Saturday, March 22, 2008


For love, some would twist the laws of physics. Short of doing that, mantis shrimp communicate with the other sex by spinning light waves, biologists find. The feat seems to be unique to this animal.

Alone in the animal kingdom, mantis shrimp may use the physics phenomenon of circularly polarized light to signal their presence to—and to see—potential mates.

Light is made of electromagnetic waves. These are electric and magnetic fields that wiggle perpendicular to each other and to a light ray's direction. Many invertebrates have sophisticated eyes that can detect wavelengths of light invisible to humans. Some, including bees, can also distinguish linearly polarized light. That's when a light ray's electric field wiggles not in varying directions, but rather in one precise direction that forms a right angle to the ray.

Researchers now show that mantis shrimp—which actually look more like small lobsters—can tell when light is circularly, rather than linearly, polarized. That means that the electric field twists like a corkscrew as the light ray moves.
The corkscrew can twist right or left—or, in biological terms, be right- or left-handed.

Roy Caldwell of the University of California, Berkeley, suspected that one species of mantis shrimp, Odontodactylus cultrifer, might be able to distinguish circular polarizations. Animals in this species, especially adult males, are rare. But 2 years ago, thanks to a tip from a crustacean enthusiast, Caldwell obtained a 4 inch-long adult male originally from Indonesia.

The shrimp had a fin with shades of red that looked more or less intense when seen through filters for right- or left-handed circular polarization. This trait was rare enough, but not unique in the animal kingdom. Caldwell's collaborators at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) and the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia also took a closer look at the eyes of O. cultrifer and of two similar species to see whether the animals could distinguish between right- and left-handed polarization.

The researchers found that some of the eyes' light-sensing cells doubled up as filters, explains Tom Cronin of UMBC. The cells have microscopic structures, like bristles of a toothbrush, that slightly slow light with electric fields parallel to the bristles, but not light with fields that are perpendicular. As a result, the twist of a circularly polarized wave will be flattened into a steady, linearly polarized wiggle, which another layer of sensory cells can then detect. Depending on their arrangement, bristled cells will select right- or left-handed polarization. This parsing enables mantis shrimp to distinguish the two types of light.

Meanwhile, the team trained mantis shrimp to feed from one of a few different tubes based on the circular polarization in the tubes' reflected light. Results appear online in Current Biology.

Caldwell says the skill, unknown in other animals, most likely helps the shrimp find mates. "It's the most private communication system imaginable," he says.
"No other animal can see it."

Hundreds of years ago in Japan, people offered thanks to the gods by sacrificing a horse or a pig. Horses and pigs, however, were valuable and expensive, so poor folks had a hard time expressing their gratitude. So they came up with a solution: Rather than sacrificing a horse, they would simply draw a painting of a horse on a wooden tablet and hang it in the temple.

Then someone, most likely an impoverished samurai, realized that horses and pigs were hardly the only thing that could be drawn on a tablet. He had the idea of painting something original, something beautiful, something creative. He offered mathematics.

This tablet was hung in the Kinshouzan shrine in the Gifu Prefecture in 1865. It shows 12 different geometric problems. The third problem from the right was presented by a 16-year-old girl.

Hundreds of beautifully painted, multi-colored wooden tablets showing problems and theorems of geometry have adorned Japanese temples. They are called "sangakus," which simply means mathematical tablets.
The text on the tablets is written in an ancient form of Chinese, which was the language of scholars, much like Latin in the West. Only in the past couple of decades have these tablets been translated into modern languages in significant numbers.

A Japanese mathematics teacher, Hidetoshi Fukagawa, has been finding, translating, and researching the tablets. This spring, Fukagawa and Tony Rothman of Princeton University will publish a complete history of sangaku, including photographs of many sangakus that have never before been seen outside of Japan.

"Sangakus are exceptional," Rothman says. "They're not only exceptionally beautiful, but the problems are often exceptionally difficult. And the solutions can be very clever.
Some of the things they do to solve these problems would never have occurred to me."

The sangakus were made during a period when Japan was mostly isolated from the outside world. The shogun leaders expelled all the foreign missionaries and forbade Japanese from leaving the country on pain of death in the early 1600s. The result was a kind of renaissance in Japan, with a flowering of unique cultural traditions like tea ceremonies, puppet theater, and woodblock prints.

At the same time, the shoguns persuaded the samurai warriors to lay down their weapons and become government functionaries. The pay, however, was low, so the samurai often moonlighted with other jobs. One of these outside jobs was to teach mathematics in the schools.

This tablet was created in 1814, but it was only discovered in 1994 when the temple it was in was about to be destroyed.

Isolated from the development of calculus taking place in the West, these mathematicians and their students created a kind of home-grown geometry with a uniquely Japanese character. Many of the problems were based on origami or folding fans, for example.

Here is an example of a sangaku problem. Take a circle and draw a polygon inside it, with each corner of the polygon on the circle. Choose one of the vertices of the polygon and connect lines from it to all the other vertices, dividing the polygon up into triangles. Within each one of those triangles, draw a circle that just touches each side of the triangle. The sum of the radii of those circles will be constant, no matter which vertex you chose.

One sangaku shows that the sum of the radii of the small circles in each of these drawings will be the same.

Most sangakus simply state the theorem and provide a diagram, but they don't provide a proof, and this one is no exception.
The most straightforward way to prove it relies on Carnot's Theorem, which wasn't proven in the West until 100 years after the sangaku was created.

Rothman believes that sangakus were not just religious offerings, but "acts of bravado and challenges to other people to solve the problem." For example, one sangaku proclaims, "'This answer is correct to 15 decimal places,'" Rothman says. "It's kind of like, 'top that if you can!'"

Starting around 1800, several collections of sangaku problems were made into books, including the solutions, so researchers know the original methods for many of the problems. But a couple of sangakus are unsolved to this day. "One of them results in an equation of the 1024th degree," Rothman says. "A mathematician later got very famous for reducing it to a problem of the 10th degree, but that's still way too big to solve. We have no idea how they did it."

The Kaizu Tenma Shrine in the Shiga prefecture has a sangaku under the right eave which contains 30 problems. It's 10 inches high and 17 feet long.

A few years ago Avishai Dekel gave up chess in favor of mud wrestling. Dekel is a cosmologist and he isn't known to frequent strip clubs.
But there are two types of cosmologists: those who study fundamentals, like the initial conditions and content of the early universe, and those who immerse themselves in the messier problem of galaxy evolution, replete with gas and stars that heat and cool, form jets, make black holes, and sometimes explode.

A computer simulation models how matter may accumulate into large-scale structures, the beginnings of galaxy formation. Illustrated is a patch of the cosmos 100 million light-years across. Yellow lines trace the flow and grouping of matter as it moves toward the red, or densest area, and away from the black, or least dense area.
Martin Rees of the University of Cambridge in England calls the two classes of cosmologists chess players and mud wrestlers. Cosmology is "a fundamental science just as particle physics is," says Rees. "The first million years [of the universe] is described by a few parameters ... but the cosmic environment of galaxies and clusters is now messy and complex."

Now that the chess players have established those basic parameters—such as the relative amounts of invisible dark matter, even-more mysterious dark energy, and ordinary matter—more cosmologists are turning to the mud.

Recent surveys of the shapes, colors, and masses of galaxies have put a new focus on the nitty-gritty of galaxy formation.

"Now that we know the cosmological parameters, it's really time to understand how galaxies form," says Dekel, of The Hebrew University, Jerusalem. To do that, "we have to trace the gas," not dark matter, because it's the gas that forms stars. "That's where the action is." The physics of gas interactions, or gastrophysics, is much more complicated than that of dark matter. Gas molecules respond to a host of forces while dark matter is simple to model because it responds predominantly to just one force: gravity. Nonetheless, says Dekel, he is a recent convert to gastrophysics.

Through the 1980s and 1990s, Dekel spent most of his time trying to estimate the density of matter in the universe by mapping the velocities at which galaxies and matter move through the vast invisible reaches of dark matter. Although no one knows what dark matter is made of, it appears to constitute 85 percent of the mass of the universe. And simply because there's so much of it, the stuff provides the gravitational scaffolding that pulls together ordinary gas-electrons, protons, atoms, and the like—to make stars and galaxies. behavior of dark matter has thus been considered a reliable map for the path of galaxy formation.

Only a few narrow streams can penetrate through the hot medium to build a galactic disk at the center and form stars. The bigger the halo, the more likely it is to quench star formation because of such heating..

Every galaxy is nestled within a halo of cold dark matter, composed of exotic particles that move much slower than the speed of light. (This relatively slow pace is why this dark matter is dubbed "cold.")

The halos start out small but continually merge to grow bigger, dictating that all structure in the universe should evolve in the same way, from little to big. The growing clumps of dark matter form the backbone of a cosmic web, with clusters and superclusters of galaxies falling into place along the densest filaments, like paint onto a dark canvas. On the largest scales in the universe, dark matter accounts amazingly well for galactic structure—where and how galaxies concentrate, says Piero Madau of the University of California, Santa Cruz.

