Further evidence of Snowball Earth

When this Canadian rock was on the equator it was covered with ice

Geologists have found evidence that sea ice extended to the equator 716.5 million years ago, bringing new precision to a “snowball Earth” event long suspected of occurring around that time.

Led by scientists at Harvard, the team reports on its work in the latest edition of the journal Science . The new findings — based on an analysis of ancient tropical rocks in remote northwestern Canada — bolster the theory that the planet has, at times in the past, been covered with ice at all latitudes.

“This is the first time that the Sturtian glaciation [the name for that ice age] has been shown to have occurred at tropical latitudes, providing direct evidence that this particular glaciation was a ‘snowball Earth’ event,” said lead author Francis A. Macdonald, an assistant professor in Harvard’s Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences. “Our data also suggests that the Sturtian glaciation lasted a minimum of 5 million years.”

The survival of eukaryotic life — organisms composed of one or more cells, each with a nucleus enclosed by a membrane — throughout this period indicates that sunlight and surface water remained available somewhere on the surface of Earth. The earliest animals arose at roughly the same time, following a major proliferation of eukaryotes.

Even on a snowball Earth, Macdonald said, there would be temperature gradients, and it is likely that ice would be dynamic: flowing, thinning, and forming local patches of open water, providing refuge for life…

Not exactly a dynamic tale to weave through our society’s politics-driven communications machine. Still, of critical interest to those whose vision carries further into history than last week’s episode of American Idol.

Pentagon gunman was 9/11 conspiracy nutball

Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

The gunman killed in an attack on the Pentagon last night was acting alone and was not connected to any terrorist plot, officials said as reports emerged that he was a 9/11 conspiracy theorist who grew marijuana at his home.

He had a current permit for medical marijuana.

John Patrick Bedell, 36, from California, wrote on the internet about government conspiracies in the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks, “institutionalised violence of government” and other theories.

According to media reports, Bedell was arrested in 2006 when police discovered a large number of marijuana plants at his California home.

Yesterday evening, according to officials, Bedell approached a busy entrance to the Pentagon, one of the most heavily guarded buildings in the world. Wearing a suit and calm in demeanour, he reached into his jacket as if to pull out his identification card, but drew out a 9mm pistol and opened fire.

Two officers were shot, one in the leg, another in the shoulder, and they and a third officer opened fire. Bedell was struck in the head and died later in hospital.

Surveillance video confirms Bedell acted alone, the Pentagon police chief, Richard Keevill, said today…

Keevill said Bedell, a well-educated software developer, had driven from California, and in his vehicle, found by police near the Pentagon, investigators discovered more ammunition.

Keevill declined to speculate about a motive, but in internet writings Bedell rants about property rights and his theory that a criminal organisation has taken over the US government.

“This organisation, like so many murderous governments throughout history, would see the sacrifice of thousands of its citizens, in an event such as the September 11 attacks, as a small cost in order to perpetuate its barbaric control,” he wrote in a post in 2006.

Uh, OK. I know a couple of organizations where this dude would fit in perfectly. And get the usual TV talking head wimpy coverage.

There’s no truth to the rumor he had “No Agenda” tattooed on his butt.

Boeing 747 survives Flight 253 bomb blast simulation

A test explosion on a Boeing 747 has shown that a US Christmas Day flight would have landed safely even if a bomb on board was detonated successfully.

The plane’s fuselage did not break in the controlled blast, which used the same explosives that were on Flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit.

However experts said it showed the suspected bomber and the passenger next to him would have been killed…

The controlled experiment was carried out for the BBC Two documentary How safe are our Skies? Detroit Flight 253.

Dr John Wyatt, an international terrorism and explosives adviser to the UN, replicated the conditions on board the Detroit flight on a decommissioned Boeing 747 at an aircraft graveyard in Gloucestershire, England.

The same amount of the explosive pentaerythritol (or PETN) allegedly carried by Mr Abdulmutallab was placed to mirror the location where he was sitting on the plane.

Captain J Joseph, an air accident investigator, and Dr Wyatt both concluded that the quantity of explosive used was nowhere near enough needed to rupture the skin of a passenger plane.

RTFA. I don’t worry about things like this anymore. I refuse to subject my life to the statistical absurdities of the TSA or the fears of cowardly lions in Congress.

If I can’t drive there in my pickup truck – I ain’t going there.

Still, it’s encouraging to see the 747 and most of the passengers would have made it.

Canadian money becoming easier to launder

Suggested design for new Canadian coins

Canada’s paper money is going plastic, the Harper government announced in its 2010 budget yesterday.

Starting in late 2011, the Bank of Canada will replace the country’s cotton-paper bank notes – prone to wear and tear – with synthetic polymer ones that last two to three times as long.

These far-hardier bills won’t be indestructible – a flame is still a threat, for instance – but they will be virtually waterproof, meaning Canadians need worry no longer if their bank notes go through the washing machine by mistake.

The Bank of Canada is staying mum on the specific technology.

However, plastic bills introduced in Australia and elsewhere apparently harbour fewer germs because their slick surface makes it harder for bacteria to cling to the money…

Ottawa will rely on a sole supplier – an Australian company – of the special polymer bank-note material. In theory, the material’s scarcity means fraudsters will be hard pressed to create matching notes…

Plastic banknotes, first developed in Australia, tend to cost more than paper currency but the Bank of Canada’s Ms. Girard said this country will end up having to print far less bills overall – which is where the savings will accrue.

Plastic notes should also mean less headaches for merchants because history has shown they perform better in automated vending machines.

Don’t forget – folks in the GWN can also look to the South for inspiration on how to design money that is world-class ugly.

Dumb newspapers of the year – so far

It doesn’t take much to make yourself look like a fool, but in the case of The UK’s Sun and Daily Mail newspapers, they have to be feeling quite idiotic right about now. Perhaps not, as these tabloids have a history of running fabulous stories about celebrities, politicians, and the supernatural as a matter of daily business.

John Ware, a 47-year old builder, sent the newspapers a photo he had taken with his iPhone that allegedly showed a ghostly little boy dressed in turn-of-the-20th-century clothing, balefully looking at the photographer. You can see the little boy at the right side of the photo, standing in the foreground. The papers dutifully ran the story, with the Sun’s example shown at the top of this post.

There’s only one problem: as Macenstein pointed out, the same little boy haunts the US$0.99 iPhone app Ghost Capture. That’s right — it’s apparent that Mr. Ware snapped a shot of a demolition site with the app, and then submitted the photo. Our guess is that Ware was having a little fun with the papers, and that the “Got a story? We pay £££.” tag line you see at the top of the page might have provided some motivation.

Once again there’s an app for that.


D.C. begins licensing same-sex marriages – UPDATED

Angelisa Young’s ticket #1
Daylife/Getty Images used by permission

Just sitting down at a desk at the marriage bureau at D.C. Superior Court on Wednesday was too much for Angelisa Young. She cried so hard that she eventually had to bury her face in her fiancee’s chest.

About a half-hour later, Young and her partner, Sinjoyla Townsend, who met 13 years ago in a Constitutional Law class at the University of the District of Columbia, became the first same-sex couple to apply to be married in the District as the city officially joined five states in allowing gay marriage.

“I’m just so happy. We’re whole now. We will actually be a true family like everyone else,” Young, 47, said as Townsend, 41, used her thumb to wipe away her soon-to-be wife’s tears. After the couple from Southeast Washington rose from the desk, couples in line behind them broke into spontaneous applause and cheers.

For Young, Townsend and the cheering masses, being there, in the tiny and usually sleepy marriage bureau, on the very first day meant everything. There was the history of it all, but mostly it was about having the nation’s capital validate their relationships and their families.

For the couples in line Wednesday and those who follow, it was the culmination of a three-decade struggle for equality. Advocates had long known that the D.C. Council would approve same-sex marriage. But the timing had to be right. Congress and the White House could have killed the bill, which had to clear a congressional review period, so advocates waited for a president and legislature sympathetic to gay rights and home rule. In the meantime, the gay community picked up important rights in the District, including a domestic partnership law, before the council passed the same-sex marriage bill in December.

The real crime involved in the history of this process – is the smarmy, self-righteous bigotry of those who would deny people in love their civil rights.

UPDATE: Young and Townsend are married, today, as civil rights become reality in Washington, D.C..

Common pesticide can turn male frogs into females

Atrazine, one of the world’s most widely used pesticides, wreaks havoc with the sex lives of adult male frogs, emasculating three-quarters of them and turning one in 10 into females, according to a new study by University of California, Berkeley, biologists.

The 75 percent that are chemically castrated are essentially “dead” because of their inability to reproduce in the wild, reports UC Berkeley’s Tyrone B. Hayes, professor of integrative biology…

The 10 percent or more that turn from males into females – something not known to occur under natural conditions in amphibians – can successfully mate with male frogs but, because these females are genetically male, all their offspring are male.

“When we grow these guys up, depending on the family, we will get anywhere from 10 to 50 percent females,” Hayes said. “In a population, the genetically male females can decrease or wipe out a population just because they skew sex ratios so badly.”

Though the experiments were performed on a common laboratory frog, the African clawed frog (Xenopus laevis), field studies indicate that atrazine, a potent endocrine disruptor, similarly affects frogs in the wild, and could possibly be one of the causes of amphibian declines around the globe, Hayes said…

“These kinds of problems, like sex-reversing animals skewing sex ratios, are much more dangerous than any chemical that would kill off a population of frogs,” he said. “In exposed populations, it looks like there are frogs breeding but, in fact, the population is being very slowly degraded by the introduction of these altered animals.”

Some 80 million pounds of the herbicide atrazine are applied annually in the United States on corn and sorghum to control weeds and increase crop yield, but such widespread use also makes atrazine the most common pesticide contaminant of ground and surface water, according to various studies…

As a result of these studies, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is reviewing its regulations on use of the pesticide. Several states are considering banning atrazine, and six class action lawsuits have been filed seeking to eliminate its use. The European Union already bars the use of atrazine.

The corporations manufacturing this poison dispute every scrap of study and evidence, of course. They’ll probably have years of wending their marry way through federal agencies, hand-in-hand with their lobbyists going door-to-door in Congress – before any resolution is at hand.

BTW – just for the geeks in the room – Mitch Kapor and his foundation picked up the tab for a chunk of the research. Good for you, dude.