Tuesday, January 1, 2002 to Monday, January 7, 2002
T u e s d a y ,  J a n u a r y  8,  2 0 0 2
to
T u e s d a y ,  J a n u a r y  1 5,  2 0 0 2
Wednesday, January 16, 2002 to Friday, January 18, 2002

First Stars Formed Much Earlier Than Previously Thought
Tuesday, January 8, 2002

Complete article describing the latest theories regarding when and how stars first developed in the early universe:

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Artist's view of stars forming
in early universe

The original generation of stars exploded into life more brilliantly and much sooner than previously estimated, according to an investigation of the deepest and oldest pictures of the universe.

A spectacular torrent of stellar births lit up the dark cosmos only several hundred million years after the Big Bang, producing a substantial number of the stars in the heavens, astronomers announced Tuesday.

The idea that a sudden burst produced many stars soon after the beginning of the universe revises an earlier theory that the star birth rate gradually increased during the infancy of the cosmos.

Although star births continue in galaxies today, the rate could be "a trickle compared to the predicted gusher in the early years," the team of scientists said.

The group made the conclusion after examining images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope of some of the deepest observable galaxies.

The term "deep," in an astronomical sense, refers to the faintest and most distant objects in the universe.

Because the objects are among the oldest, Hubble can work as "time machine" by taking snapshots of the early universe.

The ancient star groups in the Hubble image date back more than 10 billion years, much closer to the beginning of the universe.

The further back the scientists looked in time, the higher the birth rate of stars.

Astronomer Ken Lanzetta of the State University of New York at Stony Brook, who with colleagues presented the findings at a NASA press conference, described the tantalizing pictures as "the tip of the iceberg."

Beyond the technological limits of Hubble's vision, in uncharted recesses that more advanced space observatories could render visible within years, lie patches of intensely hot and bright blue-white infant stars in primordial galaxies, speculated Lanzetta after studying the colors of the furthest galaxies.

"The previous census of the deep fields missed most of the ultraviolet light in the universe," which likely accounts for a significant portion of early cosmic energy, Lanzetta said.


Revised timeline pushes star birth
peak much closer to Big Bang

According to astronomers, the Big Bang ignited the universe into existence about 14 billion years ago.

The original generation of stars began to shine about 100 million years later.

Galaxies have been identified whose light left them when the universe was about 1 billion years old.

Lanzetta and colleagues pinpointed the projected peak of star births in the cosmos to between 500 million and 1 billion years after the Big Bang.

The earlier estimate was between 4 billion and 5 billion years after the cosmic genesis, or shortly after our Milky Way Galaxy formed.

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Ancient Civilizations Shaken by Quakes
Tuesday, January 8, 2002

Excerpts from article describing theories that earthquakes played a major role in bringing more than a few ancient civilizations to an abrupt end:

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Archaeology sometimes raises more questions than it answers.

How do you explain a city that bustled with activity one day only to be buried under feet of silt the next?

Or walls that collapsed in an instant, crushing the people standing next to them?

Or rows of heavy stone columns, all toppled in the same direction?

Until recently, most researchers trying to explain these enigmatic disasters pointed to wars, fires or flash floods -- or simply shrugged their shoulders and kept digging.

But new research by geophysicists at Stanford and elsewhere is painting a picture of an ancient world in which earthquakes destroyed fortified buildings, changed the course of rivers and made elite rulers vulnerable to attack.

... Ancient quakes

The idea that ancient civilizations were shaped by earthquakes is still controversial, but a growing number of archaeologists and geophysicists believe that earthquakes might have intervened at crucial moments in history.

Nur's research on the ancient city of Megiddo, also known as Armageddon, provides one example.

By studying ancient texts and archaeological evidence, Nur demonstrated that earthquakes, and not repeated conquests, could have been responsible for the city's sandwich-like layers of ruined buildings.

Other research suggests that earthquakes -- caused when fault lines release built-up tension -- could have done more than just level cities; they may have brought down civilizations as well. According to Nur, storms of earthquakes raging over periods of 50 to 100 years might have helped bring the Bronze Age to an end. ...

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Astronomers Push For Observatory On the Moon
Wednesday, January 9, 2002

Excerpts from article describing the proposal to build an interference-free radar post on the dark side of the moon:

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Hoping to tune into wavelengths of the universe that have never been heard before, a number of scientists have recommended the construction of a radio telescope on the far side of the moon.