But in 2003, Dekel and others became intrigued by a finding about galaxies that dark matter alone could not explain. Astronomers have known since the 1920s that the modern-day universe consists mainly of two galaxy types—young-looking, disk-shaped spirals like the Milky Way, and elderly, football-shaped ellipticals. Ellipticals have a reddish tinge—an indication that they are old and finished forming stars long ago—while spirals have a bluish tinge, a sign of recent star formation.

A few years ago, researchers found that in the universe today, these two populations divide sharply by weight (SN: 5/31/03, p. 341). An analysis of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, which has recorded about 1 million nearby galaxies of the northern sky, revealed that the "red and dead" ellipticals nearly always tip the scales at masses greater than the Milky Way, while the star-forming spirals fall below that weight.

Somehow, star birth was systematically and dramatically quenched in the big guys but proceeded unimpeded in the spiral small-fry.

The puzzle deepened in 2005 when Sandy Faber of the University of California, Santa Cruz, and her colleagues announced that they found the same galactic dichotomy when the universe was 7 billion years old, half its current age. Faber's team used a spectrometer she designed for the Keck Observatory atop Hawaii's Mauna Kea to measure the mass of distant galaxies, part of a survey of what composed the universe at 7 billion years. She reviewed the results of the survey, known as Deep-2, at the January meeting in Austin, Texas, of the American Astronomical Society.

At first glance, the dichotomy would seem to conflict with cold dark matter theory. A preponderance of "red and dead" massive galaxies early in the universe might indicate that halos can start out as giants and then break apart into smaller bodies, the opposite trend of what dark matter would produce.

Dekel and his colleagues, including Yuval Birnboim, now at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, in Cambridge, Mass., have an explanation that would fit with cold dark matter theory, but it requires combining gastrophysics with dark matter.

Gas pulled inside a dark-matter halo would normally fall into the center, where it would cool and grow dense enough to make stars. But as the universe ages, dark-matter halos merge and grow more massive, some becoming greater than about a trillion times the mass of the sun.

When a halo reaches this critical value, the stage is set for a galactic divide, according to Birnboim and Dekel. Their calculations and simulations show that the infalling gas rams into the relatively cold, stationary gas already at the halo's center. The collision creates a long-lasting shock that heats the cold gas, causing it to exert a pressure. That pressure pushes on infalling gas, hurling the material back to the halo's outskirts, where it remains like some exile in galactic Siberia, unable to coalesce and make stars. As long as the material in the central part of the halo maintains its outward pressure, the supply of fresh gas is choked off, and the galaxy can no longer make stars.

Louis J. Sheehan
Over time, the massive galaxy growing inside the halo's center, once a hotbed of star birth, becomes red and dead.

Halos that remain less massive—and which therefore beget smaller galaxies—can't forge such long-lasting shocks. Gas continues to stream unimpeded into the central region, enabling the birth of new generations of stars.

Simulations from several other groups, including those led by Dusan Keres, now at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics; Darren Croton, now at the University of California, Berkeley; Richard Bower of Durham University in England; and Andrea Cattaneo, now at the University of Potsdam in Germany, have come up with similar findings.

"The idea is that big, central galaxies are quenched before [the universe is 7 billion years old] because they are in massive halos ... while smaller galaxies are quenched later, if at all, when their parent halos reach the critical mass," says Dekel.

One remaining puzzle, notes Dekel, is how gas within the center of a massive halo can maintain, for up to 10 billion years of cosmic history, the outward pressure that keeps new gas at bay in the outer halo. He calculates that the pressure might last for only one-tenth that time. Some other source must keep star birth from turning back on.

YOUNG AND OLD. The young spiral galaxy NGC 300, located about 7 million light-years from Earth, is brimming with newborn stars in this combined ultraviolet- and visible-light snapshot. In contrast, the more mature elliptical galaxy NGC 1312, some 62 million light-years distant, is more quiescent.

Again delving into gastrophysics, he and other researchers point to the unusual role that black holes may play in staving off star birth in massive galaxies. Researchers now believe that every massive galaxy houses a central, heavyweight black hole, and that these gravitational monsters wield influence far beyond their immediate surroundings.

Packing the equivalent of millions to billions of suns into a volume no bigger than our solar system, black holes don't just pull matter in. Energy from the gas and stars spiraling into the hole also creates jets of matter that blast back out a million light-years from the center. In this way, a black hole could act to regulate or even switch off star formation, Dekel says.

Moreover, researchers have found that black holes at galactic centers grow in lockstep with the mass of stars in that galaxy's hub: The holes always seem to be one five-hundredth the mass of those stars. That prescription means that the most massive galaxies house the heaviest black holes—exactly the ones that are most likely to have jets strong enough to interrupt star formation.

"What's truly amazing is how tight the correlation seems to be" between the mass of a central black hole and a surrounding galaxy, says Tim Heckman of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. "I don't think prior to 10 years ago you would have found one astronomer in one thousand that thought black holes had some fundamental part in the formation of galaxies. We still don't know whether a black hole dictates the formation of a galaxy or the other way around."

Dekel and Birnboim, along with Jerry Ostriker of Princeton University, recently began entertaining the idea that black holes might not be needed to explain the galactic divide after all. to their calculations, the heat produced by gas falling into the centers of massive dark-matter halos might be enough to quench the supply of cold, star-forming gas.

A new study goes further back in time than ever before to probe the difference between galaxy types.

Using distant quasars as searchlights, a team led by Art Wolfe of the University of California, San Diego, says its search may have reached back to the era when massive galaxies were still forming stars, before the death knell sounded for these heavyweights.

WELCOME TO THE WEB. The varying density of gas is related to the evolution of structure in the universe and the formation of galaxies. Gas density is shown (increasing with brightness) along with temperature (increasing from blue to red in color). Yellow circles indicate black holes (higher masses indicated by longer diameters). The left image models the universe at about 450 million years after the Big Bang. The early universe still shows a relatively uniform structure. At about 6 billion years (right), the universe has many black holes and a more filamentary structure.

During their 5-year study, Wolfe and his colleagues, including Jason Prochaska of the University of California, Santa Cruz, used spectrometers at the Keck Observatory to study star formation in 143 dense gas clouds, each pierced by radiation from a different quasar. Astronomers generally agree that these clouds, known as damped Lyman-alpha systems, are the likely predecessors of modern-day galaxies. They reveal what those galaxies were like when the universe was only about 2 billion years old.

To assess the star-formation rate in the clouds, the team homed in on the abundance of carbon atoms stripped of a single electron.
Newborn stars readily excite these carbon ions. The higher their abundance, the higher the star formation rate.

The team used spectra of another ion, silicon stripped of one electron, to indicate the masses of the dark-matter halos in which the dense clouds reside.

To the surprise of the researchers, the study revealed that star birth was highest in those clouds that lie within the heaviest dark-matter halos. Those clouds are the likely progenitors of the most massive galaxies today, the team says in an upcoming Astrophysical Journal.

That scenario contrasts with the current universe, "where [massive galaxies] exhibit little, if any, star formation," says Wolfe. "But that's just what the Dekel-Birnboim model predicts. That far back [in time], the high-mass galaxies are still forming stars at a high rate." Moreover, observations of distant galaxies by several researchers, including Chuck Steidel of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, also show that star formation once proceeded at a feverish rate in massive galaxies.

"We go back far enough to see the star-forming phase of the high-mass systems," says Wolfe. It's only later, he notes, that star birth shuts down in the high-mass systems, a victim of overheated gas and possible interference by monster black holes.

Dekel, in the meantime, says he hasn't entirely abandoned his interest in investigating the fundamental properties of the universe. It's just that the evolution of galaxies provides such a messy, and thus intriguing, canvas for testing his ideas. "I see myself as a chess player who has waded into the mud," he notes. "And that's where all the fun is."

Modern genetics produced a paradox: The more we learn how much DNA we share, the more we are intrigued by the minor biochemical variations that set us each apart -- and with good reason.

Tiny differences in genes we have in common make some of us more vulnerable to breast cancer, alcoholism or infections, researchers recently reported. Other variations in genes we share make some of us more resistant to chemotherapy or treatments for heart disease and hypertension.

Any one of 11 variations in a single gene, for another example, can make it harder for commonly prescribed antidepressants to temper our moods, researchers at Munich's Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry reported in January in Neuron. Any one of nine variations in another gene may double the risk of lupus, University of Alabama scientists said.

Many of these fractional hereditary distinctions are random effects of chance at play. (Any two people are more than 99% the same at the genetic level.)

Broadly speaking, they also arise from the ancient history recorded in the genetic autobiography that we carry in our cells, coded there in billions of characters of DNA. The human genome is a biomedical narrative of migration, disease, conquest and trade. It has been accumulating plot twists and changes since small clans first moved out of East Africa to settle the world tens of thousands of years ago.

