Thursday, January 31, 2008

Death Sentence of a Journalist

Words do injustice expressing the disgust and shame regarding this horrendous case of Sayed Pervez Kambaksh, an Afghanistani student journalist, who is languishing in prison while awaiting his death sentence handed down by a religious court in Afghanistan for the reason of "downloading an internet report on women's rights."

Sign the petition by clicking here started by UK's The Independent to save this student journalist's life.

Read The Independent's article on this breach of universal civility!

Khaled Hosseini, the famous writer who wrote the memorable novel The Kite Runner a few years ago, just published a timely article in The Wall Street Journal. Here are a few excerpts from his article:
The real questions that must be asked are: Is post-Taliban Afghanistan a country that executes citizens for peacefully questioning some aspect of Islam? What about all the rhetoric of Afghan freedom and democracy? Wouldn't executing Mr. Kaambakhsh render it embarrassingly hollow? For how can Afghanistan claim that it is on the path to being a free, democratic state, and then put to death one of its own citizens for reasons that evoke, rather chillingly, the darkest days of the Taliban?

In 2006, the country had such an opportunity with the case of Abdul Rahman, a 41-year-old Afghan man who was put on trial and faced a death sentence for the crime of converting to Christianity. His case came to an end when, under tremendous international pressure that included a plea to President Karzai from Pope Benedict XVI, Afghan lawmakers allowed Mr. Rahman to flea to Italy where he was granted asylum. At the time, I thought that moderate Afghan leaders had wasted an opportunity to stand their ground and demonstrate their regime's respect for freedom of thought, religion and expression -- the pillars of any democracy.

Mr. Kaambakhsh's case presents another opportunity for Afghanistan to demonstrate that ruling by the strict word of Shariah -- at the expense of tolerance, compassion and freedom -- is a thing of the past. It is a chance for Afghanistan to show the world that it will abide by the fundamental principles of democracy, and to validate its repeated calls for financial support from the international community.

Montel Williams on Foxy Tabloid News



The irony is, after this show, Motel's own show was canceled by Fox. Is this price of asking tough questions? Perhaps, Montel should have sticked to day time soap opera entertainment like talk shows, and never ending celebrity gossips. Casualties? War? Who cares? Right?

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The $1.4 Trillion Question

Through the quarter-century in which China has been opening to world trade, Chinese leaders have deliberately held down living standards for their own people and propped them up in the United States. This is the real meaning of the vast trade surplus—$1.4 trillion and counting, going up by about $1 billion per day—that the Chinese government has mostly parked in U.S. Treasury notes. In effect, every person in the (rich) United States has over the past 10 years or so borrowed about $4,000 from someone in the (poor) People’s Republic of China. Like so many imbalances in economics, this one can’t go on indefinitely, and therefore won’t. But the way it ends—suddenly versus gradually, for predictable reasons versus during a panic—will make an enormous difference to the U.S. and Chinese economies over the next few years, to say nothing of bystanders in Europe and elsewhere.
James Fallows article in The Atlantic presents how this logic of "the balance of financial terror" between China and U.S. resemble so much alike like bygone cold war's "mutually assured destruction." "China can’t afford to stop feeding dollars to Americans, because China’s own dollar holdings would be devastated if it did. As long as that logic holds, the system works. As soon as it doesn’t, we have a big problem."

Read this "hyperbolic" analysis, though it could very well be tangential to reality as the writer correctly observes that "many world tragedies have been caused by miscalculation as by malice."

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Two Recent Videos of Dr. Muhammad Yunus

Two recent videos of Dr. Muhammad Yunus' lecture can be seen below.




Is It Just a Rock?

What is this? Somewhat weird rock structure, or rock hopping Martian? Can it be clever image manipulation? Is it just a rock?

To visit the image source, please click here.

Solitary 'Mr Average'

Jérôme Kerviel's name is on every major world newspaper's front page. Along with this name, increasing murmurs are becoming louder roars, skeptics already started doubting the "lone man" theory perpetuated by the French bank giant Societe Generale's delayed explanation on "one of the largest financial scams in history."

