Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Press Conference of the Future...Bloggers and Tweeters

Complex Organic Molecule Discovered in Interstellar Space...Supports Theory of Life Elsewhere

Alma telescope

Scientists have found the beginnings of life-bearing chemistry at the centre of the galaxy. Iso-propyl cyanide has been detected in a star-forming cloud 27,000 light-years from Earth. Its branched carbon structure is closer to the complex organic molecules of life than any previous finding from interstellar space.
The discovery suggests the building blocks of life may be widespread throughout our galaxy. Various organic molecules have previously been discovered in interstellar space, but i-propyl cyanide is the first with a branched carbon backbone. The branched structure is important as it shows that interstellar space could be the origin of more complex branched molecules, such as amino acids, that are necessary for life on Earth.
Dr Arnaud Belloche from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy is lead author of the research, which appears in the journal Science.
"Amino acids on Earth are the building blocks of proteins, and proteins are very important for life as we know it. The question in the background is: is there life somewhere else in the galaxy?"

The molecule was detected in a giant gas cloud called Sagittarius B2, an active region of ongoing star formation in the centre of the Milky Way. As stars are born in the cloud they heat up microscopic dust grains. Chemical reactions on the surface of the dust allow complex molecules like i-propyl cyanide to form. The molecules emit radiation that was detected as radio waves by twenty 12m telescopes at the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (Alma) in Chile. Each molecule produces a different "spectral fingerprint" of frequencies.
"The game consists in matching these frequencies… to molecules that have been characterized in the laboratory," explained Dr Belloche.
"Our goal is to search for new complex organic molecules in the interstellar medium."
Previously discovered molecules in the Sagittarius B2 cloud include vinyl alcohol and ethyl formate, the chemical that gives raspberries their flavour and rum its smell. But i-propyl cyanide is the largest and most complex organic molecule found to date - and the only one to share the branched atomic backbone of amino acids.
"The idea is to know whether the elements that are necessary for life to occur… can be found in other places in our galaxy."

Alma graphic

Prof Matt Griffin, head of the school of physics and astronomy at Cardiff University, commented on the discovery.
"It's clearly very high-quality data - a very emphatic detection with multiple spectral signatures all seen together."
Prof Griffin added that the quantity of i-propyl cyanide detected is significant.

Molecule model
The molecule i-propyl cyanide has a branched backbone of carbon atoms
"There seems to be quite a lot of it, which would indicate that this more complex organic structure is possibly very common, maybe even the norm, when it comes to simple organic molecules in space.
"It's a step closer to discovering molecules that can be regarded as the building blocks or the precursors… of amino acids."
The hope is that amino acids will eventually be detected outside our Solar System. "That's what everyone would like to see," said Prof Griffin. "If amino acids are widespread throughout the galaxy, life may be also. "
"So far we do not have the sensitivity to detect the signals from [amino acids]… in the interstellar medium," explained Dr Belloche. "The interstellar chemistry seems to be able to form these amino acids but at the moment we lack the evidence. Alma in the future may be able to do that, once the full capabilities are available."
Prof Griffin agreed this could be the first of many further discoveries from the "fantastically sensitive and powerful" Alma facility.

For my NASA Junior Scientists: Jonny, Chris, Sha and Sheryl

First Ebola case diagnosed in the US

Tom Frieden, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, confirms the US case

The first case of the deadly Ebola virus diagnosed on US soil has been confirmed in Dallas, Texas.
Officials at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital say the unidentified patient is being kept in isolation.
The man is thought to have contracted the virus in Liberia before travelling to the US nearly two weeks ago.
More than 3,000 people have already died of Ebola in West Africa and a small number of US aid workers have recovered after being flown to the US.
"An individual travelling from Liberia has been diagnosed with Ebola in the United States," Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Thomas Frieden told reporters on Tuesday.
According to Mr Frieden, the unnamed patient left Liberia on 19 September and arrived in the US the next day to visit relatives, without displaying any symptoms of the virus.

Aid worker Nancy Writebol  
Aid worker Nancy Writebol was flown to Atlanta in early August

Aid worker Nancy Writebol
A month after returning to the US, Ms Writebol was well enough to speak to reporters

Symptoms of the virus became apparent on 24 September, and on 28 September he was admitted to a Texas hospital and put in isolation. A hospital official told reporters on Tuesday the facility already had procedures in place to deal with any such potential cases.
Preliminary information indicates the unnamed patient was not involved in treating Ebola-infected patients while in Liberia.

Health officials are working to identify all people who came into contact with the unnamed patient while he was infectious. Those people will then be monitored for 21 days to see if an Ebola-related fever develops.
According to Mr Frieden, it is possible a family member who came in direct contact with the patient may develop Ebola in the coming weeks.

Health workers in protective suits look at an ambulance upon its arrival at Island Hospital in Monrovia on 30 September 2014 
More than 3,000 people have already died in West Africa

Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital
Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital says it was prepared for this

But "the bottom line here is I have no doubt that we will control this importation, this case of Ebola, so it does not spread widely in this country," he added. "We will stop it here."

The World Health Organization (WHO) says more than 3,000 people have died of the virus so far, mostly in Liberia. Earlier on Tuesday, the CDC said the Ebola virus seemed to be contained in Nigeria and Senegal, with no new cases reported there for almost a month. It is the world's most deadly outbreak of the virus since it was first documented.

Ebola virus disease
Ebola virus

  • Symptoms include high fever, bleeding and central nervous system damage
  • Spread by body fluids, such as blood and saliva
  • Fatality rate can reach 90% - but current outbreak has mortality rate of about 70%
  • Incubation period is two to 21 days
  • There is no proven vaccine or cure
  • Supportive care such as rehydrating patients who have diarrhea and vomiting can help recovery
  • Fruit bats, a delicacy for some West Africans, are considered to be virus's natural host

Monday, September 29, 2014

Global Loss of Species Stands at 50% in the Last Forty Years

Tiger in the wild. File photo
In Nepal, habitat loss and hunting have reduced tigers from 100,000 a century ago to just 3,000

The global loss of species is even worse than previously thought, the London Zoological Society (ZSL) says in its new Living Planet Index.
The report suggests populations have halved in 40 years, as new methodology gives more alarming results than in a report two years ago. The report says populations of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish have declined by an average of 52%.
Populations of freshwater species have suffered an even worse fall of 76%. Compiling a global average of species decline involves tricky statistics, often comparing disparate data sets.

