Saturday, February 9, 2008


David Colby was one of corporate America's most admired executives before he was abruptly fired last spring for what was vaguely described at the time as misconduct of a "non-business nature." Now details about his personal life are spilling out, and it's clear he was more than just Wall Street's darling.

In a cluster of lawsuits, the former chief financial officer of health insurance giant WellPoint Inc. is depicted as a corporate Casanova — a world-class, love-'em-and-leave-'em sort of guy who romanced dozens of women around the country simultaneously, made them extravagant promises and then went back on his word with all the compassion of a health insurance company denying a claim.

One woman says Colby got her pregnant and harangued her via text message ("ABORT!!") to terminate the pregnancy. He also allegedly gave some of his girlfriends sexually transmitted diseases, and proposed to at least 12 women since 2005.

The allegations are contained in lawsuits filed before and after Colby's departure by three women who say they were ill-used by the businessman.

Colby and his attorneys have refused to comment, though in court papers he has disputed some of the allegations, and one of the lawsuits was thrown out a few months ago by a judge who found insufficient grounds for legal action.

By all accounts, the 54-year-old Colby — a pudgy, bespectacled figure with salt-and-pepper hair — charmed attractive women by showering them with compliments and gifts. While at least one of his accusers was a WellPoint underling, it appears he met many of the other women outside of work, via online dating sites, and he has not been accused of workplace sexual harassment.

"I'm not surprised that there are women who would come forward with the same story, because that appears to be Dave's modus operandi," said Mark Hathaway, a lawyer for two of the women who sued. "We've been contacted by a number of women."

His ouster is the latest, and perhaps the most lurid, in a string of cases in which corporate chieftains were bounced for alleged misbehavior outside the boardroom.

Last year, HBO's chief executive was forced out after being charged with throttling his girlfriend. Before that, a Boeing CEO lost his job after admitting to an affair with a female underling.

"There's no question companies are much more sensitive to ethical conduct on the part of their executives," W. Michael Hoffman, executive director for the Center for Business Ethics at Bentley College in Waltham, Mass., said after Colby's ouster.

It was Colby who helped put together the $16.4 billion deal that created Indianapolis-based WellPoint in 2004. He was named best CFO in managed care for four years in a row by Institutional Investor magazine. Stockholders and Wall Street professionals saw the Columbia University graduate as someone who "gave it to you straight," said stock analyst Thomas Carroll.

"He would give you the good news along with the bad news," Carroll said. "If he said something, you could really hang your hat on it."

After the company passed him over for its CEO last February, it gave Colby thousands of stock options to stick around. But three months later, to Wall Street's surprise, he was out. All WellPoint has ever said was that he was ousted over a nonbusiness violation of the company code of conduct.

Days before Colby was fired, a California woman, Rita DiCarlo, sued him for possession of a $4.4 million house in exclusive Lake Sherwood, Calif., that she said he had promised her. (He has denied making such a promise.)

Exactly what his marital status was at the time of some of the alleged romances is unclear, but as of last month, he was going through a divorce from wife No. 2.

Some of the allegations of his philandering began surfacing in the months after his ouster, but the extent of his alleged womanizing and the details of how he supposedly wooed his girlfriends are only now coming out.

DiCarlo and the other women suing him tell similar stories of aggressive courtship, big promises and broken hearts.

They say that Colby was carrying on with more than 30 women in the last half of 2007 alone and that he would tell them all the time them how beautiful they were or how much he loved them. "You forever!" read one text message, included in court files. "I chose you! Goodnight!" another message read.

Colby would supplement such declarations with gifts such as jewelry or trips, the women say. DiCarlo says in court papers that he gave her $100,000 "to make me feel more secure" three days after she found out he wasn't divorced.

Another lawsuit was filed last month by Elizabeth Cook, a Los Angeles woman who met Colby in 2006 at a function for a California school their children attended.

A single mother with two children, she says in court papers that she dodged his initial advances but relented under a bombardment of calls, texts and e-mails, many of them containing sexually explicit propositions.

She says she soon broke her lease at his urging, with plans to move into his Lake Sherwood home. She says she stopped searching for ways to afford the brain surgery her severely epileptic 6-year-old son needed after Colby promised to pay. Then, she says, she got pregnant, and the text messages abruptly changed tone.

"ABORT!!" Colby allegedly told her in flurry of text messages included in the lawsuit. "Get rid of it. Have an abortion and we can be together."

(Her attorney would not comment on the case. According to court papers, Cook was still pregnant as of Dec. 31.)

Cook accuses Colby of infecting her and other women with STDs, including herpes and chlamydia. She also accuses him of breach of contract over the surgery she says he never paid for. She never moved into the multimillion-dollar home — which DiCarlo still occupies.

As for DiCarlo, she says that she met Colby through and that he proposed the first time they met in person. An engagement announcement for the couple ran in The Indianapolis Star in February 2006. But the two never wed. DiCarlo says she discovered he was living a "secret life," with multiple fiancees.

She also accuses him of stopping payment on her health insurance even though she had a kidney removed for donation last fall.

Another woman, Sarah Waugh of Ventura County, Calif., sued Colby last June, accusing him of causing her emotional distress and exposing her to sexually transmitted diseases by sleeping with others.

Waugh says her relationship with Colby started with office shoulder rubs and offers for dinner in 2001 when she was a 22-year-old employee and he a 48-year-old married executive at California's WellPoint Health Networks Inc. Waugh says Colby promised monthly support and private school for the children of his many other girlfriends.

Late last year, U.S. District Judge Gary Klausner threw out the lawsuit.

"Although Colby's conduct may be ungallant, it simply does not rise to the level of being `utterly intolerable in a civilized community,'" Klausner wrote, referring to Waugh's claim of emotional distress.

Still, Hollywood producer Larry Garrison thinks there's an audience for the lurid stories. Garrison, president of SilverCreek Entertainment, said he plans to put together a book and movie deal.

At WellPoint, Colby was paid more than $700,000 in salary and received a $1.1 million bonus in 2006. He left with a severance payment of $666,190 and later bought a $4.7 million home in Scottsdale, Ariz. His Indianapolis home, which he shared with a woman who identified herself as Angela Colby, is on the market for $1.6 million.

A former neighbor, Chad Christensen, said the couple were "very nice people, very down to earth and open." He also recalled an awkward moment at a neighborhood picnic last summer, a few months after Colby's romantic entanglements first became public.

A magician who was entertaining children asked the kids to reach into a bag and pull out some scarves. Then he turned to Colby.

"David reaches in and what he pulls out is some panties," Christensen said. "I'm just thinking, `How uncomfortable does he feel right now?'"


Bartholomew I, Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, can be regarded as the "pope," or at least the symbol of unity, of Orthodox Christianity. The denomination's 300 million or so adherents make it the second-largest body of Christians in the world, after Roman Catholicism. The 67-year-old Bartholomew also represents one of Christianity's most ancient branches as the latest in a line of 270 archbishops of his city -- modern Istanbul -- that traces itself back to the apostle St. Andrew, brother of St. Peter, in a part of the world where the Christian faith has existed since New Testament times.

In December 2006, Bartholomew, patriarch since 1991, was thrust under the world-wide media spotlight when he celebrated the Orthodox Divine Liturgy with Pope Benedict XVI. The two met in the tiny Church of St. George in the equally tiny patriarchal compound in Istanbul, all that remains of an Eastern Christian civilization on the Bosporus so glistening and powerful that for more than 1,500 years Constantinople called itself the "new Rome."

Now Bartholomew has a forthcoming book, in English, "Encountering the Mystery: Perennial Values of the Orthodox Church" (Random House). It purports to be a primer to Orthodoxy, with short chapters on ritual, theology, icons and so forth. What it really is, perhaps inadvertently, is a telling glimpse into the mindset of a church that, venerable and spiritually appealing though it may be, is in a state of crisis. And the book reveals the jarringly secular-sounding ideological positions its leader seemingly feels compelled to take in order to cultivate the sympathy of a Western European political order that is at best indifferent to Christianity.

The Orthodox community, rooted mostly in Russia and Eastern Europe, is in "apparently irreversible demographic decline," as religious historian Philip Jenkins wrote in 2006, thanks to falling birthrates, cultural secularization, turf battles between the various ethnically focused Orthodox churches, and past communist ravages. The historic Christian communities in the Islamic-dominated world -- some Orthodox -- have fared even worse, their numbers reduced as members frantically immigrate to the West under pressure from terrorism, persecution and religious discrimination. The historic fate of Christianity in Islamic-majority lands has been cultural annihilation, whether gradual over the centuries or, as in recent decades, swift.

Nowhere does the plight of Christians look so pitiful as in Turkey, nominally secular but 99% Muslim. At the turn of the 20th century, some 500,000 Orthodox Christians, mostly ethnic Greeks, lived in Constantinople, where they constituted half the city's residents, and millions more resided elsewhere in what is now Turkey. Today, Bartholomew has only about 4,000 mostly elderly fellow believers (2,000 in Istanbul) left in Turkey's 71 million-plus population. The quasi-militaristic regime of Kemal Ataturk that supplanted the Ottoman Empire during the 1920s forcibly Westernized the country's institutions but also made Islam an essential component of the Turkish national identity that it relentlessly promoted.

"Kemalist ideology regarded Christianity as Greek and thus foreign," says Greek Orthodox writer Joshua Treviño. The result was a series of official and unofficial ethnic cleansings, population transfers, massacres and pogroms in Turkey, such as the wholesale destruction of Orthodox churches in 1955. The murders of a Catholic priest in 2006 and of an Armenian Christian journalist and three evangelicals, two of whom were Turkish converts, in 2007, together with threats and assaults against other Christian clergy by ultra-nationalists and Islamic militants, indicate that such anti-Christian animus is far from dead. Furthermore, the current government refuses to allow the reopening of Turkey's sole Greek Orthodox seminary, closed in 1971, which means that there have been no replacements for Turkey's aging Orthodox priests and -- since Turkish law requires the patriarch to be a Turkish citizen -- no likely replacement for Bartholomew himself, whose death may well mean the extinction of his 2,000-year-old see.

Nonetheless, Bartholomew devotes the bulk of his book to anything but the mortal threat to his own religion in his own country. High on his list of favorite topics, most with only a tangential relationship to Orthodoxy, is the environment. He has won the nickname "the Green Patriarch" for the decade or so he has preached the ecological gospel, largely to liberal secular audiences in the West. "Encountering the Mystery" is in large part a collection of eco-friendly platitudes about global warming ("At stake is not just our ability to live in a sustainable way but our very survival") and globalization, adorned with a bit of theological window-dressing, that today's secular progressives love to read.

Regarding globalization, Bartholomew cannot decide whether global capitalism is bad ("there are losers as well as winners") or good ("We must learn, therefore, both to think and to act in a global manner"). Plus, we must "transcend all racial competition and national rivalry," "promote a peaceful resolution of disagreements about how to live in this world," and yadda, yadda, yadda. Islam comes into play in the book only in terms of another bromide: a call for "interfaith dialogue."

On first reading, this exercise in fiddling while the new Rome burns seems pathetic, presenting a picture of a church leader so intimidated by his country's Islamic majority that he cannot speak up for his dwindling flock even as its members are murdered at his doorstep. Bartholomew's book presents an eerie mirror image of the concerns of aging, culturally exhausted, post-Christian Western Europe, happy to blather on at conferences about carbon emissions and diversity but unwilling to confront its own demographic crisis in the face of youthful, rapidly growing and culturally antagonistic Muslim populations. The suicide of the West meets the homicide of the East.

On the other hand, Bartholomew's "green" crusade across Western Europe may actually represent a shrewd last-ditch effort to secure a visible profile and powerful protectors for his beleaguered church. The patriarch has been an incessant lobbyist for Turkey's admission to the European Union, and his hope has been that the EU will condition Turkey's entry on greater religious freedoms for all faiths.

"The EU are secularists," says the Rev. Alexander Karloutsos, an administrator for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, based in New York. "They won't do anything out of religious reasons, but they will do it out of secular reasons if they can be persuaded that what's best for Europe is to have a Muslim state that's pro-Western in values, such as freedom of religion." The bureaucrats of Brussels may care little about Christianity, but they care deeply about global warming and multiculturalism, and on those issues Bartholomew has carved out common ground.

Orthodox Christianity is not dead yet. Its famous monastery on Mount Athos in Greece has enjoyed new growth recently, and in America some Orthodox churches are drawing converts attracted by the glorious liturgy and ancient traditions. It is unfortunate that Orthodoxy's spiritual leader feels compelled to position the Orthodox with a Western Europe that is, in fact, spiritually dead.

Florida's big push to slash homeowner insurance premiums, a major issue in a state hurt by a sinking real estate market, has turned to bust in the face of stiff opposition from the powerful property-insurance industry.

"It certainly didn't pan out," said Bob Milligan, the state's consumer insurance advocate.

"At best we've seen kind of a reduction in the increases, not really decreases from what they were prior to 2006," Milligan said in an interview.

He was referring to the huge increases many homeowners have seen since eight hurricanes crisscrossed Florida in 2004 and 2005, when insurers paid out about $35 billion in insured losses in the state.

Prodded by Gov. Charlie Crist, who has had several insurers subpoenaed over rate issues after campaigning aggressively last year on a promise to fix the insurance problem, state lawmakers have enacted a sweeping package of property insurance reforms.

Among other measures, they doubled the size of Florida's state hurricane catastrophe fund to $32 billion and authorized state-controlled Citizens Property Insurance Corp. to compete directly with private insurers.

Through the catastrophe fund, lawmakers also agreed to provide state-subsidized reinsurance -- backup coverage for property -- to insurers on the understanding that savings would be passed on to their customers.

Though expected to result in a statewide cut in homeowners' insurance premiums averaging 24 percent, Bob Hunter, insurance director at the Consumer Federation of America, said the new laws were now seen cutting rates only about 12 percent.

"It's the big national companies that are balking," Hunter told Reuters, saying they had failed to pass on reinsurance savings to consumers despite record profits in recent years.

One such company is Allstate Floridian Insurance, a unit of Allstate Corp, the nation's largest publicly traded insurer, which recently filed to raise homeowner rates in Florida by nearly 42 percent.

Allstate Floridian spokesman Adam Shores said the increase, partly prompted by a decision to buy additional reinsurance on the private market, was in line with harsh economic realities and the costs associated with catastrophic risk.

"We fully recognize that this is a difficult time for a lot of Floridians; people are hurting; and they're experiencing a lot of high costs with property insurance, property tax, things of that nature. But we need to be in a position of financial strength to protect customers when a major catastrophe strikes, like we know it will," Shores said.

"There have been a lot of promises that have been made by the political leaders in Tallahassee about where rates would be and what those rates would look like," he added. "The promise that we have made, and the promise that we will continue to stand by, is to be there for our customers when it comes time to pay their claims."

Crist, a Republican, is still pressing for relief in a state saddled with what industry insiders rate as the second- or third-highest priced homeowner's insurance of any state in the country. He appeared to win at least a partial victory last week when State Farm agreed to cut its property insurance rates in Florida by an additional 2 percent, on top of the 7 percent cut it implemented earlier this year.

State Farm, one of three companies hit with subpoenas by officials probing high insurance costs, has also agreed to cooperate with authorities on further investigations into potential collusion between insurers, trade associations and rating organizations aimed at preventing homeowner premiums from going down.

Since more dramatic rate cuts have failed to materialize so far, however, many Floridians say they back a measure proposed by two of the state's Democrats, who recently submitted a bill in Congress calling for the creation of a federal catastrophe fund where states could pool their risks against future storm damage.

"The citizens of Florida are really fed up," said Teri Johnston, who heads a grass-roots organization known as Fair Insurance Rates in Monroe that has pushed for insurance cuts in the Florida Keys.

"They're very frustrated and angry right now," said Johnston, who noted that skyrocketing premiums have been driving residents out of a place once considered a sun-drenched, tropical paradise at a rate of about 17 people a day.

Like other homeowners in southernmost Key West, Johnston said she currently pays more than $1,000 a month to insure her 1,200-square-foot house there.

"It's something that's supported by a number of important insurers," Bob Hartwig, president of the Insurance Information Institute, an industry trade association, said when asked about a federal catastrophe fund.

"I think the issue is getting somewhat more traction and interest in Congress," he added. "As we move along I think we'll hear more about this."

Patients with multiple clogged arteries are better off getting bypass surgery than stents, a study found.

The analysis, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, isn't likely to settle the dispute between cardiac surgeons, who perform bypasses, and the interventional cardiologists who implant stents. But it gives further ammunition to those who argue that stents -- metal scaffolds that keep arteries propped open -- are overused.

Both procedures fall under the umbrella of revascularization -- attempts to relieve chest pain by opening up arteries clogged by heart disease. In the most severe cases, revascularization has also been shown to reduce heart attacks and deaths.

The study looked at the newest kind of stents, those coated with drugs to keep arteries open, made by Johnson & Johnson and Boston Scientific Corp. in the U.S. Previous studies saw similar results with older, bare stents.

In stenting, introduced in the 1990s, doctors thread a stent up through a small incision in the leg, widening clogged arteries instead of replacing them. A patient can be back at work the next day. A bypass requires open-heart surgery and has patients laid up for weeks.

As a result, bypass surgeons have been left to treat only the most severe cases of heart disease. The number of bypass surgeries has declined and bottomed out recently at about 300,000 procedures in the U.S. last year, according to Millennium Research Group. That compares to about a million stentings. The average cost of a multivessel bypass surgery and office follow-up visits over two years was put at about $28,000 in one study, versus about $20,000 for multivessel stenting.

But patients who opt for stenting may be paying a price down the road. In this week's study, doctors at the University at Albany looked at patients who received a stent or bypass in New York state in 2003 and 2004, comparing subsequent rates of death and heart attacks. The actual death rates between the competing procedures didn't differ. But after adjusting for risk factors -- bypass patients were sicker to start out -- the study found substantial differences.

After adjustments, New Yorkers with two clogged arteries who received a bypass had a 29% lower death rate over the next 18 months than those who received stents. Three-quarters of such patients had opted for stenting. For the sickest patients -- those with three clogged arteries -- surgery yielded a 20% lower death rate. Two-thirds of those patients received surgery.

Donald Baim, Boston Scientific's chief scientist, said the fact that the differences in death rates arose only after statistical adjustment is cause for skepticism. The company has funded a study that will assign patients randomly to stenting or surgery, eliminating the need for such adjustments. "People are voting with their feet that they would rather have the less-invasive procedure," Dr. Baim said.

You wouldn't expect to learn much about the properties of water by watching a square dance. But think again. Following the caller's lead, the dancers meet, separate, weave, and swing in a perfectly fluid manner.

It turns out that similar coordinated maneuvers—with water molecules taking the places of the dancers—may be responsible for some of water's most puzzling features, an array of recent research findings suggest.

As liquids go, water is a radical nonconformist—differing from other liquids in dozens of ways (see the latest count at Most famous among water's peculiarities is its density at low temperatures. While other liquids contract and get denser as they cool toward their freezing points, water stops contracting and starts to expand. That's why ice floats and frozen pipes burst.

Confining water molecules in nanometer-size pores has provided new evidence that, in addition to its many other oddities, H2O may exist in two distinct liquid phases at ultralow temperatures.
Nicolle Rager Fuller

Water gets even weirder at colder temperatures, where it can exist as a liquid in a supercooled state well below its ordinary freezing point. Recent evidence suggests that supercooled water splits its personality into two distinct phases—another oddity unseen in other liquids. And last year, water surprised scientists yet again, when they found that at –63 degrees Celsius, supercooled water's weird behavior returns to "normal."

That discovery, scientists say, may help explain some aspects of water's peculiar personality, such as its ability to transition from gas to liquid to solid and back to liquid again. Findings from related experiments have important implications for understanding how water interacts with biological molecules, such as proteins, and may lead to better ways of freezing and storing biological tissues such as sperm and human oocytes.

Water's ability to exist in a liquid state well below its freezing point has been studied for centuries. What's new, scientists say, is growing evidence about what happens to water at superlow temperatures. Under these extraordinary conditions, there is not just one kind of water, but two.

This two-phase phenomenon was first predicted in 1992 by physicist H. Eugene Stanley of Boston University and his graduate student Peter Poole, now at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. Using computer simulations to study the behavior of liquid water at very low temperatures, the scientists suggested that water could exist as either a high-density liquid or as a low-density liquid.

Stanley and Poole also proposed that the dividing line between these two liquid forms might end in a "critical point," where the two liquids would become indistinguishable, changing from one form to the other.

In a series of experiments in recent years, scientists have begun to close in on this critical point. These advances offer a glimpse of possible explanations for water's unusual behaviors, and suggest that Stanley and Poole may have been on to something.

Some of water's odd properties have traditionally been explained as consequences of the hydrogen bonds that form between water molecules (and sometimes other molecules). Each V-shaped molecule of water contains one oxygen atom centered between two hydrogen atoms. The chemical bonds holding the molecule together create a slightly negative charge on the oxygen atom and a small positive charge on each of the hydrogen atoms.

FORCES OF ATTRACTION. Water molecules are held together in a flexible, but stable network of hydrogen bonds. The bonds, though weak, help keep water liquid over a wider temperature range than one would expect for molecules of its size.
Nicolle Rager Fuller

These unequal charges make water molecules extremely "sociable"—eager to bond with each other. Because hydrogen bonds are much weaker than normal chemical bonds, the water molecules move about freely, binding briefly with adjacent molecules before moving on to others. Stanley likens this fast-paced network to a square dance taking place in a large dance hall.

"In square dancing, you're always releasing one partner and grabbing another, and that is a hydrogen bond network, exactly," he says.

In the case of water, the square dance occurs among molecules that have four arms, instead of two. That's because each water molecule has the potential to form four hydrogen bonds. The result is a network of tetrahedrons, or pyramids with a triangular base.

This tetrahedral arrangement creates a peculiar tension, permitting structural changes in response to different temperatures and pressures. In liquid form, the tetrahedral structures allow unrestrained hydrogen bonding to occur as numerous molecules pack into and around the tetrahedron. (Imagine a swift square dance with dancers moving in and out of the center of the square and circling around it as well.) The result is a dense, fluid structure, such as that of everyday tap water.

As water approaches its freezing point (0°C), however, the tetrahedral structure becomes more open and begins to expand. Ordinary water reaches its maximum density at 4°C. As water continues to cool, falling to its freezing point and below, it continues to expand.

Here, the tetrahedral arrangement is more rigidly enforced, with molecules spaced an "arm's length" apart. The arrangement creates a more spacious, open structure, and water becomes lighter. If ice weren't lighter than cold water, ponds and lakes would freeze from the bottom, rather than form a floating layer of surface ice, and water would cease flowing in the dead of winter. Water's weirdness therefore allows fish to swim in the water beneath the ice and plants to survive the winter cold.

At temperatures below the freezing point, ice crystals form around defects, such as cracks or dust particles. By using extremely clean water samples—free from any such defects—scientists have found ways to defy freezing and obtain supercooled liquid-water that remains liquid below 0°C.

This procedure works only to a certain point. At extremely cold temperatures, (–38°C and lower), it is nearly impossible to keep water from freezing. But under certain conditions, such as the ultrahigh pressures found deep undersea, water can remain liquid even at such low temperatures. Scientists have been unable to make water that cold in the laboratory, though, and so what Stanley calls a "no man's land" of conditions had been explored only in computer simulations.

But now, using a clever technique to confine water samples in nanoscopic pores, scientists are beginning to explore the structure and properties of deeply supercooled water.

As even a square-dancing novice knows, you can't hold a hoedown in a cramped, narrow hallway. Water's hydrogen-bonding network is a fast-moving, gregarious one. Cramming water molecules into a tiny space, with a diameter less than five water molecules wide, brings the molecular square dance to a standstill.

"If a room were very, very narrow, it would be hard to have a normal square dance because a lot of people would be up against the wall and there would be no partner to grab on to," Stanley says. "In a similar fashion, water molecules that are confined against a wall have only two or three arms, and the whole hydrogen-bond network is disrupted."
Because the hydrogen-bond network brings stability to water, the breakdown of this network changes water's properties, allowing it to remain liquid at a much lower temperature, he says.

Scientists began exploring ways to nanoconfine water molecules more than a decade ago, using a spongelike material that had holes of different sizes.
While the experiments showed that nanoconfinement could be used to cool water well below its usual freezing temperature, the results were often hard to interpret because water in the larger holes would freeze, causing crystallization throughout the material.

In 2005, Sow-Hsin Chen of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his colleagues found a way to get around this problem, using a new material called MCM-41. Chung-Yuan Mou of National Taiwan University of Taipei had created MCM-41 by refining the fabrication of silica-nanotube assemblies. The material resembles a microscopic beehive with a hexagonal array of holes, all uniformly sized, just a few nanometers wide.

Curious to see how confined water might respond in MCM-41, Chen filled the hexagonal arrays with water. He then cooled the water to –73°C and bombarded the arrangement with neutrons. The microscopic cells of MCM-41 not only prevented ice crystals from forming but also allowed the scientists to probe water's molecular structure.

Building on this work, Chen and colleagues conducted a series of experiments to see how water's properties change as temperature drops at ordinary pressures.

In 2006, Chen showed that, when cooled below 225 kelvins (or –48°C), water's hydrogen-bonding structure undergoes a phase transition, changing from a disordered, fluid state to a more ordered, rigid state. Furthermore, this line of transition between a high-density liquid and low-density liquid, called the Widom line, occurred in a continuous fashion, as predicted by Stanley and Poole in 1992. This transition, called a fragile-to-strong dynamic crossover, helped explain why, at superlow temperatures, proteins and other biological molecules exist in a glassy state, losing all flexibility and biological function.

"This dynamical transition of protein at 225 K is triggered by its association with the hydration water, which shows a similar dynamic transition at that temperature," Chen says.

In addition, the study showed that water's phase change at 225 K—moving from a disordered state to a more ordered state—violates a well-known formula called the Stokes-Einstein relation. This formula, based on a picture of a disordered, fluid state, ties together liquid properties such as diffusion, viscosity, and temperature, and generally works for normal- and high-temperature liquids.

Because this formula breaks down in subzero conditions, the experiment suggests that supercooled water may be a mix of two liquid phases, rather than a single liquid. Chen's study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), provided the first experimental evidence of such "liquid polymorphism" and received the journal's 2006 prize for best paper.

Last year, Chen and his colleagues surprised the scientific community, and themselves, when they discovered that under supercold conditions, liquid water again begins to expand, returning to normal behavior.
Using a neutron-scattering method and analysis to measure the density of subzero liquid water, they showed that water reaches a minimum density at 210 K, or –63°C.

In doing the experiments, the scientists used heavy water, or D2O, because of its neutron-scattering properties. They then repeated the experiments using regular water and two light-scattering techniques and came up with the same results. The findings were reported last June in PNAS.

Though this kind of behavior had been predicted in computer simulations, it had never been observed. The findings add to the long list of experimental anomalies associated with supercooled water, and provide the strongest experimental evidence yet for a second "critical point" in liquid water, Chen says.

A critical point defines the set of pressures and temperatures at which a liquid changes from one form to the other. "It would be hard to explain a density minimum unless there was a second critical point," he says.

Water already has one well-known critical point at 647 K, or 374°C, where, under ordinary pressures, the liquid and gas phases become identical.

MULTIPLE PERSONALITIES. Water's many forms, or phases, change with shifts in temperature and pressure. Below –38°C, at high enough pressures (a region researchers call "no man's land"), water may remain liquid. The precise locations of the phase boundaries are uncertain, but those shown here are supported by computer simulations.

"As water approaches this critical point, the difference between water and steam grows increasingly smaller," Stanley explains. "At the critical point, there is nothing distinguishing water from steam, there is just one, homogeneous fluid."

More important, he says, a critical point serves as a "tipping point," where water can exist in either of two states, and minor fluctuations can tip the balance in one direction or the other.

The hypersensitivity created by a critical point can have far-reaching effects upon a system, says Stanley. In predicting a critical point in supercooled water, he and Poole theorized that water's crazy low-temperature behavior might account for some of its unusual properties even at ordinary temperatures.

That's because changes at a critical point don't occur abruptly, Stanley says. The huge changes seen near the water-gas peak, for example, are often, if not always, foreshadowed by fluctuations over a large range of temperatures and pressures.

"It's like looking at the highest peak on a mountain range," Stanley says, gesturing toward a picture of Mount Everest in his office. "The critical point, or summit, doesn't rise out of nowhere, but rises in a gradual manner and distorts the terrain all around it."

That means that a critical point at –63°C might account for water's bizarre behavior at much higher temperatures, such as its ability to expand as it cools.

Though findings from recent studies point to the predicted second critical point, it is still too soon to know whether such a point exists for sure. Further evidence is needed.

This year, Chen and his group will seek some of that evidence by performing another, more far-reaching set of experiments on supercooled water in MCM-41. Using a specially designed pressure cell for low temperatures, the scientists will analyze changes in liquid water as it moves from its maximum density point at 4°C to its minimum density at –63°C and beyond under various pressures. By studying how density changes with temperature and pressure, the researchers hope to locate the liquid-liquid critical point precisely.

"The critical point is at a high pressure, and no one knows exactly what it is, but we believe it's probably above 1,000 atmospheres," Stanley says.

Other scientists are raising questions about the extent to which supercooled water in confined volumes, no matter what the pressure, actually behaves like cold, bulk water.

"When you put water into confinement, it changes the way in which water molecules are arranged with respect to each other," says C. Austen Angell, a chemist at Arizona State University in Tempe, who studies liquid phases in supercooled water. "The question is, how much does it change it?"

Angell notes that despite recent progress, much remains uncertain and many of the explanations are built on simulations that can give different results, depending on the model and tools used in the study.

"There are other possibilities, related to the second critical point scenario, in which the low-pressure supercooling of uncrystallized bulk water is terminated by a first-order [sharp] transition to a second 'low-density' liquid phase," he says. Angell's take on supercooled water will appear in an upcoming issue of Science.

Confirming the predicted second critical point could have an impact beyond the study of water's molecular mysteries for their own sake.

Biologists, for example, are looking at how this transition in liquid states, and the accompanying rigidity it brings, affects living structures such as proteins and DNA.

Other practical benefits could flow from the new water knowledge. For example, scientists at Cornell University have found that high-pressure cooling of protein crystals causes them to diffract better than they would if flash frozen, and has allowed scientists to improve methods for crystallizing and studying proteins and other biological tissues.

The scientists are now pursuing ways to use high-pressure techniques to improve methods for freezing sperm and human oocytes. The studies may lead to better ways of freezing and storing sperm for livestock production and allow women to freeze their eggs and use them at a later time to conceive a child.

The studies may also help explain some more ordinary, everyday occurrences related to water's mysterious behavior. Chen recalls hiking in New Hampshire's White Mountains, a site known for its frigid temperatures and long months of ice, and noticing that the trees stopped abruptly at 4,400 feet, nearly 2,000 feet below the summit of Mount Washington. Soon after he published his findings on a minimum density, he received a phone call from a Canadian biologist who was interested in the work.

"It turns out that this tree line stops where the windchill temperatures reach 220 degrees K," Chen says, noting that this is the temperature at which water's hydrogen-bonding structure undergoes a phase transition, changing from a fluid state to a more rigid state.

At this point water becomes very, very slow, and no longer supports biological functions. Or, to put it another way, the square dance of water comes to an end.

Lightning does strike twice and more than twice in the same place, it is demonstrated by the photograph appearing on the front cover of this week's Science News Letter. Eleven separate strokes make up what appears to the eye as a single lightning flash.

The strokes, which come so fast that the human eye cannot distinguish them, were photographed by General Electric Co. scientists. The Empire State Building in New York City is the target.

The flash as the human eye sees it (main flash in center) was caught by one camera lens, while another one, rapidly rotating, caught the 11 separate strokes. The first one is the streak at the right, the last one is at left. The flash took 0.36 second altogether.

The Earth's salty oceans are some 500 million to 700 million years old, almost double the accepted previous estimates, Drs. A.C. Spencer and K.J. Murata, of the U.S. Geological Survey, have concluded after an intensive study of oceanic chemistry.

Before the turn of the century, geologists determined the age of the oceans by dividing the amount of salt in them by the amount added each year. This was based on the idea that all the salt brought to the oceans by rivers stayed there. Such an early determination of age, after hundreds of surveys and analyses, was about 100 million years. Later research brought the age to 350 million years, but such figures were found to be too small. Dinosaurs are now known to have existed about 100 million years ago, and oceans obviously existed long before that.

Studying the action of clay on salt water, Drs. Spencer and Murata in the recent work have found that some of the salt carried to the oceans is removed by clays, and deposited on the sea floors as a compound that does not easily dissolve. Correcting the old figures for this salt removal gives them the new age figure of 500 million to 700 million years.

The geologists who measure the Earth's age by the products of the decay of radioactive elements are expected to say the new ocean age estimates are too small. They pronounce the Earth at least 2 billion years old. While the Earth in its earlier stages may have been oceanless, there is in the radioactive age figures plenty of room for even more ancient oceans.

The flaming younger generation stands condemned as the greatest group of mass murderers in America. The weapon is the automobile.

Although including more highly skilled automobile drivers than any other age group, 100,000 drivers between 16 and 20 years of age kill nearly twice as many on the road as the average 100,000 drivers.

Accident rates for those below 25 years of age are so high that bringing down that age group's accident rate to the general level would save nearly 8,000 of the nearly 40,000 killed each year on the American highway and street.

These challenging figures were presented to the American Association for the Advancement of Science by Dr. Harry M. Johnson, research associate for the Highway Research Board, Washington. Young men between 19 and 21 years of age are apparently the worst menaces on the highway, Dr. Johnson declared, pointing to a chart which indicated plainly that young men just approaching their majority are responsible for many more accidents per 100,000 drivers than any other group.

FOR TODAY'S CIVILIZED WORLD, WITH ITS DOT-coms, sitcoms, ATMs, and ATVs, the first 3.5 billion years of life on Earth are a bit of an embarrassment. It was only a few hundred million years ago that trilobites prowled the seas. More primitive life subscribed to two or three basic lifestyles: algal mat, spineless worm, or bacterial blob. Before that, in the Archean Eon more than 2.5 billion years ago--well, that kind of life is what Lysol is for.

Scientists, of course, see it differently. "Almost everything of any biological importance happened back in the Archean," says Andrew Knoll of Harvard University, author of the upcoming book Life on a Young Planet. Soon after the infant Earth cooled down, he says, primeval microbes began processing essential elements--carbon, sulfur, and nitrogen, among others--that allowed for the eventual emergence of higher life-forms, including us. To this day, says Knoll, bacteria still do the biosphere's heavy lifting. "We just sit back and live off the fruits of their labors."
Folks like Knoll would like to know whom to thank for those first trophic cycles. But in the quest to identify Earth's earliest life, geology can look a lot like biology. It's not always easy to tell the dead organisms from the dead ends. One of the few things experts all agree on is where to conduct the search: in the three far-flung provinces that host the world's most ancient sedimentary rocks. Deposits in Australia, Greenland, and South Africa offer a cryptic view of the earth's surface as it was between 3.2 billion and 3.8 billion years ago. The deposits are made up of layers of accumulated particles that were later buried, heated, and compressed. Rounded pebbles and smoothed sand grains in the sediments indicate that they were seabeds, so any life they record would be marine.

The oldest fossil of that life comes from a remote desert site in Western Australia called North Pole. The rocks there bear the marks of stromatolites--sizable mounds of mud and minerals trapped or precipitated by microbial colonies living in shallow ocean water. Modern stromatolites grow knee-high in Australia and the Bahamas, and the organisms that build them leave distinctive patterns in the mud pedestal that can't be duplicated by mere geologic manipulation. At North Pole, those patterns appear in rocks that are almost 3.5 billion years old.
The sediment layers in the North Pole fossils are much finer than those in modern stromatolites, suggesting that much smaller life-forms inhabited them. Even so, there's evidence of a food chain of sorts. The principal architects of stromatolites are photosynthetic. They get their energy directly from sunlight instead of feeding off other creatures. But geochemists found the chemical signature of a microbe that was feasting on dead organic matter, a scavenger of sorts. "We had quite sophisticated ecological communities back then, even if they were just tiny little microbes," says astrobiologist Roger Buick of the University of Washington, who discovered the North Pole stromatolites.
Unfortunately, the vestiges of microbial communities are far more conspicuous than the remains of their individual members. Lacking bones, shells, teeth, and other hard parts, the first Earthlings didn't fossilize well. In the oldest rocks, chemical leftovers may be the only evidence of animation. So it happens that the earliest evidence of life is not a lithic imprint but a skewed ratio of carbon isotopes in a chunk of rock from southwest Greenland. Microscopic globules of graphite in the rock, documented in 1999 by geologist Minik Rosing at the University of Copenhagen, are unusually low in a heavy carbon isotope that gets excluded when inorganic carbon is converted into living material. Rosing thinks the C-13-poor graphite globules might have come from free-living planktonlike organisms that fell to the seafloor when they died. Their remains, he says, are at least 3.7 billion years old.

In 1996 geochemist Stephen Mojzsis, now at the University of Colorado at Boulder, trumped Rosing's find in a report of heavy-isotope depletion in graphite grains from the Isua formation in Greenland and another site on the Greenland island of Akilia. Mojzsis says the grains are 3.85 billion years old--the oldest yet. But his interpretations of both the biological markers and the rock itself have been put through the wringer. One of Mojzsis's former coauthors, geochemist Gustaf Arrhenius of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, showed how the Isua carbon-isotopic ratio could arise by geologic activity alone, if certain iron minerals in the rock were melted and pressed together over time. He and other investigators also think that the putative sedimentary rocks are actually igneous formations that have been severely transformed by heat.

Thus, rocks of advanced vintage seem to confound even the most basic geologic distinction: igneous, metamorphic, or sedimentary? "These rocks have been buried and cooked at least three times," says Buick. "They've been severely squashed and strained and tied in knots at least three times too. Then they sat around for at least a billion years and got polished by glaciers. These are not ordinary rocks."
The ambiguity of chemical evidence leaves geologists hungry for a well-defined, and ideally photogenic, fossil or two. In the early 1990s they thought their hopes had been answered when paleobiologist William Schopf of the University of California at Los Angeles described microscopic structures embedded in a Western Australia formation almost 3.5 billion years old. In his report, dark, slender silhouettes appear in translucent sections of thinly sliced quartz. Schopf says the silhouettes are a complex carbon polymer made by chains of bacteria that may have been anchored to the seafloor. After examining hundreds of present-day microbes, he named 11 possible species in his collection and gave the back story in a 1999 book called Cradle of Life. His menagerie made the Guinness Book of World Records, as the Earth's oldest fossils.
"I found a whole bunch of different things," says Schopf. "The question was, what were they?"

Schopf decided that at least half could be cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae, the first organisms in the evolutionary record to produce oxygen. That challenges orthodox thinking about conditions on the young Earth, which would not have had a significant oxygen atmosphere for at least another billion years. When geologist Martin Brasier of the University of Oxford had a look at the structures, he decided Schopf was wrong, wrong, and wrong again. The tubes are too branched to come from bacteria, he says. The rock is an extrusion from a hydrothermal vent, not seafloor sediment. And the silhouettes are inorganic carbon injected by the vent and molded into suggestive shapes by the growth of mineral crystals. "Ancient filamentous structures should not be accepted as being of biological origin until all possibilities of their nonbiological origin have been exhausted," Brasier and his coauthors wrote in a report last year.

The hubbub over Schopf's fossils has humbled disciples of early life. "People have become more critical about what they'll accept as evidence of biology," says Knoll. And, as demonstrated by the recent retraction of evidence for life in a Mars meteorite, the stakes are astronomical. Once biologists know where and how life emerged, astrobiologists will be better prepared to look for it elsewhere in the solar system. If life on Earth was a freak accident born of unique and peculiar conditions, it's probably rare elsewhere. But, says Buick, "if life can arise quickly and easily, given the right environment, there might be quite a bit of it out there."
Some of the earliest signs of life are found in ancient rock layers called banded iron formations. The iron was released by underwater volcanoes and precipitated from ocean water more than 2 billion years ago. Today the rock formations supply about 95 percent of the iron used to make steel.

Justine Henin's 32-match winning streak may have been ended by Maria Sharapova in the Australian Open quarterfinals this week, but another female tennis champion hopes to continue an even more impressive run in the tournament. Esther Vergeer of the Netherlands, the defending women's wheelchair singles champion, is pursuing her sixth Australian Open title and looking to solidify her claim as perhaps the most dominant competitor in all of sports.

Entering this year's Australian Open, Ms. Vergeer had won 303 consecutive matches. Her last loss came to Daniela Di Toro of Australia in the quarterfinals of the Sydney Invitational in January 2003. Before that, Ms. Vergeer had won 80 straight matches, so since May 2001, her record is 383 wins to one loss.

Wheelchair tennis is played by the same rules as regular tennis except that wheelchair players can hit the ball on the second bounce. It has become a world-wide presence, with the Australian Open, French Open, and U.S. Open including draws for wheelchair players. There are also such premier wheelchair-only events as the Japan Open, British Open and NEC Wheelchair Masters, plus the quadrennial Paralympic Games. Ms. Vergeer played 99 singles and doubles matches last year (losing once in doubles), a schedule more demanding than the ones many Association of Tennis Professionals and World Tennis Association players pursue.

Dutch wheelchair tennis champ Esther Vergeer's current 303-match winning streak is among the longest in all of sports, dwarfing classic streaks like Edwin Moses' hurdles record and UCLA's NCAA basketball streak. Only Pakistani squash champion Jahangir Khan has put together a longer skein of wins.
Jahangir Khan squash 555 matches
Esther Vergeer wheelchair tennis 303 matches
Edwin Moses track and field 122 races
UCLA Bruins basketball 88 games
Martina Navratilova tennis 74 matches
Rocky Marciano heavyweight boxing 49 fights
Oklahoma Sooners college football 47 games

To put Ms. Vergeer's winning streak in perspective, add the four longest women's winning streaks of the Open Era (74- and 58-match streaks by Martina Navratilova; 66 by Steffi Graf; and 57 by Margaret Court) and the total still falls short of Ms. Vergeer's streak by the length of the longest men's Open era streak (46 matches by Guillermo Vilas in 1977).

The rest of her resume is as impressive. She's won 21 Super Series singles titles (the wheelchair equivalent of the Grand Slams) dating back to 2000, a total that dwarfs Roger Federer's career total of 12. The International Tennis Federation has crowned her world champion in her event eight consecutive years, topping Pete Sampras's six-year mid-1990s run and Mr. Federer's still-active four-year streak.

And while Ms. Vergeer has used a wheelchair since a childhood operation to relieve a hemorrhage left her legs unable to move, the source of her dominance would be familiar to any tennis fan. Her movement around the court is unparalleled, and once she gets to the ball, she hits with pace and spin on both her one-handed backhand and her especially effective forehand.

But one way in which Ms. Vergeer can't compete with her counterparts on the ATP and WTA tours is in earnings. The prize money for the entire Australian Open wheelchair event, including men's and women's singles and doubles events, is $47,500, about the same as one player's paycheck for losing in the third round of the men's or women's singles draw.

While Ms. Vergeer's streak is one of sports history's most impressive (see chart), at least one milestone looms in the distance. Pakistani squash champion Jahangir Kahn won 555 straight matches from 1981 to 1986. At age 26, Ms. Vergeer should keep collecting major titles -- but there are signs that her competitors may be closing the gap. From August 2004 to October 2006, she didn't lose a set, a streak of 129 singles matches, but last year she was forced to three sets on three occasions. So as players like Maria Sharapova struggle for another major title in Melbourne, remember that on an outside court, another great champion is aiming not just at victory, but continued perfection as well.

Biologist Craig Venter and his team replicated a bacterium's genetic structure entirely from laboratory chemicals, moving one step closer to creating the world's first living artificial organism.

The scientists assembled the synthetic genome by stringing together chemicals that are the building blocks of DNA. The synthetic genome was constructed so it included all the genes that would be found in a naturally occurring bacterium.

The research was published in the online version of the journal Science by a team of scientists from the J. Craig Venter Institute in Rockville, Md. The authors include Hamilton Smith, who won the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1978.

"It's the second significant step of a three-step process to create a synthetic organism," said Dr. Venter, in a conference call with reporters. The final step could prove far trickier, though Dr. Venter defied his critics and deciphered the human genome with startling speed about eight years ago.

The larger quest is to make artificial life forms with a minimum set of genes necessary for life. It is hoped that such organisms could one day be engineered to perform commercial tasks, such as absorbing carbon dioxide from the air or churning out biofuels.

The scientific challenge of creating synthetic life isn't trivial, nor are the ethical and legal concerns. There is little government oversight, and researchers involved in such experiments regulate themselves. Detractors worry that the lack of safeguards increases the risks that a potentially dangerous man-made organism might run amok. (In creating the artificial genome of Mycoplasma, Dr. Venter's team disrupted the genes that would enable it to infect other organisms.)

Nonetheless, the science is pushing forward at a rapid pace. In June, a Venter-led team published details of an experiment in which it inserted the DNA of one species of bacteria into the cells of another bacteria species. That process almost magically "booted up" the genome of the donor bacteria, sparking it to life.

The team hopes to use a similar trick to boot up the artificially created genome, to create a man-made living organism. But, Dr. Venter said, "there are multiple barriers" to achieving that goal.

Dr. Venter now believes that the challenge of creating a synthetic organism is within his grasp. "I'll be...disappointed if we can't do it in 2008," he said. In Rare Middle-Class Tomb Found From Ancient Egypt National Geographic reports on the discovery of an Egyptian tomb that was never ransacked by robbers. Neferinpu, the priest and administrator who was buried in the 2 X 4 meter tomb was rich, but as is often true today, his wealth was not enough to make him upper class. His mummified body has badly decomposed because it's from before Egyptian preservation methods had been perfected. By his side were 4 canopic jars, 10 sealed beer jars, among other ceremonial items, and a 2-meter walking stick with a gold end.

Neferinpu was from the Old Kingdom, 5th Dynasty. Another recently discovered tomb, from the 6th dynasty contained the remains of a dentist (see Tomb Robbers Find Egyptian Dentists' Tombs). That tomb had been robbed in antiquity. The National Geographic article says robbers knew it was worth robbing because while in the 5th Dynasty the king was still in control of the burials, by the following dynasty, the central control had weakened and individual officials had more say in their own burials and so could make them more lavish.

The most famous Roman road is the Appian Way (Via Appia) leading from the forum Romanum in Rome to the southeastern coast of Italy, at Brundisium. Originally it only reached as far as Capua, in Campania, when it was built by the censor Appius Claudius (later, known as Ap. Claudius Caecus 'blind'), in 312 B.C., to help with the battles Rome was fighting in the Italic peninsula.

The road was made by laying small stones on a level dirt road and covering them with a flat layer of interlocking stones.

The Appian Way was the site of Clodius Pulcher's murder. Clodius Pulcher was an originally patrician (Claudian) descendant of Appius Claudius who had joined the plebeian (Clodian) section of the family. It was also along the Appian Way that the bodies of the rebellious slaves from the revolt of Spartacus were crucified. Christian legend holds that Peter had a vision of Christ along the Appian Way.

Last year, on the eve of the biggest season of his career, Mr. Gonzalez embarked on a diet resolution that smacked head-on with gridiron gospel as old as the leather helmet. He decided to try going vegan.

Living solely on plant food, a combination of nuts, fruits, vegetables, grains and the like, has long been the fringe diet of young rebels and aging nonconformists. Even the government recommends regular helpings of meat, fish and dairy. Vegans of late have gotten more hip with such best sellers as the brash "Skinny Bitch," and its more scholarly cousin, "The China Study." Both books argue vegans can live longer.

But could an all-star National Football League player, all 6-foot, 5-inches and 247 pounds of him, live on a vegan diet and still excel in one of the most punishing jobs in sports?

For Mr. Gonzalez, the stakes were high. He'd just signed a five-year contract, making him the game's highest-paid tight-end. Entering the 2007 season, his 11th in the NFL, he had a shot at breaking all-time NFL records for career receptions and touchdowns at his position. To do that, he needed top performances in every game. Mr. Gonzalez knew he was out on a limb. "I was like, 'I'm going to look like a fool if this doesn't work out,'" he says.

Mr. Gonzalez joined a handful of elite athletes who have put the vegan diet to the test, either for their health or because they oppose using animals as food. But he was the first pro-football superstar to try. And the first to fail.
Kansas City Chief Tight End Tony Gonzalez shows us how to make high protein vegan shakes that actually taste good. (Jan. 24)

There's no evidence a vegan diet can improve an athlete's performance, says David Nieman, a professor of health and exercise at Appalachian State University. His 1988 study of vegetarian runners found they ran as well as their meat-eating rivals but no better. Although the vegetarian athletes in his study also ate eggs and dairy foods, he says, "there is scientific evidence that veganism, when done right, won't hurt performance." But, he adds, there is only anecdotal evidence that it can help.

Professional athletes, especially NFL players, need thousands of calories a day. Many enjoy a high-protein, high-fat smorgasbord of steaks, chops, burgers, pizza, ice cream and beer. Mr. Gonzalez's tight-end job requires him to push around monstrously sized opponents. Occasionally, he gets to catch a pass. Mr. Gonzalez is famous for combining the brute power of an offensive lineman with the acrobatic skills of a nimble receiver. "My biggest thing is strength," he says. "If you lose that strength you get your butt kicked."

Experts say athletes in training need as much as twice the protein of an average person to rebuild muscle. Their bodies also require a big dose of minerals and vitamins, as well as the amino acids, iron and creatine packed into fish, meat and dairy foods. It's fine to be a vegan, says sports nutritionist and dietician Nancy Clark, if you're willing to work at it. "It's harder to get calcium, harder to get protein, harder to get Vitamin D, harder to get iron," she says. "You have to be committed."

"Skinny Bitch" co-author Kim Barnouin is working on another book called "Skinny Bastard." "We want men to know that you're not going to be some scrawny little wimp if you follow this diet," she says. The book trashes meat, milk, eggs, cheese and sodas, saying men and women feel better and look better without them. "The more athletes who come forward and say, 'I'm doing this for my health,' the better," she says.

Mr. Gonzalez had never heard of the vegan diet when he boarded a flight from New York to Los Angeles last spring, about a month before preseason training. His seatmate turned down most of the food offered in first class, and Mr. Gonzalez finally asked why. The man told Mr. Gonzalez about "The China Study," a 2006 book by Cornell professor and nutrition researcher T. Colin Campbell that claims people who eat mostly plants have fewer deadly diseases than those who eat mostly animals. The evidence was drawn from diet surveys and blood samples of 6,500 men and women from across China.

Mac Danzig took a diet risk four years ago. The 28-year-old mixed martial-arts fighter had long wanted to spare animals by going vegan. But he was afraid his trainers were right: that he'd lose to stronger opponents. Last month, on a diet of brown-rice protein, beans, soy, nuts and vegetables, Mr. Danzig defeated the last of his challengers in Spike TV's "The Ultimate Fighter." Kim Barnouin, co-author of the vegan best-seller "Skinny Bitch," says she loves the "Ultimate Fighter" show and cheered Mr. Danzig's win. When fight fans learned Mr. Danzig was a vegan, some said they didn't think he'd have the strength, or the stomach, to conquer the ultra-violent sport, which combines kick-boxing and wrestling. "It's about animal rights," Mr. Danzig says, "not human rights."

Mr. Gonzalez was intrigued. Earlier in the year, a bout with Bell's Palsy, a temporary facial paralysis, had focused his attention on health. He bought the book, and after reading the first 40 pages, he says, was convinced animal foods led to chronic illness. He was an unlikely convert. Mr. Gonzalez, who grew up in Southern California, says cheeseburgers were his favorite food. But he quit them, substituting fruits, nuts and vegetables. At restaurants, he ordered pasta with tomato sauce.

Three weeks later, he walked into the weight room at the Chiefs' training facility and got a shock. The 100-pound dumbbells he used to easily throw around felt like lead weights. "I was scared out of my mind," he says. Standing on the scale, he learned he'd lost 10 pounds.

Mr. Gonzalez considered scrapping the diet altogether and returning to the Chiefs' standard gut-busting menu. First, though, he called Mr. Campbell, who put him in touch with Jon Hinds, himself a vegan and the former strength coach for the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team. Mr. Hinds suggested plant foods with more protein.

Trainers for the Atlanta Hawks worried when shooting guard Salim Stoudamire decided to eat vegan at the end of the National Basketball Association season in 2006. Although the diet left him craving chicken, Mr. Stoudamire says, his biggest challenge was convincing coaches and teammates he could still perform on the court. Team managers forced Mr. Stoudamire onto a scale each morning of preseason training and wrote down his weight. After holding steady at 181 pounds, the bosses got off his back. Mr. Stoudamire says he felt better, and that his performance this season improved. So far, none of his teammates have joined him. "They all look at me like I'm crazy," he says.

The Chiefs' team nutritionist, Mitzi Dulan, a former vegetarian athlete, did not believe that was enough. With the team's prospects and Mr. Gonzalez's legacy at stake, she persuaded the tight-end to incorporate small amounts of meat into his plant diet. Just no beef, pork or shellfish, he said; only a few servings of fish and chicken a week.

Teammates nicknamed him China Study and razzed Mr. Gonzalez if he missed a block. But he wasn't ready to give up his new diet completely. After a preseason practice, he accompanied Mr. Hinds to learn a skill he believed as important as blocking techniques: how to shop for groceries. Mr. Hinds showed him nutritious fish oils and how to pick out breads dense with whole grains, nuts and seeds. "The best bread for you," says Mr. Hinds, "is if I hit you with it, it hurts." Mr. Gonzalez also learned how to make the fruit and vegetable shake he drinks each morning. He stocked his pantry with tubs of soy protein powder and boxes of organic oatmeal; soy milk and Brazilian acai juice crowded the fridge. His favorite dessert became banana bread topped with soy whipped cream from the vegan cafe near his home in Orange County's Huntington Beach.

Mr. Gonzalez soon recovered his lost pounds and strength, but prospects for a record-breaking season were still in doubt. The team lost its starting quarterback, Trent Green, in a trade, and the Chiefs' star running back was tied up in a contract dispute.

As the season progressed, the team lost more games than it won. But Mr. Gonzalez managed to stick to his diet and hold onto the football. He broke the touchdown record before midseason and was within reach of the career reception record. "I was like, 'OK, this is working,'" he says. "I have so much more energy when I'm out there." His wife, October Gonzalez, was astonished her husband could play the season without ordering a single cheeseburger. "I thought he'd cave," she says.

Mr. Gonzalez entered the final game against the New York Jets needing four catches to surpass the record held by former tight-end Shannon Sharpe. The contest turned into a sluggish defensive struggle with the Chiefs trailing the Jets 7 to 3. Still, Mr. Gonzalez made three receptions. With 2 minutes and 29 seconds left in the third quarter, Chiefs quarterback Brodie Croyle was fleeing defenders when he threw a 9-yard pass to Mr. Gonzalez, who scampered for a first down and a spot in the NFL record book.

Apple finally has entered the subnotebook market, introducing a lightweight laptop meant to please road warriors. But, typical of Apple, the company took a different approach from its competitors. The result is a beautiful, amazingly thin computer, but one whose unusual trade-offs may turn off some frequent travelers.

The new aluminum-clad MacBook Air, which I've been testing for several days, is billed as the world's thinnest notebook computer. Its thickest point measures just three-quarters of an inch, which is slimmer than the thinnest point on some other subnotebooks. And it employs some innovative software features, such as fingertip gestures for its touchpad that are similar to those on Apple's iPhone.
Walt Mossberg says Apple's first sub-notebook computer, the MacBook Air, doesn't compromise on screen and keyboard size, but it could mean some deal killers for frequent travelers.

Apple refused to make the most common compromise computer makers employ to create their littlest laptops. Other subnotebooks -- a category generally defined as weighing three pounds or less -- have screens of just 10 to 12 inches and compressed keyboards. The three-pound MacBook Air, by contrast, features a 13.3-inch display and a full-size keyboard.

It's impossible to convey in words just how pleasing and surprising this computer feels in the hand. It's so svelte when closed that it's a real shock to discover the big screen and keyboard inside.

But there's a price for this laptop's daring design: Apple had to give up some features road warriors consider standard in a subnotebook, and certain of these omissions are radical. Chief among them is the lack of a removable battery. So, while the MacBook Air will be a perfect choice for some travelers, I can't recommend it for all. It really depends on your style of working on the road and what features you value most.

The MacBook Air, which will be available next week, costs $1,800 with an 80-gigabyte hard drive and a generous two gigabytes of memory. A second model, with a faster, cutting-edge, 64-gigabyte, solid-state drive and a slightly speedier processor, costs a whopping $3,100. The $1,800 price for the main model isn't unusual in subnotebooks, which can easily top $2,000, although some competitors cost less.

In my tests, the MacBook Air's screen and keyboard were a pleasure to use. The machine felt speedy, even with multiple programs running. And the laptop has the same Leopard operating system, superior built-in software, and paucity of viruses and spyware that I believe generally give the Mac an edge. I was able to install and run Windows XP using the third-party Parallels software.

But then there are those trade-offs. The sealed-in battery means you can't carry a spare in case you run out of juice, and you have to bring it to a dealer when you need a new one. There's no built-in DVD drive. The thin case can't accommodate a larger internal hard disk. And the machine omits many common ports and connectors.

There's no Ethernet jack for wired broadband Internet connections and no dedicated slot for the most common types of external cellphone modems. That means that out of the box, the MacBook Air has only one way to get on the Internet -- through its fast, built-in Wi-Fi connection. If you're out of Wi-Fi range, you're out of luck, unless you buy an optional, $30 add-on Ethernet connector or a cellphone modem that connects via USB.

In fact, the MacBook Air has only three connectors: a headphone jack, a single USB port and a port for connecting an external monitor.

That single USB port is a problem, because so many peripherals use USB. You can buy a tiny, cheap USB hub that adds three more ports, but that's yet another item to carry.

The lack of a DVD drive is partly solved by some clever software Apple included that lets you "borrow" the DVD drive on any other Mac or Windows PC on your network, so you can transfer files or install new software from a CD or DVD. This worked fine in my tests, in which I installed several new programs from CDs on remote computers, but it requires disabling third-party firewalls on Windows machines. It also doesn't work for installing Windows on your Mac, for watching DVDs, or for playing or importing music. For those tasks, you need an external DVD drive. Apple sells one for $99.

In my standard battery test, where I disable all power-saving features, set the screen brightness at maximum, turn on the Wi-Fi and play an endless loop of music, the MacBook Air's battery lasted 3 hours, 24 minutes. That means you could likely get 4.5 hours in a normal work pattern, almost the five hours Apple claims.

But the MacBook Air has another downside: its screen height. Because of the larger screen, the lid stands higher when opened than on most other subnotebooks. So it isn't as usable as some competitors when the seat in front of you in coach on a plane is reclined.

If you value thinness, and a large screen and keyboard in a subnotebook, and don't watch DVDs on planes or require spare batteries, the MacBook Air might be just the ticket. But if you rely on spare batteries, expect the usual array of ports, or like to play DVDs on planes, this isn't the computer to buy.


Jose Padilla, an American once accused of plotting with al Qaeda to detonate a radioactive "dirty bomb," was sentenced yesterday to a relatively lenient prison term of more than 17 years on unrelated charges.

Prosecutors, who long ago dropped the dirty-bomb claim that made Mr. Padilla infamous, had sought life terms for Mr. Padilla and two co-defendants, but a federal judge said authorities never proved Mr. Padilla was a terrorist.

"There is no evidence that these defendants personally maimed, kidnapped or killed anyone in the United States or elsewhere," U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke said. "There was never a plot to overthrow the United States government."

Judge Cooke took into account the harsh, isolated conditions Mr. Padilla faced during the 31⁄2 years he was held in a brig in Charleston, S.C., without charge, as an enemy combatant after his 2002 arrest. Defense lawyers claim he was tortured by the military, but U.S. officials denied that, and Judge Cooke never used the word torture.

After a three-month trial, Mr. Padilla, 37 years old, and co-defendants Adham Amin Hassoun, 45, and Kifah Wael Jayyousi, 46, were convicted in August of being part of a support cell that sent recruits, money and supplies to Islamic extremists world-wide, including al Qaeda. Mr. Padilla was billed as a star recruit, while Mr. Hassoun was the recruiter and Mr. Jayyousi served as a financier and propagandist in the cell's early years, according to trial testimony.

Mr. Padilla was added to the case in late 2005, just as his legal challenges to continued detention without criminal charge were reaching the Supreme Court. Mr. Padilla was declared an enemy combatant a month after his highly publicized arrest on the purported radioactive dirty-bomb plot, but those allegations were quietly discarded.

The strongest evidence in the case was a form Mr. Padilla completed in 2000 to attend an al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan that was recovered by the CIA shortly after the U.S. invasion in late 2001. Prosecutors repeatedly invoked the al Qaeda connection and used a video of an old Osama bin Laden interview in an attempt to link the three to the world's most notorious terrorist.

Ultimately, Judge Cooke said at the sentencing hearing, there was not enough evidence linking Mr. Padilla and the other two men to specific acts of terrorism or victims.

Sentencing guidelines had suggested a range of 30 years to life for all three, but Judge Cooke used her discretion to go below even the minimum. Mr. Padilla got 17 years and four months; Mr. Hassoun, 15 years and eight months; and Mr. Jayyousi, 12 years and eight months. Their prison time will probably be even less counting months already served in pretrial detention and automatic reductions for good behavior, their lawyers said.

Judge Cooke said life sentences should be reserved for the most serious terrorist offenders, such as Sept. 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui or Terry Nichols, convicted in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

"I feel good about everything. This is amazing," said Mr. Padilla's mother, Estela Lebron. "He's not a terrorist. ... He's just a human being."

All three men are likely to appeal their convictions and sentences, their lawyers said. But even they were surprised at the leniency shown by Judge Cooke. "It is definitely a defeat for the government," said Mr. Hassoun's lawyer, Jeanne Baker.

The Justice Department praised the efforts of prosecutors and investigators in the case, which centered on tens of thousands of FBI wiretap intercepts collected over eight years. "Thanks to their efforts, the defendants' North American support cell has been dismantled and can no longer send money and jihadist recruits to conflicts overseas," said Kenneth L. Wainstein, assistant attorney general for national security.

London's East End is notorious for its criminals, from serial murderer Jack the Ripper to mobsters the Kray twins.

The latest candidate for this rogue's gallery is Janet Devers, a 63-year-old woman who runs a vegetable stall at Ridley Road market. Her alleged crime: selling goods only by the pound and the ounce.

Ms. Devers, whose stall has been in the family for 60 years, faces 13 criminal charges stemming from not selling her produce by the kilogram and the gram. She stands accused of breaking a European Union-instigated rule that countries must use metric measures to standardize trade. The rest of Europe is metric.

But Brits drink their milk and beer by the pint. On the road they rack up miles. Imperial measurement "is what we know, how we are. Who's to tell us to change?" said Scott Lomax, a fellow vegetable-stall owner.

Ms. Devers, who pleaded not guilty in a court appearance on Friday, is being lionized for her stand in Britain's feisty tabloids. If convicted, she could be fined as much as $130,000.

"It's disgusting," said Ms. Devers of the charges. "We have knifings. We have killings," she said. "And they're taking me to court because I'm selling in pounds and ounces."

And, equally illegally, in bowls. Ten of the counts against her relate to purveying produce, such as hot Scotch-bonnet peppers, by the bowl.

The United Kingdom wrote an exemption into its measurements law to meet the EU metric requirement in 2000, as Brussels allowed. It stated that traders must use metric weights, but they could use imperial measures as well. The problem is that Ms. Devers allegedly didn't have metric prices on all of her produce when she was charged late last year, and two of her scales only measured in pounds and ounces.

The British imperial system dates back at least to medieval times. Notable holdouts still using it are Britain and the U.S. It doesn't help that the metric system was created over 200 years ago across the Channel in France, England's ancient archrival.

Aversion to the metric system is one of many signs of the U.K.'s lingering reluctance to integrate with its continental neighbors. Britain shuns the euro in favor of the pound sterling, drives on the left-hand side of the road and has a tradition of "euroskeptic'' politicians who thrill some sections of the public by bashing the Continent.

One recent overcast Thursday afternoon at Ridley Road market in Hackney, a low-income district in East London, shoppers from Turkish, Asian and Afro-Caribbean communities browsed the stalls. Shouts from traders touting deals like "50p a basket of mangoes" mingled with reggae music blasting from a stall that sells posters and T-shirts.

Insulated from the chilly January day in a faux-fur- trimmed hat, Ms. Devers chatted up customers from behind her covered stall piled with eggplant, ginger, green beans (£1 a pound for the beans). Though her signs currently carry prices in pounds as well as the equivalent in kilograms, she said her customers prefer pounds -- and sometimes complain when she uses kilos that she's trying to cheat them.

"I always shop in pounds," said Sophia Levicki, a 60-year-old part-time shop clerk and a regular at Ms. Devers's stall. "If it's good enough and cheap enough, I'll buy it," she added, as she asked for two pounds of shiny, purple-skinned eggplant.

Nearby stall owner Mr. Lomax added prices in kilos as well as pounds to his signs after warnings from local authorities in recent years. "The customers don't understand kilos," he said. Like many stall owners he uses metric scales, which he got after the EU metric directive was introduced into U.K. law in 2000.

Ms. Devers's trouble with the law began one Thursday this September, when two representatives from the local government council, accompanied by two policemen, came up to her stall and seized her imperial scales. They told Ms. Devers she was using illegal scales and that she wasn't allowed to weigh in pounds and ounces, she said. "I was furious," said Ms. Devers, who asked the police officers if the council was allowed to do that, to which they responded that it was.

Around Christmas, a 67-page letter landed in her mail. It outlined 13 criminal charges against her, including one charge of improper pricing of goods and two charges related to using imperial scales. She also faces 10 counts related to selling by the bowl.