In the most detailed look yet at global human variation, two independent research teams -- one led by scientists at Stanford University and the other by scientists at the University of Michigan -- recently analyzed more than half a million genetic markers across hundreds of people from 51 ethnic groups on five continents. Melding medical genetics and population genomics, they probed kinship, diversity and the underpinnings of disease. "We are tying together what we know about human history with what we see in the human genome," said University of Utah anthropologist Henry Harpending.

New research in that effort reveals, for example, that Americans of European descent carry more potentially harmful genetic variations than do African-Americans, Cornell University computational biologist Carlos Bustamante and his colleagues reported last month in Nature.

The researchers concluded that this pattern of variation was the legacy of humanity's first forays into prehistoric Europe, when the venturesome probably numbered a few thousand or less. The hereditary flaws carried by these forebears then became widespread as their descendants expanded into a population of millions.

This year, new studies of human genetic variation around the world have produced genome data nearly 100 times more detailed than previous global assessments, yielding insights into how humanity's early migrations out of Africa affect us all today.
In Nature, researchers at the University of Michigan last month reported their analysis of more than 500,000 DNA markers occurring across 29 populations on five continents.
In Science, scientists at the Stanford University School of Medicine reported last month on 650,000 genetic markers measured across 51 population groups worldwide.

The effect of migration from Africa to Europe can still be seen in the genes of Europeans today, Cornell University researchers reported last month in Nature.
Differences in gene expression between Europeans and Africans affects responses to medications and to infections, University of Chicago researchers reported earlier this month in the American Journal of Human Genetics.
In January, scientists in England, China and the U.S. launched the 1,000 Genomes Project to seek more detailed information about human genetic variation by sequencing the genomes of at least 1,000 people around the world.

Dr. Bustamante compared 10,000 genes shared by 15 African-Americans and 20 European-Americans and found nearly 40,000 individual differences in which a gene's smallest structural unit -- a single DNA base pair -- had been altered. Half of them had no measurable effect. Everyone harbors some potentially harmful variations, but, overall, the European-Americans had a higher percentage of those that could be deleterious.

"You cannot say anything at the individual level on the basis of this data," Dr. Bustamante cautioned. "No one person's genome is any healthier or better or more fit in an evolutionary sense than any other individual's."

Hundreds of genes also behave slightly differently in families of European descent than they do in families of African ancestry, especially those genes involved in producing antibodies and other fundamental cell functions, University of Chicago medical researchers reported this month in the American Journal of Human Genetics.

The Chicago scientists analyzed gene variations to learn why some people are more sensitive than others to the toxic side effects of chemotherapy.
They compared 9,156 genes in 30 Caucasian families in Utah with those in 30 Yoruban families from Ibadan, Nigeria.

All told, they found that 156 shared genes were more active among those of European heritage, while 254 other shared genes were more active among those of African ancestry. No one knows yet what, if anything, the minor variations in levels of gene activity mean medically or if they affect chemotherapy, said Chicago pharmaco-genomics expert Eileen Dolan.

In each instance, "we are comparing the same exact gene in both populations," she said. "The differences are subtle, not dramatic."

To delve even more deeply into human variation, scientists in the U.S., England and China in January launched a $50 million effort to catalog in exhaustive detail the DNA of at least a thousand people from around the world. They expect the 1000 Genomes Project, as they call it, to produce 60 times as much genetic sequence data in three years than has been released in all of the last quarter century.

Researchers hope it may help them tailor more effective medical treatments.

Human variation, however, may be more than medicine can easily master.
Researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston reported last month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that even crucial genetic mutations in cancer cells, for example, may be different in every patient.

Within hours of President Kennedy's assassination on Nov. 22, 1963, the CIA had established that Lee Harvey Oswald, the alleged killer, had met with Cuban officials at the Cuban Embassy in Mexico City eight weeks before. The CIA had also established that, four weeks after the meeting, Havana had approved a visa for Oswald, even though it normally did not grant visas to American citizens. At the time, Oswald was working under the alias "O.H. Lee" at the Texas Book Depository in Dallas.

Such facts obviously point toward the sinister possibility of foreign involvement in the Kennedy assassination -- Cuban involvement. That two CIA sources independently reported seeing a Cuban official giving money to Oswald at Cuba's embassy in Mexico City only adds force to the possibility. And Fidel Castro himself had said, in the summer of 1963, that if American leaders continued "aiding plans to eliminate Cuban leaders . . . they themselves will not be safe." As CIA officials knew, such U.S. "plans" -- i.e., the CIA's efforts to assassinate Castro -- had continued up to the day of the Kennedy assassination.

So when the Mexican federal police, after the Kennedy assassination, arrested a female employee of the Cuban Consulate who had been in contact with Oswald, the CIA suggested that the Mexicans hold her incommunicado.
The agency also suggested that they ask her such questions as: "Was the assassination of President Kennedy planned by Fidel Castro . . . and were the final details worked out inside the Cuban Embassy?" Thomas Mann, the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, alerted Washington that there might be an indictable case against Cuban officials.

Little wonder, then, that the Warren Commission -- put together within days of Kennedy's death to investigate the assassination -- asked the CIA to provide it with everything the agency had regarding Oswald's activities in Mexico. The commission dispatched its top staff members to Mexico to meet with Ambassador Mann and Winston Scott, the CIA's station chief there. But nothing ever came of this Cuban connection. As we know, the Warren Commision, in its final report, determined that Oswald acted alone. What happened?

For one thing, the CIA had changed its tune by the time the Warren Commission staff members got to Mexico. The agency now claimed that it had learned of Oswald's activities in Mexico long after the assassination, by way of the FBI, and that stories about a Cuban official giving money to Oswald did not hold up. The Warren Commission concluded that there was no credible evidence of Cuban involvement.

Years later, thanks to congressional investigations, it emerged that the CIA had not been forthcoming with the Warren Commission about what it knew of Oswald's Mexican activities. Jefferson Morley's "Our Man in Mexico" brilliantly explores the mystery of this reticence.
Though Mr. Morley is a dogged investigative reporter, he has not discovered any jaw-dropping evidence that will change forever the way we think about the Kennedy assassination, but he uncovers enough new material, and theorizes with such verve, that "Our Man in Mexico" will go down as one of the more provocative titles in the ever-growing library of Kennedy-assassination studies.

The book begins as a straightforward biography of Winston Scott, the CIA station chief in Mexico City in the early 1960s. It is an enthralling account of Scott's career as one of America's most accomplished spy masters. Mr. Morley memorably depicts not only Scott's espionage exploits, from London in World War II to Mexico City at the height of the Cold War, but also his complicated love life and his ambitions as a poet.

"Our Man in Mexico" moves onto murkier ground as it explores Oswald's movements in Mexico City during Scott's tenure there. But Mr. Morley has succeeded in ferreting out a wealth of CIA documents that reveal lapses, misreporting and destroyed evidence. He maintains that the CIA once possessed photographs of Oswald entering the Cuban Embassy and audiotapes of wiretaps that picked up Oswald's conversations with Cuban officials. The evidence is missing, he says; in fact, the disappearance of so much material has led him to conclude that Scott "perpetrated a wide-ranging coverup of CIA operations around Oswald." But why would Scott have done it?

Mr. Morley advances the theory that the CIA had to cover up an "operation" of its own that employed Oswald. While that theory might explain the holes in the record he encountered, Mr. Morley offers no evidence that such an operation ever existed. Instead he resorts to dredging up the "tantalizing" outline for a proposed novel by an ex-CIA officer in which a character working for the CIA recruits Oswald to assassinate Castro. Using fiction to make a factual argument is dubious enough, but what makes this exercise particularly absurd is the identity of the aspiring novelist: David Atlee Phillips, who testified repeatedly under oath to Congress that he did not know of any CIA plots involving Oswald.

There are, of course, more mundane explanations for the gaps in the CIA's surveillance of Oswald. Consider, for example, the agency's inability to produce photographs of Oswald entering the Cuban diplomatic compound in late September 1963, when eyewitnesses attested to his presence there.
Mr. Morley shows that if Oswald used the public entrance to the embassy, he almost certainly would have been photographed by the CIA. So he concludes the CIA hid the evidence.

But what if Oswald had entered through the embassy's back garage, which was not covered by the CIA camera? As it turns out, two other investigators, Wilfried Huismann and Gus Russo, researching for their documentary "Rendezvous With Death," tracked down the guard who was on duty at the garage back then. He recalled seeing Oswald in the garage, explaining that he would have noted the outsider's presence since Oswald was accompanied by a Cuban intelligence officer.

Winston Scott was naturally aware that the CIA's surveillance cameras could be avoided by using the embassy's nonpublic entrances. After the assassination, why didn't he investigate the reasons behind such limited observation of the site at a time when Oswald was being tracked? My own guess is that Scott realized that a consensus had been reached in Washington according to which Oswald had acted alone, without foreign assistance; in short, there was no need to pursue that avenue of inquiry. He probably also realized that opening up the Cuban angle would lead to embarrassing revelations about the CIA's earlier operations against Castro. In other words, he acted like a bureaucrat by protecting the government's secrets.

As with so many of the tangents in the history of the Kennedy assassination, the record of Oswald's activities in Mexico City is so spotty that we likely will never know what really happened there and can only speculate.
Scott supposedly wrote a memoir in which he refuted the Warren Commission's conclusions. But shortly after he died in 1971, the manuscript disappeared -- at the instruction, Mr. Morley suggests, of CIA Director Richard Helms. Maybe it will surface one day.

Former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon still lies comatose at the Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer where he remains hospitalized. Tuesday marks the former leader's 80th birthday, and his family plans to mark the day with a symbolic token gift, but little more.

Aside from Sharon’s failing health, the Sharon family finds itself hit with more bad news on the former prime minister’s birthday.

Last week, the Jerusalem Supreme Court denied an appeal by former Knesset Member Omri Sharon, son of the former prime minister, thus not overturning his 2006 conviction for falsifying corporate records and campaign financing offenses.

Sharon is to start serving his seven-month prison sentences for these offenses this week, as well as paying a NIS 300,000 (about $80,000) fine.

Ariel Sharon was hospitalized on January 4, 2006, following a major stroke, and has remained in a coma ever since.

First signs of medical trouble already appeared in December 2006 , when Sharon suffered a minor stroke and was rushed to Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital in Jerusalem. The former prime minister was hospitalized and kept for testing for several days.

Sharon’s doctors held a press conference several days later, in which they announced that tests revealed that the former prime minister had a congenital heart defect that was the likely reason for his stroke. Sharon was to undergo angioplasty several weeks later, but insisted on going home to recuperate in his Sycamore Ranch home in southern Israel instead of staying for observation at the Jerusalem hospital.

The angioplasty on the former PM was scheduled for January 5, 2006. A few days beforehand, however, Sharon felt ill and was rushed to Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital in Jerusalem once again. This, even though Soroka University Medical Center in Be'er Sheva was closer to Sharon’s southern Israel home. Aides reasoned that the Jerusalem hospital was more familiar with Sharon’s medical history, and could better care for him.

Sharon was rushed into surgery at the Jerusalem hospital following a massive bleed into his brain. Surgeons worked tirelessly for seven whole hours to repair the bleed, and save the former prime minister’s life.

Sharon had to undergo two additional surgeries and numerous CT scans, but ultimately his condition stabilized. He never regained consciousness, and despite doctor’s efforts to awaken his gradually, remained comatose.

In February 2006, Sharon experienced further health woes, and had to undergo four hours of surgery to repair an ischemic bowel.

Five months after his debilitating stroke he was transferred to the respiratory rehabilitation unit at the Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer, where he will spend his 80th birthday.

Comic books have never really been respected as an art form by the general public.

That being said, it might nevertheless surprise some folks to know that there was a time when comics were seen not only as kiddie fare but as harmful, vile, mind-alteringly dangerous kiddie fare.

That history is recounted in David Hajdu's excellent new book, "The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic Book Scare and How It Changed America."

Hajdu provides a captivating, insightful and detailed look at how American parents in the 1950s became convinced that the crime, horror and romance comics their kids were devouring would turn them into sociopaths.

He builds his history slowly, taking readers through a basic history of how the medium took shape in America and describing how artists such as Charles Biro and publishers such as EC's Bill Gaines saw a way to sell books by offering lurid, pulpy stories of criminals, killers, vampires and other monsters.

Parents, psychiatrists and other do-gooders, led by one Dr. Fredric Wertham, whose book "Seduction of the Innocent" accused the industry of being little more than Nazis, feared such material would lead to antisocial behavior.

They began a pogrom of attacks in the media, attempts at censorship through legislation and book burnings in towns, all of which Hajdu recounts with flair.

While Hajdu makes it clear what side he's on, he nevertheless is careful not to portray the comics industry as being rife with innocents.

He chastises certain people for their naivete and greed, not to mention disregard for seeing their books as anything other than product.

It all came to a somewhat literal head during a congressional hearing in which Gaines, high on diet pills, was asked whether a cover depicting a severed woman's head could be in "good taste," Hajdu said.

His answer inadvertently led to the Comics Code, a self-policing organization that proceeded to violently neuter every book on the stands.

Comics quickly lost whatever cultural cache they had and more than 800 talented people lost their jobs as companies folded.

Only Gaines managed to salvage through, taking his humor comic, Mad, and turning it into a 25-cent magazine that still thumbs its nose at popular culture today.

Hajdu's central conceit is that the comic book was the opening salvo in baby boomer culture wars. He makes a strong point.

The kids who read "Crime Does Not Pay," after all, would go on to discover rock 'n' roll, grow out their hair and protest the Vietnam War.

And yet this sort of cultural battle has occurred throughout history.

People freaked out about the waltz, for example, when it was introduced in the 18th century, calling it vulgar and sinful.

To those who think such censorship scares could never happen in today's enlightened times, I only ask you to consider the pillorying video games receive today from such upstanding moral folk as Sens. Hillary Clinton and Joe Lieberman.

'Comic Book Comics':

If you prefer to have your comic book history told in a more ... well, comic book fashion, then perhaps you should pick up a copy of the oddly titled "Comic Book Comics."

Having explored the lives of deep thinkers such as Nietzsche and Kant in their previous series, "Action Philosophers," writer Fred van Lente and artist Ryan Dunlavey decided to take on the convoluted and at times controversial history of the comics industry.

"We realized we couldn't keep ["Philosophers"] going on forever. We were running out of thinkers," van Lente said during a recent interview.

"The one thing we could be certain all comic fans like are comics."

"Comics" takes a more linear approach than "Philosophers," starting with the appearance of the Yellow Kid in newspaper pages in 1896, then hurtling forward to the birth of the comic book and animated cartoon while touching on important figures such as Will Eisner, Jack Kirby, Walt Disney and Max Fleischer.

There won't be any resting on laurels however.

Holy Haleakala! Yesterday, a gamma-ray burst went off that was so bright that had you been looking at the right spot in the sky you could have seen it with just your own eyes!

It’s difficult to put this into the proper context. GRBs are monumental explosions, the exploding of a massive star where most of the energy of the catastrophe is channeled into twin beams of energy.
These beams scream out from the explosion like cosmic blowtorches, and for thousands of light years anything they touch is destroyed. Happily for us, GRBs always appear hundreds of millions or billions of light years away.
Let me put this in perspective for you. Imagine a one megaton nuclear weapon detonating. That’s roughly 50 times the explosive yield of the bomb dropped on Nagasaki. Devastating.
The Sun, every second of every day of every year, gives off 100 billion times this much energy. That’s every second. A star is a terrifying object.
In the few seconds that a gamma-ray burst lasts, it packs a million million million times that much energy into its beams. In other words, for those few ticks of a clock the GRB is sending out more energy than the Sun will in its entire lifetime.
There is, quite simply, no way to exaggerate the devastation of a gamma-ray burst.
Yet for all that, they are optically faint due to their terrible distance. At billions of light years away, even the Universe’s second biggest bangs are difficult to see.
So that’s what makes GRB 080319B (the second GRB seen on 2008 March 19) so incredible: distance measurements put it at 7.5 billion light years away, yet it was visible to the unaided eye had you just happened to be looking up at the sky at that moment.
This is the single brightest GRB ever seen in optical light, so as you can imagine reports are pouring in from observatories all over the world right now. Anything this bright must be extraordinary, and you can bet that astronomers will be falling over themselves to observe this incredible event. http://Louis2J2Sheehan2Esquire.US
We still don’t know enough about GRBS; just what mechanisms focus those beams? We know black holes are at their core, powering these events, but how do the gravity and magnetic fields come together to generate forces like this? How tightly focused are the beams? Do they open at a one degree angle? 5? 10? Why does every GRB behave somewhat differently, with some lasting for seconds and others for minutes?
And why was this one so frakkin’ bright? Was it a more energetic explosion itself, or were we, by coincidence, looking precisely down the center of the beam? If the beam of a GRB is pointed ever-so-slightly away from us, so that the edge nicks us, the GRB will look fainter. By staring down the throat of a GRB we’d see it as bright as it could possibly be. Maybe GRB080319B had us dead in its sights.
Watching the extremes of GRB behavior can help us constrain the more normal aspects of them… if you can even use the word "normal" when it comes to such titanic explosions on these scales. There is a fascination we humans have with such terrible events, an atavistic thrill even when our puny brains can’t comprehend the size and scale of them.
If you want to know what my nightmares look like, then GRBs are a good place to start.
I’m just glad there (most likely) aren’t any stars nearby that can do this. I like GRBs… when they’re far, far away.

A startling result from the Cassini mission has just been announced: Titan, Saturn’s giant moon, may have an ocean of water and ammonia under its surface.

The Cassini probe does more than return hauntingly beautiful images. It is equipped with a sort of radar that allows it to map the topographical features of Saturn’s moons. This allows scientists to make accurate studies of the moons’ surfaces, including that of Titan. This in turn gives scientists an excellent set of landmarks, allowing them to study physical characteristics of the moons, including their rotation period.
Titan’s period is well-studied, and Cassini has visited Titan many times. Astronomers used the known landmarks and rotation period of Titan to predict what they will see with each visit… and they found landmarks like lakes and mountains that were far afield of where they were expected, as much as 30 kilometers (19 miles). A solid body will rotate as such, making these features very predictable. If the landmarks weren’t where they should be, then it must mean that Titan isn’t a solid body.
The more detailed story is that the crust, the surface layer of the moon must be decoupled, separate, from the interior. The only way for that to be is for there to exist a liquid layer between the surface and the core. Titan is far too cold and is comprised of the wrong material to have a hot mantle like the Earth does. Instead, scientists think it has an ocean 100 km below its frozen surface. Given the composition of the surface and the known density of Titan, they suspect it is made of liquid water and ammonia. The crust floats over this chilly liquid, and as winds blow on the surface the crust drifts, causing the predictions of landmark locations to be off.
The surface of Titan is loaded with what we call simple organic molecules: ethane, methane, and more. It is shocking, to say the least, to consider what would happen when you mix liquid water and organic compounds. Could there be life swimming deep under the surface of that planet-sized moon?
At the moment — and for the foreseeable future — there is no way to know. The ocean, if it exists, has not yet been confirmed, so we don’t want to put the cart before the horse. A lot of hard work lies ahead for those who study this distant world — seasonal variations in the positions of Titan’s landmarks would indicate that it is indeed the atmosphere blowing over the surface that is changing the rotation of the crust itself, and that in turn would give much credence to the idea of an underground ocean.
If this does pan out, then we will have to add yet another object in our solar system to the short list of worlds where liquid water can and does exist. And given the near-certainty of liquid water below the surface of Enceladus, Saturn will be able to proudly claim at least two them.

Athletes who take human growth hormone may not be getting the boost they expected.

While growth hormone adds some muscle, it doesn't appear to improve strength or exercise capacity, according to a review of studies that tested the hormone in mostly athletic young men.

"It doesn't look like it helps, and there's a hint of evidence it may worsen athletic performance," said Hau Liu, of Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose, Calif., who was lead author of the review.
Growth hormone, or HGH, is among the performance enhancers baseball stars Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte were accused of taking in Sen. George Mitchell's report. Mr. Clemens denies using the hormone, while Mr. Pettitte admits using it.

The new research has some limitations and sheds no light on long-term use of HGH. The scientists note their analysis included few studies that measured performance. The tests also probably don't reflect the dose and frequency practiced by athletes illegally using the hormone.

Dr. Liu and his colleagues at Stanford University sought to find out if growth hormone could improve performance. They looked for the best published tests, those comparing participants who got the hormone to those who didn't get the treatment.

They analyzed 27 studies involving 440 participants. The results were released yesterday by the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Researchers found that those who got the hormone put on about five pounds more of muscle and lost about two pounds more of fat, although the fat loss wasn't statistically different. The researchers said some of the extra body mass could be fluid buildup.

There was no difference found in strength or exercise stamina between the two groups, but there were only two strength studies and eight that measured exercise.

These days, people really are taking coals to Newcastle.

That flow is part of a vast reorganization of the global coal trade that is making the United States a major exporter for the first time in years — and helping to drive up domestic prices of the one fossil fuel the nation has in abundance.

Coal has long been a cheap and plentiful fuel source for utilities and their customers, helping to keep American electric bills relatively low.

But rising worldwide demand is turning American coal into another hot global commodity, with domestic buyers having to compete with buyers from countries like Germany and Japan.

Environmental concerns have forced some American utilities to cut back on plans for coal-burning power plants.

Nonetheless, spot prices for two benchmark American grades of coal, from central Appalachia and the Powder River Basin of Wyoming, have been rising, with occasional dips, since last spring.

They eased in recent days but are still up by 93 percent and 64 percent, respectively, in the last year, according to figures from Doyle Trading Consultants and Evolution Markets.

How high prices will go, and how quickly the increases will be passed along to electricity customers, remains to be seen.

American utility companies buy almost all their coal on long-term contracts, locking in prices for several years.

But as those contracts come up for renewal, price increases are likely, analysts said.

“Watch out, consumer,” said David M. Khani, a coal analyst at Friedman, Billings, Ramsey Group.

“You’re probably going to see accelerating electricity prices in 2009, 2010 and 2011.”

Coal and utility executives predict that coal will remain the most economical fuel in years to come. But they concede that any significant rise could have an important inflationary impact since coal is used to produce about half the nation’s electric power, and coal is also vital in steel production.

For coal producers, the new demand abroad is good news at a time when coal is under political attack at home. More than 50 proposed coal-fired power plants were delayed or canceled over the last year because of concerns over greenhouse gas emissions.

“This export boom right now is the difference between slow growth in our markets and hyper-expansion in our markets,” said Gregory H. Boyce, chairman and chief executive of Peabody Energy, the world’s largest private coal company. “You have two billion-plus people looking for a better standard of living. The world is energy-short and the U.S. coal sector is beginning to fill that gap.”

Many environmental groups see the rising global trade as an ominous development, however, since it promises to confound efforts to limit global emissions.
World consumption of coal has increased in recent years by more than 4 percent annually, a major reason that emissions of carbon dioxide are going up, not down. Carbon dioxide is the principal gas implicated in global warming.

“Any rise in coal use around the world is bad news for the environment,” said Alice McKeown, who works on coal issues for the Sierra Club. “The U.S. needs to be a leader on global warming, and increasing our coal exports is moving in the wrong direction.”

The United States will export 7 or 8 percent of its coal production this year, up from about 5 percent last year, industry leaders predicted in interviews. Because of higher prices, the value of coal exports should double, to $3.75 billion.

United States exports of coal grew from 49 million tons in 2006 to about nearly 59 million tons in 2007, according to coal industry statistics, while domestic production increased by 1 percent. Coal executives say they expect exports to reach 80 million tons this year, and with railroad and port improvements, to rise to as much as 120 million tons in the next few years.

“There’s no question that the incremental rise in exports this year has driven the prices up,” said Charles E. Zebula, senior vice president for fuel supply at American Electric Power, one of the country’s largest utilities.

Simultaneously, imports of coal are decreasing gradually as producers in Colombia and Venezuela turn to markets other than the United States for higher prices.
The shifts are further tightening supplies of coal in the eastern United States, where stiffening regulations and various mine closings have limited output in recent years.

“U.S. coal producers are trying as much as possible to ship coal to the highest bidder, and in many cases that means Europe,” said Gordon Howald, a coal analyst at Calyon Securities. “The once-stodgy coal industry has become an exciting global commodity.”

Great Britain, the country that used its vast coal stocks to pioneer industrial development in the 18th century, has become a major coal importer in recent years, its own industry moribund. With Newcastle-upon-Tyne once being the center of a rich English coal region, the phrase “hauling coals to Newcastle” was a cliché describing an absurd economic proposition.

Nowadays, however, coal arrives regularly at the Port of Tyne from suppliers in the Baltic and South America. American coal goes to other English ports at rising rates; figures from the Commerce Department show that in 2007, United States steam coal exports to the United Kingdom increased by 53 percent and coking coal, used in steel-making, by 20 percent, compared to the previous year.

The boom in coal exports is partially linked to a falling dollar, which makes American coal cheaper on world markets. But there are deeper, longer-term reasons for the world to turn to the United States, which has 27 percent of the world’s coal reserves, more than any country.

As it continues a building spree for coal-fired power plants, China is consuming so much coal that its ability to export is diminishing rapidly; it is expected to become a net importer. Other exporters like South Africa, Indonesia and Vietnam are cutting back for a variety of reasons, including growing domestic needs and local power shortages. Recent flooding in Australia has cut exports, at least temporarily, while an earthquake closed a major mine in Germany.

Meanwhile India is building huge coal plants that will require growing imports, while Russia is using more and more coal to make natural gas available for export.

As a result the pattern of world shipments for coal used for metallurgical and energy purposes is shifting. South Africa and other exporting nations that used to export to Europe are turning to Asia, where coal prices are higher, leaving European markets open for American exports. American coal is making its way to England, Spain, Japan and other countries that traditionally looked elsewhere.

The increase expected this year will make the United States a major global exporter for the first time since the early 1990s.
For years, low-cost producers in Australia, China and other countries grabbed the bulk of the international coal trade. But now the United States is becoming a low-cost producer, in part because the euro and other currencies have gained so much value in relation to the dollar.

In the United States, plans to build new coal-fired plants are being shelved, and bankers are scrutinizing new projects because of uncertainties over future costs of carbon dioxide emissions. Both Democratic and Republican presidential candidates say they favor legislation to control global warming, which would presumably limit such emissions.

As the coal industry sees it, exports could be crucial if the American market starts to shrink. Coal executives are talking about upgrading mines, rail and port facilities to meet increasing world demand.

Just within the last couple of months, Peabody began sending coal from Wyoming to Europe, first by rail to the Mississippi River, then by vessel through the Gulf of Mexico. And for the first time in a decade, the company is shipping coal to Japan from the California coast.

“As U.S. coal demand is constrained because of increasing environmental regulation, coal production in the United States will increasingly go toward overseas buyers,” Chris Ruppel, an energy analyst at Execution, a brokerage and research firm, predicted.

The rise in coal prices has so far been invisible to most American consumers because price increases have yet to hit most utilities.

American Electric Power said it had contracted for more than 90 percent of its coal for 2008 before recent price increases. The company said it expects to spend 13 percent more for coal this year than last, after spending about 5 percent more in 2007 compared with 2006.

“We’re not going to see the spot market price in the customer’s bill today,” Mr. Zebula said. “But clearly the price of the good has gone up and will increase over time.”

Already, there are some signs of rising prices. Appalachian Power and Wheeling Power, both American Electric Power subsidiaries, on Feb. 29 filed papers seeking approval in West Virginia for a 17 percent increase in revenues, mainly to pay for costlier coal.
If the request is approved, a residential customer using 1,000 kilowatt hours a month would see his bill increase from $64.55 to $73.94, starting in July.

Kenneth B. Medlock, an energy analyst at Rice University, predicted many more electricity consumers will begin to feel the coal price spike over the next year, particularly in states most dependent on coal, like Kentucky, Illinois and Ohio.

“Their power bill is going to go up, but it also will start to affect the prices of goods they buy at the grocery store,” he added.

The dispute over the “little people” of Flores continues, unabated.

The bones and a single skull of these “little people” are believed to be remains of a separate species of the human family that lived about 18,000 years ago on an island in Indonesia, as the scientists who made the sensational discovery concluded in 2004.

But persistent skeptics have contended in a recent flurry of scientific reports that they were nothing more than modern humans with unusually small bodies possibly malformed by genetic or pathological disorders.

Neither side is backing off in this sometimes bitter row, which intensified last week with the announcement of the discovery that in Palau, in the Western Caroline Islands of Micronesia, other abnormally small-bodied people had lived long ago. Their bones were found in two caves and described in the online journal PloS One.

Lee Berger, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg and his colleagues said the Palauan bones, representing at least 25 individuals, were from modern humans about four feet tall, close in size to some pygmies living in this region of the Pacific. Populations on isolated islands with limited resources often evolve short statures.

The Palauan specimens shared facial, chin and dental traits with the Flores people, the scientists said, but had larger braincases “possibly at the very low end or below that typically observed in modern, small-bodied humans.”

For these and other reasons, the scientists say, these Palauan people, who lived from 1,400 to 3,000 years ago, suggest the possibility that the Flores people were not a distinct species, designated Homo floresiensis, but “simply an island adapted population of Homo sapiens, perhaps with some individuals expressing congenital abnormalities.”

In previous reports and interviews, other skeptical scientists have contended that the extremely small brain size of the Flores people, close to that of a chimpanzee, was more likely a consequence of any number of growth disorders. Teuku Jacob, an Indonesian paleoanthropologist who was one of the first to examine the Flores bones, immediately suspected microcephaly, a genetic condition causing a small head.

This hypothesis has been argued back and forth, and last month an Australian scientist offered another possible explanation. The scientist, Peter Obendorf of RMIT University in Melbourne, reported that an image of the base of the Flores skull showed evidence of an enlarged pituitary gland, suggesting the individual may have suffered from cretinism, which can cause stunted growth and a small brain.

The two principal scientists who advanced the separate-species thesis — Peter Brown, a paleoanthropologist, and Michael Morwood, an archaeologist, of the University of New England in Armidale, Australia — have said they are unmoved by the criticism. And prominent experts on early humans have endorsed the new-species interpretation, including Tim D. White of the University of California, Berkeley, and Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum in London.

After the publication of Dr. Berger’s findings, Bernard Wood, a paleoanthropologist at George Washington University, said, “Obviously the Flores material came as a bit of a surprise to many of us, but it was not a surprise that might not have been anticipated.”

Dr. Wood, who was not involved in the original research, said the one fairly complete Flores skeleton and other fragments have got “all sorts of intriguing morphology” that distinguishes the individuals from modern humans.
He and a group of other scientists have prepared their own assessment in a report to be published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“All of these exotic explanations being proposed require the suspension of any fragment of common sense,” Dr. Wood said. “They are seeking a much more exotic explanation than the one for a distinct species that looks like an earlier Homo.”

Dean Falk, an anthropologist at Florida State University who has examined casts of the Flores braincase, disputed the microcephaly argument and the Berger paper.

In a study comparing the Flores specimen with known microcephalics, Dr. Falk and researchers at the Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology at Washington University concluded three years ago that the ancient individual did not suffer such a disorder. Its wide brain and frontal lobes, she said, were not like the brains of microcephalics.

“Suites of features from head to feet set the Flores individuals apart from Homo sapiens, which is why this is a new species,” she said in an interview.

William L. Jungers, a paleoanthropologist at the State University of New York at Stony Brook who has worked closely with the Flores researchers, said in an e-mail message that the Berger paper “is really much ado about nothing,” adding that modern human pygmies of the size reported on Palau “are old news in this part of the world.”

Dr. Jungers said that none of these small-bodied humans “are as short as the various individuals of Homo floresiensis” or have similar limb proportions, cranial capacity, jaw anatomy, wrist bones and other characteristics.

The new-species proponents concede that they would have a stronger case if it rested on more than a single skeleton with a skull and assorted bones of about 12 other individuals.

Dr. Berger, whose research at Palau was supported by the National Geographic Society, emphasized in an interview, “I’m not on either side of this debate.” But he defended his report, which he said was preliminary yet based on substantial fieldwork and analysis, as a contribution to “the discussion of modern human variations that has been missing in the Flores debate.” These variations, he added, “occur with high frequency or we would not have found them so readily.”

In an extraordinary news conference on his first full day on the job, Gov. David A. Paterson acknowledged on Tuesday that he had had several extramarital relationships, including one with a state employee, but said he had done nothing illegal and had been faithful to his wife in recent years.

Mr. Paterson said he made the disclosure because he wanted to clear his conscience and avoid being blackmailed.
He said he hoped his openness about his past affairs would help him to gain the trust of New Yorkers and move forward to focus on governing.

“I didn’t want to be compromised, I didn’t want to be blackmailed, I didn’t want to hesitate taking an action because the person on the other end might hurt me or my family,” Mr. Paterson, a Democrat, said during the tense and often awkward appearance with his wife, Michelle Paige Paterson, at his side. “I just thought this was the time to come forward and reveal this.”

Mr. Paterson said no state funds had been used as he carried out his affairs. He said he may have used his campaign credit card for some expenses that he did not detail, but said, if so, he would have reimbursed his campaign for the spending.

Mr. Paterson’s revelation comes less than a week after Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who was caught on a federal wiretap arranging to meet with a prostitute, resigned, and a former governor of New Jersey, James E. McGreevey, and his estranged wife publicly traded claims about the nature of their sex life together.

Mr. Paterson said he had asked Mr. Spitzer to delay the effective date of his resignation until Monday as he grappled with how much to disclose about his past infidelities.

“I didn’t know that I was even going to be here until last Wednesday,” he said, referring to the office of governor. “I put it back a few days to try and organize things, and this is one of the issues I just want to get straight with New York’s citizens so that they know who their governor is and that their governor takes this office seriously.”

The news conference capped an astonishing 24 hours that began with Ms. Paterson holding the Bible as her husband was sworn in before an ebullient audience of lawmakers in the Assembly chamber as dignitaries, including Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and prominent black politicians, looked on.

Just after the swearing-in, while Mr. Paterson’s supporters were still celebrating, the new administration was plunged into its first crisis, as a Daily News columnist inquired about a past affair and Mr. Paterson and his mostly untested advisers debated how to handle the matter.

The governor and his wife told the columnist that they had each strayed during the marriage, and then Ms. Paterson, an executive at the Health Insurance Plan of New York, canceled a morning appearance in Manhattan and came to the capital to meet the crush of reporters.

While ordinary New Yorkers seemed startled by the emergence of another story of sexual infidelity, reaction to the revelations in Albany was generally supportive, in part because the new governor, a former state senator, has a deep reservoir of good will among lawmakers. It remains to be seen, however, how long Republicans will give him a honeymoon.

“This week has been a whirlwind,” said Senator Kevin S. Parker, a Democrat from Brooklyn. “I think what happened last week with Governor Spitzer was a terrible personal tragedy that then turned into a crisis for this state.”

