Ultima Thule

In ancient times the northernmost region of the habitable world - hence, any distant, unknown or mysterious land.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Aussiegirl update no. 2

Well, Aussiegirl was discharged from the hospital tonight, and is enjoying being home again, playing with her cats, and especially being out of the hospital, with those all night long interruptions for yet one more blood pressure measurement. She's planning on getting better, and as soon as possible resuming the helm of Ultima Thule.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Happy birthday, Beethoven!

By Aussiegirl

(Today is the immortal Beethoven's birthday, so I have decided to republish my 2005 birthday post that included the poet Franz Grillparzer's beautiful funeral oration. I have also included Pindar's comment that gives some additional information on the funeral.)

December 16, 1770 - March 26, 1827

In commemoration of the birthday of the great titanic genius who was Beethoven, no better words could be uttered than those delivered at his graveside. Beethoven sleeps, while we live on the dream of the unutterably beautiful and profound music that he left behind.

The Graveside Funeral Oration for Ludwig van Beethoven
Written by the poet Franz Grillparzer

Standing by the grave of him who has passed away we are in a manner the representatives of an entire nation, of the whole German people, mourning the loss of the one highly acclaimed half of that which was left us of the departed splendor of our native art, of the fatherland's full spiritual bloom. There yet lives—and may his life be long!—the hero of verse in German speech and tongue; but the last master of tuneful song, the organ of soulful concord, the heir and amplifier of Handel and Bach's, of Haydn and Mozart's immortal fame is now no more, and we stand weeping over the riven strings of the harp that is hushed.

The harp that is hushed! Let me call him so! For he was an artist, and all that was his, was his through art alone. The thorns of life had wounded him deeply, and as the cast-away clings to the shore, so did he seek refuge in thine arms, O thou glorious sister and peer of the Good and the True, thou balm of wounded hearts, heaven-born Art! To thee he clung fast, and even when the portal was closed wherethrough thou hadst entered in and spoken to him, when his deaf ear had blinded his vision for thy features, still did he ever carry thine image within his heart, and when he died it still reposed on his breast.

He was an artist—and who shall arise to stand beside him?

As the rushing behemoth spurns the waves, so did he rove to the uttermost bounds of his art. From the cooing of doves to the rolling of thunder, from the craftiest interweaving of well-weighed expedients of art up to that awful pitch where planful design disappears in the lawless whirl of contending natural forces, he had traversed and grasped it all. He who comes after him will not continue him; he must begin anew, for he who went before left off only where art leaves off. Adelaide and Leonora! Triumph of the heroes of Vittoria—and the humble sacrificial song of the Mass!—Ye children of the voices divided thrice and four times! heaven-soaring harmony: "Freude, schöner Götterfunken," thou swan song! Muse of song and the seven-stringed lyre! Approach his grave and bestrew it with laurel!

He was an artist, but a man as well. A man in every sense—in the highest. Because he withdrew from the world, they called him a man-hater, and because he held aloof from sentimentality, unfeeling. Ah, one who knows himself hard of heart, does not shrink! The finest points are those most easily blunted and bent or broken. An excess of sensitiveness avoids a show of feeling! He fled the world because, in the whole range of his loving nature, he found no weapon to oppose it. He withdrew from mankind after he had given them his all and received nothing in return. He dwelt alone, because he found no second Self. But to the end his heart beat warm for all men, in fatherly affection for his kindred, for the world his all and his heart's blood.

Thus he was, thus he died, thus he will live to the end of time.

You, however, who have followed after us hitherward, let not your hearts be troubled! You have not lost him, you have won him. No living man enters the halls of the immortals. Not until the body has perished, do their portals unclose. He whom you mourn stands from now onward among the great of all ages, inviolate forever. Return homeward, therefore, in sorrow, yet resigned! And should you ever in times to come feel the overpowering might of his creations like an onrushing storm, when your mounting ecstasy overflows in the midst of a generation yet unborn, then remember this hour, and think, We were there, when they buried him, and when he died, we wept.

At 5:58 PM, Pindar said...
Thanks, Aussiegirl, for posting this beautiful and inspiring funeral oration for my favorite composer. And your words echoed deep within my soul: "Beethoven sleeps, while we live on the dream of the unutterably beautiful and profound music that he left behind". Here are a few extra facts that I found: On the afternoon of Thursday, March 29th, 1827, between 10,000 and 30,000 people gathered for the funeral of Ludwig van Beethoven.
The actor Heinrich Anschütz read the funeral oration written by Franz Grillparzer, Austria's greatest dramatic poet, in front of the doors of the Währing Cemetary (now Schubert Park). Also, it turns out that Grillparzer (1791-1872) first met Beethoven in 1803, and in 1823 the two men made plans to collaborate on an opera--but nothing came of it.

Spaceweather.com: December 2006 Aurora Gallery

By Aussiegirl

Spaceweather.com sent me an email with the following note: Solar wind streams buffeting Earth's magnetosphere have sparked high-latitude auroras several times this month--notably Dec. 6th-8th and again on Dec. 12th. The really big display occured on Dec. 14th when a CME hit Earth and sparked a severe geomagnetic storm.
Be sure to go to this link for 5 pages of spectacular photos of auroras -- the one accompanying this post is but one.

Spaceweather.com: December 2006 Aurora Gallery

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Aussiegirl update

Good news for all of Aussiegirl's many readers! She successfully underwent a two-hour surgery today, with no complications. She'll be in the hospital a while longer -- and let me tell you, she can't wait to get back to her keyboard and resume blogging. She wishes to thank all those kind readers who sent her their encouraging get-well wishes. Just keep checking in here, and before you know it she'll be back!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Guglielmo Marconi

By Aussiegirl

Today is a very important date in the history of radio. On this day in 1901 Marconi ... but let's let Wikipedia tell the story: A major advantage of radio is its ability to provide communication over water. Marconi quickly began to build high-powered stations on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, in order to communicate with ships at sea (In 1904, a commercial service was established to transmit nightly news summaries to subscribing ocean-going ships, which could incorporate them into their onboard newspapers). At the same time, he was quietly investigating whether it was possible to signal completely across the Atlantic, in order to compete with the transatlantic telegraph cables.
Marconi soon made the stunning announcement that on 12 December 1901, using a 122-metre (400-foot) kite-supported antenna for reception, he had personally received at Signal Hill in St John's, Newfoundland (now part of Canada) signals transmitted by the company's new high-power station at Poldhu, Cornwall. The distance between the two points was about 3,500 kilometres (2,100 miles).

If you wish to read more about the early days of Marconi and radio, here is the link:Guglielmo Marconi - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

ATTENTION SKYGAZERS: The 2006 Geminid Meteor Shower peaks Dec. 14

By Aussiegirl

Get ready to watch a wonderful display of nature's fireworks over the next two days! But first read this article to discover that the source of the Geminids remains a mystery. How can this be so? Read on!
The beautiful photograph is of the Geminid meteors photographed in Dec. 2004 by Jason A.C. Brock of Roundtimber, Texas.

NASA - The 2006 Geminid Meteor Shower

The best meteor shower of the year peaks this week on Dec. 13th and 14th.

"It's the Geminid meteor shower," says Bill Cooke of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office in Huntsville, Alabama. "Start watching on Wednesday evening, Dec. 13th, around 9 p.m. local time," he advises. "The display will start small but grow in intensity as the night wears on. By Thursday morning, Dec. 14th, people in dark, rural areas could see one or two meteors every minute."

The source of the Geminids is a mysterious object named 3200 Phaethon. "No one can decide what it is," says Cooke.

The mystery, properly told, begins in the 19th century: Before the mid-1800s there were no Geminids, or at least not enough to attract attention. The first Geminids appeared suddenly in 1862, surprising onlookers who saw dozens of meteors shoot out of the constellation Gemini. (That's how the shower gets its name, the Geminids.)

Astronomers immediately began looking for a comet. Meteor showers result from debris that boils off a comet when it passes close to the Sun. When Earth passes through the debris, we see a meteor shower.

For more than a hundred years astronomers searched in vain for the parent comet. Finally, in 1983, NASA's Infra-Red Astronomy Satellite (IRAS) spotted something. It was several kilometers wide and moved in about the same orbit as the Geminid meteoroids. Scientists named it 3200 Phaethon.

