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Archive for January 11th, 2011

2010 hottest year on record for Canada

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Canada had its warmest year on record in 2010, according to the country’s environmental agency, with the biggest impact seen in the Arctic region.

The national average temperature for the year was 3 degrees Celsius above normal, based on preliminary data, according to a report put on Environment Canada’s website on Monday. That made it the warmest year since nationwide records began in 1948.

Most areas of the northern territory of Nunavut and of northern Quebec were at least 4 degrees above normal, while the Arctic tundra region was 4.3 degrees above normal. Along with the Arctic tundra, the Arctic mountains and fiords, the northeastern forest and Atlantic regions also had the warmest year on record.

Scientists link the higher temperatures in the Arctic to the greenhouse gas emissions blamed for global warming. Global warming is gradually melting the Arctic ice cap, raising the possibility of increased shipping and mining in the environmentally sensitive region…

The previous warmest year was 1998, which was 2.5 degrees above normal, according to the data. Annual temperatures have been above normal since 1997.

Although any one year’s temperature anomaly isn’t proof of any long-term trend, having a year this much warmer than any previous year is significant,” Environment Canada spokesman Mark Johnson said in an e-mailed statement.

Don’t worry. Anyone with snow on the ground outside of the GWN this winter will ignore what’s happened to anyone else, anywhere else. Especially if they are invested psychologically or fiscally in Big Oil politics.

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Written by Ed Campbell

January 11, 2011 at 10:00 pm

Office affairs are private – except for having to tell the boss!

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The proposal is contained in a draft policy on relationships at work produced by human resources officials at Fenland District Council, which covers a rural area in central England north of Cambridge.

“Any employee who embarks on a close personal relationship with a colleague working in the same team must declare the relationship to his/her manager in writing,” the document said, adding the details would go on the employees’ personal files.

Furthermore, the policy warns that “intimate behaviour during work time is not acceptable.”

Lust in the stationery closet ain’t permitted.

“This applies during all working time (not flexed off time), both on and off Council sites,” the document added. “Any breach of this could be regarded as a disciplinary offence … leading to disciplinary action.”

The Trades Union Congress, Britain’s union umbrella body, condemned the proposal, saying workers should not have to disclose details about their private lives outside office time, which their bosses probably did not want to know about either.

“It’s quite common for relationships to start in the office, but having to declare your feelings via the HR department is hardly the most romantic way to make a move,” said Sarah Veale, TUC Head of Employment Rights.

Now, here’s management with entirely too much free time on their hands.

Written by Ed Campbell

January 11, 2011 at 6:00 pm

Abortion rate’s decline in U.S. hits plateau

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The abortion rate in the United States, which has declined steadily since a 1981 peak of more than 29 abortions per 1,000 women, stalled between 2005 and 2008, at slightly less than 20 abortions per 1,000 women, according to a new report from the Guttmacher Institute.

While the new report is a statistical survey and does not provide any explanation for why the numbers hit a plateau, Rachel Jones, the lead author, said the economy might have played a role.

“Unintended pregnancy is increasingly concentrated among poor and low-income women, and for the 2008 survey, we were collecting data in the midst of a recession,” Ms. Jones said. “So there are more poor women in the survey, women who in better economic times might have decided to carry to term, but since they or their partner lost their job, decided they couldn’t…”

The report found that more women were turning away from surgical abortion in favor of medication, usually mifepristone, the drug formerly known as RU-486, to end their pregnancies. The report estimates that about 17 percent of all 2008 abortions, and more than a quarter of those performed before nine weeks of gestation, were medication abortions.

Randall K. O’Bannon, director of education and research at the National Right to Life Committee, said the trend toward medication abortions had helped keep the abortion numbers steady…

Mifepristone was introduced in the United Sates in 2000, and according to the report, there were 187,000 medication abortions in 2008, compared with 158,000 the previous year. Many clinics that do not specialize in abortions offer only medication abortions.

Ms. Jones sees the increase in medication abortions as good news, because such abortions occur early in pregnancy, when abortion is safest…

The Guttmacher report found an increase in harassment of abortion providers, with clinics in the Midwest and the South the most likely to experience harassment and those in the Northeast and the West the least.

Do those statistics signify anything special to you?

Certainly, the geographic spread in harassment of women who feel they have a right to choose fits right into America’s politics and religion. And, frankly, whatever the application – I think most folks would choose pills over surgery when practical.

Written by Ed Campbell

January 11, 2011 at 3:00 pm

Antimatter detected streaming from thunderstorms

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A space telescope has accidentally spotted thunderstorms on Earth producing beams of antimatter.

Such storms have long been known to give rise to fleeting sparks of light called terrestrial gamma-ray flashes.

But results from the Fermi telescope show they also give out streams of electrons and their antimatter counterparts, positrons…

It deepens a mystery about terrestrial gamma-ray flashes, or TGFs – sparks of light that are estimated to occur 500 times a day in thunderstorms on Earth. They are a complex interplay of light and matter whose origin is poorly understood…

The Fermi space telescope is designed to capture gamma rays from all corners of the cosmos, and sports specific detectors for short bursts of gamma rays that both distant objects and TGFs can produce…

“One of the great things about the Gamma-ray Burst Monitor is that it detects flashes of gamma rays all across the cosmic scale,” explained Julie McEnery, Fermi project scientist at Nasa.