An elephant and calf walk along the grasslands in Kenya. File photo

The Living Planet Index tracks more than 10,000 vertebrate species populations from 1970 to 2010

The team at the zoological society say they've improved their methodology since their last report two years ago - but the results are even more alarming. Then they estimated that wildlife was down "only" around 30%. Whatever the numbers, it seems clear that wildlife is continuing to be driven out by human activity.
The society's report, in conjunction with the pressure group WWF, says humans are cutting down trees more quickly than they can re-grow, harvesting more fish than the oceans can re-stock, pumping water from rivers and aquifers faster than rainfall can replenish them, and emitting more carbon than oceans and forests can absorb.
It catalogues areas of severe impact - in Ghana, the lion population in one reserve is down 90% in 40 years. In West Africa, forest felling has restricted forest elephants to 6-7% of their historic range.
In Nepal, habitat loss and hunting have reduced tigers from 100,000 a century ago to just 3,000.
In the UK, the government promised to halt wildlife decline - but bird numbers continue to fall.

The index tracks more than 10,000 vertebrate species populations from 1970 to 2010. It reveals a continued decline in these populations. The global trend is not slowing down.
The report shows that the biggest recorded threat to biodiversity comes from the combined impacts of habitat loss and degradation, driven by what WWF calls unsustainable human consumption.
The report notes that the impacts of climate change are becoming of increasing concern - although the effect of climate change on species until now has been disputed in certain quarters. But environmental scientists do not lie and neither does their research. Time to wake up and smell the mass extinction coffee, folks.

The World Wildlife Federation points to conservation efforts to save species such as:

  • The Gorilla Conservation Program in Rwanda, promoting gorilla tourism
  • The scheme to give small-scale farmers incentive to move away from slash and burn agriculture in Acre, Brazil.
Other countries have implemented programs to preserve native species, but so far, they are too few and far between to have impact on the losses.

Previously, the Living Planet Index was calculated using the average decline in all of the species populations measured. The new weighted methodology analyzes the data to provide what ZSL says is a much more accurate calculation of the collective status of populations in all species and regions.
A ZSL spokesman explained: "For example, if most measurements in a particular region are of bird populations, but the greatest actual number of vertebrates in the region are fish, then it is necessary to give a greater weight to measurements of fish populations if we are to have an accurate picture of the rate of population decline for species in that region.
"Different weights are applied to different regions, and between marine, terrestrial and freshwater environments. We are simply being more sophisticated with the way we use the data."
"Applying the new method to the 2008 dataset we find that things were considerably worse than what we thought at that time. It is clear that we are seeing a significant long-term trend in declining species populations."
Consider the food chain of our planet and see it as a totem pole with us at the top. All the species below us, and which support us, are declining at a frightening rate. As each one becomes extinct we drop a level. And when we reach the bottom of the pole, we too, disappear.

Hong Kong Protesters...Ignore Warning

Protests in Hong Kong are continuing after tens of thousands of people defied calls for them to dismantle their camps and return home. Demonstrations grew after police tried to disperse crowds using batons and tear gas in the early hours of Monday morning. Riot police later withdrew. The pro-democracy protesters are angry at China for limiting their choice in Hong Kong's 2017 leadership elections. China has warned other countries not to support the "illegal rallies".
The protesters - a mix of students and members of the Occupy Central civil disobedience movement - want Beijing to abandon its plans to vet candidates for the post of chief executive in the 2017 polls.
They want a free choice of candidates. Until now the territory's chief executive has essentially been selected under a pro-Beijing mechanism.

On Monday, the British government called for the right to protest to be protected and for protesters to exercise their right within the law. That call was echoed by the US, with White House spokesman Josh Earnest calling on Hong Kong's authorities to show restraint.
"The United States supports universal suffrage in Hong Kong in accordance with the Basic Law and we support the aspirations of the Hong Kong people," Mr Earnest told reporters.
Map showing location of Hong Kong protests
A protester shouts slogans in the Central district of Hong Kong - 29 September 2014
The protesters are calling on Beijing to grant them fully democratic elections in 2017
Protesters rest on the side of a street in the Central district in Hong Kong - 29 September 2014
Correspondents said the demonstrators were tired after several days of protests but remained defiant
Police officers stand near a large group of pro-democracy protesters in the Wan Chai area of Hong Kong - 29 September 2014
The police force stood off of protesters on Monday night after being criticized for their actions on Sunday

As night fell, cheers rippled through the crowd. Many office workers joined the protesters or stood on bridges watching the remarkable scenes. The only jeering  occurred when protesters held up a huge portrait of Chief Executive CY Leung and carried it through the crowd.For the demonstrators he is now Public Enemy Number One and they have called on him to resign.
Many other people in Hong Kong are not on the streets and think the protesters are pushing their luck with Beijing. They also fear that growing protests could lead to instability, and the possible flight of capital.
Dozens of protesters were arrested overnight on Sunday amid angry scenes that saw riot police fire tear gas into large crowds. Cheung Tak-keung, assistant commissioner of police for operations, insisted police had used the "bare minimum force". He said 41 people, including 12 police officers, had been injured since protests broke out.
The Hong Kong government urged protesters to stay calm and leave peacefully but crowds remained camped out around the government complex on Monday night. Thousands of people blocked a major road across the bay in Mongkok, on the Kowloon peninsula, while another large crowd brought the busy shopping district of Causeway Bay, east of central Hong Kong, to a standstill.

Schools in the Wan Chai, Central and Western districts were closed on Monday and will remain shut on Tuesday, according to the Hong Kong Education Bureau. The city remains heavily disrupted, with several major thoroughfares blocked. Tensions escalated on Sunday when Occupy Central threw its weight behind student-led protests, bringing forward a mass civil disobedience campaign due to start on Wednesday.
The movement called on CY Leung, the current chief executive, to step down, saying "only this will make it possible to re-launch the political reform process and create a space in which the crisis can be defused".

Chinese media have blamed "radical opposition forces" for stirring up trouble. Analysts say Communist Party leaders in Beijing are worried that calls for democracy could spread to cities on the mainland.
Britain handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997 under a "one country, two systems" formula that guarantees liberties not seen on the mainland, including freedom of speech and the right to protest.

Hong Kong democracy timeline

  • 1997: Hong Kong, a former British colony, is handed back to China under an 1984 agreement giving it "a high degree of autonomy, except in foreign and defence affairs" for 50 years

  • 2004: China rules that its approval must be sought for changes to Hong Kong's election laws

  • June-July 2014: Pro-democracy activists hold an unofficial referendum on political reform and a large rally. This is followed by protests by pro-Beijing activists

  • 31 August 2014: China says it will allow direct elections in 2017, but voters will only be able to choose from a list of pre-approved candidates. Activists stage protests

  • 22 September 2014: Student groups launch a week-long boycott of classes in protest

  • 2017: Direct elections for chief executive due to take place

  • 2047: Expiry of current agreements 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Achieving Your Dream

I will climb the highest peak

Pentagon Releases Footage of Strikes on Oil Refineries

Footage released by the Pentagon shows a strike on the Jeribe refinery in eastern Syria

Before and after aerial pictures released by the U.S. Department of Defense September 25, 2014, show damage to the Jeribe Modular Oil Refinery in Syria following air strikes by U.S. and coalition forces

The US military has released footage and still photos of its air strikes on oil refineries controlled by Islamic State (IS) militants in eastern Syria. The raids, carried out by US, Saudi and UAE aircraft, targeted 12 refineries in Syria on a third night of air strikes against the militants. IS has seized large parts of Iraq and Syria in recent months.
Sales of smuggled crude oil have helped finance its offensive in both countries. The US has launched nearly 200 air strikes against the militants in Iraq since August and on Monday began targeting IS in Syria.

