June 2005

John Vidal and Tim Radford, The Guardian (UK), reports:

One in six countries in the world face food shortages this year because of severe droughts that could become semi-permanent under climate change, UN scientists warned yesterday.

In a stark message for world leaders who meet in Gleneagles next week to discuss global warming, Wulf Killman, chairman of the UN food and agriculture organisation’s climate change group, said the droughts that have devastated crops across Africa, central America and south-east Asia in the past year are part of an emerging pattern.

Photo: Small Plane
A Cessna 182 flies over Lodi. The plane, which is owned by a Delaware company, is one of at least two that have been circling over the city for nearly four weeks. (Courtesy photo by Ken Cantrell)

Layla Bohm, News-Sentinel Staff Writer, reports:

The white plane, with its baby blue striping, spends hours and days circling over Lodi. But the plane isn’t from the city. It’s not even from California.

The plane has traveled all the way from Delaware to move in slow circles over Lodi. It hasn’t exactly blended in.

The city is small enough that when a medical helicopter makes one pass overhead, citizens look up. When gang problems flare and local police officers team up with the California Highway Patrol to make use of a helicopter, police dispatchers are besieged with calls from citizens.

So, when white planes began circling over Lodi about four weeks ago — around the same time scores of FBI agents converged on the city to conduct a terrorism investigation — people took notice.

“He’s doing something. He’s doing some reconnaissance,” said Lodi resident and pilot Arlene Farley, who even got out binoculars to peer up at one of the planes.

What the planes are doing remains a mystery, though most people believe the activity coincides with the FBI investigation that led to the arrests of five Lodi men. In other parts of the country, small planes have flown in circles over cities also under investigation on ties to domestic and international terrorism.

Image: Water on Mars

From the June 9th, 2005 edition of Nature. Vol 435, Page 723 via Rense.com.


As a 5-year-old on his family’s farm in the Netherlands, Harm Kiezebrink wondered why his father instructed him to drown newly hatched male chicks in a large plastic drum inside the hatchery.

The answer: male chicks are slaughtered because they won’t be able to lay eggs and because they will be too scrawny for meat.

Mr. Kiezebrink grew up to become an expert in this unusual field. Today, his family company sells killed chicks to zoos and falconers. And it has developed technology for efficiently killing birds.

Reuters, via Slashdot, reports:

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (Reuters) — An undersea cable carrying data between Pakistan and the outside world has developed a serious fault, virtually crippling data feeds, including the Internet, telecommunications officials said.

The system crashed late on Monday and was still down on Tuesday evening. Many offices across the country ground to a halt as people realized it was not one of Pakistan’s regular, but usually brief, technical hitches.

“It’s a worst-case scenario. We are literally blank,” said a senior foreign banker who declined to be identified.

Photo: the wreckage of an ultra light aircraft
Grand Teton National Park rangers and fire personnel examine the wreckage of an ultra light aircraft that crashed Monday, June 27, 2005 just north of Jackson Hole Airport near Jackson, Wyo. The pilot, John T. Walton, a billionaire son of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton and a member of the company’s board was killed in the crash. (AP Photo/Jackson Hole News & Record, Bradley J. Boner)

The Associated Press reports:

BENTONVILLE, Ark. –John Walton, the billionaire son of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton and a member of the company’s board, died Monday in a plane crash in Wyoming.

Walton, 58, of Jackson, Wyo., was piloting an ultralight that crashed shortly after takeoff from the Jackson Hole Airport in Grand Teton National Park, the company said. He was pronounced dead at the scene, and the cause of the afternoon crash was not known, officials said.

Japan Today reports:

MITO — The Ibaraki prefectural government began culling the entire stock of about 25,000 chickens at a farm in the city of Mitsukaido on Monday, a day after announcing that chickens there had been infected by the H5N2 virus, a weak strain of avian influenza.

Some 60 workers, including employees of the prefectural government’s livestock industry division and a local public health center, were involved in the culling at the Arebamento Kanto farm shortly after the prefecture issued an order to cull all chickens there. They ended the day’s work shortly past 4 p.m. by culling 3,532 chickens. (Kyodo News)

China Daily reports:

(Xinhua) — Two persons died of bubonic plague and three others are recovering from the disease in the Tibet Autonomous Region in southwest China, the regional government’s information office reported on Saturday.

David Harsanyi, Denver Post Staff Columnist, writes:

Once again, you have been informed that the Constitution means nothing.