Just one problem: Meteor showers are supposed to come from comets, but 3200 Phaethon seems to be an asteroid. It is rocky (not icy, like a comet) and has no obvious tail. Officially, 3200 Phaethon is catalogued as a "PHA"—a potentially hazardous asteroid whose path misses Earth's orbit by only 2 million miles.

If 3200 Phaethon is truly an asteroid, with no tail, how did it produce the Geminids? "Maybe it bumped up against another asteroid," offers Cooke. "A collision could have created a cloud of dust and rock that follows Phaethon around in its orbit."

This jibes with studies of Geminid fireballs. Some astronomers have studied the brightest Geminid meteors and concluded that the underlying debris must be rocky. Density estimates range from 1 to 3 g/cm3. That's much denser than flakes of comet dust (0.3 g/cm3), but close to the density of rock (3 g/cm3).

So, are the Geminids an "asteroid shower"?

Cooke isn't convinced. 3200 Phaethon might be a comet after all--"an extinct comet," he says. The object's orbit carries it even closer to the Sun than Mercury. Extreme solar heat could've boiled away all of Phaethon's ice long ago, leaving behind this rocky skeleton "that merely looks like an asteroid."

In short, no one knows. It's a mystery to savor under the stars—the shooting stars—this Thursday morning.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Key Space Weather Secret Revealed

By Aussiegirl

I found this article on Lucianne.com, posted by Photoonist, who added this very interesting comment: How about this: what if it's not just space weather, such as the aurora, that's affected? If you've been at this site for some time or are otherwise interested in the geophysical sciences then you know that the earth's magnetic field is beginning to slowly weaken in preparation for yet another magnetic pole swap. That would mean that energetic charged particles begin to penetrate farther into the earth's atmosphere. What kind of effect would these increasing reactions have on the earth's overall weather system? algore, call your office.

SPACE.com -- Key Space Weather Secret Revealed

Key Space Weather Secret Revealed
By SPACE.com Staff

Space weather on Earth has long been thought to be largely a measure of the Sun's output. But mounting research reveals it is metered more by our own planet's changing magnetic field than was known.

When the Sun hiccups as it did last week, huge blasts of radiation and matter can be flung into space. Storms arrive with a magnetic charge, plus or minus. Our own planet has a varying magnetic field.

Scientists knew that the alignment of these fields had something to do with the odds of a satellite being disabled or a colorful Northern Lights sky show ensuing.

The new study shows that the Northern Lights, also called aurora, and other space weather near Earth are driven by the rate at which the Earth’s and Sun’s magnetic fields connect, or merge, and not just by the solar wind’s electric field.

The merging occurs way out in space, at a spot between the Earth and Sun, roughly 40,000 miles above our planet’s surface. Researchers have now developed a formula that describes the merging rate of the magnetic field lines and accurately predicts 10 different types of near-Earth space weather activity, such as the aurora and magnetic disturbances.

“Having this formula is a big step forward for understanding how the Sun and Earth interact,” said study leader Patrick Newell of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL).

Space weather scientists had long assumed that near-Earth space weather phenomena could best be predicted by the behavior of the solar wind electric field. But Newell and his colleagues were the first to put this theory to a rigorous test with many data sets from a number of years.

They looked at NASA satellite observations of global auroral activity, NOAA satellite observations of the stretching of the Earth’s magnetic field lines on our planet's nightside, and Air Force satellite observations of the access of solar wind particles to the Earth’s upper atmosphere.

The research further disabuses the notion that space is empty. The region between Earth and the Sun is full of energetic particles, most of which are generated Sun. Temperatures of a few million degrees accelerate a stream of these particles, called the solar wind, to roughly one million mph.

Polonium 210

By Aussiegirl

An article on the history and relative ubiquity of polonium 210. Polonium was of course discovered by Marie Curie in 1898 and named after her native Poland.
Accompanying this photograph of Pierre and Marie was this charming and sweet excerpt of a letter that Pierre wrote to Marie exploring the possibility of marriage:

“We have promised each other (is it not true?) to have, the one for the other, at least a great affection. Provided that you do not change your mind! For there are no promises which hold; these are things that do not admit of compulsion.

“It would, nevertheless, be a beautiful thing in which I hardly dare believe, to pass through life together hypnotized in our dreams: your dream for your country; our dream for humanity; our dream for science. Of all these dreams, I believe the last, alone, is legitimate. I mean to say by this that we are powerless to change the social order. Even if this were not true we should not know what to do.... From the point of view of science, on the contrary, we can pretend to accomplish something. The territory here is more solid and obvious, and however small it is, it is truly in our possession.”

Polonium - Alexander V. Litvinenko - Vladimir V. Putin - New York Times

Published: December 3, 2006

THE trail of clues in the mysterious death of Alexander V. Litvinenko may lead to Moscow, as the former spy claimed on his deathbed. But solving the nuclear whodunit may prove harder than Scotland Yard and many scientists at first anticipated.

The complicating factor is the relative ubiquity of polonium 210, the highly radioactive substance found in Mr. Litvinenko’s body and now in high levels in the body of an Italian associate, who has been hospitalized in London. Experts initially called it quite rare, with some claiming that only the Kremlin had the wherewithal to administer a lethal dose. But public and private inquiries have shown that it proliferated quite widely during the nuclear era, of late as an industrial commodity.

“You can get it all over the place,” said William Happer, a physicist at Princeton who has advised the United States government on nuclear forensics. “And it’s a terrible way to go.”

Today, polonium 210 can show up in everything from atom bombs, to antistatic brushes to cigarette smoke, though in the last case only minute quantities are involved. Iran made relatively large amounts of polonium 210 in what some experts call a secret effort to develop nuclear arms, and North Korea probably used it to trigger its recent nuclear blast.

Commercially, Web sites and companies sell many products based on polonium 210, with labels warning of health dangers. By some estimates, a lethal dose might cost as little as $22.50, plus tax. “Radiation from polonium is dangerous if the solid material is ingested or inhaled,” warns the label of an antistatic brush. “Keep away from children.”

Peter D. Zimmerman, a professor in the war studies department of King’s College, London, said the many industrial uses of polonium 210 threatened to complicate efforts at solving the Litvinenko case. “It’s a great Agatha Christie novel,” he said. “She couldn’t have written anything weirder than this.” [....]

As in any good murder mystery, the deadliness was foreshadowed. Marie Curie, who discovered the radioactive element in 1898 and named it after her native Poland, organized its close study. One of her polonium workers died in 1927 from apparent poisoning, according to Susan Quinn, author of “Marie Curie: A Life” (Simon & Schuster, 1995). Another worker lost her hair.

At first, mines provided minute samples nearly invisible to the human eye. But the debut of nuclear reactors let scientists make polonium 210 by the pound. The substance emits swarms of subatomic rays, and the Manhattan Project in 1945 used them to trigger the world’s first atom bombs. Such initiators became the global standard for basic nuclear arms.

President Eisenhower, eager to promote “atoms for peace,” had the high heats of polonium 210 turned into electricity for satellites. But the batteries lost power relatively fast because of the material’s short half-life, just 138 days. The United States made few such spacecraft.

By the 1960’s, researchers worried increasingly about polonium 210’s deadly health effects. Harvard researchers found it in cigarette smoke and argued that its concentrations were high enough to make its radioactivity a contributing factor in lung cancer.

Vilma R. Hunt, who helped lead the studies, called polonium 210 a nightmare for health workers, and perhaps sleuths, because it tended to move about in unexpected ways. “It crawls the walls,” she said in an interview. “It can be lost for a while and then come back.”

Though dangerous when breathed, injected or ingested, the material is harmless outside the human body. Skin or paper can stop its rays cold.

Industrial companies found polonium 210 to be ideal for making static eliminators that remove dust from film, lenses and laboratory balances, as well as paper and textile plants. Its rays produce an electric charge on nearby air. Bits of dust with static attract the charged air, which neutralizes them. Once free of static, the dust is easy to blow or brush away. [....]

An antistatic fan made by NRD, of Grand Island, N.Y., contains 31,500 microcuries of polonium 210 — or, in theory, more than 10 lethal doses. The unit often sells commercially for $225.00. Repeated calls to NRD were not returned, but the company in sales literature describes its products as unusually safe.

