Daily Archives: July 8, 2008

British UFO sightings reach ‘bizarre’ levels

Plotted on a map of Britain, the sightings can be seen to stretch from Liverpool to Dover and from Llanelli to Derby

Telegraph | Jul, 7 2008

By Laura Clout

Whether alien activity or natural phenomena, reports of UFOs have flooded in this summer from across the country.


Whatever the explanation, experts agree that the number of suspected flying saucers has hit unusual highs this summer.

Malcolm Robinson, who studies the phenomenon, said: “Something very bizarre is happening in the skies over the UK.”

The founder member of Strange Phenomena Investigations, added: “There has been an unusual number of sightings recently.

“Some experts believe it could be linked to global warming and craft from outer space are appearing because they are concerned about what man is doing to this planet.”

Among mysterious flying objects spotted in recent months was a ‘glowing’ disc spotted above the M5 motorway.

Royal Navy aircraft engineer Michael Madden said he watched the UFO for three minutes before it ‘zoomed off’ near Weston-super-Mare in Somerset.

Earlier, in Basingstoke, witnesses claimed to have seen a fleet of 12 orange objects in the night sky for half an hour.

And in St Athan in the Vale of Glamorgan a police helicopter crew gave chase to another UFO after it appeared to veer at speed towards their aircraft.

One UFO spotter however was left red-faced after his report of a mysterious flying saucer in South Wales turned out to be nothing more other-worldly than the moon.

Over caviar and sea urchin, G8 leaders mull food crisis

AP | Jul 8, 2008

By Andrew Grice, Political Editor in Hokkaido

World leaders are not renowned for their modest wine selections or reticence at the G8 summit’s cheese board. True to form, discussing the global food crisis – spiralling grocery prices in the developed world and starvation in Africa – was clearly hungry work that left their stomachs rumbling.

Shortly after calling for us all to waste less food, and for an end to three-for-two deals in British supermarkets, Gordon Brown joined his fellow G8 premiers and their wives for an eight-course Marie Antoinette-style “Blessings of the Earth and the Sea Social Dinner”, courtesy of the Japanese government.

The global food shortage was not evident. As the champagne flowed, the couples enjoyed 18 “higher-quality ingredients”, beginning with amuse-bouche of corn stuffed with caviar, smoked salmon and sea urchin pain-surprise-style, hot onion tart and winter lily bulbs.

With translations helpfully provided by the hosts, the starter menu (second course) read like a meal in itself. A folding fan-modelled tray decorated with bamboo grasses carried eight delicacies: kelp-flavoured cold Kyoto beef shabu-shabu, with asparagus dressed with sesame cream; diced fatty flesh of tuna fish, with avocado and jellied soy sauce and the Japanese herb shiso; boiled clam, tomato and shiso in jellied clear soup of clam; water shield and pink conger dressed with a vinegary soy sauce; boiled prawn with jellied tosazu-vinegar; grilled eel rolled around burdock strip; sweet potato; and fried and seasoned goby with soy sauce and sugar.

That was followed by a hairy crab kegani bisque-style soup and salt-grilled bighand thornyhead with a vinegary water pepper sauce. The main course brought the “meat sweats” – poele of milk-fed lamb flavoured with aromatic herbs and mustard, as well as roasted lamb with black truffle and pine seed oil sauce. For the cheese course, the Japanese offered a special selection with lavender honey and caramelised nuts. It was followed by a “G8 fantasy dessert” and coffee served with candied fruits and vegetables.

This was washed down with Le Reve grand cru/La Seule Gloire champagne; a sake wine, Isojiman Junmai Daiginjo Nakadori; Corton-Charlemagne 2005 (France); Ridge California Monte Bello 1997 and Tokaji Esszencia 1999 (Hungary).

The G8 leaders had earlier made do with a “working lunch” of white asparagus and truffle soup; kegani crab; supreme of chicken; and cheese and coffee with petit fours. The lubrication of choice, for those drinking, was Chateau Grillet 2005.

The TV cameras were sadly not allowed to loiter long enough to discover whether Mr Brown practised what he preaches by not wasting any of his food. The Prime Minister has been shocked by the finding that an average British household could save about £420 a year by not throwing away edible food.

It is a fair bet that much more than that was wasted last night at the opulent Windsor Hotel in Toya, 30 miles from the general public and with 20,000 special police officers for security. Sixty chefs were flown in for the occasion, foremost among them the Michelin-starred Katsuhiro Nakamura.

The total cost of staging the event on Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido is estimated at £285m, enough to buy 100 million mosquito nets, and dwarfing the £85m Britain spent on the Gleneagles summit three years ago.

“If it costs this much for them to meet, they had better make some serious decisions to increase aid to poor countries,” said Max Lawson, senior policy officer at Oxfam. “If they are just going to sit around and eat, while millions of people face starvation, that is not good enough. They must act– not eat.”

While the dinner went on, officials from the G8 nations haggled late into the night over the summit declaration on aid to the poorest nations. Pressure groups fear the G8 is trying to water down the commitment it made at Gleneagles to double aid to poor countries to $50bn by 2010. They want the figure included in this week’s statement, rather than a restatement that Africa will receive $25bn by then, and single out France and Italy for criticism. “It’s 50-50,” one aid campaigner said.

Andrew Mitchell, the Conservatives’ international development spokesman, said: “Surely it is not unreasonable for each leader to give a guarantee that they will stand by their solemn pledges of three years ago at Gleneagles to help the world’s poor. All of us are watching, waiting and listening.”

Bush’s prayer for end to tyranny

“I wish for a world free from tyranny: the tyranny of hunger, disease and free from tyrannical governments,” was George Bush’s wish, handwritten on a piece of parchment and tied to a bamboo tree as part of the Japanese Tanabata festival.

The annual ceremony, which this year coincided with Japan’s hosting of the G8 summit, is based on the myth of two star-crossed lovers condemned to meet only once a year in the Milky Way on 7 July. Every summer Japanese people write prayers on thin strips of paper and hang them in bamboo branches in the hope their wishes will be granted.

“I wish for a world in which the universal desire for liberty is realised. I wish for the advance of new technologies that will improve the human condition and protect our environment. I wish God’s blessings on all,” Mr Bush concluded.

Gordon Brown, mindful of the third anniversary of the London bombings, sought an end to terrorism as well as to poverty.

Are mobile phones wiping out our bees?

The Independent | Jul 7, 2008

It seems like the plot of a particularly far-fetched horror film. But some scientists suggest that our love of the mobile phone could cause massive food shortages, as the world’s harvests fail.

They are putting forward the theory that radiation given off by mobile phones and other hi-tech gadgets is a possible answer to one of the more bizarre mysteries ever to happen in the natural world – the abrupt disappearance of the bees that pollinate crops. Late last week, some bee-keepers claimed that the phenomenon – which started in the US, then spread to continental Europe – was beginning to hit Britain as well.

The theory is that radiation from mobile phones interferes with bees’ navigation systems, preventing the famously homeloving species from finding their way back to their hives. Improbable as it may seem, there is now evidence to back this up.

Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) occurs when a hive’s inhabitants suddenly disappear, leaving only queens, eggs and a few immature workers, like so many apian Mary Celestes. The vanished bees are never found, but thought to die singly far from home. The parasites, wildlife and other bees that normally raid the honey and pollen left behind when a colony dies, refuse to go anywhere near the abandoned hives.

The alarm was first sounded last autumn, but has now hit half of all American states. The West Coast is thought to have lost 60 per cent of its commercial bee population, with 70 per cent missing on the East Coast.

CCD has since spread to Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece. And last week John Chapple, one of London’s biggest bee-keepers, announced that 23 of his 40 hives have been abruptly abandoned.

Other apiarists have recorded losses in Scotland, Wales and north-west England, but the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs insisted: “There is absolutely no evidence of CCD in the UK.”

The implications of the spread are alarming. Most of the world’s crops depend on pollination by bees. Albert Einstein once said that if the bees disappeared, “man would have only four years of life left”.

No one knows why it is happening. Theories involving mites, pesticides, global warming and GM crops have been proposed, but all have drawbacks.

German research has long shown that bees’ behaviour changes near power lines.

Now a limited study at Landau University has found that bees refuse to return to their hives when mobile phones are placed nearby. Dr Jochen Kuhn, who carried it out, said this could provide a “hint” to a possible cause.

Dr George Carlo, who headed a massive study by the US government and mobile phone industry of hazards from mobiles in the Nineties, said: “I am convinced the possibility is real.”

The case against handsets

Evidence of dangers to people from mobile phones is increasing. But proof is still lacking, largely because many of the biggest perils, such as cancer, take decades to show up.

Most research on cancer has so far proved inconclusive. But an official Finnish study found that people who used the phones for more than 10 years were 40 per cent more likely to get a brain tumour on the same side as they held the handset.

Equally alarming, blue-chip Swedish research revealed that radiation from mobile phones killed off brain cells, suggesting that today’s teenagers could go senile in the prime of their lives.

Studies in India and the US have raised the possibility that men who use mobile phones heavily have reduced sperm counts. And, more prosaically, doctors have identified the condition of “text thumb”, a form of RSI from constant texting.

Professor Sir William Stewart, who has headed two official inquiries, warned that children under eight should not use mobiles and made a series of safety recommendations, largely ignored by ministers.

Bush wishes for freedom from tyranny

“I wish for a world free from tyranny…free from tyrannical governments.”

UPI |  July 7, 2008

TOYAKO, Japan, July 7 (UPI) — U.S. President George Bush, in Japan to meet with other world leaders, Monday wished for freedom from tyranny at a wishing tree with his colleagues in Toyako.

Bush traveled to Japan for the Group of Eight meeting and much of Monday’s session focused on Africa — both the need for G8 members to honor pledges and the situation in Zimbabwe.

Following an evening photo session at which Bush ignored reporters’ shouts to look their way, Bush approached the tree in which world leaders placed their wishes.

“I wish for a world free from tyranny: the tyranny of hunger, disease and free from tyrannical governments. I wish for a world in which the universal desire for liberty is realized. I wish for the advance of new technologies that will improve the human condition and protect our environment. I wish God’s blessings on all. George W. Bush,” the president’s missive read.

Later, world leaders and their spouses huddled under umbrellas to watch costumed dancers and fireworks.

Secret World Bank report: biofuel caused food crisis

Internal World Bank study delivers blow to plant energy drive

Related: Top scientist says GM crops are the answer to food price crisis

The Guardian | Jul 4, 2008

By Aditya Chakrabortty

Biofuels have forced global food prices up by 75% – far more than previously estimated – according to a confidential World Bank report obtained by the Guardian.

The damning unpublished assessment is based on the most detailed analysis of the crisis so far, carried out by an internationally-respected economist at global financial body.

The figure emphatically contradicts the US government’s claims that plant-derived fuels contribute less than 3% to food-price rises. It will add to pressure on governments in Washington and across Europe, which have turned to plant-derived fuels to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and reduce their dependence on imported oil.

Senior development sources believe the report, completed in April, has not been published to avoid embarrassing President George Bush.

“It would put the World Bank in a political hot-spot with the White House,” said one yesterday.

The news comes at a critical point in the world’s negotiations on biofuels policy. Leaders of the G8 industrialised countries meet next week in Hokkaido, Japan, where they will discuss the food crisis and come under intense lobbying from campaigners calling for a moratorium on the use of plant-derived fuels.

It will also put pressure on the British government, which is due to release its own report on the impact of biofuels, the Gallagher Report. The Guardian has previously reported that the British study will state that plant fuels have played a “significant” part in pushing up food prices to record levels. Although it was expected last week, the report has still not been released.

“Political leaders seem intent on suppressing and ignoring the strong evidence that biofuels are a major factor in recent food price rises,” said Robert Bailey, policy adviser at Oxfam. “It is imperative that we have the full picture. While politicians concentrate on keeping industry lobbies happy, people in poor countries cannot afford enough to eat.”

Rising food prices have pushed 100m people worldwide below the poverty line, estimates the World Bank, and have sparked riots from Bangladesh to Egypt. Government ministers here have described higher food and fuel prices as “the first real economic crisis of globalisation”.

President Bush has linked higher food prices to higher demand from India and China, but the leaked World Bank study disputes that: “Rapid income growth in developing countries has not led to large increases in global grain consumption and was not a major factor responsible for the large price increases.”

Even successive droughts in Australia, calculates the report, have had a marginal impact. Instead, it argues that the EU and US drive for biofuels has had by far the biggest impact on food supply and prices.

Since April, all petrol and diesel in Britain has had to include 2.5% from biofuels. The EU has been considering raising that target to 10% by 2020, but is faced with mounting evidence that that will only push food prices higher.

“Without the increase in biofuels, global wheat and maize stocks would not have declined appreciably and price increases due to other factors would have been moderate,” says the report. The basket of food prices examined in the study rose by 140% between 2002 and this February. The report estimates that higher energy and fertiliser prices accounted for an increase of only 15%, while biofuels have been responsible for a 75% jump over that period.

It argues that production of biofuels has distorted food markets in three main ways. First, it has diverted grain away from food for fuel, with over a third of US corn now used to produce ethanol and about half of vegetable oils in the EU going towards the production of biodiesel. Second, farmers have been encouraged to set land aside for biofuel production. Third, it has sparked financial speculation in grains, driving prices up higher.

Other reviews of the food crisis looked at it over a much longer period, or have not linked these three factors, and so arrived at smaller estimates of the impact from biofuels. But the report author, Don Mitchell, is a senior economist at the Bank and has done a detailed, month-by-month analysis of the surge in food prices, which allows much closer examination of the link between biofuels and food supply.

The report points out biofuels derived from sugarcane, which Brazil specializes in, have not had such a dramatic impact.

Supporters of biofuels argue that they are a greener alternative to relying on oil and other fossil fuels, but even that claim has been disputed by some experts, who argue that it does not apply to US production of ethanol from plants.

“It is clear that some biofuels have huge impacts on food prices,” said Dr David King, the government’s former chief scientific adviser, last night. “All we are doing by supporting these is subsidising higher food prices, while doing nothing to tackle climate change.”

Pentagon tries for kinder, gentler cluster bombs

Related: Study says almost all cluster bomb victims are children

Associated Press | Jul 7,  2008

Pentagon aims for less deadly cluster bombs

by LOLITA C. BALDOR

WASHINGTON – Faced with growing international pressure, the Pentagon is changing its policy on cluster bombs and plans to reduce the danger of unexploded munitions in the deadly explosives.

The policy shift, which is outlined in a three-page memo signed by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, would require that after 2018, more than 99 percent of the bomblets in a cluster bomb must detonate.

Limiting the amount of live munitions left on the battlefield would lessen the danger to innocent civilians who have been killed or severely injured when they accidentally detonate the bombs.

Also, by next June the Defense Department will begin to reduce its inventory of cluster bombs that do not meet the new safety requirements.

The new Defense Department plan comes more than a month after 111 nations, including many of America’s key NATO partners, adopted a treaty outlawing all current designs of cluster munitions. The agreement also required that stockpiles be destroyed within eight years.

Opponents have complained that the Pentagon has moved too slowly to reduce the cluster munitions from its inventory.

Cluster bombs scatter hundreds of smaller explosives over a large area, where those bomblets can sit for years until they are disturbed and explode.

U.S. leaders boycotted the May talks, as did Russia, China, Israel, India and Pakistan, all leading cluster bomb makers who cite the military value of the deadly explosives.

At the time, Cmdr. Bob Mehal, a Pentagon spokesman, said the elimination of cluster bombs from the U.S. stockpile “would put the lives of our soldiers and those of our coalition partners at risk.”

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who has led efforts to outlaw cluster munitions, said the Pentagon’s move is a step back. A defense policy issued by then-Defense Secretary William Cohen in early 2001, Leahy said, called for a similar reduction in submunitions from the cluster bombs by 2005.

“Now the Bush administration’s ‘new’ policy is to wait another 10 years,” said Leahy, calling it “another squandered opportunity for U.S. leadership.” He said that in wake of the international treaty agreement, the Pentagon’s plan to wait another decade before requiring the 99 percent detonation rate cannot be justified.

The use of cluster bombs has seen opposition in Congress, which last year passed a one-year ban on U.S. exports of such munitions to other countries. It is expected that the ban, which received bipartisan support, will be extended again by Congress.

The new Pentagon policy appears to plan for a possible end to that ban. The memo states that until 2018, the Defense Department would seek to transfer cluster munitions that don’t meet the new 1 percent failure rate to other foreign governments. Any transfer would require that the foreign government not use them after 2018, and the sale would have to be “consistent with U.S. law,” according to the memo.

The policy defends the use of the cluster bombs as effective weapons that “provide distinct advantages against a range of targets and can result in less collateral damage” than other weapons.

And the memo concludes by saying that “blanket elimination of cluster munitions is unacceptable” and commanders will use them in accordance with the law and international agreements “in order to minimize their impact on civilian populations.”

A June report by the Congressional Research Service questioned whether it is feasible to design a bomb that will indeed detonate to the planned level of more than 99 percent.

“While such a high level of performance might be achievable under controlled laboratory conditions,” the report said, other uncontrollable circumstances, such as landing in soft ground or getting caught in a tree or vegetation, could result in more unexploded duds.

According to the congressional report, the U.S. dropped more than 1,200 cluster bombs — containing nearly 250,000 submunitions — in Afghanistan from 2001-2002. And the U.S. and British forces used about 13,000 of the bombs — with more than 1.8 million bomblets — during the first three weeks of combat in the Iraq war.

When the international treaty was adopted, backers predicted that the U.S. would never again use the weapons, and it left open the possibility that European allies could order U.S. bases within their borders to remove cluster bombs from their stocks.

International leaders expect to sign the treaty in December.

Microwave ray gun controls crowds by beaming noise directly into people’s heads

A US company claims it is ready to build a microwave ray gun able to beam sounds directly into people’s heads.

The device is aimed for military or crowd-control applications, but may have ‘other uses’.

NewScientist | Jul 3, 2008

Microwave ray gun controls crowds with noise

By David Hambling

The device – dubbed MEDUSA (Mob Excess Deterrent Using Silent Audio) – exploits the microwave audio effect, in which short microwave pulses rapidly heat tissue, causing a shockwave inside the skull that can be detected by the ears. A series of pulses can be transmitted to produce recognisable sounds.

Lev Sadovnik of the Sierra Nevada Corporation in the US is working on the system, having started work on a US navy research contract. The navy’s report states that the effect was shown to be effective.

Scarecrow beam?

MEDUSA involves a microwave auditory effect “loud” enough to cause discomfort or even incapacitation. Sadovnik says that normal audio safety limits do not apply since the sound does not enter through the eardrums.

“The repel effect is a combination of loudness and the irritation factor,” he says. “You can’t block it out.”

Sadovnik says the device will work thanks to a new reconfigurable antenna developed by colleague Vladimir Manasson. It steers the beam electronically, making it possible to flip from a broad to a narrow beam, or aim at multiple targets simultaneously.

Sadovnik says the technology could have non-military applications. Birds seem to be highly sensitive to microwave audio, he says, so it might be used to scare away unwanted flocks.

Sadovnik has also experimented with transmitting microwave audio to people with outer ear problems that impair their normal hearing.

Brain damage risk

James Lin of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at the University of Illinois in Chicago says that MEDUSA is feasible in principle.

He has carried out his own work on the technique, and was even approached by the music industry about using microwave audio to enhance sound systems, he told New Scientist.

“But is it going to be possible at the power levels necessary?” he asks. Previous microwave audio tests involved very “quiet” sounds that were hard to hear, a high-power system would mean much more powerful – and potentially hazardous – shockwaves.

“I would worry about what other health effects it is having,” says Lin. “You might see neural damage.”

Sierra Nevada says that a demonstration version could be built in a year, with a transportable system following within 18 months. They are currently seeking funding for the work from the US Department of Defence.

Ancient Tablet Ignites Debate on Messiah and Resurrection

When David Jeselsohn bought an ancient tablet, above, he was unaware of its significance. (photo: Dominic Buettner for The New York Times)

NY Times  |  Jul 6, 2008

By ETHAN BRONNER

JERUSALEM — A three-foot-tall tablet with 87 lines of Hebrew that scholars believe dates from the decades just before the birth of Jesus is causing a quiet stir in biblical and archaeological circles, especially because it may speak of a messiah who will rise from the dead after three days.

If such a messianic description really is there, it will contribute to a developing re-evaluation of both popular and scholarly views of Jesus, since it suggests that the story of his death and resurrection was not unique but part of a recognized Jewish tradition at the time.

The tablet, probably found near the Dead Sea in Jordan according to some scholars who have studied it, is a rare example of a stone with ink writings from that era — in essence, a Dead Sea Scroll on stone.

It is written, not engraved, across two neat columns, similar to columns in a Torah. But the stone is broken, and some of the text is faded, meaning that much of what it says is open to debate.

Still, its authenticity has so far faced no challenge, so its role in helping to understand the roots of Christianity in the devastating political crisis faced by the Jews of the time seems likely to increase.

Daniel Boyarin, a professor of Talmudic culture at the University of California at Berkeley, said that the stone was part of a growing body of evidence suggesting that Jesus could be best understood through a close reading of the Jewish history of his day.

“Some Christians will find it shocking — a challenge to the uniqueness of their theology — while others will be comforted by the idea of it being a traditional part of Judaism,” Mr. Boyarin said.

Given the highly charged atmosphere surrounding all Jesus-era artifacts and writings, both in the general public and in the fractured and fiercely competitive scholarly community, as well as the concern over forgery and charlatanism, it will probably be some time before the tablet’s contribution is fully assessed. It has been around 60 years since the Dead Sea Scrolls were uncovered, and they continue to generate enormous controversy regarding their authors and meaning.

The scrolls, documents found in the Qumran caves of the West Bank, contain some of the only known surviving copies of biblical writings from before the first century A.D. In addition to quoting from key books of the Bible, the scrolls describe a variety of practices and beliefs of a Jewish sect at the time of Jesus.

How representative the descriptions are and what they tell us about the era are still strongly debated. For example, a question that arises is whether the authors of the scrolls were members of a monastic sect or in fact mainstream. A conference marking 60 years since the discovery of the scrolls will begin on Sunday at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, where the stone, and the debate over whether it speaks of a resurrected messiah, as one iconoclastic scholar believes, also will be discussed.

Oddly, the stone is not really a new discovery. It was found about a decade ago and bought from a Jordanian antiquities dealer by an Israeli-Swiss collector who kept it in his Zurich home. When an Israeli scholar examined it closely a few years ago and wrote a paper on it last year, interest began to rise. There is now a spate of scholarly articles on the stone, with several due to be published in the coming months.

“I couldn’t make much out of it when I got it,” said David Jeselsohn, the owner, who is himself an expert in antiquities. “I didn’t realize how significant it was until I showed it to Ada Yardeni, who specializes in Hebrew writing, a few years ago. She was overwhelmed. ‘You have got a Dead Sea Scroll on stone,’ she told me.”

Much of the text, a vision of the apocalypse transmitted by the angel Gabriel, draws on the Old Testament, especially the prophets Daniel, Zechariah and Haggai.

Ms. Yardeni, who analyzed the stone along with Binyamin Elitzur, is an expert on Hebrew script, especially of the era of King Herod, who died in 4 B.C. The two of them published a long analysis of the stone more than a year ago in Cathedra, a Hebrew-language quarterly devoted to the history and archaeology of Israel, and said that, based on the shape of the script and the language, the text dated from the late first century B.C.

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