Behind bad behavior

The PURE Management Group is one of several firms that paid Paris Hilton perhaps $200,000 to party at a nightclub. A private jet is standard in these contracts, a luxury suite, a sumptuous dinner and free booze.

An upcoming nightclub opening has booked Britney Spears. A table next to Spears can cost $50,000. Tickets through the door will sell for $250.

For nightclub operators, it has become the standard way of getting their establishments known. Athletes see payments from $5,000 to $30,000 and models from $2,500 to $25,000. [story]

Qualities of life

Something noteworthy from New Zealand.

A burglar broke into a house twice.
The second time he left a note to apologize.

AP Story:
“The burglar smashed a window to gain entry and made off with a laptop computer, a camera, and Glass’s wallet with an American Express credit card.

“The thief returned the goods later in the day, along with a new basketball and two pairs of gloves bought on the stolen credit card.

“Glass and his wife, Shirley, discovered the loot piled on their kitchen table with a neat, handwritten full-page note from the burglar saying he was sorry for “violating the safety and security of your home.””

The burglar wrote, “I have never written truer words when I say that I wish that I had never done this to you and your family. From the bottom of my heart I am sorry.”

The failing Bush

Only 3 out of 18 benchmarks for Iraq have been met.

The GAO contradicts claims that security has improved. There are fewer attacks against US forces but attacks on Iraqi civilians remain unchanged. [link]

World’s oldest blogger

Olive Riley, blogger at 107“AT 107 she is probably the world’s oldest blogger. Cyber-granny Olive Riley may also lay claim to being the oldest YouTube user.”, reports Australia’s Daily Telegraph.

Her blog tells stories, more than a century of stories.

When she became old enough to be interested in boys, her Dad sent her across the road to apologize to the “poor lads” she had taunted and scorned.

She tells a story of a postmistress hoping to keep her job between the world wars by sending herself three letters per week to keep her post office funded.

Her friend Mike types the blog actually. Nevertheless Granny Ollie’s blog is an important chronology, simple and heartfelt and human.

Mine detector weed

In one year, at least 26,000 people are killed or injured by at least 100 million undiscovered landmines.

Dogs, flails and carefully probing on hands and knees are tedious and dangerous methods of mine detection.

Now a common weed has been re-engineered to turn purple if explosives are nearby.

Thale Cress - a mine detector weedThe leaves of a DNA-modified Thale Cress, long used in research because it matures in as little as three weeks, changes color in contact with nitrogen dioxide evaporating from explosives in the soil.

Among many worries about releasing man-made DNA, a major charity with 5,500 deminers and 120 heavy machines worries that the plantings may be unreliable. [BBC]

Reporter System In Plants
The Danish biotech company Aresa has been granted patents on the system behind the landmine detecting plant called RedDetect™.

A trial has been approved in Serbia to test the technology behind the landmine detecting plant.

RedDetect’s color changing ability is remarkable. As importantly, this underscores advances in using plants as tools in the field.

Farmers may soon detect pests as quickly as plants! [previous link]

Lame Duck Lone Ranger

Inevitable worry begins to appear in press commentary about lame duck Bush.

“Beseiged by events, cast down by the opinion polls, isolated by the loss of his closest advisers, it would not be surprising if this particular US President was now losing it.

“When you bring in Iran you enter even more fertile territory for a President trying to paint himself as a lone Ranger and paint his opponents into a corner.

“Keep calling Iran names and keep threatening it openly with military attack and all you will do is to strengthen the hands of those who feel Iran must develop nuclear weapons, should stoke up trouble in Iraq and Palestine and clamp down on internal dissent in response.

“Bush’s latest outpourings [are] becoming more divorced from reality and more confrontational with each week. [via Adrian Hamilton at IHT: Bush’s increasingly tenuous hold on reality]

Rampaging Particles and Dr. John Gofman

Bow shockwave of the EarthThere’s the journey of our Earth and its magnificent shields against high-energy particles. And there’s the journey of the cells in our body with the risks we encounter from speeding particle energy.

While thinking of conversations with Dr. John Gofman, remembering, after he’s left us at the age of 88, the grand realm of the invisible is lifted to the top my day.

It’s a stunning exercise to teach my brain that mass is not what I perceive. Thoughts are marvelous, thinking is tremendous, living is fantastic and exploring the vast infinities of form and energy is pure fun. The moment is eternity.

