Thursday, November 29, 2007

Nomura Jellyfish in Oki Japan


Invasion of Jellyfish Envelops Japan In Ocean of Slime

Fisherman Ryoichi Yoshida pulled in his nets before dawn one morning, hoping for lots of yellowtail and mackerel. But the fish were overwhelmed by a heaving mass of living pink slime.

The creatures, called Nomura jellyfish, can measure six feet across and weigh up to about 450 pounds. They have been drifting en masse to places like Oki, a small island 40 miles off the coast, bobbing beneath the surface of the water like pink mines. They rip holes in fishermen's nets, and they poison fish.

"Normally, we just bring up the nets and it takes about an hour," said the weather-beaten Mr. Yoshida, 61 years old, after his crew had cleared the jellyfish out of the nets using long poles and hooks. "Now it takes two or three hours. And some of the fish escape."

Until 2002, these giant creatures were seen only occasionally in Japanese waters. But for the past five years, they have been swarming every year into the Sea of Japan, the water that separates Japan from mainland Asia. During the biggest invasion so far, in 2005, an estimated 500 million jellyfish -- not yet mature -- drifted in each day.

It's hard to calculate financial damage to fishermen, but the Japanese government last year counted about 50,000 incidents of jellyfish trouble. Fish poisoned by jellyfish tentacles die with their mouths agape. That mars their appearance and reduces their value by as much as 20%. "When their mouths are wide open, it means they've died going, 'I'm in pain! I'm in pain!' " explains Mr. Yoshida.

Scientists have various ideas about what causes the outbreak. One has devised a computer model of ocean currents that suggests the jellyfish are breeding off the Chinese coast near the mouth of the Yangtze River. One theory is that pollution, perhaps linked to industrialization in China, is helping create more algae in the sea. The algae are food for plankton, which is food for jellyfish.

Then, too, there is speculation about a link to the Three Gorges Dam, the world's largest hydroelectric-power project under construction in the Yangtze, which could be changing water flows to the sea. A dam in a section of the Danube that runs between Serbia and Romania completed in 1972 changed the river flow, after which the jellyfish population of the Black Sea exploded.

Chinese officials and scientists deny that Chinese pollution has caused the outbreaks.

"No research evidence in China supports a connection between pollution and jellyfish," says Li Qi, a dean of the Ocean University of China. "Floating jellyfish are mostly in the Sea of Japan....That's Japan and Korea's problem."

Eager for a solution, slasher squads of fishermen went out last year armed with barbed poles to attack jellyfish that were jamming up nets. If the jellyfish are cut into three or more bits, they usually die and get eaten by other sea creatures.

Fishermen have also taken a trawl net and added a wire grill like a large potato masher at the trailing end: When the net is pulled through a swarm of jellyfish, they float through and are sliced up.

The Japanese government is doing what it can. It tracks the progress of jellyfish as they swarm through the Sea of Japan, urging trawlers to steer clear of them. The Japanese harvest some jellyfish to eat. Jellyfish can be boiled and added to salads -- though smaller varieties are said to be more tender and tasty. Trying to win converts, the fisheries ministry has drawn up a manual with tips on cooking with giant jellyfish. Menus include jellyfish-flavored biscuits, jellyfish soaked in rum and a dessert of jellyfish chunks in coconut milk.

One coastal firm, Tango Jersey Dairy, has for the past three years produced 2,000 or 3,000 cartons of vanilla-and-jellyfish ice cream. The jellyfish is soaked overnight in milk to reduce its smell, and is then diced. Fumiko Hirabayashi, a director of the dairy, says the jelly cubes are slightly chewy. Jellyfish is also getting publicity in women's magazines because it contains collagen, a protein used in cosmetics.

"We think it's important to use local ingredients," says Mrs. Hirabayashi. "And this has now become a local ingredient."

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

"53 bird species face extinction in S.C."

Nearly 30 percent of the nation's most threatened birds species can be found in South Carolina, according to a conservation report released Wednesday.

Of 178 rare bird species in danger of extinction, 53 spend at least part of their lives in the Palmetto State. The biggest threat to them is suburban sprawl, especially along the coast, according to the Audubon and American Bird Conservancy's WatchList 2007.

Keeping cats indoors, leashing dogs on the beach, volunteering to protect nesting colonies, and donating to wetlands conservation are among the ways South Carolinians can help save the endangered birds, the report said.

Birds come to South Carolina for its wide range of habitats, from the beaches and salt marshes to the mountains, but development is limiting their places to breed and rest, according to the report.

WatchList species in South Carolina include the swallow-tailed kite, red-headed woodpecker, wood thrush and Bachman's sparrow.

"Whether you have heard of these birds or not, all of them perform vital roles in sustaining South Carolina's natural ecosystems," said Jeff Mollenhauer, director of bird conservation at Audubon South Carolina, in a release. "The time to act is now, while there is still time left."


We get Red-headed Woodpeckers where we live now and they are probably my favorite bird. I had never seen them anywhere else where I had lived.

Map of Red-headed-woodpecker range.
The Audubon watchlist.

"A Free-for-All on Science and Religion"

......Carolyn Porco, a senior research scientist at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo., called, half in jest, for the establishment of an alternative church, with Dr. Tyson, whose powerful celebration of scientific discovery had the force and cadence of a good sermon, as its first minister.

She was not entirely kidding. “We should let the success of the religious formula guide us,” Dr. Porco said. “Let’s teach our children from a very young age about the story of the universe and its incredible richness and beauty. It is already so much more glorious and awesome — and even comforting — than anything offered by any scripture or God concept I know.”

She displayed a picture taken by the Cassini spacecraft of Saturn and its glowing rings eclipsing the Sun, revealing in the shadow a barely noticeable speck called Earth.

There has been no shortage of conferences in recent years, commonly organized by the Templeton Foundation, seeking to smooth over the differences between science and religion and ending in a metaphysical draw. Sponsored instead by the Science Network, an educational organization based in California, and underwritten by a San Diego investor, Robert Zeps (who acknowledged his role as a kind of “anti-Templeton”), the La Jolla meeting, “Beyond Belief: Science, Religion, Reason and Survival,” rapidly escalated into an invigorating intellectual free-for-all. (Unedited video of the proceedings will be posted on the Web at

A presentation by Joan Roughgarden, a Stanford University biologist, on using biblical metaphor to ease her fellow Christians into accepting evolution (a mutation is “a mustard seed of DNA”) was dismissed by Dr. Dawkins as “bad poetry,” while his own take-no-prisoners approach (religious education is “brainwashing” and “child abuse”) was condemned by the anthropologist Melvin J. Konner, who said he had “not a flicker” of religious faith, as simplistic and uninformed....

Dr. Weinberg, who famously wrote toward the end of his 1977 book on cosmology, “The First Three Minutes,” that “the more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless,” went a step further: “Anything that we scientists can do to weaken the hold of religion should be done and may in the end be our greatest contribution to civilization.”

...“I am utterly fed up with the respect that we — all of us, including the secular among us — are brainwashed into bestowing on religion,” (Dawkins) said. “Children are systematically taught that there is a higher kind of knowledge which comes from faith, which comes from revelation, which comes from scripture, which comes from tradition, and that it is the equal if not the superior of knowledge that comes from real evidence.”

“Persuasion isn’t always ‘Here are the facts — you’re an idiot or you are not,’ ”(Tyson) said. “I worry that your methods” — he turned toward Dr. Dawkins — “how articulately barbed you can be, end up simply being ineffective, when you have much more power of influence.”

...“What concerns me now is that even if you’re as brilliant as Newton, you reach a point where you start basking in the majesty of God and then your discovery stops — it just stops,” Dr. Tyson said. “You’re no good anymore for advancing that frontier, waiting for somebody else to come behind you who doesn’t have God on the brain and who says: ‘That’s a really cool problem. I want to solve it.’ ”

“Science is a philosophy of discovery; intelligent design is a philosophy of ignorance,” he said. “Something fundamental is going on in people’s minds when they confront things they don’t understand.”


My response:

It is an interesting conversation. I think that Harris and Dawkins and their followers become SOooo anti-religion that they are offensive and people shut them out.

I thought it was interesting that some of the people who were so anti-religion would go to the UU church. While UU's do not necessarily believe in God (it can be more like that "alternative church" that Porco mentions) - and while people can think/believe a variety of things- I still think of it as a religion. And just as people who do go to Christian churches actually believe a variety of things also - like whether they believe the virgin birth and such to all sorts of things in the Bible that some think are important/true and others do not.

I think that the Bush Administration, etc. anti-science stance has been part of what has fueled that anti-religion stance. I think that a lot of people could tolerate the Christian "role" or whatever in society as long as it didn't step on the toes of science. But with them becoming SOoo anti-science - whether for economic reasons (like if the oil industry
wants people to disbelieve global warming so they keep consuming) or whatever - it's just too much.

On the other hand - I think that science without an appreciation and love, even, of nature - is a very empty thing and can also lead to bad choices. Like some people who seem so people-centered that they would do anything to improve the comfort-level of people while destroying the planet - as if we don't need it. I think that that is really short sighted/wrong-minded. There is the necessity for values and priorities in science as in any endeavor..

Mostly it's the profit-centered, greedy people (who tend to be focused on the "business model") who are the biggest problem - that are out of touch with the consequences of their actions - the consequences of over-consumption by an over-populated planet.

I think that more than whether people attibute unknown forces to a God or Goddess - that the important thing is a respect for life - however it came about. Including a repsect for life in the future. And there is this new thing that people in the past didn't have to worry about so much - and that is life as whole - the earth as ecosystem and how we and our lifestyles affect it. If I were to start an "alternative church" - it would be focused on that.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

'The Sea Was Red With Jellyfish'

More than 100,000 salmon worth over £1m ($2illion) have been killed in a freak jellyfish attack.

It has wiped out Northern Ireland's only salmon farm and owners are now facing ruin.

The massive invasion happened at Glenarm Bay and Red Bay, Cushendun, off the Co Antrim coast.

Billions of small jellyfish called Mauve Stingers were involved - they stung and then stressed the salmon which were being kept in cages about a mile out into the Irish Sea.

The attack lasted for nearly seven hours with the jellyfish covering a sea area of up to 10 square miles and 35ft deep.

Staff in three boats tried to reach the cages, but such was the density of the jellyfish they struggled to get through and when they did it was too late to save the salmon.

The fish is sold to some of London's leading restaurants and the Queen had salmon on her 80th birthday cooked by top Irish chef Richard Corrigan.

It was also exported to hotels and restaurants in France, Belgium, Germany and the United States.

John Russell, managing director of Northern Salmon Co.Ltd, said "We are still assessing the full extent, but it's a disaster.

"In 30 years, I've never seen anything like it. It was unprecedented, absolutely amazing.

"The sea was red with these jelly fish and there was nothing we could do about, it, absolutely nothing."

Fish farms around Britain and the west coast of Ireland have been attacked before by jellyfish.

But the type blown towards the Co Antrim coast by northern winds have never been recorded in that area.

Autumn Rain Down 90% in China Rice Belt

Large areas of south China are suffering from serious drought, with water levels on two major rivers in rice-growing provinces dropping to historic lows, state media said on Tuesday.

Rainfall since the beginning of October had dropped by 90 percent in Jiangxi and 86 percent in neighbouring Hunan, the country's largest rice-growing province, from average figures, Xinhua news agency said.
Rice is a staple for most Chinese and a crop which needs a constant supply of water

The Gan and Xiang rivers running through the two provinces had seen their lowest water levels in history, Xinhua said. The shallow water has caused a jam of barges in some sections of the Gan.

Authorities had rushed to ensure drinking water supplies in big cities along the rivers and irrigation of fields by diverting water from reservoirs and installing pumps, Xinhua said.

Water levels on China's longest river, the Yangtze, and on the Pearl River in the southern province of Guangdong had also dropped, Xinhua said.

Drought and floods are perennial problems in China where meteorologists have complained about the increased extreme weather, partly blaming it on climate change.

More than 1,100 Chinese were killed during summer floods this year.

But some parts of the south were hit by weeks of scorching heat and drought in the summer, when as much as a third of farmland was damaged and millions of people were short of drinking water.

It was not immediately clear how much damage had been caused to the rice crop...

"Congo to Form Nature Reserve for Bonobos"

Congo is setting aside more than 11,000 square miles of rain forest to help protect the endangered bonobo, a great ape that is the most closely related to humans and is found only in this Central African country.

U.S. agencies, conservation groups and the Congolese government have come together to set aside 11,803 square miles of tropical rain forest, the U.S.-based Bonobo Conservation Initiative said in a statement issued this week.

The area amounts to just over 1 percent of vast Congo — but that means a park larger than the state of Massachusetts.
Environment Minister Didace Pembe said the area was denoted as a protected reserve last week as part of the administration's goal of setting aside 15 percent of its forest as protected area. The Sankuru announcement increased the amount of protected land in Congo to 10 percent from 8 percent, he said.

The Sankuru Nature Reserve aims to protect a section of Africa's largest rain forest from the commercial bushmeat trade and from deforestation by industrial logging operations in the central part of the country known as the Congo Basin.

Sally Jewell Coxe, president of the Washington-based Bonobo Conservation Initiation, said the group has been working to establish the reserve since 2005, when it started meeting with leaders in villagers that ring the area to persuade them to stop hunting the ape.

Though local lore holds that washing a baby with the ashy remains of a bonobo will make the child strong, Coxe said many area villages have committed to ending the practice.

"We have agreements with many of the local villages that are on the edges of the park, and they will be the managers and be very involved in it," she said.

Bonobos — often lauded as the "peaceful ape" — are known for their matriarchal society in which female leaders work to avoid conflict, and their sex-loving lifestyle.

The bonobo population is believed to have declined sharply in the last 30 years, though surveys have been hard to carry out in war-ravaged central Congo. Estimates range from 60,000 to fewer than 5,000 living, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Bridge Ladies Against Bush

by Stephanie Strom

In the genteel world of bridge, disputes are usually handled quietly and rarely involve issues of national policy. But in a fight reminiscent of the brouhaha over an anti-Bush statement by Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks in 2003, a team of women who represented the United States at the world bridge championships in Shanghai last month is facing sanctions, including a yearlong ban from competition, for a spur-of-the-moment protest.

At issue is a crudely lettered sign, scribbled on the back of a menu, that was held up at an awards dinner and read, “We did not vote for Bush.”

"...the United States Bridge Federation was not amused. Its president, Jan Martel, and executive board are pushing for tough sanctions against the entire team--a one-year suspension, plus a one-year probation, 200 hours of bridge-related community service and a formal apology. Bridge Federation lawyer Alan Falk threatened team members with "greater sanction" if they reject the Federation's offer."

By e-mail, angry bridge players have accused the women of “treason” and “sedition.”

“This isn’t a free-speech issue,” said Jan Martel, president of the United States Bridge Federation, the nonprofit group that selects teams for international tournaments. “There isn’t any question that private organizations can control the speech of people who represent them.”

Not so, said Danny Kleinman, a professional bridge player, teacher and columnist. “If the U.S.B.F. wants to impose conditions of membership that involve curtailment of free speech, then it cannot claim to represent our country in international competition,” he said by e-mail.

Ms. Martel said the action by the team, which had won the Venice Cup, the women’s title, at the Shanghai event, could cost the federation corporate sponsors.

The players have been stunned by the reaction to what they saw as a spontaneous gesture, “a moment of levity,” said Gail Greenberg, the team’s nonplaying captain and winner of 11 world championships.

“What we were trying to say, not to Americans but to our friends from other countries, was that we understand that they are questioning and critical of what our country is doing these days, and we want you to know that we, too, are critical,” Ms. Greenberg said, stressing that she was speaking for herself and not her six teammates.

The controversy has gone global, with the French team offering support for its American counterparts.

“By trying to address these issues in a nonviolent, nonthreatening and lighthearted manner,” the French team wrote in by e-mail to the federation’s board and others, “you were doing only what women of the world have always tried to do when opposing the folly of men who have lost their perspective of reality.”...

Oasis country dying of thirst

SITTING where Australia's two greatest rivers meet, Wentworth lies at the symbolic heart of the Murray-Darling Basin food bowl.

There has been an irrigation industry there for more than a century, and the Wentworth Shire calls itself "oasis country" - a place where the brown waters of the Darling and the green waters of the Murray have enabled people to turn the desert into a garden.

The Perry sandhills outside town are a brilliant red, but the citrus and wine grapes are usually a brilliant green. Generations have grown up knowing nothing but full water allocations, and the most famous monument in Wentworth features a Massey Ferguson tractor.

The tractors are honoured for the epic role they played building levee banks to stop Wentworth disappearing under the mighty flood of 1956.

But no tractor will be able to drag the south-western NSW district out of the drought disaster it finds itself in today. For the first time, Wentworth irrigators are enduring the huge shock of a zero water allocation this year.

The irrigation districts of Curlwaa, Buronga and Coomealla are dotted with citrus trees under stress and vineyards that have already died of thirst. There are numerous for-sale signs. Some farmers are about to run out of water, some have avoided that fate by buying water at record prices.

Some have cut their citrus trees back to their stumps so they can get through the summer on survival rations. Some have chosen to sacrifice parts of their vineyard using chainsaws so there is enough water to maintain production elsewhere. It is a scenario locals admit they had never envisaged in their worst nightmares.

This summer, Wentworth irrigators have been given just half of the 52 per cent of their water allocation they had suspended last year when the severity of the drought was realised. They have also got critical water on a per-hectare basis until the end of March - just enough to keep plantings alive but not enough to produce a crop and an income.

Therefore, water that would normally sell for less than $100 a megalitre is now commanding more than $1000. The 430 Western Murray irrigators usually only use half the district's 61,000 megalitres of entitlement and sell water to other areas, but this summer $5 million worth has already been bought in.

About 25 per cent have bought water, but Cheryl Rix, the general manager of Western Murray Irrigation, said: "A lot of people haven't been able to borrow money to buy water. A lot of people are going to let 30 per cent of their farm go [to get enough water for production on the rest]. At the end of the day you have got to have a farm income."

The average farmer had about 35 per cent of their normal water entitlement, Mrs Rix said.

Dennis Mills has bulldozed eight hectares of citrus and chainsawed through four hectares of shiraz vines to get the water he needs to produce crops on the rest of his land....

Kevin Watson, a wine grape grower, has bought himself expensive peace of mind this summer. "I have spent $150,000 on water this year. I bought $75,000 worth of water last year."...

Cyprus’s Largest Reservoir Drying Up

- A jetty lies on a dry reservoir bed at Kouris dam in Limassol district, Cyprus. The sun-baked earth in the empty pit at Kouris is a sign of the unprecedented water crisis facing the Mediterranean island -

A small pool of water at the bottom of Cyprus’s largest reservoir is shrinking by the day: without rain, the main source of surface water for most of the island will dry up by the end of the year.

The sun-baked earth in the empty pit at Kouris is a sign of the unprecedented water crisis facing the Mediterranean island. As climate change takes effect, authorities face the dilemma of how much to use energy-intensive desalination to beat the shortage.

“It’s bad. Very bad,” says Vlassis Partassides, head of water management at Cyprus’s water development department.
“If the drought continues for a fourth year, the consequences will be very severe,” he told Reuters.
Reservoirs are less than 9% full and residents – accustomed to treating water as a precious commodity – are braced for another dry winter.

Cypriots’ water bills come with graphs showing monthly consumption, and authorities are swift to alert households to abnormal spikes in use.

“I water my garden with water I have used for mopping up, and think twice about putting on the washing machine if I don’t have a full load. It is something that worries us all,” said Eleni Ioannou, 43, a resident of the Cypriot capital Nicosia.

Two desalination plants running at full capacity are not enough. Plans include emergency drilling to tap precious underground water deposits, further cuts to agriculture and a new desalination unit to come on stream next July.

With one of the highest concentrations of reservoirs in the world, Cyprus is no stranger to water shortages. While hydrologists can factor in inevitable periods of drought, the island can do little to arrest climate change.

Partassiades said that since 1972, rainfall had fallen by 20% but the run-off – the inflow into reservoirs – had declined by 40%, because of rising temperatures and the resulting increase in evaporation.

“Climate change is clearly evidenced in Cyprus,” said Costas Papastavros, head of the island’s national climate change unit...

Ultimately, he said, Cyprus would need to get used to life under global warming: “This is what happens when natural cycles are broken by human influence.

Monday, November 19, 2007

"Restoration push failing Chesapeake crabs"

The Chesapeake Bay's famous blue crabs - feisty crustaceans that are both a regional symbol and a multimillion-dollar catch - are hovering at historically low population levels, scientists say, as pollution, climate change, and overfishing threaten the bay's ultimate survivor.

This fall, a committee of federal and state scientists found that the crab's population was at its second-lowest level in 17 years, having fallen to about one-third the population of 1993. They forecast that the current crabbing season, which ends Dec. 15 in Maryland, will produce one of the lowest harvests since 1945.

This year's numbers are particularly distressing, scientists say, because they signal that a baywide effort to save the crab begun in 2001 is falling short.

Governments promised to clean the Chesapeake's waters by 2010. But that effort is far off track, leaving "dead zones" where crabs can't breathe.

Maryland and Virginia have changed their laws to cut back the bay's crab harvest. But watermen have repeatedly been allowed to take too many of the valuable shellfish, scientists say. The watermen, meanwhile, say they're being unfairly blamed.

"Now it appears that even the hardy blue crab is approaching its breaking point," said Howard Ernst, a professor at the US Naval Academy and a critic of government efforts to protect the Chesapeake. If the crab's population drops further, Ernst said, "what we ultimately lose is not only a resource, but a unique and irreplaceable cultural heritage."

In the 1990s, the crab's population began to fall off rapidly. Since 2000, it has been at a historically low ebb.

There were about 852 million crabs in the bay in 1993, but there are now about 273 million, according to the committee of federal and state scientists, which issued a report in September....

And the immediate future doesn't look much better. The number of crabs less than a year old, a crucial indicator of how the population will look in the next year or two, fell last winter to its lowest level in 15 years.

The reasons for the decline probably include climate change, because the water now is often too warm for a grass species the crabs use as shelter.

But the causes also include two problems that governments have promised - and failed - to fix.

One is the water. Rain washes down manure, treated sewage, and suburban fertilizer, which cause algae blooms that remove oxygen from the bay's water. Low-oxygen "dead zones" can kill crabs or push them out of their preferred habitat.

State and federal governments promised to clean up the pollution by 2010. Now officials say the effort, led by the Environmental Protection Agency, is far behind schedule....

Maryland and Virginia, which share the bay, sought to limit the catch in 2001, with rules about what days watermen could work and the minimum size of crabs they could keep.

But, though the harvest went down, crabbers were still able to catch what scientists say is an unhealthy number of crabs in 2001, 2002, and 2004. And they're on pace to do it again this year, according to a recent estimate. The reason: Crab catches have declined, but the total number of crabs has dropped even faster...

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The birds are back - along the Pacific Coast Flyway


..."In the late 1970s and 1980s, we were witnessing steep declines in birds, and it was very frightening," Chisholm said. "But the habitat restoration programs we've seen in the past 20 years have made a tremendous difference. It's not just the number of programs - it's the scale."

Right now, said Chisholm, Audubon California is participating in a project near Colusa in the Sacramento Valley that will turn 7,000 to 9,000 acres of former rice land into floodplain wetland.

"At Owens Lake, 50,000 acre feet of water that used to go to Los Angeles each year is now restoring the lake, creating fantastic shorebird habitat," Chisholm said. "Huge restoration projects are coming together at Tule Lake and Goose Lake in northeastern California, the Tulare Basin in the southern San Joaquin Valley, even the Colorado River Delta in southern California and Mexico. To a very significant degree, we're changing the face of the landscape in a way that benefits wildlife."

Chisholm also credits the decomposition rice program - which involves flooding fields in winter to decompose rice stubble instead of burning it - with a major role in improving flyway conditions.

"That change came out of clean air regulations, because burning rice straw was a serious air quality problem for the Sacramento Valley," Chisholm said. "But the program also has been a tremendous boon for waterfowl, shorebirds and wading birds. It has essentially created hundreds of thousands of acres of seasonal wetlands where birds can feed and rest through the winter and early spring."

...The new habitats have not only made birds more numerous - but they've also made them healthier. Throughout much of the late 20th century, wintering Central Valley waterfowl periodically suffered massive die-offs from botulism and avian cholera - the result of too many birds squeezing into too few places, contaminating their resting and feeding areas with fecal waste.

"There were times when we lost tens of thousands of ducks," recalls Greg Mensik, the deputy refuge manager of the Sacramento Valley National Refuge Complex. "I remember one day before the opening day of duck season when I picked up 125 carcasses. It was extremely depressing."

Today, said Mensik, such plagues are a memory....

"It's been at least 10 years since we've had a major incident," he said. "In large part, that's due to both the enhanced public and private marshlands and the expanded decomposition rice program. We've gone from 60,000 to 70,000 acres of flooded rice to 200,000 to 300,000 acres. The birds aren't packed together anymore, and it's harder for disease to spread."...

"Around 1980, we had a valley-wide population of about 125 ibis," Mensik said. "Today, there are between 50,000 to 100,000. No one really expected it."

To keep the birds burgeoning on the Pacific Flyway, the money will have to keep flowing - not just for restorations, but to manage the wetlands that have been restored. To stay productive, wetlands must be meticulously maintained, say wildlife managers.

"If you establish a wetland and then walk away, you'll see successional ecological changes over time that will eventually turn it into grassland and forest," said Dan Yparraguirre, a waterfowl coordinator for the California Department of Fish and Game. "We need to manage our wetlands for the species we want to benefit. That can involve any number of practices - land leveling or dredging, planting or removing vegetation, adjusting water levels. It's an active, ongoing process."

So despite the good news, the Flyway's birds are by no means home free. The pressures that winnowed their numbers in the 1980s - urban development and conversion of habitat to intensive agriculture - remain. Chemical contamination and oil pollution at critical habitats remain a chronic problem, as evidenced by the recent spill of 58,000 gallons of bunker oil in San Francisco Bay from a container ship that bumped a piling on the Bay Bridge. The bay and the contiguous Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta comprise some of the most important wintering, staging and breeding grounds on the Flyway. And while the impact of new threats - most notably global warming and climate change - have yet to be fully felt, they are likely to be profound.

That said, the fact that we still have multitudes of birds that can darken the skies, the fact that we have rebuilt their numbers against all odds, the fact that they remain with us - well, some celebration is in order...

"Noah's Ark" flood spurred European farming

An ancient flood some say could be the origin of the story of Noah's Ark may have helped the spread of agriculture in Europe 8,300 years ago by scattering the continent's earliest farmers, researchers said on Sunday.

Using radiocarbon dating and archaeological evidence, a British team showed the collapse of the North American ice sheet, which raised global sea levels by as much as 1.4 meters, displaced tens of thousands of people in southeastern Europe who carried farming skills to their new homes.

The researchers said in the journal Quaternary Science Reviews their study provides direct evidence linking the flood that breached a ridge keeping the Mediterranean apart from the Black Sea to the rise of farming in Europe.

"The flooding of the Black Sea was not well dated but we got it down to about 50 years," said Chris Turney, a geologist at the University of Exeter, who led the study. "As soon as the flooding is done, farming goes crazy across Europe."