Positive ID on IS Killer

FBI Director James Comey speaks at the FBI Albany Field Office in Albany, NY 23 September 2014

FBI Director James Comey says he will not share the name of the militant

The FBI has identified the militant in the videos depicting the killings of two US journalists and a British aid worker, the agency's director has said. But James Comey says the FBI will not yet release the name of Islamic State fighter, so-called Jihadi John, who seemed to speak with a British accent.

UK Foreign Minister Philip Hammond told CNN this week they were "getting warm" on the identity of the masked man.
Mr Comey did not say whether the man, identified, carried out the killings. He said the FBI was able to identify him with the help of international partners. Of course he performed the executions, or why would the FBI and every other agency be so hot on his trail? Just catch the guy and deal him the same justice.
American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, and British aid worker David Haines, have all been killed alongside a masked man dressed in black holding a knife, who speaks to the camera.The life of another British citizen, Alan Henning, was threatened in the last video.

US journalist James Foley speaks at Northwestern University's Medill School in this 2011 handout photo provided by Northwestern University. 
James Foley was the first US journalist to be killed by IS militants on the videos

Ask Maxy

Dear Maxy,
I have been married  for  40 years  to a man who had a few affairs  in the  past that I recently  found out about . We are  both seeing  counselors  privately  and together . At this  point  in time, I am tired  of dealing  with this, and our  marriage could well end in divorce  court .
By I am puzzled  by what  my husband  told  me, He said  he learned in his psychology classes in college  that "men are  not designed  for monogamy." I have never heard  him say anything  of the sort in our entire 40 years together  . Is this simply  an excuse  for me to forgive his affairs ? Or is the statement true ?
He tells  me he is done with other women, but now I am not  sure . Should I trust him again ?
Dear Detroit ,
There is some support to your  husband's statement, but it  does  not  justify  affairs .Your  husband is not some uncivilized animal with no concern  for his partner . I assume  he is an adult  and capable of control . But I can't promise  he will never  have another affair  and he probably  cannot  promise that either, even if  his intentions  are good . Only  you  can decide  whether  it's worth the risk  after  40 years of  marriage .

Dear Maxy ,
Twice in the past month , I  witnessed  an older  woman  tumble from the top of a moving escalator  all the way to the  bottom, as  store employees  raced to turn it off . In one incident, the shopper was accompanied  by someone who  could  not stop her  fall . In the other, the woman seemed  confused  before the accident, but refused  to use the elevator . To complicate  matters, her only identification was a receipt in her purse, so it  took awhile to  find the man that dropped her  off .
If anyone has a balance problem, use a cane or  walker, has their  arms full  or is  carrying  a  toddler , etc. , please  use the elevator  instead of  the  escalator . The  few  minutes is well worth  it in order  to avoid  a horrifying  accident . And  please  be sure to  carry proper identification in case of an emergency .
Dear Dallas ,
Too  many people  don't realize  they have  a problem  until something happens and then, of course, it's too late .  People need to be able  to hold onto the railing of an escalator  and watch  their  step  getting  on and off  . If you aren't  sure  you can do this , please take  the elevator . Better safe  than sorry .

Dear Maxy,
I have a friend at work  who often  asks  me  to borrow  a few  dollars  . He always  returns it, so I haven't thought  much of it . But the  other  day when he asked to borrow  something like $20, I didn't  have any cash on me , so I told him I couldn't help him out . He really got mad . He asked  me to go to the ATM  to get the  money  because  he really needed it . I was busy and said I could not  do that . It  got me to thinking : I wonder  what he  needs  these small sums  for all the time . I have decided  I don't  want  to be part  of it ., but I'm  not sure  how to handle  it so that  he stays  calm .
Help !
Dear Help !,
Pull your  friend  to the side and tell him you need to talk . Ask him why he regularly asks  you  for  money . Ask him if everything  is OK  with him  and his  life . Express  your  genuine concern , then draw the  line . Tell that  you will no longer  be able to  spot  him money . Explain that it makes  you uncomfortable  and  you would rather  not have  that type of  relationship with him . State any  regret  that this  change  in your  dynamic  may cause, but make it  crystal-clear  to him that  you will no longer  be a source  of  money .

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Battle Against Islamic State Could Take Years

The remarks came as President Barack Obama thanked Arab states for help and Secretary of State John Kerry said more than 50 nations had agreed to fight IS. IS has seized large areas of Syria and Iraq, and the US has launched nearly 200 air strikes in Iraq since August. Monday's strikes however expanded the anti-IS campaign across the border into Syria for the first time.

Activists say at least 70 IS militants and 50 other al-Qaeda-linked fighters were killed in the strikes.
Speaking in Washington, Rear Adm John Kirby said the air strikes in Syria had successfully degraded IS's capabilities."We think we have hit what we were aiming at," he said.
On the Turkey-Syria border Kurdish refugees were grateful for the air strikes. However, IS is good at adapting and reacting to changes, the Rear Admiral said, adding that the group presented a "serious threat" that would not be eliminated "within days or months."
"It's going to take a serious effort by all involved. We do believe that we're talking about years here."

Meanwhile, Mr Kerry told reporters that more than 50 countries had agreed to join efforts to fight IS.
"We will not allow these terrorists to find a safe haven anywhere," he said.
On Tuesday, Mr Obama hailed the support of Arab nations in the air strikes, saying: "This is not America's fight alone."

Take off ... The US, Arab allies launch the first wave of strikes in Syria. Pic: Fox News

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Bahrain and Qatar have taken part in or supported the strikes in Syria, Mr Obama said. The US has released military footage showing the impact of Monday's air strikes.
The Pentagon said warplanes, drones and Tomahawk cruise missiles were used in the strikes. The strikes targeted the IS main headquarters in its stronghold of Raqqa, north-eastern Syria, as well as training compounds, vehicles and storage facilities in several other areas. They were organized in three separate waves with US fighter jets carrying out the first set, and Arab nations participating in the second and third, US military officials said.
US state department spokeswoman Jan Psaki said the US had warned Syria in advance "not to engage US aircraft". But she added that Washington had not requested permission or given advance notice of the timing of the attacks.