The company’s antistatic brushes contain less polonium, typically 500 microcuries of radiation. The three-inch brush often sells on the Web for $33.99. In theory, by spending $203.94, before tax and any handling charges, and then disassembling six brushes, someone with lab experience could accumulate a lethal dose.

In Tennessee, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory sells dozens of types of rare nuclear materials to American manufacturers. But Bill Cabage, a lab spokesman, said it sold no polonium 210 because Russia was able to do so much more inexpensively.

“That’s typical” of exotic radioisotopes, he said. “We can’t compete with their prices.” [....]

Still, several experts held out the possibility that close examination of polonium 210 residues from Mr. Litvinenko’s body or from the multiple sites where it has been found around London might reveal nuclear fingerprints that could throw light on the baffling case.

“What they’ll be looking for is radioactive contaminants made at the same time,” said Dr. Happer of Princeton. “They’ll do the best they can technically,” hoping to find a match between the London samples and the known attributes of the world’s stocks of polonium 210. “But my guess,” he added, “is that it will take an informant” to clear up the mystery.

 Rogue theory of smell gets a boost 

By Aussiegirl

An interesting and novel explanation of how we smell -- I mean how our noses work.

news @ nature.com - Rogue theory of smell gets a boost - Physicists check out a bold hypothesis for how the nose works.

Rogue theory of smell gets a boost
Physicists check out a bold hypothesis for how the nose works.
Philip Ball

Smell might be down to the vibrations of molecules rather than their shape

A controversial theory of how we smell, which claims that our fine sense of odour depends on quantum mechanics, has been given the thumbs up by a team of physicists.

Calculations by researchers at University College London (UCL) show that the idea that we smell odour molecules by sensing their molecular vibrations makes sense in terms of the physics involved1.

That's still some way from proving that the theory, proposed in the mid-1990s by biophysicist Luca Turin2, is correct. But it should make other scientists take the idea more seriously.

"This is a big step forward," says Turin, who has now set up his own perfume company Flexitral in Virginia. He says that since he published his theory, "it has been ignored rather than criticized."

Most scientists have assumed that our sense of smell depends on receptors in the nose detecting the shape of incoming molecules, which triggers a signal to the brain. This molecular 'lock and key' process is thought to lie behind a wide range of the body's detection systems: it is how some parts of the immune system recognise invaders, for example, and how the tongue recognizes some tastes.

But Turin argued that smell doesn't seem to fit this picture very well. Molecules that look almost identical can smell very different — such as alcohols, which smell like spirits, and thiols, which smell like rotten eggs. And molecules with very different structures can smell similar.

Most strikingly, some molecules can smell different — to animals, if not necessarily to humans — simply because they contain different isotopes (atoms that are chemically identical but have a different mass).

Turin's explanation for these smelly facts invokes the idea that the smell signal in olfactory receptor proteins is triggered not by an odour molecule's shape, but by its vibrations, which can enourage an electron to jump between two parts of the receptor in a quantum-mechanical process called tunnelling. This electron movement could initiate the smell signal being sent to the brain.

This would explain why isotopes can smell different: their vibration frequencies are changed if the atoms are heavier. Turin's mechanism, says Marshall Stoneham of the UCL team, is more like swipe-card identification than a key fitting a lock.

Vibration-assisted electron tunnelling can undoubtedly occur — it is used in an experimental technique for measuring molecular vibrations. "The question is whether this is possible in the nose," says Stoneham's colleague, Andrew Horsfield.

Stoneham says that when he first heard about Turin's idea, while Turin was himself based at UCL, "I didn't believe it". But, he adds, "because it was an interesting idea, I thought I should prove it couldn't work. I did some simple calculations, and only then began to feel Luca could be right." Now Stoneham and his co-workers have done the job more thoroughly, in a paper soon to be published in Physical Review Letters.

The UCL team calculated the rates of electron hopping in a nose receptor that has an odorant molecule bound to it. This rate depends on various properties of the biomolecular system that are not known, but the researchers could estimate these parameters based on typical values for molecules of this sort.

The key issue is whether the hopping rate with the odorant in place is significantly greater than that without it. The calculations show that it is — which means that odour identification in this way seems theoretically possible.

But Horsfield stresses that that's different from a proof of Turin's idea. "So far things look plausible, but we need proper experimental verification. We're beginning to think about what experiments could be performed."

Meanwhile, Turin is pressing ahead with his hypothesis. "At Flexitral we have been designing odorants exclusively on the basis of their computed vibrations," he says. "Our success rate at odorant discovery is two orders of magnitude better than the competition." At the very least, he is putting his money where his nose is.

Let us celebrate the birthday of the "beautiful-shape viewer"

By Aussiegirl

Today's Fact of the Day column in scotsman.com alerted me to the following news: On this day in 1781 David Brewster was born in the Borders town of Jedburgh. Brewster made his first telescope at the age of ten and enrolled in Edinburgh University when he was 12. His most popular invention, however, was the kaleidoscope. He was knighted in 1832.
Below I have posted the Wikipedia article about the kaleidoscope -- which tells you probably more than you wanted to know about this interesting device. Brewster also devised the name, putting together Greek kalos "beautiful", eidos "shape", and scope "observation instrument", to arrive at "a beautiful-shape viewer".

Kaleidoscope - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The kaleidoscope is a toy containing small, brightly-colored tumbling objects, and a set of mirrors which reflect the view of the tumbling objects into repeating, symmetric patterns. The tumbling objects — typically coloured beads or pebbles — are enclosed in a transparent or translucent chamber mounted at one end of a tube; the viewer looks in the other end of the tube. Mounted lengthways along the inside of the tube are either two or three striplike mirrors which combine and form the image.

If the mirrors are mounted at a 45° angle to each other, eight duplicate views are created. A 60° angle leads to six views, or 90° to four. As the object chamber is rotated, the tumbling of the objects within presents the viewer with an infinitely-varying succession of colors and patterns. Although the composition within one triangular cell of the view is arbitrary, the overall pattern is beautifully symmetric because of the reflections in the mirrors. A two-mirror model yields a single pattern isolated against a black background, while a three-mirror (closed triangle) model yields an infinitely-repeating pattern that seems to fill the entire field of view.

Kaleidoscope tubes can be made inexpensively of cardboard, or elegantly out of brass, wood, or other fine materials. The tumbling objects can be beads, semiprecious stones, chips of glass, or almost any imaginable substance. Sometimes the object chamber is filled with liquid so that the items float and move in a more fluid manner. Some high-quality kaleidoscopes have lenses at one or both ends to gather light and/or sharpen the image.

For a 2D symmetry group a kaleidoscopic point is a point of intersection of two or more lines of reflection symmetry. In the case of a discrete group the angle between consecutive lines is 180°/n for an integer n≥2. At this point there are n lines of reflection symmetry, and the point is a center of n-fold rotational symmetry. See also symmetry combinations.

Known to the ancient Greeks, it was reinvented by the Scot Sir David Brewster in 1816 while conducting experiments on light polarization, and it was patented in 1817. The initial design was made from a tube in which Brewster placed pairs of mirrors at one end, and pairs of translucent disks at the other end. Between the two, he placed the beads. Initially intended as a science tool, it was quickly copied as a toy. Brewster believed he would make money from his popular invention. However, a fault in his patent allowed others to copy his invention. In America, Charles Bush popularized the kaleidoscope. Today, these early products often sell for over $1,000. Cozy Baker collected kaleidoscopes and wrote books about the artists who were making them in the 1970s through 2000. Cozy is credited with energizing a renaissance in kaleidoscope making in America. Craft galleries often carry a few, while others specialize in them and carry dozens of different types from different artists and craftspeople.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Experts Puzzle Over Halt of Bird Flu

By Aussiegirl

Ah tolja an' ah tolja an' ah tolja!

Experts Puzzle Over Halt of Bird Flu - Forbes.com

Experts Puzzle Over Halt of Bird Flu

Earlier this year, bird flu panic was in full swing: The French feared for their foie gras, the Swiss locked their chickens indoors, and Americans enlisted prison inmates in Alaska to help spot infected wild birds.

The H5N1 virus - previously confined to Southeast Asia - was striking birds in places as diverse as Germany, Egypt, and Nigeria, and a flu pandemic seemed inevitable.

Then the virus went quiet. Except for a steady stream of human cases in Indonesia, the current flu epicenter, the past year's worries about a catastrophic global outbreak largely disappeared.

What happened?

