Saturday, May 31, 2014

SpaceX unveil 'no runway' Dragon V2 space capsule

SpaceX has unveiled a re-useable spacecraft which it says will be able to take-off and land anywhere on Earth, "like a helicopter".
The seven-seater Dragon V2 is equipped with side-mounted thrusters and legs to allow it to land vertically, without the need for a runway.
Since NASA retired its space shuttle fleet three years ago, the American space agency has been dependent on Russian spacecraft to fly its astronauts into orbit.
The Californian-based company is competing with several others to win NASA contracts.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Our Planet is on the verge of the 'Sixth Extinction'

Species of plants and animals are becoming extinct at least 1,000 times faster than they did before humans arrived on the scene, and the world is on the brink of a sixth great extinction, a new study says.
The study looks at past and present rates of extinction and finds a lower rate in the past than scientists had thought.
Species are now disappearing from Earth about 10 times faster than biologists had believed, said study lead author noted biologist Stuart Pimm of Duke University.

A baby golden lion tamarin. Once thought to be extinct, this tamarin is a success story because biologists have helped set aside land for them.  Species of plants and animals are going extinct 1,000 faster than they did before humans, with the world on the verge of a sixth great extinction, a new study says.


The study focused on the rate, not the number, of species disappearing from Earth.
It calculated a 'death rate' of how many species become extinct each year out of 1 million species.
In 1995, Pimm found that the pre-human rate of extinctions on Earth was about 1.
But taking into account new research, Pimm and his colleagues refined that background rate to about 0.1.
Now, that death rate is about 100 to 1,000, Pimm said.
'We are on the verge of the sixth extinction,' Pimm said from research at the Dry Tortugas.
'Whether we avoid it or not will depend on our actions.'
The work, published Thursday by the journal Science, was hailed as a landmark study by outside experts. Pimm's study focused on the rate, not the number, of species disappearing from Earth. It calculated a 'death rate' of how many species become extinct each year out of 1 million species.
In 1995, Pimm found that the pre-human rate of extinctions on Earth was about 1.
But taking into account new research, Pimm and his colleagues refined that background rate to about 0.1. Now, that death rate is about 100 to 1,000, Pimm said.
Numerous factors are combining to make species disappear much faster than before, said Pimm and co-author Clinton Jenkins of the Institute of Ecological Research in Brazil. But the No. 1 issue is habitat loss. Species are finding no place to live as more places are built up and altered by humans.
Add to that invasive species crowding out native species, climate change affecting where species can survive, and overfishing, Pimm said.

A map of the distribution of threatened bird species in the Americas, showing their concentration 
in the coastal forests of Brazil and in the northern Andes. Red means more species.

A map of the distribution of threatened bird species in the Americas, showing their concentration in the coastal forests of Brazil and in the northern Andes. Red means more species.

The buff-tufted-ear marmoset is a good example, Jenkins said. Its habitat has shrunk because of development in Brazil, and a competing marmoset has taken over where it lives. Now, it's on the international vulnerable list.
The oceanic white-tip shark used to be one of the most abundant predators on Earth and they have been hunted so much they are now rarely seen, said Dalhousie University marine biologist Boris Worm, who wasn't part of the study but praised it.


Five times, a vast majority of the world's life has been snuffed out in what have been called mass extinctions, often associated with giant meteor strikes.
End-Ordovician mass extinction

The first of the traditional big five extinction events, around 440 million years ago, was probably the second most severe. Virtually all life was in the sea at the time and around 85% of these species vanished.

Late Devonian mass extinction

About 375-359 million years ago, major environmental changes caused a drawn-out extinction event that wiped out major fish groups and stopped new coral reefs forming for 100 million years.

End-Permian mass extinction (the Great Dying)

The largest extinction event and the one that affected the Earth’s ecology most profoundly took place 252 million years ago. As much as 97% of species that leave a fossil record disappeared forever.

End-Triassic mass extinction

Dinosaurs first appeared in the Early Triassic, but large amphibians and mammal-like reptiles were the dominant land animals. The rapid mass extinction that occurred 201 million years ago changed that.

End-Cretaceous mass extinction

An asteroid slammed down on Earth 66 million years ago, and is often blamed for ending the reign of the dinosaurs.

A Brazilian Buff-tufted-ear marmoset which is listed as a vulnerable species because of habitat loss.

A Brazilian Buff-tufted-ear marmoset which is listed as a vulnerable species because of habitat loss.

Around 252 million years ago, the Great Dying snuffed out about 90 percent of the world's species. Pimm and Jenkins said there is hope.  Both said the use of smartphones and applications such as iNaturalist will help ordinary people and biologists find species in trouble, they said.
Once biologists know where endangered species are they can try to save habitats and use captive breeding and other techniques to save the species, they said. One success story is the golden lion tamarin.

An Oceanic whitetip shark, which was once one of the most plentiful predators on Earth and now is rarely seen.

Decades ago the tiny primates were thought to be extinct because of habitat loss, but they were then found in remote parts of Brazil, bred in captivity and biologists helped set aside new forests for them to live in, Jenkins said.
'Now there are more tamarins than there are places to put them,' he said.

Many thanks to my NASA  Junior Scientists....Chris and Jonny

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Ask Maxy

Dear Maxy,
My 95-year-old father,"Fred" lives  on his own, far away from his three  children . Until now, Dad has  been in good health, even still driving . My siblings  and I have  been trying to convince Dad to move near  to one of  us  so we can care  for  him, but he refuses .
Dad has a girlfriend name "Gina," whom he met right after Mom died seven years ago . Gina  is 20 years  younger  than Dad. At first it was companionship  that kept them  together but recently Gina  is more of a caregiver . Dad is increasingly  dependent  on this woman  and seems unable to make a decision  without  consulting her first .
We see Dad's health deteriorating, both mentally and  physically and don't think  he is getting the basic care he needs. How do we get him  to give up Gina  and come live with one of  us ? Are we doing the right thing  to even ask it of him ? We worry  we aren't  doing our  best  for our  father . What do you think ?
Confused Daughter
Dear Confused,
I think you are caring  children who want what's best for  your father, but it  can be traumatizing  and frightening  to move  to a new  city, especially  at the age of  95 . Dad  has been with Gina  for seven years  and is undoubtedly quite attached  to her . She is trying to care  for him, but this  is a big  job.
Making these decisions  and knowing  when Dad is no longer capable of doing so on his may require professional assistance . I suggest  you pay an in-person visit to Dad as soon as possible  and assess the situation . Does he  need a housekeeper ? A full-time caregiver ? If he cannot afford in-home services, could  you move him  to a continuing care  facility near Gina ? Are there  day-care facilities  nearby ? Would Dad  visit you for an extended  stay, perhaps becoming familiar  with your  neighborhood  and less  resistant  to relocating ? Contact the Eldercare Locator  (  at 1-800-677-1116 or a private  geriatric care  manager ( ) to help  you figure  out the best plan.

Dear Maxy,
Over the years , I have  always been  the poor one in our  family . My siblings  have made a lot more money than me, and they have supported  me in all kinds of ways . Of course, I appreciate  their generosity, but I want to pull my own weight too. The other day  I had lunch with my brother at a local restaurant  and the meal was quite  affordable, so when the check came, I immediately reached  to pay for it . My brother shrugged me off and paid the tab . I tried to tell him that I wanted to take care of it, but he wouldn't listen . Should I leave well enough alone or  follow up  and let him know that I am making an effort  to contribute  more now  that I am earning  a little more .
Not  totally Broke
Dear Not Totally Broke,
There is no need to go to  your  siblings  to  complain about not  being allowed to foot the tab for a meal . They have become accustomed  to paying  for  your tab  and expect  that they will handle it . Since  you are not in a position to pay regularly  for whatever  may come up, don't protest this . Instead, do little things  that show your appreciation  to your family members . You can write them notes  expressing  your gratitude . You can send or give them small,  personal gifts (perhaps flowers) to show  you care . And next time  you go  to an affordable  restaurant, you can announce in advance  that  you will be picking up the check .

Dear Maxy,
It is  the end of the school year  and it is customary  to give  gifts  to the teachers . I have  gotten emails  from other parents  asking  for money  for a group gift .While I know this is what people do, I feel uncomfortable  about being forced  to participate . Is it wrong  for me  to buck the group  plan and give on my own ? I understand  that we have  a limit  on the amount  of money  that each family  gives but what if I decide  to give a small amount  or even if  my child gives  something she makes rather than money ? How  can I present  this  to the  class parents  so that my child  doesn't  end up  being the  outcast ?
Against the Shakedown
Dear Against the Shakedown,
Each school  has a particular  culture. You should be  crystal  clear  about  yours  before  you make a decision . Check school policy . It may be that classes  typically  give  as a unit . If so,  you can  tell the  class parents  that rather  than giving  cash,  you choose  to give a different  type of  gift.
That said, you may want to  give  a small  monetary gift  just so  that you can  be at least peripherally part of the  class culture .
Remember that children want and need to  feel part of their class.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Pregnant Woman Stoned to Death in Pakistan by Family....Honor Killing

Mohammad Iqbal sits in an ambulance Tuesday with the body of his wife, stoning victim Farzana Parveen, 25.

A pregnant woman was stoned to death Tuesday by her own family outside a courthouse in the Pakistani city of Lahore for marrying the man she loved.
The woman was killed while on her way to court to contest an abduction case her family had filed against her husband. Her father was promptly arrested on murder charges, police investigator Rana Mujahid said, adding that police were working to apprehend all those who participated in this "heinous crime."
Arranged marriages are the norm among conservative Pakistanis, and hundreds of women are murdered every year in so-called honor killings carried out by husbands or relatives as a punishment for alleged adultery or other illicit sexual behavior.
Stonings in public settings, however, are extremely rare. Tuesday's attack took place in front of a crowd of onlookers in broad daylight. The courthouse is located on a main downtown thoroughfare.
A police officer, Naseem Butt, identified the slain woman as Farzana Parveen, 25, and said she had married Mohammad Iqbal, 45, against her family's wishes after being engaged to him for years.
Her father, Mohammad Azeem, had filed an abduction case against Iqbal, which the couple was contesting, said her lawyer, Mustafa Kharal. He said she was three months pregnant.
Nearly 20 members of Parveen's extended family, including her father and brothers, had waited outside the building that houses the high court of Lahore. As the couple walked up to the main gate, the relatives fired shots in the air and tried to snatch her from Iqbal, her lawyer said.
When she resisted, her father, brothers and other relatives started beating her, eventually pelting her with bricks from a nearby construction site, according to Mujahid and Iqbal, the slain woman's husband.
Iqbal said he started seeing Parveen after the death of his first wife, with whom he had five children.
"We were in love," he told The Associated Press. He alleged that the woman's family wanted to fleece money from him before marrying her off.
"I simply took her to court and registered a marriage," infuriating the family, he said.
Parveen's father surrendered after the attack and called his daughter's murder an "honor killing," Butt said.
"I killed my daughter as she had insulted all of our family by marrying a man without our consent, and I have no regret over it," Mujahid, the police investigator, quoted the father as saying.
Mujahid said the woman's body was handed over to her husband for burial.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, a private group, said in a report last month that some 869 women were murdered in honor killings in 2013.
But even Pakistanis who have tracked violence against women expressed shock at the brutal and public nature of Tuesday's slaying.
"I have not heard of any such case in which a woman was stoned to death, and the most shameful and worrying thing is that this woman was killed outside a courthouse," said Zia Awan, a prominent lawyer and human rights activist.
He said Pakistanis who commit violence against women are often acquitted or handed light sentences because of poor police work and faulty prosecutions.
"Either the family does not pursue such cases or police don't properly investigate. As a result, the courts either award light sentences to the attackers, or they are acquitted," he said.

US Foreign Policy...Has it Become Weak and Ineffective ?

