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Thursday, August 6, 2009

Tongan Ferry Sinks, Sixty-Four Passengers Unaccounted For

Al Jazeera English - Asia-Pacific - Hopes fade for Tonga ferry victims
Rescuers searching for survivors from a ferry which rolled over and sank off the Pacific island of Tonga say at least 64 people remain unaccounted for.

Joint search and rescue efforts by teams from Tonga and New Zealand on Friday failed to find any survivors, and officials said a decision would be made on Saturday morning on whether to call off operations.

Two bodies from the disaster have been recovered and 53 people have so far been rescued, officials said late on Friday, almost 48 hours after the ferry sank.

Tongan police have admitted that a lack of accurate records meant the number of missing could yet be higher.

The missing included 21 women and seven children who were believed to have been sleeping below decks when the ferry sank shortly before midnight on Wednesday.

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Shall We Gather At the Stepwell?

This 9th Century Stepwell Gives Vertigo, Urge to Dive In - Architecture - Gizmodo

Gizmodo writes:

Those are 3500 steps, spread over 13 stories, with one vertigo inducing view. At 100 feet deep, Chand Baori in Abhaneri, India is the world's deepest stepwell. No railings and a 100 foot plunge into water? Sign me up!

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What's This Year's Insult to the Scots?

Op-Ed Contributor - Keep Your Hands Off Our Haggis -
The insult to the Scots this year is that haggis, the Scottish national dish, is not really Scottish, but English. Now this may seem a matter of little consequence to Americans, but how would the United States react if apple pie and turkey with cranberry sauce were to be claimed as the products of, say, French cuisine? Or if somebody asserted that baseball was invented by the Romanians (which it was)? These things are a matter of national pride, and people should take great care when talking about them.

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Kepler Planet-Seeking Satellite Does its Job Well

National Briefing - Science - Kepler Satellite Quickly Spies a Planet -
Kepler, the satellite launched by NASA in March to hunt for planets around other stars, found a planet in its first 10 days of operation, astronomers said. Astronomers already knew about the planet from other kinds of observations that swing around a yellow star in Cygnus known as HAT-P-7. This planet is too hot and massive for life, but the ease and precision with which Kepler was able to discern its presence bodes well for the satellite’s ability to find more hospitable Earth-like planets, the Kepler astronomers said in a news release and in a paper to be published in the journal Science on Friday.

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Cloud Ships: Who Knows If This Would Work, but We Have To Do It Because It's Beautiful

Cloud ships on course to beat climate change, says Copenhagen study - Times Online
They sound like ideas from a Jules Verne novel, but giant engineering schemes designed to alter the climate offer the cheapest way of avoiding catastrophic global warming, according to a growing number of scientists and green-minded entrepreneurs.

Most of the schemes have been dismissed as impossibly expensive or impractical, such as the proposal to create a space sunshade by using rockets to deploy millions of mirrors in the stratosphere.

One relatively cheap solution, however, is gaining favour among many different groups and is endorsed today by an independent study that compares the costs and benefits of all the main ideas. A wind-powered fleet of 1,900 ships would criss-cross the oceans, sucking up sea water and spraying it from the top of tall funnels to create vast white clouds.

These clouds would reflect a tiny proportion, between 1 and 2 per cent, of the sunlight that would otherwise warm the ocean. This would be enough to cancel out the greenhouse effect caused by carbon dioxide emissions. The ships would be unmanned and directed by satellite to locations with the best conditions for increasing cloud cover. They would mainly operate in the Pacific, far enough from land to avoid interfering with rainfall.

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Want to Look Dutch? Put a Bag on your Head: Dutch Photogs Do The Old Masters at MCNY

Art Review - 'Dutch Seen' - ‘Dutch Seen - New York Rediscovered’ at the Museum of the City of New York -

“Dutch Seen: New York Rediscovered,” organized by Kathy Ryan, who is director of photography for The New York Times Magazine, takes the old Dutch-New York connection and runs with it. The show, at the Museum of the City of New York, is part of NY400, a series of exhibitions and events commemorating the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s voyage on the Half Moon, financed by the Dutch East India Company. (Never mind that Hudson was being paid to find a shortcut to Asia; the Dutch liked it here well enough to stay a while.)

For the exhibition, Ms. Ryan recruited 13 contemporary Dutch photographers to rediscover New York through the lens of the “classical tradition.” It’s not the classical tradition of photography she’s referring to, however. Instead it’s the golden age of Dutch painting, which coincided with the initial “discovery” of New York — artists like Rembrandt, Vermeer and Frans Hals. “Let’s just assume the ghosts of those three men sit on all Dutch shoulders,” Ms. Ryan says in the show’s catalog.

