Daily Archives

Mexico to become first country to use iris scans on ID cards

Telegraph – The documents, which will include the eye’s image as well as fingerprints, a photo and signature, will be 99 per cent reliable, according to Felipe Zamora, who is responsible for legal affairs at the Mexican interior ministry. “The legal, technical and financial conditions are ready to start the process of issuing this identity document,” Felipe Zamora, responsible for legal affairs at the Mexican Interior Ministry, told journalists Thursday. Critics, including the National Human Rights Commission, have criticised the system, expressing concern that compiling personal data could violate individual rights. The move will be introduced gradually, with some 28 million minors taking part in a first two-year stage, due to cost $25 million (£15.6 million). The cards are due to start for adults from 2013. Read Article

Scientists crack genetic code for form of pancreatic cancer

PhysOrg.com – Scientists at Johns Hopkins have deciphered the genetic code for a type of pancreatic cancer, called neuroendocrine or islet cell tumors. The work, described online in the Jan. 20 issue of Science Express, shows that patients whose tumors have certain coding “mistakes” live twice as long as those without them. “One of the most significant things we learned is that each patient with this kind of rare cancer has a unique genetic code that predicts how aggressive the disease is and how sensitive it is to specific treatments,” says Nickolas Papadopoulos, Ph.D., associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center and director of translational genetics at Hopkins’ Ludwig Center. “What this tells us is that it may be more useful to classify cancers by gene type rather than only by organ or cell type.” Read article

‘Prince of Mercenaries’ who wreaked havoc in Iraq turns up in Somalia

The Independent – Erik Prince, the American founder of the private security firm Blackwater Worldwide, has cropped up at the centre of a controversial scheme to establish a new mercenary force to crack down on piracy and terrorism in the war-torn East African country of Somalia. The project, which emerged yesterday when an intelligence report was leaked to media in the United States, requires Mr Prince to help train a private army of 2,000 Somali troops that will be loyal to the country’s United Nations-backed government. Several neighbouring states, including the United Arab Emirates, will pay the bills. Mr Prince is working in Somalia alongside Saracen International, a murky South African firm which is run by a former officer from the Civil Co-operation Bureau, an apartheid-era force notorious for killing opponents of the white minority government. Read Article

Bank of America posts heavy losses

AFP – Bank of America, the biggest US bank, reported Friday a net loss of $1.2 billion for the fourth quarter, citing falling revenue and a hefty writedown on its home-loan business. The loss was the second consecutive quarterly setback for the government-rescued bank, after a $7.3 billion loss in the third quarter. For full-year 2010, Bank of America reported a net loss of $2.2 billion. The bank wrote off $12.4 billion in charges. That amounted to a loss of 37 cents per share, compared to a loss of 29 cents per share in 2009. In 2009 the bank had profit of $6.3 billion but for shareholders it was a loss of $2.2 billion following payments to the US Treasury stemming from bailout aid. Read Article

Karzai backs down in dispute with Afghan lawmakers

AP — Under heavy pressure from Afghan lawmakers and Western diplomats, President Hamid Karzai agreed on Saturday to convene the newly elected parliament, ending a political standoff that threatened to spark a constitutional crisis. After hours of tense discussions at the presidential palace, Karzai backed off his earlier order to delay the session for a month to allow more time for a special tribunal to investigate allegations of fraud in September’s parliamentary election, according to two of the lawmakers involved in the talks, Shukria Barakzai of Kabul and Gul Pacha Majidi of Ghazni province.In return, Karzai asked the parliamentarians to agree that any criminal case against a lawmaker could go forward, said Mirwais Yasini, a representative from Nangarhar province who was deputy speaker of the lower house of parliament in the last session. The legislators agreed to this Saturday evening and drafted a letter to send to the president on Sunday, Yasini said. Read Article

Could Climate Change Have Led To The Fall Of Rome?

NPR – Rome may have fallen hundreds of years ago, but much of the civilization the Romans built still dots the landscape today. One team of scientists recently unearthed a different kind of Roman artifact that may hold a strange clue to the empire’s downfall. A study of tree rings recently published in the journal Science provides evidence of climate shifts that, perhaps not coincidentally, occurred from A.D. 250 to 550, a period better known as the fall of the Roman Empire. Ulf Buentgen and his team of researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research collected tree-ring data from ancient wood found in medieval castles and Roman ruins. They created a detailed history of climate change over the past 2.5 millennia and found the data point to the end of the Roman Empire as a period of exceptional climate change. Read Article

Home sales hit 13-year low; slow recovery ahead

Associated Press – The number of people who bought previously owned homes last year fell to the lowest level in 13 years, and economists say it will be years before the housing market fully recovers. High unemployment and a record number of foreclosures are deterring potential buyers who fear home prices haven’t reached the bottom. Job growth is expected to pick up this year, but not enough to raise home sales to healthier levels. “We built too many houses during the boom, and now after the crash, it will take us a long time to get back to normal,” said David Wyss, chief economist at Standard & Poor’s in New York. The National Association of Realtors reported Thursday that sales dropped 4.8 percent to 4.91 million units in 2010. That was slightly fewer than in 2008, which had been the weakest year since 1997. Read Article

Scotland: Take vitamin D daily, mothers-to-be told

Scotsman – Expectant mothers are being encouraged to take vitamin D supplements during pregnancy as part of efforts to improve the health of the population. The Scottish Government’s maternal and infant nutrition strategy includes recommendations on diet, aiming to highlight how nutritional choices start before conception and do not end after breastfeeding. Read article
Related articles: Low vitamin D levels tied to pregnancy complication; Pregnant women ‘must take vitamin D supplements’

US bombing wipes out Afghan village from map

Indo-Asian News Service -A village in Afghanistan’s Kandahar province has been completely wiped out of the map after an offensive by the US Army to get rid of the Taliban militants in the area, a media report said in London. Tarok Kolache, a small settlement in Kandahar near the Arghandad River Valley, has been completely erased from the map, according to the Daily Mail. Taliban militants had taken control of the village and battered the coalition task force with home-made bombs and improvised explosive devices. After two attempts at clearing the village led to casualties on both sides, Lieutenant Colonel David Flynn, commander of the Combined Joint Task Force 1-320th gave the order to pulverise the village. Read Article

Several injured in pro-democracy march in Algiers

BBC _ Algerian police have broken up an anti-government demonstration by about 300 people in the centre of the capital, Algiers, calling for greater freedoms. Several protesters were injured and a number are reported to have been arrested. Seven police officers were also hurt, according to state media.The leader of the opposition Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD) said those held included its parliamentary leader.The protest followed rioting in several cities set off by rising food prices. Read Article

Britain triggers global inflation alarm

Financial Times – Some of the world’s leading investors have turned bearish on government bonds from developed countries as they warn of the growing danger of inflation. Data this week showing the UK’s consumer price index hit 3.7 per cent in December fuelled that concern and sent benchmark British borrowing costs to an eight-month high of 3.72 per cent. In Europe, inflation has risen above the European Central Bank’s target for the first time in more than two years, leading investors to bet on interest rates rises in the eurozone and UK this year. The trend has caused homeowners to rush to fix their mortgage rates as lenders withdraw their cheapest fixed-rate deals. Read Article

US: Too much fluoride damages kids’ teeth, study shows

The Press-Enterprise – Less fluoride in drinking water wouldn’t lead to more tooth decay, say state and local dentists, experts and their professional organizations. Concerned about the effects of excessive fluoridation, the federal government is proposing to lower the amount of fluoride recommended in drinking water. The current acceptable range is 0.7 to 1.2 milligrams per liter of water. The proposed fluoride level would be an optimal 0.7 milligrams of fluoride per liter of water. Read article

Cowen resigns as party leader but remains Irish PM

Reuters – Ireland’s Prime Minister Brian Cowen bowed to pressure from members of the Fianna Fail party on Saturday and resigned as its leader, but said he would serve as premier until a March 11 election. Cowen’s decision to split the role of party leader and prime minister is highly unusual and crowns a week of political drama that had Irish people shaking their heads in anger. The most unpopular premier in recent history, Cowen is blamed for mishandling the economic crisis and allowing a disastrous property bubble to develop during a previous stint as finance minister. The meltdown that ensued forced the country to accept an 85 billion euro ($115 billion) bailout from the EU and IMF late last year. Read Article

55 buffalo die mysteriously on southern Cayuga County farm

The Citizen – Sempronius buffalo farmer Peter Head has lost 55 animals to a mysterious illness since October, but autopsies have shown no clear cause of death. “We’re going nuts down here trying to figure out what’s going on,” he said. “This is going to put me out of business. That’s half my frickin’ herd.” Head and his wife Deborah have run PDH Buffalo Farm on Route 41A for nine years. This year, 17 of his 23 calves died and he has stopped selling meat as a precaution. “I don’t want to be selling buffalo meat when I don’t know what’s going on here,” he said. Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine conducted necropsies on several of the carcasses but found only dehydration, Head said. Ron Podolak of the Cayuga County Soil and Water Conservation District said there is no indication that disease is spreading to neighboring farms. Read Article

Record levels of GM in 2010/11 Brazil crop

Farmers Guardian – Brazil has planted record levels of genetically modified (GM) crops for the 2010/11 harvest, new figures show. Three-quarters of the soybean crop has been planted with GM seeds, plus more than half the country’s corn (maize) crop and a quarter of the area planted with of cotton, according to a study by a Céleres, The Brazilian agribusiness consultants said this was the ‘highest rate of adoption of transgenics in the history of the national agriculture’. It added that the proportion of GM plantings is likely to increase further over the next few years. Céleres forecasts that 18.1 million hectares of transgenic herbicide-tolerant soybean has been planted for the current crop season, representing 76.2 per cent of the total area sown. Read Article

Climate Fact Of The Day – New Total Solar Irradiation (TSI) baseline value – solar min measured lower in 2008


Authors: Greg Kopp. Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, Boulder, Colorado & Judith L. Lean. Space Science Division, Naval Research Laboratory, Washington, D. C.

Source: http://wattsupwiththat.files.wordpress.com/2011/01/kopp-lean_2011_figure1.png

The most probable value of total solar irradiance representative of solar minimum is 1360.8 ± 0.5 W m?2, lower than the canonical value of 1365.4 ± 1.3 W m?2 recommended a decade ago. This new value, measured by SORCE/TIM, is validated by irradiance comparisons to a NIST?calibrated cryogenic radiometer in the new TSI Radiometer Facility. Uncorrected scattering and diffraction are shown to cause erroneously high readings in non?TIM instruments Read Report

Quotation Of The Week

“It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.”

-Anne Frank

As voted for by fans at our Facebook page. Have you yet joined the daily debates?

Big powers leave Iran nuclear talks empty-handed

Reuters – World powers failed to prise any change from Iran in two days of talks on its nuclear program, with the EU and United States calling the discussions disappointing and saying no further meetings were planned. “This is not the conclusion I’d hoped for,” European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said at the end of the talks in Istanbul on Saturday. “I am disappointed.” That was echoed by a senior U.S. official, but he said talks had not broken down and been “very businesslike, but difficult.” Read Article

EPA approves more ethanol in fuel for cars

Associated Press – Nearly two-thirds of cars on the road could have more corn-based ethanol in their fuel tanks under an Environmental Protection Agency decision Friday. The agency said that 15 percent ethanol blended with gasoline is safe for cars and light-duty trucks manufactured between 2001 and 2006, expanding an October decision that the higher blend is safe for cars built since 2007.The maximum gasoline blend has been 10 percent ethanol. The fuel is popular in farm country because most ethanol comes from corn and other grains. It faces strong opposition, however, from the auto industry, environmentalists, cattle ranchers, food companies and others. Read Article

China confirmed as world’s second largest economy

Guardian – China’s role as the engine of world trade and chief rival to the US was cemented yesterday after its economic performance in 2010 powered it to second place in the global rankings ahead of Japan. The Chinese economy grew by 10.3% last year, in sharp contrast to Japan, which has struggled to grow by more than 2% a year for the last two decades. The stronger than expected data from China sent stock markets and the price of commodities falling as traders wrestled with the implications for growth and inflation in the rest of the world. Read Article

Cosmic rays contribute 40 p.c. to global warming: study

The Register – India’s leading space physicist believes cosmic rays affect the Earth’s climate far more than previously thought. U R Rao has analysed 45 years of data and declared that the forcing from charged particles is higher than previously thought, at 1.1Wm-2, and human-forcing lower than the IPCC “consensus” of 1.6Wm-2. Rao should know his muons. He launched India’s satellite program in the 70s, and became head of the Indian Space Agency in the 1980s; many of his 350 published papers are about galactic cosmic rays (GCRs). He makes an unlikely candidate for a skeptic, having written books on sustainability and implementing the United Nations’ Agenda 21. The influence of charged particles on climate is controversial, not least because it’s based on observation and physics experiments, rather than computer modelling. GCRs have been demonstrated to “seed” cloud formation, and small variations in cloud cover are known to have significant impacts on surface temperature. Read Article

Assessing The Health Of The Gulf, Post-Spill

NPR – The Macondo spill was just the latest insult to a Gulf Coast already suffering from decades of oil and gas development, river diversions and Hurricane Katrina. Ira Flatow and guests discuss long-term restoration plans for Gulf wetlands and wildlife, and the oil’s impact on human health. Listen to Audio

Top aide to UK leader resigns in tabloid scandal

Associated Press – The British prime minister’s powerful spin doctor resigned Friday amid claims he sanctioned widespread illegal phone hacking against politicians, celebrities and royalty when he was editor of a top-selling tabloid newspaper. Andy Coulson denies any knowledge of the hacking, but admitted he’d committed a cardinal sin for a back room operator — he became the story. Read Article

Monsanto’s Irish arm made €18m profit but paid no tax

Irish Times – A Dublin-based subsidiary of the US Monsanto Group made a profit of €18 million in the year to the end of August 2009, according to accounts just filed, but paid no tax. Monsanto Finance Holdings Ltd, based at the offices of Matheson Ormsby Prentice solicitors on Sir John Rogerson’s Quay, Dublin, is involved in inter-group financing. The accounts state that the company is tax resident in Bermuda and as such is exempt from all forms of taxation including income, capital gains and withholding tax. The company’s three directors are solicitors based in Bermuda with the Conyers Dill Pearman firm, which has its headquarters in London. Read Article

World’s largest solar park planned in Greece: PM

Physorg – Debt-hit Greece plans to build the world’s largest solar park over depleted coal mines in the northern city of Kozani, Prime Minister George Papandreou said this week. Estimated to cost 600 million euros ($807 million) and with a capacity of 200 megawatts (MW), the project’s electricity output will be “greater than any other photovoltaic park operational in the world until now,” Papandreou told a development event in Kozani on Thursday. The state-run Public Power Corporation (PPC) said it would organise an international tender to find a strategic investor for the solar park, which is to be built over 520 hectares (1,285 acres) of disused company mines. Read Article