A handout picture released by the US Navy shows the guided-missile cruiser USS Philippine Sea (CG 58) launching a Tomahawk cruise missile against IS (Islamic State) targets in Syria, as seen from the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) in the Arabian Gulf, 23 September 2014 
Dozens of militants are said to have been killed in the strikes

Before and after photos of Islamic State finance centre hit by Tomahawk missile on 22 September
Before and after: The US defence department said a Tomahawk missile struck the Islamic State's financial centre

A young Syrian Kurdish refugee enters Turkey at the Yumurtalik crossing gate near Suruc on 23 September 2014 in Turkey.
Over 130,000 Syrians poured into neighbouring Turkey this week fleeing IS militants advancing in the north
President Obama said al-Qaeda-linked militants, known as the Khorasan Group, were also targeted by air strikes in Syria. US officials say the group had been plotting "imminent attacks" against the West, and had established a safe haven west of Aleppo. As well as informing Syria's government of the impending strikes, the US reportedly told Iranian officials attacks were imminent, Reuters reports.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, quoted by state media, said he supported any international efforts to combat "terrorism" in Syria.
However, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, a Syrian government ally, said military action in Syria lacked "legal standing" without a UN mandate or approval from the Syrian government.
President Obama: ''We're going to do what's necessary to take the fight to this terrorist group. Tomahawk missiles were just one element of the attack."

Who are Islamic State (IS)?

  • Formed out of al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) in 2013, IS first captured Raqqa in eastern Syria
  • It captured broad swathes of Iraq in June, including Mosul, and declared a "caliphate" in areas it controls in Syria and Iraq
  • Pursuing an extreme form of Sunni Islam, IS has persecuted non-Muslims such as Yazidis and Christians, as well as Shia Muslims, whom it regards as heretics
  • Known for its brutal tactics, including beheadings of soldiers, Western journalists and aid workers
  • The CIA says the group could have as many as 31,000 fighters in Iraq and Syria
  • The US has been launching air strikes on IS targets in north-eastern Iraq since mid-August

Map showing US-led air strikes on IS targets in Syria and the Arab states that supported them - 23 September 2014


Confirmed..First US Air Strikes in Syria

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States and partner nations are carrying out the first air strikes against Islamic State targets in Syria, the Pentagon said on Monday, in ongoing operations that mark the opening of a new, far more complicated front in a battle against the militants.
"I can confirm that U.S. military and partner nation forces are undertaking military action against (Islamic State) terrorists in Syria using a mix of fighter, bomber and Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles," Rear Admiral John Kirby, Pentagon press secretary, said in a statement.
"Given that these operations are ongoing, we are not in a position to provide additional details at this time."
Kirby did not disclose which nations joined the United States, which has been building a coalition to combat an extremist Sunni Muslim force that has seized large expanses of territory in Iraq and Syria and proclaimed a caliphate erasing borders in the heart of the Middle East.
But a U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters there were Arab partners helping to carry out the strikes. Still, the official declined to specify their roles or name the countries.
The strikes took place hours before Obama goes to New York for the U.N. General Assembly where he will try to rally more nations behind his drive to aggressively take on Islamic State.
Obama had shied away from getting involved in Syria's civil war a year ago, seeing no positive outcome for the United States, but the rise of Islamic State and the beheading of two American captives forced him to change course.
General Lloyd Austin, commander of the U.S. military's Central Command, made the decision to conduct the strikes under authorization granted to him by Obama, Kirby said.
"We will provide more details later as operationally appropriate," Kirby said.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Climate change summit: Global rallies demand action

Street protests demanding urgent action on climate change have attracted hundreds of thousands of marchers in more than 2,000 locations worldwide. The People's Climate March is campaigning for curbs on carbon emissions, ahead of the UN climate summit in New York next week. In Manhattan, organizers said some 310,000 people joined a march that was also attended by UN chief Ban Ki-moon. Earlier, huge demonstrations took place in Australia and Europe.
"This is the planet where our subsequent generations will live," Mr Ban told reporters. "There is no 'Plan B' because we do not have 'Planet B'."
The UN Secretary General was accompanied by primatologist Jane Goodall and the French Ecology Minister, Segolene Royal. New York hosted the largest of Sunday's protests, drawing more than half of the 600,000 marchers estimated by organizers to have taken part in rallies around the world. The protesters in New York used outsized floats to convey their message.

Marchers in Mexico City
A group of marchers in Mexico City pose for a 'selfie'

Manhattan march
In Manhattan, Ban Ki-moon (in blue hat) was flanked by primatologist Jane Goodall (to his right) and French ecology minister Segolene Royal

Marchers at climate change demonstration in New York
Many of the marchers in New York wore costumes associated with indigenous people

Manhattan echoed to the sound of chants, horns and drums as the colorful protest progressed through the streets. Organizers of the Manhattan event said it surpassed the largest previous protest on climate change. They said the massive mobilization was aimed at transforming climate change "from an environmental concern to an everybody issue".
Business leaders, environmentalists and celebrities joined the demonstration. Actor Leonardo DiCaprio also took part, having been appointed as a UN representative on climate change last week.

Another protest, another climate conference - will this time be any different? Well, the marches brought more people to the streets than ever before, partly thanks to the organizational power of the e-campaign group Avaaz.
And the climate talks will also be influenced by technology, as it was reported this week that the sun and wind can often generate power as cheaply as gas in the home of fossil fuels, Texas. Certainly the UN's Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, hopes that he can make a fresh start in the endless blame-your-neighbor round of climate talks.
Next year world leaders are due to show up in Paris to settle a global climate deal based not on a bitterly-contested chiseling negotiation in the middle of the night, but on open co-operative offers of action to tackle a shared problem. Mr Ban has invited leaders to New York to make their offers public. Some small nations will doubtless make new contributions to the carbon contraction effort as they realize the vulnerability of their own economies to a hotter world. But some big players may continue the game of climate poker, holding back their offers until they see what else is on the table.
So there is no guarantee that Ban's idea will work - but at least for weary climate politics watchers it will be a change.

Marchers in London 
Tens of thousands of people - some of them dressed as animals - also marched in London

An image captured from a drone shows protesters forming the words "Beyond Coal + Gas" during a demonstration in Sydney - 21 September 2014 
An image captured from a drone shows protesters in Sydney forming the words "Beyond Coal + Gas"

Protest in Paris
A masked protester joins the demonstration in Paris

Protesters march to demand urgent action on climate change in Brussels, Belgium - 21 September 2014
Protests have been held in about 160 countries around the world

The New York rally was part of a global protest that included events in 156 countries - Afghanistan, the UK, Italy and Brazil among them.