"I think it's so ridiculous," she said, noting that pricing per bowl is common practice because customers perceive it as good value. "If they're going to do me for bowls, they have to do the whole country."

Alan Laing, an official with the local authority that is prosecuting Ms. Devers, said that "making sure traders comply with weights-and-measures legislation is also part of the job."

Ms. Devers wouldn't be the first to be pounded down by the metric law. Four market-stall owners -- including her brother -- lost an appeal to the High Court in 2002 for not using metric measurements. They received conditional discharge -- which means no further action is taken as long as they don't break the law again within a specific period of time. A group campaigning to pardon them is helping coordinate financing for Ms. Devers's case and calls them "metric martyrs."

It's about "who governs Britain," says campaigner Neil Herron, from Sunderland, England.

With the help of her brother, Ms. Devers found lawyers willing to take on the case for a nominal fee. Their planned legal strategy is to argue various technicalities such as a loophole for imperial scales that predate the law. They plan to lean on what they see as a recent softening in Brussels. After pressure from U.K. companies as well as others that trade with Britain and the U.S., the European parliament recently adopted legislation that would let the U.K. continue to use imperial alongside metric measures indefinitely, instead of phasing it out by next year. The measure is awaiting European Council approval.

Her legal team may also call customers as witnesses to say that they like paying pounds for pounds, one of the lawyers involved said.

Ms. Devers faces fines of up to $10,000 per charge, or a total of about $130,000. "It would ruin me," said Ms. Devers, who declined to detail her earnings. She says she canceled a planned trip to New York with her twin sister, because having a criminal record could make entering the U.S. difficult.

On Friday afternoon, Ms. Devers appeared in Thames Magistrates Court in East London. She pleaded not guilty.

Her barrister, Nicholas Bowen, mocked the nature of her alleged crimes. "If somebody sells a punnet of strawberries at Wimbledon is that a criminal offense?" he asked. A punnet, as all Britons know, is roughly the equivalent of a couple of handfuls -- or about half a liter.

Ms. Devers and her legal team won a victory of sorts. The magistrate granted their request that the case be tried by a jury. Jurors, with perhaps some shoppers among them, will likely be sympathetic, Mr. Herron says.

Ms. Devers smiled as she left the courthouse to go back to her stall. The scales of justice sit, she said, "in the hands of the people."

Defendants in high-profile lawsuits typically keeps their mouths shut, letting their lawyers and or public relations experts do the talking. But not John Yoo, the Berkeley Law professor and former Bush administration official who was sued by convicted terrorist Jose Padilla and Padilla's Yale Law School lawyers earlier this month. He's not taking this lawsuit lying down, and he vented this weekend on the WSJ's op-ed page. (Click here for prior Law Blog coverage on the suit.)

Yoo summarizes the lawsuit nicely: "Padilla wants a declaration that his detention by the U.S. government was unconstitutional, $1 in damages, and all of the fees charged by his own attorneys." He warns of the dangers of this litigation. "The lawsuit by Padilla and his Yale Law School lawyers is an effort to open another front against U.S. anti-terrorism policies," he writes. "If he succeeds, it won't be long before opponents of the war on terror use the courtroom to reverse the wartime measures needed to defeat those responsible for killing 3,000 Americans on 9/11."

Yoo, an architect of the White House's policies on detaining terrorist suspects, spends much of the essay detailing Padilla's odyssey and the history of detaining alleged wartime criminal like him. He then decries the lawsuits filed against him and other Bush administration officials (e.g., Rumsfeld, Ashcroft and Wolfowitz).

Yoo says the "qualified immunity" doctrine, which holds that government officials cannot be sued personally unless they had intentionally violated someone's clearly established constitutional rights, isn't enough:

The legal system should not be used as a bludgeon against individuals targeted by political activists to impose policy preferences they have failed to implement via the ballot box . . . .
The prospect of having to waste large sums of money on lawyers will deter talented people from entering public service, leading to more mediocrity in our bureaucracies. It will also lead to a risk-averse government that doesn't innovate or think creatively. Government by lawsuit is no way to run, or win, a war.

Genentech Inc.'s discovery of two new genes linked to lupus raised hopes of earlier diagnosis and better targeted treatment of the autoimmune disease, which affects an estimated 1.5 million Americans.

Genentech already has two experimental drugs in Phase III, or late stage, studies to treat lupus: a compound called an anti-CD20 antibody, and its older drug Rituxan, widely used as a cancer treatment. The latest advance restores the company's momentum in combating lupus after two patients who had taken Rituxan -- not yet an approved treatment for the illness -- died of brain infections in December 2006. The two patients weren't study subjects and had other risk factors, Genentech has said.

Chief Executive Art Levinson this month highlighted his hopes that the lupus trials will help boost the flow of important data emerging from Genentech's pipeline of new drugs in development this year after "a quiet period."

Analysts fear the South San Francisco, Calif., biotech giant's earnings growth could flatten unless it can score another big hit to supplement revenue from its blockbuster Avastin.

A number of other companies also are developing lupus treatments, including Amgen Inc., a biotech rival based in Thousand Oaks, Calif.

Discovery of the new genes, labeled BLK and ITGAM, was reported by Genentech scientist Timothy W. Behrens and his colleagues in the New England Journal of Medicine's online edition on Sunday. The report coincided with that of a rival team from the International Consortium for Systemic Lupus Erythematosus Genetics in the journal Nature Genetics.

Dr. Behrens's team believes the BLK gene influences one component of the immune system -- B cells -- while the ITGAM gene affects another, T-cells, in ways that trigger the immune system to attack a lupus patient's own body like friendly fire.

Scientists hope the findings will improve the diagnosis and targeted treatment by predicting patient response to drugs. Lupus attacks many organ systems and can cause death, often from cardiovascular damage. Women and minorities suffer the brunt of lupus cases.

"Way too many young women have strokes and heart attacks," Dr. Behrens said. "This disease attacks blood vessels and every organ has a blood supply, so it manifests itself in the kidney, brains, joints, heart."

Dr. Behrens added that lupus is often difficult to diagnose and that "it's not unusual for someone to go several years with vague and undiagnosed symptoms."

Genentech's findings are relevant to continuing studies because Rituxan targets B cells, the very cells that express the newly discovered BLK gene. But BLK and ITGAM are just two of about 10 genes linked to the immune disorder, which may eventually be discovered to be linked to another 20 or 30 genes, Dr. Behrens said. The findings may help predict who can benefit from treatment, though Dr. Behrens cautioned the timeline for such applications is uncertain.

The Behrens paper not only adds to the growing number of genes linked to lupus, but is significant in that it uses a powerful genetic-testing technology that is yielding insights into many previously unrecognized genes linked to disease, said Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a unit of the National Institutes of Health.

The findings aren't expected to produce a full picture of the disorder just yet, because none of the study subjects was African-American, a group that suffers disproportionately from lupus.

Researchers said they identified a genetic variant that is linked to both an increased risk of a heart attack and a person's chances of preventing such an attack by taking a cholesterol-lowering pill called a statin.

The variation, in a gene called KIF6, is present in nearly 60% of the population, the researchers found. In four large studies involving a total of more than 30,000 patients, carriers of the mutation had a risk of heart attacks, strokes or death related to heart disease as much as 55% higher than those who didn't have it.

The impact of the variant was independent of such conventional cardiovascular risk factors as smoking status, cholesterol levels and diabetes.

Discovery of the KIF6 variant was announced by Celera Group-Applera Corp., an Alameda, Calif., diagnostics company known for having mapped the human genome in 2000 in a high-profile race with a government-funded project. Details are reported in three studies being published Jan. 29 by the Journal of the American College of Cardiology and now available on the publication's Web site.

The interaction of KIF6 with statin therapy "is a very interesting and unexpected finding," said Marc Sabatine, a cardiologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, and a co-author of one of the papers. While it would be "premature" to base treatment decisions on a patient's KIF6 status, he said, the results "take us one step closer to personalized medicine" in which doctors use genetic data to tailor therapy for patients.

Celera plans to launch "in the coming months" a genetic test for about $200 for the KIF6 variant through its recently acquired Berkeley HeartLab unit, said Kathy Ordoñez, president at Celera.

But the KIF6 gene -- for "kinesin-like protein family member 6" -- hasn't previously been linked to heart disease, nor has it shown up in several other genome scans probing DNA for heart-disease genes. Some experts said more study is needed to confirm the findings and determine KIF6's role in evaluating and treating patients at risk for cardiovascular disease.

"It's quite provocative," said Eric Topol, a cardiologist and director of Scripps Genomic Medicine and a cardiologist at the Scripps Clinic, La Jolla, Calif. "It could be a marker but there are a lot of question marks surrounding it."

The report is the latest in a flurry of studies linking tiny single-letter variations called single nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs, in a person's DNA with risk of disease. Researchers hope that such discoveries will shed light on the biology illnesses, reveal potential new drug targets, and drive the field of personalized medicine.

The hunt for SNPs related to heart disease is especially intense. Earlier this month, deCode Genetics Inc. of Iceland reported that a variant of the gene 9p21 is associated with risk of two serious vascular conditions, aneurysms of the abdominal aorta and the brain. The gene is established as increasing heart-attack risk, Dr. Topol said. DeCode recently began selling a $200 test for the gene.

disease has proved difficult. A report last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association looked at 85 SNPs that had been cited as possible heart-attack genes and found evidence for all of them wanting.
But otherwise, finding validated SNPs linked to cardiovascular
As part of its studies, Celera tested 35 different SNPs in patients who had suffered heart attacks. Only the KIF6 mutation turned out to have a strong statistical link. The 9p21 gene wasn't among those Celera tested.

"We think this marker will stand up to [validation] in spades," said Thomas J. White, chief scientific officer at Celera and a co-author of one of the new papers.

The KIF6 finding resulted from a collaboration between Celera and academic researchers who led four previously published landmark studies, including three large randomized trials that demonstrated the effectiveness of statin drugs in preventing heart attacks.

DNA samples were obtained at or near the trials' beginnings. Since researchers now know which patients had heart attacks and which were treated with statins, they could see what genetic differences might have influenced outcomes.

For instance, in a study called Care that originally compared Bristol-Myers Squibb Corp.'s Pravachol against placebo in patients who had already had heart disease, 12.4% of KIF6 mutation carriers treated with placebo suffered heart attacks compared with 8.1% of those who didn't have the mutation. Researchers said that translated to a relative 50% increased risk after adjusting for other factors.

Among KIF6 carriers who got Pravachol, there were 37% fewer heart attacks compared with placebo. Among noncarriers, there were 14% fewer heart attacks on the drug than on placebo, suggesting those with a genetic variant responded better to the drug.

Researchers conducted a similar look at a study called Prove-It, in which the maximum dose of Pfizer Inc.'s Lipitor proved superior to a moderate dose of Pravachol in preventing heart attacks and death among people on the verge of a heart attack. The genetic analysis showed that nearly all of the benefit from Lipitor occurred in carriers of the KIF6 mutation.

In each case, the benefits weren't related to how much a statin lowered cholesterol.

Separately, the researchers looked at DNA taken from participants in the 25,000-patient Women's Health Study at Harvard Medical School and found that the KIF6 variant was associated with a 34% increased risk of heart attacks among women.

Researchers said further study of KIF6 could help identify mechanisms for how heart disease develops and possibly new targets for drugs to treat it.

Bristol-Myers sponsored the original statin trials and provided access to the DNA for two of the current papers, but neither Bristol-Myers nor Pfizer funded the new analysis, which Celera paid for.

More than one in 20 patients undergoing breast surgery later developed infections at incision sites, according to a new study, a complication that was more common than thought.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates the infection rate following breast removal surgery at 2%, although earlier surveys put it at anywhere between 1% and 28%.

In the two-year study published in this month's issue of the Archives of Surgery, 5.3%, or 50, of nearly 950 patients developed infections within a year of their procedures, inside and outside the hospital. The average time between surgery and infection was 47 days.

"The surgical site infection rates following breast surgery seem to be much greater than the nationally reported incidence of 2% and much higher than what is expected for clean surgical procedures," Margaret Olsen of the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis wrote in her report.

The cost of follow-up medical care was put by the study at roughly $4,000 a patient.

Roughly one in eight women in the study who had a cancerous breast removed and then underwent breast reconstruction with an implant developed an infection. The infection rate was 7% among those who had breast reconstruction using tissue from the abdomen, where infections also struck. Infections occurred in 4% of women having a mastectomy, and among 1% of those having breast-reduction surgery.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Massachusetts wants to start paying doctors and hospitals a flat fee per patient per year, the Boston Globe reports. The sum would depend on the age and illnesses of the patient, and there would be big bonuses for progress on measures such as access to the care and control of diabetes and high blood pressure.

The system evokes “capitation,” the per-patient payment systems that had a brief wave of popularity in the 1990s. But Blue Cross says its new plan would protect against problems such as undertreatment and underpayment that sunk capitation the first time around. “We have no interest in returning to the heyday of managed care or denying care,” Blue Cross exec Andrew Dreyfus told the Globe.

The big insurer says it’s bringing back the flat fee in yet another effort to slow the growth of health care spending and create more financial incentives for doctors to focus on patient outcomes.

Big health systems the Globe spoke with said they supported the principles behind the plan, but worried about the impact on revenues, and about being held responsible for care and costs over which they have limited control.

Health-care policy wonks and advocates seemed warm to the plan. John McDonough, who runs Mass.-based Health Care for All, told the paper it was promising. “What we have now is killing us financially, and in some cases medically,” he said.

* Against the Odds magazine (ATO)
o #19: Not War But Murder
o #20: A Fatal Attraction
o Biafra!
o Look Away! The Fall of Atlanta
o Wintergewitter
* Alea magazine (Ludopress)
o #32: Dios Patria y Rey
* Armchair General Magazine
o Brothers By My Side
o Lee at Gettysburg
o Operation Iraqi Freedom
* Avalanche
o Alamein
o Alaska's War (supplement in the Panzer Grenadier series)
o East of Suez (in the Second World War at Sea series)
o Eastern Fleet (in the Second World War at Sea series, reprint)
o Edelweiss Expanded Edition (supplement in the Panzer Grenadier series)
o Fronte Russo (supplement in the Panzer Grenadier series)
o Iron Curtain (in the Panzer Grenadier series)
o Mediterranean (in the Great War at Sea Series, reprint)
o Napoleonic Battles: Austerlitz
o Queen of the Celts (in the Rome at War series)
o Sea of Troubles (supplement inthe Great War at Sea series)
o Soldier Kings (reprint)
o South Africa's War (supplement in the Panzer Grenadier series)
o They shall not pass
o Tiger of Malaya
o White Eagles (supplement in the Panzer Grenadier series).
o Zeppelins (in the Great War at Sea series)
* Battle-Market
o #1: Hanba'al/Chinggis Khan/Zeppelin
o #2: Ma'alinti Rangers: Black Hawks Down/Tannenberg/Grunwald 1410: Downfall of the Teutonic Order
* Bayonet Games
o Strike Force Hunter
o Warfighter 101: Maneuver Warrior
o Blackshirt, The Italian Invasion of Egypt, 1940
* Roger Campbell
o Brown Water Submarines
* Canons en Carton
o Auerstaedt 1806 (in the Jours de Gloire series)
o Friedland 1807 (in the Jours de Gloire series)
o Swords and Crown (in the Au fil de l'Epée series)
o Saalfeld 1806 (in the Jours de Gloire series)
o Schleiz 1806 (in the Jours de Gloire series)
* Clash of Arms
o Campaigns of King David
o Close Action: Monsoon Seas
* Lou Coatney
o Moscow Defended!
* Columbia Games
o Athens & Sparta
o Wizard Kings (2nd ed.)
* Compass Games
o Red Storm Over the Reich
o Silent War (reprint)
* Cool Stuff Unlimited
o Doro Nawa (reprint)
o Jerusalem (reprint)
o Verdun (reprint)
* Command and Strategy magazine (UGG)
o #6: Operation Walküre
* Critical Hit

o Action at Carentan (scenario in the Squads & Leaders series)
o Advanced Tobruk (3rd ed.)
o Arnhem Master Set (2nd ed. of Arnhem-Defiant Stand and Oosterbeek Perimeter)
o Arnheim Third Bridge (supplement compatible with Advanced Squad Leader. 2nd ed.)
o Battle For The High Ground (scenario pack for the Advanced Tobruk series)
o Busting the Bocage (supplement compatible with Advanced Squad Leader, 3rd ed.)
o CSIR Nikitovka (in the Advanced Tobruk series).
o Facing the Blitz (maps/scenarios in the Advanced Tobruk series)
o Grossdeutschland at Stonne 1940 (compatible with Advanced Squad Leader)
o Hot Stove Pack (in the Advanced Tobruk series)
o Parkers Crossroad (expansion for Darkest December in the Advanced Tobruk series)
o Roman Glory (supplement compatible with Advanced Squad Leader)
o So Full of Fire (expansion in the Advanced Tobruk series)
o Sudden Full Contact (compatible with Advanced Squad leader)
o Stonne (in the Advanced Tobruk series)
o Toktong Pass 1950 (in the Advanced Tobruk series)
o Warfighting Guide #1 (in the Advanced Tobruk series)
o The Western Front 1944 (scenario pack for the Advanced Tobruk series)
o Witches Cauldron (compatible with Advanced Squad leader)
* Days of Wonder
o Memoir '44 Air Pack (Memoir '44 Expansion Set)
* Decision Games
o Land Without End
o Luftwaffe (rev. ed.)
o Nine Navies War
o Storm of Steel
* Devir
o Espana 1936
* Ediciones Rotura
o 1936 Guerra Civil (English ed.)
* Kelly Everit
o Imperial Ambitions
* Fantasy Flight Games
o Tide of Iron
* Feucht

o First Strike
* Fiery Dragon
o Algeria (reprint)
o Barnard's Star (reprint)
o Byzantium Reborn (rev ed.)
o Operation Whirlwind (reprint)
* Firefight Games
o Blow by Blow: Pakistan Invades India, September 1965
o Cossack Revenge: Denikin's Abyss, March 1920
o Crazy Horse, Black Shield, White Cloud
o Kakhovka
o Heroic Frenzy
o The Koltov Corridor: Disaster at Brody (East Front), July 1944
o Meatgrinder
o One Bullet, One German
o Operation Fischfang: Smashing the Allies at Anzio, Feb. 1944
o Operation Westindien
o Remagen 1945
o Storm Over Taierzhuang: Samurai Stalingrad 1938
o Vencr O Morir: Kundt's Pocket at Campo Via, Dec. 1933
o Wicked Narrows: Rome's Disaster at Kalkreis, Sept. 9, 2 AD
* @games online
o Malaya
o Watchtower (in the Action Front! Series)
* GMT Games
o 1914, Twilight in the East
o Asia Engulfed
o Combat Commander: Vol. II - Mediterranean
o Combat Commander Battle Pack #1: Paratroopers
o Conquest of Paradise
o Gergovia (module for Caesar: Conquest of Gaul)
o Glory III
o The Great War in Europe (rev. ed of The Great War in Europe and The Great War in the Near East)
o Monmouth (in the American Revolutionary War series)
o Ran (in the Great Battles of History series)
o Samurai (in the Great Battles of History series, reprint)
o Squadron Pack 2: Bombers (in the Down in Flames series)
o Sword of Rome Expansion
* Grenier Games
o Operation Weserübung
* Guild of Blades
o The American Revolution
o Battle of Thermopylae (2nd ed.)
o Beyond Hadrian's Wall (rev. ed.)
o The War To End All Wars (3rd ed.)
* Hasbro
o Axis & Allies: Guadalcanal
* Hexasim
o Marne 1918-Friedensturm (English ed.)
* Eric Hotz & Phil Hall
o Blue Max/Canvas Eagles
* Interformic
o Unbreakable
* Dave Kershaw

o ACW Solitaire
* Khyber Pass Games
o Prairie Aflame, The Northwest Rebellion, 1885
o Rosebud: Prelude to Little Bighorn
* L2 Design Group
o War at Sea (3rd ed.)
o Waterloo: Fate of France
* Little Page of Games
o Hohenfriedeberg
* Lock 'n Load Publishing
o Battle Pack Alpha (scenario pack for the Lock 'n Load series)
o Corps Command: Totensonntag
o Island War Deluxe
o Not One Step Back
o Omaha Beach (reprint from Armchair General)
o Swift and Bold (expansion to Band of Heroes)
o Valley of Tears (reprint from Armchair General)
o World at War: Eisenbach Gap
* Lost Battalion Games
o The Kaiser's Pirates
* LPD Games
o Across the Wide Missouri
o Battle of Gettysburg
o Battle of Honey Springs
o Grant's Early Battles
* Minden Games
o Bat tleship Captain: Tactical Naval Combat, 1890-1945
o Pacific Salvo!
o Case Blue (in the Operational Combat series)
o Few Returned (in the Advanced Squad Leader series)
o Red Star Rising, The War In Russia, 1941-1944
o Starter Kit #3 - Tanks (in the Advanced Squad Leader series)
o Talavera/Vimeiro (in the Napoleonic Brigade series)
* New England Simulations
o Overlord: D-Day and the Beachhead Battles (expansion for The Killing Ground)
o 1813: The Year That Doomed The Empire
o The Habit of Victory
* Outpost 31
o The thing
* Panzer Digest (Minden Games)
o #1: Falaise Pocket/Advanced Salvo! 1939-194/Penal Battalion/Longstreet's Disaster
o #2: Swordfish at Taranto/Field of Honour/The Evacuation of Konigsberg
* Pegasus
o The War Game: World War Two
* Perfect Captain
o Spanish Fury: Voyage
Pratzen Editions
o Le Grand Empire
* Red Sash Games
o Türkenkrieg: The Russo-Austro Turkish War, Balkan Theatre 1737-39
* Riachuelo Games
o Monte Castelo and Gothic Line
o Riachuelo's Naval Battle
o Unternehmung 25
* Schutze Games

o Aleutian Campaign
o Sands of Iwo Jima
* Sierra Madre Games
o How We Became Human
* Luiz Silva
o Congo
* Simmons Games
o Napoleon's Triumph
* Strategos
o #2: Iwo Jima
* Strategy and Tactics magazine (Decision Games)
o #241: Twilight of the Ottomans: World War I in the Middle East
o #242: They Died With Their Boots On 2: Pershing and Mad Anthony
o #243: Sea Lords: The Vietnam War in the Mekong Delta
o #244: Drive on Moscow
o #245: The Triple Alliance War
o #246: Manila '45: Stalingrad of the Pacific
o #247: Holy Roman Empire: Wars of the Reformation, 1524-38
* TCS (Roberto Chiavini)
o Edgehill (reprint)
o First Newbury
o Dunbar
o Gliders from the Sky: the Fall of Eben Emael
o I Obey (reprint)
o Innocence lost (reprint)
o Montebello (reprint)
o Prussia Rising
* Richard Trevino
o Charge at the Alamo
* Vae Victis magazine
o #73: Magenta 1859/Reichshoffen 1870/St. Nazaire 1942
o #74: Ultimus Romanorum
o #75: Orel 1919/Incredible Armada
o #76: Les deux Bretagne (1341-1364)
o #77: Eylau 1807
o #78: La Bataille de Hongrie 1944-5/Otterburn
* Valley Games
o Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage
* Dan Verssen Games
o Down With The Empire
o Marine Air (expansion set for Hornet Leader II)
o World War I Bombers (a Down In Flames expansion)
* Warfrog
o 1630 Something (rev. ed.)
* Worthington Games
o Cowboys: The Way of the Gun
o Prussia's Defiant Stand
* Z-Man Games
o Duel in the Dark

The effects of the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004 are only too well known: It knocked the hell out of Aceh Province on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, leveling buildings, scattering palm trees, and wiping out entire villages. It killed more than 160,000 people in Aceh alone and displaced millions more. Similar scenes of destruction were repeated along the coasts of Southeast Asia, India, and as far west as Africa. The magnitude of the disaster shocked the world.

What the world did not know was that the 2004 tsunami—seemingly so unprecedented in scale—would yield specific clues to one of the great mysteries of archaeology: What or who brought down the Minoans, the remarkable Bronze Age civilization that played a central role in the development of Western culture?

Europe’s first great culture sprang up on the island of Crete, in the Aegean Sea, and rose to prominence some 4,000 years ago, flourishing for at least five centuries. It was a civilization of sophisticated art and architecture, with vast trading routes that spread Minoan goods—and culture—to the neighboring Greek islands. But then, around 1500 B.C., the Minoan world went into a tailspin, and no one knows why.

In 1939, leading Greek archaeologist Spyridon Marinatos pinned the blame on a colossal volcanic eruption on the island of Thera, about 70 miles north of Crete, that occurred about 1600 B.C. The event hurled a plume of ash and rock 20 miles into the stratosphere, turning daylight into pitch darkness over much of the Mediterranean. The explosion was recently estimated to be 10 times as powerful as the 1883 eruption of Krakatau in Indonesia, which obliterated 300 towns and villages and killed at least 36,000 people. So extreme was the Thera eruption that many writers linked it to Plato’s legend of Atlantis, the magnificent island city swallowed up by the sea. Marinatos’s theory was bolstered in 1967 when he dug up the ruins of Akrotiri, a prosperous Minoan town on Thera that had been buried in volcanic ash. Akrotiri became famous as a Bronze Age Pompeii because the ash preserved two-story dwellings, exquisite frescoes, and winding streets almost intact.

On further examination, though, the ruins did not confirm the theory. It turned out that the pottery on Akrotiri was not from the final phase of Minoan culture; in fact, many Minoan settlements on Crete continued to exist for at least a generation or two after the Thera cataclysm. Archaeologists concluded that the Minoans had not only survived but thrived after the eruption, expanding their culture until they were hit by some other, unknown disaster—perhaps some combination of fire, earthquake, or foreign invader. Thera’s impact, it seemed, had been overestimated. But startling new evidence is forcing archaeologists to rethink the full fury of the Thera explosion, the natural disaster it may have triggered, and the nature of the final blow to the once-great Minoan civilization.

Each summer, thousands of tourists encounter the Minoans at the spectacularly restored ruins of Knossos, an 11-acre complex four miles south of Crete’s capital, Heraklion. Late-19th-century excavations by Sir Arthur Evans revealed Knossos to be a vast, intricately engineered, multistory building, complete with flushing toilets, statuettes of bare-breasted priestesses, and frescoes of athletes vaulting over bulls. In 1900, Evans discovered an impressive stone throne, from which he believed the legendary King Minos and his descendants had presided over Bronze Age Crete. In the 1980s, however, a new generation of archaeologists, including Joseph Alexander “Sandy” MacGillivray, a Montreal-born scholar at the British School at Athens, began questioning many of Evans’s assumptions. Smaller-scale versions of Knossos have turned up at nearly every Minoan settlement across Crete, and scholars now suspect there was no single king but rather many independent polities.

MacGillivray also became interested in how the civilization ended. At Palaikastro, in the island’s far northeastern corner, MacGillivray and his colleague Hugh Sackett have excavated seven blocks of a Minoan town of perhaps 5,000 inhabitants, their plastered and painted houses arranged in a network of tidy paved and drained streets. One striking find was the foundations of a fine mansion, paved with fancy purple schist and white limestone and designed around an airy central courtyard “of Knossian pretensions,” as MacGillivray puts it. “But after the house was destroyed by an earthquake, it was abandoned and never rebuilt, and that preserved some things we had a hard time explaining.”

The house was dusted with a powdery gray ash, so irritating that the diggers had to wear face masks. Chemical analysis showed that the ash was volcanic fallout from the Thera eruption, but instead of resting in neat layers, the ash had washed into peculiar places: a broken, upside-down pot; the courtyard’s drain; and one long, continuous film in the main street outside. It was as if a flash flood had hosed most of the ash away, leaving these remnants behind. Some powerful force had also flipped over several of the house’s paving slabs and dumped fine gravel over the walls—but this part of the site lies a quarter of a mile from the sea and far from any stream or river.

That wasn’t the only oddity. Another building “looked like it had been flattened, the whole frontage facing the sea had been torn off, and it made no sense. And we asked ourselves, could a wave have done this?” MacGillivray says.

The strangest and most significant find, however, was a soil layer down by the beach that looked like nothing MacGillivray had ever seen in four decades as a field archaeologist. A horizontal band of gravel about a foot thick was stuffed with a mad jumble of broken pottery, rocks, lumps of powdery gray ash, and mashed-up animal teeth and bones. Perhaps an exceptionally violent storm had inflicted this chaos, MacGillivray considered, but he began to suspect that a tsunami was the more likely culprit.

MacGillivray invited Hendrik Bruins to Palaikastro. The Dutch-born geoarchaeologist and human ecologist had a reputation as a skillful analyst of the thorny dating controversies that beset archaeology in the Middle East, but figuring out the chaotic layer overlooking the beach presented a novel scientific challenge. “Identifying a tsunami deposit is a completely new field,” Bruins explains. “Until the early 1990s, earth scientists didn’t even recognize that tsunamis do more than just destroy the coast—they leave distinctive deposits behind as well. I needed to do a lot of different tests to convince myself, as well as my colleagues, that we were dealing with a tsunami and not something else, like debris from a storm surge.”

Another building looked like it had been flattened. Could a wave have done this?

Bruins sent thin sections of the chaotic deposit to micropaleontologist Chaim Benjamini, a colleague at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel. Benjamini identified the tiny round shells of foraminifera and fragments of red coralline –algae; these marine organisms suggested that the ocean, rather than a river or a flash flood, had been involved. If the marine organisms had been scooped up from below sea level and dumped on the elevated promontory, something much bigger than a storm surge must have pounded the coast of ancient Crete.

The strange pattern of gravel deposits in the town offered further evidence of a deep oceanic disturbance. Then there were lumps of gray ash in the beach layer, “resembling unstirred instant-soup lumps at the bottom of a cup,” according to Bruins. He sent samples of these lumps to two state-of-the-art geochemistry labs in Germany, which analyzed the sample’s geochemical signature. The results of both tests were identical: a perfect match between Theran ash and the “soup lumps” on the beach.

Finally, there was the question of when all this disruption occurred. Bruins sent fragments of cattle bones and seashells from the chaotic layer to the radiocarbon dating lab at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. Because of well-known problems in calibrating dates from 3,500 years ago, he knew the lab would be unable to pin down the exact calendar age of the samples, but the uncalibrated measured age of the cattle bones closely matched the latest equivalent dates for the cataclysm on Thera.

All the clues pointed to one answer: A giant wave had struck Palaikastro Bay while freshly fallen ash from Thera was still lying about, inundating the town for miles inland and streaking it with strange patterns of ash. But could even a giant wave be big enough to wipe out an entire civilization?

MacGillivray consulted Costas Synolakis, an energetic Greek-born earth scientist at the *University of Southern California, where he pioneered the predictive computer model used by the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii. Synolakis’s first attempts to model tsunamis in the early 1990s began as a solitary exercise. Everything changed after the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004. Synolakis visited Banda Aceh, the city in northwestern Sumatra closest to the epicenter of the undersea quake, where hundred-foot waves had destroyed a city of more than 150,000 people in minutes. “It was a surreal, absurdist landscape,” he says. “It took an effort of imagination to conceive that people had ever lived there.” Almost overnight, Synolakis’s expertise in computer modeling of tsunamis became a focus of worldwide scientific and media attention.

In 2000, Synolakis had con- sulted on a study to model a hypothetical Minoan tsunami. He found that no matter how steep the waves were when they started out at Thera, they dissipated quickly, reaching only three to nine feet at most when they hit Crete, some 70 miles away. The study concluded that such waves could have been “disruptive,” but not devastating, to Minoan Crete.

Synolakis was still thinking that way when he visited Palaikastro in May 2006. Then MacGillivray took him down to the beach. “The moment I looked at that debris layer, I was absolutely stunned,” Synolakis says. “The image that came to me, right then and there, is what I saw everywhere after the December 2004 tsunami: a blanket of cultural debris, broken dishes, broken glass, bits of bone, people’s belongings scattered everywhere. It looked exactly like that kind of debris carpet, and you don’t get it in a smaller tsunami. The presence of this chaotic deposit suggested that the tsunami was at least three or four meters [10 to 13 feet] at the shoreline.” What had begun as a casual visit now turned into a full-blown research project. Synolakis hired a boat and took depth measurements of the seabed in Palaikastro Bay. When he tested the hillside behind the Minoan town to establish how far the wave had penetrated inland, he found what appeared to be more layers of chaotic debris at an astounding 90 feet above sea level.

About 60 miles to the west of Palaikastro, near the palace of Mallia, the research team found yet another strikingly similar chaotic deposit. Plugging in all the new data, Synolakis drastically revised his tsunami model. “When we put it all together,” he says, “we’re looking at a wave that’s on the order of 15 meters [50 feet] when it hits the shore at Palaikastro. This is a gigantic wave, much larger, wider, and longer than we thought; its volume is 10 times more than what we estimated only six years ago. We’re talking about an extreme event, certainly on the order of the 2004 Indian Ocean disaster.”

With eyewitness video of that disaster lingering in everyone’s minds, it took little imagination to visualize the physical destruction that must have hit Palaikastro, Mallia, and elsewhere along the Cretan coast. But evidence suggests that the Minoans survived the disaster for at least a generation or two; the real end came later, in an outbreak of fiery vandalism. Throughout Crete, temple-palaces were burned and ransacked, and there are no obvious signs of battle, invasion, or natural disaster at these ruins. Of all the great Minoan palaces, only Knossos survived; eventually it was taken over by the Mycenaeans, the mainland Greeks who prospered as the fortunes of Crete declined.

A leader of the Palaikastro team, Belgian archaeologist Jan Driessen, contends that the wave of destruction was the tail end of a spiral of instability that the Thera catastrophe set in motion. A steep drop-off in the number of Minoan sites suggests that there had been a famine or an epidemic, one perhaps touched off by the environmental effects of the eruption combined with the later tsunami.

There may have been a spiritual crisis as well. At Palaikastro, archaeologists found that a shrine had been violently destroyed and a cult statuette deliberately smashed and burned. Driessen suggests there may have been a reaction against the religious cult represented by the statuette, perhaps as part of a populist uprising against the elite in their villas and temple-palaces. The loss of life and livelihood after the eruption may have aggravated problems of class difference and widened the gap between the elite and the commoners, which Driessen says “existed already in Minoan society.”

The terrifying scale of the Thera eruption, followed by the devastating force of the giant tsunami it created, may have led to a gradual unraveling of the values and beliefs that had sustained this brilliant civilization for so long. In his poem “The Hollow Men,” T. S. Eliot writes these famous lines: “This is the way the world ends / This is the way the world ends / This is the way the world ends / Not with a bang but a whimper.”

For the Minoans, it appears their world ended with both.

In 2007, excavators of a remote site in southeastern Iran reported finding evidence of a writing system that dates back more than 4,000 years. Featuring odd geometric symbols, three baked mud tablets unearthed near the Iranian city of –Jiroft could reveal much about a sophisticated and independent urban culture that flourished between the Mesopotamian and Indus Valley civilizations. However, many scholars are skeptical about the authenticity of the finds, which they –suspect may have been planted by locals.

Archaeologists first began digging at large mounds near Jiroft in 2001 after flash floods uncovered ancient graves nearby. The team has since found evidence of a large city dating to 2500 B.C.

Then, in 2005, a worker brought Yousef Madjidzadeh, the archaeologist in charge of the excavation, a tablet covered with strange symbols on the front and back, saying he dug it up in his village a few hundred yards away. Last winter, Madjidzadeh ordered his team to dig at the spot, where they uncovered two more tablets. The three appear to show a progression: The first has 8 simple geometric signs; the second includes 15 slightly more complex signs, while the third has a total of 59 signs. The variants might be precursors to Elamite, the writing system used on the Iranian plateau in the late third millennium B.C. They could also be unrelated or, as some have said, fakes. Madjidzadeh vows to return in 2008 to uncover more tablets and silence his critics.

The temples of Angkor are architectural marvels and international tourist attractions. But in an August paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, archaeologists from Australia, Cambodia, and France reported using a combination of ground surveys and aerial scans to create a broader, more comprehensive map of the ancient Cambodian ruin, confirming that it was once the center of an incredibly vast city with an elaborate water network.

Lead researcher Damian Evans, an archaeologist at the University of Sydney, says the true extent of the city is apparent only from above. Between A.D. 800 and 1500, Angkor’s complex canals, roads, irrigated fields, and dense settlements sprawled across more than 1,160 square miles, almost the size of Rhode Island—and far beyond the area protected within the UNESCO World Heritage Site’s zone today. The city was the preindustrial world’s largest urban complex, made possible by some of the most complicated hydraulic works the world had ever seen.

American technology played a critical role in the analysis. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory flew a 747 specially equipped with ground-scanning radar over the site, teasing out subtle differences in elevation and soil content. Added to conventional aerial photography and confirmed through ground surveys, the radar images showed that Angkor was unsustainable. Stripping off the area’s natural forest cover exposed the complex irrigation systems to unexpected erosion and flooding. “They very intensively reengineered the landscape wherever they went,” Evans says. “When you start creating these incredibly elaborate engineering works, it’s inevitable that you create problems. Angkor engineered itself out of existence.”

In September, a team of surgeons and immunologists at Duke University proposed a reason for the appendix, declaring it a “safe house” for beneficial bacteria. Attached like a little wiggly worm at the beginning of the large intestine, the 2- to 4-inch-long blind-ended tube seems to have no effect on digestion, so biologists have long been stumped about its purpose. That is, until biochemist and immunologist William Parker became interested in biofilms, closely bound communities of bacteria. In the gut, biofilms aid digestion, make vital nutrients, and crowd out harmful invaders. Upon investigation, Parker and his colleagues found that in humans, the greatest concentration of biofilms was in the appendix; in rats and baboons, biofilms are concentrated in the cecum, a pouch that sits at the same location.

The shape of the appendix is perfectly suited as a sanctuary for bacteria: Its narrow opening prevents an influx of the intestinal contents, and it’s situated inaccessibly outside the main flow of the fecal stream. Parker suspects that it acts as a reservoir of healthy, protective bacteria that can replenish the intestine after a bacteria-depleting diarrheal illness like cholera. Where such diseases are rampant, Parker says, “if you don’t have something like the appendix to harbor safe bacteria, you have less of a survival advantage.”

Women who have struggled through a miscarriage are often desperate for clues to what went wrong, and what they can do differently the next time. But doctors seldom have solid answers.

The latest research seems only to muddy the picture. A study by Kaiser Permanente in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology this week reports that women who consumed the equivalent of two cups of coffee or more daily had twice the miscarriage rate as those who avoided caffeine. Yet a study from Mount Sinai School of Medicine, in the journal Epidemiology this month, found that drinking more moderate amounts of caffeine didn't increase a woman's risk of miscarrying.

Either way, caffeine consumption is just one small piece of this heartbreaking puzzle for many couples. A host of other problems can sabotage a developing fetus, and if patients are aware of their options, they might be able to fill in at least a little of that puzzle.

Roughly one million pregnancies in the U.S. end in miscarriage every year, according to the National Center on Health Statistics. Most miscarriages occur in the first trimester, and some 60% are thought to be due to a random genetic error in the egg or the sperm or the first crucial cell divisions. No amount of prenatal care or dietary precautions will make a difference in these cases.

Even if the baby is genetically normal, other problems can doom the pregnancy. Some can be tested for, and treated, if doctors investigate. But they seldom do. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists now recommends looking into possible causes after a woman has had two consecutive miscarriages. But because miscarriages are so common and so often thought to be genetically based, many OB/gyns still don't look for other explanations unless a woman has had at least three. And many insurers won't pay for tests to investigate "recurrent miscarriage" until a woman has had three.

In the meantime, the admonition is to "just try again" -- which can be very frustrating for couples to hear, particularly if they postponed childbearing and had trouble conceiving. And the chance of miscarrying gets higher after the mother reaches 35.

"You almost want something to be wrong so you can treat it," says Kelly Maguire, a counselor for Resolve, a support group for fertility issues, who had four miscarriages before having two healthy babies. "My experience is, it's all up to you and how much you push your doctor."

Among the things women can do to find explanations is to press for a genetic analysis of the miscarried tissue, if it's feasible to save. If it's abnormal, that alone will explain the miscarriage. But it's a good idea to seek genetic tests of both parents that could reveal whether the problem is likely to recur.

After a second miscarriage the mother should be tested for imbalances of hormones, including thyroid, prolactin and progesterone, as well as for polycycstic ovarian syndrome. Some are easily treatable. Autoimmune disorders such as antiphospholipid antibodies can cause blood clots that clog vessels in the placenta. Those may be treatable with baby aspirin and blood thinner. Bacterial infections, including some that linger for years with no symptoms, can also thwart pregnancy, and can be treated with antibiotics. A uterine abnormality may limit the space for the fetus. That can be seen on a sonogram, and in some cases, corrected by surgery.

To be sure, many recurrent miscarriages remain a mystery even after lengthy investigations. But that number is getting smaller all the time, says Jonathan Scher, a Manhattan OB/gyn who treats patients with recurrent pregnancy loss. "Patients who miscarry back to back should not take no for an answer. It's very old fashioned to accept 'it's nature way,' " he says. "Miscarriage doesn't always have to happen. Today, we can find answers in many cases, and in many cases, treatment is available."

In some cases, Dr. Scher even works with perinatal pathologists to seek clues from a patient's prior miscarriages if tissue from a D&C was sent to a pathology lab. Some states require such slides to be saved for years, and they can reveal traces of clotting problems or infection, as well as genetic problems.

How environmental agents might fit in is less well understood. But most OB/gyns have been telling pregnant women for years to go easy on caffeine, as well as to quit smoking and drinking alcohol and to avoid other hazards, such as cat litter and undercooked meat. As a result of the Kaiser study, the March of Dimes has lowered its recommended caffeine limit to 200 mg from 300 mg daily.

"Reducing caffeine won't prevent a miscarriage that's destined to happen," says Tracy Flanagan, Kaiser's director of women's health in Northern California. "But this does give women the opportunity to do something that may reduce their risk."

The structure of DNA, the molecule of life, was discovered in the early months of 1953. Nine years later, three men were jointly awarded a Nobel Prize for this achievement, which has proved to be one of the most consequential in the history of science. James Watson and Francis Crick, who worked at the Cavendish Laboratory, in Cambridge, England, came up with the famous double-helix structure. The third man honored, Maurice Wilkins, was a scientist in London; although he worked at a rival lab, he did make available to Watson and Crick some of the experimental evidence that helped them clinch their discovery. The person actually responsible for this evidence, however, was not Wilkins but an estranged colleague of his named Rosalind Franklin, who had died four years before the prize was awarded.

For a decade after her death, Rosalind Franklin remained little known beyond the world of molecular biology. Then, in 1968, Watson published "The Double Helix," his rambunctious, best-selling account of the race to solve the structure of DNA. In its pages, Rosalind Franklin becomes Rosy, a bluestocking virago who hoards her data, stubbornly misses their import, and occasionally threatens Watson and others with physical violence—but who might not be "totally uninteresting" if she "took off her glasses and did something novel with her hair."

Friends and colleagues of hers mounted a counter-offensive, which was soon joined by feminist historians of science. Why did Watson create Rosy the Witch? Out of guilt for having used her evidence, which Wilkins showed him without her knowledge. Neither Watson nor Crick ever admitted to Franklin that they had relied crucially on her research; neither so much as mentioned her in his Nobel acceptance speech. Moreover, Franklin herself had made great progress toward identifying the structure of DNA. Had she not been the rare woman laboring in a patriarchal scientific establishment that limited her opportunities and stifled her talents, the triumph might well have been hers. So her partisans have contended.

"Since Watson's book, Rosalind Franklin has become a feminist icon, the Sylvia Plath of molecular biology, the woman whose gifts were sacrificed to the greater glory of the male," Brenda Maddox writes in "Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA" (HarperCollins; $29.95). This mythologizing, Maddox thinks, has done Rosalind's memory a disservice. One wouldn't guess from the "doomed heroine" caricature, for instance, that Rosalind enjoyed an international reputation in three different fields of research. Nor would one guess from Watson's depiction that, far from being frumpier than the average Englishwoman, she had actually brought with her to London elements of Christian Dior's New Look that she had picked up during her years in Paris. Maddox, who has previously written lives of D. H. Lawrence and Nora Joyce, tells Rosalind's story engagingly. We get a vivid picture of her scientific prowess, the complexity of her character, and the stoicism with which she pursued her research during her final months even as she was dying of ovarian cancer. Inevitably, though, it is her part in the DNA drama which commands the most interest. Did she really play an indispensable role in the great 1953 discovery, as Maddox finally joins so many others in suggesting? Was she cheated of the credit due her because she was a woman?

Rosalind Franklin was born in London in 1920 to a prominent Anglo-Jewish family. (Her great-uncle had been installed by the British as the first High Commissioner of Palestine.) The one indulgence of her "frugal rich" parents was foreign travel; they favored vigorous mountain hiking trips—an activity that became a Wordsworthian passion for Rosalind. At sixteen, she chose science as her subject, selecting the "hard" areas of physics, mathematics, and chemistry rather than the botany and biology courses usually taken by girls. She avoided the social whirl. At the age of twenty-one, after three years of study at wartime Cambridge, she confessed to a cousin that she had never been kissed and did not know how the human ovum was fertilized. In 1945, she submitted a Ph.D. thesis on how the porosity of carbon was affected by heat, a subject she mockingly described as "the holes in coal."

In fact, Rosalind's research predilections centered on something very beautiful, the idea of a crystal. To a mathematician, a crystal is a regular system of points that, if repeated indefinitely, will fill all of space. For a crystal in nature, such as table salt, these points are invisibly tiny atoms that are held in place by chemical bonds. In the early twentieth century, it was found that the wavelength of X rays is about the same as the space between atoms in crystalline matter. As X rays penetrate a crystal, they are deflected by the rows of atoms. This causes interference among them: some of the waves reinforce one another, while others cancel one another out. If a photographic plate is placed on the other side of a crystal being bombarded with X rays, a pattern of bright and dark spots eventually appears—a pattern that, in principle, would allow one to infer the molecular architecture of the crystal.

Rosalind eagerly absorbed the theory of crystallography, and so joined, as Maddox puts it, "the small band of the human race for whom infinitesimal specks of matter are as real and solid as billiard balls." Upon finishing her doctoral work, she got the offer of her dreams: a job at a crystallography lab on a quai up the river from Notre Dame. The four years that she spent in Paris, from 1947 to 1950, were evidently the happiest time of her life. Living in a garret in the Faubourg Saint-Germain, speaking almost accentless French, and working with a congenial and cultured group of scientists, she felt at home in a way she never had in England. The head of her labo was a dashing and brilliant Russian-born Jew named Jacques Mering, whose specialty was the study of "disordered matter"—crystals whose molecular arrangement was in some disarray. Rosalind picked up crystallographic expertise from Mering, and she also seems to have developed romantic feelings for him, even though he was already equipped with a wife and a mistress. Maddox speculates that Mering "made advances of some sort" to Rosalind, and that "she allowed herself to be tempted farther than was usual for her but eventually, incapable of a casual liaison, drew back." If so, it was probably the closest brush she ever had with carnal knowledge. As one of her fellow-chercheurs later put it, she was "like Queen Victoria about men."

Despite the pleasures of her life and work in Paris, Rosalind had always planned to return to London. In England, as in America, chemists and physicists were discovering a new research vista: life. The cells that make up an organism, after all, consist of atoms and molecules, which must obey the laws of physics and chemistry. It made sense, therefore, to try to bring the concepts and methods of the physical sciences to bear on biological mysteries. (After the creation of the atomic bomb, physicists found the prospect of escaping from the science of death to the science of life especially appealing.) Rosalind, though avowedly "ignorant about all things biological," applied for a position at the biophysics laboratory of King's College, London, and was accepted. Her arrival there, in 1951, marked the beginning of what Maddox calls "one of the great personal quarrels in the history of science."

The man who gave Rosalind the job in London, J. T. Randall, was something of a war hero in Britain because of his role in the development of radar. He was also happily out of step with the misogyny that prevailed in the scientific establishment at the time. Randall put women into more than a quarter of the positions in his lab and had a reputation for creating a helpful environment for them. The task he offered Rosalind was to investigate the structure of "certain biological fibres in which we are interested"—namely, DNA. This could scarcely have been a more important assignment. But the setting in which she was to carry it out filled her with gloom. King's College was dominated by clerics ("hooded crows," she called them) who trained students for the Anglican priesthood. The scientists were relegated to a cellar laboratory on the Strand, built around a bomb crater from the war. The atmosphere struck Rosalind as coarse and schoolboyish. Worse, her new colleagues were intellectually mediocre. As she wrote to a friend in Paris, "There isn't a first-class or even a good brain among them—in fact nobody with whom I particularly want to discuss anything, scientific or otherwise." The greatest indignity came when she found that she was expected to share the DNA project with the lab's deputy director, Maurice Wilkins, whom she soon decided she could not abide.

Wilkins was a New Zealand-born physicist who had worked on the Manhattan Project during the Second World War. He was unmarried and in his mid-thirties when Rosalind encountered him—tall, gauntly handsome, and attractive to women. His mild temperament, a little old-maidish perhaps, contrasted with Rosalind's brusque combativeness. She found him "middle class" and unworthy of being her collaborator. Wilkins made little gestures to win her favor, like buying her chocolates, but to no avail. When he gave a progress report on his own crystallographic research on DNA, Rosalind peremptorily ordered him to abandon X-ray work and stick to his optical studies. "Go back to your microscopes" is how he recalls her putting it.
What Wilkins described on that occasion was evidence he had obtained which suggested that DNA had the form of a helix, rather like a spiral staircase. Helices were very much in the air at that moment. Only a few months earlier, Linus Pauling had published his discovery that certain proteins had a helical form. Pauling, who was working at Caltech, in Pasadena, was the foremost chemist of his time. Since he had discovered the structure of one important kind of biological molecule, it was natural for him to start thinking about DNA. Meanwhile, in Cambridge, at the Cavendish Laboratory, a thirty-five-year-old physicist named Francis Crick was becoming friends with a twenty-three-year-old American biologist named James Watson. Watson knew genetics; Crick knew X-ray crystallography. Impressed by Pauling's achievement, and having heard from Wilkins what the King's College lab was up to, they also turned their attention to the structure of DNA.

The stage was set for a three-way competition among London, Cambridge, and Pasadena. London, however, had an enormous advantage: a jam jar containing the best sample of DNA in the world. The gooey gel could be stretched out into long, fragile strings. "It's just like snot!" Wilkins exclaimed. Rudolf Signer, a Swiss scientist who had isolated the sample from the thymus glands of calves, had generously given it to Wilkins at a scientific meeting. How Signer managed to get DNA in such a pristine form is a mystery; he never fully explained his recipe. But it soon became clear that his gel could yield beautifully crisp diffraction patterns.

Upon Rosalind's arrival at King's College, the Signer DNA was turned over to her. Using state-of-the-art equipment, she began to get superb X-ray photographs. She also found that the Signer DNA fibres could be made to assume two distinct forms: a longer "wet" form, and a more compact "dry" one. All earlier X-ray photographs of DNA had been a confusing blur of the two. But when Wilkins pointed out that her patterns, too, were consistent with a helical structure, Rosalind snapped, "How dare you interpret my data for me?" His proposal of collaboration was angrily rejected. The atmosphere in the lab became so poisonous that Randall had to intervene, setting out a formal division of labor. Rosalind got all the Signer DNA and the new X-ray cameras. Wilkins was left with the old equipment and an inferior sample of DNA. And that was more or less the end of any communication between them.

Maddox does not hesitate to assign blame for all this. "The rift was Randall's doing," she writes. In inviting Rosalind to the King's College lab, he had sent her an ambiguous letter leading her to believe that she would be in exclusive command of the DNA project; it was understandable, the author implies, that she should resent Wilkins's continued involvement. Wilkins was not the only object of her animosity in the lab, however. "She nearly terrified the living daylights out of me," one graduate student recalled. Maddox attributes Rosalind's rebarbativeness to the patriarchal atmosphere of London: "In Paris she was confident, admired, independent. Now she was a daughter again." That may be; but it is also true that, less than a year after her return to England, Rosalind found herself in sole custody of all the experimental means needed to discover the structure of DNA.

In Cambridge, Watson and Crick had none of that. They did, however, enjoy a remarkable personal affinity. "Neither had an ounce of depression in him, while Rosalind and Maurice, in their very different ways, were prey to melancholy," Maddox writes. Watson and Crick's approach to the structure of DNA was inspired by the method that Linus Pauling had used so successfully with proteins: model-building. Guided by the rules of chemistry, they would make an educated guess about how DNA was put together, and construct a model out of metal rods and wires and colored plastic balls. No need to mess around with any snotlike gel. Rosalind had nothing but scorn for this speculative approach. Even if one managed to slap together a model that satisfied the X-ray data, how could one be sure that it was the only model that would do so? How would one know, she wondered, whether it was "the solution or a solution"?

What everyone at the time did know about DNA was that it consisted of a sequence of four different bases attached to a sugar-phosphate chain. These bases were adenine, guanine, thymine, and cytosine (usually abbreviated A, G, T, and C). The precise sequence presumably encoded the genetic information. As for the over-all architecture, it seemed reasonable to start by assuming that DNA was a helix. Pauling had already shown that a helical structure could lend stability to large biological molecules, and the preliminary X-ray evidence for DNA jibed with this hypothesis. But what kind of helix? And would its structure shed light on the molecule's singular function—self-reproduction?

In late 1951, Watson went down to listen to the London team talk about what they had learned so far, and he returned to Cambridge with a slightly garbled memory of their data. A week later, he and Crick had come up with a model for DNA. It was a triple helix, with the bases facing outward, so that they could interact with proteins. They invited the King's College group up to see their handiwork. It got a withering reception. Rosalind—who, unlike Watson and Crick, was actually a chemist—pointed out that the molecule as they had constructed it would not even hold together. Maddox reports that Rosalind was "jubilant" on the train back to London: "She had not expected the model to be right. The whole approach was unprofessional." Watson and Crick tried to salvage matters by suggesting that the two groups join forces, but Rosalind wanted nothing to do with them. After this debacle, the director of the Cavendish lab, Sir Lawrence Bragg, ordered Watson and Crick to leave the investigation of DNA to King's. As a token of compliance, the pair even sent their model-making jigs down to London, where they remained idle.

Rosalind, who now had the field pretty much to herself, was intent on deducing the molecular structure of DNA directly from the spots on the X-ray pictures, without any imaginative guesswork. Such a deduction would entail endless rounds of laborious calculation. Undeterred, Rosalind plunged in. She and her assistant also continued with their X-ray photography, taking long exposures—some lasting a hundred hours—of a single fibre of DNA. Sometime in the spring of 1952, she obtained the most stunning pattern yet for the wet form: a stark, X-shaped array of black stripes radiating out from the center. It fairly shouted helix. Rosalind numbered it Photograph 51 and put it aside. She was more interested in the dry-form photos, which contained the complex detail that, with fastidious measurement, might enable her to compute the form of DNA. And this detail did not point to a helical structure. That July, in an uncharacteristic prank, she even conducted a mock funeral for the helix. She spent the next few months with her slide rule, buried in books of numerical tables.

Maddox finds her earthbound approach understandable, given what she sees as the "hostile environment" in which Rosalind found herself: "If she had felt very confident and supported, she might have been able to make outrageous leaps of imagination." Maybe, though, she sensed little urgency to do so. Watson and Crick had been banned from investigating DNA. Pauling was still finishing up his work on proteins; and, in any case, as Rosalind knew, the only DNA photographs he had were old ones in which the two forms were deceptively superimposed. As for Wilkins, next door, he was too cowed to ask Rosalind for her data, much less for some of the precious DNA sample that had originally been his.

Watson and Crick, as it happened, could also afford to be patient. They were confident that Rosalind, in rejecting the helix, had headed up a blind alley. Crick saw how she had been misled by her painstaking measurements: the supposed anti-helical features in her photographs, he realized, were actually distortions that arose in the DNA helix when it coiled up into the dry form. Watson and Crick's method was the opposite of Rosalind's: trust no datum until it has been confirmed by theory. They were determined to solve the structure of DNA with as few empirical assumptions as possible.

Besides, what real data did they have access to? Rosalind was not publishing her X-ray photographs of DNA. Watson and Crick had heard about them from Wilkins, but not even he had seen the extraordinary Photograph 51. In May of 1952, Pauling was to be the guest of honor at a Royal Society meeting on proteins in London. Had he attended, he might well have been shown Rosalind's photographs and picked up from them what he needed to solve the structure of DNA. But the trip was aborted; because of McCarthyist suspicions about Pauling's political sympathies, the United States State Department had refused to issue him a passport.

Pauling pressed ahead with his model-building all the same, relying on his unrivalled grasp of the geometry of chemical bonds. At the end of 1952, Watson and Crick were devastated by the news that Pauling had worked out a structure for DNA. They awaited his paper with trepidation, but when it arrived, on January 28, 1953, they were delighted to find that Pauling had made the same blooper they had more than a year earlier. Like their old model, his was a chemically defective three-stranded helix with the bases on the outside. Watson and Crick knew that Pauling's errors would be pointed out to him, and that, given a second crack at the DNA problem, he would probably solve it. They figured they had, at most, six weeks.

That same day, Rosalind was giving her final seminar at King's College. She had had enough of that basement full of "positively repulsive" mediocrities, and had accepted an invitation from the great crystallographer J. D. Bernal to join his lab in London, at Birkbeck College. She would leave off DNA research and apply her X-ray skills to the study of viruses. Summarizing her work at King's, she neither referred to the wet form of DNA nor showed the splendid photographs she had taken of it. Instead, she concentrated on her supposed evidence that the dry form of the molecule was not helical.
A couple of days later, Watson turned up in her lab unbidden, offering to show her Pauling's model. When she countered with her anti-helical evidence, Watson, by his own account in "The Double Helix," decided to "risk a full explosion" by implying that she was incompetent in interpreting her own X-ray pictures: "Suddenly Rosy came from behind the lab bench that separated us and began moving toward me. Fearing that in her hot anger she might strike me, I grabbed up the Pauling manuscript and hastily retreated to the open door." Watson then encountered Wilkins, who, he claimed, told him that some months earlier "she had made a similar lunge toward him." Wilkins proceeded to do something that has widely been deemed unethical: he showed Watson one of Rosalind's photographs—probably Photograph 51. "The instant I saw the picture my mouth fell open and my pulse began to race," Watson recalled. On the train back to Cambridge, he sketched from memory, in the margin of a newspaper, the pattern he had seen.

From this point on, Watson and Crick needed only one month to wrap up the matter. Bragg authorized the two to resume their model-building, with jigs to be turned out by the machine shop. Watson plumped for a helical structure with two chains. "Francis would have to agree," he later wrote. "Even though he was a physicist, he knew that important biological objects come in pairs." Then they had a couple of lucky breaks. Crick noticed a symmetry in DNA that had eluded Rosalind and her colleagues: the crystal had the same form when it was turned upside down. As he immediately realized, this meant that the two chains that made up the helix must run in opposite directions, like up and down escalators. Their second break came when an off-the-cuff remark made by a new lab mate (a former student of Pauling's, as it happened) supplied the necessary clue to how the two chains of the helix held together. As they'd begun to suspect, it was the bases that bonded. Whenever A occurred on one chain, T was invariably paired with it on the other;
the two fit snugly together because of their shapes. Ditto for C and G. Therefore, one chain of the double helix was an upside-down negative of the other. When separated, each might serve as a template on which a new, complementary chain could be assembled with exactly the same information as the old. That, Watson and Crick realized, was how the molecule reproduced itself, and how nature, for the last four billion years, had counteracted the tendency of matter to become disordered. At lunchtime on February 28, 1953, Watson recounted, his partner "winged into The Eagle"—a Cambridge pub—"to tell everyone within hearing distance that we had found the secret of life." That April, the two presented their model, in a nine-hundred-word prose poem, in the scientific journal Nature. The elegance with which the DNA structure merged form and function seemed to guarantee its truth. "It has not escaped our notice that the specific pairing we have postulated immediately suggests a possible copying mechanism for the genetic material," the authors demurely noted.

Rosalind was not bowled over by Watson and Crick's model. "It's very pretty, but how are they going to prove it?" was her reaction. Rosalind, Maddox writes, "had been trained, as a child . . . as an undergraduate, as a scientist, never to overstate the case, never to go beyond hard evidence." Had Rosalind been a man, the author suggests, she might have been encouraged to be more audacious. Yet a knack for guessing at an answer ahead of the evidence is one of the things that distinguish a great scientist from a good one, regardless of gender. Perhaps Rosalind was merely a very good scientist, not a great one. Or, perhaps, given a little more time, she would have discovered the structure of DNA herself. Crick has generously ventured that she was three months away, but it is doubtful that Rosalind realized it, given her decision to leave the investigation of DNA to take up the crystallographic study of viruses.

Still, as Maddox notes, "Rosalind's Photograph 51 was the pivotal moment in the discovery of the double helix." Doesn't that make her partly responsible for that discovery? Well, there are two senses of "responsible": a moral sense and a causal sense. Rosalind was not morally responsible for the discovery, because she didn't willingly share or publish her most important data and she spurned would-be collaborators, including Watson and Crick. It was Wilkins who showed Photograph 51 to Watson. Maddox absolves Wilkins of the charge that it was unethical of him to have done so, but still maintains that Wilkins's action was "unwise." It is hard to see why. The ban on Watson and Crick's working on DNA had nothing to do with gentlemanly fair play; it was an attempt to allocate scientific resources efficiently—resources that were quite scarce in postwar Britain. Besides, Rosalind had already had the photograph for nine months without interpreting it correctly—whereas Watson saw its significance at a glance. What was unwise—and a little cowardly—was Watson and Crick's unwillingness to admit to Rosalind that they had been given access to her photograph, and their failure to acknowledge her experimental work more graciously, at least during her lifetime.

Was Rosalind, then, at least causally responsible for the DNA discovery, in the sense that it would not have happened without her? It is true that Photograph 51 helped to confirm the double-helix model. As Watson wrote in the epilogue to "The Double Helix" (added to make amends for his waspish treatment of Rosalind in the book), "The x-ray work she did at King's is increasingly regarded as superb." But she had been entrusted with the best DNA sample and the most sophisticated fine-focus cameras. There is no reason to think that Wilkins, had he been given charge of these resources, would not have obtained comparably crisp X-ray photographs—or, at least, some that were good enough to yield the few basic measurements that Watson and Crick needed.

Rosalind's later scientific career was highly successful and relatively happy. She travelled extensively in the United States, lecturing on coal to "the carbon crowd" and on the crystallography of viruses to scientific audiences. She had friendly encounters with Jim Watson (who by now had become something of a celebrity, appearing in an issue of Vogue opposite Richard Burton). America seemed to bring out the sunny side of this sometimes dour woman. "I have completely fallen for Southern California," she wrote in one of the many letters quoted by Maddox. (Among her Fanny Trollope-like observations was that Americans "seem to make nearly all their own furniture. It is a curious result of high standards of living—everybody earns a lot, so nobody can afford to pay anybody else.") While Rosalind was in California, around her thirty-sixth birthday, she became aware of persistent pains in her lower abdomen. Less than two years later, she was dead of ovarian cancer. It seems likely that her constant exposure to X rays was one of the causes.

Had Rosalind lived, would she have shared the 1962 Nobel Prize awarded for the discovery of the double helix? Maddox poses this inevitable question, only to banish it to the same idle file as "What if Kennedy had not gone to Dallas?" It's unlikely that Rosalind would have been named a co-winner along with Watson, Crick, and Wilkins, for the Nobel committee's practice—later codified as a rule—is never to divide a prize among more than three people. But Wilkins's claim to the laurel was surely weaker. His main contribution to the discovery of the double helix was not his experimental work, which was minimal after Rosalind's arrival, but his role as a go-between for the London and the Cambridge labs.

Another "what if" is worth considering. What if Linus Pauling had had access to one of Rosalind's photographs? Pauling's command of stereochemistry had already enabled him to work out the helical structure of proteins single-handedly. The information he had about DNA was meagre, though, and had been gleaned from old X-ray images that were a misleading blur of its wet and dry forms. Had Pauling come to London and had a glance at Photograph 51, he would surely have deduced the correct structure as quickly as Watson and Crick did. But Pauling was a campaigner against nuclear weapons. A witness before a committee of the House of Representatives had accused him of Communist sympathies. He was kept from seeing the King's College X-ray pictures by a State Department travel ban. As it happens, Pauling did win a Nobel Prize, his second, in 1962, the same year that Watson, Crick, and Wilkins did; but his was for peace.

Apparent gaps in White House e-mail archives coincide with dates in late 2003 and early 2004 when the administration was struggling to deal with the CIA leak investigation and the possibility of a congressional probe into Iraq intelligence failures.

The gaps - 473 days over a period of 20 months - are cited in a chart prepared by White House computer technicians and shared in September with the House Reform and Government Oversight Committee, which has been looking into reports of missing e-mail.

Among the times for which e-mail may not have been archived from Vice President Dick Cheney's office are four days in early October 2003, just as a federal probe was beginning into the leak of Valerie Plame's CIA identity, an inquiry that eventually ensnared Cheney's chief of staff.

Contents of the chart - which the White House now disputes - were disclosed Thursday by Rep. Henry Waxman, a California Democrat who chairs the House committee, as he announced plans for a Feb. 15 hearing.

Waxman said he decided to release details from the White House-prepared chart after presidential spokesman Tony Fratto declared "we have absolutely no reason to believe that any e-mails are missing."

Among the periods of time for which the chart indicates e-mail is missing is a five-day span starting on Jan. 29, 2004, when the White House was dealing with the possibility of an election-year probe by Congress into Iraq intelligence failures.