President Obama with US Marines in Washington DC (April 2014)

President Obama is proud of ending America's foreign wars, but there is a growing chorus of criticism of his foreign policy

Under the blazing South Carolina sun on Parris Island, young men and women march in smart formation to  the drums  of a military band. These are the Marine Corps' newest graduates, the freshest faces in the most powerful fighting force the world has ever known, the United States military. A disembodied voice from a loudspeaker reminds them they are heirs to past battles in far-flung places.
Maybe Iraq and Afghanistan are of too recent memory to qualify as past battles. Certainly, their sad reminders are ever present in grieving families and wounded heroes.

US Marines at a wreath laying ceremony with President Barack Obama at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery (26 May 2014) 
White House officials say that the time is now right for the president to explain how he will project a US that is interventionist and internationalist

US Marines in California (16 May 2014)
  Some argue that that the best way of preventing conflict in the world is retaining American power in the world

For the first time in 13 years there is a real possibility that none of those earnest graduates will die in combat in a foreign field, gritty, snowy, sweltering or otherwise exotic. President Obama is proud of ending America's foreign wars, but there is a growing chorus of criticism of a foreign policy that to some looks vapid and weak.
The most senior Republican on the Senate Foreign affairs committee, Bob Corker, says there are "questions about the United States  presence in the world that haven't been there in the past.  And I think that creates a vacuum and other powers may step into that vacuum." ( he might have been referring to Russia's recent aggressiveness )
"I am very concerned about the lack of a clear-sighted foreign policy in our country. I will go a little further and say the administration is doing everything they can to skate until 17 January (when the president leaves office) to ensure that nothing, nothing happens on their watch. In essence, sweeping big issues under the rug."
He says that on recent trips abroad - to the Far East and the Middle East, he found the same story - allies who no longer fully trusted the US.

US Marines at Armed Forces Day before a baseball game between the Los Angeles Angels and the Tampa Bay Rays in Anaheim, California (17 May 2014) 
US Marines have served in conflicts in all parts the world

He said the failure to punish Syrian President Bashar al-Assad when he crossed President Obama's "red lines" by using chemical weapons was a big part of the problem.
"It looks like Assad is cruising to another five years in office," Mr Corker said,
"We validated him by those steps. We could have affected the balance on the ground and we chose not to do that, and I think that was a significant misstep - and what that did was send signals around the world that we really aren't a force to be counted on." Mr Corker says that has had serious consequences.


"We don't want conflict but the best way of preventing conflict in the world is retaining American power in the world” (End Quote Professor Nick Burns Harvard professor of international relations)
"It's that lack of credibility that has send a sense of permissiveness around the world so when you see
[Russian President Vladimir] Putin doing the things he's doing, when you see China stepping out and doing the things they're doing, it is because they see a president who, I think, they don't believe will back up statements with actions."
Mr Corker says that he is no warmonger, but sometimes there must be the threat of force to prevent war.
"What I fear is that this president's actions, or lack of actions, on foreign policy actually are creating a very unstable world."
President Obama seems stung by this growing chorus of criticism - he has chosen the graduation ceremony at the prestigious West Point military academy to set out his foreign policy priorities for his remaining time in the White House.
Officials say, rather defensively, that after a year of responding to big events this is the right time for this speech - and he will set out how to engage with the world without over-reaching - how to project a US that is interventionist and internationalist not isolationist or unilateral.

The president too, may sometimes seem frozen, but is perhaps just very aware of the dire consequence of missteps. But even those who admire much of what he has done think that this big policy speech is necessary.
One of them is Professor Nick Burns, a former member of the National Security Council with responsibility for Russia under presidents Clinton and Bush senior, then ambassador to Nato and now professor of international relations at Harvard.

Prof Burns says that after a "fairly impressive first term" President Obama has "hit a number of roadblocks".  He talks of the problems in Syria, the Pacific and Ukraine.
"These three incidents have created the impression the United States is not as assertive as it used to be, and probably ought to be."
He thinks the president should use the West Point speech to "plant a flag in the sand" - promise tougher sanctions against Russia, restore spending on defence and diplomacy and call a special Nato summit to reassure members in the East, and send the same signal to allies in the Pacific.
"At a time when Russia and China are clearly being more assertive we need to show our own power," Prof Burns said.
"We don't want conflict but the best way of preventing conflict in the world is retaining American power in the world, which Russia and China will respect if it is visible and led purposefully."
He feels the president is not sending a clear message to other world powers.
In the next 10 days the White House promises a new push to clarify what the president wants to do in the world - and articulating his complex, subtle vision may be difficult. But what is even harder is acting decisively, without resorting to military might and being a defining force in the world without hectoring or bullying.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Thieves Hacking Giant Redwoods for Drug Money

thieves have been hacking burls from giant trees in Redwood National and State Parks in northern California.

