MAXINE

"Aim at Heaven ... you get Earth thrown in - Aim at Earth and you get neither" - C.S. Lewis

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Tick, Tick, Tick - 10th Human H5N1 Death In Egypt

Egypt - A country that is geographically located to be a major route for migratory birds and one of the nation states worst hit by the virus outside Asia. Image Credit: BBC NEWS

In another case of Cluck-N-Quack [A Mole], ducks are the source of the infection.

This represents the third country to report bird flu attacks this season. Further, this H5N1 attributed death is the third human death since Sunday, December 24th, 2006.

Excerpts from BBC NEWS -

Egypt reports 10th bird flu death
BBC News - Wednesday, 27 December 2006, 15:08 GMT

A 26-year-old man has died in Egypt of bird flu after testing positive for the H5N1 strain of the virus.

Reda Abdel Halim Farid is the 10th person to die of bird flu in Egypt - and the third to die since Sunday.
----
A girl aged 15 died on Monday and a 30-year-old woman on Sunday. All three were from an extended family living in the Nile Delta province of Gharbiya.

They are said to have shared one house with 30 other family members, raising poultry in the town of Zifta, about 80km (50 miles) north of Cairo.
----
A World Health Organization (WHO) official said the family raised ducks, and that members had become infected after slaughtering the flock in an effort to stem the spread of the H5N1 virus.

Three of the family's ducks had died of the virus, WHO confirmed.

Government officials had hoped an initial outbreak of H5N1 among poultry in February had been contained and would not further affect the country's food supply.
----
"When we had a period of calm between May and October, people started thinking the disease was over, but we insisted on creating more awareness among the people," Abdel Rahman Shaheen
[Egypt's health ministry advisor] said.

"We are still expecting more cases but the idea is to keep them to the smallest possible number."

In the Middle East, the disease is also known to be present in Iran, Iraq, Israel, Gaza and the West Bank.

Reference Here>>

Judging from the list of infected countries above, we at MAXINE don't know what to fear most from the Middle East ... Nuclear Proliferation or Bird Flu ... Islamo-Terrorism will just have to take a seat!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Tick, Tick, Tick - Viet Cluck-N-Quack [A-Mole]

Birds of a feather, hopefully, stick together. Image Credit: AlaskaReport News

Tick, Tick, Tick - Viet Cluck-N-Quack [A-Mole] ... As in Whack-A-Mole ...

... and the clock keeps on a tickin'.

First South Korea, and now Viet Nam.

This from the AlaskaReport News -

Avian Flu Outbreak in Vietnam
AlaskaReport News - December 23rd, 2006

Bird flu has popped up again in chickens and ducks in Vietnam and Asian countries are scrambling to limit its spread.

"The situation is alarming," said Hoang Van Nam, director of the Epidemic Unit under Vietnam's Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.

Thousands of chickens and ducks in the affected areas have been slaughtered as authorities try to limit the spread of the virus, which has killed hundreds of millions of chickens and at least 42 people in Vietnam since 2004.

"Our assessment is that bird flu is likely to spread far outside the outbreak confirmed localities," Nam said. "Once the virus spread to the environment, other provinces will be affected."

The H5N1 strain of bird flu is not easily contagious among humans, but people can be infected through close contact with infected poultry.

The virus has raised fears among scientists because up to 60% of people known to have been infected have died.

Reference Here>>

If Islamo-Fascism doesn't knock us off, this will.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Broadly Used Consumer Technologies Driving IT?

"Stuff" from another world - Image Credit: The Economist

Broadly Used Consumer Technologies Driving IT?

"Off the shelf/over the portal" applications made easy ... too easy.

A contributor to SlashDot - fiannaFailMan writes to point out The Economist's reporting on the way consumer-driven software products are increasingly making their presence felt in the corporate world. Some CIOs are embracing the influx while others continue to resist it.

Excerpts from an article in The Economist -

Work-life balance
From The Economist print edition - Dec 19th 2006 SAN FRANCISCO

IN OCTOBER, shortly after taking over as head of information technology (IT) at Arizona State University, Adrian Sannier gave the nod to his contact at Google, the internet giant known for its search engine, and with one flick of the proverbial switch 65,000 students had new e-mail accounts. Unlike the university's old system, which stores e-mails on its own server computers, the new accounts reside on Gmail, Google's free web-based service. Mr Sannier is not forcing anybody to change but has found that the students, many of whom were already using Gmail for their private e-mail, have been voluntarily migrating to the new service at a rate of 300 an hour. Crucially, they can take their "asu.edu" e-mail addresses with them.
----
For Mr Sannier, however, a bigger reason than money for switching from traditional software to web-based alternatives has to do with the pace and trajectory of technological change. Using the new Google service, for instance, students can share calendars, which they could not easily do before. Soon Google will integrate its online word processor and spreadsheet software into the service, so that students and teachers can share coursework. Eventually, Google may add blogs and wikis - it has bought firms with these technologies. Mr Sannier says it is "absolutely inconceivable" that he and his staff could roll out improvements at this speed in the traditional way - by buying software and installing it on the university's own computers.

In the past, innovation was driven by the military or corporate markets. But now the consumer market, with its vast economies of scale and appetite for novelty, leads the way. Compared with the staid corporate-software industry, using these services is like "receiving technology from an advanced civilisation", says Mr Sannier. He is now looking at other consumer technologies for ideas. He is already using Apple's iTunes, a popular online-music service, to store the university's podcasts.

Mr Sannier is ahead of his time because most IT bosses, especially at large organizations, tend to be skeptical of consumer technologies and often ban them outright. Employees, in return, tend to ignore their IT departments. Many young people, for instance, use services such as Skype to send instant messages or make free calls while in the office. FaceTime, a Californian firm that specialises in making such consumer applications safe for companies, found in a recent survey that more than half of employees in their 20s and 30s admitted to installing such software over the objections of IT staff.

