Sunday, December 20, 2009
New Zealand hasn't had a lot going for it in recent times, but it is still not a bad place to live in...
New Zealand leads the global race when it comes to honesty.
Anti-graft watchdog Transparency International (TI) ranked it number one in the world’s least corrupt countries, according to media reports.
New Zealand scored 9.4 points out of a possible 10.
The score is based on perceptions of the degree of corruption as seen by business people and country analysts.
Trailing New Zealand is Denmark, Singapore, Sweden and Switzerland. Lawless Somalia and war-torn Afghanistan were the most corrupt.
TI's corruption index showed how countries devastated by conflict have become overrun by graft, with Iraq, Sudan and Myanmar accounting for the three other states in the bottom five of the chart.
TI's spokesman Huguette Labelle said the international community "must find efficient ways to help war-torn countries to develop and sustain their own institutions".
The most corrupt nation on earth remained Somalia, with a score of 1.1 points.
Come on over for a visit!
Acnowledgements: Msn Money
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Foo Fighters: Alien UFO's of the Second World War.
I read an article written by a good blogging friend, Ken Korczac. This was the first time I had heard of the terminology, "Foo fighter". So I decided to do a little googling, and the result is below:
Only a few years before Kenneth Arnold had his historic sighting of unknown flying objects that would be coined "flying saucers" by a news reporter in 1947, another phenomena was still mystifying researchers. During the fire of WW II battles in the sky, American and German pilots were experiencing the "foo-fighters."
These strange flying blobs of light became a much feared element of American, German, and British pilots, as they would appear without warning, and often times complicate an already difficult situation. Even attempts by some U.S. pilots to ram them were in vain, as they flew right through them as if they were simply a mirage.
Several theories were offered as to what these small, strange, flying objects were. Ironically, all of the pilots felt that the foo fighters were a secret product of the other side, either a type of radar reflection device or some other secret weapon with the ability to take out an enemy plane.
Even with the evidence that we have, there is not one documented case of any plane being damaged by one of the foo fighters, although there were reports of pilots scrapping a mission because of them. The foo fighter term itself is an enigma, being attributed to several different sources, but probably initiated with a comic strip called "Smokey Stover," who was a fire fighter, and often said, "Where there's foo there's fire. "Foo" was a French word for fire, or "feuer," the German word for the same.
It is very interesting to note that the Robertson Panel listed several foo fighter incidents in their investigations, but also stated the at least some of them were a "metallic, disc-shaped object." Simply put, this means that some of the reports by the Allied pilots were referring to what would be later called UFOs.
As with any mystery, there would be numerous and varied explanations offered to explain the phenomena. Among these were:
An electrical discharge from the wings of the planes caused the sightings.
A rare type of ball lighting.
An unknown atmospheric anomaly.
These theories are as good as any, but still fall short of explaining the mystery. There have been sightings of the so-called foo fighters throughout history, and in many ways they are very similar to the modern day reports of "orbs." These strange balls of white light have been captured by many photographers and videographers around the world, but we have moved no closer to a solution. For now, the mystery of the foo fighters remains unsolved.
Foo Fighters in Minnesota
Saturday, December 05, 2009
Kellogs under fire from FDA for misleading packaging...
I first heard this story on a Kiwi radio talkback program last night:
The giant Kellogs breakfast food manufacturer is voluntarily halting promotion of its nutrition labeling program after federal regulators said such systems could mislead consumers, officials with the group said Friday.
Industry leaders launched the “Smart Choices” program in August to identify foods that meet certain nutritional standards and then highlight them for consumers with a green label on package fronts.
But the Food and Drug Administration said last Tuesday that there are so many labeling programs with different criteria that they may mislead consumers about the health benefits of certain foods. The agency told manufacturers it will crack down on inaccurate labeling, although it did not name specific products or give a timeline for enforcement.
Many of these foods have exceptionally high levels of sugar in them and Kellogs have allegedly misled the public through their packaging. The FDA said it will crackdown hard on Kellogs and any other companies.
Kellogs have made billions if not trillions of dollars through the sales of their products over three generations or more worldwide.
Kellogs Under Fire from FDA
Friday, November 27, 2009
Prayers at Scott Base in the Antarctic to remember Mt Erebus crash thirty years ago.
Erebus tragedy: The quest for truth.
A prayer will be said and a period of silence observed at Scott Base around 12.50pm today to mark the moment 30 years ago when an Air New Zealand plane crashed in Antarctica.
All 257 passengers and crew on Flight 901, which was on a sightseeing trip from Auckland on November 28, 1979, died when the DC10 struck the foothills of Mt Erebus.
Memorial services were being held at 11am today at Scott Base, from which Erebus is visible, and in Auckland and Christchurch.
Scott Base co-ordinator Yvonne Costar said 60 to 80 people were expected at the service at the base.
Among them would be staff from the United States research centre at McMurdo Station.
"We have quick a few people coming from McMurdo," she said.
"Some of them were here 30 years ago."
The service will be held indoors in the dining room, and others who will be present include six people who lost family members in the crash.
The six - among them Pip Collins, daughter of the pilot, Captain Jim Collins - were drawn by ballot to fly on a US Air Force C10 cargo plane for the anniversary.
Ms Costar said the service would be followed by lunch and then the 12.50pm ceremony, which would be outside at the flagpole.
Earlier today, Air NZ chief executive Rob Fyfe, flight attendants and pilots attended a wreath laying ceremony at the Erebus Crew Memorial Garden at Auckland Airport.
Also remembered were the five New Zealanders and two Germans who lost their lives in an Air NZ Airbus crash in the south of France a year ago today.
Family members of those New Zealanders have gathered in Perpignan for commemorations there.
Saturday, November 21, 2009
My good blogging friend 'infonaturale' wrote the following:
"Whenever I come across these incidents in American history, I have continued to wonder if they were just mere coincidence or maybe they were predestined to happen the way they followed in sequence. I am now calling on historians to try and give explanation for this, if they can."
I actually ran across this many years ago myself and thank 'infonaturale' for giving me the opportunity to reread it at his blog site, and here at Kiwi Riverman. It would take a higher power to explain this.
Abraham Lincoln was elected to Congress in 1846.
John .F. Kennedy was elected to Congress in 1946.
Abraham Lincoln was elected President in 1860.
John .F. Kennedy was elected President in 1960.
Both were particularly concerned with Civil rights.
Both wives lost their children while living in the White House.
Both Presidents were shot on a Friday.
Both Presidents were shot in the head.
Now it will be getting really weird.
Lincoln’s Secretary was named Kennedy.
Kennedy’s Secretary was named Lincoln.
Both Presidents were assassinated by Southerners.
Both were succeeded by Southerners named Johnson.
Andrew Johnson, who succeeded Lincoln, was born in 1808.
Lyndon Johnson, who succeeded Kennedy, was born in 1908.
John Wilkes Booth, who assassinated Lincoln, was born in 1839.
Lee Harvey Oswald, who assassinated Kennedy, was born in 1939.
Both assassins were known by their three names.
Both names are composed of fifteen letters.
Lincoln was shot at the theater named “Ford”.
Kennedy was shot in a car named “Lincoln” made by “Ford”.
Lincoln was shot in a theater and his assassin ran and hid in a warehouse.
Kennedy was shot from a warehouse, and his assassin ran and hid in a theater.
Booth and Oswald were assassinated before their trials.
And here is the kicker……..
A week before Lincoln was shot, he was in Monroe Maryland.
A week before Kennedy was shot, he was with Marilyn Monroe
Weird, isn’t it. You can pass it on to as many people as you can, because this is one history lesson that people would not mind reading any day.
Read more here
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
THE SIXTH EXTINCTION...
Our planet has been shaken by five major extinctions in the four billion year history of life. The first, 450 million years ago, occurred shortly after the evolution of the first land-based plants and 100 million years after the Cambrian Explosion of animal life beneath the seas.
The second extinction spasm came 350 million years ago, causing the formation of coal forests. Then the Earth experienced two mass extinctions during the Triassic period, between 250 and 200 million years ago. The fifth mass extinction, probably caused by a giant meteor collision, occurred 65 million years ago, at the end of the Cretaceous period, and ended the reptilian dominance of the Earth. This led to the current mammalian domination of the Earth.
So what is the Sixth Extinction? When is it coming? And what is its cause? "It's the next annihilation of vast numbers of species. It is happening now, and we, the human race, are its cause," explains Dr. Richard Leakey, the world's most famous paleoanthropologist. Every year, between 17,000 and 100,000 species vanish from our planet, he says. "For the sake of argument, let's assume the number is 50,000 a year. Whatever way you look at it, we're destroying the Earth at a rate comparable with the impact of a giant asteroid slamming into the planet, or even a shower of vast heavenly bodies." The statistics he has assembled are staggering. Fifty per cent of the Earth's species will have vanished inside the next 100 years; mankind is using almost half the energy available to sustain life on the planet, and this figure will only grow as our population leaps from 5.7 billion to ten billion inside the next half-century. Such a dramatic and overwhelming mass extinction threatens the entire complex fabric of life on Earth, including the species responsible for it: Homo sapiens.
Chapter 13: The Sixth Extinction
AN ACCIDENT OF HISTORY we may be, but there is no question that Homo sapiens is the single most dominant species on Earth today. We arrived late on the evolutionary scene and at a time when the diversity of life on the planet was near its all-time high. And, as we saw in chapter 10, we arrived equipped with the capacity to devastate that diversity wherever human populations travelled. Blessed with reason and insight, we move toward the twenty-first century in a world of our own creation, an essentially artificial world in which (for some, at least) technology brings material comfort and leisure brings unprecedented artistic creation. So far, unfortunately, our reason and insight have not prevented us from collectively exploiting Earth's resources-biological and physical-in unprecedented ways.
Homo sapiens is not the first living creature to have a dramatic impact on Earth's biota, of course. The advent of photosynthetic microorganisms some three billion years ago began to transform the atmosphere from one of low oxygen content to one of relatively high levels, reaching close to modern levels within the last billion years. With the change, very different life forms were possible, including multicellular organisms, and previously abundant forms that thrived in a low oxygen environment were consigned to marginal habitats of the Earth. But that change was wrought not by a single, sentient species consciously pursuing its own material goals, but by countless, non-sentient species, collectively and unconsciously operating new metabolic pathways. The reason and insight that emerged during our evolutionary history bestowed a behavioral flexibility on our species that allows us to multiply bounteously in virtually every environment on Earth. The evolution of human intelligence therefore opened a vast potential for population expansion and growth, so that collectively the almost six billion humans alive today represent the greatest proportion of protoplasm on our planet.
We suck our sustenance from the rest of nature in a way never before seen in the world, reducing its bounty as ours grows. We are, as Edward Wilson has put it, "an environmental abnormality." Abnormalities cannot persist forever; they eventually disappear. "It is possible that intelligence in the wrong kind of species was foreordained to be a fatal combination for the biosphere," ventures Wilson. "Perhaps a law of evolution is that intelligence usually extinguishes itself"' If not a "law," then perhaps a common consequence. Our concern is: Can such a fate be avoided?
When I talk about reducing nature's bounty, I'm referring to the extinction of species that is currently occurring as a result of human activities of various kinds. In chapter 10 I described the trail of biotic destruction humans left in their wake as they swept into new environments in the prehistoric and historic past: settlers of new lands extirpated huge numbers of species, through hunting and clearing of habitats. Some modern scholars argue that this was but a passing episode in the human career and that, despite massive population expansion today, talk of continued species extinction is fallacious. It should be obvious from the tone of the preceding few paragraphs that I am not among their number. I believe that human-driven extinction is continuing today, and accelerating to alarming levels.
In the remainder of the chapter I will develop the argument for my concern. In the final chapter I will ask whether or not it matters to us and our children that as much as 50 percent of the Earth's species may disappear by the end of the next century. I will also address the longer-term future, which puts our species in a larger geological context with the rest of the world's inhabitants. And I will suggest that the insights we have gained from the current intellectual revolution I formulated in the previous chapter demand that we adopt a certain ethical position on the impact of Homo sapiens on the biodiversity of which we are a part.
Humans endanger the existence of species in three principal ways. The first is through direct exploitation, such as hunting. From butterflies, to song birds, to elephants, the human appetite for collecting or eating parts of wild creatures puts many species at risk of extinction. Second is the biological havoc that is occasionally wreaked following the introduction of alien species to new ecosystems, whether deliberately or accidentally. I talked earlier about the biological convulsion experienced by the Hawaiian archipelago through countless species of birds and plants taken there by the early Polynesians and later by European settlers. A devastation of equal magnitude is currently under way in Africa's Lake Victoria, where more than two-hundred species of fish have disappeared within the past decade. The Boston University ecologist Les Kaufman, who has studied the event in great detail, calls it "the Hiroshima of the biological apocalypse, the demonstration, the warning that more is on the way.' 12 Several interacting factors are involved, such as overfishing and pollution, but the major culprit is the voracious Nile perch, which was introduced to the lake for commercial fishing some four decades ago.
The third, and by far the most important, mode of human-driven extinction is the destruction and fragmentation of habitat, especially the inexorable cutting of tropical rainforests. The forests, which cover just 7 percent of the world's land surface, are a cauldron of evolutionary innovation and are home to half of the world's species. The continued growth of human populations in all parts of the world daily encroaches on wild habitats, whether through the expansion of agricultural land, the building of towns and cities, or the transport infrastructure that joins them. As the habitats shrink, so too does the Earth's capacity to sustain its biological heritage.
The Oxford University ecologist Norman Myers was the first to call wide attention to the impending catastrophe of deforestation, in his 1979 book, The Sinking Ark. If the rate of tree felling continued at its prevailing rate, which Myers estimated to be as much as 2 percent a year, the world would "lose one-quarter of all species by the year 2000," he wrote. A further century would add a third of the remaining species to the death toll. The decade and a half since The Sinking Ark's publication has witnessed roiling debate over the reality of the numbers. Are the forests disappearing at the rate claimed? Even if they are, would 50 percent of the world's species really disappear?
Initially, Myers's (and others') prognostications received a sympathetic hearing, and eventually built a sense of genuine alarm and concern among biologists and politicians. Grave statements flowed from weighty bodies. "The species extinction crises is a threat to civilization second only to the threat of thermonuclear war," warned the Club of Earth in a publication released at the beginning of a major conference of biodiversity, held in Washington, D.C., in September 1986. A recent joint statement by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the Royal Society of London must qualify as the most prestigious: "The overall pace of environmental change has unquestionably been accelerated by the recent expansion of the human population . . . The future of our planet is in the balance." Individual ecologists were equally emphatic. I'll quote two of the most prominent. Stanford University biologist Paul Ehrlich said at the Washington conference "There's no controversy among mainstream biologists that there is a crisis in biodiversity." At that same gathering, Edward Wilson stated that "virtually all students of the extinction process agree that biological diversity is in the midst of its sixth great crisis, this time precipitated entirely by man."
Just recently, however, a backlash has developed, with the doom-sayers being accused of overstating their case or, worse, fabricating it. Articles have appeared in several periodicals, expressing scepticism of the alleged danger. An article titled "Extinction: are ecologists crying wolf. "' was recently published in Science, for instance; and the 13 December 1993 issue of U.S. News and World Report ran a cover story, titled "The Doomsday Myths." These and other articles essentially suggest that although ecologists believe that many species are becoming extinct, or are about to become so, they don't actually know for sure. Julian Simon, at the University of Maryland, has been saying as much for a decade, and his voice has become even louder of late. The most prominent of the anti-alarmists, Simon wrote in a 1986 article, "The available facts . . . are not consistent with the level of concern."' In a debate with Norman Myers in New York in 1992, Simon repeated this view: "The actual data on the observed rates of speciation are wildly at variance with . . . the purported danger."' He was more direct in an opinion article he published in the 13 May 1993 issue of the New York Times: he described claims by various ecologists that current extinction rates were equivalent to those of a mass extinction as "utterly without scientific underpinning" and "pure guesswork." Professor Simon is the Dr. Pangloss of the environment.
Why has there been this criticism of scientists whose expertise supposedly is the understanding of the dynamics of biodiversity? Perhaps one reason is that the message is so startling that people are simply unwilling to hear it, or, if they hear it, are unwilling to believe it. A human-caused mass extinction is startling. Ecologists' predictions therefore came to be viewed as "the outpouring of overwrought biological Cassandras," says Thomas Lovejoy, of the Smithsonian Institution. 7 Another reason for the incredulity, no doubt, was the disparity of predictions from different authorities of the scale of the imminent extinction, which ranged from 17,000 species lost a year to more than 100,000. If the experts are so uncertain about the magnitude of the alleged extinction, critics legitimately wondered, how can we believe anything they say? I'll come back to this.
There is, I suggest, a further reason, one having to do with uncertainty of a different nature: that is, about ourselves. If we accept that species can be pushed into extinction as easily as the ecologists are telling us, then perhaps the tenure of Homo sapiens is less secure than we would like to believe. Perhaps we, too, are destined for extinction. We dislike uncertainty about our origins; and we dislike uncertainty about our future even more.
The two pertinent questions, remember, are these: Are the tropical forests being felled at a rate near to what Norman Myers and others claim? If so, what is the impact on the species living there? The first is the easier of the two to answer directly, principally because it can be observed directly.
Myers's 1979 estimate of 2 percent of standing forest being cut each year was based on a compilation of piecemeal observations in various parts of the world, and extrapolation from these to the rest of the world. This proportion works out to be some eighty thousand square miles a year, or more than an acre a second. Dozens of studies carried out during the 1980s and early 1990s attempted to test this contention. Some claimed it to be an overestimate, some an underestimate. Now, with the use of extensive satellite imagery of much of the world's land surface, the answer is beyond reasonable doubt. For instance, two independent reports in the early 1990s, one by the World Resources Institute, Washington, and the second by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, each produced figures in the range of eighty-thousand square miles of forest lost each year. (This is 40 to 50 percent higher than a decade earlier.) At this rate of destruction, tropical forests will be reduced to 10 percent of their original cover soon after the turn of the century and to a tiny remnant by 2050. Only a deliberate obscurantist would deny these numbers.
A reduction of this magnitude is bad enough for the survival of species in the forests, but there is worse news. A more recent satellite study reveals that even where forest is not clear-cut, it is often fragmented into small "islands" that are ecologically fragile. In an epic experiment begun in the late 1970s in the Brazilian forest, Thomas Lovejoy and his colleagues have been studying the ability of such islands of different sizes to sustain species. With islands varying in size from 2.5 acres to 25,000 acres, the venture is the biggest biological experiment in history. One of the expected observations is that species would become extinct more rapidly and more extensively in small patches than in larger ones. Some of the vulnerable species are those which require a large range, for various reasons. And, as we saw in earlier chapters, extinction of these species often causes other species to become extinct, too, even though they themselves don't require large territories. For instance, three species of frog vanished from one 250-acre plot early in the experiment, because the habitat was too small to support peccaries, whose wallowing in mud created ponds for the frogs. Such cascades of extinction continue for many years after the island plot is established. Other species may be vulnerable to extinction in small islands, because of the small population sizes that can be sustained there. Small populations can fall victim to sudden bouts of disease or external perturbations, such as storms, whereas large populations can weather such events.
An unexpected finding from the experiment, however, is that even large forest patches are less sturdy than might be imagined. The reason is the so-called edge effect. Habitats deep in the forest enjoy a degree of protection from external perturbation, whereas those at the boundary between forest and grassland, for instance, are exposed to winds, dramatically varying microclimates over short distances, incursion by nonforest animals and human hunters, and other inimical circumstances. The result: species of animals and plants are vulnerable to extinction for as much as a half a mile into the forest. The edge effect is therefore important even for large tracts of forest. This discovery has become especially important with the new satellite survey, which shows that logging has been leaving a vastly greater proportion of Amazonian tropical forests vulnerable to edge effects than was realized. "Implications for biological diversity are not encouraging and provide added impetus for the minimization of tropical deforestation," the investigators reported in Science.
The key variable in the equation, then, is the effect of forest loss and fragmentation on species survival. Before I go into this, however, it is important to emphasize that habitat loss is not confined to tropical forests. For instance, a study by the U.S. National Biological Service reported in February 1995 that during this century half the country's natural ecosystems had been degraded to the point of endangerment. Entire communities are now on the brink of extinction. In a second study, published a few months later, the service noted that "if unchecked, human activities will continue to result in an upset balance of species interactions, alterations of ecosystems and extensive habitat loss." Evidently, concern for the future of our biological heritage has to be played out in all countries of the world, not merely in the poorer, developing countries.
As I said earlier, the growth of human population worldwide is encroaching on wild habitat, both for constructing villages, towns, and cities, and the infrastructure that goes with them, and for producing food, both plants and livestock. Human population has expanded dramatically in recent history, as everyone is aware. From half a billion in 1600 to a billion in 1800; by 1940 it had reached almost 3 billion; in the past fifty years it doubled, to 5.7 billion; and it is set to double again in the next half century, to more than 10 billion. If all these people are to enjoy a standard of living above the poverty level that prevails in many of the less developed regions of the world today, the global economic activity will have to rise at least tenfold. At what cost?
Even today, humans consume 40 percent of net primary productivity (NPP) on land; that is, the total energy trapped in photosynthesis worldwide, minus that required by the plants themselves for their survival. In other words, of all the energy available to sustain all the species on Earth, Homo sapiens takes almost half. To the Stanford biologists Paul and Anne Ehrlich, the implications are ominous. "What a substantial expansion of both the population and its mobilization of resources implies for the redirection and further loss of terrestrial NPP by humanity is obvious," say the Ehrlichs. "People will try to take over all of it and lose more in the process."' For every extra I percent of global NPP commandeered by our species in the coming decades, a further I percent will become unavailable to the rest of nature. Eventually, primary productivity will fall, as space for the producers falls, and a downward spiral will eventually kick in. The world's biological diversity will plummet, including the productivity on which human survival depends. The future of human civilization therefore becomes threatened.
Not everyone accepts this doomsday outlook, of course, most particularly Julian Simon. In what must rank as one of the more daring and optimistic predictions ever made, Simon declared the following in the debate with Myers: "We now have in our hands the technology to feed, clothe, and supply energy to an ever growing population for the next 7 billion years."
One of these scenarios-the imminent threat of doom or essentially infinite human expansion-must be wrong.
The method by which ecologists calculate the fate of species in habitats that are reduced in size is based on island biogeography theory, which the Harvard biologists Robert MacArthur and Edward Wilson developed in 1963. Partly the outcome of empirical observation, partly mathematical treatment, the theory is the foundation of much of modern ecological thinking. "We had noticed that the faunas and floras of islands around the world show a consistent relation between the area of the islands and the number of species living on them," Wilson recalled recently. "The larger the area, the more the species. MacArthur and Wilson saw this relationship wherever they looked, from the British Isles to the Galipagos Islands to the archipelago of Indonesia. From these observations they deduced a simple arithmetical rule: the number of species approximately doubles with every tenfold increase in area. The qualitative relationship between area and number of species-the bigger the area, the more the species-seems intuitively obvious; and the quantitative relationship derives from empirical observation.
Though simple-even simplistic-the theory seems robust. Nevertheless, a rigorous test of the theory would make it more valuable, and this is precisely what Lovejoy set out to perform with his Brazilian rainforest experiment. Destined to continue for many more decades, the experiment has already produced sufficient information to put to rest any serious doubts about the theory's central premise.
There are many ways in which the actual number of species in a habitat of a certain size may be influenced up or down, of course. A thousand acres of flat terrain are likely to support fewer species than a thousand acres of extremely varied topography, for instance. The reason is that many more microhabitats are present in the latter than the former. And a thousand tropical acres will support more species than a similar area at high latitudes, for reasons I discussed in chapter 7. As long as appropriate comparisons are made-that is, similar latitudes, similar terrain-island biogeography theory is a powerful tool for making predictions. It is also the only tool, aside from counting species one by one; that is usually not practical. When Julian Simon says that Wilson's mathematical model "is based on nothing but speculation" and dismisses predictions as "the statistical flummery of species loss," he is being willfully ignorant of the facts underlying the theory.
Armed with this tool, what can we say about the consequences of reducing tropical forests to 10 percent of their original extent? The arithmetical relationship based on the theory predicts that 50 percent of species will go extinct-some immediately, some over a period of decades or even centuries. If most ecologists accept this empirical relationship as a reasonable guide, why are estimates of projected species extinction over the next century so much at variance with one another? Why does one authority state that 17,000 species will be lost every year while another puts the figure at 100,000?
The reasons are several, not the least of which is a great uncertainty about how many species exist in the world. As I said in chapter 7, estimates range from ten million to a hundred million. Using the same 50 percent proportion for species loss, therefore, one person using the higher estimate will produce an absolute number that is an order of magnitude greater than one who elects to use the lower estimate. There are other confounding factors, too, such as great (and unknown) differences in the size of habitat fragments that escape destruction, and uncertainties in the ranges of most species. If, for example, a significant proportion of species is restricted to small localities, then the loss of species will be higher than 50 percent, and may approach the percentage of habitat lost. "That there is considerable spread in the estimates is really not surprising, given the difficulties in getting precise information," comments Lovejoy. He then adds the key to this argument: "What is important is that every effort to estimate rates has produced a large number. Few dispute the proportion of species destined to disappear if current trends continue-that is, something close to half Fifty percent of the total of the world's species is a large number.
Even if we take a figure in the lower range of estimates, say thirty-thousand species per year, the implication is still startling. David Raup has calculated from the fossil record that during periods of normal, or background, extinction, species loss occurs at an average of one every four years. Extinction at the rate of thirty-thousand a year, therefore, is elevated 120,000 times above background. This is easily comparable with the Big Five biological crises of geological history, except that this one is not being caused by global temperature change, regression of sea level, or asteroid impact. It is being caused by one of Earth's inhabitants. Homo sapiens is poised to become the greatest catastrophic agent since a giant asteroid collided with the Earth sixty-five million years ago, wiping out half the world's species in a geological instant.
The figures I've been talking about are predictions for extinction rates early in the next century if current trends of habitat destruction continue. Critics not only doubt the validity of these predictions, but also challenge ecologists to produce hard evidence of an alarming level of human-caused extinctions today. It is true that, because there has been no comprehensive, global survey, ecologists are unable to proffer such evidence in the form of a complete list of extinctions. In effect, however, the critics are implying that no such evidence exists because no (or very few) species are disappearing as a result of human activity. Despite the lack of a comprehensive survey, there is a large body of isolated studies in many different habitats around the world. Dismissed by the critics as "merely anecdotal," these studies collectively give more than enough reason for concern.
I will offer some examples. I've already mentioned the massive loss of fish species in Lake Victoria. By itself, the disappearance of two-hundred species in twenty years is already way beyond the background extinction rate of one species every four years. If background extinction rates applied to birds, for instance, ecologists should expect to see the disappearance of a bird species no more frequently than once every century. And yet, as Stuart Pimm reports, "In the Pacific alone, we are seeing about one extinction per year." Pimm's field work is in Hawaii, where birds are his special interest. The Hawaiian islands may look like a tropical paradise to tourists, but to ecologists they bear the scars of recent, catastrophic extinctions. As many as half the islands' bird species have gone extinct since first human contact, and the loss continues today. Of some 135 bird species there, only eleven thrive in numbers that ensure their survival well into the next century. "A dozen . . .,are so rare that there is little hope of saving them," says Pimm. "A further dozen are legally classified as Endangered-meaning that their future survival is uncertain."
A little more than a decade ago, ninety species of plants became extinct in a virtual instant, when the forested ridge on which they grew was cleared for agricultural land. The ridge, in the western Andean foothills of Ecuador, is called Centinela, and among ecologists the name has become synonymous with catastrophic extinction at human hand. By chance, two ecologists, Alwyn Gentry and Caraway Dodson, visited the ridge in 1978 and carried out the first botanical survey in its cloud forest. Among the riot of biodiversity that is nurtured by this habitat, Gentry and Dodson discovered, were ninety previously unknown species, including herbaceous plants, orchids, and epiphytes, that lived nowhere else. Centinela was an ecological island, which, being isolated, had developed a unique flora. Within eight years the ridge had been transformed into farmland, and its endemic species were no more.
Centinela had a unique flora, but it wasn't unique in being an ecological island. Countless such ridges exist along the whole length of the Andes, most of which, too, must have developed species not found elsewhere. What made the Centinela habitat notorious was that a botanical survey had been carried out prior to its destruction. Each time an ecological island is cleared, species will vanish in a virtual instant, an event ecologists now term a Centinelan extinction. There are two points to be emphasized here. The first is that whenever ecologists are able to survey a habitat before and after disturbance, species loss is almost always seen, often a catastrophic one. However, in the vast majority of instances, habitat destruction occurs in areas that have not been surveyed for their flora and fauna, so it is more than likely that countless species become extinct before ecologists even know of their existence. How is one to document this, except by extrapolation? The second is that, like the plants on Centinela, many species have very limited ranges, particularly in the tropics, so destruction of habitat often results in the instant destruction of species. As I indicated earlier, this implies that the 50 percent figure predicted for eventual species loss is more likely to be an underestimate than an overestimate.
The list of "anecdotal" evidence is long: half the freshwater fish of peninsular Malaysia, ten bird species of Cebu in the Philippines, half the forty-one tree snails in Oahu, forty-four of the sixty-eight shallow-water mussels of the Tennessee River shoals, and so on. The evidence may be anecdotal in the sense of its not being the result of a systematic survey, but it is compelling nonetheless. In an attempt to be quantitative with the known extinction data, and thereby come up with an assessment of whether or not we face a biological crisis of our own making, Stuart Pimm and two of his colleagues analyzed some of the best known and most closely documented cases. These include freshwater mussels and freshwater fish in North America, mammals in Australia, plants in South Africa, and amphibians worldwide. "What causes extinction?" Pimm and the others ask rhetorically. "Our reading of the five case studies is that species introductions and physical habitat alteration are the highest-ranking factors." I won't go into the details of the recorded extinctions, because they can be found in Pimm's publication; instead, I'll concentrate on the conclusions that flow from the analysis of them.
If the observed levels of extinction known in these cases is typical for similar species worldwide, then current extinction is running at a rate some thousand to ten-thousand higher than background extinction. Skeptics may argue that these examples represent particularly high levels of extinction, and are therefore not representative. Even if this is the case, say Pimm and his colleagues, and these known extinctions are the only ones in these groups of species worldwide, which is highly improbable, then the rate is still two-hundred to a thousand higher than background. This qualifies as a mass extinction. The authors point out that none of the cases is from areas where human densities are particularly high, illustrating that the hand of death is effective at a distance. How much more effective would it be, then, in the midst of high concentrations of humanity? Pimm asks what we are to conclude from this and other studies: "Those who suggest that high extinction rates are a fabrication seem curiously ignorant of the facts or, perhaps, willfully ignorant.
The documentation of known extinctions may seem to be the only way to demonstrate that we are in the midst of a biotic crisis, and this is what skeptics demand. After all, there can be no case for murder without a body. Equally, if a population of a species exists somewhere, it is not extinct, is it, even if its total range is reduced by habitat destruction? However, this point of view underestimates both the magnitude of the current crisis and its complexity. "It is important to recognize that, except when all individuals of a species are simultaneously eliminated, as by a meteor or hurricane, extinction is a multi-stage process," observes Daniel Simberloff. By way of example, he cites the case of the heath hen, which I recounted in chapter 5. The cause of extinction is usually given as hunting and habitat destruction by humans. The bird's range, remember, was huge, and covered much of the eastern seaboard of the United States. Hunting and habitat destruction reduced the species' number to fifty individuals in 1908, when a reserve was established to save it from extinction. Over the next two decades the population's numbers began to rise robustly, but eventually the species did go extinct, through a combination of biblical calamities, including fire and pestilence.
The point of the story is that once the heath hen population was reduced to small numbers, its eventual extinction was virtually assured. As I've stated several times, a small population is vulnerable to normal fluctuations in its numbers, the consequence of disease and disasters. A population of a thousand individuals can weather a population drop of a hundred; such a fluctuation spells the end for a population that starts with only a hundred individuals. In the case of the heath hen, even when hunting and habitat alteration were halted, its survival was precarious in the extreme. A proper assessment of the impact of human activity on current biodiversity therefore must take into account populations that have become so small, victims to stochastic fluctuations or are trending in that direction. This is precisely what Stuart Pimm did in describing the prospects of the Hawaiian birds. Only eleven are assured of survival well into the next century. Populations of the remaining 124 species have already been reduced, in some cases perilously so. Yet a simple species accounting notes that 135 species exist: no extinction to report. Simberloff describes the predicament graphically: "Many populations, including the last populations of some species, might be superficially healthy but among the living dead."
I believe that the "anecdotal" accounts of extinctions worldwide that ecologists are currently telling us about are but the merest hint of a catastrophic reality that is unfolding silently and, for the most part, away from our sight. Given the absolute impossibility of documenting the demise of every species whose fate is sealed by human activity, we need to be acutely sensitive to these faint echoes on the wind, because they carry an important message. Dominant as no other species has been in the history of life on Earth, Homo sapiens is in the throes of causing a major biological crisis, a mass extinction, the sixth such event to have occurred in the past half billion years. And we, Homo sapiens, may also be among the living dead.
Acknowledgements: Richard Leakey and Roger Lewis(Doubleday 1995)
Mass Extinction Underway - Majority of Biologists are convinced:
A majority of the nation's biologists are convinced that a "mass extinction" of plants and animals is underway that poses a major threat to humans in the next century, yet most Americans are only dimly aware of the problem, a poll says.
The rapid disappearance of species was ranked as one of the planet's gravest environmental worries, surpassing pollution, global warming and the thinning of the ozone layer, according to the survey of 400 scientists commissioned by New York's American Museum of Natural History.
The poll's release yesterday comes on the heels of a groundbreaking study of plant diversity that concluded than at least one in eight known plant species is threatened with extinction. Although scientists are divided over the specific numbers, many believe that the rate of loss is greater now than at any time in history.
"The speed at which species are being lost is much faster than any we've seen in the past -- including those [extinctions] related to meteor collisions," said Daniel Simberloff, a University of Tennessee ecologist and prominent expert in biological diversity who participated in the museum's survey. [Note: the last mass extinction caused by a meteor collision was that of the dinosaurs, 65 million years ago.]
Most of his peers apparently agree. Nearly seven out of 10 of the biologists polled said they believed a "mass extinction" was underway, and an equal number predicted that up to one-fifth of all living species could disappear within 30 years. Nearly all attributed the losses to human activity, especially the destruction of plant and animal habitats.
Among the dissenters, some argue that there is not yet enough data to support the view that a mass extinction is occurring. Many of the estimates of species loss are extrapolations based on the global destruction of rain forests and other rich habitats.
Among non-scientists, meanwhile, the subject appears to have made relatively little impression. Sixty percent of the laymen polled professed little or no familiarity with the concept of biological diversity, and barely half ranked species loss as a "major threat."
The scientists interviewed in the Louis Harris poll were members of the Washington-based American Institute of Biological Sciences, a professional society of more than 5,000 scientists.
Acknowledgements: Washington Post
Monday, November 16, 2009
Hire a lawyer and avoid the death penalty in Houston...
If you hire a lawyer, the chances are you won't be sentenced to death in Houston.
University of Denver Criminologist Scott Phillips reviewed 504 capital indictments over three decades in Harris County, Texas, and found that defendants who hired lawyers for the entire trial were never sentenced to death -- and were more likely to be acquitted.
The results of his study, published over the summer in the Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology, are truly stunning. Since nearly all defendants facing the death penalty in Harris County were poor, Phillips argues that his results further demonstrate the arbitrariness of capital punishment. If a defendant's family and community is able to pool resources to hire an attorney, the paid attorney might be better equipped to investigate a case or to bring bargaining power to the table against a district attorney.
He makes clear that his findings aren't an indictment of appointed attorneys, but of the system that straddles those attorneys with thin resources in a death penalty case. Something clearly went wrong for results this drastic.
Phillips also came up with some significant findings on race and capital punishment, which he published in the American Constitution Society's journal, Advance.
Phillips found that the race of a defendant played a significant role in whether he or she was charged with death. This is no surprise to people following capital punishment issues, of course, but Phillips makes some interesting recommendations for prosecutors' offices to avoid this disparity. He praises the Harris DA's office for eliminating the race of a defendant from the memo used to determine whether to seek the death penalty. Other markers, however, still indicate race and play a role in the decision, he says.
Phillips suggests that prosecutors' offices go further than just removing race -- they need to "be vigilant" and remove victim informaiton, neighborhoods, school names and other possible identifiers. This is a commendable -- but unrealistic -- idea.
Phillips' research is important, but I believe it further proves that the death penalty is cruel and unusual. I don't think it's possible to remove the arbitrariness of race, socioeconomic background or myriad other factors that lead the most vulnerable to our death row. Abolishing capital punishment is the only way to address the inherent injustice in the system.
Hire a lawyer
Saturday, November 14, 2009
NSA building cybersecurity data center facility...
The NSA is building the facility to provide intelligence and warnings related to cybersecurity threats, cybersecurity support to defense and civilian agency networks, and technical assistance to the Department of Homeland Security, according to a transcript of remarks by Glenn Gaffney, deputy director of national intelligence for collection, who is responsible for oversight of cyber intelligence activities in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
"Our country must continue to advance its national security efforts and that includes improvements in cybersecurity," Sen. Robert Bennett, R-Utah, said in a statement. "As we rely more and more on our communications networks for business, government and everyday use, we must be vigilant and provide agencies with the necessary resources to protect our country from a cyber attack."
The data center will be built at Camp Williams, a National Guard training center 26 miles south of Salt Lake City, which was chosen for its access to cheap power, communications infrastructure, and availability of space, Gaffney said. The complex will comprise up to 1.5 million square feet of building space on 120 to 200 acres, according to the NBC affiliate in Salt Lake City.
According to a budget document for the project, the 30-megawatt data center will be cooled by chilled water and capable of Tier 3, or near carrier-grade, reliability. The design calls for the highest LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standard within available resources.
The U.S. Army Corps of engineers will host a conference in Salt Lake City to provide further detail the data center building and acquisition plans. The project will require between 5,000 and 10,000 workers during construction, and the data center will eventually employ between 100 and 200 workers.
As part of its mission, NSA monitors communications "signals" for intelligence related to national security and defense. Gaffney gave assurances that the work going on at the data center will protect civil liberties. "We will accomplish this in full compliance with the U.S. Constitution and federal law and while observing strict guidelines that protect the privacy and civil liberties of the American people," Gaffney said.
On Nov. 30, the Department of Homeland Security will formally open a new cybersecurity operations center, the National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center, in Arlington, Va. The facility will house the National Cyber Security Center, which coordinates cybersecurity operations across government, the National Coordinating Center for Telecommunications, which operates the government's telecommunications network, and the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team, which works with industry and government to protect networks and alert them of malicious activity.
Information Week Analytics has published a report on the 10 steps to effective data classification. Download the report here (registration required).
Acknowledgements: Information Weekly
Friday, November 13, 2009
Boeing and Air NZ to airtest biofuel next month...
Boeing and Air New Zealand will fly a jumbo jet powered partly by biofuel next month, the two companies announced today.
An Air New Zealand jet will leave Auckland on December 3 with a 50-50 mix of jet fuel and oil from jatropha trees, in one of its four engines on a flight designed to show that jatropha biofuel is suitable for use in aviation as well as economical to produce .
"This flight strongly supports our efforts to be the world's most environmentally responsible airline," said Rob Fyfe, chief executive of Air New Zealand. "Introducing a new generation of sustainable fuels is the next logical step in our efforts to further save fuel and reduce aircraft emissions."
The jatropha nuts, which contain 40% oil, were harvested from trees in Mozambique, Malawi and Tanzania.
Friends of the Earth's biofuels campaigner, Kenneth Richter, welcomed the move to get the aviation industry to reduce the environmental footprint of its planes, but he raised concerns about the impact of biofuels. "Even jatropha is being linked to food price rises and habitat destruction. Current rates of growth in air travel mean it is not enough to switch to biofuels."
Robin Oakley, head of Greenpeace UK's climate change campaign, said: "We need a dose of realism here, because this test flight does not mean an end to the use of kerosene in jet engines. The amount of jatropha that would be needed to power the world's entire aviation sector cannot be produced in anything like a sustainable way, and even if large volumes could be grown, planes are an incredibly wasteful way of using it."
Boeing said their trees were grown on marginal land not required for food in India and south-east Africa.
Billy Glover, Boeing's managing director of environmental strategy, said that to prepare for the test flight, his team had tried to source biofuel reliably and economically for commercial aviation.
"The processing technology exists today, and based on results we've seen, it's highly encouraging that this fuel not only met but exceeded three key criteria for the next generation of jet fuel: higher than expected jet fuel yields, very low freeze point and good energy density. That tells us we're on the right path to certification and commercial availability."
Air travel contributes up to 5.5% of UK carbon dioxide emissions and the search for a greener alternative to kerosene jet fuel has been fraught with difficulty. Airlines cannot use standard biofuels such as ethanol because this would freeze at high altitude. Testing for the Air New Zealand flight showed that the jatropha-based biofuel was more suitable for flying since it froze at -47C and burned at 38C.
Chris Lewis, a fuels specialist at Rolls-Royce, which tested the jatropha biofuel, said: "The blended fuel meets the essential requirement of being a drop-in fuel, meaning its properties will be virtually indistinguishable from conventional fuel which is used in commercial aviation today."
Last month, Darrin Morgan, an environmental expert at Boeing, said biofuel-powered aircraft could be carrying millions of passengers around the world within three years, much sooner than most experts thought.
The Air New Zeland plane is not the first to use biofuels. In February, Virgin Atlantic successfuly tried a mixture of 80% jet fuel and 20% biofuel (made from coconut oil and babassu palm oil) in one engine of a Boeing 747 on a flight between London and Amsterdam.
Oakley said that technological advances in jet engines could only make a difference if there was a limit to the "massive expansion of the airline industry around the world."
"If Boeing were really serious about reducing their impact on the environment they would end their vocal support for a third runway at Heathrow and put some of their billions into high-speed rail technology instead," he said.
Monday, November 09, 2009
A massive iceberg is heading for New Zealand...
The massive iceberg spotted southwest of New Zealand could be moving closer.
The iceberg was seen by Australian scientists working on Macquarie Island, who estimated it to be 500m wide and 50m high.
NIWA oceanographer Mike Williams said it was unusual to see icebergs in that part of the Southern Ocean.
"The only precedent for icebergs being seen that far north is the one that came through in November 2006," he said.
The 2006 iceberg, which broke off the Ronne Ice Shelf, came within 90km of the Otago coast. Sightseeing flights were arranged to view the iceberg.
Williams said, depending on ocean currents, the new iceberg could be pushed south to the Campbell plateau, southeast of New Zealand.
"But if it's far enough north, it'll come into the current that feeds up into the Auckland Islands and New Zealand."
Moving at 2km/h to 3km/h, the iceberg could take two weeks to come within sight.
Mike Williams said it wasn't clear whether climate change was to blame. There is every possibility that this is the case.
The previous iceberg in 2006 emanating from the antarctic, spent a number of weeks floating up the east coast of New Zealand before melting in the Pacific Ocean. It was the subject of tourist flights and helicopter rides to the iceberg. I don't know exactly how many people stepped onto the iceberg, but it would have been a risky business. I suppose there were a few Scotch whiskies on the rocks at that time. This particular iceberg is expected to move closer to the South Island than the previous one.
Should be some exciting times ahead. I would imagine the tourist operators to be out in force again this southern summer. More helicopter rides to the floating ice in coming weeks? It may attract a few foreign visitors as icebergs are a rare occurrence so far north of antarctic waters. A visit to iconic Queenstown and a trip to the iceberg could be part of a popular tourist package. Readers are invited to come on over to New Zealand in coming weeks.
Down by the HuttRiver
Saturday, November 07, 2009
British public support for Afghanistan war falling...
British public support for the war in Afghanistan is falling, while more than 40 per cent do not understand why British troops are fighting there, a poll released on Remembrance Sunday showed.
Some 64 per cent agreed that "the war in Afghanistan is unwinnable", up six per cent from July, while 27 per cent disagreed, down four per cent. Ten per cent said they did not know.
Similar numbers said British forces should be withdrawn as quickly as possible, with 63 per cent agreeing and 31 per cent disagreeing.
Some 54 per cent felt they had "a good understanding of the purpose of Britain's mission in Afghanistan", with 42 per cent disagreeing.
"Overall there is the sense that Afghanistan is becoming for (British Prime Minister) Gordon Brown what Iraq became for (his predecessor) Tony Blair," said Andrew Hawkins, chief executive of pollsters ComRes.
"More than four in 10 don't understand Britain's mission; support for the British presence there is ebbing away, and a majority have responded to the presidential election very negatively indeed.
"The results suggest that the impact of the war must be having an impact on Labour support, since it is that party's core supporters who are most strongly opposed to it."
Meanwhile, 52 per cent agreed that "the levels of corruption involved in the recent presidential election show the war in Afghanistan is not worth fighting for." Thirty-six per cent disagreed.
"This is potentially devastating for the government's case for war," said Hawkins.
ComRes surveyed 1,009 adults of different ages and social classes across Britain for BBC television's "The Politics Show".
This is actually quite interesting as New Zealand public support has fallen too - about evenly split at present; just after NZ has sent its SAS special forces troops back to Afghanistan for another three six month rotations. It will also be very interesting if they survive their rotations there, especially if there are many casualties and even deaths.
Acknowledgements: Yahoo News
Read more here
Wednesday, November 04, 2009
Kiwi Mental Health patient restrained and kept in solitary confinement for six years...
A mentally ill patient held in restraints and kept in solitary confinement for almost six years is one of several disturbing cases of possibly inhumane treatment the country's Ombudsmen have uncovered in New Zealand detention facilities.
The public watchdogs found the patient in virtually constant "seclusion" - solitary confinement in a bare room - at the mental health unit of a district health board.
Chief Ombudsman Beverley Wakem would not name the board last night, but said it claimed the detention and use of restraints was required because the patient was likely to attack other patients and staff.
But Ms Wakem said that after her office became involved, the patient was moved to a more suitable facility.
"Why nobody thought to look at that and make that assessment before we arrived on the scene is a cause for concern," she told the Herald.
The patient was one example of "potential cruel and inhumane treatment" the Ombudsmen identified during the investigation.
The investigation also found a young intellectually disabled patient being kept in unwarranted and lengthy "seclusion", and another mental health patient who had been kept without any consent for years.
Ms Wakem said the health boards responsible took action immediately.
But the Health Ministry's director of mental health, Dr David Chaplow, said last night that he knew nothing of the cases and would be ordering an urgent report.
Dr Chaplow said he knew of one patient with a mixture of autism, intellectual disability and mental illness that was particularly challenging, "but I have never known a case in seclusion for six years".
The annual mental health services report says 1395 patients were secluded for between two minutes and 365 days in the past year.
Dr Chaplow said there was now a "sinking lid" policy on seclusion, but it had a place in mental health care.
The Ombudsmen's investigation covered prisons, mental health units, immigration detention centres, court cells and youth facilities.
It was detailed in the Ombudsmen's annual report, issued yesterday, and also raised concerns that prisoners were not given electric fans to control cell ventilation or temperature.
It said in excessive temperatures the lack of fans could amount to "cruel" or "inhumane" treatment.
It noted this was more likely with increasing lock-down times and double-bunking as the prison population reached crisis point.
Corrections prison services manager Karen Urwin said the department had looked into buying fans for every prison cell, but had decided it was not an effective use of taxpayers' money as extreme heat waves were rare in New Zealand.
* Case studies
CASE 1: Mental health patient in "virtually constant restraint and seclusion for nearly six years".
CASE 2: Young intellectually disabled patient kept in "seclusion" for lengthy period.
CASE 3: Mental health patient "treated for some years without any apparent consent of any kind".
Acknowledgements: MSN News
Tuesday, November 03, 2009
The massive underground complex in the Yamantau Mountain in Russia...
Starting in the Brezhnev period, Russia has been pursuing construction of a massive underground facility at Yamantau Mountain and the city of Mezhgorye (formerly the settlements of Beloretsk-15 and Beloretsk-16). The complex, reportedly being built by tens of thousands of workers, is said to cover an area of up to 400 square miles, the size of the Washington area inside the Beltway.
The exact location of this large facility is uncertain, and given its reported size it may span as much as an entire degree of latitude and longitude. It is apparently located near the the Zlatoust-36/Yuryuzan nuclear weapons production plant and the Yuryuzan national-level nuclear weapons storage facility. The Yaman-Tau Gory [mountains] range is centered at 52°25'N 56°45'E, while the peak of Yamantau Gora [mountain] is at 54°15'19"N 58°06'11"E. The town of Beloretsk is located at 53°58'N 58°24'E, though NIMA does not include a listing for Mezhgorye. This facility may be synonymous with "Alkino-2" since the town of Al'kino is nearby at 55°05'N 58°04'E.
On April 16, 1996, the New York Times reported on a mysterious military base being constructed in Russia: "In a secret project reminiscent of the chilliest days of the Cold War, Russia is building a mammoth underground military complex in the Ural Mountains, Western officials and Russian witnesses say. Hidden inside Yamantau mountain in the Beloretsk area of the southern Urals, the project involved the creation of a huge complex, served by a railroad, a highway, and thousands of workers."
The New York Times quoted Russian officials describing the underground compound variously as a mining site, a repository for Russian treasures, a food storage area, and a bunker for Russia's leaders in case of nuclear war. "The (Russian) Defense Ministry declined to say whether Parliament has been informed about the details of the project, like its purpose and cost, saying only that it receives necessary military information," according to the New York Times.
Satellite photographs of Yamantau Mountain show continued digging at the "deep undergound complex" and new construction at each of the site's above-ground support areas. Judging from satellite photos and other intelligence, US officials are fairly confident that the Russians are building an underground command bunker and communications installation. But "... the Russians are not very interested in having us go in there," a senior American official said in Washington. "It is being built on a huge scale and involves a major investment of resources. The investments are being made at a time when the Russians are complaining they do not have the resources to do things pertaining to arms control."
Aviation Week and Space Technology reported that "The huge underground complex being built there has been the object of U.S. interest since 1992. 'We don't know exactly what it is,' says Ashton Carter, the Pentagon's international security mogul. The facility is not operational, and the Russians have offered 'nonspecific reassurances' that it poses no threat to the U.S." Russia's 1997 federal budget lists the project as a closed territory containing installations of the Ministry of Defense.
Leonid Akimovich Tsirkunov, commandant of Beloretsk-15 and Beloretsk-16, stated in 1991 and 1992 that the purpose of the construction there was to build a mining and ore-processing complex, but later claimed that it was an underground warehouse for food and clothing. And then Commander-in-Chief of the Strategic Rocket Forces General Igor Sergeyev denied that the facility was associated with nuclear forces. M.Z. Shakiorov, a former communist official in the region, alleged in 1992 that the Yamantau Mountain facility was to become a shelter for the Russian national leadership in case of nuclear war. Sources of the Segodnya newspaper in 1996 claimed that the Yamantau Mountain project was associated with the so-called `Dead Hand' nuclear retaliatory command and control system for strategic missiles.
According to one recent account ["We Keep Building Nukes For All the Wrong Reasons", By Bruce G. Blair, The Washington Post Sunday, May 25, 2003; Page B01] "... the Yamantau and Kosvinsky mountains in the central and southern Urals ... were huge construction projects begun in the late 1970s, when U.S. nuclear firepower took special aim at the Communist Party's leadership complex. Fearing a decapitating strike, the Soviets sent tens of thousands of workers to these remote sites, where U.S. spy satellites spotted them still toiling away in the late 1990s. Yamantau is expected to be operating soon. According to diagrams and notes given to me in the late 1990s by SAC senior officers, the Yamantau command center is inside a rock quartz mountain, about 3,000 feet straight down from the summit. It is a wartime relocation facility for the top Russian political leadership. It is more a shelter than a command post, because the facility's communications links are relatively fragile. As it turned out, the quartz interferes with radio signals broadcast from inside the mountain. Therefore the main communications links are either cable or radio transmitters that broadcast from outside the center."
Beloretsk is a center of Beloretsk region of Bashkortostan. It is situated on the cross of Belaya River and Magnitogorsk-Beloretsk-Karloman rail-road. It is 264 km. far from Ufa and 105 km. far from Magnitogorsk. The population was 73600 of people in 1995 ( 19900 in 1926, 59300 in 1959, 72400 in 1989). One of the oldest minig and metalurgical centers of South Ural appeared because of construction of the metallurgical works. Before The First World War narrow-gauge Zaprudovka-Beloretsk line was built. In 1923 the village Beloretskiy Zavod grew into town, in 1926 it was connected with Tukan and in 1927 with Inzer by narrow-gauge line. Wood and ore was transported from these towns to the plant. Including the plant to the field of activity of Uralo-Kuzneckiy group of enterprise was the reason of its reconstruction and its transfering to a coking coal. Town development became quicker after constructing the rail-road to Ufa (1997). The main city industry is the metallurgical works. Other plants in Beloretsk produce tools for building, springs for tractors, nails, etc. There are also woodworking industry, meat and dairy factories, plants producing bricks and ferro-concret items.
The Republic of Bashkortostan is located in the Southern part of the Urals along the line of Europe and Asia. Its area is 143,600 sq. m. As of January 1, 1995 the population of Bashkortostan was 4.097 million people. The capital is Ufa is with a population of 1.1 million residents. The republic has 54 administrative areas ("rayons") and 21 cities. Other large cities include Sterlitamak (256,000 inhabitants), Salavat (155,000), Nefetekamsk (123,000), Oktyabrsky (108,000). Representatives of 70 nations and ethnicities live in the Republic of Bashkortostan, including Russians (39.3 percent), Tatars (28.4 percent) and Bashkirs (21.9 percent). The urban population constitutes 65 percent of the total.
Acknowledgements: Global Security
Monday, November 02, 2009
SOS Afghanistan – Are the SAS on a doomed mission?
An interview with US Afghanistan expert Thomas Johnson
by Gordon Campbell
On August 20th Afghanistan will hold a general election that is deemed virtually certain to return Hamid Karzai and his cronies to power. At best, the opposition is hoping to win enough votes to force a run-off vote, but that seems unlikely. It will be a hollow victory. Over the past five years, the Karzai government has squandered the goodwill it originally had – and is now widely seen among Afghans as being corrupt, inefficient, beholden to foreigners, warlords and the drug trade, and to be losing its war with the Taliban.
It is against this backdrop that the Key government has signaled its intention to put our combat troops back into the fray. In a couple of weeks, Cabinet is expected to respond positively to the US request for our special forces that was conveyed a few months ago by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Foreign Minister Murray McCully. This decision will entail re-deploying SAS units – presumably to the hot spots in the south of the country, and along the border with Pakistan. It will also entail winding down our successful aid and reconstruction work in the province of Bamiyan.
The wisdom of choosing to put our troops into this combat zone – in a war that many claim has already been lost – is obviously open to question. A few months ago, Prime Minister John Key was indicating that he would need to see a workable policy with a clear exit strategy, before re-deploying our combat forces. Obviously, that is no longer the case. Key is now offering the vague goal of ‘combating global terrorism” as his rationale.
At the very least, New Zealand needs to know far more about the country whose destiny we will now be fighting – and in some cases, dying – to determine. To that end, Werewolf contacted US Afghan expert and leading military adviser on Afghanistan, Thomas Johnson.
Thomas Johnson is not some left wing academic opposed to the Afghan war on principle. Far from it. He is a senior faculty member of the US Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey California. This link makes it clear that in his capacity as the director of the Program for Culture & Conflict Studies, Johnson works in co-ordination with the Department of National Security Affairs to conduct research in support of United States initiatives in Afghanistan :
Our research provides comprehensive assessments of provincial and district tribal and clan networks in Afghanistan, anthropological assessments of Afghan villages, and assessments of the operational culture of Afghan districts and villages.
Johnson’s analyses – based on extensive field research embedded with US and ISAF forces in Afghanistan – are fed back into briefings to the likes of the Council of Foreign Relations, to military commanders and deploying troops, to academics and the general public. Last October, Johnson published in Atlantic magazine an assessment of the current policy failures of the US Afghan strategy. In a nutshell, US forces are winning the battles and losing the war :
The U.S. engagement in Afghanistan is foundering because of the endemic failure to engage and protect rural villages, and to immunize them against insurgency. Many analysts have called for more troops inside the country, and for more effort to eliminate Taliban sanctuaries outside it, in neighboring Pakistan. Both developments would be welcome. Yet neither would solve the central problem of our involvement: the paradigm that has formed the backbone of the international effort since 2003—extending the reach of the central government—is in fact precisely the wrong strategy…..
To reverse its fortunes in Afghanistan, the U.S. needs to fundamentally reconfigure its operations, creating small development and security teams posted at new compounds in every district in the south and east of the country….
Deploying relatively small units in numerous forward positions would undoubtedly put more troops in harm’s way. But the Taliban have not demonstrated the ability to overrun international elements of this size, and the teams could be mutually reinforcing. (Air support would be critical.) Ultimately, we have to accept a certain amount of risk; you can’t beat a rural insurgency without a rural security presence.
As long as the compounds are discreetly sited, house Afghan soldiers to provide the most visible security presence, and fly the Afghan flag, they need not exacerbate fears of foreign occupation. Instead, they would reinforce the country’s most important, most neglected political units; strengthen the tribal elders; win local support; and reverse the slow slide into strategic failure.
Kiwi spammers fined...
Two Christchurch, NZ, men have been ordered to pay $150,000 between them after sending two million spam emails
Two Christchurch men must pay substantial fines after admitting being part of a major international spamming operation.
A High Court judge has ordered Shane Atkinson pay $100,000 and Ronald Smits $50,000.
The men were part of a Christchurch business which sent over two million unsolicited emails over four months in 2007, to New Zealand addresses marketing Herbal King branded pharmaceuticals manufactured in India.
Internal Affairs says the New Zealanders were part of the largest pharmaceutical spamming operation in the history of the internet.
Atkinson's brother Lance, who lives in Queensland, has also had to pay $100,000 and is facing court action in the United States.
Friday, October 30, 2009
A Russian baby is attracting crowds of pilgrims after claims that verses from the Koran appear on his body.
Thousands of people are lining up every day to catch a glimpse of nine-month-old Ali Yakubov.
Religious leaders say the Koranic verse "Be thankful or grateful to Allah" was printed on the baby's leg in clear Arabic script this week. Apparently the script appears and fades every few days.
However visiting foreign journalists later saw a single letter, according to Reuters India.
But in Russia's mostly Muslim Kizlyar region, in the south of the country, many are convinced this is a miracle.
Sagid Murtazaliyev, head of the region, told Reuters: "The fact that this miracle happened here is a signal to us to take the lead and help our brothers and sisters find peace."
People are seizing on the "miracle" as a symbol of hope in an area which has been troubled by suicide bombs and attacks on police and security services.
The baby's home has now been turned into a shrine and imams have been putting up photographs of the baby's arms and legs covered in the Arabic script for the crowd to admire.
Vladimir Zakharov, deputy director of the Caucasus Research Centre at the Moscow State University of International Relations, told Reuters: "Islam and fear of terrorism now totally dominate the North Caucasus, and they are perhaps using this to escape from a certain reality."
But Yakubov's 26-year-old mother Madina told Reuters the script was a message from Allah. She said: "Allah is great and he sent me my miracle child to keep our people safe."
I just hope the baby doesn't mind being prodded and poked because presumably he's in for quite a lot of that.
Do you believe in miracles?
Source: Reuters India