Archive for December, 2006

Trounced at Polls, Kansas GOP Is Still Plagued by Infighting

Sunday, December 31st, 2006

Party Puts Ousted Official In His Opponent’s Old Post

Phill Kline is not one to slink away — and the ideological wars inside the Kansas Republican Party show no sign of ending.

The fiercely antiabortion Republican attorney general in Kansas lost his reelection bid in November when moderate Republicans voted in droves for Paul Morrison, a longtime Johnson County district attorney who became a Democrat in hopes of vanquishing Kline.

Statewide, Kline got barely 4 in 10 votes. In Johnson County, the state’s most populous county, his loss was more dramatic. That made it especially shocking after the election when Republican precinct leaders in the county chose Kline to finish the final two years of Morrison’s term as prosecutor.

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D), a vocal Kline foe, refused to sign his nomination papers, a ceremonial task, lambasting a “small narrow group of partisan political operatives” for choosing him. At the Westside Family Church in Lenexa, after precinct leaders backed Kline over a Morrison aide 316 to 291, Republicans showed just how divided they are.

“The moment Phill Kline got the nomination, half the room got up and walked out,” said Scott Schwab, the county GOP chairman. “It wasn’t so much yelling or cussing. They threw up their arms and said, ‘What do we do now?’ ”

Kline’s reincarnation as Johnson County prosecutor reveals the depth of the continuing Republican split in Kansas and suggests challenges faced by the GOP nationwide as it tries to recover from its Nov. 7 losses and build toward 2008.


Ancient ice shelf breaks free from Canadian Arctic

Friday, December 29th, 2006

TORONTO, Ontario (AP) — A giant ice shelf the size of 11,000 football fields has snapped free from Canada’s Arctic, scientists said.

The mass of ice broke clear 16 months ago from the coast of Ellesmere Island, about 800 kilometers (497 miles) south of the North Pole, but no one was present to see it in Canada’s remote north.

Scientists using satellite images later noticed that it became a newly formed ice island in just an hour and left a trail of icy boulders floating in its wake. (Watch the satellite images that clued in ice watchers)

Warwick Vincent of Laval University, who studies Arctic conditions, traveled to the newly formed ice island and could not believe what he saw.

“This is a dramatic and disturbing event. It shows that we are losing remarkable features of the Canadian North that have been in place for many thousands of years. We are crossing climate thresholds, and these may signal the onset of accelerated change ahead,” Vincent said Thursday.


Complexity Constrains Evolution Of Human Brain Genes

Friday, December 29th, 2006

Science Daily Despite the explosive growth in size and complexity of the human brain, the pace of evolutionary change among the thousands of genes expressed in brain tissue has actually slowed since the split, millions of years ago, between human and chimpanzee, an international research team reports in the December 26, 2006, issue of the journal, PLOS Biology.

Homer sapiens

The rapid advance of the human brain, the authors maintain, has not been driven by evolution of protein sequences. The higher complexity of the biochemical network in the brain, they suspect, with multiple gene-gene interactions, places strong constraints on the ability of most brain-related genes to change.

“We found that genes expressed in the human brain have in fact slowed down in their evolution, contrary to some earlier reports,” says study author Chung-I Wu, professor of ecology and evolution at the University of Chicago. “The more complex the brain, it seems, the more difficult it becomes for brain genes to change. Calibrated against the genomic average, brain-expressed genes in humans appear to have evolved more slowly than in chimpanzee or old-world monkey.”


Bogus data masks China’s pollution woes

Friday, December 29th, 2006

BEIJING (AFP)—Soaring pollution levels in China may be even worse than thought because local governments bent on economic growth are lying about their progress in meeting environmental goals.

Data reported by China’s regional governments indicates a national goal to reduce China’s two main pollutants by two percent in 2006 has been reached, but calculations by the top environment watchdog show they actually grew two percent, Xinhua news agency said, quoting an environment official Thursday.

“The figures on pollution control reported by local governments dropped remarkably this year, while the real environmental situation continues to deteriorate,” said the unnamed official with the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA).

“The inaccurate figures were caused by insufficient supervision of the local governments and possible fabrication.”

The two pollutants are chemical oxygen demand, a measure of organic pollutants in water, and sulfur dioxide, Xinhua said.