Executive toys
Consumer technologies such as IM usually make employees more productive, says Kailash Ambwani, FaceTime's boss, so IT bosses should concentrate not on stopping them but on making them secure. In the case of IM and some kinds of file-sharing, the risks are that viruses or spyware could come into the corporate network from the outside, or that employees could ship vital information outward.

With Google Apps for Your Domain and other software services that are accessed through a web browser, the security issues are more subtle. Since the software and the data reside on the service provider's machines, the danger is of losing control of sensitive data, which is now in somebody else's hands. Most IT bosses find this scary. Not so Mr Sannier. He remembers a picture that Google showed him of one of its data centres burning to the ground; it looked awful. The point, however, was that no users of Google services anywhere even noticed, because Google's systems are built to be so robust that even the loss of an entire data centre does not compromise anybody's data.
----
This trend could cause problems for traditional software firms such as Microsoft, Oracle and SAP. Already, start-ups such as Salesforce.com and NetSuite provide "software as a service", supplying sales-force automation, accounting, payroll and other features via the web. (Marc Benioff, the founder of Salesforce.com, had the idea for his firm while browsing on Amazon's online store one day. Why, he wondered, could business software not be delivered the same way?) Other firms, including Google, provide web-based e-mail, word processing, spreadsheets and databases.

Big companies will probably keep "mission critical" systems in-house. But as everything else migrates to web-based services, software will increasingly resemble the web technologies of the consumer market, says Mr Benioff. Those enterprise firms, such as his own, that follow the lead of consumer-oriented websites will do well in this environment, he argues.

Security concerns, Mr Benioff implies with a wink, are red herrings thrown by ageing IT bosses trying to justify their salaries.
Read All>>

This comment found in reaction to the Slashdot posting -

I can see many companies might have issues with the security of their documents or data being held by 3rd party companies but once that hurdle has been jumped it seems to me to make sense so long as you (the company) can still have the same control you would were you hosting the service yourself.

Really, this is just outsourcing particular aspects of your business to specialists which is something a lot of companies now have a lot of experience in.

For example, the company I'm currently working for - develop software for their own warehouses and distribution network because the success of this directly affects their ability to compete in the market - but they also have a team of people managing their mail servers and providing support for office applications which they could certainly benefit in not doing themselves provided the alternative was cheaper and as effective.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Long Slow Slide To the Bottom Nets New Growth

Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola, heads an orthodox Episcopalian organization that two Virginia churches joined when they decided to leave the Episcopal Church to form a new Anglican tradition in North America. Image Credit: Richard Drew/AP

Long Slow Slide To The Bottom Nets New Growth In A Recognizable Direction (UPDATED)

In a move to re-affirm tradition, two churches become the cornerstone of a new American Anglican church effort.

This breakaway, which was prompted in reaction to recent events in The Episcopal Church, the U.S. wing of global Anglicanism, will be called the Convocation of Anglicans in North America.

We at MAXINE trust that this will become a growth of tradition throughout the Americas. This is NOT a vote against women and/or gays in positions of leadership within an organized religion … more, it IS a vote for a centuries old tradition to be upheld in the face of cultural changes in North America which Anglican Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria has called a "satanic attack" on the church.

This from Associated Press via Forbes -

2 Episcopal Parishes in Va. Break Away
By MATTHEW BARAKAT - Associated Press - 12.17.06, 1:21 PM ET

Two of the largest Episcopal parishes in Virginia voted overwhelmingly Sunday to break from The Episcopal Church and join fellow Anglican conservatives forming a rival U.S. denomination.

Truro Church in Fairfax and The Falls Church in Falls Church plan to place themselves under the leadership of Anglican Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria, who has called the growing acceptance of gay relationships a "satanic attack" on the church.

The archbishop hopes to create a U.S. alliance of disaffected parishes called the Convocation of Anglicans in North America. Truro rector Martyn Minns was consecrated a bishop in the Church of Nigeria earlier this year to lead Akinola's American outreach.


Ninety percent of Falls Church parishioners and 92 percent of Truro members who cast ballots in the last week supported cutting ties with The Episcopal Church, parish leaders said Sunday.

Six other Virginia parishes are voting this month whether to leave.

The Truro and Falls Church break is likely to spark a lengthy, expensive legal fight over the historic properties, which are worth millions of dollars.

The Episcopal Church, the U.S. wing of global Anglicanism, has been under pressure from traditionalists at home and abroad since the 2003 consecration of the first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.

Reference Here>>

Additional background from The Washington Post -

Episcopal Churches To Vote on Departure
Fairfax Congregations Dismayed by Direction
By Michelle Boorstein - Washington Post Staff Writer (Staff writer Alan Cooperman, staff researcher Karl Evanzz and graphics editor April Umminger contributed to this report) - Monday, December 4, 2006; Page A01

Two of the country's largest and most historic Episcopal congregations -- both in Fairfax County -- will vote next week on whether to leave the U.S. church on ideological grounds and affiliate instead with a controversial Nigerian archbishop. The decision could lead to a bitter court battle and the loss of $25 million in property.

Many members of The Falls Church and Truro Church, as well as some conservative leaders around the country, hope a split will establish a legal structure that would make it easier for dozens more like-minded congregations to also depart the national denomination.

Some conservatives in the Episcopal Church, the U.S. wing of the worldwide Anglican Communion, believe the church abandoned Scripture by installing a gay bishop in New Hampshire in 2003, among other things. Those feelings of alienation were strengthened when Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori -- who supports the New Hampshire bishop -- was elected this summer to lead the national church.

