Daily Archives: June 15, 2011

Iranian President Ahmadinejad urges Central Asian nations to create a New World Order


Front row from left, Iranian President Ahmadinejad, Kazakhstan’s President Nazarbayev and Russian President Medvedev walk after a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana, June 15, 2011. Photo: AP

voanews.com | Jun 15, 2011

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has urged Central Asian nations to create a new world order that ends the domination of what he called the “enslavers and colonizers of the past” – a reference to Western powers.

Ahmadinejad was speaking Wednesday at the opening of a regional summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in the Kazakh capital, Astana. Addressing the summit as an observer, he said all of the participating nations have a history of avoiding conflicts and together can bring peace to the world.

The SCO is a regional security and economic forum whose members include China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.  Several nations participate as observers, including Iran, India, Pakistan and Mongolia.

The Iranian president used much of his summit speech to blame unnamed Western countries for global instability. After the summit, Russia says President Dmitry Medvedev urged Mr. Ahmadinejad to take a “more constructive approach” in resolving a dispute with six world powers about the Iranian nuclear program.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says Mr. Medvedev also called on the Iranian president to improve the transparency of his contacts with the United Nations nuclear agency. The Russian president made the appeals in a three-way meeting with  Ahmadinejad and Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Six major powers, Russia, China, the United States, Britain, France and Germany, have been trying to persuade Iran to stop sensitive nuclear work in return for diplomatic incentives, but the talks have been stalled for months.

In private talks ahead of the summit Tuesday, Chinese President Hu Jintao also urged  Ahmadinejad to resume the six-nation talks, saying Iranian steps to establish trust and promote dialogue would be in the interest not only of Iran but of the Middle East as a whole.

Western powers accuse Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons under the cover of a civilian energy program. Lavrov says Ahmadinejad told his Russian counterpart that Iran has no intention of becoming nuclear-armed.

During Wednesday’s summit, Russia appeared to win support from other SCO members for its criticism of U.S. plans for a missile defense shield in Europe. In a declaration, the bloc said the “unilateral and unlimited” build-up of missile defense systems by one state or narrow group of states could “damage” global security.

The declaration did not mention any nation specifically. The United States has said its proposed European missile defense shield is meant to protect the region from potential attack by Iranian missiles. But Russia fears the system will weaken its nuclear deterrent.

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Genetically modified rice spreads illegally, prompting debate in China


A vendor picks up rice at her stall in a market in Beijing (AFP/File, Peter Parks)

AFP | Jun 15, 2011

By Boris Cambreleng

BEIJING — Genetically modified rice has been spreading illegally for years in China, officials have admitted, triggering a debate on a sensitive aspect of the food security plan in the world’s most populous nation.

Two strains of GM rice were approved for open-field experiments but not commercial sale in 2009. In January, the agriculture ministry said “no genetically modified cereals are being grown in China” outside the test sites.

But in April, an environment ministry official told the weekly Nanfang Zhoumo that a joint investigation by four government departments had found that “illegal GM seeds are present in several provinces because of weak management”.

The agriculture ministry did not respond to an AFP request for clarification.

According to the website for the European Union’s Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed, European countries found foodstuffs from China containing GM rice 115 times between 2006 and May this year.

The campaign group Greenpeace says GM rice seeds have been in China since 2005, and were found at markets in Hubei, Hunan and Jiangxi provinces last year, Fang Lifeng, a Chinese agriculture specialist with the group, told AFP.

Beijing is pro-biotechnology and has already allowed several GM crops to be grown, including cotton, peppers, tomatoes and papayas, and has authorised imports of GM soya and corn for the food industry.

But rice — the key staple in the diet of the country’s more than 1.3 billion people — is a much more sensitive question.

“Two-thirds of Chinese eat rice every day,” said Tong Pingya, a highly respected agronomist who blasted Chinese scientists for “treating the people like guinea pigs” at a conference in May chaired by Vice-Premier Li Keqiang.