Some of the tallest trees in the world are under threat from poachers who have found an unlikely target. Huge knots of wood, or burls, which grow out of ancient redwood trees in northern California can be amputated from the tree, polished, then sold for thousands of dollars as table-tops and ornaments.
Parts of the Redwood National and State Park have been closed off after a 400-year-old tree was cut down and as more and bigger burls are being taken near former logging towns where the economy has collapsed.
Some of the redwoods in the park are close to 2,000 years old, and are some of the tallest trees on earth, reaching up to 379 feet into the sky. These coastal redwoods occupy a thin strip of land 470 miles in length along the Pacific coast of North America, from the extreme southwestern part of Oregon, reaching down to a southern grove of redwoods in Monterey, California.
One law enforcement Ranger, Laura Denny said on Tuesday that poachers have been coming into the forest at night with their chainsaws and ATV's with increasing frequency lately. "When I interview suspects, that is the (reason) they say: their addiction to drugs and they can't find jobs," she said.
Poachers, mainly drug addicts and people with criminal records, have been sneaking into the park at night and hauling off burls, (knotted pieces of wood that protrude from the trunks), and chunks they have chopped off of the massive trees. These poachers are using the money earned from the sale of the redwood pieces as an alternative way to support their habits.
The illegally poached redwood can sell for as much as $2 to $3 a pound, says Lorin Sandburg from Oregon. Sandburg is a licensed dealer in redwood who occasionally goes to Northern California to buy redwood burls, but all the trees with really good burls are now on protected public lands. 
Finished redwood dining-room tables can go for as much as $1,300 on E-Bay. "I don't buy them unless they have proof of where they got it," Sandburg said. " If there are no papers, it can stay in their yard."
Burl poachers are very difficult to catch, and while charges can be a felony, resulting in prison time, most convictions usually end up as misdemeanors with only a fine. Law enforcement rangers have been following up on the theft of a massive burl from a redwood near the mouth of the Klamath River. The removal of the burl left an open wound measuring 8 feet by 10 feet.
People and horses on a downed redwood. Circa-1900. Comment by David C. Foster: Unknown Photo History...
David C. Foster
People and horses on a downed redwood. Circa-1900. Comment by David C. Foster: Unknown Photo History. I'm fairly certain the tree was a Coast Redwood (Sequoia semperviren) or a Giant Sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) from Central to Northern California or Oregon. I wish this one was still standing. The bark has already been stripped off of it.

Only about five percent of the old growth since the time of western settlement are still standing today. Logging had decimated almost 90 percent of the original redwood forests by 1960, and it wasn't until after a lot of controversy and even more compromise with timber companies that Congress authorized the establishment of the Redwood National Park in 1968.
It is an awe-inspiring experience to gaze upon the giant redwoods, and even more amazing to touch one of these ancient trees. They truly are a treasure, belonging to everyone, a living species from the past.
Redwood Lumber Industry Film - Circa 1947

Google is to start building its own self-driving cars

Google is to start building its own self-driving cars, rather than modifying vehicles built by other manufacturers. The car will have a stop-go button but no controls, steering wheel or pedals. Pictures of the Google vehicle show it looks like a city car with a "friendly" face, designed to make it seem non-threatening and help people accept self-driving technology.

Co-founder Sergey Brin revealed the plans at a conference in California.
"We're really excited about this vehicle - it's something that will allow us to really push the capabilities of self driving technology, and understand the limitations," said Chris Urmson, director of the company's self-driving project.
He added that the cars had the ability to "improve people's lives by transforming mobility".
But some researchers working in this field are investigating potential downsides to driverless car technology. They believe they could make traffic and urban sprawl worse, as people accept longer commutes because they do not have to drive themselves.
Early renderings of the car makes it look almost cartoon-like, it has no traditional hood at the front, and the wheels are pushed to the corners.
Google self-drive car 

Google says it will initially build 100 prototype vehicles. It will seat two people, propulsion will be electric, and at the start it will be limited to 25mph (40km/h) to help ensure safety.
The most significant thing about the design is that it does not have any controls, apart from a stop/go button. For early testing, extra controls will be fitted so one of Google's test drivers can take over if there is a problem. The controls will simply plug in, and Mr Urmson believes that over time, as confidence in the technology grows, they will be removed entirely.

The front end of the vehicle is designed to be safer for pedestrians, with a soft foam-like material where a traditional bumper would be, and a more flexible windscreen, which may help reduce injuries. The vehicle will use a combination of laser and radar sensors along with camera data to drive autonomously. It will depend on Google's road maps, built specifically for the program, and tested on the company's current fleet of vehicles.

Google self-drive car 

Google says it expects its self-drive cars to be on the road 'within a year'

Google recently announced that its self driving cars had covered 700,000 miles of public roads in autonomous mode, and that they were now tackling the tricky problem of busy city streets. The company plans to build a fleet of around 200 of the cars in Detroit, with the hope of using them as an autonomous technology test bed.

"We'll see these vehicles on the road within the year," says Mr Urmson.
Advocates claim that autonomous cars have the potential to revolutionize transportation, by making roads safer, eliminating crashes, and decreasing congestion and pollution.

Simulation of road 

The view from Google's self-drive car and its computer during tests
Ron Medford, previously the deputy director of the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and now the safety director for the self-driving car team at Google, believes that number could be drastically reduced by removing the chance of driver error.
"I think it has the potential to be the most important safety technology that the auto industry has ever seen," he said.
But Sven Beiler, executive director of the Center for Automotive Research at Stanford cautions that driverless cars may still require human input in extreme circumstances and that people may forget how to operate their vehicles if they do not do it regularly. This could be particularly dangerous in an emergency situation where the computer does not know how to react, and asks for input from a human who may not have been paying attention, he warned.
"You will not be able to fiddle around looking for the instruction manual in the glove compartment that you've never looked at before," he said. He equates it to people who drive automatics forgetting how to drive a car with a manual gearbox.
But this is what the future hold. We will rely more and more on technology to transport us, work for us and generally serve us in every way. Is it a good thing? The jury's still out.

Why Whale Poo is Good for the Ocean ...and Us

We thought whales were our competitors, feeding off the same fish we rely on. But now we know how much they benefit our lives, in an unusual manner.

Oceans envelop three-quarters of our planet's surface. The survival of three billion people depends on their incredible bounty. Only now are we discovering how the ocean's largest inhabitants are helping to enhance this.

Just like on land, most of life in the ocean ultimately runs off plants and photosynthesis. In the ocean, the plants that live there are microscopic, called phytoplankton. The whole ocean ecosystem is driven by these plants which grow on the surface -- and as phytoplankton produce half of the oxygen that we breathe, we rely on them too.

When phytoplankton use up all the nutrients in the water, this vital growth goes into decline. But nature provides an unexpected lifeline, in the form of whale excrement. Whales excrete near the surface, releasing huge amounts of nutrients. It's the perfect place to put fertilizer to grow phytoplankton, at the level where there is the most amount of sun and oxygen.

