Tuesday, January  8, 2002 to Tuesday, January 15, 2002
W e d n e s d a y ,  J a n u a r y  1 6,  2 0 0 2
to
F r i d a y ,  J a n u a r y  1 8,  2 0 0 2
Saturday, January 19, 2002 to Wednesday, January 23, 2002

Germany Tops Nations in Use of Wind Power
Wednesday, January 16, 2002

Excerpts from article detailing Germany's plans to expand its world leadership in the use of wind power:

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Germany is planning to build 5,000
wind turbines off the coast

Germany - the world's leading producer of wind power - says it has expanded its capacity by 44% in the past year.

Industry figures show Germany now has more than 11,000 wind turbines. The dramatic expansion follows the German Government's decision to phase out nuclear power.

... Growing industry

Germany, by far the world's largest wind power market, is showing the way. Last year it accounted for roughly half of all wind turbines built worldwide.

Having decided to phase out nuclear power, the German Government is promoting wind energy like never before.

Though wind power now accounts for just 3.5% of Germany's energy consumption, it is expected to grow rapidly.

Turbine construction has been encouraged by a German law guaranteeing a minimum price for energy produced by wind power.

Off-shore turbines

The authorities are now considering plans for what could be a revolution in renewable energy: a plan to build up to 5,000 wind turbines off Germany's north coast.

Some would be located in open sea up to 45 kilometres (27 miles) offshore, a feat never before attempted. Since the wind is stronger at sea, the energy potential is highly attractive.

Giant wind turbines, double the size of conventional ones, are being developed for offshore use. ...

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Source:


Bush's Stacked Deck Bioethics Council
Thursday, January 17, 2002

Excerpts from articles including some insight into Bush's "stacked deck" of conservatives / religious fundies on his bioethics council:

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Human Cloning, Tests on Cloned Embryos Will Top Agenda of Panel's 1st Meeting

The White House yesterday released the names of 17 philosophers, medical experts, lawyers and theologians who will make up the newly created President's Council on Bioethics, a group that will advise the president on matters at the intersection of medicine and morality.

... The council will be navigating a scientific and ethical landscape significantly more complex than the one that existed when the House became embroiled in the topic last summer.

In November, researchers announced that they had made the first human embryo clones, giving immediacy to warnings by religious conservatives and others that science is no longer serving the nation's moral will. At
the same time, the United States was fighting a war to free a faraway nation from the grip of religious conservatives who were denounced for imposing their moral code on others.

Adding to the complexities, some observers say the president's council is politically stacked.

Many of the 18 members, including Kass, are well-known conservative thinkers. And the executive director, a former aide to House Majority Leader Richard K. Armey (R-Tex.), is a self-described Christian "proclaimer" who favors a greater religious presence in the schools and who once smashed a roommate's pornographic videocassette with his bare hands.

Critics note that on the issue of research on cloned embryos, at least, Kass and several others on the panel -- along with Bush -- have already made their opposition quite clear.


(click for details on "Cloning Ban?")

... While virtually no one has come out in favor of making cloned babies, many scientists believe that human embryo clones would be the best source of so-called embryonic stem cells, which show promise for the treatment of various diseases.


(click for details on "Advance in Curing
Human Diseases and Prolonging Human Life")

Researchers and patient advocacy groups have called on Congress to allow such research, which they call "therapeutic cloning," and to ban only "reproductive cloning," in which a cloned embryo is transferred into a woman's womb to grow into a cloned baby.


(click for details on "Therapeutic
Cloning Ethics")

With explicit support from the Bush administration, however, the House has already passed a bill that would outlaw therapeutic as well as reproductive cloning.


(click for details on "Virgin
Birth Technique")

... The council's membership includes several well-known scholars with conservative leanings.

Until Bush named him to chair the council, Kass was a leading figure in the Bioethics Project, a think tank chaired by William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, who this week said he would devote most of his political energy to getting the Senate to pass a total ban on cloning.

Kass has already made clear that he sees the creation of human embryo clones as a threat to "humanity's humanity."

The group's executive director, Dean Clancy, is a "proclaimer" for the Separation of School and State Alliance, which favors home schooling over compulsory public education in order to "integrate God and education."


... A council of clones - Bush’s bioethics panel will provide the advice he wants to hear

... The ethics boat the president has launched is stacked with members who lean to the political right, who will rely on religious rather than secular principles to navigate its course and will do nothing to jostle any of the president’s already espoused positions condemning stem cell research, cloning and the creation of human embryos for research.

