Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Brain Skills decline due to Obesity...Should have had a V8

Being overweight in later life puts you at higher risk of brain decline, research suggests.

A high BMI was linked to lower
cognitive scores
A study of 250 people aged between 60 and 70 found those with a high body mass index (BMI) and big waists scored more poorly in cognitive tests.

The Alzheimer's Society said the research, in the journal Age and Ageing, added to evidence that excess body fat can affect brain function.

Lifestyle changes can help make a difference, it said.

The Korean study looked at the relationship between fat levels and cognitive performance in adults aged 60 or over.

The participants underwent BMI - a calculation based on a ratio of weight to height - and waist circumference measurements, a scan of fat stored in the abdomen and a mental test.

Both a high BMI and high levels of abdominal fat were linked with poor cognitive performance in adults aged between 60 and 70.

In individuals aged 70 and older, high BMI, waist circumference and abdominal body fat were not associated with low cognitive performance.

The lead author of the study, Dae Hyun Yoon, said: "Our findings have important public health implications. The prevention of obesity, particularly central obesity, might be important for the prevention of cognitive decline or dementia."

A spokesperson from the UK Alzheimer's Society said: "We have all heard how a high BMI is bad for our heart but this research suggests it could also be bad for the head.

"Although we don't know whether the people in this study went on to develop dementia, these findings add to the evidence that excess body fat could impact on brain function.

"One in three people over 65 will die with dementia but there are things people can do to reduce their risk.

The obvious

"Eating a balanced diet, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly and getting your blood pressure and cholesterol checked can all make a difference."

BBC News Health

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Elections Gone Wild...DR of Congo's killing spree last election

Security forces in the Democratic Republic of Congo carried out killings and arbitrary arrests after elections last year, according to a UN report.
Opposition UDPS supporters run through a cloud of tear gas outside N'Djili airport in Kinshasa
The aftermath of the election was
characterisedby violence

The UN Joint Human Rights Office documented the killing of 33 civilians in Kinshasa by members of the army, police and the elite Republican Guard.

The country's justice minister has rejected the report's findings.

International observers say last November's disputed elections, won by President Joseph Kabila, were flawed.

The report focuses on the period between 26 November and 26 December 2011 in Kinshasa - seen as an opposition stronghold.

It says that during this month, at least 33 people were killed - including 22 by gunshot - and at least 83 others were injured, including 61 who were shot.

At least 16 people remain unaccounted for, it said.

Dumped in river

It said it had documented the arrest of at least 265 civilians, most of whom had been detained illegally or arbitrarily.

Many of these, the report alleges, were detained due to their affiliation with the UDPS opposition party or because they came from the home province of its leader, Etienne Tshisekedi.

It blames the bulk of these acts of violence on the Congolese Republican Guard and officers of the National Congolese Police and its specialised units.

Witnesses are quoted as saying some of the bodies were dumped in the Congo river, while others were buried in mass graves.

The report calls on the Congolese authorities to conduct independent investigations into all the cases of human rights violations committed in the capital to bring those guilty to justice.

It also recommends that illegal detention facilities in the capital should be immediately shut down.

The November elections were the first Congolese-organised polls since the end of a devastating war in 2003, which left some four million people dead.

President Kabila has admitted that there were mistakes in the electoral process, but said no poll was 100% perfect and rejected concerns that the results, criticised by Western observers, lacked credibility.

So next time you complain about how bad our election process is, understand that it could be wose and appreciate the freedoms and privileges we have in this country...because THAT guy said it!

BBC News Africa

Thursday, March 15, 2012

A new way to erase photocopied ink in the works! MINDBLOWING!!

Close-up of an "unphotocopied" sheet of paper

A close-up image of a sheet of "unphotocopied"
paper reveals most of the toner has been removed

A process to "unphotocopy" toner ink from paper has been developed by engineers at the University of Cambridge.

The process involves using short laser pulses to erase words and images by heating the printed material to the point that they vaporise. The researchers say it works with commonly used papers and toner inks and is more eco-friendly than recycling. However, they add that more research is needed to bring a product to market.

"When you fire the laser, it hits the thin toner layer and heats it up until the point that you vaporise it," the team's lead author, David Leal-Ayala

"Toner is mostly composed of carbon and a plastic polymer. It's the polymer in the toner that is vaporised."

In their study, published in the Proceedings of The Royal Society A journal and reported by New Scientist, the engineers acknowledge that they are not the first to have thought of the idea.

But they say that others who have tried to solve the problem have found that they damaged and/or discoloured the paper in the process, or required specially formulated toner. Toshiba already markets a laser printer which can erase ink, but notes that the machine is dependent on its own "e-blue" ink to function.

Green pulses

Mr Leal-Ayala and his colleagues tested a range of ultraviolet, infra-red and visible lasers at different speeds. They eventually found that the best setting was green laser pulses, lasting just four billionths of a second in duration, which removed all but a hint of the print.

Test "unphotocopied" paper

Tests reveal only a faint outline
of erased text were left behind

They say that curling, bending and accelerated-ageing tests carried out on the resulting "unprinted" paper suggested it had not sustained significant damage and was "comparable to blank unlasered paper".  A gas extraction system was used to capture nanoparticles and "mostly harmless" gases produced by the process.

Replacing recycling

Having demonstrated the technique in a lab setting, the engineers now plan to develop a prototype device suitable for an office.

They concede that most businesses would still find recycled paper a more cost-effective solution, but add that the price should fall if it went into production thanks to economies of scale.

"When you recycle paper you use a lot of resources," Mr Leal-Ayala said.

"You use electricity, water and chemicals, and to be honest when you print something the only reason that you don't re-use the paper is because there is print on it.

"The paper is still in good condition and there is no point in going through all the heavy industrial process if the paper is still perfectly fine."

BBC Technology

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Texas court shooting leaves one confirmed far

MapA man has opened fire outside a court in the US state of Texas, leaving at least one person dead and three injured, say police.

The alleged shooter tried to escape in a vehicle after the attack in the city of Beaumont, about 80 miles east of Houston.

