June 22, 2011 · Posted in Uncategorized · Comments Off
Acerbic, dissident artist Ai Weiwei languished for more than two months in prison without charges before being abruptly released by Chinese authorities. The government, which may now pursue a civil case against Ai, cites his ‘good attitude,’ while others say international pressure played a role.
By Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times
11:52 AM PDT, June 22, 2011
Reporting from Beijing
After languishing for more than two months in prison without formal charges, China’s most famous dissident artist was abruptly released on bail late Wednesday.
“I’m out. I’m fine,” Ai Weiwei wrote in text messages to friends and supporters about midnight after returning to the art studio where he makes his home in northeastern Beijing.
The official New China News Agency reported that Ai had been freed “because of his good attitude in confessing his crimes as well as a chronic disease he suffers from.”
The 54-year-old artist has been reported to suffer from diabetes and high blood pressure, although he was not known to be seriously ill. More likely the release was a belated response by Chinese authorities to the international reproach that followed Ai’s arrest April 3 at the Beijing Airport.
While dozens of others have been arrested over the last six months in a crackdown on activists, it was Ai — by dint of his stature in the art world — who inspired petitions and demonstrations across the world. In London, the Tate Gallery installed large black letters across its facade reading, “Free Ai Weiwei.” In New York, a Cuban artist used a slide projector at night to cast the artist’s face onto the Chinese consulate.
Ai had not been formally charged, although the state press reported that his company, Beijing Fake Cultural Development Ltd., had evaded “huge amounts” of taxes. In Wednesday night’s release, New China quoted police saying that “the decision [to release Ai] comes also in consideration of the fact that Ai has repeatedly said he is willing to pay the taxes he evaded.”
The wording suggests that Chinese authorities might switch their case against Ai to a civil proceeding, which would allow them to back away gracefully from a situation that has brought great embarrassment. Ai’s attorney, Liu Xiaoyuan, wrote Tuesday night on Twitter that they were still awaiting an accounting from tax authorities of how much money was supposed to be owed. In messages to supporters, Ai said that he was fine, but unable to give interviews under the conditions of his release.
His assistant, Du Yanping, confirmed that Ai had returned home and reported with some satisfaction about her pot-bellied boss: “He got slimmer.”
Human Rights Watch applauded Ai’s release, adding its own caveats.
“The public announcement of his release signals that the Chinese government has had to respond to international pressure and that the cost/benefit ratio of continuing to detain him was no longer tenable,” said Phelim Kine, an Asia researcher with the organization, in a statement. “Sadly, other Chinese citizens less well-known than Ai Weiwei who have been forcibly disappeared since mid-February remain incommunicado, whereabouts unknown and at high risk of torture.”
Ai, a provocative artist and one of the designers of the Bird’s Nest stadium in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, in recent years had become one of the most acerbic critics of the Chinese Communist Party. Much of his latest work has revolved around the tragedy of thousands of children killed when shoddily built schools collapsed during the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan province.
Copyright © 2011, Los Angeles Times
June 21, 2011 · Posted in Uncategorized · Comments Off
Great Barrier Reef Park / AFP – Getty Images file
Thissection of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef in
2009 saw “bleaching” of coralcaused by warmer
than normal ocean temperatures. Bleaching can kill
reefs if it is prolonged.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
WASHINGTON— Mass extinctions of species
in the world’s oceans are inevitable if current
trends of overfishing, habitat loss, global
warming and pollution continue, a panel of
renowned marine scientists warned Tuesday.
The combination of problems suggests there’s
a brewing worldwide die-off of species that
would rival past mass extinctions, the 27
scientists said in a preliminary report
presented to the UnitedNations
Vanishing species — from sea turtles to coral
— would upend the ocean’s ecosystem. Fish
are the main source of protein for a fifth of the
world’s population and the seas cycle oxygen
and help absorb carbon dioxide, the main
greenhouse gas from human activities.
“Things seem to be going wrong on several
different levels,” said Carl Lundin, director of
global marine programs at the International
Union for Conservation of Nature, which
helped produce the report with the
International Programme on the State of the
Some of the changes affecting the world’s seas
— which have been warned about individually
in the past — are happening faster than the
worst case scenarios that were predicted just
a few years ago, the report said.
“It was a more dire report than any of us
thought because we look at our own little
issues,” Lundin said. “When you put them all
together, it’s a pretty bleak situation.”
Climate and coral
Coral deaths alone would be considered a
mass extinction, according to study chief
author Alex Rogers of the University of
Oxford. A single bleaching event in 1998 killed
one-sixth of the world’s tropical coralreefs
Oceans heading for mass extinctions, experts warn
Scientist: Situation is ‘more dire’ than any of us thought
Lundin pointed to deaths of 1,000-year-old
coral in the Indian Ocean and called it “really
“Not only are we already experiencing severe
declines in many species to the point of
commercial extinction in some cases, and an
unparalleled rate of regional extinctions of
habitat types (e.g. mangroves and seagrass
meadows), but we now face losing marine
species and entire marine ecosystems, such as
coral reefs, within a single generation,” the
The chief causes for extinctions at the moment
are overfishing and habitat loss, but global
is “increasingly adding to this,” the report
Carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil
fuels ends up sinking in the oceans, which
then become more acidic, devastating
sensitive coral reefs. Warmer ocean
temperatures also are shifting species from
their normal habitats, Rogers said. Non-native
species moving into new areas can cause
havoc to those ecosystems.
Jelle Bijma, of the Alfred Wegener Institute,
said the seas faced a “deadly trio” of threats of
higher temperatures, acidification and lack of
oxygen that had featured in several past mass
Runoff from fertilizers into rivers and seas has
reduced oxygen in those areas, creating
dozens of “dead zones” around the globe.
The U.S. Geological Survey earlier this month
said it expects the dead zone from the
Mississippi River to set a record when it builds l
ater this summer due to flooding runoff.
“From a geological point of view, mass
extinctions happen overnight, but on human
timescales we may not realize that we are in
the middle of such an event,” Bijma wrote.
Chemicals and plastics from daily life also are
causing problems for sea creatures, the report
said. Overall, the world’s oceans just cannot
bounce back from problems — such as oil
spills — like they used to because of all the
compounding factors, scientists said.
Confounding the most dire predictions, the
has bounced back from last year’s major oil
spill, but it is still dealing with the growing
“dead zone” and above average sea
Similar ‘stressors’ in past extinctions
Describing the multiple events affecting the
world’s oceans as high intensity “stressors,”
the experts said similar compounding led to
the previous five mass extinction events in the
past 600 million years — most recently when
the dinosaurs vanished 65 million years ago,
apparently after an asteroid struck.
Data: The rise and fall of Earth’s
species (on this page)
The conclusions follow an international
meeting this spring in England to discuss the
fate of the world’s oceans. A full report will be
published later this year, the panel said.
Lundin said that “some of these things are
reversible if we change our behavior.”
Overfishing is the easiest for governments to
address, the experts said.
“Unlike climate change, it can be directly,
immediately and effectively tackled by policy
change,” said William Cheung of the University
of East Anglia. “Overfishing is now estimated
to account for over 60 percent of the known
local and global extinction of marine fishes.”
Among examples of overfishing are the
Chinese bahaba. Its swim bladder is desired in
Asia as a medicinal product, and the cost per
kilo (2.2 pounds) has risen from a few dollars
in the 1930s to $20,000-$70,000 today.
Listed as critically endangered, the bahaba is
just one of more than 500 marine species
threatened by overfishing, Cheung noted. “The
only chance for many of these species to
recover is to stop overfishing and protect
them so that the populations can rebuild,” he
“If action is not taken immediately, our
generation will see many more species follow
the footsteps of the Chinese bahaba,” Cheung
Steve Murawski, a University of South Florida
professor and previously chief science advisor f
or the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service,
said “it’s difficult to judge the veracity of the
results or the scientific support” for the
findings because the full report hasn’t been
But he noted that in the United States “a strong
set of management requirements backed by
the force of law have resulted in an end to
“This is of course a very hopeful sign because
the USA is such an important fishing nation,”
he added. “Is the record commensurate
globally? No it is not, and thus I would
certainly support” the panel’s advice to reduce
global fishing “to levels commensurate with
long-term sustainability of fisheries and the
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this
June 19, 2011 · Posted in Uncategorized · Comments Off
By Rossella Lorenzi | Tue Jun 7, 2011 12:19 PM ET
Mysterious hieroglyphs written in red paint on the floor of a hidden chamber in Egypt’s Great Pyramid of Giza are just numbers, according to a mathematical analysis of the 4,500-year-old mausoleum.
Shown to the world last month, when the first report of a robot exploration of the Great Pyramid was published in the Annales du Service Des Antiquities de l’Egypte (ASAE), the images revealed features that have not been seen by human eyes since the construction of the monument.
