Saturday, August 28, 2010

Mount Everest from Kalapatthar.Image via WikipediaHillary climbed Everest 29 years after Mallory failed and died in the process...

Every New Zealand schoolchild knows the late Sir Ed Hillary and Tenzing Norgay conquered Everest  -  George Mallory and his young companion Andrew Irvine failed and lost their lives in the process. But the stories persist. I hope this one convinces the doubters that Hillary and Norgay were the first ever climbers to climb Mount Everest. You climb but do not conquer this peak! Please read the following story:

Mystery at the top of the world: Did George Mallory make it to the summit of Everest before he died?

Graham Hoyland argues that he couldn't have – due to a deadly combination of bad weather and worse luck.

His body lay half-buried in the frozen scree, face-down and spread-eagled in his last agony. Above George Mallory, a couple of thousand feet higher, the summit of Everest stood impassively waiting for other men to try to conquer the highest mountain in the world. For me, also, it was the end of a long quest.

At the age of 12, I met my relative Howard Somervell, a friend of George Mallory's who watched him leave on his last attempt to climb the mountain in June 1924. Somervell told me about his own attempt to climb the mountain without oxygen, and how he nearly suffocated due to a frostbitten larynx. He turned back 1,000 feet from the top.

"We met Mallory at the North Col on his way up. He said to me that he had forgotten his camera, and I lent him mine. 'So if my camera was ever found,'" he said, 'you could prove that Mallory got to the top.'" It was a throwaway remark, which he probably made a hundred times in the course of telling this story, but this time it found its mark.

I spent years trying to prove Mallory had climbed the mountain and became the 15th Briton to climb the mountain, in 1993. In 1999, I organised a BBC-funded expedition to look for Somervell's camera. Instead the searchers found Mallory's body. There was no camera, though, and still no answer to the biggest mystery in mountaineering: who climbed Mount Everest first?

I kept searching for new evidence, and went on eight Everest expeditions searching for Andrew Irvine, Mallory's young companion. In 2006, I tested perfect replicas of Mallory's clothing and deduced that they would have kept him alive on the summit only if the weather remained fine. However, the answer to the puzzle was under my nose the whole time.

Somervell was responsible for the meteorological records on the 1924 expedition, and his work led me to the vital clue. One of the reasons Mount Everest is now becoming easier to climb is modern weather forecasting. Whereas the early British attempts relied on rough dates for the likely advent of the Indian summer monsoon, now the expedition leader has highly accurate satellite photographs and forecasting available by email. The weather window needed for a summit bid can be predicted with reliability.

But there is one variable that is literally invisible: air pressure. If one tries to climb Everest without supplementary oxygen there are some days better than others: high-pressure days, when there are more oxygen molecules in each lungful of breath. Conversely, a day with low barometric pressure may effectively make the summit a few hundred metres higher. A climber nearing the summit without extra oxygen is working at the absolute limit of human capacity, and the difference of a few millibars of atmospheric pressure can make all the difference. Even when you are using oxygen it is merely supplementing the ambient air, so low pressure will affect you, too. A recent study of fatalities on Everest shows that deaths blamed on the weather are usually associated with a big drop in summit barometric pressure. Mallory had oxygen but it had almost certainly run out before he had time to reach the top.

In my reading of the 1924 expedition account I became curious about the unseasonably bad weather throughout the May of that year. The expedition report quotes Darjeeling tea planters as saying that "for at least 20 years, no such weather had been known at this season". Usually the cold winds of winter die down towards the end of April and there is a clear week or so around 17 May. But in 1924, the weather was so appalling between 9 and 11 May that Mallory and Irvine had to abandon Camp III below the North Col, something unheard-of in recent seasons. I wondered whether there was an outside event which might have influenced the weather, and in particular whether El Niño might have been the culprit.

At first glance, a movement of warm water in the tropical Pacific from its usual home off Indonesia across to the coast of South America might not seem likely to have an impact on conditions at the top of Everest. But El Niño, which happens around Christmas every few years, causes atmospheric pressure changes that go hand in hand with the movement of the warm water, an effect known as the Southern Oscillation. It is this that affects global weather; in particular drought in South Africa, increased Eurasian snowfall and a reduced Indian summer monsoon.

This fits the facts: there was a drought in South Africa in 1924 that was recorded as one of the eight worst in the 20th century. And Mallory's expedition report describes how there was increased snowfall in Tibet in May that year and that the monsoon arrived late, enabling Mallory and Irvine to make a late attempt.

