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Climate Change

Bush Administration Releases Suppressed Report on Global Warming

June 2nd 2008

Science - Polar Bear

The Bush administration capitulated to a court order and released a fresh summary of federal and independent research on global warming. The summary pointed to the large and harmful impact of human-caused global warming in the United States. The report was released on Thursday and is available online at climatescience.gov, together with a new report updating the administration’s priorities for climate research. Most of the findings, like the spread of warmth-loving pests and rising sea levels eroding lands, are not new. The report included new projections of how the poor, the elderly, and communities lacking adequate public health and public works systems will face outsize health risks from warming.

One of the important new conclusions concerning health in the report stated: “An increased frequency and severity of heat waves is expected, leading to more illness and death especially among the young, the elderly, the frail and the poor.” The report speculated that deaths from the cold would decline, but stated that uncertainties on both projections made it impossible to characterize overall risk. The report gave a two out of three chance that Lyme disease and West Nile virus would have expanded ranges due to a warmer climate, and these diseases would increase in proliferation among susceptible communities. The report also states that “major epidemics” were unlikely as long as public health systems remained effective. Read more ..


Running Out of Oil

Shell Execs Briefed on Peak Oil in 1956

May 5th 2008

Unknown - Shell Oil - Hubbert
Shell Geologist M. King Hubbert

When did Shell executives first learn that the world would one day face the moment of peak oil, known to many as Hubbert’s Peak? Answer: as far back as 1956 when M. King Hubbert delivered his seminal speech to Shell employees predicting the day when oil reserves would begin to decline. For more than a half century, Shell has known that the world of the 21st Century would begin running out of oil with disastrous ramifications. Yet little was done to prepare society.

The story begins in 1950s when the United States was the world’s largest producer and exporter of oil, making it mostly self-sufficient. The U.S. also was the largest creditor nation, while its manufacturing output fed the world’s demand for tools and machinery. This new world power from the West emerged relatively unscathed from the second of two world wars, for which its unprecedented access to oil proved the deciding factor. This quite literally was America’s peak in wealth and potential.

Before embarking on an ambitious plan to rebuild the bombed-out cities of Europe, the U.S. built more than 2 million homes on the home front, mostly to meet the unprecedented demand of returning GIs. The resulting paradigm shift, constructed around a flawed assumption of infinite bounty, was the beginning of the suburbanization of America that continues to follow its terminal path. Intensive highway development would continue for decades, further solidifying American’s love affair with the automobile and redefining the American Dream. Read more ..


Edge on Epidemics

Malaria---New Tools Needed to Combat an Old Disease

April 28th 2008

Headshot - Richard Tren headshot
Richard Tren

April 25th marked World Malaria Day---an occasion to assess progress, galvanize support, and of course, solemnly recognize the suffering that this devastating disease causes.

Every year, over one million people, mostly young children, die from malaria and up to 500 million become ill. However, it need not be this way. Malaria is both preventable and curable. With US taxpayers’ money, much is being done to save lives, but investment in new tools and methods of control is essential to sustaining success. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the National Basketball Association, and Boys and Girls Clubs of America have also contributed funds, and fund-raising, to help eliminate the scourge, especially in Africa. Parts of Africa are considered hyper-endemic since they have transmission rates up to 100 times the rate of those areas where the disease has been eliminated.

Malaria is caused by the plasmodium parasite which is transmitted from person to person by the female Anopheles mosquito. Controlling malaria successfully and breaking the transmission cycle requires treating patients with effective medicines so that parasites are cleared out of the body, as well as controlling mosquitoes.

Targeted mosquito, or vector, control only began in earnest in the early part of the 20th century when scientists discovered how the disease was transmitted. Spraying insecticides on the inside walls of houses where mosquitoes rest was first tried in the 1930s, though these efforts were expensive. However, spraying interior walls appears to be making something of a come-back. At that time the best available insecticide – pyrethrum – only remained effective for approximately two weeks; houses had to be re-sprayed frequently which limited the scope of the programs.  Read more ..


The Genetic Divide

Are We Headed for a Sci-Fi Dystopia?

