Saturday, September 29, 2012

Iran nuclear tensions sharpen

Western powers stepped up pressure on Iran on Friday, as Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama stressed their “shared goal” to stop Iran getting a nuclear bomb.
Netanyahu, who is in New York to attend the UN General Assembly, followed up on his demand for a “clear red line” to be drawn on Iran’s nuclear drive with a telephone call to the US president focused on the nuclear showdown.
And, in a more sure to infuriate Tehran, the US State Department said it had removed an exiled Iranian opposition group, the People’s Mujahedeen of Iran, from its list of designated terrorist organizations.
“At this late hour, there is only one way to peacefully prevent Iran from getting atomic bombs — and that’s by placing a clear red line on Iran’s nuclear weapons program,” Netanyahu told the 193-member UN assembly.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s decision to take the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq or People’s Mujahedeen of Iran (PMOI) off the terror list will increase its fund raising clout in the United States and annoy Tehran.
“Property and interests in property in the United States or within the possession or control of US persons will no longer be blocked, and US entities may engage in transactions with the MEK without obtaining a license,” the State Department said.
Iran, meanwhile, demanded the UN Security Council act after it was hit by cyber-warfare and a series of Iranian nuclear scientists were assassinated in attacks it blames on Israel and the United States.
According to a White House statement, Obama and Netanyahu “underscored that they are in full agreement on the shared goal of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”
Iran, meanwhile, demanded the UN Security Council act after it was hit by cyber-warfare and a series of Iranian nuclear scientists were assassinated in attacks it blames on Israel and the United States.
They “took note of the close cooperation and coordination” between the United States and Israel on “the threat posed by Iran” and agreed to continue regular consultations, the statement added.
Netanyahu grabbed the world’s attention at the UN General Assembly with his fierce attack on Iran and his demand for action to stop it enriching uranium to a level that could make a bomb.
The Israeli used a cartoon drawing of a bomb with a fizzing fuse a graph to represent Iran’s progress towards having enough enriched uranium to arm a bomb, and drew a red line across it to mark the limit of his tolerance.

Meet US woman who 'hates' everything technology

Several times a day, Barbara Lewis slips off her organic cotton slippers and relaxes on her tidy twin-sized bed. She slides a mask onto her face and turns on a steady stream of oxygen from a nearby tank.
“I have cast iron tanks — not aluminum,” she’s careful to point out.
For entertainment, she stuffs a book inside a cellophane bag. (Plastic is strictly forbidden in her small apartment.)
“It blocks out the volatile organic compounds from the ink,” she offers as an explanation for the bag covering her book.
Nearly every technological convenience so many Americans treasure are dangerous to her.
It’s a tedious exercise Lewis repeats daily in her ongoing battle to lead a "clean" life — convinced that nearly everything in the modern world is making her sick.
“It’s a hard life,” she admits. “It’s challenging.”
Aluminum foil covers part of her living room wall to block a cable box inside. She has no reservation about wearing a gas mask on the rare occasion she steps outside to get groceries.
“Some people call me courageous,” she said. “I get a lot of stares from children.”


Lewis says all are necessary steps to shield herself from the fumes and wireless signals constantly assaulting our bodies from modern devices.
Nearly every technological convenience so many Americans treasure are dangerous to her. Cell phones, televisions, computers, cars —  all are off-limits because of a condition known as chemical and electrical
Lewis is convinced the emissions of countless objects are damaging her body... and her mind.
“It’s actually a full-time job,” she says about her plan to stay healthy. Insurance rarely covers her expenses, so she’s relying on savings.
“Which is why I’m currently applying for disability,” she said, “because there’s no way I can work in my previous career.”
Indeed, it wasn’t always so for Lewis, who is 53. Years ago, she worked as a speech pathologist in Miami until, she says, a bicycle accident triggered her current condition.
“I was taken away from something that I really helped the world with,” she said. “I’d like to be able to work again and contribute to society.”
She now lives with a handful of other people who share her condition in a modified wing of a motel off Central Expressway in Dallas.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Remarkable medical story

