damascus searching and questioning  residents

Image taken from amateur video footage, a UN inspector, right, speaks to a man about the alleged chemical weapon attack at a makeshift hospital in Muadhamiya, Damascus, on 26 August 2013
Inspectors toured hospitals to speak to survivors of chemical attack and question doctors
UN weapons inspectors meet residents at site of one of alleged attacks - 26 August

Inspectors questioned residents of Muadhamia

Mr Hagel said that intelligence currently being gathered by the UN inspectors would confirm that the Syrian government was responsible for the chemical attack last week.
"I think it's pretty clear that chemical weapons were used against people in Syria," he said.
Mr Hagel left little doubt that he believed the Assad government was responsible, and was ready to execute the orders of his commander-in-chief.

White House spokesman Jay Carney later said that a separate report on chemical weapons use being compiled by the US intelligence community would be published this week. Mr Carney said that Mr Obama had a variety of options and was not limited to the use of force, adding that it was not Washington's intention to remove Mr Assad.

Meanwhile, warnings have been issued on sites linked to Islamist militants fighting for the rebels in Syria, saying that their leaders and training camps might also be targeted by a possible US-led attack.
Several online sites linked to the Nusra Front and similar groups have advised militants not to hold meetings or gather in large numbers, and to change routines and locations, he says.

Western powers have made clear their distrust and dislike of groups like the Nusra Front, which have spearheaded rebel victories, although there has been no indication from the US or anyone else that jihadists would be targeted, he adds.

The UN says more than 100,000 people have been killed since the uprising against President Assad began more than two years ago. The conflict has produced more than 1.7 million registered refugees.

Earlier on Tuesday, a Russian transport plane landed in the Syrian city of Latakia with a cargo of humanitarian aid. The aircraft later left with dozens of Russian citizens on board, an official spokeswoman for the Russian Emergencies Ministry, Irina Rossius, told Russian news agencies.
The flight was intended to evacuate Russians who wanted to leave Syria, she added.

Map: Forces which could be used in strikes against Syria

Caclifornia Firefighters... Problems Controlling Fire

A wildfire burning on the northern border of Yosemite National Park grew more than 7 square miles overnight as firefighters have gained little ground in slowing it down. The fire has continued to spread and  covers almost 230 sq miles (600 sq km), officials say.
The Rim Fire is now raining ash on a key reservoir that supplies water and hydro-electric power to San Francisco.  City officials say they are moving water to lower reservoirs and monitoring supplies for contamination.

The blaze is also threatening thousands of homes and some of California's renowned giant sequoia trees. On Monday officials said the fire was 15% contained after burning for more than a week - up from 2% containment on Friday. Strong winds are making the fires more difficult to control.

"This fire has continued to pose every challenge that there can be on a fire," said Daniel Berlant of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. The blaze began on 17 August in the Stanislaus National Forest but the cause is still unknown.

Some 2,800 firefighters are tackling the flames in difficult terrain. Evacuations, some voluntary and some mandatory, are taking place. Despite the threat to some 5,000 homes, only a few have been destroyed. California Governor Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency for San Francisco 150 miles (220km) away as the blaze is also threatening power lines that bring electricity to the city.

Ash is said to be falling like snow on the Hetch Hetchy reservoir, which supplies San Francisco with 85% of its water. Visibility in the smoke-ridden area is down to 100ft (30m), but officials say the water quality is still good.
"The water we are receiving is still of good quality,'' said Harlan Kelly Jr, general manager of the city's Public Utilities Commission. "We're bringing down as much water as possible and replenishing all of the local reservoirs."

Firefighters battle the Rim Fire near Yosemite National Park, California, on 25 August 2013

2800 firefighters continue to fight

Firefighters work to prevent the Rim Fire near Buck Meadows, California, on 24 August 2013
5000 homes are being threatened

Firefighters dig on a steep incline to combat the Rim Fire in California on 25 August 2013

Steep slopes make it difficult to dig ditches to create breaks

The Rim Fire consumes trees on 23 August 2013 near Groveland, California.

It is the sixteenth largest fire in California's history
Two of three hydroelectric power stations serving the city were shut down, forcing the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission to spend $600,000 buying power on the open market.
The blaze reached the park's backcountry at Lake Eleanor on Friday. But it remains some 20 miles away from Yosemite's main tourist area. The park authorities say they have no plans to close the attraction as most of Yosemite, which hosts up to 15,000 visitors a day in the summer, is unaffected by the fire.