The official’s comments mark the latest in a series of alarms by SEPA, which has said central-government efforts to curb the environmental damage from China’s chugging economy are being overwhelmed by the local pursuit of economic growth at any cost.


China mulls energy reserves spend

Thursday, December 28th, 2006

– Not to pick on China because she is doing no different than the rest of us are doing. It is just that she is the biggest, brashest and thus the most salient example of what humanity is doing wrong on this planet. China, India, the US and Europe are all aware that energy is going to be in short supply in the coming decades. Indeed, a wicked dance of prepositioning for future oil supplies is already well underway.

– This article discusses China unleashing her vast reserves of trade surplus money to form alliances around the world to help guarantee her energy future. The problem with this for everyone (and the other countries are doing the same thing that China is, if not with money, then with military power – think “Iraq”) is that there won’t be enough energy to meet everyone’s needs and our civilization depends on consumption and growth as necessary conditions for its continued health.

– This scenario, just as the earlier article about China and Climate Change, are just steps on the path to the coming Perfect Storm.


China has signaled that it could use its vast foreign exchange reserves to bolster its strategic energy resources.

Vice-Premier Zeng Peiyan said China needed to speed up the hunt for fresh oil and natural gas supplies.

China’s foreign exchange reserves are the world’s largest at more than $1 trillion (£511bn), supported by the country’s strong global exports.

China is keen to secure future reserves of oil, coal and other raw materials needed to fuel its booming economy.

Earlier this year, Beijing hosted a summit of African leaders, at which access to Africa’s natural resources was discussed in return for Chinese investment in Africa’s roads and railways.

China should “take advantage of the fact we have quite large foreign exchange reserves to enhance our national strategic energy reserves”, Mr Zeng told the standing committee of the Chinese parliament.



Thursday, December 28th, 2006

– Someone once commented that few people will just lie down and starve quietly.China’s ability to feed itself is near an edge and it shows no signs of reigning in the population’s dreams of western style affluence.  Its water tables are falling and temperatures are rising. When the food does run short, it will uncork its vast coffers of trade-surplus money and wade into the international food markets to buy food to stave off social instability at home and this, in turn, will drive food prices beyond the reach of many in marginal nations and global stability will be well on its way down the slippery slope.

– China is a coming global train wreck, powering into the dead-end alley of more growth and more consumption with the pedal to the metal and this report is merely a small note someone tossed off the train as it passed.


BEIJING (AFP) Temperatures in China will rise significantly in coming decades and water shortages will worsen, state media has reported, citing the government’s first national assessment of global climate change.

Greenhouse gases released due to human activity are leading to ever more serious problems in terms of climate change,” the Ministry of Science and Technology said in a statement.

Global climate change has an impact on the nation’s ability to develop further,” said the ministry, one of 12 government departments that prepared the report.

In just over a decade, global warming will start to be felt in the world’s most populous country, and it will get warmer yet over the next two or three generations.

Compared with 2000, the average temperatures will increase by between 1.3 and 2.1 degrees Celsius by 2020, the China News Service reported, citing the assessment.

By the middle of the century, the annual average temperature in China will rise by as much as 3.3 degrees Celsius (more than five degrees Fahrenheit), and by 2100 it could soar by as much as six degrees Celsius, according to the news service.


Warmer Atlantic, Climate Change Presage More, and Worse, Western Wildfires

Thursday, December 28th, 2006

Historical record suggests the American West is “primed” for climate change-inspired conflagrations.

Between 1650 and 1749, fires raged across western North America from what is now British Columbia down into northern Mexico. In contrast, the following century saw scattered, sporadic wildfires. By combining tree-ring records stretching back 450 years as well as fire-scar data from more than 4,700 burned trees, scientists have now created an extended log of the climate in the western U.S. and its attendant wildfires. And this record has revealed that temperature shifts in the waters of the northern Atlantic help determine the scale and intensity of western wildfires.

Forest ecologist Thomas Swetnam of the University of Arizona and a team of international colleagues collected tree-ring and fire-scar data from 241 logging sites across western North America. The scars revealed the dates of at least 33,975 individual fires stretching back to 1550. “We got most of our fire-scar samples from dead trees, stumps and logs. They’re cookies,” or cross sections, Swetnam explains. “A single tree might have 10 or even 20 different scars on it.”