After last week’s Supreme Court decision, “eminent domain” can now simply be referred to as “government-sanctioned property theft.”

“Property,” a pretty sharp guy named John Adams once said, “is surely a right of mankind as real as liberty.”

To drive home the point, we have the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution.

When it’s not being liberally invoked by shady government officials, the Fifth Amendment also states that private property shall not be “taken for public use, without just compensation.”

Yet, by a 5-4 decision, the liberal wing of the Supreme Court ruled that government can essentially seize a person’s property - and liberty - and hand it over to an entity that happens to generate more tax revenue.

Not for “public use” mind you, but for corporate use in building condominiums, offices parks, strip malls, box stores, factories or parking lots.

Aljazeera reports:

For the first time, Washington has acknowledged to the United Nations that prisoners have been tortured at U.S. detention centres in Guantanamo Bay, as well as Afghanistan and Iraq, a UN source said on Friday.

The acknowledgement was made in a report submitted to the UN Committee against Torture, said a member of the ten-person panel, speaking on condition of anonymity.

CAROLYN ABRAHAM, The Globe and Mail, reports:

Canadian police have been quietly using a controversial new genetic technology to reveal the racial background and physical appearance of criminals they are hunting, according to the Florida company that sells the test.

Officials with DNAPrint Genomics, a biotech firm in Sarasota that has offered the test since 2002, say four separate forces in Canada — including the RCMP — have used the technology to narrow their search for suspects. This spring, two Canadian investigators made the unusual move of hand-delivering a crime-scene DNA sample to the Florida lab.

Unlike the more familiar forensic test that tries to match DNA found at a crime scene with samples from known suspects, this test is based on a single recovered sample and has the potential to tell police if the offender they are looking for is white, black, Asian, native, or of mixed race. The company then supplies photos of people with similar genetic profiles to help complete the portrait.

The company says the so-called DNAWitness test has been used in 80 criminal investigations by law-enforcement organizations worldwide, including the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Army and Scotland Yard.

H.D.S. Greenway, The Boston Globe, writes:

IF YOU TAKE something to read at the beach this summer make sure it is not one of George Orwell’s books. The comparison with current events will ruin your day.

In what was then the futuristic, nightmare world of ‘’1984,” written in 1949, Orwell introduced the concepts of ‘’newspeak,” ‘’doublethink,” and ‘’the mutability of the past,” all concepts that seem to be alive and well in 2005, half a century after Orwell’s death. In the ever-changing rationale of why we went to war in Iraq, we can imagine ourselves working in Orwell’s ‘’Ministry of Truth,” in which ‘’reality control” is used to ensure that ‘’the lie passed into history and became the truth.”

And what about the Bush administration’s insistence that all is going well in Iraq? In the Ministry of Truth, statistics are adjustable to suit politics — ‘’merely the substitution of one piece of nonsense for another,” Orwell wrote. ‘’Most of the material that you were dealing with had no connection to anything in the real world, not even the kind of connection that is contained in a direct lie. Statistics were just as much a fantasy in their original version as in the rectified version.” Welcome to the Iraq war, Mr. Orwell.

What of Donald Rumsfeld’s newspeak, or was it doublethink, saying that ‘’no detention facility in the history of warfare has been more transparent” than Guantanamo? We have the FBI’s word for it that prisoners were chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, left for 18 to 24 hours with no food and no water, left to defecate and urinate on themselves.

The deaths by torture in Abu Ghraib and Afghanistan sound very much like what happens in Orwell’s fictional torture chamber: Room 101.

Photo: Tube Socks on a Porn Star
You know, I haven’t thought about tube socks in any serious way since I was about 10, back in the ’70s, when tube socks ruled the planet and the longer they were, the better, and if they had those cool stripes by the knee they were totally way bitchin’. Now, suddenly, tube socks are very, very impressive items indeed. Suddenly they look positively delicious. (Courtesy of American Apparel)

By Mark Morford, SF Gate Columnist, writes:

It’s all destructive and debilitating and morally dubious, the fact that the oddly patriotic clothing company called American Apparel dares to photograph barely of-age girls and boys in sly, smiling, half-lidded, gritty, delightfully sexy poses in order to sell socks and underwear and T-shirts, all manufactured by an L.A.-based company that swears it doesn’t employ sweatshop labor and claims it treats its local work force fairly and lovingly and decently, while at the same time it has zero moral issue with hiring — has anyone noticed? — true-blue porn starlet and AVN Performer of the Year Lauren Phoenix to model their tube socks and undies and boy-beater tanks.

