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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Is King Tut's Penis Missing?
By Allie Townsend

Did someone sabotage the Egyptian king's mummy to hide his less-than endowed genitalia? A new report from The New Scientist presents the possibility of a anatomical conspiracy.

Earlier this year, scientists speculated the cause of famed King Tutankhamen's death to be due to a bone disorder and a bad case of malaria, but just last week a group of German researchers overruled that diagnosis. Instead, they say the 19-year-old pharaoh suffered from sickle-cell anemia, a genetic abnormality in red blood cells that ultimately causes organ failure.

While researching the new prognosis for The New Scientist,journalist Jo Marchant uncovered another proposed ailment of Tut's. A letter published in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that Tut could also have suffered from Antley-Bixler syndrome, a genetic mutation that yields strange physical effects, such as elongated skulls and even under-developed genitalia. (Some researchers support the theory and use artistic depictions of Tut and his relatives, often show with elongated faces, as proof.)

Egypt's chief archaeologist Zahi Hawass dismisses the theory, claiming that Tut was, in fact, well-developed. However, as Marchant points out, Tut's penis is no longer attached to the body. After some digging, Marchant was able to confirm that the king's genitalia was attached to the mummy during its first unwrapping in 1922, meaning the postmortem castration likely occurred in modern times. Interestingly, Tut's penis was declared missing in 1968 until a CT scan discovered it hidden in the sand that surrounded the mummy.

This evidence has lead some, including Marchant to believe that Tut's penis was swapped sometime after his body was embalmed, suggesting a conspiracy existed to save him from embarrassment of the locker room variety, even in the afterlife.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The girl who must eat every 15 minutes to stay alive
Lizzie Velasquez weighs just four stone and has almost zero per cent body fat but she is not anorexic.

Lizzie Velasquez has a rare and undiagnosed syndrome that prevents her from putting on weight Photo: BARCROFT

In fact, the 21-year-old from Austin, Texas, must eat every 15 minutes to stay healthy.

Miss Velasquez has a rare condition which prevents her from gaining weight even though she eats up to 60 small meals a day.

Despite consuming between 5,000 and 8,000 calories daily, the communications student, has never tipped over 4st 3lbs.

"I weigh myself regularly and if I gain even one pound I get really excited," said 5ft 2 ins Miss Velasquez, who wears size triple zero clothes.

"I eat every 15-20 minutes to keep my energy levels up.

"I eat small portions of crisps, sweets, chocolate, pizza, chicken, cake, doughnuts, ice cream, noodles and pop tarts all day long, so I get pretty upset when people accuse me of being anorexic."

She was born four weeks prematurely weighing just 2lb 10oz. Doctors found there was minimal amniotic fluid protecting her in the womb.

"They told us they had no idea how she could have survived," said Miss Velasquez's mother Rita, 45, a church secretary.

Doctors speculated Lizzie might have the genetic disorder De Barsy syndrome but soon ruled it out as it became clear she did not have learning difficulties.

"They kept on trying to figure out what was wrong with her but we treated her like any other child," said Mrs Velasquez, who charted her daughter's health in dozens of notebooks.

She was taken to see genetic experts but they still could not diagnose her.

Miss Velasquez's case has fascinated doctors all over the world and she is part of a genetic study run by Professor Abhimanyu Garg, MD, at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.

Professor Garg and his team now believe Lizzie may have a form of Neonatal Progeroid Syndrome (NPS) which causes accelerated ageing, fat loss from the face and body, and tissue degeneration. People with PRS often have triangular and prematurely aged faces with a pointy nose.

He said: "I am aware of a small number of people that have similar conditions to Lizzie but each case is slightly different.

"We cannot predict what will happen to Lizzie in the future as the medical community are yet to document older people with NPS.

"However Lizzie is lucky to have healthy teeth, organs and bones so the outlook is good. We will continue to study her case and learn from her." Miss Velasquez has helped to write a book about her incredible experiences.

It is due to be released in September.

Square Pixel Inventor Tries to Smooth Things Out
By Rachel Ehrenberg,
Science News Email Author

Russell Kirsch says he’s sorry.

sciencenewsMore than 50 years ago, Kirsch took a picture of his infant son and scanned it into a computer. It was the first digital image: a grainy, black-and-white baby picture that literally changed the way we view the world. With it, the smoothness of images captured on film was shattered to bits.

The square pixel became the norm, thanks in part to Kirsch, and the world got a little bit rougher around the edges.

As a scientist at the National Bureau of Standards in the 1950s, Kirsch worked with the only programmable computer in the United States. “The only thing that constrained us was what we imagined,” he says. “So there were a lot of things we thought of doing. One of which was, what would happen if computers could see the world the way we see it?”

Kirsch and his colleagues couldn’t possibly know the answer to that question. Their work laid the foundations for satellite imagery, CT scans, virtual reality and Facebook.

Kirsch made that first digital image using an apparatus that transformed his picture into the binary language of computers, a regular grid of zeros and ones. A mere 176 by 176 pixels, that first image was built from roughly one one-thousandth the information in pictures captured with today’s digital cameras. Back then, the computer’s memory capacity limited the image’s size. But today, bits have become so cheap that a person can walk around with thousands of digital baby photos stored on a pocket-sized device that also makes phone calls, browses the Internet and even takes photos.

Yet science is still grappling with the limits set by the square pixel.

“Squares was the logical thing to do,” Kirsch says. “Of course, the logical thing was not the only possibility … but we used squares. It was something very foolish that everyone in the world has been suffering from ever since.”

Now retired and living in Portland, Oregon, Kirsch recently set out to make amends. Inspired by the mosaic builders of antiquity who constructed scenes of stunning detail with bits of tile, Kirsch has written a program that turns the chunky, clunky squares of a digital image into a smoother picture made of variably shaped pixels.

He applied the program to a more recent picture of his son, now 53 years old, which appears with Kirsch’s analysis in the May/June issue of the Journal of Research of the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

“Finally,” he says, “at my advanced age of 81, I decided that instead of just complaining about what I did, I ought to do something about it.”

Kirsch’s method assesses a square-pixel picture with masks that are 6 by 6 pixels each and looks for the best way to divide this larger pixel cleanly into two areas of the greatest contrast. The program tries two different masks over each area — in one, a seam divides the mask into two rough triangles, and in the other a seam creates two rough rectangles. Each mask is then rotated until the program finds the configuration that splits the 6-by-6 area into sections that contrast the most. Then, similar pixels on either side of the seam are fused.

Kirsch has also used the program to clean up an MRI scan of his head. The program may find a home in the medical community, he says, where it’s standard to feed images such as X-rays into a computer.

Kirsch’s approach addresses a conundrum that the field of computational photography continues to grapple with, says David Brady, head of Duke University’s imaging and spectroscopy program in Durham, N.C.

Images built from pixels can show an incredible amount of detail, Brady says. “It’s fun to talk to kids about this because they don’t know what I’m talking about anymore, but the snow on analog television — a block-based imager can reconstruct that pattern exactly.”

But images taken from real life never look like that, Brady says. Typically, they have several large uniform sections — forehead, red shirt, blue tie. This means there’s a high probability that one pixel in an image will look the same as the pixel next to it. There’s no need to send all those look-alike pixels as single pieces of information; the information that’s really important is where things are different.

“I always joke that it’s like Los Angeles weather,” Brady says. “If you were a weatherman in Los Angeles you would almost always be right if you say tomorrow is going to be the same weather as today. So one thing you can do is say, I’m going to assume the next pixel is like this one. Don’t talk to me, don’t tell me anything about the image, until you get something different. A good weatherman in Los Angeles tells you when a big storm is coming. In an image, that’s an edge. You want to assume smoothness but have a measurement system that’s capable of accurately finding where the edges are.”

Where Kirsch uses masks to accomplish that task, researchers today typically use equations far more complex than his to strike the balance between shedding unnecessary information and keeping detail. Pixels are still the starting point of digital pictures today, but math — wavelet theory in particular — is what converts the pixels into the picture. Wavelet theory takes a small number of measurements and turns them into the best representation of what’s been measured. This best estimation of a picture allows a megapixel image to be stored as mere kilobytes of data.

