Tag: 4@4

Four at Four

Four stories in the news at 4 o’clock. Simple, huh?

  1. While Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker continue with the White House ‘stay the course’, ‘just a little be longer’ rhetoric today while facing skeptical Senators who will, undoubtedly, turn around and vote for more “emergency” funding for Iraq, an analysis in the Los Angeles Times quotes a Mideast specialist that “Bush has found his exit strategy,” bequeath Iraq to successor. Meanwhile, “Newsweek has learned that a separate internal report being prepared by a Pentagon working group will ‘differ substantially’ from Petraeus’s recommendations… An early version of the report, which is currently being drafted and is expected to be completed by the beginning of next year, will ‘recommend a very rapid reduction in American forces: as much as two-thirds of the existing force very quickly, while keeping the remainder there.’ The strategy will involve unwinding the still large U.S. presence in big forward operation bases and putting smaller teams in outposts.” Senior Pentagon officials, including Petraeus’ commander, Admiral William Fallon, want to “draw down faster”.

  2. gray whaleYesterday’s Four at Four reported a brief bit of good news for whales, but today’s the bad whale news returns with a Los Angeles Times story, Gray whale recovery called incorrect. “The success story of the Pacific gray whales’ full recovery from near-extinction is wrong, according to a new genetic analysis that pegs the current population at only one-third to one-fifth of historical levels. ¶ By examining subtle variations in DNA taken from 42 modern whales, scientists have concluded that between 78,500 and 117,700 gray whales lived before the heyday of commercial whaling in the 19th and 20th centuries. ¶ That finding, published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that the about 22,000 gray whales now swimming along the California coast remain a depleted population.” Unfortunately, it gets worse.

    The results counter what had been a predominant scientific view that the iconic creatures of the West Coast were so bountiful that they were overgrazing their traditional feeding grounds. Instead, the findings provide further evidence that this year’s abnormally high number of skinny whales is a sign of deterioration of the vast ocean ecosystem that stretches from Baja California to the Bering Sea.

    “If the oceans a few hundred years ago could support 100,000 gray whales, why can’t the oceans sustain 20,000 whales today?” said Stephen Palumbi, a Stanford University marine sciences professor and senior author of the study.

  3. The oceans are trying to tell us something. From The Independent today is the ominous story that climate change will harm life on the deep ocean floor. “A study of the most remote forms of life on Earth has found that their splendid isolation on the deep seabed will not protect them from environmental catastrophes on the surface. ¶ Scientists used to believe that a global disaster that wiped out most of the life on Earth would not touch the unusual organisms that live around the mineral-rich vents on the sea floor. But research by a team of British scientists has found that even these deep-sea creatures which live in total darkness and survive on the chemical energy oozing from mineral vents on the seabed are not immune from the seasonal changes above.” In addition, the change has already started. In a diary at Daily Kos, jbalazs writes that the National Snow and Ice Data Center has found the melting polar ice caps are changing ocean circulation.

  4. Lastly, this report from Reuters, Biofuels may harm more than help. “The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) said biofuels may ‘offer a cure that is worse than the disease they seek to heal’. ¶ ‘The current push to expand the use of biofuels is creating unsustainable tensions that will disrupt markets without generating significant environmental benefits,’ the OECD said. ¶ ‘When acidification, fertilizer use, biodiversity loss and toxicity of agricultural pesticides are taken into account, the overall environmental impacts of ethanol and biodiesel can very easily exceed those of petrol and mineral diesel,’ it added.” Their advice? Cut consumption. “‘A liter of gasoline or diesel conserved because a person walks, rides a bicycles, carpools or tunes up his or her vehicle’s engine more often is a full liter of gasoline or diesel saved at a much lower cost to the economy than subsidizing inefficient new sources of supply,’ it said.” Also OECD suggest encouraging “developing countries that have ecological and climate systems more suited to biomass production” to become producers.

One more story below the fold…

Four at Four

Four stories in the news at 4 o’clock. Simple, huh?