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What You See: Tim Lowly

Twitter and Facebook Service Attacks: It Was Personal

Twitter, Facebook attack targeted one user | InSecurity Complex - CNET News
A pro-Georgian blogger with accounts on Twitter, Facebook, LiveJournal and Google's Blogger and YouTube was targeted in a denial of service attack that led to the site-wide outage at Twitter and problems at the other sites on Thursday, according to a Facebook executive.

The blogger, who uses the account name "Cyxymu," (the name of a town in the former Soviet Republic) had accounts on all of the different sites that were attacked at the same time, Max Kelly, chief security officer at Facebook, told CNET News.

"It was a simultaneous attack across a number of properties targeting him to keep his voice from being heard," Kelly said. "We're actively investigating the source of the attacks and we hope to be able to find out the individuals involved in the back end and to take action against them if we can."

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Huge Archive of Anthropological Photos from the Belgian Congo, early 1900s

Congo Expedition, AMNH

Negative No: 111628

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What, they Don't Speak French in Italy? -- Catherine Deneuve Booed

Arts, Briefly - Catherine Deneuve Booed in Tuscany -
Catherine Deneuve is not as universally loved as one might think. Ms. Deneuve was booed during a performance in Italy when she and the Italian actor and director Michele Placido performed at the cultural festival in Marina di Pietrasanta, Tuscany, The Associated Press reported. The pair did a staged reading of Georges Perec’s book “Je Me Souviens” (“I Remember”), about postwar life. The audience responded by booing and shouting: “Thieves! We want our money back!” Police were called into to quell the crowd of about 200, and audience members were offered free tickets to another show in the festival. Ms. Deneuve had no comment, but Mr. Placido noted it may have been “a mistake,” The A.P. reported, to have Ms. Deneuve read her part in French without subtitles.

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RIP John Hughes, Film Director

John Hughes, Director of '80s Teen Classics, Dies -- Popeater

American film director John Hughes has died at age 59 of a heart attack while taking a morning walk during a trip to New York City to visit family.

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Tabula Rasa: Opportunity to Study Ecological Renewal

Researchers to study rebirth of an island after volcanic eruption
When Alaska's Kasatochi Volcano erupted on Aug. 7, 2008, it virtually sterilized Kasatochi Island, covering the small Aleutian island with a layer of ash and other volcanic material several meters thick. The eruption also provided a rare research opportunity: the chance to see how an ecosystem develops from the very first species to colonize the island.

Next week, a team of researchers organized by the U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will visit Kasatochi to look for signs of life on the island, almost exactly one year after the catastrophic eruption. The interdisciplinary research team will spend four days (Aug. 10-13) surveying the island, using the USFWS research vessel Tiglax as an operational base for the on-site research.

"Since volcanism plays such a big role in shaping the Aleutians, we hope to end up with a better understanding of how disturbances such as volcanic eruptions shape the ecology of these islands," says Tony DeGange, a USGS biologist and one of the research team coordinators. "There hasn't been a study quite like this done in Alaska where scientists are taking such a comprehensive ecological view of the impact of an eruption and its resulting response and recovery."

Researchers expect that insects and birds will be the first animal species that recolonize the island. In preparation for the August survey, biologists set up monitoring and sampling equipment on Kasatochi earlier this summer, including insect traps for Derek Sikes, curator of insects at the University of Alaska Museum of the North. Sikes visited Kasatochi in June 2008 for a one-day survey of the insect fauna on the island before the eruption. He will be part of the research team that visits the island next week.

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Changing the Terms: John Brennan Announes End of "War on Terrorism"

The Washington Independent » Obama Aide Declares End to War on Terrorism
Spencer Ackerman writes:

John Brennan picked a deeply symbolic day to end the “war on terrorism.”

On August 6, 2001, Brennan, then a senior CIA official and now President Obama’s assistant for counterterrorism and homeland security, “read warnings that Osama bin Laden was determined to strike inside the U.S., but our government was unable to prevent the worst terrorist attack in American history,” he recalled to an audience Thursday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank. It was a reference to a CIA analysis, called a President’s Daily Brief, that the 9/11 Commission uncovered as a key warning that an attack by al-Qaeda was likely.

Eight years later, in his first speech since joining the Obama administration, Brennan annulled several key aspects of the so-called war on terrorism — starting with both the name and the idea that the U.S. was involved in any sort of “global war.” Brennan said Obama will subordinate counterterrorism to “its right and proper place” as a “vital part” of the administration’s national security and foreign policies, but not the lion’s share of them. Saying he was careful not to elevate al-Qaeda to a greater position of importance than it deserved, Brennan linked the rise in support for extremists to problems of global governance, economic crisis and social stratification and said the administration would make a concerted effort to address what he considers those extremist root causes.

