Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Hillbrow: Between Heaven and Hell

A personal journey to the heart of one of South Africa's most dangerous neighbourhoods.



Award-winning filmmaker Clifford Bestall goes back to the place where he grew up to explore this microcosm of chaos, crime and corruption in urban South Africa and discovers a place where human spirit, hope and enterprise triumph.

George 'the brick' is an aging boxer, a hard-lived survivor. Around him and his gym are the characters that make Hillbrow the high-rise melting pot of South Africa. Read More

Japan considers green future after nuclear disaster

In the long process of rebuilding after the triple disasters, the country should focus on renewable energy.

Tokyo, Japan - In March 2011, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami left nearly 20,000 people dead or missing and destroyed 125,000 buildings in the Tohoku region of Japan. The two disasters also caused three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant to melt down, which released dangerous levels of radiation into surrounding areas and led to national power shortages. Tokyo's iconic neon signs were switched off as rolling blackouts spread across the country. Faced with the greatest reconstruction task since World War II, Japan is asking difficult questions about the future of its energy supply and just what sort of society should emerge from the ruins.

So far, rebuilding efforts have focused on construction of temporary housing, restoration of crippled infrastructure and clearing the estimated 25 million tonnes of debris created by the destructive force of the tsunami. Officials say it could take ten years to completely rebuild the affected areas.

In the coming months, even years, there is a catchphrase familiar in disaster recovery that we can expect to hear a lot of in Japan: "Build back better." This concept has gained prominence since the recovery process following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and, more recently, with the earthquake in Haiti. Read More

Older workers flood into job market

Older workers have flooded into the job market since the recovery that began in the summer of 2009, TD Economics said Thursday, eclipsing other age groups in terms of gains made in the labour market.

The report said Canadians aged 60 years and over account for about one-third of all net job gains, “a striking figure considering they accounted for just eight per cent of the total labour force,” said TD Economist Francis Fong, the author of the analysis.

Fong said the trend includes not only those in the 60-65 age range, but also those older than 70.

Employment among the 70-plus crowd increased by 55,000 positions, or 37 per cent, he said. Read More

''Made in Britain'' - A Sought After Tag on Fashion Items

Infertile couples have higher exposure to phthalates.

Infertile couples are exposed to three to five times higher levels of phthalates compared to fertile couples who have naturally conceived a child, finds a study from Italy. The couples had higher levels of four different classes of phthalates in their urine, including the phthalate compound most commonly used in plastics and the compound most commonly used in cosmetics.

Phthalates can act as endocrine disrupting chemicals, mimicking or interfering with the actions of natural hormones like estrogen. Prior research shows phthalates can cause problems such as pregnancy loss and reduced litter size in rodents, though animals in these studies were exposed to levels about 100 times greater than the general population.

Phthalates are used to make vinyl plastics softer and more flexible. Di-(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate (DEHP) is the most commonly used plasticizer. This compound can be transferred to food from plastic food packaging. Adults are exposed to phthalates primarily through diet. Read More

Activist Says He Lied to Obtain Climate Papers

A prominent environmental researcher, activist and blogger from California admitted Monday night that he had deceitfully obtained and distributed confidential internal materials from the Heartland Institute, a libertarian group based in Chicago devoted in part to questioning the reality of global warming.

Peter H. Gleick, founder and president of the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment and Security, wrote in a statement published on The Huffington Post that he had posed as someone else to get the materials, which include fund-raising and strategy documents intended only for the board and top executives of the group.

Dr. Gleick distributed the documents to several well-known bloggers and activists who support the work of mainstream climate scientists and who have denounced the Heartland Institute as a center of climate change denial. The document release, which lit up the Internet last week, was cast by some bloggers as the work of a whistle-blowing Heartland employee or ex-employee who had access to internal papers, when it was in fact orchestrated by Dr. Gleick, a Yale- and Berkeley-trained scientist and environmental activist who says that he was frustrated with Heartland’s anti-climate-change programs. Read More

Civilisation faces 'perfect storm of ecological and social problems'

Abuse of the environment has created an 'absolutely unprecedented' emergency, say Blue Planet prizewinners

Celebrated scientists and development thinkers today warn that civilisation is faced with a perfect storm of ecological and social problems driven by overpopulation, overconsumption and environmentally malign technologies.

In the face of an "absolutely unprecedented emergency", say the 18 past winners of the Blue Planet prize – the unofficial Nobel for the environment – society has "no choice but to take dramatic action to avert a collapse of civilisation. Either we will change our ways and build an entirely new kind of global society, or they will be changed for us".