The researchers created reconstructions of the Mediterranean and Black Sea shoreline before and after the rise in sea levels. They estimated the flood covered some 73,000 square kilometers over a 34-year period, causing mass displacement of people.

Previous archaeological evidence has shown communities in the region were already farming when the flood hit. The Exeter team suggests the mass migration caused a sudden expansion of farming and pottery production across the continent.

"We looked at all the earliest data on farming in Europe and we found a little bit of farming in Greece and the Balkans just before the flood," Turney said in a telephone interview. "When the flood happened, farming seemed to stop but it was re-established a generation later across Europe."

The researchers believe these people took their skills to new areas previously populated by hunters and gatherers where there had been no evidence of farming, Turney said...

"When the Black Sea flooded at end of last ice age some people have suggested it was the origins of the Noah's Ark myth," he said. "If you lived in that basin it would have seemed like the whole world had flooded."

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Groundwater lost to rising sea levels could be greater than thought

Rising sea levels could swallow up to 40 percent more potable groundwater than previously thought because of tricks of topography, a new study has found.

Many current predictions about the impact of global warming look at how much land would be lost to rising sea levels.

But researchers at Ohio State University have found that in many coastal regions sea water will leach into the water table and contaminate groundwater well beyond the shoreline.

The degree to which groundwater is contaminated depends on shoreline structure: sandy beaches allow for much greater subsurface mixing than solid cliffs.

"The complex structure of the soil can enhance mixing between salt water and fresh water and that area can extend more than the distance that the coastal line recedes," said hydrology professor Motomu Ibaraki, who designed the study.

"In most studies, people say if the coastline recedes 100 meters then freshwater recedes 100 meters. Well, our study shows that it's going to be extended (up to 40 percent) more by the mixing process."

Ibaraki and a graduate student built a computer simulation to study how different coastal soil structures would affect subsurface mixing of salt water and fresh water.

The next step is to take the model and apply it to specific geographical locations to determine how much freshwater would be lost as sea levels rise.

The UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts that global mean sea levels will rise by 14 to 44 centimeters (5.5-17 inches) by 2100 as a result of global warming. The impact would be far greater in low-lying coastal areas.

Since it takes relatively small amounts of salt water to render fresh water undrinkable, even nominal increases in sea levels can have dramatic effects on fresh water resources, Ibaraki said.

"The amount of water we have on the earth is constant. However, the amount of fresh water we can use is decreasing," Ibaraki said in a telephone interview.

"Only two percent of the earth's water is fresh water and most of it is contained in glaciers. We are losing glaciers but we don't know how much and because we have more demand for water, groundwater is also diminishing."...

Friday, November 16, 2007

"Overfishing and development turning the Mediterranean into a marine graveyard"

From the Independent.UK

The Mediterranean, once a playground for a vast array of species, is turning into a graveyard of natural life with more than 40 per cent of its shark and stingray population under threat.

The Mediterranean has the highest numbers of threatened sharks and rays in the world, according to a report published yesterday by the World Conservation Union (IUCN). The study blamed the dramatic threat to these indigenous species on a combination of over-fishing (including accidental by-catches), degradation of habitat and human disturbances.

"From devil rays to angel sharks, Mediterranean populations of these vulnerable species are in serious trouble," said Claudine Gibson, Programme Officer for the IUCN Shark Specialist Group (SSG) and co-author of the report.

"Our analyses reveal the Mediterranean as one of the world's most dangerous places on Earth for sharks and rays. Bottom-dwelling species appear to be at greatest risk in this region, due mainly to intense fishing of the seabed."

In all, 71 species of sharks, rays and chimaeras (cartilaginous fishes) were assessed in the study, that showed 30 species threatened with extinction. Of those, 13 were classified as critically endangered, eight as endangered and nine as vulnerable.

Another 13 species were classified as near threatened, while a lack of information led to 18 species being classified as data deficient. There were only 10 species in the whole investigation deemed to be of least concern.

The report is the third in a series of regional assessments of the Mediterranean by IUCN.

At present, there are no catch limits for fished species of Mediterranean sharks and rays.

The Maltese skate is one of the species under greatest threat. Found only in the Mediterranean, it has seen population declines of 80 per cent, largely because of bottom trawl fisheries. The angular roughshark and three species of angel shark have also been termed critically endangered. The porbeagle and shortfin mako also fell into the category of critically endangered, predominantly because their meat and fins are prized delicacies...

Over 100 million tourists flock to the Med, known as the "cradle of civilisation", each year – and the figure is expected to double by 2025. The effect it has had on both the coastline and marine life has been devastating.

Modern resorts created for high-intensity tourism have replaced natural habitats, with disturbances such as the anchoring of pleasure boats on seabeds upsetting the ecosystems...

Ironically, the two elements that most attracted tourists in the first place: the fine sandy beaches and clear water, are now two of the most threatened aspects of its scenery...

"Whale found deep in Brazil rain forest"

An 18-foot minke whale ran aground on a sandbar in the Amazon jungle some 1,000 miles from the ocean, Brazilian media reported Friday. Globo television broadcast images of dozens of people gathered along the Tapajos River splashing water on the animal, whose back and dorsal fin were exposed to the hot Amazon sun. Sea creatures rarely venture so far into fresh water.

"It apparently got separated from its group and swam upstream," biologist Fabio Luna said in a televised interview from the site. "It's very unusual."

Scientists said the whale was 18 feet long and weighed about 12 tons, and were working to dislodge the mammal and return it to the ocean.

The whale ran aground Wednesday near Santarem in Para state, Brazil's Environmental Protection Agency said, according to the Globo newspaper. Phone calls to the agency went unanswered Friday, when many government offices were closed for a long holiday weekend.

The creature reportedly is a minke whale, the second smallest of the baleen whales after the pygmy right whale, with an average length of about 23 feet.

The International Whaling Commission Scientific Committee estimates there are about 184,000 minke whales in the central and northeast Atlantic Ocean.

"Flocks of 'lost' auks spark climate change fears"

From the Independent.UK

Record-breaking sightings of vast flocks of little auks in Britain have prompted new concerns over the impact of climate change on the migration patterns of bird species.

The record for the size of flock has been broken twice in four days, according to the National Trust, with 18,000 of the tiny black-and-white seabirds recorded around the Farne Islands off Northumberland last week – 7,000 more than the previous record set off Flamborough Head, East Yorkshire, in 1995.

But even this vast gathering was dwarfed by the flock spotted there on Sunday when 29,000 little auks were seen.

Thousands of the birds were recorded battling last week's gales from watchpointss along the north-east coast but little auks have been seen as far south as East Sussex and Kent, hundreds of miles south of their normal territories.

The "mass displacement" of the flocks may show the unpredictable effects that climate change will have on wildlife with, in this case, a traditionally cold weather bird moving in to warmer climes, most likely in search of food. But they may simply have been blown off course by the gales that caused last week's tidal surge off East Anglia.

However, as other species of seabird such as guillemot and terns begin to show catastrophic reductions in their number of young, it is feared that subtle changes to the ecology of the world's oceans could be behind the mass sightings.

"People are really surprised by these sightings though they are becoming more common and we don't know why. No one really understands much about their breeding habits because they breed so far to the north," said Mark Grantham of the British Trust for Ornithology. "But all our other seabird species are suffering really badly and that is because of subtle changes in acidification and rising temperatures in the North Sea."

Little auks, relatives of the puffin, are one of the smallest seabirds, around the size of a starling, and feed on small crustaceans, fry and plankton rather than fish. Changes at the bottom of the food chain can have profound effects on larger species.

The growing presence of little auks in the UK has brought them into conflict with other birds. Flocks spotted over the weekend, some of which had not fed for four days, were badly weakened as they fought the northerly winds to head back up the east coast. Birdwatchers reported that many of those that dropped to the sea to rest were seized and swallowed whole by gulls.

Meanwhile, it is feared that the recent storms may have washed away hundreds of grey seal pups from one of Britain's most important colonies. Waves battered the Farne Islands last week, and scientists are assessing the impact on the pups. Television viewers were alerted to their plight after it was featured on the BBC's Autumnwatch on Tuesday.

Comet Holmes Bigger Than The Sun


This composite image prepared by Jewitt shows a Nov. 9th photo of the comet beside the sun and Saturn for scale. To photograph the comet, Stevenson et al used the 3.6 meter Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope atop Mauna Kea, "one of the few professional instruments still capable of capturing the whole comet in one image," notes Jewett.

The sun remains by far the most massive object in the solar system, with an extended influence of particles that reaches all the planets. But the comparatively tiny Comet Holmes has released so much gas and dust that its extended atmosphere, or coma, is larger than the diameter of the sun. The comparison is clear in a new image.

"It continues to expand and is now the largest single object in the solar system," according to astronomers at the University of Hawaii.

The coma's diameter on Nov. 9 was 869,900 miles (1.4 million kilometers), based on measurements by Rachel Stevenson, Jan Kleyna and Pedro Lacerda of the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy. They used observations from the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope. The sun's diameter, stated differently by various sources and usually rounded to the nearest 100, is about 864,900 miles (1.392 million kilometers).

Separately, a new Hubble Space Telescope photo of the comet reveals an intriguing bow-tie structure around its nucleus.

The comet's coma—mostly microscopic particles—shines by reflecting sunlight.

