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Archive for March 9th, 2011

Pakistani General admits to effectiveness of U.S. drone strikes

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In an unusual briefing, a top Pakistani general leading troops in the volatile North Waziristan region has acknowledged the effectiveness of the American drone strikes against foreign militants…

Publicly, the Pakistani government and the powerful military condemn the drone strikes, though privately they acknowledge their utility. It is rare for civilian or military officials to give any nod to the effectiveness of the campaign, and the controversy surrounding the drone strikes has become a staple of the national debate. Opposition political parties and Islamists call the drone attacks a violation of the country’s sovereignty and question their legality.

Dawn, considered the country’s leading English-language daily, quoted Maj. Gen. Mehmood Ghayur of the army’s Seventh division in North Waziristan, as saying that “myths and rumors about U.S. Predator strikes and the casualty figures are many, but it’s a reality that many of those being killed in these strikes are hardcore elements, a sizable number of them foreigners.”

The general was briefing a group of local Peshawar-based journalists on a rare trip to Miram Shah, the main city in North Waziristan.

According to details listed in the general’s briefing and quoted by Dawn, militants of several nationalities have been singled out in drone attacks. The diverse nationalities of the militants show the extent to which Pakistan’s tribal regions straddling the border with Afghanistan have been infiltrated by foreign fighters, mostly affiliated with Al Qaeda.

This is the second time in recent memory that statements about the military usefulness of drone strikes, the range of extra-national terrorist forces based in tribal areas, the strength of Al Qaeda in frontier regions of Pakistan has been acknowledged. At least by voices inside Pakistan.

I’m not certain there is as much clarity inside the Washington Beltway.

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Written by Ed Campbell

March 9, 2011 at 10:00 pm

Parts of Kiwi earthquake city must be abandoned

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Christchurch was so badly damaged in last month’s deadly earthquake that parts of New Zealand’s second largest city will have to be abandoned, Prime Minister John Key has said.

Key confirmed 10,000 homes faced demolition after the 6.3-magnitude tremor which is believed to have claimed more than 200 lives, warning that rebuilding would not be possible in some areas.

“We simply don’t know,” he told Radio New Zealand when asked which parts of the city would be deserted. “We know there’s been substantial liquefaction damage.

“It’s a statement of fact that there will be some properties that can’t be rebuilt… the question is whether it (rebuilding) is possible for certain parts of the city, certain streets or houses.”

Key said geotechnical engineers were working urgently to clarify the areas worst affected by liquefaction, caused when the quake’s shaking loosened the bonds between soil particles, turning the ground into a quagmire.

Community worker Tom McBrearty said the prime minister’s comments had increased anxiety among residents still reeling from the February 22 quake. “They interpreted… it as being that the riverside communities would not be allowed to be rebuilt, which is at this stage is incorrect. We don’t know, we’re still waiting for final analysis.”

Key said the government would provide financial assistance to those who were forced to move and was in talks with developers about releasing new subdivisions to cope with the demand for housing in the stricken city.

Christchurch mayor Bob Parker said speculation on the fate of entire suburbs was “alarmist” and urged residents to wait until geotechnical reports were complete.

Sad, sad tale. Although this earthquake technically was an aftershock of last year’s quake, it blasted along a new fault and being closer to the surface and in a populous area – just did an enormous amount of damage. More than anyone had foreseen.

Written by Ed Campbell

March 9, 2011 at 6:00 pm

Shedding our penis spines helped us become human

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Scientists have identified a clutch of subtle genetic changes that have shaped our minds and bodies into the unique form that sets humans apart from chimpanzees and the rest of the animal kingdom…

The findings offer up the humbling conclusion that the secret of human success may owe more to what we lost along the path of evolution, rather than anything we gained.

When the human genome was first deciphered more than a decade ago, some scientists expected to find extra genes that explained why humans had an intellectual edge over their closest living relatives and other species. But since diverging from chimpanzees around seven million years ago, it turns out that our human ancestors lost several hundred snippets of DNA, which together led to traits that are uniquely human, the researchers claim.

In ditching these chunks of DNA, our ancient ancestors lost facial whiskers and short, tactile spines on their penises. The latter development is thought to have paved the way for more intimate sex and monogamous relationships. The loss of other DNA may have been crucial in allowing humans to grow larger brains.

Intriguingly, hardly any of the lost DNA was from genes, which make the proteins that are the building blocks of life. Instead, the missing DNA came from areas of the genome that regulate where and when certain genes are active…

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Ed Campbell

March 9, 2011 at 2:00 pm

Cripes – distracted drivers are scary enough. How about a tug boat lookout on his cellphone?

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A tug boat lookout was on a cellphone call to his mother’s house when the barge it was ferrying collided with an anchored tour boat in the Delaware River last summer…

Two tourists died and 26 other passengers were injured in the July 7 collision between the barge and the tour boat near Philadelphia…

The accident occurred shortly after the tour boat, the DUKW 34, had dropped anchor to deal with a mechanical problem that caused smoked to pour out of the engine. Around 2:37 p.m., a barge propelled by the tug boat, the Caribbean Sea, collided with the tour boat, causing it to sink in 55 feet of water.

According to the report, the Caribbean Sea’s master was off duty and below deck. The mate was on navigation watch. The report states that, according to telephone records, the mate made a call to his mother’s house at 2:32 p.m. The call, according to the report, lasted until 2:38, one minute after the accident occurred.

The report also states that that between noon and the accident, when the mate was on navigation watch, he made 13 phone calls and answered six.

There should be some conclusion made about priorities and safety, I would think. eh?

Written by Ed Campbell

March 9, 2011 at 10:00 am

Melting ice sheets now largest contributor to a rising sea level

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The Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are losing mass at an accelerating pace, according to a new study. The findings of the study – the longest to date of changes in polar ice sheet mass – suggest these ice sheets are overtaking ice loss from Earth’s mountain glaciers and ice caps to become the dominant contributor to global sea level rise, much sooner than model forecasts have predicted…

The nearly 20-year study reveals that in 2006, a year in which comparable results for mass loss in mountain glaciers and ice caps are available from a separate study conducted using other methods, the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets lost a combined mass of 475 gigatonnes a year on average. That’s enough to raise global sea level by an average of 1.3 millimeters (.05 inches) a year. (A gigatonne is one billion metric tons, or more than 2.2 trillion pounds.) Ice sheets are defined as being larger than 50,000 square kilometers, or 20,000 square miles, and only exist in Greenland and Antarctica while ice caps are areas smaller than 50,000 square km.

The pace at which the polar ice sheets are losing mass was found to be accelerating rapidly. Each year over the course of the study, the two ice sheets lost a combined average of 36.3 gigatonnes more than they did the year before. In comparison, the 2006 study of mountain glaciers and ice caps estimated their loss at 402 gigatonnes a year on average, with a year-over-year acceleration rate three times smaller than that of the ice sheets.

That ice sheets will dominate future sea level rise is not surprising — they hold a lot more ice mass than mountain glaciers,” said lead author Eric Rignot, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, and the University of California, Irvine. “What is surprising is this increased contribution by the ice sheets is already happening. If present trends continue, sea level is likely to be significantly higher than levels projected by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2007. Our study helps reduce uncertainties in near-term projections of sea level rise.”

Rignot’s team combined nearly two decades (1992-2009) of monthly satellite measurements with advanced regional atmospheric climate model data to examine changes in ice sheet mass and trends in acceleration of ice loss…

The team found that for each year over the 18-year study, the Greenland ice sheet lost mass faster than it did the year before, by an average of 21.9 gigatonnes a year. In Antarctica, the year-over-year speedup in ice mass lost averaged 14.5 gigatonnes…

While this provides one indication of the potential contribution ice sheets could make to sea level in the coming century, the authors caution that considerable uncertainties remain in estimating future ice loss acceleration.

The inherent conservatism of bona fide scientists once again accounts for the element of a “surprising” rate of melting. Not that it means much to pundits or politicians committed to fossil fuel funding. Or, sadly, a populace in general that’s hardly past WW2 in terms of general understanding of science.

The flywheel effect is so strong that even when people are pushed far enough, no longer being able to ignore reality – it will take generations to begin to halt and then reverse the effects of global warming.

Written by Ed Campbell

March 9, 2011 at 6:00 am

Judge tackled sex offender trying to escape court – UPDATED

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Ain’t nothing like a good open-field tackle – even with a wig on

A judge rugby-tackled a sex offender to prevent him escaping from court, the Old Bailey has heard.

Judge Douglas Marks Moore wrestled Paul Reid twice as he ran out of the judge’s door at Woolwich crown court in August. Reid, 34, who had escaped from another court two years before, made for the door after giving evidence in his trial…

“One thing stood between Paul Reid and freedom – the judge trying his case,” said Rupert Gregory, prosecuting…

Gregory said: “The jury were just leaving when the defendant jumped up and ran across the clerk’s bench to get to the judge’s door.

“As he went through the door, His Honour Judge Marks Moore grabbed him round the throat to try to bring him down.

“Together they went down three steps and then Reid broke free and ran down the judge’s corridor.

The judge gave chase. Just as Reid was about to open a push-handle fire door, Marks Moore rugby-tackled him around the throat and waist and brought him crashing to the ground, landing on top of him.

“He held him there, struggling and protesting, until the prison officers managed to catch up, secure him and return him to custody.”

Gregory added: “The only thing preventing Paul Reid from pushing that fire door to the outside world was a judge in a wig and full robes…”

The trial continues.

Sock it to ‘em, judge!

UPDATE: Thought you might wish to know Reid has received a life sentence as a rapist.

Written by Ed Campbell

March 9, 2011 at 2:00 am

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