September 18th, 2007

Chris Keeley

Blackwater contractors in Baghdad in 2005. Reports of the number of its employees in Iraq ranged fro

A Blackwater employee was responsible for the shooting death of a bodyguard for one of Iraq’s vice presidents, Adel Abdul Mahdi, on Christmas Eve last year, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal in May. The Blackwater guard had been drinking heavily in the Green Zone, according to the report, and tried to enter an area where Iraqi officials live. The employee was fired, but left Iraq without being prosecuted, the report said.


Blackwater contractors in Baghdad in 2005. Reports of the number of its employees in Iraq ranged from 1,000 to 1,500.

U.S. Contractor Banned by Iraq Over Shootings

BAGHDAD, Tuesday, Sept. 18 — Blackwater USA, an American contractor that provides security to some of the top American officials in Iraq, has been banned from working in the country by the Iraqi government after a shooting that left eight Iraqis dead and involved an American diplomatic convoy.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, Brig. Gen. Abdul Karim Khalaf, said Monday that authorities had canceled the company’s license and that the government would prosecute the participants. But under the rules that govern private security contractors here, the Iraqis do not have the legal authority to do so.

The shooting took place in Baghdad on Sunday, but the details were still unclear, and American officials stopped short of saying whether the Blackwater guards in the diplomatic motorcade had caused any of the deaths. Bombs were going off in the area at the time, and shots were fired at the convoy, American officials said.

“There was a firefight,” said Sean McCormack, the principal State Department spokesman. “We believe some innocent life was lost. Nobody wants to see that. But I can’t tell you who was responsible for that.”

The deaths struck a nerve with Iraqis, who say that private security firms are often quick to shoot and are rarely held responsible for their actions. A law issued by the American authority in Iraq before the United States handed over sovereignty to Iraqis, Order No. 17, gives the companies immunity from Iraqi law. A security expert based in Baghdad said Monday night that the order, issued in 2004, had never been overturned. Like others, he spoke on the condition of anonymity because the matter remains under official inquiry.

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Chris Keeley

High-energy physics seeks and may be on the verge of finding the so-called God particle, the Higgs b

High-energy physics seeks and may be on the verge of finding the so-called God particle, the Higgs boson thought to endow elementary particles with their mass. Cosmology is confounded by dark matter and dark energy, the pervasive but unidentified stuff that shapes the universe and accelerates its expansion.


Lost in a Million-Year Gap, Solid Clues to Human Origins

Sometimes the maturity of a field of science can be measured by the heft of its ambition in the face of the next daunting unknown, the mystery yet to be cracked.

Neurobiology probes the circuitry of the brain for the secrets of behaviors and thoughts that make humans human. High-energy physics seeks and may be on the verge of finding the so-called God particle, the Higgs boson thought to endow elementary particles with their mass. Cosmology is confounded by dark matter and dark energy, the pervasive but unidentified stuff that shapes the universe and accelerates its expansion.

In the study of human origins, paleoanthropology stares in frustration back to a dark age from three million to less than two million years ago. The missing mass in this case is the unfound fossils to document just when and under what circumstances our own genus Homo emerged.

The origin of Homo is one of the most intriguing and intractable mysteries in human evolution. New findings only remind scientists that answers to so many of their questions about early Homo probably lie buried in the million-year dark age.

It is known that primitive hominids — human ancestors and their close kin — walked upright across the plains of Africa at this time. They were presumably larger members of the genus Australopithecus, the best known of which was the Lucy species, Australopithecus afarensis, that had thrived up to three million years ago.

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Chris Keeley

Aerial spraying of defoliants like Agent Orange had destroyed large swaths of forest.

Tainted Ground 

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/18/science/18prof.html

































Through the Forest, a Clearer View of the Needs of a People

A LUOI VALLEY, Vietnam — Phung Tuu Boi reaches down to inspect one of the spiny shrubs lined up in a row before him. A few feet away, a cow grazes serenely in this emerald valley in the hills of central Vietnam.

Mr. Boi, a forester and director of the Center for Assistance in Nature Conservation and Community Development in Hanoi, points to the cow. “See this?” he says. “Very, very bad.”

An invisible poison clings to the soil beneath the cow’s muddy hoofs. During a short stretch of the Vietnam War this patch of ground served as an American Special Forces air base, and while the soldiers departed long ago, a potent dioxin from the Agent Orange that they stored and sprayed here lingers still.

Mr. Boi, a lively, passionate man whose enormous smile rarely leaves his face, has dedicated his career to repairing the ecological damage left by what people here call the American War. And while he has had much success in the last 30 years, his task is far from over.

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Chris Keeley

Climate Change Activists Trek From Pole to Pole

Climate Change Activists Trek From Pole to Pole
Two young climate change activists are making a 17,000 mile trek from the North Pole to the South Pole to highlight how the world is changing through global warming. So far they've cycled, skied, sailed and walked. On Friday James Hooper and Rob Gauntlett crossed the U.S.-Mexico border on bicycles. The expedition took off at the Geomagnetic North Pole on April 8. This is 19-year-old James Hooper.
  • James Hooper: "I mean, we've had some amazing reactions. The whole point of the trip is trying to involve as many people as possible, to try and encourage people to understand about global warming. In the Arctic the sea ice has actually thinned by 50 percent in the last 20 years and in area it's actually shrunk by about 30 to 40 percent in the last 10 years. So, I mean, there's massive changes going on and we want to make people aware of those."
Chris Keeley

For the contiguous U.S., the average temperature for August was 75.4°F (24.1°C), which was 2.7°F (1.

http://climateprogress.org 

  • For the contiguous U.S., the average temperature for August was 75.4°F (24.1°C), which was 2.7°F (1.5°C) above the 20th century mean and the 2nd warmest August on record.
  • More than 30 all-time high temperature records were tied or broken and more than 2000 new daily high temperature records were established.
  • Raleigh-Durham, NC equaled its all-time high of 105°F on the August 21, and Columbia, SC had 14 days in August with temperatures over 100°F, which broke the record of 12 set in 1900. Cincinnati, OH reached 100°F five days during August, a new record for the city.
  • The warmest August in the 113-year record occurred in eight eastern states (West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama, and Florida) along with Utah.
  • Texas had its wettest summer on record.
  • This was the driest summer since records began in 1895 for North Carolina and the second driest for Tennessee.
  • At the end of August, drought affected approximately 83% of the Southeast and 46% of the contiguous U.S.


http://climateprogress.org
Chris Keeley

Smithsonian Returns Sitting Bull Relics

Smithsonian Returns Sitting Bull Relics


A lock of hair and wool leggings belonging to Sitting Bull, leader of the Hunkpapa Lakota Sioux, are to be returned by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History to his closest living relatives. In an announcement yesterday, the museum said that after Sitting Bull was killed in 1890 while being arrested by tribal police, his body was in temporary possession of Horace Deeble, an Army doctor at the Fort Yates military post in North Dakota, who obtained the hair and leggings from the body and sent them to the museum in 1896. The return of the hair and leggings was requested by Ernie LaPointe, Sitting Bull’s great-grandson and a representative of the four known living great-grandchildren. The museum’s Repatriation Office operates under legislation that requires the return of certain remains and objects to lineal descendants and federally recognized Indian tribes