Holmes is still visible to the naked eye as a fuzzy star anytime after dark, high in the northeast sky. You can find it by using this sky map. It is faintly visible from cities, and from dark country locations is truly remarkable.

"Right now, in a dark sky it appears as a very noticeable circular cloud," said Joe Rao,'s Skywatching Columnist. Rao advises looking for the comet this weekend, before the moon becomes more of a factor. The comet will likely diminish in brightness yet remain visible for the next two to three weeks, he said.

"Over the next few weeks and months, the coma and tail are expected to expand even more while the comet will fade as the dust disperses," Stevenson and her colleagues write.

On Monday, Nov. 19, the comet will create a unique skywatching event with its see-through coma, according to the Web site "The comet will glide by the star Mirfak [also called Alpha Persei] and appear to swallow it—a sight not to be missed."

...Nobody knows why Holmes erupted, but it underwent a similar explosive brightening in 1892. The recent display, which began Oct. 24, brought the comet from visual obscurity to being one of the brighter objects in the night sky. It has since dimmed somewhat as the material races outward from the nucleus at roughly 1,100 mph (0.5 km/sec).

The Hawaiian astronomy team writes in a press statement: "This amazing eruption of the comet is produced by dust ejected from a tiny solid nucleus made of ice and rock, only 3.6 kilometers (roughly 2.2 miles) in diameter."

The new image from the Hawaiian observatory also shows a modest tail forming to one side, now just a fuzzy region to the lower-right. That's caused by the pressure of sunlight pushing on the gas and dust of the coma.

But the comet is so far away—149 million miles (240 million kilometers), or about 1.6 times the distance from Earth to the sun—that even Hubble can't resolve its nucleus.

The offset nature of the coma, seen in ground-based images, suggests "a large fragment broke off and subsequently disintegrated into tiny dust particles after moving away from the main nucleus," Hubble astronomers said in a statement today. The comet's distance, plus all the dust, prevent Hubble from seeing any fragments, however.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

"An Inconvenient Assessment"


...How do you get them to prepare, just as they might for a terrorist attack, or a pandemic, or an intense hurricane landfall?

You’d have to bring global warming down from the atmosphere to a personal level. So you might want to talk to people living on the Gulf Coast or in Florida about how rising sea levels will impact their beaches and coastal homes and change their hurricane vulnerabilities; to Californians and Pacific Northwesterners about the consequences of declining moun- tain snowpack for their drinking water supplies; to those living in the heartland about projected changes to agriculture; to
those in the Southwest about increasing risks of wildfire and drought; and so on.

Such a project actually did exist once, though you might not have heard of it. It went by the common name of the U.S.National Assessment, though the final product’s official title—Climate Change Impacts on the United States: The Potential Consequences of Climate Variability and Change—was much wordier. But in- dustry groups, conservative think tanks,
and global warming skeptics despised the National Assessment like nothing else in the world of climate science (which is really saying something). They suspected a nefarious plot by then-Vice President Al Gore to build a broader constituency for action on global warming. And after they gave the report their thumbs down, their gladiatorial champion—the Bush administration—lopped off its head. Not only did the White House undermine the first incarnation of the assessment, released in 2000, but rather than following up on this pioneering experiment in a serious way, it censored mere references to it out of subsequent government climate science documents. Then the administration tried to cover its tracks by replacing a required follow-up assessment with what amounted to a scientific sham.

In the context of repeated scandals over the relationship between the Bush government and science, the story of the National Assessment often has been overlooked. Other tales may have had more immediate flair—former industry lobbyists revising climate reports and then getting jobs with ExxonMobil, for example, or top scientists (including the former surgeon general) going public to announce they’ve been gagged. Yet in the words of global warming whistleblower Rick Piltz, the deep-sixing of the National Assessment remains “the central climate science scandal of the administration.” If we wish to grasp the true consequences of the so-called war on science—and to learn how it has rendered us, during a crucial period of six to eight years, unable to grapple with what is arguably our biggest national and global problem— learning about the National Assessment’s suppression is critical. And as climate change continues apace, and may be moving much faster than expected, we need an updated assessment now more than ever...

Cyclone Sidr

From TimesUK

A fierce cyclone that has whipped up tidal waves is wreaking havoc and destruction on Bangladesh’s southwestern coast today.

Homes have been wiped out and trees uprooted in what officials described as the worst storm in more than 15 years.

The eye of Cyclone Sidr, visible in satellite images as a colossal swirling white mass bearing north from the Bay of Bengal, hit land in an impoverished coastal area near Bangladesh’s border with India.

Samarendra Karmakar, the head of the Bangladeshi meteorological department, said the storm matched one in 1991 that triggered a tidal wave that killed an estimated 138,000 people.

However he added he was optimistic that, this time around, a major effort to evacuate villages and place people in special shelters could mean low-lying Bangladesh - one of the world’s poorest countries - would escape significant loss of life.

“The cyclone has battered Bangladeshi coastal areas. The velocity of the wind in that area is 220 to 240 kilometres (140 to 155 miles and hour),” he said.

“It is not less severe than the 1991 cyclone, in some places it is more severe. But we are expecting less casualties this time because the government took early measures. We alerted people to be evacuated early."

Bangladesh’s worst cyclone disaster was in 1970, when some half a million people died.

Officials in both Bangladesh and across the border in India have been evacuating hundreds of thousands of people from the area over the past 48 hours.

Mr Karmakar said rivers in the Sunderbans area, a vast mangrove forest straddling the India-Bangladesh border and the natural habitat of endangered Royal Bengal tigers, were also swelling fast as the storm moved north in the direction of the capital Dhaka....


From New Age Bangladesh

Very severe cyclone Sidr, packing a speed of 240kmph, on Thursday afternoon started pounding the southern coasts, especially the regions of Khulna and Barisal, according to the Meteorological Department of Bangladesh.

Fifteen southern districts — Chittagong, Cox’s Bazar, Noakhali, Chandpur, Feni, Barisal, Pirojpur, Lakshmipur, Jhalakati, Bhola, Barguna, Patuakhali, Bagerhat, Satkhira and Khulna — were likely to be affected.

Southern district administrations said the cyclone left a trail of destruction as it had lashed a number of places. The extent of damage could not be established till 11:00pm, but officials feared severe damage of lives, property and crops in the Barisal and Khulna regions.

The Patharghata upazila nirbahi officer in Barguna, M Selim, told New Age over telephone at about 10:00pm that the brick house he was in was shaking as the cyclone passed by. ‘I do not know what I will see tomorrow… I have never seen such a cyclone.’

Quoting harbour master at Mongla port, Lieutenant Commander Mohammad Shah Alam, the New Age correspondent in Khulna said the wind reached a velocity of 170km at night.

Reports of many houses being blown by the wind reached from Paikgachha and Mongla. Heavy rainfall and gusty winds were continuing.

The entire coastal belt plunged into darkness as power went off. Telecommunications between the coastal districts and other parts of the country were partially disrupted.

Tidal surges whipped by the storm were reaching up to eight feet high at 11:00pm. The eye of the storm was supposed to cross the coastal districts after midnight...

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

"Rare jellyfish spotted off (UK) coast"

The orange-pink creatures, called apolemia uvaria but also known as "pearl strings", have been seen off Plymouth and the Cornish coast.

But people have been warned not to touch them as they have a nasty sting.

Rory Goodall, a wildlife trip operator in Penzance said: "I have seen thousands of them attracted to our waters because of plankton."

Mr Goodall, who runs Elemental Tours and Atlantic Adventure, said he spotted the creatures while at sea off west Cornwall in his rigid inflatable.

With the help of wildlife experts in California, where they have also been reported, Mr Goodall identified the species of jellyfish as apolemia uvaria.

The jellyfish can be seen in colonies of tiny hydroids which can form strings up to 100ft (30.48m) long.

The creatures' sting, although not life-threatening to humans, is enough to kill a large fish.

Mr Goodall believes the creatures, normally found in deeper water off Norway and Ireland, were attracted by a plankton bloom off the Plymouth coast.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Bear species: six of eight face extinction

Six of the eight species of bear in the world are now officially classed as facing extinction.

The smallest, the sun bear, is the latest to be classified as vulnerable on the Red List of Threatened Species.

The Asiatic black bear is now listed as vulnerable

Of the other species four - Asiatic black bear, Sloth bear, Andean bear and Polar bear - are also listed as vulnerable.

The giant panda is facing the greatest threat and remains in the endangered category.

There is least concern over the European brown bear and the American black bear.

The sun bear found in Souteast Asia, Sumatra and Borneo, will be included in the 2007 Red List drawn up by the World Conservation Union (IUCN).

Previously it was known as 'Data Defficient' meaning not enough was known about it to give it a classification.

Rob Steinmetz, co-chair of the IUCN Bear Specialist Group's sun bear expert team, said: "Although we still have lot to learn about the biology and ecology of this species, we are quite certain that it is in trouble.

"We estimate that sun bears have declined by at least 30 per cent over the past 30 years (three bear generations), and continue to decline at this rate.

"Deforestation has reduced both the area and quality of their habitat. Where habitat is now protected, commercial poaching remains a significant threat.

"We are working with governments, protected area managers, conservation groups and local people to prevent extinction of the many small, isolated sun bear populations that remain in many parts of Southeast Asia."

Bear hunting is illegal throughout Southern Asia, but they suffer heavy losses from poachers, who risk the small chance of being caught against lucrative gains from selling parts.

Bile from the bear's gall bladder is used in traditional Chinese medicine and their paws are consumed as a delicacy.

Additionally, bears are often killed when they prey on livestock or raid agricultural crops. Bears simply roaming near a village may be killed because they are perceived as a threat to human life.

Dave Garshelis, co-chair of the Bear Specialist Group, which met earlier this month in Mexico, to update the status of the eight species, said: "Although the bear population estimates for Asia are not as reliable as we would like, we estimate that bears in Southeast Asia are declining at a particularly rapid rate due to extensive loss of forest habitat combined with rampant poaching."

Bruce McLellan, also a co-chair, said: "An enormous amount of effort and funding for conservation and management continue to be directed at bears in North America where their status is relatively favourable.

"It is unfortunate that so little is directed at bears in Asia and South America where the need is extreme. We are trying to change this situation but success is slow."

Oil disaster as five die in Black Sea storm

Five sailors have been killed in violent storms which have battered ships in the Azor and Black seas.

As many as ten ships sank or ran aground, including an oil tanker, when waves reached 5.5m (18ft) high in the Kerch strait.

The bodies of three sailors from the Nakhichevan freighter, which shed its load of sulphur, washed ashore.

Two members of a Russian freighter carrying metal near Sevastopol, on Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula, were also drowned.

Rescue teams have plucked 35 crew members to safety but the search continues for another 18 who are still missing in stormy conditions.

Russian experts said the sulphur did not pose a threat to the environment, unlike the 'disastrous' effect of a 2,400-tonne fuel oil spill from the Volganeft 139 tanker.

Nikolai Lityuk, of Russia's emergencies ministry, said the navy had been called in to help with the clean-up and rescue mission.

'Our main aim is to find the people who are missing. The second objective is to deal with the consequences of the oil spill,' he added.

Clean-up workers have found birds covered in a treacly mixture of oil and seaweed, leaving them unable to fly.

Wild dogs have been taking advantage of their plight and a number of birds have been found with their heads ripped off. Meanwhile, officials claimed storm warnings issued on Saturday were ignored by captains.

The Volganeft 139 was also reportedly designed to transport oil on rivers – not the open seas.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

GODDESS Perpetuations

I saw this over at radical goddess thealogy. It seems very much in sync with Quaker ideas or Unitarian Universalists.

Goddess Perpetuations for Daily Living

1. I strive to be in service rather than in power. With service comes humility and care. With power comes corruption.

2. I strive to live in harmony with Nature.

3. I strive to employ kindness and compassion as well as ethics and integrity.

4. I strive to be strong, tenacious and assertive, using force as a last resort, and then only tempered by wisdom, care, and discernment.

5. I strive to be accountable and responsible for my actions and expect the same of others.

6. I strive to not be influenced by power and greed.

7. I strive to be generous, supportive and nurturing.

8. I strive to work in partnership with others to create mutually beneficial relationships and associations.

9. I strive to perpetuate positive thoughts and practice life-affirming actions, knowing that what I put forth will return to me.

10. I strive to be aware I am a thread in the web of life, a microcosm of the macrocosm, and as such I affect others.

11. I strive for equality and human rights for all, no matter one's sexual orientation, race, religion or gender.

12. I strive to seek the beauty, joy and pleasures of life.

13. I strive to be grateful and know abundance, with no fear of scarcity.

14. I strive to know myself.

15. I strive to embrace diversity and tolerance for in Goddess' many faces, skin colors, sizes and shapes I see richness and have no fear.

16. I strive to honor all living things, including myself, and seek to harm none.

17. I strive to see the Divine in myself and all things, including the mundane.

18. I strive to recognize there is no one way to define, embrace or worship the Divine.

19. I strive to seek my own best path to the Divine.

20. I strive to be one with the Divine.

By: Rev. Karen Tate
Sacred Places of Goddess: 108 Destinations, available now,
and Walking An Ancient Path (due in bookstores Summer 2008)

"This Fragile Earth"

A couple of photos from a photogallery at

Thousands of fusulier fish swim on the edge of a coral reef in the Ras Mohammed protection area near Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt.

A NASA satellite image from September 16, 2007 shows Arctic summer sea ice at its lowest level, shattering a record set in 2005.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

"Oil pipeline set ablaze by bomb in Iraq"


TIKRIT, Iraq, - Iraqi insurgents blew up a roadside bomb under an oil pipeline in the central province of Salahudin on Saturday, setting up a huge fire, a provincial police source said.

The pipeline, which carries oil from the northern oil fields of Kirkuk to Beiji refinery, went into flames before midday in the Fatha area near the town of Beiji, 200 km north of Baghdad, the source told Xinhua on condition of anonymity.

Fire engines rushed to scene to put out the fire and prevented an escalation of the damage.

Thick black smoke billowed high into the sky, as intense heat from the fire prevented fire fighters from approaching the blaze, he said. TIKRIT, Iraq, Nov. 10 (Xinhua) -- Iraqi insurgents blew up a roadside bomb under an oil pipeline in the central province of Salahudin on Saturday, setting up a huge fire, a provincial police source said.

The pipeline, which carries oil from the northern oil fields of Kirkuk to Beiji refinery, went into flames before midday in the Fatha area near the town of Beiji, 200 km north of Baghdad, the source told Xinhua on condition of anonymity.

Fire engines rushed to scene to put out the fire and prevented an escalation of the damage.

Thick black smoke billowed high into the sky, as intense heat from the fire prevented fire fighters from approaching the blaze, he said.


Some facts about the "War on Terror" By Richard W. Behan posted @

• In Afghanistan the state was overthrown instead of apprehending the terrorist. Offers by the Taliban to surrender Osama bin Laden were ignored, and he remains at large to this day.

• In Iraq, when the United States invaded, there were no al Qaeda terrorists at all.

• Both states have been supplied with puppet governments, and both are dotted with permanent U.S. military bases in strategic proximity to their hydrocarbon assets.

• The U.S. embassy nearing completion in Baghdad is comprised of 21 multistory buildings on 104 acres of land. It will house 5,500 diplomats, staff and families. It is ten times larger than any other U.S. embassy in the world, but we have yet to be told why.

• A 2006 National Intelligence Estimate shows the war in Iraq has exacerbated, not diminished, the threat of terrorism since 9/11. If the "War on Terror" is not a deception, it is a disastrously counterproductive failure.

• Today two American and two British oil companies are poised to claim immense profits from 81 percent of Iraq's undeveloped crude oil reserves. They cannot proceed, however, until the Iraqi Parliament enacts a statute known as the "hydrocarbon framework law."

• The features of postwar oil policy so heavily favoring the oil companies were crafted by the Bush administration State Department in 2002, a year before the invasion.

• Drafting of the law itself was begun during Paul Bremer's Coalition Provisional Authority, with the invited participation of a number of major oil companies. The law was written in English and translated into Arabic only when it was due for Iraqi approval.

• President Bush made passage of the hydrocarbon law a mandatory "benchmark" when he announced the troop surge in January of 2007.

...The Afghan pipeline is a dead issue. As the warlords and the poppy growers in Afghanistan thrive, and as the Taliban regroups and regains dominance, the country tilts ominously into chaos once more.

The Iraqi hydrocarbon law -- the clever disguise for capturing the oil fields -- is fatally wounded, its true purpose becoming more widely known. Organized resistance is growing quickly, both in Iraq and in the United States. And the factions who need to agree on the law are otherwise engaged in killing each other....

"Oil Spill Spreads in San Francisco Bay"

From the New York Times

Challenged by strong winds and tides, cleanup crews struggled Friday to contain an oil spill spreading in the San Francisco Bay as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency for the area.

No stranger to natural disasters in California, the governor traveled to the Bay Area on Friday for a briefing on the status of the 58,000-gallon spill, which started early Wednesday after a 900-foot container ship rammed into a tower of the Bay Bridge. The ship was crippled, and oozed the oil that has closed 16 beaches and, at last count, killed more than two dozen water birds...

Fourteen local, state and federal agencies are now involved with the investigation, recovery and cleanup of the tanker’s payload, consisting of diesel fuel and dense oil used to power ships. But the cleanup effort has done little to blunt criticism aimed at those who first responded to the accident on Wednesday.

Initial reports of the accident suggested the oil spill dumped less than 200 gallons of fuel into the bay. City officials and the public did not learn from the Coast Guard about the true extent of the spill and its damage for roughly 12 hours...

More than 200 workers were trying to corral the spill or clean soiled birds on Friday. About 18,000 feet of collection booms have been floated around the bay to skim and soak up oil. Twenty teams of wildlife experts have been working to collect and clean oil-stained animals.

Yvonne Addassi, wildlife branch director with the California Department of Fish and Game, said, “We’re probably going to see a lot more birds coming in over the next few days; hopefully they will be alive.”

From - Around Bay Area, outrage at delayed response to oil spill grows

High-ranking California politicians and Bay Area residents angry about their oil-splattered beaches demanded answers Friday to why the Coast Guard took so long to notify the public of this week's huge ship-fuel spill and how the sludgy mess was allowed to spread so far.

Coast Guard officials acknowledged they had erred in waiting more than four hours on Wednesday to issue an advisory that 58,000 gallons - not just 140 - had spewed into the water after a ship rammed the base of a Bay Bridge tower, but they insisted their response was appropriate.

California's two U.S. senators, San Francisco's congresswoman, a host of state legislators and residents up and down the damaged coastline were not buying it.

"Something went terribly wrong," Sen. Barbara Boxer told The Chronicle when asked what she thought of the disaster response. "It was not handled the way it has to be handled.

"You are talking about the most pristine part of the country here. We value this ecosystem. This is what makes the Bay Area special. It's just unacceptable," said Boxer, chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works...

As of Friday evening, 20,546 gallons of oil had been mopped up on the beaches and waterways by at least 15 crews on foot and 11 boats rigged up to "skim" the gunk into tanks. Lt. Rob Roberts of the state Fish and Game Department said the cleanup is "going to be awhile. We could be out here weeks, we could be out here months.
"This is a process that may go for years."

He said much of the muck will have dissolved into the water by the end of the weekend and will be beyond containment. The last big oil spill in the bay, a 40,000-gallon mess in 1996, took at least two years to mop up...

Throughout the day, the strong tides that race out of the Golden Gate tortured Marin County's beaches with coating after coating of oily sludge.

Along Rodeo Beach, two dozen hazardous materials workers in orange suits trudged around the sand shoveling gobs of black goo, mixed with beach sand, and putting it into plastic bags. A Caterpillar tractor toted away huge piles of the bags from the beach.

Friday, November 09, 2007

"The Real Life of Bees"

By SUSAN BRACKNEY (Op Ed in the New York Times)

THE walking, talking, sneaker-wearing honeybees in Jerry Seinfeld’s animated film certainly are cute. But if a beekeeper like me had been in the director’s chair, “Bee Movie” would have looked quite a bit different.

In Hollywood’s version, there are more than three times the number of male roles than female ones, but a cartoon of my own hive would have thousands of leading ladies and only a handful of male extras.

The nurses that tend the young and the workers that forage for pollen; the guards that keep predators like skunks away and the undertaker bees that unceremoniously haul out the dead: they’re all female. And whereas the movie’s protagonist is repeatedly told he must choose just one job and stick with it, my honeybees rotate through all of the available duties.

“Bee Movie” makes only passing mention of the queen. But she’s the life of the hive, too busy producing perhaps a million eggs during her two-to-three-year existence even to feed herself (she has attendants for that). Were my Russian queen drawn for the big screen (think Natasha from “Rocky & Bullwinkle”), she would make quick work of the macho pollen jocks in “Bee Movie.”

That’s because non-animated drones don’t collect pollen, or make beeswax, or even have stingers. If Mr. Seinfeld wanted realism (and an R rating), his male bees would be sex workers who do little more than mate with the queen — after which their genitals snap off. Worse: when winter comes, worker bees shove the freeloading males out into the cold. If drones are required in the spring, the queen will simply make more of them.

Apiarists haven’t had much reason to laugh this year, because bees have been ravaged by colony collapse disorder, a mysterious malady that’s caused some beekeepers to lose 90 percent of their hives.

But one of every three or four bites of food we eat is thanks to bees; we truck bees many miles to pollinate about 90 different crops, from apples and oranges to almonds and blueberries, a punishing circuit that overtaxes the few colonies left. Of course, in “Bee Movie,” pollen jocks merely buzz past and barren landscapes bloom instantaneously into Technicolor glory.

But all these apiarian inaccuracies will be easy to forgive if wise-cracking animated honeybees finally get people to care about the rapidly disappearing real thing.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

"Toy of the Year" - A Date Rape Drug ?!?

From the Associated Press

U.S. officials pull Chinese-made toys with 'date rape' drug

Millions of Chinese-made toys have been pulled from shelves in North America and Australia after scientists found they contain a chemical that converts into a powerful "date rape" drug when ingested. Two children in the U.S. and three in Australia were hospitalized after swallowing the beads.

The recall is yet another blow to the toy industry -- already bruised by a slew of recalls during the summer.

In the United States, the toy goes by the name Aqua Dots, a highly popular holiday toy distributed by Toronto-based Spin Master Toys. It is called Bindeez in Australia, where it was named toy of the year at an industry function earlier this year.

Moose Enterprises said Bindeez and Aqua Dots were made at the same factory in Shenzhen in China's southern Guangdong province.

Last week the Chinese government announced an export ban on more than 700 toy factories in the region because of shoddy products.

The company said that the product was distributed in 40 countries but that it was up to the individual countries and distributors to determine whether the product would be pulled.

The toy beads are sold in general merchandise stores and over the Internet for use in arts and crafts projects. They can be arranged into designs and fused when sprayed with water.

Scientists say a chemical coating on the beads, when ingested, metabolizes into the so-called date rape drug gamma hydroxy butyrate. When eaten, the compound can induce unconsciousness, seizures, drowsiness, coma and death....

"Fish vanishing from Southeast Asian oceans"

(Ed. note: I think it's really annoying when ocean fish are referred to as "stock" as if they were domesticated or "raised" by humans. They are wildlife. And the big problem isn't so much "livlihoods" as it is that there isn't enough food for as many people who are living on earth these day - and that the ever increasing poplulation is destroying the ecosystem which is our planet. But here's the article, anyway...)

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Southeast Asia's oceans are fast running out of fish, putting the livelihoods of up to 100 million people at risk and increasing the need for governments to support the maintenance of fish stocks, an Australian expert said.

Fisheries in the region had expanded dramatically in recent decades and Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines were now in the top 12 fish producing countries in the world, Meryl Williams said in a paper for Australia's Lowy Institute.

"As the fourth largest country in world fish production, Indonesia is a fisheries giant. Yet ... Indonesian marine fisheries resources are close to fully exploited and a significant number in all areas are over-exploited," she said.

Williams, a former director general of the international WorldFish Center, said the number of fishers was still increasing in most Southeast Asian countries despite a trend since the 1980s to close frontiers due to territorial claims and overfishing.

In the Gulf of Thailand, the density of fish had declined by 86 percent from 1961 to 1991, while between 1966 and 1994 the catch per hour in the Gulf by trawlers fell more than sevenfold.

In Vietnam, a new fishing power and a rising source of imports by Australia, the total catch between 1981 and 1999 only doubled despite a tripling of capacity of the fishing fleet -- a sure sign that fishing was reaching capacity, she said.

In the Gulf of Tonkin, where Vietnam shares resources with China, the record was even worse with fish catch per hour in 1997 only a quarter of that in 1985.

"In the Philippines, most marine fisheries were overexploited by the 1980s, with catch rates as low as 10 percent of rates when these areas were lightly fished," she said.

Williams said Southeast Asian fisheries were serviced by a plethora of regional bodies and agreements, but few acted effectively on illegal fishing and shared stock management.

At the same time, illegal fishing was "dynamic, creative, clever and usually one step ahead of authorities."

A Southeast Asian government may issue a single fishing license only to find it being used by four different boats, she said. In Indonesia, foreign fishing vessels, often Chinese in joint-ventures, operated on the "margins of legality" in a geographically vast archipelago.

Williams said Australia should step up collaboration with Southeast Asian countries to help manage fish stocks.

Wake up and smell the... disaster

By Camilla Cavendish; Why are we so cool about climate change?

From The Times.UK

A collective groan in the office when I mutter that I might write about the UN's “state of the planet” report. What a turn-off: gloomy stats about mankind changing the weather, and destroying species and forests.

Environmentalists may get off on climate porn, but most people just turn away. “If it was really so bad, they'd do something,” says one colleague, without specifying who “they” are. The human tendency to convince yourself that everything is OK, because no one else is worried, is deeply ingrained.

Psychologists studied this phenomenon after the 1964 murder of Kitty Genovese. She was repeatedly attacked, outside her New York flat, by a stranger over the space of half an hour. Witness to that event were 38 people who stood at their windows but did not even dial for help. They just peered into the dark, listening to her screams, until she died.

John Darley and Bibb Latané later ran a series of experiments that confirmed that the more people who witness an event the less responsible any one of them feels. We assume that someone else is better qualified to respond. We are afraid to be the only one to make a fuss. “Social etiquette” trumps common sense.

Our tendency to shrug off responsibility seems to hold true even when we ourselves are in danger. Darley and Latané asked a series of college students to sit in a room and fill out a questionnaire. When smoke started to pour into the room through a vent, the others, all actors, ignored it and went on writing calmly. Ninety per cent of subjects copied the actors, even when the smoke became so thick that they could barely see and were coughing. But subjects who were alone in the room, under the same conditions, almost all reported the smoke as an emergency. That is an astonishing finding - that the inaction of other people can make us underestimate threats to our own safety.

In the past few weeks we have been told, by reputable sources, that the oceans are warming faster than anyone predicted. That species are becoming extinct a hundred times faster than fossils record. That fresh water supplies, critical to food production, are under strain. That we are approaching tipping points that may make climate change irreversible. This stuff makes me feel pretty desperate. I would think that other people would worry too. But then I go to the office, and to friends' houses, and no one mentions it. Nor do the politicians.

I am not claiming that there is a conspiracy of silence about environmental issues. On the contrary, some people argue there is too much noise. In most British offices, as the wisps come up the vent, the influence of the media probably means that there is more than one person looking concerned. But not a critical mass. When Darley and Latané put three non-actors in the room, they were more likely to call for help. But still only a third did.

It is human nature to wait for someone else to go first. So despite the noise from green groups, we look for get-out clauses. We blame India and China, or big corporations. People who write cheques to save cute monkeys from extinction also buy soap and margarine made from palm oil, whose production is devastating the tropical forests where the monkeys live. People who buy cloth shopping bags to reduce waste then fill them with water in plastic bottles that are shipped to China to be burnt. The part of our brain that is programmed to imitate dominates the part cued to self-preservation — especially when the threats are complex and long-term.

Could we send the herd in the other direction? Maybe. Ten years after Darley and Latané defined the bystander effect, another professor taught his pupils to overcome it. Arthur Beaman showed students films of the smoke experiment. He explained the psychology. And in future those students were, apparently, almost twice as likely as others to react to help other people.

Given the importance that companies and governments apparently place on environmental issues, it is astonishing how little attention has been paid to the psychological aspects.

Two years ago a small study for the Sustainable Development Commission found that UK households that generated their own energy, through solar power, wind turbines or air source heat pumps, became more likely to conserve energy. They would buy A-rated appliances and turn things off.

This didn't just apply to rich eco-fanatics: it applied equally to social housing tenants. Irrespective of whether they had chosen it or not, the process of generating their own energy seems to have given many people an “emotional connection”, says the study. The visibility of the solar panels or wind turbines made them proud to be pioneers.

In January I counted a Toyota Prius hybrid car on almost every one of the rich streets in a part of London just east of my house. Yesterday I did another count. They seemed to have spawned into two or three. That is the power of imitation, for people who can afford it. But how do you get other people to imitate behaviour that is less visible: buying less, travelling less or changing their electricity supplier? The answers must surely lie in social etiquette. If we are programmed to act like lemmings, then we must give some people incentives to break out and publicise their activities. Opinion- formers need to make visible changes in their own behaviour, which they have notably failed to do.

But the smoke is coming up through the vent. If enough people start talking about the smoke, perhaps others will start to see it too. And if enough people act, the rest may follow. For that, it seems, is human nature.

The Benefits of Garlic

Garlic has long been touted as a health booster, but it’s never been clear why the herb might be good for you. Now new research is beginning to unlock the secrets of the odoriferous bulb.

In a study published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers show that eating garlic appears to boost our natural supply of hydrogen sulfide. Hydrogen sulfide is actually poisonous at high concentrations — it’s the same noxious byproduct of oil refining that smells like rotten eggs. But the body makes its own supply of the stuff, which acts as an antioxidant and transmits cellular signals that relax blood vessels and increase blood flow.

In the latest study, performed at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, researchers extracted juice from supermarket garlic and added small amounts to human red blood cells. The cells immediately began emitting hydrogen sulfide, the scientists found.

The power to boost hydrogen sulfide production may help explain why a garlic-rich diet appears to protect against various cancers, including breast, prostate and colon cancer, say the study authors. Higher hydrogen sulfide might also protect the heart, according to other experts. Although garlic has not consistently been shown to lower cholesterol levels, researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine earlier this year found that injecting hydrogen sulfide into mice almost completely prevented the damage to heart muscle caused by a heart attack.

“People have known garlic was important and has health benefits for centuries,'’ said Dr. David W. Kraus, associate professor of environmental science and biology at the University of Alabama. “Even the Greeks would feed garlic to their athletes before they competed in the Olympic games.'’

Now, the downside. The concentration of garlic extract used in the latest study was equivalent to an adult eating about two medium-sized cloves per day. In such countries as Italy, Korea and China, where a garlic-rich diet seems to be protective against disease, per capita consumption is as high as eight to 12 cloves per day.

While that may sound like a lot of garlic, Dr. Kraus noted that increasing your consumption to five or more cloves a day isn’t hard if you use it every time you cook. Dr. Kraus also makes a habit of snacking on garlicky dishes like hummus with vegetables.

Many home chefs mistakenly cook garlic immediately after crushing or chopping it, added Dr. Kraus. To maximize the health benefits, you should crush the garlic at room temperature and allow it to sit for about 15 minutes. That triggers an enzyme reaction that boosts the healthy compounds in garlic.

Garlic can cause indigestion, but for many, the bigger concern is that it can make your breath and sweat smell like…garlic. While individual reactions to garlic vary, eating fennel seeds like those served at Indian restaurants helps to neutralize the smell. Garlic-powder pills claim to solve the problem, but the data on these supplements has been mixed. It’s still not clear if the beneficial compounds found in garlic remain potent once it’s been processed into a pill.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Naomi Klein on Disaster Capitalism

From Democracy Now!

NAOMI KLEIN: ...The last frontier for the privatization of the state is the privatization of those core state functions. You know, the only thing left that hasn’t already been privatized and outsourced is -- and this is pre-Bush administration -- is the army, is the police, are the fire departments. And these core state functions are really seen as the last great privatization free-for-all. It’s already entered healthcare. It’s already entered water. It’s already entered electricity, the media. So this is the last frontier.

And what we saw during the California wildfires was something really extraordinary. People have gone back to their neighborhoods now, and they see neighborhoods which have just been destroyed by the fires, but a few houses standing, and are asking questions about why some of those houses were saved. And in some cases, you can’t explain it, you know, it’s mysterious. But in some cases, it’s not mysterious. The reason why some houses were saved and others were not is because the people who lived in those saved houses pay insurance to the company AIG, and AIG offers privatized fire response. So --

AMY GOODMAN: American Insurance Group.

NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah, exactly. And they have a special service, a sort of VIP concierge service, where they spray the homes of the wealthy in certain select zip codes -- these are people who pay around $19,000 a year in insurance premiums. And as part of this special service, they get men in fire trucks, with the red hats and the bright red fire trucks -- they look, for all intents and purposes, like real firefighters -- spraying down their homes with fire retardant. But during the California wildfires, they actually did more than that. They actually put out fires and bragged to the press that they saved houses, while the house next to it went up like a candle...

When you see these privatized disaster responses, privatized firefighting -- you have Blackwater in the midst of this, pitching themselves as privatized humanitarian response and building tent cities and saying, you know, “We can do this better than the state” -- then, you know, I think we really need to question this basic premise that we are all in this together, and that maybe this explains the slowness and the unwillingness to take real action on the most pressing issue of our time, which is climate change...

All of these new companies work on what some of them are calling a “country club model.” You pay an annual fee, or you pay a one-time lump membership payment. So there’s another company called Sovereign Deed that is even bigger than HelpJet and is offering comprehensive VIP disaster rescue. You pay $50,000 a year.

But back to HelpJet, you pay as if you're joining a country club, and then if a hurricane is coming to your part of Florida, you get an early alert and a concierge calls you, or you call the HelpJet concierge, and you tell them if you want to go to Disneyland, if you want to book in some five- star resort, and they bill it as an escape from the failures that we witnessed during Hurricane Katrina. It says, you know, escape the madness, the lines, the chaos; just have “a first-class experience.”...

...There’s a company called Sovereign Deed. It’s one of the key -- it’s connected to the mercenary firm Triple Canopy, and also a retired brigadier general back from Iraq named Richard Mills is one of the key executives in this company. And they have just announced plans to set up a kind of a privatized FEMA in Pellston, Michigan, northern Michigan, a rural part of Michigan, that happens to have a very modern regional airport. And the idea is that they’re going to be turning Pellston, Michigan into their national disaster response center -- once again, only for their members...

I think, more than that, you know, as I’ve been talking about this with people, what we’re going to hear more of is sort of blaming the victims of these natural disasters who don’t pay the higher premiums to get this special service. You're starting to hear the language of personal responsibility, much like the sort of welfare debates of, you know, “It’s up to you to protect you and your family. You can’t look to the government.” It’s very similar, actually, to the way in which people discuss healthcare, that it’s your personal responsibility. Now, it’s your personal responsibility to protect your family from terrorist attacks, from climate change...

In Peru this summer, there was an earthquake, and there was another one of these breakthroughs in disaster capitalism, where after the earthquake an American company, an American service company called Aramark, got the contract to build evacuation camps, which is something that’s traditionally done by the UN, traditionally done by NGOs. Now it’s a private contractor, a for-profit company that actually provides food for prisons, going in there and seeing disaster response as -- internationally -- as an emerging market. And these are the first evacuation camps in the world, that I know of, that come with many McDonald's outlets...

I think we need to understand this -- disasters are seen by a growing sector of the economy as an exciting new market opportunity. And so, we’re in a situation where these companies are going to be putting, or are already putting, a counter-pressure on the government, where, you know, the citizens, the people of the world, are saying, “We want action on climate change,” but these companies have a vested interest in just staying on the same disastrous course. But the two-tiering of disaster response, I think we really need to think of very urgently, because this is moving really fast...

...the fact is that we know that Blackwater doesn’t just -- isn’t a humanitarian organization. They have the mission: protect the principal, protect whoever paid them. And this is what permeates all of this privatized disaster response. It’s not “protect everyone”; it’s “protect the principal.” So if we believe in other principles, besides that you should pay to be saved, the time has come to “protect the principle.”