Thursday, April 24, 2008


If you're sitting in front of a computer, it's easy to look up information on the Web. It's almost as easy if you have a sophisticated cellphone with a decent Web browser and you're in a place with a good Internet connection where it's possible to type.

But what if you only have a standard cellphone with a lousy Web browser -- or even the best Web-browsing phone, but it lacks a fast data connection? What if you're speeding down the road in a car, where typing is dangerous?
Walt Mossberg says ChaCha, a free mobile search service that answers queries over your cellphone via calls or texts, does "a pretty good job." The service performed well when asked about sports, nutrition and even shopping, he says.

Now, there's a way to get your questions answered despite those hurdles. It's a free cellphone service that lets you ask any question answerable via a Web search, using any cellphone, by simply making a voice call. It's called ChaCha, and I've been testing it out.

To use ChaCha, you just dial 800-2chacha (800-224-2242) and state your question. In a few minutes, you'll get an answer via text message. In one test, I asked ChaCha who was the winning pitcher in the previous night's Red Sox victory against the Yankees. In a few minutes, I received a text message with the correct answer: Daisuke Matsuzaka.

ChaCha requires no registration and works on any cellphone carrier. It needs no special codes or key words. You just state your question as if you were asking a friend. If you prefer to type your question, you can text it to "ChaCha," or 242242. Though ChaCha itself charges no fees, your phone carrier may charge for the minutes you use, or for the text messages.

The service works by routing your questions to one of 10,000 hired "guides" -- students, stay-at-home parents, retirees and others -- who look up the questions on the Web and reply. They get paid 20 cents per answer.

Naturally, these guides vary as to their speed and accuracy. If you don't like the answers they give you, or you want related information, you can call back or reply to the text message with a follow-up question.
For instance, after learning which pitcher had won for Boston, I asked who lost the game for New York. I was quickly informed it was Phil Hughes.

Overall, I liked ChaCha. In most cases, I received fast, accurate, useful answers. But it has two weaknesses. One is that the low-paid, part-time guides can provide inconsistent service. When I asked for the best Mexican restaurant in D.C., for example, ChaCha came up with a choice that few locals would cite.

The other is that, unlike many other cellphone information services, ChaCha doesn't automatically know your location. So, unless you include a location in your query, it's clueless about questions such as "Where's the nearest drugstore?"

ChaCha is hardly the only information service for cellphones. Google offers a text-message service where you can ask questions on a wide variety of topics, and a voice-based service that locates businesses near your location. Microsoft's TellMe subsidiary just introduced a voice-based service that answers location-specific questions about businesses, weather, traffic and movies, and displays the answers on the screens of BlackBerrys.

But these competitors are more limited than ChaCha in key respects. Google's broader mobile-search service, Google SMS, requires that questions be sent via text message using special key words. Its voice service, Goog411, finds only local businesses. TellMe's new service is limited to location-based information and works only on certain phones.

I tested ChaCha using three very different phones: a cheap, bare-bones Samsung flip phone from Sprint; a midrange Motorola Razr from Verizon; and an Apple iPhone running on AT&T. I asked questions via voice and text from various locations, including my car, where I used a hands-free microphone.

I asked about sports, TV shows, journalism, history, weather, nutrition, demographics and shopping. ChaCha handled most of these inquiries correctly and was able to fix most of its errors after I asked follow-up questions. For each question, it sends two text messages: one restating your query and saying it's working on it, and the second containing the answer.

Each ChaCha answer is accompanied by a Web link. If your phone has a decent browser, you can go to that link to learn who the guide was, and what his or her Web-site source was.

ChaCha gave me the weekend weather forecast in Boston, the date of death of Abigail Adams and the cast of the TV show "Brothers & Sisters." It provided Peyton Manning's salary and the sodium content of a McDonald's quarter pounder.
Its most impressive performance came when it correctly answered an obscure historical question: "When was the Gaspee burned?" The Gaspee was a British tax-collection ship burned in Rhode Island in 1772 in what is often considered the first act of war of the American Revolution.

Afar, Ethiopia
The Afar region, a low-lying spot in northern Ethiopia, is home to two important anthropological discoveries: the famous hominid fossil Lucy and the world’s oldest stone tools. But it has several other distinctive features. Located near the meeting point of three tectonic plates (the African, Arabian, and Indian plates), the area is seismically active, with near-continuous earthquakes that can split the earth’s crust, opening long rifts. According to recent reports, a large fissure has appeared in Afar that will eventually separate the Horn of Africa from the rest of the continent. There are also volcanoes. Rising from below sea level, Erta Ale, the most active volcano in Ethiopia, erupted several times in 2005, reportedly displacing about 50,000 nomads. The Afar depression happens to be one of the hottest inhabited places on earth, especially from May to August, when temperatures can reach a dangerous 113 degrees F.

1 Drink up: It takes three months for a recycled aluminum can to make its way back onto the shelf in reincarnated form.

2 Or build a bridge: In 2002 researchers from Rutgers University built a 42-foot-long bridge over a river using plastic beams made from polystyrene cups and polyethylene milk jugs.

3 Or construct a boat: During World War I, enough metal was salvaged from corset stays to build two warships.

4 On April 27 the boat Earthrace will begin an attempt to break the maritime around-the-world speed record. It will use biofuel, some of which comes from liposuctioned human fat.

5 No fat here: During Britain’s 2007 Recycle Now week, svelte models strutted down Brighton beach wearing swimsuits made from steel cans.

6 These boots were made for flooring: Nike gathers old athletic shoes and turns them into raw material for “sports surfaces” like tennis courts and running tracks.

7 Meanwhile, in China, more than 1 million unsold copies of British singer-songwriter Robbie Williams’s latest CD will be used to resurface roads.

8 Last year Chinese hair salons caused a stir by unlawfully recycling used condoms, possibly donated by local nightclubs, into hair ties.

9 Elsewhere in Asia, an enterprising dental technician established the Japan Denture Recycle Association in 2006 to cash in on the precious metals in discarded choppers.
Proceeds go to Unicef.

10 Each year Americans junk more than 80 million dollars’ worth of copper, gold, silver, palladium, and platinum in the form of retired cell phones.

11 Cell phones, laptops, and, um, personal massage devices: New British laws mandate that old electronic appliances—including sex toys—cannot be dumped. They must be recycled with other so-called e-waste.

12 E-waste is for the birds: An Australian nut orchard converts the shells of vintage Macintosh computers into houses for pest-eating birds.

13 Humans need houses too: When Luiz Bispo built his house in a Rio de Janeiro slum out of construction waste last year, city authorities threatened to destroy it. Now the house—which floats atop a junk-filled river on a base of plastic bottles—is being touted as an icon of sustainable development.

14 Cities have long been gold mines for recyclers: Beginning in ancient times, tanners collected human urine to use in turning animal skins into leather.

15 In the Middle Ages, urine was also used to make saltpeter, an essential component of gunpowder.

16 Cities get recycled too: Masonry from Roman settlements made a handy source of stone for medieval church builders.

17 But enough is enough: In 1821 Turkish soldiers surrounded Greek forces holed up in the Parthenon and started stripping lead from temple columns to make bullets. The horrified Greeks promptly sent the enemy a fresh supply of ammunition to discourage further recycling.

18 Using every part: There are now sheep-poo air fresheners. Sterilized sheep droppings are turned into packets stuffed with grass- or daffodil-scented material.

19 Green to the end: The Doggone Project in Mannheim, Germany, can recycle deceased pets into fertilizer.

20 You, too: Ecopods, a British company, sells stylish coffins made from hardened recycled paper, available in a range of colors including indigo and silver leaf.

Years ago, I profiled a theater designer who had just created 200 sumptuous costumes from garbage bags. Green, rose, black, white, sky blue, and see-through—the plastic was pliable and it pleated, flounced, puffed, fluffed, and glowed with reflected light. The title of that long-ago theater production was 33 Scenes on the Possibility of Human Happiness. From trash to the sublime, plastic was cheap, durable, endlessly protean, and astonishingly beautiful. Christo would agree.

How could that loveliness be linked to what seems its ugly opposite: the contortions and distortions that chemicals in plastic may have bequeathed us? The stunted testicles in fish and alligators; girls blooming breasts and pubic hair at an eerily young age; the steadily rising numbers of human males born with abnormal urethras; climbing rates of testicular and breast cancer; declining sperm counts. Not to mention the death of wildlife, particularly seabirds that mistakenly feast on discarded plastic. Those garbage-bag ball gowns are now married in my mind with a photo of a Laysan albatross whose belly, slashed open by biologists, was jammed with 306 pieces of plastic flotsam—a surreal bird version of a junkyard.

The most pressing question about plas–tic, though, may be whether daily exposure alters the health and fertility of our children and perhaps even our children’s children. It turns out that the hormonelike chemicals in plastic may remodel our cells and tissue during key stages of development, both in the womb and in early childhood. When pregnant mice are exposed to chemicals in plastic, the mammary and prostate tissue of their developing embryos proliferates abnormally, and sensitivity to hormones is forever turned up.
Perhaps most disturbing is the significant increase in chromosomal abnormalities in the eggs forming in those embryos. Those are the eggs that will make the next generation. Thus, if the worst-case scenario proves true, early exposure to plastic can reshape not just our children but their children, too.

Present in everyday items like panty hose and perfume, computers and catheters, baby rattles and billiard balls, plastics are so ubiquitous we seldom give them a second thought. Yet they pose problems both familiar and unfamiliar. Some of the public health issues are as familiar as those posed by tobacco, lead, DDT, and asbestos—all hazards that were understood, monitored, and regulated only after decades of research and advocacy. Plastic presents new kinds of concerns because it requires a radically different paradigm of toxicity. Whereas lead exposure can be quantified by the drop in a child’s IQ and asbestos exposure can eventually be tallied by mesothelioma incidence, the typical standards of toxicology do not apply to the chemicals in plastic. If plastic harms, it does so by stealth: by mimicking our own hormones, by scrambling signals during development, by stimulating our own pathways excessively. And it may have that power at astonishingly low exposure levels, amounts that by typical toxicological measures look just fine. With plastic, less may be more, and a little may be a lot.

At the center of the Pacific Ocean in a windless, fishless oceanic desert twice the size of Texas, a swirling mass of plastic waste converges into a gyre containing an estimated six pounds of nonbiodegradable plastic for every pound of plankton. Called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, it is an indelible mark of human domination of the planet. But plastic has also left its mark in us. Plastic’s chemical co-travelers make their way into our urine, saliva, semen, and breast milk. Two in particular stand out: bisphenol A (or BPA, used in polycarbonates and resins) and phthalates (used to make plastic soft and pliable). Both upset the way certain hormones function in the body, earning them the designation endocrine disrupters. They are both now the subject of fierce scientific and public scrutiny. Figuring out whether plastics are toxic to people at current levels of exposure is complex. To take one example: Do rodents metabolize BPA differently from humans, and are rodents therefore more sensitive to it? Are mouse studies reliable indicators of what is happening to humans?

If there is one point on which many scientists agree, it is the risk to the developing fetus and the young child. “At least a dozen studies have shown the effects of phthalates on human reproduction,” says University of Rochester epidemiologist and biostatistician Shanna Swan, the lead author of a much-cited study that showed higher exposure to some phthalates in mothers correlates with reduced “anogenital distance” in newborn boys. Biologists recognize a reduction in the length between the anus and the sex organ as an external marker of feminization, easily measured because it is typically twice as long in males as in females.

The evidence on phthalates is strong enough for the European Union to have banned them in children’s toys, and last October California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed legislation, to take effect in 2009, setting stringent limits on the concentrations of phthalates in child-care products for children under age 3. The ban focuses on soft baby books, soft rattles, plastic bath ducks, and teething rings. Several other states are considering similar legislation.

BPA, in turn, is becoming this year’s poster child for all our doubts and fears about the safety of plastic. New research highlighting the possible dangers of BPA has received tremendous media coverage. In mice, at least, BPA exposure at crucial stages of development induces observable changes (such as breast or prostate abnormalities) that last a lifetime.
The research may be confusing to a layperson, yet some consensus has been reached: Last November a panel sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) determined that there was at least “some concern” about BPA’s effect on the fetal and infant brain. Around the same time, the Centers for Disease Control reported that researchers there had found BPA—the United States produces 6 billion pounds of it yearly—in 93 percent of urine samples from 2,500 Americans aged 6 to 85. Children under age 12 had the highest concentrations.

What is not known is whether infants and children under 6 are even more heavily exposed, since they have not yet been studied (for phthalates, Swan says, levels are definitely higher in children than in adults). This, at least, has been measured: Infants fed canned formula heated in a polycarbonate bottle—one source of BPA—can consume more than 20 micrograms of the chemical a day. Animal studies show effects of BPA at much lower concentrations.

To shift public understanding on this issue is staggeringly difficult, especially given that exposure to plastic is not a matter of individual lifestyle. Unlike tobacco and lead paint, plastics are so useful we can hardly manage a day without them. Biologist Frederick vom Saal of the University of Missouri likens the issue to another colossal environmental threat. “This is the global warming of biology and human health,” he says.

Last summer, a panel of 38 researchers headed by vom Saal published a report in Reproductive Toxicology warning that BPA (much like the synthetic estrogen diethylstilbestrol, or DES) is a potential chemical time bomb that may lead to multiple problems, including a higher risk of cancer, especially if exposure occurs in the womb or an infant’s early life and on an unrelenting daily basis.

Two weeks after the report came out, an NIH panel came to a different conclusion: Although public exposure to BPA could pose some risk to the brain development of babies and children, there was “negligible concern” about reproductive effects in adults. This was the first official federal report on BPA, and the chemical industry took it as good news: An August 2007 statement by the American Chemistry Council claims that “BPA is not a risk to human health at the extremely low levels to which consumers might be exposed.” Criticism of the report began even before its publication and has dogged it ever since. In January the NIH agreed to a thorough review of the report. This NIH decision came in response to claims from scientists and public health advocates that members of the panel worked for the chemical industry and cherry-picked the data in favor of industry-funded studies, which did not test low-dose exposure to BPA. A new panel has been convened, and its findings are expected in June.

Chemicals like BPA pose a challenge for conventional toxicology, vom Saal says. To determine what level of a toxin is safe, researchers take a dose that has no observed toxicological effect in an animal and divide it by 10 once (to account for the differences between species) and then again (to account for variations among humans’ ability to handle toxins); for pesticides, the dose is then divided by 10 a third time (to allow for the extraordinary sensitivity of babies and children).
Although this is somewhat arbitrary, it generally gives enough room to provide protection. The first studies of BPA toxicity in the 1980s tested rats at high levels of exposure (50 milligrams of BPA per kilogram of body weight per day). Lower levels were not tested; BPA was deemed safe.

But the modus operandi of hormone-mimicking chemicals is different from that of typical toxins. In fact, they are not toxins in the strict sense of the word because they behave like ordinary hormonal signals. “It turns out we are, to a very intriguing degree, programmed by phenomenally small amounts of hormones in terms of our behavior, our core physiology, our neuroendocrine system, and our ability to metabolize drugs,” vom Saal says. “The brain along with the reproductive system and every other cell in your body is exquisitely sensitive to exceedingly small changes in estrogen and other sex hormones, and the fact that the environment is full of chemicals that can activate estrogen receptors means this phenomenally sensitive system is being perturbed constantly by environmental factors.”

At key stages of development, a seemingly infinitesimal dose of an estrogenic chemical such as BPA or phthalates may be life-altering. This is most evident in fetuses. When BPA hits cell receptors, it is as powerful as estradiol, the most potent estrogen in humans. “Our cells are built to take a single molecular-binding event,” vom Saal says, “and turn that into a huge, highly amplified outcome. We’ve studied doses of BPA between 2 and 20 micrograms per kilogram of body weight—the lowest dose ever tested before was 2,500 times higher—and it scrambles the male reproductive system in mice.”

In other research, by reproductive biologist Patricia Hunt of Washington State University, female mice exposed to low amounts of BPA in the womb—amounts deemed “environmentally relevant”—had high levels of genetic errors in the eggs they produced. Worse still, the genetic errors in those eggs led to chromosome abnormalities in 40 percent of the next generation’s eggs. That is 20 times the incidence of such abnormalities in unexposed mice. How might this relate to human risk? According to commentators reviewing Hunt’s work in PLoS Genetics, the answers will be hard to tease out: Nearly one in five human pregnancies ends in miscarriage, half of which are due to chromosomal abnormalities. Abnormalities in a woman’s eggs increase as she ages, and more women are having children at a later age. “A proper study of this problem,” they wrote, “would require assessing the woman’s level of chemical exposure now and maintaining those data for two to three decades,” tracking the abnormalities in her children and grandchildren.

Another troubling animal study comes from Randy Jirtle, a Duke University geneticist, who found that BPA permanently reprogrammed a gene in pups of mice fed BPA-laced food. Jirtle is well known for his work on mice that carry the agouti gene, which is highly vulnerable to environmental influences. In this study, he exposed lean, brown-furred female mice to 50 milligrams of BPA per kilogram of body weight daily, and the next generation was transformed: More of them were fat, with blond fur. “If I were a pregnant woman, I would try hard to avoid exposure to BPA,” Jirtle says.

Phthalate studies show similarly dramatic effects. When pregnant rats are exposed to high doses of phthalates, their male offspring are born with deformed genitalia. In 2005 Shanna Swan published the first study that looked for evidence of an obvious effect among boys. In 134 boys aged 2 months to 30 months, she found that sons whose mothers had higher levels of certain phthalates in their urine had a shorter distance between the anus and the penis. These boys were also likelier to have smaller penises and incompletely descended testicles.
About one-quarter of American women have the higher phthalate levels she found in her study. This was particularly evident among women working in poorly ventilated nail salons, where one especially harmful phthalate, DBP, is released.

Chemicals leaching out of plastics may reshape not only your children but your children’s children.

In a recent study, Swan found that “we could predict the anogenital distance in babies just by knowing which phthalates a mother was exposed to and how much.” Those with the highest exposure to phthalates gave birth to boys with the shortest anogenital distance.

Phthalate exposure does not come just from moms. A new study gives evidence that infants and toddlers exposed to lotions, shampoos, and powders with phthalates may have up to four times as much of it in their urine as those whose parents do not use the products. The study, just published in Pediatrics by Sheela Sathyanarayana of the University of Washington, looked at 163 children between the ages of 2 months and 28 months between the years 2000 and 2005. The results were alarming, not least because manufacturers are not required to list phthalates as ingredients on labels.

So what are the long-term consequences of exposure to plastics? Teasing out the answers is difficult, in part because early exposure can have effects observed only much later in life. One of the scientists at work on the problem is Danish researcher Niels Skakkebaek of Copenhagen University Hospital, who has been documenting reproductive problems in men for more than two decades. His research in the 1970s showed links between testicular cancer in adults and abnormalities in genital development. He suspected that clues to the disorder lay in early life, when the reproductive organs are still developing. An especially crucial time is around 3 months or earlier, when boy babies experience a surge of testosterone. To see if phthalate exposure might influence this developmental period, Skakkebaek and his colleagues investigated how the amount of phthalates in breast milk correlated with a baby’s hormonal profile. In a study of 65 infants published in 2006, they discovered that the higher the level of phthalates, the greater the evidence of anti-androgenic hormonal activity.

Whatever the impact of plastics exposure, the effects are not easy to isolate. There are no babies rendered obviously deformed, as with thalidomide. There are no children robbed of mental agility, as with lead exposure. There is no clear-cut evidence of lung cancer, as with tobacco. As Swan admits: “The baby boys in our study were not freaks. They did not look abnormal. We’re talking about small changes you won’t find unless you look carefully.”

“Nobody knows what to do with the information,” says Tufts University environmentalist Sheldon Krimsky, author of Hormonal Chaos: The Scientific and Social Origins of the Environmental Endo–crine Hypothesis. “This is a highly contested arena with no standards for consensus. And because, for instance, BPA is not put into food but leaches into food from containers, it doesn’t qualify for the Delaney clause, which mandates that if an additive causes cancer in any amount in two species, we can’t put it in the food supply.”

Back in the 1940s when plastics were being developed, no one suspected that chemicals leaching out of these marvelous materials could have insidious biological effects. What industrial chemists did know was that by tinkering with a highly reactive molecule called a phenol they were able to devise countless synthetic chemicals for use in new materials. Only through subsequent studies has it been shown that the estrogen receptor has a particular affinity for a characteristic molecular component of phenols. “I’d say 99.9 percent of what turn out to be chemical estrogens have a phenolic hydroxyl group on the molecule, and any of those can bind to the estrogen receptor, ” says Wade Welshons, a University of Missouri cell biologist and endocrinologist who has spent his career studying estrogen. Moreover, “almost everything that binds to the estrogen receptor turns it on in some way. I’ve run across only two chemicals that fully antagonize, or switch off, the receptor.”

Despite this new insight, regulation of synthetic estrogens as a class seems far off. BPA alone is “worth at least a million dollars every hour,” Welshons says. “And that figure is conservative. I’m surprised the chemical industry hasn’t tried to blow up our labs.”