To which we can only say: God bless them. Mostly.

Reuters :

LONDON (Reuters) - The brains of players of violent video games react as if the violence were real, a study has suggested.

A Hyalinobatrachium sp frog is shown in an herpetologist lab in this undated photo taken in Quito, Ecuador. Epibatidine — the chemical which paralyzed and killed enemies of the Indians in what is now Ecuador — has been isolated to produce a pain killer 200 times more powerful than morphine, but without that drug’s addictive and toxic side effects. (Stringer/Reuters)

Carlos Andrade, Reuters, :

“Frogs and toads are becoming extinct all over the world. It’s the same magnitude event as the extinction of the dinosaurs,” said Luis Coloma, a herpetologist, or scientist dedicated to studying reptiles and amphibians, in Ecuador — the country with the third-greatest diversity of amphibians.

The thumb-sized jungle-dwelling phantasmal poison frog is an example of amphibian good looks, despite its macabre associations. It is bright red with fluorescent green stripes.

At least two out of five of the 3,046 amphibian types in the Americas — home to 53 percent of known species — are threatened with extinction, according to a recent report titled “Disappearing Jewels” by lobby group NatureServe.


BoingBoing reports:

The Food Marketing Institute has ranked the fifty most frequently shoplifted products snatched by organized retail thieves. Organized retail theft (ORT) is “separate and distinct from petty shoplifting in that it involves professional theft rings that move quickly from community to community and across state lines to steal large amounts of merchandise that is then repackaged and sold back into the marketplace.” The Top 10 shoplifted items:

#1 Advil tablet 50 ct
#2 Advil tablet 100 ct
#3 Aleve caplet 100 ct
#4 EPT Pregnancy Test single
#5 Gillette Sensor 10 ct
#6 Kodak 200 24 exp
#7 Similar w/iron powder - case
#8 Similar w/iron powder - single can
#9 Preparation H 12 ct
#10 Primatene tablet 24 ct

Mail & Guardian Online (South Africa) reports:

Zimbabwe police have extended a demolition campaign targeting the homes and livelihoods of the urban poor to the vegetable gardens they rely on for food, saying the crops planted on vacant lots are damaging the environment.

President Robert Mugabe was quoted on Tuesday as saying concern about the campaign was misplaced and agreeing to allow in a United Nations observer.

The crackdown on urban farming — at a time of food shortages in Zimbabwe — is the latest escalation in the government’s month-long Operation Murambatsvina (or Drive Out Trash), which has seen police torch the shacks of poor city dwellers, arrest street vendors and demolish their kiosks.

Mugabe defends the campaign as a clean-up drive. But the political opposition, which has its base among the urban poor, says the campaign is meant to punish its supporters.

The UN estimates the campaign has left at least 1,5-million people homeless in the winter cold. Police say more than 30 000 have also been arrested, most of them street vendors the government accuses of sabotaging the failing economy by selling black market goods.

Senior assistant police commissioner Edmore Veterai said Zimbabwean authorities were now targeting urban farming, saying the practice was causing “massive environmental damage,” state radio reported on Tuesday.

Emergency workers search the Kalamazoo River on Sunday for the body of Henry Byrd Jr. after he jumped from a bridge into the river and disappeared. (Kathryn Hemenway/For The Enquirer)

Kathryn Hemenway, The Battle Creek Enquirer, reports:

ALBION — A 14-year-old Albion boy, Henry Byrd Jr., died Sunday after jumping in the Kalamazoo River, according to the Albion Department of Public Safety.

The boy’s body was found about 10:10 p.m. about 31/2 hours after he jumped into the Kalamazoo River at Victory Park and disappeared below the surface of the water.

The Calhoun County medical examiner ruled the death an accidental drowning.

Chief Eric Miller said the boy’s body was found in about 10 feet of water and caught on a cinder block.

The Associated Press reports:

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) — Police say three lions rescued a 12-year-old girl kidnapped by men who wanted to force her into marriage, chasing off her abductors and guarding her until police and relatives tracked her down in a remote corner of Ethiopia.

The men had held the girl for seven days, repeatedly beating her, before the lions chased them away and guarded her for half a day before her family and police found her, Sgt. Wondimu Wedajo said Tuesday by telephone from the provincial capital of Bita Genet, some 560 kilometers (348 miles) west of the capital, Addis Ababa.

Photo: American reporter George Weller
American reporter George Weller

Mainichi Daily News reports:

American George Weller was the first foreign reporter to enter Nagasaki following the U.S. atomic attack on the city on Aug. 9, 1945. Weller wrote a series of stories about what he saw in the city, but censors at the Occupation’s General Headquarters refused to allow the material to be printed. Weller’s stories, written in September 1945, can be found below.

The Associated Press reports:

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Ending a century-old tradition, Eastman Kodak Co. (EK) will soon stop making black-and-white photographic paper, a niche product for fine-art photographers and hobbyists that is rapidly being supplanted by digital-imaging systems.

Kodak said Wednesday it will discontinue production of the paper, specially designed for black-and-white film, at the end of this year. But the world’s biggest film manufacturer will continue to make black-and-white film and chemicals for processing.

Steve Jobs, via BoingBoing says:

My third story is about death. When I was 17 I read a quote that went something like “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself, “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “no” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something. Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important thing I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life, because almost everything–all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure–these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

Andrew Stroehlein, The Christian Science Monitor, writes:

BRUSSELS – It’s a maxim that what people aren’t talking about is always a favorite topic of conversation. But it will make your head spin when applied to the media and the most deadly conflict in the world today. Western media generally do not cover the ongoing war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but a media story is currently developing around the Congo - focusing, paradoxically, on how the conflict is not a media story.

I’ve lost count of how many journalists in the recent weeks have asked me, “Why aren’t the media covering the Congo?”

With an estimated 1,000 people dying there every day as a result of hunger and disease caused by war, it is an appropriate question. But the extent of this coverage of noncoverage is reaching the absurd: print, radio, TV, Internet - they all want to know why they themselves are not writing articles and broadcasting programs about the Congo.

And it is not just me noticing this. In March, Reuters even held a seminar on “forgotten crises,” at which the Congo topped the list, and on BBC World Service the other day, I heard a newscaster ask: “Shouldn’t this be getting more attention?”

LEE GOMES, The Wall Street Journal, reports:

Dell — which wasn’t even the first PC maker to take the step — last week was offering for $299 a Windows computer that had most of what a beginning user would want. That list includes a 17-inch monitor, a 2.4 gigahertz Celeron processor, 256 megabytes of RAM and a 40-gigabyte hard drive.

A nearly identical system a year ago cost $499, and while it had only half as much RAM, it did provide speakers. The newer, cheaper model doesn’t have any, but you can add a pair for $20.

Besides reflecting a remarkable price decline of 40% in 12 months, the fact that computers can now be had for less than $300 means they have officially entered into the territory of “consumer electronics,” at least under one set of industry rules.

Ten or so years ago, when PCs cost five or even 10 times what they do now, it was common for analysts to say that they would never become a staple in homes until they were priced the way consumer electronics were, usually defined as costing less than $300. In the days when PCs were $2,000 and even more, that target seemed to be something of a fantasy.

Now, PCs cost less than some telephones — and less than a lot of TV sets — and can be found in roughly three-quarters of U.S. homes. But while they are priced like consumer electronics, the machines still aren’t even remotely as easy to use, and the trend lines there aren’t particularly encouraging. In fact, with price no longer as significant an issue, the continuing complexity of computers may become the biggest contributor to any “digital divide” between digital haves and have-nots, especially involving access to the Internet.

Source: http://www.peacehall.com/news/gb/china/2005/06/200506032331.shtml

After the two photos of 1000’s of dead or dying birds on May 27 on Bird Island on Qinghai Lake was published, the associated reporters were arrested. A third photo was added to the June 3rd report.

This photo appears to be more of the same, except more birds are standing and it appears to have been taken mid-day because the shadows of the standing birds are very short. The two earlier shots appeared to have been near sunrise or sunset because the shadows of the birds were long.

The pictures of the birds are in marked contrast to Bird Island tourist pictures showing many birds walking around and sitting birds with heads much higher in the air.

The recent photos look much like the suffocating bar headed goose in the May 5 official media report describing 178 bar headed geese who had died but were reported to have not died from bird flu.

The arrest of reporters in association with these pictures is alarming and will fuel speculation on the scope of the H5N1 bird flu outbreak and its spread to humans and other mammals.

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