Beauty queen's skull removed, stored in her body and restored in a major surgery 

A former beauty queen has undergone an incredible surgery where a quarter of her skull was removed and stored in her stomach while she recovered from a devastating head injury.
Surgeons removed the rear quarter of Jamie Hilton's skull and placed in her abdomen so that the bone would remain sterile and nourished as her brain swelling subsided.
When the mother-of-three and former Mrs. Idaho woke up from the operation she found the large, hard lump in her stomach and a portion of her head missing.
The skull remained in her abdomen for 42 days until it was re-attached in a successful operation and now, three months after her near death experience the 36-year-old has returned home.
Writing on a blog post about her near death experience, Jamie, who won Mrs. Idaho in 2009 and competed in the Mrs. America beauty contests, said: 'NOTHING in this world really matters to me today other than I AM HERE. I am on this GLORIOUS earth with my unbelievable family.
'I can snuggle my kids, kiss my husband, hang out with my mom, and LIVE. My heart feels like it could explode with GRATITUDE. My cup is running over with joy and happiness. Is everything in my life perfect? No. But today I AM ALIVE!'
Jamie's brush with death came after she joined her husband Nick and brother-in-law Greg on a salmon fishing trip to Hell's Canyon in Idaho in June.
As Jamie tried to reel in her first fish she lost her footing and fell 12ft on to a boulder. Her husband scrambled down to his wife and found her unconscious, without a pulse and not breathing.
When Nick lifted her, she began breathing again and nearby Forest Ranger called for emergency services. Jamie was airlifted to Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise where doctors found her brain had swollen.

With her family warned that the next 72 hours would decide if she lived or died, they took the decision to remove a quarter of her skull until the brain swelling went down. The skull portion remained in her abdomen for 42 days until it was removed and placed back on her head.
As she came round from the operation she called the doctor over to her and said: 'Thank you for what you have done. You have saved my life!'

On a day of peace, Soyinka calls for war on Boko Haram

On the International Day of Peace, Nobel Prize winner Wole Soyinka visited the United Nations – and called for armed intervention against the terrorist group Boko Haram in his home country of Nigeria.
“This is a violent organisation,” Soyinka told IPS. “What do you do with them? I am sorry, but you must fight them.”
"This is a violent organization...What do you do with them? I am sorry, but you must fight them."
On Sep. 21, 2012 the International Day of Peace was celebrated with a debate about how to build a global culture of tolerance. Invited to participate were such superstars  as actor Forest Whitaker, economist Jeffrey Sachs, and Wole Soyinka, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1986.
After his speech, Soyinka spoke to IPS about the situation in his native Nigeria, where the Islamist militant group Boko Haram is responsible for thousands of deaths and the bombings of several churches in Nigeria in recent years. The group seeks to establish sharia law in the country. Their presence is particularly strong in the north of the country.
“We have a contradiction...How do we get rid of Boko Haram? Violence must become involved. That is a dilemma.”
“We have an organisation which closes down schools, shoots faculty teachers, knocks out children and turns most of the north into an educational wasteland. How can we reach the children there? We must first get rid of Boko Haram,” Soyinka lashed out.
“We have a contradiction,” he acknowledged. “How do we get rid of Boko Haram? Violence must become involved. That is a dilemma.”

Calling for armed intervention on Peace Day may certainly seem like a paradox. But Soyinka’s call for attacking Boko Haram in order to stop the group’s attacks on schools made more sense after Friday’s debate, where speaker after speaker highlighted the importance of education to enable a global culture of peace to grow.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Cell phones may damage sperm - New study

Men who carry their cell phone or Blackberry on their belt loop or in their pocket may be posing a risk to the health of their sperm and their fertility.
A major health advocacy group released a new report on the potentially harmful effects of cell phones on sperm. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) reviewed the scientific literature and reported that 10 studies have found significant changes in sperm exposed to cell phone radiation.
The study reported: “In the most striking findings, men who carried their phones in a pocket or on the belt were more likely to have lower sperm counts and/or more inactive or less mobile sperm.”
“People are so preoccupied with brain tumors that the fertility issue gets very little play,” said Louis Slesin, editor of Microwave News, a newsletter on electromagnetic radiation.
Men who carried their phones in a pocket or on the belt were more likely to have lower sperm counts and/or more inactive or less mobile sperm
Exposure to cell phone radiation has also been associated with markers for sperm damage, such as higher levels of reactive oxygen species (chemically reactive molecules containing oxygen), oxidative stress, DNA damage and changes in sperm morphology.
“We have enough evidence to issue precautionary health warnings,” said Dr. Joel Moskowitz, director of the Center for Family and Community Health in the School of Public Health at the University of California at Berkeley. “The evidence for sperm damage is quite consistent across many studies,” he added.
“The issue is far from settled, yet the proposals put forward by EWG are low-cost precautionary actions,” Slesin said.