  1. In case you’re ignoring the so-called ‘news’ today, the Washington Post reports it’s all sunshine and roses in Iraq. “Army Gen. David H. Petraeus claimed major progress for the so-called ‘surge,’ the deployment of an additional 30,000 troops to Iraq last spring… He said he also believes that ‘it is possible to achieve our objectives in Iraq over time,’ although this will be ‘neither quick nor easy.'” So what are our objectives, aside from the oil, that is? The Independent gives a snapshot of life in occupied Iraq in — Under siege: what the surge really means in Baghdad. “For many Iraqis, the Americans have turned their land into a prison. The barriers, which have turned Baghdad into a series of ghettos, are meant to keep the bombers out, but they also keep residents penned in”. Baghdad is “a city divided by high concrete walls, barbed wire and checkpoints; armoured columns moving through deserted evening streets lit by the glow of searchlights and emptied by official curfew and fear.”

  2. More madness in our society’s death pact with the fossil fuel industry. The Independent reports, Shell could take nuclear option to mine oil from Canadian tar sands. “Shell is considering using nuclear power to operate its controversial tar sands programme in Canada. ¶ Tar sands extraction – mining oil from a mixture of sand or clay, water and very heavy crude oil – uses a huge amount of energy and water. Environmentalists say it results in more than three times as many emissions of carbon dioxide compared to conventional oil production. ¶ Now Canadian firms AECL and Energy Alberta have proposed building a nuclear reactor near the site of Shell’s vast Athabasca tar sands development.” But according to the Globe and Mail, the oil sands are already facing a capacity squeeze. “A lack of pipeline capacity to take Canadian crude to refineries in the United States between now and 2009 will increase competition for producers to get their output to market.” Which could “lower prices” and “consequently, producers could delay some oil sands projects to try to ensure they don’t have to discount their future output to guarantee it gets to market”.

  3. Jatropha in MaliI had never heard of jatropha before this story, Mali’s Farmers Discover a Weed’s Potential Power in The New York Times. “A plant called jatropha is being hailed by scientists and policy makers as a potentially ideal source of biofuel, a plant that can grow in marginal soil or beside food crops, that does not require a lot of fertilizer and yields many times as much biofuel per acre planted as corn and many other potential biofuels… ¶ Poor farmers living on a wide band of land on both sides of the equator are planting it on millions of acres, hoping to turn their rockiest, most unproductive fields into a biofuel boom.”. Jatropha is drought and pest resistant and produces seeds with up to 40 percent oil content. The plant sounds almost too good to be true. Why does it remind me of kudzu?

  4. How about some good news about whales for a change? The Guardian reports that Iceland renounces commercial whaling. “Iceland’s fisheries minister said the country will issue no new quotas for commercial whaling after the final batch expired last week. Einar K Guofinnsson said there was no demand for whale meat and therefore no need to issue fresh quotas. ‘There is no reason to continue commercial whaling if there is no demand for the product,’ he said. ¶ ‘The whaling industry, like any other industry, has to obey the market. If there is no profitability, there is no foundation for resuming with the killing of whales.’ ¶ Iceland has been unable to obtain permission to export whale products to Japan, depriving the industry of its primary – though dwindling – market.”

One more story below the fold…

Four at Four

Four stories in the news at 4 o’clock. Simple, huh?

  1. A story from The Jakarta Post picked up by AFP reports that “Indonesia is seeking access to some 72 migrant workers who have been kept at US military camps in Iraq despite the expiry of their employment contracts… The cooks, technicians and cleaners served 17-month contracts in the camps but have been there for more than 20 months” and “Indonesian officials had been seeking access to the workers for more than three months through US embassies”. “US officials initially denied the workers were being kept beyond their contracts”. Teguh Wardoyo, the foreign ministry’s director for the protection of Indonesian, said “the US military authorities are dependent on our workers and are afraid they won’t come back”.

  2. Polar bears are in deep water.While the ice is disappearing at a catastrophic rate, “polar bears – the very symbol of the Arctic’s looming environmental disaster – are crashing towards extinction as a result of global warming, the US government has found.” The Independent reports more on the appalling fate of the polar bear, symbol of the Arctic. “Campaigners know that climate change and pollution are the biggest threats to polar bear survival, but believe that stopping sports hunting is symbolically important… ¶ American hunters exploit a loophole in the Marine Mammal Protection Act that allows them to get licences to import polar bear trophies from Canada. Some 953 have been granted or applied for since 1994. [Democratic] Senator [John] Kerry is now co-sponsoring with Republican Senator Olympia Snowe a proposed Polar Bear Protection Act in the US Senate that would stop the skins being imported”. The Observer reports that thanks to climate change now one in four mammals under threat and “most dramatically” of all are the polar bears.

  3. McClatchy Newspapers report, as Brazil’s rain forest burns down, planet heats up. “As vast tracts of rain forest are cleared, Brazil has become the world’s fourth-largest producer of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming, after the United States, China and Indonesia… ¶ And while about three-quarters of the greenhouse gases emitted around the world come from power plants, transportation and industrial activity, more than 70 percent of Brazil’s emissions comes from deforestation. ¶ Burning and cutting the forest releases hundreds of millions of tons of carbon dioxide, methane and other gases that the vegetation had trapped.”

  4. The National Science Foundation has informed the the Arecibo Observatory, the largest and most sensitive radio telescope on Earth, that it must shutdown unless it can find at least $4 million dollars to keep it running. A story in the Washington Post, Radio Telescope And Its Budget Hang in the Balance, has the details. The observatory, located in Puerto Rico, “is the only facility on the planet able to track asteroids with enough precision to tell which ones might plow into Earth — a disaster that could cause as many as a billion deaths and that experts say is preventable with enough warning.”

One more story below the fold…

Four at Four

Four stories in the news at 4 o’clock. Simple, huh?

  1. According to The Telegraph, Britain is set to withdraw 500 troops from Iraq. “Britain will withdraw 500 troops from southern Iraq over the next few months, the Ministry of Defence said today. The announcement comes six days after 550 British troops pulled back from Basra Palace, handing security over to Iraqi forces… ¶ It added that further reductions in manpower would be implemented in the coming months as part of ongoing reviews.”

  2. In a surprise to probably no one, The New York Times reports that F.B.I. data mining went beyond targets. “The F.B.I. cast a much wider net in its terrorism investigations than it has previously acknowledged by relying on telecommunications companies to analyze phone-call and e-mail patterns of the associates of Americans who had come under suspicion, according to newly obtained bureau records. ¶ The documents indicate that the F.B.I. used secret demands for records to obtain data not only on the person it was targeting but also details on his or her ‘community of interest’ — the network of people that the target in turn was in contact with. The F.B.I. recently stopped the practice in part because of broader questions raised about its aggressive use of the records demands, which are known as national security letters…”

  3. Bleak outlook for polar bears, reports the Sydney Morning Herald. “The polar bear population could be reduced by two-thirds by mid-century, if forecasts of melting sea ice hold true, the US Geological Survey has reported. ¶ The fate of polar bears could be bleaker than that estimate, because sea ice in the Arctic might be vanishing faster than the models predict, the geological survey said in a report to determine if the big white bear should be listed as a threatened species… ¶ That means that polar bears – about 16,000 of them – will disappear by 2050 from the north coasts of Alaska and Russia, where sea ice is melting most rapidly, researchers said. By century’s end, polar bears might be contained to the Canadian Arctic islands and west coast of Greenland.” But, maybe not Greenland, see this story from The Guardian, Melting ice cap triggering earthquakes.

  4. Not only are the polar bears going, but The Independent reports our national parks have been hit by global warming. “The Bush administration has again been criticised for failing to tackle climate change, which is rapidly transforming America’s national parks, forests and marine sanctuaries… ¶ This week, the Government Accountability Office criticised the President for failing to show leadership in tackling the problems. ‘Without such guidance, the ability to address climate change and effectively manage resources is constrained,’ it warned.