“China does not need this genetically modified rice, as it produces enough and even exports a bit,” Tong told AFP.

When the National People’s Congress, China’s rubber-stamp parliament, met last year, around 100 researchers wrote to deputies asking them to revoke authorisations for the use of experimental GM grains, including a strain of corn as well as the two rice types.

They also demanded a public debate and clear labelling of products containing genetically modified organisms.

Backers of GM rice argue that it is more drought-resistant, offers better yield, and — in the case of the variety containing the Bt gene — allows pesticide use to be dramatically cut.

“It should be possible to authorise commercialisation around 2012-2013, but the state will probably not allow them to be used on a wide scale” in the near future, said Ma Wenfeng, a grain market analyst with the consultancy CNagri, which has links to the agriculture ministry.

According to Ma, the new varieties represent “an advance in biotechnology” and will ultimately be accepted.

For their part, environmentalists and some Chinese scientists warn against the as-yet unknown long-term consequences of using GM rice for biodiversity and human health.

Whether using them is in farmers’ interests is an open question, according to Greenpeace’s Fang, because “GM seeds cost two to five times more than ordinary seeds” and “in terms of yield, there isn’t really a difference”.

GM rice strains developed in Chinese laboratories also raise questions about intellectual property.

The Bt gene is patented by the US agribusiness giant Monsanto, which could demand royalties and compensation from China if that variety is commercialised.

Internet CCTV firm rebuked after shopping spy video posted on YouTube

ICO orders Big Brother to encrypt data

Techworld | Jun 15, 2011

By John E Dunn

Controversial crime-spotting website Internet Eyes has upset the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) after CCTV footage of a member of the public out shopping was posted on YouTube.

The ICO has now demanded that the company make extensive changes to its systems after a privacy complaint was made by the individual concerned earlier this year.  

Internet eyes has since agreed to encrypt all surveillance traffic, make better checks on people signing up to undertake the work, and put in place an audit trail to deter abuses. The company will also have to stop its viewers from accessing footage from postcodes within 30 miles of their home addresses.

Internet Eyes launched in 2009 with the promise it would pay Internet users to watch CCTV images streamed from a variety of locations such as shops and UK streets, reporting any criminal activity noticed. Retailers are charged for the service which is mainly aimed at deterring shoplifting.

Related

ICO rebukes Internet Eyes after video footage leaked on Youtube

The ICO said that so far it was satisfied that the company had put in place checks to stop the sort of abuse complained about but its patience with the company’s ‘Big Brother’ business is clearly starting to wear thin.

“CCTV footage should not end up on YouTube when it shows someone simply out doing their shopping. A person’s CCTV image is their personal data,” said deputy Information Commissioner, Dave Smith.

“We will though continue to keep a close watch on them and do not rule out taking more formal enforcement action if further complaints are received,” read an ICO statement.

This is not the firm’s first brush with negative publicity, including one shop in East Anglia that decided to stop using the site after complaints from members of the public.  Privacy campaigners naturally hate the site on the grounds that its business concept is a data protection disaster waiting to happen, while some people ‘working’ for the site moan about the low returns for the work put in.

Slavery still as much of a problem in the UK as when it was officially abolished 200 years ago

Slavery is as much of a problem in the UK today as when it was abolished ‘due to trafficking of women into prostitution’

Daily Mail | Jun 15, 2011

Misery: Police raid a massage in Birmingham as they rescued nineteen women from Eastern Europe last night who are thought to have been tricked into becoming sex slaves

Slavery remains as much of a problem in the UK as when it was officially abolished 200 years ago, a think-tank said today.

The Centre for Social Justice will launch a review of slavery and human trafficking as estimates show at least 6,000 women have been trafficked into the UK and forced into prostitution.

Others are working as domestic servants or forced labour.

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, patron of the think-tank, will help launch the inquiry, which will look at the role, impact and training of the police and other frontline organisations.

It will also consider the effectiveness of the National Referral Mechanism, which aims to identify victims

Gavin Poole, the CSJ’s executive director, said: ‘Every slavery victim represents a family torn apart and an individual’s freedom and choice destroyed.

‘They mark the continuation of an illegal trade which, since its official abolition in 1807, has grown to devastate many more people than it did 200 years ago.’

‘We want the UK to become a world leader in combating this evil trade at home and abroad and working with other countries to make abolition a reality.’

The 15-month review, which will be led by Andrew Wallis, director of the anti-trafficking and victim support charity Unseen UK, will also consider the UK’s laws on prostitution, trafficking and domestic servitude.
The support and care available to victims will also be examined, along with the role of the general public and civil society in combating slavery, the CSJ said.

Immigration Minister Damian Green said: “The UK has a strong record of supporting victims of trafficking and through tough enforcement we are stopping the UK becoming a safe haven.

‘Our new trafficking strategy will be published shortly, supported by the new National Crime Agency, which will improve our capability to disrupt organised groups from trafficking people to the UK – from wherever they operate in the world.’

Earth facing a mini-Ice Age ‘within ten years’ due to rare drop in sunspot activity


A giant magnetic loop (right) filled with glowing-hot gas blasts away from the sun in 2003, while two Jupiter-sized sunspots also erupt. Within ten years the sun will be in an unusual and extended period of hibernation that could trigger a mini-Ice Age on Earth, scientists claim

Sunspots are expected to disappear for years, maybe decades, after 2020

A sharp decrease in global warming might result

Daily Mail | Jun 15, 2011

The sun is heading into an unusual and extended period of hibernation that could trigger a mini-Ice Age on Earth, scientists claim.

A decrease in global warming might result in the years after 2020, the approximate time when sunspots are expected to disappear for years, maybe even decades.

While the effects of a calmer sun are mostly good – there’d be fewer disruptions of satellites and power systems – it could see a sharp turnaround in global warming.

An absence of sunspots is not an unprecedented situation. It has happened before, but not since the early 18th century.

Lead researcher Frank Hill, of the National Solar Observatory, said: ‘The solar cycle is maybe going into hiatus, sort of like a summertime TV show.’

While scientists don’t know why the sun is going quiet, all the signs are that it will.

Dr Hill and his team have based their prediction on three changes in the sun spotted by scientific teams – weakening sunspots; fewer streams spewing from the poles of the sun’s corona; and a disappearing solar jet stream.

Dr Richard Altrock, the study’s co-author and an astrophysicist at the Air Force Research Laboratory, said these three cues show that ‘there’s a good possibility that the sun could be going into some sort of state from which it takes a long time to recover’.

Their prediction is specifically aimed at the solar cycle starting in 2020.

Experts say the sun has already been unusually quiet for about four years with few sunspots – higher magnetic areas that appear as dark spots.

The enormous magnetic field of the sun dictates the solar cycle, which includes sunspots, solar wind and ejection of fast-moving particles that sometimes hit Earth.

Every 22 years, the sun’s magnetic field switches north and south, creating an 11-year sunspot cycle.


The sun has already been unusually quiet for about four years with few sunspots – higher magnetic areas that appear as dark spots. Scientists predict the solar cycle starting in 2020 will see sunspots disappear altogether for a period of decades

At peak times, like 2001, there are sunspots every day and more frequent solar flares and storms that could disrupt satellites.

Earlier this month, David Hathaway, Nasa’s top solar storm scientist, predicted that the current cycle, which started around 2009, will be the weakest in a century.

Mr Altrock also thinks the current cycle won’t have much solar activity, after tracking streamers from the solar corona, the sun’s outer atmosphere seen during eclipses.

The streamers normally become busy around the sun’s poles a few years before peak solar storm activity.

That ‘rush to the poles’ would have happened by now, but it hasn’t and there’s no sign of it yet. That also means the cycle after that is uncertain, he said.

Matt Penn of the National Solar Observatory, another study co-author, said sunspot magnetic fields have been steadily decreasing in strength since 1998.

If they continue on the current pace, their magnetic fields will be too weak to become spots as of 2022 or so, he said.

Jet streams on the sun’s surface and below are also early indicators of solar storm activity, and they have not formed yet for the 2020 cycle. That indicates that there will be little or delayed activity in that cycle, said Hill, who tracks jet streams.

There are questions about what this means for Earth’s climate. Three times in the past the regular 11-year solar cycle has gone on an extended vacation – at the same time as cool periods on Earth.

Sceptics of man-made global warming from the burning of fossil fuels have often pointed to solar radiation as a possible cause of a warming Earth, but they are in the minority among scientists.

Earth has warmed as solar activity has decreased.

Mr Hill and his colleagues wouldn’t discuss the effects of a quiet sun on temperature or global warming.

‘If our predictions are true, we’ll have a wonderful experiment that will determine whether the sun has any effect on global warming,’ he said.
. . .

Related

NASA: Solar cycle may cause “dangerous” global cooling in a few years time

Next solar cycle could be a no-show

Sun may be entering a long period of reduced activity, several studies suggest

Report: U.S. Students don’t know much about American history

U.S. students don’t know much about American history.

Associated Press | Jun 14, 2011

By CHRISTINE ARMARIO

Just 13 percent of high school seniors who took the 2010 National Assessment of Educational Progress, called the Nation’s Report Card, showed a solid grasp of the subject. Results released Tuesday showed the two other grades didn’t perform much better, with just 22 percent of fourth-grade students and 18 percent of eighth-graders demonstrating proficiency.

The test quizzed students on topics including colonization, the American Revolution and the Civil War, and the contemporary United States. For example, one question asked fourth-graders to name an important result of the U.S. building canals in the 1800s. Only 44 percent knew that it was increased trade among states.

“The history scores released today show that student performance is still too low,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement. “These results tell us that, as a country, we are failing to provide children with a high-quality, well-rounded education.”

Education experts say a heavy focus on reading and math under the federal No Child Left Behind law in the last decade has led to lagging performance in other subjects such as history and science.

“We need to make sure other subjects like history, science and the arts are not forgotten in our pursuit of the basic skills,” said Diane Ravitch, a research professor at New York University and former U.S. assistant education secretary.

Of the seven subjects on the national test, students performed the worst in U.S. history. Officials with the National Assessment Governing board, which oversees the tests, say the results aren’t comparable to the other tests because different students take each exam in different years.

The scores on the history test did not vary remarkably from years past; in 1994, for example, 19 percent of fourth-grade students scored proficient or better in U.S. history.

More than 7,000 fourth-grade students, 11,000 eighth graders and 12,000 high school seniors from a nationally representative sample took the test last year.

To be considered proficient, they had to get certain scores out of 500. For fourth-graders, the score was 243. Eighth-graders needed 294, and 12th graders had to get a 325.

Judy Brodigan, who was head of the elementary social studies curriculum for the Lewisville, Texas, school district for a decade, said history and social studies classes aren’t as much of a priority for school districts as math and reading. She noted that many states only test history and social studies starting in middle school, which means elementary school students don’t get the background they need in the subject.

“When the foundation isn’t built in elementary school, these students are coming to middle school lacking crucial skills,” Brodigan said. “What it means is that in what is becoming a more and more global society, American students are more and more at a disadvantage.”

Educators said history is critical to students learning how to become better citizens and understanding how the country’s political and cultural systems work. Students need to not only recognize leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Lincoln, but also understand why they were important to the development of the country.

“Overall the quality and success of our lives can only be enhanced by a study of our roots,” said Steven Paine, former state schools superintendent for West Virginia. “If you don’t know your past, you will not have a future.”