The 1924 expedition was remarkable for collecting the earliest data on the meteorology of the Mount Everest region. The air pressure (barometric pressure) was also recorded at Base Camp. Somervell's meteorological data from the 1924 expedition was published in 1926 but it was largely ignored until the Canadian meteorologist Professor Moore analysed the storm that one of Mallory's companions described as "a rather severe blizzard". It probably killed Mallory and Irvine. There was an 18mbar drop in barometric pressure at Base Camp during this storm. This huge drop suggests that the conditions during their summit attempt were much more severe than originally assumed and therefore the appalling weather may well have contributed to their deaths.

Seventy-two years later, another disaster was just about to happen. On the evening of 9 May 1996, a large number of clients and guides were poised to make summit attempts having climbed from the Nepalese Base Camp to the camp on the South Col at 8,000 metres (26,240 feet). There had been high winds all day and the chances of summiting appeared low. The winds died down during the evening, though, and the decision was made to attempt to summit.During the afternoon of 10 May, however, an intense storm with wind speeds estimated to be in excess of 70 miles per hour, heavy snowfall, and falling temperatures, engulfed Mount Everest, trapping more than 20 climbers on its exposed upper slopes. Eight of the climbers died; the highest number to die during a single event near the summit of Mount Everest. The winter of 1995-96 was an El Niño year, too.

Using Somervell's barometric readings, the minimum summit barometric pressure was approximately 331mbar during the 1924 storm. It was the same figure during the 1996 storm. A change in summit barometric pressure of just 4mbar is sufficient to trigger hypoxia (lack of oxygen). Clearly both storms were associated with summit barometric pressures and pressure drops that were sufficient to drive the climbers into a hypoxic state. The pressure drop was larger and occurred more quickly in 1924, suggesting that it may have been even worse than the 1996 "Into Thin Air" storm. In 1924, the summit barometric pressure fell from 341mbar on 6 June to 331mbar on 9 June, a drop of approximately 10mbar. The 1996 storm saw the pressure fall from 337mbar on 7 May to 331 mbar on 12 May, a drop of approximately 6 mbar.

This led me to realise there was an even more seductive and invisible danger at work. Mallory had seen Norton and Somervell get to within 1,000 feet of the top on 4 June using no oxygen equipment. It would seem reasonable to assume that the summit was possible to reach with the apparatus. What he didn't know was that the rapidly falling air pressure was effectively making the mountain higher, and that the incoming blizzard was going to make his clothing very thin indeed.

When I digested these results, I reluctantly had to change an opinion I had held for 30 years. If these figures were true, and if the 1924 blizzard was indeed even worse than that of 1996, then there was no way in which Mallory and Irvine, dressed in their marginal clothing, could have reached the summit of Mount Everest on that fatal day.

Graham Hoyland has written a book about his quest, 'Goodbye to Everest', which is due to be published in May 2011. For more information, go to

I hope you enjoyed the above story by Graham Hoyland and I hope the doubters desist in the future. As Sir Ed Hillary once said, if it was proven that George Mallory actually climbed Everest first, he(Hillary) had  fifty years of great memories. But he and Norgay  did climb it first, and many others have followed in ensuring decades.

Peter Petterson

 Armless Chinese  pianist plays with his toes...

 Pianist Liu Wei sits quietly to compose himself before plunging into the music. Then he takes off a sock.

The 23-year-old, whose arms were amputated after a childhood accident, plays the piano with his toes.

Liu was thrust into the limelight earlier this month when he performed on "China's Got Talent," the Chinese version of the TV show that helped make Britain's Susan Boyle a singing star.

"Whatever other people do with their hands, I do with my feet. It's just that," says Liu, a tall, slender man who peers shyly from behind dark-rimmed glasses.

"China's Got Talent," which has also featured disabled modern dancers and break-dancing migrant workers, has been a hit since its launch in July, despite skepticism among some viewers about whether all the participants' stories are genuine. The Dragon TV program is drawing attention to the hopes and challenges of the disabled and otherwise disadvantaged in China.

In his first appearance, Liu received a standing ovation from the audience, many of whom were moved to tears, for a performance of "Mariage D'amour" by Richard Clayderman.

During an interview with The Associated Press in Shanghai, where the show is filmed, he played a still unnamed, poignant piece he composed himself.

Sitting on a tallish red stool, he removed his shoes and right sock, carefully using his toes to place the sock in his right shoe. (He plays with his left sock on.) He wiped some of the keys with a tissue, and then rested his heels on a velvet-covered, narrow platform before the piano.

Time after time, he played the piece gently and flawlessly.

Liu, who was 10 when he lost his arms from an electrical shock while playing hide-and-seek, uses his feet to navigate online, eat, dress and brush his teeth.

"I wish I could go out driving to have fun. Apart from that, there is really nothing more I want to do," said Liu, who lives in Beijing. "Music has become a habit for me. It is just like breathing air."

He only began playing the piano in his late teens.