The researchers compared this long fire record with weather patterns: the well-known El Nino and La Nina cycles that occur every two to seven years, as well as longer cycles called the Pacific Decadal Oscillation and the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO). “Fire activity correlated with–as we expect–drought, but also with these interesting oscillations in the Pacific and Atlantic,” Swetnam notes. “The North Atlantic, and warming temperatures there, have apparently had some importance in drought occurrence and fire activity.”


Single Gene Could Lead to Long Life, Better Mental Function

Thursday, December 28th, 2006

A variation of a gene that controls the size of cholesterol molecules in the bloodstream is common among elderly Ashkenazim who remain mentally sharp.

If you live to 100, as roughly one in every 10,000 people do, you will likely want both your mind and body intact. Researchers have now discovered a gene that accomplishes just that, apparently protecting the brain as well as prolonging life.

The Longevity Genes Project, initiated by Nir Barzilai, director of the Institute for Aging Research at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, investigates people who live exceptionally long lives.

“There’s a strong family history of longevity in these people,” says Barzilai. “Research has shown the odds of having exceptional longevity are about 10 to 18 times more if you have a centenarian in your family. And these usually aren’t vegetarians or professional athletes. Some have smoked for 90 years.”

Barzilai and his colleagues examined 158 people of Ashkenazi, or Eastern European Jewish, descent who were 95 years of age or older. They chose Ashkenazi Jews since current generations stem from a relatively limited number of ancestors. This means they have a comparatively uniform genetic makeup, making it easier to identify important genetic differences.

The scientists gave these volunteers a common test of mental function, consisting of 30 questions. Correctly answering 25 of the questions meant a subject passed the test. Those centenarians who passed were two to three times more likely to have a common variant of a particular gene, called the CETP gene, than those who did not. When the researchers studied another 124 Ashkenazi Jews between 75 and 85 years of age, those subjects who passed the test of mental function were five times more likely to have this gene variant than their counterparts.


Team Discovers Key Step In Flu Virus Replication

Thursday, December 28th, 2006

– The H5N1 Avian Flu Influenza virus is a latent plague just waiting to break out if and when it mutates into a form which can easily jump from human to human. I’ve written about this here: , and . So, any iinsights into how it works and how it can be subverted is great news.

Science Daily As public health officials around the world keep a nervous eye on the spread of avian influenza, the University of Saskatchewan’s Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization (VIDO) has uncovered a key step in how the influenza virus causes infection.

Yan Zhou and her team have discovered how a crucial pathway that supports the influenza A virus’s ability to reproduce itself is activated, a finding that could pave the way for new drugs and vaccines.

The paper will appear in the January 2007 issue of the Journal of General Virology and recently has been given advance on-line publication.

“The work we are doing will be applicable to all influenza viruses, including influenza A virus subtype H5N1,” said VIDO Director Lorne Babiuk.


Parasite ‘turns women into sex kittens’

Thursday, December 28th, 2006

– Well, that’s certainly an attention getting title, eh? But, sensationalism aside, there appears to be something going on with human beings and the Toxoplasma gondii parasite. I’ve written twice before about this bug here and here


A COMMON parasite can increase a women’s attractiveness to the opposite sex but also make men more stupid, an Australian researcher says.

About 40 per cent of the world’s population is infected with Toxoplasma gondii, including about eight million Australians.

Human infection generally occurs when people eat raw or undercooked meat that has cysts containing the parasite, or accidentally ingest some of the parasite’s eggs excreted by an infected cat.

The parasite is known to be dangerous to pregnant women as it can cause disability or abortion of the unborn child, and can also kill people whose immune systems are weakened.

Until recently it was thought to be an insignificant disease in healthy people, Sydney University of Technology infectious disease researcher Nicky Boulter said, but new research has revealed its mind-altering properties.

“Interestingly, the effect of infection is different between men and women,” Dr Boulter writes in the latest issue of Australasian Science magazine.

“Infected men have lower IQs, achieve a lower level of education and have shorter attention spans. They are also more likely to break rules and take risks, be more independent, more anti-social, suspicious, jealous and morose, and are deemed less attractive to women.

“On the other hand, infected women tend to be more outgoing, friendly, more promiscuous, and are considered more attractive to men compared with non-infected controls.