Bush chose Leon Kass, a thoughtful and intelligent conservative who is outspokenly opposed to human cloning and euthanasia as the chair of his Bioethics Advisory Council.

Kass also opposed IVF technology and still questions aspects of the procedure used by thousands of infertile couples. Most ironically of all, the administration’s appointments to the council, while bearing impressive credentials, are all pretty much clones of Professor Kass.

... They are all individuals who would have no problem receiving a warm reception at neoconservative think tanks or Christian Coalition of America rallies. ...

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Sources:


Further References:


Human Trials for Novel Treatment of Diabetes
Thursday, January 17, 2002

Excerpts from articles describing the start of human trials to test a peptide to regenerate insulin-making cells in the pancreas (both type
1 and type 2 diabetics are involved in these trials):

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A substance that has cured diabetes in some laboratory animals is now being tested on people in the US.

The INGAP - Islets Neogenesis Associated Protein - Peptide encourages the growth of insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.

... injecting INGAP in certain species of diabetic animals increased insulin levels and lowered glucose levels.

Some animals were cured 39 days after they began the therapy and had normal blood sugar levels even after stopping treatment for eight days, Dr Vinik says.

INGAP is a gene that encodes proteins that have the potential to produce cells capable of making the hormones necessary for keeping people's blood sugar levels normal.

An estimated 16 million Americans, and 130 million people worldwide, have diabetes.

... Diabetes Institutes Foundation / Strelitz Diabetes Institutes (SDI) at Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, Virginia

Islet cell regeneration is an exciting approach to treating diabetes because it allows the body to heal itself.

... Dr. Vinik says, “The INGAP Peptide represents a potentially novel anti-diabetic therapy directed at the basis of the disease because it stimulates the growth of insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, rather than treating the metabolic consequences of diabetes such as high blood sugar.”

... researchers have the ability to synthesize as much of the INGAP Peptide as they need for therapeutic treatment.

Humans will be receiving the same Peptide that was administered to the animals.

The ability to create the necessary quantities of the INGAP Peptide for therapeutic treatment gives scientists a wide potential for application. This is a marked difference from the islet cell transplantation approach to treating diabetes that is acutely limited by the number of islets that become available from donors.

Dr. Vinik explains, “There are only a limited number of pancreases that become available for islet transplants, and even if all were harvested for the purposes of islet transplantation, then only a few hundred people with diabetes would benefit."

"In contrast, every person with diabetes, even if they have had diabetes for a long time, has precursor cells in their pancreases that can be transdifferentiated into islets, and there appears to be no limit in the capacity.”

Researchers believe that islet cell regeneration has the potential for treating Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.

People with Type 1 diabetes have had their beta cells destroyed by an autoimmune assault in which the body recognizes its own beta cells as being foreign.

Though the beta cells are destroyed, other cells within the islets that produce hormones and the precursor cells appear to survive the assault.

In Type 2 diabetes the beta cells don’t function effectively.

In both cases, the body harbors precursor cells in the pancreas that can be turned on to become beta cells with the administration of INGAP.

“For people with Type 1 diabetes, the good news is that after a person has had diabetes for many years, the autoimmune process tends to die down. It seems that the body has to see foreign material to keep the autoimmune flames alive. When there is sufficient destruction of islets that have been damaged by the process, then the body no longer recognizes these as foreign and loses interest in further destruction,” says Dr. Vinik.

He continues, “In people with Type 2 diabetes, the beta cells do not function effectively. It was once thought that people with Type 2 diabetes are merely resistant to the insulin their bodies produce."

"It is now known that people with Type 2 diabetes do not produce the number of beta cells that they need. SDI researchers anticipate that if they can overcome the deficit in pancreatic insulin secretion, then islet cell regeneration will treat people with Type 2 as well.”

SDI researchers believe that the islets created through the regeneration approach will be recognized by the body as “self,” not foreign, so there may be no need for the immuno-suppression therapy that can cause other complications.

If it turns out that immuno-suppression is needed, there are new therapies being developed that are better tolerated by the body.

Looking to the future, SDI researchers believe that someday basic islet cell regeneration research may allow scientists to be able to predict and identify susceptible individuals, and then prevent diabetes from ever occurring.

For information on participation in the INGAP human trials, please call
954-745-3537. ...

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Sources:

Life, As It Was In the Beginning?
Thursday, January 17, 2002

Excerpts from articles detailing the discovery of a group of microbes which may resemble the first life on earth and life which may still be present on some moons and planets in the solar system:

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Scientists have found a community of microbes unlike anything else on Earth. Conditions in this ecosystem could mimic those on Earth when life began, and might exist elsewhere in today's Solar System.

... Scientists are excited because the organisms could resemble the type of life that might survive on Mars.

The microbes were found living in a hot spring, 200 metres (660 feet) beneath the US state of Idaho. They get their energy not from the Sun or from consuming other organic matter, but by combining hydrogen from rocks with carbon dioxide.


Bacteria living 200
meters below Idaho
Because similar sunlight and oxygen-free environments are thought to exist on the Red Planet, and even on Jupiter's moon Europa, such organisms could provide clues about searching for life on other worlds.

Co-researcher Professor Derek Lovley, head of the microbiology department at the University of Massachusetts, added: "The conditions of the environment that we studied here on Earth in Idaho are very much what are expected to be on the sub-surface of Mars and it's been predicted that if there is any life on that planet it's growing on hydrogen that exists below the surface."

Alternate energy sources

The microbes belong to an ancient group of living things known as the Archaea. Because their metabolism means they "breathe out" methane they are referred to as methanogens.

... "The microbial community we found in Idaho is unlike any previously described on Earth," said Professor Lovley. "This is as close as we have come to finding life on Earth under geological conditions most like those expected below the surface of Mars." ...

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Sources:


Enron Avoids Taxes For 4 of Last 5 Years
Thursday, January 17, 2002

Excerpts from articles describing Enron's troubles and suspicion regarding its avoidance of taxes for four of the last five years:

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It's reported Enron Corp. paid no income taxes in four out of the past five years.

The New York Times said Thursday that the energy trading giant used almost 900 subsidiaries in tax-haven countries to avoid paying taxes.

The use of overseas tax havens by U.S. corporations is not unusual, but the Times says Enron made use of the technique far more often than other companies.

Even as it neared collapse, Enron was in the forefront of a lobbying campaign to scrap the corporate alternative minimum tax.

Repeal of the alternative minimum tax was backed by dozens of companies including Enron and was part of President Bush's economic stimulus plan.


(click for CBS News presentation)

... The Houston-based energy conglomerate faces investigations from a growing list of congressional committees, the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission following its collapse late last year in the nation's biggest corporate bankruptcy.

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Source:

  • CBS News [link inactive]

Accused Shoe Bomber Trained By Al-Qaida?
Thursday, January 17, 2002

Excerpts from article detailing the indictment against the accused shoe bomber Richard Reid:

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A federal grand jury on Wednesday charged alleged shoe bomber Richard Reid with being an al-Qaida trained terrorist in an indictment Attorney General John Ashcroft hailed as fresh proof of the government's ability to prosecute terrorists.

Ashcroft said the charges "alert us to a clear, unmistakable threat that al-Qaida could attack the United States again."

A 12-page indictment alleges that Reid received training from al-Qaida in Afghanistan and attempted to kill the passengers on American Airlines Flight 63 from Paris to Miami on Dec. 22.

Reid, a 28-year-old British citizen and convert to Islam, could get five life sentences if convicted. ...


Reid (above) went to the same mosque
as Zacarias Moussaoui, who is charged
in the Sept. 11 attacks

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Source:

  • CBS News [link inactive]


Gravity Leaps Into Quantum World
Thursday, January 17, 2002

Excerpts from article describing the experimental detection of quantum leaps of gravity:

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Far from falling smoothly, objects moving under gravity do so in lurching, quantum leaps, a French experiment has revealed.

The finding confirms that gravity, like the Universe's three other fundamental forces, can have a quantum effect.

Particles, such as electrons confined to their orbital shells around the nucleus of an atom, are restricted by the rules of quantum mechanics. To move from one position to another, they must jump to the next quantum state.

Theoretically, this rule holds for all matter under the influence of nature's four fundamental forces: electromagnetism, weak and strong nuclear force and gravity. But gravity, especially at small scales, is a very feeble force, making it extremely difficult to measure its quantum effects.

... Valery Nesvizhevsky and his colleagues studied ultracold neutrons (UCNs) at the Laue-Langevin Institute in Grenoble, France. These very slow-moving, uncharged particles normally team up with protons to form the nucleus of an atom. The team isolated the neutrons from the effects of the other three forces in a specially designed detector.

By following the progress of hundreds of UCNs falling from the top of the detector to the bottom, the team found that the particles exist only at certain heights.


Particles don't fall smoothly
under gravity, they lurch

"They do not move continuously, but rather jump from one height to another as quantum theory predicts," says Nesvizhevsky. ...

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Source:


Peering Into the Next 10 Years
Friday, January 18, 2002

Excerpts from article loaded with predictions for the next ten years:

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... "By 2006 it will be quite possible to ask a robot general questions which it hasn't been told beforehand and get a response."


Robots have long inspired
visions of the future

... 2003 looks like being a little bit more sci-fi with the introduction of video jewelery and virtual retinal displays in glasses.

The long-talked about home intranet - connecting all the devices in your house - may also become a reality next year.


Other Predictions

  • Notebook computer screen with contrast as good as paper by 2003
  • Mobile phone location used in traffic management systems by 2004
  • First organism brought back to life by 2006
  • Anti-noise technology built into homes by 2010

... It is hard for many people to believe or accept some of the changes listed above when half of the world's people have yet to make their first phone call.

"Palm-pilot like devices which can be distributed free and allow people in the developed world to get educated will be one of the most important technologies in this part of the world."

Artificial companions

For the gadget-hungry West things start to get really exciting by 2006, with emotionally sensitive toys.

While they are unlikely to be as sophisticated as the teddy bear in Stephen Spielberg's AI, such toys will prove invaluable companions.

... Not all the robots of the future will be so cuddly though, with robots the size of bees playing a vital role in surveillance during wartime.

"These tiny flying robots will be able to fly into caves and hack into computer systems." ...

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Source:


Lost Civilisation Found Under the Sea?
Friday, January 18, 2002

Excerpts from articles describing the discovery of an ancient city pushing back the origins of sophisticated human civilizations to over 9,000 years ago:

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... What has been found?

In May 2001 the National Institute for Oceanic Technology (NIOT) was conducting pollution surveys in the Gulf of Cambay in the Arabian Sea off the west coast of India. It noticed the profile of huge geometric structures lying on the seabed.


Diving trips were then made to the site, about 120ft (40m) beneath the surface, to bring up about 2,000 man-made artefacts from the site, including jewelry, pottery human teeth and bones.

They discovered a city of about 5m (9km) in length and 0.5m (2km) wide. Two days ago carbon dating revealed that this city hailed from a civilisation that was 5,000 years older than Indus Valley culture, which existed 4,500 years ago. That would make it the oldest city known to man.

How would this change how we view civilisation?

Until now it was believed that during this period man was only just emerging from the hunter-gatherer stage of evolution and that the largest settlements numbered little more than about 20 or 30 individuals. This discovery shows that this was not the case: there were sophisticated civilisations thousands of years before we had previously thought.

What could have happened to this "lost" city?

Towards the end of the Ice Age the level of the sea rose by some 400ft. This happened at some time between 17,000 and 7,000 years ago. Huge swathes of the earth were submerged; in fact an area the size of Europe and China combined was covered in water during this period.

From the discovery of human bones and teeth found on the site we can deduce that the people who inhabited the city were caught and drowned by the flooding. Plato writes about this period as being one of flooding and earthquakes. ...

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Sources:

  • The Times [link inactive]
  • BBC

Bacterial Batteries Clean Up
Friday, January 18, 2002

Excerpts from articles describing the potential for ocean-floor bacteria to clean up waste and generate power:

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The sea bed could be one big battery

Bacteria could clear up oil spills and generate electricity at the same time. US scientists have identified microbes that produce power as they digest organic waste.

The bacteria strip electrons from carbon in ocean sediments to convert it into the carbon dioxide they need for metabolism and growth. Usually the organisms just dump the electrons onto iron or sulphate minerals on the ocean floor. But the bugs will just as happily pile electrons onto one electrode of an electrical circuit.

... Aside from raising the possibility that microbes someday could be used to produce power in subsurface settings, the findings have implications for many industrial and military applications, according to Derek R. Lovley, UMass microbiologist and team leader.

An understanding of how microbes generate and use electrical energy may also prompt the development of new technologies to decontaminate polluted water and sediment containing organic materials, including petroleum and other aromatic hydrocarbons, he says. ...

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Sources: