Saturday, September 17, 2005

"Global Warming 'past the point of no return'"

By Steve Connor, Science Editor
Published: 16 September 2005

A record loss of sea ice in the Arctic this summer has convinced scientists that the northern hemisphere may have crossed a critical threshold beyond which the climate may never recover. Scientists fear that the Arctic has now entered an irreversible phase of warming which will accelerate the loss of the polar sea ice that has helped to keep the climate stable for thousands of years.

They believe global warming is melting Arctic ice so rapidly that the region is beginning to absorb more heat from the sun, causing the ice to melt still further and so reinforcing a vicious cycle of melting and heating.

The greatest fear is that the Arctic has reached a "tipping point" beyond which nothing can reverse the continual loss of sea ice and with it the massive land glaciers of Greenland, which will raise sea levels dramatically.

Satellites monitoring the Arctic have found that the extent of the sea ice this August has reached its lowest monthly point on record, dipping an unprecedented 18.2 per cent below the long-term average.

Experts believe that such a loss of Arctic sea ice in summer has not occurred in hundreds and possibly thousands of years. It is the fourth year in a row that the sea ice in August has fallen below the monthly downward trend - a clear sign that melting has accelerated.

Scientists are now preparing to report a record loss of Arctic sea ice for September, when the surface area covered by the ice traditionally reaches its minimum extent at the end of the summer melting period.

Sea ice naturally melts in summer and reforms in winter but for the first time on record this annual rebound did not occur last winter when the ice of the Arctic failed to recover significantly.

Arctic specialists at the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre at Colorado University, who have documented the gradual loss of polar sea ice since 1978, believe that a more dramatic melt began about four years ago.

In September 2002 the sea ice coverage of the Arctic reached its lowest level in recorded history. Such lows have normally been followed the next year by a rebound to more normal levels, but this did not occur in the summers of either 2003 or 2004. This summer has been even worse. The surface area covered by sea ice was at a record monthly minimum for each of the summer months - June, July and now August.

Scientists analysing the latest satellite data for September - the traditional minimum extent for each summer - are preparing to announce a significant shift in the stability of the Arctic sea ice, the northern hemisphere's major "heat sink" that moderates climatic extremes.

"The changes we've seen in the Arctic over the past few decades are nothing short of remarkable," said Mark Serreze, one of the scientists at the Snow and Ice Data Centre who monitor Arctic sea ice.

Scientists at the data centre are bracing themselves for the 2005 annual minimum, which is expected to be reached in mid-September, when another record loss is forecast. A major announcement is scheduled for 20 September. "It looks like we're going to exceed it or be real close one way or the other. It is probably going to be at least as comparable to September 2002," Dr Serreze said, "This will be four Septembers in a row that we've seen a downward trend. The feeling is we are reaching a tipping point or threshold beyond which sea ice will not recover."

The extent of the sea ice in September is the most valuable indicator of its health. This year's record melt means that more of the long-term ice formed over many winters - so called multi-year ice - has disappeared than at any time in recorded history.

Sea ice floats on the surface of the Arctic Ocean and its neighbouring seas and normally covers an area of some 7 million square kilometres (2.4 million square miles) during September - about the size of Australia. However, in September 2002, this dwindled to about 2 million square miles - 16 per cent below average.

Sea ice data for August [2005] closely mirrors that for September and last month's record low - 18.2 per cent below the monthly average - strongly suggests that this September will see the smallest coverage of Arctic sea ice ever recorded.

As more and more sea ice is lost during the summer, greater expanses of open ocean are exposed to the sun which increases the rate at which heat is absorbed in the Arctic region, Dr Serreze said.

Sea ice reflects up to 80 per cent of sunlight hitting it but this "albedo effect" is mostly lost when the sea is uncovered. "We've exposed all this dark ocean to the sun's heat so that the overall heat content increases," he explained.

Current computer models suggest that the Arctic will be entirely ice-free during summer by the year 2070 but some scientists now believe that even this dire prediction may be over-optimistic, said Professor Peter Wadhams, an Arctic ice specialist at Cambridge University.

"When the ice becomes so thin it breaks up mechanically rather than thermodynamically. So these predictions may well be on the over-optimistic side," he said.

As the sea ice melts, and more of the sun's energy is absorbed by the exposed ocean, a positive feedback is created leading to the loss of yet more ice, Professor Wadhams said.

"If anything we may be underestimating the dangers. The computer models may not take into account collaborative positive feedback," he said.