Part of the explanation may be seasonal. Bird flu tends to be most active in the colder months, as the virus survives longer at low temperatures. [....]

While the pandemic has not materialized, experts say it's too early to relax.

"We have a visible risk in front of us," said Dr. Keiji Fukuda, coordinator of the World Health Organization's global influenza program. But although the virus could mutate into a pandemic strain, Fukuda points out that it might go the other direction instead, becoming less dangerous for humans. [....]

Flu viruses constantly evolve, so the mere appearance of mutations is not enough to raise alarm. The key is to identify which mutations are the most worrisome.

"We don't really know how many changes this virus has got to make to adapt to humans, if it can at all," said Dr. Richard Webby, a bird flu expert at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Tennessee. [....]

Though scientists are bracing themselves for increased bird flu activity in the winter, there are no predictions about where it might appear next. The WHO's Fukuda said it would not be a surprise to see it appear in new countries.

Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

FSB colonel named in Litvinenko poison plot

By Aussiegirl

Mikhail Trepashkin, the latest entry in the ever more curious poisoning plot.

Telegraph | News | FSB colonel named in Litvinenko poison plot

FSB colonel named in Litvinenko poison plot
By Helen Womack in Moscow and Colin Freeman, Sunday Telegraph
Last Updated: 2:39am GMT 10/12/2006

An imprisoned Russian dissident has given The Sunday Telegraph revealing testimony in which he names a serving state security colonel as a key figure in the poisoning of the former spy Alexander Litvinenko.

Mikhail Trepashkin, a lawyer being held in a penal camp in the Urals, gave his information via an intermediary after the Kremlin refused to let him be questioned by Scotland Yard detectives who have travelled to Moscow. In testimony that he fears could put his own life at risk, Mr Trepashkin named the colonel as one of four FSB security service officers who appeared in masks alongside Litvinenko at a 1998 press conference, when the former agent accused his superiors of ordering the assassination of the oligarch Boris Berezovsky.

The Sunday Telegraph has been told the colonel's full identity, but is not publishing it for legal reasons. Mr Trepashkin, 50, who has repeatedly expressed his desire to speak to British police, said: "They need to be speaking to this serving FSB officer. I believe he is of key importance to their inquiries."

He also gave details of how he thought the plot to kill Litvinenko in London with a lethal dose of radioactive polonium 210 would have been hatched. The "hit" would have been planned over a long period, he said. "They needed to follow him and find out how he lived and what security arrangements he had. They wanted to make the death look natural. What they did not reckon with was that the polonium 210 would act so quickly and leave a trail." He had further information to corroborate his claims, he said, but would reveal the full details only in an interview with British police.

Mr Trepashkin is also a former agent of the FSB — the successor agency to the KGB — and was jailed in 2004 for allegedly disclosing state secrets. His supporters insist the charges against him were to prevent his disclosing evidence of FSB involvement in a series of apartment bombings in Russia in 1999 that killed 300 people.

The bombings, blamed at the time on Chechen militants, gave President Vladimir Putin the political justification for a military campaign against the breakaway republic of Chechnya that hugely boosted his domestic popularity.

Mr Trepashkin was present at Litvinenko's press conference the year before, when he alleged that the security services had been running death squads to kill businessmen hostile to Russian government interests.

The claims, which enraged the Kremlin, led to sackings in the FSB and Litvinenko's own brief detention before he fled abroad and eventually claimed asylum in Britain.

None of the masked fellow officers who appeared with him at the 1998 conference has ever been publicly identified. It remains unclear why, having apparently risked their lives and careers by siding with him with at the time, they might have later turned against him.

But Mr Trepashkin says the masked agent he has named is the only one still serving in the FSB, indicating someone who somehow still enjoys the confidence of the Kremlin.

Mr Trepashkin was answering questions passed to him by The Sunday Telegraph into EK-13, a low-security jail in Nizhny Tagil in the Middle Urals region, where he has a year still to serve. He now expects to be transferred to a tougher prison for speaking out, and fears being attacked or even killed in jail.

He is regarded by international human rights groups as a genuine political prisoner. Unlike some of the figures in the Litvinenko affair, he has no history of making wild or exaggerated claims.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Pioneers' lives put on university website

By Aussigirl

Here is a story from the Dec. 8th issue of the Winnipeg Free Press. When you go to the website, you will find three sections described thus: (1) View over 10,000 digitized archival documents relating to immigration and immigration policy in western Canada from the holdings of the University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections and the University of Saskatchewan Archives; (2) View three hundred images from the holdings of the archives of Oseredok, the Ukrainian Cultural and Educational Centre. The images are presented along with an accompanying historical narrative pertaining to the experience of Ukrainian immigrants in western Canada; (3) Experience this learning tool designed for students and teachers in grade six. Contains lesson plans and activities for teachers, a historical text with accompanying images of archival material, and a fun, yet educational, game for students relating to immigration and immigration policy in the early-twentieth century.
The photograph above, with this accompanying description, is one of many from Oseredok: A photograph taken by Ivan Bobersky of a Ukrainian immigrant woman and her children in Winnipeg, Manitoba, dated ca. 1920s. Look at the fear and uncertainty -- and determination -- in their faces. Here they are in a new land, surrounded by strangeness and the unfamiliar. What brave ancestors!

Pioneers' lives put on university website
By Kevin Rollason

LEARNING about the hardships of immigrant homesteaders on the prairies through their own letters, diaries and photos is only a few clicks of a mouse away.

Called the Prairie Immigration Experience, almost 15,000 documents from the archives of the University of Manitoba, the University of Saskatchewan, and the Ukrainian Cultural and Educational Centre in Winnipeg have been digitized and put on a new website.

Brett Lougheed, of the U of M's archives and special collections department, said about 5,000 of the images come from documents stored at his university, while about 15,000 come from the University of Saskatchewan. The Ukrainian Cultural and Education Centre has its 300 images on a link from the website's main page.

"A lot of people had this material in their basements and they wanted it to be saved so they gave them to us," Lougheed said on Thursday.

"Now anyone with a computer can access this material 24 hours a day, seven days a week."

He said documents on the website show the struggles faced by immigrants from various nationalities. These include Czech, Danish, English, Jewish, and Ukrainian.

As well, Lougheed said some of the collections include audio interviews with immigrants while one has a video clip.

"Ease of access was the main reason why we wanted to do this. It wasn't done for preservation reasons, but to improve access, but if there is less handling of the archival material itself, it can be maintained for much longer."

Lougheed said seven of the archival collections on the website come from the University of Saskatchewan while the rest come from the University of Manitoba.

Lougheed said a separate link will take Grade 6 students -- and their teachers -- to an education site made up of lesson plans, activities for teachers and an educational game.

The Prairie Immigration Experience website can be reached here.

© 2006 Winnipeg Free Press. All Rights Reserved.

America: Muslims' Heaven on Earth

By Aussiegirl

Another thought-provoking article by the brilliant Amil Imani.

FrontPage magazine.com :: America: Muslims' Heaven on Earth by Amil Imani

America: Muslims' Heaven on Earth
By Amil Imani

People are familiar with Islam’s classification of the world into the Dar-ul-Solh—the hose of peace, meaning the house of Islam—and the Dar-ul-Harb—the house of war, meaning the house of non-Islam. Ironically, the self-proclaimed house of peace, from its early years, has waged war against the house of war.

Also there is a little-known third “house” according to Islam—Dar-ul-Aman—the non-Islam house of safety where Muslims find refuge. We already know which of the three houses America is to Al Qaeda, the Iranian mullahs, the Taliban, the Muslims Brotherhood and their ilk. We are posing this question to the rank and file Muslims, particularly to the arrivals of recent years who are finding refuge in the non-Islamic world, including the United States of America:

Which house is America to you?

America and other welcoming and generous non-Islam Dar-ul-Aman have given you refuge with opportunities for a decent life denied to you in your own Dar-ul-Solh by the ruthless and deceptive holy men of Allah who rule it.

Dear Muslim, reciprocity is a high human virtue. The kind people of Dar-ul-Aman deserve your in-kind response. You physically left the Dar-ul-Solh because it was and is abject failure in delivering its promises about a good life in this world. What guarantee is there that Islam’s the “pies-in-the-skies” promises about the next world—a world of virgins for the faithful male with rivers of milk and honey to energize him—are any more reliable?

