Monday, April 26, 2010

Dnt Txt N Drv

Oprah Winfrey in the NY Times:
"WHEN I started out as a TV reporter in Nashville in 1973, a death from drunken driving was big news. One person killed by a drunken driver would lead our local broadcast. Then, as the number of drunken driving deaths across the country continued to rise, the stakes for coverage got even higher. One death wasn’t good enough anymore. Two deaths — that would warrant a report. Then a whole family had to die before the news would merit mention at the top of the broadcast. The country, all of us, had gotten used to the idea of drunken driving. I just kept thinking: How many people have to die before we “get it”?
Fortunately, we did get it, and since 1980, the number of annual traffic fatalities due to drunken driving has decreased to under 15,500 from more than 30,000. But in recent years, another kind of tragic story has begun to emerge with ever greater frequency. This time, we are mourning the deaths of those killed by people talking or sending text messages on their cellphones while they drive.
Earlier this month, I visited Shelley and Daren Forney, a couple in Fort Collins, Colo., whose 9-year-old daughter, Erica, was on her bicycle, just 15 pedals from her front door, when she was struck and killed by a driver who was distracted by a cellphone. I think about Erica’s death and how senseless and stupid it was — caused by a driver distracted by a phone call that just couldn’t wait.
Sadly, there are far too many stories like hers. At least 6,000 people were killed by distracted drivers in 2008, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and the number is rising. A lot of good work already is happening to try to change this. President Obama signed an executive order banning texting while driving on federal business. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is pushing for tougher laws and more enforcement. States are passing laws, too. Local groups are gaining strength, spurred by too many deaths close to home.
But we are hesitant to change. I saw this firsthand when I instituted a policy at my company that forbids employees from using their phones for company business while driving. I heard countless stories about how hard it was for people to stop talking and texting while driving. Everyone is busy. Everyone feels she needs to use time in the car to get things done. But what happened to just driving?"

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Toxic Airborne Fungus From Oregon Spreading Across West Coast

Cryptococcus gattii is an airborne fungus usually found in the tropics. But researchers announced today that new, deadly strains are thriving in Oregon, and spreading. These strains kill 25% of people who come into contact with them.

A paper published this afternoon in PLoS Pathogens offers details on the new strain of C. gattii, and how it came to the Pacific Northwest. After several local animals died from exposure to the airborne fungus, researchers realized that this wasn't an imported problem - the animals had lived their whole lives in Oregon, so they couldn't have been exposed in the tropics. There must be a local version of the toxic fungus. They gathered a sample and examined its genome, only to discover that this was a new strain of an already-virulent lifeform. They dubbed these strains VGII.

Said researcher Edmond Byrnes III:

This novel fungus is worrisome because it appears to be a threat to otherwise healthy people. Typically, we more often see this fungal disease associated with transplant recipients and HIV-infected patients, but that is not what we are seeing yet.
How did a tropical toxin wind up in Oregon? The researchers believe climate change may have something to do with it. Plus, these new strains are probably better adapted to the region. They likely evolved from an outbreak of C. gattii in British Columbia in 1999. The fungus then spread to Washington and Oregon.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Real-life Avatar - James Cameron speaks out against dam in Brazilian Amazon

A real-life Avatar conflict is playing out in the Brazilian Amazon as indigenous groups fight against the construction of a giant hydroelectric dam in the heart of the rainforest, the Oscar-winning director James Cameron has warned.

The planned Belo Monte dam, approved in February, has drawn fury from environmental and Indian groups who say it will destroy a vast area of rainforest and the way of life of dozens of indigenous communities.

As the Brazilian Government prepares to open the project to bids, the director of the sci-fi phenomenon has become an international champion of the campaign against it, and of the tribes which he says are ready to lay down their lives to protect their lands.

“I’m drawn into a situation where a real-life Avatar confrontation is in progress,” Mr Cameron said as he arrived in Brazil along with the film’s stars Sigourney Weaver and Joel David Moore. “What’s happening in Avatar is happening in Brazil and places like India and China, where traditional villages are displaced by big infrastructure projects,” he said, referring to the film’s depiction of a conflict on the fictional planet of Pandora between the Na’vi race and a human army bent on exploiting its minerals.

Mr Cameron attended protests in the capital, Brasilia, on Monday before travelling with the actors up the Xingu river, the Amazon tributary where the dam is planned, to visit indigenous communities.

He said Belo Monte was “going to be an ecological disaster” and insisted that “the knowledge of indigenous people, who learned how to live with nature” was one of Brazil’s greatest resources.

Mr Cameron is not the first celebrity to throw the international spotlight on to the project, originally planned 20 years ago but abandoned amid widespread criticism at home. That campaign was spearheaded internationally by the British rock star Sting, who returned to Brazil in November to urge the government to listen to tribal leaders.

The £11 billion dam would be the third largest in the world, with a generating capacity of 11 Gigawatts; a contribution the government says is vital to meeting rising energy needs. But critics note it will flood 500 square kilometres of rainforest and divert the river’s flow away from tens of thousands of indigenous people who depend on it for their survival. An estimated 20,000 people will be displaced.

Best places to spot UFOs

It was just another winter night in Stephenville, Texas, when Steve Allen, a 30-year aviation veteran, saw something that defied all logic—an eerily silent, mile-wide craft ringed in lights that would “rearrange themselves” racing across the sky at what he estimated to be 3,000 miles per hour.

“I don’t know if it was a biblical experience or somebody from a different universe, but it was definitely not from around these parts,” Allen told a reporter from the Empire-Tribune after the sighting on Jan. 8, 2008. Similar reports poured in from across Erath County.

The Stephenville Lights incident wasn’t a onetime event—another mass sighting followed in October 2008, and individual reports from the area still trickle in. This corner of Texas along with the eastern Nevada desert are fast emerging as the U.S.’s newest UFO “hot spots”—places with the best odds of a spotting. Similarly active places exist around the globe, with some even attracting a new kind of tourist.

These days, it seems people can’t get enough of the UFO phenomena. Television shows such as the History Channel’s UFO Hunters and alternative radio programs like Coast to Coast AM—where an estimated three million listeners tune in each night to hear from hardworking UFO investigators, among other thought-provoking interviewees—are more popular than ever.
Sightings, too, are on the rise, according to MUFON, or the Mutual UFO Network, which has more than 3,000 members in 25 countries and 750 trained field investigators worldwide. The 41-year-old organization is one of the go-to places to report a sighting; it receives some 400 a month in the U.S. alone.
“Of course, 80 percent of these sightings can be explained. But 20 percent are truly unidentified objects, and those are the ones that will make your hair curl,” says MUFON’s international director, Clifford Clift.
Believing the time is right, even the famed SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute is conducting its first-ever public conference this year devoted to the age-old question: are we alone? SETIcon, slated for Aug. 13–15, in Santa Clara, Calif., will also unveil the institute’s newest scientific advances in its ongoing search for intelligent life from other planets.
“Using radio telescopes, we hope to trip across a planet with inhabitants clever enough to build radio transmitters,” says senior SETI astronomer Seth Shostak. “If we do so, then the proof won’t be limited to fuzzy photos, secret government documents, or personal anecdotes. It will be up in the sky—where anyone can check it out.”
Mexico City, for example, has been a near-constant sky-watch since the solar eclipse of 1991, when a UFO was captured on video among the cloud shadows. Since then, whole fleets—literally hundreds of unexplained lights—have appeared over the world’s largest city. Or take Warminster, England, near Stonehenge, where for the past 50 years nighttime overhead visitations and mysterious booming noises have been considered ho-hum normal.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

16-year-old accuses mom of Facebook slander

ARKADELPHIA, Ark. - The mother of a 16-year-old boy said she shut him out of his Facebookaccount after reading he had driven home at 95 mph one night because he was mad at a girl. His response: a harassment complaint at the local courthouse.

"If I'm found guilty on this it is going to be open season" on parents, Denise New, the mother, said Wednesday.

New, of Arkadelphia, Ark., said many of her son's postings didn't reflect well on him, so after he failed to log off the social networking site one day last month, she posted her own items on his account and changed his password to keep him from using it again.

"The things he was posting in Facebook would make any decent parent's eyes pop out and his jaw drop," Denise New said. "He had been warned before about things he had been posting."

Lane New, who lives with his grandmother, filed a complaint with prosecutors who approved a harassment charge March 26. His mother said she was doing what any good parent would do.

"Just because I don't have custody doesn't mean I don't care about him," Denise New said.

Neither New would say Wednesday which items on his Facebook site the boy had found slanderous.

"I probably made maybe three, maybe four actual postings — the rest of it was a conversation between my son, me and his personal friends," Denise New said.

In his handwritten complaint to prosecutors, Lane New wrote "Denise first hacked my Facebook and changed my password. She also changed the password to my e-mail so I could not change it. She posted things that involve slander and personal facts about my life."