April 14th 2008

Gattaca

Gattaca, 1997

For Boomers and the World War II generation, Aldous Huxley's 1932 Brave New World is the touchstone tale of a techno-utopian nightmare created by reproductive and biological engineering. Those in Gen X and Gen Y who ponder the prospect of a repro-genetic dystopia think of Gattaca.

The recent release of a collector's edition of the 1997 film unavoidably prompts us to measure ourselves against its "not-too-distant future" of genetic castes and DNA-based discrimination. Has our world become more like Gattaca than it was a decade ago?

In Gattaca world, nonenhanced babies are born only to the poor and the sexually reckless. Those who can possibly afford it consult with a genetic technician before initiating a pregnancy, and select their future child's traits for optimum success: sex, life expectancy, intelligence, appearance.

Children with high-caliber preselected genes are classified at birth as "Valids." They're the ruling elite, eligible for top careers and entitled to high social status. "In-Valids" labor at menial jobs with no way up or out. In one memorable scene, a team of In-Valid janitors in prisoner-like jumpsuits is bussed into a gleaming office building. It's clear that the only way they get through the door is to clean the toilets and sweep the floors. Read more ..


Nazi Legacy Today

Congressman Slams Google, Yahoo--Likens China Censorship to IBM's Assistance to Nazis

March 24th 2008

IBM-Nazi Rassenamt Card
IBM Custom Punch Card for Nazi SS Race Office

Congressman Chris Smith (R-N.J.) likened Google, Yahoo and other Internet companies to the IBM's cooperation with Hitler's Nazi government to help carry out the Holocaust.

The sharp criticism was part of an on-going Congressional scrutiny of Internet and technology companies for their involvement with what is seen as a repressive regime in China. "Did you ever wonder why the Gestapo always had all those very well-laid-out prints of where the Jews lived?" according to Information Week reporter Paul McDougall quoted Smith as saying. "Because IBM made it happen."

Smith's comments about IBM helping to enable the Holocaust referred to investigative author Edwin Black's 2001 book "IBM And The Holocaust,"  which extensively documents IBM's role in enabling the Nazis to efficiently exterminate over 7 million people, including about 6 million Jews using IBM's technology. IBM has never denied its 12 year highly profitable relationship with Nazi Germany in which it used its information technology--punch cards--to help plan the Third Reich's war against the Jews. This including such campaigns as the census and other identification programs, asset seizures, extermination by labor which matched job skills to useful slave labor details, and the train schedules and factories serving Auschwitz.

IBM maintained a customer site known as the "Hollerith Department" in virtually every concentration camp. IBM coded its punch cards for special Nazi needs allowing them unheard of efficiency. Prisoner Code 8 was Jew, Code 11 was Gypsy. Camp Code 001 was Auschwitz, Code 002 was Buchenwald. Status Code 5 was executed by order, code 6 was death by gas chamber. One extensively quoted IBM report written by the company's European manager during WWII declared “in Germany a campaign started for, what has been termed … ‘organization of the second front.’” The memo added, “In military literature and in newspapers, the importance and necessity of having in all phases of life, behind the front, an organization which would remain intact and would function with ‘Blitzkrieg’ efficiency … was brought out. What we had been preaching in vain for years all at once began to be realized.” Read more ..


Science and Gays

Female Sperm and Gay Guinea Pigs

March 17th 2008

Marcy Darnovsky
Marcy Darnovsky

While gay families and their supporters await the California Supreme Court's ruling on the constitutionality of a voter-approved law banning same-sex marriage, a few researchers and pundits are proposing that same-sex procreation with bio-engineered gametes will undermine one of the key arguments of same-sex marriage opponents.

These technological enthusiasts are portraying a recent biological experiment with artificial gametes as a breakthrough that will one day enable gay and lesbian couples to have children who are genetically related to both of them. Some media reports have described the step toward "female sperm" as a portent of gay freedom. "Good news for lesbians," the lead of one story gushed.

Well, maybe not. The news accounts and enthusiasts haven't raised the question of whether equality can be engineered in a test tube or discrimination solved with a technical fix. Nor have they pointed out that procreation with artificial gametes would be a biologically extreme measure that would pose enormous risks to any resulting children. While speculation about using such constructs in humans typically includes the standard disclaimer - "assuming this is shown to be safe" - the far more likely "not safe" option has remained unexamined.