What about the Muslim women? Are they going to be compensated for their enslavement by the men of Allah? Or, women, even in Allah’s paradise, remain in perpetuity “objects” of entertainment for men?

Now that you have seen for yourself the misery of Islamic system and you have sought a better life in the Dar-ul-Aman of the “infidels,” you need to take other steps: bid farewell to the Islamic mindset, abandon Ummehism, and enlist yourself in the rank of the democratic and tolerant people. Once freed from the oppressive and discriminating yoke of Islam, you can lend a hand to the protection and nurturance of democracy—a system of peoples’ rule with a proven record of being the best instrument for the realization of humanity’s aspirations.

The democratic rule of Dar-ul-Aman is not a void system invented by the infidels, as your devious self-serving theocrat leaders claim. Democracy is the best product of humanity’s caring and decent people: the rule of the people, by the people, for the people.

Democracy, by its accommodating and benign nature, is susceptible to corruption and even destruction by forces from within and from without. With this realization in mind, the founding fathers of the United States enshrined the Constitution to safeguard and protect the rule of the people.

Dear Muslim, being born human comes with a precious gift: the gift to think and decide for yourself. Islam has robbed you of this gift from birth. Parents, aided by relatives and brainwashed by slaveholder imams and mullahs, colluded and did the thinking for you when you were still in no position to exercise your right. They branded you as Muslim, simply because you were born in a Muslim family. Cattle are branded, not humans. Cattle are owned by others. Humans are not. Having branded you “Muslim,” those who robbed you of your gift of self-determination dared you to leave their bondage under the threat of death as apostate.

Dear Muslim, you have been intelligent enough to forsake the failed Islamdome for a better life elsewhere. Dar-ul-Aman has given refuge. Now that you are in a free society, you want to reclaim your stolen gift of liberty and freedom of choice. You want to shatter the shackles of Islam that has enchained you from birth. You want to take your place in the ranks of the supporters and promoters of liberty that democracy provides and Islam destroys.

Dear Muslim, you know full well that it is Islam’s dysfunctional doctrine with its Stone Age rule of Shari'a that is responsible for the abominable conditions of the Islamic countries.

Contrary to the preachers of hate—the Islamic clergy of vested interests—the “infidels” are not your enemies: they demonstrate their goodwill by giving you refuge; your deadly enemy is the doctrine of Islam that keeps you captive even in freedom.

Given that the formerly vast and largely segregated planet earth has shrunken into a “global village,” the disparate peoples isolated from one another for millennia are now in the same community. These people are in urgent need of adopting a social compact that would allow individuals as well as groups maximum latitude of faith, coupled with responsibility, and free of any practices that infringe on the rights of others or demonize them.

Regrettably, Islam is incompatible with such a harmonious compact. As an article of faith, Islam considers all non-Muslims, even the so-called People of the Book, as infidels—people who are to be subjugated or cleansed from Allah’s earth.

The Muslims have taken a great step by coming to a Dar-ul-Aman in search of self-betterment. Now, they need to take the next step of purging their minds of the Psychosocial Virus of intolerant Islam. They want to do all they can to give their children the gift of humanness by not doing what their parents did to them.

America is not perfect. No human enterprise ever is. Yet, America is the closest country to a true Dar-ul-Aman in the broadest sense. And it is Americans, overwhelmingly “infidels,” who make America what it is. While America opens its doors to the poor, the hungry, and the oppressed of the world, Americans open their hearts to the less fortunate people of various lands through their unsurpassed generosity. No nation gives more aid to international charities, as percentage of its gross domestic products, than the American people.

This “Refuge,” a nation of all nations called America, is indeed the harbinger of the not too far away world of the future, a future world where liberty rules supreme and fascism of all forms, including Islamofascism, will be remembered as horrific impediments to humanity’s forward-march toward making this global village a reflection of heaven.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

House approves measure to preserve WWII internment camps

By Aussiegirl

How about preserving the detention camps where people like my parents were interned after WWII and subject to forcible deportation to the Soviet Union following the Yalta accords? My parents and family including my mother and young sister, including people with babies and children, were kept in former POW camps under armed guard, with armed sentries at the guard towers and behind barbed wires. They were many times forcibly moved from camp to camp and treated brutally by American soldiers who beat my father with the butt of a rifle. As people were being transported to what they thought were Soviet camps, women began throwing their children off the backs of trucks and jumping off and running into the woods as soldiers fired at them. This was a horrible miscarriage of justice that is little talked about. My parents barely escaped forced repatriation (and sure death) only by smuggling out a letter to General Eisenhower and telling him of our plight. He then sent his adjutant who examined the situation and gave them Eisenhower's personal word that they would not be forcibly moved.

KRT Wire | 12/05/2006 | House approves measure to preserve WWII internment camps

House approves measure to preserve WWII internment camps
By David Whitney
McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON - Congress completed action Tuesday on legislation to preserve and protect the remnants of one of the darkest chapters in American history: the internment camps and gathering centers that were used in the roundup and forced detention of Japanese American citizens during World War II.

The voice vote in the House of Representatives came two days short of the 65th anniversary of the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. That tragedy stirred such fear and anger in the United States that President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 three months later, ordering the roundup. The Supreme Court later upheld the directive on the grounds of "pressing public necessity."

Congress issued a formal apology in 1988 and offered $20,000 apiece in compensation to the survivors of the camps, who lost their freedom and property without any formal legal proceedings. Lesser numbers of Alaska Natives, Germans and Italians also were ordered detained.

On the West Coast, the Japanese Americans drew a strong public reaction. They were removed from their homes with very few possessions, taken to processing centers and transported to the internment camps, in remote corners of seven states, where they lived behind barbed-wire fences for most of the war.

Ten relocation centers were built to house them, and two - Manzanar and Minidoka - have been turned over to the National Park Service. With money from the legislation, what remains of the others can be restored and operated by local sponsors to keep the memory of the camps alive. President Bush is expected to sign the bill. [....]

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Taking time off for health problems

By Aussiegirl

Dear readers, I have been a bit under the weather of late, hence the sparse blogging. I'm going to have to take a few weeks off to take care of some health problems, and I may be back or checking in from time to time during and after some surgery that I will need.

In the meantime, I have asked a dear friend to act as a guest/ghost blogger, and he will be putting up interesting science articles and other articles that I can find for him and have him do for me.

I'll try to be back on my feet as soon as I can. In the meantime, I leave you in capable hands, so don't stop visiting the blog -- I appreciate all my readers.

A sticky problem

By Aussiegirl

I didn't know that, according to this article, a generalized understanding of friction at the nanoscale has so far remained out of reach.

A sticky problem (December 2006) - News - PhysicsWeb

A sticky problem
Jon Cartwright

Physicists in the US have made a peculiar discovery about how a small object slides over a rapidly rotating lubricated disk. They have found that if the object is tilted so that it only touches the disk at its corner, then the friction is greater when the disk rotates in one direction rather than the other. However, the low-friction direction is not the one you might expect -- a counterintuitive finding that the researchers say is caused by the properties of a meniscus that forms around the object (Phys. Rev. Lett. 97 216104).

In simple systems, the atomic origin of friction is fairly well established. But in more complex systems, such as the movement of a computer's read/write head over a rapidly spinning hard disk, a generalized understanding of friction at the nanoscale has so far remained out of reach. The friction depends on numerous factors, including roughness, lubrication, contact geometry, speed and vibration.

Now a team of researchers at electronics giant Hitachi have looked at what happens when the corner of a tilted oblong slider moves over a rotating carbon disk coated with polymeric lubricant. In their experiments, the team spun the disk under the slider at speeds of up to 12 m/s and measured the amount of friction using a strain gauge mounted on the slider's suspending arm. Curiously, the team found that the friction opposing the spinning of the disk is greater when the disk moves "away" from the tilted slider rather than "towards" it [see illustration].

Most people would naturally assume friction to be greater in the latter case, thinking that the pointed edge of the slider would "dig" into the surface. In fact, the lubricant not only prevents this from happening, but it also adds its own friction where it builds up as a meniscus in front of the slider. When the disk is spinning towards the slider this preceding meniscus so small that it has just a negligible effect, but in the opposite direction it is large enough to significantly hinder the disk's rotation.