One victim was hit by the suspect's lorry as he tried to get away.

The suspect had come to court with family members, but police did not say why he was there.

In a news conference, deputy police chief Zena Stephens confirmed the suspect was injured by police returning fire outside the courthouse. One person ran into the courthouse for safety after being shot, she said. After abandoning the lorry in a nearby street, the suspect ran into a nearby building and took hostages.

Local and county police surrounded the building and contacted the suspect by telephone. He then handed the gun to people inside and gave himself up to police. The alleged shooter was then brought to a nearby hospital.

Police say they will not release the identity of the person shot dead until the family is notified.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Case on Rare Earths Exports filed against China by the US, Japan and European Union

President Obama: "If China would simply let the
market work on its own, we would have no objections''

The US, Japan and the European Union have filed a case against China at the World Trade Organization, challenging its restrictions on rare earth exports. After discussing the Afghanistan situation, US President Barack Obama announced the filing at the White House, accusing China of breaking agreed WTO rules.

Beijing has set quotas for exports of rare earths, which are critical to the manufacture of high-tech products from hybrid cars, to flat-screen TVs. It is the first WTO case to be filed jointly by the US, EU and Japan. They argue that by limiting exports, China, which produces more than 95% of the world's rare earth metals, has pushed up prices.

Environmental concerns?

"We've got to take control of our energy future and we cannot let that energy industry take root in some other country because they were allowed to break the rules," Mr Obama said in a Rose Garden press conference.

What are rare earths?

  • Despite their name, rare earths are not particularly rare
  • The term refers to 17 elements, most of which are fairly abundant in nature
  • Rare earths are a collection of 17 chemical elements in the periodic table: scandium, yttrium, and some 15 lanthanides
  • Some are as common as copper or zinc, while even the rarest occur in greater quantities than gold or platinum
  • They are essential in the manufacture of many electronic goods

"If China would simply let the market work on its own we would have no objections."

In the press conference, Mr Obama also said his new trade enforcement unit - which he established last month, with China the primary target - was ramping up its operations. China has denied the allegations in the WTO case, saying that it had enforced the quotas to ensure there was no environmental damage caused due to excessive mining.

"We think the policy is in line with WTO rules," said Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin. "Exports have been stable. China will continue to export, and will manage rare earths based on WTO rules," he said.  The 17 metals are used in electrical products, as well as many renewable energy devices. There have been concerns that Beijing has implemented the quotas in a bid to ensure that prices remain low within China, which would give its manufacturers an advantage.

But Ivor Shrago, chairman of the mining services firm Rare Earths Global, said the US was in trouble because it took the wrong decisions in the past.

China controls almost the entire world supply of rare earths

"They took a deliberate decision about 20 years ago not to develop [rare earth mining] and instead to buy the completed products," he told BBC News. "Because of the deliberate decision that was taken, in China we have developed skills and expertise that the others do not have."

Welcoming Chinese Vice-President Xi Jinping to the White House last month, Mr Obama warned that China must play by the same rules as other major powers in the world economy.

BBC News Business

Friday, March 9, 2012

Who says there are no jobs being created...US economy adds 227,000 jobs in February

The US economy created 227,000 jobs in February, while the unemployment rate stayed at 8.3%, the lowest level in nearly three years.

President Barack Obama says he is confident
there are "better days ahead" for the US economy

The Labor Department report also showed that job-creation figures in December and January were even stronger than first estimated.  President Barack Obama said the figures showed the economy "getting stronger".  Employment has been rising for the past six months, but the jobless rate has been stuck above 8% since early 2009.

That, largely, can be explained by the changing size of the workforce.  Americans who had given up looking for work have started streaming back into the labour market.

Those who re-enter the market but do not secure jobs are in effect counted afresh as unemployed.

That's why the unemployment rate in February remained unchanged at 8.3%.

The American economy, it seems, is lumbering out of recession's shadow. These numbers are very good for President Obama's reelection chances. But we have been here before. In the last couple of years, surges of economic activity have simply withered away.

Economists warn the same could still happen this time. The cost of fuel is worryingly high, and may prove a drag on growth.  The Republicans who seek the presidency this year pour scorn on Mr Obama's handling of the economy. And that message resonates among millions of desperate Americans. But if the economy continues to improve, the Republican position will begin to look a little thin come November.

And Mr Obama's approval ratings are ticking upwards. They hover around 50% now, showing that, as America's economy slowly improves, the president undergoes a political recovery of his own - but the two remain equally tentative.

The number of new jobs being created has been consistently above 200,000 in each of the past three months, fuelling hopes that the US recovery is gathering pace.

"Our job now is to keep this economic engine churning. We can't go back to the same policies that got us into this mess," Mr Obama said at a Rolls Royce plant in Virginia, insisting that better times lay ahead.

"We can't go back to an economy that was weakened by outsourcing and bad debt and phoney financial profits."

Earlier, the head of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, said the US may exceed a previous forecast of 1.8% growth in 2012.

On Friday, new figures showed the US trade deficit higher than expected in January.

High oil prices and renewed demand helped to push imports to a record high of $233.4bn, according to the Department of Commerce, with imports from China rising 4.7% to $34.4bn.

The trade gap was $52.6bn in January, the highest since October 2008, and its estimate of December's trade deficit was revised up to to $50.4bn from a previous figure of $48.8bn.


Employment in February rose in professional and businesses services by 82,000, with half of that in temporary help services.

Jobs growth also occurred in health care and social assistance, leisure and hospitality, manufacturing, and mining.
Manufacturing added 31,000 jobs, with most car makers been taking on new workers and adding shifts and overtime to meet pent-up demand after production was disrupted early last year following the tsunami and earthquake in Japan.

Lock employee in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on 25 January 2012
Job-creation has been a major issue on the US
eletion campaign trail
Another positive note was provided by a revision to data showing that the economy had created 61,000 more jobs in December and January combined than was previously estimated.

Paul Ashworth, chief US economist at Capital Economics, said the figures added to evidence that the US jobs market had turned a corner: "Overall, another very strong payroll report and there's every chance that March will bring more of the same."