In this film, wildlife cameraman Doug Allan, Dr M Sanjayan and Stephanie Wear at The Nature Conservancy, and Dr Joe Roman, conservation biologist at Duke University, describe how this is changing our view of whales. We thought that they were our competitors but now we know they are our allies by recycling nutrients, helping sustain our ocean's precious plant life.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Pope to meet abuse victims at the Vatican

Pope Francis talks to reporters on his way back to the Vatican from Jerusalem - 26 May 2014

Pope Francis spoke to reporters on his way back from the Middle East

Pope Francis has announced he will meet a group of sex abuse victims next month after comparing the "ugly crime" to performing "a satanic Mass". Speaking after his Middle East tour, Pope Francis said he will show zero tolerance for anyone in the Roman Catholic Church who abuses children.
"Sexual abuse is such an ugly crime ... because a priest who does this betrays the body of the Lord," he said.
The Pope, 77, spoke to reporters for nearly an hour on his flight to Rome.  Many Catholics will be glad to hear Pope Francis taking a tough stance. But it remains unclear if the Pope's zero tolerance policy will extend to bishops who are accused of turning a blind eye to abuse by priests in their dioceses.

Pope Francis shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he departs at Ben Gurion International Airport - 26 May 26, 2014  

The Pope was feted by both the Israelis and the Palestinians on his visit to the Middle East

Pope Francis said he would meet eight victims and Cardinal Sean Patrick O'Malley, who is head of a commission set up by the Vatican to investigate sex crimes committed by priests and to care for victims. Cardinal O'Malley said last month he will recommend that negligent clerics be held accountable regardless of their rank in the Church - a move that victims' groups have pressed the Vatican on.
On the plane back to Rome, Pope Francis said that the sexual abuse of children by priests was as bad as performing a satanic Mass. Scandals involving priests abusing children sexually and in other ways have caused enormous damage to Catholicism. Secular people might say that pedophilia is actually much worse than a satanic rite. But for a pope to compare crimes carried out by Catholic priests to worshipping the devil counts as strong language.
The Pope is saying what many Catholics who have been horrified by repeated child sex abuse scandals want to hear. But he will have to follow his words with actions if he wants to stop scandals doing any more damage to the church. For his pledge of zero tolerance to mean anything he will, eventually, have to punish the guilty men - and those higher in the Catholic hierarchy who covered up what they did.
The Pope is under pressure to act after the UN recently published a report accusing the Vatican of systematically placing the "preservation of the reputation of the Church over the protection of child victims."

Earlier on Monday, the Pope called for an end to religious intolerance during a mass in Jerusalem at the room where Christians believe Jesus held the Last Supper.

Pope Francis puts an envelope inside the stones of the Western Wall in Jerusalem - 26 May 2014
Earlier on Monday, the Pope visited the Western Wall in Jerusalem and met Holocaust survivors
He visited the most important holy sites for Muslims and Jews in Jerusalem's Old City on the final day of his Middle East tour.

The pontiff has been feted by Israel and the Palestinians, and has invited their presidents to the Vatican. Both Israel's Shimon Peres and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have given a positive response. But Pope Francis sought to play down the importance of his invitation, saying he was not qualified to be a mediator and that proper negotiations were necessary for a peace deal.
"We are coming just to pray, then everyone goes home," he said. "But I think prayer is important....
praying together."

Catholic Church abuse scandals

  • Germany - A priest, named only as Andreas L, admitted in 2012 to 280 counts of sexual abuse involving three boys over a decade
  • United States - Revelations about abuses in the 1990s by two Boston priests, Paul Shanley and John Geoghan, caused public outrage
  • Belgium - The bishop of Bruges resigned in April 2010 after admitting that he had sexually abused a boy for years
  • Italy - The Catholic Church in Italy admitted in 2010 that about 100 cases of paedophile priests had been reported over 10 years
  • Ireland - A report in 2009 found that sexual and psychological abuse was "endemic" in Catholic-run industrial schools for most of the 20th century

We Are Made of Stardust

Huff Post Science:

 NASA astronomer Dr. Michelle Thaller explains how the basic elements in our blood and bones connect us to one of the most violent acts in the universe—a supernova explosion—and what the universe might look like when all the stars die out.

Every single cell in our bodies contains elements created in the burning center of a collapsing star -- from the iron in our blood to every bit of calcium in our bones and keratin in our hair. That's because in the very early days of the universe that followed the Big Bang, only the simplest elements existed, like hydrogen.
"The only thing in the universe that can make a bigger atom is a star," Thaller says. "The entire periodic table, every element you've ever heard of, was processed inside the body of a star. And that star then unraveled or exploded, and here we are." Watch the video above to learn more.
As celebrated astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson said, (echoing Carl Sagan): if you feel insignificant given the immensity of the cosmos, you're not looking at it in the right way.
" We are not just figuratively, but literally made of stardust".
And that is no small thing.

Many thanks to my Junior NASA Scientists, Jonny and Chris

New Crater Impact Site On Mars

Borrowed from

An eagle-eyed NASA spacecraft has spotted a fresh crater on Mars large enough to cover half of a football field, and it's no puny Martian pockmark. In fact, the crater is the largest new impact site ever seen on the Red Planet using orbiter photos.
NASA's powerful Mars Reconaissance Orbiter captured the photo of the new Martian crater after it suddenly appeared in March 2012. Mission scientists say it is the biggest fresh impact crater scientists have confirmed on any planet by using before-and-after images.
The crater likely was carved by a car-size asteroid in an impact event similar to last year's meteor explosion over Chelyabinsk, Russia, which shattered windows, damaged hundreds of buildings and left more than 1,000 people injured, NASA officials said.