In 1989 little was known about synthetic chemicals in everyday plastics and how they mimicked estrogens. Ana Soto, professor of cellular biology at Tufts University School of Medicine, and her colleagues were studying the effects of estrogen on a breast cancer cell line. “Suddenly all the cancer cells were proliferating maximally, whether they were being grown in a medium with estrogen or not,” Soto recalls. “We thought that somebody must have opened a bottle of the female hormone estradiol in the wrong place. We scrubbed the whole room, we bought new batches of everything, and the cells kept proliferating. So we began one by one to replace and substitute our equipment, and we finally found the contamination in tubes storing a component of the medium. The tube manufacturer had changed its formula, with the best intention of rendering the tubes more impact resistant. They said the new chemical was a trade secret. So we analyzed it ourselves, and it turned out to be nonylphenol. We injected the chemical into rats and demonstrated that it makes the epithelial lining of the uterus proliferate—a sign of its being an estrogen.” Nonylphenol is also a component in some detergents and other products, and its presence in British streams has been linked to the feminization of fish.

In 1998 another synthetic estrogen leached from animal cages and bottles in a different lab—this was the now-infamous BPA. Patricia Hunt (then working at Case Western Reserve University) was studying the endocrine environment of the aging ovary in mice. Suddenly, as in Soto’s lab, “our control data went nuts,” Hunt says. “We saw chromosomal abnormalities that would lead to pregnancy loss and birth defects. It turned out that all of our cages and water bottles were contaminated by the BPA in the polycarbonate plastic, which was being sterilized at high temperatures. We set about proving this contamination was coming from the water bottles and cages.” They published that work in 2003. In 2007 Hunt and her colleagues published a paper in PLoS Genetics demonstrating that BPA exposure in utero disrupts the earliest stages of egg development. The fetuses of pregnant mice exposed to low doses of BPA, Hunt says, had “gross aberrations. We were stunned to see the effects of this estrogenic substance.”

For Hunt, this accident was particularly poignant: She calls it the second of two “lightning strikes” in her life. She is a DES daughter who had multiple abnormal Pap smears in her youth and is also a breast cancer survivor (cancer runs in her family, but there is also evidence that DES daughters get more breast cancer). “It’s very ironic,” Hunt explains. “BPA was studied as a synthetic estrogen in the 1930s and abandoned in favor of DES, which was more potent. Yet both of them found their way into my life. A lot of the abnormalities turning up in DES sons and daughters can be reproduced in mouse experiments. And that’s one reason I’m concerned about BPA.
The effects we see in our mice are pretty significant,” Hunt says.

Hunt’s research on BPA and the fetal ovary shows that “one exposure can hit three different generations. It hits the mom, crosses the placenta, and affects the fetus, but it also affects that fetal ovary that is busy producing the eggs that will make the next generation. So the mom’s exposure is impacting the genetic quality of her grandchildren. We’re dealing here with multigenerational changes.”

Through studies like these, Jirtle says, “we’re beginning to understand how a molecule present at the very earliest stages after fertilization can in effect be remembered into your twenties and thirties and maybe give rise to diseases. You can’t do toxicology anymore without that insight.”

While chemists, biologists, geneticists, and toxicologists are piecing together the puzzle, some consumers have concluded they should simply try to limit exposure to plastics in their own lives. “But how do you do that?” asks Soto, who herself uses glass containers at home. “For instance, the milk you’re drinking was pumped through plastic tubes. And you can’t store milk in permeable paper cartons—they have plastic linings. Even if you try, you don’t know whether you’re limiting your exposure by 5 percent or 95 percent.” BPA has been found in drinking water, in 41.2 percent of 139 streams sampled in 30 states, even in house dust. Even if we could regulate BPA to levels that were safe, Soto cautions, “zero plus zero plus zero is actually not zero. By that I mean you can take 10 estrogenic chemicals at doses that on their own don’t have an effect, but if you add them together, you end up with problems. BPA is only one of many estrogenic chemicals in our environment.”

Krimsky favors legislation based on an entirely new way of thinking. “We should base legislation on two rules,” he explains. “One, if a synthetic chemical accumulates in your body and is not metabolized, let’s ban it unless we need it for survival. Why? On the precautionary notion that it can’t be good for the body to be a storage site for junk chemicals with no known physiological purpose. Two, if a chemical is biologically active and interacts with our receptors, it’s probably not good. Ban it. Maybe it’s OK in very small doses, but it’s going to take you 50 or 100 years to figure out those doses, if you can even do it. We put a human being in prison for life based on circumstantial evidence. Yet we’re looking for more than circumstantial evidence in order to ban these chemicals.”

Hunt and other scientists hope their research will catch the attention of the public even more so than industry or policymakers. “I’m struck by how fast companies respond to consumer demand,” Hunt says. “When our study broke in 2003 and the media came calling, I kept saying that what concerns me the most are baby bottles. They’re polycarbonate, and it doesn’t stand up well. I got a call from a baby bottle manufacturer one day, and he said, ‘What’s going on? We’re getting all these calls from consumers.’ And I was amazed to see how rapidly new polymers came on the market for baby bottles.” Indeed, sales of glass and non-polycarbonate baby bottles are rising.
In turn, when consumers are charged for plastic bags at the supermarket, they tend to bring their own. Ireland’s “plastax,” launched in 2002, has resulted in a 90 percent voluntary reduction in plastic bag use. Finally, corn-based, biodegradable plastics are beginning to surface, and though these polymers are not yet as durable as current plastics, the technology is advancing.

“We have no choice,” Soto says. “If reproduction is being affected, the survival of the species is compromised. Sooner or later we have to regulate it. And what constitutes proof? In the 1950s a woman’s lifetime risk of breast cancer was 1 in 22; today it’s 1 in 7. A threefold increase cannot be genetic, it is most likely environmental, and many of us believe it is due to endocrine disrupters. To know whether fetal exposure to BPA is producing breast cancer in humans, you have to collect blood from the mother and the newborn, bank it, and follow that cohort for many, many decades. One generation of researchers can’t do it. This is painful, and the public should know about it.”

Determining the long-term consequences is difficult, because early exposure can have effects observed only much later in life.

How do I love thee, plastic? Let me count the ways. I wake up and glance at my plastic digital cable box to check the time. I go to the bathroom to use my plastic toothbrush, shaking a bit of my “nontoxic” tooth powder from a plastic bottle. I fill the plastic container of my Waterpik with mouthwash from another plastic bottle. I step into the shower—my lacy white curtain is protected by a plastic liner, and my chlorine-free shower water comes to me through a plastic-encased filter.
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Ah, but in the kitchen I am a bit freer of you, plastic. When I learned that my plastic bowls, dishes, and containers could leach harmful chemicals—especially the ones with that sneaky, practically invisible little recycling triangle embossed with the number 7—I bought Pyrex. My soft-boiled eggs are served up in a Pyrex glass dish. A moment of rebellion against thee, plastic! But the microwave in which I heat water for tea is made of plastic as well as metal. And the refrigerator shelf on which I store my eggs is plastic.

The coaster on my desk, on which I place my steaming, oh-so-healthy green tea, is plastic. The 22-inch liquid-crystal computer monitor that seems to be the fulcrum of my entire existence is made of plastic.
My keyboard, my mouse, my computer speakers, the CD cases for my music collection, my polycarbonate reading glasses, the remote control for my stereo, my telephone—all plastic. The sun shines through my window onto a riot of green plants in … plastic pots. (I could switch to ceramic, but it’s so heavy and hard to heft when I want to water them.) And I’ve been up for only an hour.

The second USS Thresher (SSN-593) was the lead ship of her class of nuclear-powered attack submarines in the United States Navy. Her loss at sea during deep-diving tests in 1963 is often considered a watershed event in the implementation of the rigorous submarine safety program SUBSAFE.

The contract to build Thresher was awarded to Portsmouth Naval Shipyard on 15 January 1958, and her keel was laid on 28 May 1958. She was launched on 9 July 1960, was sponsored by Mrs. Frederick B. Warder (wife of the famous Pacific War skipper), and was commissioned on 3 August 1961, with Commander Dean L. Axene in command.

* 1 Early career
* 2 Loss
* 3 Details of the disaster
* 4 Memorials
* 5 See also
* 6 Footnotes
* 7 References
* 8 External links

[edit] Early career

Thresher conducted lengthy sea trials in the western Atlantic and Caribbean Sea areas in 1961 and 1962. These tests provided a thorough evaluation of her many new and complex technological features and weapons. Following these trials, she took part in Nuclear Submarine Exercise (NUSUBEX) 3-61 off the northeastern coast of the United States from September 18 to September 24, 1961.

On October 18 Thresher headed south along the East Coast. While in port at San Juan, Puerto Rico on 2 November 1961, her reactor was shut down and the diesel generator was used to carry the "hotel" electrical loads. Several hours later the generator broke down, and the electrical load was then carried by the battery. The generator could not be quickly repaired, so the captain ordered the reactor restarted. However, the battery charge was depleted before the reactor went critical. With no electrical power for ventilation, temperatures in the machinery spaces reached 60 °C (140 °F), and the boat was partially evacuated. Cavalla (SS-244) arrived the next morning and provided power from her diesels, enabling Thresher to restart her reactor. [1]

Thresher conducted further trials and fired test torpedoes before returning to Portsmouth on November 29. The boat remained in port through the end of the year, and spent the first two months of 1962 evaluating her sonar and Submarine Rocket (SUBROC) systems. In March, the submarine participated in NUSUBEX 2-62 (an exercise designed to improve the tactical capabilities of nuclear submarines) and in antisubmarine warfare training with Task Group ALPHA.

Off Charleston, SC, Thresher undertook operations observed by the Naval Antisubmarine Warfare Council before she returned briefly to New England waters, after which she proceeded to Florida for more SUBROC tests. However, while moored at Port Canaveral, Florida, the submarine was accidentally struck by a tug which damaged one of her ballast tanks. After repairs at Groton, Connecticut, by the Electric Boat Company, Thresher went south for more tests and trials off Key West, Florida, then returned northward and remained in dockyard for refurbishment through the early spring of 1963.

[edit] Loss

On April 9, 1963, after the completion of this work, Thresher, now commanded by Lieutenant Commander John Wesley Harvey, began post-overhaul trials. Accompanied by the submarine rescue ship USS Skylark (ASR-20), she sailed to an area some 350 kilometers (220 statute miles or 190 nautical miles) east of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and on the morning of April 10 started deep-diving tests.
As Thresher neared her test depth, Skylark received garbled communications over underwater telephone indicating "... minor difficulties, have positive up-angle, attempting to blow." [1][2][3] When Skylark's queries as to if Thresher were under control were answered only by the ominous sound of compartments collapsing, surface observers gradually realized Thresher had sunk. All 129 officers, crewmen and military and civilian technicians aboard her were killed.

After an extensive underwater search using the bathyscaphe Trieste, oceanographic ship Mizar and other ships, Thresher’s remains were located on the sea floor, some 8,400 feet (2560 m) below the surface, in six major sections. The majority of the debris is in an area of about 134,000 m² (160,000 yd²). The major sections are the sail, sonar dome, bow section, engineering spaces section, operations spaces section, and the stern planes.

Deep sea photography, recovered artifacts, and an evaluation of her design and operational history permitted a Court of Inquiry to conclude Thresher had probably suffered the failure of a weld in a salt water piping system, which relied heavily on silver brazing instead of welding; earlier tests using ultrasound equipment found potential problems with about 14% of the tested brazed joints, most of which were determined not to pose a risk significant enough to require a repair. High-pressure water spraying from a broken pipe joint may have shorted out one of the many electrical panels, which in turn caused a shutdown ("scram") of the reactor, with a subsequent loss of propulsion. The inability to blow the ballast tanks was later attributed to excessive moisture in Threshers high-pressure air flasks, which froze and plugged its own flowpath while passing through the valves. This was later simulated in dock-side tests on the Thresher's sister ship, USS Tinosa (SSN-606). During a test to simulate blowing ballast at or near test depth, ice formed on strainers installed in valves; the flow of air lasted only a few seconds. (Air driers were later retrofitted to the high pressure air compressors, beginning with Tinosa, to permit the emergency blow system to operate properly.)

Unlike diesel submarines, nuclear subs relied on speed and deck angle (that is, driving the ship towards the surface) rather than deballasting to surface. Ballast tanks were almost never blown at depth; this could cause the ship to rocket to the surface out of control. Normal procedure was to drive the ship to periscope depth, raise the periscope to verify the area was clear, then blow the tanks and surface the ship.

At the time, reactor-plant operating procedures precluded a rapid reactor restart following a scram, or even the ability to use steam remaining in the secondary system to "drive" the ship to the surface. After a scram, standard procedure was to isolate the main steam system, cutting off the flow of steam to the turbines providing propulsion and electricity. This was done to prevent an over-rapid cool-down of the reactor. Thresher's Reactor Control Officer, Lt. Raymond McCoole, was not at his station in the maneuvering room, or indeed on the ship, during the fatal dive. McCoole was at home caring for his wife who had been injured in a freak household accident — he had been all but ordered ashore by a sympathetic Commander Harvey. McCoole's trainee Jim Henry, fresh from nuclear power school, probably followed standard operating procedures and gave the order to isolate the steam system after the scram, even though Thresher was at or slightly below her maximum depth and was taking on water. Once closed, the large steam system isolation valves could not be reopened quickly. In later life, McCoole was sure he would have delayed shutting the valves, thus allowing the ship to "answer bells" and drive herself to the surface, despite the flooding in the engineering spaces. Admiral Rickover later changed the procedure, allowing steam to be withdrawn from the secondary system in limited quantities for several minutes following a scram.

There was much (covert) criticism of Rickover's training after Thresher went down, the argument being his "nukes" were so well conditioned to protect the nuclear plant they would have shut the main steam stop valves by rote — depriving the ship of needed propulsion — even at great depths and with the ship clearly in jeopardy. Nothing enraged Rickover more than this argument. Common sense, he argued, would prove this to be untrue.

It's more likely that the engine room crew was simply overwhelmed by the flooding casualty, or took too long to contain it. In a dockside simulation of flooding in the engineroom, held before Thresher sailed, it took the watch in charge 20 minutes to isolate a simulated leak in the auxiliary seawater system. At test depth, taking on water, and with the reactor shut down, Thresher would not have had anything like 20 minutes to recover.
Even after isolating a short-circuit in the reactor controls it would have taken nearly 10 minutes to restart the plant.

Thresher imploded (that is, one or more of her compartments collapsed inwards in a fraction of a second) at a depth somewhere between 1,300 and 2,000 feet (400 and 600m). All on board were killed nearly instantly (1 or 2 seconds at most).

Over the next several years, the Navy implemented the SUBSAFE program to correct design and construction problems on all submarines (nuclear and diesel-electric) in service, under construction, and in planning. During the formal inquiry, it was discovered record-keeping at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard was far from adequate. For example, no one could determine the whereabouts of hull weld X-rays made of Thresher's sister ship Tinosa, nearing completion at Portsmouth, or, indeed, whether they had been made at all. It was also determined Thresher 's engine room layout was awkward, in fact dangerous, as there were no centrally-located isolation valves for the main and auxiliary seawater systems. Most subs were subsequently equipped or retrofitted with flood control levers, which allowed the Engineer Officer of the Watch in the maneuvering room to remotely close isolation valves in the seawater systems from a central panel, a task necessarily performed by hand on Thresher. Hand-power valves might not even have been accessible during a flooding casualty: at such depths, the blast of water from even a small leak (a "water spike") can dent metal cabinets, rip insulation from cables, and even cut a man in half. (Water pressure at 1,000 feet (300 m) is about 450 psi (3,100 kPa).)

SUBSAFE would prove itself to be a crucial part of the Navy's safe operation of nuclear submarines, but was disregarded just a few years later in a rush to get another nuclear sub, Scorpion ready for service as part of yet another program meant to increase nuclear submarine availability. The subsequent loss of Scorpion reaffirmed the need for SUBSAFE and apart from Scorpion, the U.S. Navy has suffered no further losses of nuclear submarines.

The Navy has periodically monitored the environmental conditions of the site since the sinking and reported the results in an annual public report on environmental monitoring for U.S. Naval nuclear-powered ships. These reports provide specifics on the environmental sampling of sediment, water, and marine life which were taken to ascertain whether the submarine has had a significant effect on the deep ocean environment. The reports also explain the methodology for conducting deep sea monitoring from both surface vessels and submersibles. The monitoring data confirms that there has been no significant effect on the environment. Nuclear fuel in the submarine remains intact.

U.S. submarine classes are generally known by the hull number of the lead ship of the class - for instance, Los Angeles-class boats are called 688s because the hull number of USS Los Angeles was SSN-688. The Thresher-class boats should thus be called 593s, but since Thresher's sinking they have been referred to as 594s (Permit class).

[edit] Details of the disaster
Sequence of events during the disaster
Sequence of events during the disaster

The following is from the 1975 book The Thresher Disaster by John Bentley.[4] Times are in 24-hour notation.

* 07:47: Thresher begins its descent to the test depth of 1,300 feet (400 m).
* 07:52: Thresher levels off at 400 feet (120 m), contacts the surface, and the crew inspects the ship for leaks. None is found.
* 08:09: Commander Harvey reports reaching half the test depth.
* 08:25: Thresher reaches 1,000 feet (300 m).
* 09:02: Thresher is cruising at just a few knots (subs normally moved slowly and cautiously at great depths, lest a sudden jam of the diving planes send the ship below test depth in a matter of seconds.) The boat is descending in slow circles, and announces to Skylark she is turning to "Corpen [course] 090." At this point, transmission quality from the Thresher begins to noticeably degrade, possibly as a result of thermoclines.
* 09:09: It is believed a brazed pipe-joint ruptures in the engine room. The crew would have attempted to stop the leak; at the same time, the engine room would be filling with a cloud of mist. Under the circumstances, Commander Harvey's likely decision would have been to order full speed, full rise on the sail planes, and blowing main ballast in order to surface.
Due to Joule-Thomson effect, the pressurized air rapidly expanding in the pipes cools down, condensing moisture and depositing it on strainers installed in the system to protect the moving parts of the valves; in only a few seconds the moisture freezes, clogging the strainers and blocking the air flow, halting the effort to blow ballast. Water leaking from the broken pipe most likely causes short circuits leading to an automatic shutdown of the ship's reactor, causing a loss of propulsion. The logical action at this point would have been for Harvey to order propulsion shifted to a battery-powered backup system. As soon as the flooding was contained, the engine room crew would have begun to restart the reactor, an operation that would be expected to take at least 7 minutes.
* 09:12: Skylark pages Thresher on the underwater telephone: "Gertrude check, K [over]." With no immediate response (although Skylark is still unaware of the conditions aboard Thresher), the signal "K" is repeated twice.
* 09:13: Harvey reports status via underwater telephone. The transmission is garbled, though some words are recognizable: "[We are] experiencing minor difficulty, have positive up-angle, attempting to blow." The submarine, growing heavier from water flooding the engine room, continues its descent, probably tail-first. Another attempt to empty the ballast tanks is performed, again failing due to the formation of ice. Officers on the Skylark could hear the hiss of compressed air over the loudspeaker at this point.
* 09:14: Skylark acknowledges with a brisk, "Roger, out," awaiting further updates from the SSN. A follow-up message, "No contacts in area," is sent to reassure Thresher she can surface quickly, without fear of collision, if required.
* 09:15: Skylark queries Thresher about her intentions: "My course 270 degrees. Interrogative range and bearing from you." There is no response, and Skylark's captain, Lieutenant Commander Hecker, sends his own gertrude message to the submarine, "Are you in control?"
* 09:16: Skylark picks up a garbled transmission from Thresher, transcribed in the ship's log as "900 N." [The meaning of this message is unclear, and was not discussed at the enquiry; it may have indicated the submarine's depth and course, or it may have referred to a Navy "event number" (1000 indicating loss of submarine), with the "N" signifying a negative response to the query from Skylark, "Are you in control?"]
* 09:17: A second transmission is received, with the partially recognizable phrase "exceeding test depth...." The leak from the broken pipe grows with increased pressure.
* 09:18: Skylark detects a high-energy low-frequency noise with characteristics of an implosion.
* 09:20: Skylark continues to page Thresher, repeatedly calling for a radio check, a smoke bomb, or some other indication of the boat's condition.
* 11:04: Skylark attempts to transmit a message to COMSUBLANT (Commander, Submarines, Atlantic Fleet): "Unable to communicate with Thresher since 0917R. Have been calling by UQC voice and CW, QHB, CW every minute. Explosive signals every 10 minutes with no success. Last transmission received was garbled. Indicated Thresher was approaching test depth.... Conducting expanding search." Radio problems meant that COMSUBLANT did not receive and respond to this message until 12:45. Hecker initiated "Event SUBMISS [loss of a submarine]" procedures at 11:21, and continued to repeatedly hail the Thresher until after 17:00.

On April 11, at a news conference at 10:30, the Navy officially declared the ship as lost.

[edit] Memorials

* Just outside the main gate of the Naval Weapons Station, Seal Beach, California, a Thresher-Scorpion Memorial honors the crews of the two submarines. [2]
* In Carpentersville, IL the Dundee Township Park District named a swimming facility in honor of Thresher.
* In Portsmouth, New Hampshire, there is a stone memorial with a plaque honoring all who were lost on the Thresher.
It is located outside the USS Albacore museum.
* A Joint Resolution was introduced in 2001 calling for the erection of a memorial in Arlington National Cemetery, but this proposal has yet to be adopted.[3]
* On April 12, 1963, President John Kennedy issued an Executive Order (No. 11104) paying tribute to the crew of Thresher by flying flags at half-staff. [4]
* The musician Phil Ochs composed a song detailing the vessel's demise. Pete Seeger also composed a song inspired by the vessel.
* The Thresher's hull number, 593, can be seen on the sailfin of the fictional USS Wayne in the movie The Spy Who Loved Me.


Sometime in August 2011, a boxy space probe called Dawn will settle into orbit around one of the most underrated and overlooked objects in the solar system, a giant oblong asteroid named Vesta. After lingering for almost 10 months of study, Dawn will depart for Ceres, the biggest asteroid of all. Ceres is so large that it was recently promoted to the rank of dwarf planet, putting it on a par with Pluto and highlighting its status as a key planetary missing link.

Vesta and Ceres are the big enchiladas of the asteroid belt, a loose collection of rubble left over from the earliest days of the solar system. They are interesting because they’re like time capsules. “These two bodies are building blocks,” says Chris Russell, the principal investigator for the Dawn mission. It was asteroids like these that “came together to make the rest of the planets. It might have taken millions of Vestas and Cereses to make Earth. We want to understand how the building blocks were different from one another and how they came together to build the planets. Vesta and Ceres represent an important stage in the history of the solar system.”

Vesta and Ceres, along with the rest of the material in the aster–oid belt, would have coalesced into a planet too, were it not for Jupiter’s powerfully disruptive gravity. Ceres is 585 miles wide and contains more than a quarter of all the mass in the asteroid belt. It was the first asteroid discovered, spotted by Italian astron–omer Giuseppe Piazzi in 1801.
Vesta, the second-largest asteroid, was discovered six years later. For a few years, both were regarded as bona fide planets, but scientists soon discovered many more small bodies in similar orbits. In the mid-1800s these objects were reclassified as “asteroids” and largely dismissed as bit players. It has taken a century and a half to shift that view.

Although Vesta is just under one-third the mass of Ceres, in some ways we know it much more intimately. Vesta’s composition closely matches that of a group of common meteorites that have been found on Earth, called HED meteorites; these are literally chips off Vesta’s block. Blurry but tantalizing images from the Hubble Space Telescope suggest where those space rocks came from: A massive crater dominates Vesta’s southern hemisphere, testifying to a powerful collision that gouged out nearly 1 percent of its volume a billion years ago. From studies of the HED meteor–ites and from measurements of light reflected off the asteroid’s surface, scientists have concluded that Vesta has a very planetlike nickel-iron core. And its surface is basaltic—largely formed by lava flows from below.

Ceres, by contrast, is a far more mysterious body that could yield more profound discoveries. Its dark surface (Ceres reflects just one-fourth as much light as Vesta) indicates a water-rich interior; some researchers even speculate that it could have a mile-deep ocean under a frozen surface. Water raises the possibility of life, which automatically elevates asteroids in the cosmic pecking order. It also implies that Ceres is the largest intact piece of the raw material that built Earth into the wet, living world it is today. But without close-up observations, these ideas remain hypothetical.

“We have no meteorites, nothing that’s associated with Ceres,” says Tom McCord, a longtime asteroid hunter and an investigator on the Dawn mission.
“Its surface looks like clay, which is the result of an interaction between water and rock. Where do you get clay on Earth? In riverbeds! Why would the surface of this asteroid be like the clay we see on Earth when we look at riverbeds? That is a mystery to us.”

Russell has spent much of the past 15 years fighting to get the crucial close-up of these two forgotten miniplanets. When a Delta II rocket lifted off from Cape Canaveral (video) shortly after sunrise last September 27 and shoved Dawn onto its 3.2-billion-mile journey, he finally let out a deep sigh of relief; for a long time it had not been clear that NASA could muster the money and the technology to make the mission happen.

To conduct meaningful studies of both Vesta and Ceres, Dawn will be the first spacecraft to orbit two extraterrestrial bodies in a row, a major engineering challenge. Entering and leaving orbits require a lot of energy—too much energy, in fact, for a conventional rocket. What makes Dawn’s mission possible is a type of propulsion known as an ion engine.

Ion engines work by stripping electrons from the atoms of an inert gas such as xenon, making them positively charged. A negatively electrified grid at the back of the engine attracts the ions, accelerating them backward. The ions fly past the grid and out the back of the rocket, pushing the rocket forward. A typical ion engine provides 10 times the specific impulse of a conventional solid-fuel booster (specific impulse can be thought of as a spaceship’s miles-per-gallon rating). In gaining fuel efficiency, ion engines sacrifice thrust, the ability to deliver strong acceleration. On Earth they are useless because they are too weak to get off the ground. But in space they can slowly but steadily—and very efficiently—build up to extremely high velocities.

Russell got interested in ion engines in 1992, when he met Scott Benson, an engineer at NASA’s Lewis Research Center in Cleveland (now the Glenn Research Center), who had recently begun experimenting with ion propulsion. In fact, NASA had explored the technology as far back as the 1960s but lost interest as the agency’s focus shifted to the space shuttle; ion engines had been developed only to make minor adjustments in the paths of Earth-orbiting satellites
When NASA started its New Millennium program in the 1990s to develop innovative spaceflight technologies, research on ion thrusters began again, this time in earnest. “One of the features of ion propulsion is that it essentially allows you to fly on a smaller launch vehicle, at lower cost, to destinations that would require a larger vehicle with chemical propulsion,” says Benson. At first Russell’s instinct was to use ion propulsion to go back to the moon. As a postgraduate researcher on the Apollo program, he had developed instrumentation for the command module that measured the lunar magnetic field. With Benson he spent two years on a sequel of sorts, a lunar orbiter that used an ion engine, but the idea was passed over. . next worked up a proposal to go to Vesta but again failed to win backing from NASA. Russell suspects that ion propulsion was deemed too risky—it had never been used on a space probe. He tried to be philosophical: “Each time you lose,” he says, “you learn something.”

The challenge was to turn an engine intended for occasional use on a satellite into a trustworthy interplanetary thruster. Deep Space 1, an engineering test mission launched by NASA in 1998, demonstrated that an ion engine could be used to move around the solar system. “That excited people,” Russell says. “That was a winner.” In December 2001, NASA gave Dawn a green light.

“Dawn really reflects a big departure from what we used to do in planetary exploration,” Russell adds. “The way we’re probing these bodies is very cost-effective.” NASA considered the cost of exploring both Vesta and Ceres with chemical rockets and concluded that it would have required two missions at $750 million each, as opposed to Dawn’s sub-$500 million price tag. “We’re saving a billion dollars compared with what it would have cost us to do it any other way,” Russell says.

In Russell’s proposal, Dawn used the same basic engine design as Deep Space 1 but needed a larger xenon fuel tank and other changes to ensure the system would survive its eight-year mission. Making these alterations nearly doomed the project, forcing it way over its $373 million budget. “The design parameters of Dawn were ambitious,” says Tom Jones, a former shuttle astronaut and now a consultant to NASA. “No probe had ever gone to one body, slowed down and achieved orbit, and then turned around and gone to a second body. . puts a lot of stress on an engine, and you have to make it reliable.”

By October 2005 Dawn was $73 million over budget. That, combined with concerns over the fuel tank’s design and the mission’s management, prompted NASA to pull the plug, canceling the project altogether in March 2006. NASA was also scrambling for funds to cover President George W. Bush’s moon program. Despite having already spent hundreds of millions of dollars, administrators may have been willing to scrap Dawn to avoid spending any more. Russell insists the project’s technical troubles were nothing out of the ordinary for such a complicated mission, and that NASA’s decision to cancel the project was foolhardy. “I don’t have any logical reason for why they did that,” he says. “To throw away the roughly $300 million that had been invested was crazy. Why not just finish off the project and get a return on this investment?” Fortunately, NASA’s chief administrator, Michael Griffin, allowed an appeal, and the mission was reinstated.

Now journeying outward, Dawn is following a flight plan unlike that of a conventional spacecraft. To set course for Vesta, a chemical rocket would burn for a few minutes near Earth, putting it on a path that intersected Vesta’s orbit, and then burn again to enter that orbit. Dawn’s ion engine, by contrast, has to accelerate the spacecraft continuously for months on end, spiraling outward until its trajectory matches Vesta’s orbit. The thrust from each of Dawn’s three ion engines is minuscule, a force equivalent to that of the weight of a piece of paper resting on the palm of your hand. But an engine will be firing during 90 percent of the trip, building up a speed as high as that attained by any chemical rocket.

A Mars flyby in February 2009 will help things along, giving Dawn a gravitational kick. In August 2011 it will begin slowing down as it approaches and then settles into orbit about Vesta. The craft will fire up its engines again in May 2012 to set course for Ceres. It will arrive in February 2015, once again slowing down to enter orbit and snap photos.

Taking snapshots will be a major part of its mission, because Dawn is not exactly a flying lab bristling with instruments. It has only three—part of the trade-off necessary to keep its weight and cost under control. A camera will create detailed maps of the two asteroids, with a resolution of about 225 feet for Vesta and 400 feet for Ceres. . spectrometer will measure the light absorbed by the asteroids’ surfaces, which will tell much about their composition. And a gamma ray and neutron detector will measure cosmic radiation bouncing off the surface of the asteroids. (It will be able to scan several yards below Ceres’ surface, searching for ice or liquid water.) In addition, variations in Dawn’s radio signal will be monitored to provide information about the gravitational pull—hence the internal structure—of the asteroids.

During the years of proposals and rejections, Russell had plenty of time to think about what Dawn might find when it finally reached its mystery worlds. His interests naturally led him to McCord, another asteroid hunter, who had gotten into the business indirectly. At Caltech in the 1960s, McCord helped develop instruments for remote spectrometry—analyzing the light coming off planets and stars. The first thing McCord and his colleagues trained their new instruments on was the moon, but soon they began measuring everything in sight. They worked their way through the planets and down to the asteroids, and eventually Vesta found itself in their crosshairs.

“It doesn’t sound like exploration, but that’s the way it really works,” McCord says. “You’ve got an instrument and you just go out and do everything you can with it. New data are power in science, and if you can measure something 10 times better than somebody else can, you’re going to learn a lot of exciting things.”

McCord didn’t get around to looking at Vesta until the early 1970s, and even then he didn’t give it much thought until his team got around to processing the data. “I was in the lab one day and one of the guys pulled the Vesta spectrum out of the computer, which we had observed a week or a month before,” he says. “And my God, it had one of the most beautiful absorption features you ever saw on a planetary object.” The data indicated that Vesta was basaltic, which suggested that Vesta’s rocks had been heated to melting at some point and then cooled. The discovery also established that the HED meteorites and Vesta shared the same composition.

McCord and his researchers also looked at Ceres but didn’t get far. Ceres was darker and murkier, and it didn’t have the clearly identifiable spectrum of Vesta. McCord’s grad students set to work on the data and came up with some preliminary findings: Ceres was a carbonaceous chondrite (a type of asteroid composed of water locked in minerals and carbon-based materials), and it had not been thermally altered. In other words, it had never melted and cooled, as Vesta had. . posed more questions than it answered. How did a large asteroid evolve and retain significant amounts of water? Nobody had any theories to explain it, and the researchers dropped the subject.

When the Dawn mission was approved, much of the focus was on Vesta. “You’re human, so you’re generally interested in things you know about,” Russell admits. “If you don’t have any information, you don’t have that thing to grab your interest.” That attitude began to shift in 2002, when McCord took a sabbatical to Nantes, on France’s west coast. “I got to thinking about Ceres, and I learned that the people who had been doing the most careful orbit and mass determinations were at the University of Bordeaux, a two-hour drive to the south.” McCord went down and learned that researchers there had been able to make accurate estimates of Ceres’ density. Pure water has a density of 1 (measured in grams per cubic centimeter). A conventional dry asteroid, made of silicates with some iron mixed in, would have a density of 3 or 3.5; Vesta’s is thought to be in this range. Ceres has a density only slightly higher than 2. That means there is a lot of water in the mix.

McCord found the work of Christophe Sotin and his graduate students at the University of Nantes even more intriguing. Sotin had developed a computer model of how Saturn’s biggest moon, Titan, could have formed without its liquids boiling off. Although Titan is chemically very different from Ceres, it too contains a lot of water. Perhaps, thought McCord, some version of Sotin’s model could explain how Ceres could have formed with its water intact. “We began to see that it was easy for Ceres in the early, early history to have created a liquid ocean,” McCord says.

Here’s how the theory goes: In the early solar system, dust particles glommed together to form bigger dust particles, which formed pebbles, then rocks, and so forth, until they combined into an object up to several hundred miles in diameter. The original dust particles were made largely of silicates mixed with other materials, including water and aluminum 26, a radioactive isotope with a half-life of about 700,000 years. .’s just long enough to make a big difference in how an asteroid evolves. Vesta and most other asteroids, the theory goes, accreted quickly and accumulated a lot of aluminum 26 that had not yet decayed. The aluminum 26 produced so much heat inside the asteroid that any water evaporated into space. Ceres, by contrast, accreted more slowly, so by the time it formed, the aluminum 26 had already mostly burned itself out. As a result, Ceres retained most of its water—and a memory of the solar system’s original composition.

These findings ignited McCord’s interest in Ceres, to the point where “I kept demanding we go to Ceres first,” he says. Russell sympathizes. “If we had to pick which was the most interesting, Ceres or Vesta, it’s not clear which one would win,” he says.

The argument is moot: Vesta is closer than Ceres, and therefore it must be Dawn’s first stop. But Ceres may make the bigger headlines. Vesta seems like Mercury or the moon, writ on a smaller scale. Ceres is unique. Imaging of the surface may reveal whether there is indeed an ocean beneath an icy crust. Observing the surface should allow scientists to glean some idea of how the interior behaves—if there’s volcanic activity that could provide the heat to sustain life, for instance. Dawn’s spectrometer will be able to detect the presence of organic molecules.

Unfortunately, Dawn isn’t equipped to search for past or (dare we dream?) present life on Ceres. That would require penetrating the surface and taking and analyzing samples. “To detect life, you need a pretty sophisticated lab on the surface or in the interior or wherever the environment is,” McCord says. “That’s technically a major challenge and virtually impossible—nobody’s willing to spend the amount of money to do that.”

For now, at least. After Dawn’s visit, attitudes might change.

No one expects a 3-year-old who loves to dress like a princess to swear like a sailor.

But early exposure is not so uncommon. Who's to blame? Well, there's a pretty apt quote from a 1970 Pogo cartoon: "We have met the enemy, and he is us."

The "us" are parents. . few weeks ago, I put a question out to hundreds of mothers on a local list-serv asking for anecdotes about the first time they heard their children use inappropriate words.

Many responses were similar to mom Julia Gordon of Silver Spring, Md. She was in her car, in a hurry and trying to park.

"The parking lot was crazy," says Gordon, a lawyer and mother of a four-year-old daughter. When someone sped into a parking space she had been waiting for, Gordon said under her breath, "He totally screwed me."

And a few minutes later, she heard her daughter parrot back the same phrase.

"I have to admit I did laugh at first," says Gordon. "Then I immediately stopped and told her, 'We don't say that word!'"

The Worst Swear Word of All

Psychologists say it's no surprise that children mimic words and phrases.

"That's just language learning. These words have no special status as taboo words," says Paul Bloom, Ph.D., of Yale University. "Learning they're taboo words is a later step."

Bloom explains that children are using words to communicate instinctively. They don't yet have the judgment to take a step back and think about whether a word is appropriate for a given situation.

Bloom remembers one day when his son Max, then 6, came home from school.

Max asked in a hushed voice: "Dad, do you know what the worst swear word of all is?"

His son then went on to explain that "damn" must be the worst. When Bloom asked why, his son said, "I listen to my babysitter talk on the phone, and she uses the 'f' word, and the 's' word, but she never says 'damn!'"

A study by the Parents Television Council found that about once an hour children watching popular children's networks will hear mild curse words such as "stupid," "loser" and "butt." The scope and frequency can rise immeasurably with exposure to adult programs and popular music.

Lessons from the Playground

As an experiment with his children, Bloom and his wife tried their hand at creating their own family curse words.

"So one of them was 'flep,'" says Bloom. Whenever someone would bang their foot or hurt their toe, they'd scream "flep" as if it were an obscenity.

The experiment was very short-lived.

"It was a total failure," says Bloom. "The children looked at us as if we were crazy."

The story gives one of Bloom's mentors, Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker, a chuckle.

"Children are far more influenced by peers," says Pinker. "That's why kids of immigrants end up with the accent of their peer group rather than their parents."

Particularly once they've entered elementary school.

When it comes to choosing words, our society has a bent toward novelty. Pinker explains we're forever coming up with new ways to express that things are "good" or "bad." He says there's always a little "semantic inflation" going on.

For instance, if members of Generation X hear a song they like, they may say, "It's awesome." A teen of today may say, "It's bitchin'." If the song is lousy, they may say, "It sucks."

"When I was a kid and you said something sucks," says Pinker, "it was pretty clear what sexual act they were referring back to." But today kids have no idea. The term is just part of their common language.

Perception Is Everything

Frequent use, over time, has stripped away the original connotation. Pinker says the evolution of "sucks" is similar to that of "jerk" or "sucker."

"There is an assumption that 'sucks' was a reference to oral sex," explains Jesse Sheidlower, editor-at-large of the Oxford English Dictionary. . scholars debate this, but Sheidlower says perception is what matters.

"Suck" may sound edgy or obnoxious to middle-aged ears, but parents may be at a loss to explain why it's a bad word, especially to an 8- or 9-year-old. "It brings up a conversation you might not want to have right now," says Sheidlower.

Not everyone's on the same page about what constitutes offensive language. The boundaries of what's acceptable vary from community to community and family to family.

Setting Boundaries

Some moms listen for attitude and intention in their children's words. Chevy Chase, Md., resident Sarah Pekkanen is the mother of two boys, ages 6 and 8, and she has found her dividing line.

"I would be much quicker to jump on my kid for saying an unkind thing," says Pekkanen, "even if he used perfect language to do so."

Pekkanen says a borderline phrase like, "it sucks," isn't as offensive if it's not intended to insult anyone.

A clear message about respect may be more fruitful than trying to police every word. By the time kids enter the teen world, swearing is almost a rite-of-passage.

"It's hard sometimes," says pediatrician Monika Walters. "As parents, you worry that they're going to grow up and be vagrants or a menace to society."

When parents like this come to see her or pull her aside after an office appointment, worried about vulgar words they spotted in their teens' text messages, she asks them to remember how they talked when they were 15.

Walters says if offensive language is part of a pattern of aggressive behavior, there's a problem. . in most cases, it's just the way teens salt their language.

"Obscenity is a sure ticket to adulthood," says Paul Bloom.

Or at least a way for teenagers to perceive that they sound older.

Bloom says he doesn't want to control the words his children choose to use with their friends. "That's part of growing up," he says.

Another part of growing up is knowing how to speak with adults and in formal situations. "So we'd like our children to grow up knowing when it's appropriate to use these words," Bloom says.

As most parents come to recognize, teaching good judgment is not a one-time event; it's a process.

Piaśnica Wielka (German: Groß Piasnitz; Kashubian: Wiôlgô Piôsznica) is a village in Poland in Puck rural commune, Puck County, Pomeranian Voivodeship.

In the forest next to the village during World War II, German Schutzstaffel executed about 12,000 people, mainly Polish and Kashubiann intelligentsia from Gdańsk Pomerania. Among the victims were approximately 1,200 mentally ill persons from local hospitals.

The mass executions began in October 1939 and lasted until April 1940. An exhumation of mass graves was carried after World War II in 1946. Out of total number of 35 graves, 30 were localised of which 26 were exhumed.
Only 305 bodies (in two mass graves) were found, the rest of the bodies was burnt by Germans in August-September 1944. Forced prisoners from Stutthof concentration camp were used to cover up the tracks and were later executed.

After World War I
o 1919: Treaty of Versailles, most of West Prussia (including Pomerelia or Gdańsk-Pomerania) becomes part of the Second Polish Republic
o 1939: Nazi Germany annexes the territories lost in 1919
o 1945: Soviet capture, Oder-Neisse line becomes new border between Poland and Germany, the historical duchy / province of Pomerania ceases to exist
o 1945/46: Pomeranian population form Farther and Eastern Hither Pomerania, except for Polish and Kashubs, is expelled to post-war Germany, as well as the German population of all other "German territories under Polish and Soviet control". The area is resettled and rebuilt by Polish who were expelled from Polish settlement areas annexed by the Soviets. Hither Pomerania without the Stettin/Szczeczin area and Wollin/Wolin was fused with Mecklenburg to form the (East-) German state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, the former Farther Pomeranian area is roughly represented by Polish West Pomerania

20,000 years ago the territory of present-day Pomerania was covered with ice, which did not start to recede until the late period of the Old Stone Age or Paleolithic some 10,000 years BC, when the Scandinavian glacier receded to the north. Various archaeological cultures developed in the Mesolithic, Neolithic, Bronze Age, and Iron Age.

Initially at least part of Pomerania was dominated by Baltic tribes. Since around 500BC and before 500 AD Pomerania was dominated by East Germanic tribes including several tribes of Goths, who according to archeological evidence and their own tradition have come from Scandinavia. Goths and Rugians are recorded by Roman historians in the areas of Pomerania in 98 AD. The Veneti, non-Germanic tribe, which later assimilated with Slavs, are recorded by Ptolemy and Pliny the Elder around Vistula in first century AD. By the 7th century Slavic tribes (Wends) such as the Pomeranians settled the area.

Pomerania was first conquered by the Polish duke Mieszko I in the second half of the 10th century.

Pagan uprisings in 1005 and 1038 resulted in independancy for Western Pomerania and Pomerelia, respectively. Regained by Poland in 1116/1121, the Polish could not hold the Pomeranian duchy longer than 1135, whereas Pomerelia after the 1138 partition of Poland among the sons of Boleslaus Wrymouth became a part of the Polish seniorat (see Map of Poland before the fragmentation period) which was declared fief of the Holy Roman Empire in 1156.

The Western part, the Duchy of Pomerania, was declared part of the Holy Roman Empire (1181). After a brief period of Danish rule (1168/1186-1227), it remained part of Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation until 1806.

The Eastern part, Pomerelia, which was directly part of Kingdom of Poland, was disputed by Brandenburg and conquered by the Teutonic Knights in 1309, becoming part of the Teutonic Order state. After the rebellion of the Prussian Confederation, it was then annexed by the Kingdom of Poland in 1466 as a province with considerable autonomy. This part of Pomerelia and Prussia was centuries later referred to as "Royal Prussia". In the Union of Lublin of 1569 the province agreed[citation needed] to sacrifice part of its autonomy to join the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth as the new entity to unify lands of the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.

Since ~1200, a steady influx of German settlers had been arriving in Pomerania. One of the first recorded German settler came to Stettin (Szczecin) in 1187. Some rural parts of Pomerania were however still predominantly Slavic in character before the advent of Protestantism. Later though the duchy of Pomerania became German by ethnicity, language and culture, whereas Pomerelia still preserved a Slavic character.

In 1425, conflict with Brandenburg about the rule of the Uckermark and Pomerania resulted in a war of Brandenburg against Pomerania,
The total number of Kashubians varies depending on one's definition. A common estimate is that over 300,000 people in Poland are of the Kashubian ethnicity. The most extreme estimates are as low as 50,000 or as high as 500,000

In the Polish census of 2002, only 5,100 people declared Kashubian nationality, although 51,000 declared Kashubian as their native language. Most Kashubians declare Polish nationality and Kashubian ethnicity, and are considered both Polish and Kashubian. However, on the 2002 census there was no option to declare one nationality and a different ethnicity, or more than one nationality. Some claim that the census was misleading and inaccurate, or even falsified.

Kashubians are the direct descendants of an early Slavic tribe of Pomeranians who took their name from the land in which settled, Pomerania (from Polish Pomorze, "the land along the sea").
It is believed that the ancestors of Kashubians came into the region between the Odra and Vistula Rivers during the Migration Period. The oldest known mention of the name dates from the 13th century (a seal of Duke Barnim I of Pomerania), when they ruled areas around Szczecin (Kashubian: Szczecëno).

Another early mention of the Kashubians from the 13th century saw the Dukes of Pomerania including "Duke of Kashubia" in their titles. From the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, after the Thirty Years' War, parts of West Pomerania fell under Swedish rule, and the Swedish kings titled themselves "Dukes of Kashubia" from 1648 to the 1720s.

The Landtag parliament of the Kingdom of Prussia in Königsberg changed the official church language from Polish to German in 1843, but this decision was soon repealed. In 1858 Kashubians emigrated to Upper Canada and created the settlement of Wilno, in Renfrew County, Ontario, which still exists today. Kaszub immigrants founded St. Josaphat parish in Chicago's Lincoln Park community in the late 19th century. In the 1870s a fishing village was established in Jones Island in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, by Kashubian and German immigrants. The two groups did not hold deeds to the land, however, and the government of Milwaukee evicted them as squatters in the 1940s, with the area soon after turned into industrial park.

Many Pomeranians in the former Duchy of Pomerania, most of them Lutheran Protestants (including the Slovincians), were Germanised between the 14th and 19th centuries in the wake of the Prussian political program of Germanisation. Some communities in Pomerelia (Eastern Pomerania) have survived and today regard themselves as Kashubians in modern Poland, although others were expelled by Poland's Communist government as "Germans" after World War II. Most Kashubians in Eastern Pomerania, unlike Slovincians and Pomeranian Slavic Wends, remain Roman Catholic. During the Treaty of Versailles, Kaszub activist Antoni Abraham in agitating for Cassubia's integration into Poland issued his famous quote Nie ma Kaszub bez Polonii a bez Kaszub Polski" which translates into English as- There is no Cassubia without Poland, and no Poland without Cassubia.

During the Second World War thousands of Kashubians were mass murdered by German forces, particularly those of higher education. The main place of executions was Piaśnica.

About 50,000 Kashubians speak Kashubian, a West Slavic language belonging to the Lechitic group of languages in northern Poland. Many Polish linguists formerly considered Kashubian to be a Polish dialect, though most now believe it is a separate Slavic language.

There are other traditional Slavic ethnic groups inhabiting Pomerania, such as the Kociewiacy, Borowiacy, Krajniacy and others. These dialects tend to fall between Kashubian and the Polish dialects of Greater Poland and Mazovia. This might indicate that they are not only descendants of ancient Pomeranians, but also of settlers who arrived to Pomerania from Greater Poland and Masovia in the Middle Ages.
However, this is only one possible explanation.

The earliest surviving example of written Kashubian is Martin Luther's 1643 Protestant catechism (with new editions in 1752 and 1828). Scientific interest in the Kashubian language was sparked by Mrongovius (publications in 1823, 1828) and the Russian linguist Hilferding (1859, 1862), later followed by Biskupski (1883, 1891), Bronisch (1896, 1898), Mikkola (1897), Nitsch (1903). Important works are S. Ramult's, Słownik jezyka pomorskiego, czyli kaszubskiego, 1893, and F. Lorentz, Slovinzische Grammatik, 1903, Slovinzische Texte, 1905, and Slovinzisches Wörterbuch, 1908.

The first activist of the Kashubian/East Pomeranian national movement was Florian Ceynowa. Among his accomplishments, he documented the Kashubian alphabet and grammar by 1879 and published a collection of ethnographic-historic stories of the life of the Kashubians (Skórb kaszébsko-slovjnckjé mòvé, 1866-1868). Another early writer in Kashubian was Hieronim Derdowski. The Young Kashubian movement followed, led by author Aleksander Majkowski, who wrote for the paper "Zrzësz Kaszëbskô" as part of the "Zrzëszincë" group. The group would contribute significantly to the development of the Kashubian literary language.

In 2005, Kashubian was for the first time made an official subject on the Polish matura exam (roughly equivalent to the English A-Level and French Baccalaureat). Despite an initial uptake of only 23 students,[citation needed] this development was seen as an important step in the official recognition and establishment of the language.

Today, in some towns and villages in northern Poland Kashubian is the second language spoken after Polish, and it is taught in regional schools.

Kashubian presently enjoys legal protection in Poland as an official minority language.

Disputes with Brandenburg continued. These were partially agreed at the Conference of Juterbog (1527) between Joachim I Nestor, Elector of Brandenburg, and the Duke of Pomerania. As the Protestant Reformation gathered pace, Pomerania also converted to Lutheranism, but the process was slower than in Brandenburg.

In 1637 the last of the Dukes of Pomerania, Boguslaw XIV, died without direct male successor. During the Thirty Years' War, King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden occupied Pomerania. In the negotiations between France, Brandenburg, and Sweden following the Northern War the Brandenburg diplomats Joachim Friedrich von Blumenthal and his son Christoph Caspar obtained the rights of succession for Brandenburg, though the argument with Sweden, especially over Hither Pomerania, continued to the end of the 17th century and beyond, until the Treaty of Stockholm in 1720.

Prussian noblemen began to acquire estates in Pomerania, while Pomeranian noblemen were integrated into Prussian society. Thus originally Wendish noble families such as the von Lettows, von Strelows, von Peglows, von Zitzewitzes and von Krockows intermarried with German families from Brandenburg such as the von Blumenthals, who possessed great estates at Quackenburg, Varzin, Dubberzin, Schlönwitz and elsewhere. By the nineteenth century Pomerania was mostly Germanised, and was a popular place of retirement for the well-to-do such as Bismarck, who bought Varzin.

After the first World War, Pomerelia (as West Prussia and Danzig (Gdansk)) came to Poland.
After the defeat of Germany in World War II in 1945, the Potsdam Conference placed most of Pomerania under Polish administration. The German population of the transferred territories fled, was expelled, or lost their lives. Some Germans were retained by Soviet authorities to do forced labour in the Soviet exclaves for a number of years after 1945. The now Polish parts of Pomerania were resettled with Poles.


October 31, 2006, fear is born with the launch of FEARnet, the worlds’ premiere destination for horror. The first multi-platform horror network, FEARnet will debut on demand, online and on mobile devices. Featuring the largest library of horror films, FEARnet will deliver fans uninterrupted FEAR 24/7

Multi-Platform Network Format

On Demand:

FEARnet ON DEMAND features approximately 200 titles a year with more than 70 hours of programming a month

* Programming: features the largest library of horror, thriller and suspense films includes short and long-form original films from slashers to psychological thrillers and “J-Horror”, a special section devoted to Japanese horror
* Spanish Programming: more than 10 hours of Spanish language programming a month
* High-definition: more than 25 hours a month


Explore the world of the macabre in’s video-rich environment packed with free movies, interactive community features and fresh original content

* Video: offers nine free feature-length films and 200 shorts for free streaming and more than 50 downloadable movies to buy or rent a month. With’s integrated video player, fans can simultaneously watch streaming video and chat or post to the community or read about its cast and crew without leaving the film
* Horror A-Z: enter the “Web of Fear” with this interactive database that allows users to explore all things horror and links film stars, movies, directors, producers
* News and Reviews: offers fans the latest industry happenings, interviews and film reviews
* Community: become a true FEARnet “victim” as you create a profile and chat with other fans in a user-focused community section

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.
The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

From the lofty deck of the Hiva Oa Hanakee Pearl Lodge, the only hotel on the remote South Pacific island of Hiva Oa, the view is of lush forest, crashing cobalt sea and, if it is morning, a very misty Mount Temetiu. Below and for miles beyond, nature runs wild: steep cliffs and deep valleys covered with luxuriant tropical vegetation. No reefs surround the island, allowing the sea to pile wildly onto the sandy, rocky shoreline. The only thing missing is ... people. Which is a good thing when you’re contemplating the idea of paradise, which I happened to be doing on a recent morning, my legs dangling in an infinity pool that seemed to spill into Hanakee Bay.

Oddly, the Marquesas were among the first South Pacific islands to be settled, and from their shores departed some of the greatest navigators of all time, those who went on to discover the rest of the so-called Polynesian triangle (Tahiti-Hawaii-Easter Island). The farthest Polynesian islands from Tahiti — 900 miles — the Marquesas have long been known as Te Henua Enata (Land of Men). Giant banyan trees cover steep slopes and hide the oldest tikis in French Polynesia, long-preceding their bigger siblings on Easter Island.

Also hidden beneath the thick overgrowth are stone remnants of houses built on high platforms, stone temples and ceremonial grounds where games were played and sacrifices made. Simultaneously lush, remote and breathtaking, it was these same scenes that lured such famous paradise seekers as Paul Gauguin, Herman Melville, Robert Louis Stevenson and Thor Heyerdahl.

Only six of the 10 Marquesas are populated — Nuku Hiva, Ua Pou, Ua Huku, Hiva Oa, Tahuata and Fatu Hiva. Each is a paradise for hikers, bikers, surfers and canyoneers. Narrow dirt trails crisscross the islands, used mostly by hunters on horseback tracking wild pigs. The only sounds in the jungle are birdcalls and the distant roar of waterfalls, deep in the otherwise quiet, eerie lushness. Sand beaches ring the islands, though few roads lead to them.

The small number of Polynesians who do live here populate the river valleys, leaving the interiors mostly to wild horses, cattle and goats. Bird life is rich; the waters teem with lobsters, small fish and sharks. Hotter and drier than Tahiti, their very remoteness has preserved the Marquesas in a day and age when a few islands in French Polynesia risk being over-visited. A couple of the islands can be reached by Air Tahiti several times a week, a few by cargo boat and passing cruise ships every couple of weeks and increasingly by private sailboats. They are hardly off limits, but you have to want to get there.

Sitting in a wooden deck chair on a recent morning, Gérard Bourgogne, a former concert flutist and part-time computer hacker, and now general manager of the 14-bungalow Hiva-Oa Hanakee Pearl Lodge, thought out loud as we admired the view: “Crossword puzzle champions would find this place perfect. So would adventure caperers. What about advertising it to infertile couples looking for the ultimate romantic hideaway? I can see the advertisement: ‘No better place in the world to truly relax!’ Why not yoga instructors and their classes? They should all come!”

While the lack of people is good for misanthropes like myself, it’s obviously tough on innkeepers.

Thanks to Paul Gauguin’s tempestuous relationship with the island, Hiva Oa may be the best known of the Marquesas. Or maybe now it is Nuka Hiva, thanks to having been host of the fourth season of “Survivor.” It is the biggest of the islands, formed by two volcanoes resting on top of each another, and in 1842 was the first island to be spied from a whaler by Herman Melville, who wrote it was “a country that no description could fit the beauty.”

Several jagged volcanic peaks mark the diamond-shaped Ua Pou, its tiny offshore islets home to millions of seabirds. It is also home to the chain’s most active artist colony, mostly wood carvers and bone necklace makers. Ua Huku is crescent-shaped, home to more goats and wild horses than people (just 575). Fatu Hiva is the southernmost in the chain. Thor Heyerdahl lived here for about a year (1937-38) and wrote a book about his experience; today the local women still make umuhei — aromatic bouquets, which they wear in their hair as aphrodisiacs — and scented necklaces made from sandalwood.

Hiva Oa was once home to 130,000; today fewer than 1,900 people are scattered through the deep valleys and in a half-dozen small villages scattered around its perimeter. Houses are of painted wood and the landscape is as primitive as it was 1,200 years ago. A long, crescent-shaped beach fronts the biggest town of Atuona, which hasn’t changed much since Gauguin built his House of Pleasure in its center.

On a hot, dry morning I follow the beach past Atuona and walk four miles to Taaoa, where a sizable tohua (temple) has been restored. Eight-foot-tall marae and tiki made from basalt still hide in the lush forest, mostly hidden. At one time 12,000 people lived in this valley, thus the elaborate temple and sacrificial grounds. This day the sounds are of crowing cocks and a road crew’s jackhammer. Human sacrifice has been replaced by worship in a mix of Roman Catholic, Protestant, Mormon and Jehovah’s Witness churches.

If one single thing is responsible for French Polynesia’s enduring reputation as paradise, it is the paintings of Gauguin, who moved to Hiva Oa in 1901 after wearing out his welcome on several other Polynesian islands.

Louis J. Sheehan
Filled with grace and mystery, they were mostly of an imagined place, a paradise that did not exist, featuring languorous women smiling into the distance, horses grazing in vanilla groves and baskets overflowing with breadfruit and bananas. A short walk from either the beach or the stone temple into the heart of Atuona delivers me to the doorstep of one of history’s most infamous paradise seekers.

The two-story, A-frame house is constructed from woven bamboo. Carved around its wooden door frame are erotic figures and the words “Be Mysterious” and “Be in Love.” The name of the house is carved above its entrance: Maison de Jouir. House of Pleasure, Sexual Pleasure.

A dozen wide steps lead up to the second level, the one big room where Paul Gauguin (locally known as Koke) lived and painted. A large window looks out over an open well; Gauguin kept a bamboo rod with a fishing line nearby, to raise and lower cups of cold water from the well to add to his absinthe. Gone are the pornographic photos he kept on the walls, and his collection of walking sticks with carved phallic heads. It was here he gave grand fetes, fed by cases of wine and bonbons bought from passing cargo boats.

Gauguin is buried on a hillside above the house, in a small field that looks over the ocean. It is a scene depicted in some of his last paintings. To his headstone is chained a copy of one of his carved statues, called Oviri, or Savage. He was not popular here when he died; in fact he was readying to serve a three-month sentence for libeling a local policeman.

Hiva Oa was Gauguin’s last gasp and things did not go well for him here. Never one to win friends easily, during the years he lived here he openly mocked the Catholic missionaries in a remote French colony governed by the church. He died in his House of Pleasure with a bad heart, failing eyes, morphine-addicted, leprous and syphilitic and soon to become one of the world’s greatest and best-known artists. To his ultimate chagrin, the fame part came mostly posthumously.

Two days later, thanks to the modern convenience of small aircraft, I found myself hiking remote trails on Nuka Hiva. Each morning I set out from the center of the main town of Taiohae, having asked directions from various locals the night before. I found it difficult to find a consensus when it came to simple questions like, “How far is it?” For example, the morning I decided to follow a trail to the far side of the island and a small community at Taipivai, I was told it would take all day to reach the white sand beaches at Controller Bay. It takes about four hours.

Outfitters and the government on Nuka Hiva have committed to cutting a trail system across the island in recent years, in part due to the economic kick in the pants the “Survivor” show brought to the island. The trails exist thanks to decades of wild pig, horse and hunter’s traffic; the idea — fomented by a local tour company called Marquises Rando — is to expand them into more accessible walkways without using much modern technology. Why introduce cement and steel when acacia or coconut tree trunks tied together work just as well as bridges, and volcanic rocks are perfect for bordering footpaths? The idea is to open up the mountains to visitors, creating options from six-hour round-trip walks to two-day treks with camps in between.

The diversity of walks is incredible. One morning I hire a small boat to carry me to a trailhead that leads to the Ahuii waterfall, which plunges 1,100 feet from high in the dense jungle. It’s a two-hour walk that involves a couple of thigh-high river crossings and ends with a swim in the eel-laden pool beneath the falls, and passes a handful of crumbling, thousand-year-old stone platforms along the way. On the opposite side of the island, just up from the beach is the Hikokua tohua where a dozen tikis watch over a grass-covered field once used for games and human sacrifices. Near the beach the biggest modern-day landmark is a sizable beige church and a restaurant big enough to feed the one hundred-plus passengers who arrive by cruise boat every few weeks for a lobster feast.

My last hike on Nuka Hiva is up and over a steep, 600-foot-tall pass from the village of Taipivai to a sand beach at Anaho, past stands of wild vanilla and fields of wild horses. The white beach is studded with smooth black boulders, a rare reef slowing the crashing of waves making it perfect for a swim. A solitary man lives in a fishing shack and waves me over to sample some dried fish and coconut milk.

A half-dozen big dogs lie in the shade of palms, several wooden fishing boats and a plastic kayak sit overturned.

As we talk, hiding from the midday sun, I ask for his definition of paradise. Without pause he says simply: “Wherever I am. And on most days, I am right here!”

Options traders took bullish positions in several potash companies Wednesday after the major producers announced a deal to sell their product, a potassium compound used in fertilizer, to a Chinese company for more than triple last year's price.

Trading in Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan jumped to an all-time high, with market players picking up 67,000 call contracts that allow them to buy the stock and 45,000 put contracts that allow them to sell, according to Track Data.

Several traders took bets that Potash Corp. stock will climb an additional 2% before Friday, when April options expire. They congregated around April $200 calls, which are priced at $2.65 and make money if Potash Corp. goes above $202.65.

Potash Corp. rose 7.5% to $198.26 at 4 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading, after making dramatic gains over the past several months. At this time last year, the company's shares were trading around $60.

Options traders also expected more long-term increases in Potash Corp. They picked up large volumes of May $190 calls that are priced at $18.50 and make money if Potash Corp. climbs above $208.50 by next month.

Traders also took big positions in Potash Corp. put contracts, which imply bearish sentiments. Those market players could be "long" on the underlying stock and buying the puts to protect themselves against downward moves, said Paul Foster, a strategist with That, or traders think the stock has rallied too high and is poised for a decline.

Potash Corp. and two other companies that produce potash -- a term covering several potassium compounds used in fertilizer -- announced Wednesday that they had struck a deal with China's Sinofert Holdings Ltd. to sell their product for $576 a ton, a $400-a-ton increase over the 2007 price. They secured a higher price as global food demands rise and potash supplies tighten.

"To get a major Chinese importer to agree to a tripling of the price says that these companies are in the catbird seat," said Rebecca Engmann Darst, an equity options analyst with Interactive Brokers. "They're sitting on a product that is richly desired."

Options traders also pounced on Mosaic Co. and Agrium Inc., two other major potash producers.

In Mosaic, they picked up April $135 call contracts that are priced at $3.40 and make money if Mosaic shares rise to $138.40 before Friday. Mosaic ended Wednesday's session at $136.82, up 7.2%.

In Agrium, traders congregated around April $90 calls that are priced at 80 cents and make money if Agrium climbs above $90.80. Agrium closed at $87.12, up 10%.

He was old, aloof and tough. During a brawl with another rabbit, Bongo lost a dime-size piece of his ear. His first home is unknown. His second was an animal shelter in rural Pennsylvania that reached rabbit overload and transferred him to another shelter here called Animal Friends.

Animal Friends takes abused, neglected and unwanted animals and tries to find them families. That can be challenging. Who wants a banged-up old rabbit? Or elderly cats and dogs that have thinning fur, missing teeth, cataracts and arthritic hips?

"A lot of folks aren't willing to adopt an older animal," says Ann Cadman, health and wellness coordinator at the shelter. "I had one woman say, 'Why would I want a used animal?' "

Ms. Cadman, who has adopted several elderly dogs, says they are affectionate and attentive. she needed a way to persuade other people to adopt old animals, of which there are many at the shelter.

Some have been left by people who move, want a younger pet, or are overwhelmed by age-related maladies. A good number of the older rabbits were bought as Easter bunnies for small children. Months pass. The novelty wears off, and the cuddly little critters turn into rabbits, weighing up to 25 pounds if they are Flemish, that can bite if they don't want to be held. Animal Friends is a no-kill shelter, so once an animal arrives, it stays there or in foster care until it is adopted.

Ms. Cadman had an idea: Form an exclusive society for people who adopt older pets, by which she means dogs more than five years old and cats over six. Rabbits are considered old at three.

Members would get discounts on pet jewelry and apparel at the shelter boutique. They would be honored with a proclamation suitable for framing, and they are invited to coffee klatches.

Ms. Cadman decided to call the group the Red Collar Society, after the well-known Red Hat Society, in which women over 50 glory in being middle-aged. "Both societies see age as something to celebrate," says Ms. Cadman.

Ms. Cadman's Red Collar Society appears to be effective. Since it was formed last April, more than 300 older cats, dogs and rabbits have been adopted from the shelter.

Members say older pets have distinct advantages. They are loving, calm, don't nip or insist on playing fetch. They don't gnaw as much on furniture and are good at visiting hospitals, nursing homes and elementary schools. Children with reading problems, for instance, will read aloud to Jazz, a seven-year-old black poodle, because he listens quietly and uncritically.

Maureen Pfeifer joined the Red Collar Society after adopting Erma, a Dalmatian somewhere between eight and 10 years old. Erma had a cloudy eye, bad teeth, a heart murmur and a tumor. A family had taken her but brought her back because she had too many things wrong with her.

"I always started with puppies and wanted another dog," says Ms. Pfeifer, who also has a seven-year-old dog that is in better health but getting creaky. "I love the idea of not having to house train. Erma knows basic commands already. It's really a lot easier."

Older animals available for adoption are advertised in the shelter newsletter, as well as in other local publications. Featured recently was T-Bone, a white seven-year-old cat originally from Egypt who responds to whistles just like a dog would, and Chester, a five-year-old coonhound who has a pleasing temperament and likes treats.

Wayne Croushore saw a picture of Bongo the rabbit and thought he might be good company for his other rabbit, Perkins, Perky for short. Mr. Croushore, 77 years old, adopted Bongo last year and became a Red Collar Society member. The retired insurance consultant has had pets all his life, including beagle puppies, which are cute but need housebreaking and obedience school. A few years ago, Mr. Croushore discovered rabbits and liked them as pets. "They're kind of like scotch, an acquired taste," he says.

Far more interesting than he imagined, they growl when they are unhappy. Some cry and grind their teeth. Their personalities vary. Perky is just that. Bongo is rakish -- tough, aggressive and independent, like a one-legged pirate, Mr. Croushore says. Buddy, his first rabbit, who has since died, came up the steps at 11 every night to have his ears scratched. Buddy's ashes are in a white ceramic dish on a shelf in Mr. Croushore's basement.

The key to making these relationships work is education. There's a class at Animal Friends on geriatric cats taught by a feline-massage therapist.

Red Collar members can attend monthly programs on bonding and estate planning. Mr. Croushore has arranged for Bongo and Perkins to be taken care of by Animal Friends if they outlive him.

There are downsides. Elderly pets can have expensive medical problems, such as strokes and failing vision. Glaucoma drops can cost $90. Older pets need to be taken out more at night. Aging rabbits need dental work. Geriatric pets need low-impact exercise. Fat and calories need to be watched in their diets. Older animals can become disoriented. An Australian study published in the Journal of Small Animal Practice reported that 28% of cats aged 11 to 14 develop at least one geriatric-onset behavioral problem, such as forgetfulness. This rises to over half of cats 15 years of age and older.

Mary Soukup, a retired teacher, provides foster care to the sickest older animals at Animal Friends, nursing them until they can be adopted. She often cares for dogs showing signs of dementia. She watches for telltale symptoms, such as going into a corner and being unable to get out. She is an unofficial Red Collar Society member because she hasn't officially adopted a pet, but she takes care of many. She currently has two: Bagel the beagle, a 12-year-old with arthritis, and 16-year-old Hercules, a Yorkshire terrier, who is blind.

She and the two dogs attended a recent coffee klatch. Over refreshments, Ms. Soukup and other owners traded tips. A fish-oil tablet, good for the heart and coat, is eagerly gobbled up by dogs if it is wrapped in salami. Pets at the social gathering traded stares and sniffs.

Old pets can learn new tricks, some society members say. Katie Tontala points to her 11-year-old cat, Karma, whom she adopted last year.

Karma is deaf and thus can't hear a can being opened; most cats know that the sound means dinner is served. Ms. Tontala taught Karma sign language. She puts her fingers to her mouth and taps her lips. Karma comes.

The failure of diplomacy to stop Iran’s nuclear program became obvious this week, when President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad revealed the installation of 6,000 new centrifuges at the country’s main uranium enrichment complex. His announcement was accompanied by the now customary assertion that outsiders can do nothing to stop Iran from fulfilling its nuclear destiny.

Once, not so long ago, this kind of boast would elicit clear American declarations that Iran would never be allowed to develop nuclear weapons. Everything, President Bush would say ominously, is on the table. This time he has been quiet. I wish I believed that it is the quiet before a storm of laser-guided action. It seems more likely that it is the abashed silence of an American president whose bluff has been called in front of the entire world.

Washington’s performance should concern anyone who cares about long-term American influence in the Islamic world. But for Israel (and Israel’s supporters), this is an urgent problem. It is Israel, after all, that has been set by the Iranian leadership as the target for annihilation.

In response to the news from Iran, some supporters of Israel have started to suggest that the failed efforts at prevention be replaced by assured American deterrence: any Iranian nuclear attack on Israel would be treated as an attack on the United States. Charles Krauthammer, a Washington Post columnist, recently referred to this as “the Holocaust doctrine.”

From Israel’s perspective, the thought is tempting — but it’s not realistic.

In 1981, Israeli planes destroyed the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak. The world’s reaction was harshly critical. Even the Reagan administration, usually a close ally, denounced the operation.

Prime Minister Menachem Begin was undaunted by the fury. At a press conference in Jerusalem he announced that he felt obligated to do anything in his power to stop Israel’s enemies from getting their hands on means of mass killing.

Begin mentioned the Holocaust; it was never far from his mind. But his primary focus was strategic, not historical. Israel was no different from any other country. It would bear the ultimate responsibility for its own security.

Begin was right. Here’s why:

First, in exchange for assistance, Washington would naturally (and rightly) demand a very strong say in Israeli policies. A misstep, after all, could embroil it in a nuclear exchange. Within a very short time, Israel’s sovereignty and autonomy would come to resemble Minnesota’s. is not a bad thing if your country happens to border Iowa. It works less well in Israel’s neighborhood.

I’m not questioning American friendship. But even friendship has practical limits. Presidents change and policies change. George W. Bush, the greatest friend Israel has had in the White House, hasn’t been able to keep a (relatively easier) commitment to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. It is a good thing that Israel didn’t build its deterrence on that commitment.

What’s more, it is fair to say that Israel is not a weak country. It has developed a powerful set of strategic options. In the best case, it would be able to act on its own to degrade and retard the Iranian nuclear program as it did in Iraq (and, more recently, Syria). In a worse case, if the Iranians do get the bomb, Iranian leaders might be deterred by rational considerations. If so, Israel’s own arsenal — and its manifest willingness to respond to a nuclear attack — ought to suffice.

If, on the other hand, the Iranian leadership simply can’t resist the itch to “wipe Israel off the map” — or to make such a thing appear imminent — then it would be up to Israel to make its own calculations. What is the price of 100,000 dead in Tel Aviv? Or twice that? The cost to Iran would certainly be ghastly. It would be wrong for Israel to expect other nations to shoulder this moral and geopolitical responsibility.

Don’t misunderstand. It would be a noble thing for the United States to support Israel’s efforts to stop an Iranian bomb or, if it comes to that, to back Israel’s response to an attack. But no country can rely on the kindness of others.

Next month Israel celebrates its 60th Independence Day. Sovereignty comes with a price. Israel’s willingness to pay it is the only Holocaust doctrine that it can really rely on.

When the idea for a new drug-delivery company called BIND Biosciences Inc. started percolating in a lab here four years ago, venture capitalists quickly offered to invest.

One moneyman, though, had an inside track: Terry McGuire, a partner with nearby Polaris Venture Partners. Mr. McGuire was familiar with BIND's nano-particle technology to treat tumors and heart disease. He's also a friend, and frequent business partner, of Robert Langer, the decorated scientist who runs the Massachusetts Institute of Technology lab. That relationship often gives Polaris first dibs on cutting-edge medical technology developed there.

Together, Messrs. McGuire and Langer have launched 13 companies over the past 15 years and become a model for other venture capitalists scrambling to commercialize new drug and medical-device research. Dr. Langer, 59 years old, holds more than 600 patents and supplies the science; Mr. McGuire, 52, fine-tunes the business. Some of Mr. McGuire's work with Mr. Langer was described in a 2005 Harvard Business School case study called, "The Langer Lab: Commercializing Science."

"I don't think either one of them would have been as successful without the other," says Andrey Zarur, a bioscience investor with Kodiak Venture Partners who is familiar with Dr. Langer's lab.

Other serial "academic entrepreneurs" have teamed up with VCs to launch bioscience companies. They include Harvard professor George Whitesides, who helped start biotech giant Genzyme Corp. and drug company Theravance Inc., and Stanford ophthalmologist Mark Blumenkranz, whose research helped launch OptiMedica Corp., which is developing new technology to treat eye disease. Dr. Blumenkranz joined with venture capitalist Brook Byers on OptiMedica, and "we're working on another project together," says Mr. Byers, a partner at venture firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.
But few venture capitalists have been as successful as Mr. McGuire in cultivating one scientist as a source of deals.

Hooking up with a prolific university inventor is important in bioscience investing because most health-related start-ups, unlike information-technology companies, are born in academia. The technology is complex, and investors say they prefer to work with a longtime partner they can trust.

Mr. McGuire first sought out Dr. Langer, a wiry chemical engineer, in the early 1990s after hearing about his research into drug delivery and "regenerative medicine," or techniques to rebuild human tissue and organs. One early big hit came in 1997, when they co-founded, with another Langer protege, Advanced Inhalation Research Inc. The company, which devised a novel way to deliver large-molecule drugs via the lungs, was sold for $113 million in stock 18 months later; Polaris made nearly 10 times its money, and Dr. Langer profited as a significant shareholder of AIR.

Since then, the two have teamed up on other drug-related start-ups like Pulmatrix Inc., which is developing inhalable aerosols for respiratory disease, and Tempo Pharmaceuticals Inc., which uses nanotechnology to create new drugs. Of the 13 investments, two companies went public and three were acquired.

Dr. Langer has a knack for understanding which lab projects can be commercialized and which are better left to scientific journals, Mr. McGuire says. Researchers who have worked for Dr. Langer say he is a talented manager who hires smart graduate students and gives them leeway to pursue their interests, whether they lie in stem-cell research, tissue generation or drug delivery.

Mr. McGuire, meanwhile, helps the scientist-entrepreneurs in Dr. Langer's lab develop business plans, target potential markets and recruit managers. He also helps them negotiate partnerships with bigger companies and sometimes lends them spare offices at Polaris's headquarters.

Polaris is often the first place Dr. Langer and his researchers turn when they're considering starting a company. Sometimes, "when we end up doing deals, it's a 20-second phone call," Dr. Langer says.

Proteges of the men now collaborate as well. BIND began with research by Omid Farokhzad, a researcher in Dr. Langer's lab who was trying to engineer nano-particles to deliver drugs to specific sites in the body. He sought advice from Amir Nashat, a Polaris partner who had also worked in Dr. Langer's lab. Mr. Nashat met Polaris's Mr. McGuire through Dr. Langer.

Then Mr. McGuire stepped in, helping Mr. Farokhzad negotiate a license for his technology from MIT. Mr. McGuire also helped the company find a lawyer and recruited BIND's chief executive, Glenn Batchelder. "Before there was even a company, we tried to be helpful," Mr. McGuire says.

BIND spurned an investment offer from another venture-capital firm and, last year, took $2.5 million in funding from Polaris and Flagship Ventures, of Cambridge. In November, it raised another $16 million. BIND now has 21 employees, and a partnership with a big pharmaceutical company, which it declined to name.

The policy alternatives in the post-housing-bubble world are painfully unpleasant. In my view, the least bad option is for the Federal Reserve to print money to help stabilize housing prices and financial markets. Yes, use reflation to soften the pain for Main Street and Wall Street. If instead we let housing prices fall another 25%-30% – as predicted by the Case-Shiller Home Price Index – it's almost certain that Washington will end up nationalizing the mortgage business.

So far, the Fed's lending programs have not provided adequate liquidity to financial markets: Reserves supplied to the banking system have grown at a tiny 0.6% annual rate since December. That's because the reserves the Fed is injecting by lending are effectively pulled out or "sterilized" by its sales of Treasury securities. The Fed has been selling these securities to keep the fed funds rate at the level targeted by its Federal Open Market Committee directives.

Congress and the Treasury have proposed voluntary measures to help mortgage borrowers, but the impact on mortgage availability has been nil. As average house prices plummet – declining at a 23% annual rate over the three months ending in January – lenders are sharply curtailing access to mortgage-based, home-equity loans. The 15% of U.S. mortgage holders with negative equity in their homes have no access to credit, and 20% with marginal equity have limited access at best. Overall access to credit is contracting: Ask Americans trying to utilize home-equity lines or arrange student loans.

Meanwhile, the collapse of house prices and the attendant damage to credit markets have become so severe that the Fed has been forced to create new policy measures at a fast clip, including the radical decision to take $30 billion worth of Bear Stearns' risky mortgages onto its own balance sheet, and to open the discount window to investment banks.

The bottom line is this: The Fed could have watched a run on investment banks quickly turn into a run on commercial banks, or protected the creditors of investment banks (like the depositors of commercial banks) at the expense of Bear Stearns' shareholders. The Fed wisely chose the second alternative.

Still, the Fed's intervention has done no more than buy a respite from the crisis in the financial markets. The monetary easing I'm recommending can occur by having the Fed print money to purchase mortgages directly, or purchase Treasury securities directly. The latter is probably more desirable because it adds higher-quality assets to the Fed's balance sheet. The Bank of Japan was also forced to reflate by printing money in 2001, after two years of a zero interest-rate policy failed to lift the economy out of a prolonged recession that had moved Japan to the brink of a deflationary crisis.

Fed reflation – to slow the fall in home prices and alleviate the distress for households and lenders – carries many risks. But the alternative is to struggle with a patchwork of inadequate efforts to shore up mortgage markets, while the Fed sticks to its current tactic of pegging the fed funds rate without increasing the money supply. This, I would submit, is even more risky. It risks a severe recession that will only intensify the drive for reregulation of financial and mortgage markets after the election.

Printing money is a radical step that enables the Fed to stop pegging the federal-funds rate and start increasing market liquidity directly. In any event, there is substantial evidence that the fed funds rate has been well above the equilibrium level. One piece of evidence is the accelerating deterioration in credit markets and the real economy that ensued even while the Fed cut the rate. Even more compelling, consider the sharp widening of the gap between the fed funds rate and the yield on three-month Treasury bills.

That gap, usually close to zero, measures the intensity of demand for riskless assets relative to the Fed's target rate in the interbank market. At the time of the Bear Stearns crisis on March 16, the fed funds rate was an extraordinary 250 basis points above yields on three-month Treasurys. This corresponded to a "10 sigma," or ten-times-the-typical deviation from the mean event. Statistically, 2 or 3 sigma is a very unusual event suggesting, in this case, an unusually strong preference for riskless T-bills. Four or 5 sigma represents a serious risky event, and 10 sigma is an outright panic. Based on this gap criterion, the August 2007 crisis onset was a 5-sigma event, while the October 1998 LTCM crisis and the 1987 stock market crash were each 4-sigma events. This suggests that even at those earlier times of crisis there was less fear as expressed by a run into riskless Treasurys.
Louis J Sheehan
Ominously, after dipping close to 5 sigma after the Bear Stearns crisis, the gap has crept back above 6 sigma.

The Fed should announce its intention to add to its holding of Treasury securities in order to provide additional liquidity. It should cease pegging the fed funds rate while this policy is in effect. While there is no guarantee, direct injection of money holds some promise of alleviating the worst of the credit crisis. This means that, after the election, Congress will not feel justified in nationalizing mortgage markets.

While there is a substantial risk that inflation may rise for a time – this would be the policy goal – monetization is more easily reversible than nationalization of the mortgage market. Meanwhile, Fed officials concerned about inflation should rethink their view that it is impossible to identify an asset bubble before it bursts.

The postbubble period has yielded some very unattractive policy alternatives. They clearly underscore the rationale for having the Fed target asset prices – in a world where asset markets affect the real economy more than the real economy affects asset markets.

Most discussions about the rising cost of health care emphasize the need to get more people insured. The assumption seems to be that insurance – rather than the service delivered by doctor to patient – is the important commodity.

But perhaps the solution to much of what currently plagues us in health care – rising costs and bureaucracy, diminishing levels of service – rests on a radically different approach: fewer people insured.

You don't need to be an economist to understand that any middleman interposed between seller and buyer raises the price of a given service or product. Some intermediaries justify this by providing benefits, such as salesmanship, advertising or transport. Others offer physical facilities, such as warehouses. A third group, organized crime, utilizes fear and intimidation to muscle its way into the provider-consumer chain, raking in hefty profits and bloating cost, without providing any benefit at all.

The health insurance model is closest to the parasitic relationship imposed by the Mafia and the like. Insurance companies provide nothing other than an ambiguous, shifty notion of "protection." But even the Mafia doesn't stick its nose into the process; once the monthly skim is set, Don Whoever stays out of the picture, but for occasional "cost of doing business" increases. When insurance companies insinuate themselves into the system, their first step is figuring out how to increase the skim by harming the people they are allegedly protecting through reduced service.

Insurance is all about betting against negative consequences and the insurance business model is unique in that profits depend upon goods and services not being provided. Using actuarial tables, insurers place their bets. Sometimes even the canniest MIT grads can't help: Property and casualty insurers have collapsed in the wake of natural disasters.

Health insurers have taken steps to avoid that level of surprise: Once they affix themselves to the host – in this case dual hosts, both doctor and patient – they systematically suck the lifeblood out of the supply chain with obstructive strategies. For that reason, the consequences of any insurance-based health-care model, be it privately run, or a government entitlement, are painfully easy to predict. There will be progressively draconian rationing using denial of authorization and steadily rising co-payments on the patient end; massive paperwork and other bureaucratic hurdles, and steadily diminishing fee-recovery on the doctor end.

Some of us are old enough to remember visiting the doctor and paying him/her directly by check or cash. You had a pretty good idea going in what the service was going to cost. And because the doctor had to look you in the eye – and didn't need to share a rising chunk of his profits with an insurer – the cost was likely to be reasonable. The same went for hospitals: no $20 aspirins due to insurance-company delay tactics and other shenanigans. Few physicians became millionaires, but they lived comfortably, took responsibility for their own business model, and enjoyed their work more.

Several years ago, I suffered a sports injury that necessitated an MRI. The "fee" for a 20-minute procedure was over $3,000. My insurance company refused to pay, so I informed the radiologist that I'd be footing the bill myself. Immediately, the "fee" was cut by two thirds. And the doctor was tickled to get it.

A few highly technical and complex procedures that need to amortize the purchase of extremely expensive hardware will be out of reach for any but the wealthiest patient. For that extremely limited category, insurance might work. A small percentage of indigent individuals won't be able to afford even low-cost procedures. For them, government-funded county facilities are the answer, because any decent society takes care of the weakest among us. But a hefty proportion of health-care services – office visits, minor surgeries – would be affordable to most Americans if the slice of the health-care dollar that currently ends up in the coffers of insurance companies was eliminated.

When I was in practice as a psychologist, I discussed fees up front with prospective patients, prior to their initial visit. People appreciated knowing what to expect and my bad debt rate was less than 1%. That allowed me to keep my charges reasonable and, on occasion, to lower them for less fortunate patients.
And I loved my job because I was free to concentrate on what I went to school for: helping people, rather than filling out incomprehensible forms designed to discourage me from filing them in the first place.

Physicians and other providers need to liberate themselves from the Faustian bargain they've cut with the Mephistophelian suits who now run their professional lives. Because many doctors are loath to talk about money, they allowed themselves to perpetuate the fantasy that "insurance is paying." It isn't. There is no free lunch and no free physical exam.

If substantial numbers of health-care providers shook off the insurance monkey on their back, en masse, and the supply of providers was substantially increased by opening more medical schools, the result would be a more honest, cost-effective system benefiting everyone. Except the insurance companies.

On a recent balmy Sunday, John and Cindy McCain hosted the national press corps at their ranch here. Mrs. McCain's touches were evident -- the ceiling fans hung from tree branches, the art of their children displayed on the cabin's walls, the Budweiser beer tap from her family's business.
Dogs she has adopted ran about.
Cindy McCain regularly introduces her husband at events, but often retreats when her duties are done.

Showing off his barbecue skills, Sen. McCain pulled sizzling ribs off the grill and dispensed them on the sweeping porch. Mrs. McCain, in skinny jeans with her hair pulled back in a ponytail, stood nearby and just smiled.

The 53-year-old wife of Sen. McCain doesn't seek the limelight. While the picture-perfect Mrs. McCain regularly introduces her husband at campaign events, she often retreats after her duties are done, donning her fully loaded iPod and typing away on her silver BlackBerry.

"The campaign gets to be a little too much for me," she said in an interview. "I take some time off occasionally...and then I get back out."

As the wife of the expected Republican nominee, Mrs. McCain will face intensifying scrutiny. Both of Sen. McCain's potential opponents have high-profile spouses who have assumed very public roles in the campaigns -- and have at times undergone fierce criticism and media attention.

The pressure already has begun. Recently, Mrs. McCain faced the press with Sen. McCain to deny news reports that her husband of 28 years had an affair with a lobbyist.

Although she says she wants to be a "traditional" first lady, Mrs. McCain has led a life that by any measure has been untraditional.

She heads one of the nation's largest beer distributorships, an Anheuser-Busch Cos. franchise inherited from her father. She has sported "MS BUD" on her license plate, and from the campaign trail she uses her BlackBerry and cellphone to oversee this region's rollout of Bud Lite Lime and to expand her corporate empire.

Last month, while Sen. McCain was touring Europe and Iraq to show his foreign-policy credentials, Mrs. McCain flew into postwar Kosovo on a mission to clear land mines. It was the latest of several trips she has made in recent years as part of a detonation team. She also supports the charity arranging the trips by serving on its board and making donations.

"Cindy is a private person with her own stresses and commitments -- apart from her public role in John's campaign," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, a close friend of the McCains. "She juggles bowling balls."

Sen. McCain, 71, calls his wife "a real trooper." After knee-replacement surgery following a fall in a grocery store a few months ago, Mrs. McCain, always meticulously dressed and coiffed even on crutches, quickly hit the trail. "Sometimes when we get in bed at night, I hear her groan" from the pain, the senator said in an interview.

When John McCain met his future wife, Cindy Hensley was a 24-year-old only child on vacation with her parents. In Phoenix, she had been her high school's rodeo queen, sporting a cowboy hat complete with a crown. After earning education degrees at the University of Southern California (which Sen. McCain has called "University of Spoiled Children"), she became a special-needs teacher.

She also got involved in the beer distributorship started by her father. Art Pearce, who worked at his own family's company, a Coors distributor in Phoenix, frequently ran into her at industry events. "You could tell by her air that she was very proud of her family's business," Mr. Pearce said.

Her focus shifted as soon as she met John McCain, a dashing Navy officer in his dress whites, at a cocktail party in Hawaii, where she was vacationing with her parents. They had "instant chemistry," Mrs. McCain has said. She didn't know he had been a prisoner of war in Vietnam for five years. She has said that they both lied about their ages: He said he was four years younger; she said she was three years older.

At the time, Sen. McCain was separated from his first wife, with whom he had a daughter. He had adopted his wife's two sons. After a divorce, he married Cindy Hensley in 1980.
Having signed a prenuptial agreement that her assets would remain separate, he left the Navy to join her father's business, Hensley & Co., as a public-relations manager for $50,000 a year. His young wife brought home much more from company distributions.

Her family provided some of the funding when he ran for Congress in 1982. After his election, the couple began a commuter marriage, with Mrs. McCain staying in Phoenix to raise their growing family.

"We really feel that one of the smartest things we ever did was have our kids grow up in Arizona," Sen. McCain said recently on the trail. "It's very tough to be a relative of a politician in Washington, because of the fishbowl effect." Although the commuter marriage continues to this day, Sen. McCain said the family took two vacations together every year and Mrs. McCain "is the one that always made that happen."

In 2000, when Mrs. McCain's father died, she inherited the beer distributorship. Hensley's chief executive, Bob Delgado, said he sat down with Mrs. McCain to ask what she wanted to do with the business. He expected her to put it up for sale.

"I want the employees and their families to know that I will take care of them the way my dad has," she recalls telling Mr. Delgado. "I'm not going to sell just because he died." Mrs. McCain said she wanted the company her father built from scratch to go to her children someday, Mr. Delgado said.

Mrs. McCain assumed her father's position as chairman. She began focusing on strategic issues and big-budget items, leaving day-to-day operations to Mr. Delgado and Chief Financial Officer Andy McCain, her stepson.

"I have good people in place...I trust them and I love them," Mrs. McCain said, adding that she speaks to Mr. Delgado almost daily. "I'm the ultimate person who makes the large decisions; major changes, growth decisions."

Since James Hensley's death eight years ago, the distributorship has nearly doubled, holding a significant portion of the Phoenix-area market share. It has 700 employees and annual revenue of about $300 million. Mrs. McCain has approved the buyout of another distributorship, helping bring sales last year to 23 million cases of beer.

Mrs. McCain (who can tell a beer's freshness by tasting it, according to her daughter Meghan) declines to say what percentage of the company she owns or its value. Industry experts estimate her stake at about $100 million.

She owns a private jet, which Sen. McCain's campaign pays to use on the trail.

She started the Hensley Family Foundation, largely committed to children's causes, to which Sen. McCain donates some of his speaking fees and book proceeds.

In 1991, Sen. McCain became embroiled in the "Keating Five" scandal, in which five senators were probed for ties with a thrift executive. The Arizona lawmaker wasn't charged with any ethics violation.

That same year, Mrs. McCain underwent two back surgeries, and she said she became addicted to painkillers. She resorted to stealing some drugs from a medical charity she had started and using others' names for prescriptions, according to news reports at the time.

"I was trying to be the perfect woman," Mrs. McCain said in interviews at the time. "That was the darkest period of my life."

The Drug Enforcement Administration began an investigation of Mrs. McCain in 1994, but she avoided prosecution by paying a fine, performing community service in a soup kitchen and joining Narcotics Anonymous. She had to close her medical charity.

"Cindy faced up to her addiction," Sen. McCain said.

Since coming clean, "I've never been secretive about it at all, because [talking about addiction] is part of the recovery process," Mrs. McCain said. "It's part of my life; it has made me a better person and certainly made me a better mother."

The past year has been particularly stressful because their 19-year-old son, Jimmy, did a tour of duty in Iraq. Their son Jack also is in the military, attending the Naval Academy, as did his father, grandfather and great grandfather. Meghan, a recent Columbia University graduate, travels and blogs for the campaign, while the younger daughter, Bridget, attends high school.

One day, Mrs. McCain answered her son Jimmy's call from Iraq as the campaign bus pulled up to a town hall where the McCains were scheduled to appear. The phone line suddenly went dead; she grew teary. Two minutes later, she stepped onto the stage and calmly introduced her husband.

In 1991, Mrs. McCain came across a girl in an orphanage in Bangladesh. Mother Teresa implored Mrs. McCain to take the baby with a severe cleft palate; the senator's wife did so without first telling her husband. The couple adopted the girl, named her Bridget, and has seen her through some dozen operations to repair her cleft palate and resolve other medical problems.

When Bridget drops into the campaign, Mrs. McCain goes out of her way to point her out. "I want to make sure everyone knows she's a part of us, too," she said. (The dark-skinned child was the subject of a "dirty trick" during Mr. McCain's presidential run in 2000, when unknown operatives spread the rumor that Bridget was the product of an affair.)

These days, Mrs. McCain is active in charities specializing in war-ravaged and developing countries. This summer, Mrs. McCain will join an overseas mission of Operation Smile, a charity she has long supported that travels the world to perform corrective surgery on children's faces.

Her reticence about the spotlight is why she surprised some friends and advisers recently by wading into a controversy involving Michelle Obama. The wife of Sen. Barack Obama had commented that her husband's run for the presidency made her proud of her country for the first time in her life. Mrs. McCain declared on the stump that she always has been, "and always will be, proud of my country."

"It wasn't planned," Mrs. McCain said. "It wasn't about my stepping out on my own, but I do have opinions." However, she's more likely to keep them to herself.

"My husband's the candidate," she said. "I'm not."

Static in the global TV-set business is forcing some big players to re-tune their game.

On Monday, Philips Electronics NV blamed a profit dip on its floundering TV operations -- just days after saying it would restructure its North American television business. Earlier this month, Sony Corp. replaced its top TV executive following failed efforts to turn around its unprofitable television unit. Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., the maker of Panasonic products, recently reorganized a part of its U.S. business to better respond to intensifying price competition.

But one upstart, Irvine, Calif.-based Vizio Inc., has largely surfed past the industry's woes. single focus: churning out low-priced flat-panel TVs.

Vizio is a fraction the size of Sony and Samsung Electronics Co., both leading brands in the U.S. flat-panel market. Yet Vizio shipped 12.4% of North America's liquid-crystal display, or LCD, TVs in the last quarter of 2007. That's just behind Sony's 12.5% share and Samsung's 14.2%, according to research firm iSuppli Corp. Overall, Vizio's sales have multiplied to just under $2 billion last year, up from $700 million in 2006 and $142 million in 2005, according to the closely held company.

The California company's success illustrates the rise of a new business model in the fast-changing TV industry. Big Korean and Japanese consumer-electronics makers spent huge sums developing and marketing their own technology, creating a high barrier to entry for newcomers. They also built many key components in-house, including the all-important LCD and plasma display panels.

But panel technology is becoming ever more commoditized, meaning big brands aren't the only ones controlling the field. The shift has allowed nimble players like Vizio, which handles the design and marketing, to hook up with contract manufacturers and produce their own cheap TVs. At the same time, discount retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. are increasing their sales in the electronics category, slashing prices in the process.

By late last year -- after a spate of holiday promotions -- the average flat-panel TV cost just $920, down 24% from 2006, according to DisplaySearch.

Vizio chief executive William Wang was prescient. A native of Taiwan and a former marketer of computer monitors, he was struck by a 2002 ad for a $10,000 Philips flat-panel TV. He sensed an opportunity. Rather than sell the sleek sets as luxury items, he figured he could make flat-panel TVs that were affordable to average consumers.

Back then, the computer-monitor business had largely transitioned from clunky cathode-ray tubes to flat panels. Mr. Wang knew many of the parts in flat computer screens were used in flat-panel TVs. Tapping his computer contacts in Taiwan, he calculated he could get enough parts to qualify for a bulk discount and use them to make inexpensive TVs.

To fund the effort, Mr. Wang borrowed money from friends and family. He also mortgaged his home in Newport Beach, Calif., eventually raising $600,000. While he wanted to name the new company "W" after himself, he settled for "V" after learning that a hotel chain had claimed the letter. V launched in October of 2002.

In January 2003, Mr. Wang met with executives at Costco Wholesale Corp. in Issaquah, Wash. He pitched them on a 46-inch plasma flat-panel TV for $3,800 -- half the price of competitors' sets. During the meeting, Mr. Wang said he wanted to become the next Sony in five years, says Tim Farmer, Costco's vice president of merchandising for consumer electronics. The Costco executives laughed, Mr. Farmer recalls.

Nonetheless, the Costco team was impressed enough with V that they decided to give Mr. Wang a chance, says Mr. Farmer. By February 2003, Costco was stocking V's TVs in 10 of its warehouses. A month later, it expanded the line to all 320 of its U.S. warehouses. That store count has since grown to 385. Today, Costco says Vizio is one of its largest TV suppliers.

"Vizio has always supplied my projections, and I've never been shorted product," says Mr. Farmer.

For Gabe Billings, a 33-year-old stay-at-home dad, price was the main concern when he purchased a 37-inch Vizio from Costco this month. Mr. Billings, of Eugene, Ore., says he isn't so brand conscious when it comes to TVs.
"I didn't see any point in spending hundreds of dollars more for something I won't be able to tell the difference, once I get home," says Mr. Billings. He says he spent $749 for the Vizio, versus the roughly $1,100 charged for bigger-name models.

Much of Vizio's success stems from the cozy relationship that Mr. Wang has forged with Taipei-based AmTran Technology Co. AmTran is a contract manufacturer that for years built computer monitors and TVs for companies like Sharp Corp. and Sony. Unlike with those customers, however, AmTran owns a 23% stake in Vizio.

The arrangement gets Vizio preferential treatment. AmTran sometimes swallows shipping costs and pushes component suppliers to ensure Vizio's products are high quality and on time. AmTran now gets about 80% of its revenue from Vizio. In turn, Vizio sources as many as 85% of its TVs from AmTran, according to research firm DisplaySearch.

"Unlike many PC companies who try to make their money by trying to squeezing the vendor, we try to work with our vendor," says Mr. Wang, 44 years old. Scottie Chiu, AmTran's chief financial officer, doesn't dispute that his company gives Vizio preferential treatment.

Other TV upstarts are pursuing similar strategies. Syntax-Brillian Corp., the Tempe, Ariz., seller of the low-cost Olevia brand of TVs, works with electronics manufacturer Taiwan Kolin Co., which bought a 12.5% stake in the TV maker in 2006. Flat-panel TV maker Westinghouse Digital Electronics LLC of Santa Fe Springs, Calif., says it works closely with Chi Mei Optoelectronics Corp., Taiwan's second-largest maker of LCD panels.

Sony and others, such as Matsushita, say they aren't fazed by their much smaller rivals. Stan Glasgow, president and chief operating officer for Sony Electronics, says Vizio's lack of in-house manufacturing and development resources will hold the company back. "Vizio doesn't have the kind of resources and money to lock up [flat panel] supply," he says. "I think they're in trouble."

Mr. Wang sees no disadvantage to not owning factories. So far, Vizio has largely made products based on existing technology, although the CEO does have ambitions to dream up new products. "R&D is the key for innovation, not manufacturing," he says.

Born in Taiwan in 1963 and raised in Hawaii, Mr. Wang studied electrical engineering at the University of Southern California. He returned to Taiwan in the 1980s to work for Tatung Co., which made computer monitors for International Business Machines Corp. While at Tatung, Mr. Wang met and befriended Alpha Wu, the future founder of AmTran, who was then a founding executive at a Taiwanese monitor maker.

By 2004, Mr. Wang had changed his six-person company's name to Vizio. He also decided he needed another round of funding, of about $2 million. He targeted manufacturing partners since he wanted to tie suppliers to the success of the brand.

AmTran, the 3,000-employee manufacturer that his friend Mr. Wu founded in 1994, was a natural choice. But AmTran was hurting. The company reported 2004 earnings of $4.1 million on revenue of $428 million and a profit margin of just 0.9%. In 2005, it had a loss.

Mr. Wang suggested to Mr. Wu that AmTran invest in Vizio because its TVs were gaining traction in U.S. retail stores. By then, Vizio was producing $18 million a year in revenue and was profitable, he says. In April 2004, AmTran bought an 8% stake in Vizio for about $1 million, say the companies. (AmTran declined to make Mr. Wu available for comment.) That same month, Mr. Wang sold an additional 8% of Vizio to an affiliate of Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., the world's biggest contract manufacturer of electronics.

Vizio's move was both bold and unique, because the company wasn't just outsourcing its manufacturing as many companies do, but it was also creating an equity partnership with a major supplier.
Louis J. Sheehan, Esquire
AmTran CFO Mr. Chiu says the company hoped the Vizio relationship would blossom into a strategic partnership, but "nobody knew" whether such close cooperation with a customer would work. Suppliers are typically reluctant to do too much business with a single customer, because it risks disaster if the relationship fails.

Vizio soon leveraged its new manufacturing clout to increase its number of television models to five from two. It also broadened its distribution into retailers such as Wal-Mart's Sam's Club division and BJ's Wholesale Club Inc.

In 2006, Vizio says sales of its TVs jumped fivefold, to 700,000 sets from a year earlier. That June, AmTran bought an additional 15% of Vizio's shares from the company's departing CFO, who was moving back to Taiwan, both companies say. They declined to reveal how much the additional stake cost.

The alliance helped AmTran turn a corner. According to the company, revenues last year rose to $2.1 billion, up more than double from $959 million in 2006 and nearly five times its 2005 revenue. Earnings were $31.5 million in 2006, compared with a net loss in 2005. Mr. Chiu, the AmTran CFO, says business is hard to predict this year, given the shaky U.S. economy, but he expects revenue to grow by at least 30%.

The synergies continue to benefit both companies. In a brand-boosting coup, Vizio last July snared National Football League star LaDainian Tomlinson as a pitchman. The San Diego Chargers running back has endorsed Vizio's sets through television ads and appearances on shows such as Dr. Phil.

Last October, a Vizio official showed Seong Ohm, senior vice president of merchandising technology for Sam's Club, some new products. Ms. Ohm says she wanted a TV that female customers could relate to, especially something that could blend into a kitchen scheme. She got a peek at a prototype of a white, 20-inch flat-panel TV. Ms. Ohm liked the design so much, she says she asked Vizio to get 20,000 of the TVs to Sam's Club by early March. The sets have since arrived in the U.S. and are featured in Sam's Club's Spring catalog for $348.78 apiece.

Still, some hurdles loom. Vizio may face a shortage of LCD panels. Neither Vizio nor AmTran produce the flat panels themselves, and the companies that make them may hoard them to sell under their own brands. AmTran's Mr. Chiu says the supply of LCD panels in the midsize range -- 32 inches -- could become "tight" in the second half of 2008 if U.S. demand holds up. But he says AmTran hopes to secure enough supply by leveraging its sizable purchases of large-size panels.

Mr. Wang says Vizio plans to further diversify its product portfolio into TVs made from plasma panels and may also expand into Blu-ray DVD players. But he has tempered his earlier ambitions about quickly becoming the new Sony.

"We still have a long way to go," he says. "Our goal is to be the next Sony in 20 or 30 years."
Switch on a laptop or cellphone and you've used coltan, a mineral imbedded in electronic hardware; most of it is exported from Africa by criminals. Buy a cheap pack of cigarettes on a street corner and you may have fed a mob of black marketeers that stretches into Indian reservations or, in Europe, deep into the bloody misery of the Balkans. Wander outside the normal channels for caviar or tax-free migrant labor and you will have made bands of brigands ever more prosperous. And organized crime is the only winner from drugs, prostitutes and other illicit offerings not to be found at Wal-Mart or Costco.

The funeral of a gunned-down Japanese yakuza mafia boss in 1988. Gang warfare has subsided in recent years

As Misha Glenny shows in "McMafia," a vividly recounted journey through a dozen of the world's most potent gangs, cartels and transnational mafias, there is hardly any society or economic subculture that is not affected by global criminal networks.
Naturally, criminal markets are not new, but in the late 1980s criminal business activity dramatically flourished with the collapse of communism, the loosening of authoritarian controls across the globe and, not least, the advent of anarchy in parts of Russia and the former Eastern bloc. Mr. Glenny's purpose is to describe the rise of this "shadow economy." He estimates that criminal business now amounts to 20% of global GDP.

The book's title, though clever, is misleading: The world's organized criminals are no homogenized franchise in the McDonald's mold. From place to place and region to region, they take all sorts of shapes and serve all sorts of purposes. In the Ukrainian port of Odessa, a "heroic gangster" named Karabas takes a tithe -- literally 10% -- from the local businesses in exchange for protection from outside criminal enterprises, until he's gunned down. ("Any firm, and there were a lot of them, considered it an honor to be under Karabas's protection," one business owner tells Mr. Glenny.) In Japan, yakuza syndicates eschew actual violence ("the credible threat of violence" is preferable, Mr. Glenny observes) as the mafia pursues its interests in everything from trafficking women to operating as "a de facto legal system" in resolving disputes over such matters as bankruptcy declarations, insurance claims and real-estate transactions. In India, gangs merge with sectarian politics -- "the gang wars of Bombay that exploded with renewed violence in the 1990s were in part a proxy conflict between the intelligence agencies of India and Pakistan," Mr. Glenny writes. But such mergers often self-destruct, he observes, in feuds worthy of Jacobean revenge tragedies. Meanwhile in Nigeria, the talented theatricality of Web-savvy fraudsters fuels "advance fee" scams over the Internet -- you probably have a few requests to help get money out of Africa in your inbox right now. A popular Nigerian song lauds such scams with the refrain: "White man! I go chop your dollar."

Nevertheless, common themes emerge. Organized crime usually steps in to replace state failure: It protects businesses and enforces contracts. Many syndicates move on to corner a monopoly in the supply of some illegal or highly taxed product or service. The two most lucrative fields are arms and drugs. Then come diamonds, energy, cigarettes, stolen cars and the trafficking of women. In one particularly harrowing episode, a duped woman from Moldova tells Mr. Glenny how a girlfriend called her up to tell her of a dream job abroad. She had no idea that a gun was being held to her friend's head. After a nightmarish journey that included the murder of a would-be escapee, the woman was forced under the Israeli border fence to work as a slave in the red-light district of Tel Aviv. Brothels throughout the world are supplied with workers in similar fashion.

Organizations follow patterns too. Criminal masterminds are rare, although Mr. Glenny finds one "merchant of death" in South Africa who buys a whole airport to supply arms to the continent's warring militias. Some mafias are based on families, as in Italy, tight-knit but vulnerable to blood feuds. Most are complex, self-perpetuating organisms, nurturing founding myths and forming shifting alliances with one another.

In later stages, some groups internationalize, seeking to launder money in "washing machines" like the Caribbean island of Aruba or the Persian Gulf emirate of Dubai. Then comes the purchase of political influence. It is sometimes professionally done. Indeed, mafias like the Colombian cocaine cartels, which can turn a profit of $4 billion to $8 billion a year, begin to look like "good capitalists and entrepreneurs" -- micro-managing, looking into economies of scale, juggling supply and demand, and wielding MBAs.

Individuals in this underworld, Mr. Glenny finds, can be "fascinating characters of great intelligence, vitality, courage, wit and spirit." He tries and fails to avoid warming to a suave former Indian mobster who tells him that blowing the head off a victim makes him feel like a cricketer when he "hits the ball for six." One reason for such routinization of criminality is that people sometimes have no choice when a country or society collapses around them.

Far too often the criminal world overlaps with the one we think of as legal. If the elites in the West are so clean, why don't they shut down offshore banking centers? If Western countries really want to help backward countries mired in drug production, why don't they open up their own unfairly protected agricultural markets? If Americans want to smoke so many hundreds of billions of dollars worth of weed, are the peaceful-sounding Canadians of British Columbia evil to supply a good chunk of it? Or, as Mr. Glenny suggests, is it American drug prohibition itself that is spawning mafias, injustice and harm?

Mr. Glenny hops around the globe, noting everything from "the sewers of Nigeria's kleptocracy" to the "silent cacaphony of virtual chatter" in the parallel webs of Brazilian cybercrime. A book with such a wide scope inevitably raises more questions than it answers.
The lack of historical comparisons and sourcing details leaves one wondering whether today's criminality is really, except for scale, much different from that of the past. But complacent foreign-affairs analysts have too long ignored the role of organized crime in guiding politics and perpetuating conflicts.

Mr. Glenny hopes that clearer-headed democracies can turn back the tide, but successes like the fight against "blood diamonds" are rare: It took government sanctions, a plucky NGO and an international publicity campaign to strangle the market for gems extracted in African war zones and sold to buy guns and supplies. The U.S. war on drugs has failed, he argues: Illicit drug prices have halved in the past decade as consumption and production have risen. In turn, he believes, this failure dooms the U.S. war against terrorism, "a primitive, small species" feeding in the same sea of criminality. He does, however, urge all to be brave. "Sharks only move in for the kill," a Russian mobster confides in him, "when they can taste the fear of their victims."

The drug maker Merck drafted dozens of research studies for a best-selling drug, then lined up prestigious doctors to put their names on the reports before publication, according to an article to be published Wednesday in a leading medical journal.

The article, based on documents unearthed in lawsuits over the pain drug Vioxx, provides a rare, detailed look in the industry practice of ghostwriting medical research studies that are then published in academic journals.

The article cited one draft of a Vioxx research study that was still in want of a big-name researcher, identifying the lead writer only as “External author?”

Vioxx was a best-selling drug before Merck took it off the market in 2004 over evidence linking it to heart attacks. Last fall, the company agreed to a $4.85 billion settlement to resolve tens of thousands of lawsuits filed by former Vioxx patients or their families.

The lead author of Wednesday’s article, Dr. Joseph S. Ross of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, said a close look at the Merck documents raised broad questions about the validity of much of the drug industry’s published research, because the ghostwriting practice appears to be widespread.

“It almost calls into question all legitimate research that’s been conducted by the pharmaceutical industry with the academic physician,” said Dr. Ross, whose article, written with colleagues, was published Wednesday in JAMA, The Journal of the American Medical Association. and posted Tuesday on the journal’s Web site.

Merck acknowledged on Tuesday that it sometimes hired outside medical writers to draft research reports before handing them over to the doctors whose names eventually appear on the publication. But the company disputed the article’s conclusion that the authors do little of the actual research or analysis.

The final work is the product of the doctor and “accurately reflects his or her opinion,” said a Merck lawyer, James C. Fitzpatrick.

And at least one of the doctors whose published research was questioned in Wednesday’s article, Dr. Steven H. Ferris, a New York University psychiatry professor, said the notion that the article bearing his name was ghostwritten was “simply false.” He said it was “egregious” that Dr. Ross and his colleagues had done no research besides mining the Merck documents and reading the published journal articles.

In an editorial, JAMA said the analysis showed that Merck had apparently manipulated dozens of publications to promote Vioxx.

“It is clear that at least some of the authors played little direct roles in the study or review, yet still allowed themselves to be named as authors,” the editorial said.

The editorial called upon medical journal editors to require each author to report his or her specific contributions to articles. “Journal editors also bear some of the responsibility for enabling companies to manipulate publications,” the editorial said.

JAMA itself published one of the Vioxx studies that was cited in Dr. Ross’s article.

In that case, in 2002, a Merck scientist was listed as the lead author. But Dr. Catherine D. DeAngelis, JAMA’s editor, said in a telephone interview on Tuesday that, even so, it was dishonest because the authors did not fully disclose the role of a ghostwriter.

“I consider that being scammed,” Dr. DeAngelis said. “But is that as serious as allowing someone to have a review article written by a for-profit company and solicited and paid for by a for-profit company and asking you to put your name on it after it was all done?”

Although the role of pharmaceutical companies in influencing medical journal articles has been questioned before, the Merck documents provided the most comprehensive look at the practice yet, according to one of the study’s four authors, Dr. David S. Egilman, a clinical associate medical professor at Brown University.

In the Vioxx lawsuits, millions of Merck documents were supplied to plaintiffs. Those documents were available to Dr. Egilman and Dr. Ross because they had served as consultants to plaintiffs’ lawyers in some of those suits.

Combing through the documents, Dr. Ross and his colleagues unearthed internal Merck e-mail messages and documents about 96 journal publications, which included review articles and reports of clinical studies. While the Ross team said it was not necessarily raising questions about all 96 articles, it said that in many cases there was scant evidence that the recruited authors made substantive contributions.

One paper involved a study of Vioxx as a possible deterrent to Alzheimer’s progression.

The draft of the paper, dated August 2003, identified the lead writer as “External author?” But when it was published in 2005 in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology, the lead author was listed as Dr. Leon J. Thal, a well-known Alzheimer’s researcher at the University of California, San Diego. Dr. Thal was killed in an airplane crash last year.

The second author listed on the published Alzheimer’s paper, whose name had not been on the draft, was Dr. Ferris, the New York University professor. Dr. Ferris, reached by telephone Tuesday, said he had played an active role in the research and he was substantially involved in helping shape the final draft.

“It’s simply false that we didn’t contribute to the final publication,” Dr. Ferris said.

A third author, also not named on the initial draft, was Dr. Louis Kirby, currently the medical director for the company Provista Life Sciences. In an e-mail message on Tuesday, Dr. Kirby said that as a clinical investigator for the study he had enrolled more patients, 109, than any of the other researchers. He also said he made revisions to the final document.

“The fact that the draft was written by a Merck employee for later discussion by all the authors does not in and of itself constitute ghostwriting,” Dr. Kirby’s e-mail message said.

The current editor of the journal Neuropsychopharmacology, Dr. James H. Meador-Woodruff, the chairman of psychiatry at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, said he was not the editor in 2005 but planned to investigate the accusations. “Currently, we have in place prohibitions against this,” Dr. Meador-Woodruff said.

While most of what is now Niger has been subsumed into the inhospitable Sahara desert in the last two thousand years, five thousand years ago the north of the country was fertile grasslands. Populations of pastoralists have left paintings of abundant wildlife, domesticated animals, chariots, and a complex culture that dates back to at least 10,000 BCE.

One of the first empires in what is now Niger was the Songhai Empire. During recent centuries, the nomadic Tuareg formed large confederations, pushed southward, and, siding with various Hausa states, clashed with the Fulani Empire of Sokoto, which had gained control of much of the Hausa territory in the late 18th century.
The Kaouar escarpment, forming and oasis in the Ténéré desert.

In the 19th century, contact with the West began when the first European explorers—notably Mungo Park (British) and Heinrich Barth (German)—explored the area, searching for the source of the Niger River. Although French efforts at "pacification" began before 1900, dissident ethnic groups, especially the desert Tuareg, were not fully subdued until 1922, when Niger became a French colony.

Niger's colonial history and development parallel that of other French West African territories. France administered its West African colonies through a governor general in Dakar, Senegal, and governors in the individual territories, including Niger. In addition to conferring French citizenship on the inhabitants of the territories, the 1946 French constitution provided for decentralization of power and limited participation in political life for local advisory assemblies.

A further revision in the organization of overseas territories occurred with the passage of the Overseas Reform Act (Loi Cadre) of July 23, 1956, followed by reorganizing measures enacted by the French Parliament early in 1957. In addition to removing voting inequalities, these laws provided for creation of governmental organs, assuring individual territories a large measure of self-government. After the establishment of the Fifth French Republic on December 4, 1958, Niger became an autonomous state within the French Community. Following full independence on August 3, 1960, however, membership was allowed to lapse.

Niger is a landlocked nation in West Africa located along the border between the Sahara and Sub-Saharan regions. Its geographic coordinates are latitude 16°N and longitude 8°E. Its area is 1,267,000 square kilometres (489,000 sq mi) of which 300 square kilometres (115 sq mi) is water. This makes Niger slightly less than twice the size of the U.S. state of Texas, and the world's twenty-second largest country (after Chad). Niger is comparable in size to Angola.

Niger borders seven countries on all sides and has a total of 5,697 kilometres (3,540 mi) of borders. The longest border is Nigeria to the south (1,497 km; 930 mi). This is followed by Chad to the east, at 1,175 kilometres (730 mi), Algeria to the north-northwest (956 km; 594 mi), and Mali at 821 kilometres (510 mi). Niger also has small borders in its far southwest frontier with Burkina Faso at 628 kilometres (390 mi) and Benin at 266 kilometres (165 mi) and to the north-northeast (Libya at 354 kilometres (220 mi).

Niger's subtropical climate is mainly very hot and dry, with much desert area. In the extreme south there is a tropical climate on the edges of the Niger River basin. The terrain is predominantly desert plains and sand dunes, with flat to rolling savannah in the south and hills in the north.

The lowest point is the Niger River, with an elevation of 200 metres (722 ft). The highest point is Monts Bagzane at 2,022 metres (6,634 ft).

For its first fourteen years as an independent state, Niger was run by a single-party civilian regime under the presidency of Hamani Diori. In 1974, a combination of devastating drought and accusations of rampant corruption resulted in a coup d'état that overthrew the Diori regime. Col. Seyni Kountché and a small military group ruled the country until Kountché's death in 1987. He was succeeded by his Chief of Staff, Col. Ali Saibou, who released political prisoners, liberalized some of Niger's laws and policies, and promulgated a new constitution. However, President Saibou's efforts to control political reforms failed in the face of union and student demands to institute a multi-party democratic system. The Saibou regime acquiesced to these demands by the end of 1990. New political parties and civic associations sprang up, and a national peace conference was convened in July 1991 to prepare the way for the adoption of a new constitution and the holding of free and fair elections. The debate was often contentious and accusatory, but under the leadership of Prof. André Salifou, the conference developed consensus on the modalities of a transition government.
A transition government was installed in November 1991 to manage the affairs of state until the institutions of the Third Republic were put into place in April 1993. While the economy deteriorated over the course of the transition, certain accomplishments stand out, including the successful conduct of a constitutional referendum; the adoption of key legislation such as the electoral and rural codes; and the holding of several free, fair, and non-violent nationwide elections. Freedom of the press flourished with the appearance of several new independent newspapers.

The results of the January 1995 parliamentary election meant cohabitation between a rival president and prime minister; this led to governmental paralysis, which provided Col. Ibrahim Baré Maïnassara a rationale to overthrow the Third Republic in January 1996. While leading a military authority that ran the government (Conseil de Salut National) during a 6-month transition period, Baré enlisted specialists to draft a new constitution for a Fourth Republic announced in May 1996. Baré organized a presidential election in July 1996. While voting was still going on, he replaced the electoral commission. The new commission declared him the winner after the polls closed. His party won 57% of parliament seats in a flawed legislative election in November 1996. When his efforts to justify his coup and subsequent questionable elections failed to convince donors to restore multilateral and bilateral economic assistance, a desperate Baré ignored an international embargo against Libya and sought Libyan funds to aid Niger's economy. In repeated violations of basic civil liberties by the regime, opposition leaders were imprisoned; journalists often arrested, and deported by an unofficial militia composed of police and military; and independent media offices were looted and burned.

As part of an initiative started under the 1991 national conference, however, the government signed peace accords in April 1995 with all, meaning Tuareg and Toubou groups that had been in rebellion since 1990. The Tuareg claimed they lacked attention and resources from the central government. The government agreed to absorb some former rebels into the military and, with French assistance, help others return to a productive civilian life.
Mamadou Tandja, President of the Republic of Niger.
Mamadou Tandja, President of the Republic of Niger.

On April 9, 1999, Baré was killed in a coup led by Maj. Daouda Malam Wanké, who established a transitional National Reconciliation Council to oversee the drafting of a constitution for a Fifth Republic with a French style semi-presidential system. In votes that international observers found to be generally free and fair, the Nigerien electorate approved the new constitution in July 1999 and held legislative and presidential elections in October and November 1999. Heading a coalition of the National Movement for a Developing Society (MNSD) and the Democratic and Social Convention (CDS), Mamadou Tandja won the election.

Niger's new constitution was approved in July 1999. It restored the semi-presidential system of government of the December 1992 constitution (Third Republic) in which the president of the republic, elected by universal suffrage for a five-year term, and a prime minister named by the president share executive power. As a reflection of Niger's increasing population, the unicameral National Assembly was expanded in 2004 to 113 deputies elected for a 5 year term under a majority system of representation. Political parties must attain at least 5% of the vote in order to gain a seat in the legislature.

The constitution also provides for the popular election of municipal and local officials, and the first-ever successful municipal elections took place on July 24, 2004. The National Assembly passed in June 2002 a series of decentralization bills. As a first step, administrative powers will be distributed among 265 communes (local councils); in later stages, regions and departments will be established as decentralized entities. A new electoral code was adopted to reflect the decentralization context. The country is currently divided into 8 regions, which are subdivided into 36 districts (departments). The chief administrator (Governor) in each department is appointed by the government and functions primarily as the local agent of the central authorities.

The current legislature elected in December 2004 contains seven political parties.
President Mamadou Tandja was re-elected in December 2004 and reappointed Hama Amadou as Prime Minister. Mahamane Ousmane, the head of the CDS, was re-elected President of the National Assembly (parliament) by his peers. The new second term government of the Fifth Republic took office on December 30, 2002. In August 2002, serious unrest within the military occurred in Niamey, Diffa, and Nguigmi, but the government was able to restore order within several days.

In June 2007, Seyni Oumarou was nominated as the new Prime Minister after Hama Amadou was democratically forced out of office by the National Assembly through a motion of no confidence.

Departments, arrondissements, and communes
Administrative subdivisions of the Republic of Niger, post 1992.
Administrative subdivisions of the Republic of Niger, post 1992.

Main articles: Departments of Niger, Arrondissements of Niger, and Communes of Niger

Niger is divided into 7 departments and one capital district. The departments are subdivided into 36 arrondissements and further subdivided into 129 communes.

Niger pursues a moderate foreign policy and maintains friendly relations with the West and the Islamic world as well as nonaligned countries. It belongs to the United Nations and its main specialized agencies and in 1980-81 served on the UN Security Council. Niger maintains a special relationship with France and enjoys close relations with its West African neighbors. It is a charter member of the African Union and the West African Monetary Union and also belongs to the Niger River and Lake Chad Basin Commissions, the Economic Community of West African States, the Non-Aligned Movement, and the Organization of the Islamic Conference. The westernmost regions of Niger are joined with contiguous regions Mali and Burkina Faso under the Liptako-Gourma Authority.

The border dispute with Benin, inherited from colonial times and concerning inter alia Lete Island in the River Niger was finally solved by the ICJ in 2005 to Niger's advantage.

The Niger Armed Forces total 12,000 personnel with approximately 3,700 gendarmes, 300 air force, and 6,000 army personnel. The air force has four operational transport aircraft. The armed forces include general staff and battalion task force organizations consisting of two paratroop units, four light armored units, and nine motorized infantry units located in Tahoua, Agadez, Dirkou, Zinder, Nguigmi, N'Gourti, and Madewela. Since January 2003, Niger has deployed a company of troops to Côte d’Ivoire as part of the ECOWAS stabilization force. In 1991, Niger sent four hundred military personnel to join the American-led allied forces against Iraq during the Gulf War.

Niger's defense budget is modest, accounting for about 1.6% of government expenditures. France provides the largest share of military assistance to Niger. Morocco, Algeria, China, and Libya have also provided military assistance. Approximately 15 French military advisers are in Niger. Many Nigerien military personnel receive training in France, and the Nigerien Armed Forces are equipped mainly with material either given by or purchased in France. In the past, U.S. assistance focused on training pilots and aviation support personnel, professional military education for staff officers, and initial specialty training for junior officers.
A small foreign military assistance program was initiated in 1983. A U.S. Defense Attaché office opened in June 1985 and assumed Security Assistance Office responsibilities in 1987. The office closed in 1996 following a coup d'état. A U.S. Defense Attaché office reopened in July 2000. The United States provided transportation and logistical assistance to Nigerien troops deployed to Cote d’Ivoire in 2003. Additionally, the U.S. provided initial equipment training on vehicles and communications gear to a select contingent of Nigerien soldiers as part of the Department of State Pan Sahel Initiative.

The economy of Niger centers on subsistence crops, livestock, and some of the world's largest uranium deposits. Drought cycles, desertification, a 2.9% population growth rate, and the drop in world demand for uranium have undercut the economy.

Niger shares a common currency, the CFA franc, and a common central bank, the Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO), with seven other members of the West African Monetary Union.

In December 2000, Niger qualified for enhanced debt relief under the International Monetary Fund program for Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) and concluded an agreement with the Fund for Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF). Debt relief provided under the enhanced HIPC initiative significantly reduces Niger's annual debt service obligations, freeing funds for expenditures on basic health care, primary education, HIV/AIDS prevention, rural infrastructure, and other programs geared at poverty reduction. In December 2005, it was announced that Niger had received 100% multilateral debt relief from the IMF, which translates into the forgiveness of approximately $86 million USD in debts to the IMF, excluding the remaining assistance under HIPC. Nearly half of the government's budget is derived from foreign donor resources. Future growth may be sustained by exploitation of oil, gold, coal, and other mineral resources. Uranium prices have recovered somewhat in the last few years. A drought and locust infestation in 2005 led to food shortages for as many as 2.5 million Nigeriens.

The fertile south of Niger near the Niger river.
The fertile south of Niger near the Niger river.

Niger's agricultural and livestock sectors are the mainstay of all but 18% of the population. Fourteen percent of Niger's GDP is generated by livestock production—camels, goats, sheep, and cattle—said to support 29% of the population. The 15% of Niger's land that is arable is found mainly along its southern borders with Nigeria, Benin and Burkina Faso. Rainfall varies and when insufficient, Niger has difficulty feeding its population and must rely on grain purchases and food aid to meet food requirements. Although the rains in 2000 were not good, the three following years brought relatively plentiful and well-distributed rainfall, resulting in good harvests. Millet, sorghum, and cassava are Niger's principal rain-fed subsistence crops. Cowpeas and onions are grown for commercial export, as are limited quantities of garlic, peppers, gum arabic, and sesame seeds.

Uranium is Niger's largest export. Foreign exchange earnings from livestock, although difficult to quantify, are second. Actual exports far exceed official statistics, which often fail to detect large herds of animals informally crossing into Nigeria. Some hides and skins are exported, and some are transformed into handicrafts.