Images: 1) This baby picture, scanned in 1957, was the first digital image. At 176 by 176 pixels, its size was limited by the memory capacity of the computer./NIST. 2) Before transforming the square-pixel image, a close-up of one ear appears as a blocky stack. The variably shaped pixel treatment turns it back into an ear./NIST.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Thunderstorm Alerts Remain Active for Northeast Ohio
6-Year-Old Northeast Ohio Girl on 'No Fly' List
Mark Zinni
Fox 8 News Reporter

WESTLAKE, Ohio - Alyssa Thomas, 6, is a little girl who is already under the spotlight of the federal government. Her family recently discovered that Alyssa is on the "no fly" list maintained by U.S. Homeland Security.

"We were, like, puzzled," said Dr. Santhosh Thomas. "I'm like, well, she's kinda six-years-old and this is not something that should be typical."

Dr. Thomas and his wife were made aware of the listing during a recent trip from Cleveland to Minneapolis. The ticket agent at the Continental counter at Hopkins Airport notified the family. "They said, well, she's on the list. We're like, okay, what's the story? What do we have to do to get off the list? This isn't exactly the list we want to be on," said Dr. Thomas.

The Federal Bureau of Investigations in Cleveland will confirm that a list exists, but for national security reasons, no one will discuss who is on the list or why.

The Thomas family was allowed to make their trip but they were told to contact Homeland Security to clear-up the matter. Alyssa just received a letter from the government, notifying the six-year-old that nothing will be changed and they won't confirm nor deny any information they have about her or someone else with the same name.

"She's been flying since she was two-months old, so that has not been an issue," said Alyssa's dad. "In fact, we had traveled to Mexico in February and there were no issues at that time."

According to the Transportation Security Administration, Alyssa never had any problems before because the Secure Flight Program just began in June for all domestic flights. A spokesperson will only say, "the watch lists are an important layer of security to prevent individuals with known or suspected ties to terrorism from flying."

Right now, Alyssa has other priorities. "My Barbies, my magic mirror and jumping on my bed!" But her name will likely stay on the list and as for the next time she flies, the FBI says they'll rely on the common sense of the security agents.

"She may have threatened her sister, but I don't think that constitutes Homeland Security triggers," said Dr. Thomas.

The Thomas family can still fly, but the check-in process will likely take much longer. They plan on making another appeal to U.S. Homeland Security.

Holed up: Suspect hides on property for decade
Expecting a raid, he's stayed on his Texas spread since 2000
By Angela K. Brown
The Associated Press

Brandon Wade / AP
Handmade signs are fixed to John Joe Gray's property near Trinidad, Texas, on April 9.

GUN BARREL CITY, Texas — The past decade has taken a toll on John Joe Gray, holed up on his rural East Texas land while waiting for a siege that's never happened.

He's been living on 47 acres behind a fence without running water and electricity but with plenty of guns, daring authorities to arrest him for a 10-year-old, third-degree felony warrant. He says he hasn't left his property since 2000, all the while allowing his distrust of a government he views as evil to fester.

The handmade warning signs have faded and the hordes of fellow militia members have long since gone, leaving behind only Gray and some relatives — he won't say how many — on the tree-shaded property along a river in rural Henderson County, about 50 miles southeast of Dallas. They grow their own food and live in a shack and trailer — always wearing holsters with weapons. They don't guard the entrance anymore.

Gray is thin and pale with a long, graying beard flowing down from his gaunt face — almost unrecognizable from photos taken in 2000 showing his short, dark hair and a mustache.

"I'll never leave," Gray told The Associated Press recently, wearing a holster that sheathed a knife on one side and gun on the other. "I don't feel like a prisoner ... because I'm living out here and following God's laws."

Gray, now in his early 60s, had worked in construction and led a Texas militia group that often trained on the isolated property where he lived for about 15 years before the so-called standoff.

In late 1999 Gray was in a car pulled over for speeding in nearby Anderson County. State troopers saw high-powered rifles and anti-government materials in the car, but Gray refused to get out. When the troopers tried to remove him from the car, he allegedly bit one trooper's hand and tried to grab his gun.

After his arrest Gray showed up in court for a bail hearing, when Anderson County District Attorney Doug Lowe told the judge he feared Gray was a major threat because troopers found diagrams of plans to blow up a Dallas overpass.

"I wanted the judge to know what he was possibly thinking," Lowe said.

But Gray posted bond and left, never showing up again in court. Gray then sent a handwritten letter on dusty notebook paper telling authorities that they'd "better bring plenty of body bags" if they stormed his compound, said Gary Thomas, a former investigator for Anderson County prosecutors.

That never happened. Authorities in Henderson County didn't want to risk a gun battle that likely would have killed officers or children on the compound, said Sheriff Ray Nutt, the third sheriff in office since 2000. If Gray is ever spotted driving in town or seen at a business, however, he will be arrested, Nutt said.

Gray hasn't paid property taxes since 1995. The county has sued him for $12,700 in back taxes and interest penalties. But Nutt said it's too dangerous for deputies to serve notice of the suit filed in 2008, and until that happens, the case cannot proceed. "Our hands are tied," said Anna Marie Fontana, a legal assistant with McCreary, Veselka, Bragg & Allen, the law firm that filed the suit for Henderson County.

Lowe said because Gray had already been indicted on the charges of assaulting an officer and trying to take his weapon, there's no statute of limitations on prosecuting him.

"Effectively he's been under self-imposed house arrest for the past 10 years, and the maximum sentence for his charges was 10 years," the prosecutor said. "It calls into question why we didn't make an attempt to resolve this, but some people have such a distrust of the government that they're willing to sacrifice themselves and their families by living like that."

As Gray settled into his compound, militia members from several states heeded Internet messages "calling all patriots" and arrived to help stand guard 24 hours a day at the entrance. The now-faded handmade signs with warnings or Bible verses still hang from the fencepost or trees: "Disobedience to Tyranny is Obedience to God!" and "Howdy — Now Git!" Gray even wrote "kids inside" on one, expecting a raid.

As the case gained national attention in the summer of 2000, a former police chief's negotiations with Gray fell apart. A county constable who was friends with Chuck Norris got the Texas actor and conservative activist to meet with Gray and send his own lawyers to negotiate on Gray's behalf. But talks with prosecutors failed quickly.

"I wanted him to turn himself in, and we talked about what he would do after that ... but I never made a concrete offer because he just didn't want to turn himself in," Lowe said.

Gray's former son-in-law has a special reason to want the case resolved.

Keith Tarkington has not seen his sons since his then-wife, who is Gray's daughter, moved to the property with the boys in 1999 before the standoff began. John Joe Gray had grown increasingly paranoid and wanted his family — minus Tarkington — to live there and prepare for the turn of the millennium, the ex-son-in-law said.

Gray and another family member had run-ins with authorities over their lack of drivers' licenses and car registrations — instead using tags from the Oregon-based Embassy of Heaven, a sect that rejects governmental authority.

Gray has accused local authorities of targeting him because he knows about their longtime drug-manufacturing facilities near his property — a claim authorities dismiss as ridiculous. He also claimed that a jail nurse tried to inject him with a tracking device.

Tarkington said he didn't want his children raised around Gray and filed for divorce in 1999. Lisa Gray never appeared for court hearings, and Tarkington was granted custody — though he says he was prevented from seeing the children when he repeatedly went to Gray's property. Toddlers when Tarkington last held them, the boys are 14 and almost 13 now. They may no longer be living there.

"I wonder what they look like now. Are they left- or right-handed? Things like that," said Tarkington, who lives in nearby Gun Barrel City. "People have said, 'When you get them, they'll be so screwed up and afraid, and they won't know you.' But I love them, and I'm still their father."

Tarkington, who complains that "law enforcement has never done anything to try to get my sons back," described a family gathering: "I was watching my nieces and nephews and wondering about my kids, wishing they were with us. I eat with it, sleep with it, breathe it."

Although a court authorized deputies to take the children away from Lisa Gray, then-Sheriff Howard "Slick" Alfred said removing them from Gray's compound was too risky.

After receiving Gray's note about body bags, authorities wanted to avoid "another Waco" — referring to the disastrous 1993 siege on the Branch Davidians sect compound — and decided not to go near the property, Alfred said in 2000.

Some wonder if the case is still on officials' radar because folks have reported seeing Gray driving in nearby towns and going to stores.

"It sticks in my craw that somebody's done this and gotten away with it," said Thomas, the former investigator, now a justice of the peace. "But it just became a frenzy, and everybody got so gun-shy and was afraid of stepping on toes."