Another review article published last year in the Journal of Andrology examined the scientific literature on both animals and humans. Those authors came to similar conclusions as the EWG report. But they also cautioned that “more studies are necessary to provide stronger evidence that cellular phone use disturbs sperm and testicular function because the existing literature has several limitations.”
Men who talked on the phone for more than an hour a day had 17 percent fewer highly motile sperm than men who talked less than 15 minutes a day

France wants military actions against Mali rebels

French President Francois Hollande on Tuesday urged the global community to help defuse a crisis in Mali by giving United Nations backing to a West African-led military intervention.
Hollande, making his first speech to the UN General Assembly, said Mali needs help to seize back territory from Islamist rebels, who captured the north and east of the country after a coup created a power vacuum in March.
The militias have arrested unveiled women, stoned an unmarried couple to death, publicly flogged smokers, amputated limbs of suspected thieves, and enlisted child soldiers as young as 12
"We have to act, act together and act quickly, because it is urgently needed," Hollande said, urging world leaders to back a UN Security Council resolution "to help Mali win back its territorial integrity."
"We have to act, act together and act quickly, because it is urgently needed," 
Hollande said the situation in the north of the country is "is unbearable and unacceptable."
Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday that Mali's Islamist rebels are carrying out increasingly grave abuses in their pursuit of strict Islamic law.
The militias have arrested unveiled women, stoned an unmarried couple to death, publicly flogged smokers, amputated limbs of suspected thieves, and enlisted child soldiers as young as 12, the rights group said.
Hollande reiterated that Paris was prepared to support any initiatives taken by African nations to confront the crisis.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Amnesty Int'l wants UK to investigate Trafigura over Abidjan toxic dump

Activist groups are calling on Britain to launch a criminal investigation into the dumping of toxic waste in Ivory Coast in 2006. In a report published Tuesday, Amnesty International and Greenpeace say the Dutch company Trafigura should face full legal accountability for what happened.
There’s clear evidence, the report says, that decisions were made at Trafigura offices in London that led to the eventual export of waste from Europe to Ivory Coast.
Amnesty International Africa program director Audrey Gaughran said that should be reason enough to launch an investigation.
“If the decisions were taken here in the UK, then our question is, surely the UK government should be able to take action against the company that took those decisions," said Gaughran. 
"And if there is no law under which a prosecution can be brought, then we will be going to the government to point out what we would consider a very serious gap in the law in the UK here, which would need to be addressed.”
Abidjan residents get ill, some die
A ship chartered by Trafigura dumped the waste in the Ivorian city of Abidjan in 2006. Tens of thousands of residents said the waste made them sick, and officials said 15 people died.
The company was granted substantive immunity from prosecution in Ivory Coast.
In the Netherlands, where the company is headquartered, Trafigura was convicted of illegally exporting waste - but the conviction did not relate to the impact of that waste in Ivory Coast.

Albert Einstein's brain now an interactive iPad app

 The brain that revolutionised physics now can be downloaded as an app for $9.99, but it won't help you win at Angry Birds.
While Albert Einstein's genius isn't included, an exclusive iPad application promises to make detailed images of his brain more accessible to scientists than ever before. Teachers, students and anyone who's curious also can get a look.
A medical museum under development in Chicago obtained funding to scan and digitise nearly 350 fragile and priceless slides made from slices of Einstein's brain after his death in 1955. The application will allow researchers and novices to peer into the eccentric Nobel winner's brain as if they were looking through a microscope.
"I can't wait to find out what they'll discover," said Steve Landers, a consultant for the National Museum of Health and Medicine Chicago who designed the app.
The new iPad app may allow researchers to dig even deeper by looking for brain regions where the neurons are more densely connected than normal
"I'd like to think Einstein would have been excited."
After Einstein died, a pathologist named Thomas Harvey performed an autopsy, removing the great man's brain in hopes that future researchers could discover the secrets behind his genius.
Harvey gave samples to researchers and collaborated on a 1999 study published in the Lancet. That study showed a region of Einstein's brain - the parietal lobe - was 15 per cent wider than normal. The parietal lobe is important to the understanding of math, language and spatial relationships.
The new iPad app may allow researchers to dig even deeper by looking for brain regions where the neurons are more densely connected than normal, said Dr. Phillip Epstein, a Chicago-area neuroscientist and consultant for the museum.
But because the tissue was preserved before modern imaging technology, it may be difficult for scientists to figure out exactly where in Einstein's brain each slide originated. Although the new app organises the slides into general brain regions, it doesn't map them with precision to an anatomical model.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Greenpeace, Amnesty Int'l report on Abidjan toxic dump out

A victim of the toxic dump

 Two years after a Dutch court has found multinational Trafigura guilty of illegally exporting toxic waste from Amsterdam to Cote d'Ivoire and concealing the nature of the cargo, Amnesty International and Greenpeace will be launching a joint investigative report on the incident which led to the death of many in the West African country.

According to a release from the two agencies, the report will  reveal full details on how toxic waste was allowed to be transported from Europe to West Africa in 2006 and the full scope of the role multinational company, Trafigura, played in dumping this waste, resulting in more than 100,000 people needing urgent medical treatment.

Another victim
"Justice has not been served for the victims in Abidjan, six years after this crime took place. While Trafigura was prosecuted for the illegal export of the waste from Europe, its role in the dumping has never been investigated," the release noted.

Amnesty International and Greenpeace are calling for a criminal investigation into the dumping scandal and for African governments to tighten their controls on foreign pollution.

The firm was fined 1m euros for its ship, the Probo Koala, transiting Amsterdam with its cargo. The ship then went on to unload its cargo in Ivory Coast.

Trafigura employee Naeem Ahmed, who was involved in the ship's operation in Amsterdam, was fined 25,000 euros and the captain of the Probo Koala, 46-year-old Sergiy Chertov, was sentenced to a five-year suspended jail term.

The Greenpeace/Amnesty International report provides comprehensive recommendations for what needs to happen to prevent such a disaster happening again.

Source: Economic & Financial Times

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Daughters given their mothers' womb to try for babies

 In what was described as an “exciting” breakthrough, the two unnamed Swedish women, who are both aged in their 30s, received wombs from their mothers in a hospital in the west of the country over the weekend.
A team of more than 10 surgeons from Gothenburg University, who had trained for years, completed the pioneering procedure “without complications”.
The women will now wait a year for the two wombs to settle before doctors attempt to implant embryos. Both have already undergone IVF and the resultant embryos are being stored in the deep freeze.
One of the daughters had her uterus removed many years ago due to surgery for cervical cancer, while the other was born without the organ.
Should the pregnancies be successful the women will give birth to babies who are genetically their own, as the doctors took eggs from their functioning ovaries.Michael Olausson, one of the surgeons, said:
“We are not going to call it a complete success until this results in children.”
The university has decided to keep the identities of the four women, who are Swedish, a secret for now.
However, one of the two recipients, identified only by the name Anna, said she realised some may criticise the operation on ethical grounds, but that for her it simply meant restoring a bodily function, of which she had been deprived by cancer.
“It feels huge to be able to experience this,” she said in comments posted on the website of the Sahlgrenska hospital.
She said there were still no guarantees she and her boyfriend would be able to conceive. “We have received a wonderful opportunity, and if it works out it is a lovely bonus.”
Should the women go on to give birth it would mark a new chapter in the remarkable story of fertility treatment, according to Professor Simon Fishel, one of Britain’s leading IVF specialists.
He said: “This is exciting for a group of women who require surrogate mothers to have children, due to womb defects or having no womb at all.”

Rise of coding: Why we should all learn a little code

Enthusiasm for learning programming languages is on the rise. And coding is no longer the domain of self-taught savants or formal C.S. students. Students of all ages and disciplines are recognizing the benefits of being more code fluent. Plenty of free, in-browser online tutorials have risen to meet this need. One site, Codecademy, had over 1 million users pledge 2012 as their “code year” and sign up for their free tutorials on Java, HTML and CSS for beginners.
This is a great sign for the future of work in the U.S. Coding familiarity is becoming more of an asset across all industries. You don’t need to know how to reprogram your computer to operate it, but understanding how it works will help you imagine how programs can change to better serve your industry. So, if you’re among those of us who’ve always thought programming was impossibly hard or reserved for the tech-minded, consider learning a little code.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The case for science in Africa