Not archived by the office of the vice president is e-mail for Jan. 29-31, 2004, according to chart information released by Waxman. In addition, all e-mail from the White House Office in the Executive Office of the President was listed as missing for one of those days.

The chart indicates that e-mail also was not archived by the White House on the following Monday - Feb. 2, 2004 - the day President Bush took a big step in averting what could have been a politically troublesome congressional inquiry. He ordered an independent investigation into intelligence failures in Iraq.

The president conferred that day with former chief weapons inspector David Kay, declaring, "I want to know all the facts."

The commission named by Bush reached a harsh verdict about the U.S. intelligence community's performance, but the panel stopped short of addressing the White House's use of the intelligence data to support the idea of war with Iraq.

The White House says computer back-up tapes should contain substantially all e-mails between 2003 and 2005. However, the White House recycled backup tapes until sometime in October 2003, taping over existing data. That could mean some e-mail is gone forever if it is also missing from archives.

An example might be any missing e-mail from Cheney's office in the early days of the CIA leak probe. The White House has not said when in October 2003 it halted the recycling of backup tapes.

E-mails in early October 2003 could reveal key discussions between White House personnel in the week after the Justice Department opened a criminal investigation into the leak of Plame's CIA identity. The White House denied that Cheney chief of staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby or top presidential adviser Karl Rove were involved in the leak, an assertion that turned out to be false.

"Can it be a mere coincidence that some of the missing e-mail correspond to a key period during the Valerie Plame investigation?" asked Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. "Given everything else we know, that is nearly impossible to believe."

Her organization is one of two private advocacy groups suing the White House in the e-mail controversy.

At issue on Oct. 1, 2003, was the push by congressional Democrats for Attorney General John Ashcroft to step aside and appoint an independent prosecutor to investigate the White House.

Ashcroft eventually recused himself, and at the end of 2003 U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald was appointed by a Justice Department official to head the probe. Two years later, Libby was indicted, and he was later convicted of obstructing the investigation. His 30-month prison sentence was commuted by Bush. Rove was questioned by a federal grand jury five times but was never charged.

In January 2006, shortly after Libby was indicted, a letter from Fitzgerald to Libby's lawyers was the first public disclosure that the White House was having a problem with its e-mail system.

Fitzgerald wrote: "We have learned that not all e-mail of the Office of Vice President and the Executive Office of the President for certain time periods in 2003 was preserved through the normal archiving process on the White House computer system."

The White House says the e-mail matter arose in October 2005 in connection with the Justice Department's CIA leak probe, in which Fitzgerald later that month obtained a grand jury indictment against Libby for perjury, obstruction and lying to the FBI.

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, we are again reminded why consumers have a healthy distrust of insurance companies. After years of religiously paying premiums for the peace of mind of knowing they were covered, hundreds of thousands of policyholders found they had been paying money for nothing.

Insurance companies have employed hardball tactics like delaying or denying the payment of legitimate claims, altering policies, lowballing, aggressively fighting valid claims and even alleging fraud long before Katrina. And for good reason: every dollar saved on paying claims is a dollar that increases profits and drives up stock value. With insurance company CEOs receiving annual compensation greater than the gross national product of many nations, it's easy to see why profits might get put ahead of the interests of policy holders.

After Katrina, the international consulting firm McKinsey & Co. was retained by many insurance companies to stem the anticipated tide of claims payments. McKinsey had introduced a strategy of "deny, delay and defend" under which insurers offer some customers less than full value of their claims and deny payment and aggressively litigate other claims. A policyholder is then forced to sue to recover what is owed and must incur both the cost of litigation and further delays in obtaining payment.

Many policyholders simply accept what is offered to avoid having to hire counsel and bring suit, and because of the costs involved, those who bring suit net out much less than the policy provides for. The strategy works very well, at least for stockholders of insurance companies. Despite the historic losses caused by Katrina, the property casualty insurance industry (those who sell coverage on homes and cars) is reaping huge profits. Property casualty insurers reported their highest profits ever, $64 billion, in 2006. This trumps the previous record profit of $44 billion they made in 2005, even after accounting for Katrina claims. Experts predict that 2007 looks like another stellar year for the industry.

The insurance industry has awakened to the fact that its reputation has been seriously damaged by Katrina. "I know that we cannot wave a magic wand and convince the vast majority of the public to love us," says David Sampson, president of the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America.

The company has hired Frank Luntz, a Republican pollster and accomplished wordsmith, best known for labeling President Bush's pro-logging industry policy "the Healthy Forests Initiative."

But a battery of public relations consultants will not solve the public's mistrust of the insurance industry if the end result is just word games, smoke and mirrors. Here's a thought: why not try paying legitimate claims on time? When a tragedy occurs, why not send in a quick response team with check-writing authority right away instead of spending days in the board room dreaming up ways to avoid or delay paying policyholders? How about throwing McKinsey's "deny, delay and defend" strategy into Lake Pontchartrain and focusing instead on improving business practices? And rather than spending a fortune to lobby against laws that would protect consumers, why not actively work to reduce the preventable losses your policyholders regularly sustain?

Acting in good faith isn't just good public relations or a sound business practice for insurance companies: they have a fiduciary duty to promptly pay the legitimate claims of their policyholders.

Many states are busy trying to enact new laws that will force insurance companies to act more responsibly. In November, voters in Washington state approved a ballot measure allowing policyholders to sue for restitution if an insurance company "unreasonably" denies a legitimate claim. The law is similar to one in Pennsylvania that holds insurance companies accountable for misconduct. This gives policyholders some protection against "deny, delay, and defend" tactics. That may explain why the insurance industry spent $11.5 million to try to defeat the measure in Washington -- breaking a state record for spending on a referendum.

Fortunately, voters saw through the insurance companies' clever ads and approved the measure. More states should follow Pennsylvania's and Washington's example.

Rule No. 1 for how to succeed in any business is to play by the rules and treat customers honestly and fairly. Only by treating their policyholders as well as they do their shareholders can insurance companies hope to win back the public's trust.

In 1941, Rasha Shuster and her two sisters escaped from their hometown just before the Germans slaughtered the 12,000 Jews who lived there. A peasant sheltered the girls for three weeks. Then his neighbor betrayed them. The local police killed Rasha's sisters, but she heard the gunshots and ran for her life. After weeks of wandering in the forests and finding only temporary shelter, she was taken in by a middle-aged, truly destitute peasant living alone in a shack. She hid there for 21⁄2 years. Later, she recalled: "When I asked him why he was doing this and risking his life . . . he answered that it was because I was not guilty of anything."

The town where Rasha Shuster lived and where thousands of Jews died wasn't in Germany or Poland or anywhere else in the Europe so often described in Holocaust narratives. Shuster was from Stoklishki, Lithuania, and the police -- eager to do the Nazis' bidding by shooting her sisters -- were fellow Lithuanians. Her first-person account is found in "The Unknown Black Book," an extraordinary collection of eye-witness reports, diary entries and other accounts of the mass murder of Jews far from the gates of Auschwitz and Treblinka. Of the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust, more than 2.5 million died in territories controlled by the Soviet Union before the war. Most of the victims were slaughtered in open-air massacres.

"The Unknown Black Book" is the first publication of materials excluded for political reasons from "The Black Book," a collection of survivors' testimony that was compiled toward the end of the war but then ran afoul of the Stalinist regime -- even after it was heavily censored -- and fell into political limbo for decades. The project traces its roots to February 1942, when the Soviet government established the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee (JAC) in an effort to drum up international support as the Red Army struggled to withstand the onslaught of the German Wehrmacht.

Headed by the Yiddish actor Solomon Mikhoels and staffed by other well-known actors, writers and poets, the JAC did its job for a year, publishing articles, making radio broadcasts and hosting visitors in Moscow. But when the fortunes of war changed after the Soviet victory at Stalingrad in 1943, the regime began to have second thoughts about the JAC.

As Soviet forces advanced to the west, revealing the Nazis' systematic extermination of Jews, the JAC felt duty-bound to collect and present the evidence of genocide. The committee started gathering eyewitness testimony about the atrocities and planned to publish a collection of the accounts. The JAC had thought its "Black Book" effort, led by well-known Soviet Jewish writers Ilya Ehrenburg and Vasily Grossman, would both serve the Soviet cause and record the Jews' terrible fate under German rule. But when it became apparent that any accounting of the genocide would include descriptions of the often enthusiastic cooperation between Soviet citizens and Nazi occupiers, the government balked, accusing the JAC of focusing on "the vile activity of traitors among the Ukrainians, Lithuanians, and others."

Publication of "The Black Book" was deemed "inexpedient." In January 1948, Solomon Mikhoels was assassinated on Stalin's orders, heralding the beginning of an anti-Semitic campaign that ended only with Stalin's death in 1953. The secret police soon arrested the leaders and staff of the JAC on charges of "bourgeois nationalism." Following mock trials, 13 of them were executed in 1952.

For several decades thereafter only a few experts knew about the existence of the Russian "Black Book." Incomplete versions of it began appearing in the 1980s; in 1993, the first complete version of "The Black Book" was published in Lithuania with newly discovered material from Russian archives and with government-censored sections restored. That same year, "The Unknown Black Book" was published in Russia. Now we have a translation by Christopher Morris and Joshua Rubenstein, edited by Mr. Rubenstein, the Northeast regional director of Amnesty International USA, and Ilya Altman, co-chairman of the Russian Research and Educational Holocaust Center in Moscow.

It is impossible to convey the full impact of these testimonies in a short review. But a few examples may provide an inkling of the nature of the material. Sara Gleykh described the destruction of the Jewish population of Mariupol, a city in the Ukraine. The Germans arrived there on Oct. 8, 1941, and immediately instituted anti-Jewish measures. On Oct. 18, Sara's family was ordered to leave their apartment for resettlement: Neighbors, told that they could "take whatever they wanted," Sara recalled, "all rushed into the apartment" and "quarreled over things before my eyes, snatching things out of each other's hands and dragging off pillows, pots and pans, quilts." That day, the 9,000 Jews of the city were murdered. Sara, who lost her entire family, climbed out of the mass grave and eventually reached the Soviet lines.

In Minsk, Tsetsilia Shapiro, a 26-year-old doctor, found herself enclosed in the city's ghetto -- guarded mostly by Belorussian policemen -- with a newborn baby and a 5-year-old boy. When she begged a former colleague and professor of medicine to help her find work in the countryside, he responded: "We don't send kikes to work. We exterminate them if they don't understand that they're supposed to drop dead from hunger." When the Germans began murdering the Jews with gas vans, as extra entertainment "young women had their hair tied to the axles of the vehicles in such a way that they were dragged alive through the city" while "the killing by gas of those who were inside the mobile vans was being carried out." Shapiro escaped with false papers to Gomel, where the chief of police, a former Red Army officer, sent her to a German racial "specialist." Fortunately, he determined that she was "undoubtedly" of Aryan descent.

Shapiro's son survived in an orphanage, protected from German inspections by not having been circumcised. Another witness from Minsk, Tamar Gershakovich, maintained that "many Russians and Belorussians, risking not only their own lives but the lives of their families, hid Jewish children in their homes." But accounts from Lithuania paint a grim picture of local participation in murder and robbery. The Lithuanian underground fighter Dr. Viktor Kutroga described how Lithuanian "partisans" -- meaning civilian collaborators -- "burst into Jewish apartments, killed men, women, and children, and looted the property of those murdered" as soon as the Germans marched into Kovno on June 23, 1941. On Sept. 1, he wrote: "The mass extermination of Jews in the provinces by members of Lithuanian 'partisan' units under the leadership of the Germans has begun. . . . The Jews have been made to dig their own graves. Then they have to bring their sick and their children and remove their outer clothes. After that, they are shot in groups. . . . All of this is happening in broad daylight, often in front of thousands of witnesses. . . . The slightly wounded were finished off with bayonets or else buried alive; the small children were treated the same way. Often, the 'partisans' simply killed children with shovels."

Dr. Kutroga pointed out that many Lithuanian intellectuals and clergymen, and even some German soldiers, were appalled by these actions. But in many accounts we find that those who ultimately saved Jews were wretchedly poor peasants. Major Z. G. Ostrovsky, who collected testimonies in Lithuania, wrote: "There were hundreds of reported cases of Lithuanian peasants hiding Jews who had fled from the ghetto."

But those were exceptions. Reysa Miselevich, from the region of Zhmud in northwestern Lithuania, escaped the destruction of the entire Jewish population there in July 1941, when they were incarcerated in improvised camps guarded by Lithuanians. Conditions were appalling, and young women were regularly raped. Toward the end of the month all the male Jews, numbering some 5,000, were first subjected to prolonged torture and humiliation and then murdered. "The earth on top of the pits was heaving the entire time, since many had been buried alive. For an entire week after this, blood burst from the pits like a fountain," Reysa said. Several weeks later the older women and the children, about 4,000 altogether, were also massacred in a single day. The last remaining Jews, 400 young women, were killed on Christmas Day, 1941. All of the murders were carried out by Lithuanian policemen.

These accounts do not provide any simple explanation for such gratuitous yet systematic and relentless violence. Sometimes it seems as if the Jews' countrymen were prepared to murder them wholesale simply out of greed for their possessions. But that hardly explains such dark evil, just as attempts to portray the Holocaust as a bureaucratic undertaking planned and executed by detached civil servants and automaton-like killers are inadequate.

"The Unknown Black Book" reveals the sheer barbarity on the individual level -- the tortures and rapes, the looting and destruction, and, not least, the glee and humor, as well as the hatred and contempt, expressed by the killers. It makes for very disturbing reading. But these accounts from those who saw what happened convey what we cannot learn from official documents about the nature of this vast criminal enterprise, in which hundreds of thousands were transformed into monsters -- mostly returning home after the war as "ordinary" men -- and millions of others became helpless, dehumanized, mutilated and finally forgotten victims.

This is a repeat scenario in our house: It's around 8:30 p.m., my 3-year-old daughter is finally settled in bed, and just as I'm tip-toeing out of the room, she rummages in the covers, bolts upright and asks the dreaded question: "Where's George?"

While my husband and I hunt down her beloved stuffed monkey, my daughter begins to sob, and my narrow window of evening downtime evaporates.

For working parents who've been gone all day, it's difficult to know where a cherished item was last seen. (Most recently, we found George on a chair in the darkened living room, placed there apparently to admire the Christmas tree.) Some parents will go to extreme lengths to find their children's beloved animals, pillows and blankets -- from digging through Dumpsters to bidding for similar ones on eBay.

Readers, what do you do about lost or misplaced items? By hunting for them or replacing them, are we indulging our kids, or saving our sanity?

The 1970s can conjure up some pretty frightening memories -- lava lamps, pet rocks, John Denver songs, blue eye shadow.

But these days, economists worry that an even scarier relic of the disco era might be rearing its ugly head -- stagflation, a not-so-groovy term used by economists to describe an economy plagued by recession, rampant inflation and high unemployment.

It's the worst of all worlds; a toxic combination that vexed Federal Reserve policymakers more than 30 years ago and now threatens to put a squeeze on Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke: Lower interest rates risk higher inflation, higher rates a long recession.

"The stagflation scenario is more than a likely possibility," said Emanuel Balarie, CEO of Jabez Capital Management, a California firm that specializes in commodities and alternative investments.

Additional interest-rate cuts will only be a temporary solution, he said.

"The recent rise in unemployment is just the tip of a much bigger economic iceberg," he said. "We are heading toward a housing-led recession. On the inflation front, the record commodity prices clearly point to an economic scenario where inflation will be rampant."

The word "stagflation" -- a combination of the words "stagnant" and "inflation" -- was coined by economists during the 1970s. Ultimately, former Fed Chief Paul Volcker performed shock therapy on the economy, jacking up short-term interest rates to 21 percent to squelch an inflation rate that peaked at 13.5 percent in 1981.

While no one is predicting the American consumer will have to endure a similar economic disaster, central bankers are increasingly worried the economy might be headed into deep trouble.

The stock market is off to its worst start since 2000 as the housing slump and turmoil in the credit markets continue to weigh on the economy. Home sales have fallen to the lowest in 12 years, the jobless rate jumped to a two-year high of 5 percent in December and government data last week showed manufacturing slowing in December to its weakest level since April 2003.

At the same time, prices are going up, thanks to the latest surge in oil prices.

In November, the core rate of inflation increased 0.3 percent, bringing the year-over-year inflation rate to 2.3 percent -- outside the Fed's desired "comfort zone" of 1 percent to 2 percent, said Rich Yamarone, chief economist at Argus Research.

But that number doesn't tell the whole picture. Yamarone said many companies in consumer products, food and air travel have been announcing price increases because of a combination of higher costs and continuing high demand for their products.

For example, Yum! Brands, which owns the KFC and Taco Bell restaurant chains, recently detailed significant increases in costs that included price hikes of 16 percent to 20 percent for chicken and 10 percent to 14 percent for cheese.

"Nothing influences consumer inflation expectations like the price of food, particularly milk," Yamarone said. "Keep in mind that retail food prices have risen 4.8 percent over the last year, the largest increase in 17 years."

Stuart Hoffman, chief economist at PNC Financial Services Group, described the economy as "a cat on a hot tin roof that has already used up eight of its nine lives."

"One more fall from the hot roof and this economy cat is not likely to land on its feet once again," he said.

That puts the Fed between the "proverbial rock and a hard place," said Bob Doll, vice chairman and director of the BlackRock investment management firm. "If they lower rates too much, they may crease excess liquidity, which could lead to higher inflation. Not lowering rates enough, however, puts central bankers at risk of not being responsive to recessionary threats."

Most economists expect Fed policymakers to cut the short-term rate they control to 4 percent at their Jan. 28-29 meeting. It would be the fourth consecutive quarter-point cut in less than six months.

Goldman Sachs last week said it expects the economy to drop into recession this year, forcing the Fed to cut its benchmark lending rate to 2.5 percent by the third quarter of this year.

The possibility of a stagflation threat to the economy is being hotly debated. Former Fed Chief Alan Greenspan first raised the possibility last month.

"I am most concerned about it," Greenspan said in a recent television interview. "Over the past 20 years, we have had a most remarkable period. Vast geopolitical shifts, including the end of the Cold War, have contributed to a remarkable period of disinflation. But that period is now coming to an end."

Charles Plosser, head of the Philadelphia Federal Reserve, has also touched on the subject of stagflation.

"Although I am expecting slow economic growth for several quarters, we should not rely on slow growth to reduce inflation," he warned in a speech. "Indeed, the 1970s should be a sufficient reminder that slow growth and falling inflation do not necessarily go hand in hand."

Relaxing at his 40,000-square-foot mansion, Palazzo di Amore, Jeff Greene reflects on a stellar 12-month run. He snatched the estate out of receivership for $35 million in a bidding war. He got married in a spectacular wedding here with boxer Mike Tyson as his best man. And he is up more than half a billion dollars on a bet that the housing market would crater.

He may have lost a friend in the process: John Paulson, a hedge-fund manager who devised what proved to be a wildly profitable strategy for betting against risky mortgages.
[Jeff Greene]

It was the spring of 2006, and Mr. Paulson, seeking investors for a new fund, gave Mr. Greene a peek at his plan. Mr. Greene didn't wait for the fund to open. He beat his friend to the punch by doing the same complex mortgage-market trade on his own.

"He never told me: 'Don't do it,'" Mr. Greene says. Mr. Paulson won't discuss the matter.

If Mr. Paulson is the pensive, low-key mastermind of the lucrative bearish bet, 53-year-old Mr. Greene is the strategy's most flamboyant exemplar. A Los Angeles real-estate investor who made and lost a bundle 15 years ago, bounced back, bought himself three airplanes and a yacht, and entertains celebrities in his multiple homes, Mr. Greene has hired a P.R. firm to raise his profile and help him move into new business spheres.

"Jeff lives on the edge. He made a fortune, lost a fortune and made it back," says Fred Sands, a Los Angeles real-estate developer who got to know him through late-night parties Mr. Greene threw at his Malibu and Hollywood Hills homes. The latter pad is known for its pillow-lined penthouse den, the Moroccan room. His soirees attracted an eclectic crowd, from Paris Hilton to Mr. Tyson.

For the artwork in Mr. Greene's new Beverly Hills mansion, money is one motif. A dark metal rendering of a dollar bill hangs over the bar.

Eroticism is another. In the east wing are two huge erotic paintings that Mr. Greene waited to hang until after his September wedding there.

Mr. Greene grew up middle class in Worcester, Mass. After a 21⁄2-year run through Johns Hopkins University, he saved up $100,000 in three years managing telemarketing centers, which he used to make his first property investment: a three-family house in the Boston area. He lived in it while getting a Harvard M.B.A., acquiring 17 more homes while at the business school.

Moving to California, he dabbled in politics, trying unsuccessfully to get nominated as a Republican candidate for Congress. He bought and developed low-slung apartment buildings in the Los Angeles area, using loads of borrowed money. "My early windfall was a result of the excesses of the S&L era," Mr. Greene says. He says he had pushed his net worth to $35 million before the savings-and-loan crisis all but wiped him out in the early 1990s.

"I went through a very tough time. I didn't know how I would get out of it," he says. But by the late 1990s, as the California economy recovered, he was on his way to an even bigger fortune, eventually including 7,000 apartments. Louis J Sheehan Esquire

He bought three jets, most recently a Gulfstream. Though he paid just $2 million for an older model, "I certainly could afford" a $50 million one, he says. He adds, in a telephone interview from his 145-foot yacht: "I tend to be pretty conservative in the way I spend money."

The September wedding at his estate was Mr. Greene's first, and he pulled out all the stops. Guests sat beside a long reflecting pool, wandered marbled halls snacking on hors d'oeuvres, dined around the fountain in the motor court and boogied on a revolving dance floor in the 24-car garage. In late December, the party moved to Mr. Greene's yacht off the Caribbean island of St. Barts.

Sitting in the mansion's study during an interview, Mr. Greene marvels at a fireplace framed by lions that he says were carved by Peruvian woodworkers. Outside, the Pacific shimmers in the distance as contractors work on a pool and a 15,000-square-foot recreation center, to have a screening room and two bowling lanes.

A vineyard covers six of the estate's 27 acres. His wine will bear a label using the name that he and his 32-year-old bride, Mei Sze Chan, chose for their sprawling nest. "Palazzo di Amore," Mr. Greene says -- "it's a bit cheesy, but that's what it means to us."

Yet two years ago, an undercurrent of concern about the economy had begun to trouble him. Recalling the pain of losing his first fortune, he consulted a range of smart people in search of a way to hedge his bets. One was Mr. Paulson, whom he'd met decades earlier in New York's Hamptons, the same playground of the affluent where he later met Ms. Chan.

Mr. Paulson was convinced the market for risky "subprime" home loans would implode. He outlined a sophisticated securities trade he was crafting for a new hedge fund. It involved derivatives -- contracts whose value shifts with some other asset's value -- and would need an investment bank's participation. The bank would have to be convinced that a mere individual, as opposed to an institution, qualified to be a counterparty in such a transaction. Mr. Greene says he asked Mr. Paulson, "Can I do this trade myself?" and was told, "You'll never get approved."

Banks did turn Mr. Greene down at first. But after he produced enough paperwork, Merrill Lynch & Co. and J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. agreed. He was the first individual either bank had approved for this type of trade, involving what's called an asset-backed credit-default swap, say people familiar with the matter.

Mr. Greene dived into the riskiest type of the trade by betting on derivatives backed by a single pool of subprime mortgages. He says he analyzed lots of mortgage bundles before placing his bets. But, belying the financial sophistication he aims to project, he adds: "A lot of this stuff is anyone's guess."

Mr. Greene says his positions rose only a little until the spring of 2007, when troubles at a lender rattled the market. In recent months, he has cashed out some positions, locking in $72 million in profit, according to financial records. As of early this month, his positions at Merrill Lynch and J.P. Morgan were up about $466 million combined. Because the market for the riskiest derivatives is thin, Mr. Greene says, he is waiting for better pricing before he sells more.

His hedge-fund friend, Mr. Paulson, didn't want other investors duplicating his trades. "When I mentioned to him that I had already done some of this on my own, he kind of was surprised and seemed to be upset," Mr. Greene says, adding that Mr. Paulson didn't allow him into his new fund.

Mr. Greene says he wishes he could have invested in the fund as well as doing his own trades. He also holds out hope for their friendship. Mr. Paulson, he says, "did send me a nice card on my wedding."

When local high school graduates seek to fur ther their education at Harrisburg Area Community College, more than half are not ready to perform at the college level.

Testifying before the State Board of Education last week, HACC President Edna V. Baehre said 55.4 percent of entering freshman require remedial instruction in reading. More than half of the new HACC students also need remedial help in math and a third require assistance with their writing skills.

Despite an Education Week report last week that ranked Pennsylvania 10th in quality of education, this dismal picture is repeated around the state. Joan L. Benso, president and CEO of Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children, noted at the hearing that 20 percent more chil dren gradu ated in 2006 in 461 of the state's 501 school dis tricts than scored "profi cient" in statewide tests.

What more evidence is required to make the case that educational fraud is being perpetrated on a huge number of students, parents and taxpayers in the commonwealth?

And this is not a new phenomenon. Overcrowded prisons and companies increasingly seeking better educated employees from abroad are the stark real-world consequences of educational failure. That Pennsylvania is perceived to be in the top 10 states in education only suggests an even more abysmal state of affairs in 40 other states.

The federal No Child Left Behind program, which has been both widely praised and criticized, represented a recognition of the problem, and sought to bring accountability to the classroom. But a more effective program would make students accountable for their educational effort and accomplishments, or lack thereof.

Toward that end, the state board is expected to adopt recommendations from the Governor's Commission on College and Career Success that would require high school students, in order to receive a diploma, to achieve proficiency on at least six of nine end-of-course examinations. These Graduation Competency Assessments would be given in English, math, science and social studies.

Schools would have the option of administering the GCAs, require passage of the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) test in 11th grade or the 12th grade re-test, or administer a locally determined test comparable to the GCAs, subject to state approval.

This approach offers a critical difference from proposals for a single, all-encompassing graduation test that we have criticized. Under GCAs, students would have to prove proficiency in material they've just been taught. Remedial instruction for students who failed would be mandated. And there would be ample opportunities to retake the test.

Students who passed each GCA would be awarded Certificates of Proficiency in that subject, recognition that is important in conveying to students the significance of learning the material and doing well.
There is a danger of too much testing. But the GCAs can be used to replace teacher-composed final exams, and one hopes that they would eventually supplant the PSSA tests required by No Child Left Behind.

The experience in other states suggests that GCAs, which are similar to New York's long-standing Regents exams, could prove to be a turning point in education in Pennsylvania. Yet at least one vital piece of the education puzzle remains to be addressed.

Pennsylvania needs to swallow hard and put up the dollars necessary to ensure that every school district has the resources necessary to achieve educational success. Ultimately, that translates into greater economic success for Pennsylvania and its citizens.

And far fewer people crowding our prisons.

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a serious mental illness characterized by pervasive instability in moods, interpersonal relationships, self-image, and behavior. This instability often disrupts family and work life, long-term planning, and the individual's sense of identity. Originally thought to be at the "borderline" of psychosis, people with BPD suffer from emotion regulation. While less well known than schizophrenia or bipolar disorder (manic-depressive illness), BPD is more common, affecting 2 percent of adults, mostly young women. There is a high rate of self-injury without suicide intent, as well as a significant rate of suicide attempts and completed suicide in severe cases. Patients often need extensive mental health services, and account for 20 percent of psychiatric hospitalizations. Yet, with help, many improve over time and are eventually able to lead productive lives.

While a person with depression or bipolar disorder typically endures the same mood for weeks, a person with BPD may experience intense bouts of anger, depression and anxiety that may last only hours, or at most a day. These may be associated with episodes of impulsive aggression, self-injury, and drug or alcohol abuse. Distortions in cognition and sense of self can lead to frequent changes in long-term goals, career plans, jobs, friendships, gender identity, and values. Sometimes people with BPD view themselves as fundamentally bad, or unworthy. They may feel unfairly misunderstood or mistreated, bored, empty, and have little idea who they are. Such symptoms are most acute when people with BPD feel isolated and lacking in social support, and may result in frantic efforts to avoid being alone.

People with BPD often have highly unstable patterns of social relationships. While they can develop intense but stormy attachments, their attitudes toward family, friends, and loved ones may suddenly shift from idealization (great admiration and love) to devaluation (intense anger and dislike). Thus, they may form an immediate attachment and idealize the other person, but when a slight separation or conflict occurs, they switch unexpectedly to the other extreme and angrily accuse the other person of not caring for them at all.

Most people can tolerate ambivalence where they experience two contradictory states at one time. People with BPD, however, shift back and forth to a good or a bad state. If they are in a bad state, for example, they have no awareness of the good state.

Even with family members, individuals with BPD are highly sensitive to rejection, reacting with anger and distress to mild separations. Even a vacation, a business trip, or a sudden change in plans can spur negative thoughts. These fears of abandonment seem to be related to difficulties feeling emotionally connected to important persons when they are physically absent, leaving the individual with BPD feeling lost and perhaps worthless. Suicide threats and attempts may occur along with anger at perceived abandonment and disappointments.

People with BPD exhibit other impulsive behaviors, such as excessive spending, binge eating and risky sex. BPD often occurs with other psychiatric problems, particularly bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety disorders, substance abuse, and other personality disorders.

Although the cause of BPD is unknown, both environmental and genetic factors are thought to play a role in predisposing patients to BPD symptoms and traits. Studies show that many, but not all individuals with BPD report a history of abuse, neglect, or separation as young children. Forty to 71 percent of BPD patients report having been sexually abused, usually by a non-caregiver. Researchers believe that BPD results from a combination of individual vulnerability to environmental stress, neglect or abuse as young children, and a series of events that trigger the onset of the disorder as young adults. Adults with BPD are also considerably more likely to be the victim of violence, including rape and other crimes. This may result from both harmful environments as well as impulsivity and poor judgment in choosing partners and lifestyles.

Neuroscience is revealing brain mechanisms underlying the impulsivity, mood instability, aggression, anger, and negative emotion seen in BPD. Studies suggest that people predisposed to impulsive aggression have impaired regulation of the neural circuits that modulate emotion. The brain's amygdala, a small almond-shaped structure , is an important component of the circuit that regulates negative emotion. In response to signals from other brain centers indicating a perceived threat, it marshals fear and arousal. This might be more pronounced under the influence of drugs like alcohol or stress. Areas in the front of the brain (pre-frontal area) act to dampen the activity of this circuit. Recent brain imaging studies show that individual differences in the ability to activate regions of the prefrontal cerebral cortex thought to be involved in inhibitory activity predict the ability to suppress negative emotion.

Serotonin, norepinephrine and acetylcholine are among the chemical messengers in these circuits that play a role in the regulation of emotions, including sadness, anger, anxiety, and irritability. Drugs that enhance brain serotonin function may improve emotional symptoms in BPD. Likewise, mood-stabilizing drugs that are known to enhance the activity of GABA, the brain's major inhibitory neurotransmitter, may help people who experience BPD-like mood swings. Such brain-based vulnerabilities can be managed with help from behavioral interventions and medications, much like people manage susceptibility to diabetes or high blood pressure.

Treatments for BPD have improved. Group and individual psychotherapy are at least partially effective for many patients. A new psychosocial treatment termed dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) has been developed specifically to treat BPD, and this technique has looked promising in treatment studies. Pharmacological treatments are often prescribed based on specific target symptoms shown by the individual patient. Antidepressant drugs and mood stabilizers may be helpful for depressed and, or, labile mood. Antipsychotic drugs may also be used when there are distortions in thinking.

Scientists longing to sneak a peek at the molecular machinery of living cells came one step closer to that goal in March with the creation of lenses that break the limits of current light microscopy.

Electron microscopes can already capture the realm of the supersmall, but the sample preparation and imaging conditions make it impossible to observe live cells. Optical microscopes are great for viewing living samples, but their resolution is limited by the properties of light. Now two teams of researchers have devised unconventional lenses that could capture the nanoworld without killing it.

One group, led by Xiang Zhang of the University of California at Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, created a “hyperlens” that bends light in a way no ordinary material can. “Natural materials prevent some of the waves from coming through to the camera,” Zhang says. “You lose certain kinds of waves, called evanescent waves, which don’t travel far. That blurs the image.” But the layered structure of his half-cylinder-shaped hyperlens preserves these evanescent waves, allowing incredibly tiny objects to be resolved.
The second team, led by Igor Smolyaninov at the University of Maryland, created a “superlens” with concentric rings of acrylic on a gold film surface. The lens can be used to see objects on the scale of small viruses. “If we’re successful in this work,” Smolyaninov says, “we will hopefully be able to visualize what is going on inside cells.”

When the dinosaurs died out some 65 million years ago, many perished in the exact same iconic pose: neck, spine, and tail curved backward, mouth open, limbs contracted. The reason for this characteristic dino death pose has been unclear. Conventional wisdom held that the dead dinos’ pose was struck when the muscles contracted under rigor mortis or because the dinos’ tendons and ligaments had dried up, suggesting that their bodies had been exposed to the sun for a long time. But if so, why hadn’t the bones been scattered by scavengers?

Now the answer is coming from the corpses of some modern-day birds and mammals, which look very similar when they have died under certain specific conditions. The connection was never made before because paleontologists rarely see dead parrots. But veterinarians do. And luckily, Cynthia Marshall Faux is both—with doctorates in veterinary medicine as well as geology (with a specialty in vertebrate paleontology).

It was clear to Faux that the dinosaurs’ pose was a sign of opisthotonos, a condition that results from an injury affecting the cerebellum, which regulates fine muscle movement. While working at the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Montana, Faux collaborated with Kevin Padian, a professor of integrative biology and curator of the Museum of Paleontology at the University of California at Berkeley, to make her argument: Brain injury during death, not later rigor mortis, explains the typical look of dino fossils. “Paleontologists are familiar with dead things,” says Faux, who is a vet in Idaho. “But I know about dying things. I see animals die all the time. I see the process, not just the result.”

Adding to the intrigue is that opisthotonos is usually seen in warm-blooded animals like birds and mammals but not reptiles. Faux’s paper on opisthotonos, published in March, rethinks dinosaurs not just as having died for reasons other than meteor impacts and volcanic eruptions but also advances the argument that these creatures may have had hot blood pumping through their veins.

Darwinian natural selection is at work among the communities living in the Tibetan mountains, according to Case Western Reserve University anthropologist Cynthia Beall. She reported at the American Association of Physical Anthropologists meeting in March that women who carry more oxygen in their blood have more than twice as many surviving children as women who carry less oxygen. “We determined that the strength of natural selection at altitude was even stronger than the strength of natural selection by falciparum malaria, and that is the classic example,” Beall said.

Women who carry at least one copy of a gene variant, or allele, that codes for high oxygen saturation had 125 percent more surviving children than those who carry two copies of a low-saturation allele. By contrast, women who carry a sickle-cell allele, which protects against malaria, have only about 50 percent more surviving children in malaria-infested regions than women lacking the variant.

Beall’s team hasn’t yet identified the gene that provides such protection, but that’s next on her agenda. In the meantime, she thinks the reason the selective difference at altitude is so large is that the altitude is constant, affecting people every day. Malaria, on the other hand, ebbs and flows over time, so the physiological benefits associated with the sickle-cell allele may be tempered.

The mass of the new-found "X" particle which scientists have been discovering in cosmic ray research may not have a fixed value, says Dr. Seth H. Neddermeyer of the California Institute of Technology.

Dr. Neddermeyer is a colleague of Dr. Carl Anderson and worked with him when the latter made the discovery of the positron for which he received the Nobel Prize award. The team of Anderson and Neddermeyer, too, made the initial discoveries of the "X" particle, whose mass appears to be intermediate between that of the electron and the proton.

"There are . . . reasons for believing that the mass (of the X particle) may not be unique and that many masses, ranging from a few times the electron mass up to very large values, may exist," says Dr. Neddermeyer's report, in part.

By theory, explains Dr. Neddermeyer, photons of radiant energy create pairs of particles—positive and negative in electrical sign—in their rush through the atmosphere on their way to Earth. The energy and mass possessed by these new particles, which are the offspring of dying photons, are variable, postulates Dr. Neddermeyer. Thus many different masses might be observed, depending on the energy possessed by the original photon that creates them.

The point is that particles can have two kinds of mass; the so-called rest mass and a mass due to motion. Theoretically, at least, a particle moving with the speed of light should have an infinitely large mass.

The second kind of mass, which varies with the speed of the particle, was observed in the present experiments.

Tusks scattered on the frozen shore of Siberia opposite Alaska may mean that Soviet scientists will some day add more complete specimens of the extinct hairy mammoth to the two bodies already found, Tass, Soviet news agency, reported.

Detailed information on the body, the second one to be found, reached Moscow. It revealed that this hairy mammoth, as it existed thousands of years ago, was in the neighborhood of 18 feet long, had a trunk more than 9 feet long and hair more than 3 inches long.

Like the first specimen found, the second body, which was uncovered last October, was partially damaged by wild animals. The head, one leg, and a part of the trunk have been partly eaten away. Otherwise, the body is intact, preserved through the ages in the frozen earth of the north, as effective an icebox as man has devised.

The tusks of the specimen found have not yet been located, but they may be under its body, which has not yet been removed from the pebbly ground. Next spring, when the sea in this area is clear of ice, soundings of the coastal zone will be taken to see if a ship can approach the shore to take on board the find.

UFO investigators flock to Stephenville, Texas!

A team of six investigators from the Mutual UFO Network will be interviewing citizens of Stephenville, Texas who say they spotted an Unidentified Flying Object at sunset on January 8th.

The Mutual UFO Network is a non-governmental group interested in documenting UFO's. State director Ken Cherry says the network has received calls from 50 citizens who say they witnessed the UFO and that the number and credibility of the people is exceptional.

The rural Texas town has attracted world wide attention after the sightings. The Local Newspaper, the "Stephenville Empire-Tribune" has received calls from as far away as Finland and Japan as people remain fascinated about the reports of a giant bright object in the sky that witnesses say was a mile long.

It remains the talk of the town and the Stephenville High School Science Club is now selling T-shirts to cash in on the craze.

Stephenville prides itself on being the dairy capital of Texas and the shirts that sell for ten dollars have a picture of a Holstein cow being beamed up to a flying saucer.

More than 30 residents of Stephenville, Texas, claim to have seen a UFO, described as a mile-wide, silent object with bright lights, flying low and fast. And now it's actual front-page news. So what was it?

"It was very intense, bright lights," said local newspaper reporter Angela Joyner.

"The lights were like going like this," said Constable Leroy Gateman making hand gestures to describe what he saw when he spotted the UFO.

Rick Sorrells says he saw it while he was hunting deer in the woods.

"You look at the trees, and it was right here," Sorrells told ABC News correspondent Mike Von Fremd as he showed him the location in the woods where he spotted the UFO.

Steve Allen, a 50-year-old pilot, was at a campfire with friends and says the object was a mile long and half a mile wide. "I don't know if it was a biblical experience or somebody from a different universe or whatever but it was definitely not from around these parts," Allen said.

Allen drew a sketch of the object, which he said traveled at amazing speed without making a sound. While drawing, Allen told Von Fremd that he saw "an arch shape converted in a vertical shape, and then it split and made two of them, and then these turned into just fire and it was gone."

A spokesman for the 301st Fighter Wing in Fort Worth says no aircraft from his base was in the area, and says the objects may have been an illusion caused by two commercial airplanes. But those who saw the lights don't buy that explanation.

"It's an unidentified flying object," insisted a former Air Force technician.

"It was so fast I couldn't track it with my binoculars," said Gateman.

Constable Leroy Gateman describes what he saw in the sky.

Some in Stephenville are a bit embarrassed about all the attention. "It's crazy," said one teenage girl in town.

"A lot of folks aren't used to this kind of thing. They are not UFO nuts or anything like that around here," said City Councilman Mark Murphy.

Like it or not, all eyes are now trained on the sky over Stephenville to see whether any mysterious flying objects make a return.

Cue the Twilight Zone theme ... Dozens of people say they saw a UFO hovering over their rural community near Stephenville, Texas. The Stephenville Empire-Tribune says at least 40 people have reported sightings of the object, which reportedly appeared in the sky just after 6 p.m. on Jan. 8.

Lee Roy Gaitan, a local police officer, tells the newspaper: I was outside with my eight-year-old son, Ryan, when I saw lights. It was like nothing I've ever seen before. It was dark already. At first it was two red burning glows that went away and then came back on. I went inside to tell my wife. When I came back out I saw something like lights you'd see in a bar. My little boy and I counted and we came up with nine flashes and they were real spread out. But I couldn't see them attached to anything, just the lights. So I went to my pickup and got my binoculars to see if I could see a plane or something. Even with the binoculars there was no outline. It started moving towards Stephenville and moving so fast I had trouble following it with my binoculars. It covered a big area. It sounds crazy but we really saw what we saw.

The paper has more eyewitness accounts, including this one from pilot Steve Allen: The ship wasn't really visible and was totally silent, but the lights spanned about a mile long and a half mile wide. The lights went from corner to corner. It was directly above Highway 67 traveling towards Stephenville at a high rate of speed - about 3,000 mph is what I would estimate.

Chuck Mueller, a helicopter pilot who served in Iraq, says he saw unusual lights on the horizon a few days after the UFO sightings were reported near Stephenville.

Mueller tells KXAS-TV that he was flying a medical helicopter around dusk when "we saw the lights come on, one little orange light, and then another one and another one in sequence across the sky." He was shocked at first, but then concluded that the lights, which appeared to be more than 30 miles northeast of the original sightings, were coming from flares that were dropped over the Brownwood Military Operations Area.

There's just one problem with that theory. The NBC station says the military didn't have any planes in the air at the time of the original sightings.

A spokesman for the 301st Fighter Wing at the Joint Reserve Base Naval Air Station tells the Associated Press that he's convinced there's a logical explanation for the lights. "I'm 90 percent sure this was an airliner," Maj. Karl Lewis tells the wire service. "With the sun's angle, it can play tricks on you."

The sightings are big news in rural Texas. The top item on the Stephenville Empire-Tribune's website tells readers where to report a UFO sighting and, below that, the paper notes that a local businessman is offering a $5,000 reward for "video that would confirm a UFO sighting in Selden on Jan. 8."

They're also big news around the world. "The reported sightings have become a catalyst on blogs and in chat rooms, triggering scientific and philosophical debates, religious inquiries, conspiracy charges and bad Texas jokes," the Star-Telegram reports.

The Mutual UFO Network is holding a meeting this weekend for people who saw the object. The non-profit group says its investigators will begin taking statements at 1 p.m. on Saturday.

The Star-Telegram says this isn't the first time people in that part of the state have reported seeing strange things in the sky. Back in 1897, a Stephenville man told The Dallas Morning News that a 60-foot-long "aerial monster" landed on his farm.

Faster than a speeding bullet — and bigger than a Wal-Mart.

That's how residents near the west Texas town of Stephenville described an object they spotted in the sky one night last week.

Dozens of the town's residents — including a pilot and a police officer — said a UFO hovered over the farming community for about five minutes last Tuesday before streaking away into the night sky.

Pilot Steve Allen saw the object when he was out clearing brush off a hilltop near the town of Silden. Allen described the unidentified object as being an enormous aircraft with flashing strobe lights — and it was totally silent.

He said the UFO sped away at more than 3,000 mph, followed by two fighter jets that were hopelessly outmaneuvered. Allen said it took the aircraft just a few seconds to cross a section of sky that it takes him 20 minutes to fly in his Cessna.

The veteran pilot said the UFO, an estimated half-mile wide and a mile long, was "bigger than a Wal-Mart."

Military Dismisses Sighting

The Stephenville Empire-Tribune, which has written about the mysterious object, said about 40 people saw the thing — though some were too sheepish to admit the sighting until others came forward.

Police officer Leroy Gatin said he was walking to his car when he saw a red glow that reminded him of pictures he'd seen of an erupting volcano.

He said the object was suspended 3,000 feet in the air. Gatin said he was so awestruck that he called his son to come and see — but he didn't talk much about it until he saw a story about a UFO in the local paper.

Military officials, however, were skeptical. They said the residents are letting their imaginations run wild and passed it off as an optical illusion. They said it was likely nothing more than a reflection of sunlight on two airliners.

Officials at a nearby air force base also said their fighter pilots didn't chase down anything that night.

The incident was eerily similar to a UFO sighting a little more than a year ago at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport.

As many as 12 United Airlines employees spotted the object and filed reports with United.

Combining a megapowerful magnet, multiple detectors, and carefully tweaked contrast, a new MRI technique developed at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) provides an unprecedented look at the fine structure of the brain. Using an MRI machine equipped with a magnet more than twice as powerful as one in an ordinary device, the researchers created a way to measure the magnetic field changes caused by tissue properties to optimize contrast in the image. They were also able to compensate for the magnetic field fluctuations created by the patients’ breathing. The technique revealed never-before-seen patterns in the white matter and gray matter of the human brain.

Picking up on such differences may help researchers look more deeply into the brain’s subdivisions, allowing them to map it in greater detail. It may also bring about advances in diagnosing diseases like Alz–heimer’s and multiple sclerosis, both of which involve abnormal iron accumulation in the brain. For patients, the new technique may mean that “you could more accurately—and maybe earlier—diagnose a disease,” says NIH physicist Jeff Duyn.
Only eight MRI machines this powerful exist in the United States, and all are housed in research, rather than clinical, settings. Each costs around $5 million, and that’s before the expense of setup—which includes installing 380 tons of shielding material to prevent every metal object in the building from being sucked into the magnet.

Chinese researchers announced (pdf) in March that they had created glass that can be bent into right angles without shattering. But this isn’t glass as we know it: The new glass is opaque, twice as strong as window glass, and made of metal.

As solids, metals have an orderly atomic structure; in liquid metals, the arrangement becomes random, as in glass. To create metallic glass, scientists supercool liquid metals, effectively “freezing” the random array in place. These bulk metallic glasses, or BMG, are two to three times stronger than the crystalline form of the metals.

Superstrong BMG has already been used in the manufacture of high-tech golf clubs and tennis rackets; in 2001, the collector on NASA’s Genesis spacecraft, which caught particles from the solar wind, was made of BMG.
But since the 1980s, when scientists began making BMG, the materials have exhibited a fatal flaw. Paradoxically, the stronger they are, the more vulnerable they are to cracks, says Wei Hua Wang, a physicist who helped develop the new glass at the Chinese Academy of Sciences. A tiny fracture in the original type of BMG spreads quickly and becomes catastrophic.

To create a glass that is both strong and flexible, Wang and his colleagues altered an existing BMG recipe, combining zirconium, copper, nickel, and aluminum. Realizing that small changes in the metal mixture would lead to large variations in brittleness, they sought a combination that would keep cracks from spreading. “The plasticity of the glass is very sensitive to the composition,” Wang explains.

After two years, the scientists produced bendable BMG. It contains hard areas of high density surrounded by soft regions of low density. The result: When a crack begins in one place, it dissipates quickly in the surrounding regions, leaving the whole flexible.

Believe it or not, there are some folks who make a living as professional guinea pigs in tests of experimental drugs. Some question whether testing that relies on frequent lab fliers takes advantage of poor people or compromises the quality of the data.

In a recent issue of the New Yorker, bioethics professor Carl Elliot, from the University of Minnesota, details how early drug safety testing has become more of a business transaction than a scientific endeavor in an article called “Guinea-Pigging.” He’ll also be exploring the topic as part of a book he’s writing on corruption, money and medicine that he expects to be called “White Coat, Black Hat” and to be published next year. We asked Elliot, who is on sabbatical in New Zealand, a few questions via e-mail. Here are the highlights of the long-distance conversation:

How does professional guinea-pigging affect the data on experimental drugs?

What I heard about most often was subjects stretching the truth about their medical histories in order to get into high-paying studies. That seems to be fairly common. I don’t know what kind of impact it has on the results, but it shouldn’t be terribly shocking. We have a safety testing system where subjects don’t have any stake in the results of the study, where they don’t really trust the research sponsors, and where they don’t believe they are going to get access to the drugs that are developed by the studies. If poor people are being asked to test drugs for the benefit of rich people, then we shouldn’t be surprised if the poor people are not always perfectly compliant.

Should we change the system to discourage professional guinea-pigging?

Well, one thing that worries me is the damage that all these studies could be doing to the long-term health of the guinea pigs. They are mostly uninsured, so they are in no position to get regular medical care, and nobody else has any financial interest in monitoring their health.

Payment itself is a real dilemma. New drugs need to be tested for safety, and I can’t imagine that many people will volunteer to test the safety of new drugs for free anymore, especially if it means checking into a testing site for three weeks to undergo invasive medical procedures. But it feels unfair to put the burden on poor people who are driven to volunteer at these testing sites because they can’t get any other kind of work. If we are going to have a payment-based system, we need to make sure that poor subjects are not being exploited.

What changes are needed for safety’s sake?

Apart from watchdog groups like Circare, which operate on a shoestring budget, and investigative reporters, there really are very few people outside the research enterprise watching these studies. Formal oversight has been outsourced to for-profit IRBs [institutional review boards], which are paid by the companies doing the research, and which mainly look at studies on paper. The complaints I often heard about from guinea pigs were conditions on the ground that IRBs have never really thought much about. I don’t think it ever occurred to an IRB to ask SFBC [SFBC International, a company that owned the largest drug-testing site in North America] whether they were testing drugs on undocumented immigrants in a dilapidated motel. Some testing sites have procedures that are not really dangerous, but which are uncomfortable or degrading, like requiring subjects to have a rectal exam whether or not it is relevant to the study. And of course, somebody needs to make sure that researchers who are crooked or incompetent are not allowed to keep doing research.

What can or should be done for participants who are injured or suffer other side effects during a trial?

The very least that can be done is to guarantee that they will get medical care without being stuck with the bill. As things stand now, guinea pigs can’t even count on that. That’s not just a problem with industry studies. Even subjects in federally sponsored trials in universities don’t get that guarantee. Robert Steinbrook published a piece in the New England Journal of Medicine a couple of years ago showing that only 16% of academic health centers in the U.S. provided free care to injured subjects, and none of them compensated subjects for pain and suffering.

Where do you see this process of human subject testing headed?

It’s heading overseas to the developing world. It’s less expensive and the oversight is less rigorous. I think the problems will be the same as here, only more so.

The sequel is out there.

The conspiracy theories will not be.

Ten years after the first film and six years after the show went off the air, The X-Files returns to theaters with Fox Mulder, Dana Scully — and a lot riding on the bet that fans want more of the FBI's paranormal-investigating agents.

The film, which remains without a formal title, will dump the long-running "mythology" plotline — that aliens live among us and are part of a colonizing effort — that made it one of the most popular television shows in the late 1990s but ultimately drove away some viewers who found it too complex and ambiguous.

"We spent a lot of time on (the mythology) and wrapped up a lot of threads" when the show went off the air in 2002, says Chris Carter, creator of the series and director of the new movie. "We want a stand-alone movie, not a mythology conspiracy one."

That will come as welcome news to fans of the show's stand-alone episodes, which included cults, ghosts, psychics and ancient curses.

Carter refuses to divulge any plot points of the movie, but says he wanted to make the film immediately after the show ended. A contractual dispute with 20th Century Fox kept it on the shelf until the case was settled out of court.

He says the delay may turn out to be a blessing.

"There's a whole audience I want to introduce X-Files to," Carter says. "There were kids who couldn't watch it on TV because it was too scary. Now they're in college. I wanted a movie that everyone could go to."

Whether they will could be a test of the show's legacy, says Blair Butler of the G4TV network, which caters to video-game enthusiasts and science-fiction fans.

"At its strongest, it had really creepy stand-alone episodes," she says. "They turned it into a great franchise. But a lot of years have passed. We'll see if it's fallen off the radar."

She says the film could benefit from an ironic twist: the Writers Guild strike.

"I think it could be a sort comfort food for the people who loved how original the show was and aren't seeing original TV now," she says.

But Carter believes they'll be drawn by something else: the show's stars, David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson.

"For me, The X-Files has always been a romance," he says. "They had an intellectual romance that's very rare and restrained compared to so many relationships on TV. I think that's what appealed most to the fans. And they're back."
People have been trying to figure out why we sleep for almost as long as we have been conscious of being awake, tossing and turning in the dark.

After a few restless nights, most of us can't even think straight. We are less able to make sense of problems, make competent moral judgments or retain what we learn, even though studies show our brain cells fire more frenetically to overcome the lack of sleep. Lose too much sleep and we become reckless, emotionally fragile, and more vulnerable to infections and to diabetes, heart disease and obesity, recent research suggests.

We spend a third of our lives asleep, yet no one really knows why. We do know that people simply don't perform as well when they don't sleep enough.
How sleepy are you?
The Epworth Sleepiness Scale can help you rate how likely you are to doze off or fall asleep.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the National Sleep Foundation offer general information about sleep and sleep disorders. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke also offers a detailed rundown on the basics of sleep.
New scientific findings about the biology of sleep are highlighted at Sleep Research Online

Bedside Reading
The Society for Neuroscience offers these Brain Briefings on sleep and learning, insomnia and sleep deficits.
For bedside reading about sleep, Stanford University researcher William Dement, founder of the world's first sleep disorder clinic, and science writer Christopher Vaughan outline cures for "a sleep-sick society" in The Promise of Sleep: A Pioneer in Sleep Medicine

Yet scientists probing the purpose of sleep are still largely in the dark. "Why we sleep at all is a strange bastion of the unknown," said sleep psychologist Matthew Walker at the University of California in Berkeley.

One vital function of sleep, researchers argue, may be to help our brains sort, store and consolidate new memories, etching experiences more indelibly into the brain's biochemical archives.

Even a 90-minute nap can significantly improve our ability to master new motor skills and strengthen our memories of what we learn, researchers at the University of Haifa in Israel reported last month in Nature Neuroscience. "Napping is as effective as a night's sleep," said psychologist Sara Mednick at the University of California in San Diego.

Moreover, slumber seems to boost our ability to make sense of new knowledge by allowing the brain to detect connections between things we learn.

In research published last April in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Dr. Walker and his collaborators at the Harvard Medical School tested 56 college students and found that their ability to discern the big picture in disparate pieces of information improved measurably after the brain could, during a night's sleep, mull things over.

It is these patterns of meaning -- the distilled essence of knowledge -- that we remember so well. "Sleep helps stabilize memory," said neurologist Jeffrey Ellenbogen, director of the sleep medicine program at Massachusetts General Hospital.

The erratic biorhythms of sleep and behavior are intertwined everywhere in nature. Socially active fruit flies need more sleep than loner flies, and even zebra fish can get insomnia.

Sleep is controlled partly by our genes. The difference between those of us who naturally wake at dawn and night owls who are wide-eyed at midnight may be partly due to variations in a gene named Period3, which affects our biological clock. Variations in that gene also make some people especially sensitive to sleep deprivation, scientists at the U.K.'s University of Surrey recently reported.

How much sleep do you need? And how much do you actually get? Tell us about your sleep habits in an online forum12.

For many of us, though, sleeplessness is a self-inflicted epidemic in which lifestyle overrides basic biology. "In this odd, Western 24-hour-MTV-fast-food generation we have created, we all feel the need to achieve more and more. The one thing that takes a hit is sleep," Dr. Walker said. On average, most people sleep 75 minutes less each night than people did a century ago, sleep surveys record.

Yet, rarely have so many millions of drowsy people been trying so hard to secure some shut-eye, spending billions on sleep aids. By one estimate, pharmacists filled 49 million prescriptions for sleep drugs last year. Even so, we think we sleep more than we actually do, according to Arizona State University scientists. They recorded how long 2,100 volunteers actually slept each night and compared that with how long the people reported they had slept. Most people overestimated their sleep by about 18 minutes, the scientists found.

Psychologists Jeffrey Ellenbogen at Harvard's Mass General Hospital and Matthew Walker at UC/Berkeley found that sleep boosts our ability to make sense of new knowledge by allowing the brain to detect connections and patterns between things we learn. They reported their findings recently in The Proceedings of the National Acemdy of Sciences.

The consequences of too little sleep can be dire. Almost half of all heavy-truck accidents can be traced to driver fatigue, while decisions leading to the Challenger space-shuttle disaster, the Chernobyl nuclear-reactor meltdown and the Exxon Valdez oil spill can be partly linked to people drained of rest by round-the-clock work schedules. Weary doctors make more serious medical errors, while sleepy airport baggage screeners make more security mistakes, researchers reported at the Associated Professional Sleep Societies.

All told, the frayed tempers, short attention spans and fuzzy thinking caused by sleep deprivation may cost $15 billion a year in reduced productivity, the National Commission on Sleep Disorders Research estimated.

The expectation of a nap, however, is by itself enough to measurably lower our blood pressure, researchers at the Liverpool John Moores University in England reported in October in the Journal of Applied Physiology.

Indeed, regular nappers -- working men who took a siesta for 30 minutes or more at least three times a week -- had a 64% lower risk of heart-related death, researchers at the University of Athens reported last February in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

"All of the things we are proving about sleep and the brain are things that your mother already knew decades ago," Dr. Walker said. "We are putting the science and the hard facts behind it."

Scientists have taken a key step toward understanding the cause of prostate cancer, finding that a combination of five gene variants sharply raises the risk of the disease. Added to family history, they accounted for nearly half of all cases in a study of Swedish men.

The discovery is remarkable not just for the big portion of cases it might explain, but also because this relatively new approach -- looking at combos rather than single genes -- may help solve the mystery of many complex diseases.

It also might lead to a blood test to predict who is likely to develop prostate cancer. These men could be closely monitored and perhaps offered hormone-blocking drugs like finasteride to try to prevent the disease.

The Swedish results must be verified in other countries and races, where the gene variants, or markers, may not be as common. Researchers already have plans to look for them in U.S. men. Unfortunately, the markers do not help doctors tell which cancers need treatment and which do not -- they turned out to have nothing to do with the aggressiveness of a tumor, only whether a man is likely to develop one.

The study was led by doctors at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C., and involved Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. Results were published online by the New England Journal of Medicine.

It involved 2,893 men with prostate cancer and 1,781 similar men who did not have the disease. Sweden was chosen because the population is so ethnically similar and well suited to gene studies.

Figuring Out Fido
To better understand man's best friend, Hungarian scientists are working on computer software that analyzes dog barks. It could help humans recognize basic canine emotions, Hungarian ethologist Csaba Molnar told Reuters. Mr. Molnar and his colleagues at Budapest's ELTE University have tested software which distinguishes the emotional reaction of 14 dogs of the Hungarian Mudi herding breed to six situations: being alone, seeing a ball, fighting, playing, encountering a stranger or going for a walk. "A possible commercial application could be a device for dog-human communication," the scientist added. The iDog, perhaps?

John McCain is looking for deep support from his military brethren to win South Carolina -- the state that ended his presidential bid eight years ago.

Mr. McCain sees a big difference this time. "We were not in a war in 2000," he said here yesterday. "I'm the only one who is really qualified to be commander-in-chief."

After conceding a loss Tuesday night in Michigan's Republican primary, the Arizona senator turned his attention to South Carolina's significant population of active-duty military and veterans.

"I have long admired the deep patriotism of the people of this state," the Navy veteran said in Charleston. "So many of your sons and daughters risk their lives today to keep the rest of us safe, as so many South Carolinians have done in past wars," he said.

The Republican race for president arrives in South Carolina in some disarray. "It is a chessboard extraordinaire," with three candidates having won primaries and no clear leader, said Republican strategist Tony Fabrizio, who isn't affiliated with any campaign.

Mr. McCain is hoping to nose ahead of the pack with a win here Saturday, much of it with the support of the state's sizable military presence. The only one of the major candidates who has served in the military, he upped the ante yesterday by predicting a South Carolina victory, something he declined to do before the Michigan primary.

"We will win South Carolina," he said at a campaign event in Greenville. His aides say a victory here would propel him through Florida's Jan. 29 contest and into the all-important "Super Tuesday" primaries Feb 5. They aren't saying what it means if he loses.

Mr. McCain lost South Carolina in 2000 after outside groups made what turned out to be wild accusations about the senator's integrity on a host of issues, including his military record. This time Mr. McCain has a rapid-reaction force, including many veterans, to refute such attacks.

That force was put into use Tuesday when a mailer arrived in some South Carolina homes accusing Mr. McCain of distorting his record as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam. Orson Swindle, a close McCain ally and former prisoner of war, dismissed the mailer as coming from "conspiracy-theory people" and saying such attacks on Mr. McCain aren't new. "It's slander, it affects voters, obviously," he said. "It's a bit crazy, too."

The military vote is "very important," senior McCain adviser Steve Schmidt said yesterday. "John McCain speaks the language of the men and women who serve in the military." Mr. Schmidt and other campaign aides said the military vote alone isn't enough to win, but it is a key part of his strategy.

McCain campaign aides are hoping Mr. McCain and his rivals -- Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson -- divide the evangelical vote, leaving the state's sizable population of military and independent voters to Mr. McCain.

Mr. Huckabee is seen as Mr. McCain's main rival. The Southern Baptist minister has emerged as the favorite of the state's Christian conservatives, especially since he upset Mr. Romney to win the Iowa caucuses. Mr. Romney split the state's party establishment early on with Mr. McCain but has yet to gain traction among rank-and-file Republicans suspicious of his Mormon faith and social-issue flip-flops. Mr. Thompson entered the Republican race late and counted on Christian conservatives' support -- only to see them suddenly flock to Mr. Huckabee amid his Iowa success.

The McCain team has reason for optimism on the military front. Veterans carry heavy weight in South Carolina's Republican politics. They were 14% of the adult population in 2000, according to the Census Bureau, but 27% of voters in the Republican primary, according to exit polls. Though Mr. McCain lost South Carolina to George W. Bush in 2000 by 53% to 42%, he won the veteran vote 48% to 47%, according to exit polls.

South Carolina is home to 400,000 veterans, according to the Census Bureau. It has high numbers of military personnel stationed in-state and abroad. Almost 29,000 active-duty soldiers claim the state as their legal residence, making up about 1% of its population -- only nine states have a higher percentage. And there are 66,000 soldiers stationed here, constituting about 2% of its adult population, greater than all but eight states.

At campaign stops yesterday, Mr. McCain hammered home his pro-military message about caring for the troops, resolving the Iraq war and improving veterans' health care. He spoke glowingly of the 2,000 South Carolina National Guard and reserve troops who are in Afghanistan and called out veterans in the audience.

And as he often does on the stump, he read a quote from George Washington about the importance of looking after veterans. "The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, will be directly proportional as to how they perceived the veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their country," Mr. McCain said, echoing President Washington.

That message plays well with voters such as Gary Wells, 73 years old, a Greenville resident and veteran who said he served as a Russian linguist in military intelligence in Berlin during the Cold War. He came to a McCain event in Greenville yesterday undecided between Mr. McCain and Mr. Romney. But he liked what Mr. McCain "said about the veterans and the military," particularly the senator's plan to give veterans an insurance card for routine visits to be used at any doctor, rather than having to go to Veterans Administration hospitals, he said. Mr. Wells calls VA hospitals "really horrible."

The Arizona senator made his first stop here after his New Hampshire triumph at the Citadel military college last week. His last major public event before the primary is scheduled to be Friday evening on the decommissioned aircraft carrier U.S.S. Yorktown, in Mount Pleasant, S.C.

Mr. McCain's surrogates also spread the military message yesterday. "Let's make sure the military is well-led by somebody who understands their world," said Republican South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham.

Cindy McCain, the senator's wife, talked about their two sons who are serving, one at the Naval Academy, the other in the Marines. At a McCain townhall meeting in Spartanburg, S.C., Mrs. McCain said she supported her husband's run, in part because "it's about my children being safe, my sons particularly, your sons and daughters...that they serve with honor and dignity and come home with dignity."

Veterans and their spouses fill the seats at almost every McCain event, donning blue "Veterans for McCain" stickers. Yet even they acknowledge their ranks are only part of what will make up a McCain victory. "John McCain has a very loyal base among the veterans," said John McGraw, 65, who served in the Navy's River Patrol Force in Vietnam. Speaking before a McCain event yesterday here in Greenville, he said the military vote is "not enough. He has to get other individual Republicans."

"We hear that phone calls are being made. We will not let it go this time," John McCain told reporters, in reference to calls like those made to South Carolina voters from a group calling itself Vietnam Veterans Against McCain, which accuses the Republican presidential candidate, senator and former prisoner of war of selling out fellow POWs to save himself, the New York Times reports. Another group called Common Sense Issues, which supports rival candidate Mike Huckabee, has begun making what it said were a million automated calls to households in South Carolina telling voters that Mr. McCain "has voted to use unborn babies in medical research," the Times adds. (Mr. Huckabee's campaign says it has no ties to the group.) Burned in the 2000 South Carolina primary by one of the most notorious smear campaigns in recent American politics -- which contributed to his loss to President Bush -- Mr. McCain this time seems more determined to fight back aggressively and is deploying a "Truth Squad" in the state with the help of South Carolina's Republican political establishment.

The effectiveness of 12 popular antidepressants has been exaggerated by manufacturers' selective publication of favorable results, researchers asserted in a new review of unpublished data that were submitted to the Food and Drug Administration.

As a result, the review concludes, doctors and patients are getting a distorted view of the effectiveness of blockbuster antidepressants like Wyeth's Effexor and Pfizer Inc.'s Zoloft. The review was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

A review of research submitted to the FDA:
• Of 74 studies reviewed, 38 were judged to be positive by the FDA. All but one were published, researchers said.
• Most of the studies found to have negative or questionable results were not published, researchers found.
Source: The New England Journal of Medicine

Since the overwhelming amount of published data on the drugs show they are effective, doctors unaware of the unpublished data are making inappropriate prescribing decisions that aren't in the best interest of their patients, according to researchers led by Erick Turner, a psychiatrist at Oregon Health & Science University. Sales of antidepressants total about $21 billion a year, according to IMS Health.