Above all, Brennan emphasized that the U.S. was not locked in a struggle with the world’s billion Muslims. He derided al-Qaeda’s self-presentation as a “highly organized, global entity capable of replacing sovereign nations with a global caliphate,” and said that the administration would abandon the use of the word “jihad” in reference to al-Qaeda, since the term carries “religious legitimacy” in the Muslim world that al-Qaeda’s “murderers… desperately seek but in no way deserve.” David Kilcullen, a counterinsurgency expert and former adviser to Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East and South Asia, has recently argued in an influential book that the U.S. has insufficiently distinguished between implacable enemies and those who fight out of opportunism, desperation or other, non-eschatological reasons.

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Vegan, Turn Off That Light: It's Made of Meat!

Tesco's meaty power program outrages vegans | California Consumer | Los Angeles Times
Tesco, the giant British retailer that owns the Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market chain of small grocery stores in Southern California, faces the ire of vegans for a program in Britain that turns unsold meat into electricity.

Britain's Daily Mail reports that Viva (Vegetarians International Voice for Animals) is protesting a program in which meat that isn't sold by its sell-by date goes to biomass-to-energy plants. They turn waste food into biofuel, which is used to make electricity.

The Mail says that Tesco sends about 5,000 tons of meat a year to such plants and that it's used to make enough electricity to power 600 homes. It's part of efforts by the British to reduce the waste sent to landfills and to create alternative energy sources.

But what's green to some amounts to waving a red flag in front of a bull to others.

"It's a sad indictment of modern life that not only hundreds of millions of animals are killed each year in the UK, but so much meat is left over from greed and indifference. To turn this wasted meat into power might seem like a good idea at first, but you have to ask yourself, why is so much left over and why are so many animals dying to provide this excess?" Justin Kerswell, a Viva spokesman, told the Mail.

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Europe Learns a New Position: Inverted Cartography

404 – Europe, Sunny Side Up « Strange Maps

Strange Maps writes:

The German polymath Sebastian M√ľnster (1488-1552) also was a cartographer, and one with a penchant for strange maps. He produced an anthropomorphic map of Europe as a queen (#141) for his Cosmographia (1544), and also this one, a map of Europe oriented south instead of north. The effect is quite literally disorienting, and provides an opportunity to re-examine an all too familiar geography from a different perspective. The Iberian peninsula, for example, seems too large this way up; but looks to be just about the right size if you turn the map the ‘right’ way up. Or is that just me?

This map was sent in by the people over at Martayan Lan, a New York dealer in rare books and fine antique maps, globes and atlases. Their website currently features a few of Munster’s more extraordinary maps, including this one.

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And If You Text Drunk While Driving: Survey Says. . . .

Google Reader (243)
- 33% say it’s ok to use cellphones without impunity while being in a bar/club

- 60% of respondents drunk dial

- 30% report that they have lost their mobile phones at least once after a night on the town

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"Junk Gene" that Fights HIV Can Be Turned Back On

Darwin's Radio: Prehistoric Gene Reawakens to Battle HIV -A Galaxy Classic
Greg Bear writes:

About 95% of the human genome has once been designated as "junk" DNA. While much of this sequence may be an evolutionary artifact that serves no present-day purpose, some junk DNA may function in ways that are not currently understood. The conservation of some junk DNA over many millions of years of evolution may imply an essential function that has been "turned off." Now scientists say there's a junk gene that fights HIV. And they've discovered how to turn it back on.

What these scientists have done could give us the first bulletproof HIV vaccine. They have re-awakened the human genome's latent potential to make us all into HIV-resistant creatures; they published their ground-breaking research in PLoS Biology.

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Climate Change: Volunteers Sought to Pose Nude on Retreating Swiss Glacier

Praying (and Stripping) for Ice - Dot Earth Blog -

Andrew C. Revkin writes:

The Associated Press has a story from the Swiss Alps providing an update on a situation I wrote about in 1993 in Conde Nast Traveler (two years before I came to The Times). At the peak of the “Little Ice Age,” villagers there prayed for the Aletsch glacier to stop advancing. Now they have switched to praying for the ice to stop retreating. (The photo above is of the nearby Rhone glacier.) The article says they are planning to seek formal approval from Pope Benedict XVI to update the 19th-century vow, which still focuses on avoiding catastrophes related to too much ice, to call for the glacier’s return. Given trajectories for ice loss in the Alps, and for global emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases, divine intervention may be worth a try. In 2007 the photographer Spencer Tunik tried another approach on the Aletsch, inviting several hundred volunteers to pose nude on the melting ice (nudity alert) to get the world’s attention.

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How Bad is the Recession? Send Out your Dead: Unclaimed Corpses Accumulate in Morgues

Unclaimed dead stack up in Wayne County morgue | | The Detroit News
His corpse lies at the bottom of a pile of other bodies unclaimed at the Wayne County morgue. But Grandpa -- whose name has been withheld to avoid embarrassing his family -- is a special case. He has been in the cooler for the past two years as his kinfolk -- too broke to bury him -- wait for a ship to come in.

"There is destitution," says Dr. Carl J. Schmidt, the chief medical examiner of this, the nation's poorest big city. "But when you're so destitute that nobody has claimed you, that's a whole different level of being destitute."

Peering into the small glass window of the cooler door, Schmidt counts 52 unclaimed bodies stacked like cordwood -- in some cases four to a shelf; always two to a gurney.

Generally, the economic well-being of a municipality is measured by unemployment rates and quarterly earnings reports. But Schmidt's cooler may say as much about metropolitan Detroit's financial health as any statistics released by the Federal Reserve.

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China: Plague Transmitted by Fleas

Raw Story » Dead dog’s fleas suspected of spreading China plague
A dog is suspected to be the origin of an outbreak of pneumonic plague in northwest China that has killed three people and left 10,000 under strict quarantine, state media reported.

Ziketan, a remote town in a Tibetan area of Qinghai province, has been locked down since Saturday in an effort to contain the spread of the highly virulent disease.

One patient was in critical condition and eight others were infected, most of them relatives of the first fatality, a 32-year-old herdsman, or local doctors, Xinhua news agency said.

Initial tests had shown that the herdsman’s dead dog was the likely origin of the outbreak, Xinhua reported late Wednesday, quoting professor Wang Hu, director of the Qinghai disease control bureau.

Wang said it was likely that the dog died after eating a plague-infected marmot and that the man became infected when he was bitten by fleas while burying the dead dog. He died three days later.

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Homophobia in Israel

Raw Story » Almost half of Israelis consider gays deviants: poll
Almost half the Israeli population considers homosexuals to be deviants, according to an opinion poll published on Thursday, five days after an attack at a Tel Aviv gay centre killed two people.

Forty-six percent of the 498 people interviewed answered yes to the question “do you see homosexuality as a perversion?” and 42 percent said no, the Haaretz newspaper said.

Among ultra-Orthodox Jews, 71 percent said yes, as did 64 percent of Arab Israelis, and 24 percent of people who described themselves as secular.

Camil Fuchs, who conducted the poll, said it showed a certain decline in homophobia in Israel, but said this could be tied to Saturday’s attack by a gunmen who killed two people and another 15 wounded.

“It is possible that what we have here is a reaction to the trauma and also that hate-filled people think this is not the moment to admit it,” Haaretz quoted him as saying.

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Asia-Africa Relations: Confucius Institutes

Asia Times Online :: China News, China Business News, Taiwan and Hong Kong News and Business.
A features writer for the Economist once insisted that the Mandarin character for Africa means "wrong continent". This is perhaps because there is a perception that the teachers have frequently been wrong-headed about Africa, and have tended to get it wrong whenever they have moved out of their comfort zones in trading and infrastructure development.

Such a view is not entirely right, and China has in recent years taken great pains to show the world that it is a well-rounded emerging power with a complete strategy for engagement in places like Africa.

Its Confucius institutes are an interesting feature in this show of sophistication. The Hanban - the Chinese National Office for teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language - began spreading them from 2004 when it set up the first one in the South Korean capital of Seoul.

Top Chinese officials have made no effort to disguise the propaganda value they perceive in the spread of the institutes, but so far very little in the way of a coherent strategy has emerged as to how they can be integrated into the mainstream of Chinese foreign policy, which nowadays is driven, as everyone knows, by a mercantilist view of global politics and economics. Africa has not been spared this ambiguity.

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Kurds Press Maliki on Kirkuk

Asia Times Online :: Middle East News, Iraq, Iran current affairs
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's recent visit to Iraqi Kurdistan was aimed to test the waters on how loudly and aggressively the Kurds are willing to push their claim for the oil-rich Kirkuk region.

Maliki received a uniform answer from all his interlocutors, that the Kurds want to go until "the curtain falls", which makes dialogue, let alone solutions, between the camps virtually impossible.

Maliki will now have to accustom himself to a confrontation - be it words or bullets - with his compatriots in Iraq. Or he will have to cede Kirkuk. A third option does not exist. And if the Kurds do decide to go full-on with their demands, they will probably work on dethroning the prime minister, by refusing to support his cabinet, or working against him in the parliamentary elections scheduled for early 2010.

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RIP Bix Beiderbecke, Who Died on This Day in 1931

This is arguably Bix's most famous recording, "Singin' the Blues." The C-melody saxophone solo by Frank Trumbauer is the first of its kind, and powerfully influenced all the sax players of the time, including most notably Lester Young.