Such an observatory, shielded by the moon, could tune out constant interference of radio emissions from Earth. Moreover, it could tune into the extremely low radio frequencies that normally bounce off the Earth's atmosphere.

Astronomers are studying the feasibility of the proposal, which they contend could be built remotely through the use of robotic equipment.

... In particular, scientists involved in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) project like the prospects of a lunar listening post. A major nuisance they face as they eavesdrop on the universe is the constant interference of radio emissions from Earth.


Crater Daedalus, one of the possible
locales for a radio telescope, as
viewed over 30 years ago by the
Apollo 11 spacecraft in lunar orbit

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'Bionic Eye' Could Aid the Blind
Wednesday, January 9, 2002

Excerpts from article detailing the possibility that a Nasa-developed implant might be able to provide vision to some blind patients:

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The implant might help some blind patients

Technology developed in space is being used to create implants which might one day be able to restore some sight to some blind patients.

Scientists at the American space agency, Nasa, say that they are hopeful that human trials will start this year - but are not sure whether the brain will be able to interpret the signals from their hi-tech detector.

Other projects have managed to send low-resolution images back to the brain - some previously sightless patients were able to make out very vague outlines.

However, NASA says its methods could allow a far more detailed image to be gathered by sensors.

Detailed image

It is using very thin ceramic films which are sensitive to light - each contains approximately 100,000 separate detectors.

This would be capable of producing an image similar to that of the LED display of a digital camera.

The healthy human eye has many millions of cells that convert light into electrical signals, which are then sent along the optic nerve to the brain to be interpreted.

Many people who gradually go blind are suffering from malfunction or the destruction of these rods or cone cells.

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is just one condition which affects many thousands of older people in the UK.

In cases where the "sensor" cells at the back of the eye have deteriorated, but the link back to the brain is still intact, using an artificial sensor might be able to help. ...

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Gruesome Tobacco Ads Hit Smokers Hard
Wednesday, January 9, 2002

Excerpts from article describing the impact of using graphic pictures of the consequences of smoking on cigarette packets in Canada:

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Shock picture adverts on cigarette packets are helping people to stop smoking in Canada, research suggests. The new warnings include pictures of a diseased mouth, a lung tumour and a brain after a stroke.

The warnings helped motivate 44% of smokers taking part in the survey to quit smoking. Among those who tried to stop in 2001, 38% said the new warnings were a factor in motivating them to try to quit.

... On one or more occasions, 21% of smokers were tempted to have a cigarette but decided not to because of the new warnings. Among non-smokers, 48% said the new warnings made them feel better about being a non-smoker. ...

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Antimatter Could Fuel Rockets, Heal Patients
Thursday, January 10, 2002

Excerpts from article describing research into antimatter, the results of which may some day treat cancer, and much later, enable astronauts to travel to distant planets far faster than is possible with current technology:

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Artist's concept of an antimatter engine

Scientists are looking into a futuristic technology that could lead to interplanetary missions and significantly improve cancer treatments to boot.

Astronauts have gone to the moon, but not other planets in large part because such a trip would require much more propulsion power and time. NASA researchers, however, are investigating antimatter for its propulsion potential.

Its explosive energy could someday enable journeys into deep space. A tiny amount would fuel the main engine of the space shuttle.

"We have an equivalent amount of energy in just one gram or about a raisin-size worth of antimatter," said George Schmidt, a scientist at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

Compared to conventional chemical propulsion systems, antimatter energy would slash the travel time to Mars and back from roughly two years to a few weeks.

... "It's in an extreme infancy right now. There are concepts for how things might work. It's not a technology that's going to come to jury in the next 20 or 30 years. It's a very futuristic technology," said Stephen Holmes, associate director for FermiLab.

Today, antimatter is being used in medical imaging systems for diagnoses. But it could hold bigger promise in treating diseases.

Chances are, antimatter will first be used as a medical treatment before it is used to travel to Mars. Scientists think it will be more effective than X-rays in killing cancerous tumors. That application could happen within 10 or 15 years, according to medical researchers. ...

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'Oldest' Prehistoric Art Unearthed
Thursday, January 10, 2002

Excerpts from articles describing engravings pushing back the origins of abstract human thought to over 70,000 years ago:

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The world's oldest example of abstract art, dating back more than 70,000 years, has been found in a cave in South Africa. Scientists say the discovery shows that modern ways of thinking developed far earlier than we think.

The abstract art was found on two pieces of ochre in a cave on the southern Cape shore of the Indian Ocean. Previously, the earliest evidence of abstract art came mainly in France from the Eurasian Palaeolithic period less than 35,000 years ago.

Complex motif

Dr Christopher Henshilwood, from the State University of New York at Stony Brook, says: "They may have been constructed with symbolic intent, the meaning of which is now unknown.


Are abstract markings on a piece
of ochre ancient art?

... "There is no doubt that the people in southern Africa were behaviourally modern 70,000 years ago."

... The patterns show that people made abstract images and had the language and intellectual capacity to discuss their meaning.


77,000-year-old engravings
found in Africa

... Anatomical and genetic evidence points to Homo sapiens being about a quarter of a million years old. But we do not know when our ancestors acquired language, culture and the other trappings of modern humanity.

Artworks are the key to answering this question, says Ben Smith, who studies rock art at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. "Art tells us about the makers' social systems, beliefs and rituals. It's like looking into their brain."

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Aspirin as Heart Attack Prevention
Friday, January 11, 2002

Excerpts from articles describing evidence that aspirin use for heart attack prevention is well-advised for a significant portion of the population (and, ibuprofen use above certain amounts blocks the cardioprotective effects of aspirin):

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Aspirin could save thousands of lives each year if it was administered more often, research suggests. The study estimates that 40,000 extra deaths world-wide could be prevented - 3,000 in the UK alone.

It says the drug, which reduces the risk of blood clotting, is massively underused in the treatment of patients suffering heart attacks and strokes. The research team hopes their findings will help dispel any remaining uncertainty among doctors and lead to an increase in prescribing aspirin.

... one of the main reasons for the under-use of aspirin could be a lack of clear advice on how effective the drug is in treating patients at risk of vascular disease, but who have not suffered a heart attack or stroke.

... Ibuprofen Blocks Aspirin’s Ability To Protect Against Heart Attacks

... multiple daily doses of ibuprofen can undermine the cardioprotective effects of a daily aspirin regimen. ... We know that aspirin works to protect the heart by acting as a blood thinner, that is, it prevents clotting by inactivating the enzyme that makes platelets stick together. ... This study tells us that ibuprofen can prevent this from happening by denying aspirin access to the enzyme’s active site.

... Diabetes

Heart disease is the major cause of death for people with diabetes. All people with diabetes have an increased chance of developing heart disease; in fact, they're two to four times more likely to develop heart disease than someone who doesn't have the disease. Women with diabetes are up to five times more likely to develop heart disease than women without diabetes.

... The American Diabetes Association recommends that all diabetics with a history of cardiovascular disease, or those who have at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease or are age 30 or older, should regularly be taking aspirin.

... A simple aspirin is one of the cheapest and most widely available therapies for preventing life-threatening complications of diabetes, yet few people are taking advantage of it, according to researchers at the CDC in Atlanta.

... K.M. Venkat Narayan, MD, of the CDC, explains that aspirin inhibits the body's production of thromboxane, a substance released by blood platelets that causes them to clump together, leading to blood clotting. By reducing blood clotting, aspirin can diminish the risk of cardiovascular events, he says.

Narayan, who was co-author of the Diabetes Care report, says the recommended dose of aspirin is 81-325 milligrams.

... "I go around giving talks about prevention of complications of diabetes, and I go through a whole list of expensive medications that are commonly used," Colwell tells WebMD. "But the cheapest, and one of the most effective, is aspirin. It's so mundane that people tend to overlook it."

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Enron Scandal - Greed is the Creed
Sunday, January 13, 2002

Excerpts from article addressing some of the factors which led to the demise of one of America's most prosperous and politically-connected corporations:

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The stench that surrounds Enron's collapse must alert Britain's politicians to the corrupting influence of unregulated capitalism.

American democracy is increasingly a fraud. Money buys votes, influence and office. Contemporary Washington makes Caligula's Rome look like a vicar's tea party.

American politicians' need for business donations on a gigantic scale to win their election campaigns now pollutes the discourse of the country's public life, with business writing public policy and corrupting everything it touches.

And the noxious consequences, in terms of ideas and business practice, spill over into Britain.

The bankruptcy of the energy trader Enron before Christmas with $40 billion of debts, the largest recorded in history, was spectacular.

It had overstated its profits by half a billion dollars over three years and lost more still in private companies set up to enrich the coterie of top executives in schemes undetected by its auditors, Arthur Andersen.

... Now the subject of a criminal investigation by the Justice Department, the details spilling out offer a bird's-eye view of how business is done in the US, how favours are bought and how political ideas are honed to serve the interests of the political parties' benefactors.

... No chief executive was as fervent an apostle of how regulation cripples wealth generation as Ken Lay, and now we know why. Republicans, of course, were willing allies in the belief that nothing inhibits businesses more than having to respect the law of the land and accept obligations to the wider society in which they trade.

But money talks, and during the 1990s Democrats became evangelists for the same set of ideas. How could they accept Enron's money, and that of dozens of other corporations, otherwise?

... Enron could not have made the progress it did without the intellectual backdrop that all regulation and taxation is bad - and that the more the US deregulated, the better its economy performed. This was, and is, balderdash.

... The deregulation philosophy that enriches Ken Lay and his cronies does not necessarily enrich anybody else.

... This [article] is not a case for red tape, bureaucratic regulation or stupid rules, all of which plainly hurt the economy. It is an argument for smart regulation, an imperative if capitalism is not to degenerate into profiteering and economic cannibalism.

... Smart and effective regulation is the handmaiden of well-run markets that serve the public interest. It is time our politicians started saying so - and challenging the self-serving braying of our business lobbyists. Enron, and the philosophy that created it, stinks.

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For further elaboration, see Price of power and Downfall of an $80bn firm.


People Grapple With Sharia Law
Tuesday, January 15, 2002

Excerpts from article describing the effort to defend a woman against being stoned to death for having sex in a manner contrary to the dictates of ancient Islamic law known as Sharia:

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Expressing gratitude for growing international support, a 35-year-old woman who is due to be stoned to death for adultery by Islamic authorities in northern Nigeria told AFP this weekend she will be seeking 'justice' when she launches an appeal on Monday.

"I am grateful and appreciative of all the support I am getting all over the world. I know the support I have," Safiya Husaini said in an interview here. "What I am hoping for now is justice," she said, adding that the extra-marital sex she had been convicted of had been forced upon her.

Husaini was sentenced in October last year by a court in Sokoto to the ancient Islamic punishment of death by stoning after being found guilty, under Islamic law, of adultery.

Three-times-divorced Husaini was judged guilty of adultery, rather than the lesser crime of fornication or sex outside marriage, because under Islamic law, as interpreted here, a divorced woman commits adultery if she ever has sex again unless it is with a new husband.

Husaini's defence is that she was coerced, or raped. Her lawyer, Abdulkadir Imam, also intends to argue that numerous errors were made in the handling of her original case.

"I am innocent. I never consented to sex. I was forced," Husaini told AFP. ...

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DREAM Raises Pain Relief Hope
Tuesday, January 15, 2002

Excerpts from article describing a protein which eliminates pain in mice:

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Mice lacking DREAM (the protein's full name is Downstream Regulatory Element Antagonistic Modulator) seem oblivious to all types of pain. ... The animals can bear acute pain - the kind caused for example by heat, pressure, or injections as well as chronic inflammatory pain - that which arthritis patients suffer. They seem otherwise normal.

... Current estimates suggest that one in five people worldwide live with chronic pain from cancer and other debilitating diseases. Treatments with fewer side effects than existing analgesics have long been a goal for researchers.

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Mr. Pretzel-dent? Pretzelgate?
Tuesday, January 15, 2002


Bush displays pretzel-bruise

Excerpts from article describing reactions to the Bush pretzel-choking/fainting incident:

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The American press has had a field day following President George W Bush's sheepish admission that a nasty scrape on his cheek was the result of a fainting spell brought on by choking on a pretzel while watching an American football game.

In a mock-sombre headline warning Mr Bush to "Beware the deadly pretzel", the Boston Herald defends the US president for indulging in that most American of pastimes - snacking.

... David Letterman warned on his CBS show that "about now a military tribunal is convicting a pretzel", and that "homeland security director Tom Ridge (has) issued an all-points bulletin for Mr Salty" - a popular pretzel brand name. ...

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