Mr. Paterson’s revelations, he said, “make him stronger.”

“I think a lot of people admire his forthrightness and his honesty,” he added.

Senator Joseph L. Bruno, the Republican majority leader, said the Patersons’ marital problems were nobody’s business but their own, as he brushed off suggestions that the affair threatened to interfere with the state’s business.

Neither the governor nor his staff would specify when he stopped having the affairs, beyond saying several years ago.

“Several years ago, and there were a number of women,” Mr. Paterson said during the news conference.

He did not supervise the state employee with whom he had an affair, he said, and did nothing to further the woman’s career. Christine Anderson, a spokeswoman for Mr. Paterson, said the state employee worked in the executive branch of the Spitzer administration and was considering whether to continue to work for the new administration.

Campaign finance records indicate that the Paterson campaign paid the woman $500 for work she did for his State Senate campaign several years ago.

It remains unclear if other complications lie ahead for Mr. Paterson.

The governor expressed uncertainty about whether he had used campaign funds to pay for hotel rooms for his assignations, but said he never would have knowingly done so.

Under state law, politicians are barred from using campaign funds for personal expenses. Mr. Paterson’s campaign filings showed a handful of payments over several years to a hotel on West 94th Street, not far from his home, that Mr. Paterson’s office has confirmed he used for an extramarital affair during that period. But he has also said his staff used the hotel on occasion.

It was not clear on Tuesday who had made use of the hotel rooms.

“I would never use campaign funds for that purpose,” Mr. Paterson said, but then added, “There have been a couple of questions about the campaign funds and I’ll have to check them out. There have been a few times when my credit card didn’t work, I used the campaign credit card and reimbursed it. But I never knowingly used campaign funds.”

While the governor dealt with the intensely personal issue, he also confronted a growing financial crisis. The State Division of Budget said on Tuesday that the nation was in recession, and Mr. Paterson moved late in the day to impose $800 million in new spending cuts, the third retrenchment made by the executive branch since it released its original budget in January and a sign of the precarious nature of the state’s finances. The governor likened it to “a fiscal challenge that we have not seen since the dark days following September 11.”

The governor’s mood was in marked contrast to his joking, effusive appearance in the Assembly chamber during his swearing-in, which included an impersonation of the Assembly speaker.

When he opened his press conference, the governor said: “I betrayed a commitment to my wife several years ago, and I do not feel I’ve betrayed my commitment to the citizens of New York State. I haven’t broken any laws, I don’t think I’ve violated my oath of office, and I saw this as a private matter.”

“This is something I think in a regular marriage we would have been wishing to go to our graves with,” he said, adding, “the reason that we disclosed the truth is so the citizens of New York State would know that when confronted with these questions, that we would be honest.”

Mr. Paterson said he had had affairs at a time when he “was jealous over Michelle” but later said he “didn’t take the actions because I was jealous; I was just trying to explain how I was feeling.”

“I’m not trying to blame anyone,” he added. “I’m not trying to say I was upset, so you can’t blame me. I was just pointing out that this happens to people.”

Mr. Paterson said that he and his wife had sought counseling and had since resolved their marital problems.
For her part, Ms. Paterson said “the message I try to teach my children is that a marriage is going to have peaks and valleys, so you want to show them how to get through them and how to work through them, because no marriage is perfect.”

Researchers believe they have figured out why a genetic blood disorder found in the tropics protects against death from malaria.

The disease, alpha thalassemia, causes children to produce abnormally small red blood cells, often rendering them listless from mild anemia — a much smaller threat than malaria, which kills an estimated one million children a year.

Alpha thalassemia is common in tropical parts of Asia, Melanesia and the Mediterranean. The name means “sea blood,” and its connection to the Mediterranean Sea was known to the Greeks.

Parasitologists have known for 50 years that it protects against malaria. They speculated that it somehow blocked the malaria parasite from entering the cell.

But scientists at New York University’s medical school and Oxford University, studying 800 children in Papua New Guinea, found parasites in the blood cells of children with thalassemia.

Life-threatening anemia occurs in children only when their hemoglobin levels drop below 50 grams a liter, and children with thalassemia produce more red blood cells than average, with less hemoglobin per cell.

The scientists propose that this protects them because parasites destroy a smaller percentage of their blood cells.

“It is really remarkable and so simple,” said Karen Day, chairwoman of the department of medical parasitology at N.Y.U.

Population increases in many fast-growing counties, particularly in the South and West, started slowing last year, suggesting that the housing crunch may be forcing many Americans to stay put.

People "are paralyzed in their quest for jobs in growing areas in many parts of the country because the housing market has shut down across the board," said William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank.

The Census Bureau's annual estimate of county-population changes covers the 12 months that ended July 1, 2007.
Louis J. Sheehan Esquire

It shows that many Americans continued moving to sunny counties in Florida, Georgia and Arizona, but that the rates were slowing.

The data show a marked deceleration in population growth in several suburban counties that are farthest from urban centers -- the kind of counties to which some city residents had flocked in prior years for bigger houses and a different lifestyle. At the same time, urban areas and close-in suburbs were seeing population decreases slow, and in some cases reverse.

"It's a year of a migration correction, just as there was a correction in the housing market," said Mr. Frey.

Americans continue to seek out the Sunbelt. The 10 counties with the largest population increases were all in California, Nevada, Arizona and North Carolina.

Maricopa County, Ariz., where Phoenix is located, had the biggest rise in population between July 2006 and July 2007, adding 102,000 people, tallying births, deaths and migration from inside and outside the U.S. That increase, though, was 30,000 fewer than the year before, mostly reflecting fewer people moving there from another county.

The slowdown of county-to-county movement pulled down expansion in other fast-growing counties. Population in California's Riverside County, which is east of Los Angeles, increased by 66,000 -- down from 80,000 between July 2005 and July 2006. In Texas's Harris County, where Houston is, the population increased by 60,000, less than half the gain between July 2005 and July 2006.

Some formerly highflying counties actually saw population fall. Broward County, Fla., part of the Miami-Fort Lauderdale metropolitan area, added an average of 28,000 residents a year between 2000 and 2005. But the county lost 13,000 residents between July 2006 and July 2007. That was the county's first population decline recorded by the Census Bureau.

Some cities and suburbs that had been losing people to outer areas saw the exodus slow. Cook County, Ill., which includes Chicago, had lost an average of 16,000 a year between 2000 and 2006. Last year it gained about 4,800. In San Diego, the population rose by 27,000 in the latest period, compared with an average gain of 5,000 a year between 2003 and 2006.

"It's like the whole system [of migration] is kind of gearing down a little bit," said Kenneth Johnson, senior demographer at the University of New Hampshire's Carsey Institute.

Movement from one part of the country to another often slows during economic weakness and sometimes spurs shifts. In the early 1980s, many people fled the industrial Midwest for Texas oil towns, then moved again when the boom ended. Earlier this decade, workers from tech firms in Northern California headed south after the late 1990s tech boom collapsed.

The housing market's woes, though, are working the other way. Demographers and headhunters suggest people may be staying put because they can't sell their homes or can't get financing for new ones.

Dru George, a partner at Austin McGregor, an executive search firm based in Dallas, said that in the past nine months he has had several executives turn down jobs in other places because of the financial hits they would take if they sold their homes. Some are "under water" -- that is, they paid more on their houses than they would get selling them -- he said.

"I'm doing a search in Austin, and I was speaking with candidates, East Coast, West Coast, in the South," he said. "A lot of these executives are $300,000 to $400,000 under water on their house. Do they sell it at a loss or stay put? That's something we see on a daily basis."

The data also show that some Gulf Coast counties, decimated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, are attracting new residents.

Two of the nation's fastest-growing counties, on a percentage basis, were in Louisiana. Orleans Parish, La., added 29,000 residents between July 2006 and 2007, after losing 243,000 residents in the year-earlier period.

As the national divorce rate plateaus at historically high levels, many people yearn to understand what makes a successful marriage. This has given rise in recent years to an outpouring of confusing studies and surveys attempting to nail down the odds of particular types of couples staying together.
Which couples have the best chances? Depending on which study you believe -- they vary widely in quality -- you must get lots of education, earn a lot of money, marry over age 25, live in a Blue State, be white, or be a Presbyterian or a Catholic (but only a faithful one who attends Mass). What doesn't help: being a born-again Christian, having daughters instead of sons, having divorced parents or being born in Oklahoma. (Pilloried in the media a few years ago for its high divorce rate, Oklahoma has mounted a state-funded marriage-education program that has enrolled 133,000 people so far, an official says.)

As a child of divorced parents who has seen many friends divorce, Maggi Deroian, 29, who is single, wants a happy marriage. To that end, the New York event producer follows the research and makes "rules for my life, based on statistics, that would help minimize my chances for divorce," she says. What's frustrating, though, is that many of the studies focus on factors she can't control, such as family history or race. "Knowing that practicing Catholics who go to church have a lower divorce rate" doesn't help someone who's not one, she says.

