Not the smartest smugglers on the Mexican border

US Border Patrol spokesman Spencer Tippets says agents spotted the SUV perched atop the fence early Tuesday near the border between Arizona and California.

Two people on the Mexican side were trying to free the Jeep when the agents approached. They ran further into Mexico.

The Jeep was empty, but agents say it was probably filled with contraband like marijuana before it got stuck.

The smugglers had built ramps that looked like long ladders to drive up and over the fence.

Too dumb to even suggest this might be Pic of the Day.

Hurricane Sandy and climate change

In the waning weeks of the North American hurricane season – a time when a superstorm is not expected to cause widespread damage to the eastern coast of the United States – Hurricane Sandy is a grim reminder of the menace of extreme weather events. With the lowest central pressure of the 2012 hurricane season, Sandy may have caused up to $20 billion in damages, making it one of the costliest superstorms in history.

Sandy interacted with a weather system moving toward it from the east, posing difficult challenges for forecasters and nearly unprecedented weather conditions for the region. A similar storm hit New England 20 years ago. But Sandy was worse, delivering hurricane-strength winds, drenching rains, and severe coastal flooding throughout the populous mid-Atlantic and northeast corridor.

…From the perspective of climate change, it is best to take a measured view of Sandy, lest hasty reaction harm scientific credibility…But that is little cause for comfort.

According to the giant insurance company Munich Re, weather and climate disasters contributed to more than one-third of a trillion dollars in damage worldwide in 2011, and this year’s total may rival that amount. There is growing evidence of links between climate change and sea-level rise, heat waves, droughts, and rainfall intensity, and, although scientific research on hurricanes and tornadoes is not as conclusive, that may be changing…

…Today, thanks to satellites, weather balloons, supercomputers, and skilled forecasters, we can anticipate hazardous weather up to a week in advance. Similar advances in climate modeling are occurring, thanks to methodological improvements and better data…

The world will need more cooperation in the coming years, as climate change begins to interact with and exacerbate extreme weather events, in order to gain the lead-time needed to prepare for disasters. We will also need the collaboration among governments, the private sector, and academia that often leads to improvements in forecasting…

We do not know whether superstorms like Sandy are harbingers of a “new normal” in the uneasy and unpredictable relationship between climate change and extreme weather events. That does not mean that there is not or cannot be such a connection, but rather that the scientific research needed to prove (or disprove) it must still be conducted. That is how good science works. Sandy has provided a powerful demonstration of the need to support it.

If politicians could get past ignorance, their anti-science habit, they might aid study and research simply by getting out of the way. Unfortunately, their opportunist lifestyle makes it easier to wallow in agitprop, fight against funding knowledge gathering and rely on spooky sloganeering for their endless election campaigns.

Fighting for understanding, trying to rebuild infrastructure that fits a changing world really shouldn’t require disaster and death to prompt reasonable concern from our elected officials.

Brazilian student sells her virginity for $780K and a movie appearance

A Brazilian student is set to sell her virginity for a staggering $780,000 after she put it up for auction online.

A man called Natsu, from Japan, fended off strong competition from American bidders Jack Miller and Jack Right, and Indian big-spender Rudra Chatterjee, to secure a date with 20-year-old Catarina Migliorini.

The auction closed 28 October and the physical education student – who said she will use the cash to build homes for poverty-stricken families – was the subject of 15 bids. Catarina’s move sparked outrage across the globe, with many claiming she was little more than a prostitute. She also caused controversy when she revealed she would be followed every step of the way by an Australian crew for a documentary film called Virgins Wanted.

But she said: ‘I saw this as a business. I have the opportunity to travel, to be part of a movie and get a bonus with it. ‘If you only do it once in your life then you are not a prostitute, just like if you take one amazing photograph it does not automatically make you a photographer. ‘The auction is just business, I’m a romantic girl at heart and believe in love. But this will make a big difference to my area,’ she told Folha newspaper.

Catarina will be ‘delivered’ to her buyer on board a plane between Australia and the U.S. – being interviewed before and after the sexual act. The intercourse itself will not be filmed and Natsu will retain a right to be anonymous, without his picture appearing in the media. Sex toys will be banned from use and a condom will be compulsory, with Catarina saying she was prepared to prove to any sceptics that she has not had sex before. Natsu will be tested for sexually transmitted diseases prior to the encounter.

Ah, me. Life in the fast lane, eh?

Wider Image app from Reuters – a sample

Under a lone street lamp
By Tim Wimborne


Click to enlarge

Since mid-March I have developed a new habit. Not a bad habit but a pretty regular one, about three nights a week, driving down to a local park near the harbor’s edge and parking by the side of the road, looking for a woman under a street light. Not any woman in particular but it’s always the same street light.

It’s a bit like being a John searching out a good time with a lady of the night. Not that anyone would suspect that – I’m in a ritzy part of town.

After testing a new kit weeks ago, one evening, at the middle of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, a potential picture far below caught my eye. A simple frame with a composition that symbolizes the phrase “less is more”; a woman and her personal trainer boxing under a lone street light. Just the two of them, their gloves and their shadows, surrounded by nothing else but by the time I got into position they’d moved on.

It’s a popular place for personal trainers taking their nine-to-five office worker clients through their paces so I figured these guys were regulars. And so started my evening sorties. These evening forays would see me sitting in my car, on park benches, walking around the park, up on the bridge above, bringing my kids, stopping by after laps at the local swimming pool – every time with a camera over my shoulder, exposure set to make that image. I’d see folks exercising in groups, walking their dogs, taking evening strolls, joggers, the list goes on…

The Wider Image is an entirely new interactive experience from the world’s largest news agency. Created exclusively for the iPad, this immersive multimedia app offers a multitude of ways to visually explore the world. Get the wider story. Transform the way you see.

And that’s how I happened upon this personal work from one of Reuters’ professional photographers. The app offers both personal and assignment work from the pros who work for Reuters. And as often as I criticize – or sometimes praise – the editorial and social content of work from one of the oldest and largest news gathering companies in the world, their photography is often something special. On any level.

You could do a lot worse than to learn from these folks.

Genetics firm hides vital breast cancer data to guarantee profits

The company that makes the world’s biggest-selling gene test for breast and ovarian cancers is refusing to share groundbreaking knowledge that could benefit patients, academics claim.

Myriad Genetics is accused of deliberately withholding data that could help other scientists to understand cancer genetics, on the grounds that the information is commercially sensitive.

The healthcare company manufactures the test for determining whether women carry potentially lethal mutations of the two genes linked with inherited forms of breast and ovarian cancer. It has a monopoly on the tests in the United States and is about to start more aggressive marketing in Europe.

“We are very concerned that such important data is being withheld from those who need it,” said Professor Martina Cornel, chair of the European Society of Human Genetics policy committee.

While Myriad is refusing to let other scientists have access to its data, the company has free access to the public databases compiled by other scientists, Professor Cornel said…

In addition to testing for the cancer-causing mutations on the two BRCA genes, Myriad uses its tests to compile a database of other mutations known as “variants of unknown significance” (VUS) which it gathers from patients and their family members.

The company initially stopped sharing this information with other researchers in 2004 because of difficulties in matching data formats. However, in 2005 it adopted a deliberate policy of retaining the data as a trade secret, according to a study led by Robert Cook-Deegan of Duke University in North Carolina, a former member of the US Office of Technology Assessment.

Since then, Myriad has refused to share data on BRCA gene variants – which is normally done by placing the information in public databases – on the grounds that the data is proprietary information gathered as a result of its BRCA Analysis tests, on which it retains the patent rights…

Which is what can happen when scientists start thinking and acting like capitalists and politicians – instead of scientists.

There is nothing unusual about scientists patenting their work and dedicating profits to universities and the private production firms they start. Ignoring the whole process, the breadth of research that serves as foundation for their work is egregious, damaging to science and wholly thoughtless about the world’s population they should be serving with their work.

They still can only eat one steak at a time.

Bolivian farmers urge rethink on Mother Earth law

Soy farmers in Bolivia are urging leftist President Evo Morales to reconsider a ban on genetically modified seeds contained in a package of environmental regulation called the Mother Earth law.

The Andean nation is a small producer of soybeans compared with its giant agricultural neighbors, Brazil and Argentina, but output and exports of the oilseed have jumped in recent years due to improved crop yields and bigger plantings.

Production should reach 2.4 million metric tons this year, of which about 80 percent would be exported, industry groups say.

Virtually all Bolivian soy uses GM seeds and the law signed by Morales earlier this month has rattled growers in the lowland east, historically a bastion of opposition to the Aymara Indian president — a vocal advocate of organic farming methods and Pachamama, which means Mother Earth in the Andes.

The legislation, which former coca farmer Morales has called a means “to live in equilibrium and harmony with Mother Earth,” also calls for limits on the expansion of farming into new areas and assigns a spiritual value to land beyond its social and economic function…

Agricultural leaders are holding talks with the government to call for changes to the GM ban and express broader concerns about the legislation. A second meeting between farm groups and officials was due to take place on Wednesday.

“We want them to understand the potential consequences of the measures contained in the Mother Earth legislation and to make changes or clarifications either in the implementation of this law or through a new law,” Fernando Asturizaga, an advisor from the Anapo farming association said.

Soy exports brought in about $800 million last year, making the oilseed the country’s third-biggest foreign currency earner after minerals and natural gas, according to the Bolivian Foreign Trade Institute…

“It’s like running the 100-meters but shooting ourselves in the foot first. We’re giving our neighbors too many advantages,” said Marcelo Traverso, president of the APIA agricultural suppliers’ association.

“It’s a big step backwards that’s going to have serious economic repercussions for the Bolivian farmer.”

I’m not offering a detailed response, but, even a casual look at the question provokes support for equitable opportunity I try for on most issues. As long as we’re not discussing war and peace, or gangster lobbyists. I can’t support organic farming interests – in power, in government – ordering all farmers to conform to their methods. Just as I don’t support the opposite among the existing farm community in the United States.

Of course, I support limits on pesticides and practices which spread beyond individual farms. But, that’s a 2-way street. Just as I support reasonable hooks in GM seeds to inhibit wildfire spread of new genes, I won’t support a ban on self-limiting GM products.

In sum, I guess my attitude is like my feelings about abortion. Don’t approve? Don’t have one. Don’t deprive someone else of the right to make up their own mind.

Star Wars in Cologne

The Force is strong with this orchestrated impromptu performance.

The WDR Symphony Orchestra organized a flash mob fit for nerds at the Wallraf Square in Cologne, Germany. The performance starts with just a conductor and a trumpet player, then quickly increases to an entire orchestra playing the iconic theme song to the opening credits of Star Wars.

Given the purchase of Lucasfilm, the Star Wars copyrights by Disney Studio – and their promise to produce at least 3 more films – this is opportune timing.

Thanks, Ursarodinia