However, this counterintuitive friction could also manifest itself on surfaces where there is no applied lubricant. When the team reduced the amount of "mobile" molecules in the lubricant (in other words, the slipperiness of it) from 50% in the original experiment down to less than 10%, they discovered again that friction was still greater for the disk moving away from the slider. And this low mobility of lubricant, they say, would be comparable to the trace amounts that reside even on surfaces supposedly considered to be "dry".

Colourful calculations

By Aussiegirl

The author begins her second paragraph thus: Understanding how the universe works at the most fundamental scale is often likened to peeling away the layers of an onion. How handy a metaphor the onion is! Here are some onion quotations that I found:

The onion and its satin wrappings is among the most beautiful of vegetables and is the only one that represents the essence of things. It can be said to have a soul. (Charles Dudley Warner)

Why is it that the poet tells
So little of the sense of smell?
These are the odors I love well:
The smell of coffee freshly ground;
Or rich plum pudding, holly crowned;
Or onions fried and deeply browned.
(Christopher Morley)

Mine eyes smell onions: I shall weep anon. (Shakespeare)

Colourful calculations (December 2006) - Physics World - PhysicsWeb

The formidable computational power of lattice QCD is finally allowing researchers to make solid predictions about the force that binds quarks inside protons and neutrons, describes Christine Davies.

Understanding how the universe works at the most fundamental scale is often likened to peeling away the layers of an onion. The outermost layer of the onion represents atoms, and we have known about these for a century or so. The next layer of structure, which was revealed by Rutherford in 1911, is the atomic nucleus – a much smaller object that contains almost all of the atomic mass. Some 20 years after that discovery, physicists realized that the nucleus is composed of more fundamental objects called protons and neutrons. However, peeling back the next layer of the onion has turned out to be much more of a challenge.

It is now universally accepted that protons and neutrons are made up of fractionally charged particles called quarks: two "up" quarks and a "down" quark in a proton, and two downs and an up in a neutron. There are six types of quarks in total, but none of them has ever been observed as a free particle. Smashing protons together at enormous energies in particle accelerators, for instance, reveals not single quarks but yet more particles made of quarks. Such particles are called hadrons, and there are hundreds of them: some are "baryons", which contain three quarks, while the rest are "mesons" made up of quark-antiquark pairs. It might therefore seem, as indeed it did to particle physicists in the 1960s, that the core of the onion is forever hidden.

The only way we can understand the properties of quarks is to compare experimental measurements of hadrons with calculations based on quantum chromodynamics or QCD: the theory of the "strong force" that binds quarks together. Despite being around for over 30 years, however, the equations of QCD have proved eye-wateringly difficult to solve. Indeed, to the immense frustration of particle physicists, it has been impossible to calculate properties of hadrons with an accuracy of better than 10%.

In the December issue of Physics World, Christine Davies shows how a the technique "lattice QCD" is allowing these equations to be solved much more accurately by representing space-time as a 4D lattice – which, she says, could reveal what the final layer of the onion looks like.

Protein Folding in a Curved Space

By Aussiegirl

The diagram shows the main stages of protein folding, and as a good introduction to help me understand the article posted below, I've added here the description that went with the diagram:

Protein folding is the transaction by which an unfolded polypeptide chain folds into a specific native and functional structure. After leaving the ribosome, the polypeptide chain goes through a number of steps, the folding pathway, ‘ in which the protein has to go through a sequence of intermediates to fold into the native structure’ (Arai M, Kuwajima K 2000). Recent studies (Arai M, Kuwajima et al, 2000) using data and propositions from both experimental (Ptitsyn 1995, Kuwajima 1992,1996, Baldwin 1995,1996,1999) and theoretical studies (the ‘energy landscape’ theory as proposed by Dill and Chan,1997 and Nyemeyer et al, 1998) have suggested that protein folding is divided into two stages.
The first stage involves the formation of the molten globule state from the unfolded polypeptide chain; a flexible intermediate where the protein forms its basic structural framework but with no specific side-chain packing. The second stage involves the formation of the native state from the molten globule state; specific tertiary structure is assembled with precise hydrophobic interactions and side-chain packing. This subsequent folding often requires specific molecules called molecular chaperones to help in the formation of the precise native state. More recent studies have however indicated that these two steps may not be as distinct from one another as previously thought, and some now feel that co-translational protein folding is a more accurate model.
Once individual proteins are folded correctly it is possible for multiprotein complexes to form, which may be an essential step in forming the protein’s quaternary structure. Multiprotein complex formation is an all-or-nothing process to insure that efficient functional complexes are formed without the hindrance that can be caused by incomplete assembly. Linkage plays an important role in insuring all-or-none assembly. If proteins misfold then systems to cope with this exist within the cell. The unfolded protein response deals with an accumulation of misfolded proteins in the ER, providing a route for misfolded proteins to retry folding. If the protein is irretrievable by this process then they are degraded by ubiquitin-dependent proteolytic degradation.

And we go merrily along, unaware of all this fabulous activity taking place at lightning speed inside us that keeps us alive!
Physics news Update 803

Protein Folding in a Curved Space

Physicists at the Università di Firenze, in Italy, have put a new slant on the protein folding problem. Proteins are special polymers made of amino acids. Generic polymers, when you cool them enough, will collapse in a ball. Proteins do something more interesting: they fold up into a particular compact form. If a protein fails to find this form it won't be able to carry out its designated function and disease can result. For instance, some nonfolding proteins will aggregate into long filaments, amyloid fibrils, and this has proven to be the basis for neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's.

Finding the precise dynamics behind protein folding would be like Isaac Newton finding the laws of universal gravitation. We aren't at that point yet, but there are ways of investigating some of the steps proteins take to arrive at their proper form. One fruitful approach is to see the multi-step process as taking place in a series of energy transactions. At any moment the protein can be represented as a point moving around in an abstract space whose coordinates correspond to all possible configurations and the associated energy needed to have that structure, sort of like a ball rolling along on the inner surface of a bowl. The bowl might have some partitions, and the ball might be able to roll up out of one compartment and into a neighboring one if its energy is sufficient, or if the wall between compartments is low enough, or if some extra energy (maybe in the form of heat or a chemical reaction) is added.

Lapo Casetti (casetti@fi.infn.it) and Lorenzo Mazzoni have attempted to make the "energy landscape" method even more geometrical by characterizing the folding forces at work as being a form of curvature in the bowl-like well in which the protein is operating. This is analogous to what Albert Einstein did in characterizing gravity as the curvature of spacetime in which planets and stars move about. Mazzoni and Casetti seek to determine what it is about the curvature of the energy landscape that encourages proteins to fold and other polymers not to fold.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Warming Caused by Natural Cycle, Not Humans

By Aussiegirl

Take this "inconvenient truth", Al Gore, and all your acolytes and minions!

NCPA: Warming Caused by Natural Cycle, Not Humans...

NCPA: Warming Caused by Natural Cycle, Not Humans; NCPA Adjunct Scholars Avery and Singer Outline Unstoppable Climate in New Book

DALLAS, Nov. 16 /U.S. Newswire/ -- Human activities have little to do with the Earth's current warming trend, according to a new book by Denis Avery and Fred Singer, adjunct scholars with the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA). In fact, the book concludes that global warming and cooling seem to be part of a 1,500-year cycle of moderate temperature swings. Coming out as the leadership of Congress shifts, the book -- Unstoppable Global Warming: Every 1,500 Years -- builds on research the two previously outlined in an NCPA study, found here.

"The evidence supporting a 1,500- year cycle is too great to dismiss," said S. Fred Singer, co-author of the book, professor emeritus of environmental science at the University of Virginia and president of the Science and Environment Policy Project. "Evidence from every continent and ocean confirms the 1,500-year cycle," added Dennis Avery, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and the book's other co-author.

According to Avery and Singer, within the 90,000-year Ice Age cycles, the Earth also experiences 1,500-year warming-cooling cycles. The current warming began about 1850 and will possibly continue for another 500 years. Their findings are drawn from physical evidence of past climate cycles that have been documented by researchers around the world from tree rings and ice cores, stalagmites and dust plumes, prehistoric villages and collapsed cultures, fossilized pollen and algae skeletons, titanium profiles and niobium ions, and other sources.

Considered collectively, the author's findings are clear and convincing evidence of a 1,500-year climate cycle. And if the current warming trend is part of a natural cycle, then actions to prevent further warming would be futile, could impose substantial costs upon the global economy and lessen the ability of the world's peoples to adapt to the impacts of climate change.

"Are human activities, including the burning of fossil fuel, the primary or even significant cause of the current warming trend? The scientifically appropriate answer -- cautious and conforming to the facts -- is probably not," the authors said.

The book is published by Rowman and Littlefield and is available through book sellers such as Amazon.com.

The NCPA is an internationally known nonprofit, nonpartisan research institute with offices in Dallas and Washington, D.C., that advocates private solutions to public policy problems. NCPA depends on the contributions of individuals, corporations and foundations that share its mission. The NCPA accepts no government grants.

Jihadis and whores

By Aussiegirl

Spengler, in the middle of this article on the shocking exploitation of women in Iran and elsewhere, has this sentence: "Fatima" from Persia has become as familiar as "Natasha" from Belarus. In October I posted People-trafficking in Odessa -- a sea of tears, about sex-trafficking in Ukraine, and included a link to The Natashas, a blog for those interested in fighting the scourge of human trafficking of women and men, girls and boys, especially for purposes of sexual exploitation . Please read these articles -- this is a terrible problem, and getting worse.

Asia Times Online :: Middle East News - Jihadis and whores

Jihadis and whores
By Spengler

Wars are won by destroying the enemy's will to fight. A nation is never really beaten until it sells its women.

The French sold their women to the German occupiers in 1940, and the Germans and Japanese sold their women to the Americans after World War II. The women of the former Soviet Union are still selling themselves in huge numbers. Hundreds of thousands of female Ukrainian "tourists" entered Germany after the then-foreign minister Joschka Fischer loosened visa standards in 1999. That helps explain why Ukraine has the world's fastest rate of population decline. On a smaller scale, trafficking in Iranian women explains Iran's predicament.

To understand Iranian politics, cherchez les femmes: the fate of Iranian women sheds light on the eccentricity of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad. By Spengler's Universal Law of Gender Parity, the men and women of every place and every time deserve each other. A corollary to this universal law states that the battered Iranian whore is the alter ego of the swaggering Iranian jihadi.

In the interest of balanced reporting, I cite the history of Jewish prostitution before delving into the Persian example. The Jews have lived long enough to be defeated more often than any other people. After Spain expelled them in 1492, the Jews sold their women so widely that the character of the Jewish prostitute figured prominently in 16th-century literature, notably in one of the earliest novels, La Lozana Andaluza (1528), a story of refugee Spanish-Jewish whores in Rome. After Russian pogroms drove Jews out of the Pale of Settlement in the late 19th century, Jewish women became the raw material of the white-slave traffic, supplying Argentina as well as Western Europe. [1] Jewish prostitutes are almost unknown today, a measure of the revival of the Jewish nation.

These distasteful facts bear directly upon Iran's national decline, and the impulses that push the Iranian leadership toward strategic flight forward. Iran's plunging birth rate, I observed in essays past, will burden the country with an elderly population proportionately as large as Western Europe's within a generation, just at the point at which this impoverished country will have ceased to export oil. By 2030, Iranian society will collapse. [....]

What is it that persuades women to employ their bodies as an instrument of commerce, rather than as a way of achieving motherhood? It is not just poverty, for poor women bear children everywhere. In the case of Iran, deracination and cultural despair impel millions of individual women to eschew motherhood. Prostitution is a form of psychic suicide; writ large, it is a manifestation of the national death-wish, the hideous recognition that the world no longer requires Ukrainians or Moldovans. [....]

The proliferation of Iranian prostitutes in Western Europe as well as the Arab world helps explain the country's population trends. The European Commission's most comprehensive surveys of human trafficking found that Iranian women made up 10-15% of the prostitutes working in Belgium, the Netherlands and Italy. [2] "Fatima" from Persia has become as familiar as "Natasha" from Belarus. Iranian whores long have been a scandal in the Arab states of the Persian Gulf, which periodically round up and expel them.

It is hard to obtain reliable data on prostitution inside Iran itself, but anecdotal evidence suggests that it has increased since Ahmadinejad became president last year. Anti-regime sociologists claim that at least 300,000 women are whoring in Tehran alone. The ADNKronos website reported on April 25:
Prostitution is on the rise in Iran ... Sociologist Amanollah Gharaii Moghaddam told ADNKronos International (AKI) that he believes Iran's deteriorating economy and the high unemployment rate among youths to be the main causes of this worrying phenomenon. In Iran, 28% of young people between the ages of 15 and 29 are unemployed ... The age of prostitutes is increasingly younger, and girls as young as 12 are selling their bodies on Iran's streets. Overall, the number of prostitutes is also on the rise and there are an estimated 300,000 of them in Tehran alone ... Nevertheless, Gharaii Moghaddam says "the number isn't so high when compared [with] the 4 million unemployed only in Tehran and the 5 million drug addicts today in Iran".

The clerical regime vacillates between repressing prostitution and sanctioning it through "temporary marriages", an arrangement permitted under Shi'ite jurisprudence. In the latter case the Muslim clergy in effect become pimps, taking a fee for sanctioning several "temporary marriages" per women per day. [....]

The collapse of traditional society has brought about a collapse of birth rates across cultures. Cultures that fail to reproduce themselves by definition are failed cultures, for the simple reason that they will cease to exist before many generations have passed.

That is why the Islamists - Muslims who seek a new theocracy - display a sense of extreme urgency. They are not conservative Muslims, for they reject Muslim society as it exists as corrupt and decadent. They are revolutionaries who want to create a new kind of totalitarian theocracy that orders every detail of human life. [3]
Nothing is more threadbare than the claim of Islamists to defend Muslim womanhood. Islamist radicals (like the penny-a-marriage mullahs of Iran) are the world's most prolific pimps. The same networks that move female flesh across borders also provide illegal passage for jihadis, and the proceeds of human trafficking often support Islamist terrorists. From Jakarta to Kuala Lumpur to Sarajevo to Tirana, the criminals who trade in women overlap with jihadist networks. Prostitutes serve the terror network in a number of capacities, including suicide bombing. The going rate for a Muslim woman who can pass for a European to carry a suicide bomb currently is more than US$100,000. The Persian prostitute is the camp follower of the jihadi, joined to him in a pact of national suicide.

What Islamic Science and Philosophy?

By Aussiegirl

This is the second of the two articles that American Thinker published yesterday about Islam and its attitude towards rationality and science (the first is posted right below). Here we learn that in its true heart Islam is anti-science and anti-rationality.

American Thinker: What Islamic Science and Philosophy?

December 01, 2006
What Islamic Science and Philosophy?
By Jonathan David Carson

We know that we are being lied to. Sometimes we just don't realize how much we are being lied to.

The more sordid the Islamic present seems, the more we are told of the glories of the Islamic past. And the most glorious of the glories of Islam, the most enlightened of its enlightenments, are the "Islamic science" and "Islamic philosophy" of the Golden Age.

So what does Islamic law say about this science and this philosophy? According to Reliance of the Traveller: The Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law by Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Misri (d. 1368), they are unlawful, serious affronts to Islam, a form of apostasy. Apologists for Islam in the West brag about the "Islamic science" and "Islamic philosophy" that their accomplices in the Islamic world condemn. [....]

The importance of "occasionalism," the doctrine that events are brought about by the direct will of God, not by natural causes, for Islam and for the West's differences with it is emphasized in the following statement of Majid Fakhry:
In fact it is no exaggeration to say that a number of distinctively Islamic notions such as fatalism, utter resignation to God, the surrender of personal endeavour, belief in the unqualified transcendence of God, etc., cannot be fully understood except in the perspective of the occasionalist world-view.

This doctrine is at the heart of Islam. Avicenna, Averroes, Maimonides, and Aquinas warned us against it, but now university, scientific establishment, media, State Department, and even corporate America, elites of every sort, pretend that Avicenna and Averroes are the paragons of Islamic philosophy and Maimonides and Aquinas their best pupils and thus in debt to Islam. If we are going to escape humiliation, madness, and death, we are going to have to educate ourselves and fight for even the simplest and most obvious of truths. The establishment is certainly not going to do it for us.

Islam and the Problem of Rationality

By Aussiegirl

Yesterday, American Thinker published two very interesting and insightful articles about Islam and its attitude towards rationality and science. In the first one, posted below, we learn of two concepts that Islam introduced, "volunteerism" and "occasionalism", both of which undermine the basis for what Westerners understand as natural law .