Researchers were particularly intrigued by three red ochre figures painted on the floor of a hidden chamber at the end of a tunnel deep inside the pyramid.
NEWS: Pyramid-Exploring Robot Reveals Hidden Hieroglyphs
“There are many unanswered questions that these images raise,” Rob Richardson, the engineer who designed the robot at the University of Leeds, told Discovery News. “Why is there writing in this space? What does the writing say? There appears to be a masonry cutting mark next to the figures: why was it not cut along this line?” Richardson wondered.
DNEWS VIDEO: FIND OUT WHAT IT’S LIKE TO BE A MUMMY-HUNTER
Luca Miatello, an independent researcher who specializes on ancient Egyptian mathematics, believes he has some answers.
“The markings are hieratic numerical signs. They read from right to left, meaning 100, 20, 1. The builders simply recorded the total length of the shaft: 121 cubits,” Miatello told Discovery News.
The royal cubit, the ancient Egyptian unit of measurement used in the construction of the pyramid, was between 52.3 and 52.5 cm (20.6 to 20.64 inches) in length, and was subdivided into seven palms of four digits (four fingers) each, making it a 28-part measure.
According to Miatello, who has written about the pyramid’s numerical patterns in the journal Ankh, and also more recently in PalArch’s Journal of Archaeology of Egypt/Egyptology, multiples of 7, 9 and 11 cubits occur frequently in the design of the Great Pyramid.
Built for the pharaoh Cheops, also known as Khufu, the Great Pyramid is the largest of a family of three pyramids on the Giza plateau, on the outskirts of Cairo and has long been rumored to have hidden passageways leading to secret chambers.Archaeologists have long puzzled over the purpose of four narrow shafts deep inside the pyramid since they were first discovered in 1872.
NEWS: Great Pyramid May Hold Two Hidden Chambers
Two shafts, extend from the upper, or “King’s Chamber” and exit into open air.
But the lower two, one on the south side and one on the north side in the so-called “Queen’s Chamber” disappear within the structures, deepening the pyramid mystery.
Robots have previously explored and sent back pictures from these 8-inch-square shafts, indicating that both shafts are blocked by a stone door. These stones are approximately equidistant (63.6 meters) from the Queen’s Chamber.
The new robot, named Djedi after the magician who Khufu consulted when planning the layout of this pyramid, has gone further than anyone has ever been before in the monument.
The project, led by Zahi Hawass, Egypt’s Minister of State for Antiquities Affairs, began with the exploration of the southern shaft of the Queen’s Chamber.
The robot was able to climb inside the walls of the shaft while carrying a bendy camera, small enough to fit through a small hole in a stone door at the end of the tunnel.
This gave researchers a clear view into the chamber beyond. It was at that time that the micro snake camera sent back images of 4,500-year-old markings.
“The floor of the chamber has a red ochre mason’s line running parallel to the shaft from just beyond the rear of the first blocking stone to the second blocking stone,” Hawass and colleagues write in ASAE.
“There is also a black mark where the red line meets the second blocking stone. To the right of, and at approximately 45 degrees to the red line are three red ochre figures,” they added.
According to Miatello, the red markings and figures were made by the workers during the pyramid construction.
“Precise mathematical rules were followed in the design of the pyramid’s tunnels,” Miatello said.
“We have considered several interpretations of the painted figures, including the possibility that they record the length of the shaft. Our strategy is to keep an open mind and only draw conclusions when we have completed our work. However, if this really is a written measurement of the shaft length then it’s very exciting,” project mission manager Shaun Whitehead, of the exploration company Scoutek UK, told Discovery News.
Hawass and colleagues agree that the markings are mason’s marks or hieratic characters.
“The two main figures are similar to the hieratic number 21,” they write in their report.
According to James P. Allen, a Wilbour Professor of Egyptology and Chair of Egyptology and Ancient Western Asian Studies at Brown University, the figures can indeed show the numbers indicated by Miatello.
“The signs are not easy to read, but Dr. Miatello’s reading is entirely plausible,” Allen, author of “The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts, Writings from the Ancient World” and a leading expert on hieroglyphics, told Discovery News.
The Djedi project researchers expect to carry additional analysis of the red ochre markings in August, when the robot, equipped with a higher resolution bendy camera will return to the pyramid for further surveys.