The stark assessment of the current global outlook by the group, who include Sir Bob Watson, the government's chief scientific adviser on environmental issues, US climate scientist James Hansen, Prof José Goldemberg, Brazil's secretary of environment during the Rio Earth summit in 1992, and Stanford University Prof Paul Ehrlich, is published today on the 40th anniversary of the foundation of the UN environment programme (Unep). The paper, which was commissioned by Unep, will feed into the Rio +20 earth summit conference in June.

Apart from dire warnings about biodiversity loss and climate change, the group challenges governments to think differently about economic "progress". Read More

Whales and dolphins are so intelligent they deserve same rights as humans, say experts

Marine biologists and philosophers have joined forces to support a controversial declaration of rights for whales and dolphins on the grounds that their astonishing intelligence and emotional empathy puts them on a par with humans.

Research into the complex behaviour of cetaceans – whales, dolphins and porpoises – is revealing that these sea mammals are so highly evolved and complex in terms of their behaviour that they deserve special protection with a universal bill of rights, they said.

Dolphins and whales have complex vocal communications and are able to learn an astonishing variety of behaviours when they come into contact with humans, such as cooperative fishing with native fishermen. The proponents of the bill of rights argue the cetacean mind is so advanced and self-aware that whales and dolphins should be classified as "non-human persons" who deserve the right to life, liberty and wellbeing. "A person needs to be an individual," said Tom White, a philosopher at the Hilton Centre for Business in Los Angeles. "If individuals count then the deliberate killing of individuals of this sort is ethically the equivalent of deliberately killing a human being. Read More

Carbon dioxide breaking down marine ecosystems

VANCOUVER — If carbon dioxide emissions don’t begin to decline soon, the complex fabric of marine ecosystems will begin fraying — and eventually unravel completely, two new studies conclude.

The diversity of ocean species thins and any survivors’ health declines as the pH of ocean water falls in response to rising carbon dioxide levels, scientists from England and Florida reported February 18 at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. What’s more, affected species aren’t restricted to those with shells and calcified support structures — features particularly vulnerable to erosion by corrosive seawater.

Jason Hall-Spencer of the University of Plymouth, England, and his colleagues have been collecting data from marine sites off Italy, Baja California and Papua New Guinea, where high concentrations of carbon dioxide percolate out of the seabed from volcanic activity below. Directly above these CO2 seeps, pH plummets to at least 7.8, a value that is expected to occur widely by 2100 and that is substantially lower than the normal level for the area, 8.1. These sites offer a preview of what may happen to seafloor ecosystems as CO2 levels continue to rise, causing ocean water pH to drop. Read More

Climate denial in the classroom

It's bad enough that we're doing so little to fight climate change; let's not ask teachers to lie about it too.

The culture wars have been fought in the classroom for decades, waged over such issues as school prayer, the teaching of evolution and whether the Pledge of Allegiance should include the phrase "under God." But the conflict usually pits backers of religious instruction against secularists. The latest skirmish, by contrast, is centered on a scientific issue that has nothing to do with religious teaching: climate change.

Leaked documents from the Heartland Institute in Chicago, one of many nonprofits that spread disinformation about climate science in hopes of stalling government action to combat global warming, reveal that the organization is working on a curriculum for public schools that casts doubt on the work of climatologists worldwide. Heartland officials say one of the documents was a fake, but the curriculum plans were reportedly discussed in more than one. According to the New York Times, the curriculum would claim, among other things, that "whether humans are changing the climate is a major scientific controversy." Read More

Attacks paid for by big business are 'driving science into a dark era'

Researchers attending one of the world's major academic conferences 'are scared to death of the anti-science lobby'

Most scientists, on achieving high office, keep their public remarks to the bland and reassuring. Last week Nina Fedoroff, the president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), broke ranks in a spectacular manner.

She confessed that she was now "scared to death" by the anti-science movement that was spreading, uncontrolled, across the US and the rest of the western world.

"We are sliding back into a dark era," she said. "And there seems little we can do about it. I am profoundly depressed at just how difficult it has become merely to get a realistic conversation started on issues such as climate change or genetically modified organisms."

The remarks of Fedoroff, one of the world's most distinguished agricultural scientists, are all the more remarkable given their setting. Read More

There's No Tomorrow

'Tribal Militias' Risk Break Up Of Libya....is anyone really that shocked?



Tribal leaders backed by armed militia have declared a semi-autonomous region in Libya, in a move which could herald the break up of the country.

A conference in the eastern city of Benghazi declared the region, historically known as Cyrenaica, would have its own capital, parliament and police force.

Foreign policy, the army and oil resources would be left to the central government in Tripoli.

This follows dissatisfaction that the National Transitional Council (NTC) was not fairly sharing out power.

Six months after the death of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi and the NTC has failed to grip the country and does not even control all parts of the capital. Read More

Sarkozy: Too Many Foreigners In France

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has said there are too many foreigners in France and has pledged to cut the number of new arrivals in half.

As the country's presidential election campaign gathers pace, Mr Sarkozy insisted France's attempts to integrate foreign arrivals into its culture and society had become paralysed.

"Our system of integration is working more and more badly, because we have too many foreigners on our territory and we can no longer manage to find them accommodation, a job, a school," he said in a television debate.

Mr Sarkozy has been accused of moving to the right in the run up to the presidential election in order to recruit voters tempted by anti-immigrant candidate Marine Le Pen. Read More

Ryanair Advert Banned...AGAIN

Budget airline Ryanair is in trouble again for misleading customers - this time for falsely implying rival Thomas Cook was likely to go into administration.

The reprimand came in response to a string of adverts headed "Bye bye Thomas Cook" which claimed the tour operator was in "dire straits" and had accumulated debts of nearly £1bn.

The "denigratory" campaign has now been banned for implying it was "risky" to book with the beleaguered travel company.

Adverts appeared in newspapers in November as the ailing holiday firm turned to its banks for financial aid amid fears it was on the brink of collapse. Read More

4.8 Magnitude Earthquake KYRGYZSTAN - 7th Mar 2012

A magnitude 4.8 earthquake has struck Kyrgyzstan at a depth of 1 km (0.6 miles), the quake hit at 03:03:00 UTC Wednesday 7th March 2012
The epicenter was 140 km (86.4 miles) South of Özgön, Kyrgyzstan
No Reports of Damage or Injuries at this time

4.0 Magnitude Earthquake TAJIKISTAN - 6th Mar 2012

A magnitude 4.0 earthquake has struck Tajikistan at a depth of 145.3 km (90.3 miles), the quake hit at 22:43:54 UTC Tuesday 6th March 2012
The epicenter was 120 km (74 miles) SSW of Karakul, Tajikistan
No Reports of Damage or Injuries at this time

4.9 Magnitude Earthquake TONGA - 6th Mar 2012

A magnitude 4.9 earthquake has struck Tonga at a depth of 41.8 km (26 miles), the quake hit at 22:35:00 UTC Tuesday 6th March 2012
The epicenter was 55 km (34 miles) NNW of Neiafu, Tonga
No Tsunami Warning Issued - No Reports of Damage or Injuries at this time

4.9 Magnitude Earthquake KURIL ISLANDS, RUSSIA - 6th Mar 2012

A magnitude 4.9 earthquake has struck the Kuril Islands, Russia at a depth of 39.1 km (24.3 miles), the quake hit at 22:33:18 UTC Tuesday 6th March 2012
The epicenter was 408 km (254 miles) SSW from Severo-Kuril'sk, Kuril Islands, Russia
No Tsunami Warning Issued - No Reports of Damage or Injuries at this time

Eastern Libya declares independence as country begins to disintegrate

Leaders of oil-rich eastern Libya declared it Tuesday to be a semi-autonomous region and voted for a 79-year-old former military man to lead it.

"We're talking about the whole eastern region of the country," said Ahmed Zubair al-Senussi, a member of the ruling National Transitional Council, in a telephone interview with CNN from Benghazi. Speaking through an interpreter, he said he wanted the central government in Tripoli to continue to run such matters as defense and the treasury, but to leave health, education and "social things" to be managed by local governance in the region, once called Cyrenaica.

"We are not looking to split the country," said al-Senussi, 79, who said he was jailed for 31 years during the regime of former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi for leading a failed coup d'etat in 1970. "We are not looking for division at all. Our target is to keep Libya united. We are hoping to run our region. ... We have the federal government, and we have the local government."

Al-Senussi said he was elected by 4,000 to 5,000 tribal leaders, politicians, activists and academics who met Tuesday in Benghazi. "All of them agreed on my leadership to lead the region for the time being," he said.

But a video posted Monday on YouTube indicated his support was less than unanimous. In it, scores of demonstrators chant, "Federalism is the path to divisions," "Oh, great, Libyan, do not accept divisions!" and "Tripoli is the capital!"

Al-Senussi added that he had no interest in grabbing the oil wealth for the region's residents at the expense of the rest of the country. "The oil is for all Libyan people," he said. "It would be written into the constitution." more

Note: A rebellion within a rebellion? How intriguing. One must wonder if the partition of Libya into smaller, weaker fragments wasn't always in the cards.

New South Wales Floods worst in 160 years

THE NSW flood crisis - in places, the worst in almost 160 years - could continue for more than a month.

''It looks like it's going into April at this rate,'' a spokesman for the State Emergency Service said last night. ''It's got to work its way down the Murrumbidgee and basically out of the state.''

In Wagga Wagga, which has been declared a disaster zone, almost 9000 people have been forced from their homes by the flood - the worst since 1853. Authorities predicted the river would peak at 10.9 metres, which would have come close to breaching the town's levees. The peak was revised down to 10.6 metres late yesterday.

At Urana, west of Wagga Wagga, the levee was breached yesterday morning. More than 300 people were ordered to evacuate, although many decided to stay after a mass meeting at the bowling club.

Wagga Wagga has experienced its highest rainfall on record - 188 millimetres in the week from February 27. At Urana, the 1954 record of 131.8mm was broken by more than 40mm.

There is now a month of waiting as the floods make their way down the Lachlan and Murrumbidgee rivers. Read More

Lulzsec court papers reveal extensive FBI co-operation with hackers

The FBI turned a computer hacker to build its case against a group of people it alleges are responsible for a string of audacious attacks that captured the personal details of more than one million people, US court documents have revealed.

They reveal an astonishing degree of co-operation between the FBI and its source, who gave the bureau details of other hackers and advance notice of attacks – which the FBI then apparently allowed to happen. The FBI even provided its own servers for members of hacking collectives to use.

The indictment sheets detail charges against five men alleged to be principal members of the hacking groups Anonymous and Lulzsec. The source has been indicated to be Hector Xavier Monsegur, known as 'Sabu', one of the group's most visible members and often referred to as the group's leader.

Monsegur was arrested by US authorities on 7 June 2011, according to his charge document, and from this point is not described as a member of Anonymous or Lulzsec. By August 2011 he had pleaded guilty to twelve charges relating to computer hacking. Read More

Bangladesh IEDCR: two more human infections with bird flu detected

Just a week after a 40-year-old male was confirmed positive for H5N1 avian influenza (bird flu); the Bangladeshi Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR) confirmed Monday two additional cases according to Bangladesh news source, bdnews24.com.

This comes in light of test results which show the virus present in a crowded Dhaka live-bird market. With the presence of the virus in the market only means the potentially lethal pathogen is that much closer to the human population.

IEDCR Director, Prof Mahmudur Rahman has recommended immediate disinfection of the wet markets. All three bird flu patients are live-bird market vendors.

Earlier this year, infectious disease experts warned that if sick poultry birds were supplied to the markets it would create a severe health hazard to the people in and around the markets. Source

7 million doses of bird flu vaccine imported‎, Taiwan

HA NOI — The local Department of Animal Health has imported 7 million doses of bird flu vaccines for reproductive poultry, said Can Xuan Binh, acting department director.

The department also supplied 7,000 litres of sterilising medicine to districts at high risk.

So far, Ha Noi has vaccinated 60,500 chickens and ducks, a process expected to reach completion by March 20.

If farmers refuse to vaccinate their poultry, they would receive no damage support in case of an outbreak, according to the department.

A small pocket of bird flu was recently detected in the capital's Phuong Duc Commune, Phu Xuyen District. All ducks tested positive for H5N1 were culled. — VNS Source

Rat plague headed for city‎, Geelong, Australia

PLAGUES of rats and mice are making their way from the region's semi-rural and coastal towns into Geelong.

Pest controllers contacted by the Geelong Advertiser yesterday said they were run off their feet attending to calls about rodents.

Con Toulas from Bay City Pest Control said there was no doubt rats and mice were in plague proportions in many areas he had visited over the last few weeks.

"The areas getting hit now are what we class as semi-rural; Bannockburn, Inverleigh and down Queenscliff way, near the water," he said. "But in time it will become a problem in the suburbs and inner-city Geelong as well,"

Rain and healthy crops meant conditions were ripe for rats and mice to breed, Mr Toulas said.

"The more food that's around, the more they will breed," Mr Toulas said.

Mice could make their way into homes through cracks as small as five to six millimetres, while large rats needed a gap of just 10 to 12 millimetres, he said. Read More