The number of people without a job remained all but unchanged last month, at 12.8 million, and the number of those working part time because their hours have been cut back or because they have been unable to find a full-time job was also stuck at 8.1 million.

Unemployment is one of the most hotly contested topics among the candidates battling to win November's presidential election.

An improvement in the figures is seen as favourable to the incumbent, President Barack Obama.

BBC News Business

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Signatures: How significant are they?

Elizabeth I's signature
Did Elizabeth I have more time on her hands, or have standards slipped?
A letter leaked to the press from Vince Cable criticising the government was signed off by the business secretary with a distinctive moniker akin to a smiley face. So how significant is a signature?

The odd-looking sign-off became a talking point this week, with some people joking about what the signature might say about Vince Cable.

One of Vince Cable's signatures
Is he trying to be cool? Is he too busy?

Maybe he just likes to draw a caricature of a smiling whale at the end of his letters as a reminder to himself and all of us that we are not alone on this planet and all our decisions have impacts on the eco-system.

Whatever it is, his squiggle is sufficiently odd to have people resurrecting that old chestnut: trying to predict personality from handwriting.

I became aware of the "science" of graphology around the time I had to produce my first signature. This was when I opened my first account of any description with a financial institution.

Signing an application form for a Sammy Squirrel Savings Account in the Irish Post Office is not exactly the same as inking a merger between Glencore and Xstrata but nevertheless it was a milestone of sorts.

I didn't make what one would call a cool signature. I just wrote my name a little bit faster. And that is still the case today. Someone analysing my signature now would conclude that I've no strong feelings about anything and that I may not even be a real person.

It's too late to change now and the lack of an impressive signature has affected my life. One of the reasons why I consciously shun the fame that would have otherwise occurred as a natural result of my talent, is that it would take too long for me to sign "all those books".

Generic handwriting
Really, are all those loops necessary?
As for the rest of my letters, they soon came into focus. My older brother got a book from the library about graphology and a whole new world of navel-gazing opened up. Apparently my backward slanting writing was an indication that I was too focused on the past.

That was uncanny. I did sometimes think about the day before. I started rotating my pages anti-clockwise and immediately felt the past fall like a weight off my 13-year-old shoulders.

Large loops on the below-the-line letters were, according to my brother, a sure sign of a "total pervert". I clamped down on that dark side of me straight away.

For a few weeks when nothing else was happening, I gradually addressed each aspect of my handwriting until, according to the graphology book, I was a cross between Albert Einstein, Marilyn Monroe and Carl Lewis.

You don't see so much about graphology now - a succession of studies in recent decades have emptied a vat of scorn over its ability to describe and predict personality, but perhaps the biggest threat to graphology is not scepticism. It is the March of Time.

With the advent of computers, fewer and fewer people are doing any handwriting beyond their middle-school years, so their penmanship isn't evolving beyond the teenage stage of development either.

"Times New Roman? This person is a no-nonsense individual”

This would lead graphology experts analysing future populations to conclude that most of the subjects studied are moody, hard to get up in the mornings and think their parents are an embarrassment (I know what you mean, especially when they're trying to be cool).

Against this background, future pseudoscientific analysis will have to look at our computer-based evidence in order to jump to dodgy conclusions. Take fonts for example. If you want to spot the deranged and the psychopathic now, start with anyone who types exclusively in Wingdings.

Those who employ Comic Sans are the kind of people who want to make dull activities sound fun. A Comic Sans user may also display passive aggressive tendencies particularly when highlighting falling standards in the canteen. "These cups don't wash themselves" looks cheery in A4 on the wall, but inside the author is a seething cauldron of rage.

Times New Roman? This person is a no-nonsense individual. They believe if a job's worth doing, it's worth doing well and no amount of dressing it up or "design" is going to change that fact. Or it could be someone who has not worked out how to change the font in Microsoft Word.

Apart from font there are other tell-tale signs of personality traits. If someone uses lots of emoticons they're not confident in their ability to convey their meaning to others. DO THEY WRITE IN BLOCK CAPITALS followed by a parade of exclamation marks that looks like a picket fence? Then they are someone who comments on an article on a website. You can leave yours below.

As for graphology, the writing's on the wall.

By Colm O'Regan

BBC News Magazine

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Fears of disruption as big solar storm set to hit Earth

A strong solar storm is expected to hit Earth shortly, and experts warn it could disrupt power grids, satellite navigations systems and plane routes.

NASA image showing extreme unltraviolet
wavelengths on Sun's surface

The storm - the largest in five years - will unleash a torrent of charged particles between 06:00 GMT and 10:00 GMT, US weather specialists say. They say it was triggered by a pair of massive solar flares earlier this week.

It means there is a good chance of seeing the northern lights at higher latitudes, if the skies are clear.
The effects will be most intense in polar regions, and aircraft may be advised to change their routings to avoid these areas.

Complex network

"It's hitting us right in the nose," said Joseph Kunches, an expert at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa).

He described the storm as the Sun's version of Super Tuesday - in a reference to the US Republican primaries and caucuses in 10 states.

"Space weather has gotten very interesting over the past 24 hours," Mr Kunches added.

The charged particles are expected to hit Earth at 4,000,000 mph (6,400,000 km/h), and Noaa predicts the storm will last until Friday morning.

Images of from the Sun's region where the flares happened show a complex network of sunspots indicating a large amount of stored magnetic energy.

Other solar magnetic storms have been observed in recent decades.

One huge solar flare in 1972 cut off long-distance telephone communication in the US state of Illinois.

BBC Science & Environment

Tuesday, March 6, 2012


Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff joins workers to celebrate the construction of a new oil rig
The Brazilian economy is still booming,
despite the global economic slowdown
Brazil has become the sixth-biggest economy in the world, the country's finance minister has said.

The Latin American nation's economy grew 2.7% last year, official figures show, more than the UK's 0.8% growth.

The National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) and other economic forecasters also said that Brazil had now overtaken the UK.