June 19, 2011 · Posted in Uncategorized · Comments Off
By Jennifer Viegas | Thu Jan 6, 2011 01:35 PM ET
Humans began to wear clothing 170,000 years ago, concludes a new study that suggests our ancestors first put on clothes after the second-to-last Ice Age, when being nude must have been too cool for comfort.
The evidence comes from seemingly very unfashionable lice, since scientists tracked when head lice evolved into clothing/body lice around 170,000 years ago. So lice have been with us since the world’s first clothes were made.
(Viking attire circa 900 A.D. By this advanced stage, humans had created very sophisticated and colorful ways to clothe themselves. Credit: Annika Larsson)
The study, published in this month’s Molecular Biology and Evolution journal, explains how DNA sequencing of the parasites was used to calculate when clothing lice first began to genetically diverge from human head lice.
(Adult female, left, and adult male, right, head lice; Wikimedia Commons image)
“We wanted to find another method for pinpointing when humans might have first started wearing clothing,” said project leader David Reed, associate curator of mammals at the Florida Museum of Natural History, in a University of Florida press release. “Because they are so well adapted to clothing, we know that body lice or clothing lice almost certainly didn’t exist until clothing came about in humans.”
The findings reveal that our ancestors started to wear clothing long after they lost their ape-like body hair. Genetic skin coloration research shows that hair loss happened around one million years ago, long before modern humans emerged in Africa. Our ancestors were likely running around nude and relatively hairless for quite some time then.
“It’s interesting to think humans were able to survive in Africa for hundreds of thousands of years without clothing and without body hair, and that it wasn’t until they had clothing that modern humans were then moving out of Africa into other parts of the world,” Reed said.
He added that our success and progression as a species has been made possible, in large part, to our “controlled use of fire, the ability to use clothing, new hunting strategies and new stone tools.”
Since our ancestors are thought to have migrated out of Africa and into colder climates and higher latitudes anywhere from 100,000 to 60,000 years ago, the findings indicate the invention of clothing made such long journeys northward possible.
The second to the last Ice Age occurred around 180,000 years ago, so in the aftermath of that cooling, humans may have figured out that putting on clothes- probably animal furs and skins- had enormous benefits. Years ago I also read some interesting studies on how a drive to express individuality and status pushed humans to wear more distinctive clothing, shoes and jewelry, and to don makeup and sport tattoos. Group divisions and competition can fuel that “look at me” desire, along with needing to visually affiliate oneself with a particular sect.
A study of clothing lice in 2003 led by Mark Stoneking, a geneticist at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany, estimated humans first began wearing clothes about 107,000 years ago. But the UF research includes new data and calculation methods.
“The new result from this lice study is an unexpectedly early date for clothing, much older than the earliest solid archaeological evidence, but it makes sense,” said Ian Gilligan, lecturer in the School of Archaeology and Anthropology at The Australian National University. “It means modern humans probably started wearing clothes on a regular basis to keep warm when they were first exposed to Ice Age conditions.”
Lice aren’t exactly beloved creatures. They’re usually associated with miserable kids having to go through lice removal treatments. From a scientific standpoint, however, they are valuable. These parasites are often found stranded on lineages of hosts over long periods of time, permitting researchers to learn about evolutionary changes in the host based on changes in the parasite.
Lice don’t just tell us about clothing either. Such research on them, according to Reed, “gives the opportunity to study host-switching and invading new hosts — behaviors seen in emerging infectious diseases that affect humans.”
June 19, 2011 · Posted in Uncategorized · Comments Off
http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2011/06/110616-fathers-day-entertainment-gifts-quotes-history/June 19, 2011
Father’s Day traditionally takes a backseat to Mother’s Day, and, for the most part, dads are cool with that, experts say.
Nevertheless, as traditional roles around the house gradually change, fathers are gaining more attention on their special day, at least as measured in the monetary value of Father’s Day gifts estimated to be given on June 19, 2011, when the holiday will be celebrated in dozens of countries.
First celebrated 101 years ago, Father’s Day was, in a way, born of Mother’s Day.
After a Mother’s Day sermon in 1909, Spokane, Washington, resident Sonora Smart-Dodd—one of six children being raised by a single dad—wanted to honor her father too.
Smart-Dodd encouraged local churches to institute the first Father’s Day observance the following year, and the idea caught on. (Learn more about the beginnings of Father’s Day.)
It wasn’t till 1972, though, that Father’s Day was officially made a U.S. holiday, when President Richard Nixon helped set aside the third Sunday in June for dads.
“Bar Is Lower” for Father’s Day
Thirty-one years later, dads are more likely to be satisfied with their holiday than mothers are with theirs, according to psychology lecturer Nicole Gilbert Cote at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, who researches Father’s Day phenomena.
Part of the reason seems to be that moms expect to be relieved of stereotypical chores such as cooking and cleaning on Mother’s Day, but that doesn’t always happen.
“The bar is lower, and Dad is OK with that,” Gilbert Cote said.
The old stereotypes don’t ring as true as they once did, according to a new survey of 350 dads that aimed to gauge men’s attitudes toward Father’s Day.
The men said they’re taking on more childcare, cleaning, and cooking duties at home, while holding on to responsibilities for automotive, household, and yard maintenance, the survey says.
“As women’s roles outside the household are expanding, men’s roles in the household are expanding,” Rutgers University anthropologist Helen Fisher said in a news release accompanying the survey, which was conducted by ManoftheHouse.com, an “online resource for dads.”
Even so, 80 percent of the respondents said Mother’s Day gets more attention than Father’s Day.
Father’s Day Gifts Get Richer
One measure of growing respect for U.S. fathers is seen at the cash register.
Family members will shell out an average of U.S. $106.49 per dad this year for golf outings, meals, electronics, neckties, and other goodies, according to an annual survey conducted for the National Retail Federation, a Washington, D.C.-based trade group.
That’s is the most money spent on dad in the eight-year history of the survey, and a jump up from the $94.32 forecast for 2010. Compared to moms, however, dads are routinely shortchanged. This year the federation forecast that Mother’s Day spending would average $140.73 per mom, for example.
“Dad is a little more laid-back and easier to shop for,” federation spokesperson Kathy Grannis told National Geographic News in 2010.
“His gifts usually range from a simple tie for work to a new spatula for the grill—all of which can make dad very happy.”
Mother’s Day gifts, by contrast, tend to be more luxurious than Father’s Day presents—jewels, flowers, a trip to the spa, or dinner at a restaurant, for example, Grannis said.
Father’s Day 2011 Is in the Cards
The most popular gift for Dad—and often the only one he’ll get—is a Father’s Day card. All told, roughly 90 million cards are exchanged on Father’s Day, according to the Hallmark card company.
This makes Father’s Day the fourth largest card-sending holiday in the U.S., behind Mother’s Day (141 million), Valentine’s Day (152 million), and Christmas (1.8 billion). In total, according to the retail federation, people will ring up about $749 million in cards for this year’s Father’s Day.
Fifty percent of Father’s Day cards are purchased for dads and another 15 percent for husbands. The remaining fall into a broad “other” category, which includes grandfathers, sons, brothers, uncles, and other loved ones, according to Deidre Mize, a Hallmark spokesperson.
“It might be someone who served in a father role,” she told National Geographic News in 2010. “Or it could be a stepdad.” (Read about a society without Father’s Day—or fathers.)
Despite all the cards given on Father’s Day, Hallmark didn’t have anything to do with the origins of the holiday, Mize added. Hallmark, she said, didn’t start printing Father’s Day cards until the 1920s.
On this day in 1940, Benito Mussolini arrives in Munich with his foreign minister, Count Ciano, to discuss immediate plans with the Fuhrer, and doesn’t like what he hears.
Embarrassed over the late entry of Italy in the war against the Allies, and its rather tepid performance since, Mussolini met with Hitler determined to convince his Axis partner to exploit the advantage he had in France by demanding total surrender and occupying the southern portion still free. The Italian dictator clearly wanted “in” on the spoils, and this was a way of reaping rewards with a minimum of risk. But Hitler, too, was in no mood to risk, and was determined to put forward rather mild terms for peace with France. He needed to ensure that the French fleet remained neutral and that a government-in-exile was not formed in North Africa or London determined to further prosecute the war. He also denied Mussolini’s request that Italian troops occupy the Rhone Valley, and that Corsica, Tunisia, and Djibouti (adjacent to Italian-occupied Ethiopia) be disarmed.
Ciano recorded in his diary that Mussolini left the meeting frustrated and “very much embarrassed,” feeling “that his role is secondary.” Ciano also records a newfound respect for Hitler: “Today he speaks with a reserve and perspicacity which, after such a victory, are really astonishing.”
Hitler and Mussolini meet in Munich. (2011). The History Channel website. Retrieved 2:21, June 18, 2011, from http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/hitler-and-mussolini-meet-in-munich.
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