“We see gamma-ray bursts, one of the most distant phenomena we know about in the Universe, we see bursts from soft gamma-ray repeaters in our galaxy, flashes of gamma rays from solar flares, our solar neighbourhood – and now we’re also seeing gamma rays from thunderstorms right here on Earth,” she told BBC News…

But within that gamma-ray data lies an even more interesting result…”the discovery that TGFs produce not just gamma rays but also produce positrons, the antimatter equivalent to electrons…”

Steven Cummer, an atmospheric electricity researcher from Duke University in North Carolina, called the find “truly amazing”.

“I think this is one of the most exciting discoveries in the geosciences in quite a long time – the idea that any planet has thunderstorms that can create antimatter and then launch it into space in narrow beams that can be detected by orbiting spacecraft to me sounds like something straight out of science fiction,” he said.

“It has some very important implications for our understanding of lightning itself. We don’t really understand a lot of the detail about how lightning works. It’s a little bit premature to say what the implications of this are going to be going forward, but I’m very confident this is an important piece of the puzzle.”

RTFA for detail on the mechanisms and processes involved. As far as we know.

There are some talented, knowledgeable folks working away on this and waiting for their periodic reports is as tantalyzing as being a kid standing outside the neighborhood drugstore waiting for the next issue of Thrilling Wonder Stories to arrive.

Written by Ed Campbell

January 11, 2011 at 12:00 pm

Swine flu survivors developed super flu antibodies

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A study of antibodies from people infected with H1N1 swine flu adds proof that scientists are closing in on a “universal” flu shot that could neutralize many types of flu strains, including H1N1 swine flu and H5N1 bird flu.

U.S. researchers said people who were infected in the H1N1 pandemic developed an unusual immune response, making antibodies that could protect them from all the seasonal H1N1 flu strains from the last decade, the deadly “Spanish flu” strain from 1918 and even a strain of the H5N1 avian flu.

“It says that a universal influenza vaccine is really possible,” said Patrick Wilson of the University of Chicago, who worked on the paper published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine…

Wilson’s team started making the antibodies in 2009 from nine people who had been infected in the first wave of the H1N1 swine flu pandemic before an H1N1 vaccine had been produced. The hope was to develop a way to protect healthcare personnel.

Working with researchers from Emory University School of Medicine, the team produced 86 antibodies that reacted with the H1N1 virus, and tested them on different flu strains. Of these, five were cross-protective, meaning they could interfere with many strains of flu including the 1918 “Spanish flu” and a strain of H5N1 or avian flu…

And some of these cross-protective antibodies were similar in structure to those discovered by other teams as having potential for a universal flu vaccine.

It demonstrates how to make a single vaccine that could potentially provide permanent immunity to all influenza,” Wilson said in a telephone interview.

Good news – and something we’ve been hearing from a number of sources. I’m encouraged enough to believe that, as in a few classic examples with other diseases, we may end up with more than one universal vaccine against flu.

Written by Ed Campbell

January 11, 2011 at 9:00 am

Pepsi drank the KoolAid

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Click on the Frito-Lay graphic to see the advert

The advertising executives behind Doritos and Pepsi Max have been trying to create buzz with their “Crash the Super Bowl” contest, in which user-submitted ads for each product would compete via public vote to be shown during the big game, with potential prizes up to a million dollars for the winners.

Unfortunately, the Pepsi products’ competition has fallen under the public eye for the wrong reason — one of the candidate ads offended Catholics.

The ad, entitled “Feed the Flock,” features a priest using Doritos and Pepsi as replacements for the wafer and wine that are normally part of the Eucharist.

Probably better for you than the original tasty bits.

Written by Ed Campbell

January 11, 2011 at 6:00 am

Shaman poisons women to test for witches

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An Indian shaman who allegedly forced women to drink a potion to prove they were not witches has been arrested. Nearly 30 women fell ill after they were rounded up in Shivni village in central Chhattisgarh state on Sunday and made to drink the herbal brew.

A senior police officer told the BBC that six villagers had also been arrested.

Witch hunts targeting women are common in east and central India, and a number of accused are killed every year…

Police spokesman Rajesh Joshi told the BBC that an 18-year-old villager was accused of witchcraft because she had been unwell.

“Her father Sitaram Rathod and other villagers suspected that it [her illness] could be due to an evil spell cast by a witch,” Mr Joshi said. “They [the villagers] called for an ojha [witch doctor] to ward off the spell.”

Authorities said the shaman, named as Bhagwan Deen, had been helped by a few other residents as he rounded up nearly all the adult women in the centre of the village…

“The shaman then forced the women to consume a drink that he had made out of a local poisonous herb,” Mr Joshi said. “He said that after drinking the brew, the real witch would voluntarily confess.”

Of the nearly 30 women taken to hospital after the incident, around 25 women have since been discharged.

But police said five remained in hospital, including a 70-year-old woman who was in a serious condition.

Reflect just for a minute that the differences between this particular tale of a witchhunt, superstition – ain’t a whole boatload different from superstitions perfectly acceptable to your neighbors, my neighbors, a whole bunch of registered voters, eh?

Written by Ed Campbell

January 11, 2011 at 2:00 am

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