Wyeth and Pfizer declined to comment on the study results. Both companies said they had committed to disclose all study results, although not necessarily in medical journals. GlaxoSmithKline PLC, maker of Wellbutrin and Paxil, said it has posted the results of more than 3,000 trials involving 82 medications on its Web site, and also has filed information on 1,060 continuing trials at a federal government Web site.

Schering-Plough Corp., whose Organon Corp. unit markets Remeron, and Eli Lilly & Co., which makes Prozac, said their study results were indeed published -- not individually, but as part of larger medical articles that combined data from more than one study at a time. The New England Journal study counted a clinical trial as published only if it was the sole subject of an article. "Lilly has a policy that we disclose and publish all the results from our clinical trials, regardless of the outcomes from them," a Lilly spokeswoman said.

Pharmaceutical companies are under no obligation to publish the studies they sponsor and submit to the FDA, nor are the researchers they hire to do the work. The researchers publishing in the New England Journal were able to identify unpublished studies by obtaining and comparing documents filed by the companies with the FDA against databases of medical publications.

"There is no effort on the part of the FDA to withhold or to not post drug review documents," an FDA representative said. For newer drugs, information is posted online "as soon as possible." Older documents aren't always available online and efforts to add those files to the Web are slowed by "a lack of resources," the agency said, acknowledging that there is a backlog in complying with records requests.

A total of 74 studies involving a dozen antidepressants and 12,564 patients were registered with the FDA from 1987 through 2004. The FDA considered 38 of the studies to be positive. All but one of those studies was published, the researchers said.

The other 36 were found to have negative or questionable results by the FDA. Most of those studies -- 22 out of 36 -- weren't published, the researchers found. Of the 14 that were published, the researchers said at least 11 of those studies mischaracterized the results and presented a negative study as positive.

Five Trials

For example, Pfizer submitted five trials on its drug Zoloft to the FDA, the study says. The drug seemed to work better than the placebo in two of them. In three other trials, the placebo did just as well at reducing indications of depression. Only the two favorable trials were published, researchers found, and Pfizer discusses only the positive results in Zoloft's literature for doctors.

One way of turning the study results upside down is to ignore a negative finding for the "primary outcome" -- the main question the study was designed to answer -- and highlight a positive secondary outcome. In nine of the negative studies that were published, the authors simply omitted any mention of the primary outcome, the researchers said.

The resulting publication bias threatens to skew the medical professional's understanding of how effective a drug is for a particular condition, the researchers say. This is particularly significant as the growing movement toward "evidence-based medicine" depends on analysis of published studies to make treatment decisions.

Colleagues' Questions

Dr. Turner, who once worked at the FDA reviewing data on psychotropic drugs, said the idea for the study was triggered in part by colleagues who questioned the need for further clinical drug trials looking at the effectiveness of antidepressants.

"There is a view that these drugs are effective all the time," he said. "I would say they only work 40% to 50% of the time," based on his reviews of the research at the FDA, "and they would say, 'What are you talking about? I have never seen a negative study.'" Dr. Turner, said he knew from his time with the agency that there were negative studies that hadn't been published.

The suppression of negative studies isn't a new concern. The tobacco industry was accused of sitting on research that showed nicotine was addictive, for instance. The issue has come up before notably with antidepressants: In 2004, the New York state attorney general sued GlaxoSmithKline for alleged fraud, saying it suppressed studies showing that the antidepressant Paxil was no better than a placebo in treating depression in children. Glaxo denied the charge and eventually settled with the attorney general. The company later posted on its Web site the full reports of all of the studies of Paxil in children.

But publication of negative studies is an issue that cuts across all medical specialties. And it has engendered some strong reactions in the medical-research world: To make it harder to conceal negative study findings, an association of medical journal editors began requiring in 2005 that clinical trials be publicly disclosed at the outset to be considered for publication later. The system isn't foolproof, since manufacturers often run exploratory studies without registering them and can selectively disclose favorable results. The rule only applies to studies intended for publication in a medical journal.

Some studies that don't eventually get published are registered with online trial registries, including the federal government's Nonetheless, many studies still aren't being registered or reported, says Kay Dickersin, the director of the Center for Clinical Trials at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. "We need something more meaningful," she said. "The average person has no idea that is not comprehensive."

The New England Journal study also points to the need for the FDA to disclose more information about the studies it receives, says Robert Hedaya, a professor of clinical psychiatry at Georgetown University Hospital. He said it was "disturbing" that the information on the negative studies wasn't made widely available by the FDA.

The FDA does post information, including unpublished studies, for some drugs on its Web site, says Dr. Turner. But information that hasn't yet made it online is hard to come by. Dr. Turner said he made public records requests for information not on the Web site more than a year ago, but the requests have gone largely unfulfilled. He said he was able to get some of the FDA's information on unpublished studies from other researchers who acquired it from the agency through their own record requests.

The 'Effect Size'

In this week's study, the researchers found that failing to publish negative findings inflated the reported effectiveness of all 12 of the antidepressants studied, which were approved between 1987 and 2004. The researchers used a measurement called effect size. The larger the effect size, the greater the impact of a treatment.

The average effect size of the antidepressant Zoloft rose 64% by the failure to publish negative or questionable data on the drug, the researchers found.

Parents' Pessimism Affects Children's Investing
Parental attitudes can significantly influence children's decisions to invest. The key is the extent to which parents trust society, according to "Social Capital as Good Culture," a new National Bureau of Economic Research working paper by Luigi Guiso of the European University Institute; Paola Sapienza of the Kellogg School of Management and Luigi Zingales of the University of Chicago.

The economists find that pessimism among parents is passed on to their children as a form of social capital, which is defined as the set of beliefs and values that inspire cooperation in members of a community. Passing on pessimism leads children to avoid investment and prevents them from gaining their own knowledge of society, according to the paper. Allowing pessimistic values to flow from generation to generation until society is stuck at a point the paper deems a "no-trust no-trade equilibrium."

They tested their model using two different samples: the World Value, a survey to determine the correlation between young people's rate of learning and average level of trust in their parents, and the German Socio Economic Panel to link parents' and children's beliefs.

While it doesn't specify how to alter a low trust state, it shows that even a temporary shock to society can alter the perceptions passed from one generation to the next. In a shock that lasts three generations, for example, 19% of families eventually stop investing. If the shock lasts five generations, it drops to 8%.

"This 'temporary' shock is sufficient to induce almost all family lines to have an optimistic prior and always invest. Most interesting, this effect persists forever even after the shock disappears," the researchers conclude.

The economists sought to prove that lasting effect by demonstrating that the difference in social capital in Northern and Southern Italy today resulted from a period of independence in cities in Northern Italy more than 500 years ago. Italian literature from the 19th century showed that Northern literature was punctuated by intense optimism and faith in others, while Southern literature displayed a sense of mistrust toward the community. Data from the 1990s shows the sentiments persisted long after the "shock." Though 42% of Northerners trusted others, only 25% of Southerners felt the same.

The cycle can change within individuals as well, though. The paper found that as a person ages, trust tends to increase as his life experiences meld with his parents' views. This was based on the finding that parents generally pass conservative versions of their beliefs on to children. It also found that mothers have a stronger influence in passing on personal values and beliefs.

Shifting levels of trust are applicable to second generation Americans also, who often correlate their trust in American society with the level they held in their native countries. This can continue for generations.

"Our model implies also that when transmitting priors, parents should do so in a conservative way, so that the prior they transmit is on average lower than the one they hold," the researchers conclude. "Furthermore, parents that have stronger beliefs about the trustworthiness of others should transmit less conservative priors." -Sara Murray

Telescopes have captured astonishing images of far-away galaxies and other cosmic mysteries. Now, a new book called Touch the Invisible Sky is helping everyone appreciate those pictures, even people who can't see.

This isn't the first book written by Noreen Grice, an astronomer who works at the Museum of Science in Boston. Back in 1984, Grice was a 21-year-old studying astronomy at Boston University. She had a job at the planetarium, and one Saturday, a group of blind people came to the show.

"I didn't know what to do because I didn't know anyone who was blind," says Grice. Her manager told her to just help the people to their seats.

After the show was over, Grice went up to the group.

"I said, 'So how did you like the show?' And there was an uncomfortable pause," she recalls. "And then they said, 'This stunk' and walked away. And that left me speechless because I thought the planetarium was, like, the best place in the world."

The next day, Grice took a bus to a nearby school for the blind. She found its library and looked for astronomy books. They were thick books, printed in Braille.

"But something was missing. I said, 'Where are the pictures? Are there any pictures these books?'"

The librarian explained that it's expensive to translate an image into raised lines and textures that a person can feel with their fingers. So textured images are uncommon in books for the blind. Grice hated the idea that blind people weren't getting the same kind of cool astronomy books she loved as a kid.

"I had grown up in the housing projects outside Boston," says Grice. "People would say, 'you're a project kid, you're not welcome here.' I understood what it meant to be labeled. And I didn't really know how to make astronomy accessible. But I thought, 'I'll try.'"

Her first book, Touch the Stars, came out in 1990. She used a Braille printer to trace out the constellations. Her next book, Touch the Universe, traced out photos taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. Grice created that one using thin plastic sheets.

"Basically, I was etching them by hand, in my kitchen," she says. "Some were like, really difficult. When you have diffuse gas, that you can hardly see, it is very difficult to apply a texture to it."

Touch the Invisible Sky, her latest book, was written with two co-authors. It's beautiful, designed to be read by both blind people and sighted people.

The book has images taken by telescopes that detect things like radio waves, x-rays and gamma rays — the wavelengths of light that no one can see with the naked eye.

"I think we all have the same thing in common with this book," says Grice. "No human can see these other wavelengths so we're all approaching it together."

There's a real need for more books like this one, says Marc Maurer, president of the National Federation of the Blind.

"Most people think that astronomy is the study of light, and they think therefore that blind people can't do it and would not be interested," he says. "Blind people can do it, and we find it fascinating."

Maurer loved the science textbooks his mom read to him when he was going to school. But a popular science book he could read by himself — there was nothing like that.

"There still are not enough books," he says, explaining that exciting science books with pictures and graphics are a rarity for blind people.

That's one reason why Chelsea Cook, a high school student in Newport News, Virginia, got her family to drive four hours to Baltimore for the new book's unveiling. She says Noreen Grice's astronomy books are "really interesting, you know, the visuals are easy to read, and they're just cool to look at."

Cook says she has enough vision to see a full moon, but not stars. Still, she wants to study astrochemistry and astrophysics. And she's fascinated by the idea of space exploration.

Her ultimate career goal? To become the first "blind astronaut." It will be "a lot to work towards," she says, "but I think it's possible."

The United States Constitution never uses the word "God" or makes mention of any religion, drawing its sole authority from "We the People." However, Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee thinks it's time to put an end to that.

"I have opponents in this race who do not want to change the Constitution," Huckabee told a Michigan audience on Monday. "But I believe it's a lot easier to change the Constitution than it would be to change the word of the living god. And that's what we need to do -- to amend the Constitution so it's in God's standards rather than try to change God's standards so it lines up with some contemporary view."

When Willie Geist reported Huckabee's opinion on MSNBC's Morning Joe, co-host Mika Brzezinski was almost speechless, and even Joe Scarborough couldn't immediately find much to say beyond calling it "interesting,"

Scarborough finally suggested that while he believes "evangelicals should be able to talk politics ... some might find that statement very troubling, that we're going to change the Constitution to be in line with the Bible. And that's all I'm going to say."

Geist further noted of Huckabee that if "someone without his charm," said that, "he'd be dismissed as a crackpot, but he's Mike Huckabee and he's bascially the front-runner."

If you had to choose between two sets of speaker cables, one costing a few dollars and sounding fine, the other a few thousand dollars but perhaps sounding slightly better, and you chose the second pair, then you would have had a great time last week in Las Vegas.

The city's many goings-on included The Home Entertainment Show, an audiophile trade show held in two small motels off the Strip. Audiophiles, as you probably know, are the hi-fi zealots who think nothing of spending $50,000 on a turntable. I've learned over the years that audiophiles actually come in two varieties: the totally insane and the merely crazy.

The latter have a sense of humor and shrug that theirs is just one of many hobbies -- like wine -- for people with money, expansive vocabularies and the ability to discern differences lost on the rest of us.

By contrast, my interests involve the extent to which beliefs influence perceptions. Scientists have discovered that brain scans of wine drinkers show they physically enjoy a wine more if they think it is expensive. Can audiophiles really hear all the differences they say they can, without being influenced by the brand or price of their equipment?

To find out, Portals became an official exhibitor at T.H.E. Show last week. I set up a room with two sound systems, identical except for one component. Everything except the speakers was hidden behind screens. (A shout-out to Totem Acoustics for the Forest speakers loan and to Magnum Dynalab for the MD-308 amps. They all sounded sensational.)

With the same music playing on both, participants used a remote control to switch between the two, and then tell me which sounded better.

One of the tests compared a high-quality MP3 file from an iPod with a CD on a $3,000 player. Three-quarters of the 24 people taking this test preferred the CD.

That was no surprise. However, when I played .wav files on the iPod -- these are digital but uncompressed files; I was connecting the headphone jack to the amplifier -- 52% of the 21 who took this test preferred the iPod.

That made me smile, not because snooty audiophiles got the "wrong" answer, but because it suggests great sound can come from popular, cheap gear.

I also tested speaker cables, which are controversial even among audiophiles. Some spend tens of thousands of dollars on cabling, while others consider it an absurd waste of money.

Using two identical CD players, I tested a $2,000, eight-foot pair of Sigma Retro Gold cables from Monster Cable, which are as thick as your thumb, against 14-gauge, hardware-store speaker cable. Many audiophiles say they are equally good. I couldn't hear a difference and was a wee bit suspicious that anyone else could. But of the 39 people who took this test, 61% said they preferred the expensive cable.

That may not be much of a margin for two products with such drastically different prices, but I was struck by how the best-informed people at the show -- like John Atkinson and Michael Fremer of Stereophile Magazine -- easily picked the expensive cable.

Its sound was described as "richer," "crisper" and "more coherent." Like some wines, come to think of it.

In absolute terms, though, the differences weren't great. Mr. Atkinson guesstimated the expensive cables sounded roughly 5% better. Remember, by definition, an audiophile is one who will bear any burden, pay any price, to get even a tiny improvement in sound.

Attendance at the show was disappointing, so I didn't get the numbers of participants I wanted. Even if I had, I'm not sure I would have settled anything. These "A-B" tests have limits, including the fact that differences you might not pick up right away can become more apparent with extended listening.

Skeptics out there might think I've gone all mushy and credulous on them.

Not so.

Consider the thriving audiophile product category of power-line conditioners, said to remove noise and distortions caused by your electrical supply, a problem you may not realize you have. A rep from Audience LLC accepted my invitation for an A-B test of the company's $2,800 AdeptResponse aR6 conditioner.

He picked the system using his conditioner -- the other was plugged into the wall -- two out of three times.

Note that the aforementioned "merely crazy" audiophiles say that while they might have home setups costing six figures, the rest of us can get splendid sound for under $1,000 by shopping at specialty audio shops, the sort that sell unfamiliar brands.

I can't help you with brands, but my tests suggest you might want to do your ripping as .wav files. While they take up a lot more room than MP3s, falling disk prices make this feasible even for big collections.

As for cables, good ones can cost well under $2,000. I'd still be happy at the hardware store, but you may be the golden-ear sort who can hear a difference. As in "Dirty Harry," you've got to ask yourself, "Do I feel lucky?"

Well, do you?

A cocaine boom in Europe and the continent's strong currency have combined to fuel a thriving industry: euro laundering.

With the euro approaching $1.50 and soaring demand for cocaine in countries like Spain and Italy, Europe has become a far more lucrative place to do business for Latin American drug cartels than in previous years.

To obscure the origins of the funds, and escape government scrutiny in the process, the cartels use a complex system to launder their proceeds -- much of which is landing on U.S. shores.

In late March, U.S. authorities arrested a man carrying a leather duffel bag who had just landed at Los Angeles International Airport on a flight from Santiago, Chile. Inside the bag was more than $1.9 million in cash, mostly in bundles of €500 and €200 notes.
Authorities are struggling to make a dent in the booming drug trade in Europe. WSJ's Mark Schoofs tags along with Spanish police as they search for clues to the source of cocaine that keeps pouring into the country.

U.S. and Chilean law enforcement officials believe the man was at the end of a money-laundering trail that begins in Europe. Over a period of four and a half years, he and his associates flew to the U.S. from Latin America some 280 times, openly toting more than $244 million worth of euros into the country, according to documents in a case brought by federal authorities in U.S. District Court in New York.

The big bills have become so symbolic of the lush life that they have recently crept into pop culture: The rapper Jay-Z's video for Blue Magic -- the debut single from his new album "American Gangster" -- features a suitcase full of €500 notes and someone thumbing through a stack of them as Jay-Z raps the words, "the kilo business." Hype Williams, director of the music video, said that he and Jay-Z chose euros because they are "more valuable" and because they wanted to "one-up" their hip-hop competitors by showing "the things people are into now."

The wads of euros carried by people like the man arrested at LAX are often the spoils of Europe-bound cocaine shipments -- many of which transit through Africa, law-enforcement officials say.

Consumption of the drug has soared in much of Western Europe, according to a report released last year by the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime. In Italy, use of the drug rose to 2.1% of the general population in 2005 from 1.1% just four years earlier. In France, it tripled from 2000 to 2005, from 0.2% to 0.6% of the adult population. Cocaine use in England doubled from 1998 to 2006, according to Britain's National Health Service, to 2.4% among adults.

Some narco-euros are laundered directly in Europe. But officials say the lion's share is routed back to South America as cash and eventually ends up in the U.S.

"This is still a cash business," says Donald Semesky, the Drug Enforcement Administration's head of financial-crimes investigations.

The first step is to convert small bills accumulated from thousands of street sales into €500 notes, which are easy to transport. Obtaining large quantities of these conspicuous notes, though, isn't easy. So drug traffickers turn to specialized criminal rings -- whose members are often involved in banking and real estate -- to gain access to them, says José Manuel Álvarez Luna, chief of the money-laundering section of the Spanish police.

Spain is the center for such aggregation, according to authorities. A high-level Spanish banking official says a disproportionate share of the euro zone's €500 notes, known as Bin Ladens for their scarcity, circulate in Spain.

The purpose of money-laundering is to disguise the criminal origins of ill-gotten gains so the funds appear legitimate. In most cases, laundering also helps criminals escape the notice of tax collectors and law-enforcement officials, boosting the value of their illegal proceeds.

Particularly since 9/11, tightened antilaundering regulations, known by banks as "know your customer" rules, have forced drug cartels to use more circuitous routes to circulate their funds around the globe.

For starters, the drug cartels do not themselves bring their narco-euros to the U.S. Instead, they usually sell their euros to South American black-market currency brokers or to foreign-exchange houses, known in Spanish as casas de cambio. The casas' business as currency-exchange houses gives them a natural cover for moving large amounts of cash.

But in South America, there are few if any legitimate buyers for the huge sums of euros that the casas obtain -- directly or indirectly -- from the traffickers. So the casas funnel most of the narco-euros, sometimes via middlemen, through a chain of exchange houses in countries like Colombia, Peru, Brazil and Chile, says the DEA's Mr. Semesky.

Often, the drug traffickers will sell their euros for Colombian pesos, and then the euros entering the U.S. no longer belong to the drug cartels but to the casa de cambio. In other cases, says Mr. Semesky, traffickers pay the casas to move funds into one of their U.S. bank accounts. These funds aren't usually intended for withdrawal, but rather to pay various debts. This is achieved by wiring funds to the account of whomever the trafficker wishes to pay.

On a recent night at a bar on Madrid's bustling Gran Vía, a shirtless, tattooed waiter served tables and a buxom drag queen in a nurse's uniform worked the crowd. In the trendy venue was a man in his 30s who talked by cellphone with his dealers. A few minutes later, he stepped outside, leaned into the window of a small car and handed over €60, or about $90. For that sum, he received one gram of cocaine.

Such street sales have surged. Spain now has a larger percentage of its population (3%) using cocaine than the U.S. (2.3%), the previous top per-capita consumer, according to United Nations figures. In the first half of 2007, a kilo of cocaine sold for €33,000, or about $43,900, in Madrid, more than triple the $12,500-$14,600 it fetched in Los Angeles and far more than the $13,000-$26,000 it sold for in New York, according to the Spanish police and the DEA.

Last year, seven European countries banded together to form the Maritime Analysis and Operations Center-Narcotics, or MAOC-N, an international agency dedicated to stopping drug traffic over the Atlantic. Already, the center is helping to make major busts.

In October, on the high seas off West Africa, Spanish authorities -- acting on a tip from MAOC-N -- seized an aging, cockroach-infested trawler. Called the Opnor, it allegedly had more than three metric tons of cocaine hidden below the floor of its cargo hold. Apparently registered in Panama, the vessel was captained by a grizzled Dutch man in his late 60s and is believed to have been heading toward Senegal.

The boat was following a typical pattern, authorities say. They surmise that, if it hadn't been seized, its cocaine would have been warehoused in West Africa, where crushing poverty, weak law enforcement and, often, rampant corruption make for an ideal way station. The traffickers would have then sent the drugs to Europe by boat, either directly or via North Africa. Increasingly, say Spanish and American authorities, cocaine is also being flown from North Africa in small planes landing in Spain and Portugal on clandestine airstrips.

The traffickers were forced to take those routes because Spanish, Portuguese and British authorities were intercepting boats coming to Europe directly from South America.

Spain is a favorite entry point because of its proximity to Africa, its long coastline and its language, which it shares with Colombia and most other South American countries. Spanish officials say they seized almost 100 metric tons of cocaine in 2005 and 2006. According to United Nations statistics, Spain seized more cocaine than any European nation between 1999 and 2005.

Authorities suspect that Europe's thriving cocaine business likely provided the euros in the duffel bag of Mauricio Mazza-Alaluf, the man arrested at LAX in March. Along with a cousin, Luis Mazza-Olmos, he ran an exchange house in downtown Santiago, Chile, according to U.S. and Chilean law-enforcement officials.

The probe into the Mazzas began in August 2004, says Christian Caamaño, an investigator for the Investigative Police of Chile. The tip-off was a Peruvian passenger on a flight from Colombia who arrived at the Santiago airport carrying a backpack stuffed with €600,000, according to Mr. Caamaño. Alarmed, Chilean authorities began monitoring such couriers and noticed that they dropped off their bags full of euros at the Mazzas' exchange house.

Later, the Mazzas' routine evolved: A courier from Colombia, allegedly carrying European proceeds, would deliver cash at the Santiago airport to an armored-car service. Personnel would count the money in a parked truck and turn it over to the Mazzas or one of their associates, says Hernán Peñafiel, the lead prosecutor in a parallel case brought in Chile against the Mazzas. One of the Mazzas or their associates would then board a U.S.-bound flight with the money, Mr. Peñafiel says.

Once on U.S. soil, according to authorities, the Mazzas allegedly moved their euros with breathtaking openness. Their main tactic was to dutifully fill out paperwork at customs points and financial institutions, using real family and business names, according to law enforcement officials and court documents from the U.S. case.

After the Mazzas or their associates cleared customs at Los Angeles International Airport, they would transfer their cash to Associated Foreign Exchange Banknotes Inc., a currency-exchange firm headquartered in Encino, Calif. AFEX Banknotes then converted the euros into dollars and wired the dollars to U.S. bank accounts the Mazzas had opened, according to law-enforcement officials and two AFEX Banknotes employees.

The Mazzas had accounts with at least three banks in the U.S., according to the court documents from the New York case: Israel Discount Bank of New York; Harris Bank in Chicago; and J.P. Morgan Chase in Dearborn, Mich. In opening each account, the Mazzas gave their company's real name and openly described it as a tourism and currency-exchange agency.

The Mazzas proceeded to move huge sums of money through these accounts, according to the court documents, often after receiving faxed instructions, intercepted by Chilean authorities, from people or entities with suspected ties to Colombian traffickers.

In a single year, according to court documents, the Mazzas wired $133 million into the Harris Bank account and $117 million out. At their J.P. Morgan Chase account, they wired $35.5 million in and $34 million out in less than three months, and their IDB checking account recorded more than 2,500 transactions totaling more than $29 million during 2003 and 2005, according to the court documents.

Asked to comment, Harris Bank said in a written statement that it "identified suspicious activity" after conducting its own investigation and "closed the account in accordance with banking regulations." IDB said in a statement that the events outlined in the New York case "occurred under former management" and it no longer maintains accounts for unlicensed money transmitters, including the Mazzas' casa de cambio. Chase declined to comment.

AFEX Banknotes compliance officer Andrew Scherer says his company is "mortified" that it may have helped facilitate illegal activity, but added that it has strong anti-money-laundering policies and has taken "substantive measures" to improve its anti-money-laundering policies in the wake of the Mazza case. He declined to be more specific, citing security concerns.

When Mr. Mazza-Alaluf landed at LAX on March 31, he didn't attempt to conceal his money. Like he and his associates had done hundreds of times before, he filled out the standard declaration forms, a requirement for passengers entering the U.S. carrying more than $10,000 worth of currency. But this time, he was immediately arrested. The 55-year-old Chilean maintained his innocence.

Mr. Mazza-Alaluf has pleaded not guilty to federal felony charges of conspiracy and operating an unlicensed money-transmitting business. His attorney, Bernard Alan Seidler, calls the charges "a classic case of the government overreaching."

Chilean authorities nabbed members of the Mazza clan and their associates in a coordinated operation. They are now in jail in Santiago, facing money-laundering charges. Their lawyer, Yieninson Yapur, says they are all innocent. In an email sent via Mr. Yapur, Mr. Mazza-Olmos said he is a legitimate businessman and has done nothing illegal.

The U.S. investigation of the Mazza case was conducted by a multi-agency task force based in New York and led by the DEA and the Internal Revenue Service. Officials tout it as an important success. But it's unlikely to significantly restrict the flow of narco-euros gushing out of Europe.

On a recent afternoon, far from the glitz of the night life on Gran Vía, a homeless addict walked around in a northern Madrid shantytown with a syringe hanging out of his forearm.

Even as police tore down the surrounding shacks to make way for a new development, residents hammered away, rebuilding their wood and cardboard houses. "The demand for cocaine is huge, so knocking these shacks down does nothing," says Gema Bautista, a social worker with Fundación Atenea Grupo GID, which runs a mobile clinic and needle-exchange program. "The shacks just pop up again."

Health insurers are taking a new tack in a bid to improve patient safety and reduce health-care costs: refusing to pay -- or let their patients be billed -- for hospital errors.

Aetna Inc., WellPoint Inc. and other big insurers are moving to ban payments for care resulting from serious errors, including operating on the wrong limb or giving a patient incompatible blood.

The companies are following the lead of the federal Medicare program, which announced last summer that starting this October, it will no longer pay the extra cost of treating bed sores, falls and six other preventable injuries and infections that occur while a patient is in a hospital. The following year, it will add to the list hospital-acquired blood infections, blood clots in legs and lungs, and pneumonia contracted from a ventilator.

Private insurers are looking first at banning reimbursements for only the gravest mistakes. But health-insurance executives say it is only a matter of time before the industry also stops paying for some of the more common and less clear-cut problems that Medicare is tackling, such as hospital-acquired catheter infections or blood poisoning. "I'd rather have the cudgel in place first than push the list too far," says Aetna President Mark Bertolini.

Some hospitals and others are concerned that the new strategy could drive up medical costs in other ways as hospitals absorb or pass on the expense of introducing the safety and screening procedures needed to help avoid mistakes.

Ultimately, insurers say, the efforts will trigger safety improvements and savings for patients.

Aetna, the country's third-largest insurer by number of members, is beginning to stipulate in hospital contracts up for renewal that it will no longer pay nor let patients be billed for 28 different "never events." Compiled by the National Quality Forum, a coalition of physicians, employers and policy makers, these mistakes include leaving an instrument in a patient after surgery, the death of a mother in a low-risk pregnancy, allowing a patient to develop bedsores or using contaminated devices. Such errors are so egregious "there can't be any argument that they should ever happen," says Troy Brennan, Aetna's chief medical officer.

WellPoint, the largest insurer, is testing the same approach in Virginia with four errors from the forum's never-events list, including leaving a sponge or other object in a patient after a procedure and performing the wrong procedure. It plans to extend the policy soon to its plans in New England, New York and Georgia. UnitedHealth Group Inc. and Cigna Corp. say they're exploring policies similar to Medicare's. The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association says that its 39 member health plans are looking at approaches similar to Aetna's or working with hospitals on reducing errors.

The National Quality Forum's so-called never events are rare enough that private insurers say they don't expect to see a big financial savings at first. In Minnesota, where hospitals are required by law to report such errors, 154 never events were reported last year out of nine million hospital admissions. Rather, the idea is to spur more attention to safety and public reporting of mistakes.

"It's not a matter of not paying for them. It's about getting them not to happen in the first place," says Thomas Granatir, director of policy and research at Humana Inc., which is working on a policy similar to Medicare's.

The more common errors offer the biggest potential for savings -- in both lives and money. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that patients develop 1.7 million infections in hospitals a year, causing or contributing to as many as 99,000 deaths a year. On average, urinary-tract infections and hospital-acquired pneumonia -- which are on the Medicare list but not on the never-events list -- can add more than $10,000 to a patient's hospital bill. A more serious antibiotic-resistant bloodstream infection can result in more than $100,000 in extra costs. Such common errors total more than $4.5 billion in additional health spending a year, according to the CDC.

Despite growing evidence that hospitals can take steps to reduce infections drastically, until recently, infections typically have been considered an inevitable part of care and billed accordingly. "It's something that no one ever questions when you see it on the bill. But now that Medicare will, maybe that's going to change," says Nora Johnson, director of compliance and education at Medical Billing Advocates of America, a nationwide patient-advocacy network that deciphers hospital and insurance bills for consumers and advocates on behalf of uninsured patients.

As insurers roll out the policy across the country, they say they are structuring their contracts with hospitals so that the hospitals also won't be able to charge patients for care made necessary by medical errors. Given the high rate of medical billing errors, however, consumer advocates advise patients to examine their bills carefully, especially if they are aware of errors or problems that occurred during their stay. People with health insurance should check their bills against the explanation of benefits they receive from the health plan, or press their insurers to make sure they haven't been overcharged.

When it comes to medical errors, some hospitals say they forgive bills or adjust charges on a case-by-case basis. But the complex billing and payment arrangements between hospitals and insurers can make it hard to avoid paying for errors and for patients to know whether they're being charged.

Last January, when Arlene Whitfield, a Los Angeles elementary-school teacher, underwent a hip replacement at Centinela Hospital in Inglewood, Calif., she accidentally received B-positive blood, instead A-positive.

The mistake lengthened her recovery time by two days and she ended up staying in the hospital for a week, for which Centinela billed accordingly. That is because Medicare's hospital billing guidelines require hospitals to document and itemize all the care they provide to a patient, says Von Crockett, the hospital's president and chief executive. "That's different than what we expect to collect and get paid for it," he says. "It's a documentation of what happened to the patient." He says Ms. Whitfield's portion of the bill was forgiven.

Her health plan, WellPoint's Blue Cross of California, ended up paying for only two days, not because it refused payment for the added stay because of the error, but because before the operation, WellPoint had only authorized a two-day stay and didn't receive a request for an extension. (The average length of a stay for Ms. Whitfield's procedure is 4.6 days.) The insurer says it noted nothing unusual about the claim filed by the hospital, although the bill did list the diagnosis code for an infusion of "mismatched blood."

Spurred by laws requiring more public reporting of errors, some hospitals have adopted their own policies on billing for medical errors. All hospitals in Minnesota and Massachusetts, for example, have pledged not to charge for all or some of the errors on the never-events list.

But others say broader policies, such as Medicare's, could punish hospitals unfairly and force them to absorb the costs of screening each patient for bedsores or infections at the time of admission.

Insurers are refusing to pay for care triggered by some complications they believe hospitals should prevent, including:
Object left in patient after surgery
Letting patient wander or disappear
Administering wrong blood type
Artificially inseminating wrong donor sperm or egg
Allowing patient to fall
Operating on wrong limb
Performing wrong procedure
Using contaminated drugs or devices
Discharging infant to wrong person
Mother's death or serious disability in low-risk delivery
Hospital-acquired bedsores
Patient abduction or sexual assault

Some in the industry worry that hospitals may find ways to turn away or divert patients at greatest risk of developing infections or bedsores. "The concept of not paying for complications that are often a biological inevitability, regardless of safe practice, is discriminatory and could be punitive to those patients at greatest risk," Michael Maves, executive vice president of the American Medical Association, wrote in a June letter to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Hospitals have an incentive to invest in reducing infection rates, health-safety advocates argue. Since health plans pick up only so much of the extra cost caused by infections, "hospitals are losing their shirts, too," says former New York Lt. Gov. Betsy McCaughey, who formed the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths, a national, nonprofit campaign to push hospitals to lower infection rates.

To lower its rate of infection, one hospital, Pitt County Memorial Hospital in Greenville, N.C., in February expanded its screening for methicillin-resistant staph infections to all patients coming into the hospital. By identifying and isolating those with the strain early, it lowered the number of MRSA pneumonia cases related to ventilator use by 67% and MRSA urinary-tract infections by 60% within eight months. In all, the expanded screening has cost nearly $1 million, $800,000 picked up by private and public insurers.

Steve Lawler, the hospital's president, says it has more than recouped its $200,000 investment. Moreover, spending the money to make the hospital safer is a "better return on investment...than some billboard campaign," he says.

Looking to build on the success of its iPod and iPhone devices, Apple Inc. introduced several new products including an ultra-thin laptop computer, dubbed the Macbook Air, and a much-anticipated online movie rental service.

The new Apple notebook computer's major attribute is its sleek profile: it's about three-quarters of an inch thick and weighs three pounds. The Macbook Air features a full-sized keyboard, a 13-inch screen, a built-in camera, and Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, all powered by an Intel Corp. dual core chip.

Appearing on stage at the company's Macworld expo, Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs said the computer, which he called "world's thinnest notebook," will cost $1,799 and is scheduled to ship in about two weeks.

With the MacBook Air, Apple becomes the biggest name in two years to try to revive an industry it arguably began with the introduction of its Newton handheld computer 15 years ago.

Ultramobile notebooks represent about 6% of the 270 million notebooks expected to the sold this year. Sales have of the devices have languished, despite efforts from Lenovo Group, International Business Machines Corp., and two years ago by Microsoft Corp. with its "Origami" ultra mobile device.

Apple may benefit from good timing. Asustek Computer Inc.'s recently introduced Eee PC has topped sales charts at and is usually sold out at retail stores.

"Apple's Newton was ahead of its time,' said Shaw Wu, an analysts with American Technology Research. "The functionality wasn't quite there, battery life, screen technology. Now there are products out there proving there's a market for this."

Investors seemed to be unimpressed by the new products: Apple hares dropped more than 6% Tuesday on the Nasdaq Stock Market.

Apple's CEO also launched the computer maker's much-anticipated online movie rental service and unveiled an updated Apple TV device that will let viewers bypass their computers and rent movies directly from their widescreen TVs.

Apple's Macbook Air

Mr. Jobs said iTunes users can rent new-release movies to watch over their computers, iPods or iPhones for $3.99 for a 30 day period. Older titles will rent for $2.99 for the same time period.

The service has the support of all major Hollywood studios including Walt Disney Co., Time Warner Inc.'s Warner Bros., Paramount, Universal, Sony Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, News Corp.'s Fox, Lionsgate and New Line, Apple said.

Apple's push into the online video market comes after the original Apple TV device stumbled badly with its first effort last year. "We tried. Now were back," he said.

Apple sees the Internet video service as another key element in its effort to put its products at the center of the living room entertainment hub of the future, and at the same time, sell more of its hardware products. This tactic worked before, when the Cupertino, Calif., company created iTunes music store to drive iPod sales.

Mr. Jobs also disclosed Apple had sold more than four million iPhones worldwide in the 200 days since the company's trend-setting smartphone was launched. Mr. Jobs said the iPhone had sold 3.4 million units in the U.S., outstripping even the most optimistic analyst forecasts. Mr. Jobs said Apple now has a 19.5% share of the U.S. smartphone market, second only to Research in Motion Ltd.

Apple also introduced an iPhone software update, available Tuesday, that would include new features that allow users to send texts to multiple addresses, create bookmarks that show up as icons on the home screen. It will cost $20 for iPod Touch customers.

A highly drug-resistant superbug is gaining resistance to more drugs and burrowing deeply into the gay communities of San Francisco and Boston, researchers said.

Sexually active gay men are 13 times as likely to have this strain of the highly resistant bacterium, known as MRSA, or methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus.

More worrisome still, the new strain of MRSA called USA300 is growing resistant -- or unresponsive -- to three or even four classes of widely used antibiotics.

MRSA causes deep and stubborn skin infections and has been called the most common cause of skin infections treated in the nation's emergency rooms. It also more rarely can cause lethal invasive infections such as pneumonia or sepsis (blood poisoning).

Several drug classes that have lost their punch against the worsening strain include families that contain: penicillin, erythromycin, clindamycin, tetracycline and fluoroquinolone drugs such as Cipro, said Binh Diep, researcher at the University of California at San Francisco and first author of the study in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

The toughest strain also now is resistant to mupirocin, a topical antibiotic drug used to clear MRSA from the skin surface and nostrils where the bug is known to colonize even people without an infection.

The study emerged from a retrospective review of charts from 183 patients treated for MRSA at the San Francisco General Hospital's Positive Health Program, an outpatient clinic used by people with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. An additional 130 patients were studied at Boston's Fenway Community Health clinic.

The review of charts found gay men age 18-35 to be hardest-hit. ZIP Codes around San Francisco's Castro District, a largely gay neighborhood, were heavily affected. Previously, MRSA infections have been documented in sports teams, prison populations, gym-goers and the community at large.

Skin-to-skin contact, including sexual relations, are believed to be major ways the bug spreads from person to person. But Henry "Chip" Chambers, chief of infectious diseases at SF General and a study co-author, said heavy antibiotic use is "the most important factor" that the superbug's toughest strain resides among gay men.

Unlike resistant infections of the past, which thrived mainly in hospitals, MRSA runs rampant through the community and can crop up in people with no recent antibiotic use.

"It's more virulent than standard staph," said Shelley Gordon, an infectious-disease specialist in private practice at California Pacific Medical Center. To avoid using the wrong drug and fueling even more resistance, she urged testing for drug resistance, adding, "doctors in emergency settings have to be hip to this and do cultures."

Worry warts often believe they inherited their tendency to stew from their parents. Biology does play a role, research suggests, but there are things you can do to break the cycle of agonizing.

Researchers at Yale have identified a gene mutation for "rumination" -- the kind of chronic worry in which people obsess over negative thoughts. It's a variation of a gene known as BDNF that's active in the hippocampus, an area of the brain involved in thinking and memory. In a study of 200 mothers and daughters published in the journal Neuroscience Letters last month, the Yale scientists found that those who had been depressed in their youth were more likely to be ruminators and to have this particular variation of BDNF.

The discovery adds to a growing body of evidence that depression involves an inability to control negative thoughts, not just excess emotion, says psychologist Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, one of the Yale investigators. And just because rumination has genetic roots doesn't mean it's inescapable, she says. "People can learn to stop these thought processes and have better emotional health."

Some successful professionals find that worry works for them. Imagining everything that might go wrong, and preparing for it, is known as "defensive pessimism."

"I spend all day thinking of ways to gain an advantage over my adversaries, and I assume they're doing the same thing," says Victor Bushell, a partner at Bushell, Sovak, Ozer & Gulmi LLP. "If that was your job description, wouldn't you be worried?"

Other people use worry as a kind of magical shield -- if they worry that the plane will crash, it won't. It doesn't, ergo, they have to worry on every flight.

Worrying also seems to be part of some people's personalities. "I've been furrowing my forehead forever -- you could pick me out in kindergarten," says Pam Abramson Grisman, who runs a custom-writing business in Mill Valley, Calif. "These days, I worry about my parenting. Prior to that, it was focused completely on the workplace. Prior to that, it was, 'Am I cool enough to live?' "

But worrying is wearying, she says: "It's like chronic pain, and ultimately it doesn't shield you anymore. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Then you have a heart attack."

Chronic worry can, in fact, lead to a variety of health issues, including headaches, gastrointestinal problems, high blood pressure, anxiety and depression, studies have shown. Rumination, which focuses more on past events than future what-ifs, has also been linked to binge eating, binge-drinking and self-harm. Ruminators may be subconsciously trying to stop their harmful thoughts, says Dr. Nolen-Hoeksema. "Disengaging is really, really hard -- you see that in their neural activity and in their behavior," she adds. But studies have shown that doing something distracting for just 10 minutes can break the cycle and help people tackle problems more effectively.

Techniques from cognitive-behavioral therapy can also help worriers stop the kind of thinking that just makes them miserable.

"It's all about finding the balance between productive and unproductive worrying," says psychologist Robert L. Leahy, director of the American Institute for Cognitive Therapy in New York City. "Say to yourself, 'Is this worry leading to a To Do list?' If it doesn't lead to some action on your part today, set it aside."

He suggests literally reserving 20 minutes a day to worry. If you can postpone worrying, you are exercising control over it, rather than letting it control you.

And learn to accept some risks. "Worriers feel a tremendous intolerance for uncertainty. They get the idea that worrying can eliminate it. But you can't prepare for everything," Dr. Leahy adds. He also suggests a simple "exposure" technique: Practice saying or writing whatever you fear most, such as, "the plane is going to crash" or "I'm going to lose my job." "Repeat it over and over again slowly, like a zombie, and the fear will begin to subside," he says. Eventually, "you'll just get bored with it."

Wall Street's scramble for foreign funds to shore up the big banks' books continues, with Merrill Lynch this morning announcing $6.6 billion in new investments and Citigroup $12.5 billion -- both relying heavily on cash from Asia and the Middle East.

Merrill said it is issuing convertible, preferred stock as a long-term investment to Korean Investment Corporation, Kuwait Investment Authority, and Mizuho Corporate Bank of Japan. "One of my main priorities over the last several weeks has been to ensure Merrill Lynch's balance sheet is strong, and these transactions make certain that Merrill Lynch is well-capitalized," said John Thain, the former New York Stock Exchange chief picked to lead Merrill last fall as the brokerage giant was reeling from bad bets on mortgage-backed securities. The financial breakdown among the three new investors wasn't immediately clear.

Citigroup's move to get back on what newly installed Chief Executive Vikram Pandit called "our 'front foot'" was bigger in scale and broader in action. Citi's new funds include $6.88 billion from the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation, and money from Capital Research Global Investors; Capital World Investors; the Kuwait Investment Authority; the New Jersey Division of Investment; Prince Alwaleed bin Talal of Saudi Arabia, who's already a big Citi stockholder; and former Citi Chairman and CEO Sanford Weill. After months of saying it wouldn't cut its quarterly dividend, Citi is also doing just that, to 32 cents a share from 54 cents. Citi's investment news came amid its release of quarterly financial results that Mr. Pandit called "clearly unacceptable." Citi posted a net loss of $9.83 billion, or $1.99 per share, on revenue of $7.22 billion -- results that reflected $18.1 billion in write-downs and higher credit costs blamed on Citi's exposure to investments derived from subprime-mortgages. Citi also said that burgeoning losses related to consumer loans had raised its credit costs in the U.S. by $4.1 billion.

A source notably missing from Citi's new list of benefactors was the China Development Bank, a state-owned institution previously expected to invest in Citi that was apparently pulled back by the government. It isn't clear why Beijing nixed the deal, but The Wall Street Journal notes how much political flak such investments by sovereign-wealth funds have been catching in the West, as well as uncertainty about how much bigger the U.S. banks' subprime-related losses can grow. In another announcement today with a much lower profile, the Dubai government-controlled investment firm Istithmar said the political backlash in the U.S. and Europe was too harsh for its tastes, and that it was considering investments in China.

Talk about a tough spot. While the Fed may be contemplating another rate cut in response to recession worries, its sworn enemy inflation apparently is still stalking the land.

The price of gold, traditionally considered both a safe haven in times of trouble and an important inflation gauge, notched historical highs today, touching $914 an ounce overnight before easing a bit but staying above the $900 psychological barrier. Analysts proffered various rationales for the runup, citing concerns over inflation, the weakening dollar -- gold like oil is denominated using the venerable buck -- and worries that the U.S. economy may be entering recessionary times. Tensions between inflation and recession worries also twisted up the yield curve for bonds early today, with the short side of the curve sinking in response to the looming rate cut by the Federal Reserve. On the other hand, "the long end of the curve is rising [and] that is suggesting that that market is very concerned about inflation," said Lee Olver, fixed-income strategist for SMH Capital this morning.

Shortly after midday, the longer side of the yield curve eased somewhat, suggesting concerns over inflation may be relaxing. But the inflation warning signs this morning likely have many investors wondering what to make of them. Here's one takeaway: Right now, it's good to not to be Fed chief Ben Bernanke, who finds himself having to contend with a mix of price and economic growth data which -- in an a nightmare scenario -- could conceivably coalesce into a stagflationary environment. Still, few see Mr. Bernanke swiveling his white horse to confront the dragon of inflation with recession concerns at their current pitch. Perhaps his best bet for now is to wait for Wednesday's Consumer Price Index reading to filter out of the Labor Department and pray it doesn't fan inflation fears further.



“That is hot ice, and wondrous strange snow!”
Midsummer Night’s Dream 5.1.59

Rather than in a primordial soup prepared in burning fire and bubbling cauldron, perhaps life originated in ice?

Small amounts of liquid water still exist at -60 degrees F (salt can help maintain liquid water down to -65 degrees F and, under more rare conditions, thin films of liquid water can exist at – 90 degrees F) in an ice field. There are at least one million liquid compartments –- test tubes -- in one cubic yard of sea ice. Sea ice accumulates “pollutants” (ammonia, cyanide, etc.) from the atmosphere and stores and concentrates them in the aforementioned liquid compartments.

The typical assumption is that as the temperature drops, the speed of chemical reactions slows. However, that general tendency does not necessarily apply when chemicals are frozen in ice; when frozen in ice, some reactions increase in speed, especially reactions where small molecules join together to form larger molecules, i.e., e.g., complex polymers. This seemingly counter-intuitive tendency is known as “eutectic freezing.”

Eutectic freezing involves the crystallization of water which necessarily remains unadulterated, i.e., the pollutants are excluded. As such, the pollutants become concentrated in the remaining liquid pockets which, in turn, causes certain pollutant molecules to collide more often which process more than offsets the other slowing effects of cold thus accelerating the reaction(s).

Even more, the structure of ice has a generally regular pattern of positive and negative charges which leads to strong bonding with the liquid water remaining in the compartments. Repeated experiments have established that these electric charges organize the pollutants into chains; further, those shorter chains develop into very long chains IF a single strand of RNA is placed into the compartment to act as a template. ,

Scientists believe cyanide was abundant on primordial Earth more than 2.5 billion years ago. Importantly, cyanide tends to self-assemble into larger molecules and does so efficiently under freezing conditions. Tellingly, cyanide evaporates more quickly than does water so it could only become concentrated in cold temperatures. Cold temperatures also preserve fragile molecules – such as nucleobases – dramatically extending the time they exist thus increasing the opportunity(ies) for further development. Frozen cyanide in the presence of ammonia can form adenine (a nucleotide base).
To state the obvious, the above reasoning has expanded the range of worlds on which to search for extraterrestrial life.

Reference List

Fox, D. (2008, February). Did life begin in ice? Discover. 52-60.

National Public Radio. (2000, March). Analysis: Scientists share results of 25-year experiment of freezing vials of liquid. Retrieved January 11, 2008 from the National Public Radio Home Page: .




On the night of April 24, 1944, British air force bombers hammered a former Jesuit college here housing the Bavarian Academy of Science. The 16th-century building crumpled in the inferno. Among the treasures lost, later lamented Anton Spitaler, an Arabic scholar at the academy, was a unique photo archive of ancient manuscripts of the Quran.

The 450 rolls of film had been assembled before the war for a bold venture: a study of the evolution of the Quran, the text Muslims view as the verbatim transcript of God's word. The wartime destruction made the project "outright impossible," Mr. Spitaler wrote in the 1970s.

Mr. Spitaler was lying. The cache of photos survived, and he was sitting on it all along. The truth is only now dribbling out to scholars -- and a Quran research project buried for more than 60 years has risen from the grave.

"He pretended it disappeared. He wanted to be rid of it," says Angelika Neuwirth, a former pupil and protégée of the late Mr. Spitaler. Academics who worked with Mr. Spitaler, a powerful figure in postwar German scholarship who died in 2003, have been left guessing why he squirreled away the unusual trove for so long.

Ms. Neuwirth, a professor of Arabic studies at Berlin's Free University, now is overseeing a revival of the research. The project renews a grand tradition of German Quranic scholarship that was interrupted by the Third Reich. The Nazis purged Jewish experts on ancient Arabic texts and compelled Aryan colleagues to serve the war effort. Middle East scholars worked as intelligence officers, interrogators and linguists. Mr. Spitaler himself served, apparently as a translator, in the German-Arab Infantry Battalion 845, a unit of Arab volunteers to the Nazi cause, according to wartime records.

During the 19th century, Germans pioneered modern scholarship of ancient texts. Their work revolutionized understanding of Christian and Jewish scripture. It also infuriated some of the devout, who resented secular scrutiny of texts believed to contain sacred truths.

The revived Quran venture plays into a very modern debate: how to reconcile Islam with the modern world? Academic quarrying of the Quran has produced bold theories, bitter feuds and even claims of an Islamic Reformation in the making. Applying Western critical methods to Islam's holiest text is a sensitive test of the Muslim community's readiness to both accommodate and absorb thinking outside its own traditions.

"It is very exciting," says Patricia Crone, a scholar at Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study and a pioneer of unorthodox theories about Islam's early years. She says she first heard that the Munich archive had survived when attending a conference in Germany last fall. "Everyone thought it was destroyed."

The Quran is viewed by most Muslims as the unchanging word of God as transmitted to the Prophet Muhammad in the 7th century. The text, they believe, didn't evolve or get edited. The Quran says it is "flawless" and fixed by an "imperishable tablet" in heaven. It starts with a warning: "This book is not to be doubted."

Quranic scholarship often focuses on arcane questions of philology and textual analysis. Experts nonetheless tend to tread warily, mindful of fury directed in recent years at people deemed to have blasphemed Islam's founding document and the Prophet Muhammad.

A scholar in northern Germany writes under the pseudonym of Christoph Luxenberg because, he says, his controversial views on the Quran risk provoking Muslims. He claims that chunks of it were written not in Arabic but in another ancient language, Syriac. The "virgins" promised by the Quran to Islamic martyrs, he asserts, are in fact only "grapes."

Ms. Neuwirth, the Berlin professor now in charge of the Munich archive, rejects the theories of her more radical colleagues, who ride roughshod, she says, over Islamic scholarship. Her aim, she says, isn't to challenge Islam but to "give the Quran the same attention as the Bible." All the same, she adds: "This is a taboo zone."

Ms. Neuwirth says it's too early to have any idea what her team's close study of the cache of early texts and other manuscripts will reveal. Their project, launched last year at the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Science and Humanities, has state funding for 18 years but could take much longer. The earliest manuscripts of the Quran date from around 700 and use a skeletal version of the Arabic script that is difficult to decipher and can be open to divergent readings.

Mystery and misfortune bedeviled the Munich archive from the start. The scholar who launched it perished in an odd climbing accident in 1933. His successor died in a 1941 plane crash. Mr. Spitaler, who inherited the Quran collection and then hid it, fared better. He lived to age 93.

The rolls of film, kept in cigar boxes, plastic trays and an old cookie tin, are now in a safe in Berlin. The photos of the old manuscripts will form the foundation of a computer data base that Ms. Neuwirth's team believes will help tease out the history of Islam's founding text. The result, says Michael Marx, the project's research director, could be the first "critical edition" of the Quran -- an attempt to divine what the original text looked like and to explore overlaps with the Bible and other Christian and Jewish literature.

A group of Tunisians has embarked on a parallel mission, but they want to keep it quiet to avoid angering fellow Muslims, says Moncef Ben Abdeljelil, a scholar involved in the venture. "Silence is sometimes best," he says. Afghan authorities last year arrested an official involved in a vernacular translation of the Quran that was condemned as blasphemous. Its editor went into hiding.

Many Christians, too, dislike secular scholars boring into sacred texts, and dismiss challenges to certain Biblical passages. But most accept that the Bible was written by different people at different times, and that it took centuries of winnowing before the Christian canon was fixed in its current form.

Muslims, by contrast, view the Quran as the literal word of God. Questioning the Quran "is like telling a Christian that Jesus was gay," says Abdou Filali-Ansary, a Moroccan scholar.

Modern approaches to textual analysis developed in the West are viewed in much of the Muslim world as irrelevant, at best. "Only the writings of a practicing Muslim are worthy of our attention," a university professor in Saudi Arabia wrote in a 2003 book. "Muslim views on the Holy Book must remain firm: It is the Word of Allah, constant, immaculate, unalterable and inimitable."

Ms. Neuwirth, the Berlin Quran expert, and Mr. Marx, her research director, have tried to explain the project to the Muslim world in trips to Iran, Turkey, Syria and Morocco. When a German newspaper trumpeted their work last fall on its front page and predicted that it would "overthrow rulers and topple kingdoms," Mr. Marx called Arab television network al-Jazeera and other media to deny any assault on the tenets of Islam.

Europeans started to study the Quran in the Middle Ages, largely in an effort to debunk it. In the 19th century, faith-driven polemical research gave way to more serious scientific study of old texts. Germans led the way.

Their original focus was the Bible. Priests and rabbis pushed back, but scholars pressed on, challenging traditional views of the Old and New Testaments. Their work undermined faith in the literal truth of scripture and helped birth today's largely secular Europe. Over time, some turned their attention to the Quran, too.

In 1857, a Paris academy offered a prize for the best "critical history" of the Quran. A German, Theodor Nöldeke, won. His entry became the cornerstone of future Western research. Mr. Nöldeke, says Ms. Neuwirth, is "the rock of our church."

The Munich archive began with one of Mr. Nöldeke's protégés, Gotthelf Bergsträsser. As Germany slid towards fascism early last century, he hunted down old copies of the Quran in the Middle East, North Africa and Europe. He took photographs of them with a Leica camera.

In 1933, a few months after Hitler became chancellor, Mr. Bergsträsser, an experienced climber, died in the Bavarian Alps. His body was never given an autopsy; rumors spread of suicide or foul play.

His work was taken up by Otto Pretzl, another German Arabist. He too set off with a Leica. In a 1934 journey to Morocco, he wangled his way into a royal library containing an old copy of the Quran and won over initially suspicious clerics, he said in a handwritten report about his trip.

The Nazis began to use Arabists early in the war when German forces began pushing into regions with large Muslim populations, first North Africa and then the Soviet Union. Scholars were used to broadcast propaganda and to help set up mullah schools for Muslims recruited into the German armed forces.

Mr. Pretzl, the manuscript collector, appears to have worked largely in military intelligence. He interrogated Arabic-speaking soldiers captured in the invasion of France, then, according to some accounts, set off on a mission to stir up an Arab uprising against British troops in Iraq. His plane crashed.

Responsibility for the Quran archive fell to Mr. Spitaler, who had helped collect some of the photos. During the war, Mr. Spitaler served in the command offices in Germany and later as an Arabic linguist in Austria, gaining only a modest military rank, records indicate.

After the war, he returned to academia. Instead of reviving the Quran project, he embarked on a laborious but less-sensitive endeavor, a dictionary of classical Arabic. After nearly half a century of work, definitions were published only for words beginning with two letters of the 28-letter Arabic alphabet.

Mr. Spitaler rarely published papers, but was widely admired for his mastery of Arabic texts. A few scholars, however, judged him overly cautious, unproductive and hostile to unconventional views.

"The whole period after 1945 was poisoned by the Nazis," says Günter Lüling, a scholar who was drummed out of his university in the 1970s after he put forward heterodox theories about the Quran's origins. His doctoral thesis argued that the Quran was lifted in part from Christian hymns. Blackballed by Mr. Spitaler, Mr. Lüling lost his teaching job and launched a fruitless six-year court battle to be reinstated. Feuding over the Quran, he says, "ruined my life."

He wrote books and articles at home, funded by his wife, who took a job in a pharmacy. Asked by a French journal to write a paper on German Arabists, Mr. Lüling went to Berlin to examine wartime records. Germany's prominent postwar Arabic scholars, he says, "were all connected to the Nazis."

Berthold Spuler, for example, translated Yiddish and Hebrew for the Gestapo, says Mr. Lüling. (Mr. Spuler's subsequent teaching career ran into trouble in the 1960s when, during a Hamburg student protest, he shouted that the demonstrators "belong in a concentration camp.") Rudi Paret, who in 1962 produced what became the standard German translation of the Quran, was listed as a member of "The Institute for Research on and Eradication of Jewish Influence on German Church Life." Despite their wartime activities, the subsequent work of such scholars is still highly regarded.

By the mid-1970s, Mr. Spitaler in Munich was nearing retirement at the university there. He began moving boxes into a room set aside for the dictionary project at Bavaria's Academy of Sciences. His last doctoral student in Munich, Kathrin Müller, who was working on the dictionary, says she looked inside one of the boxes and saw old film. She asked Mr. Spitaler what it was but didn't get an answer. The boxes, she now realizes, contained the old Quran archive. "He didn't want to explain anything," she says.

In the early 1980s, when the archive was still thought to be lost, two German scholars traveled to Yemen to examine and help restore a cache of ancient Quran manuscripts. They, too, took pictures. When they tried to get them out of Yemen, authorities seized them, says Gerd-Rüdiger Puin, one of the scholars. German diplomats finally persuaded Yemen to release most of the photos, he says.

Mr. Puin says the manuscripts suggested to him that the Quran "didn't just fall from heaven" but "has a history." When he said so publicly a decade ago, it stirred rage. "Please ensure that these scholars are not given further access to the documents," read one letter to the Yemen Times. "Allah, help us against our enemies."

Berlin Quran expert Ms. Neuwirth, though widely regarded as respectful of Islamic tradition, got sideswiped by Arab suspicion of Western scholars. She was fired from a teaching post in Jordan, she says, for mentioning a radical revisionist scholar during a lecture in Germany.

Around 1990, Ms. Neuwirth met Mr. Spitaler, her old professor, in Berlin. He was in his 80s and growing frail, but remained sharp mentally. He "got sentimental about the old times," recalls Ms. Neuwirth. As they talked, he casually mentioned that he still had the photo archive. He offered to give it to her. "I had heard it didn't exist," she says. She later sent two of her students to Munich to collect the photo cache and bring it to Berlin.

The news didn't spread beyond a small circle of scholars. When Mr. Spitaler died in 2003, Paul Kunitizsch, a fellow Munich Arabist, wrote an obituary recounting how the archive had been lost, torpedoing the Quran project. Such a venture, he wrote, "now appears totally out of the question" because of "the attitude of the Islamic world to such a project."

Information about the archive's survival has just begun trickling out to the wider scholarly community. Why Mr. Spitaler hid it remains a mystery. His only published mention of the archive's fate was a footnote to an article in a 1975 book on the Quran. Claiming the bulk of the cache had been lost during the war, he wrote cryptically that "drastically changed conditions after 1945" ruled out any rebuilding of the collection.

Ms. Neuwirth, the current guardian of the archive, believes that perhaps Mr. Spitaler was simply "sick of" the time-consuming project and wanted to move on to other work. Mr. Lüling has a less charitable theory: that Mr. Spitaler didn't have the talents needed to make use of the archive himself and wanted to make sure colleagues couldn't outshine him by working on the material.

Mr. Kunitzsch, the obituary author, says he's mystified by Mr. Spitaler's motives. He speculates that his former colleague decided that the Quran manuscript project was simply too ambitious. The task, says Mr. Kunitzsch, grew steadily more sensitive as Muslim hostility towards Western scholars escalated, particularly after the founding of Israel in 1948. "He knew that for Arabs, [the Quran] was a closed matter."

Ms. Müller, Mr. Spitaler's last doctoral student, says the war "was a deep cut for everything" and buried the prewar dreams of many Germans. Another possible factor, she adds, was Mr. Spitaler's own deep religious faith. She opens up a copy of a Quran used by the late professor, a practicing Catholic, until his death. Unlike his other Arabic texts, which are scrawled with notes and underlinings, it has no markings at all.

"Perhaps he had too much respect for holy books," says Ms. Müller.

A new kind of dating agency relies on matching people by their body odour

ONE of life's little mysteries is why particular people fancy each other—or, rather, why they do not when on paper they ought to. One answer is that human consciousness, and thus human thought, is dominated by vision. Beauty is said to be in the eye of the beholder, regardless of the other senses. However, as the multi-billion-dollar perfume industry attests, beauty is in the nose of the beholder, too., a Boston-based internet-dating site launched in December, was created to turn this insight into money. Its founder, an engineer (and self-confessed serial dater) called Eric Holzle is drawing on an observation made over a decade ago by Claus Wedekind, a researcher at the University of Bern, in Switzerland.

In his original study Dr Wedekind recruited female volunteers to sniff men's three-day-old T-shirts and rate them for attractiveness. He then analysed the men's and women's DNA, looking in particular at the genes that build a part of the immune system known as the major histocompatability complex (MHC). Dr Wedekind knew, from studies on mice, that besides fending off infection, the MHC has a role in sexual attractiveness. It changes odours in ways the mice can detect (with mice, the odours are in the urine), and that detection is translated into preferences for particular mates. What is true for mice is often true for men, so he had a punt on the idea that the MHC might affect the smell of human sweat, as well.

It did. Women preferred T-shirts from men whose MHC was most different from their own. What was more, women with similar MHCs favoured the use of similar commercial perfumes. This suggests that the role of such perfumes may be to flag up the underlying body scent rather than mask it, as a more traditional view of the aesthetics of body odour might suggest.

That makes evolutionary sense. The children of couples with a wide range of MHC genes, and thus of immune responses, will be better protected from disease. As the previous article suggests, that could be particularly important in a collaborative, group-living species such as humanity. Moreover, comparing MHCs could be a proxy for comparing kinship, and thus help to prevent inbreeding.

The promise of an MHC-based match is not only that your partner's old laundry will smell better but all sorts of other benefits too. The biological compatibility created by complementary immune systems apparently promises better orgasms, a lower likelihood of cuckoldry, more happiness and so on. Nor are heterosexuals the only ones who can benefit. Gay men and women respond as strongly to MHC-derived smells as straight people do—though, as might be expected, their response is to the smell of people of the same sex, rather than the opposite one.

Indeed, the only people for whom MHC matching might not be expected to work are women on the Pill. Chemical contraception, which mimics pregnancy, messes up the system because of an intriguing twist. When women are pregnant, they prefer the smell of MHCs that are similar to their own. This means they are happier in the company of their relatives, which may, as the previous article also suggests, bring evolutionary benefits of its own. does not rely entirely on the MHC. Besides sending off a swab taken from the inside of their cheek and a cheque for $1,995, hopeful singles have to answer the usual questionnaire about income, background and details such as whether they would prefer a skiing holiday to one spent sketching. They are not, however, asked whether they wear their T-shirts for three days on the trot.

January 4, 2008, 8:09 am
Breast Cancer Test Errors Cause Faulty Treatment
Posted by Jacob Goldstein

The era of personalized medicine won’t work unless we can also find our way into the era of reliable diagnostic testing. And in the case of breast cancer — one of the diseases with good personalized drugs for certain types of tumors — the diagnostic tests aren’t working very well, the WSJ reports.

As a result, many women who would benefit from drugs such as Genetech’s Herceptin or GlaxoSmithKline’s Tykerb are going without because faulty tests say their tumors wouldn’t respond to the drugs. At the same time, errant tests also cause other women are to take drugs that aren’t right for their type of tumor.

“If we tried to market pregnancy tests with this rate of inaccuracy, they would be taken off the market,” says Allen Gown, chief pathologist of PhenoPath Laboratories in Seattle, told the WSJ. “It means there are a lot of women being treated inappropriately.”

A study published last year and led by Genentech researchers reviewed how well labs performed Her-2 tests, which are used to determine whether a woman should take Herceptin. It found that 14% to 16% of those judged positive for Her-2 were actually negative. Of those judged negative, 18% to 23% were in fact positive.

That sort of high error rate could lead to tighter oversight of labs. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the federal agency that regulates the testing sites, is examining tougher quality-control requirements. At the moment, labs have to pass outside proficiency checks on 83 types of tests — a list that was devised 15 years ago and doesn’t include the breast-cancer tests.
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What is the clinical relevance of gene profiling? What is going to happen to the healthcare economic system with the introduction of increasingly expensive new drugs that benefit only a small percentage of patients who receive them? Hence the headlong rush to develop tests to identify molecular predisposing mechansims whose presence still does not guarantee that a drug will be effective for an individual patient. Nor can they, for any patient or even large group of patients, discriminate the potential for clinical activity among different agents of the same class. In the new paradigm of requiring a companion diagnostic as a condition for approval of new targeted therapies, the pressure is so great that the companion diagnostics they’ve approved often have been mostly or totally ineffective at identifying clinical responders (durable and otherwise) to the various therapies. Cancer cells often have many mutations in many different pathways, so even if one route is shut down by a targeted treatment, the cancer cell may be able to use other routes. Targeting one pathway may not be as effective as targeting multiple pathways in a cancer cell. Another challenge is to identify for which patients the targeted treatment will be effective. And tumors can become resistant to a targeted treatment. The drug no longer works, even if it has previously been effective in shrinking a tumor. Drugs are combined with existing ones to target the tumor more effectively. Most cancers cannot be effectively treated with targeted drugs alone. Understanding “targeted” treatments begins with understanding the cancer cell.

Comment by gpawelski - January 4, 2008 at 11:38 am

I am a little confused re my treatment plans. I havw been diagnosed with invasive breast cancer with HER 2 positive along with ER (90%) and PR(40%) positive.

Some one suggested that it is rare to find all three factors positive and suggested to have a retest. Your site is kind of supporting that there could be false positives or negatives in certain case and a second test is advised.
Louis J Sheehan
Louis J Sheehan, Esquire
Louis J Sheehan Esquire

I am in Toronto, I already have two cycles of CMF chemo. Now waiting for radiation, herceptin and hormone treatment after another surgery at the end of the chemo cycles.

Where do I stand? What do I suggest to my medical team? They seem to be knowing what they are doing. I wonder whether they are aware of your researches and findings.

What is your opinion about supplementary or complementary treatment of Homeopathy?
Where would I see any answers you might be posting?

A friend of mine send me this link from Wall Street Journal.

Thank you,
Comment by Confused from Toronto, Canada - January 4, 2008 at 11:57 am

I wonder what the reason is for these diagnostic inaccuracies? Is it (a) the equipment that detects the analyte in the blood/tissue sample? (b) is the problem with the analyte (marker)? (c) is it a sample storage/handling issue? (d) maybe its the folks reading the test results???
Comment by The Laughing Cavalier - January 4, 2008 at 12:53 pm

You might want to double check about your understanding…it is triple negative is the rarest not triple positive. I think your treatment seems fine for a triple positive br cancer.
Comment by Reality - January 4, 2008 at 1:37 pm

Gene profiling tests, important in order to identify new therapeutic targets and thereby to develop useful drugs, are still years away from working successfully in predicting treatment response for individual patients. Perhaps this is because they are performed on dead, preserved cells that were never actually exposed to the drugs whose activity they are trying to assess. However, it will never be as effective as the cell culture method, which exists today and is not hampered by the problems associated with gene expression tests. That is because they measure the net effect of all processes within the cancer, acting with and against each other in real time, and it tests living cells actually exposed to drugs and drug combinations of interest.
Comment by gpawelski - January 4, 2008 at 1:42 pm
Louis J Sheehan
Louis J Sheehan, Esquire
Louis J Sheehan Esquire

statistically valid testing has proven that the women with certain hormone and gene profiles respond differently to different regimens of treatment. Women with certain profiles should NOT receive treatment as it is ineffectively. Gene test cost is around $3000 - but he cost of treatment can be $15000 or more - so the question is - is the balance - of testing vs excessive treatment, right?
Comment by OncoAdmin - January 4, 2008 at 6:41 pm


A new and hitherto unknown atmospheric gas, a combination of oxygen and nitrogen, exists 10 to 25 miles above the Earth's surface, Drs. Arthur Adel and C.O. Lampland of the Lowell Observatory, Flagstaff, Ariz., announced to the American Association for the Advancement of Science at the Indianapolis meeting.

It is nitrogen pentoxide, its molecule consisting of two atoms of nitrogen and five of oxygen. It is probably the rarest of gases of the air, present only in the outer regions where the ultraviolet rays of the sunlight bring oxygen and nitrogen into combination.

Existence of the new gas in the ozone layer of the atmosphere was demonstrated by delicate spectroscopy of the far infrared region of the spectrum. If the new gas existed nearer to Earth in the air around us, it would not be detectable by the most refined chemical and physical methods. Because the nitrogen pentoxide takes out certain portions of the sunlight as it comes through the atmosphere to Earth, its existence could be detected.

The situation of Lowell Observatory high on a mountain in a dry atmosphere contributed to the discovery.

What use was there for a ball-and-socket jointed bone at the back of a dinosaur's skull?

Charles W. Gilmore, curator of vertebrate paleontology at the U.S. National Museum, would like to know.

At the back of the skull of a hadrosaur, a rooster-crested monster that once lived in Montana, he has found a bone arrangement that has never been found in any other kind of skull. A relatively small, triangular bone bears on its front edge a socket or cup, which fits neatly over a ball-shaped projection on the bone in front of it.

Whatever was the use of this unique skull-joint, it could hardly have been to make room for the hadrosaur's massive brain. For the hadrosaur's brain was anything but massive. It couldn't have weighed more than 2 or 3 ounces. It was enough to see, hear, and probably smell with, but that was about all. But then, very likely a dinosaur never bothered to think—except possibly once in a while about another dinosaur.

1) The bigger the telescope the better, right? So what if your scope is the size of the Earth?
A technique called interferometry combines the light from telescopes that are widely separated, and with it you can make a virtual telescope that’s the same size as the distance between the physical telescopes. If those ’scopes are on opposite sides of the Earth, you get a telescope thousands of miles across. Using this technique, astronomers have made phenomenal measurements, including actually seeing the rotation of the galaxy M33 as well as its physical motion across the sky; something that had never been done before. They have been able to see the effects of the Sun’s motion around the Milky Way’s center, even though a full orbit takes 240 million years!

2) One long-standing mystery in astronomy is an apparent fountain of antimatter streaming out from the center of the Galaxy. What’s causing it? Most astronomers assumed it was coming from the giant supermassive black hole there, but now observations indicate it’s actually being accelerated by binary stars, where one of the two orbiting stars is a neutron star or black hole.
The cloud of antimatter is detected because it gives off gamma rays, which are a very high energy form of light. The gamma rays from the Galactic center are not centered on the center (hmmm, remember to edit that line), but extend a little bit more on the western side. This matches the distribution of the black hole or neutron star binaries. These binaries can generate antimatter when regular matter from the normal (sunlike) star swirls around the denser object.

3) The most luminous objects in the Universe are, ironically and paradoxically, the faintest.
 Black holes can generate fantastic amounts of light as matter falling in to the hole first forms a disk around it. The disk is hot, and magnetic forces (along with friction and gravity) can make it extremely bright, as bright as billions of stars like the Sun. Supermassive black holes in the centers of galaxies are big, and have proportionately big disks which can outshine the rest of the galaxy in which it sits. We call these active galaxies, and there are different kinds (quasars, blazars, Seyferts) depending on the various characteristics of the galaxy.
It turns out, though, that in many cases our view of these black holes is blocked by tick gas and dust in the galaxy. The folks at the Sloan Digital Sky Survey have figured out a way to detect a fingerprint of these obscured galaxies, and found 887 hidden quasars that were previously unknown, by far the largest such sample ever made. What this means is that we have to be careful in the future about what objects we can and cannot see — astronomers may say "We expect to see XXX of these kind of galaxies and see none, which means our cosmology is wrong," we can take it with a judicious grain of salt.

Space is a dangerous place. Stars explode, black holes gobble up matter… but some violent events are so huge they affect entire galaxies, mayhem on a scale so vast it numbs the mind.
Galaxies are island universes, cities of billions or even hundreds of billions of stars. Some galaxies, like our Milky Way, live pretty much on their own, but others live in vast complexes called clusters. These galaxy clusters may have hundreds or thousands of denizens, all orbiting each other due to their mutual gravity, looking something like bees buzzing around hive.
But there is more there than just the matter we see. Dark matter is there as well; invisible stuff that adds to the gravity of the cluster due to its mass, but gives off no light. However, it betrays its presence in two ways: its gravity changes the motion of the galaxies in the cluster, and it distorts the light from more distant galaxies due to gravitational lensing.

A team of astronomers has used the Hubble Space Telescope to examine the galaxy cluster Abell 901/902 (they call their project STAGES: Space Telescope A901/902 Galaxy Evolution Survey). They wanted to very carefully map out many aspects of the cluster: how many galaxies it contains, what kinds of galaxies they are (spirals, ellipticals, etc.), and, using lensing, determine where the dark matter is. By making a map of all of these characteristics, they hoped to be able to understand the history of the cluster, since the present configuration of the cluster can provide clues to its past.
For the first time, these cosmic archaeologists were able to map out the dark matter of this cluster, and found four very large concentrations of it scattered throughout Abell 901/902. These clumps of invisible stuff are enormous: they total a stunning 100 trillion times the Sun’s mass, or 500 times the mass of our entire galaxy.
Needless to say, that much mass exerts a powerful gravitational pull. Galaxies round the clumps are falling in toward them, inexorably drawn in by the clumps’ gravity. And as they fall in from the suburbs to the downtown regions, they change. They slam into the thin gas between galaxies, which can blow out the gas inside the galaxies (like leaving you car window open on a highway can air out the inside of the car), for one. But as the galaxies fall in, the inevitably interact with one another, colliding and merging as the make the downhill slide. This distorts the galaxies’ shapes, and that in turn allows the astronomers to determine the past history of the objects.
What’s interesting is that they found that galaxies tend to be more distorted on their way in to the centers of the clusters than they are when they are actually at the center. It appears that as they fall, they have time to interact and merge, changing their shape, but once they aproach the center they are falling so quickly they simply don’t have time to distort much as they pass each. Also, it takes time to settle in at the center, so the galaxies at the center appear to be very old, and have finished their transformation from being unsettled and twisted into more sedate, round, elliptical galaxies. The astronomers also determined that the galaxies at the edge of the cluster still produce stars, but by the time they reach the center that has mostly turned off. Their gas — needed to make stars — gets blown out of the galaxies on the way in, and the mergers trigger vast bursts of star formation, which also uses up the gas.
These discoveries were possible only through the use of Hubble, Spitzer, and other telescopes, each of which unpeeled another layer of the puzzle. I’ll note that for Hubble’s part, this represents the largest area of sky ever observed by the grand dame of space ’scopes; it took 80 separate pointings of Hubble to complete the survey of the cluster, and they mapped the locations and shape of 60,000 galaxies in all, a truly staggering amount.
One last thought: the Milky Way is more or less alone in space, being part of a loose collection of other galaxies. But we are headed toward the Andromeda galaxy, and in a couple of billion years we’ll collide and merge with it. I hope that in this far flung future, some distant astronomers can use our own violent fate to learn a little more about the Universe, too. It only seems fair.

One of the more amazing aspects of looking into deep, deep space is that the path there is tortured and twisted. Space itself can be distorted by mass; it gets bent, like a road curves as it goes around a hill. And like a truck that must follow that road and steer around the hill, a photon must follow the curve of space.
Imagine a distant galaxy, billions of light years away. It emits light in all directions. One particular photon happens to be emitted almost — but not quite — in our direction. Left on its own, we’d never see it because it would miss the Earth by thousands or millions of light years.
But on its travels, it passes by another massive galaxy. This galaxy warps space, and the photon does what it must do: it follows that curve in pace, and changes direction… and it just so happens that the curve is just right to send it our way.
The intervening galaxy is essentially acting like a lens, bending the light. If the more distant galaxy is exactly behind the lensing galaxy, we see the light from that more distant galaxy distorted into a perfect ring, a circle of light surrounding the lens. We call this an Einstein Ring. If the farther galaxy is off to the side a bit, we see an arc instead of a complete ring. Gravitationally lensed arcs and rings are seen all over the sky, and they can be used to determine the mass of the intervening galaxy! The more mass, the more distorted the light from the farther galaxy. So the Universe has given us a nice method to let us weigh it.
In a surprising twist, astronomers have found a new type of lensed galaxy: a double ring! In a rare alignment, there are two distant galaxies aligned behind an intervening lensing galaxy. They’re like beads on a wire, lined up just right such that both more distant galaxies are lensed by the nearer one. In this case, the lens is about 3 billion light years away, and the other two are 6 and 11 billion light years away, an incredible distance.
This image is amazing, but it is also a powerful scientific tool. It allows us to measure not just the mass of the lensing galaxy, but also the amount of mysterious dark matter nearby. We cannot see the dark matter, but it too bends light, and contributes to the lensings. By observing lenses like this, we can take a sample of dark matter in the Universe, and that’s a crucial first step in understanding it. Even better, these double rings allows us to measure the amount of total mass not just in the nearest galaxy, as is usual, but also in the middle galaxy as well, since it distorts the light from the galaxy behind it (turns out it’s a rather lightweight one billion solar masses; our own Galaxy has more than 100 times that mass, so the middle galaxy is considered a dwarf).

This is a beautiful happenstance; it gives us a measure of the Universe at two points, with one being for free. In fact, Tommaso Treu, the astronomer at U.C. Santa Barbara who investigated this lens, points out that if we can find as few as 50 of these double rings, we can get a much better idea of the distribution of not just dark matter, but also the even more mysterious dark energy in the Universe. That’s one of the biggest goals of modern astronomy… and we may get a handle on it due to a coincidental ring toss.


A fast-food quarter-pounder costs $3, and 1,300 gallons of water. That's how much it takes, per burger, to hydrate the cow, grow its food and process its carcass, according to the Web sites of the National Park Service, the U.S. Geological Survey and a bottled-water trade group. By contrast, a loaf of bread uses up 150 gallons, and milk requires just 65.

The message dovetails with the goals of environmental meal-managing: Eat meat, and you're using up a precious natural resource.

That message is broadly correct, but the number itself is disputed. It stems from decades-old research conducted by California scientists for a presentation to a local high school's future farmers class. One of the scientists now says the number is too high. A more thorough investigation by an independent group halved the figure. And a researcher funded by the cattle industry reduced it still further.

Asked to speak at Colusa High School in the 1970s, Thomas M. Aldrich, a Colusa-based scientist with the University of California Cooperative Extension, decided the budding agriculturalists would enjoy a presentation on the water usage of various foods. To help him, he tapped his colleague, Herbert Schulbach. The two compiled data from California studies and farmers' reports on how much water was needed for various agricultural products and for animal feed.

The result, Mr. Aldrich recalls, was that a burger and fries "took almost a swimming pool to produce. It was kind of awesome that you need that much water for that much food."

The cattle industry didn't find the result so awesome. "We came out, made our presentation, and all hell broke lose," Mr. Aldrich says. Nonetheless, it wasn't until 1993 that the industry-funded study appeared. Mr. Aldrich now says that his study was in the "95th percentile" for accuracy in its time but shouldn't be cited now. "I would say that that figure would not be right," he says. "I think it would be too high."

The Sacramento-based Water Education Foundation had been using the Colusa scientists' numbers on a slide rule it distributed to educate students about water consumption. "It had been produced on the back of an envelope," says Marcia Kreith, now a program analyst at the Agricultural Issues Center at the University of California, Davis. "It was a good, reasonable estimate, but they couldn't document how they got their numbers." The Colusa scientists published their results in a newsletter and didn't explain all of their assumptions. (Three decades later, both are retired and don't recall some details.)

The foundation hired Ms. Kreith to look into the issue. The resulting study, in 1991, tried to systematize the water-consumption problem. She laid out 20 assumptions common to all the dozens of foods studied, looked at local data from throughout the state on water usage and crops, and consulted with agricultural experts to arrive at estimates for such things as the amount of water pregnant cows drink daily (8.7 gallons, when not lactating; 16.9 gallons when they are). Her estimate for a burger's total water use: 616 gallons.

"To all those who so eloquently tried to make the case that the use of numbers can be a mystical process leading to nowhere," Ms. Kreith wrote, "the author responds that the methodology used in this study is as objective as she is able to make it."

One of Ms. Kreith's assumptions was that rainwater counts. The thinking, she says, is that with any fresh water, there's an opportunity cost -- the range land could have been used by other animals. But critics say range land is inappropriate for raising other crops, and the California Beef Council helped to fund a peer-reviewed study that excluded rainwater. That study found that a quarter pound of beef takes just over 100 gallons of water.

Howard Perlman, the hydrologist who set up the Geological Survey's Web page on foods' water use, says that now that he knows there's a range of estimates he will update the page.

None of these numbers, though, includes the water it takes to get the burger from meat-processing plant to plate. "There's canning, freezing, and you have to cook it and wash the pots," Mr. Schulbach says. "An awful lot of water is used in between the field and your mouth."

Former Senate Majority Leader Joseph Loeper, a suburban Philadelphia Republican, pleaded guilty in federal court in 2000 of falsifying tax-related documents to conceal more than $330,000 in income he received from a private consulting firm while serving in the Senate.

Loeper, who could not be reached for comment, spent six months in federal prison. Today, he is a lobbyist with 23 clients -- from the Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers to Drexel University.

When I flew down to Atlanta to interview Carol Worthman, the director of the Laboratory for Comparative Human Biology at Emory University, she greeted me in her office, among the stacks of research monographs and the photos of her with beaming tribal groups from several continents. I asked why she had first thought to study sleep, and she smiled. “It was a true ‘aha’ experience. I was sitting in my office when a friend of mine who was studying mood disorders called me up and asked me what anthropologists knew about sleep.”

She laughed and paused for a moment of dramatic emphasis. “Nothing!” She widened her eyes behind the thick lenses. “We know nothing about sleep! I think of all the places I’ve slept around the world, all the groups I’ve studied. . . . I mean, here I was, part of this discipline dedicated to the study of human behavior and human diversity, and yet we knew next to nothing about a behavior that claimed one-third of our lives. I was stunned.”
So Worthman began to comb the literature, interviewing ethnographers, sifting through fifty-odd years of published work. What she found, she said, shouldn’t have surprised her: “The ecology of sleep is like the ecology of everyday life.” Sleep, it seems, comes in many cultural flavors.

Worthman flipped open a book and showed me photographs of big families piled into large, sprawling huts, little kids peeking up from the arms of Mom, older generations wrapped leisurely around the fireplace. “Forager groups are a good place to start, because for much of human history we’ve been occupied with their mode of existence,” she said. “There are the !Kung of –Botswana and the Efe of Zaire. For both of these groups, sleep is a very fluid state. They sleep when they feel like it—during the day, in the evening, in the dead of night.”

This, said Worthman, is true of other groups too—the Aché of Paraguay, for example. Late-night sleep, when it happens, is practically a social activity. In addition to procreation, the night is a time of “ritual, sociality, and information exchange.” People crash together in big multigenerational heaps—women with infants, wheezing seniors, domestic animals, chatting hunter buddies stoking the fire—everyone embedded in one big, dynamic, “sensorily rich environment.” This kind of environment is important, said Worthman, because “it provides you with subliminal cues about what is going on, that you are not alone, that you are safe in the social world.”

The more Worthman learned about the communal and interactive nature of non-Western sleep, the more she came to see Western sleep as the strange exception. She laughed again. “It’s funny, because as an anthropologist I’m used to getting weirded out a bit—I mean, you wouldn’t believe the things people do. So after collecting all this material I look at my own bed and go, ‘This is really weird.’”

Western sleep, said Worthman, is arid and controlled, with a heavy emphasis on individualism and the “decontextualized person.” Contact is kept to a minimum. The apparent conflict with marriage co-sleeping norms, she notes elsewhere, “has been partially mitigated for Americans by the evolution of bed size from twin, to double, to queen, to king.” She lifted her thin arms and drew a big box in the air. “I mean, think about it—this thing, this bed, is really a gigantic sleep machine. You’ve got a steel frame that comes up from the floor, a bottom mattress that looks totally machinelike, then all these heavily padded surfaces—blankets and pillows and sheets.”

It’s true. Most of us sleep alone in the dark, floating three feet off the ground but also buried under five layers of bedding. I had the sudden image of an armada of solitary humanoids in their big puffy spaceships drifting slowly through the silent and airless immensity of space. “Whoa,” I said.

Worthman nodded. “I know, I know, so weird.”

By contrast, village life is one big, messy block party, crackling with sex, intrigue, and poultry. In these cultures, interrupted or polyphasic sleep is the norm, which jibes with findings about still other cultures, like the Temiars of Indonesia and the Ibans of Sarawak, 25 percent of whom are apparently active at any one point in the night.

Even more intriguing are some of the culturally specific practices around sleep. Worthman flipped to a sequence of photos showing a tribe of bare-chested Indonesians gathered in a big circle. “These are the Balinese, and this is an example of something called ‘fear sleep’ or ‘todoet poeles.’ See these two guys?” She pointed to the first picture, where two men cowered on the sand in the center of the group. “They just got caught stealing from the village kitty, and they’ve been hauled out for trial.” The villagers all had angry faces and open mouths. The two men looked terrified.

“You can see the progression. He’s starting to sag”—in the next photo one of the thieves had his eyes closed and had begun to lean over—“and here in the last photo you can see he’s totally asleep.” The same thief was now slumped and insentient, snoozing happily amid the furious village thrum. “Isn’t that amazing?” Worthman shook her head. “In stressful situations they can fall instantly into a deep sleep. It’s a cultural acquisition.”

We moved out of her office and made our way down to the laboratory, where Worthman pulled out a big cardboard box. “We wanted to look at sleep in non-Western cultures firsthand, so we decided to initiate a study.” She opened the box. “We went to Egypt, because, well, hunter-gatherer types are interesting, but they’re not really relevant now. Cairo is an old civilization in a modern urban environment. We wanted to look at a pattern that everyone knows is historic in the Mediterranean area. They sleep more than once a day—at night and the midafternoon.”

I nodded. Of course, the siesta—or Ta’assila, as it’s known colloquially in Egypt. Worthman reached into the box and lifted out a set of black paisley headbands, all of them threaded with thin wires and dangling sensors. “So we studied six households in Cairo, and we made everyone wear one of these headbands at all times. One of these little sensors is a motion detector, the other is a diode that glues onto the upper eyelid in order to detect whether or not you’re in REM sleep.”

Thus outfitted, the families went about their daily business, supplying a steady stream of information for the visiting anthropologists. What they found was that Egyptians on average get the same eight hours that we do, they just get it by different means: about six hours at night and two in the afternoon. They also sleep in radically different sleep environments—rarely alone, almost always with one or more family members, in rooms with windows open to the roar of outside street traffic.

“Listen to this.” She pressed play on a tape recorder and the sound of traffic blared out of the little speakers. She raised her voice to yell: “I mean, I’m a pretty sound sleeper, but I couldn’t sleep in Cairo. It was too noisy!” I yelled back, “I see what you mean!” It sounded like 200 years of industrial noise pollution pressed into a single recording. She slid me a photo of a Cairo street, a narrow alley crisscrossed with laundry and jam-packed with donkey carts, trucks, cars, camels, and buses. “Every imaginable form of human transport, right below your window!” She hit stop and the room went quiet. “Despite all this ambient noise, Cairoans don’t seem to have any trouble falling asleep.”

For Worthman, the conclusion was obvious. All these different sleep patterns suggested that the regulatory processes governing “sleep-wake transitions” could be shaped by cultural conditions. Sleep, it seemed, was putty—some cultures stretched it out, some chopped it up, and others, like our own, squeezed it into one big lump.

In 1863, the Cape Malay people of South Africa were so taken with the CSS Alabama that they composed a folk song to the Confederate raider and her brilliant captain, Raphael Semmes. In 2007, Stephen Fox has written another tribute, a history of Semmes and the ship he used to cause so much trouble for Union shipping.
The Alabama was a British-made raider that was long and sleek, very fast whether under sail or coal power. She was well armed for a ship of her size and more than a match for many of the commercial ships she pursued.
The Alabama rarely had to use her guns, and she only twice came into contact with the Union Navy. She preyed primarily on civil! ian shipping and whalers, capturing and burning 52 ships, sinking one, bonding nine and disposing of three others in various fashion. She did this all within 22 months at sea on a single voyage that covered 75,000 miles. In all, she cost the Northern economy $5 million directly and much more indirectly.
To a Confederacy that was suffering immensely under Union blockade, the exploits of the Alabama on the world’s oceans was a matter of immense satisfaction. She was one of only a few Confederate fighting ships, and yet the much larger Union Navy could not suppress her.
Of course the Union Navy, much like the Union Army, was run by idiots. Semmes had devised a brilliant strategy for wreaking havoc on Union shipping, but neither Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles nor any of his top commanders could figure it out. Semmes had discovered that the best place to prey on Union shipping was in the major shipping lanes, and that’s where he hunted. But the Union Navy did not notice this pattern and so took nearly two years to find him.
Semmes was a mediocre naval officer in the days before the war. He had had a few commands and at least one ship shot out from underneath him. He was a lawyer and intellectual, too, but not much of a success at anything. A native Marylander, he had lived in Mobile for a number of years, married to an Ohio woman, when the war started. He resigned his Union commission and immediately went to work for the Confederacy.
In all of the war, the Alabama fought only two battles with Union ships. It sank the USS Hatteras in the Gulf of Mexico, and, in turn, was sunk off the coast of France by the USS Kearsarge.
Because of his tactics, Semmes was a controversial captain in his day and remains so today. He avoided fights with the U.S. Navy, preferring to prey on unarmed merchant ships and whalers. He would approach these ships under either a Union or British flag, to deceive them into thinking he was friendly, and then hoist the Stars and Bars and bring them to surrender. Once they did so, he would take whatever he needed from their stores and then burn his prize. The idea was to do as much harm to the Northern economy as possible. And he did a lot. In addition to what he captured and burned, his escapades kept many Union ships in harbor. Furthermore, many a Northern ship owner sold to the British, taking a low price over what appeared to be an almost inevitable total loss if the ship ran into the Alabama.

His ties to the British created a great deal of animosity between London and Washington, exactly as Semmes hoped. He had a mostly British crew, in a ship built in Liverpool and serviced at many British ports. Years later, the British government paid the United States a $15.5 million settlement for its complicity with Semmes and other Confederate raiders.
Fox presents this story well. While he obviously salutes the Confederate captain, he does not overlook the man’s flaws, either.
For the Civil War history buff who likes to read about Southern victories, this is probably a fun story. For a Yankee like this reviewer, it was an agonizing tale.

Bingo players in need of advice have several options.

They can ask Aunt Bingo, who moderates disputes over saving seats and reassures luckless newcomers. Bob on Bingo offers tips for people who call out the numbers: Slow down, enunciate and use good grammar.

Those two, and a few others including the Bingo Sisters, write for the Bingo Bugle, a 720,000-circulation monthly distributed free of charge at bingo halls and casinos around the country. Depending on the venue, fans play to win cash while supporting schools and the local Moose lodge, or just to socialize -- or even to gamble for big money at casinos.

The publishing chain, which now has 55 franchised editions, was founded 28 years ago in Vashon, Wash., by the late Roger Snowden as a way for churches and firehouses to advertise their games. He assembled a number of bingo columnists to fill space around ads and entertain players during breaks.

Alessandra, the pen name of a writer who wishes to remain anonymous, had little bingo experience but had studied the planets. As Dear Astrology Lady, she suggests lucky days for playing bingo. Others, like Beverly Garges, are seasoned players with a penchant for writing. Ms. Garges wrote a book about homelessness before launching the Bingo by Bev column. Her bingo columns are compiled in two books, "Memoirs of a Bingo Addict" and "Get Your Own Damn Supper: I'm Going to Bingo." The latter sold 10,000 copies.

Tara Snowden, Roger's daughter and the president of the privately held Frontier Publications Inc., which publishes the Bingo Bugle, sends editorial content to franchise owners, who pick and choose what they want to run depending on local taste, interest and space. A few publishers solicit local contributions, too. Arick Martin, publisher of the Pittsburgh area Bingo Bugle edition, invited poetry submissions. Violet Uram responded with "Bingo Night in Pittsburgh," which begins: "Sit in my chair and you'll get hurt. Don't give me that smile -- I'm not a flirt!"

In recent years, Ms. Snowden has added a Bingo Bugle Web site featuring news updates about, for instance, a Florida drag-queen bingo controversy. For the newspaper chain, she hired columnists who write about blackjack and video poker and began offering syndicated recipes. Advertisers include Bingo Novelty World based in Las Vegas which sells padded seats and bingo tote bags.

But the most popular features are the original columns, like Aunt Bingo. The columnist is actually the paper's third Aunt Bingo, or fourth if you include Ms. Snowden, who served as an interim aunt. During her stint, Ms. Snowden recalls, she got a flurry of letters about dirty bingo balls. Conventional wisdom among bingo players who aren't winning is that balls laden with dirt from prolonged handling rarely percolate to the top of the air-blown chute to be plucked by the number caller. She suggested regular cleaning.

Aunt Bingo remains the game's chief arbiter on issues of tipping, cheating, noise, saving lucky seats, and etiquette. Questions vary from how to split the pot when there are multiple winners to what to do about the manager who wouldn't let diabetic players bring in food. A frequent winner complained of being bullied in the restroom by a frequent loser.

Tuneless, in Palm Bay, Fla., wrote in about her friend humming throughout the game and ruining her concentration. "After numerous weeks of asking her to stop, I am at a quandary as to what to do. It is driving me up the wall," Tuneless wrote.

Aunt Bingo, whose true identity is a secret, suggested finding another Bingo buddy. "To be honest, humming doesn't seem to be that big of a deal," Aunt Bingo wrote. "But if you are to the point of climbing the walls and pulling out your hair, the two of you need to part company -- at least in the Bingo hall."

Occasionally, readers pass on their own advice. Lady Legs in Massachusetts suggested brisk walking during bingo breaks. She lost 14 pounds doing that, she said. Once, Aunt Bingo received a photo from a man taken at his wife's funeral showing a floral arrangement in the shape of a bingo card. "I never figured out what he wanted me to do with it," Aunt Bingo says.

Some of the longtime columnists have altered their format. Alessandra ended up ditching the Dear Astrologer Lady approach because readers were asking advice about love, money, spouses, children and careers. Instead, she studies the planets and offers collective advice to groups, according to their birth sign. This month, she says Aries should wear red clothing and jewelry to win on the 23rd and 24th.

"These columns take me hours every month to put together," says Alessandra. "I'm not pulling these out of the air."

Other columnists do just make things up. The Bingo Sisters didn't really go to a Feng Shui bingo hall where people were seated in certain sections to create harmony, or to a deaf school where bingo was played.

Reva Sparks started the Bingo Sisters column with a friend in 1988 to chronicle their visits to bingo games. She says they stuck to facts at the beginning, but gave up. "Not enough interesting things happen," she says. Besides, the last bingo hall in her town on Puget Sound in Washington closed a few years ago.

Ms. Garges, author of Bingo by Bev, exhausted her bingo material a few years ago but made a pact, she says, with the late Mr. Snowden, who told her she could write about anything at all, so long as the word "Bingo" came up at least once. In a recent column about schools instructing teachers not to hug children, she says she enjoys getting hugs from children, grandkids and "the women I pick up for Bingo."

Ms. Snowden acknowledges that some columnists have strayed from their original purpose but adds that they have a following. "They've been with us forever," she says.

M81 and M82 are bright nearby galaxies; you can spot them with binoculars easily in the northern sky, and they are a mere 12 million light years from us (for comparison, the Milky Way Galaxy is 100,000 light years across, so if you think of the Milky Way as a DVD, M81 and M82 would be about 14 meters away). These two galaxies interacted a couple of hundred million years ago, and the gravitational interaction drew out long tendrils of gas (which is very common in colliding galaxies).

Astronomers examined this bridge of material using Hubble, and found clusters of stars in it. That was totally unexpected; the gas was thought to be too thin to form stars! Amazingly, many of the stars are blue, indicating they are young. (Blue stars burn through their fuel much more quickly than redder stars. This means that the gas is still forming stars, even 200 million years after the collision!)

Most likely, the stars formed when turbulence in the tendril caused local regions of denser gas, which could collapse to form stars. Before these observations, it wasn’t really thought it was possible to form stars in the regions between galaxies, so this is an interesting new find.


For an eternity, our universe lay dormant—a frozen, featureless netherworld. Then, about 15 billion years ago, the cosmos got an abrupt wake-up call.

According to the standard theory, the universe was born some 15 billion years ago in a hot, expanding fireball, an event scientists call the Big Bang. The universe then underwent a brief spurt of faster-than-light expansion, called inflation, before settling down to the much slower, steady expansion observed today.

If a theory ain't broken, why fix it? Even in its most primitive form, which does not include inflation, the Big Bang theory correctly predicts the cosmic abundance of helium and deuterium and the temperature of the radiation left over from the birth of the universe.

The classical Big Bang picture was first proposed in the late 1920s. Two decades ago, researchers realized that the scenario needed to be modified.

In its original form, the model would lead to a universe vastly different from the one we live in. For instance, the theory doesn't provide a way for stars, galaxies, and larger structures to arise, notes Steinhardt. Moreover, the Big Bang model would tend to produce a cosmos whose composition and density would vary widely from place to place and whose overall geometry would be warped or curved.

That's in stark contrast to numerous observations, which reveal a universe that is the same, on the large scale, in all directions and has just the right amount of matter and energy to keep it perfectly flat.

In 1980, Guth amended the Big Bang theory to account for these discrepancies. Refined by several researchers over the past 2 decades, Guth's model posits that the infant cosmos underwent a brief but enormous episode of inflation, ballooning at a rate faster than the speed of light. In just 10–32 seconds, the universe expanded its girth by a factor of about 100 trillion trillion, more than it has in the billions of years that have elapsed since.

The inflation model accomplishes several feats. It explains why widely separated parts of the universe—regions so far apart that all communication between them is impossible—can nonetheless look as similar as the closest of neighbors. Inflation theory suggests that when the universe began, these regions were indeed neighbors and then rapidly spread far apart.

Inflation also makes the universe flat. Any curvature to space-time would have been stretched out by this era of faster-than-light expansion.

Furthermore, the ballooning would have provided a way for chance subatomic fluctuations in the early universe to inflate to macroscopic proportions. Over time, gravity could then have molded these variations into the spidery network of galaxies and voids seen in the universe today.

The Big Bang model combined with inflation matches several important observations, including the detailed structure of the radiation called the cosmic microwave background, which is left over from the universe's birth. Data gathered by several balloon-borne and ground-based telescopes fit the predictions of the inflation model.

Yet some cosmologists view inflation as a mysterious, ad hoc device. For instance, notes Steinhardt, no one knows what type of force triggered the onset of inflation or what ended it. "We've been searching for several years to find either a more natural way of incorporating inflation or an alternative model based on new physics," he says.

String theory

Inflation, Steinhardt says, is based on quantum field theory, which views every elementary particle as a pointlike object. In the past decade, however, physicists have begun thinking about elementary particles in a new way, based on a model called string theory.

According to this view, electrons, quarks, and all the other elementary particles in the universe behave as point particles when observed at a distance, but each is actually composed of tiny loops or strings of energy. The different vibrations of a string, like the different notes that can be plucked on a violin, correspond to different particles.

"It's a beautiful idea because it says that all of the particles we see actually arise from a single object—string," says Ovrut.

Each string vibrates in a space-time that has 11 dimensions—7 dimensions beyond the usual 3 of space and 1 of time. The newest twist on string theory, dubbed M theory, allows for more-complex objects: surfaces rather than just strings. These surfaces are known as membranes, or just branes.

Many physicists are studying branes in the hope of linking gravity and the other fundamental forces of nature to the elementary particles that communicate these forces. According to Steinhardt and his colleagues, certain types of branes may turn out to have profound consequences for cosmology.

Instead of working with the 11 dimensions implied by M theory, the researchers have focused on branes that exist in 5 dimensions. In this model, the other 6 dimensions are tightly curled up and can be ignored. Certain branes that exist in this abstract five-dimensional space can be represented by infinitely long, parallel planes and seem to have a close correspondence to our universe.

In this construct, our cosmos could have plenty of company. Other would-be universes—also represented by branes—may be floating through the fifth dimension. These branes would remain invisible because particles and light can't travel through the fifth dimension. However, gravity can couple matter across that dimension, and collisions between branes are possible.

In the ekpyrotic scenario, the fifth dimension is finite in size and bounded on either side by a three-dimensional brane. One of these boundary branes was the surface that was to become our own cosmos, and the other represents another universe. In the version of the theory first described last April, a third brane peels off the opposing boundary brane and bangs into ours. In the collision, it melds with our brane, igniting the Big Bang.

"There is a certain sense in which this is like two pieces of putty slamming into each other and heating up," says Ovrut.

Critics of the scenario, as well as Steinhardt's team, have noted that the universe created by the impact contracts rather than expands. If so, it wouldn't have generated a cosmos like ours.

In a modified version of the ekpyrotic theory, posted Aug. 26 on the Internet (, Steinhardt, Nathan Seiberg of the Institute of Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., and their collaborators say such concerns are now unwarranted. According to their calculations, the new model can produce a collision without having to rely on one invisible brane peeling off from another.

Instead, one of the boundary branes moves slowly but steadily toward the other, attracted by an exchange of lower-dimension branes between the two. As the boundary brane moves, it shrinks the fifth dimension. When the two boundary branes touch, the fifth dimension collapses completely, an event the researchers call the Big Crunch.

As in the earlier version of the theory, the collision triggers the Big Bang. However after the impact, the two boundary branes bounce off each other and move apart, recreating the fifth dimension. This rebound starts the expansion of our universe.

In either version of the theory, the laws that govern elementary particle physics require that the boundary branes be flat as a pancake before they collide and that they stay that way afterwards. Consequently, the universe generated by the collision is flat. An episode of inflation isn't needed to stretch out any curvature since none ever existed.

Because the impact is so uniform—exactly the same force is applied up and down the flat boundary between the two branes— widely separated parts of the universe get the same kick and thus evolve in exactly the same way after the collision. This accounts for the uniformity of distant reaches of the cosmos without having to invoke an episode of inflation.

Due to quantum effects, which make the boundary between the branes slightly uneven, some parts of our brane would be struck ever so slightly earlier or later than other parts. This would create tiny temperature differences within the struck brane that, like those in the standard Big Bang model, become the seeds for galaxy formation. The collision also causes the brane to stretch or expand, accounting for the expansion of the universe observed today.

The researchers "make a graceful transition from the Big Crunch to the Big Bang," says David N. Spergel of Princeton University. "This is arguably a `new ekpyrotic universe' that appears to be more elegant than the old model."

Which theory?

According to Steinhardt, the ekpyrotic theory does everything that Big Bang plus inflation accomplishes. "It's just that we happened to discover one theory first—20 years ago," he says.

"What [the ekpyrotic theory] has going for it is a much closer relationship to string theory than any formulation we currently have of inflation," says Guth. "String theory is simply the only hope we currently have for a quantum theory of gravity, and obviously gravity has to be quantized to be consistent with the rest of what we know about physics."

Nonetheless, "I'm still somewhat skeptical about the whole thing," Guth adds. "They need to make very strong assumptions about the initial conditions—they're really starting out with a universe that's already infinite and uniform."

Another developer of the inflation model, Andrei Linde of Stanford University, takes a much dimmer view of the new work and has posted several papers on the Internet lambasting the ekpyrotic model. He says that to produce galaxies, Steinhardt and his colleagues have to choose a highly specialized, unrealistic form of interaction between branes. Moreover, Linde claims that the branes in the ekpyrotic model are not truly uniform in structure and therefore can't account for the large-scale uniformity of the universe.

"Instead of a theory, we have only wishful thinking," he says.

Steinhardt and his colleagues have posted responses on the Internet.

A slow process

Making a universe in ekpyrotic theory requires patience, notes Ovrut. Because the attractive force between branes is so small, they move at a snail's pace, and it could take an extraordinarily long time for a collision to occur, he says.

In effect, says Ovrut, the new theory replaces the very short growth spurt of inflation with a very long lead time for a collision.

As a bonus, he notes, the collision described by ekpyrotic theory not only generates cosmic structure, it also creates the known families of quarks and other fundamental particles.

"What's very beautiful about these brane models is that one can actually compute the spectrum of [elementary] particles, and what you get is something like our real world," notes Ovrut.

At least one empirical test of the ekpyrotic theory may soon be possible. The test would examine gravitational waves, the radiation produced when massive objects accelerate.

Big Bang plus inflation predicts that gravitational waves can have extremely long wavelengths, while the ekpyrotic theory does not. Long-wavelength gravitational waves would leave a distinctive fingerprint on the cosmic microwave background.

Future experiments with a new generation of space, balloon-borne, and ground-based telescopes may be able to detect that fingerprint, says Ovrut.

Other aspects of the ekpyrotic model are still being scrutinized.

"I worry a lot about the details," says Ovrut. "This is a theory that's really still in its infancy."

While hiking in California's Sierra Nevada Mountains, Seth Donahue ran into quite a few bears. The lumbering omnivores filled Dr. Donahue, a biomedical engineer, with curiosity rather than fear.

Why don't bears suffer from osteoporosis during hibernation, he asked himself during one wilderness encounter nearly a decade ago? Even a few weeks of inactivity for humans, and most animals, are enough to soften and weaken bones. But bears snooze as much as six months a year and wake up robust and ready to rumble.

Dr. Donahue, now 39 and a professor at Michigan Technological University, figured there might be a substance in bears that helps keep their bones strong. If he could find it, he might also find better treatments for osteoporosis in humans.

Osteoporosis affects tens of millions of Americans, and drugs to treat the disease represent a multibillion-dollar market. But most of the medicines don't restore bone -- they only slow its deterioration.

Dr. Donahue found that bears have a uniquely potent form of a substance called parathyroid hormone, which helps maintain bones. The ursine version of the substance spurs bone growth when it normally wouldn't occur, offsetting the deterioration that one would expect for a bear snoozing away in the woods.

Dr. Donahue's group has sequenced the gene for the bear parathyroid hormone and has had a small amount of it made synthetically. He's applied for a government grant to fund the lab's efforts to insert the gene into bacteria and coaxed them to produce the substance.

But how do you get a hormone sample from a bear in the first place? Very carefully. At first, Dr. Donahue relied on a colleague at Virginia Tech for blood samples taken from a half-dozen bears tracked with radio tags.

Even hibernating bears need to be anesthetized before a needle is inserted to draw their blood, or they might awaken, distorting the results and putting the researchers at risk. "It's not like rats where you can get 100 animals and bring them into the lab and do whatever you want with them," Dr. Donahue said.

Later, he teamed up with Washington State University's Charles Robbins, who was studying changes in the hearts of hibernating bears. Dr. Robbins had a group of black bears raised in captivity that were comfortable around humans and were used to having tests performed. That gave Dr. Donahue's lab an easier way to get blood samples.

Despite the hurdles, Dr. Donahue, it turns out, wasn't the first scientist to be curious about bear bones. In 1990, a Boise, Idaho, orthopedic surgeon named Tim Floyd captured a few bears, anesthetized them and biopsied a large bone in their hips.

Dr. Floyd's findings were provocative, Dr. Donahue said, because they suggested that bears didn't lose bone during hibernation. Dr. Floyd entered private practice and didn't pursue his findings. But when he learned of Dr. Donahue's work, Dr. Floyd kicked in some of his own money to keep it rolling. Dr. Donahue also receives support from the National Institutes of Health and the Michigan Universities Commercialization Initiative.

Dr. Donahue published his first results in 2003 when he was doing post-doctoral research at Penn State University. The results were perplexing because they seemed to suggest that bears were actually losing bone during hibernation. "At that point my hopes weren't as high, but I was still interested," Dr. Donahue said.

He kept at it, and published a paper later in 2003, after he had moved to Michigan Tech, showing that bone growth in hibernating bears was equal to the rate of loss. After the bears wake up in the spring, the bone grows even more rapidly.

Washing mouse bone cells with blood taken from bears in different seasons supported the idea that the winter samples had boosted bone formation, according to another paper he published in 2006.

Dr. Donahue's research on bears has advanced far enough toward a treatment for humans to capture commercial interest. Apjohn, a company founded by drug giant Pfizer when it closed Upjohn facilities in Kalamazoo, Mich., and Michigan Tech have an agreement to commercialize Dr. Donahue's technology. To do that, they've created a company called Aursos, a name derived from ursos, Latin for bears.

Apjohn's Ron Shebuski, who once studied snake venom and vampire bat saliva as a researcher at Merck, praised Dr. Donahue's elegant and sometimes risky work on parathyroid hormone in bears. "Seth is just a maniac on this stuff," he said.

Most available osteoporosis drugs, such as Merck's Fosamax, slow the breakdown of bone, but they don't do much to build it up. An exception is Eli Lilly's Forteo, a shortened version of the human parathyroid hormone, with about $500 million in sales. Forteo can build bone, but the drug, taken in a daily injection, carries a black-box warning about cancer risks because of tumors found in rats treated with the medicine.

Dr. Donahue, now on sabbatical in Ireland, says his lab just finished treating some rats with a synthetic version of human parathyroid hormone -- not unlike Forteo -- and others with bear parathyroid hormone to see which did a better job building up bone. Next up are studies in female rats whose ovaries have been removed, creating a menopause-like condition.

Dr. Donahue is unlikely to see any bears while in Ireland; they're extinct there. But he did admit to taking an interest in the bones of one that died thousands of years ago in an Irish cave. Meanwhile, despite his hiking inspiration, when it comes to his research, he laughs: "Nearly 10 years later, I haven't been out in the field once."

It's no wonder that more Americans are gulping fish oil. Hardly a month goes by without a study suggesting that the omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil can fend off disease -- including heart attacks, strokes, Alzheimer's disease, depression, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, psoriasis and even attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.

The problem is, to get the health benefits seen in clinical trials, you probably need to take fistfuls of capsules.

"The kind of benefits seen in most of the clinical trials with omega-3 generally have involved much higher doses than you see recommended on supplement labels," says Charles Serhan, a Harvard Medical School expert on omega-3's activity. "But although a large number of studies have used industrial-level doses," he adds, "we don't have rigorous scientific evidence about what the doses should be."

Regardless of the recommended dose, the need to stockpile bottles of supplements may diminish as more foods are fortified with omega-3 and as research shows ways of enhancing the benefits with other therapies.

While most of the scientific data on the health effects of fish oil aren't definitive, the federal National Institutes of Health concluded after a massive review three years ago that consuming omega-3 fatty acids cuts the risk of death from heart attacks and other cardiovascular causes, can reduce the joint pain of rheumatoid arthritis and "appears" important for proper brain development and function.

Because of news like that, the market for fish-oil supplements is booming. U.S. omega-3 supplement sales reached an estimated $600 million last year, up 20% from a year earlier, says the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s, a Salt Lake City trade group. (The two key omega-3 fatty acids are called EPA and DHA.) Omega-3 fatty acids now rank as the fifth-best-selling dietary supplement, behind multivitamins, calcium and vitamins C and E.

In trials aimed at lowering high blood levels of triglycerides, a contributor to heart disease, patients took four particularly potent capsules that contained a total of more than three grams of EPA and DHA a day. You would have to pop a daily dozen of the typical omega-3 capsules on the market to get that much -- four to six times the suggested daily "serving" usually specified on their labels. That many capsules could cost you more than $2 a day, and it is a lot more than you are likely to get from consuming fish: You would need more than six servings a day of tuna, or about three of salmon, to get that much EPA and DHA.

Clinical trials suggest that fish oil can fend off a variety of ailments, but the omega-3 doses used in the studies have varied widely.
• Heart disease: one gram or more
• Rheumatoid arthritis: two grams or more
• Brain health: one-half gram or more

Fish may good for you, but you can get risky doses of mercury and other toxins by consuming lots of it. That is one reason the American Heart Association recommends that people who need to lower triglycerides to ward off heart attacks take omega-3 capsules. The suggested dose is two to four grams of EPA and DHA a day, which supplements can provide toxin-free. For healthy adults seeking merely to cut cardiac risks, the heart association says eating fatty fish, such as salmon, at least twice a week is probably enough.

But how much omega-3 should you take if you are trying to ease the joint inflammation of rheumatoid arthritis? Or ward off Alzheimer's disease? Or alleviate depression?
Louis J Sheehan
Louis J Sheehan, Esquire

Unfortunately, there aren't enough clinical data to give firm answers. But the omega-3 literature affords hints. Results in various rheumatoid-arthritis trials indicate that you need to take more than two grams, perhaps 10 typical capsules, of omega-3 fatty acids a day to significantly curtail joint inflammation and pain.

For maintaining brain health, the overall data on omega-3's potential are inconclusive, according to the NIH. But a recent Dutch study showed that about 400 milligrams of EPA and DHA a day -- which you can get from two typical omega-3 capsules -- helped elderly men maintain mental acuity. The study found that the more omega-3 ingested, the greater the benefit.

In the depression data, two things stand out: EPA appears more effective than DHA. And about one gram of EPA seems optimal -- more isn't better.

All this suggests that you may have to take a half dozen or more typical omega-3 pills a day to get the kind of benefits observed in clinical trials with fish oil. But soon it may get easier to get such hefty doses without taking so many pills. A growing number of foods are fortified with omega-3, everything from yogurt to orange juice, including more than 1,200 such products launched in 2006 alone, according to the London-based market researcher Datamonitor. Such foods typically don't contain much omega-3 -- a fortified egg might contain half as much as a typical capsule. But as more fortified foods come to market, it will be easier to get omega-3 in your diet.

There is another reason popping fish-oil capsules by the fistful may be overkill. Many scientists believe omega-3's benefits flow primarily from its ability to damp low-level inflammation, which is thought to be a key culprit in just about every major scourge of aging, from clogged arteries to Alzheimer's. Studies over the past few years suggest that taking small doses of aspirin daily, which many people do to prevent heart attacks, magnifies the anti-inflammatory effect of taking fish oil.

Indeed, some of the most dramatic evidence of fish oil's heart benefits came from a 1999 Italian study in which patients who had recently had heart attacks showed a 45% reduction in subsequent "sudden cardiac death" when given modest fish-oil doses (the amount in about three typical omega-3 capsules). The supplements' striking effectiveness may well have been magnified by the fact that many of the patients were also taking aspirin daily.

Aspirin's effect on omega-3 isn't clear yet, though. So for now, big doses of the supplement probably are necessary to get the health benefits.

Omega-3 appears to be safe, even at the high doses used in clinical trials. But large doses can have side effects. Perhaps the best source on that issue is the prescribing information for Lovaza. Sold by GlaxoSmithKline PLC unit Reliant Pharmaceuticals Inc., Lovaza is prescribed for "very high" triglycerides.

In Lovaza's clinical trials, patients took four capsules a day with a total of 3.4 grams of EPA and DHA. The most common "adverse event," reported by about 5% of patients, was belching. Some 4% reported infections, compared with 2% on a placebo, but it's not clear whether fish oil caused the difference. While some research suggests that taking fish oil prolongs bleeding time, no bleeding problems were reported in the Lovaza trials.

There's no evidence Lovaza works better or is purer than high-end omega-3 dietary supplements -- such as those made by Nordic Naturals Inc., of Watsonville, Calif. -- which cost less than half as much as Lovaza does per gram of EPA and DHA.

A 2004 analysis of 44 kinds of omega-3 supplements by ConsumerLab.com1, based in Scarsdale, N.Y., found that none had unsafe levels of mercury or PCBs. And Lovaza wasn't used in most of the promising clinical trials with omega-3.

Mountains of uncollected trash smoldering on the streets of Naples are illuminating an unsightly reality about southern Italy: A combination of a weak state and powerful organized crime makes some areas of the country ungovernable.

In Naples, that combination has created a toxic mix that has paralyzed the city of more than two million, created serious health risks and revealed the inability of the government to tackle even the most basic urban problems. The Camorra, as the Naples Mafia is known, maintains a tight grip on the lucrative trash business, and as the situation has worsened, the Camorra's profit and power have risen.
[A large pile of trash littered a street in central Naples yesterday.]
A large pile of trash littered a street in central Naples yesterday.

Trash hasn't been picked up on the streets since Dec. 31, when the last of dumps in the area, which had been operating beyond capacity, couldn't accept more trash. And for several weeks before that, pickups had been sporadic at best. On Sunday, army units were called in to remove trash from school buildings so that students could return after the winter break. The gravity of the situation has led to a series of desperate but still useless measures taken by authorities.

In the Pianura neighborhood, authorities recently decided to reopen a dump that had been closed 11 years earlier. That sparked violent daily clashes with local residents.

To prevent police from reopening the dump, residents have felled tree trunks onto streets, commandeered city buses and set them ablaze, and poured oil onto roads. Yesterday evening, police finally withdrew from the area.

But while residents protest, trash piles up, blocking streets and entrances to buildings. Some piles reach to the third floor of apartment buildings. The city creates an estimated 8,000 metric tons of trash daily. Many of the heaps are set on fire, releasing dioxin and other noxious fumes. Naples's trash problem has become an embarrassment for the government of Prime Minister Romano Prodi, which, like its predecessors, has been powerless to bring about change. "Everyone is looking at us, and it's sad that Italy is presenting this negative image," he said Saturday. He also said his government was working on a plan to fix the situation "once and for all" and his government has been holding a series of meetings as it tries to come up with a plan.

However, the clashes are merely the latest chapter in an environmental crisis that began more than 13 years ago when the Campania region's dumps reached capacity. Since then, the Camorra has been able to tighten its control on the trash business, burrowing its way so deeply into the system that it has defeated every attempt by the state to fix the situation.

The national government first declared an emergency in 1994, appointing a special commissioner with broad powers to fix what was already a mounting crisis by building more than a dozen trash incinerators in the area. Since then, there has been a succession of six special commissioners. One trash incinerator has been built.
[A man worked his way through uncollected garbage on the streets of the Casoria district, on the outskirts of Naples, Sunday.]
A man worked his way through uncollected garbage on the streets of the Casoria district, on the outskirts of Naples, Sunday.

Franco Roberti, a prosecutor in Naples who has been investigating the trash crisis and its connections to organized crime, estimates that of the €1 billion, or about $1.5 billion, of public money spent in the Naples area on trash hauling and disposal, "the Camorra pockets about half." Working either through companies it owns directly or through intermediaries, it controls all the garbage trucks that transport the trash, as well as the dumps themselves.

The state of emergency has only benefited the Camorra, Mr. Roberti says, because it allows city governments to hand out public contracts quickly, bypassing the checks that would otherwise be necessary to ensure that hauling and collection companies aren't connected to organized crime.

The current crisis, Mr. Roberti says, is partly the result of a situation the Camorra created. For decades, it has run the highly illegal but lucrative business of hauling toxic waste from Italy's industrial north and dumping it in Campania, either in regular city dumps or simply in the open. Illegally hauling trash from the north to Campania caused the region's dumps to fill up more quickly, but also turned many municipal dumps into repositories of untreated toxic waste. Some worry that after years of this practice, toxins may be leaching into the groundwater around Naples.

Over the years local residents resisted efforts to build incinerators. However, authorities also blame the Camorra for fomenting many protests in order to block the incinerators, which could have threatened its control of the dumps and the transport system. "I have the sense that no one in Rome really understands how urgent this is or how difficult it will be to fix," says Mr. Roberti.


Laparoscopic cholecystectomy.


Signs and symptoms included:

Digestive disturbances
Tenderness on pressure over gallbladder
Pain to back and right shoulder

Pathology: suffering from stones.

Diagnosis: Symptomatic non-acute cholelithiasis.

• Patients are fasted for approximately 8 hours before elective operations.

• Routine administration of intravenous antibiotics for prophylaxis against wound infections is not mandatory in uncomplicated cases of cholelithiases.

• Prior to induction of anesthesia, deep venous thrombosis prophylaxis should be utilized.

[Bib: A page 192.]


Symptomatic non-acute cholelithiasis.

Although major complications are rare, cardiopulmonary complications may occur as is the case in any major abdominal operation. Additionally, other rare possible complications include:

Bile duct injury
Bile leaks
Biliary stricture
Perforated bladder
Retained stones
Wound infections
Incisional hernia
Duodenal injury
Hepatic Artery injury
Damage to structure of Porta Hepatis

[Bib: A page 189.]

Assuming there are no complications, postoperative care consists of:

• Clear liquids are resumed postoperatively and the patient progresses to a regular diet as tolerated.

• No activity or work restrictions are placed on the patient depending upon the degree of abdominal tenderness; the patient is encouraged to return to work within one week.

• Nausea and mild shoulder discomfort from diaphragmatic irritation may occur in the early postoperative period.

[Bib: A page 192.]

History and physical.

Simple cholelithiasis resulting from obstruction of the infundibulum of the gallbladder or the cystic duct does not normally result in laboratory abnormalities. Serum bilirubin is usually normal unless there is a concomitant obstruction of the common bile duct.

Plain radiographs of the abdomen are rarely useful in diagnosing cholelithiasis.

Transcutaneous ultrasound of the upper right quadrant should be the diagnostic tool of choice in patients with suspected biliary pathology. Ultrasound is 95% sensitive and 98% specific in detecting gallstones and may demonstrate thickness of the gallbladder wall, pericholecystic fluid collections, choledococolothiasis, sludge, polyps, microcalcifications, and the diameter of the common bile duct. Additionally, the physician may also evaluate the right kidney, liver and pancreas. It should be noted that computed tomography (CT) is not as useful in evaluating biliary disease as is ultrasound.

[Bib: A page 183.]


The operation is performed under general anesthesia.

After induction of anesthesia, a urinary bladder catheter and a naso/orogastiric tube are generally placed to decompress these hollow organs

[Bib: A page 184.]


• All port sites larger than 5 mm must be closed to reduce the risk of herniation.

• The incisions were anesthetized locally.
Bupivacaine with Epinephrine.

• The fascia of the umbilical incision was closed with large absorbable sutures.
0-Vicryl is a multifilament absorbable suture.

• The skin of the subxiphoid umbilical incisions was closed with subcuticular sutures.
4-0 Vicryl is a multifilament absorbable suture.

• Bandaids/medipore 2 2/3 inches were applied to each incision.

[PIC Sheet]



I am unaware that any ties were used.


TYPE: bovie pencil
SETTINGS: 25, sometimes done at 30
ESU TIP USED: coated blade


Complete gallbladder tray
Laparoscopic bin
Minor basin set
Camera tray
Scope warmer tray

[Bib: D page 77.]


PACKS: Laparoscopic Choly pack; C-Arm drape
DRESSINGS: Bandaids/medipore 2 2/3 inches

Basic pack
Basin set
Cleaning kit (defogger)
Padding for elbows and ankles
Sony paper for printing photographs
Dr. A. always uses compression stockings
Prep set

[Bib: D page 77.]


Dr. A. wanted the abdomen prepped in standard fashion with betadine applied 3 times. The betadine was applied from the midline-axilla down to (but not including) the pubic symphysis and down to the table at the sides.

[Bib: D page 76.]


.9% saline via hanger
H2O 1000 mL
.9% saline 1000 mL for injection
Syringe 10 cc luerlock
Syringe 20 cc luerlock
Syringe 30 cc luerlock
Leurlock plug m/f
A ½ inch needle
0.25% Bupivacaine with Epinephrine

[PIC Sheet.]


• Two 5 mm ports
• Two 10 mm ports
• Three 5 mm ratcheted graspers
• One 5 mm scissor (Metz)
• One 5 mm hook cautery
• One 5 mm curved dissector
• One 10 mm claw grasper
• One entrapment sack
• One loop ligature
• Video cart
• C02 insufflator
• Slave monitor
• A seal
• Disposable clip appliers (one medium, one large)
• 2000 cc suction canister
• Foley catheter 18 Fr with urimeter kit
• Scope warmer
• Suction apparatus

[Bib: A page 185.]



Supine. Arm on armboard.


The table was initially placed in Trendelenburg between 5 and 10 degrees to facilitate the establishment of the C02-pneumoperitineum. Then the patient was positioned in a 30 to 40 degree Reverse Trendelenburg and was further rotated to the left by 15 – 20 degrees. These movements/repositionings allowed the colon and duodenum to fall away from the liver’s edge and the falciform ligament and the liver (both lobes) to be examined. The inferior margin of the liver was also more easily visualized so as to locate the gallbladder. In most surgeries the gallbladder is visible beyond the edge of the liver but, sometimes, the gallbladder can only be seen after adhesions are removed and/or after elevating the liver.

[Bib: B page 90.]


Adjustable OR bed

[PIC Sheet]


Squared off towels around the abdomen. Laparotomy drape /sheet with tape removed.

[Bib: D page 76.]



See attached drawings.

[Bib: E pages 12 – 39.]


1. When all items open on backtable and before mayo set-up.
2. Closing 1: at closing of peritoneum/first layer of cavity.
3. Closing 2: at closure of fascia.
4. Closing 3: initiation of skin closure.

Port Placement - CO2-pneumoperitineum 10 mm Trocar

A CO2-pneumoperitineum was created to facilitate safe placement of trocars into the abdomen; 15 mmHg is a conventional benchmark. The CO2-pneumoperitineum can be created using either an open or closed technique. If hemodynamic compromise were to develop, the CO2-pneumoperitineum would be emptied until vital signs return to normal.

At the infraumbilical skin fold an incision of approximately 1.5 cm horizontally was made to place the CO2-pneumoperitineum port.

Next, the retroperitoneum posterior to the umbilicus and the pelvis were viewed to ensure there was no injury resulting form the trocar/sheath with a 10 mm laparoscope/camera. While there, the pelvic viscera, anterior surface of the intestines, omentum and stomach were visualized and no abnormalities were noted.

Two 5 mm Subcostal Ports

The surgeon next placed two 5mm subcostal ports in the upper right quadrant.

The first port was placed in the anterior-to middle axillary line between the 12th rib and the iliac crest inferior to the gallbladder fundus/liver edge.

The second 5 mm port was placed midway between he axillary sheath and the xiphoid process.

These two ports allowed the use of grasping forceps to retain/secure the gallbladder. The lateral grasping forceps were used to elevate the liver’s edge to clearly expose the fundus of the gallbladder. The dissecting forceps were then used to raise the most dependent portion of the fundus. The grasping forceps were then used to push laterally and cephaladly to roll up the entire right lobe of the liver so as to expose the porta hepatis and the gallbladder. Adhesions in this area are generally avascular and were lysed bluntly with dissecting forceps by slowly stripping them in the direction of the infundibulum; any vascular adhesions would be lysed with the hook cautery.

After the infundibulum was exposed, grasping forceps were placed through the midclavicular trocar for traction on the neck of the bladder.

The Second 10 mm Trocar

The last trocar was placed through a longitudinal incision in the midline of the epigastrium near the location of the gallbladder (the size of the left liver lobe can also influence placement). This trocar was angled to the right of the falciform ligament aiming toward the gallbladder.


The fundus was now retracted superiorly to the infundibulum. The gallbladder was placed under tension and away from the common bile duct in the inferolateral direction. With the fundus and neck of the gallbladder under tension, a fine-tipped dissecting forcep was used to gently pull away the overlying fibroareolar structures from the gallbladder infundibulum and Hartmann’s pouch starting on the gallbladder and pulling the tissue toward the porta hepatis.


The peritoneum was lysed. The hepatocystic triangle (a.k.a. Calot’s triangle) was placed under tension and exposed by retracting the gallbladder infundibulum inferiorly and laterally while pushing the fundus superiorly and medially. Often there is a lymph node overlying the cystic artery which, if there, is removed; if so, electrical current is used to achieve hemostasis.

The infundibulum of the gallbladder was stretched superiorly and medially even as the fundus was pushed superiorly and laterally to expose the reverse of the hepatocystic triangle (the area between the cystic duct, the common hepatic duct, and the right lobe of the liver). It was critical to precisely locate the junction between the infundibulum and the origin of the cystic duct. The tip of the hooked-shaped cautery was used to probe and expose the duct. The cystic artery is often separated from the surrounding tissue now (but can be separated later depending upon the individual’s anatomy). The cystic duct was now dissected as it was anteriorly in the field.


Some surgeons now perform a static or fluoroscopic cholangiography for evaluation of the stones at this juncture. (I did not see any of this.)

Cystic Duct

The Cystic duct was then doubly clipped near its junction with the common bile duct and then was divided. Care was taken to avoid injuring surrounding structures with the clips. Great care was taken to avoid clipping the common bile duct; if this were to prove to be too risky, a loop or suture would have been used instead of clips.

Cystic Artery

The infundibulum of the gallbladder was placed under tension and the cystic duct was bluntly dissected, then clipped proximally and distally and divided by sharp dissection.
Care was taken to not confuse the right hepatic artery with the cystic artery.

The ligations of the duct and cystic artery were examined to confirm that neither bile nor blood is leaking, that the clips are secure, and that the clips close the entire lumen without attaching any of the adjacent tissue. Irrigation and suctioning were used to remove debris. The grasping forceps in the midclavicular trocar were repositioned on the proximal end of the gallbladder at Hartman’s pouch. The infundibulum was retracted superiorly and laterally and also away from its hepatic bed. The tissues that tethered the neck of the gallbladder were inspected to ensure no other sizeable tubular structures were in this immediate area. The hepatic fossa was divided and coagulated (both small vessels and lymphatics were coagulated). On rare occasion, a blood vessel or small duct will require the placement of another clip.

Gallbladder Dissection

As necessary, any tears in the gallbladder wall may be clipped or looped to prevent stone leakage or additional bile leak.

As always (i) the hepatic fossa and porta hepatis were monitored for any blood and/or bile leakage, (ii) the clips were monitored for stability, and (iii) small bleeding points were coagulated with electrocautery, and (iv) the liver was examined for hemostasis. Further, irrigation assists with the visualization at this juncture.

The gallbladder was then separated with electrocautery. With the tissue connecting the gallbladder to the fossa placed under tension, the surgeon used electrocautery (typically the hook) set at 25 (sometimes 30) to divide and coagulate the tissue.

The dissection of the gallbladder continued from the infundibulum to the fundus with intermittent repositioning of the midclavicular grasping forceps proximal to the plane of dissection to allow maximal contraction until the gallbladder was attached only by a narrow and thin tissue.

Finally, the little remaining attachments to the gallbladder were lysed.


The laparoscope was transferred to the midepigastric port.

The gallbladder was removed via the umbilicus under direct visualization from the laparoscope. The umbilical port was used because there are no thick muscle layers at this point and there is only one fascial plane that must be crossed. Additionally, if an incision needs to be enlarged because of the size of the stones, extending the umbilical incision causes less postoperative pain than does extending any of the other incisions.

At Harrisburg, I have always seen the use of an entrapment bag. The grasper forceps were used to place the gallbladder into the entrapment sack. The gallbladder-containing entrapment sack was then withdrawn through the umbilical port. This left the neck of the gallbladder on the anterior abdominal wall and the distended fundus within the abdominal cavity.

If the gallbladder were to be enlarged due to stones or bile, a suction catheter could have been used for aspiration before the entrapment sack’s withdrawal. As an alternative, stone forceps could have been placed into the gallbladder to extract or crush overly large stones. Rarely, the incision must be enlarged to remove larger stones.

The gallbladder was a specimen.

[Bib: A pages 186 – 191, B pages 90 – 94, C pages 192 – 194.]


A =
Laparoscopic Surgery, Principles and Procedures, 2nd Edition. Edited by D.B. Jones, J.S. Wu, and N.J. Soper. Pages 181 – 196 (2004).

Laparoscopic Surgery of the Abdomen, B.V. MacFayden, Jr. as Senior Editor. Pages 87 – 99 (2004).

Laparoscopic Surgery, by Cueto-Garcia, Jacobs and Gagner. Pages 191 – 195 (2003).

Pocket Guide to the Operating Room, 2nd Edition. M.A. Goldman. Pages 74 – 79. (1996).

Atlas of Minimally Invasive Surgery, by Jones (MD), Maithel (MD) and Schneider (MD). Pages 12 – 39 (2006).
Louis J Sheehan
Louis J Sheehan, Esquire
Louis J Sheehan Esquire

The holidays are over. Resolutions are wearing thin. It's a time of year when many people wonder if they have a drinking problem.

More than 30% of Americans engage in risky drinking at some point in their lives, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. But there's no consensus on exactly what an "alcoholic" is. Even Alcoholics Anonymous relies on alcoholics to diagnose themselves.

Researchers have made up dozens of screening tests over the years. According to one developed for Johns Hopkins University Hospital years ago that still pops up on the Web, I'm "definitely an alcoholic" because I answered yes to at least three of 20 questions: I "crave a drink at a definite time of day" (evenings, mostly) and drink alone (sometimes) and drink to "escape from worries or troubles" (doesn't everyone who drinks?).

But Alcoholscreening.org3 says I'm "below the range usually associated with harmful drinking or alcoholism" since I have only a glass or two of wine when I drink.

The authoritative American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM-IV, separates alcohol abuse from alcohol dependence, based partly on the problems the drinking causes. You qualify for a diagnosis of "abuse" if you've done any one of these in the past year: drunk alcohol in hazardous situations, like driving; kept drinking despite social or interpersonal problems; had legal problems related to alcohol or failed to fulfill major obligations at work, school or home because of drinking.

You've moved on to "dependence" if you've done any three of these seven: drunk more or longer than you intended; been unable to cut down or stop; needed more alcohol to get the same affect; had withdrawal symptoms without it; spent more time drinking or recovering; neglected other activities or continued to drink despite psychological or physical problems.

Experts long believed that abuse progressed to dependence, which almost inevitably became chronic and relapsing -- but that was based on observing severely addicted people in treatment programs. Several large new surveys have shown that drinking patterns in the general population are much more varied, with milder forms of dependence. Some 43% of daily heavy drinkers don't fit into either DSM-IV category, according to one big national sample, even though they are setting themselves up for serious health and addiction problems.

Abuse vs. Dependence

"Some people will abuse alcohol -- driving drunk, for example -- but they only drink heavily once a month. They can remain stable for a long time and not progress to dependence," says Mark L. Willenbring, director of the division of treatment and recovery research at the NIAAA. "And people can be dependent and not have abuse problems at all. They're successful students. They're good parents, good workers. They watch their weight. They go the gym. Then they go home and have four martinis or two bottles of wine. Are they alcoholics? You bet. And the goal is to get treatment for these folks, earlier, that is acceptable and attractive and effective."

To that end, some experts want the DSM-V -- the new edition now being compiled -- to combine abuse and dependence into a single "alcohol-use disorder" that ranges in severity, taking into account harmful drinking patterns and other symptoms. The aim is for simmering problems to be spotted sooner.

As one former treatment counselor says, "The conventional wisdom held that alcoholics had to hit bottom before they could get better. We'd like to raise that bottom so that people don't have to fall as far before they get help."

Many heavy drinkers are very high-functioning -- until they can't function anymore. "Alcoholics can be high achievers in the short run, because they're driven and compulsive," says Charlie, a New York attorney who, like all AA members, wants to remain anonymous. Charlie was drinking about a fifth of Johnnie Walker most nights when it began to show. "I'd tell my secretary I was in a meeting with a client, but I'd be home and only starting to feel human by about noon. Then I'd try to do eight hours of work in four hours," he says. This went on for seven years, until he finally went into rehab. He's been sober now for 26 years.

Charlie says many heavy drinkers, especially those who grew up around alcoholics, set a private benchmark in their denial. "They say to themselves, 'As long as I'm not making a fool of myself in a bar, or drinking in the morning, or as long as I'm still showing up for work, then I'm not an alcoholic.'"

You know you've hit bottom, he adds, "when your behavior spirals downward faster than you can lower your standards."

Thinking You're Immune

Ruth, a nursing supervisor in Las Vegas, hid her quart-a-day whiskey habit from work for about five years -- "until my husband and my employer both invited me out of those positions at the same time," she says. "That got my attention."

Both of Ruth's parents died of alcohol-related illnesses, but she thought her medical training would protect her from getting seriously addicted. Doctors and clergy who drink heavily often have the notion that they are somehow immune to the problems they see in others, she observes, and affluent people can pay others to take care of them. "People with less money and less education often get the message faster," she says, now that she's been sober for 37 years.

NIAAA officials say that in recognizing a drinking problem, the label "alcoholic" is less important than harmful patterns of drinking, which they describe as drinking too much, too fast or too much, too often.

Too much, too fast means consuming more than four drinks in two hours for men, and more than three in two hours for women. That's a level that, on average, makes people legally drunk and impairs brain function. (A standard U.S. drink, by the way, is 12 oz. of beer, 5 oz. of wine or a 1.5 oz. shot of 80 proof spirits, according to government agencies.)

Even if you stay within those limits each day, you can be drinking too much, too often, if you have more than 14 drinks a week for men, and more than 7 for women. That's the kind of chronic use that raises the risks of a long list of health problems, including liver and cardiovascular disease, pancreatitis, dementia, depression and numerous cancers.

How those weekly drinks are distributed is also important. "If you drink seven drinks in two days, that's hazardous -- you're drunk two days a week," says Ting-Kai Li, the NIAAA's director. "If you drink two a day for seven days, that's not harmful. In fact, it may even be beneficial for some people, lowering their cardiovascular risk."

Individual responses to alcohol vary, of course, based on genetics, brain chemistry, metabolism and other factors. Your risk is already elevated if you have a family history of alcohol abuse, have health problems such as depression, take certain medications or you started drinking at an early age. "If you have a family history or other co-morbidity, then the general advice is, don't drink at all," says Dr. Li.

If you're worried that you may be drinking too much, you've already met a key criterion on some screening tests. (Like the old saying about mice in your house, if you think you have a problem, you probably do.)

Counting drinks very carefully to stay within the limit can be a sign of trouble too, says Ruth. "The glass keeps getting bigger and bigger or you forget to add the mixer." She suggests trying to go 30 or 60 days without drinking. "If it doesn't bother you, you're OK. But if you're desperate for that 30 days to end, or you can't make it, then get help." She suggests trying one of AA's public information meetings. "If you're not an alcoholic, you can't catch it from them," she says.

Your family doctor is another place to start. The NIAAA recently issued a guide for primary-care physicians ( to enlist their help in spotting alcohol problems. It starts with a single screening question: How many times in the last year have you had more than five drinks (four for women) in a day? If the answer is even once, doctors are advised to discuss the risks of harmful drinking with their patients, along with steps patients can take to cut back, including new medications that can help curb alcohol cravings.

In Remission

The encouraging news from the NIAAA's recent research is that many people do cut down or quit on their own. "That's the real mind blower," says Dr. Willenbring. "Only about 15% of the people who develop alcohol dependence in their lifetime have the severe, relapsing form. Most people -- 72% -- have a single episode [of addiction] lasting on average three or four years and then they go into remission and stay there. A lot of them are abstaining." For many people, that spate of heavy drinking happens in college -- the peak years are 18 to 24, says Dr. Willenbring. "Then they mature out of it and get on with their lives."

For those who don't, alcoholism, however it's defined, is still a profound problem, and the third leading cause of preventable death in the U.S., after smoking and obesity. But being aware of your risks and cutting down now if you need to may prevent you from becoming one of those statistics.

Doctoral student Catherine Powers traveled to fossil sites around the world, including this one in Greece, to study ancient bryozoan marine communities.

The greatest mass extinction in Earth’s history also may have been one of the slowest, according to a study that casts further doubt on the extinction-by-meteor theory.

Creeping environmental stress fueled by volcanic eruptions and global warming was the likely cause of the Great Dying 250 million years ago, said USC doctoral student Catherine Powers.

Writing in the November issue of the journal Geology, Powers and her adviser David Bottjer, professor of earth sciences at USC College, describe a slow decline in the diversity of some common marine organisms.

The decline began millions of years before the disappearance of 90 percent of Earth’s species at the end of the Permian era, Powers shows in her study.

More damaging to the meteor theory, the study finds that organisms in the deep ocean started dying first, followed by those on ocean shelves and reefs, and finally those living near shore.

“Something has to be coming from the deep ocean,” Powers said. “Something has to be coming up the water column and killing these organisms.”

That something probably was hydrogen sulfide, according to Powers, who cited studies from the University of Washington, Pennsylvania State University, the University of Arizona and the Bottjer laboratory at USC.

Those studies, combined with the new data from Powers and Bottjer, support a model that attributes the extinction to enormous volcanic eruptions that released carbon dioxide and methane, triggering rapid global warming.

The warmer ocean water would have lost some of its ability to retain oxygen, allowing water rich in hydrogen sulfide to well up from the deep (the gas comes from anaerobic bacteria at the bottom of the ocean).

If large amounts of hydrogen sulfide escaped into the atmosphere, the gas would have killed most forms of life and also damaged the ozone shield, increasing the level of harmful ultraviolet radiation reaching the planet’s surface.

Powers and others believe that the same deadly sequence repeated itself for another major extinction 200 million years ago, at the end of the Triassic era.

“There are very few people that hang on to the idea that it was a meteorite impact,” she said. Even if an impact did occur, she added, it could not have been the primary cause of an extinction already in progress.

In her study, Powers analyzed the distribution and diversity of bryozoans, a family of marine invertebrates.

Based on the types of rocks in which the fossils were found, Powers was able to classify the organisms according to age and approximate depth of their habitat.

She found that bryozoan diversity in the deep ocean started to decrease about 270 million years ago and fell sharply in the 10 million years before the mass extinction that marked the end of the Permian era.

But diversity at middle depths and near shore fell off later and gradually, with shoreline bryozoans being affected last, Powers said.

She observed the same pattern before the end-Triassic extinction, 50 million years after the end-Permian.

Powers’ work was funded by the Geological Society of America, the Paleontological Society, the American Museum of Natural History and the Yale Peabody Museum, and supplemented by a grant from USC’s Women in Science and Engineering program.

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”
—George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman

"The Democratic Party was looking for a scapegoat, and I think effectively tried to paint, and did paint, Ralph Nader as the reason why they were not in office, not the fact that ten million more Democrats voted for George Bush than voted for Ralph Nader."

In 1966, General Motors, then the most powerful corporation in the world, sent private investigators to dig up dirt on an obscure 32-year-old public interest lawyer named Ralph Nader. The reason: Nader had written a book that criticized the Corvair, a General Motors car. But the company’s attempt to discredit Nader and sully his character backfired. The scandal that ensued after the smear campaign was revealed launched Nader into national prominence and established him as the leader of the modern American consumer movement. AN UNREASONABLE MAN traces the life and career of this unique and controversial political figure.

Over the next 30 years, Nader built a legislative record that rivals that of any contemporary president—without ever holding public office. Following the General Motors incident, he took on the Federal Trade Commission, which he felt was shirking its duty to protect consumers against fraud and other harmful business practices. To carry out his extensive campaigns, Nader tapped into the power of young people and recruited students from across the United States. In the 1960s, many young recruits flocked to Washington, attracted by the prospect of changing the system. Known as Nader’s Raiders, this army of activists published a series of book-length reports on issues ranging from workplace safety to air quality.

Many things today’s consumers take for granted—seat belts, airbags, product labeling, free airline tickets after being bumped from an overbooked flight—are largely due to the efforts of Ralph Nader and his citizen groups. But did his foray into presidential politics harm his legacy? When most people hear his name, they think of the political “spoiler” who cost the Democrats the 2000 presidential election. While Nader has become a pariah even among his former friends and allies, AN UNREASONABLE MAN illustrates how he continues to be one of the most trusted activists in America, crusading on behalf of consumer rights.

“We’re living on borrowed time.” – Klaus Stohr (World Health Organization)


The H5N1-Bird Flu virus was first found on a farm in Guangdon Province, China in 1996. The first documented outbreak of human infection with H5N1-Bird Flu occurred in Hong Kong in 1997. These 18 human cases in Hong Kong occurred simultaneously with a pathogenic avian influenza in poultry farms and markets which was caused by a virtually identical virus. Studies concluded that direct contact with diseased poultry was the source of human infection.

For reasons – if any – unknown, most H5N1-Bird flu cases have occurred in healthy children and young adults.

A difficulty in discussing H5N1-Bird Flu is that the concern really relates to a current strain evolving into a form which passes easily between humans. Because such strain or strains are not yet known to exist (dare I say “not reported in the press?”), this discussion often contains degrees of equivocation. Any such evolved strain(s) might also contain changes causing any such infection(s) to produce very mild signs and symptoms in humans. On the other hand, any such evolved virus(es) might cause proportionately more deaths and suffering than did the calamitous avian flu strain which caused what is commonly referred to as the 1918 Pandemic or as the Spanish Flu.

I had a little bird
Its name was Enza
I opened the window
And in flew Enza

The 1918 Pandemic was an avian influenza that was easily transmitted between humans.

Most of the 1918 Pandemic victims succumbed to pneumonia caused by opportunistic bacteria that infected those already weakened by the flu (antibiotics had not yet been discovered).

However, an appreciable minority of the 1918 victims died within days of onset from a more severe pneumonia caused by the virus itself that triggered massive hemorrhaging in their lungs or filled their lungs with fluid thus leading to death by suffocation/drowning; they drowned in their own fluids. These victims often developed a bluish skin color with variations of (i) blood pouring from their noses, (ii) ears, (iii) mouths and (iv) eye sockets, all with agony and some with delirium.

More, most 1918 Pandemic deaths (bacterial-pneumatic and drowning) occurred among younger adults between the ages of 15 and 35; people younger than 65 constituted 99% of all “excess” (those above normal) flu deaths in 1918-1919.


The cause of H5N1-Bird Flu is viral infection. Typically, influenza moves via airborne droplets which are inhaled into the victims’ respiratory tracts. However, the infection process of H5N1-Bird Flu is thought to be via both direct contact with (i) infected poultry, and/or (ii) surfaces and objects contaminated by their feces.

Flu comes in three main forms, designated A, B, and C. Types B and C affect only humans and have never caused pandemics.

In contrast, type A flu viruses are found in many types of animals including humans, swine, horses, other mammals, and poultry. Ducks – and aquatic birds – typically serve as the natural reservoir for all known subtypes of influenza A; i.e., the virus typically infects the birds’ guts without causing symptoms. Within the ducks’ guts the viruses can mutate and/or exchange genetic material with other viral strains some of which are capable of passing to humans. Note, however, that this paper’s particular H5N1-Bird Flu kills birds. It spreads very rapidly through poultry flocks where it damages multiple internal organs. Within 48 hours, the poultry mortality rate can approach 100%.

Type A viruses are categorized into two groups based upon distinct proteins on their surfaces which, in turn, cause the hosts to produce different types of antibodies: types HA and NA. Hemagglutinin (HA) has at least 15 known variants and neuraminidase (NA) has 9 subtypes. The HA molecule initiates infection by binding to receptors on the

surfaces of host cells which, in mammals, tend to be cells in the respiratory lining. The NA protein enables the newly produced viruses to escape the hosts’ cells thus allowing them to potentially infect other hosts’ cells.

Signs and Symptoms

Symptoms of avian influenza in humans range from fever, cough, sore throat, muscle aches, eye infections, pneumonia, and severe respiratory diseases.

Unlike the typically mild respiratory symptoms experienced by most people infected with seasonal influenza, H5N1-Bird Flu is aggressive, causing rapid deterioration resulting in high death rates in humans; viral pneumonia and multi-organ failure have been common among people infected by H5N1-Bird Flu.

Diagnostic Procedures

H5N1-Bird Flu is diagnosed by recognizing symptoms followed by either or both examination of respiratory secretions and blood/serology examination.


Data is limited, but Tamiflu and Relenza are thought to reduce the severity and duration of illness caused by H5N1-Bird Flu especially if administered within 48 hours. However, the recent strain of H5N1-Bird Flu isolated in Egypt in March of 2006 was resistant to Tamiflu as was an earlier outbreak in Vietnam in 2005.
Amantadine and Rimantadine can be used to treat H5N1-Bird Flu, but resistance to these drugs seems to develop rapidly; some NON-H5N1-Bird Flu strains are already fully resistant.

Tamiflu and Relenza are expensive to produce and production capacity is limited. Current capacity, which has recently quadrupled, will produce enough Tamiflu to treat 20% of the world’s population in 10 years.


As of 4/2/07 there have been 280 reported cases (to emphasize the obvious, the number of non-reported cases is unknown) of H5N1-Bird Flu with 170 of those cases resulting in death. Thus, the death rate overall has been 59%. In contrast, the terrible 1918 Pandemic had a 2% to 5% death rate yet killed 50 to 100 million people worldwide. The death rate of the 1918 Pandemic was up to 50 times the death rates produced by other generic influenza outbreaks.


At present, H5N1-Bird Flu does not easily cross from birds to infect humans.

Although potential vaccines for the H5N1-Bird Flu virus are being researched in several countries, no vaccine is in commercial production. Because any vaccine needs to closely match the pandemic virus, large-scale commercial production probably would not start until any new virus has emerged. Current global production capacity falls far short of the demand expected during a pandemic.

In February 2007, the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that an H5N1-Bird Flu vaccine developed by Sanofi-Aventis appears to be safe. However, it is unclear how effective the vaccine might be given the particular mutations the virus-of-the-future might contain. The FDA announced that the highest doses tested – two 90-microgram doses given one month apart – produced superior results given the testing assumptions than did the use of lower doses; 46% of the 452 people tested with the highest doses produced sufficient antibodies such that it is thought enough protection against H5N1-Bird Flu might be produced.
All evidence to date indicates that close contact with dead or sick birds or their feces is the primary source of human infection with H5N1-Bird Flu. This would suggest that, theoretically and at a minimum, avoidance of dead and sick birds and their feces is one avenue of prevention. However, a reasonable source of infection has not been identified in a few cases which may mean there are additional sources of infection. Curiously, few cases have been reported involving poultry workers, and cullers.

Why The Topic Was Chosen and What Was Learned

Foreknowledge is valuable in the event of an H5N1-Bird Flu Pandemic. Further, I have not previously been required to read about/research relevant and interesting (and powerful) viral maladies specifically and pandemics generally.

Most amazing was the tremendous variability of outcomes produced by viral mutations/evolution and, thus, the difficulty of planning ahead to combat same; a novice such as myself might also express it another way by saying the instability of viral effects over various periods of time is profound.

Aberich Duerer, the Apocalypse

John M. Barry, The Great Influenza (2005)
Alfred W. Crosby, America’s Forgotten Pandemic (2003)
Mike Davis, The Monster at Our Door (2005)
Marc Siegel, M.D., Bird Flu (2006)


New York Times, New Strain of Bird Flu Found in Egypt is Resistant to Antiviral Drugs (January 18, 2007)
New York Times, Scientists Warn That Bird-flu Virus Remains a Threat (February 15, 2007)
Wall Street Journal, FDA Says Bird-Flu Vaccine Seems Safe; Efficacy Unclear (February 27, 2007)


Scientific American, Capturing a Killer Flu Virus (January 2005)
Scientific American, Preparing for a Pandemic (November 2005)


White House News Releases, November 1, 2005.
World Health Organization, Epidemic and Pandemic Alert and Response (EPR), Avian Influenza (various internal links were accessed)


PBS American Experience, Influenza 1918 (1998)
A&E/History Channel, The Next Plague (2005)

John Edwards has been bashing big health insurers in recent days with the story of a girl who died waiting for a liver transplant. But the details of the case suggest the Democratic presidential candidate may be oversimplifying the tale.

Nataline Sarkisyan had been battling leukemia for three years. Insurer Cigna Corp. rejected coverage for a liver transplant, then reversed its decision and said it would pay. The 17-year-old died before the operation could take place.

By pushing the case so hard on the campaign trail, Mr. Edwards is raising the emotional tone of the debate on health care, which has already emerged as perhaps the leading domestic issue in the campaign. Mr. Edwards and Sen. Hillary Clinton are among the Democratic candidates attacking health insurers.

"We need a president who will take these people on," Mr. Edwards said at the Democratic presidential debate Saturday night. He said Nataline "lost her life a couple of weeks ago because her insurance company would not pay for a liver-transplant operation."

In New Hampshire yesterday, the candidate's wife, Elizabeth Edwards, put her arm around the girl's mother, Hilda, before Mrs. Sarkisyan spoke at a campaign rally.

Cigna defended its handling of the case. "I'm perplexed that this has become a campaign issue," said Jeffrey Kang, Cigna's chief medical officer. "It is highly unlikely that any health-care insurance system, nationally or internationally, would have covered this procedure."

Insurers are highly unpopular with many doctors, who complain about insurance-company bureaucracy, and with patients who don't like having medical claims denied. Left-leaning critics of the U.S. health-care system say it isn't appropriate for some insurers to be making billions of dollars in profit while tens of millions of Americans go without insurance. They would prefer the "single payer" type of system in many European nations, where the government takes the leading role in paying for care.

While none of the leading Democratic candidates go that far, they have railed against insurers' cherry-picking when they decide who is eligible for a policy. People who are sick or have pre-existing conditions find it's hard or impossible to buy coverage on their own, something the leading Democratic candidates for president all vow to change.

Mr. Edwards, a former trial lawyer and North Carolina senator, wants to offer a government-run public plan, like Medicare, that would be open to all Americans. This could be a step toward the single-payer plan that many liberals want, and Mr. Edwards has said that it's a good opportunity to test that idea's popularity. He also wants to cap insurance-company profits.

The candidates have differed over what role insurance companies should have as health-care change is hammered out. Mr. Edwards takes a harsher tone, saying they can't be negotiated with, while Illinois Sen. Barack Obama says insurance companies deserve a seat at the table.

Nataline's case could provide fuel to both sides of the argument about whether insurance companies generally do a good job covering Americans. The day before Thanksgiving, she received a bone-marrow transplant from her brother. Soon after, her liver failed, and she went into a coma. Her doctors at the medical center of the University of California, Los Angeles, recommended a liver transplant, saying that patients in such situations would have a 65% chance of living another six months.

Cigna said both its own medical experts as well as an outside transplant surgeon and a cancer doctor with transplant expertise concluded there wasn't enough evidence that the procedure would be safe or effective. But after the denial got press coverage, the company reversed the decision on Dec. 20 "out of empathy for the family." Nataline died later the same day.

A UCLA spokeswoman declined to comment yesterday on Nataline's treatment, saying her family hasn't given the university permission to discuss the case.

Cigna said it wouldn't have benefited financially from denying the transplant because it only administered the health plan of Nataline's father's employer. In reversing the decision, it said it would pay for the transplant itself.

"We are asked to make the right clinical decision by our employer customers, so it would have been unfair to make them pay for it," said Dr. Kang, Cigna's chief medical officer.

Richard Freeman, a professor of surgery at Tufts University School of Medicine who wasn't involved in the case, said such cases happen too rarely to provide statistically validated medical evidence about the benefit, if any, of a transplant.

Rather, it "boils down to a philosophical argument," he said. Some doctors want to pursue aggressive treatment of a patient who appears to be dying, believing it's worth improving the chances, however slim, and fostering medical innovation. Others say the trauma and pain of an invasive procedure such as a transplant are likely to outweigh any medical benefit and the financial costs.

John Ford, an associate professor at UCLA who wasn't involved in Nataline's case, questioned in a recent post on his blog whether the survival data for a transplant were clear-cut. "It seems highly unlikely that such data, if it exists at all, has any degree of reliability," he wrote.

Nonetheless, the case has found a natural fit with Mr. Edwards's pitch. The candidate is an experienced practitioner in the modern political art of putting an ordinary person's face on policy prescriptions. At yesterday's rally in New Hampshire, Mr. Edwards turned the microphone over to the family of Nataline. Her father, mother and brother emotionally spoke of her death and their anger at Cigna.

Her father, Grigor Sarkisyan, spoke in raw terms about his loss before a packed crowd of more than 500 people at the Franco-American Center in Manchester, N.H. He said he had promised to buy his daughter a white car when she got her driver's license. "After she passed away, I bought a coffin for her because Cigna -- they killed my daughter. I don't have a daughter any more."

He added that he didn't think he'd have to worry about this sort of issue because his family had health insurance. "That's not right -- not in America," he said, echoing Mr. Edwards' stump speech. "This is not right. Maybe someplace else, but not in America."

The Edwards campaign says the candidate had been talking about Nataline's story for weeks when, on the night of the Iowa caucuses last Thursday, the family heard him mention their daughter on television. They contacted the Armenian National Committee of America, which in turn called the campaign's headquarters.

Karen Ignani, president of America's Health Insurance Plans, the main industry lobby group, said it's addressing the desire for health-care change by making its own proposals for universal coverage. Last month, it offered a proposal for guaranteeing access to individual health insurance to anyone who applies. The industry has long opposed that idea in practice.

The group also plans to work with medical societies on how to finance or cover experimental treatments. "We're not taking a P.R. approach to this but a policy approach," she said. "People want us to solve the problem, not just discuss it."

Still, Robert Laszewski, a health-care consultant in Washington, said the industry often muffs its public-relations strategy. Cigna's delay in reversing its decision on Nataline's transplant "shows just how tone-deaf" the industry is, he said.

Health insurers have also been fighting a legal battle in California over their right to rescind the policies of members who make misstatements on their applications. Critics say the insurers sometimes use small errors as an excuse to withdraw coverage. "They don't get the critical nature of the debate," said Mr. Laszewski.

Mrs. William P. Orr was riding in a car on Fifth Avenue in New York City in 1904 when she lit up a cigarette. A policeman on a bicycle ordered her to put it out. "You can't do that on Fifth Avenue while I'm patrolling here," he told her.

Until the late 1920s, a woman who smoked in public was not only considered vulgar, she risked a warning from the police. In 1922, a New York alderman, Peter McGuinness, proposed a city ordinance that would prohibit women from smoking in hotels, restaurants or other public places.

"Young fellows go into our restaurants to find women folks sucking cigarettes," the alderman argued. "What happens? The young fellows lose all respect for the women, and the next thing you know the young fellows, vampired by these smoking women, desert their homes, their wives and children, rob their employers and even commit murder so that they can get money to lavish on these smoking women."

A Washington Post editorial in 1914 declared, "A man may take out a woman who smokes for a good time, but he won't marry her, and if he does, he won't stay married."

There had been famous high-profile female smokers, of course. In the late 18th century, Rachel Jackson, wife of the seventh president, sometimes handed her pipe to a dinner guest, saying, "Honey, won't you take a smoke?" In the mid-19th century, the French novelist George Sand openly smoked cigars. But before the 1930s, most women smoked only in the privacy of their own homes.

"To smoke in public is always bad taste in a woman," Alexandre Duval, a Parisian restaurateur, said in 1921: "In private she may be pardoned if she does it with sufficient elegance."

World War I drew many women out of their homes to jobs where their co-workers smoked. Americans who traveled abroad, or who entertained foreign guests, saw aristocratic women smoking, often with elegant holders, at dinner parties. The suffrage movement, culminating in the 19th Amendment in 1920, drew attention to other gender inequalities. Smoking became a visible symbol of defiance and feminism.

Working women in New York in the 1920s would sometimes jump into a cab at lunchtime for a private smoke. Upper-class female smokers in Charleston, S.C., at around the same time ordered their cigarettes by mail so the local tobacconist wouldn't know their dirty secret.

But the old ways died hard. In 1920, Hugh S. Cumming, surgeon general of the U.S., warned that "the cigarette habit indulged by women tends to cause nervousness and insomnia and ruins the complexion. This is one of the most evil influences in American life today."

The manager of a Manhattan hotel told a New York Times reporter, "I hate to see women smoking. Apart from the moral reason, they really don't know how to smoke. One woman smoking one cigarette at a dinner table will stir up more smoke than a whole tableful of men smoking cigars. They don't seem to know what to do with the smoke. Neither do they know how to hold their cigarettes properly. They make a mess of the whole performance."

Several women's colleges banned smoking. At Smith College, students seen smoking, even off campus, received a demerit. Three demerits meant expulsion. Bryn Mawr students were prohibited from smoking within 25 miles of the college except in private homes.

In 1921, U.S. Rep. Paul Johnson of Mississippi proposed a bill to make it illegal for "female persons" to smoke in "any public place where two or more persons are gathered together" in the capital. "Regulating smoking by women comes under police power and, as is well known, police powers are practically without limit," he said. (The bill never came to a vote.)

In 1928, the executive board of the Cleveland Boy Scouts recommended that scouts use their influence to discourage women from smoking, saying it "coarsens" women and "detracts from the ideal of fine motherhood." Sioux Falls, S.D., barred billboards picturing women smoking, and Lynn, Mass., banned the showing of films in which women smoked.

Capitalism came to the rescue. Philip Morris brought out a cigarette for women with the slogan "Mild as May." The American Tobacco Co. suggested smoking could make you thin, proclaiming "You can't hide fat, clumsy ankles. When tempted to overindulge, reach for a Lucky."

Finally, a public-relations genius, Edward Bernays, dreamed up a campaign that echoed across the country. He persuaded a dozen debutantes to light up cigarettes while marching in the Easter Parade on Fifth Avenue in 1929. The attractive young women called their cigarettes "torches of freedom."

According to a U.S. government estimate, the number of women between 18 and 20 years old who began smoking cigarettes tripled between 1911 and 1925 and more than tripled again by 1939.

Some men who disapproved of women smoking thought it might be the lesser of two evils. "If it were a question between their smoking and their voting, and they would promise to stay at home and smoke," Sen. Joseph Bailey of Texas said in 1918, "I would say let them smoke."
Louis J Sheehan
Louis J Sheehan, Esquire

January 6. A patent lawyer named Dickerson prepared and published what he calls a plea or argument in a case before the court in Washington that is a tissue of the vilest misrepresentations and fabrications that could well be gathered together, if I may judge from such parts as I have seen. I do not see the New York Herald, in which it was published and paid for. The great object appears to have been a reckless assault on Isherwood, Engineer-in-Chief, but the Department is also in every way assailed. Of course the partisan press in opposition take up and indorse as truth these attacks, and vicious men in Congress of the opposition and equally vicious persons of the Administration side adopt and reëcho these slanders. It is pitiable to witness this morbid love of slander and defamation. That there may have been errors I cannot doubt, but not in the matter charged by Dickerson.

I think Isherwood has exerted himself to discharge his duty, and serve the government and country. His errors and faults — for he cannot be exempt — I shall be glad to have detected and corrected, but the abuse bestowed is wholly unjustifiable and inexcusable. As he is connected with the Navy Department, any accusation against him, or any one connected with the Department, furnishes the factious, like J. P. Hale, an opportunity to vent their spite and malignity by giving it all the importance and notoriety they can impart. I hear of Hale and H. Winter Davis and one or two others cavilling and exerting themselves to bear down upon the Engineer-in-Chief. There is an evident wish that he should be considered and treated as a rogue and a dishonest man, unless he can prove himself otherwise. Truth is not wanted, unless it is against him and the Department.

McDonald's is setting out to poach Starbucks customers with the biggest addition to its menu in 30 years. Starting this year, the company's nearly 14,000 U.S. locations will install coffee bars with "baristas" serving cappuccinos, lattes, mochas and the Frappe, similar to Starbucks' ice-blended Frappuccino.

Internal documents from 2007 say the program, which also will add smoothies and bottled beverages, will add $1 billion to McDonald's annual sales of $21.6 billion.

The confrontation between Starbucks Corp. and McDonald's Corp. once seemed improbable. Hailing from very different corners of the restaurant world, the two chains have gradually encroached on each other's turf. McDonald's upgraded its drip coffee and its interiors, while Starbucks added drive-through windows and hot breakfast sandwiches.

The growing overlap between the chains shows how convenience has become the dominant force shaping the food-service industry. Consumers who are unwilling to cross the street to get coffee or make a left turn to grab lunch have pushed all food purveyors to adapt the strategies of fast-food chains.

It also shows how the chains' efforts to adapt to a changing market have had drastically different results on their bottom lines. McDonald's is entering the sixth year of a successful turnaround, while Starbucks has begun struggling after years of strong earnings and stock growth.
Louis J Sheehan Esquire

Still, the new coffee program is a risky bet for McDonald's. It could slow down operations and alienate customers who come to McDonald's for cheap, simple fare rather than theatrics. Franchisees say that many of their customers don't know what a latte is.

The program attempts to replicate the Starbucks experience in many ways -- starting with borrowing the barista moniker. Espresso machines will be displayed at the front counters, a big shift for a company that has always hidden its food assembly from customers. McDonald's says it wants customers to see the coffee beans being ground and baristas topping the mochas and Frappes with whipped cream.

"You create a little bit more of a theater there," says John Betts, McDonald's vice president of national beverage strategy.

Ads for the espresso drinks running in the Kansas City area, where the concept is already being tested, say you don't get a "condescending look" for mispronouncing the size of the drink at McDonald's -- a jab at the "grande" and "venti" sizes at Starbucks. (At McDonald's, you just ask for small, medium or large.)

Starbucks Chairman Howard Schultz popularized lattes and cappuccinos in the U.S. after borrowing the idea from espresso bars he visited in Italy. When he began expanding Starbucks beyond Seattle in the late 1980s, he said he wanted the cafes to serve as a "third place" where people gather between home and work and feel some of the romance of the European cafe.

But the coffee chain has evolved into more of a filling station. It is now battling fast-food outlets for some of the same customers and meal dollars. Today, about 80% of the orders purchased at U.S. Starbucks are consumed outside the store. The average income and education levels of Starbucks customers have gone down, the company has said. As part of a big push into food, Starbucks sells lunch at more than two-thirds of its company-owned locations in the U.S.

Starbucks's rapid store and menu expansion have slowed traffic at older locations and gummed up operations behind its counters. After years of downplaying threats from rivals, Starbucks executives now say they're preparing for competitive encroachment.

"We understand all too well that we have built a very attractive business for others to look at and try and take away," Mr. Schultz told investors on a conference call this November. "We are up for the defense and we are going to get on the offense." Starbucks declined to make executives available for this story or specifically address competition from McDonald's.

McDonald's executives say they aren't launching espresso drinks to go after Starbucks, but instead to cater to consumers' growing interest in specialty drinks. And although McDonald's is encroaching on the business that Starbucks invented, analysts say McDonald's may pose more of a threat to Dunkin' Donuts, which has a more similar customer base. Analysts also point out that McDonald's overall beverage expansion, which includes bottled drinks, is as much aimed at taking business from convenience stores and vending machines as it is from specialty cafes.

Starbucks increased its sales even in parts of the country where Dunkin' Donuts has a strong presence. Some analysts say Dunkin' and other fast-food competitors actually have helped Starbucks by expanding the total market for upscale coffee drinks.

A Dunkin' spokeswoman says the company doesn't comment on competition but says the chain believes it has "democratized" espresso and become a coffee destination.

McDonald's grew from a single San Bernardino, Calif., hamburger outlet that opened in 1948 into the world's largest restaurant chain by offering consistent hamburgers and french fries served quickly and at a low price. Its beverage lineup, anchored by Coca-Cola Co. sodas, was designed to complement its food.

McDonald's executives watching the growth of Starbucks at the beginning of this decade realized that they were missing out on the fastest-growing parts of the beverage business. Data showed that soda sales had flattened while sales of specialty coffee and smoothies were growing at a double-digit rate outside McDonald's. Customers were buying food at McDonald's, then going to convenience stores to get bottled energy drinks, sports drinks and tea, as well as sodas by Coke competitors.

Early on, Starbucks didn't see the Golden Arches as a competitor "because McDonald's was selling hot, brown liquid masquerading as coffee," says John Moore, who spent almost a decade in Starbucks's marketing department before leaving in 2003.

McDonald's move into upscale coffees dates back to a concept that is unfamiliar to most of its customers: the McCafé. It started in Australia in 1993. McDonald's brought the cafes to the U.S. in 2001 by carving out a corner of the restaurant, decorating it with leather couches and adding a counter that sold cappuccinos and sweets. But the cafes never took off here because they didn't feed into McDonald's drive-through business, where two-thirds of sales take place, says Don Thompson, president of the chain's U.S. business.

In 2003, McDonald's initiated a turnaround strategy called Plan to Win. Among other things, it included a total remodeling at thousands of U.S. locations. Molded plastic booths were replaced with oversized chairs, lighting was softened and muted tones took the place of bright colors. Wireless Internet access was also added.

"We began to realize...we could definitely sell coffee in this environment," Mr. Thompson said. In 2006, McDonald's changed its drip coffee to a stronger blend and began marketing it as a "premium" roast.

In recent years, Starbucks started to see fast-food chains as more of a threat, according to former employees and people close to the company. In parts of the Northeast, store managers told baristas their biggest competition was Dunkin' Donuts, now a unit of Dunkin' Brands Inc., which made a national push into espresso drinks in 2004.

Starbucks increased the pace of its store expansion at the beginning of this decade. Some changes, including drive-through windows and breakfast sandwiches similar to the Egg McMuffin, mirrored techniques used by fast-food chains. This led to tensions among management and employees about whether the chain was eroding the core of the Starbucks experience, according to former employees and people close to the company.

At McDonald's, the success of its upgraded drip coffee emboldened the chain. In 2005, it began testing drinks sold under the McCafé banner at a handful of franchises in Michigan. It sold lattes and cappuccinos from the front counter so it could pass them to the drive-through windows.
WSJ's Janet Adamy reports that McDonald's will add espresso, lattes and other specialty drinks to its menu in 2008. By launching "McCafe," McDonald's hopes grab some of the upscale coffee market from Starbucks.

McDonald's researchers contacted customers of Starbucks and other coffee purveyors and conducted three-hour interviews where they videotaped the customers talking about their coffee-buying habits. The researchers got in the cars of the customers and drove with them to their favorite coffee place, then took them to McDonald's and had them try the espresso drinks.

"There was a surprise factor," says Patrick Roney, a director of U.S. consumer and business insights at McDonald's. "The people who were on the fence...there was an opportunity to get those."

Restaurants that tested the drinks began passing out complimentary small mochas and lattes. "A lot of our customers don't know what a latte is," says John DeVera, an Overland Park, Kan., franchisee who is testing the drinks.

Management advised restaurant operators to hire baristas who are "very friendly" and show a "willingness to learn about the competitor's product," according to a 2006 internal memo about how to start selling the drinks. "For example, a typical Starbucks customer would ask for a Grande Latte; our Baristas need to know that this is a medium size drink," the memo says.

Unlike at Starbucks, where baristas steam pitchers of milk then combine it with the espresso, McDonald's process is more automated. It uses a single machine to make all the components of each drink. Espresso is brewed using beans with a darker roast that are more finely ground than those for drip coffee, resulting in a concentrated form that's usually mixed with hot milk to make lattes and cappuccinos. McDonald's has three flavors it adds to its espresso drinks, a significantly narrower lineup than Starbucks, which boasts thousands of drink combinations.

During testing, plain shots of espresso were taken off the menu and more whipped cream was added to some drinks. The company also moved the espresso machines to the front counter from the back after realizing the drinks undersold when employees made them with their backs to the customer.

Drinks are priced from $1.99 to $3.29 and come in vanilla, caramel and mocha flavors. In advertisements in test markets, McDonald's tells customers those are 60 cents to 80 cents less than competitors' prices.

Heather Pelis, a 19-year-old babysitter from Rayville, Mo., says she didn't like the McDonald's vanilla latte when she tried it. "It was a little syrupy tasting," Ms. Pelis said recently while drinking a drip coffee at a McDonald's in Liberty, Mo. But she says she'd be willing to try another espresso drink because they are cheaper than the caramel macchiatos she buys at Starbucks, and because McDonald's is more conveniently located. The nearest Starbucks is a 30-minute drive from her, she says.

McDonald's franchisees say they think the new coffee drinks will be particularly helpful in drawing young consumers who prefer them to drip coffee. Gary Granader, a Detroit-area McDonald's franchisee, has started seeing groups of teenagers at some of his restaurants after school since he added espresso drinks a year ago. Mr. Thompson says McDonald's also is considering adding some type of music-downloading service at its locations.

McDonald's beverage expansion will add a new line of bottled drinks by Coke competitors. The drinks being considered include PepsiCo Inc.'s Mountain Dew, Lipton green tea and Red Bull GmbH's namesake caffeine drink. Restaurants also are getting a soda fountain with flavor shots that allow customers to create their own drinks like cherry Sprite and vanilla Diet Coke. Mr. Thompson said that Coke remains the "big brand" at McDonald's, and a Coke spokesman said the company is not concerned about the competing beverages being sold at McDonald's.

Only about 800 of McDonald's U.S. restaurants have the specialty coffee drinks now, and some may not get the full beverage program until 2009. Executives and franchisees will not give specifics on how well the espresso drinks have sold in tests.

McDonald's has already made some headway in gaining coffee credibility. In February, the magazine Consumer Reports rated the chain's drip coffee as better-tasting than Starbucks. Starbucks responded that taste is subjective and its millions of customer visits per week demonstrated the popularity of its coffee.

The rating nevertheless angered some top officials at Starbucks, according to a person familiar with the situation. Around the same time, Mr. Schultz sent a memo to Starbucks executives warning that the chain may be commoditizing its brand and making itself more vulnerable to competition from fast-food chains and other coffee shops. He lamented the loss of the "romance and theatre" that occurred when the company switched to automated espresso machines several years ago.

To improve store traffic and same-store sales growth, Starbucks has said it is trying to make its operations more consistent. It is reducing the number of items and promotions it offers and is focusing on what executives call the "vital few" areas that improve results, like selling more beverages and attracting more customers.

Starbucks executives have attributed the slowdown in sales growth and store traffic in the U.S. to the weak economy.

Mr. Schultz has said that new competition actually helps Starbucks by expanding the specialty-coffee category. "Those consumers over time are going to trade up," he told investors in November. "They're going to trade up because they are not going to be satisfied with the commoditized experience or the flavor." He has emphasized that Starbucks's baristas, who are instructed to memorize customers' drink orders and make genuine conversation with patrons, will continue to set the chain apart.

But some Starbucks baristas say that the chain's push into food and drive-through service has made that a lot more difficult. Some workers say their managers instruct them to ask customers whether they want a breakfast sandwich with their coffee -- a selling technique that feels unnatural when they know the customer doesn't want one.

"The more and more business they get in the store, the more it seems like another fast-food job," says Joe Tessone, a Chicago barista who has worked at Starbucks for three years.

The overlap between McDonald's and Starbucks has put Jack Rodgers in an unusual position. In 1958, McDonald's pioneer Ray Kroc granted Mr. Rodgers one of the chain's first franchises for a restaurant in St. Charles, Ill. Mr. Rodgers eventually traded that location and today owns part of three McDonald's around Newport Beach, Calif.

Mr. Rodgers later moved to Seattle where in 1985 he wound up investing in the predecessor chain of the modern-day Starbucks cafe. He later became a Starbucks board member and executive. He left the company in 1996 but remains a shareholder and a friend of Mr. Schultz.

Now Mr. Rodgers is looking at adding the lattes and cappuccinos to his McDonald's restaurants. He didn't envision the chains would compete so closely when he first invested in Starbucks. "Not in my wildest dreams did I see this coming," he says.


A blaze of X-rays from the center of our galaxy is the burp following a gargantuan (and rather messy) cosmic feast, astronomers reported in February: A massive black hole there devoured something the size of the planet Mercury, and in the process, let loose an outburst so intense that we still see the echoes six decades later.

When matter falls into a black hole, it grows hot and glows brilliantly before vanishing into oblivion. These days the Milky Way’s central black hole, called Sagittarius A*, seems fairly placid. But over the past five years, NASA’s orbiting Chandra X-ray Observatory has monitored “light echoes”—X-rays bouncing off nearby molecular clouds and reflecting back toward Earth—showing that Sagittarius A* had a planet-size banquet not so long ago. “It was about one thousand times brighter than anything we’ve seen from this black hole,” says Caltech astronomer Michael Muno, who led the project. “It’s possible that it could have been a larger mass that fell in.”

Based on the distance of the molecular clouds from Sagittarius A*, astronomers calculate that the original X-ray that burst from the black hole’s lunch must have lit up Earth’s skies 60 years ago—but astronomers did not have the necessary X-ray telescopes back then. Chandra has detected similar, far smaller black-hole snacks since 2000.

When the black hole starts its next planet-size meal, though, the light show will be hard to miss: Muno estimates the X-rays will be 100,000 times brighter than anything seen before. “It would be a spectacular thing to look at,” he says.

Chinese researchers announced in March that they had created glass that can be bent into right angles without shattering. But this isn’t glass as we know it: The new glass is opaque, twice as strong as window glass, and made of metal.

As solids, metals have an orderly atomic structure; in liquid metals, the arrangement becomes random, as in glass. To create metallic glass, scientists supercool liquid metals, effectively “freezing” the random array in place. These bulk metallic glasses, or BMG, are two to three times stronger than the crystalline form of the metals.

Superstrong BMG has already been used in the manufacture of high-tech golf clubs and tennis rackets; in 2001, the collector on NASA’s Genesis spacecraft, which caught particles from the solar wind, was made of BMG.

But since the 1980s, when scientists began making BMG, the materials have exhibited a fatal flaw. Paradoxically, the stronger they are, the more vulnerable they are to cracks, says Wei Hua Wang, a physicist who helped develop the new glass at the Chinese Academy of Sciences. A tiny fracture in the original type of BMG spreads quickly and becomes catastrophic.

To create a glass that is both strong and flexible, Wang and his colleagues altered an existing BMG recipe, combining zirconium, copper, nickel, and aluminum. Realizing that small changes in the metal mixture would lead to large variations in brittleness, they sought a combination that would keep cracks from spreading. “The plasticity of the glass is very sensitive to the composition,” Wang explains.

After two years, the scientists produced bendable BMG. It contains hard areas of high density surrounded by soft regions of low density. The result: When a crack begins in one place, it dissipates quickly in the surrounding regions, leaving the whole flexible.

New Jersey gets all the bad press... which is further testament to how slimy Pennsylvania politics is --

Most priests take a vow of poverty, but bankruptcy records show that the Rev. Joseph F. Sica, a Scranton-area priest, took out enough loans to live large if he wanted to.

On an annual salary of $13,200, Sica amassed debts totaling more than $218,000. Most of that debt was owed to First Community National Bank, whose chairman is Sica's longtime friend Louis DeNaples.

DeNaples, a casino owner, is the subject of an ongoing Dauphin County grand jury investigation. Sica was arrested this week on a perjury charge that accuses him of lying to that same grand jury.

Since Sica's arrest, more details have emerged about the priest's financial relationship with DeNaples. Sica, who has been a priest since 1982, filed for bankruptcy in April 1997. The case was dismissed in June that year.

When Sica filed for bankruptcy, he was making $880 per month and had $250 in his checking account. Still, he was able to receive $147,702 in the form of loans from DeNaples' bank.

At the time of the filing, the priest owed First Community National Bank the following: $16,500 on a car loan for Sica's 1996 Eddie Bauer Chevy Blazer; more than $77,000 for a personal loan; and $54,000 for another personal loan.

Both of the personal loans were used for family expenses, according to court documents.

When Sica was arrested on Tuesday, he had $1,000 in cash on him, prosecutors said. He also owns a 2007 Jeep that has been paid off.

Sica's attorney Jane Penny would not comment on the bankruptcy case.

Kevin Feeley, DeNaples' spokesman, said that he was not in a position to discuss the priest's finances. He did say that First National Community Bank conducts all of its transactions in a standard business fashion and is regulated by a number of state and federal agencies.

The loans have piqued First Assistant District Attorney Fran Chardo's curiosity. Chardo pointed to Sica's salary and the size of the loans.

"I don't know how someone qualifies for that sort of credit on that salary," Chardo said. "It would be relevant to our inquiry."

It may be relevant to the grand jury investigation, but Sica's relationship with DeNaples and his subsequent arrest have no bearing on whether the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board made the right call in giving DeNaples a slots license, said former board Chairman Tad Decker.

Although Sica appeared at several regulatory hearings with DeNaples, Sica never testified before the board and was not a character witness for DeNaples.

"We didn't consider him as a factor, at least in my mind," Decker said.

The only thing that would change Decker's mind on whether DeNaples should have been given a license is an indictment and conviction.

"I think people should emphasize the word convicted of a crime," Decker said. "The board will do what it has to do. We dealt with what we had in front of us. There was nothing in front of us that suggested Mr. DeNaples was unsuitable before that time."

Sica also isn't dwelling on the criminal charges against him. The priest, who was leaving the Dauphin County Courthouse on Friday, said that he was doing fine and he has received support and prayers from friends.

If Olga Shugar has a regret, it is that she will never see the fear of imminent death in the eyes of Theodore Solano, the man who murdered her 18-year-old daughter.

Shugar, of St. Petersburg, Russia, said she had hoped that Solano would be executed for the 1993 slaying of Natalia Andreevna Miller, a Russian immigrant he had wed in a marriage of convenience.

Instead, Shugar and her daughter Vera sat in a Cumberland County courtroom Friday, watching grim-faced as Solano, 49, pleaded no contest to third-degree murder and kidnapping charges in return for a 17- to 40-year state prison sentence.

It was Shugar's first glimpse of Solano, a convicted sex offender.

What she felt, she said, was revulsion.

"It was not a human being. It was not an animal," Shugar said. "It was strange."

She said she had hoped Solano would receive the death penalty and experience the "horror" her daughter must have felt as he strangled her.

President Judge Edgar B. Bayley's sentencing of Solano under a plea agreement fashioned by District Attorney David Freed was perhaps the final act in what was Cumberland County's most vexing cold case.

Miller's nude and battered body was found by hunters in woods along Whiskey Springs Road in Cumberland County's South Middleton Twp. in December 1993.

For more than a decade, investigators chased a series of fruitless leads. They weren't even able to identify Miller, who for years was known only as Jane Doe 24-275.

Freed said police even sent information from the woman's contact lenses to optometrists nationwide in hope of making an identification.

Finally, in 2004, they tied Solano, of Irondequoit, N.Y., to the slaying through DNA taken from semen and blood found on Miller's corpse, Freed said. Solano was required to provide a DNA sample to a police central records system because of a sex crime conviction.

Only then were local authorities able to identify Miller and notify Shugar, who on Thursday went with Coroner Michael Norris for her second visit her daughter's grave in Middlesex Twp.

Shugar fought back tears as she spoke of Natalia, an honor student and accomplished painter and pianist whom the Russian government had sent to study in Italy, France and the U.S.

While in the U.S., Shugar said, Natalia fell in love with an American student. Natalia turned 18 in 1993 and emigrated, intending to marry the American, but the romance fell apart, Shugar said.

In June 1993, Natalia met and married Solano, a carpenter and building contractor who was living in the Washington, D.C., area.

Freed said Solano's one-page prenuptial agreement with Miller stated that both were free to seek an uncontested divorce at any time.

Shugar said Natalia called Solano "my pink piggy" and seemed happy during her frequent phone calls home.

Then, her daughter abruptly stopped calling. Shugar said Solano denied knowing what had happened to Natalia and refused repeated demands to call the police.

Freed said investigators aren't sure what prompted Solano to kill Miller. They believe he strangled her with a brown leather belt, a piece of which was found beneath her body, he said.

Solano had no ties to the midstate and apparently dumped Miller's body at random, Freed said.

He said the plea deal was struck to ensure Solano will spend most, if not all, of the rest of his life in prison.

Freed initially sought a first-degree murder conviction and the death penalty.

"There's nothing pleasant about resolving a murder case," he said. "We just hope this resolution will help [Miller's] family to go on."

Solano, who had been in county prison since 2005, apologized to Miller's family, but didn't admit to committing the murder.

He told Bayley he is a born-again Christian and will spend his prison time spreading the Gospel.

"I've come to the realization that this is my highest calling," Solano said.

Bayley, visibly angry, told Solano that Miller's slaying was "as despicable and heinous as I've ever seen."

Miller's sister, Vera, said nothing will make up for her slaying.

"It doesn't matter how long he will be in prison," she said. "She is dead. And he will be alive."


# Early 1993: Russian student Natalia Andreevna Miller comes the U.S. to marry an American she met while studying abroad. The relationship collapses.
# June 1993: Miller weds Theodore Solano in the Washington, D.C., area. Authorities describe it a marriage of convenience.
# Dec. 10, 1993: Miller's nude and battered body is found in South Middleton Twp. Cumberland County Coroner Michael Norris determines she had been raped and strangled.
# January 1994: Authorities bury Miller in LeTort Cemetery in Middlesex Twp. They still don't know her identity, so the grave marker bears the notation "Jane Doe 24-275."
# 1994-2003: Despite running down leads, investigators are unable to identify Miller.
# January 2004: Solano is charged in the murder and Miller is identified. Authorities say DNA in semen and a blood stain found on her body is linked to Solano, who is serving prison time in New York on child pornography charges.
# July 6, 2005: Investigators unveil a Russian-style headstone bearing Miller's photograph for her grave. Her mother, Olga Shugar, comes from St. Petersburg, Russia, to attend the ceremony.
# Friday: Solano pleads no contest to third- degree murder and kidnapping charges in return for a 17- to 40-year state prison sentence.


Recent sonar surveys off the southeastern coast of the United States have detected dozens of broad furrows on the seafloor—trenches that were carved by icebergs during the last ice age, researchers suggest.

The channels, roughly parallel to the coast, are between 10 and 100 meters wide and typically less than 10 m deep, says Jenna C. Hill, an oceanographer at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, S.C. She and her team discovered the enigmatic features while conducting oceanographic surveys about 100 kilometers off Georgetown, S.C., in the summer of 2006. Waters in the area range between 170 and 220 m deep, she notes.

Most of the trenches run along straight paths for several kilometers, and one lengthy furrow stretches almost 20 km. Short berms alongside each groove are presumably composed of material that was plowed aside when the channels were carved, says Hill.

The seafloor features generally run in a southwest-northeast direction. However, the researchers noticed that some of the channels they discovered during a second survey last summer ended with a semicircular pit at their southwestern terminus. Suddenly, says Hill, the features made sense: Icebergs had plowed the furrows, and pits marked the sites where the ice masses became grounded and later melted.

The seafloor culs-de-sac indicate that the currents driving the icebergs flowed to the southwest, opposite to prevailing currents today. At present, warm waters of the northeast-flowing Gulf Stream bathe the region, says Hill. However, she and her colleagues suggest that an offshore shift in the Gulf Stream at the height of the last ice age—when sea levels were more than 100 m lower than they are now—would have allowed glacially fed, iceberg-rich coastal currents to penetrate this far south. Hill and her colleagues presented their findings last month in San Francisco at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union.

The team's theory "makes dynamical sense," says John M. Bane, Jr., an oceanographer at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Even today, he says, a seafloor feature about 100 km southwest of the berg-scoured region—a broad area called the Charleston Bump—can cause instabilities in the Gulf Stream that deflect the current offshore for a few weeks at a time, causing reversals in the coastal current. At the height of the last ice age, when sea levels were substantially lower, the Gulf Stream may have been more frequently, if not permanently, deflected offshore.

Most of the wild goats that ravaged this famous archipelago, denuding some islands of their vegetation, have been hunted down. The same goes for the wild pigs that ate turtle eggs and killed small animals. Now comes the biggest problem of all -- people like me.

Tourism has brought prosperity but it's also creating a new set of problems. Migrants are coming from the impoverished Ecuadorian mainland to work in the travel industry. The residents and tourists must be serviced by an ever-growing fleet of cargo ships and airplanes, which are bringing invasive species as unwanted hitchhikers.

In April, Ecuador's president, Rafael Correa, declared the Galapagos, an island chain 600 miles offshore, in imminent danger. He also raised the possibility of restrictions on tourism. Pointing to unsustainable tourism development, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization has put the Galapagos on its "World Heritage in Danger" list. Fewer than 4% of Unesco's sites are on this list. They could eventually lose World Heritage designation -- and the tourism draw that goes with it -- if changes aren't made.

The place to see giant tortoises is not in the Galapagos National Park, but on private tortoise reserves on Santa Cruz Island.

"The big problem is that the Galapagos was a formerly isolated island group that suddenly became part of the whole world scene," says David Blanton, executive director of the nonprofit International Galapagos Tour Operators Association.

The other-worldliness of the Galapagos -- a moonscape inhabited by creatures that exist nowhere else on earth and act like no others -- is what gives the islands their fascination. The isolation of the Galapagos made it an ideal laboratory for the theory of evolution. Species arriving by air or ocean currents had to adapt to the unique conditions of the islands, which were formed by volcanos rising from the sea bed. This inspired Charles Darwin to draw up his theory in the mid-1800s -- that only the fittest survive by gradually changing their physical characteristics to adapt to their surroundings.

The flightless cormorants, for instance, a bird native to the Galapagos, exchanged their ability to fly for stronger legs to enhance their swimming and diving prowess. The marine iguanas, the world's only seagoing lizard, developed nasal glands to excrete salt.

Many of these native animals, particularly the large, scaly iguanas, give a prehistoric aura to the landscape. This is made more dramatic by the volcanic craters in the distance, the beds of lava dotted with lakes and interspersed with patches of cacti. The only sounds are those of nature -- the calls of birds, the barking of male sea lions establishing dominance, the grunting of giant tortoises.

Although right on the Equator, the cold Humboldt current, which flows by the Galapagos, provides teeming ocean life that supports many of the islands' species. The snorkeling here is distinguished not only by the large variety of fish, but by the chance to swim alongside tame sea lions, penguins and large sea turtles.

The islands' fragile ecosystem can be easily disrupted, particularly as the increasing number of planes and ships landing in the Galapagos bring foreign species. Whether insects, snakes or feral cats and dogs, the invaders can wreak havoc by destroying plants and other food sources, eating eggs or attacking birds or mammals.

Fire ants, for instance, have been discovered aboard ships that come from Ecuador and are small enough to slip through quarantine, says Charlotte Causton, head of the terrestrial invertebrate program for the Charles Darwin Foundation, a nonprofit group devoted to conserving the Galapagos. "They radiate out like an army," she says of the ants, which wipe out everything in their path including eggs and vegetation. Increasing quarantine inspections would help combat the problem, but inspections have dropped 20% in the past five years as the government has committed less money, says Ms. Causton.

This isn't the only problem, says Robert Bensted-Smith, a conservationist based in Quito, Ecuador, who for five years headed the Charles Darwin Research Station in the Galapagos. Many new settlers to the islands become commercial fishermen, fishing legally to supply the tourist trade or illegally for shark fins to send to Asia, all of which has an adverse impact on the marine ecosystem. Ships contribute to pollution, and their anchors damage the sea bottom. Solid-waste disposal creates dumps that can be breeding grounds for invasive species.

The threat comes despite the fact that Galapagos National Park, which encompasses more than 96% of the land on 19 islands, could serve as a textbook example of environmental consciousness. No tourist can set foot in the park without a guide, and groups are limited to 16 people. The ships that carry 100 passengers, the maximum allowed, have at least six or seven guides. Groups and their guides go ashore in separate inflatable boats, largely being kept out of each other's way on land. On their morning and afternoon excursions, passengers have to stay on designated trails, with no toilet facilities and no smoking or eating allowed.

For tourists, no matter how much they've read about the Galapagos, it is astonishing to see animals, reptiles and birds that have no fear of humans. They will allow you to come right up to them, since they haven't experienced humans as a threat. The guides rigidly enforce the rule of no interaction between visitors and wildlife -- no feeding, no petting, no noises to get them to turn around and pose for a picture.

Park authorities are putting restrictions on islands that are being degraded by overuse. On Daphne Island, for instance, only one group of 16 visitors is allowed each month because the few trails erode easily.

Because of the restrictions, there is never a feeling of being overwhelmed by a flood of tourists as, for instance, at Angkor Wat in Cambodia or Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. The stark volcanic islands, whose rugged trails sometimes require rock-hopping or balancing on slippery surfaces, provide a wilderness experience that isn't marred by being part of a 100-passenger ship.

The ship I sailed on, Galapagos Explorer II, is the largest allowed in the islands and one of the most luxurious. These big cruise ships have come in for criticism from environmentalists for bringing a new type of tourist, more interested in luxury and in going to a trendy place.

But if the Explorer was an accurate indicator, any allegation that the passengers were more interested in cocktails on-deck than in Darwinism didn't hold water. Some of the passengers were fanatics, attending onboard lectures day and night -- with topics ranging from saving the oceans to the life of penguins. Armed with high-powered binoculars and guidebooks, the birdwatchers were a particularly hardy breed, sometimes picking out distant birds that the guides had missed.

And while the ship was certainly comfortable, the 6:30 a.m. daily wakeup call, the difficult hikes, and the absence of conventional cruise-ship entertainment like live music or nightclubs were hardly cushy. It presented an opportunity to devote each day to seeing and studying the Galapagos, and the ability to put aside all the usual distractions of daily life proved exhilarating.

Some environmentalists say President Correa's declaration of imminent danger is a positive sign. The Correa government took over in January 2007 and hasn't yet introduced any measures that directly affect tourists. But things are starting to change. The new governor of the Galapagos, known as a dedicated environmentalist, headed the national park for eight years.

Environmentalists say that the new Correa government -- unlike previous administrations, where politics and corruption frequently stifled efforts to protect the islands -- is showing a willingness to enforce existing regulations and consider new ones. "The government took ownership of the problems of the Galapagos, and this is making change possible," says Mr. Bensted-Smith, the conservationist based in Quito.

Steps are now being taken to tighten quarantine procedures and to keep out illegal migrants, says Mr. Bensted-Smith. The government is discussing subjects that were formerly off limits, such as stopping local boat owners from selling their tourist licenses, which can be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, to outsiders. The government is also considering doubling the entrance fee for the national park to $200 a person, which would provide more money for conservation activities.

But the biggest problem so far remains unsolved: what to do about the flood of tourists. "It's not a simple solution, because to limit tourism will be to limit income," says Mauricio Castillo, an official for Unesco in Quito. In addition to restricting the number of visitors, he says that ways to channel more tourist revenue to the local islanders are now being considered, as well as raising the costs of a Galapagos trip, so that higher prices will dampen tourist numbers but still provide enough revenue.

Some of the passengers on the Explorer were facing dilemmas of their own about visiting. Several of them said that they had traveled to the Galapagos this year specifically because of President Correa's declaration.

"I've always wanted to come to the Galapagos," said a German physician, who asked that his name not be used because he didn't want to be painted as a villain. "We heard tourism will be restricted in the future, so we came now."

As Iowa Republicans prepared to caucus yesterday, polls showed Mike Huckabee, the Southern Baptist minister-turned-politician, leading in some polls and placing a close second to Mitt Romney in others. The core of Mr. Huckabee's support, of course, comes from evangelical voters. Couching his policy positions in the language of faith and morality, Mr. Huckabee portrays himself as the dream candidate of the religious right. In October, he boasted to a gathering of conservative Christian activists: "I don't come to you, I come from you." The "language of Zion," he said, was "his mother tongue and not a recently acquired second language." Echoing the Gospels, he told the Des Moines Register editorial board that the essence of what made him tick was: "Do unto others as you would have done unto you." He admitted that his faith shapes his policy, but "if [voters] understand in what way, I think that they will say 'good, that's the kind of policy we would like.' "

But one wonders whether his newfound supporters would really say that if they took a close look at his policies. With increasing frequency, Mr. Huckabee invokes his faith when advocating greater government involvement in just about every aspect of American life. In doing so, Mr. Huckabee has actually answered the prayers of the religious left.

Since John Kerry's defeat in 2004 at the hands of at least a few "values voters," the Democratic Party has been trying to take back God, even launching a Faith in Action initiative at the Democratic National Committee. Meanwhile, a small but organized group of liberal religious leaders and faith-based political activists has been trying to convey the message that, as one recent book had it, "Jesus rode a donkey." They argue that increasing the government's role in the fight against global warming, poverty and economic inequality is a biblical imperative. They usually de-emphasize the importance of abortion and gay marriage in their agendas, lest they offend the secularist wing of the party.

Democrats have made some inroads with evangelical voters. A recent Pew poll showed that the percentage of Americans who see the party as friendly to religion has increased to 30% from 26% since 2006. But no one has articulated the message of the religious left more effectively than Mr. Huckabee.

In August, he told a group of Washington reporters that the application of his faith to politics must include concerns for the environment, poverty and hunger. "It can't just be about abortions and same-sex marriage," he said. "We can't ignore that there are kids every day in this country that literally don't have enough food and adequate drinking water in America."

As governor, he championed the ARKids First, which extended free health insurance not only to children of the working poor but to some lower middle-class families. He pleased teachers unions with his consistent opposition to school choice and voucher programs. He satisfied labor by signing into law a minimum-wage hike of 21%. "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me" -- Mr. Huckabee's oft-cited scriptural justification for growing government -- proved costly for Arkansans, who saw government spending double and their taxes rise about a half-billion dollars during his tenure.
It's unlikely that Mr. Huckabee, as president, would be able to shepherd a federal marriage amendment through the House, the Senate and the state legislatures, but signing into law a cap-and-trade system ostensibly aimed at limiting global warming (something he has called a "moral issue") would be much easier. If he wanted to push protectionist "fair trade" policies and a greater federal government role in health care, a Democratic Congress would be more than willing to let him live out his faith on the taxpayers' dime.

Looking at the past 30 years of American politics, many on the religious right reasonably assume that candidates who speak openly about their faith are conservatives, but that hasn't always been the case. Jimmy Carter is the most prominent recent example of left-leaning piety. The author Gary Scott Smith, in "Faith and the Presidency," reminds us that President Franklin D. Roosevelt even offered scriptural justification for the New Deal.

Speaking to the Federal Council of Churches of Christ in America, in 1933, FDR explained that the "object of all our striving. . . should be to help citizens realize the abundant life Christ said he came to bring." According to Mr. Smith, "Roosevelt wanted to ensure that 'all elements of the community' had an equitable share of the nation's resources. The federal government's social planning, he contended, was 'wholly in accord with the social teachings of Christianity.' " It is not hard to imagine Mr. Huckabee -- standing at a podium in the Rose Garden to announce a raft of government programs -- talking in exactly this way.

In the United States, the only two major carriers that use the technology compatible with European networks are AT&T and T-Mobile. As to which has better coverage in the U.S., my own anecdotal experience is that this varies greatly depending on where you are, and that neither has coverage that's as good as Verizon's in as many major cities. However, Verizon (like Sprint) uses a technology that isn't compatible with European networks, though it has one or two phone models that include both technologies.

When producers initially began mapping out season 16 — yes, 16! — of Survivor, they considered making it their second All-Stars edition. But then they considered something else. ''None of us felt like a full-on All-Stars was the right choice, because we did it once and since then so many other shows have done it,'' says host Jeff Probst. ''It felt like we needed a twist.'' And when has this seminal reality show not embraced a twist? Enter the Fans vs. Favorites concept of Survivor: Micronesia (debuting Feb. 7 on CBS at 8 p.m.), featuring one tribe of former Survivor standouts, and another tribe of newbies who idolize the players they are about to compete against.

So who was lucky enough to make the cut? The Favorites tribe features contestants going all the way back to season 7, including two from the recently completed Survivor: China — gravedigger James Clement and the person who engineered his ouster, Amanda Kimmel. Survivor: Fiji sends its most popular player, 55-year-old Yau-Man Chan, while the Cook Islands season is responsible for three contestants: flirt-tastic Parvati Shallow, triple-crossing Jonathan Penner, and challenge dominator Ozzy Lusth. Rounding out the tribe is Survivor: Panama 's Cirie Fields, Vanuatu's Eliza Orlins and Ami Cusack, and Survivor's biggest villain ever: Pearl Islands ' Jon Dalton (a.k.a. Jonny Fairplay), who once famously faked his own grandmother's death to further himself in the game. ''You can't do the season and not invite your most notorious person,'' says Probst. ''And Fairplay delivered, I will say that.'' Does that mean he delivers a victory? Don't bet on it, laughs Probst. ''This guy is no threat to win this game — zero.''

No people from the highly regarded Palau or lowly regarded Guatemala seasons made the trip. That is in large part because two popular contestants — Stephenie LaGrossa and Bobby Jon Drinkard — already appeared in both those seasons, and Palau's winner, Tom Westman, declined to participate. (No other past winners were chosen.) Survivor: Micronesia was shot on many of the same beaches as the Palau season, and will also feature the return of Exile Island, which was absent from Survivor: China.

The Fans taking on the Survivor two-timers include a large-and-in-charge firefighter (Joel Anderson), a beauty pageant coach (Chet Welch), a golf course vendor (Kathleen Sleckman), and a man who scoops ice cream for a living in Hell…Michigan, that is (Erik Reichenbach). In contrast to recent seasons, where contestants were heavily recruited and largely unfamiliar with the program, the new players of Micronesia are all followers of the show. How they fare against their heroes remains to be seen.

The effects of the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004 are only too well known: It knocked the hell out of Aceh Province on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, leveling buildings, scattering palm trees, and wiping out entire villages. It killed more than 160,000 people in Aceh alone and displaced millions more. Similar scenes of destruction were repeated along the coasts of Southeast Asia, India, and as far west as Africa. The magnitude of the disaster shocked the world.

What the world did not know was that the 2004 tsunami—seemingly so unprecedented in scale—would yield specific clues to one of the great mysteries of archaeology: What or who brought down the Minoans, the remarkable Bronze Age civilization that played a central role in the development of Western culture?

Europe’s first great culture sprang up on the island of Crete, in the Aegean Sea, and rose to prominence some 4,000 years ago, flourishing for at least five centuries. It was a civilization of sophisticated art and architecture, with vast trading routes that spread Minoan goods—and culture—to the neighboring Greek islands. But then, around 1500 B.C., the Minoan world went into a tailspin, and no one knows why.
In 1939, leading Greek archaeologist Spyridon Marinatos pinned the blame on a colossal volcanic eruption on the island of Thera, about 70 miles north of Crete, that occurred about 1600 B.C. The event hurled a plume of ash and rock 20 miles into the stratosphere, turning daylight into pitch darkness over much of the Mediterranean. The explosion was recently estimated to be 10 times as powerful as the 1883 eruption of Krakatau in Indonesia, which obliterated 300 towns and villages and killed at least 36,000 people. So extreme was the Thera eruption that many writers linked it to Plato’s legend of Atlantis, the magnificent island city swallowed up by the sea. Marinatos’s theory was bolstered in 1967 when he dug up the ruins of Akrotiri, a prosperous Minoan town on Thera that had been buried in volcanic ash. Akrotiri became famous as a Bronze Age Pompeii because the ash preserved two-story dwellings, exquisite frescoes, and winding streets almost intact.

On further examination, though, the ruins did not confirm the theory. It turned out that the pottery on Akrotiri was not from the final phase of Minoan culture; in fact, many Minoan settlements on Crete continued to exist for at least a generation or two after the Thera cataclysm. Archaeologists concluded that the Minoans had not only survived but thrived after the eruption, expanding their culture until they were hit by some other, unknown disaster—perhaps some combination of fire, earthquake, or foreign invader. Thera’s impact, it seemed, had been overestimated. But startling new evidence is forcing archaeologists to rethink the full fury of the Thera explosion, the natural disaster it may have triggered, and the nature of the final blow to the once-great Minoan civilization.

Each summer, thousands of tourists encounter the Minoans at the spectacularly restored ruins of Knossos, an 11-acre complex four miles south of Crete’s capital, Heraklion. Late-19th-century excavations by Sir Arthur Evans revealed Knossos to be a vast, intricately engineered, multistory building, complete with flushing toilets, statuettes of bare-breasted priestesses, and frescoes of athletes vaulting over bulls. In 1900, Evans discovered an impressive stone throne, from which he believed the legendary King Minos and his descendants had presided over Bronze Age Crete. In the 1980s, however, a new generation of archaeologists, including Joseph Alexander “Sandy” MacGillivray, a Montreal-born scholar at the British School at Athens, began questioning many of Evans’s assumptions. Smaller-scale versions of Knossos have turned up at nearly every Minoan settlement across Crete, and scholars now suspect there was no single king but rather many independent polities.

MacGillivray also became interested in how the civilization ended. At Palaikastro, in the island’s far northeastern corner, MacGillivray and his colleague Hugh Sackett have excavated seven blocks of a Minoan town of perhaps 5,000 inhabitants, their plastered and painted houses arranged in a network of tidy paved and drained streets. One striking find was the foundations of a fine mansion, paved with fancy purple schist and white limestone and designed around an airy central courtyard “of Knossian pretensions,” as MacGillivray puts it. “But after the house was destroyed by an earthquake, it was abandoned and never rebuilt, and that preserved some things we had a hard time explaining.”

The house was dusted with a powdery gray ash, so irritating that the diggers had to wear face masks. Chemical analysis showed that the ash was volcanic fallout from the Thera eruption, but instead of resting in neat layers, the ash had washed into peculiar places: a broken, upside-down pot; the courtyard’s drain; and one long, continuous film in the main street outside. It was as if a flash flood had hosed most of the ash away, leaving these remnants behind. Some powerful force had also flipped over several of the house’s paving slabs and dumped fine gravel over the walls—but this part of the site lies a quarter of a mile from the sea and far from any stream or river.

That wasn’t the only oddity. Another building “looked like it had been flattened, the whole frontage facing the sea had been torn off, and it made no sense. And we asked ourselves, could a wave have done this?” MacGillivray says.

The strangest and most significant find, however, was a soil layer down by the beach that looked like nothing MacGillivray had ever seen in four decades as a field archaeologist. A horizontal band of gravel about a foot thick was stuffed with a mad jumble of broken pottery, rocks, lumps of powdery gray ash, and mashed-up animal teeth and bones. Perhaps an exceptionally violent storm had inflicted this chaos, MacGillivray considered, but he began to suspect that a tsunami was the more likely culprit.

The statue at Mallia may have been smashed and burned during an
uprising against the Minoan elite.

MacGillivray invited Hendrik Bruins to Palaikastro. The Dutch-born geoarchaeologist and human ecologist had a reputation as a skillful analyst of the thorny dating controversies that beset archaeology in the Middle East, but figuring out the chaotic layer overlooking the beach presented a novel scientific challenge. “Identifying a tsunami deposit is a completely new field,” Bruins explains. “Until the early 1990s, earth scientists didn’t even recognize that tsunamis do more than just destroy the coast—they leave distinctive deposits behind as well. I needed to do a lot of different tests to convince myself, as well as my colleagues, that we were dealing with a tsunami and not something else, like debris from a storm surge.”

Another building looked like it had been flattened. Could a wave have done this?

Bruins sent thin sections of the chaotic deposit to micropaleontologist Chaim Benjamini, a colleague at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel. Benjamini identified the tiny round shells of foraminifera and fragments of red coralline –algae; these marine organisms suggested that the ocean, rather than a river or a flash flood, had been involved. If the marine organisms had been scooped up from below sea level and dumped on the elevated promontory, something much bigger than a storm surge must have pounded the coast of ancient Crete.

The strange pattern of gravel deposits in the town offered further evidence of a deep oceanic disturbance. Then there were lumps of gray ash in the beach layer, “resembling unstirred instant-soup lumps at the bottom of a cup,” according to Bruins. He sent samples of these lumps to two state-of-the-art geochemistry labs in Germany, which analyzed the sample’s geochemical signature. The results of both tests were identical: a perfect match between Theran ash and the “soup lumps” on the beach.

Finally, there was the question of when all this disruption occurred. Bruins sent fragments of cattle bones and seashells from the chaotic layer to the radiocarbon dating lab at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. Because of well-known problems in calibrating dates from 3,500 years ago, he knew the lab would be unable to pin down the exact calendar age of the samples, but the uncalibrated measured age of the cattle bones closely matched the latest equivalent dates for the cataclysm on Thera.
Louis J Sheehan
Louis J Sheehan, Esquire
Louis J Sheehan Esquire

All the clues pointed to one answer: A giant wave had struck Palaikastro Bay while freshly fallen ash from Thera was still lying about, inundating the town for miles inland and streaking it with strange patterns of ash. But could even a giant wave be big enough to wipe out an entire civilization?

MacGillivray consulted Costas Synolakis, an energetic Greek-born earth scientist at the University of California at Los Angeles, where he pioneered the predictive computer model used by the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii. Synolakis’s first attempts to model tsunamis in the early 1990s began as a solitary exercise. Everything changed after the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004. Synolakis visited Banda Aceh, the city in northwestern Sumatra closest to the epicenter of the undersea quake, where hundred-foot waves had destroyed a city of more than 150,000 people in minutes. “It was a surreal, absurdist landscape,” he says. “It took an effort of imagination to conceive that people had ever lived there.” Almost overnight, Synolakis’s expertise in computer modeling of tsunamis became a focus of worldwide scientific and media attention.

In 2000, Synolakis had con- sulted on a study to model a hypothetical Minoan tsunami. He found that no matter how steep the waves were when they started out at Thera, they dissipated quickly, reaching only three to nine feet at most when they hit Crete, some 70 miles away. The study concluded that such waves could have been “disruptive,” but not devastating, to Minoan Crete.

Synolakis was still thinking that way when he visited Palaikastro in May 2006. Then MacGillivray took him down to the beach. “The moment I looked at that debris layer, I was absolutely stunned,” Synolakis says. “The image that came to me, right then and there, is what I saw everywhere after the December 2004 tsunami: a blanket of cultural debris, broken dishes, broken glass, bits of bone, people’s belongings scattered everywhere. It looked exactly like that kind of debris carpet, and you don’t get it in a smaller tsunami. The presence of this chaotic deposit suggested that the tsunami was at least three or four meters [10 to 13 feet] at the shoreline.” What had begun as a casual visit now turned into a full-blown research project. Synolakis hired a boat and took depth measurements of the seabed in Palaikastro Bay. When he tested the hillside behind the Minoan town to establish how far the wave had penetrated inland, he found what appeared to be more layers of chaotic debris at an astounding 90 feet above sea level.

About 60 miles to the west of Palaikastro, near the palace of Mallia, the research team found yet another strikingly similar chaotic deposit. Plugging in all the new data, Synolakis drastically revised his tsunami model. “When we put it all together,” he says, “we’re looking at a wave that’s on the order of 15 meters [50 feet] when it hits the shore at Palaikastro. This is a gigantic wave, much larger, wider, and longer than we thought; its volume is 10 times more than what we estimated only six years ago. We’re talking about an extreme event, certainly on the order of the 2004 Indian Ocean disaster.”

With eyewitness video of that disaster lingering in everyone’s minds, it took little imagination to visualize the physical destruction that must have hit Palaikastro, Mallia, and elsewhere along the Cretan coast. But evidence suggests that the Minoans survived the disaster for at least a generation or two; the real end came later, in an outbreak of fiery vandalism. Throughout Crete, temple-palaces were burned and ransacked, and there are no obvious signs of battle, invasion, or natural disaster at these ruins. Of all the great Minoan palaces, only Knossos survived; eventually it was taken over by the Mycenaeans, the mainland Greeks who prospered as the fortunes of Crete declined.
A leader of the Palaikastro team, Belgian archaeologist Jan Driessen, contends that the wave of destruction was the tail end of a spiral of instability that the Thera catastrophe set in motion. A steep drop-off in the number of Minoan sites suggests that there had been a famine or an epidemic, one perhaps touched off by the environmental effects of the eruption combined with the later tsunami.

There may have been a spiritual crisis as well. At Palaikastro, archaeologists found that a shrine had been violently destroyed and a cult statuette deliberately smashed and burned. Driessen suggests there may have been a reaction against the religious cult represented by the statuette, perhaps as part of a populist uprising against the elite in their villas and temple-palaces. The loss of life and livelihood after the eruption may have aggravated problems of class difference and widened the gap between the elite and the commoners, which Driessen says “existed already in Minoan society.”

The terrifying scale of the Thera eruption, followed by the devastating force of the giant tsunami it created, may have led to a gradual unraveling of the values and beliefs that had sustained this brilliant civilization for so long. In his poem “The Hollow Men,” T. S. Eliot writes these famous lines: “This is the way the world ends / This is the way the world ends / This is the way the world ends / Not with a bang but a whimper.”

For the Minoans, it appears their world ended with both.

While teaching physics at École Polytechnique in France, physicist Jean-Baptiste Masson used hair fibers as an example of a complex system that could be modeled simply. The example made him wonder: Does curly hair get more tangled than straight hair? He thought that a person sporting, say, Shakira’s mane of curls would have more kinks than someone with pin-straight hair, but he wasn’t sure.

So Masson enlisted hairdressers to count the tangles in 123 limp-locked people and 89 curly-haired people. Straight hair had an average of 5.3 tangles, nearly twice as many as curly hair. Masson then created a model to help him understand why straight hair is, oddly, more prone to knotting. His answer: The greater the angle of intersection, the more likely the hair will knot. Curly strands intersect more often, but strands of straight hair rubbing together at steeper angles than curly hair make for more knots.

Harry Miles recalled being home on leave for Christmas, relaxing with his family. His brother was telling a joke he’d heard a thousand times, but the punch line always got him. “I was hysterically laughing, and then my head went limp,” Mr. Miles said. “It was baffling.”

A minute later, he felt normal again. “I’m fine,” he told his family.

A few months later, while on guard duty on a ship in the Mediterranean, Mr. Miles found himself lying on the ground, unable to move. His commanding officer and several doctors stood over him. “I could hear them all talking, but I couldn’t open my eyes. I was asking myself, how come I can’t move?”

Again, the episode was over within minutes. The event was chalked up to heatstroke, and he returned to duty. By the time I learned about this event, it was almost 50 years later, when Mr. Miles was 71. I had taken over his primary care when his former doctor moved away.

“Doctor, excuse me. . . . I’m getting a spell,” he said. His words were starting to slur. “I’m trying to fight it off.” Then he crumpled in slow motion. His eyelids drooped, his facial muscles sagged, his head hung down, and a moment later his whole body slumped in the chair. “I can talk to you, but it will be hard to understand me,” he mumbled.

I had no idea what to do. Was my patient going to slide to the floor or pass out completely? I called for a nurse and asked her to keep an eye on him. I found his wife in the waiting room, and we hurried back together. She sat down next to her husband and whispered to him. For the next five minutes, she stroked his limp hand as he talked to her incoherently. From his slouched position, he managed to grimace and tense his chest muscles. Then it passed. He stood up and apologized.

That’s when I learned about Mr. Miles’s unusual medical history. He had been told that cataplexy was the cause of those strange episodes. In cataplexy, a strong emotion like laughing, surprise, anger, or fear can make a person suddenly go weak while completely awake. Some cataplectics have very mild attacks, like a slight weakening of the eyelids or facial muscles; for others, the whole body becomes limp. Mr. Miles said that the attacks had stopped for many years but then resumed while he was a high school teacher, coach, and lifeguard.

But there was more going on. About 20 years ago, he was also diagnosed with narcolepsy, a disorder characterized by excessive daytime sleepiness and periods of irresistible sleep. Although he had been taking Ritalin to keep alert, it was no longer controlling the problem. He had been feeling exhausted, as if he had been sleep-deprived for days, and the cataleptic attacks were occurring almost daily.

Cataplexy most commonly occurs among people with narcolepsy, and it has to do with entering REM sleep (a state in which dream-induced paralysis occurs). In 2000, researchers discovered that an important brain hormone called hypocretin is dramatically reduced in people with narcolepsy and cataplexy. Hypocretin acts like the body’s own caffeine: It stimulates areas of the brain that maintain wakefulness. But studies have shown that people with narcolepsy and cataplexy have only 10 percent of the normal amount. Thus, people with low hypocretin may fall into REM sleep—with their muscles lax, their minds awake, sometimes dreaming or even hallucinating—in the middle of the day.

Most of the time, Mr. Miles could fight off the impulse to sleep. But when the cataplexy began to recur, he was in trouble. Ritalin did nothing for the sudden muscle weakness. If he tensed his muscles, he could usually ward off an impending attack, but he felt self-conscious. Teaching and coaching, and especially lifeguarding, became too risky. Eventually he lost his job and had to further curtail his activities. Even a chat with a neighbor could lead to an attack. He began staying at home almost all the time.

When I saw Mr. Miles in my office about six months after our first meeting, the news wasn’t good. Almost immediately, his words started to run together. “I’m getting the attacks all the time,” he said, struggling to keep his head up. “I’m exhausted. . . . The Ritalin isn’t working anymore.”

He looked as though he had fallen asleep—his arms were splayed out, his head rested on his shoulder, his body had slid down in the chair, and his eyelids were barely open—but I knew he was awake. Three minutes later the attack was over. I prescribed Prozac (fluoxetine), an antidepressant that can sometimes help lessen the symptoms of cataplexy, and increased the dose of Ritalin. But when he called a month later, he said that the new combination wasn’t helping. He was losing hope that he would ever lead a normal life again.

Finally, a year later, a breakthrough came. Researchers found that a sedative drug called Xyrem seemed to help people with cataplexy. Patients on Xyrem slept better at night and had fewer cataplectic attacks during the day. But this wonder drug comes with baggage. Also known as the pharmaceutical form of GHB (short for gamma-hydroxybutyrate), it is none other than the infamous date rape drug (and was the poison in some very dangerous Chinese-made toys). Originally marketed in the early 1990s as a dietary supplement for improving athletic performance and for sleep, it was reclassified as a prescription drug by the FDA and approved for use only under some of the tightest restrictions that exist for any pharmaceutical. A single pharmacy provides it, and doctors and patients must register with the pharmacy.

A sleep specialist prescribed Xyrem for Mr. Miles, and over the past year his life has improved immensely. A few months ago, during a checkup, I asked him about his last full cataplectic attack. He paused. “You know, I can’t really remember,” he said. “I felt one coming on a few months ago, but it was very mild. It wasn’t hard to fight it off.”

He gave a little laugh. “I’m a normal human being again.”

“There are infinite worlds both like and unlike this world of ours,” wrote Epicurus. That’s how astronomer Chris Impey begins his compelling investigation into the history of the search for extraterrestrial life. Starting with the Greeks and their philosophical inquiries, Impey traces the scientific work on the origins of life and the evolution of Earth and of distant worlds. He examines theories on the conditions required for biological life to arise and how likely it is that such life exists on other planets in our own or other solar systems. Impey asserts that water is a promising presence. In fact, NASA’s strategy has been to “follow the water.” That’s why Mars was an early object of interest and why Saturn’s moon Enceladus joined the list of possible life holders in 2006 when the Cassini orbiter spotted geysers at its south pole. Will we one day find other beings in the universe? Impey isn’t sure, but he does believe that science is the only tool that can discover them. As he puts it, “The debate over the existence of ETs might never be settled by observations, but it certainly can’t be settled without them.”


The 2008 presidential race has raised many questions about the candidates' personal histories. Will Barack Obama's past drug use preclude a White House future? Will Christian conservatives forgive Rudy Giuliani his two divorces? Will voters forgive Hillary Clinton for forgiving Bill?

And what exactly did Democratic candidate Dennis Kucinich see hovering above actress Shirley MacLaine's house 25 years ago?

This fall, Ms. MacLaine revealed in her new book that the Ohio congressman had seen a UFO and felt "a connection in his heart and heard directions in his mind." In a Democratic presidential debate in late October, Mr. Kucinich acknowledged seeing something airborne that he couldn't identify and then defused the issue with a joke about opening a campaign office in Roswell, N.M., the capital of unexplained sightings.

Since then, the long-shot candidate has refused to elaborate on the experience.

Now, after keeping quiet about the incident for a quarter of a century, the two people who say they were at Mr. Kucinich's side that evening have come forward to describe an event which they say left them convinced that there's intelligent life in outer space.

"At no time did I feel afraid, even though I felt very small," says one witness, Paul Costanzo. "I sensed that I was in the presence of a greater technology and intelligence."

The close encounter, says Mr. Costanzo, took place in September 1982 at Ms. MacLaine's former home in Graham, Wash. -- an expansive estate on a ridge above the Puyallup River, with a view of Mount Rainier.

The 61-year-old Mr. Kucinich, who declined several requests to comment for this article, had been the wunderkind mayor of Cleveland in the late 1970s and had met Ms. MacLaine through Bella Abzug, the late New York congresswoman and feminist. The actress says she quickly realized she and Mr. Kucinich were kindred spirits. Years later he asked Ms. MacLaine to be the godmother of his daughter.

"We just thought the same," Ms. MacLaine says in an interview. "We have the same political points of view."

When Cleveland voters ousted Mr. Kucinich after one tumultuous term, Ms. MacLaine offered him her home as a sanctuary where he could write his memoirs. He lived there for the better part of a year.

Also in residence was Mr. Costanzo, a Juilliard-trained trumpet player and jujitsu black belt, who worked as Ms. MacLaine's assistant, personal trainer and bodyguard. He and Mr. Kucinich became good friends, and Mr. Costanzo, now 55 years old, served as deputy campaign director and security chief for the congressman's unsuccessful 2004 presidential run.

Ms. MacLaine -- well-known for her fascination with things mystical and extraterrestrial -- was in Canada that weekend in 1982, performing her one-woman show. But Mr. Costanzo's girlfriend at the time, a model and actress who is now 50 years old, was visiting when the UFO incident took place. She spoke after Mr. Costanzo requested she do so, and on condition that her name not be published.

Here's what happened, according to separate interviews with Mr. Costanzo and his former girlfriend:

The day was strange from the start. For hours, Mr. Kucinich, Mr. Costanzo and his companion noticed a high-pitched sound. "There was a sense that something extraordinary was happening all day," says the girlfriend. She and Mr. Costanzo say that none of the three consumed alcohol or took drugs.

As they sat down to a dinner, Mr. Kucinich spotted a light in the distance, to the left of Mount Rainier. Mr. Costanzo thought it was a helicopter.

But Mr. Kucinich walked outside to the deck to look through the telescope that he had bought Ms. MacLaine as a house gift. After a few minutes, Mr. Kucinich summoned the other two: "Guys, come on out here and look at this."

Mr. Costanzo and his girlfriend joined Mr. Kucinich, where they took turns peering through the telescope. What they saw in the far distance, according to both witnesses, was a hovering light, which soon divided into two, and then three.

After a few minutes, the lights moved closer and it became apparent that they were actually three charcoal-gray, triangular craft, flying in a tight wedge. The girlfriend remembers each triangle having red and green lights running down the edges, with a laser-like red light at the tail. Mr. Costanzo recalls white lights, but no tail.

Mr. Costanzo says each triangle was roughly the size of a large van, while his former girlfriend compares it to a "larger Cessna, smaller than a jet certainly." Neither recalls seeing any markings, landing gear, engines, windows or cockpits.

The craft approached to within 200 yards, suspended over the field just beyond the swimming pool. Both witnesses say it emitted a quiet, throbbing sound -- nothing like an airplane engine.

"There was a feeling of wanting to communicate something, but I didn't know what," says Mr. Costanzo.

The craft held steady in midair, for perhaps a minute, then sped away, Mr. Costanzo says. "Nothing had landed," he says. "No strange beings had disembarked. No obvious messages were beamed down. When they were completely out of sight, we all looked at each other disbelieving what we had seen."

At Mr. Kucinich's suggestion, they jotted down their impressions and drew pictures to memorialize the event. Mr. Kucinich kept the notes, according to Ms. MacLaine, who said he promised her recently that he would try to find them.
In an interview with WSJ's Jeffrey Trachtenberg, actress and author Shirley MacLaine discusses the cosmic scope of her new book, "Sage-ing While Age-ing."

"It was proof to me that we're obviously not alone," says the girlfriend.

The next day, the group spotted what they thought to be military helicopters buzzing around the valley where they had made the sighting. And the high-pitched sound remained.

Mr. Kucinich called Ms. MacLaine in Canada to tell her what had happened. "He said it was beautiful, serene, and it moved him," says Ms. MacLaine, who is supporting Mr. Kucinich's candidacy. "He was not afraid of it, let's put it that way. Seeing something that close and sophisticated and gentle."

Ms. MacLaine says she has seen UFOs from a distance in New Mexico and Peru, but never up close. She was envious. "I'm the one who reports them, but they never make close visitation. What am I doing wrong?"

None of the three reported the incident to the authorities. And over the years that followed, they shared the story with very few people. "Unfortunately, people are ridiculed when they say they've had these kinds of experiences, which is why I never came forward with it," says the girlfriend.

Ms. MacLaine says she called Mr. Kucinich before she included his UFO sighting in her book, "Sage-ing while Age-ing," a recounting of her spiritual and professional journeys. "I can handle it," she says he told her.

My 80-year-old patient was too weak to get out of bed. His problems started when he felt burning in his chest and shortness of breath four days before.

His wife, a retired nurse, had been reluctant to call the doctor over something that might pass on its own. Eighty-year-old guys have their good days and bad days, after all.

But he became weaker and shorter of breath with each passing day. When his congestive heart failure became too much for his wife to manage, she called me at home on Saturday. I sent him to the hospital 25 miles away by ambulance.

She asked me if I'd be taking care of him there. I didn't answer right away.

In the last year, I've cut back on my hospital work quite a bit. After 10 years, I'd done plenty of it. Besides, the hospital hired doctors to manage cases like this. The specialists, called hospitalists, are also supposed to improve quality by riding herd on the details of care, and I get more free time.

There was a hint of pleading in her voice. In June, when her husband was ill with a urinary tract infection, the hospital doctor took care of him. He recovered just fine.

But I think the patient and his family missed me more than they let on at first. Or, maybe I'd missed overseeing the hospital stays of my patients more than I thought.

Still, I'd delivered two babies the night before. And I thought for a moment about the possibility of juggling the care of my patient with my family's weekend plans. "Sure, I'll take care of him," I said, figuring I could swing it and appreciating that his family wanted me involved.

Since the hospitalists came on board, my medical patients have been seeing less of me after they're admitted. It seemed like a winning situation all around. Initially I was all in favor of it, but lately I've been having second thoughts.

A large study published recently in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that the rates of re-admission or death weren't significantly different for patients cared for by hospital-based physicians or their family physicians. The patients cared for by hospitalists got out 0.4 days sooner and their care cost a few hundred dollars less.

At our hospital, my batting average is better than the hospitalists. How can a family physician compete with a hospital-based specialist? Although it's not trendy to say so, I think having one doctor in charge of your care inside of the hospital and out still matters.

I believe that long-term knowledge of patients and access to their complete medical record are of immense value. Those give me an edge that helps avoid unnecessary tests and consultations with specialists. Keeping patients under my control also reduces the number of hand-offs from one doctor to another, minimizing errors.

My patient has memory problems and a complicated medical history. Another doctor would have difficulty getting the full picture from him and wouldn't be able to access his office records on the weekend without calling me. Some doctors wouldn't have made the extra effort.

In the last six months he's seen a physician's assistant at the VA, a cardiologist, a pulmonologist and a gastroenterologist in addition to me. He's had tests on his heart, his lungs and his stomach at two different hospitals. Blood work has been ordered by at least three different doctors. He didn't follow through on a sleep study and stopped two medications from his pulmonologist without telling anyone.

The patient forgot to tell the nursing staff about two of his medical allergies. I stopped them from giving him morphine for chest pain because he's allergic to it.

He didn't remember the name of the sleeping pill the VA doctors have had him on for years. He can't sleep without it. I remembered it, and he had a restful night in the hospital. I restarted the stomach medication that I knew his gastroenterologist prescribed. He hadn't been taking it.

After three days in the hospital, he was well enough for me to send him home.

Perhaps the biggest advantage to doctors managing their own patients in the hospital is the personal touch. I provide comfort, compassion and motivation for recovery. Anybody who's ever been hospitalized knows the reassurance that comes from dealing with someone you know when you're really sick.

When a hospital physician takes over care for my patients, the most common complaint I hear from patients is that they don't know what happened while they were in the hospital. If their paperwork is slow getting back to me, I have trouble piecing together the follow-up plan.

Stepping back from inpatient care for a while gave me a new perspective. I can see what my hospital patients were missing without me involved, and I've resolved to get back to the wards. As a new year begins, the doctor is in.
Louis J Sheehan
Louis J Sheehan, Esquire
Louis J Sheehan Esquire

The preliminary investigation and a separate congressional inquiry were sparked by the CIA's acknowledgement last month that it destroyed videos of officers using tough interrogation methods while questioning two al Qaeda suspects. The Justice Department uses preliminary inquiries as a first step to determine if there is sufficient cause to warrant a formal criminal investigation.

John Durham, first assistant U.S. attorney in Connecticut, has been appointed an acting U.S. attorney to lead the investigation. The Federal Bureau of Investigation will assist prosecutors, who will report directly to the deputy attorney general. Mr. Durham has served as an outside prosecutor overseeing an investigation into the FBI's use of mob informants in Boston and helped send several Connecticut public officials to prison.

The criminal probe normally would be handled by the U.S. attorney in Eastern Virginia, where the CIA headquarters are located. Instead, Eastern Virginia prosecutors have been recused from the probe. It was Eastern Virginia prosecutors who first alerted a federal judge about the existence of the tapes and their destruction in October. Mr. Mukasey said in a statement that their recusal was made "in order to avoid any possible appearance of a conflict with other matters handled by that office."

CIA Inspector General John L. Helgerson, who worked with the Justice Department on the preliminary inquiry, also recused himself from the investigation.

Government officials have played down the importance the tapes may hold in several continuing or past terror cases. The tapes also weren't shared with the commission that investigated the 9/11 attacks. Critics of the Bush administration have alleged that the destruction of the tapes may amount to destruction of evidence, which is a crime.

CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield said: "The CIA will of course cooperate fully with this investigation as it has with the others into this matter." The CIA has already agreed to open its files to congressional investigators, who have begun reviewing documents at the agency's headquarters.

The House Intelligence Committee has ordered Jose Rodriguez, a former chief of the CIA's National Clandestine Service who directed the tapes be destroyed in late 2005, to appear at a hearing Jan. 16.

Mr.Rodriguez, who was to retire from the agency at the end of last year, has become a focal point in the debate over the tapes' destruction. According to several former colleagues, his goal likely was to protect the officers who conducted the interrogations from criticism and litigation. They have also described him as a cautious operator who probably would have ensured that top CIA managers knew of the plan.

But in trying to avert one scandal, the agency may have spawned a greater controversy. Sen. Chuck Hagel (R., Neb.), a member of the Senate intelligence panel, said last month that it was hard for him to believe "that senior members of the White House somehow didn't pay attention to this or didn't know about it."

The White House said last month that President Bush "has no recollection" of hearing about the tapes or their destruction before he was briefed about the matter in early December.

CIA Director Gen. Michael V. Hayden has said that the tapes were destroyed because the agency feared that the identities of the officers would become public and that they would become targets of al Qaeda.

But former officers familiar with the events have offered a different explanation, saying Mr. Rodriguez had long been concerned that the CIA lacked a long-term plan for handling interrogations. He also worried -- given the response to Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad -- that lower-level officers would take the fall if the videos became public, they said.

One former official said interrogators' faces were visible on at least one video, as were those of more senior officers who happened to be visiting. He said Mr. Rodriguez was concerned that "they were carrying out the direction from higher-ups in the administration" but that the people who would end up in trouble would be lower-level officials in the bureaucracy. Another former senior intelligence official said, "Jose was concerned about how all this would end. He wasn't getting instructions from anybody."

Mr. Rodriguez's attorney, Robert S. Bennett, had no comment on today's announcement.


It’s probably the happiest root canal ever: Molecular archaeologists reported last January that they had drilled into a 10,300-year-old human tooth discovered in Alaska and extracted genetic gold. The molar, recovered from skeletal remains found in 1996 in On Your Knees Cave, located on Prince of Wales Island off southern Alaska, holds the oldest genetic sample ever recovered in the Americas. That sample supports the theory that humans first arrived here about 15,000 years ago and then migrated down the continent’s western coastline.

Brian Kemp, a molecular anthropologist at Washington State University who led the study, found that out of 3,500 Native Americans examined from a genetic database, 1.5 percent showed the same genetic pattern in their mitochondrial DNA as that found in the ancient tooth. “What’s interesting is that the distribution is almost entirely down the west coast of the Americas, all the way down to Tierra del Fuego,” says Kemp. That, says Theodore –Schurr, an anthropologist at the University of Pennsylvania, “lends credence to the reemerging hypothesis that the first modern human populations to arrive in North America and then populate the rest of the Americas used a coastal route to actually get there.”

Kemp also compared the ancient DNA with its related modern DNA to see how fast it mutated over time. This “molecular clock” of mutation rates can be used to calculate when the ancestors of today’s Native Americans first arrived on these shores. Previous estimates pegged their appearance as far back as 40,000 years ago, but Kemp’s newly calibrated clock speeds up the scenario. “Within the last 15,000 years is my bet,” he says.

In the traditional view of photosynthesis, the energy carried by photons streaming from the sun is transferred by bouncing from one chlorophyll molecule to the next, a process that ultimately builds simple carbohydrates from water and carbon dioxide. But last spring, a team led by Graham Fleming, deputy director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, reported that the process is much more interesting than that.

Using ultrafast lasers, they found that the interaction between the sun’s energy and the chlorophyll molecules in a bacterium relies on a piece of quantum mechanical weirdness known as superposition, where a single photon’s energy can temporarily be in many different states at once. This allows photosynthesis to probe all the possible reaction pathways within the various chlorophyll molecules. The most efficient pathway is selected and energy is transferred through the bacterium as the superposition collapses.

“This is similar to quantum computing in some sense,” says Greg Engel, a member of Fleming’s team. “This is how quantum computing realizes its incredible efficiency and its ability to solve very complex problems, because it can evaluate many solutions at once.”

It may seem like simple compassion to give the terminally ill access to experimental drugs not yet approved by the FDA, but some argue it may also jeopardize the effectiveness of clinical trials and leave patients open to exploitation. In August, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia upheld (pdf) the power of the FDA to control patients’ access to unapproved drugs. The court stated that patients do not have a fundamental right to drugs that have not been proven safe.

The Abigail Alliance for Better Access to Developmental Drugs and the Washington Legal Foundation had filed the suit against the FDA. “What we argue in our lawsuit is that the decision should be a patient’s with their doctor,” says Frank Burroughs of the Abigail Alliance. He founded the organization in 2001 after his 21-year-old daughter Abigail died from head and neck cancer. She had been denied access to the experimental drug Erbitux, which was later approved by the FDA. Burroughs says the groups are planning an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Many legal experts and ethicists argue that access to unapproved drugs would undermine the scientific process that determines which drugs are effective as well as the FDA’s ability to determine drug safety. Only 8 percent of cancer drugs that enter clinical trials earn FDA approval. The bulk are rejected as ineffective or unsafe. “The very, very sick are open to exploitation,” says Arthur Caplan, chairman of medical ethics at the University of Pennsylvania. He also notes that patients may not join clinical trials if they can get the drugs otherwise, which could impair the development of new drugs.

“I think the court got it right,” says Peter Jacobson of the –University of Michigan School of Public Health. Jacobson views the FDA’s efforts to extend the compassionate use policy as the better way to handle the issue. “Then you’re able to distribute some of these drugs under some kind of scientific protocol without compromising clinical trials that are needed for long-term –understanding.”

The CDC's vaccine advisory panel voted to make shingles vaccination routine for all Americans 60 and older.

Shingles is a painful disease caused by reactivation of dormant varicella zoster virus, or VZV. Best known as the virus that causes chickenpoxchickenpox, VZV is a herpesherpes virus that can come back with a vengeance when a person's immunity wanes with age, disease, or immunity-suppressing drugs.

Without vaccination, about 20% of people who have had chickenpox eventually will get shingles. A person who lives to be 85 has a 50% chance of getting shingles.

Shingles is a bad enough disease to be a good reason to get vaccinated.

But in about a third of cases, shingles turns into an excruciatingly painful disease called postherpetic neuralgia, or PHN. A smaller percentage will get a painful, blinding disease called ophthalmic zoster.

The new vaccine, Merck's Zostavax, won FDA approval last May.

Now the main U.S. vaccine advisory panel -- the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) -- officially recommends routine use of the vaccine for everyone 60 and older.

The committee voted not to make shingles vaccination routine for people under 60, citing a lack of clinical data on vaccination in that age group.

Similarly, the panel said there was too little data for it to recommend that doctors offer the vaccine for people about to undergo immunity-suppressing treatments.
Good Vaccine, Terrible Disease

A major clinical trial shows the vaccine is more than 60% effective in reducing shingles symptoms. Perhaps most importantly, it reduces painful PHN by at least two-thirds.

"Reducing PHN is the motivation for most of us working on this clinical trial," Michael N. Oxman, MD, of the University of California, San Diego, said in a presentation to the ACIP. "For people with severe PHN, their lives are blighted and the lives of their families are blighted."

PHN pain can last for years. Sudden, lancing pain can quite literally bring patients to their knees. Each year, there are more suicides due to PHN pain than due to cancercancer pain.

And PHN isn't the only bad complication of shingles. Some 15% of shingles patients get ophthalmic zoster -- shingles that affects one or both eyes.

In a public comment, Herbert Kauffman, MD, former chairman of ophthalmology at Louisiana State University, offered the ACIP a graphic description: "This is not going blind in peace and quiet," Kauffman told the ACIP. "This is an all-consuming pain patients live with every moment of every day for years."

The ACIP recommendation means insurers will be more likely to pay for shingles vaccination in 60-and-over patients.

In one of the first studies to detect cancer using RNA in saliva, researchers were able to differentiate patients with head and neck cancer from healthy subjects based on biomarkers found in their saliva, according to an article in the Dec. 15 issue of the journal Clinical Cancer Research.

Researchers at the University of California Los Angeles’ Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center reported in the March 2004 issue of Journal of Dental Research that people have about 3,000 clinically distinct types of RNA in their saliva. This discovery led to a novel clinical approach called salivary transcriptome diagnostics.

In a study to evaluate this diagnostic approach’s value, researchers collected unstimulated saliva from 32 subjects with cancers of the mouth, tongue, larynx and pharynx and 32 matched control subjects. When they extracted RNA from the saliva samples, they discovered that 1,679 genes were expressed at significantly different levels in the test subjects’ saliva than in the control subjects’ saliva.

Study results also showed that a combination of four RNA biomarkers provided a detectable signature for head and neck cancer. Researchers conducted a blinded second saliva screening and identified the signature in test subjects with 91 percent sensitivity and specificity.
Louis J Sheehan
Louis J Sheehan, Esquire
Louis J Sheehan Esquire

"We will follow up with a larger cohort of about 200 patients in the near future," said senior author David Wong, D.M.D., D.M.Sc. "This study will hopefully allow us to distinguish in saliva between the various stages of the cancer and ultimately push our accuracy up to as close to 100 percent as possible."


This is intended as a hopefully helpful, but somewhat lighthearted look at ancient philosophical beliefs that would make five fine New Year's resolutions for today. They are meant as a counter to typical New Year's resolutions, like these:

1. Lose Weight
2. Pay Off Debt
3. Save Money
4. Get a Better Job
5. Get Fit
6. Eat Right
7. Get a Better Education
8. Drink Less Alcohol
9. Quit Smoking Now
10. Reduce Stress Overall
11. Reduce Stress at Work
12. Take a Trip
13. Volunteer to Help Others
Source: U.S. Government site

Have you written a list of New year's Resolutions? Does it include something geared to making you more like a Hollywood ideal? Something like losing weight? We start each new year with a clean slate, but as soon as we break down and eat that tempting cream-filled puff pastry, we think we've failed and give up. Might as well have a couple of beers and a a pizza. Oops! By February the scale has moved in the wrong direction. One question we should ask before coming up with the duly anguished-over creative list of new resolutions is whether or not they're the result of social pressure. It may seem easier fitting into someone else's list of shoulds than changing our own attitudes, but if you've ever tried to quit smoking because your family begs you to, you probably know that's not enough.

People compile New Year's Resolutions in an effort to improve specific aspects of themselves, thinking behavior elicited by the resolutions will make them better people. If they volunteer one day a month (making them better in the brotherly-love department) and exercise three times a week (back to conforming to social pressure mode), including a yoga class (eliminating stress one minute at a time), and if they put 10% into a money market account (for retirement, as the news media drums into our heads each December), life will magically improve. Even if it did work, this seems like a piecemeal approach in need of a master plan. And therein lies the beauty of ancient philosophy.

Masterplan: Emulate the Stoics
This list of 5 resolutions includes passages from the writing of leading Roman Stoics, Epictetus (really a Greek, but he lived in Rome), Marcus Aurelius, and Seneca, with applications or parallels in the modern (or at least post-classical) world. The Stoics have had a profound influence on Christianity and modern philosophy, so the ideas may seem very familiar. There are even sayings and modern song lyrics reflecting the Stoic philosophy. One problem of the Stoics for our contemporary, secular world is the ongoing references to god. This god is really more like reason, nature, or logos, but may still cause trouble for non-theists. To avoid this, I have attempted to minimize the god-context in my selections.

The Stoics believed in one basic behavior: being good. People do this by, among other things,

1. living according to nature,
2. helping others,
3. commitment to self-improvement routines,
4. being dutiful, which may include attempting to persuade others of one's beliefs, and
5. central to all else, maintaining a proper attitude.

The good person is not evil. He also happens to be a philosopher. This may be another sticking point for moderns, but the self-help books so popular today are like philosophy, so if the idea of being a philosopher is too profound, consider these suggestions as well-testified popular psychology instead of philosophy.

1. Live According to Nature: To Everything There Is a Season
Stoicism comes from the Hellenistic period of ancient Greece, which began around 300 B.C. There was no electricity. There were no in vitro pregnancies. Most people used their own feet for transportation. People followed the natural cycles of day, night, and the seasons. Everything took time. We've been spoiled by artificial light, microwave ovens, airplanes, and other conveniences, so we no longer have to worry much about natural cycles. Instead, we impatient multi-taskers try to cram everything in. This means that however much the ancient Stoics might have had to struggle to try to live according to nature, we've got to work even harder.

No great thing is created suddenly, any more than a bunch of grapes or a fig. If you tell me that you desire a fig, I answer you that there must be time. Let it first blossom, then bear fruit, then ripen.
- Epictetus: Discourses Chap. xv.


Louis J Sheehan

Louis J Sheehan, Esquire
Louis J Sheehan Esquire

Stoics believed in the idea of one universal human family. Just as it is contrary to nature to cut off your nose to spite your face, so it is contrary to nature to hurt members of your family, even if accepting people without being annoyed by them requires patience.

For we are made for co-operation, like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of the upper and lower teeth. To act against one another then is contrary to nature; and it is acting against one another to be vexed and to turn away.
- Marcus Aurelius: Meditations Book II

2. Help Your Fellow Man: Do Unto Others
We are all members of the human family. In recent years we've heard that it takes a village to raise a child and many of the countries of Europe joined together into the European Union. In these and many other ways, we see that we are all in it together. The Stoics wrote about it, and in 1624, so did John Donne (Meditation XVII):

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were. Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

Because we are all part of one "family," we should work to its good and not try to separate ourselves.

As thou thyself, whoever thou art, were made for the perfection and consummation, being a member of it, of a common society; so must every action of thine tend to the perfection and consummation of a life that is truly sociable. What action soever of thine therefore that either immediately or afar off, hath not reference to the common good, that is an exorbitant and disorderly action; yea it is seditious; as one among the people who from such and such a consent and unity, should factiously divide and separate himself.
- Marcus Aurelius: Meditations XXI

Labour not as one to whom it is appointed to be wretched, nor as one that either would be pitied, or admired; but let this be thine only care and desire; so always and in all things to prosecute or to forbear, as the law of charity, or mutual society doth require.
- Marcus Aurelius: Meditations 9.X

Helping others is acting according to nature, but it also has beneficial personal repercussions.

Wouldst thou have men speak good of thee? speak good of them. And when thou hast learned to speak good of them, try to do good unto them, and thus thou wilt reap in return their speaking good of thee.
- Epictetus: Golden Sayings L

3. Develop Good Habits: Practice Makes Perfect
Many modern resolutions fall under this heading. You should not set impossible standards, but you should constantly work on getting better:

Practise yourself, for heaven's sake, in little things; and thence proceed to greater.
- Epictetus: Discourses Chap xviii.

Whatever you would make habitual, practise it; and if you would not make a thing habitual, do not practise it, but habituate yourself to something else.
- Epictetus: How the Semblances of Things Are to Be Combated. Chap. xviii.

What makes the Stoic habit-development different is that the causes championed by repetition make you a better person. The Stoics even envisioned breaking of a bad habit by repetition. No going cold turkey for anger management here:

Reckon the days in which you have not been angry. I used to be angry every day; now every other day; then every third and fourth day; and if you miss it so long as thirty days, offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving to God.
- Epictetus: How the Semblances of Things Are to Be Combated. Chap. xviii.

If you don't know which habits you should develop, the Stoics have a list, albeit somewhat generic and obscure. You should develop the habit of avoiding evil, getting experience in your strengths, making wise decisions, and, appropriately enough, forming careful resolutions:

Shall I show you the muscular training of a philosopher? "What muscles are those?" -- A will undisappointed; evils avoided; powers daily exercised; careful resolutions; unerring decisions.
- Epictetus: Wherein consists the Essence of Good. Chap. viii.

4. Do Your Duty
Winston Churchill said, "All the great things are simple, and many can be expressed in a single word: freedom; justice; honor; duty; mercy; hope." Being part of the universe means you have duty. The sun has the duty to shine. The earth has the duty to rotate on its axis and make a yearly circuit of the sun. The bee has a duty to make honey. And humans have the duty to act so as to be good.

As it is the duty of the universe to maintain the round of the seasons, as it is the duty of the sun to vary the points of his rising and setting, and to do all these things by which we profit, without any reward, so is it the duty of man, amongst other things, to bestow benefits. Wherefore then does he give? He gives for fear that he should not give, lest he might lose an opportunity of doing a good action.
- Seneca: On Benefits 4.12

We also have the duty to keep our promises, all other things remaining equal. We should not, however, fret over reneging should we learn that our promise breaks the law or means going out when we have a fever.

When I promise to bestow a benefit, I promise it, unless something occurs which makes it my duty not to do so. What if, for example, my country orders me to give to her what I had promised to my friend? .... I shall be treacherous, and hear myself blamed for inconsistency, only if I do not fulfil, my promise when all conditions remain the same as when I made it; otherwise, any change makes me free to reconsider the entire case, and absolves me from my promise.
- Seneca: On Benefits 4.35

The Stoics have, not too surprisingly, rather a lot to say in the area of encouraging people to do their duty, since duty is, after all, not the fun stuff. Duty varies. Sometimes duty requires helping others with money; at other times, advice.

Do not grow weary, perform your duty, and act as becomes a good man. Help one man with money, another with credit, another with your favour; this man with good advice, that one with sound maxims.
- Seneca: On Benefits I.2

Men must be taught to be willing to give, willing to receive, willing to return; and to place before themselves the high aim, not merely of equalling, but even of surpassing those to whom they are indebted, both in good offices and in good feeling; because the man whose duty it is to repay, can never do so unless he out-does his benefactor;
- Seneca: On Benefits I.4

5. Adjust Your Attitude: You Get What You Need
You can't always get what you want, but you can change your attitude so you no longer want it. If for instance, you are robbed, you are likely to feel that you are the aggrieved party, but there is, actually another way to look at it. You lost your wallet, but what did the thief lose?

The reason why I lost my lamp was that the thief was superior to me in vigilance. He paid however this price for the lamp, that in exchange for it he consented to become a thief: in exchange for it, to become faithless.
- Epictetus: Golden Sayings XII

This is the area where we have the greatest control. If we do as the Stoics encourage, do nothing to hurt the community, act with deliberation, kindness

Let this be thy only joy, and thy only comfort, from one sociable kind action without intermission to pass unto another,
- Marcus Aurelius: Meditations 6.6

and care, and show true humility

Do nothing against thy will, nor contrary to the community, nor without due examination, nor with reluctancy. Affect not to set out thy thoughts with curious neat language. Be neither a great talker, nor a great undertaker.
- Marcus Aurelius: Meditations III. 5

we just might find we get what we need.

When we are invited to a banquet, we take what is set before us; and were one to call upon his host to set fish upon the table or sweet things, he would be deemed absurd. Yet in a word, we ask the Gods for what they do not give; and that, although they have given us so many things!
- Epictetus: Golden Sayings XXXV

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Mukasey Opens Criminal Probe
Into Destruction of CIA Tapes
January 2, 2008 5:02 p.m.

The Justice Department opened a criminal investigation into the Central Intelligence Agency's destruction of videos showing detainee interrogations of top al Qaeda suspects and appointed an outside prosecutor to handle the probe.

Attorney General Michael Mukasey said that a joint preliminary inquiry opened Dec. 8 by his department's National Security Division and the CIA's inspector general determined "there is a basis for initiating a criminal investigation of this matter."

[Michael Mukasey]
• Law Blog: Meet John Durham
• CIA Official Tended Toward Caution
• Justice to Probe Tape Destruction
• Letter to CIA About Tape Destruction
• Democrats Want Probe Into CIA Tapes


Born: June 23, 1892 - Lemberg (Lvov), Poland
Died: May 22, 1993 - Philadelphia, PA, USA

The Polish-born pianist, Mieczyslaw Horszowski, was taught to play the piano by his mother, a student of one of Chopin's students, and his main teacher, Theodor Leschetizky, was a protégé of Carl Czerny. Horszowski was playing (and transposing) Bach inventions at age five; at eight he was presented to the public as a prodigy, and at ten he began his formal career. He played for Fauré and perhaps Camille Saint-Saëns in 1905 and made his USA debut, at Carnegie Hall, the following year. It was also during 1906 that he met the youthful Pablo Casals and Arturo Toscanini, who became lifelong friends and collaborators. Horszowski was especially noted as a chamber music pianist and became a fixture of Casals' Prades Festival for many years.

Interrupting his high-flying career to pursue a humanities degree at the Sorbonne in Paris from 1911 to 1913, Mieczyslaw Horszowski moved to Milan during the war and remained there until 1939, touring internationally. As World War II broke out he was appearing in Brazil, and instead of returning to Europe he headed for the USA, where he remained for the rest of his life. He quickly found performing opportunities with Toscanini's NBC Symphony Orchestra, and he began teaching at Philadelphia's Curtis Institute in 1942. He was a fixture of New York's recital scene, performing complete cycles of Beethoven's piano works and Mozart sonatas and concertos, and he appeared at the White House in 1961 and 1978. Horszowski was the first person to record while playing the first known piano constructed, an instrument built in 1720 by Bartolomeo Cristofori and housed in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

In 1981, at age 89, Mieczyslaw Horszowski married for the first time; his wife was Italian pianist Beatrice Costa. His eyesight declined, which put an end to his concerto and chamber music performances, but he continued his solo recital career, performing from memory. He performed his last recital at age 99, slightly more than a year before his death in 1993. At the Curtis Institute he taught an impressive roster of students, including Anton Kuerti, Murray Perahia, and Richard Goode.

Mieczyslaw Horszowski played a range of music but focused on Bach, Beethoven, and Chopin, and even in his last years he essayed difficult works like Beethoven's Diabelli Variations. Although his recording career only goes back to 1936, the traditions of playing he represented are much older than that, dating back to the early Romantic era.


Horszowski was born in Lemberg Austria-Hungary (now Lviv, Ukraine) and was initially taught by his mother, a pupil of Karol Mikuli (himself a pupil of Chopin). He became a pupil of Teodor Leszetycki in Vienna at the age of seven; Leszetycki had studied with Beethoven's pupil Carl Czerny.

In 1901 he gave a performance of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 1 in Warsaw and soon after toured Europe and the Americas as a child prodigy. In 1905 the young Horszowski played to Gabriel Fauré and met Camille Saint-Saëns in Nice. In 1911 Horszowski put his performing career on hold in order to devote himself to literature, philosophy and art history in Paris.

Having returned to the concert stage with the encouragement of Pablo Casals, he settled in Milan after the First World War. After the Second World War he frequently gave recitals with artists such as Casals, Alexander Schneider, Joseph Szigeti and the Budapest Quartet. He often appeared at the Prades Festival and the Marlboro Festival. From 1940 he lived in New York City. In 1957 Horszowski gave a memorable cycle of Beethoven's entire solo works in New York, and in 1960 of Mozart's piano sonatas. His very diverse and extensive repertoire also embraced such composers as Honegger, d'Indy, Martinů, Stravinsky, Szymanowski and Villa-Lobos.

Horszowski was widely recorded, and can be heard on the HMV, Columbia, RCA, Deutsche Grammophon, Nonesuch, and other labels. He also taught at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, counting among his pupils Richard Goode, Anton Kuerti, Murray Perahia, Peter Serkin, and Steven DeGroote.

Horszowski, who had the longest career in the history of the performing arts, continued performing until shortly before his death, which occurred in Philadelphia one month before his 101st birthday.

Whilst Mieczysław Horszowski's family was of Jewish origin (which made him a fugitive from Europe in the 1930s), he was himself an early convert to Roman Catholicism, and a very devout one. As the French critic André Tubeuf has written (in his notes to the EMI re-issue of Horszowski's 1930s-era recordings of the Beethoven cello sonatas with Pablo Casals), "Horszowski was both very Jewish and very Catholic, in both cases as only a Pole could have been."

In 1981, the 89-year-old Horszowski married Bice Costa, an Italian pianist. Bice later edited Horszowski's memoirs and a volume of his mother's correspondence about Horszowski's early years. She also recovered and recorded some songs composed by Horszowski on French texts ca. 1913-1914.

Hjalmar Horace Greeley Schacht (22 January 1877 – 3 June 1970): Currency Commissioner and President of the Reichsbank under the Weimar Republic, and President of the Reichsbank under the Nazi regime between 1933 and 1939. Schacht was one of the primary drivers of Germany's policy of redevelopment, reindustrialization and rearmament, and was a fierce critic of his country's post-WW1 reparation obligations. Released from effective service to the Nazi government in 1939, Schacht ended WW2 in a concentration camp, and was tried and acquitted at Nuremberg for his role in Germany's war economy.

Gustave Gilbert, an American Army psychologist, was allowed to examine the Nazi leaders who were tried at Nuremberg for war crimes. Among other tests, a German version of the Wechsler-Bellevue IQ test was administered. Hjalmar Schacht scored 143, the highest among the Nazi leaders tested, albeit adjusted upwards to take account of his age.

Schacht was born in Tingleff, Imperial Germany (now in Denmark) to William Leonhard Ludwig Maximillian Schacht and Danish baroness Constanze Justine Sophie von Eggers. His parents, who had spent years in the United States, originally decided on the name Horace Greeley Schacht, in honor of the American journalist Horace Greeley. However, they yielded to the insistence of the Schacht family grandmother, who firmly believed the child's given name should be Danish. Schacht studied medicine, philology and political science before earning a doctorate in economics in 1899 — his thesis was on mercantilism.

He joined the Dresdner Bank in 1903, where he became deputy director from 1908 to 1915. He was then a member of the committee of direction of the German National Bank for the next seven years, until 1922, and after its merger with the Darmstädter und Nationalbank (Danatbank), a member of the Danatbank's committee of direction. In 1905, while on a business trip to the United States with board members of the Dresdner Bank, Schacht met the famous American banker J. P. Morgan, as well as U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt.

During the First World War, Schacht was tasked to serve on the staff of General von Lumm, the Banking Commissioner for Occupied Belgium. Schacht was responsible for organizing the financing of Germany's purchasing policy within the country, and was summarily dismissed by General von Lumm when it was discovered that he had used his previous employer, the Dresdner Bank, to channel the note remittances for nearly 500 million francs of Belgian national bonds destined to pay for the requisitions.

Subsequent to Schacht's dismissal from the public service, he resumed a brief stint at the Dresdner Bank, before moving on to various positions within rival establishments. In 1923, Schacht applied and was rejected for the position of head of the Reichsbank, largely as a result of his dismissal from von Lumm's service.

Despite the small blemish on his record, in November 1923, Schacht became currency commissioner for the Weimar Republic and participated in the introduction of the Rentenmark, a new currency the value of which was based on a mortgage on all of the properties in Germany. After his economic policies helped reduce German inflation and stabilize the German mark (Helferich Plan), Schacht was appointed president of the Reichsbank at the requests of President Friedrich Ebert and Chancellor Gustav Stresemann. He collaborated with other prominent economists to form the 1929 Young Plan to modify the way that war reparations were paid after Germany's economy was destabilizing under the Dawes Plan. In December 1929, he caused the fall of the Finance Minister Rudolf Hilferding by imposing upon the government his conditions for the obtention of a loan. After modifications by Hermann Müller's government to the Young Plan during the Second Conference of The Hague (January 1930), he stepped down from the position of Reichsbank Chairman on March 7, 1930. During 1930, Schacht campaigned against the war reparations requirement in the United States.

By 1926, Schacht had left the small German Democratic Party, which he had helped found, and was increasingly lending his support to the Nazi Party, to which he became closer between 1930 and 1932 (although he never officially became a member of the party). Close for a short time to Heinrich Brüning's government, Schacht shifted to the right by entering the Harzburg Front in October 1931.

Schacht's disillusionment with the existing Weimar government did not indicate a particular shift in his overall philosophy, but rather arose primarily out two issues: first, out of his objection to the inclusion of Socialist Party elements in the government, and the effect of their various construction and make-work projects on public expenditures and borrowings (and the consequent undermining of the government's anti-inflation efforts)[4]; second, on his fundamentally unwavering desire to see Germany retake its place on the international stage, and his recognition that "as the powers became more involved in their own economic problems in 1931 and 1932 . . . a strong government based on a broad national movement could use the existing conditions to regain Germany's sovereignty and equality as a world power."[5] Schacht was convinced that if the German government were ever to commence a wholesale reindustrialization and rearmament in spite the restrictions imposed by Germany's treaty obligations, it would have to be during a period lacking clear international consensus among the Great Powers

After the July 1932 elections, which saw the Nazis obtain more than a third of the seats, he helped the Nazi Wilhelm Kepler to organize a petition of industrial leaders requesting that President Hindenburg nominate Adolf Hitler as Chancellor of Germany. He returned as Reichsbanck Chairman on March 17, 1933 after Hitler's rise to power.

Though never a member of the Nazi Party, Schacht helped to raise funds for the party after meeting with Adolf Hitler. In August 1934 Hitler appointed Schacht as his Minister of Economics. Schacht supported public works programs, most notably the construction of autobahns (highways) to attempt to alleviate unemployment - policies which had been instituted in Germany under legislation drawn up by Kurt von Schleicher's government in late 1932, and had in turn influenced Roosevelt's policies. He also introduced the 'New Plan', Germany's autarchic attempt to distance itself from foreign entanglements in its economy, in September 1934. Germany had accrued a massive foreign currency deficit during the Great Depression, and it continued into the early years of the Nazis' reign. Schacht negotiated several trade agreements with countries in South America, and South-East Europe, ensuring that Germany would continue to receive raw materials from those countries, but that they would be paid in Reichsmarks; thus ensuring that the deficit would not get any worse; whilst allowing the Nazis to deal with the gap which had already developed. Schacht also found an innovative solution to the problem of the government deficit by using mefo bills. He was appointed General Plenipotentiary for the War Economy in May 1934 and was awarded honorary membership of the Nazi Party and the Golden Swastika in January 1937.

Though a anti-Semitic, Schacht disagreed with what he called "unlawful activities" against Germany's Jewish minority and in August 1935 made a speech denouncing Julius Streicher and the articles he had been writing in Der Stürmer.

Schacht began to lose power after the implementation of the Four Year Plan in 1936 by Hermann Göring. He resigned as Minister of Economics and General Plenipotentiary in November 1937 at the request of the Minister of Economics, Göring, due to disagreements with Hitler and Göring over military spending, which he believed would cause inflation. He was re-appointed President of the Reichsbank until Hitler dismissed him from his position in January 1939. After this Schacht held the title of Minister without Portfolio, mainly an honorific title, and received the same salary that he did as President of the Reichsbank until he was fully dismissed in January 1943.

To greater and lesser degrees, Schacht was involved in numerous attempted coups in the years between his dismissal from the Reichsbank and his imprisonment. Indeed, Schacht was one of the main driving forces behind the 1938 planned coup. At Schacht’s denazification trial (subsequent to his acquittal at Nuremberg) it was declared by a judge that “None of the civilians in the resistance did more or could have done more than Schacht actually did.”.

As a result of the various putsch attempts between 1938 and 1941, Schacht was arrested on 23 July 1944, accused of having participated in the July 20 Plot to assassinate Hitler [1]. He was sent to Ravensbrück and Flossenburg and finally to Dachau, where he remained until his liberation and subsequent re-imprisonment by Allied army in April 1945. He was arrested by the Allies and accused of war crimes at the Nuremberg Trials, but was acquitted and released in 1946. He was again arrested by Germans, tried in a denazification court and sentenced to eight years in a work camp, but was released early in September 1948. He formed the Düsseldorfer Außenhandelsbank Schacht & Co. after his release and became an economic and financial advisor for developing countries, in particular Non-Aligned heads of state, often also anti-Zionists. Schacht died in Munich, Germany on 3 June 1970.

Schacht was tried for crimes against peace in Nuremberg in 1946. His defence was that he was only a banker and economist, even though evidence showed that he participated in meetings that directly helped bring the Nazis to power, and that he admitted to breaking the Treaty of Versailles. He had created schemes to regiment the German workforce and gut the union movement, even before the election of Hitler.
Louis J Sheehan

Louis J Sheehan, Esquire
Louis J Sheehan Esquire

Schacht was one of the first at Nuremberg to offer to turn state’s evidence against his co-defendants, using letters to approach one of the Generals overseeing the trial with the offer of cooperation. Schacht’s move towards a plea bargain, although eventually quashed by Justice Jackson, led Goring to make a similar overture towards the prosecutors.

The judges were split on his case due to a lack of evidence against Schacht during the war years, with the British judges favoring acquittal and the Russian judges particularly opposed.

Robert Jackson, a member of the prosecution team and an Associate Justice of the United States, was so outraged at the trial result that he lashed out at Schacht as "the most dangerous and reprehensible type of all opportunists, someone who would use a Hitler for his own ends, and then claim, after Hitler was defeated, to have been against him all the time. He was part of a movement that he knew was wrong, but was in it just because he saw it was winning."

However, in its final decision (barely) vindicating Schacht, the tribunal declared that “rearmament of itself is not criminal under the Charter . . . To be a crime against Peace under Article 6 of the Charter it must be shown that Schacht carried out his rearmament as part of the Nazi plans to wage aggressive wars”. The judges went on to note that as a result of Schacht’s dismissal from the presidency of the Reichsbank in 1939, the case hung on entirely on whether Schacht had been cognizant of the plans of the government prior to his dismissal from the presidency of the Reichsbank. The trial judges asserted that insufficient evidence has been presented to justify such a conclusion, and Schacht was acquitted – one of only three defendants at Nuremberg to be so released[. Significant factors in establishing Schacht's innocence included the fact that he had lost all of his important posts before the war, had kept in close contact with dissidents such as Hans Bernd Gisevius throughout the war, and had spent most of the last year of the war as a concentration camp prisoner himself. His defenders argued that he was just a patriot, who was trying to make the German economy great. Furthermore, it was argued that when he saw what atrocities Hitler was committing the evidence suggests he did not approve[citation needed], and that fundamentally he was not a Nazi party member and shared very little of their ideology.