One more story below the fold…

Four at Four

Four stories in the news at 4 o’clock. Simple, huh?

  1. Ouch. Bush’s Gilded Age economy has ground to a halt. The New York Times reports, 4-Year Growth in Jobs Ends; Stocks Plunge. “Employers eliminated 4,000 jobs in August… If the jobs report had been merely lackluster, it might have been welcomed by investors as a sign that fears of inflation had abated sufficiently to make the prospect of a Fed rate cut all but certain. The reversal in job growth, however, went far beyond expectations, raising fears that corporate profits will weaken as the market upheaval moves beyond the housing and financial sectors and casts a chill on the broader economy.” (As profits weaken, expect corporations to cut even more jobs.) “The nation lost 4,000 jobs in August, the first time employment has shrunk since August 2003,” the Washington Post notes. “The dollar tumbled to a 15-year low today,” The Guardian adds. “The American economy is poised for an impending recession,” The Telegraph predicts.

  2. The death toll from Hurricane Felix continues to climb. Hundreds still missing as Felix toll reaches 98, according to The Guardian. ‘The death toll from Hurricane Felix rose to 98 today, with hundreds more people still missing. Rescuers working in Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua, pulled bloated bodies from the sea while villagers used canoes to search for survivors. Residents of the remote area claimed they had been given little warning of the hurricane’s approach, leaving many fishermen stranded at sea… Hurricane Felix hit Nicaragua’s north-eastern Miskito coast early on Tuesday as a category five storm, the highest on the scale.”

  3. The Sydney Morning Herald reports from the APEC meeting, Not much civility from police chiefs, but scant civil disobedience.

    Superintendent Stephen Cullen, the head of the NSW Police Riot Squad, laid it on the line this week. Sydney, he said, was on the brink of violence and civil disobedience on a scale never witnessed here.

    Violent agitators were “well-drilled and disciplined” and the police intelligence was disturbing, cautioned the burly police veteran, who also carries the title of Civil Order Commander for APEC. “I have absolutely no doubt that minority groups will engage in a level of violence not previously experienced in Sydney,” he said. “Never in my career have I held such serious concerns for public safety.”

    They are the kind of comments that have flown thick and fast from the lips of politicians and police for months, as they justify the huge expense of the APEC security operation. But, even as the city braces for the main anti-APEC protest rally today, they are sentiments that are looking increasingly shrill and alarmist.

    As of yesterday afternoon, APEC-related arrests in Sydney have encompassed 11 members of a comedy troupe, a man who squirted tomato sauce on a pro-US banner and another individual who apparently used bad language. All low-level stuff considering the security wall and police powers introduced for the summit, not to mention the spending on riot gear.

    “It’s out of proportion,” said Alan Behm, a security analyst and former senior defence official. “The security measures are excessive, the amount of money spent is not proportionate to the threat, and it set a new precedent in dignitary protection which is above the standard of any other country that I’m aware of.”

    Now that is the kind of reporting, we don’t see anymore in the America’s traditional media.

  4. Spiegel Online brings this sticky news from Germany: Chocolate Sauce Blocks Autobahn. “Thirteen tons of chocolate melted and flowed across the German Autobahn on Thursday night after the truck carrying it caught fire. ¶ Willy Wonka would have approved. Apparently, the truck suddenly caught on fire as it was cruising through the night near Ludwigsfelde just south of Berlin… ¶ The driver was able to separate the tractor from the trailer, but the chocolate wasn’t nearly so lucky. The heat from the fire made quick work of the sweet cargo and before long, a mini chocolate river was flowing across the highway.” Send in the Oompa-Loompas!

One more story below the fold…

Four at Four

Four stories in the news at 4 o’clock. Simple, huh?

  1. The ACLU has struck another blow against Bush-style fascism on behalf of Joe Does everywhere. Dan Eggen of the Washington Post reports, Judge Rules Provisions of Patriot Act Unconstitutional:

    A federal judge today struck down portions of the USA Patriot Act as unconstitutional, ordering the FBI to stop issuing ‘national security letters’ that secretly demand customer information from Internet service providers and other businesses.