The recent discussion of female sperm was triggered by a report from scientists at the United Kingdom's University of Newcastle. The British researchers, who had previously coaxed bone marrow cells taken from men to develop into sperm precursor cells, announced that they had done the same with female embryonic stem cells and now plan to try repeating the trick with female bone marrow. As the scientists and various commentators hastened to point out, these techniques raise the possibility that sperm created from one woman's cells could be used to fertilize an egg from her partner. Read more ..


Saving lives

Israeli system turns contaminated water into drinking water--instantly

March 12th 2008

Drinking Water
The Sulis System

Sulis was a Greek goddess connected with water and healing, therefore it's also become an appropriate moniker for an innovative new Israeli device which instantly purifies contaminated water.

The Sulis Personal Purification System (PPS) takes all the ingredients needed to transform dirty water into clean water - whether it be for stranded hikers, soldiers in the field, or victims of disasters - and has miniaturized the technology to fit into the top of a cork that can be plugged into virtually any size bottle, container or tap.

"Above everything else, the product we've developed is going to save lives," explained Yossi Sandak, the CEO of Watersheer, the Israeli company which has developed the Sulis PPS.

"Over 1.6 million children under the age of five die each year in the undeveloped world from drinking untreated water. What we have is a solution to reduce death in the world that is not a medical solution, but simply providing people with clean drinking water."

The Sulis unit is lightweight and small (10 grams, 2.7 Inches / 7 cm) and is designed to fit onto most universal bottles. According to Sandak's partner, Ron Shani, the founder, chairman and vice president of Watersheer's R&D division, the Sulis system treats water from upper sources containing organic, biological and chemical contaminates.

"The problem is that there aren't enough products in the humanitarian field that are inexpensive enough and efficient enough to solve the problems of contaminated water - from a biological and chemical standpoint," Shani said.

Read more ..

Amazon Author Wars

Shadowy New Amazon Service Kindles More Questions than Answers

December 14th 2007

Amazon Kindle2
Amazon's Kindle

Many Authors have recently become astonished to discover their books being offered by Amazon at a steep discount on a promising and highly promoted if shadowy new Amazon service called Kindle. Most authors did not know their books were being converted into that format, and what the royalties will be. This latest Amazon technological incision into copyrighted content has only deepened the divide between the company and the world of writers who have collectively voiced resentment over the company’s sales tactics.

What is Kindle? The service is simply an e-book system rigged to work only with a sleek new Amazon ten ounce electronic PDA-style reader called Kindle that stores books remotely. But it is wireless. You only own a virtual copy that does not exist outside a wireless-enabled environment. Forget about it on a cruise, a trip into the wilderness, crossing the border into Mexico or Canada unless you download books into a handheld library which can be a time consuming an expensive proposition especially for those who have to pay for a wireless connection.

The $400 reader, currently not shipping due to limited manufacturing, is the latest attempt to convince people to read books on palm-top computer screens instead of holding them in their hands. Previous attempts have suffered a dismal fate. Initial reviews are mixed from unlimited praise by first adopters on the Amazon website to "not used friendly and destined to failure" by one publisher working closely with the site. That said, the Kindle concept is more than nifty. It may be the wave of the future. Unfortunately for now, Amazon’s mishandling of the program is giving it a black eye. Read more ..


Getting off Oil

Joint American-Israel Effort to Get off Oil

December 13th 2007

Empty on Oil

One little known but crucial provision in the comprehensive energy legislation that just passed the Senate last week is the U.S.-Israel Energy Cooperation Act (USIECA). The bill is headed for passage in the House this week and the President’s signature thereafter.

USEICA allocates U.S. funding for Israeli research into new technologies to decrease American dependence on foreign oil. The law will establish a multi-year program of grants for joint projects at the basic research level between U.S. and Israeli academic institutions, and at the applied research and development level between U.S. and Israeli companies. Administered by the Secretary of Energy, the program who will be driven by a joint American and Israel board of advisors.