After posting about John Gofman in Sunburn and Bowling Balls, I found this article at Counterpunch where Russel D. Hoffman writes in ‘My Favorite Scientists’:

“He was the best, and so naturally, the nuclear industry hated him, denounced him, tried to discredit him, and, whenever possible, ignored him.

“They hated him because they could not disprove his theory that low level radiation was a lot more harmful than officially recognized, and potentially deadly down to the last radioactive atom.

“Gofman never was discredited, and his research stands. Radiation is dangerous down to the last decay, and Gofman is our hero. His work on the Manhattan Project should have made him a hero to the rest of society, as well, but America doesn’t like anyone who questions the standard dogma of the nuclear age, so he was never recognized for his contributions to our understanding, or his vital contributions to the war effort.”

Are we listening?
Biopact reports that 250 new nuclear power plants have been approved in our rush to offset fossil fuels.

“Because of the serious price increases for oil and gas and growing awareness of the need to mitigate climate change, nuclear has become an attractive option. Several countries are investing heavily in the technology.

“According to the World Nuclear Association, 28 new plants are currently under construction, construction plans for 64 others have been approved and another 158 are planned for the near future. The bulk of these projects can be found in China, Russia and India.

“In total some 250 new plants are in the pipeline, against the 440 that currently dot the planet.

We must make every effort to diligently restrain and control radiation in our environment.

How ionizing radiation affects cellsThe impact of radiation is complex physical, chemical, and biological events. In seconds, there’s damage to DNA, proteins and more. In minutes, the cell changes genes and proteins.

“Time has proven Gofman correct about low-level radiation. Over the years the accepted standards have become more stringent, not less. On three separate occasions the International Commission for Radiation Protection (ICRP), which draws up the rules for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), has tightened up the standards.

“In 2005 Gofman was finally vindicated in full when the National Academy of Sciences, after a five-year comprehensive investigation, released a 700-page report that endorsed what he and a few other brave scientists have been saying for many years, namely, that all radiation exposure is cumulative and adds to the risk of cancer.

The notion of a safe dose is an oxymoron.”

To manage radioactive discards from power plants, medical devices and weapons for tens of thousands of years is a challenge I do not believe humanity can easily achieve.

But much is achieved every day as choices become increasingly clear while we transit from an industrial revolution toward our sustainable frontier.

Sunburn and bowling balls

This is a roundabout post in memory of Dr. John Gofman, the ‘father of the anti-nuclear movement’.

A nanosecond is one billionth of a second.

In a billionth of a second, light travels one foot.

A picosecond is a trillionth of a second.
One millionth of one millionth of a second.
A billion times faster than a second. [wiki]

That’s the time taken for light to move one millimeter.

Our cells can be damaged in a trillionth of a second.
By scanning DNA molecules, by looking over the molecules using equipment that can “see” the position of the parts of us that are rapidly vibrating at these incredible speeds, scientists have seen DNA get ‘sunburned’.

The damage happens with astounding speed — in less than one picosecond, or one millionth of one millionth of a second. The journal Science, reported that the damage depends greatly on the position of the DNA at the moment the UV strikes the molecule.

Striking a molecule?
That’s what Dr. John Gofman was warning us about.

A pioneer at Lawrence Livermore and the Stanford Linear Accelerator, a pioneer on the health effects of radiation, a co-discoverer of uranium-233, and an articulate and effective critic of the safety aspects of the U.S. atomic energy programs, Dr. Gofman traveled the world with this warning,

“Most particles go right through us. But we truly need to worry about the occasional ‘bowling ball’ that can wreak havoc as it collides with one of the molecules in our body.”

Dr. Gofman passed away this week at the age of 88.

His obituary in the LATimes says that John Gofman was “Often called the father of the antinuclear movement, Gofman and his colleague at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Arthur R. Tamplin, developed data in 1969 showing that the risk from low doses of radiation was 20 times higher than stated by the government.

“Most of their conclusions have subsequently been validated, but critics say the risks have been ignored by an electric power industry that sees nuclear energy as a pollution-free alternative to fossil fuels and by a medical industry that continues to use much larger amounts of radiation for medical tests than are required.”

Dr. John GofmanDr. John Gofman (second from left), the first Associate Director for the Biomedical Program at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, is shown discussing an abnormal chromosome pattern in malignant cells.

“He always stood up for the integrity of science,” said Charles Weiner, professor emeritus of the history of science at MIT.

“He was really an original voice” in the debate over the risks of nuclear power, Weiner said, “someone who was an insider in nuclear weapons production who was very highly regarded by leaders in the field . . . and who brought credential, credibility and authority.”

Until his death, Gofman’s position continued to be that there is no safe level of exposure to ionizing radiation.

“Licensing a nuclear power plant is, in my view, licensing random premeditated murder.”

Dr. Gofman was familiar with atomic radiation. He created some of the first plutonium, the raw material used by Robert Oppenheimer for the atomic bomb under the Manhattan Project

John Gofman was a strong and gregarious man that I very much enjoyed as a friend. I distinctly recall our conversation about random particle ‘bowling balls’ that can destroy a cell or propel it into accelerated growth as cancer.

As a craft builder in the early 70s, I spent much of a year creating interior trim and custom furnishings for his San Francisco home. The extensive interior was hand built of almost 100% coastal heart redwood which ironically ended my construction career because of sequoiosis, a pulmonary disease caused by long term exposure to particles of redwood dust.

The space inside an atom
Here’s more about atoms and particles. It’s true that most cosmic particles and atomic radiation will pass through us, as well as natural background radiation from the earth.

Proportionately, there is more empty space between an atom’s nucleus and its first electron than between the Sun and Pluto!

When you figure out how to use this awkward page at Phrenopolis, you’ll see an atom from the inside. You’ll gain an elementary sense of the space inside an atom. The author says,

“I used to think that things like rocks and buildings and my own skeleton were fairly solid. But they’re made up of atoms, and atoms, as you can see here, contain so little actual material that they can barely be said to exist. We are all phantoms.

Here’s a YouTube exploration of the space inside an atom and why particles go through us, most often.

This video segment adapted from A Science Odyssey uses models, vivid descriptions, and analogies to explain the structural integrity of matter at the atomic level.

Satan’s dark plan, right?

Oh, it gets worse in this witty diatribe:

Hell, as any good Christian will tell you, the Net is packed like a perky Vegas whorehouse with godless heathens, too: perverts and nonbelievers and hyper-intelligent Buddhists and smart-ass Wiccans, yoga lovers and kinky reformed Catholics and delightful “spiritual cowgirls” who would no more kneel at the altar of wholesome Christian values than they’d eat a stack of greasy McDonald’s Filet-O-Fishes and eight pounds of deep-fried Snickers bars and move to Alabama and get diabetes and call themselves a patriot.

The White House Whisperer

Ed Gillespie, chief political adviserThe replacement of Karl Rove as chief political adviser to George W. Bush is Ed Gillespie, a veteran Republican operative and a high-profile lobbyist.

Gillespie will determine “where and how often Bush appears and what he says”. He will “handle political strategy and message management”.

Texas Governor Bush tapped Gillespie. To help steer the the Bush nomination, Gillespie coordinated the 2000 Republican Convention. He operated in GOP policy during the Florida vote and chad-counting. He moved to Austin, Texas to join with Karl Rove as Bush readied for Washington. Gillespie then helped set up the White House commerce policy.

Canada’s online newspaper The Tyee provides a consolidated report on his background.

Gillespie is the architect of the ‘Contract with America’ [wiki] which became the Republican Party’s signature stump with Dick Armey and Newt Gingrich at the helm.

The Tyee reminds us that the Contract with America promised lower taxes and smaller government and propelled Republican control of both houses of Congress for the first time in four decades.

Ed Gillespie has been an influential strategist in the private sector too. His recent clients have made him rich as he lobbies votes from members of Congress to benefit a long list of the corporate needy. Verizon. Viacom. Cisco. SBC. Hughes. PriceWaterhouse. American Hospital. Health Insurance of America. Canada’s softwood lumber exporters. Steel and uranium groups. Microsoft. General Electric. Sony. Bristol-Myers Squibb. Burlington Northern Santa Fe. Atlantic Richfield. Bank of America. Recording Industry Association. Enron.

From a previous post:

Karl Rove thumbing his noseIf we had known Karl Rove would direct America’s leadership, would we have voted his client into the White House?

The Village Voice says we should learn about the people that take over our government.

The people we elect bring their very own ‘Candidate Whisperer’.

About power, not religion

In 1506 a miraculous light was seen on one of the crucifixes in a Dominican monastery in Portugal. Crowds gathered to marvel at it, but when one man suggested it looked a bit as if a candle had been placed behind the image of Christ he was dragged into the street by his hair, beaten, kicked and burnt by an angry mob.

Toby Green explains in his powerful study of intolerance.

Professor Altemeyer at the University of Manitoba says, “The greatest threat to American democracy today arises from a militant authoritarianism that has become a cancer upon the nation.” Bob Altemeyer’s free book: The Authoritarians

And then of course there’s these irksome jihad!

To keep our soils

Patrick Donovan says, “The ecological issue of the future is not between extraction and ‘protection’. It is between bare soil and covered.” Allan Savory noted that the problem of climate change, and that of desertification, were two sides of the same coin: ecosystem malfunction.

Suppose we cut fossil fuel emissions to zero by dawn tomorrow.
Could we put a stop to global warming?

Then what’s a solution to global warming?

“When we’re in the pasture, the field, or the garden, we’re standing on it”, says Donovan.

“Even in its presently depleted state, the soil holds more carbon than the atmosphere plus all the world’s vegetation combined. Soil organic matter (which is mostly carbon) can last for centuries—barring exposure to the elements, tillage, harsh chemical applications, or significant warming.

“Unlike carbon dioxide burial, organic carbon in the soil enhances every aspect of our life-support system: water-holding capacity and drought resistance, water quality, biodiversity including underground and marine, human health, true fertility, viable rural communities, and the stability of the soil itself.”

Soil erosion in the USA“Soil erosion and degradation are so severe world-wide, that it threatens our agricultural base.”, says Dr J Floor Anthoni in New Zealand.

“Because soil degradation and erosion happen so slowly, they seldom give rise to immediate action. In fact, it is hardly noticed….

“Soil appears to be here forever. It is nearly impossible to imagine that this unnoticeable rate of loss is many times that of natural formation.

“Had artificial fertilizers not been available, soil degradation would have been noticed much earlier, but these miracle cures appear to be able to compensate for declining fertility.

“Only by looking at the larger picture, does the severity of soil loss become clear.”

See this exploration of an Earth Without Dirt.

Behind the candidate

Who is in the limo, walking down the hall into the private office and behind the stage with the candidates for the presidency of the United States?

Karl Rove thumbing his noseIf we had known Karl Rove would direct America’s leadership, would we have voted his client into the White House?

The Village Voice says we should learn about the people that will take over our government because who we elect will also bring their very own ‘candidate whisperer’.

A nickel far from equity

If we can find approaches that meet the needs of the poor in ways that generate profits for business and votes for politicians, we will have found a sustainable way to reduce inequity in the world. This task is open-ended. It can never be finished. But a conscious effort to answer this challenge will change the world. – Bill Gates

High voltage link to cancer

Just published in the Internal Medicine Journal:

“…living for a prolonged period near high-voltage power lines may increase the risk of leukemia, lymphoma and related conditions later in life.

“Those who lived within 328 yards of a power line up to age 5 were five times more likely to develop cancer, while those who lived that close to a power line at any point during their first 15 years were three times more likely to develop cancer as an adult.”

The researchers at the University of Tasmania and Britain’s Bristol University point out that their review of a database of 850 patients is far from conclusive, but the usual studies have examined only short term exposure. [UP story]

Lawn and Order

Children should play on pesticide-free grass“The cumulative effects of being exposed to many different pesticides over a lifetime represent an unquantified and unacceptable risk to all Canadian children.” – College of Family Physicians [link]

Municipalities across Canada are passing by-laws to restrict the use of cosmetic pesticides, [link].

Many pesticides may no longer be used for “enhancing the appearance of gardens and lawns as well as parks, recreational facilities and golf courses.”

By 2008, homeowners and landscape firms will face fines in 100s of cities.

The Supreme Court of Canada cites the internationally recognized ‘precautionary principle’ when cities and towns create rules to ban harmful pesticides in ‘order to promote health or reduce environmental risk’.

The Canadian Cancer Society, family and pediatric medical associations and local governments are steadily turning against common pesticides that have been “persuasively linked” to cancer, neurological impairment, and reproductive problems. [link]

When mental, wear metal

Science & Society Museum photo 10287396, Male anti-masturbation deviceThis device was sold until the 1930s. It’s intended for family health and to prevent insanity and death.

Well into the 20th Century, attitudes and beliefs about masturbation were somewhat driven by psychiatrist William Acton’s 1857 text about our reproductive organs which remained popular for almost 20 years.

“His view of masturbating declared that a boy would become haggard, thin, antisocial, hypochondriacal, would lose his spontaneity and cheerfulness and would turn into a timid coward and liar. The final state was one of idiocy, epilepsy, paralysis and even death.”

MindHacks has the story of these long held links to madness.

Seven Sweet Dreamers

Brad Zellar has achieved another superb composition of wit, feelings and rare insight in this tugging memorial.

Sweet Dreams, Always, Dog Of My Soul

Magic: abracado, abracadon’t, abracadog….
If a person has a personality, does a dog have dogsonality?

Another green insecticide

Azadirachtin bio insecticide moleculeAdding a snippet to the Plant Whisperer post, Steven Ley at the University of Cambridge has worked for 22 years to make a natural compound that stops predatory insects from feeding but will not harm bees or ladybugs, animals or people.

Azadirachtin is a highly active substance that inhibits the development of the larvae of a broad spectrum of destructive insects. Found on the neem tree in 1968, learning how to make the complicated molecule started in 1985. [story at Science blog]

Using plant extracts and powdered plant parts as insecticides started near the time of Roman Empire. When chemical insecticides appeared in the 1940s, problems also appeared such as environmental contamination, residues in food and increasing resistance. There is no doubt biological insecticides are a top choice for safe pest control, but only a few of the more than 250,000 plant species have been adequately evaluated.

Lies about loans to liars

The recent hurricane in the financial markets is blamed on mortgage loans to people unable to make their payments but is not blamed on people hiding these loans in Blue Ribbon packages while selling them offshore as top rated bonds.

I think the media failed miserably during the recent drop in global stock markets. Fear topped the headlines, editorials sent blame to all the wrong places, pundits invented diatribe that seldom identified the errors or the players.

Still details are lacking; we do not know the names or the divisions where our money has shrunk, but there are investigations underway in the offbalance sector of banks and financiers.

Banks and financial firms have two faces, core activity where activity is regulated and offsheet activity where activity is market driven – so-called free enterprise. Risk tolerance has been evolving in this area for several decades with most central regulators gradually inserting warning flags and balance sheet risk indicators rather than outright rules or constraints.

Ingenious packaging can make a quick fortune. Inventing financial products, not for the shopping center loan store but for the institutional trader, is one of the most promising careers on earth. The field is seldom discussed in public.

Here’s a column, Liar’s Loans, at the BBC written by Robert Peston that describes the architecture of this recent market bump and identifying a few companies involved, though none of the individuals. There’s nearly 150 comments after only a few hours, most yammering about greed and nonsense politics.

Put a pill in your tank

Storage of hydrogen in solid ammonia boraneThis pellet of solid ammonia borane is storing one half liter of hydrogen.

There’s hope for hydrogen vehicles but don’t hold your breath.

Hippocratic lobbyists

Blather in the medical professionOnly Minnesota, Vermont and Maine require drug companies to report payments to doctors for lectures, consulting, research and other services.

Big checks – more than $350,000 to a doctor on the committee that selects which drugs are used in Medicaid.

What’s going on in other states?
And in Washington? Don’t ask. [AP story]

The sewer that snitches

Your toilet is a tattletale. Scientists say they can determine illicit drug use—from marijuana to heroin to cocaine—by sampling sewage.

The technique has been tried in at least 10 U.S. cities, ranging from towns with populations hovering around 17,000 people to medium-size cities of 600,000. Or as many as 30 cities including San Diego?

Flushing out human urinary biomarkers at Scientific American blog.

AP reports an entire community can be given a drug test using just a teaspoon of wastewater. Oregon will test at least 40 communities. The EPA has a program to evaluate legal drugs leaking into waterways. Drug enforcement agencies say little except that probes are not being used at households.

Here’s a chart showing the main contents of urine. It’s the most difficult component to remove from wastewater. Despite making up only 1 per cent of the volume of wastewater, urine contributes about 80 per cent of the nitrogen and 45 per cent of all the phosphate.