As the years have passed, Gray and his family have been living peacefully on their land and want to be left alone. He won't say whether Tarkington's sons were among the children who have lived there, or where they are now.

The Grays drink well water, eat vegetables grown in their garden and fish in the river that borders the land covered with a canopy of trees. They live in a ramshackle house and a mobile home and often eat at the picnic table far from the road but visible through the trees.

Neighbors say the Grays are misunderstood by law enforcement and the media and have never caused problems.

Even the sheriff notes the time a few years ago when one of the Grays — it's not clear exactly which family member — called for help on a CB radio when a hunter was injured on neighboring property, and the family tended to him until an ambulance arrived.

"Our department right now could probably go out there and talk to John Joe Gray face-to-face," Nutt said, adding that he doesn't plan to do that. "The situation is stable. ... But these situations could explode at any time. We are prepared if something forces us into a situation."

Friday, June 25, 2010

Wake County man hit by lightning -- then mauled by a bear
By Paul A. Specht

Rick Oliver, 51, says he hasn't slept well ever since he was struck by lightning in 2006. On a restless night a few weeks ago, as he tinkered on his farm, he went to investigate a distant noise. It was a bear.

Some guys have all the luck.

And then there's Rick Oliver, who might be one of the unluckiest men in the state, if not the world.

Oliver was mauled by a bear in his otherwise peaceful front yard a few weeks ago.

"It was like getting struck by lightning," he said.

Turns out, Oliver might be one of the few people in the world capable of accurately making the bear-lightning analogy.

And for Oliver, 51, the two incidents seem to go hand in hand.

Ever since he was struck by lightning in 2006, Oliver says, he's had trouble sleeping.

On restless nights, he tends to piddle about his farm, checking on his chickens, working on his tractors and, as he was in the wee hours of June 3, fixing up his Chevy Malibu.

About 2 a.m., he heard a distant rustling on his 17-acre spread, which is off Yates Mill Pond Road in an unincorporated sliver of Wake County between Cary and Raleigh.

As he turned to investigate, he was dealt a heavy blow. "I heard this strange huffing," Oliver said. "And the next thing I know I had been run over and stepped on by a bear."

The black bear's claws gouged his wrist so deep that when he first took off his bandage, blood spewed onto his farmhouse floor. "Like a hose," he said.

"That was when my daughter said, 'Dad we need to take you to the emergency room.' "

The biggest cut was so deep and wide that doctors at WakeMed couldn't sew it up. So doctors bandaged up Oliver and told him to keep pressure on the lacerations.

Nature 2, Oliver 0.

"He's a little unlucky," said Cameron Rhodes of Cary, who was married by Oliver at Piney Plain United Church of Christ in Cary, where Oliver is a minister. "But he's even more lucky he has survived both of them."

The chances of being attacked by a bear are rather slim, biologists say.

Between 2005 and 2009, only nine people were killed by bears in the United States, according to the N.C Wildlife Resources Commission.

Compare that to the 141 people who were killed by dogs during the same period, and you get the idea.

The chances of being struck by lightning are also extremely narrow. "You have a greater chance of getting struck by lightning than getting killed by a bear," a report published by the U.S. Forest Service's Bear Aware program says.

So it doesn't take a math whiz to figure out the extreme unlikelihood of both happening to the same person.

"The probability is infinitesimal," said Ross Leadbetter, a statistician at UNC-Chapel Hill. "The closest approximation is certainly zero."

Bears in the Triangle

The odds get thinner still in the Triangle, where people vastly outnumber omnivorous bears. About 11,000 bears live in North Carolina. But there are very few in the Raleigh and Cary area, said Joe Folta, a wildlife biologist at the N.C Wildlife Resources Commission.

"The ones that do pass through are the one- to one-and-a-half-year-old bears who have been chased off by the bigger bears from the eastern and northern part of the state," he said.

It's common for young bears to travel through the Piedmont region in search of food or love during mating season, said Folta, who has studied bears for 25 years. Black bears will usually run the other way when confronted with danger.

"The best thing to do with a black bear is to clap, bark, or make a loud noise and make yourself look bigger to scare them away," he said. "It's not uncommon to find a bear going through your garbage, or even destroying your barbecue grill or bird feeder."

Oliver, who was on a much needed vacation in Myrtle Beach last week, admits he may have left something to attract the bear. "Leftovers," Oliver says, "from lunch in a bag up on the top step."

Pork board squeals over unicorn meat
Online retailer called gag product ‘the new white meat’
By Sarah Skidmore

In a public apology this week, ThinkGeek said its nonexistent canned unicorn meat is sparkly, a bit red and not approved by any government entity.

PORTLAND, Ore. - It's official: The National Pork Board says it knows unicorns don't exist.

The industry group says it was only protecting its trademark when it issued cease-and-desist warning to online retailer ThinkGeek for calling a fake unicorn meat product "the new white meat."

The fictional canned meat, described as an "excellent source of sparkles," was an April Fool's prank.

But the 12-page letter from the board's law firm was no joke.

"We certainly offered our apologies," Scott Kauffman, President and CEO of Geeknet Inc., the parent company of ThinkGeek, told the Associated Press. "It was not our intention to confuse the public as to the attributes and qualities of the two meats."

In a public apology this week, ThinkGeek said its nonexistent canned unicorn meat is sparkly, a bit red and not approved by any government entity.

"We certainly understand that unicorns don't exist," said Ceci Snyder, vice president of marketing for the National Pork Board. "Yes, it's funny. But if you don't respond, you are opening your trademark up to challenges."

The council said it is in discussions with the company.

"Where we feel victimized, is I don't know of another organization that does more to promote pork products than our site," Kauffman said, noting the company sells around 20 real items related to bacon, such as bacon gumballs and bacon soap.

ThinkGeek "launches" mock products every April Fool's day. The company said it was surprised the board did not raise any concerns about another prank item this year called "My First Bacon" — a talking stuffed toy that looked like a piece of bacon.

"To be attacked in this manner, given all we do for pork, the irony is not lost on us," he said.

Dogs dumbed down by domestication
Dogs may be too dependent on humans to solve their problems
By Jennifer Viegas

The loss in skills appears to be "hardwired" genetically into dogs, helping to explain why homeless dogs struggle to survive.

Dogs are now so dependent upon people that they fail certain basic intelligence tests that wolves and wild dogs ace, according to new research.

The findings provide evidence that humans, through domestication of canines, have caused dogs to lose their non-social problem-solving skills. The loss in skills appears to be "hardwired" genetically into dogs, helping to explain why homeless dogs struggle to survive.

"Often feral dogs survive by taking advantage of human leftovers or domestic livestock," lead author Bradly Philip Smith told Discovery News, adding that the "leftovers" could be things like garbage scrounged from dumps or the occasional food handouts.

"It would take a lot of generations of successful dogs to start fostering any such cognitive abilities required for survival in the wild," Smith, a researcher in the School of Psychology at the University of South Australia, added.

For the study, accepted for publication in the journal Animal Behavior, he and colleague Carla Litchfield put domesticated dogs and dingoes through a problem-solving test known as "the detour task." Dingoes are also domesticated dogs, but through many generations, they have adapted to life in the Australian outback. As a result, dingoes have evolved more "wild" features and instincts that distinguish them from other dogs.

The detour task assesses spatial problem-solving abilities because it requires the animal subjects to travel around a transparent barrier to obtain a reward, which in this case was a bowl of food. The barrier here was a V-shaped fence with detour doors that either swung inward or outward.

The food bowl was placed inside or just outside the intersection point of the "V" barrier, while each subject on the opposing side of the barrier. The test runs were all conducted at the Dingo Discovery Center in Victoria, Australia.

All of the dingoes found the food reward in about 20 seconds, taking proper advantage of the detour doors whenever possible. Domesticated dogs, on the other hand, looked puzzled and confused. They pawed at the fence, dug at it, and even barked, likely out of frustration and to call for help.

Prior research determined that wolves, like dingoes, ace this test.

"Wolves will outperform dogs on any problem-solving tasks that are non-social," Smith said. "Dogs are great at social tasks — communicating with humans, using humans as tools, learning from humans via observation — whereas wolves are much better at general problem solving."

He said few cognitive studies have been performed on wolves and other wild canids, but the handful that have been done suggest wolves are better than domesticated dogs at working independently and at using tools, such as ropes.

Rob Appleby, a researcher in the Wildlife-Human Ecology and Behavior Research Lab at Griffith University, told Discovery News that he agrees with the conclusions and found the latest evidence to be "compelling."

"(The new study) suggests that there may be cognitive differences between wild and domestic canids in terms of how each might approach solving such a problem," he said, "potentially relating to their differing evolutionary histories."

Driving dog runs over his owner
Truck was idling when the bulldog knocked it into gear
The Associated Press

RIDGE MANOR, Fla. - A Hernando County man was reportedly run over by his own truck after his dog put it into gear.

The sheriff's office reports that 43-year-old Christopher Bishop was checking under his Ford F-150 for oil leaks Sunday evening. He had put the running truck into neutral and left the driver's door open. While he was under the truck, Bishop's bulldog, Tassey, jumped into the truck and knocked the vehicle into gear. The truck rolled over the left side of Bishop's body.

Bishop managed to get up, stop the vehicle and go into his house. After several hours of pain, Bishop finally called for help.

He was taken to a nearby hospital with injuries that were not considered life-threatening.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

An open letter to President Obama from Jon Voight
By Jon Voight

An open letter from actor Jon Voight to President Obama:

June 22, 2010

President Obama:

You will be the first American president that lied to the Jewish people, and the American people as well, when you said that you would defend Israel, the only Democratic state in the Middle East, against all their enemies. You have done just the opposite. You have propagandized Israel, until they look like they are everyone's enemy — and it has resonated throughout the world. You are putting Israel in harm's way, and you have promoted anti-Semitism throughout the world.

You have brought this to a people who have given the world the Ten Commandments and most laws we live by today. The Jewish people have given the world our greatest scientists and philosophers, and the cures for many diseases, and now you play a very dangerous game so you can look like a true martyr to what you see and say are the underdogs. But the underdogs you defend are murderers and criminals who want Israel eradicated.

You have brought to Arizona a civil war, once again defending the criminals and illegals, creating a meltdown for good, loyal, law-abiding citizens. Your destruction of this country may never be remedied, and we may never recover. I pray to God you stop, and I hope the people in this great country realize your agenda is not for the betterment of mankind, but for the betterment of your politics.

With heartfelt and deep concern for America and Israel,

Jon Voight

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Is Yoga Out of Control? (Yes)

Laughter yoga. Nazi yoga. Donation yoga with Dave Matthews playing in the background. Thank you, yoga. That's enough.

Hippie yoga. Celebrity yoga. Charity yoga. Yoga books. Yoga while eating. Yoga on the road. Yoga in the park. Yoga as a nontraditional workout for athletes in traditional sports.

Yoga people have become the new "Let me tell you about my workout" guy. And nobody likes that guy.

Perhaps yoga's fatal flaw was that everyone thought it was something new. Yoga was supposed to be the anti-workout; the anti-gym; the spiritual, holistic, ancient, anti-body-obsessive version of exercise. After years of media scrutiny, it turns out yoga is the anti-interesting.

Sure, every sort of workout is painfully dull to hear about because, guess what, NOBODY CARES ABOUT YOUR WORKOUT. ("Super Squats" is just an unamusing running joke that confirms this point, over and over). This has been well understood since the 80s, when men quickly learned that the onset of the national "fitness craze" did not mean that women would sleep with them if they droned on about their bodybuilding regimen. Yoga's big mistake was to presume that it was somehow different. Of course we would never dream of boring the fuck out of the world with an endless stream of trend stories and features on jogging around a lake or jumping rope or engaging in a thrice-weekly six week program of 20-rep squats, escalating the weight five pounds each session and finishing it off with a three-round circuit consisting of a push, a pull, and an ab exercise. But yoga, its aficionados erroneously assumed, was sufficiently deep and nuanced that its endless varieties warranted endless coverage.

It is not so.

Look, I'm sure yoga is fun and, you, doing all the stretches and the poses, and things, with the heat on, while you're meditating or chanting or just listening to a few of the laid-back stylings of the Dave Matthews Band, etc. Bully for everyone and their hobbies! But we must remind the yoga fans that infest the features department of every media outlet that, despite their personal enthusiasm, the vagaries of the latest yoga trends hold no more interest for the world at large than do the technical aspects of a properly executed hang clean.

Save it for Yoga Fancy.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Is U.S. Now On Slippery Slope To Tyranny?
By Thomas Sowell

When Adolf Hitler was building up the Nazi movement in the 1920s, leading up to his taking power in the 1930s, he deliberately sought to activate people who did not normally pay much attention to politics.

Such people were a valuable addition to his political base, since they were particularly susceptible to Hitler's rhetoric and had far less basis for questioning his assumptions or his conclusions.

"Useful idiots" was the term supposedly coined by V.I. Lenin to describe similarly unthinking supporters of his dictatorship in the Soviet Union.

Put differently, a democracy needs informed citizens if it is to thrive, or ultimately even survive.

In our times, American democracy is being dismantled, piece by piece, before our very eyes by the current administration in Washington, and few people seem to be concerned about it.

The president's poll numbers are going down because increasing numbers of people disagree with particular policies of his, but the damage being done to the fundamental structure of this nation goes far beyond particular counterproductive policies.

Just where in the Constitution of the United States does it say that a president has the authority to extract vast sums of money from a private enterprise and distribute it as he sees fit to whomever he deems worthy of compensation? Nowhere.

And yet that is precisely what is happening with a $20 billion fund to be provided by BP to compensate people harmed by their oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Many among the public and in the media may think that the issue is simply whether BP's oil spill has damaged many people, who ought to be compensated.

But our government is supposed to be "a government of laws and not of men."

If our laws and our institutions determine that BP ought to pay $20 billion — or $50 billion or $100 billion — then so be it.

But the Constitution says that private property is not to be confiscated by the government without "due process of law."

Technically, it has not been confiscated by Barack Obama, but that is a distinction without a difference.

With vastly expanded powers of government available at the discretion of politicians and bureaucrats, private individuals and organizations can be forced into accepting the imposition of powers that were never granted to the government by the Constitution.

If you believe that the end justifies the means, then you don't believe in constitutional government.

Iran cleric says dogs "unclean" and not to be kept as pets
By Robin Pomeroy Robin Pomeroy

TEHRAN (Reuters) – A senior Iranian cleric has decreed dogs are "unclean" and should not be kept as pets -- a move aimed at discouraging Western-style dog ownership in the Islamic state, a newspaper reported on Saturday.

Dogs are considered "unclean" under Islamic tradition but, while relatively rare in Iran, some people do keep them as pets.

By issuing a fatwa -- a religious ruling -- Grand Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi has sent a clear message that this trend must stop.

"Friendship with dogs is a blind imitation of the West," he was quoted as saying in Javan daily. "There are lots of people in the West who love their dogs more than their wives and children."

Guard dogs and sheep dogs are considered acceptable under Islamic law but Iranians who carry dogs in their cars or take them to public parks can be stopped by police and fined.

The Koran does not explicitly prohibit contact with dogs, Shirazi said, but Islamic tradition showed it to be so. "We have lots of narrations in Islam that say dogs are unclean."

The interpretation of religious rules on personal conduct is a constant source of debate and potential conflict in Iran which has been an Islamic republic since a revolution ousted the Western-backed Shah in 1979.

In a television interview last week, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad weighed in on the issue of the Islamic dress code, saying women who fail to cover their hair completely should not be harassed by the police.

Morality police are conducting their annual crackdown and women who reveal strands of hair are liable to be stopped in the streets for failing to respect the dress code, or "hijab."

Ahmadinejad's surprisingly liberal view was condemned by fellow hard-liner politicians and senior clerics "I wish he had not said those words about the hijab," Grand Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati told the faithful during the week's Friday prayers, in a rare criticism of the president.

"We are grappling with many problems including economic and political ones but the issues of morality and ethical security are among the important issues that cannot be ignored," he said.

Tehran University has set up a thinktank "to investigate the problems related to hijab," the representative of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to the university announced on Monday.

Do We Ever Outgrow High School?
Lately, some high-profile women are acting like mean girls. Is the fault theirs or ours?
by Barbara Kantrowitz and Pat Wingert

What happens to mean girls when they grow up? Judging by some recent examples, they become CEOs, politicians, or reality-TV-show stars.

Let’s start with Carly Fiorina (the former head of Hewlett-Packard), a Republican running for the U.S. Senate in California, whose recent cattiness about the “sooo yesterday” hair of her opponent, Sen. Barbara Boxer, was picked up by a mike that was on when Fiorina clearly thought it was off. Fiorina has had to spend precious campaign time explaining and backtracking while stories focused on her gaffe rather than the issues.

A potentially more serious story concerns a “shoving incident” involving Meg Whitman, a Republican and former eBay CEO who is now running for governor of California. According to The New York Times, when she was eBay chief, Whitman became so angry at an employee that she “forcefully” pushed her. When the employee threatened to sue, the company countered with a reported settlement of about $200,000, and Whitman now praises the employee’s “thorough professionalism.” The story revived accounts of Whitman’s tough behavior as a boss who, according to the Times, “would often express sharp bursts of anger toward employees whose work or preparation she found lacking.”

Then we’ve got Bravo’s Real Housewives of New York City, which could be renamed Real Mean Girls of New York City because the stars are more upfront than most of us about the mean girl within. In one pivotal moment this season, Alex McCord (previously the meek one) pounced on former queen bee Jill Zarin—who had mocked McCord’s husband, child-rearing, and interior-design skills—with this zinger: “You are a mean girl and you are in high school. And while you are in high school, I am in Brooklyn trying to survive in this economy.” (To see more of this exchange, click here. It’s near the end.)

The fun and games so undid housewife Kelly Bensimon that, at one point, she appeared to have a breakdown and later accused the others of “systematic bullying.” Bensimon tried to explain herself later at a ladies’ lunch during which she said, “I just don’t like to gossip.” Housewife LuAnn de Lesseps (a.k.a. the Countess) replied, “That’s probably why you don’t have that many girlfriends.”

The housewives’ antics drew more than 2 million viewers per episode this season, according to Bravo, and the vast majority were women with an average age of 39—clearly, old enough to know better. But it’s also clear that women are fascinated by bad behavior in other women. “It’s like watching a train wreck,” says Rosalind Wiseman, author of Queen Bees and Wannabes and an expert on teen and young-adult behavior. Wiseman’s book was the basis for the 2004 movie Mean Girls, so she knows what she’s talking about. Wiseman has a pretty persuasive theory about why grown women in the public eye often lash out like immature high schoolers. “In our culture,” she says, “we get rewarded for mean-girl behavior, so we see adults behaving in ways that we typically assign to teens … Getting attention is the most important thing.”

Wiseman says there’s actually a biological reason why grown women aren’t supposed to act this way. The part of the brain that controls the ability to recognize future consequences of your actions and to choose between good and bad behavior reaches maturity at about age 25. But that doesn’t mean a switch flips at 25 and suddenly you are all grown up. In fact, Wiseman says that, as a teacher, she sees many girls who “start the process of understanding what choices they need to make with their friends” at 15 or 16 and, she adds, “some get there by 10th or 11th grade.” On the other hand, we see lots of women in their 30s, 40s, and beyond acting more foolishly than their daughters. “It’s not fair to say they are acting like a teenager,” says Wiseman, “because some teenagers are very mature.”

Bravo’s Andy Cohen, the network’s senior vice president of original programming and development, has a unique perspective on bad behavior with the five sets of Real Housewives (the others are in New Jersey, Atlanta, Orange County, Calif., and soon, Washington, D.C.). He agrees with Wiseman that cameras make a difference. In essence, he says, a persistent spotlight brings out the id—the unconscious desires that the women would ordinarily suppress in public. “I think the deeper we go every season with our wives, the more comfortable they are in front of a camera, the more heightened their relationships get,” he says. “I think this season didn’t necessarily bring out the best in everybody and I think it did become kind of like high school.”

The key plot point was the bitter breakup of Zarin and her former BFF Bethenny Frankel. We’ll spare you the details of the walk-up to the fight, but all women will recognize the basic elements: miscommunications, hurt feelings, angry voice mails, and ultimately, stony faces and perfunctory air kisses when Zarin and Frankel ran into each other on the charity circuit or at fashion shows. A high point in this story arc was what Zarin hoped would be a reconciliation lunch between the two at New York’s famous Le Cirque, a restaurant most of us could only afford if someone else was paying.

By this point, Frankel had become pregnant, engaged, and the star of her own spinoff Bethenny Getting Married—all without the support of Zarin. And, as all women know, missing such key events in the lives of your friends pretty much wipes you off their emotional maps. At the lunch, Zarin told Frankel, “I feel like we were married and now we are separated, and I don’t want to be separated.” Frankel replied, “Well, divorce can be ugly.” At the end, Zarin handed her a package of potato latkes, a traditional treat during the Jewish holiday Chanukah, which was around the time of this lunch. As the coauthor of Secrets of a Jewish Mother, Zarin knew she was bringing out the heavy artillery.

Cohen appears to be somewhat bemused by all the bad behavior. Referring to the Zarin-Frankel feud, he says, “It’s like Laverne and Shirley broke up, so who are you going to be friends with?” Though the Housewives shows are designed as escapist fun, Cohen thinks they can serve a more elevated function. “I call it sociology of the rich, or cultural anthropology,” he says. “I’m fascinated by psychology and human behavior … It certainly opens up conversations about friendships and parenting and relationships.”

But Wiseman says that paying attention to bad behavior just reinforces the idea that even successful women are superficial. “When you are being entertained, your defenses go down,” she says, and “you’re absorbing the message that women are stupid and inconsequential.” Not only does it “dumb us all down,” she says, “but, more importantly, it makes us expect less from others and expect less from ourselves, and allows this kind of behavior to be normalized.”

Women in the spotlight need to think before they speak—just like the rest of us. So, finally, a word to Zarin and Frankel: this hug was a great start.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Father's Day Wisdom from the Bible's Dead Beat Dads
By Rabbi Brad Hirschfield

Father’s Day is not only a great time to celebrate fatherhood and the actual fathers in our lives, but a good opportunity to think about what being a father really means and how to get better at it.

The Bible provides many examples of how to be a dad, and while many of them are examples of lousy fatherhood, they are valuable nonetheless. Who knows, perhaps it’s better that way.

After all, if Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were all lousy fathers, why should any father be perfect? But in the spirit of the ancient rabbis, who teach us that the acts of our ancestors are a signal to us, the following stories can help all fathers (and mothers) parent better.

Before getting to the specifics, I want to be clear that I write with great love of these characters. Like all genuine love, my affection for these ancient dads allows me to see the bad along with the good and even pushes me to see what can be learned from the former as much as the latter -- that alone is an important thing to consider when thinking about the fathers in our lives.

So with that in mind, I offer three fathering lessons from the biblical fathers.

Abraham, who was ready to slaughter his son Isaac for God, does not jump out as an all-star dad. And when we recall that his dalliance with filicide followed the willing abandonment of his elder son, Ishmael, he really looks like the kind of parent about whom one would call Protective Services. So what’s the lesson? Don’t let the faith you follow blind you to the needs of the children you are raising.

Most religious parents, including myself, want their kids to embrace faith as they do. But when that desire blinds us to the needs or integrity of our individual children, something is off. Yes, there are ways to explain away or contextualize Abraham’s behavior toward his sons, but that is not the point. The point is to tread cautiously when it comes to imposing our spiritual paths on our children.

Isaac, was literally blind to who his children were. And how often does that happen to us? How often do we see our kids as who we need them to be instead of who they really are. How often do we value our kids because of what they do for us instead of how they become who they most need to be? One need go no further than any junior athletic league to get the painful answer to that question.

If Abraham surrendered too much to God, then Isaac surrendered too much to himself. And while that might have been a healthy corrective for him, given how he was raised, it didn’t create the best experience for his sons and their subsequent relationship. So if we want kids who love both themselves and their siblings, we need to love them for who they are, not how for much they fulfill our own needs.

And speaking of relations between siblings brings father Jacob to mind. He actually raised the creation of sibling rivalry to an art form. How? By playing out issues with his wives in the lives of his sons. And in a world of increasingly blended families, that’s an increasingly complex issue.

As fathers, we need to be really careful about saddling our kids with baggage from our own intimate relationships with their moms. Whether, over the course of our lives, we have one wife or many, our kids’ lives are not the stage on which to play out the tensions which exist in our marriages. While some of that is always inevitable because we are integrated beings, we can at least learn to ask if issues with our kids are about the kids, or whatever may be going on with our partners, whether present or past.

The Bible is the “Good Book”, not because all of its stories and characters are good. In fact, as we see here, not even the so-called good characters are always good. But there are always great lessons to be learned from the Bible’s stories.

This Father’s Day, I will be thinking about my own forefathers, how they were often lousy fathers, and what I can learn from that legacy in order to do a bit better by my own kids.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Mariner finds love in the bullpen
Fox Sports

Jason Phillips played for three major-league teams in a seven-year career before becoming bullpen catcher for the Seattle Mariners.
Ronald Martinez

It isn't unusual for baseball players to look at fans in the stands. Especially attractive female ones.

Jason Phillips, bullpen catcher for the Seattle Mariners, didn't just look — he acted. He introduced himself to Molly Ray during a game last year at Safeco Field. On Sunday, after the Mariners' home agame against the Cincinnati Reds, Phillips and Ray will be married — in the bullpen.

"It kind of has to be there," Phillips, 33, told Seattle Times columnist Jerry Brewer. "It's only right."

After making eye contact with Ray, who was at the game with business clients, Phillips told his teammates he would try to meet her if the game went into extra innings. When it did, he wrote his phone number on a baseball and tossed it to her. When he checked his text messages, there was one from her: "My name is Molly. Nice to meet you."

Meeting at a restaurant a few nights later, they learned they had much in common. They were both divorced with children — and not looking to marry again.

Obviously, they changed their minds.

Safeco Field normally hosts 10 or 12 weddings a year, but those are typically held at home plate. "It's my first wedding in a bullpen," Jill Hashimoto, the Mariners' director of event sales and marketing, told the Times.
joanna garcia

"It's my second chance," Phillips, who from 2001-07 played for the New York Mets, Los Angeles Dodgers and Toronto Blue Jays, told the Times. "She's gorgeous. She has a great job (Ray is in charge of corporate sales for a hotel). She has great ambition. It's like a mulligan for me. I didn't know what I wanted before, but now I do. She's my best friend. I'm so lucky to have her in my life."

Bobby Fischer to be exhumed in paternity case
Icelandic court decision involves 9-year-old girl and chess genius' estate
By Jennifer Quinn
The Associated Press

Iceland Supreme Court has ruled that chess genius Bobby Fischer's remains will be exhumed so tests can be done to determine the paternity of a nine-year-old girl who claims to be Fischer's daughter.

LONDON - The remains of chess genius Bobby Fischer are to be exhumed to determine whether he is the father of a 9-year-old girl, a lawyer representing the child and her mother said Thursday.

Thordur Bogason, a lawyer based in the Icelandic capital of Reykjavik, said the country's Supreme Court made the decision earlier this week in order to allow for tests so his client, Jinky Young, can find out who her father is.

"At this point we are just trying to establish this," he said. "And if she is confirmed as the daughter of Bobby Fischer, then by Icelandic law she is his legal heir."

Fischer, 64, died in Iceland in January 2008. He left no will, Bogason said, adding that legal cases over who has the right to the U.S.-born player's estate are ongoing.

Bogason said he had no information on the size of the estate left by Fischer. His longtime partner and relatives in the United States are also involved in the dispute, the lawyer said.

Gudjon Olafur Jonsson, who represents the American relatives, said his clients accepted the court's decision and awaited the results of the paternity tests. Representatives of Fischer's partner could not be immediately reached.

One of Iceland's lower courts had originally been asked for permission to examine Fischer's remains, Bogason said, but it was denied. They appealed to the Supreme Court, which released its judgment on Wednesday.

Bogason called the decision to ask for the exhumation of Fischer's remains a "last resort," and said that they had hoped blood samples from Fischer might have been stored in an Icelandic hospital.

Fischer is buried in southwestern Iceland, about 30 miles from Reykjavik. He had lived in the country since 2005.

Bogason said evidence was presented to the court that showed that Fischer had sent Jinky and her mother Marilyn Young "considerable" amounts of money on eight occasions in the years before he died, ranging from euro1,000 to euro5,000 ($1,230 to $6,150).

In the Supreme Court's judgment — which uses no names — Jinky's interest in determining her paternity was acknowledged as important. It said proof that more significant interests trumped that claim would have been required to prevent Fischer's exhumation.

Jinky, who lives in the Philippines with Young, flew to Iceland to provide her own blood sample in December.

The judgment said Fischer had regular contact with Jinky and her mother and that they had visited him in Iceland.

Their lawyer in the Philippines, Samuel Estimo, said, "we are very happy with the way the Supreme Court of Iceland ruled on our request." Young could not be reached.

The woman who was described in the judgment as Fischer's "partner for many years and a close friend and confidante until his death" said in court papers he never mentioned that he had a child with Young. She described that as being out of character because Fischer was "a very precise man."

Fischer, who was born in Chicago and raised in Brooklyn, New York, became world famous in 1972 when he defeated Boris Spassky for the world championship. He held the title until 1975.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Time to Stop Fighting the Drug War
By John Stossel

I'm confused. When I walk around busy midtown Manhattan, I often smell marijuana. Despite the crowds, some people smoke weed in public.

Usually the police leave them alone, and yet other times they act like a military force engaged in urban combat. This February, cops stormed a Columbia, Mo. home, killed the family dog and terrorized a 7-year-old boy -- for what? A tiny quantity of marijuana.

Two years ago, in Prince George's County, Md., cops raided Cheye Calvo's home -- all because a box of marijuana was randomly shipped to his wife as part of a smuggling operation. Only later did the police learn that Calvo was innocent -- and the mayor of that town.

"When this first happened, I assumed it was just a terrible, terrible mistake," Calvo said. "But the more I looked into it, the more I realized (it was) business as usual that brought the police through our front door. This is just what they do. We just don't hear about it. The only reason people heard about my story is that I happened to be a clean-cut white mayor."

Radley Balko of Reason magazine says more than a hundred police SWAT raids are conducted every day. Does the use of illicit drugs really justify the militarization of the police, the violent disregard for our civil liberties and the overpopulation of our prisons? It seems hard to believe.

I understand that people on drugs can do terrible harm -- wreck lives and hurt people. But that's true for alcohol, too. But alcohol prohibition didn't work. It created Al Capone and organized crime. Now drug prohibition funds nasty Mexican gangs and the Taliban. Is it worth it? I don't think so, and I'll discuss this issue tomorrow night on my Fox Business show.

Everything can be abused, but that doesn't mean government can stop it, or should try to stop it. Government goes astray when it tries to protect us from ourselves.

Many people fear that if drugs were legal, there would be much more use and abuse. That's possible, but there is little evidence to support that assumption.

In the Netherlands, marijuana has been legal for years. Yet the Dutch are actually less likely to smoke than Americans. Thirty-eight percent of American adolescents have smoked pot, while only 20 percent of Dutch teens have. One Dutch official told me that "we've succeeded in making pot boring."

By contrast, what good has the drug war done? It's been 40 years since Richard Nixon declared war on drugs. Since then, government has spent billions and officials keep announcing their "successes." They are always holding press conferences showing off big drug busts. So it's not like authorities aren't trying.

We've locked up 2.3 million people, a higher percentage than any other country. That allows China to criticize America's human-rights record because our prisons are "packed with inmates."

Yet drugs are still everywhere. The war on drugs wrecks far more lives than drugs do!

Need more proof? Fox News runs stories about Mexican cocaine cartels and marijuana gangs that smuggle drugs into Arizona. Few stop to think that legalization would end the violence. There are no Corona beer smugglers. Beer sellers don't smuggle. They simply ship their product. Drug laws cause drug crime.

The drug trade moved to Mexico partly because our government funded narcotics police in Colombia and sprayed the growing fields with herbicides. We announced it was a success! We cut way back on the Colombian drug trade.

But so what? All we did was squeeze the balloon. The drug trade moved across the border to Peru, and now it's moved to Mexico. So the new president of Mexico is squeezing the balloon. --Now the trade and the violence are spilling over the border into the United States.

That's what I call progress. It the kind of progress we don't need.

Economist Ludwig von Mises wrote: "(O)nce the principle is admitted that it is the duty of the government to protect the individual against his own foolishness, (w)hy not prevent him from reading bad books and bad plays? The mischief done by bad ideologies is more pernicious than that done by narcotic drugs."

Right on, Ludwig!

Can Obama Really Become an American President?
By John Tantillo

Does Barack Obama want to be the president of the world or do the job he was actually elected to do be president of the United States?

The Oval Office speech Tuesday night was a clue that President Obama may have finally decided that, yes, he wants to be an American president.

Fact is, he lamented how we send money to “foreign countries” for oil, he talked about our children’s future. He even pulled a few Reagan rabbits out of the hat by referring to American optimism and can-do attitude.

He told the American people that “we have refused to settle for paltry limits…” and referenced World War II and the moon landing. He even mentioned God, prayer and the “faith in the future” that sustains us. All good signs.

So bottom line, this was no Carter-esque speech of gloom and malaise, but his brand is not out of the woods by far because one more speech, especially from Barack Obama, simply cannot undo damage and put his brand on sound footing.

Some damage from this brand uncertainty has been confusion like the kind we saw over how his government has referred to terrorists and the things that make them want to kill us. The attempted airplane bombing on Christmas Day seemed to wake Obama up to the reality that picking a side really matters in this fight and grudgingly he has done so.

More damage to President Obama’s brand uncertainty has come from the bungling of the BP crisis and souring relations with our closest ally Great Britain. When a political brand is uncertain about what he stands for, he flails around.

That’s what Barack Obama has done with Great Britain during the BP crisis. He’s gone from being the voice of calm and reason to looking for hindquarters to kick to putting our cherished relationship with another English-speaking country on the altar of domestic politics.

Being the president of the world might mean turning on your traditional allies to curry favor with developing world consensus and to win votes from the people in the Gulf who are understandably fed up with this disaster, but being president of the United States means that you must honor the relationship and tell the American people why it matters. Maybe he thinks the British relationship is so secure that he can safely attack it to score some points, but attacking your allies is never a good idea.

President Obama must now show through words and, more important, action that he will not keep trying to be all things to all people internationally. He must make a choice before his brand and, more important, our country is harmed. He could start with last night’s speech. Let’s hope he does.

And, remember, things are always easier when you keep marketing and branding in mind.

Another Theatrical Performance From Obama
By Andrea Tantaros

For weeks, I’ve been convinced that the White House is more concerned with managing media cycles than they are with managing the Gulf oil spill. For months, I’ve been wondering if Obama can only offer the country theatrics, instead of sound leadership. Last night cemented those suspicions.

In his first national address from the Oval Office, President Obama delivered a speech best suited for the big screen. It can be summed up as his trademark style: heavy on rhetoric, light on specifics.

The president needed to do two things last night in his Oval Office address to the nation. First, he needed to convey that there is a sound strategy in place for cleaning up what has already happened. Second, address the question “how do we make it stop?”

He did neither.

In what many are calling his “battle plan,” the president laid out some wishful goals for getting us out of the Deepwater crisis but refused to tell us how exactly he’d do it.

“We will fight this spill with everything we’ve got for as long it takes,” he stressed. While this sound bite is encouraging, this is the type of information is what we needed to hear weeks ago. What the public, and Gulf residents specifically, want to hear now are details about how we’re stopping the massive flow.

Obama also used the cameras and prime time audience to push for alternative sources of energy--a huge mistake. As long as there are thousands of gallons of oil gushing into the Gulf, we must be acutely focused on capping it. Talking about green energy right now made him look distracted.

Unsurprisingly, the president spent time assigning blame to BP. While there is no question the company deserves to be lambasted, fixing blame is for later. If we stumble upon a bad car accident, with the passengers badly bruised and the hood smoking, the first job is to get the passengers out of the fire—not figure out who was driving. That’s for later.

I do admire the president for encouraging us to pray. Residents in the Gulf desperately need help from a higher power, but while prayer is a powerful thing, it’s not going to be enough to get us out of this mess. We still need direction and leadership on the ground. Unfortunately, the speech did nothing to demonstrate that those key factors are in place.

While we won’t know right away if the speech left Obama on even weaker footing than before, we do know one thing: Obama’s address left us with more questions than answers. The biggest question being whether Obama himself is up to the job.

What the President Should Have Said
By Joe Trippi

The problem with President Obama's speech last night and his meeting today with BP CEO Tony Hayward is the timing.

We face the greatest environmental crisis in our nation's history and the Obama administration let 56 days go by before the president addressed the country from the Oval Office and 57 days to meet with BP's top executive.

I am a Democrat and a strong supporter of my president. But even I have to ask "what took so long?"

Much of the criticism of the president's handling of the crisis could have been avoided had a different speech been delivered from the Oval Office over a month ago.

From the start, the president should have told the American people -- and the world -- that there will be plenty of blame to go around about how this was allowed to happen but only AFTER the crisis is over.

Right now we face an engineering challenge not unlike that of NASA's heralded Apollo 13 success.

The president could have told the American people that it is clear that we had the technology to drill a hole in the ocean floor 1 mile beneath the surface.

Then, he should have leveled with us and said that it is just as unclear, right now, how we can put the technology in place to shut it down quickly after the tragic explosion.

Just as we were able to bring Apollo 13 back to earth safely, we will shut this well down, the president could have assured us.

Such a speech would have framed the crisis for what it truly is: a dramatic rush against time, and an endeavor to do something that has never been done before. It's a technological challenge and one our nation will be prepared to meet whether it takes 10 days or 110 days.

The failure to frame this crisis for the American people as an engineering challenge akin to the successful rescue of Apollo 13 has left a vacuum to be filled with comparisons to Katrina and to other less successfully handled crises.

Oil in the Gulf. Day 58... and counting.

When Western Women Fall for the Fairy Tale
By Phyllis Chesler

Contrary to myth, when a perfectly good mother is custodially challenged by her child's father, she is immediately at risk -- most certainly in any Muslim country where the male custody of children is viewed as a religious, tribal, and legal right.

If the mother has grown up in that country, she knows this can happen, which is one reason why Muslim mothers do not seek divorce and "accept" second and third wives into their homes.

If the good-enough mother is an American, Canadian, or European woman, she usually has no idea that this can happen.

Arab and Muslim male visitors to Western countries tend to choose Western women as spouses who have been raised on romantic fairy tales, who are vulnerable and trusting; they are very young, perhaps quite lonely. In short, they are not your average Prom Queen.

The men seeking Western wives routinely "wine and dine" them, treat them with great charm and every courtesy and make outsize promises which the women choose, unwisely, to believe.

After they begin an affair, or marry --usually after the men get their Green Cards -- everything changes overnight. Literally and immediately.

While exceptions do exist, in general, the Western woman is, more often, treated as if she were an Arab or Muslim woman, which means she is verbally abused, downgraded in status to that of a house servant, routinely monitored, isolated, threatened, battered, expected or even forced to convert to Islam, and to promise to bring up her children as Muslims. If she refuses to do so, she might even be honor-murdered.

In 2002, in New Jersey, this happened to Hindu-born Marlyn Hassan, who was 8 months pregnant with twins at the time.

I have talked to many American mothers who have traveled to the Muslim world to meet their husbands' families who soon find that they cannot leave. Their passports may be taken away.

Long ago, this happened to me in Kabul, Afghanistan.

In a foreign country, such married (or even divorced) women may have no independent means of support.

They will soon discover that while they may leave, their child forever belongs to his or her father and to that father's family. -- This is true even if the father has nothing but contempt for or is highly ambivalent about Americans; is known to be a child abuser or is known to neglect his children.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Sun's strange behavior baffles astronomers
Constant interaction with Earth makes it important to track solar activity
By Denise Chow

An image from NASA's Transition Region and Coronal Explorer shows material erupting from the sun along magnetic coronal loops.

The sun's temper ebbs and flows on what scientists had thought was a pretty predictable cycle, but lately our closest star has been acting up.

Typically, a few stormy years would knock out a satellite or two and maybe trip a power grid on Earth. Then a few years of quiet, and then back to the bad behavior. But an extremely long stretch of low activity in recent years has scientists baffled and scrambling for better forecasting models.

An expected minimum of solar activity, between 2008 and 2009, was unusually deep. And while the sun would normally ramp up activity by now, heading into its next cycle, the sun may be on the verge of a weak solar cycle instead, astronomers said at the 216th meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Miami last month.

"We're witnessing something unlike anything we've seen in 100 years," said David Hathaway of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.

The sun's constant interaction with Earth makes it important for solar physicists to keep track of solar activity. Stormy periods can force special safety precautions by satellite operators and power grid managers, and astronauts can be put at risk from bursts of radiation spat out by solar storm. Scientists need to more reliably predict what's in store.

At the conference, four solar physicists presented four very different methods of measuring and tracking solar cycles.

The sun has spots
Sunspots are areas of concentrated magnetic activity that appear as dark dots on the solar surface. The ebb and flow of the sun's magnetic activity, manifested in the appearance of sunspots, make up the solar cycle.

Typically, a cycle lasts about 11 years, taking roughly 5.5 years to move from a solar minimum, a period of time when there are few sunspots, to peak at the solar maximum, during which sunspot activity is amplified.

The previous cycle 23's extraordinary minimum recorded the highest number of days without sunspots that researchers had seen since 1913, said Hathaway.

Hathaway and his team of researchers measured what is called the meridional flow, which is the circulation of stellar material from the sun's equator toward the poles and back again. This flow can often influence a cycle's strength.

The scientists examined the changes in the structure of the flow, and the levels of geomagnetic activity, as they corresponded to the minimums and maximums of the previous solar cycles.

"We found that there were variations in the strength of that flow," Hathaway said. "The last minimum in 1996, that velocity was about 11 meters per second (about 22 miles an hour), which is pretty slow for an object as big as the sun. That flow slowed down as we went to maximum in 2001."

The meridional flow then quickly increased again, and by 2004, it was faster than it was at the last maximum, said Hathaway. This flow continued to stay fast on the approach to this most recent minimum.

"My suspicion is that this sunspot cycle 23 was a weaker cycle than the last two, with fewer sunspots and weaker magnetic fields. These may feed into what happens with the meridional flow that is going to lead to another weak cycle."

Hathaway predicts that cycle 24 should reach its peak in mid-2013 at about half the size of the last three cycles.

The sun's out of sync
In a different approach, Sushanta Tripathy of the National Solar Observatory used the frequencies of acoustic oscillations to look for signatures of changes in the solar activity cycle.

Tripathy found that changes in acoustic frequencies were, for the most part, in phase with solar activity. But, during the extended minimum, he noticed that the frequencies of waves that cover a large portion of the solar interior became out of sync with solar activity.

"We find that the frequencies of sound waves that travel to the deep interior show an early minimum during late 2007, while the waves that are confined to near the surface show the signature of minimum in late 2008, nearly coinciding with solar activity minimum."

The two seismic lulls detected using acoustic oscillation have not been seen before in previous cycles, said Tripathy, leading researchers to conclude that the extended minimum between cycles 23 and 24 is quite unusual.

Jet streams on the sun
Frank Hill, also of the National Solar Observatory, took a separate approach, attempting to predict the sunspot cycle based on a phenomena on the sun that can be likened to solar jet streams.

This east-west flow on the surface of the sun was first discovered in 1980, and is known as "torsional oscillation."

The jet stream exists at a depth of at least 65,000 miles (about 105,000 kilometers) below the solar surface, and Hill and his team of researchers were able to examine its behavior at a depth of 600 miles (966 km).

"The position of the magnetic field is very highly correlated with the position of this flow," Hill said. "From helioseismology, we see the flows for two prominent cycles Cycle 23, the cycle that we're coming out of, and Cycle 24, the cycle that we're in now."

It turns out that the flow appears well before the level that solar activity spikes. This led the researchers to conclude that there is some sort of triggering mechanism that appears before the onset of activity.

While observations of the solar jet could one day be useful for predicting the timing of the solar cycles, a larger data set is still required to ensure the method's accuracy.

"We're definitely going to need several cycles to improve the predictions," Hill said.

Further investigation will also be needed to determine whether the jet stream is a cause or effect of the solar cycle.

Our magnetic star
In yet another approach, Julia Saba of SP Systems and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., used X-ray and magnetic field strength indicators in order to predict the precise time mark for the onset of solar cycles.

Saba used magnetic maps of the sun, called synoptic charts, to observe solar cycles 21 through 23 and into 24. By evaluating trends in X-ray activity, Saba was able to predict the onset approximately 18 months ahead of time, and was accurate to within two months.

"By May of 2010, we see that cycle 24 is clearly underway, though things are still pretty quiet in the southern hemisphere in general," Saba said.

This method of determining a solar cycle's onset could be a valuable way to compare the different phases in solar activity because it can be observed in near real-time, Saba explained.

"It's a little easier to tell in real time than by solar maximum or solar minimum," she said.

While the four ways of monitoring solar activity take different approaches, the researchers are all in agreement that we are witnessing an interesting minimum. And while these methods could be useful for future studies of solar cycles, they all require further research.

"One problem we have with all solar cycle studies is the statistics of small numbers," Hathaway said. "Even with 23 sunspot cycles, it's not enough. What we've seen today are some newer measurements that weren't available even two cycles ago that are shedding new light. We need to be careful with using what we've seen from one or two cycles to make inferences for all of them."

Scottsdale boy's message in a bottle discovered on island
By Philip Haldiman
The Arizona Republic

Mark Henle/The Arizona Republic
Jack Johnson holds the letter he put into a bottle and threw into the ocean while fishing near Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, in 2008.

Finding a message in a bottle is the subject of pop songs and Hollywood movies.

But one Scottsdale boy's message in a bottle story is more about youthful innocence.

Jack Johnson, 12, went fishing with his dad, Dan, on a family vacation near Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, in October of 2008. The night before setting out to sea, Jack and the rest of his family were eating dinner at their hotel as images of the ocean danced in his head.

"I had been sitting thinking on the couch the night before, watching this movie about the ocean," Jack said.

So he asked his dad if he could take the empty wine bottle left over from their dinner on the impending fishing trip.

That night Dan and his son prepped for the journey. Jack wrote a note with his address and phone number included, put it in a sealable plastic bag and stuffed it into the bottle.

To complete his experiment, the next day Jack tossed it overboard, a couple of miles off the coast of Puerto Vallarta.

That could have been the end of the story, if not for a scientist who was doing ecological mapping and sampling on the uninhabited Isla María Magdalena, about 125 miles north of Puerto Vallarta in the Pacific Ocean.

Peter Schaaf said he and some students found Jack's message in a bottle when they were walking along the northwestern beaches of the island more than a year later.

When he saw the bottle, he thought it might have contained a message or possibly drugs, as the sea around the island is known as a common drug-transport route.

"There was a lot of stranded rubbish along the shoreline," said Schaaf, who found the bottle Jan. 30. "We saw the plastic bag inside and we were curious."

In early March of this year, Jack had just gotten home from a day of school at Scottsdale Preparatory Academy when his mother, Andrea, greeted him with a letter postmarked Feb. 23, that had arrived from Mexico.

"And I remembered. I hadn't thought of the letter since a month after our vacation," Jack said. "It really surprised me. I e-mailed him that night and got a response the next day."

"It was something unique to find this bottle at this island. If we wouldn't have found it now, maybe the next chance would have been in 10 years," Schaaf said.

Jack said he and Schaaf, a professor of earth sciences at Instituto de Geofísica in Coyoacan, México, have been keeping in touch.

He said he's amazed that the bottle ever was found in the first place.

"The distance that the bottle traveled before getting to the island was so long," Jack said. "What are the odds of the bottle being washed up on a deserted island and still being found?"

Jack's question, as it turns out, has been the focus of ongoing study.

Eddy Carmack, project leader for the Drift Bottle Project, said Jack's bottle could have been on the island for a while.

The Canadian-based Drift Bottle Project attempts to paint a global picture of ocean currents.

The experiment puts notes explaining how to contact the project into empty beer bottles sealed with watertight lids. The bottles are dropped at various locations, mainly in northern oceans. Drop points are noted, many along the western coasts of Canada, the United States and Mexico. When a bottle is found and reported to the project, location information is added to a database for analysis.

He said a typical bottle journey is about one to three years with an average drift of 6 to 12 miles a day.

Carmack said since the project began in 2000, about 4,000 bottles have been deployed and about 150 have been reported back.

"People find these bottles and get really excited," Carmack said. "It makes you recognize you're just a bottle toss a way from someone around the world."