  • In London, the march attracted an estimated 40,000 people, including actress Emma Thompson who likened the threat from climate change to a Martian invasion
  • Some 30,000 people marched in Melbourne, Australia. Demonstrators urged Prime Minister Tony Abbott to take action, citing fears that climate change could lead to more bushfires and droughts
  • Organizers said more than 25,000 marched in Paris
  • About 15,000 people marched in Berlin. Organizers urged world leaders to recognize climate change as a pressing problem
  • In Rio de Janeiro, some 5,000 marchers turned out. Environmental slogans and a green heart were projected onto the famed statue of Christ the Redeemer, overlooking the city
  • Smaller protests - attracting numbers in the hundreds or low thousands - were also seen in cities such as Bogota, Barcelona, Jakarta and Delhi

On Tuesday, the UN will host a climate summit at its headquarters in New York with 125 heads of state and government - the first such gathering since the unsuccessful climate conference in Copenhagen in 2009. Mr Ban hopes leaders can make progress on a universal agreement to be signed by all nations at the end of 2015.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Ask Maxy

Dear Maxy,
I work in a relatively conservative  law  firm in Chicago . Much to my surprise, the  new  administrator  that my company  hired a month ago  came to work  with her  hair  dyed green . I have seen this  trend on  kids  as I walk around  town  but there is  no  room for this  look  at my law  firm . In the  employee  handbook, it  doesn't  specifically  speak about  hair  color but it  does  say  that modest  attire  and  overall presentation is  required . How  can I talk to this  young  woman about  her  hair color  choice  to help her ?
I don't  know if  human  resources  will say  she can be fired but I can say  that  it is  not likely  that she will rise  up through  the  ranks at  any company  if she decides  to be a trendsetter in this  overt, extreme kind of  way
How to Mentor
Dear  How to Mentor ,
Talk to  your  human resources  department  about the legalities of addressing  this  employee  about her choice of  styles . You should  get guidance  to make  sure that you  do not overstep  your authority  to address her  hair  color .
With that information  in tow, speak  to her as  a mentor and tell her  that you want to share some supportive  information with her, should she be interested  . What you may want to tell her is that in every  industry  there are spoken  and  unspoken  standards . In the law profession, people  tend  to err on the  side of  conservative, as they do in your  company . Tell her  that while  her  hair  color  may be a trend,  it may be also  telling  her bosses  and co-workers  that she is not  serious  about working  there .
There  likely are  law firms  where more  personal innovation  is welcomed . She  may want  to think about  what best fits her,  given  her  choices . That being said, if she really excels  at her  job,  your  company may make that a priority and overlook her  style  eccentricities .

Dear Maxy ,
It's  back to school  time  and my  kids  are  having a hard  time getting  their  bodies on the  school  clock . I tried  having  them go to bed  an hour  or  so earlier  for the past few  weeks but it  didn't work  very well . I know  that the beginning  of school is an important  time  for them  to get settled . What can I do ?
Settle  Down
Dear Settle Down ,
It is  never  too late  to work  on getting  your  children focusd. Start by  shutting off  screen time  until the weekends . Set schedules  for  your  children . Review  the  homework  with  them each day  to see how well  they are  doing . Set their  bed times  and enforce  it by walking  them to their  rooms, tucking  them in  and turning  off the  lights. Don't forget a kiss and a hug,

Dear  Maxy ,
My company was  just sold  and the  new owner seems  like  he  could be an OK  guy . Some  people in the  media don't like him , but the buzz around the  office  so far is cool . I'm supposed to have a meeting with him . One of  my friends says I should get ready for  my walking  papers  because I've been there a long  time  and my salary is  high. I don't want to think like  that . What can I do  to help preserve my  job ?
Staking  a Claim
Dear  Staking a Claim,
The sale  of a company  does  not automatically  lead  to a  bloodbath  at the office . That largely  depends  on the  financial  health  of the company when it  is  purchased . The way  to make  yourself the  most appealing  to  your  new  boss is to be  prepared . Do some  research on him  and his  company  so that you can speak  intelligently  about  his  background .
Know  your own company  inside and out, at least your  area . Present  yourself as capable and having valuable experience with the company. Talk to him  about what strengths  you  bring  to your  job,  your  level  of expertise  and  your  ability  to be a team player . Paint  an accurate  and positive  picture  of  your  value to the company  and show him your interest in joining his team . Good luck,

British Reporter John Cantlie in Hostage Video

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Islamic State militants fighting in Iraq and Syria released a video on Thursday that they said shows British journalist John Cantlie in captivity saying he will soon reveal "facts" about the group to counter its portrayal in Western media.
The Islamic State, which controls territory in Syria and Iraq, has already beheaded two American journalists and one British aid worker in recent weeks in what it said was reprisal for U.S. air strikes against it in Iraq.
But in the new roughly three-minute video posted on social media sites, the man identified as Cantlie appears in good health and promises to "convey some facts" in a series of "programs," suggesting there would be further installments.
"Now, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, 'He's only doing this because he's a prisoner. He's got a gun at his head and he's being forced to do this.' Right?" the man in the video, wearing an orange shirt and closely-cropped hair, says.
"Well, it's true. I am a prisoner. That I cannot deny. But seeing as I've been abandoned by my government and my fate now lies in the hands of the Islamic State, I have nothing to lose."
British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said he had heard reports of a video on social media and said authorities would look closely at any material released online.
"These videos can be very distressing for the families of the individuals involved," he told reporters during a visit to Copenhagen.
President Obama has been trying to build an international coalition to destroy Islamic State, a Sunni Muslim extremist group which has exploited the chaos of Syria and Iraq to seize swathes of territory in both countries.
The United States has already carried out scores of air strikes against the group in Iraq and Obama said in a policy speech he would not hesitate to strike it in Syria as well.
In the new video, titled "Lend Me Your Ears, Messages from the British Detainee John Cantlie," the man identified as Cantlie says he was captured by the Islamic State after arriving in Syria in November 2012.
He says he worked for newspapers and magazines in Britain including the Sunday Times, the Sun and the Sunday Telegraph.
"After two disastrous and hugely unpopular wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, why is it that our governments appear so keen to get involved in yet another unwinnable conflict?" the man says in the video.
"I'm going to show you the truth behind the systems and motivation of the Islamic State, and how the Western media, the very organization I used to work for, can twist and manipulate that truth for the public back home."
Cantlie said other Western governments have negotiated for the release of their hostages but that the British and U.S. governments chose to do things differently.
"I'll show you the truth behind what happened when many European citizens were imprisoned and later released by the Islamic State, and how the British and American governments thought they could do it differently to every other European country," the man in the video says.
"They negotiated with the Islamic State and got their people home while the British and Americans were left behind," he says.
The United States resumed air strikes in Iraq in August for the first time since the withdrawal of the final U.S. troops from the country in 2011.
The raids followed major gains by Islamic State fighters who have seized a third of both Iraq and Syria, declared war on the West and seek to establish a caliphate in the heart of the Middle East.
The U.S. House of Representatives approved on Wednesday Obama's plan to train and arm moderate Syrian rebels in a message of support for his military campaign to "degrade and destroy" Islamic State
Britain has delivered humanitarian aid, carried out surveillance, given weapons to Kurds and promised training in Iraq. On military action, Britain supports U.S. air strikes and British Prime Minister David Cameron has repeatedly said Britain has ruled nothing out except combat troops on the ground.
Cantlie had previously been taken hostage in July, 2012 along with Dutch photographer Jeroen Oerlemans while working near the Syrian border with Turkey. They were released the same month after a group of "Free Syrian Army" fighters freed them.
Cantlie told media after his release they were threatened with death unless they converted to Islam, and both were shot and slightly wounded when they attempted to escape. He was shot in the arm, Oerlemans in the leg.
At the time, Cantlie wrote in the Sunday Times that the group of about 30 militants had been made up of different nationalities, many British and none Syrian, and that the British jihadists had treated him the most cruelly in captivity.
On Saturday, Islamic State released a video showing the beheading of British aid worker David Haines. A black-clad man in the video said another hostage, identified as Alan Henning, would be killed if Cameron continued to support the fight against Islamic State.
"Maybe I will live and maybe I will die," Cantlie says, "but I want to take this opportunity to convey some facts that you can verify. Facts that, if you contemplate, might help in preserving lives."