American Thinker: Islam and the Problem of Rationality

December 01, 2006
Islam and the Problem of Rationality
By Patrick Poole

In the run-up to Pope Benedict's current visit to Turkey, TIME Magazine opened its pages to Tariq Ramadan, Europe's favorite Islamist and perhaps the most influential Muslim figure in the West today. Ramadan chided the Pope and Europe for ignoring the positive contributions of Islam to the development of rational thought in the West.

Writing in response to Benedict's now-famous Regensburg speech (which prompted outrage in the Muslim world) and the Pope's first visit to a predominantly Muslim country, Ramadan's article, "And He's Still in the Dark", offers a back-handed compliment to Benedict's attempt at dialogue with Muslims, warning that the Pope's efforts actually threatens the West, and directs Muslims in the West to their point of apologetic attack:

As I have written before, this profoundly European Pope is inviting the people of his continent to become aware of the central, inescapable character of Christianity within their identity, or risk losing it. That may be a legitimate goal, but Benedict's narrow definition of European identity is deeply troubling and potentially dangerous. This is what Muslims must respond to: the tendency of Westerners to ignore the critical role that Muslims played in the development of Western thought. Those who "forget" the decisive contributions of rationalist Muslim thinkers like al-Farabi (10th century), Avicenna (11th century), Averroes (12th century), al-Ghazali (12th century), Ash-Shatibi (13th century) and Ibn Khaldun (14th century) are reconstructing a Europe that is not only an illusion but also self-deceptive about its past.

But in fact, it is Ramadan who is operating under an illusion and is self-deceived about Islam's supposed prominent role in shaping the rationalist tradition of Christendom. As an article ("The Pope and the Prophet" )by Robert Reilly in the current issue of Crisis Magazine ably notes, Western Christianity's rational tradition developed in the Medieval era precisely as a result of the outright rejection of the irrationalism inherent in Islamic philosophy, not the embracing of it. [....]

It was the work of the very Islamic philosophers that Ramadan cites that prompted Europe Christian thinkers to make a break with their Muslim counterparts. Historically, the views of the Ash'arite school were rooted in the theological dogma of "volunteerism", which holds that rather than created objects having inherent existence, Allah constantly recreates each atom anew at every moment according to his arbitrary will. This, of course, undermines the basis for what Westerners understand as natural laws.

From volunteerism sprung another irrational idea amongst Muslim thinkers - occasionalism - that further prevented the development of rationalism within the Islamic tradition. Occasionalism is the belief that in the natural world, what is perceived as cause and effect between objects is mere appearance, not reality. Instead, only Allah truly acts with real effect; all seemingly natural observances of causation are merely manifestations of Allah's habits, for Allah simultaneously creates both the cause and the effect according to his arbitrary will. [....]

If Tariq Ramadan is really serious about a dialogue between Islam and the West and cultivating Western values amongst Muslims (and there is some reason to believe that he isn't serious), it must not only be open, but honest as well. Relying on an invented and purely mythological Islamic history and ignoring the problems of Islamic philosophy are not the place for Muslims to initiate the dialogue. Pope Benedict's starting point is clearly much better.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Scotland and the ultimate reference book

By Aussiegirl

From today's scotsman.com's Fact of the Day: On this day in 1768 the first volume of Encyclopaedia Britannica was published. The volume was edited by 28-year old scholar William Smellie and published in Edinburgh. I didn't know anything about the Scottish connection, but the following article tells you all you need to know.
The illustration is described thus: The frontispiece of the 1788 Encyclopaedia Britannica was set out to convey the ideals and inspiration of the Scottish Enlightenment with arts, science and technology.

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Scotland and the ultimate reference book

ANYONE browsing the web in search of "enlightenment" may well have come across the wealth of information now available at a site called britannica.com. The company that owns this online encyclopaedia is based in the US, but what is often forgotten is its world-famous product - the oldest continuously published reference work in the English language - has its roots in the enlightenment of Edinburgh.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica was first published in the Scottish capital in 1768. It was not the first encyclopaedia to make it into print, but its founders, bookseller and printer Colin Macfarquhar and engraver Andrew Bell, wanted to make sure it was the best - and that it would make a profit.

First the two gentlemen required an editor. They soon found their man - a self-taught scholar in 28-year-old William Smellie, the son of a stonemason who had blagged his way into classes at Edinburgh University. As an apprentice to the university's official printers, Smellie was an informal student but he put those on the official roll to shame, excelling in Latin, English and the natural sciences.

Messrs Bell and Macfarquhar offered their new employee the sum of £200 to produce an encyclopaedia in 100 parts, with the first appearing in December 1768, priced six pence. The instalments were not published weekly as had been advertised however, as Smellie complained: "The Editors, though fully sensible of the propriety of adopting the present plan, were not aware of the length of time necessary for the execution."

The end result proved to be worth waiting for and the first Britannica was not only a scholarly work, but packed with practical information. For example, readers were advised to cure toothache with "laxatives of manna or cassia dissolved in whey or asses' milk."

All 100 parts were completed in 1771, and it is estimated that 3,000 sets were sold. Smellie declined to be editor of the second edition, which began in 1776. He went on to translate works in natural sciences and co-founded the Newtonian Society and the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland as well as becoming a master printer. He died in poverty and obscurity, although he is immortalised in the words of the poet Robert Burns, who described Smellie as having, "A head for thought profound and clear, unmatched/And, though his caustic wit was biting rude,/His heart was warm, benevolent and good."

Macfarquhar took over as editor of Britannica for the second and third editions, which was aided by James Tytler. After Macfarquhar died in 1793, Bell took control and appointed George Gleig, the future Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, as editor. The third edition saw Britannica's popularity cross the ocean to America. Thomas Dobson, a Philadelphia bookseller, imported each part as it was printed in Edinburgh and sold his sets to some famous customers - George Washington and Alexander Hamilton.

Bell died in 1809, and while a fourth edition, edited by James Millar, appeared shortly after his death, it was essentially a reprinting of the third. A pivotal point in Britannica's history would come when the company was bought in 1812 by the publisher Archibald Constable.

Constable produced brochures to advertise Britannica, and oversaw the fifth and sixth editions, which were edited by Macvey Napier, a lawyer and professor at Edinburgh University. A six-volume supplement was completed in 1824 and sold well in Britain and Philadelphia.

When Napier was hired to write the seventh edition however, Constable ran into debt, having himself lent money to booksellers who went bankrupt, and he died in 1827 with his grand plans for the wider distribution of Britannica unfulfilled. However, Constable had proven the potential for wider sales of this scholarly reference work.

An Edinburgh bookseller, Adam Black, bought the company, and retained Napier as editor. While the seventh edition was not completed until 1842, after much protracted argument between Black and Napier over the number of volumes, it was a critical success. Black was even offered a knighthood by Queen Victoria, which he turned down.

After Napier's death, Black turned to R. Thomas Stewart Traill, a professor of medical jurisprudence at Edinburgh University, to edit the eighth edition. Published in 1861, it was the first to have American contributors, including the president of Harvard, Edward Everett.

But the ninth edition would win Britannica even more readers. The first to be edited by a non-Scot, Thomas Spencer Baynes, the former editor of the Edinburgh Guardian, it reflected the radical thinking of Charles Darwin. This edition was also the first to be printed in the US - distributed by Charles Scribner and Little, Brown - and for the first time American sales outstripped those in Britain.

The poor sales in the UK caught the attention of advertising man Henry Haxton and US book promoter Horace Hooper. With investment from publisher Walter Montgomery Jackson, Hooper obtained the rights to print and sell 5,000 copies of the ninth edition.

Hooper struck a deal with The (London) Times to market Britannica at a cut price. It was a huge success and led Hooper and Jackson to acquire full ownership from the Blacks, effectively ending Britannica's association with Edinburgh.

After the 11th edition was produced in 1915, Hooper persuaded his friend Julius Rosenwald, the head of Chicago-based mail order firm Sears, Roebuck and Co, to promote and sell Britannica. America would prove to be the marketplace that would launch the encyclopaedia as the definitive work of reference. But its role in the education of millions wouldn't have been possible without the vision of two Edinburgh gentlemen, Andrew Bell and Colin Macfarquhar.