 Africa faces serious problems – droughts and famines, infectious diseases and a shortage of good housing, to name a few. Each country also faces unique challenges, from the recent conflicts in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to exceptionally high HIV infection rates in South Africa.
Earlier this year, science ministers from the continent agreed to start an "African decade of science". Financial resources are scarce, however, and the need to address critical problems urgent. How do governments juggle spending on science with humanitarian needs?
There are examples of excellent science in Africa which may provide the answer. The UK's science academy, the Royal Society, has for the past six years recognised the work of young scientists from the continent through its Pfizer award. This year's winner, Julie Makani, is working to save thousands of Tanzanians from sickle-cell disease (SCD).
scientific research must become as much a part of Africa's long-term development as building roads, vaccinating children and improving education
Something that has struck me about Makani is her extensive links to researchers inside and outside Africa. Such collaboration is likely to be the linchpin of further scientific success in Africa: researchers there need to be able to identify problems and then engage with peers in Europe, Asia and the US to find solutions. The Leverhulme-Royal Society Africa Awards for collaborative research projects between the UK and research institutions in Ghana or Tanzania help support this.
Pledges and reality
Africa has been of special interest to me since my son was a volunteer in Ethiopia under the VSO scheme in 2003. As a scientist I can see the benefit that science could bring. But I am also conscious that it is difficult for African governments to justify funding a lot of basic research.
For example, in 1980, as part of the Lagos Plan of Action adopted by the Organization of African Unity – the African Union's predecessor – African governments pledged to spend 1 per cent of GDP on R&D, a goal that was restated in 2003. However, of the 54 member nations of the African Union, only South Africa, Uganda and Malawi have achieved anything close to this.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

EdX registers students from over 160 countries

The brains behind EdX, MIT's Agarwal stands 2nd (right)
When the Massachusetts Institute of Technology offered its first free online course this spring, Ashwith Rego jumped at the chance to learn from some of the world's leading researchers — without leaving his home in India.
"I never imagined that I would be taught by professors from MIT, let alone for free," said the 24-year-old engineer who works in Bangalore.
From Harvard to Stanford, a growing number of elite universities are throwing open their digital doors to the masses. They're offering their most popular courses online for no charge, allowing anyone with an Internet connection to learn from world-renowned scholars and scientists.
Many colleges have offered Web-based courses for years, but the participation of top-tier research universities marks a major milestone in the expansion of digital learning.
Many colleges have offered Web-based courses for years, but the participation of top-tier research universities marks a major milestone in the expansion of digital learning.
The proliferation of so-called massive open online courses, or MOOCs, has the potential to transform higher education at a time when colleges and universities are grappling with shrinking budgets, rising costs and protests over soaring tuition and student debt.
Supporters say these online courses can lower teaching costs, improve learning online and on campus, and significantly expand access to higher education, which could fuel technological innovation and economic growth.
"It holds the potential for serving many, many hundreds of thousands of students in a way we simply cannot today," said Molly Corbett Broad, president of the American Council on Education.
Last month, a dozen major research universities announced they would begin offering courses on the online learning platform Coursera, joining Stanford and Princeton universities and the universities of Pennsylvania and Virginia.
So far students can't earn college credit for the courses, but that hasn't dampened demand
The University of California, Berkeley said it would start making online courses available this fall through edX, a competing Web portal launched in May by Harvard University and MIT with $60 million in funding from the two schools.
"I believe it will ultimately revolutionize education," said UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau.
So far students can't earn college credit for the courses, but that hasn't dampened demand.

Harvard-MIT online school to offer supervised final exams

Presidents of Harvard (left) and MIT announcing EdX in May
EdX, the online school founded by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, will offer proctored final exams to allow students to use their results for credentials and job applications.
Online learners who want to provide potential employers with independently validated certificates will be able to take exams at more than 450 test sites worldwide run by Pearson VUE, a unit of London-based education publisher Pearson Plc (PSON), EdX said in an e-mailed statement.
Harvard and MIT, both based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, announced the formation of EdX on May 2. The nonprofit venture, funded with $30 million from each university, provides courses from those schools and the University of California, Berkeley. Proctored tests means job-seekers can present their results to potential employers, Anant Agarwal, an MIT professor who is president of EdX, said in the statement.
“This option enhances the value of our courses in the real world,” Agarwal said. It “is a natural evolution of EdX’s core philosophy of transforming lives through education.”
Test takers will be charged “a modest fee,” according to the statement. Courses are free, according to the EdX website. The first proctored test will be offered in the fall.
EdX’s class on circuits and electronics, taught by Agarwal and others, started yesterday, according to the website. Courses for chemistry, computer programming and public health will begin later this month and in October.

