Monday, April 28, 2008

Slicing & Dicing Colossal Squid on Science Webcam

Just like one would a frozen TV dinner, New Zealand biologists are defrosting a boxed Colossal squid, captured in 2007 in the Antarctic. The last moments of the 33 foot long squid were spent having a repast of Patagonian toothfish hundreds of miles off the coast. A consternated crew of a fishing trawler hauled the colossal squid out of the deep marveling at its sheer size and the movable hooks on the end of each tentacle. As big as this species of squid is, the top of the marine life food chain, sperm whales, consider the rare creatures tasty uncooked calamari. Sightings of squids of this magnitude, giant or colossal, occur rarely and usually in very deep waters.

Since then it has been kept frozen in a box, still wrapped in the fishing net in which it was caught. Defrosting the squid without parts of its body beginning to rot is a difficult operation.

"With this specimen, we have to remove the container around it, manoeuvre the frozen squid into the defrosting tank, then carefully remove the net as it defrosts - a very delicate procedure," said Dr Carol Diebel, from the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa in Wellington.

Known formally as Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni, this half-ton rare squid's estimated time until pungently ripe is 36 hours. They are trying to retard decomposition as the squid thaws. After removal from the walkin freezer, let the dissecting of small parts begin. Eager scientists at the Museum of New Zealand Te papa Tongarewa or as the Māori call it, Te Papa are going do anatomical experiments, take apart and then reassemble the cephalopod's carcass for embalming, then preservation in formalin. In a truly interactive way, a web cam will record the process, live, for the curious and far flung scientists to observe the process. A formal initial finding from an international team of squid aficionados will be delivered in a scientific lecture on Thursday, 1 May.

The first thing the scientists plan to measure is the "beak" it
uses to cut up its food. The largest so far recovered is 49mm long, and it
is unclear whether this will beat the record. After that they will be
determining the sex, which they believe is male.

Colossal male squids are thought to be extremely well endowed with two foot penises. Unwieldy and startling considering the squids thrive in deep cold water. Since 1925, there are only about 5 that have been brought back to the lab. Scientists are waiting to see if they can determine sex quickly after the squid is taken out of the 7000 liters of saltwater. What is amazing is the squids have the capacity to grow even bigger than this specimen. The Museum director hopes to be able to display the squid after the defrosting and autopsy.

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea drew Jules Vernes to find inspiration from a swashbuckling encounter of a French ship against a creature of the deep to form the character, Captain Nemo, and the rest is classic literature or a great film.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Malaria Madness

From Abuja Nigeria and the war torn killing fields of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to cash strapped Sri Lanka across a besieged Nepal through Sarangani - a province of the Philippines, one million people drop dead each year from Malaria. A child dies every thirty seconds from the parasitic disease for lack or want of a mosquito net. Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the United Nations announced during yesterday's first ever World Malaria Day that he wants resources dedicated to eradicating the malicious disease by 2010. It does have the unfortunate, yet useful acronym of WMD.
Cameroon on Friday celebrated the first World Malaria Day at Nanga Eboko, a small town located at about 170 km East of Yaounde.
In Cameroon, malaria is the topmost cause of morbidity and represents 40% of medical consultations, 23% of hospitalizations, 26% of sick leave and 40% of the annual health budget of households, according to a survey conducted by the National Statistics Institute.
For 50,000 years malaria has plagued the planet and within the last 10,000 years increased its killing efficiency and impacted quality of life. Mosquitoes adapt and ward off man made chemicals like DDT wherein the environment and people suffered long after the spraying when it was used. Because of the prevalence of malaria in Europe until a few centuries ago when the earth cooled in the Little Ice Age, old English written works by a bard, Shakespeare, called it the ague. The advent of increased temperatures and standing pools of water where logging, farming or ranching eradicated forests increase the blood thirsty infected female mosquito population to descend upon people who have moved into these areas. Quinine was the first remedy known to take on the blood disease and those suffering pigmented bodies.

From all over the world, a half billion people suffer an outbreak of malaria each year. Most vulnerable to malaria induced anemia are children and expecting mothers. The number of deaths is pegged at one every thirty seconds just from malaria because many cases are unreported from remote and rural areas. The majority of deaths are in sub-Saharan Africa but on the rise elsewhere in outlying areas of Vietnam. Latent parasites can reside in the liver causing relapses of the disease years later or certain types cause chronic malaria. Mental impairments occur from the raging high fevers induced by the disease's onset in children. The United Nation's leader wants the tropical disease, malaria, eradicated globally in less than a thousand days.
Children who are younger than 5 are particularly exposed to the disease. Protecting them is essential. A program is expected to be launched in the fall to immunize children.

"This treatment is part of a new preventive strategy," said
Cheikh Sokhna, of the Development and Research Institute. "It will be
applied to 100,000 children who live in high-risk zones."

The new treatment has been largely financed by the Bill and Melinda Gates
Foundation, which donated $3.9 million. It has already yielded spectacular results in the town of Niakhar, where the mortality rate from malaria decreased by 86 percent. "The aim is to see whether this can be repeated on a larger scale," Sokhna told Agence-France Presse.

"I am convinced that people can live with malaria without dying, thanks to better access to health care," said Sokhna.

Randall Packard studies the history of malaria and its origins from very surprising beginnings. The book winds its way through the complexities and scope of the challenge to outlining some global policies to finally start eradicating this malicious and pernicious disease. The well recommended book from the John Hopkins Biographies of Disease series is The Making of A Topical Disease: A Short History of Malaria.

Hubble Sees Galaxy Pileups & Star Fender Benders

Who has the right of way on the Universe's superstar highway/autobahn? Many a confederation of teenage galaxies believe they are indestructible in their spiffy thermonuclear fusion plasma star cruisers as they plow straight into more sedate luminous fleets of older elliptical galaxy models of Red Giants leaking hydrogen. Hubble, an impartial ultraviolet Big Brother space narc of intergalactic star crashes, beams the evidence and resulting cannibalism down to the gravity bound Nerd jurists and NASA insurance Trekkies unable to procure astronaut-level driver's licenses. After review, the resulting interstellar clouds of space dust, and gases shows an increase in the birthrate of nebulae, starbursts and supernovae and the death rates of youthful irregular galaxies. Earthlings stop to galaxy gawk and rubberneck the space pileups that take hundreds of millions of just one of our planet's rotations around the nearest sun to get an interstellar resolution.

When galaxies wandering through the universe collide, a spectacular display unfolds. The galaxies' stars are too spread out to actually hit each other. But the galaxies pull strongly on one another via gravity, distorting their shapes and ripping stars and gas clouds off each other to form so-called tidal tails.

The violent activity triggers huge bursts of star formation that can churn out new stars 100 times faster than in an undisturbed galaxy like our own Milky Way. This accelerated star birth is followed a few million years later by cosmic fireworks as the heavier, faster-burning stars run out of fuel and explode as supernovae. Eventually, the colliding galaxies merge to form a new, more massive galaxy.

Scientists are interested in the way these events transform galaxies and the black holes in their centres. Some believe these events are key to understanding the origin of the universe's biggest black holes, monsters weighing in at billions of times the Sun's mass.

To better understand these events, scientists led by Aaron Evans of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, US, have trained the Hubble Space Telescope on several dozen spots in the sky where they appear underway, producing a spectacular gallery of these violent but beautiful occurrences.

One of Hubble's troubles is that there are 1oo billion galaxies roaming the Universe under the rules of their own gravitational masses and black hole centers. The good news is ongoing renovations to the universe continue as space expands, creating more star chambers of traffic in a cooler atmosphere making galaxy collisions less likely to cause layoffs of clusters in hostile merger and acquisition star takeovers. Officer Hubble Space Telescope will be unable to catch and report on all of the DUI stars and their friends, hyperspeed super spinning teen galaxies, lenticular lane changers and those spiral galaxies mucking up the slow lane making many stars off-road into black hole event horizons ditches. Adult supervision in catching the names and classifying hundreds of millions of future galactic offenders reside at the Galaxy Zoo. A study of cluster street gangs of sheets and filaments is up for grabs.
For all the drama, however, creatures living on a planet in a colliding galaxy would experience few effects other than a very interesting night sky. The galaxies' individual stars are too far apart to collide (or even disrupt each others' planetary systems, by and large). And though a pass through a brilliant star-forming region might give your upper atmosphere some high-energy heebie-jeebies, such events can't be too bad, or we couldn't have evolved here on Earth. Our Milky Way contains many identifiable star streams that are the last traces of small galaxies that collided with and merged into ours in relatively recent cosmic times.
Hubble Space Telescope is now a frisky 18 years old. Just like with regular earth kids, concerned parents, NASA and the European Space Agency, discovered Hubble could not see the space chalkboard of dwarfs, clouds or the awesome special effects of dark matter. Space optometrists vaulted into space in 1993, to fit Hubble with the first pair of glasses to correct myopia. Hubble's scholastic career chalked up only four visits from intergalactic interdisciplinary spacewalking teams. The next visit is from Space principals for HST to graduate in August 2008. In a fit of pique after parents said Hubble would be cut off from future funds, a Prom eclipse spawned the James Webb Stellar Telescope which will only see in infrared. American and European science sycophant taxpayers are picking up the full cost of launching JWST. Hubble is slated to complete his/her master's thesis on the Hubble Deep Space Field in 2013.

Some of the evidence Hubble collected spying across the Universe is in this wonderful collection of images and explanation from a trio of authors; Robin Kerrod, Carole Stott and David S. Leckrone. Illustrated with awe inspiring images enhanced for this revised edition are in the book for us intrigued universalists, Hubble: The Mirror on the Universe.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Indian Soap Operas Outrage Certain Afghans

A culture clash that makes one wonder who has an irony deficiency and needs a freshly bloomed hypocrisy poppy. Indian soap operas are making specific Afghanis (more) nuts with the risque, the raunchy and the pseudo-reality. The spin is that the 5 private TV stations have children foregoing homework and their programs are the height of un-Islamic behavior which forces the government to save people from themselves before they burn in Hell on Earth or something more dire. Hence, banned foreign soap operas, Kum Kum or Life's Test are now all the rage.

Last year, certain Hindu fundamentalist Indians got their knickers stuck in permanent wedgies when Richard Gere did a sweeping public display of affection on the cheek of Bollywood co-star Shilpa Shetty, resulting in charges, apologies and high international melodrama during a press conference on HIV/AIDS. As Afghanistan hastens its return back to the Flintstone Age under Taliban culture crustaceans, it is amazing what happens to be verboten to the high ministers of mendacity versus what great returns certain Afghans make from their cut of selling the world's opiate of choice. Tolo TV is American Idol popular where television is accessible, especially Kabul. In March, during an awards ceremony mixed gender couples danced together on stage sending shivers of horror and the Victorian vapors through the country's über conservatives enough to have them invoke the Ulema Council. This is a group of legal scholars or Supreme Court of the land that arbitrate finality on Sharia law.
The ministry of culture ordered four TV stations to take five Indian soaps off the air by 14 April. Only Noorin TV suspended its soap, Waiting, so the ministry issued another deadline, which ended yesterday.

Ariana TV caved in, ending broadcasts of Kum Kum, a drama about a widow who is wooed by her childhood sweetheart but marries the brother of her late husband. The ministry is threatening legal action against the other networks, which have accused the government of trying to re-Talebanise Afghanistan.

"We think broadcasting Indian serials is in accordance with the law, so we will continue to broadcast them," said Saad Mohseni, the owner of Tolo TV. "Millions of people watch these shows every night."

The soaps have become prime-time favourites as private stations have flourished in the six years since the fall of the hardline Taleban regime, which had banned TV altogether.
The official government of Afghanistan has set a deadline for compliance from private TV stations in India about the content saturating their airwaves in the form of the Indian version of soap operas. There is an order of magnitude much higher than the Indian soap opera. The Spanish language soap operas or novellas are the best and would not pass the Afghan TV test. The Resident Burqa Police, more commonly known as some emasculated Members of the Afghani parliament, are busy trying to build a coalition to strip personal freedoms from the People who can bear children by pontificating on the merits of banning jeans, long hair, chatting in public with a spouse and makeup with all due deliberate speed.

Haji Ahmad Shah Khan Achakzai, an MP in Kandahar province, said the law would boost moral and religious values for Afghan people. "Kabul has seen a wave of liberal, unwelcome influences of late," he said. "There are women dressed immodestly, prostitution can be found openly and even alcohol is available on the market. Our job is to protect the Afghan people from being exposed to this un-Islamic way of life and poor morals."

But more liberal MPs fear the loss of hard-fought freedoms. "I am worried there will be another Taliban era ahead of us. We have fought for many years to gain some freedom here and it is our responsibility not to let this happen again," said Najiba Sharif, deputy minister for women's affairs. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

Hizzoner, The Mayor of Kabul, better known around the world as the president of Afghanistan, sides with the overzealous Burqua Inquisitors because an election is coming to an Afghan village near him in 2009. The government apparatus takes direction from the American educated and US backed head of state that is clearly siding with supporting the political regression taking place in Afghanistan.

The wonderfully written and hands on book by Deborah Rodriguez is all about restoring the esteem of women through sharing her gifts with others in Afghanistan. Kabul Beauty School: An American Goes Behind the Veil brings an American up close to Afghanistan. It earned its way as a New York Times bestseller and is deserving of lavish praise. Kiterunner and A Thousand Splendid Suns bring an Afghan point of view in excellent fiction from a doctor from Afghanistan.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Keep Green Into the After Life

Best way to think of it as the Circle of Life is a green cycle or reduce, recycle and reuse. A full commitment to the environment should not just involve Earthly actions, but the final celebratory exit according to cradle to grave eco supporters. Getting married is a style choice throughout the environmental preservation process from sending 100% PCW recycled invites to giving saplings as wedding favors and purchasing carbon credits for the wedding itself and all of the guests or purchasing a vintage dress plus tuxedo or buying a biodegradable hemp one to ensuring free range chicken is locally procured and everybody stays in the same locale for the nuptials and the party. Giving birth is a tad more complicated, but bouncing boy or girl can be cosseted in 100% organic clothing, get breastfed and use boatloads of cloth diapers that are hung out to dry in the free sunshine for all your neighbors to judge your handiwork.

Some people think Death is the finale while others believe it is Nearer thy God for Thee. In all cases, the environment is now becoming a considerable or even a primary factor in planning and producing a ceremony befitting most major life choices or the Final One. Ashes to Ashes, dust to Dust takes on a long lasting impact when viewing the final choices. According to the Casket & Funeral Association of America and the Cremation Association et al, 3o million board feet of hardwoods, 2700 tons of copper and bronze plus over 90,000 tons of steel are used for caskets to put into vaults comprised of 1.636 tons of reinforced concrete. Just in the US, over 827,000 gallons of embalming fluid flows annually, which sometimes seeps back into the ground and water tables.

For a concept aimed at saving the Earth by going back to basics, an eco-funeral can be more complicated than it
sounds. The Natural Death Center provides a handbook that suggests environmental targets for cemeteries.

In a green funeral, bodies are not embalmed and are dressed in pure fiber clothes. Green campaigners say refrigeration or dry ice is a good alternative to formaldehyde, which can seep into the water system.

One visitor, Linda McDowall, admired another coffin bundled in a beige, leaf-adorned felt shroud, saying it looked comfortable.

"Cozy and warm are not words you associate with death," said McDowall, a 48-year-old German and French translator.

Cardboard coffins — which are as thick as their wooden counterparts — can be decorated by family and biodegrade within three months.

"The trouble is, they are a bit ungainly to use," said Oakfield Wood burial ground director Oliver Peacock. "They're not terribly easy to handle and if it's wet, they don't look their best either."

Heavy resource depletions for marking graves are cause for permanent frowns such as marble headstones. Some final resting places offer wooden memorial markers and plant a tree. For those increasingly choosing the cremation option, the type of urns available address environmental concerns too. Real estate costs continue to escalate and proximity to urban areas is part of the calculus on building the green funeral market. With 80 percent choosing the fiery Valhalla exit, Canada is seeing a rapid rise in green funeral interest in British Columbia and Ontario.

The Natural Burial Co-operative is trying to take the idea a step further in Paisley, Ont., a village about 200 kilometres northwest of Toronto, by starting a burial site that will solely focus on green funerals and resemble a conservation area more than a cemetery.

Trees would be planted at grave sites and people could pay their respects to loved ones in a serene, green environment, rather than being surrounded by rows of gloomy tombstones, said president Mike Salisbury.

"One of the key ideas of natural burial is this idea that your funeral can be a tool for landscape conservation," he said. "I think what gets people really excited is the idea that they're actually creating an environment through their purchase of a plot."

There are many natural preserves sprouting up in North America and parts of Europe. Britain leads the world in eco funerals. Of course, the Native Peoples of America had this concept down cold from the start. The wonderfully reviewd book, Grave Matters: A Journey Through The Modern Funeral Industry to A Natural Way of Burial authored by Mark Harris gives comfort and squeamish insights into the entire process and perspective of leaving the earth green and loved ones with a measure more of Peace.

Middle East Theme Parks - An ACME Idea?

As a region, the Middle East comprises architectural and cultural history of humankind since inception while its still prone to violent outbursts by any number of aggrieved parties or grudge bearing nations. Adding a few loud mouth tourists in all the wrong garb with white tube socks is gratuitous next to adding a theme park based on American comics and cartoons in the area. The insurance on a capitalistic enterprise like that has got to be underwritten by a financially healthy firm that treats risk like the expectation of sun heating nearby Arabian deserts. Hooray for Hollywood - here comes their billions earned on the backs of a carrot eating, wise cracking bunny plus a wily coyote charged with babysitting a stalker cat named Sylvester and a yellow bird usually locked in a cage that need a skilled professional negotiator. Jimmy Carter is already booked in the area.

The theme park idea does have a few cha-ching things going for it. Youthful demographics dominates the Middle East. Petro dollars produced a surfeit of surplus incomes for the region's title holders on oil fields. For several years deals have been inked with Viacom/Paramount to do a fun place based on the Titanic and DreamWorks bringing diversity with the lime green Shrek and the lesser known Kung Fu Panda. Time Warner is sticking Bugs Bunny right out there as the front guy amidst an adult beverage Budweiser with Anheuser Busch snagging an island for their use to build a Sea World. Universal is so going to bring it with a giant ape, King Kong and who knows how the whole evolution thing is going to play out in 2012 when Jurassic Park, the T-Rex play park, opens as part of the Dubailand deal.

With their Spidey sense fully activated, Tatweer is the UAE government controlled company jumping on the web of opportunity by signing a mega deal with Marvel. Abu Dhabi already has luxury buildings construction out in the sea dredging up the sea bed to make multi million dollar sand castle islands that can be seen from space, Burj - the world's tallest skyscraper along with a Frigidaire snow & ski resort in the desert. Enter Marvel Comics main man, Wonder Woman sans burkha and a host of other characters to build the economic brand on its own island in the United Arab Emirates. Dubailand contains multiple resorts and facilities with in 3 billion square feet.
Investors, studios and park operators are all aiming to cash in on what some observers call the Middle East's decades-long fascination with American culture. Hollywood movies are popular in the region, and Western fashions are hot commodities among residents who travel abroad.

"On the one hand, they hate America. On the other hand they love America to the bone," said Michael Izady, an expert on Middle East culture who reaches history at Pace University in New York.

The theme park market is open — with no major facilities currently operating in the
Middle East.

The projects are no-brainers for the entertainment companies that have jumped at what amounts to free brand expansions with no capital at risk. Few details have been provided about the deals, which entertainment companies simply describe as licensing arrangements for intellectual property and help on designing the parks and attractions, with no mention of possible royalty payments.

Seems relentlessly pushy American characters, like Captain America, may get benched for the maiden voyage. One of my funniest moments was watching Porky Pig in Italian while on the Via Veneto. There is a time and a place to invite tourists and their bankrolls. But there is a time to say have you lost your mind to companies too. Keep looking for that 'Disney' treatment of Civil War battlefields on Hallowed Ground - Americans said no and they meant it. Too much is not a good thing on the cater to tourist front, especially with certain aspects of American culture deemed corrosive by many in polite Muslim society.

Rami Farouk Daher sets out to look at multiple aspects and implications of tourism throughout the Middle East. As always, scholarship on certain areas is not as deeply discounted for books as American works, but worth it to learn more from perspectives beyond the US. His offering is Tourism in the Middle East: Continuity, Change and Transformation deeply drawing upon his architectural background and familiarity with heritage sites.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Arab Book Market Potential Tantalizes Publishers

Book fairs are tremendous places to find gregarious introverted bibliophiles, secure interesting texts not offered by big retail chains or spot the next new and upcoming trend in the book world. This year is the hot new year for increasing reach into the rapidly expanding Arab Market. Earls Court Exhibition Centre in West London is the scene of a Book Fair this week, featuring new titles and new literary translations in Arabic. Demographics point the way for publishers as the media age in Arabic countries is younger than the more mature markets in North America & Europe, meaning more book buyers and an opportunity to make a long lasting publishing relationship with a new highly educated group with high disposable incomes.

Translated authors have a harder time gaining traction in Europe, especially those from Arabia, but it looks like times are changing. Part of the problem is the lack of diversity inside British, and for that matter American, publishing entities that can read in the original language and guide the book through the marketing and publishing process with an author seeking foreign publishing rights in English speaking countries. The US government still can not keep up with enough Arabic speakers and writers to translate materials with the same limitations now playing out into the marketplace where opportunity costs are making businesses take notice of a thriving market. London's Book Fair or LBF is interesting, as rather than vendors hawking wares in the stands, several nations and a Kingdom or two have set up booths to promote native authors. Yemen is a guest of honor at this years fair.

"The market is potentially very large" for Arab authors, said Margaret Obank, founder of the Banipal publishing house which sells English translations of Arabic books.

"After 9/11 people thought, my god we ignored that (part of the world)," she said.

"They now realise there is literature out there."

Despite all that, having to translate books remains a major barrier holding back greater literary exchanges between the West and the Arab world.

A 2003 report from the United Nations Development Programme estimated that just 50 Arabic-language books a year were translated into another language.

Culturally, readers and seekers of knowledge are venturing further afield in Europe and North America collecting writers that create a nonfiction context or set stories in places they know, not just visited for extended stays. On the flip side, the world of western literature and nonfiction is becoming more accessible to Arabic speakers with translations that increase each year due to popular demand.
'Kalima means business when it comes to filling gaps in the Arabic library and we are working with publishers from all over the world to achieve that goal. We have already completed nine titles despite only launching late last year,' says Karim Nagy, Chief Executive of Kalima. 'It is great that publishers are now recognising the opportunities in the Arab world. Organisations like Kalima can help the international publishing industry access this largely untapped market of 300 million Arabic speakers.'

At its official launch last November, Kalima announced a list of the first 100 candidate titles to be translated and published in Arabic, with the following titles now completed:
  • Il Segno (The Sign), Umberto Eco
  • The Halo Effect, Phil Rosenzweig
  • The Future of Human Nature, Jurgen Habermas
  • A Briefer History of Time, Stephen Hawking
  • Kafka on the Shore, Haruki Murakami
  • The Arab Roots of Capitalism, Gene Hec
With an attendance pegged through today at 23,000 publishing professionals and industry mavens, the LBF was a perfect place for the United Arab Emirates to discuss and promote its 'Oktub' programs for original authors and 'Tarjem' for translation that are part of a $10 billion, (b as in book), endowment to nurture young Arabian writers from the region.

A best selling work from the region feted in London is the controversial The Yacoubian Building now out in paperback with great cover art. It features the writing of an Egyptian dentist, Alaa al Aswany that caused great controversy due to its straight forward treatment of sex. Great reviews.