The Brazilian economy is now worth $2.5tn (£1.6tn), according to Finance Minister Guido Mantega.
But Mr Mantega was keen to play down the symbolic transition - which comes after China officially overtook Japan as the world's second-biggest economy last year.

"It is not important to be the world's sixth-biggest economy, but to be among the most dynamic economies, and with sustainable growth," he said. Brazil is enjoying an economic boom because of high food and oil prices, which has led to rapid growth.

In 2010, the Brazilian economy was worth $2.09tn, compared with the UK's $2.25tn total output, in current US dollars, according to the International Monetary Fund.

However, according to NIESR, using the IMF's figures at current exchange rates, Brazil's economy is now $2.52tn and the UK's is $2.48tn.

The larger increase in the nominal size of both economies is explained by domestic inflation.

The Centre for Economics and Business Research has also said that Brazil's economy has overtaken the UK's. A UK Treasury spokesman said: "Strong economic growth and large populations in the big emerging economies mean that some will catch up with advanced economies like the UK. This shows why the government is right to place high importance on its economic ties with large emerging economies."

Oil production

In the fourth quarter of last year, Brazil's economy grew by 0.3% from the previous quarter, according to Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia de Estatistica. Both the annual and quarterly figures were less than analysts had predicted.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has attributed the slowdown in growth last year mainly to the weak global economic situation and the need to fight rising inflation.

Brazil, the largest Latin American economy and one of the so-called Bric nations together with Russia, India and China, has seen its economy soar in recent years, with growth far outpacing the US and western Europe, but sending inflation higher.

The currency, the real, fell 11% against the US dollar last year.

That is after two years of huge gains - up 5% in 2010 and 34% in 2009. The currency is worth more than double what it was 10 years ago.

With substantial oil and gas reserves continuing to be discovered off Brazil's coast in recent years, the country is now the world's ninth largest oil producer, and the government wishes to ultimately enter the top five.

Brazil has about 190 million people, in contrast to the UK's 60 million people.

And the country has struggled with inequality. The country's Gini coefficient, a measure of income inequality, peaked at 0.61 in 1990 - but 2010's figure was a historic low of 0.53.

Absolute and relative poverty have declined in recent years, especially in the past decade, during which the poorest 50% saw their incomes go up by 68%, according to the Getulio Vargas Foundation.

The country will host the 2014 World Cup, and Rio de Janeiro will be home to the 2016 summer Olympics.

brazil uk
BBC News Business

Friday, March 2, 2012

Limbaugh slut slur student Sandra Fluke gets Obama call

Sandra Fluke, a third-year law student at Georgetown University testifies during a hearing before the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee in Washington, DC 23 February 2012
Sandra Fluke said President Obama told her that
her parents "should be proud"
US President Barack Obama has called to offer support to a US law student attacked by radio host Rush Limbaugh for her views on contraception.

Mr Obama told Sandra Fluke he was disappointed she had been the subject of "unfortunate attacks", White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

Limbaugh called Ms Fluke a "slut" and suggested her testimony to US lawmakers made her "a prostitute".

She was initially blocked from testifying by House Republicans.

But Ms Fluke eventually testified on 23 February in support of Mr Obama's ruling that religiously affiliated institutions such as universities and hospitals should provide insurance plans that cover all costs for medicinal contraceptives.

Limbaugh's comments came during his radio show earlier in the week.

"What does it say about the college co-ed Susan [sic] Fluke who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex," he said.

"It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex. She's having so much sex she can't afford the contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex."

A model of civil discourse

Ms Fluke was invited to testify in front of a House committee convened by Democrats after she was blocked from the first panel.  A third year law student at Georgetown University, she previously served as president of the university's Students for Reproductive Justice group.

"Clearly the president of the university and I disagree about the issues, but we're both able to handle this in a civil manner”
Sandra Fluke

Her testimony included the case of a fellow student who needed birth control to control ovarian cysts.

Georgetown, a Catholic university with a prestigious law school, does not cover birth control to prevent pregnancy in its student health plan, and the student, who is gay, could not convince the insurance company she was ill.

Ms Fluke also asserted that birth control prescriptions could cost as much as $3,000 (£1893) without insurance.

Georgetown University President John DeGioia defended Ms Fluke in a statement, calling her "a model of civil discourse" and branding Limbaugh's remarks "misogynistic, vitriolic, and a misrepresentation of the position of our student".

In an interview with cable network MSNBC the Georgetown law student pointed to Mr DeGioia's remarks as a "model we should look to in our national discourse".

"Clearly the president of the university and I disagree about the issues, but we're both able to handle this in a civil manner," she said.

After criticism of his remarks, Limbaugh did not back down.

"If we are going to pay for your contraceptives, and thus pay for you to have sex, we want something for it. We want you post the videos online so we can all watch," he said on Thursday.

Rule change

Catholic leaders have been angered by the new rule, which required church-linked institutions to offer health insurance including birth control while exempting houses of worship directly.

Rush Limbaugh in a press conference for the 2010 Miss America Pageant 27 January, 2010 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Rush Limbaugh is no stranger to controversy, once accusing Michael J Fox of exaggerating his illness

But the White House changed the scheme to allow health insurers to provide cover if employers objected.

"No woman's health should depend on who she is or where she works," President Obama said, announcing the policy change at the White House in February.

The adjustment to the policy would mean Americans would not have to choose between "religious liberty and basic fairness", he said.

BBC News US & Canada

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Holy Scissors Batman!..Female bonobos "advertise" homosexual bonds

A female-female pair of bonobos interact sexually (c) Zanna Clay for Amis de Bonobos du Congo
Sex between females is not uncommon for bonobos
Female bonobos "advertise" their homosexual activity to important audiences, say scientists.

Researchers studying communication among the apes found that females made the most noise during sex if the "alpha female" was nearby.

Low-ranking females that were invited to have sex with high-ranking females would also call to tell other group members about the bond.

Experts suggest females communicate the encounters to boost their status.

"It's all about climbing up the social ladder for female bonobos”
Zanna Clay Emory University
The species Pan paniscus are referred to as the "erotic" or "promiscuous apes" because they regularly engage in sexual contact with both their own and the opposite sex.

"[Sex] is used to reduce stress and competition, develop affiliations, express and test social relationships and for reconciling conflicts and consoling victims in distress," explained Dr Zanna Clay, from Emory University in Atlanta, who has been studying vocalisations in the species for five years.

In order to understand more about communication among the apes, Dr Clay led an international team of researchers to observe a group at the Lola Ya Bonobo sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Africa.

Building on earlier work, their findings published in the journal Scientific Reports identified a pattern in the calls made by females during homosexual encounters.

"Using vocalisations, females only advertise sexual contacts with important group members," said Dr Clay, "It's all about climbing up the social ladder for female bonobos."

By Invitation

A female-female pair of bonobos interact sexually while others observe  (c) Zanna Clay for Amis de Bonobos du CongoThe team found that calls were most likely to be made by lower-ranking females, particularly if they were "picked" by a higher-ranking female.

The females also appeared to consider their audience - calling more if the most important group member, the alpha female, was present.

"Bonobos appear to be highly aware of the dynamics governing their social worlds," said Dr Clay.


Sex in bonobo society

  • Female bonobos have forward facing genitalia and often have face-to-face sexual contact with other females
  • Despite being considerably more sexually active than chimpanzees, bonobos do not have more offspring
  • Females become sexually mature at 12 years old but will engage in sexual activity from younger ages
  • After a conflict, males may make genital contact with their rival, in order to diffuse the tension

She suggests that the females have adopted the calls, usually associated with reproduction, as a strategic tool.

"As a low-ranked female, advertising [a] social-sexual bonding with another dominant group member may serve to strengthen their social position, and signal this to the alpha."

Unlike their close relatives, the chimpanzees, bonobo societies are not male-dominated. Dr Clay suggests that this may be due to the strong relationships between females.

"In bonobos, sexual interactions represent a powerful means to enable females to develop and maintain social relationships, and it is these bonds which lie at the heart of their raised status in bonobo society."

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Alliance between GM and Peugeot Announced

General Motors and PSA Peugeot Citroen have announced a global alliance that will see them develop cars together.

Under the deal, GM will take a 7% stake in Peugeot, making GM the second biggest shareholder in the French firm after the Peugeot family.

The two firms will share engineering development and hope to launch the first common design by 2016.

They hope to save money by combining purchasing and by 2017 they expect to save some $2bn (£1.3bn) a year.

"This partnership brings tremendous opportunity for our two companies," said Dan Akerson, GM's chairman and chief executive.

"The alliance synergies in addition to our independent plans, position GM for long-term sustainable profitability in Europe."

Both companies have been struggling in Europe. GM's European brand, Opel, brand lost $747m (£472m) last year.

Citroen logo
PSA Peugeot Citroen sales fell 9% in
Europe las year
Despite tough trading conditions Peugeot made a profit of 588m euros ($772m, £492m) in 2011, but that was down 48% on the previous year because of falling sales.

Philippe Varin, chairman of the managing board of PSA Peugeot Citro├źn said: "With the strong support of our historical shareholder and the arrival of a new and prestigious shareholder, the whole group is mobilized to reap the full benefit of this agreement."

BBC News

Tuesday, February 28, 2012


Smoke billows from Pentagon (11 Sept 2011)
A total of 184 people wee killed at the Pentagon
on September 11, 2001
Partial remains of some victims of the 11 September attacks ended up in landfill, a Pentagon report has found.

Some small portions of unidentifiable remains from the Pentagon, and from the Pennsylvania field where a hijacked plane crashed in 2001, were given to a private contractor for disposal.

The fragments "could not be tested or identified," the review said.

The disposal came to light as the US defence department probed practices at the military's Dover Port mortuary.

The air base at Dover, in the state of Delaware, is the main point of entry to the US for the bodies of troops killed while serving overseas.

However, an investigation by the Washington Post newspaper uncovered evidence that unidentified body parts were being cremated and disposed of in a landfill.  The practice of putting partial unidentified remains in landfill was stopped in 2008.


The official report into the Dover mortuary found that this practice began shortly after the September 11 attacks, when "several portions of remains from the Pentagon attack and the Shanksville, Pennsylvania, crash site could not be tested or identified".

"Every step will be taken to protect the honour and respect that their loved ones richly deserve”
Leon Panetta US Secretary of Defense

It confirmed that the base's mortuary cremated unidentified fragments, then gave them to a biomedical waste disposal contractor. This contractor incinerated the remains and then put any material left over in a landfill site.

Officials at the Dover mortuary assumed that "after final incineration nothing remained", the report says. There is no suggestion that remains of victims who died in New York were handled in this way.

Speaking at a news conference at the Pentagon, retired General John Abizaid said: "We don't think it should have happened."

A total of 184 people died when a hijacked plane crashed into the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. Forty people were killed when another plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania, after passengers overpowered the hijackers.

The Pentagon review of the Dover practices, chaired by retired US Army General John Abizaid, was hailed by US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta.

It "highlights weaknesses in the overall command and oversight structure at the Dover Port Mortuary", Mr Panetta conceded.

In a statement, he promised "the families of our fallen heroes... that every step will be taken to protect the honour and respect that their loved ones richly deserve".

BBC New US & Canada

Monday, February 27, 2012

India strike: Millions expected to take part

Activists of trade unions participate in a rally to show support for the All India General Strike, in Siliguri on 27 February 2012
Unions want universal social security cover for workers
in India's vast unorganised labour sector
Millions of Indian workers are expected to join a strike against high inflation and to demand better working conditions and an end to selling off state firms. The strike has the support of most of India's major trade unions and thousands of smaller unions from across the political spectrum.

Banks, transport, post offices and ports are thought most likely to be affected by the industrial action. But services on India's rail network are not expected to be disrupted.

Although India's inflation rate dropped from 9.1% in December, it remains stubbornly high at 7.5%.

Growth for the financial year ending in March is also expected to be around 7%, lower than the previous forecasts of about 9%.  The government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is trying to cut its budget deficit by selling stakes in state-run companies - something the unions object to.

Other demands include measures to curb inflation, universal social security cover for non-unionised workers and enforcement of labour laws.

States such as West Bengal, Tripura and Kerala, where the communist parties have greater influence, are expected to be most affected by the strike.

**BBC News India**

Friday, February 24, 2012

After less than 5 months in office, Haiti Prime Minister resigns

Haiti Prime Minister Garry Conille resigns

Haitian Prime Minister Garry Conille leaves a news conference in Port-au-Prince, 6 October 2011.
Garry Conille has only been in the post since October 2011
The prime minister of Haiti, Garry Conille, has resigned after a power struggle within the government. His resignation is likely to set back efforts to re-build the country after the January 2010 earthquake which devastated the capital Port-au-Prince.

He was President Michel Martelly's third nomination when appointed in October, ending a long stalemate. For several weeks there have been reports of power struggles that prompted the UN to intervene.

On Thursday Mariano Fernandez, the special representative of the UN secretary general in Haiti, said there were "repeated crises" between the parliament, president and prime minister.

"[These] undermine the proper functioning of the institutions and the democratic process," he said.

So far President Martelly has not announced any replacement or caretaker prime minister.

UN experience

One of the issues causing division was a parliamentary commission investigating the nationality of government ministers.

Many officials in Haiti and elsewhere in the Caribbean spend considerable time overseas.

The commission is investigating whether some senior administration officials have dual citizenship, which is prohibited under the constitution.

Mr. Conille originally trained as a doctor and had previously worked with the UN.

He was an aide to former US President Bill Clinton when he was a UN envoy to Haiti.

When Mr Conille took office he pledged to create thousands of jobs by attracting foreign investment to help rebuild the country.

BBC Latin America & Caribbean

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Harry Potter Gone Wild?! JK Rowling to pen first adult novel

JK Rowling to pen first adult novel

JK Rowling

The seven Harry Potter books have sold more than 450 million copies

Author JK Rowling has announced plans to publish her first adult novel, which will be "very different" to the Harry Potter books she is famous for.

The book will be published worldwide, although no date or title has yet been released.

"The freedom to explore new territory is a gift that Harry's success has brought me," Rowling said.

The writer published seven Potter books, which have sold more than 450 million copies around the world.

The books, about a boy wizard, became a worldwide phenomenon and were turned into eight blockbuster films starring Daniel Radcliffe.

When the final instalment of the book series went on sale in 2007, thousands of copies sold in minutes.

Logical progression

All the Potter books were published by Bloomsbury, but Rowling has chosen a new publisher for her debut into adult fiction.

"Although I've enjoyed writing it every bit as much, my next book will be very different to the Harry Potter series, which has been published so brilliantly by Bloomsbury and my other publishers around the world," she said, in a statement.

"The freedom to explore new territory is a gift that Harry's success has brought me, and with that new territory it seemed a logical progression to have a new publisher."

"I am delighted to have a second publishing home in Little, Brown, and a publishing team that will be a great partner in this new phase of my writing life."

Little, Brown's David Shelley said the company were "thrilled, honoured and proud" to be publishing Rowling's latest novel.

"For me, quite simply, it is a personal and professional dream come true to be working with JK Rowling."

So as of yet no word on what the book(s) will be about but she is sure it will have an adult theme.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Is English or Mandarin the language of the future?

Is English or Mandarin the language of the future?

Mandarin-English dictionary

English has been the dominant global language for a century, but is it the language of the future? If Mandarin Chinese is to challenge English globally, then it first has to conquer its own backyard, South East Asia.

In Malaysia's southernmost city of Johor Bahru, the desire to speak good English has driven some children to make a remarkable two-hour journey to school every day.

Nine-year-old Aw Yee Han hops on a yellow mini van at 04:30. His passport is tucked inside a small pouch hung around his neck.

This makes it easier for him to show it to immigration officials when he reaches the Malaysian border.

His school is located on the other side, in Singapore, where unlike in Malaysia, English is the main language.

It's not your typical school run, but his mother, Shirley Chua thinks it's worth it.

"Science and maths are all written in English so it's essential for my son to be fluent in the language," she says.

The assumption that Mandarin will grow with China's economic rise may be flawed. Consider Japan which, after spectacular post-war economic growth, became the world's second-biggest economy. The Japanese language saw no comparable rise in power and prestige.

The same may prove true of Mandarin. The character-based writing system requires years of hard work for even native speakers to learn, and poses a formidable obstacle to foreigners. In Asia, where China's influence is thousands of years old, this may pose less of a problem. But in the West, even dedicated students labour for years before they can confidently read a text of normal difficulty on a random topic.

Finally, many languages in Asia, Africa and the Amazon use "tones" (rising, falling, flat or dipping pitch contours) to distinguish different words. For speakers of tonal languages (like Vietnamese) learning the tones of Mandarin poses no particular difficulty. But speakers of non-tonal languages struggle to learn tones in adulthood - just ask any adult Mandarin-learner for their funniest story about using a word with the wrong tone.

An estimated 15,000 students from southern Johor state make the same bus journey across the border every day. It may seem like a drastic measure, but some parents don't trust the education system in Malaysia - they worry that the value of English is declining in the country.

Since independence from the British in 1957, the country has phased out schools that teach in English. By the early 1980s, most students were learning in the national language of Malay.

As a result, analysts say Malaysian graduates became less employable in the IT sector.

"We've seen a drastic reduction in the standard of English in our country, not just among the students but I think among the teachers as well," says political commentator Ong Kian Ming.

Those who believe that English is important for their children's future either send their kids to expensive private schools or to Singapore, where the government has been credited as being far-sighted for adopting the language of its former colonial master.

Nearly three-quarters of the population in Singapore are ethnic Chinese but English is the national language.

Many believe that this has helped the city state earn the title of being the easiest place to do business, by the World Bank.

Lost in translation

Notes saying Merry Christmas in different languages
  • Up to 7,000 different languages are estimated to be spoken around the world
  • Mandarin Chinese, English, Spanish, Hindi, Arabic, Bengali, Russian, Portuguese, Japanese, German and French are world's most widely spoken languages, according to UNESCO
  • Languages are grouped into families that share a common ancestry
  • English is related to German and Dutch, and all are part of Indo-European family of languages
  • Also includes French, Spanish and Italian, which come from Latin
  • 2,200 of the world's languages can be found in Asia, while Europe has 260
Source: BBC Languages
However, the dominance of English is now being challenged by the rise of China in Singapore.

The Singapore Chinese Chamber Institute of Business has added Chinese classes for business use in recent years.

Students are being taught in Mandarin rather than the Hokkien dialect spoken by the older Chinese immigrants.

These courses have proved popular, ever since the government began providing subsidies for Singaporeans to learn Chinese in 2009 during the global financial crisis.

"The government pushed to provide them with an opportunity to upgrade themselves so as to prepare themselves for the economic upturn," says chamber spokesperson Alwyn Chia.

Some businesses are already desperate for Chinese speakers.

Lee Han Shih, who runs a multimedia company, says English is becoming less important to him financially because he is taking western clients to do business in China.

"So obviously you need to learn English but you also need to know Chinese," says Mr Lee.

As China's economic power grows, Mr Lee believes that Mandarin will overtake English. In fact, he has already been seeing hints of this.

"The decline of the English language probably follows the decline of the US dollar.

"If the renminbi is becoming the next reserve currency then you have to learn Chinese."

More and more, he says, places like Brazil and China are doing business in the renminbi, not the US dollar, so there is less of a need to use English.
Indeed, China's clout is growing in South East Asia, becoming the region's top trading partner.

But to say that Mandarin will rival English is a "bit of a stretch", says Manoj Vohra, Asia director at the Economist Intelligence Unit.

Even companies in China, who prefer to operate in Chinese, are looking for managers who speak both Mandarin and English if they want to expand abroad, he says.

"They tend to act as their bridges."

So the future of English is not a question of whether it will be overtaken by Mandarin, but whether it will co-exist with Chinese, says Vohra.

He believes bilingualism will triumph in South East Asia.

It is a sound economic argument, but in Vietnam's case, there is resistance to learning Mandarin.

The country may share a border with China, but the Vietnamese government's choice to not emphasise Mandarin is an emotional one, says leading economist Le Dang Doanh.

Aw Yee Han and his mother

Shirley Chua fears her son's English will suffer in the Malaysian school system

"All the streets in Vietnam are named according to generals and emperors that have been fighting against the Chinese invasion for 2000 years," he says.

Tensions flared up again last May over the disputed waters of the South China Sea.

Anti-Chinese sentiment means that young Vietnamese are choosing to embrace English - the language of a defeated enemy. Many families still bear the psychological scars from the Vietnam War with the United States.

Yet there is no animosity towards English because the founding father of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh, made a clear distinction between the so-called American imperialists who were bombarding Vietnam and the American people, says Le Dang Doanh.

Many Vietnamese who have lost family members during the war are now studying in America, he says.

"We never forget any victim in the past but in order to industrialise and normalise a country, Vietnam needs to speak English."

The Vietnamese government has an ambitious goal to ensure all young people leaving school by 2020 will have a good grasp of the English language.

Bboy dancer Ngoc Tu

Vietnamese Ngoc Tu only listens to music in English

But it's not hard for young Vietnamese to accept English. For some, the language offers a sense of freedom in Vietnam, where the one-party communist state retains a tight grip on all media.

In a public square in central Hanoi, a group of young men are break-dancing to the pulsing beats of western hip hop. Ngoc Tu, 20, says he only listens to English music.

"The Ministry of Culture has banned a lot of [Vietnamese] songs and any cultural publications that refer to freedom or rebellion but... English songs are not censored."

It is debatable whether English or Mandarin will dominate in South East Asia in the future. There are arguments for both on the economic front.

But culturally, there is no dispute.

Even Mandarin language enthusiasts like Singaporean businessman Mr Lee, says that English will remain popular so long as Hollywood exists.

The success of movies such as Kung Fu Panda, an American production about a Chinese animal, has caused a lot of anxiety in China, he says.

There have been many cartoons in China about pandas before, but none had reached commercial success, says Mr Lee.

"The moment Kung Fu Panda hit the cinemas everybody watched it. They bought the merchandise and they learned English."

Is 8 straight hours of sleep daily a realistic and neccessary goal?

The myth of the eight-hour sleep

Woman awake

We often worry about lying awake in the middle of the night - but it could be good for you. A growing body of evidence from both science and history suggests that the eight-hour sleep may be unnatural.

In the early 1990s, psychiatrist Thomas Wehr conducted an experiment in which a group of people were plunged into darkness for 14 hours every day for a month.

It took some time for their sleep to regulate but by the fourth week the subjects settled into a very distinct sleeping pattern. They slept first for four hours, then woke for one or two hours before falling into a second four-hour sleep.

Though sleep scientists were impressed by the study, among the general public the idea that we must sleep for eight consecutive hours persists.

In 2001, historian Roger Ekirch of Virginia Tech published a seminal paper, drawn from 16 years of research, revealing a wealth of historical evidence that humans used to sleep in two distinct chunks.

His book At Day's Close: Night in Times Past, published four years later, unearths more than 500 references to a segmented sleeping pattern - in diaries, court records, medical books and literature, from Homer's Odyssey to an anthropological account of modern tribes in Nigeria.

A woman tending to her husband in the middle of the night by Jan Saenredam, 1595

Roger Ekirch says this 1595 engraving by Jan Saenredam is evidence of activity at night

Much like the experience of Wehr's subjects, these references describe a first sleep which began about two hours after dusk, followed by waking period of one or two hours and then a second sleep.

"It's not just the number of references - it is the way they refer to it, as if it was common knowledge," Ekirch says.

During this waking period people were quite active. They often got up, went to the toilet or smoked tobacco and some even visited neighbours. Most people stayed in bed, read, wrote and often prayed. Countless prayer manuals from the late 15th Century offered special prayers for the hours in between sleeps.

And these hours weren't entirely solitary - people often chatted to bed-fellows or had sex.

A doctor's manual from 16th Century France even advised couples that the best time to conceive was not at the end of a long day's labour but "after the first sleep", when "they have more enjoyment" and "do it better".

Ekirch found that references to the first and second sleep started to disappear during the late 17th Century. This started among the urban upper classes in northern Europe and over the course of the next 200 years filtered down to the rest of Western society.

By the 1920s the idea of a first and second sleep had receded entirely from our social consciousness.


When segmented sleep was the norm

  • "He knew this, even in the horror with which he started from his first sleep, and threw up the window to dispel it by the presence of some object, beyond the room, which had not been, as it were, the witness of his dream." Charles Dickens, Barnaby Rudge (1840)
  • "Don Quixote followed nature, and being satisfied with his first sleep, did not solicit more. As for Sancho, he never wanted a second, for the first lasted him from night to morning." Miguel Cervantes, Don Quixote (1615)
  • "And at the wakening of your first sleepe You shall have a hott drinke made, And at the wakening of your next sleepe Your sorrowes will have a slake." Early English ballad, Old Robin of Portingale
  • The Tiv tribe in Nigeria employ the terms "first sleep" and "second sleep" to refer to specific periods of the night

Source: Roger Ekirch (Roger Ekirch's website)


He attributes the initial shift to improvements in street lighting, domestic lighting and a surge in coffee houses - which were sometimes open all night. As the night became a place for legitimate activity and as that activity increased, the length of time people could dedicate to rest dwindled.

In his new book, Evening's Empire, historian Craig Koslofsky puts forward an account of how this happened.

"Associations with night before the 17th Century were not good," he says. The night was a place populated by people of disrepute - criminals, prostitutes and drunks.

"Even the wealthy, who could afford candlelight, had better things to spend their money on. There was no prestige or social value associated with staying up all night."

That changed in the wake of the Reformation and the counter-Reformation. Protestants and Catholics became accustomed to holding secret services at night, during periods of persecution. If earlier the night had belonged to reprobates, now respectable people became accustomed to exploiting the hours of darkness.

This trend migrated to the social sphere too, but only for those who could afford to live by candlelight. With the advent of street lighting, however, socialising at night began to filter down through the classes.

In 1667, Paris became the first city in the world to light its streets, using wax candles in glass lamps. It was followed by Lille in the same year and Amsterdam two years later, where a much more efficient oil-powered lamp was developed.

London didn't join their ranks until 1684 but by the end of the century, more than 50 of Europe's major towns and cities were lit at night.

Night became fashionable and spending hours lying in bed was considered a waste of time.

"People were becoming increasingly time-conscious and sensitive to efficiency, certainly before the 19th Century," says Roger Ekirch. "But the industrial revolution intensified that attitude by leaps and bounds."

Strong evidence of this shifting attitude is contained in a medical journal from 1829 which urged parents to force their children out of a pattern of first and second sleep.

"If no disease or accident there intervene, they will need no further repose than that obtained in their first sleep, which custom will have caused to terminate by itself just at the usual hour.

Street-lighting in Leipzig in 1702

A small city like Leipzig in central Germany employed 100 men to tend to 700 lamps

"And then, if they turn upon their ear to take a second nap, they will be taught to look upon it as an intemperance not at all redounding to their credit."

Today, most people seem to have adapted quite well to the eight-hour sleep, but Ekirch believes many sleeping problems may have roots in the human body's natural preference for segmented sleep as well as the ubiquity of artificial light.

This could be the root of a condition called sleep maintenance insomnia, where people wake during the night and have trouble getting back to sleep, he suggests.

The condition first appears in literature at the end of the 19th Century, at the same time as accounts of segmented sleep disappear.

"For most of evolution we slept a certain way," says sleep psychologist Gregg Jacobs. "Waking up during the night is part of normal human physiology."

The idea that we must sleep in a consolidated block could be damaging, he says, if it makes people who wake up at night anxious, as this anxiety can itself prohibit sleeps and is likely to seep into waking life too.

Russell Foster, a professor of circadian [body clock] neuroscience at Oxford, shares this point of view.

"Many people wake up at night and panic," he says. "I tell them that what they are experiencing is a throwback to the bi-modal sleep pattern."

But the majority of doctors still fail to acknowledge that a consolidated eight-hour sleep may be unnatural.


Stages of sleep

Every 60-100 minutes we go through a cycle of four stages of sleep
  • Stage 1 is a drowsy, relaxed state between being awake and sleeping - breathing slows, muscles relax, heart rate drops
  • Stage 2 is slightly deeper sleep - you may feel awake and this means that, on many nights, you may be asleep and not know it
  • Stage 3 and Stage 4, or Deep Sleep - it is very hard to wake up from Deep Sleep because this is when there is the lowest amount of activity in your body
  • After Deep Sleep, we go back to Stage 2 for a few minutes, and then enter Dream Sleep - also called REM (rapid eye movement) sleep - which, as its name suggests, is when you dream

In a full sleep cycle, a person goes through all the stages of sleep from one to four, then back down through stages three and two, before entering dream sleep


"Over 30% of the medical problems that doctors are faced with stem directly or indirectly from sleep. But sleep has been ignored in medical training and there are very few centres where sleep is studied," he says.

Jacobs suggests that the waking period between sleeps, when people were forced into periods of rest and relaxation, could have played an important part in the human capacity to regulate stress naturally.

In many historic accounts, Ekirch found that people used the time to meditate on their dreams.

"Today we spend less time doing those things," says Dr Jacobs. "It's not a coincidence that, in modern life, the number of people who report anxiety, stress, depression, alcoholism and drug abuse has gone up."

So the next time you wake up in the middle of the night, think of your pre-industrial ancestors and relax. Lying awake could be good for you.

Craig Koslofsky and Russell Foster appeared on The Forum from the BBC World Service. Listen to the programme here.