Areas on the north-western edge of the park, including that round the Hetch Hetchy reservoir and Lake Eleanor, have been closed throughout the week. A stretch of motorway, Highway 120, which is one of three entrances to the west side of the park, remains closed. Visitors are being urged to use alternative routes from the west.

The Rim Fire is one of 50 major wildfires burning in the western US. Lack of rain and snow have made it a bad year, with 5,700 fires being tackled so far. .

Monday, August 26, 2013

"Life on Ice"


DNA and "Life on Ice"

August , 2013—The Smithsonian Institution's Museum of Natural History has started the largest biorepository in the world. It stores frozen specimens from hundreds of thousands of plant and animal species, primarily for genomic research.

How We are Hurting Our World

Photo: Smokestacks

The current cycle of global warming is changing the rhythms of climate that all living things have come to rely upon. What will we do to slow this warming? How will we cope with the changes we've already set into motion? While we struggle to figure it all out, the face of the Earth as we know it—coasts, forests, farms, and snowcapped mountains—hangs in the balance.

What Causes Global Warming?
Scientists have spent decades figuring out what is causing global warming. They've looked at the natural cycles and events that are known to influence climate. But the amount and pattern of warming that's been measured can't be explained by these factors alone. The only way to explain the pattern is to include the effect of greenhouse gases (GHGs) emitted by humans.

To bring all this information together, the United Nations formed a group of scientists called the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC. The IPCC meets every few years to review the latest scientific findings and write a report summarizing all that is known about global warming. Each report represents a consensus, or agreement, among hundreds of leading scientists.

One of the first things scientists learned is that there are several greenhouse gases responsible for warming, and humans emit them in a variety of ways. Most come from the combustion of fossil fuels in cars, factories and electricity production. The gas responsible for the most warming is carbon dioxide, also called CO2. Other contributors include methane released from landfills and agriculture (especially from the digestive systems of grazing animals), nitrous oxide from fertilizers, gases used for refrigeration and industrial processes, and the loss of forests that would otherwise store CO2.

Different greenhouse gases have very different heat-trapping abilities. Some of them can even trap more heat than CO2. A molecule of methane produces more than 20 times the warming of a molecule of CO2. Nitrous oxide is 300 times more powerful than CO2. Other gases, such as chlorofluorocarbons (which have been banned in much of the world because they also degrade the ozone layer), have heat-trapping potential thousands of times greater than CO2. But because their concentrations are much lower than CO2, none of these gases adds as much warmth to the atmosphere as CO2 does.

In order to understand the effects of all the gases together, scientists tend to talk about all greenhouse gases in terms of the equivalent amount of CO2. Since 1990, yearly emissions have gone up by about 6 billion metric tons of "carbon dioxide equivalent" worldwide, more than a 20 percent increase.
Arctic Sea Ice Decline
In the Arctic, temperature has increased at twice the rate as the rest of the globe, and could increase by another 8°C (14°F) by the end of this century. The warming atmosphere along with new weather pattern extremes is causing Arctic sea ice to melt at an alarming rate—12% per decade—that suggests the Arctic will be ice-free by 2030. The impacts of dwindling ice cover in the Arctic are far-reaching, from species endangerment to enhanced global warming, to the weakening or shut-down of global ocean circulation.

Marooned on land due to lack of sea ice, this bear forages for food at a garbage dump. Although trash can temporarily fill an empty belly, it cannot provide nourishing long-term sustenance. As rising temperatures trap fasting bears on land for longer periods, they are increasingly searching for food in close proximity to people, and that poses risks to both humans and bears.
What will it take to make us respond to the tragedy we are creating?  Will we be too late to save any of the living species whose care and custodianship we have been entrusted with ? Will we be too late to save our planet?

Birth of Baby Panda...Spotlights Difficulties of Breeding in Captivity

Baby Giant Panda born in Washington DC Zoo...just a few inches long...doing just fine

The National Zoo’s female panda, Mei Xiang, gave birth on Friday. 

A giant panda at Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington gave birth to a cub Friday night, the latest chapter in a long saga of breeding attempts that has shown how very difficult it is for endangered giant pandas to reproduce.
The National Zoo's female panda, Mei Xiang, gave birth at 5:32 p.m. on Friday, then "picked up the cub and immediately began cradling and caring for it," the zoo said in a statement.
"Chief veterinarian Suzan Murray says that Mei Xiang & the cub appear to be doing well," the zoo said via Twitter.
Moment of birth
But whether the cub will survive is far from certain. It is difficult for pandas to breed in the wild, let alone in captivity. A cub born to Mei Xiang last fall died six days later, a result of liver damage caused by underdeveloped lungs.
That pregnancy, and this latest one, came via artificial insemination, following failed attempts by scientists to get Mei Xiang to naturally breed with the National Zoo’s male giant panda, Tian Tian
A team of vets had been glued 24-7 to the zoo’s Panda Cam since August 7, when Mei began showing signs of being pregnant.
Here’s a primer on what's so tricky about these animals' reproductive biology: Female pandas ovulate just once a year, in the spring. What's more, the female can only conceive for about two or three days around ovulation, which means she has to mate with a male during that period. Females can be fertile between the ages of about 4 to 20.
Generally solitary creatures, panda partners find each other in the wild via calls and scents, according to the National Zoo. Luckily for captive panda pairs, the male's nearby, but that doesn't mean mating is easy. Which is why ...The pair has to be compatible.
The National Zoo's male panda, Tian Tian, and Mei have had trouble mating naturally, but Mei has conceived before via artificial insemination. Tai Shan, born in 2005, was affectionately nicknamed Butterstick among D.C. fans due to a newborn panda's tiny size, and now lives in China. Mei was artificially inseminated again on March 30 of this year.
Good luck and long life to the little guy. Hopefully all these efforts help save the species.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Martin Luther King rally draws thousands to Washington

Thousands of people attended a rally in Washington  to mark 50 years since Martin Luther King's famous "I have a dream" speech on civil rights. Jobs, voting rights and gun violence topped the concerns of many of those who marched to the Lincoln Memorial.

Eric Holder, the first black US attorney general, said he and President Barack Obama would not be in office had it not been for the original marchers. Mr Obama will mark the event on the actual anniversary next week.

Among those who addressed Saturday's rally was the mother of Trayvon Martin, a black teenager shot dead in Florida last year, whose killer was recently acquitted.

Trayvon Martin's parents said that they don't want their son's life to be defined by the trial of George Zimmerman

"He's not just my son, he's all of our sons and we have to fight for our children," Sabrina Fulton said.
Earlier she told journalists many young African Americans had been left afraid by the acquittal of neighbourhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman. She called for a change to laws in many American states which allow the use of deadly force if a person feels seriously threatened.

Saturday's event comes a few days before the actual anniversary of the original march on 28 August 1963. King, who was assassinated in 1968, led about 250,000 people to the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall and delivered his famous speech from its steps.

"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character." he said, in one of the most celebrated pieces of American oratory.

Martin Luther King III, King's eldest son, told the marchers from the same steps on Saturday: "This is not the time for nostalgic commemoration nor is this the time for self-congratulatory celebration.
"The task is not done. The journey is not complete. We can and we must do more."

Thousands of people marked the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King's 'I have a dream' speech

In his speech, Mr Holder said of the 1963 demonstrators: "They marched in spite of animosity, oppression and brutality because they believed in the greatness of what this nation could become and despaired of the founding promises not kept."

The spirit of 1963, he said, now demanded equality for gay people, Latinos, women, the disabled and others.  Organizers had hoped to gather some 100,000 people in Washington. The crowd was predominantly African American but included white Americans and others.

Mr Obama, the first black US president, is due to commemorate the event on Wednesday with a speech from the same spot where King spoke.  He will be joined by former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, while churches and groups have been asked to ring bells  to mark the exact time King delivered his speech.

What a wonderful tribute. The power of his words has not been diluted over the years, neither has their relevance.

Huge sinkhole swallows trees in Assumption Parish Louisiana


Since August 2012, a giant sinkhole belching oil and gas has been growing in Assumption Parish, Louisiana. Over 350 people have since been ordered to leave their homes. On August 21 2013, a further collapse at the edge of the hole caused a clump of trees to vanish in seconds. The sinkhole has been swallowing up land and trees and  for a year and continues to grow. It is being monitored carefully by authorities.

Looks Kinda Like a Dragon

This weird, four meter long creature washed up on shore in Southern Spain and has scientists baffled .
 I think it is Nessy's Cousin or possibly a dragon that lost it's way to Honah Lee
 Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honah Lee,
 One version of Nessy

 The classic original photo of Nessy

Another Nessy with sort of a seal's face....obvious Photoshop

School secretary talks gunman into surrendering

Police in Decatur, Georgia, are calling a school secretary a heroine for helping talk a school gunman into surrendering.  A recording from a 911 call on Tuesday reveals how Antoinette Tuff, a school clerk in the Ronald E McNair Discovery Learning Academy, helped talk Michael Brandon Hill, who was armed with an AK-47, out of shooting.
Hill walked into the school and fired shots, but not at anyone. Ms Tuff called the police and kept talking to the gunman until they arrived while school children were evacuated. The standoff ended with no one getting hurt. Hill was arrested.

Fort Hood gunman Maj Nidal Hasan guilty on all counts

The US Army psychiatrist who shot dead 13 comrades at a Texas Army base in 2009 has been convicted of all charges. Maj Nidal Hasan faces the death penalty after being found guilty of 13 counts of pre-meditated murder and 32 counts of attempted murder. Maj Hasan, 42, said he opened fire on the unarmed US soldiers to protect Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan.

The jury, which reached a unanimous verdict in seven hours, begins the penalty phase of the trial on Monday. The 13-member panel must come to a unanimous agreement in order to recommend that the judge sentence Maj Hasan to death. If they do not agree, he will face a life prison sentence. The US military has not executed a service member since 1961. There are five inmates on the US military's death row at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, all at various stages of the appeals process.  Among the last barriers to military execution is authorization from the president.

Fort Hood victim Sgt Alonzo Lunsford says "let the sword of justice swing"

Maj Hasan, a Virginia-born Muslim, had no visible reaction as the verdict was read.  After the hearing, relatives of the dead and wounded fought back tears.

He admitted to being the gunman at the start of his court martial this month. Acting as his own lawyer, he questioned only three of 90 prosecution witnesses and declined to call witnesses of his own or make closing arguments. His court-appointed legal advisers, who were little involved in his defence, have told the judge they believed he sought execution in a bid for martyrdom.

Maj Hasan has said he carried out the attack on unarmed soldiers at a medical building in Fort Hood in order to protect Taliban fighters in Afghanistan. When the military judge, Col Tara Osborn, suggested shortly before jurors began deliberating on Thursday that the shootings happened because Maj Hasan had lost his temper, he challenged her.
"It wasn't done under the heat of sudden passion," he said. "There was adequate provocation that these were deploying soldiers that were going to engage in an illegal war."

The Army psychiatrist opened fire on 5 November 2009 at a medical facility on the base where soldiers were being evaluated before deploying overseas. Prosecutors said he had prepared carefully for the attack for weeks, visiting a target practice range, buying a gun, and stuffing paper towels into his trouser pockets to muffle noise from the extra ammunition before he opened fire.

Soldiers and civilians testified that they heard a man wearing Army camouflage scream an Islamic benediction before opening fire with two handguns. Witnesses also said Maj Hasan's rapid reloading prevented the unarmed soldiers from halting the attack. Three separate people who attempted to charge him were stopped by gunfire.

Maj Hasan fired 146 bullets, prosecutors said. The attack ended when he was shot by a civilian police officer. He was paralysed from the waist down from the wound. He is now confined to a wheelchair.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Fukushima Nuclear Situation Worse Than Stated by Authorities

A nuclear expert has said that he believes the current water leaks at Fukushima are much worse than the authorities have stated.  Mycle Schneider is an independent consultant who has previously advised the French and German governments. He says water is leaking out all over the site and there are no accurate figures for radiation levels. Meanwhile the chairman of Japan's nuclear authority said that he feared there would be further leaks.

The ongoing problems at the Fukushima plant increased in recent days when the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) admitted that around 300 tons of highly radioactive water had leaked from a storage tank on the site.  The Japanese nuclear energy watchdog raised the incident level from one to three on the international scale that measures the severity of atomic accidents.
This was an acknowledgement that the power station was in its greatest crisis since the reactors melted down after the tsunami in 2011.  But some nuclear experts are concerned that the problem is a good deal worse than either Tepco or the Japanese government are willing to admit. They are worried about the enormous quantities of water, used to cool the reactor cores, which are now being stored on site.

Some 1,000 tanks have been built to hold the water. But these are believed to be at around 85% of their capacity and every day an extra 400 tons of water are being added.
"The quantities of water they are dealing with are absolutely gigantic," said Mycle Schneider, who has consulted widely for a variety of organizations and countries on nuclear issues.
"What is the worse is the water leakage everywhere else - not just from the tanks. It is leaking out from the basements, it is leaking out from the cracks all over the place. Nobody can measure that.

The increase in storage of radioactive water at the Fukushima nuclear plant
Satellite images show how the number of water storage tanks has increased in the past two years. The tanks store contaminated water that has been used to cool the reactors.
"It is much worse than we have been led to believe, much worse," said Mr Schneider, who is lead author for the World Nuclear Industry status reports.

At news conference, the head of Japan's nuclear regulation authority Shunichi Tanaka appeared to give credence to Mr Schneider's concerns, saying that he feared there would be further leaks.
"We should assume that what has happened once could happen again, and prepare for more. We are in a situation where there is no time to waste," he told reporters.

The lack of clarity about the water situation and the continued attempts by Tepco to deny that water was leaking into the sea has irritated many researchers.  Dr Ken Buesseler is a senior scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution who has examined the waters around Fukushima.
"It is not over yet by a long shot, Chernobyl was in many ways a one week fire-explosive event, nothing with the potential of this right on the ocean."

"We've been saying since 2011 that the reactor site is still leaking whether that's the buildings and the ground water or these new tank releases. There's no way to really contain all of this radioactive water on site."
"Once it gets into the ground water, like a river flowing to the sea, you can't really stop a ground water flow. You can pump out water, but how many tanks can you keep putting on site?"

Several scientists also raised concerns about the vulnerability of the huge amount of stored water on site to another earthquake.

Graphic of water tank contamination at Fukushima
Water from the storage tanks has seeped into the groundwater and then into the sea. Efforts to use a chemical barrier to prevent sea contamination have not worked.

The storage problems are compounded by the ingress of ground water, running down from the surrounding hills. It mixes with radioactive water leaking out of the basements of the reactors and then some of it leaches into the sea, despite the best efforts of Tepco to stem the flow.

Some of the radioactive elements like caesium that are contained in the water can be filtered by the earth. Others are managing to get through and this worries watching experts.
"Our biggest concern right now is if some of the other isotopes such as strontium 90 which tend to be more mobile, get through these sediments in the ground water," said Dr Buesseler.  "They are entering the oceans at levels that then will accumulate in seafood and will cause new health concerns."

There are also worries about the spent nuclear fuel rods that are being cooled and stored in water pools on site. Mycle Schneider says these contain far more radioactive caesium than was emitted during the explosion at Chernobyl.
"There is absolutely no guarantee that there isn't a crack in the walls of the spent fuel pools. If salt water gets in, the steel bars would be corroded. It would basically explode the walls, and you cannot see that; you can't get close enough to the pools," he said.

The "worsening situation" at Fukushima has prompted a former Japanese ambassador to Switzerland to call for the withdrawal of Tokyo's Olympic bid. In a letter to the UN secretary general, Mitsuhei Murata says the official radiation figures published by Tepco cannot be trusted. He says he is extremely worried about the lack of a sense of crisis in Japan and abroad. This view is shared by Mycle Schneider, who is calling for an international taskforce for Fukushima.
"The Japanese have a problem asking for help. It is a big mistake; they badly need it."

Vegetables and Fruit Grown in the Fukushima Area
Something is definitely going on

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Ask Maxy

Dear Maxy ,
My daughter-in-law tends to go to her family . She says she is uncomfortable with my son's side . She has been rude to us since she married my son and she controls him  if he does not do what she wants .
My daughter had a fight with my daughter-in-law four years ago  and I just woke up to the fact that my daughter-in-law blames us for my daughter's actions . My husband and I tried therapy with my son  and daughter-in-law  but it made things worse . I left, saying that I am not happy with either of them and I just want to see my grandchildren . My son said that if I don't continue  with therapy,  I won't see the kids again . They are using the children as weapons to control us .
My new granddaughter  had a baptism and my daughter-in-law  told us it was only an occasion for her family. We were insulted  and hurt . I'm thinking of going to court and suing for grandparents rights.

Dear Trustworthy ,
Your son and daughter-in-law may not be behaving in a loving way, but there is room for improvement  on both sides  . They are willing to go for counseling to resolve  this , which is a good sign . But walking out on a counseling session  because you don't like  what you hear  is not productive . The point of counseling  is to work through  the issues  that get in the way of a better relationship . Please stop trying  to get your son  to favor  you over his wife . If you want to see those grandkids, I urge you to agree  to go back for counseling .

Dear Maxy ,
I recently married a man  who is quite wonderful, but he won't help out round the house . We have a child together  and I am the breadwinner . When I am not working , I am cleaning the house  and picking up after him .
We've had many talks about this  and he always agrees to do things when I ask . But I still  come home  from work  and find nothing done  and he always has plenty of excuses . He will be 30 soon . He was not raised this way  and his mother has tried to help, but we can't seem to make any progress . What can I do ?
Maid in Demand

Dear Maid ,
Can you afford periodic cleaning help ? Would you  be willing  to relax  your standards ? Could you save the house-cleaning  for weekends  and make it a joint effort ? Sometimes this is simple a matter of disorganization, in which  case a list might  work . You cannot  force your husband  to grow up, but you can help him understand  that this type of issue  will erode  a marriage, making one partner  resentful  and turning the other  into a recalcitrant  child . He needs to step up .

Dear Maxy,
How do I get my child to practice good hygiene ? My 11-year-old son is going  to middle school in the fall . He has a tendency to not take regular showers . I told him multiple times  that if he doesn't bathe a reasonable amount of times, he might be punished  or there will be consequencws . I am afraid he will keep up these habits  when he gets older .
Dealing with Dirt

Dear Dealing with Dirt ,
Talk to your son  about the importance  of regularly bathing  his body  and how it leads  to good health . Also, talk to him  about his changing body . He will soon enter puberty, which means  he will be developing body hair  and will likely devolop body odor if he does not regularly clean himself .
Educate  him on the young man he is becoming . Empower  him with information  about himself . This may inspire  him to bathe a bit more frequently . You can absolutely also put your foot down about how often he bathes . If he refuses, take away privileges  that he values, such as video games, TV, Play dates, etc . Figure out what would motivate him to clean up and make cleanliness a regular part of his daily life.

Syria conflict: 'Chemical attacks kill hundreds'

Chemical weapons attacks have killed hundreds on the outskirts of Damascus, Syrian opposition activists say. Rockets with toxic agents were launched at the suburbs of the Ghouta region early on Wednesday as part of a major bombardment on rebel forces, they say. The Syrian army says the accusations have been fabricated to cover up rebel losses. The main opposition alliance said that more than 1,000 people were killed by the attacks.

The United Nations Security Council said it was necessary to clarify what happened in the alleged attack, but stopped short of demanding an investigation by a UN team currently in Damascus, following an emergency meeting on Wednesday evening.
"There is a strong concern among council members about the allegations and a general sense that there must be clarity on what happened and the situation must be followed closely," Argentina's UN Ambassador Maria Cristina Perceval told reporters after a closed-door meeting.

Meanwhile, the US, UK and France are among some 35 member states that have signed a letter calling for the UN inspectors that are already investigating three sites of alleged chemical weapons use in Syria to probe the latest incident as soon as possible.

Video footage showed dozens of bodies with no visible signs of injuries, including small children, laid out on the floor of a clinic. Ghazwan Bwidany, a doctor treating the injured, said the main symptom, especially among children, was suffocation, as well as salivating and blurred vision.
"We don't have the capability to treat this number of people," he said.
"We're putting them in mosques, in schools. We are lacking medical supplies now, especially atropine, which is the antidote for chemical weapons."

United Nations chemical weapons inspectors arrived in Syria on Sunday with a mandate to investigate three locations where chemical weapons were allegedly used, including the northern town of Khan al-Assal, where some 26 people were killed in March.

Earlier, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said in a statement: "The United States is deeply concerned by reports that hundreds of Syrian civilians have been killed in an attack by Syrian government forces, including by the use of chemical weapons, near Damascus earlier today.
"We are formally requesting that the United Nations urgently investigate this new allegation. The UN investigative team, which is currently in Syria, is prepared to do so, and that is consistent with its purpose and mandate."

The alleged attack comes a year after US President Barack Obama warned the Syrian government that using chemical weapons would cross a "red line." The world has looked on in horror as graphic images emerged showing the aftermath of the dawn poison gas attack in the suburbs of Damascus that wiped out 1,300 people as they lay sleeping in their beds.
Syrian activists accuse President Bashar al-Assad's forces of launching the nerve gas attack in what would be by far the worst reported use of poison gas in the two-year-old civil war. Activists said rockets with chemical agents hit the Damascus suburbs of Ain Tarma, Zamalka and Jobar before dawn.
While these pictures of dead children are graphic, disturbing and undoubtedly the worst so far to have emerged from the conflict, they raise awareness of the plight of innocent people in a war that shows no sign of ending.
Slaughter: Syrian activists inspect the bodies of people they say were killed by nerve gas in Damascus
Slaughter: Syrian activists inspect the bodies of people they say were killed by nerve gas in Damascus

Bodies of people, including children, activists say were killed by nerve gas
Bodies of people, including children, activists say were killed by nerve gas
Innocent: The dead bodies of Syrian children after an alleged poisonous gas attack fired by regime forces
 Innocent: Dead bodies of Syrian children after an alleged poisonous gas rocket attack fired by regime forces
A young survivor of the alleged gas attack cries as he takes shelter inside a mosque
A young survivor of the alleged gas attack cries as he takes shelter inside a mosque
A man, affected by what activists say is nerve gas, is treated in the Damascus suburbs of Jesreen
A man, affected by what activists say is nerve gas, is treated in the Damascus suburbs of Jesreen
A man is treated in hospital for the effects of chemical poisoning after the suspected Sarin attack
A man is treated in hospital for the effects of chemical poisoning after the suspected Sarin attack
A boy who survived what activists say is a gas attack cries as he takes shelter inside a mosque in the Duma neighbourhood of Damascus
A boy who survived what activists say is a gas attack cries as he takes shelter inside a mosque in the Duma neighbourhood of Damascus
This image grab taken from a video uploaded on YouTube allegedly shows Syrians covering a mass grave containing bodies of victims of the attack
An undignified end: This image grab taken from a video uploaded on YouTube allegedly shows Syrians covering a mass grave containing bodies of victims of the attack. The atrocity seems all too familiar to the children and young men standing around the grave site
A wounded Syrian girl waits for treatment. It has been reported that medical staff lack vital supplies needed to treat those affected
A wounded Syrian girl waits for treatment. It has been reported that medical staff lack vital supplies needed to

"The EU reiterates that any use of chemical weapons, by any side in Syria, would be totally unacceptable," said a spokesperson for EU foreign affairs head Catherine Ashton.

But the Russian foreign ministry noted that the reports had emerged just as the UN chemical weapons inspection team had arrived in Syria, saying that "this makes us think that we are once again dealing with a premeditated provocation".

The attack took place as part of a heavy government bombardment of the region surrounding Damascus, where government forces have been trying to drive out rebel forces.  Casualties were reported in the areas of Irbin, Duma and Muadhamiya among others, activists said. Footage uploaded to YouTube from the scene by activists shows many people being treated in makeshift hospitals. The videos show victims, including many children, having convulsions. Others are apparently immobile and have difficulty breathing.

Map of Damascus Ghouta

The official Syrian Sana news agency said the reports of the attack were "baseless", quoting a "media source". The reports were "an attempt to divert the UN chemical weapons investigation commission away from carrying out its duties", Sana said.

Both the rebels and government forces have accused each other of using chemical weapons during the conflict. In July 2012, the Syrian government implicitly admitted what had long been suspected - that Syria had stocks of chemical weapons. Experts believe the country has large undeclared stockpiles of mustard gas and sarin nerve agent.

Two things stand out immediately in this reported Syrian attack. First, the timing is odd, bordering on suspicious. Why would the Assad government, which has recently been retaking ground from the rebels, carry out a chemical attack while UN weapons inspectors are in the country?  Secondly, the scale of the apparent casualties is far worse than any of the previous alleged chemical attacks. Experts say it would be almost impossible to fake so many dead and injured, including children and babies. They bear no visible wounds from gunshots; instead, many display the classic symptoms of a nerve agent attack, with startled, frozen expressions that experts say are reminiscent of Saddam Hussein's 1988 attack on the Kurds at Halabja.
The Assad government would not hesitate to use chemical weapons if it wanted to but so far denies any guilt and states this is a media campaign by its enemies. There is a remote possibility the rebels could have staged this attack to bring the international community to their aid.  The UN weapons inspectors had arrived just in time to be unimpeachable witnesses. Desperate people take desperate measures. It is something to consider.