 Many thanks to my Junior NASA Scientists, Jonny and Chris

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Mass Drive-by Shooting...California

Huffington Post:  Davide Mastracci  (not necessarily the opinions of the blog hosts)

A man killed six people in a drive by shooting on Friday night in California (and ultimately ended up dead himself). On Thursday night the apparent shooter made a video explaining why he was going to embark on the murderous rampage. In this video the man stated that he was a 22-year-old virgin who couldn't attract women. He explained that women made his life an "existence of loneliness, rejection, and unfulfilled desires" by not loving or sleeping with him. He stated that he would seek "retribution" against women for this supposed crime. His plan was to enter a sorority house and kill all of the women inside.
Men will react to this story in many ways. Most men will probably be disturbed, and condemn the murderer for his actions. Some will call the murderer a "mad-man," who was in "desperate need of  help  ." Others might crack jokes about the alleged murderer's inability to pickup women. Perhaps they need to react in a different way. The shooter should undoubtedly be condemned for his actions, but it's not enough.
We should not think of the murderer as an alien with no similarities to the average man. Of course, most men won't take part in shooting women. Regardless, if you cut out the murderer's claim to be a deity, and  his creepy Batman-villain like tone, a lot of what he said is part of a pretty normal trope that can be found in male discourse everywhere. I call it the 'Nice Guy' trope. A sizeable chunk of men claim that women always pick the "assholes" instead of the "nice guys." The implication here is that women aren't smart enough to make their own choices, and that they're doing an evil deed by withholding something these "wronged" men supposedly deserve.  We should realize the murderer's narrative is not so different, and understand why it is misogynistic and dangerous.
We should avoid reducing the murderer to a crazed individual whose actions can be explained solely by his mental state. Instead, we should analyze how the misogynistic societies we live in enabled the murderer's killing spree. Our society tells us that it's OK to see women's bodies as objects, to see women as creatures requiring our guidance, to see women as owing us their bodies, their conversation, and their smiles. The murderer's mental state may have pushed him over the edge, but our society brought him there.
We need to think about how our actions hurt women, and never repeat these actions again. We need to stop harassing women. If you do approach a woman, and she isn't interested, respect her decision and move on. Don't swear at her, insult her, or make her feel like continuing to talk to you is safer than the consequences of rejecting you. Don't let it slide when your friends do any of these things. Call them on it, even if they get pissed off; especially if they do.
We can't rely on society to encourage, or help us, change the problematic ways we treat women. There are nowhere near enough forces in our society dedicated to challenging the misogynistic views and actions that lead to these sorts of mass murders. For example, the media covering this story will probably focus on the murderer's potential mental problems instead of the root causes of his behavior.
We can't use this an excuse to keep acting the way we have. There is no excuse. We need to do our best to stop making the world an unsafe place for women. We need to do it now.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Friday, May 23, 2014

Argument Over Richard III Remains...Settled by British High Court

FILE - This undated photo made available on Monday Feb. 4, 2013 by the University of Leicester, England, shows the remains found underneath a car park in Leicester, which have been declared "beyond reasonable doubt" to be the long lost remains of England's King Richard III, missing for 500 years. Britain's High Court ruled Friday May 23, 2014 that the monarch, who was killed in battle in 1485, should be buried in the city of Leicester, where his skeleton was found under a parking lot in 2012. A group of distant relatives wanted him interred in the northern England city of York, to which he had strong ties. (AP Photo/University of Leicester, File)
This undated photo made available on Monday Feb. 4, 2013 by the University of Leicester, England, shows the remains found underneath a car park in Leicester, which have been declared "beyond reasonable doubt" to be the long lost remains of England's famous, hunched backed King Richard III, missing for 500 years.

In the battle royal over Richard III's bones, Britain's High Court has given the victory to Leicester. The court ruled Friday that the 15th-century monarch should be buried in the city in central England where his skeleton was found under a parking lot in 2012. A group of distant relatives had wanted Richard interred in the northern England city of York, to which he had strong ties.
Calling the case "unique and exceptional," three judges ruled there were no grounds to overturn the government's decision to grant a burial license to Leicester. Richard's remains are due to be enshrined in the city's cathedral. That decision had been challenged by Stephen Nicolay, the king's 16th great-nephew, and a group called the Plantagenet Alliance. They claimed the government did not consult widely enough or consider the wishes of Richard or his living relatives.
But the judges, led by Heather Hallett, said there was "no direct evidence of any definitive wishes expressed by Richard III as to his place of burial."
And they said the claimants "represent but a tiny fraction of Richard III's descendants," who are estimated to number between 1 million and 10 million.
"It is time for King Richard III to be given a dignified reburial and finally laid to rest," the judges said.
Richard was deposed and killed in a battle near Leicester in 1485 and quickly buried without a coffin in a now-demolished church in the city. A skeleton, with a deformed spine, found under a Leicester parking lot was identified as the king through DNA tests, bone analysis and other scientific scrutiny.
He remains one of England's most controversial kings, portrayed as a hunchbacked villain in Shakespeare's play "Richard III." Some historians claim he was a relatively enlightened monarch whose name was besmirched by his opponents.

India: Police investigate pizza deliveries by drone

Photo of a pizza being delivered by drone

Police in the Indian city of Mumbai are reportedly looking into why a restaurant started using a drone to deliver pizzas without letting them know.
Francesco's Pizzeria says it successfully used a remote-controlled four rotored drone to send an order to a skyscraper about 1.5km (1 mile) away. In a city that's famous for its snarling traffic jams, the restaurant says drone deliveries could be a green solution that saves on time too. A video the pizzeria put together shows footage from one of the test flights.
But the city police now say they're checking whether the restaurant asked permission from the civil aviation authorities.  A local police chief said "We are very sensitive towards anything that flies in the sky with the help of remote control." Indian security forces are nervous about the possibility of terror attacks using paragliders or drones. But Francesco's insists the experiment was safe. A source told the Economic Times the drone never went higher than 130m (400ft) to avoid interfering with other traffic, and the craft was never out of the reach of the controller. Last year, Amazon said it was testing unmanned drones for deliveries, but said it could take up to five years for the service to actually start.
After a permit is issued to the pizzeria by the civil aviation authorities, there is no impediment to using the drone to deliver pizzas. This is precedent setting for India. If the pizzeria encounters no bureaucratic holdups we can be sure that the sky over that city will soon be full of drones delivering everything from pizzas to newspapers. I would like to know if there will be some kind of traffic control to prevent the thousands of collisions which are bound to happen.

Sterling's Wife 'to negotiate Clippers sale'

Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling (C), his wife Shelly (L) attend the NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles,  22 December 2008
  Shelly Sterling (left) is an alternate governor for the team and is a partial owner through a trust

Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling is authorizing his wife to negotiate the sale of the basketball team. She may seek to retain partial ownership of the club, reports say. Mr Sterling was banned from the National Basketball Association (NBA) for life and fined $2.5m after racist comments he made went public.
The sale could pre-empt a move by the NBA to force Mr Sterling to sell his interest in the basketball team. The league has charged him with damaging the reputation of the NBA and its teams. Three-quarters of the team owners must vote to force the sale. The owners are meeting on the 3rd of June to consider the matter.

 Shelly Sterling wants "meaningful control" over the sale. She and her husband own the team through a trust. In a press conference on Tuesday, NBA commissioner Adam Silver said he would consider a sale before the June 3rd hearing. However, USA Today reported Mrs Sterling wanted to retain some ownership of the team. It is unclear whether the NBA would allow this.

Last week, Mr Sterling said through his lawyer he would refuse to pay the fine and was considering suing the NBA. Maxwell Blecher said his client had done nothing to deserve the NBA's punishment. The league announced the ban and fine soon after an audio recording of Mr Sterling emerged in the US media in which he was heard asking a woman not to associate in public with black people nor to bring them to games.
Mr Silver said Mr Sterling's "hateful opinions... simply have no place in the NBA".

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Espionage? US Accuses China of Cybertheft

The efforts were directed at six American victim companies: Westinghouse Electric, U.S. subsidiaries of SolarWorld AG, U.S. Steel, Allegheny Technologies and Alcoa. The United Steel Workers union was also targeted. Each of the alleged hackers was hit with 31 criminal counts for a conspiracy that stretched back eight years, officials said.        

“This is a case alleging economic espionage by members of the Chinese military and represents the first-ever charges against a state actor for this type of hacking,” Attorney General Eric Holder said.
"Enough is enough," Holder said at a press conference.                              

 FBI Director James Comey told NBC News, “For too long, the Chinese government has blatantly sought to use cyber-espionage to obtain economic advantage for its state-owned industries.”        
The FBI tracked the computer attacks to Unit 61398 of the Third Department of the People's Liberation Army, headquartered in a building in Shanghai, officials said.
Authorities said what amounted to "21st century burglary" benefited the Chinese competitors of the U.S. victims, including state-run enterprises, and led to the loss of American jobs.
As one example, the hackers stole cost, pricing and strategy information from SolarWorld at the very time the company was losing market share to Chinese rivals, officials said.
Other allegations from the indictment:
  • In 2010, one of the hackers swiped specs for pipes in power plants that Westinghouse was building in China and also peeked at sensitive emails from senior company officials making decisions about other business ventures with the Chinese company.
  • While U.S. Steel was locked in trade disputes with Chinese firms in 2010, the unit used phishing emails to install malware on company computers that it used to exploit vulnerable servers.
  • The unit stole emails about internal strategy from union leaders while they were involved in disputes over Chinese trade practices.
"These victims are tired of being raided," said Assistant Attorney General John Carlin.
He said that in the past, when the U.S. has complained about the hacking to China, "they repsonded by publicly challenging us to provide hard evidence of their hacking that could cstand up in court.
"Well, today we are," Carlin said.
China's Foreign Ministry issued a strongly worded statement, saying the indictment was "made up" and would "damage Sino-American cooperation and mutual trust".
"The Chinese government's stance on the issue of Internet security is consistent and clear," said the statement from Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang, which urged "immediate rectification".
"China is a staunch defender of network security, and the Chinese government, military and associated personnel have never engaged in online theft of trade secrets," the statement said.
It's unclear how the hackers would be brought to justice in the United States. In a separate case, the feds also have charged the makers of malicious software used by hackers, Holder announced at the press conference.
 In a statement, Alcoa said "no material information was compromised" during the Chinese intrusion. The United Steel Workers said, "we find the matter troubling and take it quite seriously."        
"To our knowledge, no material information was compromised during this incident which occurred several years ago. Safeguarding our data is a top priority for Alcoa and we continue to invest resources to protect our systems."        
The Obama administration has long considered China the most aggressive nation in obtaining industrial secrets through spying.
"Chinese actors are the world's most active and persistent perpetrators of economic espionage," said the Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive, a U.S. government agency, in a 2011 report.
A year ago, several U.S. newspapers, including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, said hackers traced to China attacked their newsroom computer systems.
A spokesman for China's foreign ministry called any suggestion that the Chinese were involved in those intrusions "irresponsible," though U.S. security experts said China targeted news organizations in the U.S. and overseas to try to identify the sources of news leaks within the Chinese government.
Those disclosures prompted a computer security expert and former Justice Department lawyer, Marc Zwillinger to say, "the only computers these days that are safe from Chinese government hackers are computers that are turned off, unplugged, and thrown in the back seat of your car."

Taken verbatim from NBC News

Ask Maxy

Dear Maxy,
I just found out my best friend's parents  are  getting a divorce . Our parents  have been friends  for years  and they are like a second family to me . Her  dad  cheated on her mom  and her mom has turned the kids against their  dad . When my  friend  tries to talk to me  about this  situation , I feel very uncomfortable  because I think  that it is wrong  that she  does  not  communicate with her dad. She asks  me for advice , but I don't want to go against  what she  believes is right . I know she is very upset  about this situation  and I really don't  know  what  to say  to her when she brings up the divorce .
Should I try  to avoid  this  subject  completely  or  try  and comfort  her without  giving  any opinion ?
Dear Uncomfortable ,
You are doing the right thing  by  not taking sides . There is  no winning in this situation if  you become too vocal  about  your opinions . Do your  best  to simply  be there  for your  friend . Remind  her  that you love her  and want to support  her through  everything . Suggest  that she see a counselor  to get professional  support  as she  goes through  this incredibly difficult period .
If  she asks you to take sides  or  agree  with something  that makes  you uncomfortable, tell her no . It is OK  for you  to say that you refuse  to speak badly  about either of her parents .

Dear Maxy ,
Six years ago, I gave up my job  to take care of my mother , while  my siblings went off  and had fun . After Mom passed , I still had the house to clean  and laundry  to do . I never asked  for a dime  But as my own health has declined , everyone  continues  to treat me  like a servant .
My father  and brother both say demeaning  things  to me . My sister-in-law  is a know it all  and makes it clear  she  thinks I am an idiot . My son-in-law makes  me the butt of his  jokes . They all behave as if I am nothing .
I am 60-years-old  and tired of this . All I can think  of is getting away  from every single one of them . Should I ?
Dear Kay,
Is there a reason you should  continue  living in your mother's  house? Your  relatives treat you  like a servant  because you permit it . It's OK  to say no  to them . If  you can find any type of  job that pays, I highly recommend that you start putting  money aside  and make a life  for yourself  that you can enjoy . You don't have to cut off contact . You simply  need them  to see that  you no longer  will tolerate  such treatment .

Dear Maxy ,
Recently , I have  been trying  to eat healthier  so I can lose weight . I join a gym  and have been working out at least four times a week . Most of my friends  have been understanding  and supportive  of this  goal ; however , one of my best friends  is  treating  me as if it's a joke . She  has  not taken me seriously at all , and all she does  is talk about  food  ... whether  it's a new  dessert  place we need to try  or the mac and cheese  she had  for dinner the other night . I am insecure  about this  and she makes  me feel uncomfortable  because I feel  all she  does is  judge . She is very manipulative  and it seems  as if  she does  not want me  to reach my goal .
It stresses  me out  because she is always asking  for plans, but I do not want to associate  myself  with someone  so negative .
How  can I confront  her about this in a nice way .
Dear Texas ,
Drum up the courage to speak directly to her . Tell her  it hurts your feelings knowing  that she has  been unsupportive  of you in your efforts  to get healthier  and lose weight. Point out the things  that she has said  that have been hurtful . Remind  her that  you need  her as  your friend  to be  a cheerleader  rather  than a naysayer . Tell her that  if she is not able  to be supportive , you will not  be able  to spend as much time with her .
Do not  feel bad  about taking  care of yourself . In order  to make the huge step  that you have embarked  upon , you need  to be  completely  focused . Surround yourself with supporters .

Get Your Rob Ford Souvenirs Right Here

We have the deluxe Rob Ford Crack Pipe

Rob Ford full face mask ...comes with strap-on, inflatable belly

Free Tattoo with any purchase of a hundred dollars or more

Of course, everyone wants one of these Rob Ford 'bobble head dolls' ( very flattering...not such a fat head)

Rob Ford Tee Shirts

Posters of Rob Ford and Friends


And Finally, a few of my favorite candid shots of the man himself

The End

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Iran 'releases' ( formerly arrested ) dancers who made 'Happy' tribute video

The video shows Iranian people dancing to Pharrell's single in and around Tehran

A group of Iranians who were arrested for filming a video tribute to Pharrell Williams' song 'Happy' have been released on bail, reports from Tehran suggest. One of the fans, fashion photographer Reihane Taravati, posted a photo on Instagram, saying: "Hi, I'm back." She and her colleagues were arrested on Tuesday. Police said their "vulgar clip" had "hurt public chastity". The video showed three men and three unveiled women dancing on the streets and rooftops of Tehran.

Williams, whose song was nominated for an Oscar earlier this year, protested at the arrests.
"It is beyond sad that these kids were arrested for trying to spread happiness," the singer wrote on Facebook. Many Twitter users had used the hashtag #freehappyiranians to put pressure on the Iranian authorities to release the dancers.

Reihane Taravati on Instagram 

One of the dancers updated her Instagram profile to say she had been released
Announcing her release, Taravati wrote: "Hi I'm back. Thank you @pharrell and everyone who cared about us... love you all so much and missed you so much."
The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran (ICHRI) reported that the other dancers seen in the video had also been released.
"All people who made the Happy video were released today, except the director of  the video," the organization tweeted.

The "Happy we are from Tehran" video, originally posted in March, has now been seen more than 40,000 times. At the end of the clip, the credits read: " The song 'Happy' was an excuse to be happy. We enjoyed every second of making it. Hope it puts a smile on your face."
According to some reports, a total of 13 people were arrested in connection with the video, but official sources have not confirmed the exact number of detainees. Iran's state-run TV broadcast a program on Tuesday, which apparently showed the men and women confessing on camera. A subtitled edition of the TV clip, posted on YouTube, identified the detainees as "actors" who claimed they were tricked into making the Happy video for an audition.
"They told me they are making a feature film and they had a permit for it," said one man in the video. "They said those things and they fooled me."

A montage of images from the Tehran Happy video 

The participants were shown on state television said they had been duped into taking part. Under Iran's interpretation of Islamic law, women must cover their hair and wear loose-fitting clothing meant to preserve their modesty. Patrols of so-called "morality police" regularly enforce standards of Islamic dress on Iran's streets. However, the rules are widely flouted.
The internet is also heavily filtered in Iran, with the authorities blocking access to popular social networking sites. But Arash Sobhani, lead singer of the Iranian underground rock group Kiosk, said that attempts to suppress music and freedom of expression were not working.
"They banned our music, broke our guitars, attacked our parties and stopped our concerts," he said. "But did we stop? No!"

A still image from the 'vulgar' Happy video 
The video has been watched more than 40,000 times

Pharrell Williams at the Oscars
Williams performed the song at the Oscar ceremony in March
 Imagine being arrested for trying to spread a little happiness. We are so lucky to live in a democratic country. We don't appreciate it enough
Williams' song has inspired hundreds of tributes since it was released last year on the soundtrack to hit animation Despicable Me 2.