"Nobody ever decreed that to play the piano you must use your hands," he said.

Prosthetic limbs don't interest Liu. He has no need for special support, he said, though he conceded he has often met with discrimination. Disabled people in China, despite efforts to improve conditions, are often forced to beg on the sidewalks. Liu is able to support himself, though he wouldn't say how.

"I have food to eat and clothes to wear and many people caring about me. What is there to be dissatisfied about?" he said. "There are many people without enough to eat. I'm much more fortunate than they are."

Sun Ganlu, a writer and arts critic in Shanghai, said that, whatever the commercial motives behind "China's Got Talent," the show is raising awareness in a positive way.

"The fact is that people are touched by these great performers, regardless of whether they are disabled or poor," he said. "They are struggling in life compared with others, but they also have hobbies and talents to get them through their tough lives."

"It helps people be more aware of whether we are doing too little to help these people," he added.

Liu's biggest beef is with people who insist on helping him without asking first.

"Here, if someone thinks you need help they will just do it. They assume you must want help," he said. "Foreigners will ask first if you want any help. They will first respect your wishes. In that way, China could make an improvement."

Liu would like to be seen just as a pianist.

"Right now, everyone looks at me and says, 'Oh, Liu Wei has no arms and it's very difficult for him to play the piano,'" he said. "In the future, I want them to say, 'Oh he's good.' To first notice the work is great, and then say, 'Liu Wei did it.' ... What I demand is that my work be so good people won't notice that my arms are missing."


Acknowledgements: Associated Press researcher Ji Chen

Friday, August 27, 2010

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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Superhero funeral for little Lucas Ward...

Superhero funeral for little Kiwi boy  Lucas Ward...

Four-year-old Lucas Ward will make his final journey dressed as his favourite superhero, Spiderman, and wearing Buzz Lightyear boots.

The preschooler, whose body was found yesterday in the Waimata River after being missing for 10 days, will lie at Tikapa Marae in Ruatoria before a private family burial.

The boy was honoured yesterday as schoolboys gathered on the riverbank to perform a stirring haka.

"It was magnificent," Lucas's great-uncle Brian Hunt said.

"Our family is devastated, absolutely devastated. We are coping together, coming together as a family, and we will go from there."

Plans were under way for a public memorial service but details were yet to be finalised, said Mr Hunt.

"This community has gone beyond any expectation. I am from Wellington and I have never seen this sort of bonding before.

"It has been really amazing the way everyone has come together to support us. We really appreciate it and we really feel for the community as well.

"Everywhere we go, we pick up the vibes and energy, and we feel the grief. This has affected everyone."

The final glimmer of hope that Lucas would be found alive was extinguished yesterday when a kayaker discovered his body at midday.

Lucas was found only 400m upstream from his grandparents' Graham Road home, 10 days after he went missing.

The kayaker went to a riverside home to ring police, who recovered Lucas's body and broke the news to the family, Gisborne police area commander Inspector Sam Aberahama said.

"It absolutely gives that closure to the family and to the community as well. The outpouring of support and grief from the community was amazing. Lucas was the nation's little boy for a while there.

"This is an incredibly distressing time and our thoughts are with them and their extended family as they grieve for their little boy."

Police divers had not searched the water where Lucas was found but land Search and Rescue crews and Coastguard boats had scoured the area, he said.

"The divers searched about 300 metres upstream from the jetty but Lucas could well have moved within the water before he rested where he was found," Mr Aberahama said

There will be a debrief for the police, search and rescue crews, and all those involved in the search within the next few weeks.

A post-mortem will be conducted and the case referred to the coroner. Lucas's body was expected to be returned to the family today.

Lucas leaves behind parents Jessica and Damon Ward, and siblings Alex, Raegan and Sheridan.

No rahui was required for Waimata River but kaumatua Temple Isaacs yesterday blessed Lucas, his family and the river.   DOWN BY THE HUTTRIVER

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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Kiwi blogger charged with illegally  publishing images of people on his blog...

New Zealand blogger Cameron Slater believes a series of images he published on his website did not lead to the identification of people before the courts with name suppression.

Speaking to NZPA outside the Auckland District Court, he said he hadn't published any information which wasn't already out there.

"If there's a case to answer, we'll hold the Crown to make sure it is proven beyond reasonable doubt," Slater said, after he appeared today facing nine charges of breaching a court order prohibiting publication of a person's name or any of their particulars.

He also faced a further charge of breaching a court order to protect the identity of a victim.

Some of the charges related to two blog posts that contained pictures revealing the identities of a prominent New Zealand entertainer and a former New Zealand Olympian who were each charged with sexual offences.

Another charge related to posting a coded message identifying a former MP charged with indecently assaulting a 13-year-old girl.

Four charges related to publishing names of people who had appeared in court on primarily sex or violence charges and had had their names suppressed.

Crown prosecutor Ross Burns said Slater's breach of the name suppression orders went beyond naming of prominent people who had offended, as it extended to the protection of victims.

Mr Burns rubbished Slater's claims he was exercising freedom of speech, and said Slater making references to people on his website was a self-serving method of drawing attention to himself.

Detective Tim Traviss of the Auckland corporate fraud squad gave evidence in court about enquiries he made in December 2009 to locate the owner of the offending website.

On the website, Mr Traviss found that Slater had debated the merits of a name suppression order, and had published a series of images which named a person subject to a name suppression order in court.

Mr Traviss said he was able to work out the name of the person from the sequence of images, and he said he was not told the name he was looking for beforehand.

"The name was not known to me but it was quite clear from the images who it was," he said.

Gary Jacobs, digital forensic technician for the police, told the court he was asked to decode the contents of a page on Slater's website, which led him to unravel the identity of a former MP who had been given name suppression in court.

Mr Jacobs told the court it took him less than 10 minutes to figure out the code.

There was no alternative to the interpretation of this data, he said.

During a police interview shown to the court today, Slater said he had followed the letter of the law and not named or given the age or occupation of an entertainer or a former Olympian who faced sex charges.

He did not agree that a series of images on the posts identified them.

Slater told police he sometimes did "random things" because he was on medication for clinical depression.

His lawyer Gregory Thwaite argued there was no case to answer.

There was no evidence that his client was in court when the suppression orders were made, he said.

There was no evidence that he found out that information personally from anyone in the court, Mr Thwaite said.

"He never saw a copy of a suppression order, and he was only interested in the criticism of suppression orders.

"This criticism of the court system should be encouraged in a democratic society," Mr Thwaite said.

Slater elected not to give evidence in court.

Each of the charges carried a maximum penalty of a $1000 fine.

Judge Harvey reserved his decision until September 14.

This case could have an important outcome for bloggers in general here in New Zealand. How much responsibility do bloggers have to operate within the law or the public good?

Acknowledgements:- NZPA, Newstalk ZB
LondonImage via WikipediaPolice murder probe into death of UK ' 'spy...

British police say they have launched a murder inquiry after the body of a man reported by British media to be an intelligence officer was discovered in a central London apartment.

London's Scotland Yard said Wednesday that a corpse was found on Monday inside an apartment close to the headquarters of the MI6 spy agency.

British media reported the man worked for Britain's eavesdropping agency GCHQ and was on a secondment to MI6.

Police and Britain's Foreign Office - the ministry that oversees MI6 - declined to confirm the victim's details, citing sensitivity over intelligence issues.

An autopsy was due to be carried out later Wednesday. Police declined to provide further details in the case, but said detectives have several lines of inquiry.

- AP

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

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Sunday, August 22, 2010

National emblem of the People's Republic of ChinaImage via WikipediaChina may drop death penalty for economic


BEIJING – China, which executes more people each year than any other country, said Monday it is considering dropping capital punishment for economic crimes.

A draft amendment to the country's criminal code proposes cutting 13 "economy-related, non-violent offenses" from the list of 68 crimes punishable by the death penalty, the official Xinhua New Agency said.

International rights groups have criticized China for its heavy use of the death penalty, saying it is excessive.

It is not known when the draft will become law. Xinhua said it was submitted for a first reading to the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress. A draft usually has two or three readings before it is voted on.

The website of the NPC confirmed the draft is being considered but did not give any details.

Xinhua said the crimes to be dropped from the list of those punishable by death included carrying out fraudulent activities with financial bills and letters of credit, and forging and selling invoices to avoid taxes. Others included smuggling cultural relics and precious metals such as gold out of the country.

It quoted Li Shishi, director of legislative affairs of the NPC Standing Committee, as saying that because of China's economic development, dropping the death penalty from some economic-related crimes would not hurt social stability or public security.

In recent years China has made several changes to how it decides and carries out the death penalty.

In May, new rules were issued saying evidence obtained through torture and threats cannot be used in criminal prosecutions and said such evidence would be thrown out in death penalty cases that are under appeal.

Those new regulations made it clear that evidence with unclear origins, confessions obtained through torture, and testimony acquired through violence and threats are invalid. It was the first time Beijing had explicitly stated that evidence obtained under torture or duress was illegal and inadmissible in court.

The rulings are important for death penalty cases, where a flawed system has led to the deaths of several criminal suspects by torture in detention centers.

In 2008, China's top court said about 15 percent of death sentence verdicts by lower courts were found to have problems, the official China Daily newspaper reported in May.


On the Net: (in Chinese)

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