Sea ice keeps a cap on frigid water, keeping it cold and protecting it from heating up. Losing the sea ice of the Arctic is likely to have major repercussions for the climate, he said. "There could be dramatic changes to the climate of the northern region due to the creation of a vast expanse of open water where there was once effectively land," Professor Wadhams said. "You're essentially changing land into ocean and the creation of a huge area of open ocean where there was once land will have a very big impact on other climate parameters," he said.

"RTDinfo Magazine on European Research, Special Issue May 2005 - POLAR RESEARCH. Understanding Our Planet Better"
The‘disaster’ scenario in the Arctic is no longer science fiction. What was initially only a question of modelling has since been widely confirmed by field observations, one example being changes to the Greenland ice sheet.

“Between 1950 and 1990, we saw a drop in Greenland's temperature of about 1.5°C,” explains Philippe Huybrechts. “But since 1990, the temperature has been rising, and this has been exacerbated by a negative balance between precipitations in the region and melting of its ice sheet.”

The result is that in a little more than ten years, the ice sheet has shrunk. Indeed, this phenomenon has amplified even further in the past five years. Huybrechts thinks that the situation is nearing a critical point. “Each year, Greenland is losing about 80 cubic kilometres of ice (total ice sheet volume estimated at three million cubic kilometres). If the ice sheet loses 20% of its volume, the process will become irreversible,” he suggests.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Beauty products from the SKIN of Executed Chinese Prisoners

· Cosmetics firm targets UK market
· Lack of regulation puts users at risk

Ian Cobain and Adam Luck - Tuesday, September 13, 2005

A Chinese cosmetics company is using skin harvested from the corpses of executed convicts to develop beauty products for sale in Europe, an investigation by The Guardian has discovered.
Agents for the firm have told would-be customers it is developing collagen for lip and wrinkle treatments from skin taken from prisoners after they have been shot. The agents say . . . that the use of skin from condemned convicts is "traditional" and nothing to "make such a big fuss about".

. . . [D]octors and politicians say the discovery highlights the dangers faced by the increasing number of Britons seeking to improve their looks. Apart from the ethical concerns, there is also the potential risk of infection.

It is unclear whether any of the "aesthetic fillers" such as collagen available in the UK or on the internet are supplied by the company, which cannot be identified for legal reasons. It is also unclear whether collagen made from prisoners' skin is in the research stage or is in production. However, The Guardian has learned that the company has exported collagen products to the UK in the past. An agent told customers it had also exported to the US and European countries, and that it was trying to develop fillers using tissue from aborted foetuses.


When formally approached by the Guardian, the agent denied the company was using skin harvested from executed prisoners. However, he had already admitted it was doing precisely this during a number of conversations with a researcher posing as a Hong Kong businessman. The Press Complaints Commission's code of practice permits subterfuge if there is no other means of investigating a matter of public interest.

The agent told the researcher: "A lot of the research is still carried out in the traditional manner using skin from the executed prisoner and aborted foetus." This material, he said, was being bought from "bio tech" companies based in the northern province of Heilongjiang, and was being developed elsewhere in China.

He suggested that the use of skin and other tissues harvested from executed prisoners was not uncommon. "In China it is considered very normal and I was very shocked that western countries can make such a big fuss about this," he said. Speaking from his office in northern China, he added: "The government has put some pressure on all the medical facilities to keep this type of work in low profile."

The agent said his company exported to the west via Hong Kong."We are still in the early days of selling these products, and clients from abroad are quite surprised that China can manufacture the same human collagen for less than 5% of what it costs in the west." Skin from prisoners used to be even less expensive, he said. "Nowadays there is a certain fee that has to be paid to the court."

. . . Meanwhile, cosmetic treatments, including those with with aesthetic fillers, are growing rapidly in popularity, with around 150,000 injections or implants administered each year in the UK. Lip enhancement treatments are one of the most popular, costing an average of £170.
Some fillers are made from cattle or pig tissue, and others from humans. The DoH believes that there may be a risk of transmission of blood-borne viruses and even vCJD from collagen containing human tissue. Although there is as yet no evidence that this has happened, the inquiry found that some collagen injections had triggered inflammatory reactions causing permanent discomfort, scarring and disfigurement. In their report, the inquiry team said that if there was a risk, "action should be taken to protect patient safety through regulation".

. . . Dan Cohen, whose US-based company, Inamed, produces collagen products, said: "We have come across Chinese products in the market place. But most products from China are being sold 'off-label' or are being imported illegally." . . .

In June 2001, Wang Guoqi, a Chinese former military physician, told US congressmen he had worked at execution grounds helping surgeons to harvest the organs of more than 100 executed prisoners, without prior consent. The surgeons used converted vans parked near the execution grounds to begin dissecting the bodies, he told the house international relations committee's human rights panel.

Skin was said to be highly valued for the treatment of burn victims, and Dr Wang said that in 1995 he skinned a shot convict's body while the man's heart was still beating. Dr Wang, who was seeking asylum in the US, also alleged that corneas and other body tissue were removed for transplant, and said his hospital, the Tianjin paramilitary police general brigade hospital, sold body parts for profit.

Although the exact number of people facing the death penalty in China is an official secret, Amnesty International believes around 3,400 were executed last year, with a further 6,000 on death row.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Moon over Kangra

A very rare moment of blue sky. . . .

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Dutch court loses A.Q. Khan’s files, judge suspects CIA

This is a follow up to "U.S. & Pak spread Nuke-WMD" post.

10 September 2005

AMSTERDAM - The Amsterdam court, which sentenced the father of Pakistan’s nuclear program Abdul Qadeer Khan to four years in prison in 1983, has lost Khan’s legal files and the court’s vice-president suspects the CIA had a hand in the documents’ disappearance.

“Something is not right, we just don’t lose things like that,” judge Anita Leeser told Dutch news show NOVA late on Friday.

“I find it bewildering that people lose files with a political goal, especially if it is on request of the CIA. It is unheard of,” she added.

Khan, who admitted in 2004 that he had leaked nuclear secrets to Iran, North Korea and Libya, worked as an engineer in the Netherlands at Urenco, an uranium enrichment plant in the 1970s.

In 1983 he was sentenced in absentia, by judge Leeser, to four years in prison for stealing nuclear secrets about uranium enrichment. On appeal the verdict was quashed because of procedural errors and the Dutch government did not pursue the matter any further.

A month ago former Dutch prime minister Ruud Lubbers said Khan was let go at the request of the US intelligence services.

Leeser said that when she heard Lubbers, the disappearance of Khan’s files at the Amsterdam court’s archive fell into place for her. She has asked to see the Khan case files several years ago but they had disappeared from the archives. “Now I think somebody lost the files on purpose ... I think that there was some political influence at play nationally and internationally,” she said.

Monday, September 05, 2005

GOP Strategist - Jack Burkman

Jack Burkman, GOP "strategist" and PR mouthpiece appeared on Ronnie Reagan's MSNBC show during the first Week of Death in New Orleans. His debate 'opponent' is completely ineffectual. Finding it instructive, I transcribed the segment and post it below. Jon Stewart used some of Mr. Burkman's comments on The Daily Show.

Ron Reagan[RR]: For further analysis of this Blame Game, we turn to our two favorite political pundits:

Craig Crawford [CC] is an MSNBC political analyst and a columnist with the Congressional Quarterly he’s also keeping a blog which you can read by going to Crawford’s List dot com. Craig joins me from Washington, D.C.

And with me from Tampa, Florida today is Republican strategist, Jack Burkman [JB].

Welcome to you both. Jack, not a great week to be a Republican, I guess. And even William Kristol – a fairly conservative fellow – said that Bill Clinton would have handled the Kratina catastrophe better. Why was the White House so inept at this?

JB: Well, I’ll tell you, Ron. At the risk of heresy, I really disagree. On this one, I have to defend the President. I think the Federal response, I hate to say this – I know it’s going to generate a lot of controversy – was entirely appropriate. I think what is failing – once again – is the President’s PR strategy.

Look. I can’t believe the Mayor of New Orleans is making the kind of comments he’s making. He has been Mayor of a City that is Below Sea Level for some time. The first responsibility rests with him.

The two governors – Goveror Blanco and Governor Barbeur of Mississippi – both of them – the dereliction of duty is incredible. Both of them should resign.

I think what people should understand is: even in a time of terrible tragedy, there must be a limit on what Uncle Sam can do.

CC: Okay, now Jack. Now, now, now -- Once the President declares a Federal Emergency, as the President did on that Saturday night before the storm hit on Monday. He declared a Federal Emergency. Now, under the law, that puts the Federal, the FEMA in charge of the, of the crisis. Now, are you saying that in any disaster that it’s up to the local officials – and the Federal government takes a back seat, even after the President’s declared a Federal Emergency?

JB: No. I think the first responsibility in a natural disaster is always for the Governor of the state.

But Craig, there’s a difference between triggering the statute as you suggest and setting up a military government in Louisiana. It’s not for the President to set up some kind of a military [garbled] and create a Federal Protectorate. This is not Reconstruction. I understand there are 10,000 people dead. It’s terrible. It’s tragic. But in a democracy of 300 million people, over years and years and years, these things happen. We can’t abandon our way of life and our way of government, and have a national panic because this has happened. I think people need – as tragic as this is – we must put this into perspective.

And I’ll give you something else. There has been Federal pork pumped into Louisiana and Mississippi by both parties for many, many years. These states receive a lot of Federal money. Neither of those Governors, none of those mayors ever put any of that money into storm protection. They never – the Mayor of New Orleans has received a ton of pork in that city. He’s never put it into any kind of preparation. For him to be on national television, blaming the President, is an anathema.

Now, from a PR standpoint . . .

RR: Craig, Jack is doing a tremendous job of defending the President here. We’re watching, by the way, pictures of New Orleans today. People, you know, making their way through the water. And that incredible shot of buildings burning even as they are surrounded by water. Craig, do you think there’s going to be a long-term fallout for Mr. Bush due to this?

CC: I think they’ve fixed it enough. And are focused on it now. Sending Cheney down there’s probably a good idea. I tell you Jack, I, I, you’re a great and articulate spokesman, a defender for your side. But I think you’d be better off just acknowledging that -- upfront -- the government, at all levels – I’ll give you the local missteps as well. But at all levels, government was stuck on stupid for two days.

JB; Craig, you ...

CC: -- at least. At least two days.

JB: -- country –

CC: And it’s not just about –

JB: But sell, let’s talk about reality.

CC: It’s not just about political blame and partisanship here. We’ve got a War on Terror. We’ve got a Homeland Security issue. We’ve got to look at what happened here so that . . .

JB: But Craig –

CC: -- so that something like that – the President, the President today made the best case for analyzing what went wrong here, because he pointed out – what if this was a WMD situation?

JB: Yes, but see, here’s the issue.

CC: And that’s what ...

JB: You make all the wrong points. You make the right points. I reach the other conclusion. We have limited resources. We have a war. We’re spending money guarding against a bio-terrorism accident. Maybe it’s the case that the Federal government could have put more money into storm prevention and hurricanes. But maybe if we’d done that, we wouldn’t have enough money to guard against bio-terrorism. The Federal government’s first job is to protect the country against terrorism. Is protecting America against terrorism much more important than protecting against hurricanes, even of this magnitude? Of course, it is.

CC: [sputtering] Jack, Jack, we’re not going to .. .

RR: Keep your powder dry, gentlemen. Stay with us.and when we return , the discussion turns ..

Monday, August 29, 2005

In lieu of TV -- monsoon views entertain

Mountain cows.

U.S. & Pak spread Nuke-WMD

Happened to see this front page story, downloaded/uploaded it as emblematic of PAK/US relations.

August 12, 2005
Chandigarh, India

News Analysis
K. Subrahmanyam

FORMER Dutch Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers in an interview to Dutch radio station on August 9 has revealed that the CIA intervened on two occasions with the Dutch authorities to persuade them not to take action against the Pakistani proliferator, Dr A.Q. Khan. The first occasion was in the mid seventies when Dr Khan was caught copying the drawings and taking URENCO centrifuge plant away. As the Dutch authorities were about to prosecute him he was protected by the CIA which intervened to stop the action. The second time was in 1985 when the CIA dissuaded the Dutch not to go ahead with a retrial ordered by the appellate court which entertained Dr Khan’s appeal against his conviction by the trial court on his removing secret documents. According to Dr Lubbers, the CIA argued that if Dr Khan was left free they would be able to follow him and keep track of his activities in respect of the Pakistani nuclear programme.

In the light of these disclosures of the former Dutch PM it is obvious that the CIA had continued interest in Dr Khan from the mid-seventies to 1985. Since 1987 was the year when Dr Khan boasted to Indian journalist Kuldip Nayar about Pakistan having assembled the bomb it is logical to expect that the CIA’s interest in Dr Khan continued. Dr Khan has confessed that he was approached by the Iranian authorities in 1987 for transfer of nuclear technology and he started his proliferation to Iran from that period with the full approval of Gen Zia-ul-Haq. The CIA which was keeping watch over Dr Khan should therefore have known about Dr Khan’s proliferation to Iran and his black market contacts with Western European firms.

Senator Kerry’s Senate Committee report on the activities of Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) of 1992 has referred to the linkage between BCCI, Dr Khan, Iranian proliferation and the lack of cooperation on the part of the CIA in regard to its interactions with the bank.

It is now established that BCCI, which was financing the Pakistani nuclear programme was also used by the CIA in the Iran-Contra deal. The CIA which should have kept a close watch on Dr Khan according to the disclosures of Dr Lubbers should have known about Dr Khan’s repeated trips to North Korea for missiles in exchange of uranium enrichment deal after Ms Benazir Bhutto’s visit to Pyong-yang in 1994. In that case the US
should have known about Dr Khan’s proliferation activity to North Korea from the very beginning.

Against this background the claims of former CIA director George Tenet about the CIA coming to know about Dr Khan’s activities from the year 2001 onwards and US communicating its doubts about Dr Khan to General Musharraf and consequently his being removed raises problems of credibility. There appears to be a high probability that the CIA was watching Dr Khan from the mid-seventies and it was fully aware of proliferation network involving Western European companies, China, North Korea, Dr Khan and the Pakistan Army. That Carter and Reagan administrations decided to look away from Pakistan-China-West European companies proliferation network has been well researched and documented by many American authors and journalists.

There is a view that Dr Khan has got away lightly because of the Pakistan Army’s involvement in his activities and his ability to spill the beans in respect of the Army’s connivance in Dr Khan’s proliferation. Now with the disclosures of Dr Lubbers it would be logical to speculate whether Dr Khan and the Pakistani leadership have not been let off lightly in spite of the proven proliferation perhaps because they are in a position to tell the world about the CIA’s long connection with the nuclear walmart run by the Pakistani army leadership and Dr Khan.

It has always been a mystery why the US administration was soft on China-Pakistan proliferation interaction in the '90s. It took some seven years after Pakistan officially admitted receipt of missiles from China, for the US to admit that. Till then, the Clinton administration pretended that it was still to make a determination about the receipt of Chinese missiles in Pakistan.

While North Korea and Iran are denounced as 'rogue states', the US establishment rarely refers to the original proliferators, China and its partner, Pakistan. Even as the Bush administration concludes a deal with India to lift sanctions against civil technology transfer on the ground that India has behaved as a responsible nuclear power, some former American officials who were in the decision making loop have raised the issue whether this arrangement with India with irreproachable record on proliferation should not be extended to Pakistan as well, whose chief nuclear scientist, Dr Khan, according to Dr El Baradei Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, ran a nuclear walmart black market chainstore.

Going by Dr Lubber’s disclosures of the CIA’s benign interest in Dr Khan going back three decades and the US having looked away from China-Pakistan proliferation, is the interest in extending the Indo-US nuclear arrangement to Pakistan purely a matter of principle or an attempt to prevent the roles of former US administrations and some of the prominent officials in them being exposed for their activities in regard to global proliferation.

While President George Bush and Secretary Rice may have chosen to make a clean break with the past and work out effective measures to deal with proliferation threat from non-state actors, they may face resistance from those former officials in the administration and the agencies who have been colluding with the nuclear walmart of Dr Khan, Pakistani generals, China and West European black market. Otherwise it is difficult to explain the interest of such people in demanding the same treatment for Pakistan as has been extended to India.


The most prolific use of nuclear weaponry -- USA Depleted Uranium ammunitions do take a toll. An photo of two Iraqi victims. More and more reports of GIs are having deformed children are being published.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Cat Blogging

I've been feeding a wild Indian female cat for two years. Only recently she's come to let me touch her -- while she's eating. She doesn't really care for it, but compared to her paranoid fear behaviors of just a few months ago, she is relaxed. Previously she's had two litters, but only one kitty survived. She told the kittens in those two litters, that humans were SCARY, BAD -- even as we fed them. In the last week, she has brought her third litter to live here, and she is not telling the kittens that humans are BAD, BAD, BAD. Though the kittens are still skitish,
Apparently the feeding has paid off. FINALLY, Indian kitties with pettable fur! This time she has finally given birth to an unusually attractive (for Indian wild cats) black and white kitten who actually has sort of long hair and a thick coat. Most of the cats around here do not have very much hair, so for the human petter, the experience is not as soft and luxurious as we are used to in the First World. The people who live here long term seem quite enthusiastic about converting this little black and white kitting into our big house cat.

Mom has started to teach the kittens how to climb trees (the main abode of cats around here) and they helped her catch a mouse (ok--huge mouse or tiny field rat?).