Here are a few observations from The Washington Post:
Public doubts mounted over the bank's account that a single trader was responsible for $7.14 billion in losses, while top officials questioned why the bank waited nearly a week to announce the discovery of the massive fraud.

"It is difficult for everyone to understand how a single person, in a relatively short period of time, can cause losses as significant in a solid and reliable banking house," Prime Minister Francois Fillon said Friday at a news conference during a visit to Luxembourg.

Fillon said he has ordered his finance minister to investigate the fraud at France's second-largest bank, giving her eight days to submit her findings.

"The bank was completely irresponsible," said Frederik-Karel Canoy, an attorney representing more than 100 shareholders who have filed suit against the bank, accusing it of fraud and breach of trust. "We want to know what actually happened. It is impossible that he did it alone? . . . Of course it's easier to blame a young trader," he said in a telephone interview.
$7.14 billion dollar losses blamed on a single man of "average intelligence", does indeed raises eyebrows from many segment of world populace. Here is one excerpt from The Guardian's article:
"SocGen is blaming such big losses on a rogue trader in order to cover up something else. Are there wider problems at SocGen which require a scapegoat? The bank announced a €2bn (£1.48bn) writedown on Thursday from US sub-prime losses, but that is small compared with $18bn (£9.08bn) at Citigroup and $14bn at Merrill Lynch."
Putting blame on "lone gunman", or say a group of "miscreants", while the real crime perhaps committed by "above the average" intelligence, for who knows what, was used many a times in the past from antiquity to present days of turmoil, that many says artificially created.

Friday, January 25, 2008

The 247 lb. Vegan

"Living solely on plant food, a combination of nuts, fruits, vegetables, grains and the like, has long been the fringe diet of young rebels and aging nonconformists. Even the government recommends regular helpings of meat, fish and dairy. Vegans of late have gotten more hip with such best sellers as the brash "Skinny Bitch," and its more scholarly cousin, "The China Study." Both books argue vegans can live longer.

But could an all-star National Football League player, all 6-foot, 5-inches and 247 pounds of him, live on a vegan diet and still excel in one of the most punishing jobs in sports?"
Read the full article from the following The Wall Street Journal link:
The 247 lb. Vegan

See the following video of "Kansas City Chief Tight End Tony Gonzalez" who "shows us how to make high protein vegan shakes that actually taste good.

Video Link:
http://link.brightcove.com/services/link/bcpid452319854/bctid1381147904


Hans Rosling: "Seemingly Impossible is Possible"

"Seemingly impossible is possible" -- Hans Rosling.

This is the 2007 sequel to Professor Rosling's 2006 video.

Debunking third-world myths with the best stats you've ever seen

The following video is about two years old, presented by Professor Hans Rosling, a Swedish professor and researcher at Karolinska Institutet. It was presented in Monterey, California in 2006. Using graphical animation Professor Rosling makes the concept of poverty rates, life expectancy, child mortality and necessity of making data "not boring" for the wider population accessible. I wish I had a professor like him who had similar access to contemporary technologies and so much enthusiasm in his presentation that makes learning complex subject not so "boring".

One line from his presentation is: "Improvement of the world must be contextualized".

Video Link: http://youtube.com/watch?v=hVimVzgtD6w

Thursday, January 24, 2008

How to Stop the Downturn

World economy has tendency in following America's economic lead. As American economy goes sour, so does world economy. At least that's what seemed plausible early this week when stocks in Asia tumbled trailing U.S. economic "slowdown".

Joseph E. Stiglitz who won Nobel Prize in Economics, and had written a few splendid books on globalization and world trade, has a few good suggestions on "how to stop the downturn" in U.S. economy, that in turn can surely help the overall world economy by default. Here are a few pointers from his The New York Times article:
  • The country needs a stimulus, but anything we do will add to our soaring deficit, so it is important to get as much bang for the buck as possible. The optimal package would contain one fast-acting measure along with others that could lead to increased spending if and only if the economy goes into a steep downturn.
  • We should begin by strengthening the unemployment insurance system, because money received by the unemployed would be spent immediately.
  • The federal government should also provide some assistance to states and localities, which are already beginning to feel the pinch, as property values have fallen.
  • More federal support for state education budgets would also strengthen the economy in the short run and promote growth in the long run, as would spending to promote energy conservation and lower emissions.
  • The Bush administration has long taken the view that tax cuts (especially permanent tax cuts for the rich) are the solution to every problem. This is wrong. Tax cuts in general perpetuate the excessive consumption that has marked the American economy. But middle- and lower-income Americans have been suffering for the last seven years — median family income is lower today than it was in 2000. A tax rebate aimed at lower- and middle-income households makes sense, especially since it would be fast-acting.

Engineered Mosquitoes

In developing world, dengue fever affects millions of people, killing millions every year. Dengue is a disease that is carried on and passed by infected mosquitoes. The fight against dengue and its carrier is a long drawn out battle. Even an open coke bottle or spare tire with accumulated water can be the breeding ground for mosquitoes, and destroying these "standing-water larval hatching grounds" can be tantamount to quite impossible for many a nations where funding for such extensive undertaking is acutely limited.

Now comes Oxitec, a company based in England, claims that "it can decimate mosquito populations by breeding genetically modified male mosquitoes, then releasing them to mate with wild females. Their offspring contain lethal genes that kill them young, before they can reproduce."

Oxitec's experiments with "programmed" mosquitoes have generated considerable uproars in various segments of world societies, including large grant for more research being offered by Bill Gate's Foundations, along with other similar organizations' pointed interests. However, engineered mosquitoes, like engineered crops, or cloned "meats", have also drawn criticisms. One such criticism observes the following:

"Releasing millions of genetically modified terminator mosquitoes into wild ecosystems amounts to a reckless and uncontrolled experiment with a risky technology," said Jim Thomas, of the ETC Group, a technology watchdog. "Oxitec's (project) abandons all pretense of containment or possible recall. I wonder what sort of liability they are willing to assume if something goes wrong?"

Thomas also questioned Oxitec's core technology -- a regulatory switch that uses tetracycline.

"The assumption is that the insects will not encounter tetracycline in the wild and yet tetracycline, naturally derived from a soil bacteria, is widely used in agriculture," Thomas said.

"Genetically engineered insects for pest control are a literal disaster waiting to happen," said Ronnie Cummins, director of the Organic Consumers Association, in an e-mail.

Read Wire'd magazine article from the following link:
Engineered Mosquitoes Could Wipe Out Dengue Fever

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Care about the environment? Eat less meat

Changing one's lifestyle for the benefit of environment does not seem appealing to many. But changing one's lifestyle where cutting down meat consumption for the sake of one's vital health can be promoted because of its mass appeal. Studies after studies show the link between high meat consumption and life threatening disease like cancer, obesity, diabetes, heart disease and hypertension.

Vested interests directly and indirectly related to meat industries will be vehemently against any kind of arguments against the reduction of meat consumptions and productions, like the previous similar arguments made against the cigarette industries or the safety related standards in automobile. Even the Nobel Prize winning scientist hesitates raising this sensitive issue before getting the respected prize. Rajendra Pachauri who is the head of the United Nation's scientific panel on climate change implored the world with following comment: "please eat less meat." "Speaking at a press conference in Paris, he said meat was a very carbon-intensive commodity, a fact established by UN research showing that livestock production creates more greenhouse gases than all forms of transport combined."

Read Peter Fricker's article on this neglected subject from the following link:
Care about the environment? Eat less meat

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Political Animals

"Just as there are myriad strategies open to the human political animal with White House ambitions, so there are a number of nonhuman animals that behave like textbook politicians. Researchers who study highly gregarious and relatively brainy species like rhesus monkeys, baboons, dolphins, sperm whales, elephants and wolves have lately uncovered evidence that the creatures engage in extraordinarily sophisticated forms of politicking, often across large and far-flung social networks."
This highly engaging article published in The New York Times observes the following Machiavellian trait in rhesus monkeys so starkly resemble the "supremo" humans: “Individuals don’t fight for food, space or resources,” Dr. Maestripieri explained. “They fight for power.” With power and status, he added, “they’ll have control over everything else.”

And Rhesus monkeys are humorous even though nothing much humor is there about social power politicking: "Monkeys cultivate relationships by sitting close to their friends, grooming them at every possible opportunity and going to their aid — at least, when the photo op is right. “Rhesus males are quintessential opportunists,” Dr. Maestripieri said. “They pretend they’re helping others, but they only help adults, not infants. They only help those who are higher in rank than they are, not lower. They intervene in fights where they know they’re going to win anyway and where the risk of being injured is small.”In sum, he said, “they try to gain maximal benefits at minimal cost, and that’s a strategy that seems to work” in advancing status."

We are more closely related to monkeys than most ever ponders about!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Tiny Car, Tough Questions

Anne Applebaum observes that "at least for the philosophically minded, the Nano comes with its own moral conundrum: What happens when the laudable, currently fashionable movement to improve the environment comes directly into conflict with the equally laudable, equally fashionable movement to improve the lives of the poor?"

Nano's impact will be felt within the next decade, both on environment and on lives of many poor Indians, even on other folks around the world when nano frenzy eventually grips mass attention with its promised manufacture bonanza. "There is no profound reason that good environmental policies have to come into conflict with economic growth, but they often do." And when they do, in most cases till now, sound environmental policies gets pushed back by economic might.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Green Revolutionary -- Norman E. Borlaug, the Man who Fed the World

Unlike all the crunchy celebrity frenzy in modern news and media, Norman E. Borlaug is a stranger in the world of instant recognition. How ironic, this is the man, who had done enormous service to the entire world population by developing wheat variety that doubled, and even trippled food production from one corner of globe to another. Even his recent biography by Leon Hesser is "Temporarily Out of Stock", and none of his own books are available for purchase from any major book sellers today. It was not that he didn't get his deserved "recognition". He did get it. Nobel Prize was awarded to him for peace, and from American government he received Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal. Two articles on this green revolutionary can be read from the following links:

1. Green Revolutionary - Technology Review

2. Norman Borlaug - Wikipedia Article

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Can Hillary Cry Her Way Back to the White House?

Hillary's welled up eyes, and restrained tears might have had a hand in flipping New Hampshire democratic primary this year. But the words she had uttered in that informal news conference, saying, "“I just don’t want to see us fall backwards", are words came from the deepest conviction and truth it seems. See the video below:

The debate in New Hampshire before the primary where Hillary was aggressive, and also at the same time had to defend herself from two prong attacks from Obama and Edwards while pointing out some hollowness in opponents' claims to be more "purified" from corruptions, or having no ties with powerful lobby groups, the questioning from the New Hampshire debate moderator and its subsequent answers from Obama were indeed demeaning as Maureen Dowd observes in her The New York Times article, "How humiliating to have a moderator of the New Hampshire debate ask her to explain why she was not as popular as the handsome young prince from Chicago. How demeaning to have Obama rather ungraciously chime in: “You’re likable enough.” And how exasperating to be pushed into an angry rebuttal when John Edwards played wingman, attacking her on Obama’s behalf."

After the last seven years of abandonment of liberal American ideologies by Bush and Cheney Inc., Americans perhaps have a few good candidates to choose from Democratic Primary, Hillary, Obama, Edwards, and the lone man with respectable integrity like Ron Paul in Republican Primary whose winning any primary is a long shot due to media's vehement denouncement of Dr. Paul's libertarian and anti-war ideologies. Some of these candidates, especially, Hillary, backed Bush's ill-conceived Iraq war, and even sang the same tune of ratcheting irrational fears, in somewhat subdued tones, however, comparing the unabashed criminality at the helm, any "changes" toward liberal democracy from the rigid and neo-conservative stranglehold of contemporary American politics is genuinely a welcome sign for many.

Gloria Stein who is the co-founder of the Women's Media Center, raises a troubling question: "So why is the sex barrier not taken as seriously as the racial one? The reasons are as pervasive as the air we breathe: because sexism is still confused with nature as racism once was; because anything that affects males is seen as more serious than anything that affects “only” the female half of the human race; because children are still raised mostly by women (to put it mildly) so men especially tend to feel they are regressing to childhood when dealing with a powerful woman; because racism stereotyped black men as more “masculine” for so long that some white men find their presence to be masculinity-affirming (as long as there aren’t too many of them); and because there is still no “right” way to be a woman in public power without being considered a you-know-what."

Ms. Stein observes correctly that the caste systems of sex and race are interdependent and can only be uprooted together. "That’s why Senators Clinton and Obama have to be careful not to let a healthy debate turn into the kind of hostility that the news media love. Both will need a coalition of outsiders to win a general election. The abolition and suffrage movements progressed when united and were damaged by division; we should remember that."

Monday, January 07, 2008

Obama and the Ghosts of Racism

"Africans were enslaved. Next, a savage war was justified by the "freeing" of slaves. Then, in a distinct but insufficiently acknowledged act of the drama, black people were actively resubjugated in the decades after the Civil War. That resubjugation, embodied in a "reconstruction" bargain between North and South, according to which the other purpose of the Civil War, "union," was given priority over "freedom," led to the culture of Jim Crow, radical segregation, and the use of law to keep African-Americans in an assigned place. That actively nurtured system - not the crippling effects of a long-abolished injustice - defines the ongoing American crime."
James Carroll's article in The Boston Globe observes "African-Americans have not been passive victims of this heinous tradition. Blacks led the resistance to it, culminating in the triumphs of the civil rights movement, preparing the way for leaders like Obama. But his arrival, at a level below the surface of whatever policies he advances, calls into question the dominant way in which this nation thinks of itself - not only in terms of race, but in terms of war. After all, the American belief in the righteousness of mass killing for the sake of abstract values like "freedom" springs not from the Revolution, where the killing was relatively slight and the freedom limited to a merchant class, but from the Civil War, where a spirit of total killing was justified by a professed commitment to racial equality that simply did not exist."

Barack Obama's rise to limelight in this U.S. Presidential Election at the same time when his father's homeland in Kenya where another presidential election and voting aftermath is in turmoil, and the surprising "coincidences?" of having the blood link with the same African tribe, the Luo tribe, like Raila Odinga, the Kenyan opposition leader can be befuddling for many. Who says history ain't exciting and like a rotating circle?

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Abolishing Ageing -- How to Live Forever

Immortality! Human beings want to live forever. Who wouldn't? Despite all the miseries, tribulations and griefs one may accumulate throughout one's turbulent or sedentary life, wish for living more years in this vibrant planet among the loved ones is unstoppable. However, human beings' wishes always get its end with bodily demise. Death is the certainty. Mortality is the absolute. We born. We die. Nature revolves around this simple binary solution for its cycle of renewal and regeneration. Is there any way beating nature prolonging human lifespan?

Recent studies show promising developments. An independent researcher at Cambridge, England, Dr. de Gray, who has a background in engineering, compartmentalized ageing into seven components. These are the following:
    • Cell loss
    • Apoptosis-resistance (the tendency of cells to refuse to die when they are supposed to)
    • Gene mutations in the cell nucleus
    • Gene mutations in the mitochondria (the cell's power-packs)
    • The accumulation of junk inside cells,
    • The accumulation of junk outside cells
    • The accumulation of inappropriate chemical links in the material that supports cells.
According to Dr. de Gray, dealing with all the above seven components will stop the ageing process. Two approaches are suggested tackling these ageing components:
  • Managing the degradation, the wearing and tear to slow ageing down.
  • "accept its inevitability and bring the body in for servicing at regular intervals to replace the worn-out parts."
Experiments on mice showed intaking vitamins, especially, B vitamins, and others, could help the damage from oxidation in cellular level. Here is an excerpt from The Economist article that describes how oxidation plays a role in ageing:
"Mitochondria are the places where sugar is broken down and reacted with oxygen to release the energy needed to power a cell. In a warm-blooded creature such as man, a lot of oxygen is involved in this process, and some of it goes absent without leave. Instead of reacting with carbon from the sugar to form carbon dioxide, it forms highly reactive molecules called free radicals. These go around oxidising—and thus damaging—other molecules, such as DNA and proteins, which causes all sorts of trouble. Clear up free radicals and their kin, and you will slow down the process of ageing. And the chemicals you use to do that are antioxidants."
No conclusive human trials been made that show "high doses of vitamins" can reverse enzyme damage in various diseases. Experiments on mice has shown promising developments, but a long way still to go translating these successes to biped human level.

Other visionaries in anti-ageing field envisions routinely replacing our ageing body parts with stem cell grown and engineered tissues and organs. These visionaries are called partial immortalizers. Even though there is very high likelihood that body parts replacements through stem cell engineering prolonging human life is only lurking near the corner of future, huge obstacles still remain in replacing ageing human brains. The reason behind this seemingly unsolvable problem is that "any replacement would have to replicate the pattern of its nerve cells precisely in order to preserve an individual's memory and personality". Partial immortalization in the case of brain perhaps will be solved far in future, but there are indeed positive progresses, including "stem-cell therapists talk openly of treating brain diseases such as Parkinson's with specially grown nerve cells".

One other approach for living longer which is considered to be more in tune with nature is adopting caloric restriction, eating less amount of food. David Sinclair of Harvard University promotes that "The reason for believing that prolonged life is an evolutionary response to starvation rather than just a weird accident is that when an animal is starving the evolutionary calculus changes. An individual that has starved to death is not one that can reproduce. Even if it does not die, the chance of it giving birth to healthy offspring is low. In this case, prolongation of life should trump reproduction. And that is what happens, even among people. Women who are starving stop ovulating. The billion-dollar trick would be to persuade the body it is starving when it is not. That way people could live longer while eating normally. They might even, if the mechanism can truly be understood, be able to reproduce, as well."

How does almost starvation may prolong life? Caloric restriction "evolves around genes for proteins called sirtuins. Certainly, these genes are involved in life extension in simple species such as threadworms and yeast. Add extra copies of them to these organisms' chromosomes, or force the existing copies to produce more protein than normal, and life is prolonged. This seems to be because sirtuins control the abundance of a regulatory molecule called nicotinamide adenine diphosphate which, in turn, controls the release of energy in the mitochondria."

Developments in anti-ageing fields are exciting. No one knows whether human beings will eventually achieve that elixir of dreams, living forever, not like deprecated selves, but in a rejuvenated bodies and mind. But the journey and exploration in scientific world unraveling various mysteries of our biological self is itself worthy like immortality.

Like to The Economist article on which my above commentary is based can be accessed from the following link:
http://www.economist.com/science/displaystory.cfm?story_id=10423439

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Insect Attack May Have Finished Off Dinosaurs

A "lone smoking gun" theory responsible for the extinction of dinosaurs around the K-T Boundary, which is the "the line between the Cretaceous and Tertiary Period about 65 million years ago" seems increasingly implausible. Popular consciousness still retains that a catastrophic event like giant asteroids impacting earth, or the fiery lava flow had eliminated dinosaurs. But studies show dinosaurs didn't die off this planet suddenly; it was a gradual process, even many thousand years after the K-T Boundary dinosaurs still roamed the earth.

George Poinar Jr. is a professor of zoology at Oregon State University, and he says, "There are serious problems with the sudden impact theories of dinosaur extinction, not the least of which is that dinosaurs declined and disappeared over a period of hundreds of thousands, or even millions of years. That time frame is just not consistent with the effects of an asteroid impact. But competition with insects, emerging new diseases and the spread of flowering plants over very long periods of time is perfectly compatible with everything we know about dinosaur extinction."

In recently published book What Bugged the Dinosaurs? Insects, Disease and Death in the Cretaceous, autor George Poinar and the co-author Roberta Poinar argues that "insects provide a plausible and effective explanation for the slow, inexorable decline and eventual extinction of dinosaurs over many thousands of years. This period is known as the famous "K-T Boundary," or the line between the Cretaceous and Tertiary Period about 65 million years ago. There is evidence that some catastrophic events, such as a major asteroid or lava flows, also occurred at this time -- but these provide no complete explanation for the gradual decline of dinosaur populations, and even how some dinosaurs survived for thousands of years after the K-T Boundary. Insects and disease, on the other hand, may have been a lot slower, but ultimately finished the job."

Here are more interesting observations by the authors:
In the Late Cretaceous, Poinar said, the world was covered with warm-temperate to tropical areas that swarmed with blood-sucking insects carrying leishmania, malaria, intestinal parasites, arboviruses and other pathogens, and caused repeated epidemics that slowly-but-surely wore down dinosaur populations. Ticks, mites, lice and biting flies would have tormented and weakened them.

"Smaller and separated populations of dinosaurs could have been repeatedly wiped out, just like when bird malaria was introduced into Hawaii, it killed off many of the honeycreepers," Poinar said. "After many millions of years of evolution, mammals, birds and reptiles have evolved some resistance to these diseases. But back in the Cretaceous, these diseases were new and invasive, and vertebrates had little or no natural or acquired immunity to them. Massive outbreaks causing death and localized extinctions would have occurred."

In similar fashion, the researchers suggest, insects would have played a major role in changing the nature of plant life on Earth -- the fundamental basis for all dinosaur life, whether herbivore, omnivore or carnivore. As the dinosaurs were declining, their traditional food items such as seed ferns, cycads, gingkoes and other gymnosperms were largely being displaced by flowering plants, which insects helped spread by their pollination activities. These plants would have spread to dominate the landscape. Also, insects could have spread plant diseases that destroyed large tracts of vegetation, and the insects could have been major competitors for the available plant food supply.

"Insects have exerted a tremendous impact on the entire ecology of the Earth, certainly shaping the evolution and causing the extinction of terrestrial organisms," the authors wrote in their book. "The largest of the land animals, the dinosaurs, would have been locked in a life-or-death struggle with them for survival."

Now that's some food for thoughts, especially when looking or swatting an insect of any kind, just ponder for a moment or a two: perhaps humans are now in a "life-or-death struggle with" insects "for survival", just as dinosaurs were 65 millions years before, without human beings aware of this epic battle when their minds are occupied with flashy but super-shallow "threats". Nature is indeed kind, but can be unforgiving for the boisterous fools!

Link to this must read article:
Insect Attack May Have Finished Off Dinosaurs

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Saudis Confirm Detention of Blogger

“It’s intimidating to think you might be arrested for something on your blog. On the other hand, this means that these voices on the blogosphere are being heard. But it’s really sad that a blogger who is writing about important issues out in the open would get arrested, while there are extremists who call for violence and hate, and the government is not doing much.”
In Saudi, questioning the royal government's royal imprisonments of opponents is considered so much offensive that the blogger ends up in detention. Read the following comments made by General Turki from Saudi Interior Ministry, “He is not being jailed. He is being questioned, and I don’t believe he will remain in detention long. They will get the information that they need from him and then they will let him go.”

Scary imagery indeed. Could this ever be thinkable or possible in this shore of the land? Deteriorating human rights and increased ratcheting fear may make everything palatable for mellowed populace wherever they may live.

Will Your Resolutions Last Until February?

Maybe it won't. Who knows? Like every "new year" before in the past, and like many other "goal" hungry boys and girls, I had made so many "resolutions". All pumped up at the stroke of a midnight, ready to embrace the coming new year with all zesty vigor, only to be deflated within the next few weeks, at most the month. Certainly there were exceptions, when certain goals did see the fruition of success or destination, but overall, keeping at the pace with expanding resolutions seemed to like running after a departed train from a sun scorched platform. Indeed, the last "train" has departed. But the next one is here, and the journey of this life, in the middle of chaos, tensions and beauty, must go on.

Read these suggestions / advice in The New York Times that may help keeping "Resolutions" in managed mode.