USIECA was the brainchild of Jack Halpern, Chairman of the American Jewish Congress’s Energy Independence Task Force. For his part, Halpern expressed “Extraordinary pride in the passage of this important measure because of the many years we put into the effort for its enactment, beginning with our conceptualization of the measure in 2003, through lobbying for the measure for four years.” Read more ..


The Genetic Battlefield

Stem-Cell Science Outruns Political Debate

December 11th 2007

Marcy Darnovsky
Marcy Darnovsky

Research teams at two prestigious universities announced a major feat of biological alchemy this week: They've taken ordinary human cells and turned them into cells with all the characteristics and promise of embryonic stem cells.

This entirely new way to derive what the researchers are calling induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells uses neither eggs nor embryos. Instead, it reprograms body cells, reactivating genes that return them to the undifferentiated state characteristic of "conventional" embryonic stem cells.

If the new technique holds up, it will also reprogram the science and politics of stem-cell research. Read more ..


The Genetic Battlefield

Beyond the Embryo Fight

December 11th 2007

Richard Hayes

The debate over cloning embryos for stem cell research has been one of the most divisive and unpleasant public controversies of the last decade. Partisans on both sides have sought to polarize the issue for political advantage rather than look for middle-ground positions that a majority of Americans would welcome.


In general, Republicans have equated medical research using single-celled clonal embryos with murder, while Democrats have promoted state ballot initiatives enshrining human embryo cloning as a constitutional right and committing billions of taxpayer dollars to a procedure that could open the door to socially pernicious applications, threaten women's health and exacerbate healthcare inequities.

Now we have a chance to put the cloning debate behind us. Read more ..


Getting Off Oil

Honda’s Decisive Clarity Steals LA Auto Show

November 14th 2007

Honda Clarity Fueling
Honda's new Clarity

American Honda Motor Company stole the Los Angeles Auto Show with decisive clarity today. Shortly after show doors opened, the company announced the summer 2008 initial rollout of its sleek, new and tantalizing four-passenger zero-emissions hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle. The long-awaited, market-ready hydrogen car, called “Clarity,” will use zero oil and feature zero emissions.

No longer experimental, the Honda FCX Clarity is powered by a breakthrough, “V Flow” fuel cell stack that delivers vastly increased power and range over previous FCX hydrogen models. The FCX Clarity utilizes its V Flow stack in combination with a new compact and efficient lithium ion battery pack and a single hydrogen storage tank to power the vehicle's electric drive motor. Hydrogen combines with atmospheric oxygen in the fuel cell stack, where chemical energy from the reaction is converted into electric power to propel the vehicle. Additional energy captured through regenerative braking and deceleration is stored in the lithium ion battery pack. It is used to supplement power from the fuel cell when needed. The vehicle's only emission is water. Indeed, the company invites drivers to drink the exhaust, and has even distributed novelty drinking glasses to drive home the point. Read more ..


Online Banking

BBT Apologizes for Broken Online Banking Site

September 12th 2007

BBT Online Service Unavailable
BBT'S broken website notice

BBT is still struggling to bring its online service back to full functionality and cope with outraged consumer backlash. Shortly after the bank "improved" its online software on August 3, 2007 to make it “safer, faster, and more convenient for you,” the website slowed to a crawl, lost and duplicated transactions, clobbered integrated customer financial management software such as Quicken, and in many cases became completely inaccessible. The problems were first reported exclusively by The Cutting Edge. Online function problems heightened during late August and by Labor Day the BBT site became completely inaccessible for many customers during most business hours. In early September, patches and fixes were installed, but problems have persisted so the company has been forced to post a prominent apology on its logon page.

“Recently, you may have experienced slow response times while accessing BB&T OnLine banking.” The statement reads, adding, “Over the past several days, you may also have been unable to log on to BB&T OnLine at different times. We understand this may have made it difficult for you to access your accounts and schedule your bill payments. We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused you. Please know that our technicians are working diligently to expedite a solution. Our goal at BB&T OnLine is to provide you with the Perfect Client Experience for every online interaction. We know we have fallen short of this promise and want to assure you that we are doing everything we can to correct this problem. Thank you for your patience as we work to resolve our performance issues and restore your confidence in BB&T OnLine.”