Schacht wrote 26 books during his lifetime, of which at least four have been translated in English:

* The End of Reparations, published in 1931
* Account Settled, published in 1949 after his acquittal at the Nuremberg Trials
* Confessions of the Old Wizard, an autobiography published in 1953
* The Magic Of Money, published in 1967



In May 2004, the White House dispatched the U.S. ambassador in Germany to pay an unusual visit to that country's interior minister. Ambassador Daniel R. Coats carried instructions from the State Department transmitted via the CIA's Berlin station because they were too sensitive and highly classified for regular diplomatic channels, according to several people with knowledge of the conversation.

Coats informed the German minister that the CIA had wrongfully imprisoned one of its citizens, Khaled Masri, for five months, and would soon release him, the sources said. There was also a request: that the German government not disclose what it had been told even if Masri went public. The U.S. officials feared exposure of a covert action program designed to capture terrorism suspects abroad and transfer them among countries, and possible legal challenges to the CIA from Masri and others with similar allegations.

The Masri case, with new details gleaned from interviews with current and former intelligence and diplomatic officials, offers a rare study of how pressure on the CIA to apprehend al Qaeda members after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks has led in some instances to detention based on thin or speculative evidence. The case also shows how complicated it can be to correct errors in a system built and operated in secret.

The CIA, working with other intelligence agencies, has captured an estimated 3,000 people, including several key leaders of al Qaeda, in its campaign to dismantle terrorist networks. It is impossible to know, however, how many mistakes the CIA and its foreign partners have made.

Unlike the military's prison for terrorist suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba -- where 180 prisoners have been freed after a review of their cases -- there is no tribunal or judge to check the evidence against those picked up by the CIA. The same bureaucracy that decides to capture and transfer a suspect for interrogation-- a process called "rendition" -- is also responsible for policing itself for errors.

The CIA inspector general is investigating a growing number of what it calls "erroneous renditions," according to several former and current intelligence officials.

One official said about three dozen names fall in that category; others believe it is fewer. The list includes several people whose identities were offered by al Qaeda figures during CIA interrogations, officials said. One turned out to be an innocent college professor who had given the al Qaeda member a bad grade, one official said.

"They picked up the wrong people, who had no information. In many, many cases there was only some vague association" with terrorism, one CIA officer said.

While the CIA admitted to Germany's then-Interior Minister Otto Schily that it had made a mistake, it has labored to keep the specifics of Masri's case from becoming public. As a German prosecutor works to verify or debunk Masri's claims of kidnapping and torture, the part of the German government that was informed of his ordeal has remained publicly silent. Masri's attorneys say they intend to file a lawsuit in U.S. courts this week.

Masri was held for five months largely because the head of the CIA's Counterterrorist Center's al Qaeda unit "believed he was someone else," one former CIA official said. "She didn't really know. She just had a hunch."
The CIA declined to comment for this article, as did Coats and a spokesman at the German Embassy in Washington. Schily did not respond to several requests for comment last week.

CIA officials stress that apprehensions and renditions are among the most sure-fire ways to take potential terrorists out of circulation quickly. In 2000, then-CIA Director George J. Tenet said that "renditions have shattered terrorist cells and networks, thwarted terrorist plans, and in some cases even prevented attacks from occurring."
The Counterterrorist Center

After the September 2001 attacks, pressure to locate and nab potential terrorists, even in the most obscure parts of the world, bore down hard on one CIA office in particular, the Counterterrorist Center, or CTC, located until recently in the basement of one of the older buildings on the agency's sprawling headquarters compound. With operations officers and analysts sitting side by side, the idea was to act on tips and leads with dramatic speed.

The possibility of missing another attack loomed large. "Their logic was: If one of them gets loose and someone dies, we'll be held responsible," said one CIA officer, who, like others interviewed for this article, would speak only anonymously because of the secretive nature of the subject.

To carry out its mission, the CTC relies on its Rendition Group, made up of case officers, paramilitaries, analysts and psychologists. Their job is to figure out how to snatch someone off a city street, or a remote hillside, or a secluded corner of an airport where local authorities wait.

Members of the Rendition Group follow a simple but standard procedure: Dressed head to toe in black, including masks, they blindfold and cut the clothes off their new captives, then administer an enema and sleeping drugs. They outfit detainees in a diaper and jumpsuit for what can be a day-long trip. Their destinations: either a detention facility operated by cooperative countries in the Middle East and Central Asia, including Afghanistan, or one of the CIA's own covert prisons -- referred to in classified documents as "black sites," which at various times have been operated in eight countries, including several in Eastern Europe.

In the months after the Sept. 11 attacks, the CTC was the place to be for CIA officers wanting in on the fight. The staff ballooned from 300 to 1,200 nearly overnight.

"It was the Camelot of counterterrorism," a former counterterrorism official said. "We didn't have to mess with others -- and it was fun."

Thousands of tips and allegations about potential threats poured in after the attacks. Stung by the failure to detect the plot, CIA officers passed along every tidbit. The process of vetting and evaluating information suffered greatly, former and current intelligence officials said. "Whatever quality control mechanisms were in play on September 10th were eliminated on September 11th," a former senior intelligence official said.

J. Cofer Black, a professorial former spy who spent years chasing Osama bin Laden, was the CTC's director. With a flair for melodrama, Black had earned special access to the White House after he briefed President Bush on the CIA's war plan for Afghanistan.

Colleagues recall that he would return from the White House inspired and talking in missionary terms. Black, now in the private security business, declined to comment.

Some colleagues said his fervor was in line with the responsibility Bush bestowed on the CIA when he signed a top secret presidential finding six days after the 9/11 attacks. It authorized an unprecedented range of covert action, including lethal measures and renditions, disinformation campaigns and cyber attacks against the al Qaeda enemy, according to current and former intelligence officials. Black's attitude was exactly what some CIA officers believed was needed to get the job done.

Others criticized Black's CTC for embracing a "Hollywood model" of operations, as one former longtime CIA veteran called it, eschewing the hard work of recruiting agents and penetrating terrorist networks. Instead, the new approach was similar to the flashier paramilitary operations that had worked so well in Afghanistan, and played well at the White House, where the president was keeping a scorecard of captured or killed terrorists.

The person most often in the middle of arguments over whether to dispatch a rendition team was a former Soviet analyst with spiked hair that matched her in-your-face personality who heads the CTC's al Qaeda unit, according to a half-dozen CIA veterans who know her. Her name is being withheld because she is under cover.

She earned a reputation for being aggressive and confident, just the right quality, some colleagues thought, for a commander in the CIA's global war on terrorism. Others criticized her for being overzealous and too quick to order paramilitary action.
The CIA and Guantanamo Bay

One way the CIA has dealt with detainees it no longer wants to hold is to transfer them to the custody of the U.S. military at Guantanamo Bay, where defense authorities decide whether to keep or release them after a review.

About a dozen men have been transferred by the CIA to Guantanamo Bay, according to a Washington Post review of military tribunal testimony and other records. Some CIA officials have argued that the facility has become, as one former senior official put it, "a dumping ground" for CIA mistakes.

But several former intelligence officials dispute that and defend the transfer of CIA detainees to military custody. They acknowledged that some of those sent to Guantanamo Bay are prisoners who, after interrogation and review, turned out to have less valuable information than originally suspected. Still, they said, such prisoners are dangerous and would attack if given the chance.

Among those released from Guantanamo is Mamdouh Habib, an Egyptian-born Australian citizen, apprehended by a CIA team in Pakistan in October 2001, then sent to Egypt for interrogation, according to court papers. He has alleged that he was burned by cigarettes, given electric shocks and beaten by Egyptian captors. After six months, he was flown to Guantanamo Bay and let go earlier this year without being charged.

Another CIA former captive, according to declassified testimony from military tribunals and other records, is Mohamedou Oulad Slahi, a Mauritanian and former Canada resident, who says he turned himself in to the Mauritanian police 18 days after the 9/11 attacks because he heard the Americans were looking for him. The CIA took him to Jordan, where he spent eight months undergoing interrogation, according to his testimony, before being taken to Guantanamo Bay.

Another is Muhammad Saad Iqbal Madni, an Egyptian imprisoned by Indonesia authorities in January 2002 after he was heard talking -- he says jokingly -- about a new shoe bomb technology. He was flown to Egypt for interrogation and returned to CIA hands four months later, according to one former intelligence official. After being held for 13 months in Afghanistan, he was taken to Guantanamo Bay, according to his testimony.
The Masri Case

Khaled Masri came to the attention of Macedonian authorities on New Year's Eve 2003. Masri, an unemployed father of five living in Ulm, Germany, said he had gone by bus to Macedonia to blow off steam after a spat with his wife. He was taken off a bus at the Tabanovce border crossing by police because his name was similar to that of an associate of a 9/11 hijacker. The police drove him to Skopje, the capital, and put him in a motel room with darkened windows, he said in a recent telephone interview from Germany.

The police treated Masri firmly but cordially, asking about his passport, which they insisted was forged, about al Qaeda and about his hometown mosque, he said. When he pressed them to let him go, they displayed their pistols.

Unbeknown to Masri, the Macedonians had contacted the CIA station in Skopje. The station chief was on holiday. But the deputy chief, a junior officer, was excited about the catch and about being able to contribute to the counterterrorism fight, current and former intelligence officials familiar with the case said.

"The Skopje station really wanted a scalp because everyone wanted a part of the game," a CIA officer said. Because the European Division chief at headquarters was also on vacation, the deputy dealt directly with the CTC and the head of its al Qaeda unit.

In the first weeks of 2004, an argument arose over whether the CIA should take Masri from local authorities and remove him from the country for interrogation, a classic rendition operation.

The director of the al Qaeda unit supported that approach. She insisted he was probably a terrorist, and should be imprisoned and interrogated immediately.

Others were doubtful. They wanted to wait to see whether the passport was proved fraudulent. Beyond that, there was no evidence Masri was not who he claimed to be -- a German citizen of Arab descent traveling after a disagreement with his wife.

The unit's director won the argument. She ordered Masri captured and flown to a CIA prison in Afghanistan.

On the 23rd day of his motel captivity, the police videotaped Masri, then bundled him, handcuffed and blindfolded, into a van and drove to a closed-off building at the airport, Masri said. There, in silence, someone cut off his clothes. As they changed his blindfold, "I saw seven or eight men with black clothing and wearing masks," he later said in an interview. He said he was drugged to sleep for a long plane ride.

Masri said his cell in Afghanistan was cold, dirty and in a cellar, with no light and one dirty cover for warmth. The first night he said he was kicked and beaten and warned by an interrogator: "You are here in a country where no one knows about you, in a country where there is no law. If you die, we will bury you, and no one will know."

Masri was guarded during the day by Afghans, he said. At night, men who sounded as if they spoke American-accented English showed up for the interrogation. Sometimes a man he believed was a doctor in a mask came to take photos, draw blood and collect a urine sample.

Back at the CTC, Masri's passport was given to the Office of Technical Services to analyze. By March, OTS had concluded the passport was genuine. The CIA had imprisoned the wrong man.

At the CIA, the question was: Now what? Some officials wanted to go directly to the German government; others did not. Someone suggested a reverse rendition: Return Masri to Macedonia and release him. "There wouldn't be a trace. No airplane tickets. Nothing. No one would believe him," one former official said. "There would be a bump in the press, but then it would be over."

Once the mistake reached Tenet, he laid out the options to his counterparts, including the idea of not telling the Germans. Condoleezza Rice, then Bush's national security adviser, and Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage argued they had to be told, a position Tenet took, according to one former intelligence official.

"You couldn't have the president lying to the German chancellor" should the issue come up, a government official involved in the matter said.

Senior State Department officials decided to approach Interior Minister Schily, who had been a steadfast Bush supporter even when differences over the Iraq war strained ties between the two countries. Ambassador Coats had excellent rapport with Schily.

The CIA argued for minimal disclosure of information. The State Department insisted on a truthful, complete statement. The two agencies quibbled over whether it should include an apology, according to officials.

Meanwhile, Masri was growing desperate. There were rumors that a prisoner had died under torture. Masri could not answer most questions put to him. He said he steadied himself by talking with other prisoners and reading the Koran.

A week before his release in late May 2004, Masri said he was visited in prison by a German man with a goatee who called himself Sam. Masri said he asked him if he were from the German government and whether the government knew he was there. Sam said he could not answer either question.

"Does my wife at least know I'm here?" Masri asked.

"No, she does not," Sam replied, according to Masri.

Sam told Masri he was going to be released soon but that he would not receive any documents or papers confirming his ordeal. The Americans would never admit they had taken him prisoner, Sam added, according to Masri.

On the day of his release, the prison's director, who Masri believed was an American, told Masri that he had been held because he "had a suspicious name," Masri said in an interview.

Several intelligence and diplomatic officials said Macedonia did not want the CIA to bring Masri back inside the country, so the agency arranged for him to be flown to Albania. Masri said he was taken to a narrow country road at dusk. When they let him off, "They asked me not to look back when I started walking," Masri said. "I was afraid they would shoot me in the back."

He said he was quickly met by three armed men. They drove all night, arriving in the morning at Mother Teresa Airport in Tirana. Masri said he was escorted onto the plane, past all the security checkpoints, by an Albanian.

Masri has been reunited with his children and wife, who had moved the family to Lebanon because she did not know where her husband was. Unemployed and lonely, Masri says neither his German nor Arab friends dare associate with him because of the publicity.

Meanwhile, a German prosecutor continues to work Masri's case. A Macedonia bus driver has confirmed that Masri was taken away by border guards on the date he gave investigators. A forensic analysis of Masri's hair showed he was malnourished during the period he says he was in the prison. Flight logs show a plane registered to a CIA front company flew out of Macedonia on the day Masri says he went to Afghanistan.

Masri can find few words to explain his ordeal. "I have very bad feelings" about the United States, he said. "I think it's just like in the Arab countries: arresting people, treating them inhumanly and less than that, and with no rights and no laws."
Published on Monday, March 20, 2000 in the San Francisco Bay Guardian
Art Attack: Gene Stilp Uses Props And A Wicked Sense Of Humor To Focus Media Attention On Public Policy Issues
by Ralph Nader

Imagine a public interest artist using the town square as a canvas. Now comes Gene Stilp, a 49-year-old lawyer with a keen advocacy sense, a nose for news, and the creativity and skills to communicate a complicated public policy initiative with a prop that's guaranteed to generate media coverage and capture hearts and minds. Gene is more at home in the workshop than the courtroom.

Stilp's gallery includes some unusual works:

A 30-foot ear of corn. This mutant vegetable greeted the participants at a Food and Drug Administration hearing on genetically modified foods in Washington, D.C. in late 1999. With about $400, Stilp and his activist associates assembled the enormous ear of corn out of chicken wire, 1,000 recycled milk cartons, and twine. The prop was featured in The New York Times, USA Today, and a myriad of electronic and print sources throughout the country

A 24-foot SUV. Stilp supplied the Public Interest Research Group with a 24-foot-long, 14-foot-high, 10-foot-wide inflatable SUV to help the group call attention to the gas-guzzling SUVs that are crowding the nations' highways. The SUV prop is hard for the media to avoid and it helps jolt the public into thinking about the consequences of wasting energy on oversized vehicles

The Peco burnt-toast toaster. In 1998 the Pennsylvania state legislature debated electric deregulation. In order to call attention to a proposed bailout of the nuclear industry, Stilp refashioned a 1963 Airstream Trailer into a 20-foot-long, 12-foot-high toaster. Two 10-foot-long, 4-foot-high pieces of blackened toast were popping out. With the flick of a remote switch, smoke poured out of the top of the toaster to replicate burning toast. Signs adorning the toaster proclaimed, "Don't Get Burned By PECO."

Stilp has been a an outspoken activist for more than two decades on issues ranging from hunger to nuclear safety. He is always ready to help concerned citizens make their voices heard in the corridors of power.

Stilp's motivation to build props stems from his desire to help groups that can't afford to buy television time or newspaper ads. Most Stilp creations start with a creative impulse followed by a quick trip to the hardware store or junkyard. With bailing wire and two-by-fours, he begins the job of making an issue move from the mimeograph machines of local and national activists to daily newspapers and evening news shows.

Capitalizing on the national attention generated every February by Groundhog Day, Stilp used Feb. 2 to launch the first official Global Warming Forecasting Ground Hog. With the U.S. Capitol as a backdrop, "Globbie," a small, but effective, groundhog sculpture, predicted adverse climate changes for the coming year.

The corrupting influence special-interest money has on politics is an important matter. Stilp's approach to this issue prompted him to spend about $200 to build a full-scale replica of the Lincoln Bed. (The Lincoln Bedroom was made notorious as a result of President Clinton's campaign contributors being offered a chance to sleep in the real Lincoln Bedroom in the White House.)

As the U.S. Congress gathered in Hershey, Pennsylvania for a "civility retreat" in 1997, they were greeted by the prop – with an attached meter that recorded donations for time spent in the bed. This prop focused attention on campaign finance reform and the congressional and presidential campaign finance abuse investigations, and resulted in national media coverage of the need for campaign finance reform.

Stilp was interviewed by a host of national correspondents while he lounged in the "Lincoln Bed." In the coming year, Stilp hopes to transform his lifelong passion for building props for causes into an enduring institution called the National Prop Shop. This nonprofit enterprise will help public interest groups make use of creative props and incorporate props into their campaign efforts. Stilp wants the activist community to use the National Prop Shop, but ultimately he would like to see every community have the ability to assemble local talent to build the props they might need to dramatize local issues.

People interested in contributing ideas, materials, or funds for this unique public institution should contact Stilp at The Prop Shop, 1550 FVCR, Harrisburg, PA 17112.


The Insurance Hoax

Property insurers use secret tactics to cheat customers out of payments--as profits break records.

By David Dietz and Darrell Preston
Bloomberg Markets September 2007

Julie Tunnell remembers standing in her debris-strewn driveway when the tall man in blue jeans approached. Her northern San Diego tudor-style home had been incinerated a week earlier in the largest wildfire in California history. The blaze in October and November 2003 swept across an area 19 times the size of Manhattan, destroying 2,232 homes and killing 15 people. Now came another blow.

A representative of State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co., the largest home insurer in the U.S., came to the charred remnants of Tunnell's home to tell her the company would pay just $220,000 of the estimated $306,000 cost of rebuilding the house.

"It was devastating; I stood there and cried," says Tunnell, 42, who teaches accounting at San Diego City College. "I felt absolutely abandoned."

Tunnell joined thousands of people in the U.S. who already knew a secret about the insurance industry: When there's a disaster, the companies homeowners count on to protect them from financial ruin routinely pay less than what policies promise. Insurers often pay 30-60 percent of the cost of rebuilding a damaged home--even when carriers assure homeowners they're fully covered, thousands of complaints with state insurance departments and civil court cases show.

Paying out less to victims of catastrophes has helped produce record profits. In the past 12 years, insurance company net income has soared--even in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the worst natural disaster in U.S. history. Property- casualty insurers, which cover damage to homes and cars, reported their highest- ever profit of $73 billion last year, up 49 percent from $49 billion in 2005, according to Highline Data LLC, a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based firm that compiles insurance industry data.

The 60 million U.S. homeowners who pay more than $50 billion a year in insurance premiums are often disappointed when they discover insurers won't pay the full cost of rebuilding their damaged or destroyed homes. Property insurers systematically deny and reduce their policyholders' claims, according to court records in California, Florida, Illinois, Mississippi, New Hampshire and Tennessee. The insurance companies routinely refuse to pay market prices for homes and replacement contents, they use computer programs to cut payouts, they change policy coverage with no clear explanation, they ignore or alter engineering reports, and they sometimes ask their adjusters to lie to customers, court records and interviews with former employees and state regulators show. As Mississippi Republican U.S. Senator Trent Lott and thousands of other homeowners have found, insurers make low offers--or refuse to pay at all--and then dare people to fight back.

"It's despicable not to make good-faith offers to everybody," says Robert Hunter, who was Texas insurance commissioner from 1993 to '95 and is now insurance director at the Washington-based Consumer Federation of America. "Money managers have taken over this whole industry. Their eyes are not on people who are hurt but on the bottom line for the next quarter."

The industry's drive for profit has overwhelmed its obligation to policyholders, says California Lieutenant Governor John Garamendi, a Democrat. As California's insurance commissioner from 2002 to '06, Garamendi imposed $18.4 million in fines against carriers for mistreating customers. "There's a fundamental economic conflict between the customer and the company," he says. "That is, the company doesn't want to pay. The first commandment of insurance is, 'Thou shalt pay as little and as late as possible.'"

Although the tension between insurers and their customers has long existed, it was in the 1990s that the industry began systematically looking for ways to increase profits by streamlining claims handling. Hurricane Hugo was a major catalyst. The 1989 storm, which battered North and South Carolina, left the industry reeling from $4.2 billion in claims. In September 1992, Allstate Corp., the second-largest U.S. home insurer, sought advice on improved efficiency from McKinsey & Co., a New York-based consulting firm that has advised many of the world's biggest corporations, according to records in at least six civil court cases.

State Farm, based in Bloomington, Illinois, and Los Angeles-based Farmers Group Inc., the third-largest home insurer in the U.S., also hired McKinsey as a consultant, court records show.

McKinsey produced about 13,000 pages of documents, including PowerPoint slides, in the 1990s, for Northbrook, Illinois-based Allstate. The consulting firm developed methods for the company to become more profitable by paying out less in claims, according to videotaped evidence presented in Fayette Circuit Court in Lexington, Kentucky, in a civil case involving a 1997 car accident.

One slide McKinsey prepared for Allstate was entitled "Good Hands or Boxing Gloves," the tape of the Kentucky court hearing shows. For 57 years, Allstate has advertised its employees as the "Good Hands People," telling customers they will be well cared for in times of need. The McKinsey slides had a new twist on that slogan. When a policyholder files a claim, first make a low offer, McKinsey advised Allstate. If a client accepts the low amount, Allstate should treat the person with good hands, McKinsey said. If the customer protests or hires a lawyer, Allstate should fight back.

"If you don't take the pittance they offer, they're going to put on the boxing gloves and they're going to batter injured victims," plaintiffs attorney J. Dale Golden told Judge Thomas Clark at the May 12, 2005, hearing in which the lawyer introduced the McKinsey slides.

One McKinsey slide displayed at the Kentucky hearing featured an alligator with the caption "Sit and Wait." The slide says Allstate can discourage claimants by delaying settlements and stalling court proceedings. By postponing payments, insurance companies can hold money longer and make more on their investments-- and often wear down clients to the point of dropping a challenge. "An alligator sits and waits," Golden told the judge, as they looked at the slide describing a reptile.

McKinsey's advice helped spark a turnaround in Allstate's finances. The company's profit rose 140 percent to $4.99 billion in 2006, up from $2.08 billion in 1996. Allstate lifted its income partly by paying less to its policyholders. Allstate spent 58 percent of its premium income in 2006 for claim payouts and the costs of the process compared with 79 percent in 1996, according to filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The payout expense, called a loss ratio, changes each year based on events such as natural disasters; overall, it's been decreasing since Allstate hired McKinsey.

Investors have noticed. Allstate's stock price jumped fourfold to $60.95 on July 11 from its closing price on June 3, 1993, the day of its initial public offering. During the same period, the Standard & Poor's 500 Index rose threefold. State Farm's profits have doubled since 1996 to $4.8 billion in 2006. Because State Farm is a mutual company, meaning it's owned by its policyholders, it doesn't have shares that trade publicly.

"This is about as good a stretch as I've seen," says Michael Chren, who manages $1.5 billion at Allegiant Asset Management Co. in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, and has followed the property-casualty industry for 20 years. The industry's performance during the past five years has been superb, even with payouts for Katrina, he says. "All the stars have been in alignment. There has been decent pricing of products and an extremely attractive and very low loss ratio."

Reducing payouts is just one way the industry has improved profits. Carriers have also raised premiums and withdrawn from storm-plagued areas such as the Gulf Coast of the U.S. and parts of Long Island, New York--to lower costs and increase income, says Amy Bach, executive director of United Policyholders, a San Francisco-based group that advises consumers on insurance claims. "What this says is that the industry has been raking in spectacular profits while they're getting more and more audacious in their tactics," she says.

Allstate spokesman Michael Siemienas says the company won't comment on what role McKinsey played in lowering the insurer's loss ratio and boosting its profits. Allstate did change the way it handles homeowners' insurance claims, he says. "In the early 1990s, Allstate redesigned its claims practices to more efficiently and effectively handle claims and better serve our customers," he says.

"Allstate's goal remains the same: to investigate, evaluate and promptly resolve each claim based on its merits," Siemienas says. "Allstate believes its claim processes support this goal and are absolutely sound."

McKinsey doesn't discuss any of its work for clients, spokesman Mark Garrett says.

Jerry Choate, Allstate's chief executive officer from 1995 to '98, said at a news conference in New York in 1997 that the company's new claims-handling process had reduced payments and increased profit, according to a report in a March 1997 edition of National Underwriter magazine. Insurers can't make significantly more money just from cutting sales costs, he told reporters. "The leverage is really on the claims side," Choate said. "If you don't win there, I don't care what you do on the front end. You're not going to win."

The more cash insurers can keep from premiums, the more they can invest. This pool of assets--most of which the companies invest in government and corporate bonds--is known as float.

"Simply put, float is money we hold that is not ours but which we get to invest," billionaire Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., wrote in his annual letter to shareholders this year. "When an insurer earns an underwriting profit, float is better than free," he wrote in 2006. Omaha, Nebraska-based Berkshire Hathaway generated 51 percent of its $11 billion profit in 2006 from insurance.

Claims payouts for the entire property-casualty industry have decreased in the past decade. In 2006, carriers paid out 55 percent of the $435.8 billion in premiums collected, according to the Insurance Information Institute, a trade group in New York. That compares with a 64 percent payout ratio on $267.6 billion in premium revenue in 1996. As companies pay less to policyholders, their investment gains are growing, according to the trade group and research firm A.M. Best Co. in Oldwick, New Jersey. The industry has increased profits by an annual average of 46 percent since 1994, Institute data show. In 2006, carriers invested $1.2 trillion and recorded a net gain of $52.3 billion, up from $713.5 billion invested for a gain of $39.1 billion in 1994.
Louis J Sheehan

Louis J Sheehan, Esquire
Louis J Sheehan Esquire

Insurance companies are no longer following their mandate to take care of policyholders' money and then pay it out when needed, says Douglas Heller, executive director of the nonprofit Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights in Santa Monica, California. "The whole purpose of insurance is evaporating before our eyes as we continue to send checks to the companies," Heller says. "Insurers are looking to shed their purpose as a risk bearer and become financial institutions."

That kind of criticism is unwarranted, says Robert Hartwig, chief economist at the Insurance Information Institute. He says about 1 percent of policyholders contest what they're offered. "The insurance industry can be justifiably proud of its performance," Hartwig says. "It's in the insurance industry's best interests to settle claims as fairly and as rapidly as possible."

Companies have sharpened the use of technology in the past 20 years to help tighten claims payouts. Insurers following McKinsey's advice on claims processing have adopted computer programs with names such as Colossus and Xactimate. Colossus, made by El Segundo, California-based Computer Sciences Corp., calculates the cost of treating people injured in auto accidents, including the degree of pain and suffering they'll endure and any permanent impairment they may have, according to Computer Sciences' Web site. Xactimate, made by Xactware Solutions Inc. of Orem, Utah, is a program that estimates the cost of rebuilding a home.

Insurers sometimes manipulate these programs to pay out as little as possible, lawsuits have asserted. "Programs like Colossus are designed to systematically underpay policyholders without adequately examining the validity of each individual claim," former Texas insurance commissioner Hunter told the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation on April 11. He also criticized Xactimate. "If you don't accept their offer, which is a low ball, you end up in court," Hunter said. "And that was the recommendation of McKinsey." Computer Sciences and Xactware declined to comment.

Farmers Group, a subsidiary of Zurich Financial Services AG, agreed in 2005 to stop using Colossus to evaluate claims filed by policyholders who have accidents with uninsured or underinsured drivers. The move was part of a $40 million settlement in a class-action lawsuit in Pottawatomie County District Court in Oklahoma in which the plaintiffs claimed the company had repeatedly and wrongly failed to pay enough for crash injuries.

An internal e-mail introduced in the Farmers lawsuit shows the company had pressured its adjusters, whom it calls claims representatives, or CRs, to pay out smaller amounts--and rewarded them when they did.

"As you know, we have been creeping up in settlements," David Harding, a Farmers claims manager, wrote in an e-mail to employees on Nov. 20, 2001. "Our CRs must resist the temptation of paying more just to move this type file. Teach them to say, 'Sorry, no more,' with a toothy grin and mean it." Harding praised a worker for making low settlements. "It can be done as Darren consistently does," he wrote. "If he keeps this up during 2002, we will pay him accordingly."

Farmers said in court papers that it didn't seek to pay less than customers were due. "The e-mail speaks for itself," Farmers wrote. "Plaintiff's characterization of it is denied."

Edward Rust Jr., CEO of State Farm, testified in a 2006 civil case that his company revamped its claims handling through a project called ACE, or Advanced Claims Excellence. McKinsey suggested the use of ACE, according to evidence presented in the district court of Grady County, Oklahoma.

"Technology has allowed us to really streamline our claim organization to be more efficient and responsive," Rust testified. He said the company wanted to cut expenses for claims. In the Oklahoma case, Bridget and Donald Watkins, whose Grady County house was destroyed during a tornado in 1999, accused State Farm of misrepresenting the damage from the storm and won a $12.9 million judgment in May 2006. Watkins and State Farm agreed to an undisclosed settlement after the judgment.

Hunter, who also headed the federal flood insurance program under Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, told Congress that Allstate, with McKinsey's guidance, gave the name Claim Core Process Redesign to its strategy to change payout practices.

As pervasive as computers have become in insurance, the key actor in settling claims is still the adjuster, the person who talks to policyholders and decides how much they should be paid. Allstate has asked adjusters to deceive customers, says Jo Ann Katzman, who worked as a claims adjuster for Allstate in 2002 and '03. She says managers regularly came to her office in Farmington Hills, Michigan, to give pep talks on keeping claim payments down. They awarded prizes such as portable refrigerators to adjusters who tried to deny claims by blaming fires on arson without justification, she says. "We were told to lie by our supervisors," says Katzman, 49, who quit by taking a company buyout in 2003. "It's tough to look at people and know you're lying."

Katzman says an adjuster at Allstate, on orders from a supervisor, told an 89- year-old Detroit fire victim that Allstate wouldn't replace cabinets in her home even though the insurance policy said they were covered. In another case, Katzman says Allstate wouldn't replace a fire-damaged refrigerator--an appliance she says was covered. Katzman now runs Accurate Estimating Services, an independent adjusting company in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Allstate's Siemienas declined to comment on Katzman's statements.

Insurers sometimes order employees to offer replacement cost settlements that have no connection to actual prices of home contents, according to testimony in a civil trial. A jury in November 2005 awarded Larry Stone and Linda Della Pelle $5.2 million in punitive damages and $616,000 to construct a new house after finding that Fidelity National Insurance Co. of Jacksonville, Florida, had underpaid the couple by $183,000 when it offered them $433,000 to rebuild their two-story Claremont, California, residence.

During the trial in Los Angeles Superior Court, Ricardo Echeverria, the couple's attorney, questioned Kenneth Drake, president of Canyon Country, California- based RJG Construction Inc., who had been hired by Fidelity's lawyers to evaluate damage estimates.

"Are you telling us that sometimes, because the insurance carriers dictate what amounts they are willing to allow for unit costs, estimators then have to comply with that?" asked Echeverria, according to the court transcript.

"That's absolutely true," Drake said.

"Do you think that's fair?" Echeverria asked.

"Fair or not, it's the name of our business," Drake said.

Drake declined to comment on his testimony. Fidelity is appealing the award.

A New Hampshire case involving a home destroyed in a fire exposed another insurance company tactic: changing a policy retroactively. In April 2003, the Rockingham county attorney in Kingston, New Hampshire, found that a unit of Hartford Financial Services Group Inc. had deleted the replacement cost portion of the homeowner's policy of Terry Bennett after his five-bedroom house burned to the ground in 1993. Bennett, a physician, sued Twin City Fire Insurance Co., claiming his home and its contents--including antiques and fine art--were worth $20 million, not the $1.7 million the insurer paid him. After an 11-year battle, he settled with Hartford in 2004 for an undisclosed amount. "Fighting an insurance company is like staring down the wrong end of a cannon," Bennett says.

An unprecedented number of people stared down that cannon after Hurricane Katrina. The August 2005 storm killed more than 1,600 people in Louisiana and Mississippi, left 500,000 people homeless and cost insurers $41.1 billion. More than 1,000 homeowners sued their insurers in the wake of the storm--the largest- ever number of insurance lawsuits stemming from a U.S. natural disaster.

For insurers, the multibillion-dollar question regarding Katrina was how much of the destruction was caused by wind and how much by water. Property insurance policies don't cover damage caused by flooding; homeowners have to purchase separate insurance administered by the U.S. government. The wind/water issue has spurred allegations that insurers manipulated the findings of adjusters and engineers.

Ken Overstreet, an engineer based in Diamondhead, Mississippi, who examined destroyed Gulf Coast residences, says someone altered his findings on the cause of the damage to at least four homes. "We were working for insurance companies, and they wanted certain results," says Overstreet, who has been a licensed civil engineer since 1981. "They wanted to get a desired outcome, and that's what they did."

Overstreet, who was working for Houston-based Rimkus Consulting Group Inc., prepared a report on the Gulfport, Mississippi, home of Hubert and Joyce Smith for Meritplan Insurance Co. The engineer found that both wind and water had damaged the house. "The winds out of the east would have racked the entire structure to the west and simply lifted the footings up," he wrote.

Meritplan declined to pay anything to the Smiths, telling them that all of the damage was caused by water. The company sent the Smiths what it said was Overstreet's engineering report. "Due to the extent of the structural damage to the residence, the storm surge accounted for the damage," the report they got said. The Smiths called Overstreet and asked him to look at what Meritplan had sent them. Overstreet says he looked at both reports side by side and then told the couple that someone had changed his conclusion after his inspection.

"If they defrauded me, how many more did they defraud?" asks Hubert Smith, 88, a retired chiropractor. "There's a lot of crap going on."

Six lawsuits against Rimkus allege the company altered engineering reports. "Those allegations are absolutely false," says Arch Currid, a Rimkus spokesman. "There's no fact to those claims. We're going to vigorously defend ourselves in court, and we're confident we will prevail."

Ed Essa, a spokesman for Calabasas, California-based Countrywide Financial Corp., the parent of Meritplan, says the company confidentially settled a lawsuit with the Smiths in March.

Another engineer involved in Katrina, Bob Kochan, CEO of Forensic Analysis & Engineering Corp., says State Farm asked him to redo his reports because the insurer disagreed with the engineers' conclusions. Kochan sent an Oct. 17, 2005, e-mail to his staff saying State Farm executive Alexis "Lecky" King asked for the changes. "Lecky told me that she is experiencing this same concern with other engineering companies," Kochan wrote. "In her words, 'They are all too emotionally involved and working too hard to find justifications to call it wind damage.'"

Kochan says he complied so State Farm didn't cut its contract with his company. "They didn't like our conclusions," he says. "We agreed to re-evaluate each of our assignments."

Randy Down, an engineer at Raleigh, North Carolina-based Forensic, wrote this Oct. 18, 2005, e-mail response to Kochan: "I have a serious concern about the ethics of this whole matter. I really question the ethics of someone who wants to fire us simply because our conclusions don't match theirs." The e-mails were made public in a civil case against State Farm in Jackson, Mississippi.

State Farm spokesman Phil Supple says Kochan's e-mail comments are out of context. He says sometimes information in engineering reports doesn't support the conclusions.

One State Farm policyholder in Mississippi was Senator Lott, who lost his home in Katrina. He sued State Farm for fraud in U.S. District Court in Jackson, after the insurer ruled that his home had been damaged by water and refused to pay him anything. "It's long overdue for this industry to be held accountable," Lott, 65, says. Lott and State Farm agreed to a confidential settlement in April.

Lott has introduced legislation to have insurers regulated by the federal government. That would supplant a patchwork system of regulation by states. Insurance has no body analogous to the SEC, which can refer cases to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution. That doesn't happen with insurers. The most that state insurance departments typically do is impose civil fines when companies mistreat customers. Such sanctions are weak and infrequent, says Hunter, the former Texas insurance commissioner. Before Katrina, no state or federal prosecutor had ever investigated a nationally known property-casualty company for criminal mistreatment of policyholders. Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood says a federal grand jury is probing insurance company claims handling after the hurricane.

There was no criminal investigation after State Farm offered just 15 percent of replacement costs to Michele and Tim Ray, whose house was wrecked by a tornado in April 2006. A contractor estimated the cost to rebuild the Hendersonville, Tennessee, home at $254,000. State Farm made three inspections of the property, Ray says, and sent the Rays a check for $36,000, which the couple returned. A year after the twister, the couple remained in the damaged home, with their tattered roof covered by tarpaulins. In April, after Bloomberg News submitted questions to State Farm about the Ray case, the company inspected the house again. This time, it gave the Rays $302,000. "We decided to call it a total loss and agreed to pay the policy limits after deciding the damage was caused by the storm," State Farm spokesman Shawn Johnson says.

State Farm won't discuss what role McKinsey played in helping the insurer shape its approach toward customers. Similarly, no official at any insurer that hired McKinsey is willing to talk about the consulting firm.

Privately held McKinsey, which has 14,000 employees in 40 countries, has worked for many of the largest companies in the world, according to its Web site. "We take pride in doing what is right rather than what is right for the profitability of our firm," Managing Director Ian Davis says in a quote posted on the site.

McKinsey pioneered the overhaul of the property casualty industry at Allstate. The company hired McKinsey in 1992 after the insurer was spun off from what's now Sears Holdings Corp. of Hoffman Estates, Illinois, says David Berardinelli, a Santa Fe, New Mexico, lawyer who won access to view the McKinsey documents for a limited time during a lawsuit involving an auto accident. McKinsey advised the insurer to pay claims quickly at low amounts while delaying payments for as long as possible for those who wanted large settlements, Berardinelli says. "They're capitalizing on the vulnerability of people," he says.

Berardinelli says McKinsey suggested that Allstate hold so-called town hall meetings with claims adjusters to urge them to pay less to customers.

Shannon Kmatz, a former Allstate claims adjuster, says she attended some of those sessions. She says managers told employees to keep claim payouts as low as possible. "The leaders of those town hall meetings were always concerned that we were doing our part to help the stock price by keeping claims down," says Kmatz, 34, who worked for Allstate for three years in New Mexico in the late 1990s and is now a police officer. "It was obvious from the get-go that all they were concerned about was the bottom line."

Just once, at the May 2005 hearing in Lexington, Kentucky, the PowerPoint slides McKinsey prepared for Allstate were made public. William Hager and his wife, Geneva, who suffered neck and back injuries after the family's car was rear- ended in a 1997 accident in Lexington, sued the insurer, claiming the company failed to cover her medical expenses. The case is scheduled to go to trial in October.

One McKinsey slide prepared for Allstate was called "Zero-Sum Economic Game," a videotape of the court hearing shows. The slide explains that there are winners and losers, and the insurance company can win by paying out small amounts. "There is a finite pool of money," Golden, the plaintiffs attorney, told the judge at the hearing. "Either it goes to the injured victim or it goes to Allstate's pocket as surplus."

Allstate's attorney at the hearing, Mindy Barfield of Lexington, didn't say anything about the McKinsey slides. She didn't return phone calls seeking her comments.

Former federal flood insurance commissioner Hunter says the McKinsey approach exploits policyholders. "McKinsey presented it as a zero-sum game in which the winners would be Allstate and the losers would be the claimants," Hunter says. "I don't think a claims system should be viewed in that light. It's against any principles on how you should settle insurance claims. They should be settled on their merits."

Allstate convinced the judge to seal the McKinsey slides before and after the Lexington hearing. The insurer has resisted attempts to make the consulting firm's work public in courts across the U.S., arguing it contains trade secrets. In 2004, the company was sanctioned by the Bartholomew Circuit Court in Indiana and fined $10,000 for refusing to turn over the records to attorney Richard Enyon, representing an auto accident victim. Allstate held on to the documents and appealed the punishment. The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the sanction. Allstate then appealed to the Indiana Supreme Court, which hasn't yet made a decision.

Lawsuits in California, Florida and Texas have asserted that McKinsey's work for Allstate helped the insurer cheat claimants. Records show that through the company's Claim Core Process Redesign project, Allstate encouraged policyholders to accept small settlements on the spot.

The redesign also became a blueprint for fighting more claims in court as Allstate increased its legal staff, according to a 1997 company newsletter obtained by David Poore, a Petaluma, California, attorney who has represented homeowners in lawsuits against carriers. "The bottom line is that Allstate is trying more cases than ever before," the newsletter said. "If the offer is not accepted, Allstate will go to court, if necessary, to prove the evaluation process is sound."

McKinsey-style tactics have spread to insurers large and small--as homeowners discovered after three wildfires ravaged Southern California in 2003, including the one that hit northern San Diego. While Katrina struck thousands of low- income families in New Orleans, the San Diego fire affected mostly affluent homeowners, who fared no better with their insurance companies.

The fire obliterated large sections of Scripps Ranch, a community of 30,000 that sits atop a sagebrush and eucalyptus mesa, where homes can cost more than $1 million. After flames swept through the area on winds of up to 50 miles per hour, residents say they expected their insurance companies to live up to coverage promises and pay the full cost to rebuild. The Southern California fires led to 676 formal complaints to the state saying insurers offered payouts that fell far short of actual costs and delayed on paying claims.

One of the Scripps Ranch houses that went up in flames, a four-bedroom, gray- stucco home on a sloping cul-de-sac, belonged to J.P. Lapeyre, a division director at JDS Uniphase Corp., a Milpitas, California, maker of telecommunications equipment.

Lapeyre, 41, who is married and has two children, says he had no inkling as he viewed the remains of his house that his insurance would leave him $280,000 short of what he would need to rebuild. Representatives of Pacific Specialty Insurance Co. of Menlo Park, California, told him the most the firm would pay out was $168,075, not even half of the estimated reconstruction cost of $448,000.

The Pacific Specialty representative told Lapeyre in November 2003 that the insurer would pay $75 a square foot (0.09 square meter) to rebuild his 2,241- square-foot house. "What frustration," Lapeyre says. "I had to try to prove to them that it would cost $200 a square foot." That figure came separately from two builders, Norton Construction and TLC Contractors, both of San Diego. In February 2005, Lapeyre filed suit in San Diego County Superior Court against his insurer and the independent broker who sold him the policy, alleging negligence, breach of contract and fraud for leading him to believe that he was properly covered. After a fight of 19 months, Lapeyre dropped the suit when Pacific Specialty told a mediator assigned to the case it wouldn't raise its offer, he says. "We decided it was time to get on with our lives and move forward," says Lapeyre, who borrowed money to build a new house.

Karen and Bill Reimus, both lawyers, fought their carrier, Liberty Mutual Insurance Co., when it told them it wouldn't pay the couple enough to rebuild their burned Scripps Ranch house. Karen, 40, says an agent for Boston-based Liberty Mutual assured her and her husband when they bought their house four months before the 2003 fire that their insurance would replace the home if it were destroyed.

In a December 2003 letter, two months after the fire, Liberty Mutual offered to pay $40,000 less than the limit of the couple's policy, Karen says. In early 2004, San Diego-based Gafcon Construction Consultants determined the cost to rebuild was well above the limits of the couple's policy.

The Reimuses began a phone and letter campaign to convince the company its offer was too low, Karen says. "It has now been almost seven months since the loss and we are still not agreed as to the numbers," Karen wrote in a May 13, 2004, letter to Liberty Mutual.

Two weeks later, Liberty Mutual agreed to raise the couple's limits by $100,000, Karen says. "This is clear evidence that the original estimate was a low ball," she says. Liberty Mutual spokesman Glenn Greenberg says the company won't discuss the case because its dealings with policyholders are private.

"The system is set up to take advantage of people when they're at their weakest," Karen says. "We went to one of the most-expensive companies in the country because we wanted to be ready for a rainy day. We asked for coverage that would replace the house. We thought replacement meant replacement." Scripps Ranch couple Leslie Mukau and Robin Seaberg sued Allstate for alleged fraud and negligence for failing to pay the $900,000 that contractors estimate it would cost to replace their two-story home. Allstate offered the Seabergs $311,000, according to the 2004 San Diego County Superior Court suit. Allstate says in court papers the couple hasn't shown the company was negligent and asked for dismissal of the suit, which is pending.

The California Department of Insurance examined the practices of Allied Property & Casualty Insurance Co., AMCO Insurance Co. and Allstate in connection with the California fires. It fined Allied and AMCO, both based in Des Moines, Iowa, a total of $20,000 for misleading nine policyholders into believing they were insured for full value. The regulators cited Allstate for six rule violations, including that it ignored complaints that it underinsured homeowners. The state didn't fine Allstate, which told the department it had done nothing wrong.

"Fines by state regulatory agencies have been far too small and infrequent to deter unfair business practices," United Policyholders' Bach says. "It's clear that cheating by insurers is a big, profitable business and regulators can't muster the will or political strength to stop them."

Most homeowners take what insurers offer because they don't realize they're being deceived or conclude that fighting is too costly and difficult, Bach says. "Virtually everyone who settles for what the insurer offers is taking less than they're owed," she says.

Homeowners across the U.S. have found themselves in the same situation. Kevin Hazlett, a lawyer, sued Farmers Group after an April 2006 tornado struck his home in O'Fallon, Illinois. Farmers had offered to pay him $470,000 to rebuild the house. Royal Construction Inc., based in Collinsville, Illinois, estimated the cost at $1.1 million. Hazlett, 52, accepted a settlement for an undisclosed amount.

Hazlett says Illinois Farmers, a subsidiary of Farmers, used the Xactimate software program to first determine what it would pay out. "They're just pulling numbers out of thin air," he says. "There's no rhyme or reason." Farmers spokesman Jerry Davies didn't respond to requests for an interview.

Bo Chessor, owner of Royal Construction, says he sees insurers refusing to pay coverage limits all the time. "Most people just roll over and take it because they don't have the money to fight it," Chessor says. "What the insurance companies are doing is purely robbery."

It may be robbery, but it's rarely a crime. State insurance departments don't prosecute insurance companies, and the federal government has no oversight. The insurance industry wants to keep it that way. To make their voice heard on federal regulation and other government decisions, insurers spent $98 million on lobbying in Washington in 2006, according to PoliticalMoneyLine, a unit of Congressional Quarterly. That's the second-largest amount spent on lobbying by any group, behind $114.4 million by pharmaceutical companies.

Property-casualty companies do want something from the government: bailouts. Insurers beseech states and the federal government to foot more of the bill for rebuilding private homes after natural disasters. Florida has a catastrophe fund that insures some homes to reduce payouts by carriers. The fund paid out about $8.45 billion for storm damage in 2004 and '05, according to its annual report. The federal flood insurance program covers $800 billion of property nationally, which helped the industry increase profits by 25 percent in 2005, the year of Katrina.

Homeowners whose properties have been destroyed by catastrophes contend with low payouts, higher premiums, software programs that underestimate rebuilding costs and sudden changes in policy values--all of which have been calculated methods for insurers to increase profits.

Tunnell, the San Diego accounting teacher whose home burned to the ground, says she thought State Farm had adequately insured her family when they bought their three-bedroom house in 1992. She says the policy, destroyed in the fire, provided for "full replacement coverage." It guaranteed to rebuild the house, no matter the cost, she says. The company offered to pay $220,000--which was $121,600 less than a $306,000 figure her family got from State Farm's own estimator, Hersum Construction Inc. of San Diego, for rebuilding the 1,700- square-foot house.

State Farm spokesman Supple says the company sent letters in 1997 to the Tunnells and other policyholders saying that it would no longer offer full replacement coverage. "Policyholders, by regulatory order, were sent prominent notices of the coverage change at that time," he says. Tunnell says she doesn't recall being notified. She says her family debated hiring a lawyer and suing, and eventually decided the battle would be too stressful. The Tunnells took the $220,000 and borrowed money to build a new house.

"Why is this happening to people over and over again?" Tunnell asks. "State Farm keeps underinsuring people, and they get away with it. This is unthinkable." As long as insurers make the rules and control the game, Tunnell and homeowners across the U.S. won't know whether their homes are fully insured, no matter what their policies say.


WASHINGTON -- Scientists think they have figured out why pregnant women don't lose their balance and topple over despite ever-growing weight up front.

Evolution provided them with slight differences from men in their lower backs and hip joints, allowing them to adjust their center of gravity, new research shows.

This elegant engineering is seen only in female humans and our immediate ancestors who walked on two feet, but not in chimps and apes, according to a study published in Thursday's journal Nature.

"That's a big load that's pulling you forward," said Liza Shapiro, an anthropology professor at the University of Texas and the only one of the study's three authors who has actually been pregnant. "You experience discomfort. Maybe it would be a lot worse if [the design changes] were not there."

Harvard anthropology researcher Katherine Whitcomb found two physical differences in male and female backs that until now had gone unnoticed: One lower lumbar vertebra is wedged-shaped in women and more square in men; and a key hip joint is 14 percent larger in women than men when body size is taken into account.

The researchers did engineering tests that show how those slight changes allow women to carry the additional and growing load without toppling over -- and typically without disabling back pain.

"When you think about it, women make it look so very damn easy," Whitcomb said. "They are experiencing a pretty impressive challenge. Evolution has tinkered ... to the point where they can deal with the challenge.

"It's absolutely beautiful," she said. "A little bit of tinkering can have a profound effect."

Walking on two feet separates humans from most other animals. And while anthropologists still debate the evolutionary benefit of walking on two feet, there are notable costs, such as pain for pregnant females. Animals on all fours can better handle the extra belly weight.

The back changes appear to have evolved to overcome the cost of walking on two feet, said Harvard anthropology professor Daniel Lieberman.

When the researchers looked back at fossil records of human ancestors, including the oldest spines that go back 2 million years to our predecessor, Australopithecus, they found a male without the lower-back changes and a female with them.

But what about men with stomachs the size of babies or bigger? What keeps them from toppling over?

Their back muscles are used to compensate, but that probably means more back pain, theorized Shapiro, who added: "It would be a fun study to do to look at men with beer bellies to see if they shift their loads."

Computer giant IBM will build the world's most powerful supercomputer at a US government laboratory.

The machine, codenamed Roadrunner, could be four times more potent than the current fastest machine, BlueGene/L, also built by IBM.

The new computer is a "hybrid" design, using both conventional supercomputer processors and the new "cell" chip designed for Sony's PlayStation 3.

Roadrunner will be installed at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, New Mexico.

The laboratory is owned by the US Department of Energy (DOE). Eventually the machine could be used for a programme that ensures the US nuclear weapons stockpile remains safe and reliable, the DOE said in a statement.

Using supercomputers to simulate how nuclear materials age negates arguments for the resumption of underground nuclear testing.

Peak speeds

The new machine will be able to achieve "petaflop speeds," said IBM. One petaflop is the equivalent of 1,000 trillion calculations per second.

Running at peak speed, it will be able to crunch through 1.6 thousand trillion calculations per second.

Blue Gene/L, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, California. (131,072 processors)
BGW Blue Gene, IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center, New York (40,960 processors)
ASC Purple, Department of Energy, USA (12,208 processors)
Columbia, NASA Ames Research Center, USA (10,160 processors)
Tera-10, Commissariat a l'Energie Atomique (CEA), France (8,704 processors)
Source: Top 500 Supercomputers

By comparison, BlueGene/L is capable of mere "teraflop" (trillion calculations per second) speeds.

Installed at the DOE's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and also used for the DOE's Stockpile Stewardship Program, it has achieved 280.6 teraflops and is theoretically capable of 367 teraflops.

Roadrunner should be capable of much more. It will achieve its superfast performance using a hybrid design, built with off-the-shelf components.

The computer will contain 16,000 standard processors working alongside 16,000 "cell" processors, designed for the PlayStation 3 (PS3).

Each cell chip consists of eight processors controlled by a master unit that can assign tasks to each member of the processing team. Each cell is capable of 256 billion calculations per second.

The power of the cell chip means Roadrunner needs far fewer processors than its predecessors.

Spare power

This is not the first attempt by scientists to harness the power of the cell.

In August, scientists at Stanford University in California announced plans to distribute a program that could run on gamers' PS3s.

The folding@home program would tap the cell's spare processing power to examine how the shape of proteins, critical to most biological functions, affect diseases such as Alzheimer's.

This distributed computing method uses each individual machine to process a small amount of data, with results fed back over the internet to a central machine where they can be viewed together.

The Stanford researchers say that 10,000 consoles running the program would give a performance equivalent to one petaflop. The team hopes eventually to enlist 100,000 machines.

Although a network of this size would in theory out-perform Roadrunner, the two systems would be used to solve different types of problem.

Computer talk

Both involve huge sets of data that are split into smaller packets to make them more manageable.

On a distributed computing network these small packets can be processed independently, with results brought together at key stages of a project.

For example a PC running the SETI@home project, which examines thousands of hours of radio telescope signals for signs of extra-terrestrial intelligence, processes just a small chunk of data.

Finding a signal does not depend on the outcome of other PCs running the program.

However, on a supercomputer like Roadrunner, the different units must be able to "talk" with each other all of the time, which is vital for applications such as weather simulation which feature a huge number of constantly changing and interacting variables.

When Roadrunner is finished in 2008 it will cover 12,000 square feet (1,100 square metres) of floor space at Los Alamos National Laboratory

IBM says it will start shipping the new supercomputer later this year.


The decline in home prices accelerated and spread to more regions of the country in October, according to a series of private indexes released Wednesday.

Prices fell 6.1 percent from October 2006 in 20 large metropolitan areas, according to Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller indexes, compared with a 4.9 percent decline in September. All but three of the 20 regions saw real estate values fall, and even the three places — Seattle, Portland, Ore., and Charlotte, N.C. — where prices were up from a year ago saw prices fall from a month earlier.


CHICAGO (Reuters) - In the search for a missing evolutionary link to modern whales, scientists have come up with an unlikely land cousin -- a raccoon-sized creature with the body of a small deer.

Prior molecular studies have proposed the hippo as the closest land relative of today's whales, but researchers reporting in the journal Nature on Wednesday suggest a four-footed creature from India known as Indohyus, which probably hid in water in times of danger.

Scientists have long known that whales had ancestors that walked on land. Now a team lead by Hans Thewissen of Northeastern Ohio Universities Colleges of Medicine and Pharmacy have pieced together a series of intermediate fossils that trace the whale's evolutionary journey from land to sea.

Thewissen and his team studied the structure and composition of hundreds of fossils of Indohyus, which is part of the larger group known as raoellids. Raoellids lived at about the same time as the earliest whales -- about 50 million years ago.

Thewissen's team found key similarities in the skull and ear that suggest a link to cetaceans, a family that includes whales, dolphins and porpoises.

Indohyus, for example, had an outside layer that was much thicker than similarly sized mammals.

This is something typically seen in slow-wading mammals. They found further evidence in the chemical make-up of Indohyus' teeth, which resembled those of other aquatic animals.

This suggests the small, stocky Indohyus spent a lot of time in the water.

Scientists had assumed whales descended from land-dwelling carnivores, and made their way to sea to feed on fish.

"Clearly, this is not the case. Indohyus is a plant eater, and clearly is aquatic," Thewissen said in a statement.

The researchers believe Indohyus gradually spent more time in the water, either for protection or while feeding, and the dietary shift came later.

"Cetaceans originated from an Indohyus-like ancestor and switched to a diet of aquatic prey," the researchers wrote.

Theories about the evolution of whales have been evolving themselves, and it may take years before there is a consensus.


1. Gold was probably the first metal worked by prehistoric man. Decorative gold objects found in Bulgaria date back to 4,000 B.C., so the gold age actually overlaps with the Stone Age.

2 In the 7th century B.C., dentists in Italy used gold wire to attach fake teeth, and gold fillings were recommended for cavities as far back as the 16th century.

3 When the Spaniards landed in Peru in 1532, the Incan Empire had one of the largest collections of gold ever amassed. After the Incan king Atahuallpa was captured by the conquistadores, he offered, as ransom, to fill a 22-by-18-foot room with gold as high as he could reach.

4 The Spanish killed him anyway.

5 The Aztec word for gold is teocuitlatl, which means “excrement of the gods.”

6 Conrad Reed found a 17-pound lump of gold on his father’s North Carolina farm in 1799, the first documented discovery of gold in the United States. They used the rock as a doorstop for three years before a local jeweler identified it.

7 Reed’s father sold it to the jeweler for $3.50, less than one-thousandth of its true value. Eventually Reed caught on—the lump would be worth more than $100,000 today—and started the nation’s first commercial gold mine.

8 Contrary to what James Bond told you in Goldfinger, there’s no such thing as “skin suffocation.” But the film crew didn’t know that: When they covered actress Shirley Eaton in gold paint, they left bare a small patch on her tummy.

9 Gold is extremely malleable and ductile. A one-ounce piece can be beaten into a translucent sheet five-millionths of an inch thick or drawn out into 50 miles of wire five micrometers thick—one-tenth the diameter of a human hair.

10 The metal is also virtually indestructible and has been highly valued throughout history, so humans have always recycled it. Upwards of 85 percent of all the gold ever found is still being used today.

11 Gold foil was wrapped around the Apollo lunar landing modules to protect the astronauts from radiation. A thin gold film over astronauts’ visors is still used to protect their eyes from glare.

12 For more than 70 years, the standard treatment for rheumatoid arthritis was regular injections of a liquid suspension of gold, which acts as an anti-inflammatory. Doctors still don’t know why.

13 The eternal quest of alchemists—to change base metals into gold—was actually achieved to a certain degree in Soviet nuclear reactors, where radioactivity transformed some lead nuclei into gold.

14 Gold is green: Windows in some apartment buildings are coated with gold to help reflect sun in the summer and retain heat in the winter.

15 Actually getting the metal is not so green. Gold mines spew cyanide into waterways and nitrogen and sulfur oxides into the air; in 2000, a cyanide spill at a Romanian mine made the local water for 2.5 million people undrinkable.

16 Australian researchers have discovered microorganisms that “eat” trace amounts of gold within rocks and then deposit them into larger nuggets. Mining companies are looking to use the critters instead of cyanide to pull gold from ore, which would be much less environmentally destructive.

17 Nice threads: In terms of gold reserves, the United States has the world’s largest hoard. But if ornamentation is included, India takes the title—over 20 percent of the decorative gold used throughout the world is in the thread in Indian saris.

18 The largest reservoirs of gold on the surface of the earth, an estimated 10 billion tons, are the oceans. Unfortunately, there is no practical way to get it out.

19 That’s chump change compared with the amount of gold in outer space. In 1999, the NEAR spacecraft showed that a single asteroid, Eros, contains more gold than has ever been mined on Earth.

20 Calm down, space cowboys: There’s no way we can retrieve that gold either.

ATLANTA, Nov. 16 -- Clinicians should keep their eyes peeled for a mutated form of adenovirus 14 that has caused at least 10 deaths, most of them among adults, the CDC warned.

Noting that control of adenovirus is "challenging," the CDC urged health care practitioners to take extra care if they suspect an adenovirus infection and to follow the 2003 guidelines for pneumonia care.
Action Points

* Explain to interested patients that adenovirus infections are usually not life-threatening among adults, although they can be deadly in newborns, the elderly, and those with an underlying medical condition.

* Note that this report suggests that a strain of adenovirus now circulating is preferentially causing mortality among adults.

But the agency -- calling the infection "uncommon" -- did not suggest any special precautions for the general public.

Fifty-one adenoviruses are known and most cause non-life-threatening disease in adults, although severe disease -- including pneumonia and gastrointestinal disease -- can occur in newborns, the elderly, and those with an underlying medical condition.

The new strain of adenovirus 14 differs in that most of its victims have been otherwise healthy adults, CDC officials said.

"What really got people's attention is these are healthy young adults landing in the hospital and, in some cases, the ICU," said John Su, M.D., Ph.D., of the CDC.

But the first case that came to the CDC's attention was a 12-day-old infant who died in a New York hospital in May 2006. The baby girl was full-term and the delivery was uncomplicated, the agency reported.

Postmortem examination found adenovirus 14, as well as chronic inflammatory cells with intranuclear inclusions, in the lungs, consistent with adenoviral bronchiolitis and acute respiratory distress syndrome.
Louis J Sheehan

Louis J Sheehan, Esquire

The strain would prove to be genetically identical to isolates found in three clusters of adenovirus 14 disease over the following 18 months, the CDC said, but different in some respects from the reference strain, first isolated in 1955.

The finding suggests "the emergence and spread of a new [adenovirus 14] variant" in the U.S., the agency said in the Nov. 15 issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

The later clusters were reported in 2007 in Oregon, Washington state, and Texas, the CDC said.

The largest outbreak took place from Feb. 3 to June 23 at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, where 27 patients were sent to the hospital with pneumonia, including five who were admitted to the intensive care unit.

One of the five required extracorporeal membrane oxygenation for about three weeks and ultimately died. Medical personnel collected throat swabs from 16 of the 27 -- including the intensive care patients -- and all tested positive for the virus.

Also, during that period, medical personnel collected and tested 423 specimens associated with an outbreak of febrile respiratory infection, of which, 268 tested positive for adenovirus. A little less than half of the specimens (44%) were also serotyped and 90% were adenovirus 14.

The deadliest outbreak, identified retrospectively, occurred in Oregon, after a local clinician reported multiple patients admitted to a single hospital for pneumonia over a five-week period in March and April.

Of the 17 specimens obtained, 15 were positive for adenovirus 14, the CDC said, leading Oregon public health authorities to review records from virology labs and find 68 people who tested positive between Nov. 1, 2006, and April 30, 2007.

Of those, 50 isolates could be serotyped and 31 were adenovirus 14, the CDC reported, while 15 were another serotype and four were not actually adenovirus.

Review of medical records for 30 of the 31 with adenovirus 14 showed that 22 patients required hospital care, 16 required intensive care, and seven died, all from severe pneumonia. Most of the dead were adults, but one infant also died.

In contrast, only two of the 13 non-type 14 patients whose charts were available needed hospital care, none needed intensive care, and none died. (See: IDSA: Outbreak of Severe Pneumonia Traced to Adenovirus 14)

In Washington, officials reported four patients -- one with AIDS and three with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease -- with cough, fever, or shortness of breath between April 22 and May 8, 2007.

Three required intensive care and mechanical ventilation for severe pneumonia, and after eight days of hospital care, the AIDS patient died, while the other patients recovered.

All four tested positive for adenovirus and the three with isolates available for serotyping were shown to have adenovirus 14.

The CDC urged clinicians to follow its 2003 guidelines for pneumonia care. Among other things, the guidelines suggested changes in ventilation practices:

* Orotracheal rather than nasotracheal tubes should be used in patients who need mechanically assisted ventilation.
* Noninvasive ventilation should be used to reduce the need for and duration of endotracheal intubation.

* The breathing circuits of ventilators should be changed when they malfunction or are visibly contaminated.
* When feasible, an endotracheal tube with a dorsal lumen should be used to allow drainage of respiratory secretions.


Board gaming is a hobby that has always been dear to me. My interest in the field is wide, ranging from simple and straightforward “social” games such as the relatively recent “Carcassonne” to far more complex rule monstrosities like the 1990 Avalon Hill game “Republic of Rome”.

Therefore, when I recently learnt about the existence of a samurai warfare game called “Ran”, which borrows its name from the Kurosawa movie (even acknowledging its source) and comes in a box whose cover is clearly inspired by Kagemusha, I knew that I had to get the game. And get it I did.

In fact, to be completely fair to the reader, I must mention that when I contacted the manufacturer of the game, they kindly offered to send me a review copy. You may judge yourself the impact that this may or may not have had on what follows.

In any case, I have now had the opportunity to sit down for a couple of games of “Ran”, and I think that my early impressions of the game are enough to warrant writing a review. For those who are either too busy or too lazy to read the whole piece, let me give you the opportunity to skip the details by saying that I really like the game. The rest of you, read on.

A note: While playing, I took a series of pictures with which to illustrate this article, but it seems that I have lost the cable with which to transfer those pictures from my camera to the computer. As for now, I will publish this without the illustrations, and anyone interested in checking how the game actually looks like can check Board Game Geek’s Ran picture gallery.

On the surface of things, the board game “Ran” has very little in common with the movie “Ran”, or indeed with any of Kurosawa’s movies. This is of course understandable, considering that the game is about military strategy, whereas none of Kurosawa’s movies really centrally deal with warfare, but rather, when it is present, use it as a backdrop and a metaphoric device. “Ran”, therefore, is not “based on” or even “inspired by Akira Kurosawa’s Ran”, and neither does it claim that.

Furthermore, to the best of my knowledge the battles available in “Ran” the strategy game in no way correspond with the ones in Kurosawa’s “Ran” or “Kagemusha”. ( “Samurai”, an earlier game by the same maker, includes the Battle of Nagashino, which is the final battle in “Kagemusha”.) The connection is therefore in some ways very superficial, indeed almost accidental.

Yet, while playing “Ran”, you will probably sooner or later catch yourself humming the theme of either “Ran” or “Kagemusha”. Even without any actual one-to-one correspondence between the game and the movies, each can help to better understand the other. The movie helps you visualize the game, while by playing the game you come to understand the mechanics behind Japanese warfare

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