Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Friday, November 30, 2012

Search after Kashmir avalanche

BBC News online - 30 November 2012
Map of Kashmir
At least 18 people are missing, including eight Pakistani soldiers, after being hit by an avalanche in the disputed Kashmir region, officials say.

The avalanche struck in the mountainous Neelum Valley, in Pakistan-administered Kashmir.
The soldiers were searching for colleagues hit by an earlier avalanche when they were struck by a second fall.

Officials said the hunt for the missing was being hampered by bad weather and the region's harsh terrain.

The party of rescuers, had discovered two bodies when the second avalanche struck in Dana Tajian, 80 miles (130km) from Pakistan-administered Kashmir's main town of Muzaffarabad.

Friday's avalanche struck close to the Pakistani side of the Line of Control, the disputed de facto border that divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan.

India and Pakistan have fought two wars over the Himalayan area, which both claim in its entirety.
The two sides have thousands of troops stationed in the region, where a ceasefire has been in place since 2003.

Officials said that heavy snow may have triggered the avalanches, which are common in the area.
In April, 140 Pakistani soldiers were buried when a huge wall of snow crashed into the remote Siachen Glacier base high in the mountains. All have since been declared dead, although some of the bodies still remain buried in the snow.

In February, at least 16 Indian soldiers on duty in the mountains of Kashmir were killed when two avalanches swept through their army camps.

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The Hermit Kingdom


photo12-242   Burma, 1972    the ancient city of Bagan   part of an archival project, featuring the photographs of nick dewolf
Burma, now called Myanmar, is a country that has been for so long isolated by deliberate decree of its ruling military, which has just the last few years relaxed rule to a civil authority, that it has never developed its resources.  It is an impoverished country with a proud heritage and tradition.  The majority religion is Buddhist.  Popularly, Buddhism is considered a religion of peace and goodwill and respect for others.

The country is comprised, though of many ethnic and religious groups.  Among them Christians, Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims.  In the diversity of language, religion and ethnic groups Burma has much in common with other eastern countries like India and China.  And that mixture of traditions and heritage often brings with it historic grudges and suspicion, along with persecution and violence.

That's the unsavoury side of things, along with the fact of the iron-fisted rule of Myanmar's generals, myopic and xenophobic in their outlook on the world outside their own.  They had in fact, much in common with North Korea, another dysfunctional, aggressive society where human rights abuses run rampant and people live miserable, impoverished lives, threatened by privation.

But Myanmar/Burma is turning itself inside out, along with the release of its most famous civil rights campaigner, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest.  And the country whose 50,000 towns and villages are not yet connected to the country's primitive national power grid, is set to change.  Burma is a tropical paradise as far as Nature is concerned.

It is an emerald world, though not a very large one; its size analagous to one of Canada's prairie provinces.  It has a plenitude of water, not yet harnessed for hydroelectric power.  And its ancient rainforest has not yet been ravaged for lumber, with forests of teak and other unique exotic wood.  Its natural resources include oil and gas.  Along with precious gemstones like jade, ruby and sapphire.  And it has ample copper and gold.

The world is eager to enter Burma, to help it exploit its natural resources.  China was there first, and has been there when no one else has been, so it could be said China has the inside track on development and exploitation.  Labour is elemental in the country, with women carryhing loads of crushed stones on their heads in roadwork.  Labourers work from 7 in the morning to 3 in the afternoon, earning on average $3 daily.

In Burma, among its 64-million people, and its traditions and falling-apart imperial buildings, grand natural settings of palm groves and teak forests, monasteries and pagodas, the exotic East can still be seen as it was elsewhere less than a hundred years ago.  The Burmese wear their traditional cloth-wrapped garb, not Western clothing as it seen elsewhere in the developed East.  The pace of life is peaceful.  All that is set to change.

Korea, Japan and India are lined up, waiting to be able to extract resources and help Burma enter a new century, a new industrial age.  And right behind them are the countries of the West, including Canada which has recently sent a high-level government-and-trade delegation to the country.  And, sadly, it won't take too long before the natural beauty of the country slowly evolves, the forests cut back, the land mined for its riches.

The Burmese will slowly live better lives, will possess more material goods, have better access to health services and education for their children as they passage into the future leaving their storied past behind.

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Peace and Security

This photo provided by Jennifer Foster shows New York City Police Officer Larry DePrimo presenting a barefoot homeless man in New York's Time Square with boots Nov. 14, 2012 .

Now that is interesting.  The most populous city in the United States, and infamously one of the most crime-ridden as well, has celebrated a full twenty-four hours without one single, solitary incident of violence having been committed.  NYPD is shocked, too amazed for words other than to admit they cannot recall the last time the city that never sleeps went a full 24 hours without a violent crime being responded to.

No one shot, strangled, stabbed or viciously beaten.  Where were all the mobsters?  In 1990 a total of 2,245 murders were committed in the city.  In 2012 there was an average of a murder-a-day: 366.  Toward the conclusion of 2011 1,674 people had been listed as shot; about five each day of the year.  And that's a huge improvement over 1994 when the NYPD began computer tracking, when 4,967 people had been shot; 14 a day.

For eight million people to have behaved themselves in that twenty-four hour period to the extent that no violence was reported or attended to, comes close to miraculous.  Could violence-by-proxy, being glued to television sets and computers watching videos of brutality and slaughter taking place elsewhere in the world, most notably the Middle East, be satisfying the penchant for violence on a temporary basis?

Chicago by comparison with about one-third the population of New York has experienced a high level of gun crime this year, with 462 murders to date.  New Yorkers, we can assume, are just that much more civilized?  Just asking.  And here may be some proof: an NYPD officer, Larry DePrimo went out of his way to personally secure a pair of boots and warm socks for a homeless man without either.

The homeless man was sitting on the pavement when Officer DePrimo approached him, boots and socks in hand, saying to the man: "I have these size 12 boots for you, they are all-weather.  Let's put them on and take care of you", as he squatted down before the man and assisted him in taking possession of these rare gifts.

Unknown to the police officer, another police officer visiting from Arizona had witnessed the event, and she recorded what she saw on her cellphone.  "The officer squatted down on the ground and proceeded to put socks and the new boots on this man.  The officer expected nothing in return and did not know I was watching", explained Jennifer Foster.

The photo she took was posted to the NYPD's Facebook page.  Thousands commented on it.  And Officer DePrimo did, in fact, get his reward: an incredulous look of surprise on the man's face followed by a wide smile.

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Thursday, November 29, 2012

Giving Offence

Omigawd!  There goes Canada again.  Off on its mission to reform the human-rights-abusing countries of the world.  Well, hardly.  There are simply too many of them performing that life disqualifying task to tackle.  But those whose abuses are that well-known and -observed as to qualify for especial notice - to make it abundantly clear that their oppressive miseries are not overlooked - that does merit concentrated attention.

At least, at the very least, to make it an annual obligation to bring to task through the auspices of one of those United Nations-inspired humanitarian committees, to bring forward the names and humanitarian crime-commissions of the outstanding offenders.  Canada has brought forward time and time again the human-rights abuses of the Islamic Republic of Iran.  Much to Iran's chagrin and offence, and they do take offence.

In taking offence, they also take pot-shots at Canada, accusing Canada of the very human rights violations that they themselves are guilty of.  But this is a regime that has become exceedingly skilled at turning the charges brought against them that have their basis in stark reality, against those leading the charge against them who are in reality innocent of those same charges that make a mockery of decency and due process.

Seems, on reflection, Canada is becoming a glutton for punishment.  Turning aside from the counter-charges to resolutely charge ahead to commit to calling it the way it is.  Not precisely making any new friends in the enterprise of revealing and denouncing the world's most egregious human rights abusers, but doing so to mount a defence of the defenceless, to have them know that they are not alone and forgotten.

And so, for the second time within two succeeding days, Canada has irritated the hell out of yet another nasty regime, calling to account at the same UN humanitarian committee, the face of inhumanity toward humanity that exists within the Republic of North Korea.  Just as Iran was mortally, if not morally, offended, so too is North Korea outraged at this calling out in such an "insulting" manner by the Canadian ambassador to the United Nations, Guillermo Rishchynski.
"The passing of totalitarian leader Kim Jong-il presented an opportunity for the regime to emerge from six decades of self-inflicted misery and isolation.  Canada calls on the regime to close its concentration camps and to abide by its human rights obligations.  Even the strongest dictatorship cannot withstand faith, it cannot withstand truth, and it cannot withstand freedom.  The people of North Korea deserve to have freedom and are entitled to the basic rights that all should enjoy.  We hope to one day see this day."
"Groundless allegations", according to North Korean envoy to the UN Kim Sook.  Who urged Canada to "give up its hostile policy against" his country.  Canada's lead on the non-binding resolution drafted by the European Union, adopted by the 193-nation committee through consensus was slated to pass at the General Assembly.

But not without an indignant response from Mr. Sook who deplored the insult to his country's "Supreme Authority".  "We never think of our country without his name.  Under the wise leadership of great leader and comrade Kim Jong-il, Korean people [have] made great achievement so far and we will develop in the future, too", he pledged defensively.  Obviously taken aback at the slur to the sacred name of the great leader and unskilled at pointed repartee, having much yet to learn from Iran.

As for the resolution on North Korea, which Canada has declared it has no intention of backing down from, insisting on calling for improved human rights conditions in North Korea, that country need not fear, for it has friends in low places.  Iran, along with China, Cuba and Venezuela rejected the resolution put forward in the UN on North Korea. 

Proving yet again that old adage that birds of a feather stick together.

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NASA is actually working on a faster than light warp drive, but it might blow up any planet it travels to

Handout The concept of warp travel on Star Trek worked a lot like the Alcubierre drive, even if the engines themselves are the wrong shape
Faster than light (FTL) travel has always been a hallmark of science fiction, but buzz kill scientists have always said the concept was impossible because it violates the cardinal rule of Einstein’s relativity, namely that the very building blocks of the universe mean that nothing can go faster than light.

Now NASA may have found a loophole, enabling them to travel to distant stars that are several light years away, all without violating relativity. The only problem? It might blow up whatever is waiting at its destination.

Back in 1994, physicist Miguel Alcubierre came up with a novel way to get around the relativity problem: warping space-time. He proposed a mechanism where a vehicle would move forward by contracting space-time in front and expanding space-time behind. This would be accomplished through placing a spheroid object within specifically shaped concentric rings creating a space-time warp bubble. This warp bubble would push the ship forward through the universe faster than light while its relative speed remained zero.

Of course this process would take a tremendous amount of energy. The reason scientists didn’t start building Alcubierre warp engines back in 1994 was that the theory also figured that huge amounts of energy would be needed to power up the drive. Like the total mass energy of the planet of Jupiter massive. So the Alccubierre drive was shelved as one of those things that would remain theoretical.
However, a few months ago, physicist Harold White announced that his team at NASA was working on an Alcubierre drive and that it would use just a infinitesimal fraction of the energy earlier theorized. So what changed? io9 interviewed White to explain the change.

“My early results suggested I had discovered something that was in the math all along,” he told io9. “I suddenly realized that if you made the thickness of the negative vacuum energy ring larger — like shifting from a belt shape to a donut shape — and oscillate the warp bubble, you can greatly reduce the energy required — perhaps making the idea plausible.”

Essentially, White simply proposed shifting the shape of the rings around the spheroid. This little change, White says, reduced the amount of energy needed from the mass of Jupiter, to that of a traditional rocket. Quite a feat.

Now, all of this is still theoretical at this point, so it might not work exactly how NASA thinks it will or at all. And even if it does work, the human race probably won’t be zipping around like the James T. Kirk quite yet. There is the little detail that the Alcubierre drive will probably destroy or at least irradiate anything at its target destination. Universe Today explains:
Researchers from the University of Sydney have done some advanced crunching of numbers regarding the effects of FTL space travel via Alcubierre drive, taking into consideration the many types of cosmic particles that would be encountered along the way. Space is not just an empty void between point A and point B… rather, it’s full of particles that have mass (as well as some that do not.) What the research team — led by Brendan McMonigal, Geraint Lewis, and Philip O’Byrne — has found is that these particles can get “swept up” into the warp bubble and focused into regions before and behind the ship, as well as within the warp bubble itself.
When the Alcubierre-driven ship decelerates from superluminal speed, the particles its bubble has gathered are released in energetic outbursts. In the case of forward-facing particles the outburst can be very energetic — enough to destroy anyone at the destination directly in front of the ship.
Now, this might be something that can be fixed by stopping early or slightly off from the destination in question, or it might be something that makes the whole engine unworkable. The real issue lies in the fact that there is no theoretical limit to how much energy could be stored this way. Basically, if the Alubierre ship travels far enough it could accumulate enough energy to blow up whole planets or even more. And the energy would be released in all directions, making safe parking more than a little dicey.

Thoughts of exploding planets are a touch premature though. ”I’m not ready to discuss much beyond the math and very controlled modest approaches in the lab,” White told io9. That said, this is FTL travel seems 100% more possible now than before NASA started this program.

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NASA probe reveals ice, organic material inside permanent night of Mercury’s north pole

Irene Klotz, Reuters | Nov 29, 2012 5:04 PM ET
More from Reuters
A radar image of Mercury's north polar region acquired by the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico is shown superposed on a mosaic of Mercury MESSENGER images of the same area in this NASA handout photo released November 29, 2012. Shown in red are areas of Mercury’s north polar region that are in shadow in all images acquired by MESSENGER to date. Since their discovery in 1992, these polar deposits have been hypothesized to consist of water ice trapped in permanently shadowed areas near Mercury’s north and south pole, but other explanations for the polar deposits have also been suggested. (REUTERS/NASA/Handout)
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Despite searing daytime temperatures, Mercury, the planet closest to the sun, has ice and frozen organic materials inside permanently shadowed craters in its north pole, NASA scientists said on Thursday.

Earth-based telescopes have been compiling evidence for ice on Mercury for 20 years, but the finding of organics was a surprise, say researchers with NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft, the first probe to orbit Mercury.

Both ice and organic materials, which are similar to tar or coal, were believed to have been delivered millions of years ago by comets and asteroids crashing into the planet.

“It’s not something we expected to see, but then of course you realize it kind of makes sense because we see this in other places,” such as icy bodies in the outer solar system and in the nuclei of comets, planetary scientist David Paige, with the University of California, Los Angeles, told Reuters.

Unlike NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity, which will be sampling rocks and soils to look for organic materials directly, the MESSENGER probe bounces laser beams, counts particles, measures gamma rays and collects other data remotely from orbit.

The discoveries of ice and organics, painstakingly pieced together for more than a year, are based on computer models, laboratory experiments and deduction, not direct analysis.

“The explanation that seems to fit all the data is that it’s organic material,” said lead MESSENGER scientist Sean Solomon, with Columbia University in New York.

Added Paige, “It’s not just a crazy hypothesis. No one has got anything else that seems to fit all the observations better.”

Scientists believe the organic material, which is about twice as dark as most of Mercury’s surface, was mixed in with comet- or asteroid-delivered ice eons ago.

The ice vaporized, then re-solidified where it was colder, leaving dark deposits on the surface. Radar imagery shows the dark patches subside at the coldest parts of the crater, where ice can exist on the surface.

This photo made available by NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington on Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2012 shows a 68-mile-diameter crater, large indentation at center, in the north polar region of Mercury which has been shown to harbor water ice, thanks to measurements by the Messenger spacecraft. Scientists made the announcement Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012. (AP Photo/NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington)
The areas where the dark patches are seen are not cold enough for surface ice without the overlying layer of what is believed to be organics.

So remote was the idea of organics on Mercury that MESSENGER got a relatively easy pass by NASA’s planetary protection protocols that were established to minimize the chance of contaminating any indigenous life-potential material with hitchhiking microbes from Earth.

Scientists don’t believe Mercury is or was suitable for ancient life, but the discovery of organics on an inner planet of the solar system may shed light on how life got started on Earth and how life may evolve on planets beyond the solar system.

“Finding a place in the inner solar system where some of these same ingredients that may have led to life on Earth are preserved for us is really exciting,” Paige said.

MESSENGER, which stands for Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry and Ranging, is due to complete its two-year mission at Mercury in March.

Scientists are seeking NASA funding to continue operations for at least part of a third year. The probe will remain in Mercury’s orbit until the planet’s gravity eventually causes it to crash onto the surface.
Whether the discovery of organics now prompts NASA to select a crash zone rather than leave it up to chance remains to be seen. Microbes that may have hitched a ride on MESSENGER likely have been killed off by the harsh radiation environment at Mercury.

The research is published in this week’s edition of the journal Science.

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Unveiling an Arab Woman’s Experience With a Headscarf

Behold is Slate's brand-new photo blog. Like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter @beholdphotos and Tumblr. Learn what this space is all about here.
Boushra Almutawakel, Yemeni photographer
Boushra Almutawakel.
There are many things Yemeni photographer Boushra Almutawakel likes about wearing a headscarf. She sees it as part of her culture and, sometimes, as a protection in her ultraconservative country. But there are also many aspects of the hijab Almutawakel doesn’t “care much for.” She can’t hear well when she’s veiled; she dislikes not seeing women’s mouths when they’re wearing the more conservative niqab, a veil that covers everything but the eyes.

There isn’t just one way to look at the way women cover in the Arab world, and that’s why Almutawakel decided to picture the veil from many different angles. In her hijab series, she takes the viewer on a visual journey through the different nuances of what it means to be veiled.

Boushra Almutawakel, Yemeni photographer
Boushra Almutawakel, Yemeni photographer
The Hijab Series: What if ... Boushra Almutawakel.
Boushra Almutawakel Yemeni photographer
Boushra Almutawakel Yemeni photographer
Boushra Almutawakel Yemeni photographer
The Hijab Series: Mother, Daughter, and Doll.
Boushra Almutawakel.
“I want to be careful not to fuel the stereotypical, widespread negative images most commonly portrayed about the hijab/veil in the Western media. Especially the notion that most, or all women who wear the hijab/veil, are weak, oppressed, ignorant, and backwards,” Almutawakel explained. Her photographs question the place of gender in a more subtle, often playful, way by challenging people’s expectations.

Yet Almutawakel’s way of pushing boundaries doesn’t amuse everyone. “Some men—even some Western-educated men—could not find the humor in What If, ” Almutawakel said in an email. “Some of them asked me if I was supporting the idea that men wear the veil instead of women.”

Almutawakel’s latest project for the hijab series shows how men’s traditional clothing can be similar to women’s in the Middle East. Her pictures show a woman dressed in long, loose masculine outfits that include a head covering.

By offering different ways of looking at the hijab, Almutawakel conveys a bigger picture—a picture that is far from being just black and white.
Boushra Almutawakel, Yemeni photographer
Ghutra. Boushra Almutawakel.

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Grand Canyon 70 million years old, formed during era of dinosaurs, new study claims

The Washington Post
BRIAN KILLIGREW/AP - The canyon isn’t 6 million years old, some scientists say, but more like 70 million years old. If this order-of-magnitude challenge to the orthodoxy holds up, it would mean the Grand Canyon has been around since the days of T. rex.
To stand on the South Rim and gaze into the Grand Canyon is to behold an awesome immensity of time. The serpentine Colorado River has relentlessly incised a 280-mile-long chasm that in some places stretches 18 miles wide and more than a mile deep. Visitors to Grand Canyon National Park will encounter an exhibit titled the Trail of Time, and learn that scientists believe the canyon is about 6 million years old — relatively young by geological standards.

Now a few contrarian scientists want to call time out. The canyon isn’t 6 million years old, they say, but more like 70 million years old. If this order-of-magnitude challenge to the orthodoxy holds up, it would mean the Grand Canyon has been around since the days of T. rex.

“Our data detects a major canyon sitting there about 70 million years ago,” said Rebecca Flowers, 36, a geologist at the University of Colorado and the lead author of a paper published online Thursday by the journal Science. “We know it’s going to be controversial.”

About that she is quite correct. Her research, which reconstructs the ancient landscape using a technique called thermochronology, is being met with a cool reception from veteran geologists who study the Colorado Plateau.

“It is simply ludicrous,” said Karl Karlstrom, 61, a professor of geology at the University of New Mexico who has made more than 50 river trips through the canyon — one with Flowers, when she chipped her samples off the canyon walls — and helped create the Trail of Time exhibit for the National Park Service.

“We can’t put a canyon where they want to put it at the time they want to put it,” said Richard Young, a geologist at SUNY Geneseo who has been studying the Grand Canyon for four decades.

Wondrous though it is, Grand Canyon doesn’t seem terribly mysterious at first glance. It’s a gash in the landscape with a river at the bottom. The causality seems obvious. But Flowers and her fellow Old Canyon theorists say that what we see today in northern Arizona was originally carved, in large degree, by two rivers — neither of which was the Colorado River.

The western part of the canyon, they say, was largely incised about 70 million years ago by what has been dubbed the California River, which drained a mountain range to the west and flowed to the east, in the opposite direction from today’s Colorado River. The eastern part of the canyon, they say, was created later, around 55 million years ago, by a different river.

Under the Old Canyon scenario, the Colorado River, which originates in the Rocky Mountains, is a bit of an opportunist, and about 6 million years ago took advantage of the pre-existing canyons and linked them in a fashion that creates the sinuous canyon of today.

The debate to some extent hinges on the semantic question of whether “an Ancient Grand Canyon” (as the Science paper calls it) is the same thing as the Grand Canyon of today. The Flowers paper says the depth of the ancient canyon was within a “few hundred” meters — roughly a thousand feet — of today’s canyon.

 Karlstrom warns that the Old Canyon theory threatens to confuse the park’s 5 million annual visitors: “To them, it seems like dinosaurs might have lived with humans (like the Flintstones) and that geologists do not know if Grand Canyon was carved by the Colorado River or not (it was),” he wrote in an informal note crafted in response to the new paper.

Flowers began advancing the Old Canyon scenario in 2008, and the idea has been championed by Brian Wernicke, a geologist at Caltech.
Sensors alert fish as threats approach

“I see all the data as aligning very nicely for an Old Canyon model,” Wernicke said.

Thermochronology studies the interiors of tiny crystals of phosphate minerals known as apatite. The crystals contain a record of uranium and thorium decaying into helium. If the temperature of the crystals is above 158 degrees, as would be expected in rock buried deep in the warm crust of the Earth, they retain no hint of helium. But if the rock has been cooler, below 86 degrees — as you’d expect if it was relatively close to the surface — the helium is abundant.

Scientists interviewed for this article believe the technique is a robust method for reconstructing ancient landscapes. But there are multi-fold objections to the interpretation advanced by Flowers and Wernicke.

The consensus estimate for the age of the Grand Canyon is based on multiple factors, including well-dated gravel deposits on the western mouth of the canyon where the river exits the Colorado Plateau and river sediments deposited into the Gulf of California.

The river incises the canyon at a known rate — about 150 meters per million years, or about the thickness of a piece of paper annually, Karlstrom said. The Old Canyon scenario doesn’t claim that the Colorado has been grinding away in the canyon bottom for 70 million years, but it does require that ancient, abandoned canyons remain dry for long periods of time, Karlstrom said.

“Rugged topography like that fills in with erosion in way less than a million years,” he said.
Professor Young, meanwhile, has an objection based on boulders and gravel that are found on the south side of today’s canyon. They come from the cliff face of the Shivwits Plateau at the canyon’s north rim. The material eroded from that cliff face at least 24 million years ago, Young said; in the years since, the cliff has receded to the north, and the Grand Canyon formed as the river ran along the bottom of the cliff.

In that scenario, there can’t have been a canyon in that spot 70 million years ago; the boulder and gravel from the Shivwits cliff would have had to jump the canyon like Evel Knievel.

Young — who has spent more than 40 years studying another paleocanyon, the Hindu Canyon, which runs parallel to the Grand Canyon and is now filled with sediment — believes the new Flowers research is recording the gradual recession of the cliff, not the carving of a deep canyon.

“I think what’s happened is the recession of the cliff is what’s caused the cooling [of the minerals] to occur,” Young said. “Their calculation is really measuring the fact that the surface was being eroded backward.”

Joel Pederson, an associate professor of geology at Utah State, applauds the new paper, though he makes a semantic distinction when discussing the age of the Grand Canyon.

“They are looking at a really awesome precursor canyon that the Colorado River later in time took advantage of,” Pederson said. “This new study really adds teeth to the realization that those paleocanyons, they were bigger and they were older than we thought they were.”

But as for the age of Grand Canyon proper, Pederson is emphatic: “It is 6 million years old.”

The Grand Canyon controversy is in many respects a case of science at its most vigorous, notwithstanding the grousing. Geologists have to find the narrative in landscapes that do not always speak clearly. The Grand Canyon provides a wonderful stratigraphic record, revealing sedimentary rock that formed hundreds of millions of years ago, but geologists struggle to discern the timing of the erosion that exposed the formations.

“Erosion’s always been the toughest problem in geology,” Wernicke said, “because what you’re trying to study is all gone now.”

As for why it matters at all — why we should care about when, and how, the canyon formed — Wernicke has a ready answer: “It’s a fundamental question of human curiosity. It’s about as basic a scientific thing as one can imagine.”

Flowers will give a talk next Wednesday in San Francisco at the big fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union, as will her ally, Wernicke — and their critic, Karlstrom. Back to back to back.

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Sea-level rise from polar ice melt finally quantified

Ice sheet melt channel Channels like this one can feed water down through hundreds of metres of ice
Melting of polar ice sheets has added 11mm to global sea levels over the past two decades, according to the most definitive assessment so far.

More than 20 polar research teams have combined forces to produce estimates of the state of the ice in Greenland and Antarctica in a paper in Science.

Until now different measurement means have produced a wide range of estimates with large uncertainties.

But sea-level rise is now among the most pressing questions of our time.

Polar ice has a tremendous capacity to cause massive rises - with huge potential impacts on coastal cities and communities around the world.

But the remoteness and sheer size of the ice sheets mean accurate measurements are a serious challenge even for satellites which have to distinguish snow from ice, and the rise of the land from the shrinking of the ice.

The new estimate shows that polar melting contributed about one-fifth of the overall global sea level rise since 1992; other factors include warming that causes the seawater to expand.

The study does not seek to forecast future change.

Supported by US and European space agencies Nasa and Esa, the research brought together data from satellites measuring the surface altitude, the flow of the glaciers and the gravitational effect of the ice mass to produce the first joint assessment of how the ice sheets are changing.

Prof Andrew Shepherd explains the findings to David Shukman

The results show that the largest ice sheet - that of East Antarctica - has gained mass over the study period of 1992-2011 as increased snowfall added to its volume.

However, Greenland, West Antarctica and the Antarctic Peninsula were all found to be losing mass - and on a scale that more than compensates for East Antarctica's gain.

The study's headline conclusion is that the polar ice sheets have overall contributed 11.1mm to sea level rise but with a "give or take" uncertainty of 3.8mm - meaning the contribution could be as little as 7.3mm or as much as 14.9mm.
The combined rate of melting from all the ice sheets has increased over the past 20 years with Greenland losing five times as much now as in 1992.

The lead author of the research, Prof Andrew Shepherd of Leeds University, said the study brought to an end 20 years of disagreement between different teams.

"We can now say for sure that Antarctica is losing ice and we can see how the rate of loss from Greenland is going up over the same period as well," he added.

"Prior to now there'd been 30 to 40 different estimates of how the ice sheets are changing, and what we realised was that most people just wanted one number to tell them what the real change was.
"So we've brought everybody together to produce a single estimate and it turns out that estimate is two to three times more reliable than the last one."


Prof Shepherd said the measurements were in line with climate change predictions.
"We would expect Greenland to melt more rapidly because the temperatures have risen," he said."We would expect West Antarctica to flow more quickly because the ocean is warmer. And we would also expect East Antarctica to grow because there's more snowfall as a consequence of climate warming."
Dr Erik Ivins, a co-author from Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said one issue that had "plagued" ice-sheet studies was land springing up in a process called "post-glacial rebound" - with effects as high as 1cm per year.

But the use of GPS to measure vertical motion and estimates of the ice sheets' movements over the past 21,000 years had allowed the rebound effect to be properly understood.

"The new estimates from space gravity for Antarctica's ice sheet loss rates are lowered by using these improved post-glacial rebound models," Dr Ivins said.

"The results, then, are more consistent with other space observations that were taken over the past decade. This is one of the major findings in the inter-comparison effort by this international team of scientists."

The findings are in line with the broad range of forecasts in the 2007 assessment by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

And they were completed in time to be considered for the next report, due in September next year.
Another author, Dr Hamish Pritchard of the British Antarctic Survey, said: "The next big challenge - now that we've got quite a good understanding of what's happened over the last 20 years - is to predict what will happen over the next century.

"And that is going to be a tough challenge with difficult processes going on in inside the glaciers and ice sheets."

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Bigfoot real and the result of human women mating with an ‘unknown hominin,’ claims U.S. study

National Post Staff | Nov 28, 2012 1:03 PM ET | Last Updated: Nov 28, 2012 2:58 PM ET
More from National Post Staff
Chambers 1967 frame from film of Sasquatch (bigfoot)
Bigfoot is real, says a new genetics study out of the U.S. And not only that, but the creature known as the Sasquatch is the result of human women mating with an “unknown hominin” species about 15,000 years ago.

“The genome sequencing shows that Sasquatch mtDNA is identical to modern Homo sapiens, but Sasquatch nuDNA is a novel, unknown hominin related to Homo sapiens and other primate species,” said team leader veterinarian Dr. Melba S. Ketchum in a news release. “Our data indicate that the North American Sasquatch is a hybrid species, the result of males of an unknown hominin species crossing with female Homo sapiens.”

When reached for comment through his official biographer, Graham Roumieu, Bigfoot had the following to say:

Q So apparently a researcher down in Texas has conducted DNA testing that proves you exist. Care to comment?
Bigfoot What? Had not heard about this until now! Have feeling this all part of grander scheme to blackmail Bigfoot with threat of paternity tests.
Continue reading…

Dr. Ketchum is a research scientist who specializes in forensics and genetics and is a published participant in the work to map the equine genome. She began testing on purported Bigfoot hair samples provided to her five years ago.

Obviously, there are many open questions about the study. It has not yet been peer reviewed and published in a scientific journal, meaning that the pure science behind the analysis is not yet known.
Additionally, as the L.A. Times points out, just because there are anomalies in the DNA does not mean that the DNA isn’t human.

“Human DNA plus some anomalies or unknowns does not equal an impossible human-ape hybrid,” Yale neurologist Dr. Steven Novella said on NeuroLogica Blog. ”It equals human DNA plus some anomalies.”
DNA DiagnosticsDr. Melba S. Ketchum in a grab from the website of her DNA Diagnostics website
There is also the open question of where the DNA samples came from in the first place.
Of course, this hasn’t dampened the enthusiasm from the Bigfoot team.

“Government at all levels must recognize them as an indigenous people and immediately protect their human and Constitutional rights against those who would see in their physical and cultural differences a ‘license’ to hunt, trap, or kill them,” Dr. Ketchum said in her release.

So far, the U.S. government has not responded to the study.
A team of scientists can verify that their 5-year long DNA study, currently under peer-review, confirms the existence of a novel hominin hybrid species, commonly called “Bigfoot” or “Sasquatch,” living in North America. Researchers’ extensive DNA sequencing suggests that the legendary Sasquatch is a human relative that arose approximately 15,000 years ago as a hybrid cross of modern Homo sapiens with an unknown primate species.
The study was conducted by a team of experts in genetics, forensics, imaging and pathology, led by Dr. Melba S. Ketchum of Nacogdoches, TX. In response to recent interest in the study, Dr. Ketchum can confirm that her team has sequenced 3 complete Sasquatch nuclear genomes and determined the species is a human hybrid:
“Our study has sequenced 20 whole mitochondrial genomes and utilized next generation sequencing to obtain 3 whole nuclear genomes from purported Sasquatch samples. The genome sequencing shows that Sasquatch mtDNA is identical to modern Homo sapiens, but Sasquatch nuDNA is a novel, unknown hominin related to Homo sapiens and other primate species. Our data indicate that the North American Sasquatch is a hybrid species, the result of males of an unknown hominin species crossing with female Homo sapiens.
Hominins are members of the taxonomic grouping Hominini, which includes all members of the genus Homo. Genetic testing has already ruled out Homo neanderthalis and the Denisova hominin as contributors to Sasquatch mtDNA or nuDNA. “The male progenitor that contributed the unknown sequence to this hybrid is unique as its DNA is more distantly removed from humans than other recently discovered hominins like the Denisovan individual,” explains Ketchum.
“Sasquatch nuclear DNA is incredibly novel and not at all what we had expected. While it has human nuclear DNA within its genome, there are also distinctly non-human, non-archaic hominin, and non-ape sequences. We describe it as a mosaic of human and novel non-human sequence. Further study is needed and is ongoing to better characterize and understand Sasquatch nuclear DNA.”
Ketchum is a veterinarian whose professional experience includes 27 years of research in genetics, including forensics. Early in her career she also practiced veterinary medicine, and she has previously been published as a participant in mapping the equine genome. She began testing the DNA of purported Sasquatch hair samples 5 years ago.
Ketchum calls on public officials and law enforcement to immediately recognize the Sasquatch as an indigenous people:
“Genetically, the Sasquatch are a human hybrid with unambiguously modern human maternal ancestry. Government at all levels must recognize them as an indigenous people and immediately protect their human and Constitutional rights against those who would see in their physical and cultural differences a ‘license’ to hunt, trap, or kill them.”
Full details of the study will be presented in the near future when the study manuscript publishes.

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Newly discovered black hole is 17 billion times the mass of the sun, may be biggest ever found

HO/AFP/GettyImages This image released July 11, 2012 shows a computer-simulated image of gas from a star that is ripped apart by tidal forces as it falls into a black hole.
Galaxy NGC 1277 is comparatively tiny, just one quarter the size of our Milky Way. There may be a reason for that, however, as scientists have just discovered a massive black hole at the centre of NGC 1277 that makes up 14% of the Galaxy’s entire mass. It is 17 billion times more massive than our sun and is as big as our entire solar system. According to the BBC, it’s the second largest black hole ever discovered* and it has scientists confounded.

“This is a really oddball galaxy,” Karl Gebhardt of The University of Texas at Austin, a team member on the research told Universe Today. “It’s almost all black hole. This could be the first object in a new class of galaxy-black hole systems.”

Scientists generally posit supermassive black holes only develop in large galaxies, but the finding in NGC 1277 throws a wrench in that.

“This galaxy seems to be very old,” Dr. Remco van den Bosch, the leader of the study told the BBC. “So somehow this black hole grew very quickly a long time ago, but since then that galaxy has been sitting there not forming any new stars or anything else.”

Then again, Dr. van den Bosch says that could be completely wrong and the black hole might be as old as the universe.

“It could just be this thing has been sitting around since the Big Bang and not done much since then,” he told “It might be a relic of what star formation and galactic formation looked like at that time.”

The NGC 1277 also fills a huge volume of space, with a diameter of over 300 Astronomical Units (AU). The Earth’s orbit is one AU. While it only takes light 17 minutes to reach the Earth from the Sun, it would take almost four days for light to cross this black hole. If, you know, the light wasn’t sucked into it’s gravitational well.

Black holes super compact groups of mass so dense that their gravitational effects warp space-time. They are defined by an “event horizon,” the point around the mass where nothing, not even light, can escape the gravitational field. (If someone asks if anything can escape the event horizon of a black hole, tell them that by definition it is impossible — if something can escape, then it isn’t an event horizon.)

You can read the full scientific study of the NGC 1277 black hole in this month’s issue of Nature.
*(The largest black hole ever found, in Galaxy NGC 4889, has an estimated mass 21 billion times that of our sun, however, measuring the mass of black holes so far away has a large margin of error, and the black hole at NGC 4889 may indeed be smaller than the newly discovered one at NGC 1277)

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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

 Making It Up

Repeat after Dr. Christ Natsis, 'prominent' Pembroke dentist: not guilty of dangerous and impaired driving causing death.  This is her defence.  She is unequivocally not guilty as charged.  And those who charged her with impairing driving causing the death of 50-year-old Bryan Casey on March 31, 2011 are quite simply wrong, persecuting an innocent person.

During the three-week-and-ongoing trial the Crown has called to the stand a number of witnesses.  All of whom have been utterly mistaken about what they observed at the scene of the impact of two vehicles travelling at full speed in opposite directions until the driver of one of the vehicles swerved into the path of the other.

One of the drivers was inebriated, but according to the lawyer engaged to represent Dr. Natsis, it was not his client.  Thus far all of the witnesses have described what they saw occur on that deadly night.  And at every turn what they saw might not have been what actually occurred, according to the defence attorney who cast aspersions on the reliability of their accounts.

Came the turn of yet another Ontario Provincial Police officer to testify and his statements which corroborated the impressions of previous witnesses paint a law-and-order-biased picture of a female driver identified as the charged, clearly under the influence of alcohol.  Not marginally, or merely suspected, but clearly as in obviously.

When Constable Ryan Besner arrived at the scene of the accident to which Dr. Natsis has pleaded not guilty, he was advised by another OPP officer that the woman driver of the black SUV was "drunk".  He made his way over to the woman whom he described as "swaying back and forth", made note of a "very strong" odour of alcohol - and arrested her.

Taking by surprise Constable David Dunfield who had arrived earlier and who had planned to have paramedics examine Dr. Natsis to determine whether her post-crash slurring and stumbling might have been related to any injury she might have sustained aside from a slight scrape to her leg.  Under the circumstances that pre-arrest examination did not take place.

The pavement was flat, the suspect wearing Nike running shoes, ruling out a possible other cause of physical instability.  Moreover, though it was dark, emergency-vehicle flashing lights gave off enough light to see Dr. Natsis eyes as being "red and glossy".  The offer of a breath analysis at the scene was refused by Dr. Natsis. 

And when a paramedic determined she was physically "fine" Dr. Natsis, "feeling stressed", asked to be taken to hospital.

She was incapable of carrying on a brief exchange of question-and-response with a paramedic.  But she did comment, "That man crossed the road in my car" to which statement Crown prosecutor John Ramsey asked Constable Besner whether the statement made any sense to him: "None whatsoever".  Obviously it made sense to her; a disclaimer of responsibility.

Dr. Natsis insisted on the services of a lawyer, refusing to respond to any questions about how much alcohol she had imbibed.  And Constable Besner accommodated her by contacting a lawyer whose name she had provided.  Who happens not to be the lawyer now representing Dr. Natsis. 

Another OPP officer, Amanda Carruthers, testified earlier that Dr. Natsis had informed her the lawyer to whom she had spoken for 40 minutes while at the hospital, was a friend.  Her testimony did not sit well with Dr. Natsis's current lawyer who responded, "They are not friends and never were friends."

To which OPP Constable Amanda Carruthers responded: "I didn't make that up".  She appeared unwilling to be categorized along with all the other witnesses as unreliable, speaking of events that occurred in their minds, not in reality.

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 Unerring Decision-Making

Ottawa taxpayers were given the good news today.  The most modest tax hike in years came in at a mere 2.09% and 2% for the rural areas in a budget approved by City Council.  Who are doubtless lauding themselves and the budgetary restraints undertaken by municipal employees on behalf of the beleaguered taxpayer.

Ottawa's forward-looking, environmentally-conscious City Council in their great wisdom has authorized garbage collection bi-weekly rather than weekly, with green bin collection and recyclables alternating weekly as usual.  During the winter months that bi-weekly garbage collection seems reasonable enough, although large families will chafe at all the garbage that will accumulate.  Come summer?

Fact of the matter is we acquire so much garbage on a weekly basis because most food is over-packaged, creating a mountain of detritus, of paper and plastics and combinations of both in ever-egregious amounts.  Too bad there's no move on the part of responsible government to declare the evils of over-packaging, to take us back to the bad old days when there was relatively little of it.

That aside, and aside from the fact that municipal civil service has been cut as well to provide 'savings', although that's a specious claim since most of the cut-backs will result from white-outing unfilled positions, along with not filling positions of retired and leaving personnel, there's the not-so-insignificant matter of waste on the part of the city.

St.Joseph Boulevard in Orleans is an unsightly embarrassment which the city is anxious to ameliorate by persuading businesses to locate there to present a more presentable looking environment.  The city had devised an economic development department to encourage high-end jobs to appear in that sector of the city.  High-end jobs are not how one might describe jobs in the service industry.

However, the hugely successful Farm Boy concessions do attract customers and to service those customers they employ locally engaged personnel.  Is it really intelligent to allow a business that is such a money-maker for the entrepreneurs who operate their locations to apply for financial assistance through taxpayer-funded programs?

Evidently City Council thinks it's a good use of scarce tax funding.  They appear prepared to give the Place d'Orleans mall close to $460,000 to build a new Farm Boy grocery store.  The property owners applied for the grant under the "community improvement plan" approved for St.Joseph Boulevard by the city in 2009.

Commerce works swiftly, unlike bureaucracies, and though the application was sent in long before a building permit was applied for, the new Farm Boy facilities were built in the interim, and the store has been in operation since the summer months.  Its operation is a license to make money for all concerned, the property stakeholders and the Farm Boy operators.  They do not need a financial break from taxpayers.

But it's likely to be approved; Farm Boy will get a big break on its tax rate for its first ten years of operation.  And the fortunate tax-paying property owners in Ottawa will only see their tax rate increased by 2.09% for the coming year.  Congratulations. 

Charity directed toward successful corporate interests is alive and well in Ottawa thanks to the compelling generosity of the taxpayer.

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Anywhere on Earth in four hours? Top-secret Skylon space plane could replace jets and rockets, company claims

Chris Wickham, Reuters | Nov 28, 2012 12:56 PM ET | Last Updated: Nov 28, 2012 1:16 PM ET
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Wikimedia A CGI generated view of Skylon in orbit.
LONDON — A small British company with a dream of building a re-usable space plane has won an important endorsement from the European Space Agency (ESA) after completing key tests on its novel engine technology.

Reaction Engines Ltd believes its Sabre engine, which would operate like a jet engine in the atmosphere and a rocket in space, could displace rockets for space access and transform air travel by bringing any destination on Earth to no more than four hours away.

That ambition was given a boost on Wednesday by ESA, which has acted as an independent auditor on the Sabre test program.

“ESA are satisfied that the tests demonstrate the technology required for the Sabre engine development,” the agency’s head of propulsion engineering Mark Ford told a news conference.
“One of the major obstacles to a re-usable vehicle has been removed,” he said. “The gateway is now open to move beyond the jet age.”

The space plane, dubbed Skylon, only exists on paper. What the company has right now is a remarkable heat exchanger that is able to cool air sucked into the engine at high speed from 1,000 degrees Celsius to minus 150 degrees in one hundredth of a second.

This core piece of technology solves one of the constraints that limit jet engines to a top speed of about 2.5 times the speed of sound, which Reaction Engines believes it could double.

With the Sabre engine in jet mode, the air has to be compressed before being injected into the engine’s combustion chambers. Without pre-cooling, the heat generated by compression would make the air hot enough to melt the engine.

The challenge for the engineers was to find a way to cool the air quickly without frost forming on the heat exchanger, which would clog it up and stop it working.

Using a nest of fine pipes that resemble a large wire coil, the engineers have managed to get round this fatal problem that would normally follow from such rapid cooling of the moisture in atmospheric air.

They are tight-lipped on exactly how they managed to do it.

“We are not going to tell you how this works,” said the company’s chief designer Richard Varvill, who started his career at the military engine division of Rolls-Royce. “It is our most closely guarded secret.”

The company has deliberately avoided filing patents on its heat exchanger technology to avoid details of how it works – particularly the method for preventing the build-up of frost – becoming public.
The Sabre engine could take a plane to five times the speed of sound and an altitude of 25 km, about 20% of the speed and altitude needed to reach orbit. For space access, the engines would then switch to rocket mode to do the remaining 80%.
WikimediaCG rendering of the proposed Skylon vehicle climbing through the atmosphere.G rendering of the proposed Skylon vehicle climbing through the atmosphere.

Reaction Engines believes Sabre is the only engine of its kind in development and the company now needs to raise about 250 million pounds ($400-million) to fund the next three-year development phase in which it plans to build a small-scale version of the complete engine.

Chief executive Tim Hayter believes the company could have an operational engine ready for sale within 10 years if it can raise the development funding.

The company reckons the engine technology could win a healthy chunk of four key markets together worth $112-billion a year, including space access, hypersonic air travel, and modified jet engines that use the heat exchanger to save fuel.

The fourth market is unrelated to aerospace. Reaction Engines believes the technology could also be used to raise the efficiency of so-called multistage flash desalination plants by 15%. These plants, largely in the Middle East, use heat exchangers to distil water by flash heating sea water into steam in multiple stages.

The firm has so far received 90% of its funding from private sources, mainly rich individuals including chairman Nigel McNair Scott, the former mining industry executive who also chairs property developer Helical Bar.

Chief executive Tim Hayter told Reuters he would welcome government investment in the company, mainly because of the credibility that would add to the project.

But the focus will be on raising the majority of the 250-million pounds it needs now from a mix of institutional investors, high net worth individuals and possibly potential partners in the aerospace industry.
WikimediaThe proposed Skylon spacecraft

Sabre produces thrust by burning hydrogen and oxygen, but inside the atmosphere it would take that oxygen from the air, reducing the amount it would have to carry in fuel tanks for rocket mode, cutting weight and allowing Skylon to go into orbit in one stage.

Scramjets on test vehicles like the U.S. Air Force Waverider also use atmospheric air to create thrust but they have to be accelerated to their operating speed by normal jet engines or rockets before they kick in. The Sabre engine can operate from a standing start.

If the developers are successful, Sabre would be the first engine in history to send a vehicle into space without using disposable, multi-stage rockets.

Skylon is years away, but in the meantime the technology is attracting interest from the global aerospace industry and governments because it effectively doubles the technical limits of current jet engines and could cut the cost of space access.

The heat exchanger technology could also be incorporated into a new jet engine design that could cut 5 to 10 percent — or $10-20 billion — off airline fuel bills.

That would be significant in an industry where incremental efficiency gains of 1% or so, from improvements in wing design for instance, are big news.

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Hidden-camera show unleashes world’s most terrifying prank on Brazil for your amusement

National Post Staff | Nov 27, 2012 8:27 PM ET | Last Updated: Nov 27, 2012 10:51 PM ET
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YouTube One of the participants meets the "Ghost in the Elevator."
A Brazilian TV show has taken candid camera pranks to a new, horrifying level.

Programa Silvio Santo‘s “Ghost in the Elevator” sketch begins as the seemingly random participants walk in through a building’s lobby and go into an elevator.

When the doors close, the lights start to flicker before the power seems to go out entirely. In the darkness, a pale girl holding a doll slips in through a side panel.

YouTube    The girl gets into place after the elevator lights go out.
YouTube   Letting them know what she thinks.
When the lights come back on a variety of things happen: jumping, screaming, crying, sputtering and scrambling to hit big red “in case of emergency” button — all typical reactions for people who meet the girl from “The Ring.”

And then the girl screams.

YouTube     Reactions varied
Once the lights go out again she quietly slips back out, leaving the participants looking a mixture of terrified and confused.

In one shot in the short segment, the camera cuts back to the other side of the elevator — which hasn’t actually moved — to show a Programa Silvio Santo staffer laughing in the building’s lobby.
YouTubeAt least someone there thought it was funny.

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