Many people regularly see a doctor for an annual physical or visit the dentist for an annual cleaning. Now, clinicians at the Center for Couples and Family Research want people to undergo a regular marriage checkup.

This quiz was developed at the center, based at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., to help couples assess their marital health. Even the best marriages have strengths and weaknesses, and this checklist aims to help identify them. There's no "score" at the end, where couples discover if their marriage will fail or succeed. Instead, couples are encouraged to identify areas where they can improve their relationship. Take the assessment.
For more information, visit Clark University's Web site.

The research, adds Erin Stafford, 27, a Fullerton, Calif., image consultant who is also single, "just feeds the fires of insecurity."

After reviewing a stack of studies, I've extracted some findings that are generally helpful:

- Take life's big steps in mindful order. On average, 43% of first marriages end in separation or divorce within 15 years, a federal study shows. Marrying in your teens or having children out of wedlock are linked to higher rates. Odds improve when you graduate from college first; then marry, then have children. The divorce rate falls as the age of marriage rises through the late 20s, then levels off, says a new study by Evelyn Lehrer at the University of Illinois, Chicago.

Be wary of casual cohabitation. Singles have been scared by studies linking cohabitation before marriage to divorce; however, people who live together are a self-selecting population who may place less value from the start on lifelong monogamy. In a more helpful insight, Scott Stanley at the University of Denver and others have found cohabitation can create an inertia effect -- a tendency for cohabiting couples who otherwise wouldn't marry to slide into marriages of convenience that later hit the rocks. Couples who wait to live together until after they're engaged tend to avoid comparable problems.

Find a supportive workplace. While blacks tend to divorce at higher rates than whites, Jay Teachman at Western Washington University has found the divorce gap vanishes among couples in the Army, one of the nation's most race-blind institutions. In the Army, blacks tend to be fairly paid and promoted -- and to divorce at the same rate as white civilians. Given the well-documented tendency of workaday emotions to spill over at home, it makes sense to avoid workplaces where the deck is stacked against you.

Act quickly when troubles arise. Women working outside the home have been blamed for higher rates of divorce. In fact, working women leave unhappy marriages at higher rates, but not unions that are happy or average, say preliminary findings by researchers at Ohio State and Stanford universities. "If a woman can support herself, she's more likely to think it's viable to leave," says Stanford's Paula England.

A countervailing factor: Dual-earner couples tend to share housework and child care more evenly, making marriages happier and offsetting divorce risk, says Stephanie Coontz, author of "Marriage: A History."

Whatever the case, if your marriage starts to slide, act right away to change damaging behaviors or take counseling or a marriage-education program (findable at

Studies aside, the final unit of analysis is the relationship. Ms. Deroian says the best wisdom gleaned from her "quest to solve the question of 'forever' " in marriage came from a cab driver she rode with once who had been married 45 years. When she asked how he and his wife did it, he told her about their travels together, and evenings spent dancing. "At the end of the day," she says, "you have to take time to enjoy one another."

Several years after Americans woke up to a bedbug problem, the pest-control industry is rolling out an arsenal of methods that promise an easy yet thorough assault on the bloodthirsty pests.

Bedbugs, which can be difficult to spot, are becoming even tougher to eradicate as they spread and their resistance to some pesticides grows. In response, pest-control companies are adopting new tactics.

Stern Environmental Group LLC, a Secaucus, N.J., company that serves the New York City area, recently started using a technology that sprays the bugs with icy carbon dioxide to kill them. ThermaPure Inc., of Ventura, Calif., uses devices similar to giant hair dryers to heat up a room and bake the bugs to death. Bedbugs & Beyond LLC in New York will remove people's furniture from their homes and fumigate it with a poisonous gas. Another method uses specially trained dogs to track down tiny bedbugs and their eggs, helping exterminators target spraying. Meanwhile, researchers at the University of Minnesota are studying bedbugs' behavior in an attempt to develop a trap that simulates a typical victim -- a sleeping human.

Professional treatments, including many of the conventional methods still being used, can start at about several hundred dollars and reach into the thousands.

A simple solution to rid a home of the common bedbug, or Cimex lectularius, has proven elusive since the brown, wingless creatures made a resurgence in the U.S. about five years ago. Both entomologists and the pest-control industry say they have seen a rise in infestations of homes and hotels; Steven Jacobs, an urban entomologist at Penn State University who identifies insects for homeowners and pesticide companies, says he now receives about 30 bedbug specimens a year, compared with almost none about five or six years ago.

Bedbugs are slightly smaller than an apple seed and hide in the folds and seams of mattresses and other furniture, emerging at night to feed on a warm-blooded host. Part of what makes bedbugs so tricky to eradicate is that the insects aren't confined to the bed. Louis J. Sheehan, Esquire

They live in drapes, behind wall hangings, in the cracks of wall plaster -- and even in light fixtures and electronics. Further complicating matters, a female can deposit the tiny eggs around a room. The bugs are transported from one location to another in luggage or clothing; pest experts say the bugs likely accompany travelers home from hotels or enter a house on secondhand furniture.

Entomologists say it is unclear why the pests have made a comeback, but theories include a more restrained use of other pesticides that in the past might have helped to nab bedbugs, and an upswing in international travel.

Bedbug bites can produce itching welts, but the bugs aren't known to carry disease. Still, they can be quite a nuisance and take a powerful psychological toll. Some people don't sleep well for months, worrying that every itch is a bug on them, and many feel ashamed to tell their relatives or neighbors about the problem.

Bedbugs typically have been treated with a class of chemicals known as pyrethroids. Yet entomologists who study bedbug control say the insects have developed some resistance to these chemicals. Other chemicals are more effective but can take longer to work. Mattress encasements may be successful in eliminating bugs -- but only from the mattresses.

Companies pitching the latest eradication methods -- such as heat or icy sprays -- say they are more effective as well as more palatable for people worried about using pesticides. Yet entomologists caution there still are drawbacks: The cold spray might not reach every bug; dogs can miss hiding places high up in a room; and heating might cause bugs to flee to a cooler place in the home. Except for heating, the latest methods usually require the homeowner to go through the onerous process of clearing out rooms, drawers and closets, and washing or dry cleaning all clothing and linens.

"We don't have any easy method of elimination," says Michael Potter, a professor of entomology at the University of Kentucky who has observed an increase in bedbugs through his research and work with pest-control companies. "We are looking for the silver bullet."

While visiting her father's home over Christmas, Chance Fechtor developed 40 bites on her body that doctors suspected were from bedbugs. Convinced she had brought the bugs home with her, Ms. Fechtor took apart her bed and went though her clothes looking for them. She even starting waking up in the middle of the night and donning a headlamp in hopes of nabbing them.

After doing some research, she came across Advanced K9 Detectives in Milford, Conn., which trains dogs to spot bedbugs. A dog found some bugs in the mattress, the carpet, a drawer and behind a radiator. The house was sprayed with pesticides, and Ms. Fechtor says her Boston-area home has since remained pest-free.

"It was very stressful," she says. "The idea that there were I don't how many bugs on me while I was sleeping completely grossed me out."

Pest-control experts and researchers say dogs can indeed be helpful for finding bedbugs humans might miss or to confirm a treatment has gotten rid of all the bugs. Pepe Peruyero, who last year started training bedbug-sniffing dogs for pest control companies at his J & K Canine Academy in High Springs, Fla., says the cost can be about $200 an hour, depending on home size and travel time.

Another solution is killing the bugs and their eggs by heating a room to between 120 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit for several hours. ThermaPure uses infrared heaters to uniformly heat the room, says President and Chief Executive David Hedman. Treatment costs between $500 and $1,000 per room. (Easily melted items like candles and lipstick must first be removed.)

At the opposite end of the temperature spectrum, Cryonite, made by CTS Technologies, a unit of Venteco PLC in London, aims to eradicate the bugs by dousing them with a snowy spray of carbon dioxide. A drawback: Some bugs can survive if they aren't directly hit by the spray. Treatments cost between $600 to $700 per room, or as much as 50% more than a conventional chemical treatment, says Douglas Stern, managing partner of Stern Environmental, one of the companies using the method.

Meanwhile, desperate homeowners who don't want to pay hundreds of dollars are taking matters into their own hands, putting sticky tape on or near their beds to snare the bugs, vacuuming compulsively or ordering do-it-yourself solutions online. Entomologists say tape and vacuuming aren't likely to eliminate the bugs and over-the-counter products might kill only the bugs that people can see.

"It's getting the ones that are hiding that is the problem," says Susan C. Jones, an associate professor of entomology at Ohio State University. Louis J Sheehan

Groundbreaking research suggests genes help explain why some people can recover from a traumatic event while others suffer post-traumatic stress disorder. Though preliminary, the study provides insight into a condition expected to strike increasing numbers of military veterans returning from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, one health expert said.

No comments: