New Honduran President Warns Former Leader of Arrest

The newly appointed president of Honduras, Roberto Micheletti, is warning that if ousted president Manuel Zelaya attempts to return here, he will be immediately arrested and sent to prison.

“If he comes back to our country, he would have to face our tribunals and our trials and our laws,” Micheletti said in an interview with The Washington Post late Monday night at his residence in the hills overlooking the capital. “He would be sent to jail. For sure, he would go to prison.”

Micheletti was named the new president of Honduras by the National Congress on Sunday, hours after soldiers burst into the presidential palace, detained Zelaya while he was still in his pajamas and then put him on a plane to Costa Rica.

The new Honduran president said he did not see any way to negotiate with the Obama administration and international diplomats seeking a return of Zelaya to power because Micheletti insisted that Zelaya was guilty of crimes against the country.

“No, no compromise, because if he tries to come back or anyone tries to bring him back, he will be arrested,” Micheletti said.

The streets of Tegucigalpa were empty Monday night because of a curfew, but the city is awash in rumors that Venezuela is marshaling its forces for a possible invasion. Micheletti was meeting with Honduran congressional leaders and others at his house, as soldiers stood guard outside.

Micheletti cautioned the world that his army was on alert and prepared to defend the country against any invasion.

“Our army also consists of 7.5 million people prepared to defend freedom and liberty,” said Micheletti, who stressed that Hondurans were a peaceful people.

Media outlets friendly to Zelaya have been shut down, and some reporters are hiding — as are members of Zelaya’s former cabinet. Most Hondurans must rely on state media or on newspapers and television stations that support the coup. Cable news outlets such as CNN en Español have been blacked out, but it is still possible to get outside news via satellite.

Although the United States condemned the coup, the most vocal statements of opposition — along with threats of military intervention — have come from Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, who led a summit of leftist allies in Nicaragua on Monday that demanded Zelaya’s reinstatement.

“We are saying to the coup organizers, we are ready to support a rebellion of the people of Honduras,” Chávez said. “This coup will be defeated.”

Micheletti said, “We have fears because of Mr. Chávez. We don’t know what to expect of him.”

Micheletti and others in his new government say that Zelaya was acting as a strongman who was surrounding himself with leftist allies of Chavez, including the Castro brothers in Cuba and President Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua.

Leaders around the hemisphere, including President Obama, quickly condemned the removal of Zelaya and called it a coup. But Honduran leaders insist that the world does not understand what happened here. They say that Zelaya was found guilty by a Supreme Court tribunal, that his arrest by the military was legal and that Zelaya was attempting to circumvent the Congress and the courts by staging a referendum vote on Sunday. The referendum, they say, could have led to a change in the constitution that would have allowed Zelaya to run for the top office again after his term ended in January 2010.

Micheletti said he was sending a delegation Tuesday to the United States to make the case against Zelaya and for the new government.

The new president said he thought his country could hold out long enough for world opinion to turn its way. Venezuela has already said it would suspend oil shipments, and Honduras’s neighbors — El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua — announced that they would stop overland trade.

“That is why I want to make a call to our allies in the United States, that they should stick with us at this very important moment in the life of the country,” Micheletti said. “The economy of our country is completely destroyed — because of the acts of the former government. If aid [from the United States and Europe] keeps coming, we will show that every little penny that we borrowed will be spent for the people of this country.”

Micheletti promised that Honduras would hold presidential elections in November and that a new president would take office in January 2010. Micheletti, a leader of the Liberal Party, which is also the party of Zelaya, vowed that he would not run for president.

After Zelaya was hustled out of the country to exile in Costa Rica, the leaders of his ouster produced a letter of resignation purportedly signed by Zelaya. It conceded that he had triggered a national crisis by his actions, that his political base had eroded, that he faced insurmountable health problems and that with his irrevocable resignation he hoped to help heal the wounds of the nation.

Zelaya called the letter a fabrication.

Micheletti said he signed it.

Micheletti also said that Zelaya, who had been his political ally for years in the Liberal Party, was a master at bending world opinion his way. Another source in the government here said that Zelaya actually was wearing a crisply ironed dress shirt when he was sent into exile in Costa Rica, but that he changed to a white T-shirt to show how he was hustled out of his official residence at dawn while still in his pajamas.

Senior Obama officials said an overthrow of the Zelaya government had been brewing for days — and they worked behind the scenes to stop the military and its conservative, wealthy backers from pushing Zelaya out. The U.S. failure to stop the coup gave antagonists such as Chávez room to use events in Honduras to push his own vision for the region.

The coup appears to have been well organized. Sunday morning, as Zelaya was being ousted, local television and radio stations went off the air. Cellphone and land-line communications were jammed, and many numbers offered nothing more than a busy signal.

Zelaya, speaking to reporters in Managua, demanded that he be restored to power but said that violence was not an option.

He also said that many Hondurans had no idea about the worldwide condemnation of the coup because private television stations in his country blacked out coverage, playing cartoons and soap operas.

By early Monday night, another meeting of Latin American nations had begun in Managua, with such participants as Mexico and the secretary general of the Organization of American States, José Miguel Insulza, criticizing Zelaya’s opponents.

Across the Americas and Europe, leaders called for Zelaya’s reinstatement. Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, president of Brazil, said his government would not recognize a Honduran administration not headed by Zelaya.

“We in Latin America can no longer accept someone trying to resolve his problem through the means of a coup,” Lula said.

The United Nations also condemned the coup and said Micheletti should make way for Zelaya’s return. Zelaya was invited to address the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday.

The ouster in the poor, agricultural country of 7 million people revived memories of coup-driven turmoil in Latin America. Zelaya, who has spoken frequently with reporters, has been quick to mention the political chaos that military overthrows have traditionally caused.

“Are we going to go back to the military being outside of the control of the civil state?” Zelaya asked. “Everything that is supposed to be an achievement of the 21st century is at risk in Honduras.”

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Full article: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/06/30/AR2009063001601.html?hpid=topnews

U.N. Backs Ousted Honduran Leader

Honduras june 30

The deposed president of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, addressed the United Nations on Tuesday.

The United Nations marshaled an unusually broad effort on Tuesday to condemn the military seizure of power in Honduras, turning over the podium of the General Assembly to its ousted president and quickly passing a resolution sponsored by countries often at loggerheads, including the United States and Venezuela.

The deposed president, Manuel Zelaya, said the “brutal” coup, including what he called a threat by soldiers to shoot him dead if he did not stop talking on his cell phone, was a blow against democracy.

“When these threats are issued behind rifles or bayonets, then here, in the 21st century, that means that we have still not progressed enough,” he said.

Mr. Zelaya, greeted by sustained applause when he entered the august chamber and seated in the Honduran seat on the assembly floor, said the resolution supporting him “expresses the indignation of the people of Honduras and of people worldwide.”

The one-page resolution, passed by acclamation in the 192-member body, condemned the removal of Mr. Zelaya as a coup and demanded his “immediate and unconditional restoration” as president.

His ouster on Sunday was the culmination of a battle that had been simmering for weeks over a referendum, which was to have taken place that day, that Mr. Zelaya hoped would lead to a revision of the Constitution. Critics said it was part of an illegal attempt by Mr. Zelaya to defy the Constitution’s limit of a single four-year term for the president.

Soldiers stormed the presidential palace in the capital, Tegucigalpa, early in the morning on Sunday, disarming the presidential guard, waking Mr. Zelaya and putting him on a plane to Costa Rica. Later on Sunday, the Honduran Congress voted him out of office, replacing him with the president of Congress, Roberto Micheletti.

In a news conference after the resolution was passed at the United Nations, Mr. Zelaya insisted that he would fulfill his four-year term, but said he would step down after that. “I am going to return to civilian life, not to political life.”

With the president of the General Assembly, Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, sitting next to him, Mr. Zelaya vowed to return to his country on Thursday, despite warnings that he could face arrest. But he said that a number of other leaders had offered to escort him, including Mr. d’Escoto, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of Argentina, President Rafael Correa of Ecuador and the secretary general of the Organization of American States.

Mr. Zelaya also dispelled suspicions that Western nations like the United States may have instigated or tacitly approved of his ouster, an allegation that has been repeatedly put forward by his close ally, President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela.

“The United States has changed a great deal,” he said at the news conference, noting that President Obama had not only denounced his removal as an illegal coup but had also called for his return to power.

In Washington, the Obama administration continued to stand by Mr. Zelaya. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said that the United States did not see any acceptable solution other than Mr. Zelaya returning to power.

Mr. Zelaya was supposed to meet with Thomas Shannon, an assistant Secretary of State, on Tuesday or Wednesday on the sidelines of an Organization of American States meeting to hash out a response to the crisis in Honduras. White House officials said that there were no plans as of Tuesday afternoon for Mr. Zelaya to meet with Mr. Obama, but that could change, one administration official said.

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Full article and photo: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/01/world/americas/01honduras.html?hp

Sarkozy Comments on Israeli Minister Make Waves

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel defended his ultra-nationalist foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, on Tuesday after reports emerged that President Nicolas Sarkozy of France urged that he be replaced with the leader of the centrist opposition, Tzipi Livni.

Mr. Sarkozy made the statement in a private meeting last week at the Élysée Palace attended by Mr. Netanyahu and a number of aides to both men, comparing Mr. Lieberman to Jean-Marie Le Pen, the far-right anti-immigrant French politician. Several participants at the meeting confirmed the reported statements.

Mr. Lieberman’s spokesman said that Mr. Sarkozy’s comment amounted to grave and insufferable meddling in the affairs of another democracy. Israeli radio broadcasts were filled with discussion of the episode, with right-wing members of Parliament assailing France and expressing indignation while some on the left said that Mr. Sarkozy was correct.

Yossi Beilin, a former leftist member of Parliament and minister said on Israel Radio that he often heard what Mr. Sarkozy said: “I can tell you a secret. I meet world leaders. There is hardly a conversation in which the subject does not come up. Someone will say, ‘Tell me, what’s this delusional appointment?’ There’s hardly a world leader who does not say this.”

Mr. Netanyahu’s office issued a statement saying he had full confidence in his foreign minister, adding that Mr. Lieberman was “fully committed to peace and security” and “an important member of the elected government of the democratic State of Israel.”

Mr. Lieberman, head of the Yisrael Beiteinu Party and a West Bank settler, was elected on a platform that called for citizenship loyalty oaths at a time of growing discord between Israel’s Jewish majority and Arab minority.

When Mr. Lieberman visited France recently, Mr. Sarkozy declined to meet with him, although he routinely received Ms. Livni, who was foreign minister in the last government.

According to the newspaper Yediot Aharonot, Mr. Sarkozy told Mr. Netanyahu that he should remake his government so that he, Ms. Livni and the defense minister, Ehud Barak, could produce historic breakthroughs for Middle East peace. He was reported to have said, “I’ve always received Israeli foreign ministers. I met with Tzipi Livni in the Élysée Palace, but with that one I simply can’t meet. I’m telling you, you need to get rid of that man. Get him out of the government and bring in Livni. With her and with Barak you can make history.”

The paper said Mr. Netanyahu replied: “No need to exaggerate. Lieberman is a very nice person, and in private conversations he speaks differently.”

Mr. Sarkozy was reported to have replied, “In private conversations, Jean-Marie Le Pen is also a nice person.”

Mr. Sarkozy is said to have added of Mr. Lieberman, “Sometimes when I hear what he says I have the urge to pull out my hair.” He placed his hands on his head and grabbed hold of his hair.

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Full article: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/01/world/middleeast/01mideast.html?hpw

Iran Moves to Preclude Further Public Defiance

Police officers and militia forces crowded the streets of Tehran on Tuesday, setting up checkpoints and making clear that the government had zero tolerance for any further public expressions of defiance to the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a day after the powerful Guardian Council certified his landslide victory.

The government made a series of official moves to close the book on weeks of protest that represented the strongest challenge to its control since the Islamic Republic was founded in 1979. Parliament issued a statement expressing broad gratitude over the June 12 vote and thanking the police and the Basiji militia for maintaining security. President Ahmadinejad made a surprise visit to the Ministry of Intelligence, where he gave a speech to employees.

The government crushed the vast protests following the vote, dispatching armed police and militia and leaving 17 people dead and hundreds more injured. The authorities continued to detain hundreds of journalists, former government officials, political activists and even independent researchers, in the quest to prevent any further demonstrations.

There seemed little prospect for any chance for organized and sustained action against the government’s version of events, political analysts said, in part because the arrests that have starved the opposition of leadership, foot soldiers, and an effective means to communicate.

One of the most recent arrests, of Bijan Khajehpour, an independent political economist, sent a chill deeper yet into Iran’s civil society because he was not involved in the opposition demonstration, political analysts said.

Mr. Khajehpour had been detained at the airport coming into the country from Britain, and like so many others has disappeared into the notorious Evin prison, raising concerns over the scope of the crackdown and the prospect of a political purge, the analysts said. “Bijan was perhaps the last independent-minded analyst living in Tehran who continued to travel to Europe and the U.S. and give open lectures about Iran,” said Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran expert with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “He always believed that if he was totally transparent the government would understand he was not doing anything wrong, and had nothing to hide.”

The government has also over the past several days fired high ranking officials who had supported Mir Hussein Moussavi, the president’s main challenger, according to Iranian news reports.

Human rights groups said arrests had taken place around the nation, but there were particular fears for those held at Evin were in physical danger.

“Amnesty International is gravely concerned that several opposition leaders detained in the wake of the 12 June elections may be facing torture, possibly to force them to make televised ‘confessions’ as a prelude to unfair trials in which they could face the death penalty,” the human rights watchdog group said in a statement.

Reporters Without Borders, the press-freedom organization, said that the concern extended beyond opposition leaders. “Several witness accounts makes us fear that torture and ill-treatment are being systematically inflicted on prisoners who have demonstrated against the regime,” the group said in a statement. “Several journalists and bloggers were brutally treated by the guards and by men employed by the state prosecutor Saaed Mortazavi.”

A spokesman for the Guardian Council, Abbas-Ali Khadkhodaei, did not shed any new light on Tuesday on the questions raised by opposition candidates about the legitimacy of the vote, the vote count and the review process.

Instead, Mr. Khadkhodaei discussed the one discrepancy which had already been discussed — that in some districts there were more ballots cast than registered voters. He explained that Iranians can vote anywhere they choose, regardless of where they are registered, but did not address those who said areas that reported extra votes were unlikely to have had many people passing through.

“You are born in Tehran or any other town, and you belong to that area based on local statistics, but you are casting your vote outside the country or your town,” he said in comments reported by state run Press TV. “Who can separate these statistics? So, the population moves for various reasons.”

The Guardian Council’s sudden decision on Monday to validate the election followed days of promises that a committee would be formed to review the election and that a partial recount would occur. But the committee was never seated, nor the review process established. The recount effort involved what officials said was a random 10 percent of ballots in Tehran’s 22 electoral districts and in some provinces, and they concluded that in some areas, Mr. Ahmadinejad had won even more votes than initially stated.

With the vote now officially over, the government pressed forward with its efforts to rewrite a narrative of events that had been cast first by the millions who took to the streets, and then through independent and citizen journalism. The government has made reporting inside the country impossible, forcing foreign journalists to leave while arresting and threatening Iranians who challenged the government’s position.

The government maintains that Western agents, primarily Britain, have been responsible for the unrest. On Monday, the government sought to recast blame for the death of about 17 protesters. The commander of Iran’s Basiji militia, Hossein Taeb, said that imposters wearing Basiji uniforms were responsible for infiltrating crowds attacking unarmed citizens. He also suggested that a Basiji imposter was responsible for killing Neda Agha-Soltan, the young woman who became an international symbol when video of her shot and dying in the street went on the internet and was seen around the world.

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Full article: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/01/world/middleeast/01iran.html?hp

Entertainment – June 30

Jackson Wrapped Video Before Death

Two weeks before he died, Michael Jackson wrapped up work on an elaborate production dubbed the ”Dome Project” that could be the final finished video piece overseen by the King of Pop, The Associated Press has learned.

Jackson was apparently preparing to dazzle concert audiences in London with a high-tech show in which 3D images — some inspired by his ”Thriller” era — would flash behind him as he performed on stage.

”It was a groundbreaking effort,” said Vince Pace, whose company provided cameras for the shoot, a 3D system he created with filmmaker James Cameron.

”To think that Michael’s gone now, that’s probably the last documented footage of him to be shot in that manner,” Pace said.

Two people with knowledge of the secretive project confirmed its existence Monday to the AP on condition they not be identified because they signed confidentiality agreements.

They said it was a five-week project filmed at Culver Studios, which 70 years ago was the set for the classic film ”Gone With the Wind.” Four sets were constructed for Jackson’s production, including a cemetery recalling his 1983 ”Thriller” video.

With 3D technology ”the audience would have felt like they were visiting the ‘Thriller’ experience, like they were there,” Pace said.

Shooting for the project lasted from June 1-9, with Jackson on the set most days. The project was in post-production, at the time of Jackson’s death, and had been expected to be completed next month. It was not immediately clear what would be made of the video footage now.

Producer Robb Wagner, founder of music-video company Stimulated Inc., did not immediately return a message seeking comment on the project.

Michael Roth, a spokesman for Jackson’s Los Angeles-based promoter AEG Live, said he hadn’t heard about the production but did not rule that it could be part of the company’s contract with the entertainer.

According to one of the people with knowledge of the project, a willow-thin, pallid Jackson left a memorable impression on the crew, arriving in a caravan of SUVs with hulking security guards in tow. The person said Jackson introduced himself to workers on the set and walked with a spring in his step but at one point needed assistance as he descended steps off a stage.

Besides the cemetery, one set was draped in black with an oversized portrait of Jackson in his ”Thriller” werewolf costume. Another set was designed to simulate a lush jungle, and a fourth was built to replicate a construction site, with a screen in the back to allow projection of different backgrounds.

Taping took place in marathon sessions ending early in the morning. One scene filmed on the construction site set included scantily clad male dancers wearing carpenter’s belts.

According to Stimulated’s Web site, the company was hired to produce screen content for Jackson’s planned comeback concerts in London. Stimulated has worked with Def Leppard and the Pussycat Dolls, and produced content for the Academy Awards and the Emmys.

Last year, U2 released the concert film ”U2 3D,” a film of the band’s 2005-06 Vertigo tour, shot at several shows in South America with 3-D technology.

At the time, guitarist The Edge told The Associated Press the 3-D technology allowed ”the songs to shine through.”

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Full article: http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/06/30/arts/AP-US-Jackson-Video-Project.html

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His Brother’s Keeper

A new movie shows life as it is for our soldiers at war.

brothers june 30

If you are one of those Americans who believe that we are not really at war with terrorists, Jake Rademacher has a message for you. Actually, what he has is a film about an ordinary family from Decatur, Ill., that has two members serving in Iraq. It’s the kind of film that will give you a new appreciation for the men who make Independence Day possible.

The two soldiers here are Capt. Isaac Rademacher and Sgt. Joe Rademacher, a fact that makes this war highly personal for their filmmaker brother. Isaac is a West Pointer who married another West Pointer, and Joe is a sniper who graduated at the top of his class in Army Ranger school. Older brother Jake wants to know why they fight, and so he takes his camera to Iraq “to find my brothers’ war.”

Though “Brothers at War” focuses on the Rademachers, they nowhere pretend to be the model family. While Isaac and Joe are off risking their lives in Iraq, another brother, Thad, loses his life to drugs at home. It all makes for sibling relationships that can be close and distant at the same time.

Of the two in uniform, Joe is more reticent about talking about his experiences for the camera, and more skeptical about what his brother could have learned there — at least during his first, relatively brief embed. As Jake puts it, “Joe needs me to have some confirmed kills, [and] then maybe I can sit next to him at the dinner table.”

Over the course of 110 minutes, the film takes us back and forth from Iraq to the home front. The actual fighting is minimal, and politics is completely absent. In some ways, the flatness provides the emotional punch: Watch Isaac kissing his wife and child goodbye before he boards a plane for his latest deployment to Iraq — and then try telling Mrs. Rademacher that her husband is not so much fighting a war as participating in an “overseas contingency operation.”

The scenes in Iraq have a similar feel, less about capturing the big firefights with the enemy than putting faces on the grunts doing the hard work that needs to be done. However many news accounts you may read about what these men go up against every day, it can’t compare to hearing a National Guardsman sitting atop a roof in the Sunni Triangle speaking with great relief about the time he didn’t squeeze the trigger — the moment he realized that the terrorist with an AK-47 in his sights was a child with a toy.

While many reviewers apparently find Mr. Rademacher’s presence in the film irritating and wonder why there isn’t a visual of a wounded or dead American, the military families who have been flocking to this film have a different reaction. When they see Mr. Rademacher in his Kevlar helmet and vest sweating away in the oven-like interior of a Stryker combat vehicle, they see what life is like for their husband, son, or brother.

When Mr. Rademacher shows soldiers cleaning their guns as they watch videos of the TV series “The OC,” they get a picture of how their loved ones relax. And when they hear that Pennsylvania Guard unit getting the news about a soldier that has been killed by a foreign sniper, they share the frustration — and the desire to get the guy responsible.

Though neither pro-war nor antiwar, this film does offer something that probably explains why one reviewer dismissed it as “achingly patriotic”: It shows our soldiers and Marines as professionals. In short, there are no victims here, just decent men doing a tough job. In New York, Washington and Los Angeles that may not sound like exciting fare. But in places like Oceanside, Ca., Savannah, Ga., Kileen, Texas., Norfolk, Va., etc. — cities that are home to our military families — “Brothers at War” speaks to audiences filled with people who know firsthand what it is like to have a husband or brother in Iraq.

Though it does have its patriotic moments, they are quiet and hard to draw out from men who would rather joke about their cheating girlfriends back home. While spending five days with a reconnaissance unit reporting on foreign terrorists crossing through the Syrian border, Mr. Rademacher asks the men he is with why they fight. A young Army specialist named Christopher MacKay says he’s fighting for a better life for his nieces.

Mr. Rademacher presses him: Would it be worth it if it ends up costing you your life? Spc. MacKay answers matter of factly. “Yeah, I’d give my life for America any day. Wouldn’t think twice.”

That’s not John Wayne speaking. That’s a young man who knows what he signed up for, knows why he signed up, and knows who he’s fighting for. In an America where Michael Jackson’s death gets more press coverage than a Medal of Honor winner, it’s sure nice to see at least one camera filming men who really matter.

William McGurn, Wall Street Journal

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Full article: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124631664790370713.html

Photo: http://moviecentre.net/upcomingmovies/movie_gallery.php?Pid=4332&Id=100

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Airline Has Nothing to Hide. Really.

zealand june 30

A screen grab from Air New Zealand’s new in-flight safety video featuring employees clad in nothing but body paint.

The instructions in Air New Zealand’s new in-flight safety video are given by employees who are nude except for body paint and strategically placed seat belts.

Passengers on the video’s maiden flight Monday — the 7 a.m. from Auckland to Wellington, on New Zealand’s North Island — may have never paid more rapt attention to the line “undo the seat belt by lifting the metal flap.”

The video — and a related ad campaign — are rare moments of levity in an industry that has been savaged by drastic drop-offs in passenger travel and air freight. Airlines around the world, including Air New Zealand, have had to cut flights, employees and investment plans.

The point of the three-and-a-half-minute safety video and the 45-second commercial that started running last month is that unlike other airlines, which increasingly add hidden charges to fares in an effort to increase falling revenue, Air New Zealand has nothing to hide.

“Which is why the price you pay includes everything — up front,” reads the ad’s tag line.

The video and commercial are not as revealing as some might think (or perhaps hope, given the toned bodies of the employees). The realistic body paint makes it look as if the employees — flight attendants, baggage handlers and a pilot — are wearing uniforms. The one person not shown doing his actual job is the company’s buff chief executive, Rob Fyfe, who plays a baggage handler.

zealand june 30 2

An Air New Zealand television commercial features employees whose uniforms are actually body paint. The baggage handler at left in the ad is the airline’s chief executive, Rob Fyfe.

Air New Zealand has suffered as much as some other airliners in the downturn: long-haul travel has fallen sharply and new domestic competitors have arisen, like Jetstar and Pacific Blue, even though the airline still has a market share of more than 80 percent, said Rob Mercer, an analyst at Forsyth Barr in Wellington.

But Mr. Mercer said that unlike other airlines, Air New Zealand has “never stopped being innovative and nimble.”

Last year, the airline paid people to shave their heads and wear temporary tattoos that said, “Need a change? Head down to New Zealand.”

This year’s cheeky ad campaign and the safety video, “Bare Essentials of Safety,” have brought Air New Zealand a lot of attention that it hopes will put lots of bottoms in seats.

The commercial, “Nothing to Hide,” has been viewed nearly two million times on YouTube — the most-viewed clip ever to come out of New Zealand, Steve Bayliss, the airline’s marketing manager, said by telephone Monday.

Each video took a day to shoot and cost about 10 to 15 percent of the cost of a major brand commercial, Mr. Bayliss estimated, since there were no actors to pay. The Air New Zealand staff members did not receive extra pay, just increased exposure.

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YouTube:

Bare essentials of safety from Air New Zealand

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7-Mq9HAE62Y

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Full article and photos: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124631664790370713.html

Daily sex ‘best for good sperm’

Sperm

Daily ejaculation may be the best way to improve sperm quality

Having sex every day improves sperm quality and could boost the chances of getting pregnant, research suggests.

In a study of men with fertility problems, daily ejaculation for a week cut the amount of DNA damage seen in sperm samples.

Speaking at a fertility conference, the Australian researcher said general advice for couples had been to have sex every two or three days.

Early results from the trial had already shown promising results.

But 118 men have now been tested and the benefits for sperm have become clearer.

Dr David Greening, from Sydney IVF, told delegates at the European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology meeting that eight in ten men taking part showed a 12% drop in sperm DNA damage after the seven days.

Although there was a big drop in sperm numbers from 180 million to 70 million over the week, men were still within the normal “fertile” range.

Sperm also became more active over the seven days with a small rise in motility, he added.

Damage

The theory is that the longer sperm hang around in the testes the more likely they are to accumulate DNA damage and the warm environment could also make them more sluggish after a while.

Sperm come under attack by free radicals – small reactive molecules which can damage DNA and cause cell death – in the tube that stores and carries sperm away from the testes.

Further work is needed to work out if daily sex for men without fertility problems has the same benefits but Dr Greening believes it is likely to be the case.

He warns that having daily sex for too long – say a fortnight – would probably cut sperm numbers too much.

But recommended “lots of sex daily” around the time the woman is ovulating.

He said it was best to “keep the river flowing”.

As men age they may not have as much sex as they did when they were younger, adding to the problem of infertility, Dr Greening told delegates.

“We are designed to breed in our youth.

“Perhaps we have been blaming the women as couples get older but perhaps there’s a contribution from the male because we’re not behaving as we should be.”

The findings may also have implications for couples undergoing IVF as men are commonly told to abstain from sex for a couple of days to try and boost sperm numbers.

Dr Alan Pacey, a fertility expert at the University of Sheffield, said the finding that daily ejaculation improved the chances of conception was interesting, but it would be wrong to apply the results to all men.

“For example, in cases where men have low sperm counts to start with, daily ejaculations may well reduce the sperm count still further and whilst sperm may be more healthy the reduced numbers could impede the chance of natural conception.

“The best general advice is that if couples are attempting to conceive naturally, intercourse every couple of days will make sure the sperm are as healthy as possible on each occasion.

“However, in preparation for IVF or ICSI treatment, this advice may well change in response to medical test results like DNA damage measurements.”

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Full article and photo: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/8125934.stm

Most complete Earth map published

The most complete terrain map of the Earth’s surface has been published.

deathvalley june 30

An image of Death Valley – the lowest, driest, and hottest location in North America – composed of a simulated natural color image overlayed with digital topography data from the ASTER Global Digital Elevation Model.

The data, comprising 1.3 million images, come from a collaboration between the US space agency Nasa and the Japanese trade ministry.

The images were taken by Japan’s Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (Aster) aboard the Terra satellite.

The resulting Global Digital Elevation Map covers 99% of the Earth’s surface, and will be free to download and use.

The Terra satellite, dedicated to Earth monitoring missions, has shed light on issues ranging from algal blooms to volcano eruptions.

For the Aster measurements, local elevation was mapped with each point just 30m apart.

“This is the most complete, consistent global digital elevation data yet made available to the world,” said Woody Turner, Nasa programme scientist on the Aster mission.

“This unique global set of data will serve users and researchers from a wide array of disciplines that need elevation and terrain information.”

Previously, the most complete such topographic map was Nasa’s Shuttle Radar Topography Mission, covering 80% of the Earth’s surface. However, the mission’s results were less accurate in steep terrain and in some deserts.

Nasa is now working to combine those data with the new Aster observations to further improve on the global map.

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Full article and photo: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/8126197.stm

How Long Is Long Enough?

No one seems to know how old Mohammed Jawad was when he was seized by Afghan forces in Kabul six and a half years ago and turned over to American custody. Some reports say he was 14. Some say 16. The Afghan government believes he was 12.

What is not in dispute is that he was no older than an adolescent, and that since his capture he has been tortured and otherwise put through hell. The evidence against him has been discredited. He has tried to commit suicide. But the U.S. won’t let him go.

The treatment of the young captive was so egregious that the decorated U.S. Army officer assigned to prosecute him — a man gung-ho to secure a conviction against a defendant he believed had committed a serious crime against the American military — ended up removing himself from the case and declaring that he could no longer “in good conscience” participate in the military commissions set up to try accused terrorists.

Jawad was accused of hurling a hand grenade into a vehicle occupied by two American soldiers and their Afghan interpreter in December 2002. All three occupants of the vehicle were seriously injured.

Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld of the U.S. Army Reserve, a recipient of the Bronze Star, among other commendations, was named the lead prosecutor on the case in 2007. By then, Jawad had already been held for nearly five years. Colonel Vandeveld assumed that the case would be uncomplicated and that a conviction could be easily secured.

Jawad had confessed to the attack and, according to the charges against him, had acted as a member of an insurgent group called Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin.

As Colonel Vandeveld began a diligent effort to assemble what he assumed would be the evidence that would convict Jawad, he became increasingly distressed and ultimately dismayed. It turned out, as a military judge would later rule, that Jawad’s Afghan captors had obtained his confession by torturing him. Then the boy was taken by U.S. authorities to Bagram Air Field, the main U.S. military installation in Afghanistan, where he was held before eventually being transferred to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

Colonel Vandeveld — “by sheer happenstance,” as he put it — came across a written summary of an interview of Jawad by a special agent of the Army Criminal Investigation Division. The summary, which was part of the official record of an entirely different case at Bagram, detailed extensive abuse that Jawad said had been inflicted on him at Bagram.

In a sworn affidavit, Colonel Vandeveld said, “This abuse included the slapping of Mr. Jawad across the face while Mr. Jawad’s head was covered with a hood, as well as Mr. Jawad’s having been shoved down a stairwell while both hooded and shackled.”

Jawad’s account had the ring of truth. As Colonel Vandeveld said in the affidavit, the interviewer “later testified as a defense witness … that Mr. Jawad’s statement was completely consistent with the statements of other prisoners held at Bagram at the time and, more importantly, that dozens of the guards had admitted to abusing the prisoners in exactly the way described by Jawad.”

Jawad also complained about being mistreated at Guantánamo, saying he had been moved with absurd frequency from cell to cell — the idea being to deprive him of sleep. A check of the official prison logs showed that Jawad had in fact been moved 112 times, without explanation, from one cell to another in a two-week period — an average of eight moves a day for 14 days.

As Colonel Vandeveld said in his affidavit: “Upon further investigation, we were able to determine that Mr. Jawad had been subjected to a sleep deprivation program popularly referred to as the ‘frequent flyer’ program.” The colonel said he lacked the words “to express the heartsickness” he felt as he came to fully understand the way Jawad had been treated by American soldiers.

On Dec. 25, 2003, Jawad tried to kill himself by repeatedly banging his head against a wall of his cell.

There is no credible evidence against Jawad, and his torture-induced confession has rightly been ruled inadmissible by a military judge. But the Obama administration does not feel that he has suffered enough. Not only have administration lawyers opposed defense efforts to secure Jawad’s freedom, but they are using, as the primary basis for their opposition, the fruits of the confession that was obtained through torture and has already been deemed inadmissible — without merit, of no value.

Colonel Vandeveld is no longer on active duty and has joined the effort by military defense lawyers and the American Civil Liberties Union to secure Jawad’s freedom. Six years of virtual solitary confinement, he said, is enough for someone who was not much older than a child when he was taken into custody.

Bob Herbert, New York Times

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Full article: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/30/opinion/30herbert.html?ref=opinion

Vince Lombardi Politics

Freud said we’re forever changed by the traumas of our youth, and so it is with the Democrats and Clintoncare. Even as you watch the leading Democrats today in their moment of glory, you can still see wounds caused by the defeat of the Clinton health care initiative. You see the psychic reactions and the scars and the lessons they have taken away so that sort of debacle never happens again.

The first lesson they have learned is that domestic policy making should never be dictated from the White House. The Clinton health initiative was hatched in the executive branch and unleashed on Congress. So the Obama administration is doing the opposite, handing Congress working control of every major piece of legislation.

Congress wrote the stimulus package. Congress wrote the cap-and-trade bill. Congress is writing the health care bill. The House and Senate chairmen make more decisions on these issues than anybody on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.

Second, Democrats learned never to go to war against the combined forces of corporate America. Today, whether it is on the stimulus, on health care or any other issue, the Obama administration and the Congressional leadership go out of their way to court corporate interests, to win corporate support and to at least divide corporate opposition.

Third, the Clintoncare collapse and the ensuing decade in the wilderness drove home the costs of failure. This has produced a Vince Lombardi attitude toward winning. There are limits, of course, but leaders in Congress and in the administration seem open to nearly any idea so long as it will lead to passing legislation. On health care, the administration would like a strong public plan, but it is evidently open to a weak one. It is on record against taxing health benefits, but it is clearly willing to tax them. It will do what it takes to pass a bill.

All of this has produced a ruthlessly pragmatic victory machine. Last week Democrats were able to pass a politically treacherous cap-and-trade bill out of the House. The Democratic leaders were able to let 44 members vote no and still bribe/bully/cajole enough of their colleagues to get a win. This was an impressive achievement, and a harbinger for health care and other battles to come.

But the new approach comes with its own shortcomings. To understand them, we have to distinguish between two types of pragmatism. There is legislative pragmatism — writing bills that can pass. Then there is policy pragmatism — creating programs that work. These two pragmatisms are in tension, and in their current frame of mind, Democrats often put the former before the latter.

On the stimulus bill, the Democratic committee chairmen wrote a sprawling bill that incorporated the diverse wishes of hundreds of members and interest groups. But as they did so, the bill had less and less to do with stimulus. Only about 40 percent of the money in the bill was truly stimulative, and that money was not designed to be spent quickly. For example, according to the Congressional Budget Office, only 11 percent of the discretionary spending in the stimulus will be disbursed by the end of the fiscal year. The bill passed, but it is not doing much to create jobs this year and it will not do nearly as much as it could to create jobs in 2010.

On cap and trade, the House chairmen took a relatively clean though politically difficult idea — auctioning off pollution permits — and they transformed it into a morass of corporate giveaways that make the stimulus bill look parsimonious. Permits would now be given to well-connected companies. Utilities and agribusiness would be rolling in government-generated profits. Thousands of goodies were thrown into the 1,201-page bill to win votes.

The bill passed the House, but would it actually reduce emissions? It’s impossible to know. It contains so many complex market interventions that only a fantasist could confidently predict its effects. A few years ago the European Union passed a cap-and-trade system, but because it was so shot through with special interest caveats, emissions actually rose.

On health care, too, the complicated job of getting a bill that can pass is taking priority over the complicated task of creating a program that can work. Dozens of different ideas are being added, watered down or merged together in order to cobble together a majority. But will the logrolling produce a sustainable health system that controls costs and actually hangs together?

The great paradox of the age is that Barack Obama, the most riveting of recent presidents, is leading us into an era of Congressional dominance. And Congressional governance is a haven for special interest pleading and venal logrolling.

When the executive branch is dominant you often get coherent proposals that may not pass. When Congress is dominant, as now, you get politically viable mishmashes that don’t necessarily make sense.

David Brooks, New York Times

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Full article: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/30/opinion/30brooks.html?ref=opinion

Today in History – June 30

Today is Tuesday, June 30, the 181st day of 2009. There are 184 days left in the year.

Today’s Highlight in History

On June 30, 1859, French acrobat Charles Blondin (born Jean Francois Gravelet) walked back and forth on a tightrope above the gorge of Niagara Falls as thousands of spectators watched.

On this date:

In 1864, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Yosemite Valley Grant Act, Senate Bill 203. The legislation gave California the Yosemite Valley and the nearby Mariposa Big Tree Grove “upon the express conditions that the premises shall be held for public use, resort, and recreation.”

In 1868, Mabel Cratty, American social worker and head of the Y.W.C.A., was born.

In 1886, nineteen-year-old Arturo Toscanini makes an acclaimed conducting debut in Brazil as a substitute for the scheduled conductor of the opera “Aïda.”

In 1893, the Excelsior diamond—which, weighing 995 carats, was the largest uncut diamond ever found to that time—was discovered in the De Beers mine at Jagersfontein, Orange Free State.

In 1905, Einstein submitted his first essay on the theory of relativity, “On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies,“ a text which would influence the 20th century as no other had done, to the editorial department of “The Physics Annual.“ The text was published on September 28 that year.

In 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt signed the Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act.

In 1908, the Tunguska Event took place in Russia as an asteroid exploded above Siberia, leaving 800 square miles of scorched or blown-down trees.

In 1921, President Warren G. Harding nominated former President William Howard Taft to be chief justice of the United States, succeeding the late Edward Douglass White.

In 1934, Adolf Hitler carried out his “blood purge” of political and military rivals in Germany in what came to be known as “The Night of the Long Knives.”

In 1936, the novel “Gone with the Wind” by Margaret Mitchell was published in New York. Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia appeals in vain to the League of Nations to halt the Italian invasion of his country.

In 1952, the radio soap opera “The Guiding Light” made its TV debut on CBS.

In 1958, the U.S. Senate passed the Alaska statehood bill by a vote of 64-20.

In 1960, Zaire, formerly Belgian Congo and now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, declared its independence from Belgium.

In 1963, Pope Paul VI was crowned the 262nd head of the Roman Catholic Church.

In 1971, a Soviet space mission ended in tragedy when three cosmonauts aboard Soyuz 11 were found dead inside their spacecraft after it had returned to Earth. The 26th Amendment to the Constitution, lowering the minimum voting age to 18, was ratified as Ohio became the 38th state to approve it.

In 1974, Soviet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov defected from the U.S.S.R. while on tour in Canada.

In 1984, John Turner was sworn in as Canada’s 17th prime minister, succeeding Pierre Elliott Trudeau.

In 1985, 39 American hostages from a hijacked TWA jetliner were freed in Beirut after being held 17 days.

In 1986, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that states could outlaw homosexual acts between consenting adults.

In 1994, the U.S. Figure Skating Association stripped Tonya Harding of the national championship and banned her from the organization for life for an attack on rival Nancy Kerrigan.

In 1997, in Hong Kong, the Union Jack was lowered for the last time over Government House as Britain prepared to hand the colony back to China after ruling it for 156 years

In 1999, ten years ago: The Federal Reserve raised interest rates for the first time in two years, boosting the target for the funds rate a quarter-point to five percent. On the day the independent counsel law expired, Kenneth Starr wrapped up the Whitewater phase of his investigation as presidential friend Webster Hubbell pleaded guilty to a felony and a misdemeanor.

In 2001, doctors implanted a dual-purpose pacemaker in Vice President Dick Cheney’s chest. Country musician Chet Atkins died at age 77.

In 2004, five years ago: A federal appeals court approved an antitrust settlement Microsoft had negotiated with the Justice Department. The Iraqis took legal custody of Saddam Hussein and 11 of his top lieutenants, a first step toward the ousted dictator’s expected trial for crimes against humanity. After nearly seven years of travel, the international Cassini spacecraft entered Saturn’s orbit.

In 2005, Spain legalized gay marriage.

In 2008, one year ago: President George W. Bush signed legislation to pay for the war operations in Iraq and Afghanistan for the rest of his presidency and beyond, hailing the $162 billion plan as a rare product of bipartisan cooperation. The United States announced that it was charging Saudi Arabian Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri with “organizing and directing” the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in waters off Yemen — and would seek the death penalty.

Today’s Birthdays

Singer Lena Horne is 92. Actor Tony Musante is 73. Actress Nancy Dussault is 73. Singer Glenn Shorrock is 65. Jazz musician Stanley Clarke is 58. Actor David Garrison is 57. Rock musician Hal Lindes (Dire Straits) is 56. Actor-comedian David Alan Grier is 53. Actor Vincent D’Onofrio is 50. Actress Deirdre Lovejoy is 47. Actor Rupert Graves is 46. Boxer Mike Tyson is 43. Rock musician Tom Drummond (Better Than Ezra) is 40. Actor Brian Bloom is 39. Actor Brian Vincent is 39. Actress Monica Potter is 38. Actor Rick Gonzalez is 30. Actress Lizzy Caplan is 27. Rhythm-and-blues singer Fantasia (“American Idol”) is 25. Olympic gold medal swimmer Michael Phelps is 24.

Historic Birthdays

John
6/30/1468 – 8/16/1532
German elector of Saxony and supporter of Martin Luther

Dominikus Zimmermann
6/30/1685 – 11/16/1766
Bavarian Baroque architect

Sir Joseph Hooker
6/30/1817 – 12/10/1911
English botanist

Lucile Grahn
6/30/1819 – 4/4/1907
Danish choreographer and ballerina

William Wheeler
6/30/1819 – 6/4/1887
American politician; U.S. vice-president (1877-81)

Mabel Cratty
6/30/1868 – 2/27/1928
American social worker and head of the Y.W.C.A.

Walter Ulbricht
6/30/1893 – 8/1/1973
German Communist leader; led East Germany (1960-73)

Harold Laski
6/30/1893 – 3/24/1950
English political scientist, educator and writer

Willie Sutton
6/30/1901 – 11/2/1980
American bank robber and prison escapee

Czeslaw Miłosz (1911-2004), Polish poet, essayist, novelist, translator, and Nobel laureate, whose works are concerned predominantly with the effect of historical circumstance on human morality.

Harry Blackstone, Jr.
6/30/1934 – 5/14/1997
American magician and illusionist

Thought for Today

Today’s papers – June 30

Madoff Gets Life For “Evil” Crimes

The New York Times and Los Angeles Times lead with, while the Wall Street Journal banners, Bernard Madoff receiving a 150-year prison sentence. The federal judge called Madoff’s massive Ponzi scheme an “extraordinarily evil” fraud and unexpectedly imposed the maximum sentence allowed, saying the length of the sentence should serve as deterrent for any would-be scam artists. It’s one of the longest sentences ever given to a white-collar criminal but hardly a record. The sentence was met with applause in the courtroom, which was filled with Madoff’s victims.

Before Madoff’s sentencing, nine victims testified about the hardships they have experienced since the financier’s fraud came to light. “I hope his sentence is long enough so his jail cell will become his coffin,” said a 33-year-old whose family’s funds with Madoff were supposed to sustain his disabled brother. Madoff apologized for the scheme that is estimated to have led to around $13 billion in losses. “I will live with this pain, with this torment, for the rest of my life,” he said. Madoff’s lawyer tried to argue that his client deserved a shorter sentence because he cooperated with the government’s investigation, but the judge disagreed with that contention. “I simply do not get the sense that Mr. Madoff has done all that he could or told all that he knows,” he said.

The disgraced financier looked thinner and wasn’t accompanied by any family members. In fact, the judge even pointed out that he had not received any letters from friends, family, or other supports attesting to his moral character or good deeds. After the hearing, Madoff’s wife broke her silence and, in a statement, said she was “embarrassed and ashamed.”

A criminal investigation is still ongoing, as prosecutors try to figure out who else was involved in the scheme. “So far, only Madoff’s accountant has been arrested on criminal charges, but securities regulators have filed civil suits against several of his long-term investors, accusing them of knowingly steering other investors into the fraud scheme for their own gain,” the NYT says.

In other fraud news, Allen Stanford spent last night in jail “after U.S. prosecutors told a federal judge that the accused swindler would likely flee the country,” Reuters reports. Stanford faces 21 counts of criminal charges for a $7 billion Ponzi scheme. Last week, U.S. Magistrate Judge Frances Stacy said Stanford could leave federal custody as long as he came up with a $500,000 bond, a fifth of which would have to be in cash, and lived with his girlfriend in Houston. The U.S. Justice Department “opposed bail of any sort and sought to keep him in jail until his trial, now set for August,” the article says. Stanford, who is 50 years old, faces life in prison.

Justices Rule in Favor of White Firefighters in Racial-Bias Case

The Washington Post and USA Today lead with the Supreme Court ruling in favor of a group of mostly white New Haven, Conn., firefighters who said they were discriminated against when the city threw out the results of a promotion test after no black firefighters scored well enough to advance. The 5-to-4 ruling immediately caught Washington’s attention because it overturned an appeals court decision joined by Judge Sonia Sotomayor, who was recently nominated to replace Justice David Souter on the Supreme Court. In the opinion for the court’s conservative wing, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that employers need “strong basis in evidence” that the test isn’t up to par before throwing out the results instead of merely using “raw racial statistics.” The ruling means that employers will now have a harder time changing a hiring or promotion procedure because it hurts minorities.

Civil rights advocates said yesterday’s Supreme Court decision in Ricci v. DeStefano will make it more difficult for employers, particularly in the public sector, to diversify their work force. The court ruled that the fear of a lawsuit isn’t enough justification for throwing out hiring or promotion tests, meaning that an employer might have to abide by the results even if members of a minority, or perhaps women, do particularly poorly. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg read her dissent from the bench and said the majority had successfully undermined civil rights law. “Firefighting is a profession in which the legacy of racial discrimination casts an especially long shadow,” she said.

Sotomayor’s critics had seized on this case as a supposed example of how she lets her personal feelings get in the way of her rulings. Her supporters yesterday said the Supreme Court decision changed how the law should be interpreted, so she had done the right thing by adhering to precedent. But opponents countered that her “approach had not been fully endorsed by any justice,” as the NYT puts it. Still, even opponents concede it’s unlikely this will derail Sotomayor’s path toward confirmation.

In a piece inside, the NYT talks to legal experts who say the Supreme Court failed to put forward a clear standard about what would be allowed and “left things as muddled as ever for the nation’s employers.” The vague nature of the decision is practically a guarantee that there will be much more litigation on the issue.

New Honduras Leader Faces Backlash From Coup

In an interview with the WSJ, the acting leader, Roberto Micheletti, said the coup was an effort to protect Honduras from Zelaya’s plans to change the constitution and remain in power. “We are acting within the law,” Micheletti said.

The LAT fronts the latest from Honduras, where security forces used tear gas to break up protesters who had gathered to protest the ousting and forced exile of President Manuel Zelaya. The provisional government found itself isolated as leaders throughout the region spoke up against the coup. The country’s rulers blocked access to Internet news sites and international cable news networks as Zelaya appeared at a summit of regional leaders in Nicaragua. The new rulers say they won’t budge. .

In a front-page piece, the NYT takes a look at how the military coup in Honduras is forcing President Obama to confront “the ghosts of past American foreign policy in Latin America.” Administration officials are now in the position of having to dismiss allegations by Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez that the CIA had something to do with the coup. U.S. officials insist that while they didn’t think Zelaya’s planned referendum was constitutional, they hardly thought it justified a coup. Obama yesterday insisted the coup set a “terrible precedent” and evokes the continent’s “dark past.” But as the WP highlights, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the United States was not formally calling it a coup just yet. Such a designation would interrupt millions of dollars in aid, and, so far at least, the United States doesn’t seem ready to make any concrete threats.

In the NYT‘s op-ed page, Alvaro Vargas Llosa writes that the military fell for a trap set by Zelaya, and managed to turn “an unpopular president who was nearing the end of his term into an international cause célèbre.” The big winner in all this? Chavez, who can now “claim the moral high ground” as he turns himself into “the unlikely champion of Jeffersonian democracy in Latin America.”

Bankruptcy court to rule on “New GM” plan

Also topping the business news today is word that General Motors (GM), following in Chrysler’s footsteps, will ask a bankruptcy judge today to allow for the sale of its assets to the Treasury-funded Vehicle Acquisition Holdings LLC—or as Reuters calls it, a “New GM.” The request, according to Bloomberg, puts President Barack Obama’s administration “almost a month ahead of schedule in its plan to reshape the U.S. auto industry.” Despite 750 objections, which will likely be overruled, GM says Vehicle Acquisition Holding is the only potential purchaser. In a featured analysis by the WP, the paper expressed doubt over how much a new GM will repay of loans funded by taxpayers. Right now, the company is subsisting off of a $30 billion loan while it is in bankruptcy court, an amount that will balloon to $50 billion once GM emerges. “For the United States to fully recover its investment, the value of General Motors stock will have to reach levels it has never before attained,” the WP writes. In fact, it will have to surpass its 2000 peak of $56 billion by an additional $12 billion. According to GM’s internal projections, the company’s equity value in 2012 will range from $59 billion to $77 billion, though experts say that will be difficult to attain.

Jackson’s mother shared strong bond with singer

A day after Michael Jackson’s mother, Katherine Jackson, was granted temporary custody of his children and was appointed special administrator of her son’s estate, the LAT takes a look at the close mother-son bond the two shared. Those close to the family say Michael’s mother was always very protective of him and was a constant presence in her son’s life. “I’ve never seen a closer relationship between a 50-year-old man and his mother,” said the head of AEG Live, the company that was in charge of organizing Jackson’s comeback concerts. Michael’s father, though, is a whole other story. Although Joe and Katherine Jackson are still married, they haven’t lived together for at least 10 years.

It’s hardly a secret that Michael didn’t get along with his father, and the WSJ hears word that he wasn’t included in what is believed to be the King of Pop’s last will, which was drafted in 2002 and sets up his children, mother, and at least one charity as the beneficiaries. The lawyer for Jackson’s parents said he has never seen this will, which could be presented to the court as early as Thursday. This is all seen as the first steps in what will likely be a long, complicated fight over Jackson’s estate. Even though Jackson had around $500 million in debt, “the value of his assets probably outweigh that, possibly by $200 million or more,” reports the WSJ.

Celebrity Death Rule of Three

In the WP‘s Style section, David Montgomery looks into the Celebrity Death Rule of Three, which seemed to fulfill itself perfectly last week when Ed McMahon, Michael Jackson, and Farrah Fawcett all died. But, really, it all depends “on which departed souls count as celebrities, and on how much time may elapse between deaths in a valid triplet.” For example, what do you do about David Carradine, who died earlier this month. Or Sky Saxon, the singer and bass player for the band the Seeds, who died on the same day as Fawcett and Jackson. “But if Saxon is not famous enough to qualify for the rule of three, then how sad: dead and dissed.

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Paragraphs made or moved. Titles added. Minor editing.

Full article:

http://www.slate.com/id/2221841/

http://www.thebigmoney.com/features/todays-business-press/2009/06/30/madoff-rot-behind-bars

Why Did Madoff Get a Longer Sentence Than He Can Possibly Serve?

Disgraced financier Bernie Madoff was sentenced to 150 years in prison Monday morning for running a massive Ponzi scheme. Why give a 71-year-old man a 150-year term instead of just life or life without parole? In 2005, Daniel Engber explained that judges hand down impossibly long prison sentences for both practical and symbolic purposes. The original article is reprinted below.

On Friday, the “BTK” serial killer, Dennis Rader, began serving the first of 10 consecutive life sentences for 10 murders he committed around Wichita, Kan. Wouldn’t one life sentence have been enough?

Not necessarily. A single life sentence might have given Rader a shot at parole. Kansas is one of only three states (along with Alaska and New Mexico) that always include the chance for parole no matter a crime’s severity. In most jurisdictions besides Kansas, judges can dole out life sentences with or without the possibility of parole; a few states, as well as the federal system, assign only “natural life” sentences, i.e., life without the possibility of parole.

In most cases, the judge delivers a sentence for each crime of which the defendant has been found guilty. (Rader pleaded guilty to 10 separate murders.) The judge then decides whether the sentences will be served concurrently or consecutively. Under Kansas law, the standard life sentence is “15 to life,” meaning the offender gets his first parole hearing after 15 years. No matter if he faced 10 (or even 100) concurrent sentences, that hearing would still come after 15 years.

No such privilege exists with consecutive sentencing. The judge in Rader’s case put 10 life terms end-to-end in order to ensure that Rader would never get parole. In addition, he used his discretion to make the 10th life sentence—for the slow strangulation of Dolores Davis—especially severe. Because the crime was committed in “an especially heinous, atrocious or cruel manner,” the minimum duration of that life sentence is 40 years. All told, Rader will have to wait 175 years before he’s eligible for parole—nine life sentences with parole after 15 years, and one with parole after 40 years.

One term of 40-to-life still might have kept Rader behind bars for good—he’s already in his 60s. So, why bother with the other nine? In cases where the accumulation of life sentences has no practical effect—for example, in states where life sentences don’t include the possibility for parole—courts assign multiple life terms for a few reasons. First, in a case with multiple victims, each family might find solace in knowing the criminal received a specific punishment for each crime. Second, the prosecutor might want multiple sentences on the books in case some were overturned on appeal. Third, the court could use back-to-back sentences to emphasize the crime’s severity to the governor or the board of pardons.

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Full article: http://www.slate.com/id/2221830/

Posted in Law

The Law Triumphs in Honduras

Many foreign observers are condemning the ouster of Honduran President Mel Zelaya, a supporter of Hugo Chavez, as a “military coup.” But can it be a coup when the Honduran military acted on the orders of the nation’s Supreme Court, the step was backed by the nation’s attorney general, and the man replacing Mr. Zelaya and elected in emergency session by that nation’s Congress is a member of the former president’s own political party?

Mr. Zelaya had sacked General Romeo Vasquez, head of the country’s armed forces, after he refused to use his troops to provide logistical support for a referendum designed to let Mr. Zelaya escape the country’s one-term limit on presidents. Both the referendum and the firing of the military chief have been declared illegal by the Honduran Supreme Court. Nonetheless, Mr. Zelaya intended yesterday to use ballots printed in Venezuela to conduct the vote anyway.

All this will be familiar to members of Honduras’ legislature, who vividly recall how Mr. Chavez in Venezuela adopted similar means to hijack his country’s democracy and economy. Elected a decade ago, Mr. Chavez held a Constituent Assembly and changed the constitution to enhance his power and subvert the country’s governing institutions. Mr. Zelaya made it clear that he wished to do the same in Honduras and that the referendum was the first step in installing a new constitution that would enhance his powers and allow him to run for re-election.

No one likes to see a nation’s military in the streets, especially in a continent with such painful memories of military rule. But Honduras is clearly a different situation. Members of Mr. Zelaya’s own party in Congress voted last week to declare him unfit for his office. Given his refusal to leave, who else was going to enforce the orders of the nation’s other branches of government?

John Fund, Wall Street Journal

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Full article: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124633015879271647.html

How Other Countries Judge Malpractice

The health-care systems Democrats want to emulate don’t allow contingency fees or large jury awards.

In his recent speech to the American Medical Association, President Barack Obama held out the tantalizing possibility of reforming medical malpractice law as part of a comprehensive overhaul of the U.S. health-care system. As usual, he hedged his bets by declining to endorse the only medical malpractice reform with real bite — a national cap on damages for pain and suffering, such as the ones enacted in more than 30 states.

These caps are usually set between $250,000 to $500,000, and they can make a substantial difference. Other reforms, such as rules that limit contingency fees, shorten statutes of limitation, or confine each defendant’s tort exposure to his proportionate share of the harm, have small and uncertain effects.

Medical malpractice, of course, is not just an American issue. And now that the U.S. is considering universal health-care systems similar to those found elsewhere, it’s worth a quick peek at their medical malpractice systems — which usually attract far less controversy, and are far less expensive, than our own.

[Commentary]

Litigation in the U.S. has at least four distinctive procedural features that drive up malpractice costs. The first is jury trials, which can veer out of control and in any case introduce significant uncertainty. The second is the contingency-fee system, which allows well-heeled lawyers to self-finance litigation. The third is the rule that makes each side bear its own costs. This induces riskier lawsuits than are undertaken in most other countries, such as Canada, England and most of Europe, where the loser pays the legal costs of the winner. The fourth is extensive pretrial discovery outside the direct supervision of judges, which occurs far more readily here than elsewhere.

Even these features aren’t the whole story. American judges frequently let juries decide whether honest mistakes are negligent. Judges in other nations are less likely to do so. American courts commonly think it proper for juries to infer medical negligence from the mere occurrence of a serious injury. European judges usually will not.

American plaintiffs are sometimes spared the heavy burden of identifying particular acts of negligence, or of showing the precise causal connection between a negligent act and an actual injury. Lastly, damage awards for lost income and medical expenses in the U.S. tend to dwarf awards made elsewhere — in part because governments elsewhere provide this medical care from their nationalized systems. In sum, the medical malpractice system provides incentives for plaintiffs that really do matter. Americans, for example, file claims about 3.5 times more often than Canadians.

The overall picture is still more complex, since there are major variations in medical malpractice rules in different American states, and differences within states, such as between juries in big cities and those in small towns. Doctrinal reform cannot stop these abuses. What is needed is the replacement of juries with specialized commissions like those in France, which help reduce litigation expenses and promote uniformity in case outcomes across regions.

What then does this quick survey teach us about the ability of our system to deter medical injuries and compensate its victims? Not much that’s encouraging.

A study led by David Studdert published in the 2006 New England Journal of Medicine concluded that the administrative expenses of the malpractice system were “exorbitant.” And worse, it found errors in jury verdicts in about a quarter of the litigated cases. Juries denied compensation properly due in 16% of the cases, and awarded it about 10% of the time when it was unwarranted. These error rates don’t include damage awards set at improper levels.

More disturbingly, a careful 1992 study by Donald Dewees and Michael Trebilcock in the Osgoode Hall Law Journal concluded that the frequency of medical malpractice in Canada was about the same as in the U.S. — for about 10% the total cost. In other words, our costly system doesn’t seem to do much to deter malpractice. On medical malpractice at least, Canada does better than we do.

The U.S. cannot ignore serious reform. To be sure, medical malpractice premiums constitute well under 1% of the total U.S. health-care bill. But defensive medicine adds perhaps as much as 10%. High malpractice costs can shut down clinics that serve vulnerable populations, leading to more patient harm than the occasional case of malpractice.

The best reform would be to allow physicians, hospitals and patients to contract out of the liability mess by letting the parties reject state-imposed malpractice rules. They could, for example, choose to arbitrate, to waive jury trials, or to limit damage recovery. Stiff competition and the need to maintain reputation should keep medical providers in line in such a system. Market-based solutions that make the private sector more responsive should in turn undermine the case for moving head-first into a government-run health-care system with vast, unintended inefficiencies of its own.

Mr. Epstein is a professor of law at the University of Chicago, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, and a visiting professor at NYU Law School

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Full article and photo: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124631652544770707.html

In One Room, Many Advantages

The ‘little red schoolhouse’ of legend, whatever its flaws, made more sense than the warehouse-schools of today.

Tacked to my wall is a lithograph of the famous Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington. For many years, it graced my mother’s one-room schoolhouse in Lime Rock, N.Y. Antiquarian relic or enduringly relevant image? The same question may be asked of the “little red schoolhouse” itself, whose reality and legend are the subject of “Small Wonder.” Jonathan Zimmerman, a professor at New York University, sets out to tell “how — and why — the little red schoolhouse became an American icon.” Mr. Zimmerman proves a thoughtful and entertaining teacher.

First, the chromatic debunking: One-room schools were often white and seldom red. The teachers were usually young unmarried females, pace the most famous one-room schoolteacher in literature, Ichabod Crane. They swept the floor, stoked the stove, rang the hand-bell and taught their mixed-age students by rote and recitation. The schools could be a “cauldron of chaos,” in Mr. Zimmerman’s alliteration, as tyro teachers were tormented by Tom Sawyers dipping pigtails in inkwells and carving doggerel into desks.

Yet these one-room schools, Mr. Zimmerman notes, were “a central venue for community life in rural America.” They hosted plays and dances and box socials and spelling bees and Christmas pageants.

wonder june 29

In 1913, Mr. Zimmerman says, “one-half of the nation’s schoolchildren attended one of its 212,000 single-teacher schools.” By 1960, progressive educationists, growing cities and the centralizing pressures of two world wars and a Cold War had reduced the total to just 1%.

The attempt to abolish one-room schoolhouses, whether by the carrot of state aid or the stick of government fiat, set off one of the great unknown political wars of U.S. history, pitting farm people who “invoked classic themes of liberty and self-rule” against the “mostly urban elites” who “would wage zealous battle against the rural one-room school.” Typically, two Delaware schoolconsolidators informed the hicks that “modern education . . . is less romantic and more businesslike, more formal, more exact, more specialized, done according to tested methods and a standard schedule.” Such grim exactitude sounded like prison to parents used to the comparatively anarchic and localized governance of rural schools.

Progressives worshipped “efficiency,” Mr. Zimmerman observes, a word that to country people “conjured up a bloodless, impersonal system that buried small-town traditions and idiosyncrasies in a maze of regulations and policies.” Big was better than small, asserted the consolidators. Riding the bus to a new school over “good roads” — the highway and automobile industries lobbied for consolidation — was superior to walking (how old-fashioned!) to a nearby school. A system in which parents and neighbors had a say in the education of a community’s children was judged incapable of keeping up with the ever-accelerating improvement of the human species.

The propaganda mills worked overtime. New Deal photographers snapped pictures of decrepit one-room shacks and contrasted these premodern blights with the spotless (if sterile) multistory consolidated schools. City journalists who knew nothing of rural life (except that it was retrograde) fanned out over the countryside, filing stories suggesting that the young ‘uns in Dog Patch were larnin’ that the world was flat and toothbrushing was one of Satan’s snares.

The one-room school was “neither as rundown as critics claimed nor as bucolic as defenders imagined,” Mr. Zimmerman writes. But its champions understood its flaws. They were defending the principles of local autonomy and human-scale democracy. Mr. Zimmerman quotes a “rural mother” who lamented: “Individuality will be lost, the pride taken in ‘our’ school and ‘our’ teacher gone. Haven’t the parents who bear the children anything to say?”

Not in the consolidated schools they didn’t, except in PTA debates over which kind of brownies to sell at the bake sale. “Thousands of rural parents did resist consolidation,” Mr. Zimmerman says; they struggled to save the one-room symbols of “their vanishing local communities.” But true to Joni Mitchell’s lyric, the rest of America didn’t know what it had till it was gone.

By World War II, the little red schoolhouse whose razing had been a New Deal project became a symbol of homefront democracy. In the 1960s, some liberals praised the one-room school of yore as “the precursor to group learning” and “open classrooms” — daily Bible reading not included. At the same time some conservatives extolled its alleged (and exaggerated) hickory-stick discipline.

Decades after consolidation had obliterated one-room schools, researchers discovered their advantages. The child in the small school is not just a statistic on a government chart. She receives “individual attention and recognition.” She works at her own pace. She has, most important, a place. As Mr. Zimmerman remarks, recent alternatives to “the large, alienating modern school,” from charter schools to homeschooling, have sought to foster “the snug, communal aspects of the one-room school.” But the one-room-school model entails community control, which liberals and conservatives alike resist if the “community” sings from the wrong hymnal.

The idealization of the little red schoolhouse, Mr. Zimmerman concludes, reflects a rueful awareness that in modernity Americans “gained the whole world of technological conveniences and lost the soul of their communities.”

Even after Mr. Zimmerman’s unsentimental accounting of its defects, the one-room school shines in comparison with the over-large and remotely controlled warehouses in which too many children are educated today. Reading “Small Wonder,” one wonders if Americans will ever tire of chasing after the gods of Progress and Bigness and rediscover the little things, red schoolhouses among them, that once gave us our soul.

Mr. Kauffman’s most recent books are “Ain’t My America” (Holt) and “Forgotten Founder, Drunken Prophet: The Life of Luther Martin” (ISI).

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Full article: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124631953965570969.html

Photo: http://yalepress.yale.edu/yupbooks/images/full13/9780300123265.jpg

Madoff’s Evil

Moral clarity on his crimes, but who else is guilty?

On sentencing 71-year-old Bernard Madoff yesterday to 150 years, federal Judge Denny Chin said, “Here the message must be sent that Mr. Madoff’s crimes were extraordinarily evil.”

“Evil” is a word that has fallen out of political fashion, suggesting as it does intent or action that is irredeemable. Politicians, especially now, prefer to routinely insinuate vaguely defined moral failure against individuals, corporations and entire industries for opposing an equally vague standard of the public good.

No such problem attends Bernard Madoff, who himself yesterday described a personality willing to defraud and debase all who came in contact with him. Madoff’s sentence and Judge Chin’s remarks fit the crime. They are a rare exercise in moral clarity.

It is possible to make too much of the lessons of the Madoff affair. Ponzi schemes come and go because it is not possible to outlaw credulousness and greed. Bernie Madoff ran his scheme for at least 15 years, with high rates of return that floated his investors contentedly on a sea of financial unreality. The scale of Madoff’s crime, however, ensures an overdue reality check on several levels.

The Securities and Exchange Commission may not be able to catch every real crook, but we hope this embarrassment will sharpen its staff antenna to outright fraud. Standards of due diligence and oversight at legitimate financial institutions are likely to be tightened. Spain’s Banco Santander cannot be pleased to have paid $235 million to the Madoff trustee for defrauded investors. Anyone living inside the luxurious orbit of high-flying investment funds shouldn’t fail to notice the legal pursuit now of Madoff’s feeder firms such as Cohmad Securities and even members of families who benefited from their Madoff association.

Ruth Madoff will be allowed to keep $2.5 million, but the rest of the Bernie and Ruth lifestyle — homes, boats, furs, jewelry — is being stripped. Even the Madoff investors who redeemed “profits” must now contend with clawback statutes which make clear that Madoff’s fraud does not distinguish between winners and losers. All lost.

What remains is for a legal accounting of who else participated in Madoff’s scheme. There may be a fine legal line between active complicity in Madoff’s fraud and silent acquiescence in its preposterous returns. Bernie Madoff is headed for a deserved personal end-game in the slammer, but until the cops catch his accomplices or explain why they can’t, the Madoff case remains open.

Wall Street Journal

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Full article: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124631773333870809.html

Obama’s Obsolete Iran Policy

The audacity of hope gives way to the timidity of realism.

President Obama’s Iran policy is incoherent and obsolete. Maybe David Axelrod should take note.

On Sunday, Mr. Obama’s consigliere was asked about Iran by ABC’s George Stephanopoulos and NBC’s David Gregory. Mr. Gregory asked whether there “should be consequences” for the regime’s violent suppression of peaceful demonstrations. “The consequences, I think, will unfold over time in Iran,” answered Mr. Axelrod.

Mr. Stephanopoulos quoted Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as saying that “this time, the Iranian nation’s reply will be harsh and more decisive to make the West regret its meddlesome stance.” Said Mr. Axelrod, “I’m not going to entertain his bloviations that are politically motivated.” As for whether the administration wasn’t selling short the demonstrators, Mr. Axelrod could only say that “the president’s sense of solicitude with those young people has been very, very clear.”

[Commentary]

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Bottom line from Mr. Axelrod, and presumably Mr. Obama, too: “We are going to continue to work through . . . the multilateral group of nations that are engaging Iran, and they have to make a decision, George, whether they want to further isolate themselves in every way from the community of nations, or whether they are going to embrace that.”

Translation: People of Iran — best of luck!

For a president who came into office literally selling the Audacity of Hope — not just for Americans but for all mankind — his Iran policy can so far be summed up as the timidity of “realism.” That’s realism as a theory of international relations that prescribes a foreign policy based on ostensibly rational calculations of the national interest and assumes that other nations act in similarly rational fashion.

On this reasoning, it remains the American interest to reach a negotiated settlement with Tehran over its nuclear program, whether or not Ahmadinejad was fairly elected. Likewise, it is in Tehran’s best interests to settle, assuming the benefits for doing so are sufficiently large.

If this view ever had its moment, it was in the months immediately after Mr. Obama’s inauguration. The administration came to town thinking that America’s problems with Iran were largely self-inflicted — a combination of “Axis of Evil” and “regime change” rhetoric, an invasion that gave Iran a reasonable motive for wanting to arm itself with nuclear weapons, and an unwillingness to try to settle differences in face-to-face talks.

In other words, Mr. Obama seems to have thought that a considerable part of America’s Iran problem was simply an America problem, to be addressed by various forms of conciliation: Mr. Obama’s New Year’s greetings to “the Islamic Republic of Iran”; the disavowal of regime change as a U.S. objective; the offer of direct talks without preconditions; withdrawal from Iraq; the insistence, following the election, that the U.S. would neither presume to judge the outcome nor otherwise “meddle” in an internal Iranian affair.

What did all this achieve? Iran’s nuclear programs are accelerating. It is testing ballistic missiles of increasing range and sophistication. Its support for terrorist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah is unabated. Ahmadinejad stole an election in broad daylight. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei blessed the result. British Embassy staff are under siege. A campaign of mass arrests and intimidation is underway and a young woman named Neda Soltan was shot in the heart simply for choosing none of the above.

Oh, and Iran still accuses the U.S. of “meddling.”

Now Mr. Obama is promising more of the same, plus the equivalent of a group hug for the demonstrators. Is this supposed to be “realism”?

A more common sense form of realism would reach different conclusions. One is that the “bloviations” of Ahmadinejad are not just politically motivated, but are also expressions of contempt for Mr. Obama. That contempt springs from a keen nose for weakness, honed by the habits of dictatorship and based on an estimate — so far unrefuted — of Mr. Obama’s mettle.

Second, as long as Tehran can murder its own people, scoff at a U.S. president and flout U.N. resolutions without consequence, it will continue to do so.

Third is that the Achilles Heel of the Iranian regime isn’t its “isolation.” (What kind of isolation is it when Ahmadinejad’s “election” was instantly ratified by Russian President Dimitry Medvedev?) Nor is it its vulnerability to a gasoline embargo, vulnerable though it is. Its real weakness is its own domestic unpopularity, which has at last found expression in a massive opposition movement.

The fourth is that Iran’s nuclear programs have now reached the stage where they can only be stopped through military strikes — probably Israeli — or an internal political decision to abandon them. The prospect of another Mideast war can’t exactly please the administration. So how about trying to achieve the same result by leveraging point No. 3?

Maybe ordinary Iranians welcome Mr. Obama’s solicitude. What they need is Mr. Obama’s spine. If that means “democracy promotion” and tough talk about “regime change,” well, it wouldn’t be the first time this president has made his predecessor’s policy his own.

Bret Stephens, Wall Street Journal

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Full article and photo: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124631691259270727.html

A Green Way to Dump Low-Tech Electronics

This month, Edward Reilly, 35, finally let go of the television he had owned since his college days.

Although the Mitsubishi set was technologically outdated, it had sat for years in Mr. Reilly’s home in Portland, Me., because he did not know what else to do with it, given the environmental hazards involved in discarding it.

“It’s pretty well known that if it gets into the landfill, it gets into the groundwater,” he said. “Its chemicals pollute.”

But the day after the nationwide conversion to digital television signals took effect on June 12, Mr. Reilly decided to take advantage of a new wave of laws in Maine and elsewhere that require television and computer manufacturers to recycle their products free of charge. He dropped off his television at an electronic waste collection site near his home and, he said, immediately gained “peace of mind.”

Over the course of that day, 700 other Portland residents did the same.

Since 2004, 18 states and New York City have approved laws that make manufacturers responsible for recycling electronics, and similar statutes were introduced in 13 other states this year. The laws are intended to prevent a torrent of toxic and outdated electronic equipment — television sets, computers, monitors, printers, fax machines — from ending up in landfills where they can leach chemicals into groundwater and potentially pose a danger to public health.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates 99.1 million televisions sit unused in closets and basements across the country. Consumer response to recycling has been enormous in states where the laws have taken effect. Collection points in Washington State, for example, have been swamped by people like Babs Smith, 55, who recently drove to RE-PC, a designated electronics collection and repurposing center on the southern edge of Seattle.

Ms. Smith’s Subaru Outback was stuffed with three aged computer towers that had languished in her basement after being gutted by her teenage sons, who removed choice bits to build their own souped-up computers. “It’s what geeks do,” she said.

Since January, Washington State residents and small businesses have been allowed to drop off their televisions, computers and computer monitors free of charge to one of 200 collection points around the state. They have responded by dumping more than 15 million pounds of electronic waste, according to state collection data. If disposal continues at this rate, it will amount to more than five pounds for every man, woman and child per year.

Use of the drop-off points was so overwhelming at first that the Washington Materials Management and Financing Authority, which oversees the program, urged consumers to consider holding off until spring.

“We were getting 18 semi loads a day when the program first started,” said Craig Lorch, owner of Total Reclaim, a warehouse on the south edge of Seattle that is among the collection points.

Still, states that pioneered the electronic recycling laws report that consumer participation remains strong over time. Maine, which was one of the first to approve such a law, in 2004, says it collected nearly four pounds of waste per person last year.

“If you make it easy, they will recycle their stuff,” said Barbara Kyle, national coordinator of the Electronics TakeBack Coalition, a nonprofit group based in San Francisco. If products are recycled rather then dumped, parts of the machines are refurbished for new use where possible; if not, they are disassembled, their glass and precious metals are recycled, and the plastics, which have no reuse market, are often shipped overseas to developing countries for disposal.

The laws vary significantly from state to state. But in most, manufacturers are responsible for the collection and recycling system, although some will pay states or counties to handle the pickup. The newest laws tend to require recycling of a broader range of items, including printers and fax machines.

Many laws, including those for New Jersey and Connecticut and New York City (none of which are yet in effect) specifically ban residents from dumping electronics into the regular trash.

Least thrilled with the patchwork of laws are electronics manufacturers. “Our hope is there will be a national law before there is a law in every state,” said Parker Brugge, vice president for environmental affairs and industry sustainability for the Electronic Manufacturers Association, an industry advocacy group.

Mr. Brugge said it was difficult for manufacturers to keep up with dozens of laws and rules, many of which they consider impractical. New York City, for example, is pressing manufacturers to agree to pick up at apartment buildings.

Manufacturers say a reasonable rate for collection and processing of waste is 25 to 30 cents a pound. Still it is more than they say they can recoup from reselling the metals they harvest, particularly for televisions.

Peter M. Fannon, the vice president for technology and government policy at Panasonic’s North American subsidiary, said his company would prefer a national law that would put local governments in charge of collection and the industry in charge of recycling.

“We think it is unreasonable that an individual industry be designated as trash collector,” Mr. Fannon said.

State lawmakers counter that they cannot afford to wait for a national bill. With constant upgrades in technological capability, they say, manufacturers build obsolescence into many of their designs, causing outdated electronics to become the bane of the waste system.

The E.P.A. estimates that 2.6 million tons of electronic waste were dropped into landfills in 2007, the most recent year for which data is available. Once buried, the waste leaches poisons like chlorinated solvents and heavy metals into soil and groundwater.

Recycling programs do not address the problem of electronics that are already leaching poison in landfills. Nor do they prevent the frequent shipment of plastic shells covered with chemical flame retardants overseas to poor and developing nations; once there, they are often incinerated, because they cannot be reused, and spew toxic chemicals into the air.

The Office of the Inspector General at the Justice Department has a continuing investigation into accusations that several federal prisons with electronics recycling contracts had used inmates to do the work without taking adequate safety precautions, exposing them to unhealthy levels of airborne particles.

Ultimately, said Ms. Kyle, coordinator of the Electronics TakeBack Coalition, recycling does not eliminate the root problem: the vast amount of electronics generated in the first place and fated for disposal.

Carole A. Cifrino, the environmental specialist who manages Maine’s e-waste program, said she hoped the strict recycling would eventually prompt manufacturers to rethink their designs.

“Maybe since they have some responsibility for the cleanup,” Ms. Cifrino said, “it will motivate them to think about how you design for the environment and the commodity value at the end of the life.”

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Full article: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/30/science/earth/30ewaste.html?hp

The Birds of America

Catharus guttatus  Grive solitaire  /  Hermit Thrush  

Birdsofamerica 58

The Hermit Thrush nests in wooded peat bogs, areas undergoing forest regeneration, and mixed and conifer forests in Canada, mainly in southern Quebec and in the Maritimes. It is absent from its habitat during the winter period, but it comes back in early spring, when it reverts to its basic feeding habits, namely insects and beetles, complemented with ants, butterflies and small fruits. Its length is 16 to 19 cm.

La grive solitaire niche dans les tourbières boisées, les secteurs en régénération, les forêts mixtes et de conifères du Canada, principalement dans le sud du Québec et dans les Maritimes. Absente de son habitat en période hivernale, elle y revient cependant tôt au printemps où elle retrouve ses habitudes alimentaires de base, soit insectes et coléoptères, complétées par la dégustation de fourmis, papillons et petits fruits. Sa longueur est de 16 à 19 cm.

Musée de la civilisation,
collection du Séminaire de Québec,
The Birds of America,
John James Audubon,
58/1993.34658
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Dendroica pensylvanica  Paruline à flancs marron  /  Chestnut-sided Warbler
birdsofamerica 59

The Chestnut-sided Warbler hides out mainly in leafy tree groves and along the edges of leafy or mixed forests, especially in poplars, its favourite trees. Present in the Maritimes and in southern Quebec until the winter, it gorges essentially on insects that it captures on leaves or in flight, and on small seasonal fruits. The length of this warbler is 12 to 14 cm.

La paruline à flancs marron se cache principalement dans les bosquets de feuillus et à l’orée de forêts de feuillus ou mixtes, notamment dans les peupliers, son arbre de prédilection. Présente dans les Maritimes et dans le sud du Québec jusqu’en hiver, elle se gave essentiellement d’insectes qu’elle capture sur les feuilles ou en vol, et de petits fruits, en saison. La longueur de cette paruline est de 12 à 14 cm.

Musée de la civilisation,
collection du Séminaire de Québec,
The Birds of America,
John James Audubon,
59/1993.34659
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Sylvia carbonata  Paruline tigrée  /  Carbonated Warbler 
 
birdsofamerica 60

This bird appears to be a mere hypothesis, and still remains a mystery. Though identified by Sir William Jardine as a young Cape May Warbler in his book Wilson’s Ornithology in 1832, it was never seen again by anyone else after Audubon had hunted one in Kentucky and then done a painting of it.

Cet oiseau ne semble être qu’hypothèse et son mystère demeure toujours. Bien qu’identifié comme étant une jeune paruline tigrée par Sir William Jardine dans son livre Wilson’s Ornithology en 1832, cet oiseau n’a jamais été revu par quiconque après qu’Audubon l’eut chassé au Kentucky et dessiné par la suite.

Musée de la civilisation,
collection du Séminaire de Québec,
The Birds of America,
John James Audubon,
60/1993.34660
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Saving Species No Longer a Beauty Contest

Homely Creatures Receiving More Help

Are we ready to start saving ugly species?

When it began compiling lists of threatened and endangered animals and plants more than 35 years ago, the U.S. government gave itself the same mandate as Noah’s Ark: Save everything.

But in practice, the effort has often worked more like a velvet-rope nightclub: Glamour rules.

The furry, the feathered, the famous and the edible have dominated government funding for protected species, to the point that one subpopulation of threatened salmon gets more money than 956 other plants and animals combined.

Now, though, scientists say they’re noticing a little more love for the unlovely.

They say plain-Jane plants, birds with fluorescent goiters and beetles that meet their mates at rat corpses are getting new money and respect — finally valued as homely canaries inside treasured ecosystems.

But it still can be a hard sell. That’s obvious here in California’s Central Valley, where farmers are locked in a bitter fight with a glassy-eyed smelt.

“Over a stupid fish,” said Mendota Mayor Robert Silva.

“A worthless little worm,” Rep. George Radanovich (R-Calif.) called the fish, “that needs to go the way of the dinosaur.”

The government lists 1,318 U.S. species as threatened or endangered, everything from the American alligator to the Florida ziziphus, a spiny shrub. By one measure, the federal government has already done something miraculous for them: It has kept them around. Only nine listed U.S. species have been declared extinct since the act was passed in 1973.

But the idea was not just to arrest species at the edge of disappearing: It was to bring them back. And by that measure, most of the success has gone to glamour species.

Only 15 U.S. species have officially been declared “recovered.” They are three plants, two obscure tropical birds — and 10 animals that would look good on a T-shirt. These include gray wolves, bald eagles, brown pelicans and the Yellowstone subpopulation of grizzly bears.

“There has been a very heavy bias toward ‘charismatic megafauna’ — relatively large, well-known birds and mammals,” a pair of Harvard researchers wrote in the 1990s. “All other classes of fauna, and all flora, have gotten extremely short shrift.”

How short? The classic tale involves the California condor, a vulture so homely that its head looks as if it’s on inside-out. In the 1980s, scientists captured the remaining few dozen condors, deloused them and began breeding them in captivity.

That was a great thing for the condors but a catastrophe for an even uglier species: the California condor louse. “It passed out of existence when they washed off the condors,” said Nathan Yaussy, an ecology graduate student at Kent State University.

Today, the folks at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which cares for most protected species, say that charismatic animals may have had a leg up in the past — but they no longer care about beauty. Instead, funding is supposed to be parceled out to those most at risk, and species at the center of legal fights.

“The program does not approach charismatic species as a top-tier” priority, said Bryan Arroyo, who heads the endangered species program. “We’re not saying, you know, ‘Here’s wolves . . . or polar bears, or whatever, we’re going to give more money to that.’ ”

But budget data show the beautiful and the edible are still coming out on top. The top 50 best-funded species include salmon, trout, sea turtles, eagles, bears — and just one insect and no plants.

The Chinook salmon in the Snake River in the Northwest, whose needs include fish-friendly improvements at dams, was listed as receiving at least $69 million in help. Other fish in the ecosystem benefit, too, but that’s still more money than the total spent on all insects, clams, snails, arachnids, corals, crustaceans and every species of threatened plant — about 72 percent of the whole list.

Environmentalists say this isn’t the way nature works.

“You can’t disregard any of the pieces of the puzzle if you want to save all the pieces of the puzzle,” said Trent Orr, an Oakland, Calif.-based lawyer with the environmental group Earthjustice. “You can’t kind of cherry-pick and say, ‘Oh, yes, let’s have a world where there’s charismatic mammals . . . but let’s ignore the minnows.’ ”

There are small signs that people are listening.

The American burying beetle, which uses carcasses as nurseries for its young, gets three times the funding that it did in 1998. The orangefoot pimpleback, an endangered freshwater mussel, is getting six times what it did.

The Attwater’s prairie chicken, a Gulf Coast species with a neck sac that looks like a radioactive gobstopper, is being bred in captivity at Texas zoos to keep it from disappearing.

And in Arkansas, a mud-brown mussel called a fatmucket has received new attention — enough funding to track down new populations and sign on property owners to plant trees to filter runoff into streams.

“Mussels and the Arkansas fatmucket are definitely viewed in a different light, and they’ve definitely kind of gained a higher importance,” said Joy DeClerk of the Nature Conservancy, who works with the animal. She said the attention seems to stem from a realization that mussels are a sensitive indicator of a river’s overall health. “I’m cautiously hopeful,” she said.

But there are good reasons not to be. Climate change is expected to put an even greater squeeze on endangered creatures. And scientists say many plants and animals have already been so harmed that they will probably never be “walkaway species,” able to live on their own.

That means permanent human hand-holding, which is expensive. Kirtland’s warbler, a colorful songbird that lives in Michigan forests, requires people to cut down trees to re-create its preferred young forest habitat, and to kill the cowbirds that invade its nests. Total cost: about $990,000 per year, at last count.

“Can we do that for the Furbish lousewort? I’m not sure,” said Mike Scott, a scientist at the U.S. Geological Survey, mentioning a Maine plant. “And can we do it for the two-thirds of the species that are plants or invertebrates? I think that’s a tough sell.”

In California, the charisma-less, inedible Delta smelt is testing the notion that ugly is in.

The smelt, a three-inch-long minnow look-alike, lives only in the San Francisco Bay and the brackish river delta that feeds it. That is terrible luck: This delta is at the intake pipe for California’s vast plumbing system, which sucks water from the north and pipes it to cities in the south and farms in the middle.

The fish’s population has dropped to less than 10 percent of its historic high because of urban pollution, hungry invasive species and pumps that whoosh them through to alien habitats, environmentalists say. They sued to leave more of the water — and the smelt — where they were.

“They are one of the best indicators of the overall ecological quality” of the delta ecosystem, which also hosts migrating salmon, said Christina Swanson, executive director of a California environmental group called the Bay Institute. “Whither smelt, so goes the rest of the system.”

They won. In 2007, a federal judge said the smelt needed greater protection. In December, the Fish and Wildlife Service issued a plan that included a rule to cut back water pumping at certain times.

In this arid town in the Central Valley, farmers say that the restrictions, combined with a drought, have contributed to unemployment that may be as high as 40 percent.

“Because there’s no water, there’s no work,” said Juan Carlos Diaz, who can’t even draw customers to his thrift store. And all because of a fish, he said in Spanish: “Because of it, we are losing everything.”

The battle goes on in the courts and in Washington, where Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) and California congressmen have sought to change the federal orders.

In the meantime, this month a group of California environmentalists held a day-long event in Oakland to make the point that fish in the delta and other nearby rivers have a value all their own.

They called it . . . SalmonAid.

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Full article: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/06/28/AR2009062802961.html?hpid=topnews

Term Limits and Constitutional Tinkering in Latin America

There is a pressing topic President Obama may nonetheless avoid in his meeting today with his Colombian counterpart, Alvaro Uribe, for fear of seeming to meddle in another country’s domestic affair. But Obama might think about risking the topic of presidential term limits given the current climate in Latin America, where public sentiment is running strong against tinkering with constitutions to give presidents more time in office.

The coup in Honduras is the most recent example of the trouble that arises from moves toward change on this front. President Manuel Zelaya of Honduras was to oversee a non-binding referendum Sunday on his effort to alter the nation’s constitution to allow him to seek a second term in office. Instead, he was roused from bed by his own military, escorted to the airport, and put on a plane to Costa Rica.

Very old school.

Uribe, too, is stirring up his country’s politics by trying to change the constitution — again — to extend his time on office.

For the second time in four years, Uribe is encouraging Colombia’s Congress to pass an amendment that would allow him to run for a third term. Highly popular among Colombians, Uribe has said little publicly in support of the effort, hoping it will look like a popular movement to keep him in office. But his administration is pushing it hard behind the scenes.

Will Obama point to Honduras today — a country with a much weaker economy and much weaker political institutions than Colombia’s — to encourage Uribe to leave the Colombian constitution alone?

The one-term limit is commonplace in Latin America. It is meant as a legal check to ensure that the region’s rich tradition of public corruption and political patronage could only last so long in some of these nations.

Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez was among the first to challenge the limit, which, in his oil-rich country, was the linchpin to a decades-long agreement between a pair of parties to alternate power without competition. In the late 1990s, he campaigned successfully for a new constitution that allowed for a second six-year presidential term. The sweeping document even renamed the country the Bolivarian Republican of Venezuela, and smashed the two-party monopoly that endured for generations.

In February, Venezuelan voters passed a referendum lifting any limit on presidential terms (after rejecting Chavez’s first attempt to do so in 2007.) His Bolivarian revolution — a statist consolidation of Venezuela’s political and economic institutions — rolls on.

Meanwhile, the leftist presidents of Bolivia and Ecuador have followed Chavez’s lead in broad reform through constitutional change. Zelaya, another Chavez ally, hoped to do so as well.

Uribe, who sits on the far side of the political spectrum from Chavez, began what was then a single four-year term in 2002. He made strides against Colombia’s Marxist insurgency, winning broad public support for the effort.

The Bush administration supported him warmly, pushing hard for a free-trade agreement. But Obama, as a candidate, opposed the free-trade deal, taking into account the loud complaints of labor and human-rights groups that Uribe’s government is not doing enough to protect the left from paramilitary death squads.

Two years into his term, Uribe pushed Congress to alter the constitution to allow for a single re-election. It did so in December 2004. Now his administration is lobbying for a third, even though some business groups, political allies, and friends are encouraging him to step down when his term expires next year.

Why? Because in Latin America third terms often turn heroes into villains.

The most vivid example is Alberto Fujimori, who as Peru’s president in the 1990s used an iron fist and little regard for human rights to batter the Shining Path insurgency that had threatened to take over the country. His popularity soared.

Peru’s constitution allowed a president two terms, which the Fujimori-dominated electoral commission interpreted somehow to allow for a third. Fujimori’s April 2000 election to a third term was rife with irregularities, protests ensued, and he fled the country for Japan a few months later amid allegations of corruption and human-rights abuses. He is now serving a 25-year prison term after a court convicted him in April of human-rights violations.

So much for the statue of Fujimori on horseback.

Will Obama offer a tough love message to Uribe today? Or will he remain silent and perhaps miss an opportunity to convince a highly popular president and U.S. ally to risk everything on a third term?

Scott Wilson, Washington Post

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Full article: http://voices.washingtonpost.com/44/2009/06/29/term_limits_and_constitutional.html?hpid=topnews

Tibetan Monks and Nuns Turn Their Minds Toward Science

tibetans june 29

Jed Brody, a physics teacher from Emory College, lecturing to a class of Tibetan monks.

Tibetan monks and nuns spend their lives studying the inner world of the mind rather than the physical world of matter. Yet for one month this spring a group of 91 monastics devoted themselves to the corporeal realm of science.

Instead of delving into Buddhist texts on karma and emptiness, they learned about Galileo’s law of accelerated motion, chromosomes, neurons and the Big Bang, among other far-ranging topics.

Many in the group, whose ages ranged from the 20s to 40s, had never learned science and math. In Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and nunneries, the curriculum has remained unchanged for centuries.

To add to the challenge, some monastics have limited English and relied on Tibetan translators to absorb the four-week crash course in physics, biology, neuroscience and math and logic taught by teachers from Emory University in Atlanta.

But the monastics put morning-to-evening lectures into action. At a Buddhist college campus here in Dharamsala, the exile home of the Dalai Lama in northern India, red-robed monks and nuns experimented with pendulums, gathered plants in the foothills of the Himalayas that showed natural selection and bent their shaved heads over microscopes to view an unseen world.

Tibetan monks and nuns may spend 12 hours a day studying Buddhist philosophy and logic, reciting prayers and debating scriptures. But science has been given a special boost by the Dalai Lama, who has long advocated modern education in Tibetan monasteries and schools in exile, alongside Tibet’s traditions. India is home to at least 120,000 Tibetans, the largest population outside Tibet.

Science may seem at odds with Tibetan religious rituals. Reincarnations of high Tibetan monks are identified through dreams and auspicious signs. The Dalai Lama credits the state oracle with helping him decide to flee Tibet in 1959 as Chinese troops advanced on Lhasa.

Yet the Tibetan spiritual leader views science and Buddhism as complementary “investigative approaches with the same greater goal, of seeking the truth,” he wrote in “The Universe in a Single Atom,” his book on “how science and spirituality can serve our world.” He stresses that science is especially important for monastics who study the nature of the mind and the relationship between mind and brain.

Initial resistance from some senior monks and fears of diluting traditional studies in monasteries have gradually eased. Now the Dalai Lama hopes that, with help from Emory and other programs, science will become part of a new curriculum, with science textbooks in Tibetan and specialist translators, leading to a generation of monastic leaders that are scientifically literate.

There are other reasons for integrating science with Tibetan Buddhism. Tibetans marked the 50th anniversary of their exile this year, and a return to their homeland remains elusive. The need to keep Tibetan cultural identity alive, yet modern and relevant, has grown increasingly urgent as the 73-year-old Dalai Lama ages.

“If you remain isolated, you will disappear,” said Lhakdor, director of the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, in Dharamsala, who goes by one name. The Dalai Lama himself has often remarked that isolation from the world only aided Tibet’s fall to China.

Lhakdor also sees similarities rather than contradictions between science and Buddhism. Like Buddhism, “the approach of science is generally based on unbiased findings through observation, analysis and finding the truth,” he noted.

Others are more frank about the need to learn science. “The 21st century is here. Everybody is influenced by science. We want to know what it is,” said Tenzin Lhadron, a forthright 34-year-old nun enrolled in this summer’s science program.

She does not have formal schooling in spite of 19 years studying at a nunnery in Dharamsala. Math is difficult for her; fractions and percentages are completely new. “But I will try,” she promised.

The Emory Tibet Science Initiative, of which this session was part, is now in its second year. It was preceded by the “Science for Monks” program, which started in 2001 with support from Bobby Sager, a Boston philanthropist. At the behest of the Dalai Lama, the earlier program brought science teachers from various American universities to teach Tibetan monks in India.

That program has matured into the Emory-backed plan to introduce modern science into Tibetan monasteries in India within the next few years with help from the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives.

The Emory initiative has led to a science textbook in Tibetan and English, produced by Emory professors and translators from the library. Translation conferences yielded a science glossary that introduces words like electromagnetism, climate change and cloning into the Tibetan lexicon.

The original Science for Monks program has morphed into an annual two-week Science Leadership summer program for advanced students who are all geshes, the monastic equivalent of a Ph.D. This year it culminated in a first-ever “science fair” here from June 22 to June 24. There, monks gave presentations on sound waves, the origins of the universe and how the brain works.

Emory envisions the summer course as a five-year program with lessons becoming more advanced in successive years for the returning students.

A third program, called Science Meets Dharma, has since 2002 sent European college graduates to teach basic science courses in Tibetan monasteries in India. When some monks enroll in the intensive science programs they have already had a few years of science instruction.

Just how science will be taught in the monasteries is still in the works. Western faculty will teach to monastics for extended periods, but local Tibetan lay teachers will eventually be recruited to teach in monasteries year round. Science education already exists in the Tibetan exile school system that instructs 28,000 children and young adults in India, Nepal and Bhutan.

For the time being, university professors are needed for the summer science course. Monks and nuns may lack basic science education, but they are highly trained in other disciplines, like philosophy.

“They are sophisticated adult learners,” said Mark Risjord, professor of philosophy at Emory who taught math and logic this summer. During his weeklong unit, inquisitive monks pressed him for a method to “make deductively valid rules” and asked if different arguments can lead to the same conclusion.

Although Buddhist scriptures have their own explanations of nature, the mind and the physical world, students were unfazed about seeming contradictions between Buddhism and western science.

“There are contradictions within Buddhist philosophy itself,” pointed out Lobsang Gompo, a 27-year-old monk from Drepung monastery in south India. Tibetan Buddhists are already accustomed to analyzing multiple viewpoints, he said.

The Dalai Lama’s confidence in “critical investigation” means that “if scientific analysis were conclusively to demonstrate certain claims in Buddhism to be false, then we must accept the findings of science and abandon those claims,” he wrote in “The Universe in a Single Atom.”

Lhadron, the nun, added, “Buddhists believe whatever reality is there, not just what such and such a text says.”

While the Tibetan monastics come away from the program enriched, so do the Westerners. There is growing interest from the West about the relationship between the mind and body — for instance, the physical effects of meditation.

A new Emory program for undergraduates brought 14 students, mostly premed students, to Dharamsala this summer to study Buddhist thought and Tibetan medicine.

The science initiative also paves the way for Tibetan monastics to engage in future dialogue with Western scientists, another project fostered by the Dalai Lama in the form of annual conferences of the Mind and Life Institute that bring together Western researchers and monks in the United States and Dharamsala. “If monastics are not aware of scientific concepts, they can’t communicate and collaborate,” said Lobsang Negi, director of the Emory Tibet Science Initiative.

The program broadens the horizons of the Western science teachers, too, whether by teaching across cultures or thinking about science through the lens of ethics and human values as emphasized in Buddhism.

For Arri Eisen, a biology professor at Emory, teaching the monks and nuns helped him consider “how to nurture positive thinking. Western education doesn’t nurture empathy.”

Science may be far advanced in the West, but a moral vacuum exists, said Bryce Johnson, an environmental engineer who coordinates the Science for Monks program. “There’s something lost in the West,” Dr. Johnson said. The meeting of science and Buddhism is “a healthy exchange that is as much for the scientists.”

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Full article and photo: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/30/science/30monks.html?hpw

Blink Twice if You Like Me

fireflies june 29

In many fireflies, pairs stay coupled for hours while the male, lower, gives the female a protein package injected with sperm, called a nuptial gift.

Sara Lewis is fluent in firefly. On this night she walks through a farm field in eastern Massachusetts, watching the first fireflies of the evening rise into the air and begin to blink on and off. Dr. Lewis, an evolutionary ecologist at Tufts University, points out six species in this meadow, each with its own pattern of flashes.

Along one edge of the meadow are Photinus greeni, with double pulses separated by three seconds of darkness. Near a stream are Photinus ignitus, with a five-second delay between single pulses. And near a forest are Pyractomena angulata, which make Dr. Lewis’s favorite flash pattern. “It’s like a flickering orange rain,” she said.

The fireflies flashing in the air are all males. Down in the grass, Dr. Lewis points out, females are sitting and observing. They look for flash patterns of males of their own species, and sometimes they respond with a single flash of their own, always at a precise interval after the male’s. Dr. Lewis takes out a penlight and clicks it twice, in perfect Photinus greeni. A female Photinus greeni flashes back.

“Most people don’t realize there’s this call and response going on,” Dr. Lewis said. “But it’s very, very easy to talk to fireflies.”

For Dr. Lewis, this meadow is the stage for an invertebrate melodrama, full of passion and yearning, of courtship duets and competitions for affection, of cruel deception and gruesome death. For the past 16 years, Dr. Lewis has been coming to this field to decipher the evolutionary forces at play in this production, as fireflies have struggled to survive and spread their genes to the next generation.

It was on a night much like this one in 1980 when Dr. Lewis first came under the spell of fireflies. She was in graduate school at Duke University, studying coral reef fish. Waiting for a grant to come through for a trip to Belize, she did not have much else to do but sit in her backyard in North Carolina.

“Every evening there was this incredible display of fireflies,” Dr. Lewis said. She eventually started to explore the yard, inspecting the males and females. “What really struck me was that in this one-acre area there were hundreds of males and I could only find two or three females,” she said. “I thought, ‘Man, this is so intense.’ ”

When a lot of males are competing for the chance to mate with females, a species experiences a special kind of evolution. If males have certain traits that make them attractive to females, they will mate more than other males. And that preference may mean that those attractive males can pass down their traits to the next generation. Over thousands of generations, the entire species may be transformed.

Charles Darwin described this process, which he called sexual selection, in 1871, using male displays of antlers and feathers as examples. He did not mention fireflies. In fact, fireflies remained fairly mysterious for another century. It was not until the 1960s that James Lloyd, a University of Florida biologist, deciphered the call and response of several species of North American firefly.

Dr. Lewis, realizing that other firefly mysteries remained to be solved, switched to fireflies from fish in 1984, when she became a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard. She taught herself Dr. Lloyd’s firefly code and then began to investigate firefly mating habits. North American fireflies spend two years underground as larvae, then spend the final two weeks of their lives as adults, flashing, mating and laying eggs. When Dr. Lewis started studying fireflies, scientists could not say whether the females mated once and then laid all their eggs, or mated with many males. “Nobody knew what happened after the lights went out,” Dr. Lewis said.

She searched for mating fireflies in the evening, marked their locations with surveyor’s flags and then revisited them every half-hour through the night. They were still mating at dawn.

“It was cool to watch the sun rise and see the couples breaking up and the females crawling down the grass to lay their eggs,” Dr. Lewis said.

Many Americans are familiar with the kinds of fireflies Dr. Lewis studies, but they represent only a tiny fraction of the 2,000 species worldwide. And there is enormous variation in these insects. “There are some species that produce flashes when they’re adults, and there are some that simply glow as adults,” Dr. Lewis said. “Then there are a whole bunch of species where the adults don’t produce any light at all.”

In recent years scientists have analyzed the DNA of fireflies to figure out how their light has evolved. The common ancestor of today’s fireflies probably produced light only when they were larvae. All firefly larvae still glow today, as a warning to would-be predators. The larvae produce bitter chemicals that make them an unpleasant meal.

As adults, the earliest fireflies probably communicated with chemical signals, the way some firefly species do today. Only much later did some firefly species gain through evolution the ability to make light as adults. Instead of a warning, the light became a mating call. (An enzyme in the firefly’s tail drives a chemical reaction that makes light.)

The more Dr. Lewis watched firefly courtship, the clearer it became that the females were carefully choosing mates. They start dialogues with up to 10 males in a single evening and can keep several conversations going at once. But a female mates with only one male, typically the one she has responded to the most.

Dr. Lewis wondered if the female fireflies were picking their mates based on variations in the flashes of the males. To test that possibility, she took female fireflies to her lab, where she has computer-controlled light systems that can mimic firefly flashes. “You can play back specific signals to females and see what they respond to,” Dr. Lewis said.

The female fireflies turned out to be remarkably picky. In many cases, a male flash got no response at all. In some species, females preferred faster pulse rates. In others, the females preferred males that made long-lasting pulses.

If females preferred some flashes over others, Dr. Lewis wondered why those preferences had evolved in the first place. One possible explanation was that the signals gave female fireflies a valuable clue about the males. Somehow, mating with males with certain flash patterns allowed females to produce more offspring, which would inherit their preference.

It is possible that females use flashes to figure out which males can offer the best gifts. In many invertebrate species, the males provide females with food to help nourish their eggs. Dr. Lewis and her colleagues discovered that fireflies also made these so-called nuptial gifts — packages of protein they inject with their sperm.

Dr. Lewis is not sure why she and her colleagues were the first to find them. The gifts form coils that can take up a lot of space in a male firefly’s abdomen. “They’re incredibly beautiful,” she said.

Receiving nuptial gifts, Dr. Lewis and her colleagues have shown, can make a huge difference in the reproductive success of a female firefly. “It just about doubles the number of eggs a female can lay in her lifetime,” she said. One reason the effect is so big is that fireflies do not eat during their two-week adulthood. A slowly starving female can use a nuptial gift to build more eggs.

In at least some species, females may use flashes to pick out males with the biggest gifts. Dr. Lewis has tested this hypothesis in two species; in one, males with conspicuous flashes have bigger gifts. In another species, she found no link.

“In some cases they could be honest signals, and in some cases they could be deceptive signals,” Dr. Lewis said.

Deception may, in fact, evolve very easily among fireflies. It turns out that a male firefly does not need to burn many extra calories to make flashes. “It takes some energy, but it’s tiny. It’s less costly for a male than flying around,” Dr. Lewis said.

If making light is so cheap for males, it seems odd that they have not all evolved to be more attractive to females. “What is it that keeps their flashes from getting longer and longer or faster and faster?” Dr. Lewis asked.

Scanning the meadow, she grabbed her insect net and ran after a fast-flying firefly with a triple flash. She caught an animal that may offer the answer to her question. Dr. Lewis dropped the insect into a tube and switched on a headlamp to show her catch. Called Photuris, it is a firefly that eats other fireflies.

“They are really nasty predators,” Dr. Lewis said. Photuris fireflies sometimes stage aerial assaults, picking out other species by their flashes and swooping down to attack. In other cases, they sit on a blade of grass, responding to male fireflies with deceptive flashes. When the males approach, Photuris grabs them.

“They pounce, they bite, they suck blood — all the gory stuff,” Dr. Lewis said. She has found that each Photuris can eat several fireflies in a night. Photuris kills other fireflies only to retrieve bad-tasting chemicals from their bodies, which it uses to protect itself from predators.

To study how Photuris predation affects its firefly prey, Dr. Lewis and her colleagues built sticky traps equipped with lights that mimicked courtship signals of Photuris’s victims. The scientists found that Photuris was more likely to attack when flash rates were faster. In other words, conspicuous flashes — the ones females prefer — also make males more likely to be killed.

“At least where Photuris predators are around,” Dr. Lewis said, “there’s going to be a strong selection for less conspicuous flashes.”

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Full article and photo: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/30/science/30firefly.html?hp

The Puzzle of Spaces That Soothe

spaces june 29

Say you are living in less than optimal surroundings. Your upstairs neighbor routinely rearranges furniture at midnight. The dog next door is bored and lonely and loud. His owner snarls as you pass by. Your living room is the wrong shape, the windows are in the wrong place, and the paint color that seemed so creatively chic five years ago is getting on your last nerve.

Then you move. And as you bask in silence and symmetry, with pleasant neighbors, a soaring view and soothing white walls, you feel something in your brain click on. Or does it click off? Either way, you feel very good.

What is doing the clicking, and why? These are the deceptively simple questions Esther Sternberg tries to answer in “Healing Spaces,” an exploration of environmental influences over the brain, the body and (all due respect to your new living situation, but there are more important issues at hand) the course of mental and physical disease.

Dr. Sternberg, a prominent neuroimmunologist at the National Institute of Mental Health, has given herself a gigantic assignment, incorporating architecture, aesthetics, psychology, neurobiology, physiology and aromatherapy, among many other disciplines. She can’t quite pull it off, but her effort does define the complex parameters of what may well be one of the biggest remaining mysteries of medical science.

After all, if your brain can make you miserable in your living room, think how much worse things are likely to be in a standard-issue hospital room, surrounded by noise, confusion, bad smells and highly unscenic views. You would think that a science so adept at scanning the brain could figure out how to soothe it with equal dexterity.

But the neural circuitry responsible for mental ease, primal though it may be, is still staggeringly complex. Furthermore, the science describing the links between aesthetic and physical well-being — the infamous mind-body connection — is tentative and controversial, and most treatments have yet to be rigorously assessed.

It all begins with the five senses, which is where Dr. Sternberg begins too: “If you were a patient in a hospital bed, just waking up from surgery, what would you prefer to see when you opened your eyes — a brick wall or a grove of trees?”

You may think you know the right answer and why, but consider all the variables scientists must consider to analyze your decision. Among them are the position of the bricks and the trees (different parts of the brain handle near and far objects) and the colors involved (our yellow-green vision was the first to evolve; is that why greenery pleases us?). Individual patients may have different conditioned responses to bricks and trees.

Further, do garden views really help abdominal incisions heal? A few small studies suggest they may, but can the findings be generalized to all patients, all bricks and all trees? How about nearsighted patients, sunny brick walls and dying trees?

And that’s only the beginning. Sound and smell must also be considered, and then there is the sense of place, spatial orientation and direction, a composite experience so finely tuned that losing your way in a strange dark place (like a hospital basement on the way to radiology) can bring on the worst sort of stress, but walking slowly and deliberately along the hedge-lined corridors of a garden labyrinth is a recipe for tranquillity.

It is sobering to consider that among all the great minds who have explored these phenomena, Walt Disney was probably the most successful at the large-scale manipulation of the environment to soothe and cheer the brain. Even the scary rides at Disneyland — Dr. Sternberg deconstructs the Pirates of the Caribbean ride from a scientist’s perspective — are carefully designed to click the brain’s switches in all the right directions.

And so a new nursing home has a Disneyesque Main Street to calm the deteriorating neurons of its residents. Then it is only a small neurologic step to Lourdes in France, home of miracle cures, where a host of environmental cues may switch suitably prepared brains to a state of rapture, releasing a flood of potent neurochemical mediators that may well relieve suffering. Thus Dr. Sternberg outlines a tentative biology of the miraculous, which, as she hastens to point out, “would not diminish the wonder of the phenomenon.”

It is the mission of the Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture, whose conferences provide Dr. Sternberg with some fascinating material, simply to recreate a bit of Lourdes in every medical setting. We used to be a lot better at this task than we are today; 20th-century medical science, with its mortal fear of germs, interfered. But at some point “sterile” turned from a good attribute to a bad one, and now we are trying to recapture some of the grandeur and beauty of hospitals past with windows, gardens, views.

Dr. Sternberg is a seriously pedestrian writer, and her narrative never strays from a blandness well designed to offend neither hard-core scientists nor New Age mystics. She ignores some of the more fascinating paradoxes of the terrain (a 30-bed hospital ward may offer more privacy and serenity than a semiprivate room; furthermore, one man’s aromatherapy is often another’s emetic). Still, anyone who has ever felt peace descend in lovely surroundings will find a few seeds of explanation in her book.

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Full article: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/30/health/30books.html?hpw

Photo: http://www.cca.qc.ca/bookstore/fiche.asp?lang=eng&BookID=26501200000011008

Lions form prides to win turf wars

African lions (Panthera leo)
 
The bigger the gang, the more successful the lions are.
 
Lions form prides to defend territory against other lions, not to improve their hunting success, a study reveals.

In doing so, they act much like street gangs, gathering together to protect their turf from interlopers, says a leading lion expert.

The bigger the gang, the more successful the lions are, information that could help conserve wild lions.

The discovery helps explain why lions, uniquely among the cat species, live together in social groups.

Lions stand out amongst all the cat species for their gregarious nature.

Across Africa and Asia, lions form prides of varying sizes comprising one or more males and often numerous females and cubs.

But why they do so has remained a mystery. A long-standing idea is that female lions socialise in order to hunt cooperatively. But despite the common sight of multiple females working together to outflank and bring down large prey, there is no clear link between how many lions hunt together and their hunting success.

Another is that lions gather to protect territory. Indeed, a range of animals from social insects to primates form social groups that defend territories against competitors.

But while there has been anecdotal evidence that bigger groups have a competitive advantage, the idea has never been rigorously tested over long periods of time.

That has now changed with a study analysing the behaviour of 46 lion prides living in the Serengeti National Park, Tanzania.

‘Street gangs’

Conducted by ecologists Anna Mosser and Craig Packer of the University of Minnesota in St Paul, US, the study collated data about the prides’ behaviour over 38 years, including where they ranged, their composition and how they interacted.

Mosser’s and Packer’s key finding was that competition between lion prides significantly affects the mortality and reproductive success of female lions, they report in the journal Animal Behaviour.

Male African lion

Male lions kill females to influence the balance of power

Larger prides with more adult females not only produced more cubs, as might be expected, but the females within these prides were less likely to be wounded or killed by other lions.

Prides with more females were also more likely to gain control of areas disputed with neighbouring prides, and those prides that recruited lone females improved the quality of their territory.

“The most important way to think about this is that lion prides are like street gangs,” says Packer.

“They compete for turf. The bigger the gang, the more successful it is at controlling the best areas. The main difference from humans is that these are gangs of female lions.”

Best ‘real estate’

Both researchers think the study, alongside other work they have yet to publish, finally confirms that bigger prides form to defend territory.

“The advantage of large group size for group-territorial animals has been suspected for a long time, but had never been proven with data,” says Mosser. “With this paper, we were able to do just that because of the many groups studied over a long period.”

One surprise revealed by the research is that male lions turn out to play a much bigger role in how prides interact than expected.

LION FAMILY LIFE
A lion pride is made of one to 21 females, their offspring, and a temporary coalition of 1 to 9 males
One-third of female lions in the Serengeti leave their mother’s pride to form a new one
Males leave their pride by age 4, to go solo or form a coalition with other males

Large coalitions of female lions are so successful at dominating small neighbouring prides that male lions step in to try to alter the balance of power. Males will often attack and attempt to kill female lions in neighbouring prides to tip the odds in favour of their own pride.

“Males turn out to be playing a greater role than we realised,” says Packer. “Males attack females from neighbouring prides, likely altering the balance of power in favour of ‘their’ females.”

The territorial advantages gained by coming together into larger social groups would have driven the evolution of social behaviour in lions, say the researchers.

“It also confirms a pattern that is probably applicable for many species, including group-territorial ants, birds, and chimpanzees,” says Mosser, who is now at The Jane Goodhall Institute, in Kigoma, Tanzania.

Such insights will help with the conservation of lions, the numbers of which are suspected to have fallen by at least a third across Africa over the past two decades.

The research shows that “the lions are competing for relatively scarce ‘hotspots’ of high value real estate,” says Packer.

So “lion numbers are ultimately limited by the number of hotspots that are safely inside national parks”.

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Full article and photos: http://news.bbc.co.uk/earth/hi/earth_news/newsid_8120000/8120712.stm

Entertainment – June 29

High court won’t block remote storage DVR system

Cable TV operators won a key legal battle against Hollywood studios and television networks on Monday as the Supreme Court declined to block a new digital video recording system that could make it even easier for viewers to bypass commercials.

The justices declined to hear an appeal on whether Cablevision Systems Corp.’s remote-storage DVR system would violate copyright laws. That allows the Bethpage, N.Y.-based company to proceed with plans to start deploying the technology this summer.

With remote storage, TV shows are kept on the cable operator’s servers instead of the DVR inside the customer’s home, as systems offered by TiVo Inc. and cable operators currently do.

The distinction is important because a remote system essentially transforms every digital set-top box in the home into a DVR, allowing customers to sign up instantly, without the need to pick up a DVR from the nearest cable office or wait for a technician to visit.

Movie studios, TV networks and cable TV channels had argued that the service is more akin to video-on-demand, for which they negotiate licensing fees with cable providers.

They claimed a remote-storage DVR service amounts to an unauthorized rebroadcast of their programs.

In a statement, the Copyright Alliance, whose members include Hollywood studios and television broadcasters, called the Supreme Court action “unfortunate and potentially harmful to creators and creative enterprises across the spectrum of copyright industries.”

Cablevision argued its service was permissible because the control of the recording and playback was in the hands of the consumer.

Industry experts say the new technology could put digital recording service in nearly half of all American homes, about twice the current number.

“This is a tremendous victory,” said Tom Rutledge, Cablevision’s chief operating officer, in a statement. “At the same time, we are mindful of the potential implications for ad skipping and the concerns this has raised in the programming community.”

Rutledge said the technology could benefit programmers and advertisers.

Cablevision, which has 3 million subscribers in the New York metro area, has launched targeted, interactive advertising in half a million households and plans to double that number by year’s end. TiVo’s DVR users already see ads when they pause or fast-forward shows.

Less clear is whether there will be savings down the road for consumers. Remote-storage DVR saves cable operators money because they don’t have to invest and deploy digital set-top boxes with hard drives anymore, nor would they have broken machines inside homes to fix in person. Sanford Bernstein analyst Craig Moffett had estimated that DVRs account for as much as 10 percent to 15 percent of major cable’s capital spending.

But whether those savings will trickle down to the consumer depends on the level of competition, expenditures by cable to deploy the new system and other factors. Cable operators also have to contend with bandwidth capacity, as shows will be transmitted to each DVR viewer from their central servers, instead of individual DVRs already in the home.

Still, it’s a win for cable even though most consumers won’t see much of a change for years, in part because there are millions of in-home DVRs already in use.

“It’s clearly an important chapter in the history of digital television,” said Standard & Poor’s analyst Tuna Amobi. But the new system will take “a few years to materialize. Right now the focus is on trying to get up to speed and get this technology beyond the test phase.”

Perhaps in the next decade, remote-storage DVR would start to make set-top boxes obsolete, he said.

At least, cable operators won’t be hampered by the limits of a DVR hard drive. They can choose to offer more storage capacity to consumers whenever they wish, as they respond to competition or try to retain subscribers.

Amobi said satellite TV operators also are losers in the high court’s decision because their systems don’t let them offer remote-storage DVR. Their subscribers still have to get DVRs with hard drives and satellite TV companies have to continue to invest in these boxes.

In siding with Cablevision, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower court ruling that Cablevision, rather than its customers, would be making copies of programs, thereby violating copyright laws.

The Screen Actors Guild, songwriters, music companies, Major League Baseball, the National Football League and the NCAA all sided with the networks and studios in asking for high court review, while the Obama administration urged the court not to hear the case.

The case is Cable News Network v. CSC Holdings Inc., 08-448.

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Full article: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/06/29/AR2009062901691.html

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Ex-Edwards Aide to Write Tell-All

Hunter june 29

Rielle Hunter recording John Edwards after a rally in New Hampshire in December 2006.

A man who was one of former Senator John Edwards’s closest aides has a deal to write a book claiming that Mr. Edwards said he “would be taken care of for life” in return for falsely claiming he was the father of the baby carried by Mr. Edwards’s mistress, Rielle Hunter.

The aide, Andrew Young, sold his book proposal to St. Martin’s Press for an undisclosed price late last week. In his proposal, Mr. Young quotes Mr. Edwards, a Democrat who was his party’s vice-presidential nominee in 2004 and ran for president last year, as begging him to confess to fathering Ms. Hunter’s baby.

“ ‘You know how much I love you,’ Edwards said. ‘You know I’d walk off a cliff for you, and I know you’d walk off a cliff for me,’ ” Mr. Young wrote in the book proposal. “ ‘I will never forget this. And I will always be there for you.’ ” The proposal was shared with The New York Times by a book publishing industry executive. Portions of it were reported over the weekend by The Daily News of New York.

Federal prosecutors are investigating whether any of Mr. Edwards’s campaign money was improperly used with regard to his affair or efforts to keep it from becoming public. Mr. Young wrote that he had been questioned by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and had been subpoenaed to speak before a grand jury.

A spokeswoman for the United States attorney in Raleigh, N.C., would not comment. Mr. Edwards has issued statements saying he is confident his campaign acted properly.

After news of Mr. Edwards’s affair and Ms. Hunter’s pregnancy first surfaced in the National Enquirer in fall 2007, a lawyer for Mr. Young said his client was the father. Mr. Edwards was preparing for the Iowa presidential caucuses at the time.

Mr. Edwards denied being the father after admitting the affair last summer, and there is yet to be DNA testing. A spokeswoman for Mr. Edwards’s legal team, Joyce Fitzpatrick, said Mr. Edwards had not seen the book proposal, and she would not comment on it. A lawyer for Ms. Hunter, Robert J. Gordon, said he no longer represented her.

Mr. Young’s proposal states that he was writing the book because he had become disillusioned with Mr. Edwards’s behavior and recklessness, which he said included participating in the production of a sex tape with Ms. Hunter that Mr. Young later discovered.

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Full article: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/30/us/politics/30edwards.html?hp

Photo: http://www.nytimes.com/imagepages/2008/08/11/us/11edwardsCA01.span.ready.html

Mild and bitter

Depression may be linked to how willing someone is to give up his goals.

CLINICAL depression is a serious ailment, but almost everyone gets mildly depressed from time to time. Randolph Nesse, a psychologist and researcher in evolutionary medicine at the University of Michigan, likens the relationship between mild and clinical depression to the one between normal and chronic pain. He sees both pain and low mood as warning mechanisms and thinks that, just as understanding chronic pain means first understanding normal pain, so understanding clinical depression means understanding mild depression.

Dr Nesse’s hypothesis is that, as pain stops you doing damaging physical things, so low mood stops you doing damaging mental ones—in particular, pursuing unreachable goals. Pursuing such goals is a waste of energy and resources. Therefore, he argues, there is likely to be an evolved mechanism that identifies certain goals as unattainable and inhibits their pursuit—and he believes that low mood is at least part of that mechanism.

It is a neat hypothesis, but is it true? A study published in this month’s issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests it might be. Carsten Wrosch from Concordia University in Montreal and Gregory Miller of the University of British Columbia studied depression in teenage girls. They measured the “goal adjustment capacities” of 97 girls aged 15-19 over the course of 19 months. They asked the participants questions about their ability to disengage from unattainable goals and to re-engage with new goals. They also asked about a range of symptoms associated with depression, and tracked how these changed over the course of the study.

Their conclusion was that those who experienced mild depressive symptoms could, indeed, disengage more easily from unreachable goals. That supports Dr Nesse’s hypothesis. But the new study also found a remarkable corollary: those women who could disengage from the unattainable proved less likely to suffer more serious depression in the long run.

Mild depressive symptoms can therefore be seen as a natural part of dealing with failure in young adulthood. They set in when a goal is identified as unreachable and lead to a decline in motivation. In this period of low motivation, energy is saved and new goals can be found. If this mechanism does not function properly, though, severe depression can be the consequence.

The importance of giving up inappropriate goals has already been demonstrated by Dr Wrosch. Two years ago he and his colleagues published a study in which they showed that those teenagers who were better at doing so had a lower concentration of C-reactive protein, a substance made in response to inflammation and associated with an elevated risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Dr Wrosch thus concludes that it is healthy to give up overly ambitious goals. Persistence, though necessary for success and considered a virtue by many, can also have a negative impact on health.

Dr Nesse believes that persistence is a reason for the exceptional level of clinical depression in America—the country that has the highest depression rate in the world. “Persistence is part of the American way of life,” he says. “People here are often driven to pursue overly ambitious goals, which then can lead to depression.” He admits that this is still an unproven hypothesis, but it is one worth considering. Depression may turn out to be an inevitable price of living in a dynamic society.

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Full article: http://www.economist.com/sciencetechnology/displayStory.cfm?story_id=13899022&source=hptextfeature

Today in History – June 29

Today is Monday, June 29, the 180th day of 2009. There are 185 days left in the year.

Today’s Highlight in History

On June 29, 1776, the Virginia state constitution was adopted, and Patrick Henry was made governor.

On this date:

In 1613, during a performance of William Shakespeare’s Henry VIII on this day in 1613, the Globe Theatre was destroyed within an hour after its thatch was accidentally set aflame by a cannon marking the king’s entrance onstage.

In 1767, the British Parliament approved the Townshend Acts, which imposed import duties on certain goods shipped to America. (Colonists bitterly protested, prompting Parliament in 1770 to repeal the duties on all goods, except tea.)

In 1852, statesman Henry Clay, known as “the Great Compromiser” for his feats of legislative reconciliation between the North and the South, died at the age of seventy-five at the Old National Hotel in Washington, D.C.

In 1861, English poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning, famous for her Sonnets from the Portuguese, died at age 55 from a severe chill.

In 1868, George Ellery Hale, the American astronomer, was born.

In 1913, following a year of war with the Ottoman Empire, members of the victorious Balkan League quarreled over the division of the conquered territories, resulting in the Second Balkan War when Bulgaria attacked Greek and Serbian forces in Macedonia this night.

In 1916, for his role in seeking German help for the Easter Rebellion in Ireland, Irish nationalist and longtime British diplomat Sir Roger Casement is executed by Britain for treason.

In 1940, painter Paul Klee dies at age 60, succumbing to the skin and muscle disease that forced him to adopt a simpler style in his final works.

In 1946, authorities in British-ruled Palestine arrested more than 2,700 Jews in an attempt to stamp out extremists.

In 1951, Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI, was ordained as a priest.

In 1954, the Atomic Energy Commission voted against reinstating Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer’s access to classified information.

In 1956, at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Los Angeles, Glenn Davis breaks the 50-second barrier in the 400-meter hurdles on the same day that Charles Dumas becomes the first man to high jump 7 feet. The U.S. Congress passes the Federal Highway Act, which provides for the construction of 42,500 miles of interstate highways, based on a plan announced by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in June 1954.

In 1959, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously struck down a New York State obscenity ban on exhibiting a French movie version of the D.H. Lawrence novel “Lady Chatterley’s Lover.”

In 1966, the United States bombed fuel storage facilities near the North Vietnamese cities of Hanoi and Haiphong.

In 1967, Jerusalem was reunified as Israel removed barricades separating the Old City from the Israeli sector. Actress Jayne Mansfield, 34, and two male companions died when their car struck a trailer truck east of New Orleans.

In 1970, the United States ended a two-month military offensive into Cambodia.

In 1972, the Supreme Court ruled the death penalty as it was being meted out could constitute “cruel and unusual punishment.” (The ruling prompted states to revise their capital punishment laws.)

In 1988, the Supreme Court upheld the independent counsel law.

In 1992, a divided Supreme Court ruled that women have a constitutional right to abortion, but the justices also weakened the right as defined by the Roe v. Wade decision.

In 1995, the shuttle Atlantis and the Russian space station Mir docked, forming the largest man-made satellite ever to orbit the Earth.

In 1999, ten years ago: Urging the biggest expansion in Medicare’s history, President Bill Clinton proposed that the government help older Americans pay for prescription drugs. Some 10,000 demonstrators rallied in central Serbia, demanding the resignation of President Slobodan Milosevic. Abdullah Ocalan, leader of Turkey’s rebel Kurds, was convicted of treason and sentenced to death. (The sentence was later commuted to life in prison.)

In 2001, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan was elected to a second term.

In 2002, President George W. Bush transferred presidential powers to Vice President Dick Cheney for more than two hours during a routine colon screening that ended in a clean bill of health.

In 2003, actress Katharine Hepburn died in Old Saybrook, Conn., at age 96.

In 2004, five years ago: A United Nations helicopter crashed in Sierra Leone, killing all 24 peacekeepers, aid workers and others on board. The Supreme Court blocked a law meant to shield Web-surfing children from online pornography. Randy Johnson of the Arizona Diamondbacks became the fourth pitcher to record 4,000 career strikeouts. (However, his team lost to the San Diego Padres, 3-2).

In 2006, the Supreme Court ruled 5-3 that President George W. Bush’s plan to try Guantanamo Bay detainees in military tribunals violated U.S. and international law.

In 2007, the first Apple iPhones went on sale.

In 2008, one year ago: Zimbabwe’s longtime ruler Robert Mugabe was sworn in as president for a sixth term after a widely discredited runoff in which he was the only candidate. Two weeks away from her 20th birthday, Inbee Park became the youngest winner of the U.S. Women’s Open by closing with a 2-under 71 at Interlachen in Edina, Minn. Spain won the European Championship 1-0 over Germany for its first major title in 44 years.

Today’s Birthdays

Movie producer Robert Evans is 79. Songwriter L. Russell Brown is 69. Actor Gary Busey is 65. Comedian Richard Lewis is 62. Actor-turned-politican-turned-radio personality Fred Grandy is 61. Rock musician Ian Paice (Deep Purple) is 61. Singer Don Dokken is 56. Rock singer Colin Hay (Men At Work) is 56. Actress Maria Conchita Alonso is 52. Actress Sharon Lawrence is 48. Actress Amanda Donohoe is 47. Rhythm-and-blues singer Stedman Pearson (Five Star) is 45. Actress Kathleen Wilhoite is 45. Musician Dale Baker is 43. Actress Melora Hardin is 42. Rap DJ Shadow is 37. Country musician Todd Sansom (Marshall Dyllon) is 31. Singer Nicole Scherzinger is 31.

Historic Birthdays

Giacomo Leopardi
6/29/1798 – 6/14/1837
Italian poet, scholar and philosopher

Pietro Angelo Secchi
6/29/1818 – 2/26/1878
Italian Jesuit and astrophysicist

George Goethals
6/29/1858 – 1/21/1928
American army engineer; directed construction of the Panama Canal

George Ellery Hale
6/29/1868 – 2/21/1938
American astronomer; developed the Hale telescope

Ludwig Beck
6/29/1880 – 7/20/1944
German general; opposed Hitler

Robert Schuman
6/29/1886 – 9/4/1963
French statesman

James Van Der Zee
6/29/1886 – 5/15/1983
African-American photographer

Helen Hokinson
6/29/1893 – 11/1/1949
American cartoonist

Antoine Saint-Exupery
6/29/1900 – 7/31/1944
French aviator and writer

Leroy Anderson
6/29/1908 – 5/18/1975
American conductor, arranger and composer

Frank Loesser
6/29/1910 – 7/28/1969
American composer, librettist and lyricist

Thought for Today

“These are times in which a Genius would wish to live. It is not in the still calm of life, or the repose of a pacific station, that great characters are formed…. Great necessities call out great virtues.” — Abigail Adams, American first lady (1744-1818).

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Full article: http://www.boston.com/news/history/articles/2009/06/29/today_in_history___june_29/

http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/default.stm

http://www.todayinhistory.de/index.php?tag=29&monat=6&dayisset=1&year=2009&lang=en

http://www.nytimes.com/learning/general/onthisday/20090629.html

http://lcweb2.loc.gov/ammem/today/today.html

http://www.britannica.com/eb/dailycontent/rss

http://encarta.msn.com/encnet/features/onthisday.aspx

States Can Investigate National Banks, Justices Rule

The Supreme Court said Monday that state attorneys general could investigate national banks for lending discrimination and other crimes, but only with a court’s help.

The justices ruled that a state attorney general could not on his own issue a subpoena against a bank that has branches in that state and others. But the court said that national banks were subject to some state laws under the National Banking Act, and that an attorney general could go to court to enforce those laws.

”What this decision today says is that states have the ability to enforce their own laws as long as they follow state due process procedures, which generally mean issuance of a subpoena which can be challenged in court,” said John Cooney, a former assistant solicitor general and deputy general counsel at the Office of Management and Budget.

The State of New York wanted the Supreme Court to overturn a federal appeals court decision that blocks states from investigating the lending practices of national banks with branches within its borders. It was supported by the other 49 states.

Eliot Spitzer, then New York’s attorney general, wanted to investigate whether minorities were being charged higher interest rates on home mortgage loans, a practice that is prohibited under various state and federal laws. But federal judges said Mr. Spitzer could not enforce state fair-lending laws against national banks or their operating subsidiaries by issuing subpoenas and bringing enforcement actions against them.

”Here, the threatened action was not the bringing of a civil suit, or the obtaining of a judicial search warrant based on probable cause, but rather the attorney general’s issuance of subpoena on his own authority,” said Justice Antonin Scalia, who wrote the opinion for the court. ”That is not the exercise of the power of law enforcement ’vested in the courts of justice,’ ” which the National Banking Act allows.

Both the Clearing House Association, which represents the banks, and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency said the attorney general was interfering with the federal government’s supervisory powers.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York had ruled that the responsibility for such investigations rested with the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, a part of the Treasury Department, and other federal agencies.

”Channeling state attorneys general into judicial law-enforcement proceedings (rather than allowing them to exercise ’visitorial’ oversight) would preserve a regime of exclusive administrative oversight by the comptroller while honoring in fact rather than merely in theory Congress’s decision not to pre-empt substantive state law,” Justice Scalia said.

Chief Justice John Roberts, and Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Anthony Kennedy dissented in part, saying they would have ruled with the federal appeals court.

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Full article: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/30/business/30bizcourt.html?hpw

Pope Says Tests ‘Seem to Conclude’ Bones Are St. Paul’s

Paul june 29

Cardinal Andrea Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo, archpriest of the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, holds up pictures of a sarcophagus unearthed beneath the basilica during a press conference at the Vatican on Monday.

The first scientific tests on what are believed to be the remains of the Apostle Paul, the Roman Catholic saint, “seem to conclude” that they belong to him, Pope Benedict XVI said Sunday.

Archaeologists recently unearthed and opened the white marble sarcophagus located under the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome, which for some 2,000 years has been believed by the faithful to be the tomb of Paul.

Benedict said scientists had conducted carbon dating tests on bone fragments found inside the sarcophagus and confirmed that they date from the first or second century.

“This seems to confirm the unanimous and uncontested tradition that they are the mortal remains of the Apostle Paul,” Benedict said, announcing the findings at a service in the basilica to mark the end of the Vatican’s Pauline year, in honor of Paul.

Paul and Peter are the two main figures known for spreading the Christian faith after the death of Christ.

According to tradition, Paul, also known as the apostle to the Gentiles, was beheaded in Rome in the first century during the persecution of early Christians by Roman emperors. Popular belief holds that bone fragments from his head are in another Rome basilica, St. John Lateran, with his other remains inside the sarcophagus.

The pope said that when archaeologists opened the sarcophagus, they discovered alongside the bone fragments some grains of incense, a “precious” piece of purple linen with gold sequins and a blue fabric with linen filaments.

Vatican archaeologists in 2002 began excavating the eight-foot coffin, which dates from at least 390 and was buried under the basilica’s main altar. The decision to unearth it was made after pilgrims who came to Rome during the Roman Catholic Church’s 2000 Jubilee year expressed disappointment at finding that Paul’s tomb — buried under layers of plaster and further hidden by an iron grate — could not be visited or touched.

The top of the coffin has small openings, subsequently covered with mortar, because in ancient times, Christians would insert offerings or try to touch the remains.

The basilica stands at the site of two fourth-century churches, including one destroyed by a fire in 1823 that had left the tomb visible, first above ground and later in a crypt. After the fire, the crypt was filled with earth and covered by a new altar. A slab of cracked marble with the words “Paul apostle martyr” in Latin was also found embedded in the floor above the tomb.

Monday is the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, a major feast day for the Catholic Church, during which the pope will bestow a woolen pallium, or scarf, on all of the archbishops he has recently appointed. The pallium is a band of white wool decorated with black crosses that is a sign of pastoral authority and a symbol of the archbishops’ bond with the pope.

At the end of Sunday’s service in the warm basilica, Benedict, 82, lost his balance slightly as he slipped on a step on the altar and was steadied by one of his assistants who was by his side.

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Full article: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/29/science/29vatican.html?hpw

Photo: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/16155676/