Sources: Business Week

Online fraudsters lure Africa job seekers with big pay

Kenyan and other African jobseekers are headed for yet another international recruitment fraud that is promising free training, employment and millions of shillings in salaries.
Global Community Health Partners (GCHP) — a firm that claims to have British certification — has published notices indicating that it is setting up offices in more than 30 countries, including Kenya, and is recruiting staff to run them.
One of the top jobs on offer is that of a project co-ordinator who will lead employees in developing programmes to help the needy, including poverty alleviation.
According to the organisation’s website — — other employees will be trained as community organisers.
Kenya, Tanzania, Angola, South Africa, Sudan, Senegal, Rwanda and Guinea Bissau are some of the African countries where GCHP intends to set up shop.
The health solutions firm also says it plans to open “permanent offices” in Venezuela, India and Turkey.
“GCHP is undertaking a project of a sub-headquarters in some African, Asian, Caribbean and South-American countries and we are set to recruit interested individuals willing to join our team,” says a notice posted on the organisation’s website.
“Applicants will receive training to work as community organisers, helping to improve the home environment and to jump-start healthy habits that will lead to a healthier way of conserving the environment.”

'Woman who raped dogs' sent for mental check

A Pretoria woman accused of having sex with two dogs was instructed to undergo mental examination when she appeared in the Pretoria Magistrate’s Court, a report said.
The Pretoria News reported that the woman was released on R1,000 bail.
The 31-year-old petite blonde faces four counts of bestiality and one of animal cruelty.
She was arrested on Wednesday after an anonymous person dropped off a DVD recording of the woman’s activities at an animal protection organisation.
The newspaper report said the home-made video footage depicts her having sex with a Staffordshire terrier and a Labrador.
The woman appeared in court holding a small Bible. She told the court that she was unemployed and wanted to apply for Legal Aid representation.
The matter was postponed to October 10.

Zimbabwe activist sues prison over denying inmate ARVs

 An AIDS awareness campaigner and his lawyers said they are taking a groundbreaking test case to Zimbabwe's highest court to force police and prison authorities ensure HIV sufferers get their life-prolonging medication.
Douglas Muzanenhamo said in papers filed at the Supreme Court that he was denied appropriate antiretroviral treatment in jail for three weeks last year and his condition veered toward death.
Muzanenhamo, who has been HIV-infected for 18 years, was freed without charge in March 2011 after police arrested bystanders at a lecture in Harare on the Arab Spring they claimed was in preparation for a revolt in Zimbabwe.
In court documents released Friday, he said he was kept in filthy cells making prisoners with HIV susceptible to fatal infections. He said he was held in solitary confinement for demanding his drugs.
Sudden changes in drug treatment over 48 hours are known to lead to a sharp deterioration in the body's immune system, even if the drug is resume patients are at risk that the treatment will not be effective, leading to their death.
In the first lawsuit of its kind, citing as respondents Zimbabwe's police and prison commanders, government ministers and the nation's attorney general, the chief law officer, Muzanenhamo said on the day of his arrest officers at the main Harare police station didn't allow him to call his family to bring medication he took twice daily to a precise timetable.
After lawyers intervened, his family brought medication two days later but they were kept by police and not given to him at the prescribed times. Then he was given a single prison issue tablet once a day that he was unfamiliar with.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Can geoengineering help Africa’s climate fight?

Ours is a planet on fire.  Does that scare you?  If it does, then you will probably be one of those wondering why the last few months have been hotter than any you’ve experienced in your entire life time.  Many scientists will simply give one answer – global warming.
Though there still exists some strong opponents, consensus on global warming has grown in the last decade that many who once opposed it have become converts of some sort.
A report put out in November 2007 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stated that around mid-2005 the world crossed a vital and dangerous climate threshold.  James Hansen of the United States’ National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), whose findings supported the IPCC report described climate change as ‘great moral issue’ at par with slavery.  "We're in an emergency: you can see what's on the horizon over the next few decades with the effects it will have on ecosystems, sea level and species extinction."
Hansen, called the ‘godfather of global warming’ by some, is a controversial figure.  In a 1988 testimony to the U.S. Senate, Hansen predicted then that Washington DC, the US capital city, would experience nine days per year of high temperatures of 95 degrees or more this decade if greenhouse gases continued to rise. This year, even before August, Washington had 23 such days.
"When I testified before the Senate in the hot summer of 1988, I warned of the kind of future that climate change would bring to us and our planet. I painted a grim picture of the consequences of steadily increasing temperatures, driven by mankind’s use of fossil fuels.  My projections about increasing global temperature have been proved true. But I failed to fully explore how quickly that average rise would drive an increase in extreme weather," Hansen wrote in the Washington Post early this month.
Geoengineering techniques are very controversial: while some climate scientists believe they may prove a quick and relatively cheap way to slow global warming, others fear that when conducted in the upper atmosphere, they could irrevocably alter rainfall patterns and interfere with the earth's climate
One of those who share Hansen’s worry about human-induced climate change is Prof. Aberra Mogessie, president of the African Geological Society.  According to Mogessie, those who suggest climate change might not be happening are not heretics, but are guilty of a staggering lack of intellectual rigour.  The Ethiopian professor was one of the participants at a meeting of African scientists in Senegal aimed at xraying the science of solar geoengineering and its implication for Africa.
For the over 25 eminent African scientists that attended the workshop from at least 14 African countries, the debate wasn’t whether or not climate change is happening.  “The tendency to doubt climate change here in Africa is almost non-existent because we see its impact everyday on the continent, said Prof. Berhanu Abegaz, Executive Director of AAS, whose organization was the lead organizer of the workshop.
“There is no dearth of consensus on the fact that climate change is real; what we have in short supply are innovative ideas on how to mitigate its impact, and that’s why we are gathered today,” Abegaz said as he opened discussions on the issue of solar geoengineering, a nascent science for which there are as many proponents as there are opponents.
The science mostly refers to the deliberate and large-scale engineering and manipulation of the planetary environment to combat or counteract changes in atmospheric chemistry.  Geoengineering techniques are very controversial: while some climate scientists believe they may prove a quick and relatively cheap way to slow global warming, others fear that when conducted in the upper atmosphere, they could irrevocably alter rainfall patterns and interfere with the earth's climate.

Paralympics 2012: how technology is helping athletes excel

From lightweight wheelchairs to mechanical knee joints, the London Paralympics is witnessing the newest high-tech kit designed to help Paralympians.

Wheelchairs – athletics, rugby, tennis, basketball
Racing wheelchairs now weigh around three times less than they did 60 years ago, helping athletes reach 25mph.
Britons Shelly Woods and David Weir went the extra mile by visiting an Airbus base for wind-tunnel tests where engineers analysed the efficiency of their body positions and the chair’s design. This involved them being blasted by 30mph winds.
Team sport chairs are now designed purely for speed, acceleration and precision – athletes used to use their day chairs – with some players going as fast as 10mph.
Peter Norfolk, the wheelchair tennis double-gold medallist, uses an adapted chair that has wheels with a camber of 20 degrees and a fifth wheel at the back that acts as anti-tip device while providing extra manoeuvrability.
Mechanical knee joints – athletics
Advances in prosthetic technology for below-the-knee amputees like Oscar Pistorius have made it possible for the South African to reach an Olympic 400 metres semi-final.

Yet in terms of technology for Paralympic sprinting it is the prosthetics used by above-the-knee amputees that are truly extraordinary.
Heinrich Popow of Germany, who had his left leg amputated aged nine to stop the spread of cancer, uses a prosthetic leg with an individually adjusted mechanical knee joint.
It joins the socket of the leg to the carbon fibre blade, operates like a hinge, with advanced hydraulic cylinders contained within the joint controlling how quick the foot rises.
The hydraulics help to minimise the loss of energy through friction when the knee moves, which means athletes encounter very little resistance and can swing their leg through quickly to reach top speed.

South African scientists find single dose cure for malaria

Malaria is the scourge of tropical nations, crippling its victims with symptoms like debilitating fever, convulsions and nausea, and killing half a million people annually. Now researchers in South Africa say they may have a one-size-fits-all solution, in the form of a new drug that could work with just one dose.
The drug is a synthetic molecule in a class of compounds known as aminopyridines, which are precursors to many drugs for neurological disorders. Scientists at Australia’s Griffith University were screening more than 6 million drug compounds and suggested aminopyridine for further study. Then a team of scientists led by Kelly Chibale at the University of Cape Town tested several of these compounds, settling on a suitable molecule that will now be tested further.
Most cases of malaria in Africa are caused by a parasite called Plasmodium falciparum, which lives in the salivary glands of female mosquitoes and is transferred into the human bloodstream when the bug bites.
This new drug killed the parasites instantly, according to reports from Cape Town media and the UCT — even those that are resistant to other anti-malarial drugs. Animal tests have not shown any negative side effects. Clinical trials on humans are set to start in 2013, South African government officials announced this week.
Efforts to curb malaria have extended all the way to mosquito eradication and genetic modification, yet the search for a cure-all has proved elusive. Malaria treatment involves a course of drugs, but in some cases the parasites have evolved to resist them.

South African officials trumpeted this new drug as a potential lifesaver for hundreds of thousands of people — and found on their own soil. “This is the first ever clinical molecule that’s been discovered out of Africa, by Africans, from a modern pharmaceutical industry drug discovery program,” Chibale was quoted saying.
Much more research remains to be done, and it could be at least seven years before any pill derived from this new compound is distributed throughout malaria-afflicted regions. But still, if this works, it could be an enormous breakthrough in a field that has haunted humanity — and the efforts of scientists to thwart it — for centuries.


Boko Haram killed 590, carried out 136 attacks in 2011

Former UN deputy sec. gen Asha-Rose Migiro (3rd l) and Nig.
foreign minister, Gbenga Ashiru, lay wreath UN building bombed
in 2011 in Abuja (c) GlobalPost
The Boko Haram insurgent group killed 590 people last year, the United States Department of State Country Reports on Terrorism 2011 has said.  It carried out 136 attacks.
The report released in Washington on Tuesday night said the group was more vicious last year than 2010.
At a briefing to release the report, Coordinator, Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism Daniel Benjamin said Africa experienced 978 terrorist attacks with Nigeria alone accounting for about 20 per cent.
Benjamin said there was 11.5 per cent increase in terrorism attacks on the continent when compared with 2010.
He said: “Africa experienced 978 attacks in 2011, an 11.5 percent increase over the previous year. And this is attributable in large part to the more aggressive attack tempo of the Nigerian-based terrorist group Boko Haram, which conducted 136 attacks in 2011, up from 31 the previous year.”
The report noted that:
• Muslim majority countries bore the greatest number of attacks involving 10 or more deaths, with Afghanistan sustaining the highest number (47), followed by Iraq (44), Pakistan (37), Somalia (28), and Nigeria (12).
• Afghans also suffered the largest number of fatalities overall with 3,245 deaths, followed by Iraqis (2,958), Pakistanis (2,038), Somalis (1,013), and Nigerians (590).
• Over 10,000 terrorist attacks occurred in 2011, affecting nearly 45,000 victims in 70 countries and resulting in over 12,500 deaths. The total number of worldwide attacks in 2011, however, dropped by almost 12 percent from 2010 and nearly 29 percent from 2007. Although the 2011 numbers represent five-year lows, they also underscore the human toll and geographic reach of terrorism.
Mother of a victim of the Madalla bomb blast last December
weeping      (c) Punch newspaper
• The Near East and South Asia continued to experience the most attacks, incurring just over 75 per cent of the 2011 total. In addition, Africa and the Western Hemisphere experienced five-year highs in the number of attacks, exhibiting the constant evolution of the terrorist threat.
• Africa experienced 978 attacks in 2011, an 11.5 per cent increase over 2010. This is attributable in large part to the more aggressive attack tempo of the Nigeria-based terrorist group Boko Haram, which conducted 136 attacks in 2011—up from 31 in 2010.
• Attacks in Europe and Eurasia fell 20 percent from 703 in 2010 to 561 in 2011. The greatest decline occurred in Russia where terrorist attacks were down from 396 in 2010 to 238 in 2011. In contrast, Turkey experienced a spike in terrorist attacks, rising from 40 in 2010 to 91 in 2011. Together, Russia and Turkey suffered almost 70 percent of all 2011 terrorism-related deaths in Europe and Eurasia.