Three other churches in the 193-congregation Virginia diocese -- the nation's largest -- are also voting this month. And Saturday, the Associated Press reported that leaders of the San Joaquin, Calif., diocese voted to affirm their membership within the Anglican Communion, a slap to the U.S. church that some see as a first step toward a later vote to separate. That would be the first entire diocese to leave the mother church.

Although some orthodox congregations have been leaving since 2003 -- as some did in the 1970s, when ordinations of women began -- advocates think they are getting closer to creating a new, U.S.-based umbrella organization that would essentially compete with the Episcopal Church. And the two Fairfax churches are on the vanguard of the movement, which could lead to massive changes in the 226-year-old denomination, years of painful litigation or both.

"In one sense there is a sadness because this feels like a death," said Mary Springmann, a soft-spoken stay-at-home mother who worships at Truro and plans to vote to split when a week of voting begins Sunday. "Like someone who has been gravely ill for a long time, you keep hoping there's going to be a recovery. And at some point you realize it's not going to happen. Right now . . . there is a feeling of hope and expectancy about where God is going to lead us next. It's kind of exciting."

If the votes at The Falls Church and Truro succeed, as their leaders predict, the 3,000 active members of the two churches would join a new, Fairfax-based organization that answers to Nigerian Archbishop Peter J. Akinola, leader of the 17 million-member Nigerian church and an advocate of jailing gays. The new group hopes to become a U.S.-based denomination for orthodox Episcopalians.

How many congregations will take this route is unknown, with the likelihood of costly litigation over historic, valuable properties and bitterness infecting a holy space. Even church centrists estimate that 15 percent of U.S. Episcopalians would leave the national church if their congregations could keep their church buildings and remain in the Communion.
----
Since the Rev. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, who is openly gay, was made a bishop in 2003, dozens of conservative U.S. congregations have dissolved, lost many members or gone to court with their dioceses over property as the congregations sought to leave the national church. But many traditionalists see a new phase since Jefferts Schori was elected national bishop.
----
Some members of the two Fairfax churches say they are comfortable with the arrangement because Minns is their "missionary bishop." However, they know there are questions about a suburban Washington congregation technically under the leadership of Akinola, who has supported a new Nigerian law that penalizes gay activity, whether private or "a public show of same sex amorous relationship," with jail time.

Jim Pierobon, a member of The Falls Church serving as a spokesman for both Fairfax churches, said he believes Akinola is trying to ease tensions between Nigerian Anglicans and Muslims by supporting the law. That doesn't mean the leadership issue doesn't weigh on Pierobon's conscience.
----
Other religious denominations have been roiled in recent years by the issue of homosexuality, but a major schism would be unprecedented in the Episcopal Church, which remained united even through the Civil War.

"The difference between the Episcopal Church and the others is that Episcopalians are really loath to split about anything," said Diana Butler Bass, a U.S. church historian who believes politics, not theology, has been driving divisions in the Episcopal Church since the 1980s. "What will win now? This politicized culture, or that old Anglican, spiritual way of being in the world?"

The size of the division in the U.S. church is hotly debated on blogs across the spectrum. About 140 dissident churches have joined a splinter group called the Anglican Mission in America, said the Rev. David C. Anderson, an orthodox advocate. After Jefferts Schori's election this summer, seven of the 111 U.S. dioceses rejected her authority. Since 2003, the U.S. church estimates that it lost nearly 115,000 members. Its membership is now about 2.3 million.

As the San Joaquin vote approached, Jefferts Schori announced Thursday she would formalize the creation of a high-ranking position to oversee the seven dissenting dioceses -- a move some saw as conciliatory, others as a last-ditch effort.

"This isn't a fun thing," said Ward LeHardy, 71, whose Northern Neck church, St. Stephens of Heathsville, plans to vote this Sunday whether to join CANA. LeHardy's family has been in the Episcopal Church for 150 years. "But it's our belief that if you believe in the Lord and you believe in what the Bible says, then you better do something. Otherwise, you're complicit."

Read All>>

UPDATE from Beliefnet, Inc.:

Truro Church rector Martyn Minns, right, addresses fellow clergymen, parishioners and members of the media Sunday, Dec 17, 2006 at the Truro Church in Fairfax, Va. Two of the largest Episcopal parishes in Virginia voted overwhelmingly Sunday to break from The Episcopal Church and join fellow Anglican conservatives forming a rival U.S. denomination. Image Credit: AP Photo/Chris Greenberg

Episcopal Split Accelerates as Va. Parishes Vote to Leave
By Daniel Burke - Religion News Service

Conservative Episcopalians' steady exodus from the Episcopal Church accelerated Sunday (Dec. 17) as eight Virginia congregations -- including two large, historic parishes -- voted to leave the national body.

The Diocese of Virginia has lost 12 congregations and about 18 percent of its average Sunday worship attendance in recent battles over homosexuality and the authority of Scripture, according to figures provided by the diocese.

The size of the breakaway parishes, their historical importance and their success at "planting" new congregations all make tremors of Sunday's split shiver through the Episcopal Church, said the Rev. Kendall Harmon.

"This is terribly significant," said Harmon, an influential conservative theologian from South Carolina. "When you lose large churches, you don't just lose an individual parish, you lose a great big part of the family."

The fight in Virginia will be closely watched by both sides -- by conservatives, to see how hard it is to cut ties with the national church; and by church lawyers, who will fight aggressively to maintain control of property.

Eight Virginia congregations announced their decision to leave Sunday. Three more are considering similar action. A looming legal scrap will determine if the diocese loses more than $27 million in property as well.

A "saddened" Virginia Bishop Peter Lee promised a fight.

"As stewards of this historic trust, we fully intend to assert the Church's canonical and legal rights over these properties," he said in a statement.

The Virginia congregations have thrust themselves to the front line of a conservative movement, in which U.S. parishes are aligning with theological allies in the wider Anglican Communion.