 


Online Banking

BBT Online Banking Groans and Help Elusive as E-Banking Expands

September 2nd 2007

BBT Online Service Unavailable

BBT customers have been groaning recently over BBT's overtaxed and sometimes dysfunctional online banking website. The website was inaccessible for several days at the end of August, and the first days of September after the Labor Day weekend, especially in the morning when more people tend to log on. System burps and stutters caused some linked Quicken money management programs to record false double payments created by the overtaxed BBT online site. Attempts to reach the company’s much touted “24x7” online banking help line to correct problems were fruitless. Not a few customers gave up after multiple 30-minute and 45-minute hold sessions hearing the same tedious on-hold messages. Worse, BBT’s online Quicken assistance does not even operate on the weekends when most people often need such help managing their personal finances. Anxious branch officers trying to help their customers straighten out glitches were subjected to the same frustration since they were calling the same BBT toll-free number. At press time, the website was back to normal with some of the glitches resolvable by manually deleting false Quicken entries, and re-entering the needed BBT information. But the web meltdown was a warning sign that with the explosion in online banking, driven both by personal convenience and the banking industry’s growing insistence on paperless relationships, more meltdowns can be expected from BBT and others.

Tech and Israel

Oracle Billionaire Pledges $500,000 to Embattled Israeli Town

August 17th 2007

Science - Larry Ellison
Larry Ellison

Avi Sulimany didn’t know he was talking to Larry Ellison. He didn’t even know who Larry Ellison was.

But after a cursory, two-minute conversation about rockets targeting the southern Israeli town of Sderot, Ellison promised Sulimany $500,000 to reinforce the Community Center of Sderot against those attacks. The two shook hands and parted company. Sulimany is the director of the center of Sderot, which has suffered daily rocket attacks fired from Gaza for seven years. Ellison, of course, is the well-known head of Redwood Shores-based Oracle Corp., and one of the world’s 15 richest men. He was born to a teenage Jewish mother and grew up on the South Side of Chicago with relatives.

After viewing shrapnel left from Kassam rockets, Ellison — on a Sderot visit arranged by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and flanked by dignitaries including Israel Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Rep. Tom Lantos (D-San Mateo) — walked into a community center on Thursday, Aug. 9. Sulimany mistook Ellison for “the head of the U.S. Congress’ foreign affairs committee” — that would be Lantos, actually — and introduced himself. He told Ellison how a number of popular Israeli bands hail from Sderot, including Teapacks, the Israeli representative at the Eurovision song contest (and past performers at Israel in the Gardens).

He then pressed a CD into Ellison’s hand. It was a compilation of Sderot teenagers who were singing their own compositions about the recent war and rocket attacks. Almost as an afterthought, Sulimany added, “But these kids have a problem.” Read more ..


Genetically Modified Food

Unmasking the FDA's Policy on Cloned Food

August 12th 2007

Science - Mouse in Beaker

The FDA is still considering whether to allow meat and milk from cloned animals into America’s food chain, without so much as a warning label. Polls show that Americans oppose cloned foods 3 to 1, and the livestock and dairy industries have repeatedly said that cloned hotdogs and milkshakes make little business sense. Neverthless, the push for cloned livestock has been insistent for years.

In 2003, approval was said to be six months away; that didn’t happen, presumably because of fears of public outrage, but the public relations campaign continued. At the very end of 2006, a long-awaited draft “Risk Assessment” was published, inspiring a flurry of ill-informed puff pieces intended to legitimize the technology. That failed: the FDA received over 100,000 public comments, overwhelmingly opposed to food from cloned animals.

Officials then paused to consider their final decision. Some reports say that FDA approval will come later this year. Others suggest that it may take two years. The mainstream media seems to accept that it’s only a matter of time, no matter what the public wants – and no matter what the real scientific evidence is.

A scathing report by the Center for Food Safety (CFS) exposed embarrassing if not crippling inadequacies in the data the FDA used to suggest that cloned food is safe. The CFS report showed there are no peer-reviewed safety studies on meat from cloned cows, pigs or goats, and only three inconclusive ones on milk; this suggests further study, not immediate approval. Even before that, the National Academies of Science – the government’s science advisors – articulated concerns that the processes for assessing cloned food safety are currently not up to par. Read more ..



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