Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport launches fleet of electric taxis

Traveling by jet airplane may not be the greenest mode of transportation, but if you’re landing at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, at least you’ll be able to get into town under pure electric power.

The Dutch airport has inaugurated a new fleet of 167 Tesla Model S taxis, giving it the largest fleet of all-electric taxis of any airport in the world. The cabs will be operated by two taxi companies – BBF Schipholtaxi and BIOS-groep – who will shuttle passengers to and from the airport with zero emissions.

“This represents a crucial step in our efforts to reduce CO2 emissions and become one of the world’s three most sustainable airports,” said Schiphol Group CEO Jos Nijhuis. Last year, the airport authority brokered a deal to buy Europe’s largest fleet of electric buses to shuttle passengers to, from and between terminals as well. So whatever you may be planning to burn while in Amsterdam, at least it doesn’t have to be fossil fuels.

Just don’t smoke the seeds!

Oh – and by the way, what kind of taxis are at your local airport? In my neck of the prairie, they look like leftover Ford Crown Vics bought secondhand from the State Police.

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DNA yields secrets of early humans


Universal Human

DNA analysis of a 45,000-year-old human has helped scientists pinpoint when our ancestors interbred with Neanderthals…The genome sequence from a thigh bone found in Siberia shows the first episode of mixing occurred between 50,000 and 60,000 years ago.

The male hunter is one of the earliest modern humans discovered in Eurasia.

The study in Nature journal also supports the finding that our species emerged from Africa some 60,000 years ago, before spreading around the world…

The work of Prof Svante Paabo, from the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany, is rewriting the story of humanity. Prof Paabo and his colleagues have pioneered methods to extract DNA from ancient human remains and read its genetic code.

From this sequence, the scientist has been able to decipher an increasingly detailed story of modern humans as they spread across the globe.

“The amazing thing is that we have a good genome of a 45,000-year-old person who was close to the ancestor of all present-day humans outside Africa…”

Prof Paabo has analysed DNA from part of a leg bone of a man that lived in Western Siberia around 45,000 years ago. This is a key moment at the cross roads of the world, when modern humans were on the cusp of an expansion into Europe and Asia.

The key finding was that the man had large, unshuffled chunks of DNA from a now extinct species of human, Neanderthals, who evolved outside of Africa.

“Our analysis shows that modern humans had already interbred with Neanderthals then, and we can determine when that first happened much more precisely than we could before…”

Prof Paabo’s 45,000-year-old man seems to have lived at a point that was both geographically, and in time, a crossroads for humanity…”This does seem to mark a watershed where modern humans were pushing the boundaries further and further in their dispersal out of Africa,” according to Prof Chris Stringer.

Prof Paabo also compared the DNA of the man living 45,000 years ago with those living today. He found that the man was genetically midway between Europeans and Asians – indicating he lived close to the time before our species separated into different racial groups.

Fascinating stuff. I’ve had DNA tests that determined the coarser texture of how my ancestors spread from their African genesis into the steppes of Central Asia. Eventually ending up traveling west to the Scottish Highlands and, then, sweeping back east to the Danube before retreating to stay in Scotland.

Of course, descendants with the same Scottish roots populate much of Appalachia and the old Confederacy. And will deny evolution to their dying breath.

Ebola vaccine sat on the shelf ready to test for a decade

Almost a decade ago, scientists from Canada and the United States reported that they had created a vaccine that was 100 percent effective in protecting monkeys against the Ebola virus. The results were published in a respected journal, and health officials called them exciting. The researchers said tests in people might start within two years, and a product could potentially be ready for licensing by 2010 or 2011.

It never happened. The vaccine sat on a shelf. Only now is it undergoing the most basic safety tests in humans — with nearly 5,000 people dead from Ebola and an epidemic raging out of control in West Africa.

Its development stalled in part because Ebola is rare, and until now, outbreaks had infected only a few hundred people at a time. But experts also acknowledge that the absence of follow-up on such a promising candidate reflects a broader failure to produce medicines and vaccines for diseases that afflict poor countries. Most drug companies have resisted spending the enormous sums needed to develop products useful mostly to countries with little ability to pay…

The NY TIMES doesn’t need to waste space on defending the greed of corporate pharmaceutical giants. That’s what Congress is for.

Now, as the growing epidemic devastates West Africa and is seen as a potential threat to other regions as well, governments and aid groups have begun to open their wallets. A flurry of research to test drugs and vaccines is underway, with studies starting for several candidates, including the vaccine produced nearly a decade ago.

A federal official said in an interview on Thursday that two large studies involving thousands of patients were planned to begin soon in West Africa, and were expected to be described in detail on Friday by the World Health Organization.

With no vaccines or proven drugs available, the stepped-up efforts are a desperate measure to stop a disease that has defied traditional means of containing it.

Kind of like white folks noticing we don’t live in a post-racial society regardless of what Republicans say. The TIMES notices what anyone who cares about public health has always known. If it can make a bunch of money, any illness can receive study and attempts at a cure from the medical-industrial complex. The rest can waste their energy on hope.

Thanks, Mike

Republican Governor has Black woman photoshopped into his website

In an effort to sway black voters his way, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett has tried to make his re-election campaign more minority-friendly by including a photo of himself standing next to a smiling African American woman on his website.

The only problem is – this heartwarming scene never actually happened. Corbett’s campaign got the black woman from a stock photo and Photoshopped her in!

Before this Photoshop scandal was exposed and went viral, the faux feel-good image was the footer of Corbett’s website and appeared on every single page. It has since been switched out for a different photo, but here’s what was originally there:

Creep.

Banned dietary supplements back on the shelves – still adulterated

Many dietary supplements recalled by the FDA for containing banned ingredients find their way back on the shelves, still adulterated, researchers found.

In an analysis of products recalled between Jan. 1, 2009, and Dec. 31, 2012, about two-thirds still contained banned ingredients when analyzed an average of nearly 3 years later, Pieter Cohen…and colleagues reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

“Action by the FDA has not been completely effective in eliminating all potentially dangerous adulterated supplements from the U.S. marketplace,” they wrote. “More aggressive enforcement of the law, changes to the law to increase the FDA’s enforcement powers, or both will be required if sales of these products are to be prevented in the future…”

A total of 274 supplements had been recalled during the 4-year study period, and 27 of these met inclusion criteria and were analyzed. They had been purchased a mean of 34 months after FDA recalls.

Overall, they found that 67% of the recalled supplements still had pharmaceutical adulterants in them. In most cases (63%), it was the same adulterant identified by the FDA, but in some cases (22%) they contained different banned substances…Sometimes the products contained both the banned ingredient identified by FDA and additional adulterants, though the researchers did not give a specific percentage.

Cohen and colleagues also looked at supplements by type, finding that 85% of sports enhancement remained adulterated, along with 67% of weight-loss supplements, and 20% of sexual enhancement supplements…The majority…were made by U.S. manufacturers…

Golly. Think the manufacturers have anything to worry about? Will Congress spend as much time on this dangerous crap as they do on fancier – and useless – policies like examining planes landing from West Africa for Ebola? Since there are no planes landing in the United States directly from West Africa!

The Party of NO, Congressional Republicans care less about the health of Americans than almost anything else. Watching an assembly of hypocrites join and mingle in a dance of meaningless slogans is about as productive as guarding a landfill from scavengers. A healthy society has no need for garbage-pickers.

Meanwhile, the FDA has toothless authority to stop crap from being sold over-the-counter as diet supplements.

“Active Fatalism”


Wolfgang Schaeuble

A core problem with the modern world is that we have heroism all wrong. It is not just the conflation of heroes with celebrities as role models, giving rise to the endless magazine lists of ways to be more like Beyoncé. The more serious issue is how, in the rush to elevate the authors of exceptional acts, we forget the ordinary man and woman doing their often menial jobs day after day. I am less interested in the firefighter-hero and the soldier-hero (not to mention the hedge-fund honchos and other quick-killing merchants thrust into the contemporary pantheon) than I am in the myriad doers of everyday good who would shun the description heroic.

A few weeks back I was listening to remarks by the German finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble. The minister was the target of an assassination attempt in 1990 that left him partially paralyzed, confined to a wheelchair. He brought up Sisyphus, the Greek mythological figure whose devious attempt to defy the gods and even death itself was punished with his condemnation to the task of pushing a boulder up a hill, only for it to roll down again and oblige him to renew the effort through all eternity. No task, it would appear, better captures the meaningless futility of existence. But Schäuble suggested that Sisyphus is a happy man for “he has a task and it is his own…”

The phrase was arresting because the culture of today holds repetitive actions — like working on a production line in a factory — in such contempt. Hundreds of millions may do it, and take care of their families with what they earn, but they are mere specks of dust compared to the Silicon Valley inventor of the killer app or the lean global financiers adept in making money with money. Routine equals drudgery; the worker is a demeaned figure; youths are exhorted to live their dreams rather than make a living wage. Dreams are all very well but are not known to pay the mortgage.

Schäuble was echoing the French writer and philosopher, Albert Camus, who in his book “The Myth of Sisyphus” noted that “there is no fate that cannot be surmounted by scorn…”

In Camus’ book, “The Plague,” one of the most powerful moments comes in an exchange between the doctor at the center of the novel, Bernard Rieux, and a journalist named Raymond Rambert. Rieux has been battling the pestilence day after day, more often defeated than not. Rambert has been dreaming of, and plotting, escape from the city to be reunited with his loved one.

Rieux suddenly speaks his mind: “I have to tell you this: this whole thing is not about heroism. It’s about decency. It may seem a ridiculous idea, but the only way to fight the plague is with decency.”

“What is decency?” Rambert asked, suddenly serious.

“In general, I can’t say, but in my case I know that it consists of doing my job.”

Read the whole article. There are more examples. They make the point.

I haven’t read Camus since I was 17 or 18. At the time I was drawn more by Sartre…in turn more drawn to Engels than Marx. I guess I’ve always felt that societal ennui to be important as cultural inertia as anything.

I have both The Stranger and The Plague sitting in my wish list at Amazon and will likely revisit that thoughtful, existential anti-fascist again this winter.

Thanks, Helen

How far back do you want your “Heritage” fruits and veggies to go?

Fruits and vegetables have changed a lot since the onset of agriculture 10,000 years ago, as generation after generation of farmers artificially bred crops to select for more desirable traits like size and taste.

But that change can be hard to visualize. So James Kennedy, a chemistry teacher in Australia, created some terrific infographics to show just how drastic the evolution has been. This one, for instance, shows how corn has changed in the last 9,000 years — from a wild grass in the early Americas known as teosinte to the plump ears of corn we know today…

Mind you, not all attempts at selective breeding turn out so well. As Sarah Yager recently wrote at The Atlantic, apple-growers in the United States during the 20th century tried to breed Red Delicious apples to be as bright and shiny as possible and stay on shelves for as long as possible without noticeable bruising. The result? “As genes for beauty were favored over those for taste, the skins grew tough and bitter around mushy, sugar-soaked flesh.” Nowadays, as storage and transport have become more advanced, tastier apple varieties like the Honeycrisp or Gala are surpassing the Red Delicious.

The article gives watermelon and peaches the same treatment and ends with links to FDA definitions that range from selective breeding to the difference between cisgenesis and transgenesis. I’ll launch into that some other time – once again – trying to explain to the Vegan Left that science doesn’t define DNA as good or evil.

Thanks, Mike