    U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero in New York ruled that the landmark antiterrorism law violates the First Amendment and the separation of powers because it effectively prohibits recipients of the FBI letters from revealing their existence and does not provide adequate judicial oversight of the process.

    Marrero wrote in his 106-page ruling that Patriot Act provisions related to NSLs are “the legislative equivalent of breaking and entering, with an ominous free pass to the hijacking of constitutional values.”

  2. More court battles may be on the horizon for the Bush administration. According to The Guardian, the National Security Archives has sued the White House over their mishandling of email. “A private firm today filed a lawsuit claiming the White House illegally abandoned an automatic archiving system for its email in 2002. ¶ The legal move, taken by National Security Archive (NSA), a group advocating the public disclosure of government secrets, is the latest attempt to find out whether the Bush administration lost millions of electronic messages. ¶ Email problems at the White House first came to light during a special investigation into the leaking of the identity of a CIA agent in 2003, and the issue was raised again this year during inquiries into the role of presidential aides in firing US attorneys.”

  3. Not much news from the APEC meeting in Sydney, but The Hill makes mention of this bit of Aussie humor. “The White House was not amused Thursday by the antics of an Australian comedy group that breached President Bush’s security in Sydney… The group staged a faux motorcade, pretending to be the delegation of Canada with one of the comedians dressed as Osama bin Laden, and made it past two police checkpoints before being stopped.” The Sydney Morning Herald has more.

  4. Scientists now have a theory to explain how an asteroid was set on a collision course with the Earth — a cataclysmic event that is a leading theory to why many dinosaurs went extinct. Space.com has the low down, Dino-Killing Asteroid Traced to Cosmic Collision. “Scientists think the celestial smash-up took place some 160 million years ago in the asteroid belt, located between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. The collision would have hurled numerous large chunks of debris into space. And the scientists think one of those fragments crashed into Earth 65 million years ago to form the Chicxulub crater near Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. Another likely carved the Tycho crater on the moon, they said. ¶ The results, published in the Sept. 6 issue of the journal Nature, rely on a series of computer models and do not represent a firm conclusion, though they are supported by information collected from the Chicxulub crater by past researchers.”

Four at Four

The News at 4 o’clock. Four stories, only four, that are interesting or important. The headlines:

  1. B-52 mistakenly flies across America with nukes aboard

  2. New Zealand’s prime minister heads into APEC nuke showdown

  3. New fears for Congo gorillas as rebels seize Virunga reserve

  4. USGS Looking for Fossil Fuels in the Arctic

The stories are below the fold.

Four at Four

  1. Hurricane Felix has weakened some, but is still deadly. Reuters has the details as Felix hits Central America. “The highly dangerous Hurricane Felix ripped into Central America on Tuesday, smashing up a port on Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast and threatening deadly mudslides in Honduras and Guatemala… ¶ Felix struck the coast as a potentially catastrophic Category 5 storm… The area where Felix hit is sparsely populated and dotted with lagoons and marshes, but the storm threatened many poor Honduran and Guatemalan villages further inland that are perched on hillsides and vulnerable to mudslides… ¶ Felix weakened to a Category 3 hurricane as it crashed through northern Nicaragua but was still very dangerous.” There have been two fatalities.

  2. The Los Angeles Times gives this bleak assessment of the Iraq occupation and summer ‘surge’. “The U.S. military buildup that was supposed to calm Baghdad and other trouble spots has failed to usher in national reconciliation, as the capital’s neighborhoods rupture even further along sectarian lines, violence shifts elsewhere and Iraq’s government remains mired in political infighting… ¶ The number of Iraqis fleeing their homes has increased, not decreased… ¶ Military officials say sectarian killings in Baghdad are down more than 51% and attacks on civilians and security forces across Iraq have decreased. But this has not translated into a substantial drop in civilian deaths as insurgents take their lethal trade to more remote regions… ¶ At best, analysts, military officers and ordinary Iraqis portray the country as in a holding pattern, dependent on U.S. troops to keep the lid on violence.”

  3. The Financial Times is reporting that the Chinese military hacked into the Pentagon this past June. “The Pentagon acknowledged shutting down part of a computer system serving the office of Robert Gates, defence secretary, but declined to say who it believed was behind the attack.” While off the record, the fingers are pointing to China’s People’s Liberation Army and Beijing, of course, has declined to comment. “Hackers from numerous locations in China spent several months probing the Pentagon system before overcoming its defences… The Pentagon is still investigating how much data was downloaded, but one person with knowledge of the attack said most of the information was probably ‘unclassified’.” The operative word is probably, meaning they don’t really know.

  4. The switch to biofuels can have negative impacts. In The Independent, Last refuge of the orang-utan, the sad fate of the orangutans is examined. “The orang-utan, one of our closest animal relatives and the largest tree-living mammal on the planet, is in deep crisis. A once-mighty orange army of 300,000 that swung through the dense forests of much of south-east Asia has dwindled to fewer than 25,000 concentrated on the two Indonesian islands of Borneo and Sumatra, conservationists say. There, they cling precariously to life on government-protected nature reserves that are under siege by developers of one of the world’s most lucrative commodities: palm oil. ¶ Illegal logging, fires and clearances have decimated the tropical rainforest that is the exclusive home of the primates, who nest high above the forest floor.

So, what else is happening?

Four at Four

Four at Four is an afternoon briefing of four (yes only four) important or interesting stories in the news. Please look for it Monday through Friday at 4 p.m. Eastern.

  1. The New York Times reports that George W. “Bush flew with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice directly to this sprawling air base in Anbar Province, the Sunni stronghold that has seen significant security improvements in recent months. There he was joined in the 110-degree heat by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staffs, who had flown separately… ¶ The high-level visit was conducted with extraordinary security precautions. American officials said the measures, which included withholding disclosure of Mr. Gates’s arrival after Mr. Bush was on the ground, were necessary because of the top officials from Iraq and from the United States who were present. Although Mr. Gates arrived on a C-17 transport plane, Mr. Bush traveled on Air Force One, which could be seen sitting on the air base’s baking tarmac.” Bush stopped by Iraq on his way to Australia for APEC, so I guess that explains why Laura skipped the trip. She didn’t want to see the Good News from Iraq™, first hand.

  2. Hurricane Felix has weakened slightly according to the Miami Herald. “Forecasters called the modest weakening an expected short-term fluctuation and said Felix was likely to regain its top-scale Category 5 strength before its core makes landfall Tuesday morning, likely near the border between Honduras and Nicaragua. ¶ Warnings were issued to residents of Honduras, Nicaragua, Belize and Guatemala.”

  3. The Washington Post says in northern France, some champagne producers’ grapes were ready for harvest in August, earlier than in any year on record. “Scientists and growers have been stunned by the dramatic evolutions in the northernmost regions of Alsace and Champagne, long considered less susceptible to global warming… ¶ In a chain reaction of nature, climate change is also sending new insects and diseases north… ¶ Scientists and vintners say wine grapes are the best agricultural measure of climate change because of their extraordinary sensitivity to weather and the meticulous data that have been kept concerning the long-lived vines.”

  4. According to the Times of India, China has banned the reincarnation of living Buddhas without state permission. “In an order by the state administration of religious affairs, which comes into effect from September 1, China has said Buddhas cannot be reincarnated outside China. Instead, they would have to take permission from the state, which would oversee the selection of the ‘soul-boy’ (or the reincarnated Buddha).” The present Dalai Lama has said “that if Tibet was not free when he died, he would be reincarnated in a free country elsewhere. The Chinese government wants to pre-empt that.”

So, what else is happening?

Four at Four

Four at Four is an afternoon briefing of four (yes only four) important or interesting stories in the news. Please look for it Monday through Friday at 4 p.m. Eastern.

  1. According to the Washington Post, George W. Bush apologized to Roberta Stewart, “the widow of a Wiccan soldier, after she was excluded from a Nevada meeting this week that the president held with the families of soldiers killed in combat.” Stewart lost her husband, Patrick, in Afghanistan in 2005. Bush called Stewart for a five minute conversation and “expressed regret over her exclusion.”

  2. There is a hopeful article about green energy in the Washington Post, Beyond Wind and Solar, a New Generation of Clean Energy. Some of the alternatives investigated include buoys”to harness ocean waves off the coast of Oregon to produce electricity” and geothermal power plants that “pump naturally heated water from underground, run it through turbines to generate electricity and re-inject it into the earth”. The article notes that, “this push for lesser-known renewables — which also includes geothermal, solar thermal and tidal energy — may someday help ease the country’s transition to a society less reliant on carbon-based fuels. But many of these technologies are in their infancy, and it remains to be seen whether they can move to the marketplace and come close to meeting the country’s total energy needs.” Let’s hope the engineers and scientists succeed and let’s push the politicians to make it possible.

  3. The Sydney Morning Herald gives an update on the Voyager I and II space probes in Thirty years tracking faint whispers from space. “When NASA’s Voyager probes set sail they were the most sophisticated spacecraft ever built. But that was 30 years ago.” Now, the Tidbinbilla space tracking station, outside Canberra, Australia has to maintain “heritage equipment to talk to them… because the ageing probes can only chat at a sluggish 32 bits a second, far too slow for modern computers.” Some of the engineers maintaining the equipment are younger than the hardware.

  4. The Los Angeles Times is reporting that Jason Ur, an archaeologist at Harvard University has a new theory about how ancient cities came to be. “Excavations at a 6,000-year-old archeological mound in northeastern Syria called Tell Brak are providing an alternative explanation for how the first cities may have grown. ¶ Archeologists have thought cities generally began in a single small area and grew outward — but evidence indicates that the urban area at Tell Brak was a ring of small villages that grew inward to become a city.”

So, what else is happening?

Four at Four

Four at Four is an afternoon briefing of four (yes only four) important or interesting stories in the news. Please look for it Monday through Friday somewhere between 4 p.m. Eastern to 4 p.m. Pacific.

  1. There is still a bright spot in the deteriorating relationship between the U.S. and Russia. According to The New York Times, The U.S. and Russia are cooperating in destroying arms.

    In a little more than 2 minutes, the missile component burned itself out, the latest piece of Soviet-era nuclear hardware to be destroyed under an American taxpayer-funded effort known as Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction.

    The brainchild of Senator Richard G. Lugar and Sam Nunn, then also a senator, the effort, which had its 15th anniversary this week, has grown into one of the principal areas of enduring collaboration between Russia and the United States.

    Programs under its umbrella have helped Russia and other former Soviet states account for, secure and destroy nuclear, chemical and biological materials and the equipment related to their delivery as weapons, though some elements have suffered delays and bureaucratic resistance, and a renewed climate of secrecy in Russia has made negotiations and access difficult at some of the weapons or material storage sites.

    Still, in all, nearly 7,000 nuclear warheads have been deactivated, and silos, mobile launchers, submarines and strategic bombers that were once integral to their deployment and potential use have been destroyed. In addition, the effort has helped to safeguard highly enriched uranium from research reactors and nuclear power plants, and blend it down to a state of low enrichment — still useful for generating electricity, but not as material for a nuclear device.

  2. Today is a bad day for whales. Reuters is reporting, that a U.S. appeals court ends ban on Navy sonar tests. The lawsuit was brought by the Natural Resources Defense Council because they claim the Navy’s “sonar, which shoots bursts of sound, is so loud it kills whales.” In the opinion, the split three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said whales are come second to America’s “defense”:

    “The public does indeed have a very considerable interest in preserving our natural environment and especially relatively scarce whales,” Judge Andrew Kleinfeld wrote. “But it also has an interest in national defense. We are currently engaged in war, in two countries… The safety of the whales must be weighed, and so must the safety of our warriors. And of our country.”

    The navies of landlocked Afghanistan and civil-war embroiled Iraq must be an enormous threat to America.

  3. The Federal Reserver doesn’t look like it’s going to cover the risky bets of the mortgage speculators. The Washington Post reports that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke says the Fed won’t let markets disrupt U.S. economy.

    But Bernanke also made clear that the Fed has no desire to bail out investors who made foolish bets. “It is not the responsibility of the Federal Reserve — nor would it be appropriate — to protect lenders and investors from the consequences of their financial decisions,” Bernanke said, an apparent rebuke of critics on Wall Street who would like the Fed to cut its federal funds rate, a decision that would likely ease some of the locked up markets for home mortgage and other debt.

  4. The Independent has a great story about Anthony Battersby and Rachel Feilden, a couple of Brits, who have revived a historic watermill in Tellisford, England to generate electricity. “Since going live in January, Battersby and Feilden have sent 140,000 kilowatt (kW) hours to the National Grid. That’s enough annually to power 60 homes and, thanks to a range of green energy premiums, the couple are in line to earn £25,000 a year from selling their electricity, not to mention saving 100 tons of carbon dioxide emissions.”

    The article suggests that “if small hydroelectric projects on all Britain’s streams and rivers could be tapped it would be possible to produce 10,000 gigawatt hours of electricity – or 3 per cent of our total energy needs.” There are likely to be old mills in the United States, especially in New England, that could be similarly restored and converted for green hydropower.

So, what else is happening?

Four at Four

Four at Four is an afternoon briefing of four, yes only four, news items that are important. Please look for it Monday-Friday at around 4 p.m. Eastern.

  1. The Los Angeles Times has a good story today on Jon Soltz, Iraq war veteran and founder of votevets.org. The portrait of Soltz is Soldier answers a new call to battle:

    But in a little more than a year since he launched VoteVets. org, Soltz has helped transform the war debate in Washington by channeling the raw anger and frustration of many Iraq vets into a political campaign both sophisticated and visceral. Soltz, 30, and his band of mostly twenty- and thirtysomething veterans have shaken the GOP’s claim to be the pro-military party. They accuse Republicans of recklessly sending troops to war without the right equipment and failing to care for thousands of wounded and traumatized vets…

    “Jon Soltz seems to be exactly what progressives need,” said Paul Begala, an influential Democratic strategist who worked on Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr.’s successful 2006 campaign against Santorum. “He has a pair of fists, and he knows how to use them.”

    …Soltz said the organization would remain on the offense throughout the 2008 campaign. “Everything else VoteVets has done has been warm-up,” he said. “We’re going to play in the big leagues.

  2. According to The Hill, the AFL-CIO is “unlikely to throw its support behind a candidate during the primary season. Under current rules, a candidate would need the support of two-thirds of the union’s membership, making it difficult to see how an endorsement could be offered anytime soon”.

  3. Alberto Gonzales will soon be out of a job, but his words will live on in infamy. According to the Washington Post, the soon to be Gonzales-free Justice Department is Investigating Gonzales’s Testimony:

    The Justice Department is investigating whether departing Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales gave false or misleading testimony to Congress on a broad range of issues, including the Bush administration’s warrantless surveillance program and the removal of nine U.S. attorneys last year, the lead investigator said today.

    The disclosure by Inspector General Glenn A. Fine shows that internal investigations that began with the prosecutor firings have widened substantially to include a focus on Gonzales’s actions and statements.

    Senate Judiciary Chair Pat Leahy (D-VT) is looking forward to the findings.

  4. The Sahara isn’t the only desert that is slowly creeping and expanding. In China, the Badain Jaran desert is expanding. From The Independent, Great Wall could be lost to sands of the desert: “Sandstorms in northern China are reducing large sections of the Great Wall to rubble. Archaeologists say whole chunks of one of the seven wonders of the world could be gone in 20 years”. The CS Monitor had a story about China’s desertification problem recently too. China loses about 950 sq miles to desertification each year.

So, what else is happening?

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