While conservatives make up a minority of the 2.2 million-member Episcopal Church, a majority of the world's 37 other Anglican provinces agree with their belief that the Bible trumps cultural accommodations on issues like homosexuality.

Tensions in the U.S. church, mounting since the decision to ordain women three decades ago, exploded after an openly gay man was elected bishop of New Hampshire in 2003.

Since Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, who supports the consecration of gay bishops and the blessing of same-sex unions, was elected in June, seven dioceses have rejected her authority. One diocese—San Joaquin, Calif.—has taken preliminary steps to leave the Episcopal Church.

Two of the breakaway Virginia parishes—The Falls Church in Falls Church and Truro Church in Fairfax City—have American roots that stretch back to the 18th century. George Washington was on the governing board, or vestry, of the Falls Church.

Now, however, they are both members of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America, a branch of the Anglican Church of Nigeria. That church is headed by Archbishop Peter Akinola, an outspoken and powerful conservative who has publicly supported Nigeria's strict anti-gay laws.

The U.S. convocation will be headed by the Rt. Rev. Martyn Minns, rector of Truro Church, whom Akinola has appointed a "missionary bishop."

"(The Episcopal Church) has been our spiritual home and separating from it is very hard," Minns said in a statement. "But there is also the promise of a new day. A burden is being lifted. There are new possibilities breaking through."

The Virginia situation had been closely watched in the U.S. for several reasons, among them that Bishop Lee is known as a centrist and adept at forging consensus. His failure to do so bodes ill for the Episcopal Church, said Harmon, "If he is not able to find his way through this, it doesn't speak well for the rest of the (U.S. church)," Harmon said.

Lee took a hard line with Truro Church and Falls Church, however, which he said "have created Nigerian congregations occupying Episcopal churches."

Harmon said, "We're really dealing with what negotiators call a 'level-5' conflict.

"You have family debating whether or not you believe the family. When that happens, there's no way through it, you can't just say we'll keep eating dinner together," Harmon said.

Reference Here>>

OVERRIDING QUOTE:

"While conservatives make up a minority of the 2.2 million-member Episcopal Church, a majority of the world's 37 other Anglican provinces agree with their belief that the Bible trumps cultural accommodations ..."

One wonders just how much of a "minority" actually remains throughout the Episcopal Church when the voting public here in the U.S. consistantly votes against the establishment of same-sex marriage by close to 70% vs. 30%. The mainstream media and liberal educators in our culture really want to believe that the Episcopal Church is the most "reflective" of their evolved cultural values.

MAXINE believes that the Bible "trumps" cultural accommodation.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Mongolian Flying Mammal Fossil Discovery

An artist's rendering of the first flying mammal, named Volaticotherium antiquius, meaning "ancient gliding beast." Image Credit: Chuang Zhao and Lida Xing

Mongolian Flying Mammal Fossil Discovery

The mammal fossil evidence discovery was made last year in Inner Mongolia (a region in north China). Farmers had found the delicate fossil, embedded in sandstone, and brought it to the attention of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing.

The discovery was written up in the most recent edition of the journal, Nature and was first thought to be a rodent in that the earliest recorded discoveries (30 million years ago) had been bats.

The fossil has been dated back to about 125 Million years ago and is now the first recorded evidence of mammalian (gliding) flight.

Excerpts from The New York Times -

Flying Mammal Found From 125 Million Years Ago
By JOHN NOBLE WILFORD, NY Times - Published: December 13, 2006

Scientists have discovered an extinct animal the size of a small squirrel that lived in China at least 125 million years ago and soared among the trees. It is the earliest known example of gliding flight by mammals, and the scientists say it shows that mammals experimented with aerial life about the same time birds first took to the skies, perhaps even earlier.

From an analysis of the fossil, the researchers concluded that this gliding mammal was unrelated to the modern flying squirrel and unlike any other animal in the Mesozoic, the period best known for dinosaurs living in the company of small and unprepossessing mammals. They announced today that the species qualified as a member of an entirely new order of mammals.

Richard L. Cifelli, a paleontologist at the Oklahoma Museum of Natural History in Norman who reviewed the findings for publication, said this "wholly unexpected diversity of something adapted for gliding at this early time is absolutely astonishing."

Until a couple of years ago, Dr. Cifelli said, most scientists held the view that such early mammals were simple shrew-like creatures that cowered in the shadows of the dominant dinosaurs, and now "this adds a new dimension to our knowledge of early mammals."

Until now, the earliest identified gliding mammal was a 30-million-year-old extinct rodent. The first known modern bat, which is capable of powered flight, dates to 51 million years ago, but it is assumed that proto-bats were probably gliding much earlier.

Archaeopteryx, the earliest known bird, lived about 145 million years ago, though scientists are not sure if it could flap its feathered wings in fully powered flight. But it lived about the time birds did take off in flight.
----
On a visit there late last winter, Jin Meng, an associate curator of paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan, examined the specimen. He saw the sharp and diverse teeth of an insectivore. He then detected striations in the fossil - clear traces, he said, of hair covering a stretch membrane from fore to hind limbs that was the airfoil to support and give lift for the animal to glide.

"This was just totally out of nowhere," Dr. Meng said in an interview at the museum this week, while pointing to the fossil’s telling features.

In the journal report, Dr. Meng and colleagues wrote, "This discovery extends the earliest record of gliding flight for mammals at least 70 million years earlier in the geological history and demonstrates that mammals were diverse in their locomotor strategies and life styles."
----
A paleontologist not involved in the research, Zhe-Xi Luo of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, said the discovery contributed more evidence that "mammals started the invasion of diverse niches long before the extinction of dinosaurs," which occurred 65 million years ago.

Only last February, Dr. Luo reported finding fossils of a swimming, fish-eating beaverlike animal that lived in China 164 million years ago. The discovery was made at the Daohugou site, where the gliding mammal was uncovered.

"The semi-aquatic mammal Castorocauda and the new gliding mammal," Dr. Luo said, "literally stretch the boundary of paleontologists’ imagination about what would be possible for the earliest mammals."

Dr. Meng's team said tests produced inconsistent dates for the new specimen, ranging from as recent as 125 million years ago to as ancient as 164 million. The older date may be more probable, other scientists said, and would put the aerial life of the mammal even earlier than known bird flight.

In their study of the fossil, Dr. Meng and his associates noted that the mammal was about half the length of the squirrels frolicking in Central Park, across from the museum. The animal had a long, stiff tail that served as a stabilizing rudder for gliding flight. The impressions of fur on the gliding membrane, or patagium, and other parts of its body preserve some of the most ancient examples of mammalian skin covering.

The paleontologists surmised that the gliding behavior enabled the small animal to travel from tree to tree in relative safety, above most of its predators, and hunt insects over a wider area.

"We have very little fossil record of mammalian flight, and suddenly this one comes along at such an early time," Dr. Meng said. "Now the question is, what happened to this group between then and now?"

Read All>>

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Grasses 51% Better Ethanol Source Than Corn

Switch Grass - Panicum virgatum, Switch Grass has an extensive root system and provides wonderful erosion control. This perennial is the earliest maturing of the native warm season grasses. It is widely used for wildlife habitat improvement and readily consumed by livestock. Switch Grass is easily identified by it's wide, large seedhead and prefers lower, moist areas but will do well in drier places. The plants and seeds from Switch Grass provide food for songbirds, pheasants, ducks, geese, wild turkey, cottontail rabbits and muskrats. It can be cut for winter hay. Image Credit: prairiefrontier.com

Grasses 51% Better Ethanol Source Than Corn

In a report found in the Scientific American, a team of economists and ecologists at the University of Minnesota say that “these diverse grassland species [prairie grasses] constitute a carbon-negative source of energy that could alleviate 19 percent of global electricity consumption and 13 percent of the world's petroleum consumption”.

Degraded, nitrogen poor land is best for these types of crops and would require less effort to develop ethanol energy than similar size plots planted in fertile/tended soils planted with corn.

Virginia Wild Rye - Elymus virginicus, this short lived perennial is often found along marsh edges and in floodplains preferring the damper soils. Virginia Wild Rye will do well in moist and dry sites, shade and full sun, which makes it unique among the prairie grasses. Image Credit: prairiefrontier.com

Excerpts from National Convenience Stores Association “online” -

Prairie Grass Could Become a Gasoline Alternative
Scientific American via NACS - December 12, 2006

NEW YORK – A gasoline alternative may be found in prairie grass.
----
Ecologist David Tilman said that in five to seven years, the source of biofuels could expand to include cellulose, a plant sugar known to be an ethanol-rich source. "When we turn that corner," Tilman told the magazine, "we want to have available the most efficient way of producing cellulose to be a biomass feedstock."

Based on his extensive work with crops, Tilman has surmised that nitrogen-poor, degraded land planted with a mixture of perennial prairie grasses – such as goldenrod, Indian grass, big blue stem and switchgrass – could provide up to 238 percent more bioenergy than the same land planted with only one species. He also claims his plots can return 51 percent more energy per acre when compared with ethanol from corn grown in fertile soil.


Prairie Cordgrass - Spartina pectinata, or sloughgrass, is common in the poorly drained soils or wet prairies and prairie marshes. Prairie Cordgrass has tough thick stems which is reflective of the name and the coarse leaf blades can be quite sharp. Each stem has a long cluster (spike) of branches which holds the individual flower spikelet. This plant spreads agressively by rhizomes and turns golden-yellow in the fall. Image Credit: prairiefrontier.com

His process is reportedly carbon-negative, which means that the plants can store more carbon in their roots than they will create during their conversion to biofuels or electricity. Tilman attributes this negativity to prairie grasses’ complex root systems underground that typically make up two thirds of the plant total biomass, making them efficient carbon sinks. "When they grow, they have to [absorb] a lot of carbon to keep their roots alive and to make these very extensive root systems," Tilman told the magazine. These diverse systems may use more nitrate, "the limiting nutrient" in the soil, which starves bacteria that decomposes carbon, allowing the plants to better maintain their roots.

However, the production of ethanol from grasses is currently hypothetical because of economic constraints.

Read All>>

Sunday, December 10, 2006

"Brier Patch" Diplomacy Reverberates

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani gestures as he talks to reporters in his office in Baghdad, Iraq, Sunday, Dec. 10, 2006. Talabani harshly criticized the bipartisan report recommending changes to U.S. war policies, saying it contained some 'very dangerous' recommendations that would undermine the sovereignty of Iraq. Image Credit: AP Photo/Samir Mizban,Pool

"Brier Patch" Diplomacy Reverberates

The Republicans may just have swerved into a strategy that will put the Democrats on the defensive in that they will now have to deal with the demands of a soverign country.

In the constant chant of "please, please don’t pull the troops out of Iraq" ... and now, with the plans laid out in the Iraq Study Group report presented by the commission headed by James Baker and Lee Hamilton, the elected Iraqi government does not like what it is hearing.

The President of Iraq, today, called the conclusions of the "ISG' dangerous!

This from AP via Yahoo! News –

Talabani calls Iraq report 'Dangerous'
By KIM GAMEL, Associated Press Writer - Sun Dec 10, 8:49 AM ET

BAGHDAD, Iraq - The Iraqi president said Sunday the bipartisan U.S. report calling for a new approach to the war offered dangerous recommendations that would undermine his country's sovereignty and were "an insult to the people of Iraq."

President Jalal Talabani was the most senior government official to take a stand against the Iraq Study Group report, which has come under criticism from leaders of the governing Shiite and Kurdish parties.

He said the report "is not fair, is not just, and it contains some very dangerous articles which undermine the sovereignty of Iraq and the constitution."

He singled out the report's call for the approval of a de-Baathification law that could allow thousands of officials from Saddam Hussein's ousted Baath party to return to their jobs.

The Kurdish leader also criticized the call for increasing the number of U.S. troops embedded to train Iraqis from 3,000 to 4,000 currently to 10,000 to 20,000.

"It is not respecting the desire of the Iraqi people to control its army and to be able to rearm and train Iraqi forces under the leadership of the Iraqi government," he said.
----
An aide to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Saturday the Iraqi leader had reservations about the report but has yet to form a detailed response.

Sunni Arabs said they agree with the assessment of Iraq's problems in the report by the commission headed by former Republican Secretary of State James A. Baker III and former Democratic Rep. Lee Hamilton, but not the proposals to fix them.

Talabani said Iraqis were not intimidated by the report's threat to reduce political, military or economic support if the government in Baghdad cannot make substantial progress.

----
"I believe that President George Bush is a brave and committed man and he is adamant to support the Iraqi government until they've reached success," he said.

----
Bush has given the report a lukewarm reception and said he will weigh its recommendations along with other possible courses of action.

The recommendations, which are not binding, also have met opposition from some in the United States for the suggestion to withdraw nearly all combat brigades from Iraq by early 2008.

Talabani said the date was realistic if the Iraqi government is given more responsibility for security.

"If we can agree with the U.S. government to give us the right of organizing, training, arming our armed forces, it will be possible in 2008 (for U.S.-led forces) to start to leave Iraq and to go back home," he said.

Kurds have been the strongest critics so far of the report and Talabani said he backed a statement by the president of the Kurdish region who objected to recommendations on sharing the oil wealth, reinstating Saddam loyalists in their old government jobs and giving Iraq's neighbors a role in efforts to end the violence.

A statement by the governmental De-Baathification Commission also denounced the Baker-Hamilton report as "wrong and untrue" for its assertion that purging the government of Baathists robbed state institutions of professionals.

"If you read this report, one would think that it is written for a young, small colony that they are imposing these conditions on," Talabani said. "We are a sovereign country."

In one point of agreement, however, Talabani said Iraq already has initiated talks with Syria and Iran on gaining help in tackling the problems facing his country, and he plans to visit Damascus soon.

Syria, meanwhile, warned that the United States would face hatred and failure in the Mideast if the White House rejects the report's recommendations.

Syria's ruling party's Al-Baath newspaper urged Bush to take the Iraq Study Group's report seriously because it would "diminish hatred for the U.S. in region."

"But if it failed to pick up the positive signals either in the report or in the Syrian welcome of what the report has contained, it (the U.S.) would remain drowned in the quagmire and the situation in the region and the entire world would remain unstable," the newspaper said.

Read All>>

So, now when the Dems take over the purse strings in January, are they going to be taking the lead and philosophy of the Syrian ruling party when they act on the "ISG" (Syria's ruling party's Al-Baath newspaper urged Bush to take the Iraq Study Group's report seriously because it would "diminish hatred for the U.S. in region.")?

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Robot Photo Science Discovery - Water On MARS

A before-and-after view of a new gully deposit in a crater on Mars is seen in a NASA handout photo. Images taken by NASA's Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft suggest the presence of liquid water on the Martian surface, a tantalizing find for scientists wondering if the Red Planet ever has harbored life. Image Credit: REUTERS/Handout

Robot Photo Science Discovery - Water On MARS

A man, his robot satellite, and camera - it is just amazing what one can find clicking pictures. After circling around MARS a few years, while photo mapping the surface, NASA's satellite turns up evidence of a water disturbance deposit in the form of a gully.

Hully-Gully! Water on MARS!

This item from Reuters -

NASA images suggest liquid water present on Mars
By Will Dunham, Reuters - Wed Dec 6, 2006 5:00pm ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Striking images taken by NASA's Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft suggest the presence of liquid water on the Martian surface, a tantalizing find for scientists wondering if the Red Planet might harbor life.

The orbiting U.S. spacecraft enabled scientists to detect changes in the walls of two craters in the southern hemisphere of Mars apparently caused by the downhill flow of water in the past few years, a team of scientists announced on Wednesday.

Scientists long have wondered whether life ever existed on Mars. Liquid water is an important part of the equation. On Earth, all forms of life require water to survive. Scientists previously established the existence of water on Mars in the form of ice at the poles and water vapor, and pointed to geological features that appear to have been carved by water ages ago.

Kenneth Edgett of Malin Space Science Systems in San Diego, a scientist involved in the research, said there had been a quest for "smoking gun" evidence for liquid water currently on Mars.

"Basically, this is the 'squirting gun' for water on Mars," Edgett told reporters.

The scientists, whose research appears in the journal Science, compared images of the Martian surface taken seven years apart and also found 20 newly formed craters left by impacts from space debris.

They said water seemed to have flowed down two gullies in the past few years, even though liquid water cannot remain long on the planet's frigid, nearly airless surface because it would rapidly freeze or evaporate.

That seemed to support the notion that underground liquid water may reside close enough to the surface in some places that it can seep out periodically.

The images did not directly show water. But they showed bright deposits running several hundred yards (meters) seemingly left by material carried downhill inside the crater by running water, occasionally snaking around obstacles and leaving finger-shaped marks diverting from the main flow.

'SWIMMING POOLS'

"It could be acidic water, it could be briny water, it could be water carrying all kinds of sediment, it could be slushy, but H2O is involved," Edgett said.

