Archive for September, 2010

Christchurch – Earthquake follow-up

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

It’s September 23rd here and the big earthquake was on September 4th (7.1).   We’ve had another big aftershock at 6;30 this morning.  4.5 magnitude.   They go on and on….

US ‘fails to account’ for Iraq reconstruction billions

Sunday, September 19th, 2010

– That’s your tax dollars, folks.   The ones they are grinding you for.   Those are the dollars, that because we won’t have them after wasting them like this, that may cause Social Security to fail.

– Yep, you should get angry – very angry – that they will grind you for every dollar and then waste billions like this.

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A US federal watchdog has criticised the US military for failing to account properly for billions of dollars it received to help rebuild Iraq.

The Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction says the US Department of Defence is unable to account properly for 96% of the money.

Out of just over $9bn (£5.8bn), $8.7bn is unaccounted for, the inspector says.

The US military said the funds were not necessarily missing, but that spending records might have been archived.

In a response attached to the report, it said attempting to account for the money might require “significant archival retrieval efforts”.

– More…

Financier Soros gifts $139m to human rights watchdog

Sunday, September 19th, 2010

Continuing a lifelong habit of putting money where his mouth is, George Soros has announced a gift of US$100 million ($139 million) to Human Rights Watch, the organisation which seeks to monitor abuses of power and to lobby transgressing governments and companies.

The billionaire financier – known as the “man who broke the Bank of England” for betting that the pound would drop out of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism in 1992 – said the gift was one of a series he planned to give to liberally minded charities and campaign groups.

The donation will put the once-small group into the same league as organisations such as Amnesty International. It will allow Human Rights Watch to add 120 members of staff to its 300-strong payroll, and almost double its annual budget to US$76 million, meaning it could expand operations in such countries as South Africa, China and India.

The New York-based group, founded in 1978, devotes most of its manpower to forensic investigations into human rights abuses. It then typically publishes hard-hitting reports into the people and organisations who might be held responsible.

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Loves me like a rock….

Friday, September 17th, 2010

– No, this isn’t about my apparently impending divorce.

– The other day, I came a cross a news story about the influence that motherly love has on us when we are young.   The story impressed me and I felt that it helped explain some of my observations about the people around me; myself included.   My childhood was not an easy one but I think in the very early years, before it all went to custard, my mother did love me with great compassion and care and I think this is why now, even in the worst of circumstances, I find that I have a deep resilience and self-belief.  From the article:

Being lavished with affection by your mum as a young child makes you better able to cope with the stresses and strains of adult life, say researchers.

As these things tend to do, just a day or so later, another article passed me by in my reading and I saw the same issue from yet another perspective.  In this case, the article was saying that our social ties as adults can boost our survival by as much as 50%.

The benefit of friends, family and even colleagues turns out to be just as good for long-term survival as giving up a 15-cigarette-a-day smoking habit. And by the study’s numbers, interpersonal social networks are more crucial to physical health than exercising or beating obesity.

– We are truly social animals as anyone who has tried to lead a solitary life has found out.   We need to be “observed” as Irvin Yalom says in his book, When Nietzsche Wept.

Throughout this procedure, Nietzsche remained deeply attentive: indeed, he nodded appreciatively at each of Breuer’s questions.  No surprise, of course, to Breuer.   He had never encountered a patient who did not secretly enjoy a microscopic examination of his life.  And the greater the power of magnification, the more the patient enjoyed it.  The joy of being observed ran so deep that Breuer believed the real pain of old age, bereavement, outliving one’s friends, was the absence of scrutiny – the horror of living an unobserved life.

The day after the second of these two articles, I was riding the bus to work and looking at all the people I didn’t know walking the street and musing about it all when Paul Simon’s song, “Loves Me Like a Rock” came on the bus’s audio system.

Oh , my mama loves, she loves me
She get down on her knees and hug me
Like she loves me like a rock
She rocks me like the rock of ages
And loves me
She love me, love me, love me, love me

– It bought tears to my eyes as the several pieces came together for me.  The articles, memories of my mother, my need and love for those with whom I am close to, for my sons and my two wives and all the people who have ever touched the quick of my life.

– I don’t often talk about my spiritual and mystical inclinations here, but they are strong.   When I’ve not forgotten myself, they inform my life with the knowledge that all is love, if we are but open to see it.

– Beyond all the war and death and strife and unhappiness lies something I once wrote about in a poem that I’ll close with:

Paused for a moment on the edge of all the future
all our lives will surely tangle or unweave now
and all of these potentials,
like hands on my shoulder, steady me.
So let it begin and all the rest of my life go on
I no longer wait or care for the past to resurrect itself
this life can be invested in my future now
I can weave and sort my friends and lovers into the days of my life
I want to walk out each day excited
about what could happen again
and care nothing for what has gone by
I’ve been too long tangled with the old ways
so carefully unknotting our lives and feelings
learning that exquisite patience that lies half way
between compassion and self preservation
But, its done… let me depart and begin anew
this time not to bury my freedom with love and security
or to hold myself untouched by love’s whip and passion
I want to find that balance point there in my heart, between…
there, where on the edge of my best,
I can live each day like it was the last
I want to dance to life’s mysteries and paradoxes
as the fountains dance to the wind and the mimes to the crowd
these things are not to weep for
and, sometimes … in those graceful but oh so brief moments,
perhaps in a lover’s eyes or in a passage of my son’s growth
I’ll see something behind it all …
timeless … smiling thru at me
Brother Methuselah, here in all of us as we gamble our lives
untouched yet compassionate … he waits for us to begin
and he smiles at us, a spiritual joy and promise within.

– gallagher – July 4th, 1978.


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Rust never sleeps

Friday, September 17th, 2010

– Recognizing patterns in the vast river of data that passes us by each day is one way to see the future.  But, unfortunately, our attention span is generally too short and we’ve not trained ourselves to be observant in this way,

– You may have seen a story like this a year or two ago and noted it and forgotten it.  It’s easily done.

– When I searched this, my own, site for “wheat rust“, I was surprised how many stories I’d already reported on this subject.

– It’s a bit scary how much passes us unseen in the river.  But I believe most of our futures are there if we just look….

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A new flare-up in an age-old battle between wheat and a fungal killer

Scientists everywhere have taken up arms against the rust. Tens of thousands of wheat varieties and wild relatives have been screened for anti-rust genes that can be incorporated into future arsenals. This spring, more than 500 researchers from 77 wheat-growing nations gathered for two major wheat conferences in St. Petersburg, Russia, to share strategies and discuss progress on various fronts. And in August, a team of British scientists released a very rough sketch of wheat’s genetic blueprint, which in a more complete form could simplify and speed up the breeding of rust-resistant varieties.

“There is a lot happening,” says wheat geneticist Jorge Dubcovsky of the University of California, Davis. “We are trying to develop better technologies, better breeding approaches.… I think at some point we will defeat the bastard.”

But scientists also lament a lack of funding, coordinated action and basic knowledge about wheat and its pathogens. A great deal more effort is needed to turn the first crack at wheat’s genome into information that’s meaningful for fighting the rust.

Worldwide, only a handful of labs do hard-core rust-related research, and many will accept samples of the fungus only during the winter months, when it’s too cold for potential escapees to survive. The rust is so feared that some trigger-happy researchers frantically deploy plants bred with single resistance genes — even though most scientists agree that a well-constructed genetic cocktail offers the best hope for staving rust off.

Rust’s reemergence

Wheat rust’s current rampage began more than a decade ago. In October of 1998, a plant breeder noticed a stem rust infection on wheat growing in his nursery at Kalengyere Research Station in Uganda. The discovery was perplexing because the wheat contained a gene called Sr31, which, along with a handful of others, had provided protection against the rust for more than a quarter century. A rust virulent enough to defeat Sr31 triggered alarm in the wheat community.

“Should the Sr31-virulent pathotype migrate out of Uganda, it poses a major threat to wheat production in countries where the leading cultivars have resistance based on this gene,” scientists from Africa and CIMMYT, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in Mexico, wrote in Plant Disease in 2000.


SPREAD OF A KILLERStem rust strains that can overcome key resistance genes have recently spread across Africa and beyond. Some scientists worry that prevailing winds may soon carry spores to major wheat-growing areas of the Middle East and Asia.Redmal/iStockphoto, adapted by E. Feliciano

Those fears have since been realized. This extremely aggressive strain of the fungus, called Ug99 (for the place of discovery and the year that the samples were analyzed), spread to most of the wheat-growing areas of Kenya and Ethiopia by 2003. The fungus’ spores, easily windborne, reached Sudan in 2006. Ug99 then crossed the Red Sea into Yemen, the doorway to major wheat-growing areas in the Middle East and southwest Asia. Ug99 has now been sighted in Iran. And not only is the rust still on the move, but it is also mutating: Within the Ug99 lineage, scientists have identified seven variants that can overcome additional important resistance genes in wheat. One Ug99 variant that overpowers Sr31 and the gene Sr24 caused epidemics in Kenya’s crops in 2007. Another Ug99 relative has turned up in Ethiopia and South Africa, and Kenya reported in June rust infestations in 80 percent of inspected fields.

Ug99 has yet to rear its ugly spores in the Americas. But that doesn’t mean U.S. wheat farmers are rust- or worry-free. In North America, Australia and Europe, as well as in Asia and Africa, a sibling of stem rust — the stripe or yellow rust — is taking a toll. In 2003, yellow rust wiped out a quarter of California’s wheat crop. Last year, it devastated crops in China. This year, farmers in the United States, the Middle East and northern Africa have already reported serious yellow rust infestations.

“The presence of two virulent and highly aggressive yellow rust strains … at high frequencies at epidemic sites on five continents (including Europe) may represent the most rapid and expansive spread ever of an important crop pathogen,” researchers from Aarhus University in Denmark wrote in an editorial in the July 23Science.

– More…

A New View of Gravity

Friday, September 17th, 2010

Entropy and information may be crucial concepts for explaining roots of familiar force

Explaining gravity to a small child is simple: All you have to say is, what goes up must come down.

Until the kid asks why.

What can you say? It’s just the way things work. All masses attract each other. Maybe to bright middle schoolers you could explain that spacetime is warped by mass. Or, to high schoolers, you could say that without gravity, the laws of physics would differ for people moving at changing velocities. Yet all those increasingly sophisticated answers merely invite another “Why.” As Sir Isaac Newton himself replied in response to similar questions, “hypotheses non fingo.” Which roughly translates as “I don’t have a clue.”

That such a simple question, about so common a phenomenon, has defied a direct answer for centuries might explain why the physics world has been atwitter lately over a novel attempt to resolve the riddle. A flurry of recent papers have examined this new idea, which mixes principles from string theory and black hole physics with basic old-fashioned thermo­dynamics. If this notion is right, gravity turns out to be a special sort of entropy, a result of the same physics that drives matter to give up its organization and order as it succumbs to the laws of probability. Toss in a dash of quantum mechanics and a pinch of information theory, and the universe emerges, governed on a grand scale by pretty much the same principles underlying the elastic pull of a rubber band.

While similar ideas have been suggested before, nobody has expressed the gravity-as-entropy story as intriguingly as theorist Erik Verlinde of the University of Amsterdam in an online paper ( that appeared in January. Titled simply “On the origin of gravity and the laws of Newton,” Verlinde’s paper cooks up a mathematical pièce de résistance connecting gravity to thermodynamics. His ingredients include the law of entropy, the physics of black holes and some speculative conjectures on how space stores information about the matter and energy within it. His recipe replicates Newton’s law of gravitational attraction, and then with some additional mathematical seasoning he arrives at Einstein’s general relativity, the modern and undefeated champion of gravity theories. Verlinde’s analysis indicates that gravity emerges from physical dynamics analogous to basic thermodynamic processes. “Using only … concepts like energy, entropy and temperature,” he writes, “Newton’s laws appear naturally and practically unavoidably.”

– More…

Drug-resistant superbugs found in three US states

Friday, September 17th, 2010

BOSTON – An infectious-disease nightmare is unfolding: Bacteria that have been made resistant to nearly all antibiotics by an alarming new gene have sickened people in three states and are popping up all over the world, health officials report.

The US cases and two others in Canada all involve people who had recently received medical care in India, where the problem is widespread. A British medical journal revealed the risk last month in an article describing dozens of cases in Britain in people who had gone to India for medical procedures.

How many deaths the gene may have caused is unknown; there is no central tracking of such cases. So far, the gene has mostly been found in bacteria that cause gut or urinary infections.

Scientists have long feared this – a very adaptable gene that hitches onto many types of common germs and confers broad drug resistance, creating dangerous “superbugs.”

“It’s a great concern,” because drug resistance has been rising and few new antibiotics are in development, said Dr. M. Lindsay Grayson, director of infectious diseases at the University of Melbourne in Australia.

“It’s just a matter of time” until the gene spreads more widely person-to-person, he said.

– More…

This one goes out to all my ex-wives…

Thursday, September 16th, 2010

(Some of whom definitely don’t seem to get it)

“Forgiveness means giving up all hope for a better past.”

– Lily Tomlin

See the Christchurch Earthquake and all the aftershocks

Thursday, September 9th, 2010

– See a visual representation of the initial quake and all the ones that have followed it.

Click –> Here

NZ budget almost shock-proof: IMF

Monday, September 6th, 2010

– Another thing to add to the list of reasons why I am here.


New Zealand is among only a handful of advanced economies where the government’s budget is best placed to deal with “unexpected shocks”, an International Monetary Fund (IMF) report says.

The National government has been criticised by the opposition for increasing debt to fund tax cuts during tough economic times.

But the IMF staff report released yesterday found New Zealand had the second smallest government debt out of the 23 advanced economies it analysed, suggesting the country’s budget would be well-placed to deal with future shocks.

The Washington-based institution examined a country’s “debt limit” based on its historical track record and its current debt level, which it describes as the “fiscal space”.

“Among the advanced economies, Australia, Denmark, Korea, New Zealand and Norway generally have the most fiscal space to deal with unexpected shocks,” the report said.

– More…

– Research thanks to Tony H.