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Rob has Rare Cancer

The tumour in Rob Ford's abdomen, the discovery of which led the mayor of Toronto to drop out of the election last week, is both malignant and rare, according to medical authorities.
Dr. Zane Cohen of Mount Sinai Hospital's surgical team addressed the media today to provide an update on Ford's medical condition, which, he noted, was done due to great public interest.
He said a repeat biopsy was done Monday on "the mass," meaning the abdominal tumour.
"The diagnosis is a malignant liposarcoma," said Cohen, which is a form of cancer that arises in fat cells in deep soft tissue; it is, Cohen said, a rare and difficult tumour to treat.
"It has about 60 different cell types and that's what makes it a very rare tumour and a very difficult tumour," he said.
"We have not found cancer" in Ford's organs, Cohen noted, later adding that the tumour appears "very aggressive" based on its size after its recent discovery and that it has been growing since well before that, but Cohen added that the treatment plan is also aggressive, involving an initial three days of chemotherapy, a rest day and an 18-day "washout period" before possible subsequent 40-day cycles over the treatment plan, which Cohen said is to begin within the next 48 hours.
The Canadian Press reports :
"Following the chemotherapy and its results, doctors may or may not decide to carry out surgery or radiation treatments."
"Everyone knows chemotherapy is tough ...  he [Ford] is a pretty strong person, but he's going to have some tough days," said Cohen, an internationally recognized colorectal surgeon. He added that Ford will also have some good days, and that "doctors will decide what the next step will be based on how the tumour responds to treatment."
The Ford family, along with everyone following the Toronto mayoral election and the general Ford saga, had been awaiting the results of last week's biopsy.
Having seen the effects of a similar type of cancer, I know this will be a very difficult and traumatic course to follow and there is no predicting how it ends. My partner and I wish Rob a speedy and full recovery.

Hillary, On the Road...Visits Iowa For Tom Harkin's Retirement Steak Fry

Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gives a speech at the 37th Harkin Steak Fry in Indianola, Iowa 14 September 2014
Hillary Clinton has retained some of her guardedness as she returns her focus to domestic politics,

"Hello Iowa! I'm baaaaaack."

It took 2,446 days for Hillary Clinton to return to the state which caused her so much pain in 2008.
That year, she left Iowa after taking third place in the state's primary contest. On Sunday she was back with her husband, more experience, and some humour, perhaps a bit forced. But the key question was whether she was bringing with her some of the warmth and approachability she had demonstrated consistently on the international stage and which had been so lacking in her presidential race.
The setting certainly lent itself to relaxed encounters with voters. Hay bales, open fields, blue skies with white clouds, grilled steaks and potato salads. It was a perfect Sunday afternoon in a bucolic setting for an Iowa marquee food event, and a political institution: the Harkin steak fry.

Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton poses for a photo with a supporter at the 37th Harkin Steak Fry in Indianola, Iowa 14 September 2014
  In the primary contests, the presidential race is centred on meet-and-greet events like the Harkin Steak Fry

2016 speculation
Senator Tom Harkin, retiring after 40 years in politics, is taking his steak fry with him and invited
Bill and Hillary Clinton to attend his last hurrah. Ostensibly, the Clintons were there to pay tribute to Mr Harkin, and get the crowds fired up for the 2014 mid-term elections in November. But there was only one way to explain the record 200 reporters who showed up to cover the event: speculation about a potential Hillary presidential run in 2016.


Hillary Clinton boards a plane at Yerevan airport 4 June 2012 

Hillary Clinton visited 112 countries in four years, making her the most-travelled secretary of state.
Foreign Policy magazine's Secretary of Schlep slideshow has 112 photos, one from each country
"Her total time spent travelling adds up to 2084.21 hours (or 86.8 days), and she will have racked up 956,733 miles," it notes
Since leaving the state department in 2013, Mrs Clinton has already given plenty of speeches and interviews and spent the summer promoting her book. She has shaken hands with fans along the way but this was her first real foray into retail, domestic politics in a crowd of people sizing her up as a potential candidate.
When Mrs Clinton went on her first overseas trip as secretary of state in February 2009, her team organized town hall meetings, transposing the American approach for running for office to international diplomacy. Her first town hall overseas was at Seoul's Ehwa university - from Iowa to Ehwa, engaging with the people. Mrs Clinton thoroughly enjoyed those encounters and by the end of her first year at the state department, she had shed her guarded political cloak.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gives a lecture after awards an 'Distinguished Honorary Ewha Fellow' at the Ewha Womans University in Seoul, South Korea 20 February 2009  
Hillary Clinton holds a town-hall style lecture on her first official trip as Secretary of State in 2009

She spoke with authority and gravitas and was able to do so with passion and empathy as well as genuine interest when engaging in people-to-people diplomacy, meeting with students or women groups or businessmen, even in prickly Pakistan. When she left the building in 2013 she was also soaring in the polls at home.
But with her return to politics in the US, her guardedness seems to have returned. She still appears uncomfortable or uncertain on the domestic stage. Her speech in front of the hay bales was scripted, and somewhat flat. She drew some cheers, mostly when she talked about women's rights or hinted at her intentions for 2016.
But she didn't speak with the passion she usually demonstrated overseas. She's still better at mostly unscripted comments, roaming a stage or in interviews where her knowledge of the issues shines and her wit comes through, whether on policy or politics.
As secretary of state, Mrs Clinton always came to the back of the plane to speak to the press pack and regularly sat down for dinner or drinks in world capitals. Her aides said she genuinely enjoyed the exchanges.
But since leaving Foggy Bottom, Mrs Clinton has shown reflexive guardedness in her encounters with US national politics reporters. Perhaps this is because they too approach her with a degree of scepticism remaining from the miserable relationship she had with the media in 2008 and the many acrimonious years that preceded it.
She has yet to really engage with the new press pack following her every move in the US. On Sunday, it appeared initially she would keep her distance as well. With Bill and the Harkins she flipped some steaks by a grill for staged photos, in a penned-off area at the top of the hill, away from the crowds. Mrs Clinton ignored the reporters and left after a few minutes, but later returned and spent 15 minutes shaking hands and chatting to them.

A ready for Hillary bus 14 September 2014
Though Clinton has made no official announcement, supporters have already begun creating the infrastructure for a campaign

Lessons learned
She didn't say much, insisting that this day was all about 2014 and the key mid-term elections. The American media have speculated that her presence in Iowa was yet another sign she was preparing to run, but it's probably more accurate to say she's preparing to make a decision. In typical fashion, she is approaching the process diligently, with a checklist, doing her homework to find out the state of play, the state of politics, the areas where she could make a difference, talking to donors, supporters, and most importantly trying to determine what her message is going to be.
Her trip to Iowa was part of the decision-making process, a key opportunity for her to re-acquaint herself with the gruelling rhythm of retail politics, at which she did not excel at during her 2008 campaign.
After the speeches, she and Bill spent half-hour shaking hands with Iowans lining up along a fence. She signed T-shirts and books and posed for photos.

When asked what she had learned as secretary of state, she replied,"I have learned even more about how to relate to people of many different backgrounds," suggesting, she had internalized some of the lessons of her failure to connect with voters.

Democratic presidential hopeful and New York Senator Hillary Clinton (C), husband former US President Bill Clinton (2nd R) and daughter Chelsea Clinton (R) at a rally for supporters 03 January 2008  
Clinton came in third place in the 2008 Iowa caucuses

A quick informal poll of Iowans at the steak fry after her speech indicated people thought she had done well but not tremendous.
Did she enjoy the endless posing for pictures and shaking hands with people she may never see again? Did she enjoy chatting with the new press pack, hounding her every step? Was it tolerable enough that she could do it for months on end in a presidential race? Only Hillary knows.

Leonardo DiCaprio appointed UN climate change representative

Actor, Leonardo DiCaprio has been appointed as a United Nations representative on climate change.
The UN secretary general Ban ki Moon said the actor's global stardom was the perfect match for the global challenge posed by climate change.
Mr DiCaprio's first duty in his new role will be to address the opening of the climate summit later this month in New York.

1st UK Volunteer Gets Experimental Ebola Vaccine

Dr. Felicity Hartnell, who is a clinical research fellow at Oxford University, holds a vial of an experimental vaccine against Ebola in Oxford, England Wednesday Sept. 17, 2014. A former nurse will be the first of 60 healthy volunteers in the UK who will receive the vaccine. The vaccine was developed by the U.S. National Institutes of Health and GlaxoSmithKline and targets the Zaire strain of Ebola, the cause of the ongoing outbreak in West Africa. A trial of the same vaccine has already begun in the U.S.
Dr. Felicity Hartnell, who is a clinical research fellow at Oxford University, injects former nurse Ruth Atkins the first of 60 healthy volunteers in the UK who will receive an experimental vaccine against Ebola in Oxford, England Wednesday Sept. 17, 2014. The vaccine was developed by the U.S. National Institutes of Health and GlaxoSmithKline and targets the Zaire strain of Ebola, the cause of the ongoing outbreak in West Africa. A trial of the same vaccine has already begun in the U.S.LONDON (AP) - British scientists say a former nurse has become the first person in the country to receive an experimental Ebola vaccine in an early trial to test its safety.

Ruth Atkins, 48, got the injection on Wednesday in Oxford, the first of 60 healthy volunteers in the U.K. who will receive the vaccine. It was developed by the U.S. National Institutes of Health and GlaxoSmithKline and targets the Zaire strain of Ebola, the cause of the ongoing outbreak in West Africa. A trial of the same vaccine has already begun in the U.S.

The vaccine is meant to spark the immune system's production of Ebola antibodies. It does not contain any infectious material and shouldn't trigger an Ebola infection, researchers said.

"Witnessing the events in Africa makes it clear that developing new drugs and vaccines against Ebola should now be an urgent priority," said trial leader Adrian Hill of Oxford University, in a statement.

Hill and colleagues hope the trial will finish by the end of 2014. If the vaccine is proven safe, it could then be used to vaccinate health workers in West Africa in a bigger trial to test its effectiveness.

Experts say the current outbreak, which is being blamed for at least 2,400 deaths, is out of control and will likely take months to contain. Even if hundreds of health workers in West Africa can be vaccinated, it's unlikely the vaccine would make a significant dent on the outbreak.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Ebola Nightmare ... It May Mutate into Airborne Strain...Other News

A public health worker in Liberia disinfects a courtyard as villagers watch.
Virologists may not be publicly talking about the possibility that the Ebola virus could someday mutate into an airborne strain, writes Michael T Osterholm in the New York Times, but it's something they are "definitely considering in private".
The director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota says that the virus - which currently can only be transmitted through contact with bodily fluids - has proven to be "notoriously sloppy in replicating", which increases the chances that it could turn into something more contagious.
"Why are public officials afraid to discuss this?" he asks. "They don't want to be accused of screaming 'fire!' in a crowded theatre - as I'm sure some will accuse me of doing. But the risk is real, and until we consider it, the world will not be prepared to do what is necessary to end the epidemic."
The second disturbing scenario he envisions is if the Ebola virus is brought to a more densely populated area of the world, where it would be more difficult to contain.
According to the World Health Organization, the virus has already infected almost 4,800 people and killed around 2,400. It is now predicting that more than 20,000 may contract the virus before the current outbreak is over.
"What happens when an infected person yet to become ill travels by plane to Lagos, Nairobi, Kinshasa or Mogadishu - or even Karachi, Jakarta, Mexico City or Dhaka?" he asks. The more people who get infected, he says, the greater the opportunities for mutation.
"The current Ebola virus' hyper-evolution is unprecedented; there has been more human-to-human transmission in the past four months than most likely occurred in the last 500 to 1,000 years," he writes.
To prevent this, Osterholm says, the United Nations should be put in charge of overseeing containment of the outbreak by managing air supply chains, providing hospital beds and training medical staff.
Waiting for a vaccine isn't a realistic solution, he concludes. By the time one is developed, the disease could be in "our own backyards".
Although Osterholm paints a dark picture - and it's not the first time he's taken to a major daily newspaper to do so - other public health professionals are unconvinced. Scott Gottlieb, former deputy director of the US Food and Drug Administration, writes in Forbes that it is very unlikely that the Ebola virus would ever mutate into an airborne version.
"It would be unusual for a virus to transform in a way that changes its mode of infection," he writes
"Of the 23 known viruses that cause serious disease in man, none are known to have mutated in ways that changed how they infect humans."
Tara C Smith, writing for ScienceBlogs, says that diseases similar to Ebola have already appeared in the US and have been easily controlled. She adds that she is much more concerned with "ordinary" viruses like influenza and measles.
"Ebola is exotic and its symptoms can be terrifying, but also much easier to contain by people who know their stuff," she concludes.
In 2005 Wendy Orent, writing in the New Republic, called Osterholm a "doomsayer" who has been on the "disease and terrorism circuit" for decades, warning of impending dangers like smallpox, mosquito-borne viruses and swine flu.
So is Osterholm's op-ed a "clarion call to action" or nothing but "fearmongering", as one molecular virologist called it on Twitter? If it's the former, we've been warned. If it's the latter, then it's fearmongering on some prime real estate - the opinion pages of the New York Times.

Punishing sanctions threaten global stability - If Western nations go too far in trying to punish Russia for its actions in Ukraine, writes Nobel prize-winning economist Robert J Shiller, it could push Europe and possibly the entire world into another recession. Given that the global economy is just starting to emerge from the 2008 financial crisis, such a development would be extremely concerning, he writes for Project Syndicate.
He compares the current mood around the world to that of 1937, when people had been "disappointed for a long time" and had little hope for the future. It was this instability, he says, that led to World War Two.
"It would be highly desirable to come to an agreement to end the sanctions; to integrate Russia (and Ukraine) more fully into the world economy; and to couple these steps with expansionary economic policies," he concludes.
IS ( Islamic State) is a monster made by the Arab world - Why aren't nations like Saudi Arabia doing more to stop the spread of (IS), asks Le Monde's Alain Frachon (translated by WorldCrunch). He says it's because all the Middle East players are more preoccupied with the Sunni-Shiite regional power struggle.
"In that fight, anything goes, including fomenting an extremist Sunni movement," he writes. "In their battle against the Shia, Islam's majorities have fueled Sunni extremism."
While Saudi Arabian leaders acknowledge that the rise of IS is a concern, they are also worried that a direct attack on the insurgents could anger their own people. "The 'Arab streets' are receptive to the jihadists' message, a fatal attraction that the Arab regimes fight openly at their peril," he writes.
Back to the UN - Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is once again pledging to ask the United Nations to recognize Palestinian statehood. But trying to do so now, cautions Rami G Khouri in Bloomberg View, will likely get him "laughed out of any room he entered".
The reality, Khouri writes, is that Mr Abbas needs to reach a resolution with Hamas leaders and unite the Palestinian people, in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and around the world, before moving forward.
"This can only be achieved by reviving the institutions of the Palestine Liberation Organization, which represents Palestinians everywhere but has been moribund since the 1993 Oslo agreements created the Palestinian Authority," he contends.
Middle East commentators react to US President Obama's newly announced strategy to combat the Islamic State (IS).
"Did the US and Europe become aware only now that terrorism will affect them directly, so they decided to form an international alliance against it? Or did the US moves come within the framework of its conspiracy to divide the Middle East?" - Jalal al-Sayyid in Egypt's al-Akhbar.
"The Islamic State is a Western creation that has been intricately designed to divide the Arab world." - Abdalah al-Awadi in the United Arab Emirates' al-Ittihad.
"Unless the social reasons that caused the strengthening of the IS in Iraq and Syria disappear, the IS will not vanish... Turkey understands this and does not want to be a tool in the game that has been formed in a very short time with sleight of hand." - Hilal Kaplan in Turkey's Yeni Safak.

Pope Performs Rare Group Wedding of 20 Couples

The Pope married 20 couples today, several with children out of wedlock, in the latest demonstration of his more laissez-faire attitude to Catholic teaching. In an extremely rare celebration, Pope Francis presided over the vows of couples who some traditionalists would say were living 'in sin'.
The last time a pope performed a marriage was St John Paul II, who wed 16 people at a Mass to mark the Jubilee for Families in October 2000. 

Pop Francis married 20 couples, several with children out of wedlock,  in a ceremony at the Vatican today
Pop Francis married 20 couples, several with children out of wedlock,  in a ceremony at the Vatican today

Today, Francis took each couple through their vows in turn - including Gabriella Improta and Guido Tassara, who already had children and thought such a marriage would be impossible, Radio Vaticana reports.
The diocese of Rome had earlier candidly stated: 'The people getting married on Sunday are couples like many others. Some already live together, some already have children.' Francis, the first non-European pope in 1,300 years, has shown extreme tolerance in relation to subjects traditionally taboo in the Church.
He recently claimed that the Church must end its obsession with teachings on abortion, contraception and homosexuality, and become more merciful or risk collapsing 'like a house of cards'.
Speaking about gay people, he once asked 'who am I to judge' someone 'who seeks God and has good will?'.
Guido Tassara, left, and Gabriella Improta,  just married by Pope Francis, exchange rings during a wedding ceremony in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican
The Pope believes the Church must end its obsession with teachings on abortion, contraception and homosexuality, and become more merciful, or risk collapsing 'like a house of cards'
The Pope believes the Church must end its obsession with teachings on abortion, contraception and homosexuality, and become more merciful, or risk collapsing 'like a house of cards'

His liberal approach bears stark contrast with that of his predecessor, the German Pope Benedict, who said that threats to the traditional family undermined the future of humanity itself. Francis' latest step will be a boost for those hoping he proposes liberal reforms at a major Vatican conference on sexual and family relationships next month.
Many have already been encouraged by signs that the Argentine has a more progressive attitude to issues such as homosexuality.  He has even asked the Curia to look into the recognition of civil same sex unions.

Francis' latest step will be a boost for those hoping he proposes liberal reforms at a major Vatican conference on sexual and family relationships next month
Francis' latest step will be a boost for those hoping he proposes liberal reforms at a major Vatican conference on sexual and family relationships next month
Hundreds of guests look on as 20 couples are married during a unique ceremony at St. Peter's Basilica

But the Vatican have continued to endorse heterosexual marriage and procreation as God's command.
The Synod of Bishops will review Catholic practices on the family and - it is hoped - will decide how to adapt to today's rapidly changing norms while keeping fidelity with the faith. 
Bishops from around the world will be at next month's meeting on the family, which Francis referred to in today's ceremony 'bricks' on which society is built. Issues such as marriage, divorce and contraception will also be discussed.

The liberal minded Pope is said to have asked the Curia to look into the recognition of civil same sex unions
Three pairs of brides and grooms sit on benches as they wait to be married today in the Vatican
He said: 'It might be better — more comfortable — to have a dog, two cats, and the love goes to the two cats and the dog. Is this true or not? Have you seen it?
'Then, in the end this marriage comes to old age in solitude, with the bitterness of loneliness.' 

A couple lovingly look into each other's eyes before being married in front of huge crowds today
The last time a pope performed a marriage was St John Paul II, who wed eight couples at a Mass to mark the Jubilee for Families in October 2000