Edgett said each apparent flow was caused by an amount equal to "five to 10 swimming pools of water."

Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA's Mars Exploration Program, said the observations provided the strongest evidence to date that water still flowed occasionally on the surface of Mars. "The big questions are: how does this happen, and does it point to a habitat for life?" Meyer said.

Among the planets in our solar system, only Earth has a more hospitable climate, and some scientists suspect Mars once sheltered primitive, bacteria-like organisms. Previous missions found evidence Mars at one time boasted ample quantities of water.

The scientists conceded the images were only circumstantial evidence not proof. They cited a possible alternative explanation that those features were caused by the movement of dry dust down a slope.

The researchers said their findings raised many questions, including the source and abundance of the water and whether it could serve as a resource in future missions to explore Mars.

The researchers reported finding those gullies in 2000, but this was the first time they revealed the presence of newly deposited material seemingly carried by liquid water.

Last month, NASA said it had lost contact with the Mars Global Surveyor after a decade-long mission in which it mapped the surface of Mars, tracked its climate and searched for evidence of water.

Reference here>

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Biometrics Gone Wild - Flyin' Naked, A New Form Of Auto ID

Susan Hallowell, the director of the Transportation Security Administration's security laboratory, allows her body to be X-rayed by the "backscatter" machine at the Transportation Security Administration in Egg Harbor Township, N.J., Wednesday, June 25, 2003. Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix Arizona will test the new federal screening system that takes X-rays of passenger's bodies to detect concealed explosives and other weapons. The technology, called backscatter, has been around for several years but has not been widely used in the U.S. as an anti-terrorism tool because of privacy concerns. Image Credit: AP Photo/Brian Branch-Price

Biometrics Gone Wild - Flyin' Naked, A New Form Of Auto ID

Forget about fingerprint, facial, retina, vein pattern, hand ... smile, ear, nose, kneecap, elbow identification recognition ... well, you get the idea.

Let's implement X-RAY Full-Body identification, after all, it is just one step removed from the new technology that is being tried out by the TSA at Phoenix International Airport to protect us from terrorism in the skies.

This from the Associated Press -

Phoenix Airport to Test X-Ray Screening
Associated Press - Dec 1, 7:02 AM (ET)

PHOENIX (AP) - Sky Harbor International Airport here will test a new federal screening system that takes X-rays of passenger's bodies to detect concealed explosives and other weapons.

The technology, called backscatter, has been around for several years but has not been widely used in the U.S. as an anti-terrorism tool because of privacy concerns.

The Transportation Security Administration said it has found a way to refine the machine's images so that the normally graphic pictures can be blurred in certain areas while still being effective in detecting bombs and other threats.

The agency is expected to provide more information about the technology later this month but said one machine will be up and running at Sky Harbor's Terminal 4 by Christmas.

The security agency's Web site indicates that the technology will be used initially as a secondary screening measure, meaning that only those passengers who first fail the standard screening process will be directed to the X-ray area.

Even then, passengers will have the option of choosing the backscatter or a traditional pat-down search.

A handful of other U.S. airports will have the X-rays machines in place by early 2007 as part of a nationwide pilot program, TSA officials said.

The technology already is being used in prisons and by drug enforcement agents, and has been tested at London's Heathrow Airport.

The security agency says the machines will be effective in helping detect plastic or liquid explosives and other non-metallic weapons that can be missed by standard metal detectors.

Susan Hallowell holds up a side arm that was detected by the "backscatter" machine at the Transportation Security Administration in Egg Harbor Township, N.J. Wednesday, June 25, 2003. Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix Arizona will test the new federal screening system that takes X-rays of passenger's bodies to detect concealed explosives and other weapons. The technology, called backscatter, has been around for several years but has not been widely used in the U.S. as an anti-terrorism tool because of privacy concerns. Image Credit: AP Photo/Brian Branch-Price

Some say the high-resolution images - which clearly depict the outline of the passenger's body, plus anything attached to it, such as jewelry - are too invasive.

But the TSA said the X-rays will be set up so that the image can be viewed only by a security officer in a remote location. Other passengers, and even the agent at the checkpoint, will not have access to the picture.

In addition, the system will be configured so that the X-ray will be deleted as soon as the individual steps away from the machine. It will not be stored or available for printing or transmitting, agency spokesman Nico Melendez said.
Reference Here>>

HT: Pajamas Media

Hope Begins For A Stable Southern Border

Mexican President Felipe Calderon waves after being sworn in at the National Congress during his inauguration ceremony amidst a congress partially seized by lawmakers who tried unsuccessfully to block his swearing in ceremony in Mexico City on Friday Dec. 1, 2006. Image Credit: AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills

Hope Begins For A Stable Southern Border

After a pushing-and-shoving match between Mexico's politicitians at the National Congress, Felipe Calderon was sworn in as President of Mexico.

Problem is, his people are still flooding into the United States in massive numbers while our government has no stomach for funding and building the recently approved border fence.

Further, Mexican Nationals here complain that the elections were stolen and that many do not respect the rule of law while they, themselves, reside here illegally. They could have stayed home and voted, OH!, OH! ... and built an economy and culture that worked as opposed to trying to remake our economy and culture after their own image!

Here are two perspectives at the beginning of the Calderon era. Let us all hope for the best.

Excerpts from the CanWest News Service -

Mexican President sworn in at raucous ceremony
April Lindgren, CanWest News Service - Published: Saturday, December 02, 2006

MEXICO CITY -- Mexico's new president was sworn into office Friday in a brief ceremony that interrupted a morning of intermittent brawling between his supporters and opponents in the national congress.

Even as his political enemies in the congress screamed "get out" and blew whistles, Felipe Calderon swore the oath of allegiance and accepted the presidential sash from outgoing president Vicente Fox as international dignitaries, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper, watched from an upper balcony in Mexico's house of representatives.

Leftist legislators who insist Calderon fraudulently stole the country's July 2 election from their candidate, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, vowed to prevent his inauguration before congress.

Earlier in the morning, lawmakers from the two opposing camps threw chairs and fists at each other as supporters of Lopez Obrador tried to erect barricades and block Calderon's arrival. The swearing in lasted less than 10 minutes and Calderon had to save his inaugural speech, traditionally delivered by new presidents to the congress, for later in the day when he addressed political supporters in the National Auditorium.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who witnessed several scuffles amongst Mexican legislators in the moments before the ceremony in the congress began, described the scene as "interesting."

"Our Parliament is tame after all," the prime minister said on his way out of the congress. Harper was joined in the balcony by other heads of state from Central and South American as well as George W. Bush, father of the current U.S. president.

Harper and Bush, who led the American delegation, stopped to chat informally for a few moments after the inauguration.
----
Mexicans have been deeply divided over the country's political future since Lopez Obrador lost last summer's election by less than one per cent of the vote.

The former mayor of Mexico City refuses to concede defeat and has orchestrated mass street demonstration in support of his cause. Earlier this month he held his own inauguration ceremony where he declared himself president.

Early Friday morning thousands of supporters of AMLO, as he is popularly known, streamed into the city's main downtown square to hear their "president" speak.

Carrying placards proclaiming Lopez Obrador the country's legitimate president and shouting "Felipe, understand, the country doesn't want you," the protesters vowed to continue the fight well beyond Friday's inauguration.

"We don't recognize Calderon as president -- we know there was electoral fraud," said 23yearold university student Carla Gusman. "We will continue this resistance. It will be a constant fight so they don't sell off Pemex (the national oil company) and other things we need to keep. We won't let them sell off our heritage. We won't let them continue with their repression."

Mario Arturo Garcia Soreano, a 54 yearold auto mechanic, worried the continuing protests will result in a crackdown by the government.

"The government, it always turns to violence. But for our part, it will be a battle of ideas not arms."

In his speech, Lopez Obrador urged his followers to avoid violence "because the support of the people and our moral authority will be enough to triumph."
----
Inside the building, Calderon vowed to be a president for all Mexicans and to heal the country's deep political divisions.

"To those who voted for me, I welcome their support to those who didn't I say I won't ignore the reasons for that and I will work to earn your confidence," he told thousands.

Calderon, a 44yearold lawyer, career politician and former energy minister, reiterated his determination to deal with the drug violence that has killed more than 3,000 people in the last two years and promised to cut back lavish salaries for senior public officials.

He also insisted encouraging more private investment will generate jobs to alleviate the grinding poverty that affects half of all Mexicans.
----
Francois Prudhomme, a professor at El Colegio de Mexico, predicted Lopez Obrador won't abandon his campaign against Calderon's legitimacy any time soon.

"The left have been trying to create a situation where he is viewed as a very, very weak president who cannot govern."

Read All>>

And this reaction from Mexican nationals living in San Francisco's bay area.

Excerpts from the San Francisco Chronicle -

Local Mexicans weigh in on 'circus' south of the border
Tyche Hendricks, Chronicle Staff Writer - Saturday, December 2, 2006

Mexican residents around the Bay Area watched the tense inauguration of Mexico's new President Felipe Calderon with sadness and frustration Friday, some expressing disgust that Calderon prevailed in what they called a stolen election, others dismayed by the fisticuffs and jeers as opposition lawmakers tried to impede the swearing-in ceremony.

Many Mexicans who have kept an eye on the politics of their home country from here said they thought a combination of dirty campaigning and vote fraud had denied the presidency to leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who lost the election by less than 1 percent. But some said it was time for Lopez Obrador to give up his protest campaign and concede.

"Everyone's fighting -- they're not respecting the law or the institutions of government," said Roberto Guillen, a Novato restaurateur. "Lopez Obrador should accept that Felipe is president and work with him. Otherwise we'll have chaos. The country has been doing pretty well, but investors will stay away if Mexico can't govern itself."

Others disagreed, saying the protests by members of Lopez Obrador's Democratic Revolution Party, both in the streets and in the congressional chamber, are the only way to demand an end to corruption and focus on the needs of the poor.

"It's a form of protest that they're not in agreement with what is happening," said San Jose photographer Mateo Gutierrez. "Lopez Obrador deserved to win, but now the government will continue with corruption."

Miguel Araujo, a dual citizen and longtime immigrant rights activist who owns a San Bruno taqueria, said Calderon, of the conservative National Action Party, had usurped power.

"It's hard to see how things can change unless Calderon wants a change, but if he does, why did he bring those people into his Cabinet?" said Araujo, criticizing the new president's conservative choices. "The Mexican people may get so fed up with being cheated and lied to that they start a revolution. I see in Mexico a very big risk."

Some local Mexicans saw the bedlam surrounding the swearing-in ceremony as an embarrassment to the country.

"The international world sees it as something ridiculous," said Rosario Chacon, who is working toward her MBA at Mills College in Oakland. "It shows that the politicians don't know how to solve their problems peacefully. I think we need more women there. They have a little more tact, more diplomacy."
----
"The first time I voted, I saw the PRI bring truckloads of people in from the countryside and give them two pounds of tortillas for their votes," she said
[Silvia San Miguel, an executive assistant for the city of Oakland]. "You don't see that anymore. I don't hope for perfection. I hope for fairness. And it is getting there."
Read All>>

Judging by the reactions sampled in the "Bay Area", if the Mexican government cracks down in order to maintain civil order, the leftist Mexican Nationals will begin a new tidal wave of illegal immigration. They may actually be coming to a safe haven if the goals of our new congress are allowed to go uncontested and unchecked.