The persistent uranium price slump has brought lower revenues for Niger's uranium sector, although uranium still provides 72% of national export proceeds. The nation enjoyed substantial export earnings and rapid economic growth during the 1960s and 1970s after the opening of two large uranium mines near the northern town of Arlit. When the uranium-led boom ended in the early 1980s, however, the economy stagnated, and new investment since then has been limited. Niger's two uranium mines—SOMAIR's open pit mine and COMINAK's underground mine—are owned by a French-led consortium and operated by French interests. However, as of 2007, many licences have been given to other companies from countries such as Canada and Australia in order to exploit new deposits.

Exploitable deposits of gold are known to exist in Niger in the region between the Niger River and the border with Burkina Faso. On October 5, 2004, President Tandja announced the official opening of the Samira Hill Gold Mine in the region of Tera and the first Nigerien gold ingot was presented to him. This marked a historical moment for Niger as the Samira Hill Gold Mine represents the first commercial gold production in the country. Samira Hill is owned by a company called SML (Societe des Mines du Liptako) which is a joint venture between a Moroccan company, Societe Semafo, and a Canadian company, Etruscan Resources. Both companies own 80% (40% - 40%) of SML and the Government of Niger 20%. The first year’s production is predicted to be 135,000 troy ounces (4,200 kg; 9,260 lb avoirdupois) of gold at a cash value of USD 177 per ounce ($5.70/g).
The mine reserves for the Samira Hill mine total 10,073,626 tons at an average grade of 2.21 grams per ton from which 618,000 troy ounces (19,200 kg; 42,400 lb) will be recovered over a 6 year mine life. SML believes to have a number of significant gold deposits within what is now recognized as the gold belt known as the "Samira Horizon", which is located between Gotheye and Ouallam.

Substantial deposits of phosphates, coal, iron, limestone, and gypsum also have been found in Niger. Niger has oil potential. In 1992, the Djado permit was awarded to Hunt Oil, and in 2003 the Tenere permit was awarded to the China National Petroleum Company. An ExxonMobil-Petronas joint venture now holds the sole rights to the Agadem block, north of Lake Chad, and oil exploration is ongoing. The parastatal SONICHAR (Societe Nigerienne de Charbon) in Tchirozerine (north of Agadez) extracts coal from an open pit and fuels an electricity generating plant that supplies energy to the uranium mines. There are additional coal deposits to the south and west that are of a higher quality and may be exploitable.

The economic competitiveness created by the January 1994 devaluation of the Communaute Financiere Africaine (CFA) franc contributed to an annual average economic growth of 3.5% throughout the mid-1990s. But the economy stagnated due to the sharp reduction in foreign aid in 1999 (which gradually resumed in 2000) and poor rains in 2000. Reflecting the importance of the agricultural sector, the return of good rains was the primary factor underlying economic growth of 5.1% in 2000, 3.1% in 2001, 6.0% in 2002, and 3.0% in 2003.

In recent years, the Government of Niger drafted revisions to the investment code (1997 and 2000), petroleum code (1992), and mining code (1993), all with attractive terms for investors.
The present government actively seeks foreign private investment and considers it key to restoring economic growth and development. With the assistance of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), it has undertaken a concerted effort to revitalize the private sector.

The importance of external support for Niger's development is demonstrated by the fact that about 45% of the government's FY 2002 budget, including 80% of its capital budget, derived from donor resources. The most important donors in Niger are France, the European Union, the World Bank, the IMF, and UN agencies—UNDP, UNICEF, FAO, WFP, and UNFPA. Other donors include the United States, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Japan, China, Italy, Libya, Egypt, Morocco, Iran, Denmark, Canada, and Saudi Arabia. While the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) does not have an office in Niger, the United States is a major donor, contributing on average $8 million each year to Niger’s development increasing to $12 million in FY 2004. The United States also is a major partner in policy coordination in food security, education, water management and HIV/AIDS sectors.

In January 2000, Niger's newly elected government inherited serious financial and economic problems, including a virtually empty treasury, past-due salaries (11 months of arrears) and scholarship payments, increased debt, reduced revenue performance, and lower public investment. In December 2000, Niger qualified for enhanced debt relief under the International Monetary Fund (IMF) program for Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) and concluded an agreement with the Fund on a Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF). In January 2001, Niger reached its decision point and subsequently reached its completion point in 2004. Total relief from all of Niger's creditors is worth about $890 million, corresponding to about $520 million in net present value (NPV) terms, which is equivalent to 53.5% of Niger’s total debt outstanding as of 2000.

The debt relief provided under the enhanced HIPC initiative significantly reduces Niger's annual debt service obligations, freeing about $40 million per year over the coming years for expenditures on basic health care, primary education, HIV/AIDS prevention, rural infrastructure, and other programs geared at poverty reduction. The overall impact on Niger's budget is substantial. Debt service as a percentage of government revenue will be slashed from nearly 44% in 1999 to 10.9% in 2003 and average 4.3% during 2010-19. The debt relief cuts debt service as a percentage of export revenue from more than 23% to 8.4% in 2003, and decreases it to about 5% in later years.

In addition to strengthening the budgetary process and public finances, the Government of Niger has embarked on an ambitious program to privatize 12 state-owned companies. To date, seven have been fully privatized, including the water and telephone utilities, with the remainder to be privatized in 2005. A newly installed multisectoral regulatory agency will help ensure free and fair competition among the newly privatized companies and their private sector competitors. In its effort to consolidate macroeconomic stability under the PRGF, the government is also taking actions to reduce corruption, and as the result of a participatory process encompassing civil society, has devised a Poverty Reduction Strategy Plan that focuses on improving health, primary education, rural infrastructure, agricultural production, environmental protection, and judicial reform.

Privatization and liberalization have however also been the subject of strong criticism. The UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, for instance, has noted that privatization affects the poorest and most vulnerable members of Niger's society. See his reports on Niger at

Also, the obligations to creditor institutions and governments has locked Niger in to a process of trade liberalization that might be harmful for small farmers and in particular women, as noted by a recent report by 3D → Trade - Human Rights - Equitable Economy, on Agriculture trade liberalization and women's rights

The largest ethnic groups in Niger are the Hausa, who also constitute the major ethnic group in northern Nigeria, the Djerma-Songhai, who also are found in parts of Mali. Both groups, along with the Gourmantche, are sedentary farmers who live in the arable, southern tier of the country.
The remainder of Nigeriens are nomadic or semi-nomadic livestock-raising peoples—Fulani, Tuareg, Kanuri, Arabs, and Toubou. With rapidly growing populations and the consequent competition for meager natural resources, lifestyles of agriculturalists and livestock herders have come increasingly into conflict in Niger in recent years.

Niger's high infant mortality rate is comparable to levels recorded in neighboring countries. However, the child mortality rate (deaths among children between the ages of 1 and 4) is exceptionally high (248 per 1,000) due to generally poor health conditions and inadequate nutrition for most of the country's children. According to the organization Save the Children, Niger has the world's highest infant mortality rate [1]. Nonetheless, Niger has the highest fertility rate in the world (7.2 births per woman); this means that nearly half (49%) of the Nigerien population is under age 15. Between 1996 and 2003, primary school attendance was around 30% [2], including 36% of males and only 25% of females. Additional education occurs through madrassas.

The majority of Niger's population practises Islam: 80%[1], while 15% practises Animism, and 5% practise Protestant and Catholic Christianity.

Niger began developing diverse media in the late 1990s. Niamey boasts scores of newspapers and magazines, many of which are fiercely critical of the government.

Radio is the most important medium, as television sets are beyond the buying power of many of the rural poor, and illiteracy prevents print media from becoming a mass medium. In addition to the national and regional radio services of the state broadcaster ORTN, there are four privately owned radio networks which total more than 100 stations. Three of them—the Anfani Group, Sarounia and Tenere—are urban based commercial format FM networks in the major towns. There is also a network of over 80 community radio stations spread across all seven regions of the country, governed by the Comité de Pilotage de Radios de Proximité (CPRP), a civil society organisation. The independent sector radio networks are collectively estimated by CPRP officials to cover some 7.6 million people, or about 73% of the population (2005).

Aside from Nigerien radio stations, the BBC's Hausa service is listened to on FM repeaters across wide parts of the country, particularly in the south, close to the border with Nigeria. Radio France Internationale also rebroadcasts in French through some of the commercial stations, via satellite.

Tenere also runs a national independent television station of the same name.

Despite relative freedom at the national level, Nigerien journalists say they are often pressured by local authorities. The state ORTN network depends financially on the government, partly through an addition to electricity bills and partly through direct subsidy.

The sector is governed by the Conseil Supérieur de Communications, established as an independent body in the late 1990s, headed by Maryam Keita, a former TV presenter at ORTN.

In this aging manufacturing region, where old-line industries like paper factories are falling away, health care has emerged as the employer of last resort.

Between 1998 and 2007, the Bangor metropolitan area (pop. 150,000) lost about 3,700 jobs in manufacturing, but gained 3,500 jobs in health care. For many residents in Bangor, the hospital is replacing the mill as the passport to the middle class. For others, it means lower wages and fewer opportunities to advance.
[Go to interactive map]1

This trend extends nationally, and it could help blunt the effects of the faltering U.S. economy. Demand for health care tends to stay strong during recessions. Cash-strapped consumers are more likely to cut back on new appliances or cars than emergency-room visits.

Indeed, while the number of manufacturing jobs nationwide fell by 48,000 in March and by 310,000 over the past 12 months, health-care employment rose by 23,000 last month and is up 363,000 jobs on the year, according to the government's most recent data.

The loss of jobs in manufacturing and the adverse consequences for the middle class are recurring themes in the battle for the Democratic presidential nomination, especially in the run-up to Pennsylvania's crucial primary on April 22. Both Barack Obama and
Hillary Clinton are promising to take steps, including changes to tax and trade policies, to revitalize manufacturing. At a forum on manufacturing in Pittsburgh on Monday, each candidate charged the other with being insufficiently serious about the downsides of a free-trade pact and unsympathetic to the anxieties of American workers.

Yet health care is more likely to be an economic driver in many towns and cities -- especially if a Democrat is elected president. Sens. Obama and Clinton support overhauling the nation's health-care system to cover millions of people who are uninsured -- and that could increase health-care spending, which now accounts for 16% of the gross domestic product.

Growth in health care is fueling local economies across the country, as medical facilities replace factories. In Duluth, Minn., 20% of the jobs are in health care, compared with 14% a decade ago. In the Canton, Ohio, area, which lost the maker of Hoover vacuum cleaners and dozens of other manufacturers, the health-care industry is expanding rapidly. A similar story is unfolding in Anderson, Ind., once a major producer of cars and car parts.

There are downsides to health care's ever-increasing role. A community that relies on health jobs can end up with a weaker economy, one overly dependent on government programs like Medicare and Medicaid. Greater inequality is a risk, too. In health care and other service industries, there tends to be a wider income gap between what the highest- and lowest-paid workers earn than there is in manufacturing. Surgeons can have salaries in the high six figures, while personal-care attendants often make little more than minimum wage.

In the late 1980s, according to calculations by the Economic Policy Institute and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, liberal think tanks in Washington, incomes of Maine families in the best-off fifth of earners made 5.4 times as much as those on the bottom, on average. By the mid 2000s, average incomes of the best off were 6.3 times those at the bottom. Most states saw even greater widening of income disparities.

Of course, the U.S. has been moving away from manufacturing and toward a service economy for decades. The country has thrived in this period, with gains in productivity allowing for growth in nonfactory jobs from accountants to massage therapists.

The shift to medicine is evident throughout Bangor. At Eastern Maine Community College, which has long offered classes in such traditional crafts as welding and pipe fitting, the most popular programs these days are nursing and medical radiography. The school now offers six health-related degrees, double the number a decade ago, and many courses are oversubscribed. Last year, the college had 261 applications for the 32 slots in its nursing program.

More health-care workers means more diversity for this almost all-white city. At Thistles, an Argentine restaurant in Bangor, owner Santiago Rave says that 10 or so Latin doctors new to the area regularly patronize his restaurant. Monthly "Tango Tuesdays" are popular events.

In 1990, 16% of the jobs in the Bangor area were in manufacturing, while 12% were in health care. In 2007, 6% of the jobs were in manufacturing and 20% in health care. Without the shift, Bangor's unemployment rate, which averaged 5.1% last year, would almost certainly be higher. There are other benefits: The move from manufacturing has helped cut Maine's on-the-job injury rate in half since 1990.

The health-care boom has also upset the economic balance in this sprawling, largely rural state. When manufacturing drove the economy, well-paying factory jobs were spread throughout Maine's rural and urban counties. But higher-paying health-care jobs are concentrated in urban areas.
Bangor's Eastern Maine Medical Center, the city's biggest hospital and largest employer, offers sophisticated cancer treatment, open-heart surgery and other specialized care. Jobs are available not only for doctors but also for highly trained nurses, and X-ray and laboratory technicians.

Rural areas have a larger share of lower-paying health-care jobs such as nursing assistants and personal-care attendants. In 2005, the average health-care wage in Maine's rural counties was $26,841 a year, $10,000 less than in the urban counties. Statewide, the average wage for all jobs was $32,393.

"The rural areas have clearly lagged way behind the more urban areas in the number and types of higher-wage health-care jobs," says Charles Colgan, a professor of Public Policy and Management in the Muskie School of Public Service at the University of Southern Maine.

A few months after graduating from high school in 1974, Steve Arsenault, a resident of Millinocket, about 70 miles north of Bangor, followed his father to work at the Great Northern Paper Co. paper mill. "It was such an easy way to make good money that it was like a magnet that reached out and grabbed you," he says.

Mr. Arsenault, now 51 years old, started off as a temporary worker, spending eight-hour days transferring 4-foot logs from a conveyor belt. He worked his way up to better jobs, and by 2001 was making $21 an hour working on a machine that made glossy paper for catalogs.

In the summer of 2002, as the company began laying off workers, Mr. Arsenault says he was told he would soon be out of a job, so he finished the week and quit. A few months later, he started taking classes at the local community college, and eventually became a certified surgical technologist.

Today, Mr. Arsenault works at a hospital in Lincoln, about 50 miles north of Bangor, setting up the operating room and handing instruments to surgeons during surgery. He makes about $16 an hour, $5 less than in his last year at the mill.

"I really don't think I'll ever set foot again in the paper industry again," he says. "The uncertainty of any manufacturing -- I want to be able to know that you're going to have a job."

Bangor, located in south-central Maine, owes its existence to its natural harbor on the Penobscot River. It has been praised for its beauty by writers including Henry David Thoreau. More recently, it helped inspire the fictional town of "Derry" in stories by Stephen King. Today, truckers often stop at Dysart's, just outside of town, for baked beans and grapefruit-size biscuits.

By the mid-1800s, the city billed itself as the lumber capital of the world. "The time may soon arrive when the three great cities of North America -- Bangor, New York, and San Francisco -- shall be representatives of the wealth, population, intelligence, and enterprise of the eastern, central, and western divisions of our country," said Bangor resident Oliver Frost in 1869.

That didn't happen. Maine's timber industry went into decline around the turn of the century, as Americans moved West and started harvesting forests in Oregon and Idaho.

Manufacturing picked up some of the slack. In a 1950 brochure, the city boasted of having 74 different firms that manufactured paper, wood products, textiles and other items. Many of the grand houses that line State Street, across from the Eastern Maine Medical Center, were built by lumber barons. Today, many are owned by doctors.

From its roots as a port and industrial hub, Bangor has grown into northern Maine's retail center, with large retailers including Home Depot and Macy's. Over the past two decades, the medical center has expanded, and several assisted-living facilities have opened.

A battered strip mall near the Bangor International Airport has been transformed into a "medical mall" with dialysis and rehabilitation centers. The Eastern Maine Medical Center says it has secured a small part of the $52 million it needs to build a new cancer center in Brewer across the river. Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems, the umbrella organization that runs the medical center, is one of the three main sponsors of Bangor's annual American Folk Festival.

Some new manufacturers are popping up: The Eastern Fine Paper mill, which was located in Brewer and closed four years ago, has been taken over by Cianbro Corp., based in nearby Pittsfield. That company plans to build ready-to-assemble pieces of oil refineries that will be shipped to Texas. http://Louis2J2Sheehan2Esquire.US
But overall, health care is poised to continue outpacing manufacturing.

One concern about the health-care industry is its heavy reliance on government money. In Maine hospitals, Medicare and Medicaid together accounted for 59% of gross patient revenues in 2006, according to the American Hospital Association. Nationally, those two government programs accounted for 55% of gross patient revenues.

That could leave the state vulnerable as the government and employers try to pare health-care costs. Faced with a budget crunch, Maine legislators cut $46 million out of the state's Medicaid budget for the 2008 and 2009 fiscal years. Because of the cuts, the state will lose an additional $92 million in federal matching funds. The Maine Department of Labor estimates that about 5,000 jobs could be adversely affected by those cuts.

Health care also requires more training in order to advance. Unlike in manufacturing, where workers could start right out of high school and ride a seniority escalator to better wages and benefits, health-care workers primarily move up the ladder through education.

While some former factory workers find new opportunities in health care, the switch doesn't work for everyone. In 1980, just out of high school, Randy Tompkins started working in a shoe factory. A few years later, he switched to Eastern Fine Paper and worked there for 19 years, until the mill shut down.

A new father with a mortgage, Mr. Tompkins was anxious to find work and decided to look for a health-care job. "You can't seem to go around any corner and not see something health-care related: a hospital, a nursing home, a doctor's office," he says.

After six months of classes at Eastern Maine Community College, he became a certified nursing assistant, a job that paid just $7.75 an hour, half of what he was making at the mill, and with no benefits. He eventually was accepted in the school's registered-nursing program, but says he couldn't maintain a C average. Now, Mr. Tompkins is looking for a new career: This fall he plans to start taking classes in computer integrated machining.

Instead of getting through security by submitting to pat downs at the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, travelers can now choose a more hands-off approach: walking through a full-body screening machine that can peer right through a person’s outfit.

The device was originally created by engineer Doug McMakin and his team at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory as a means of virtually frisking terrorists. The technology uses radio waves to produce 3-D scans of passengers’ bodies, the same way radar captures images of planets’ surfaces. As passengers stand still with their hands up, two rotating antennas send out radio waves. The waves bounce off the skin and are collected by a receiver.
Metals, plastics, and liquids between the skin and the receiver show up in images that are sent to security officials in another room.

McMakin’s system has already made a splash with another crowd: clothing retailers. Machines have been placed at Fashion Bug stores and outlets around the country. The screener, named Intellifit, rests inside a virtual dressing room, a seven-foot-diameter circular enclosure placed in the middle of the store. The device allows customers to get instant printouts of their jeans sizes. Before we see more of this technology—in the mall or at security centers—the companies using it may want to alleviate worries from privacy advocates. “Those images reveal not only our private body parts but also intimate medical details like colostomy bags,” Barry Steinhardt of the American Civil Liberties Union says.

McMakin responds that he has no issue with being scanned by the system. He is working on weapons detectors as automatic and accurate as metal detectors. That way, the only thing flashing will be the red and green lights on the screening machine.

Will switching from fossil fuels to biofuels really reduce greenhouse gases? We take a close look at two big, controversial studies that examine carbon emissions from the ecosystems torn down to produce biofuels.

Throughout the Amazonian rain forest and the savanna of Brazil, enormous swaths of land are being converted to farms for growing soybeans and sugarcane—all for use in creating biofuels. The tropical rain forest and peatland of Indonesia and Malaysia and the grasslands of the United States are also being converted to biofuel crops. It is a disturbing trend, says Joseph Fargione, regional science director at the Nature Conservancy, who conducted the first of the two studies examined here. With his colleagues Fargione took a close look at how the areas being transformed into farmland have acted as carbon dioxide storage systems. Trees, grass, and other flora take in the gas, Fargione says, incorporating the carbon into their structures. But when the land is converted for agriculture, the plants are cut down, burned, or processed, and the stored carbon is eventually released back into the atmosphere as greenhouse gases. Using numbers from nearly 50 previous studies, Fargione’s team calculated the amount of carbon stored in these landscapes and the up-front carbon cost for each acre of land converted to produce biofuels.

In the second study, Timothy Searchinger, a researcher at Princeton University, looked at a future scenario in which the United States substantially increases its production of corn-based ethanol, a move that would decrease domestic crops for food and feedstock. These feed crops have to be grown somewhere, however, and the worldwide land conversions necessary to make up for lost U.S. crops would release carbon dioxide. To show the effect of such changes, Searchinger and his colleagues simulated the worldwide land-use changes necessary to offset the production of 56 billion liters of ethanol in the United States (the amount of ethanol projected to be processed in 2016, based on current tax credits and conservative estimates of oil prices).

Louis J. Sheehan
Using an economic model created at Iowa State University, the researchers projected how much land farmers around the world would have to convert to feed-crop production, and where they would do it. From this the researchers were able to estimate the total greenhouse emissions due to land conversion.

Both studies found that changes in land use related to biofuel production would be a significant source of greenhouse gases in the future. Fargione reported that, overall, biofuels would cause higher total emissions for tens to hundreds of years. Some ecosystems had surprisingly high emissions—grasslands in the United States converted to corn farms would increase carbon dioxide for 93 years.

Searchinger’s outlook is bleaker: He estimates that the rise in corn-based ethanol production in the United States would increase greenhouse gases, relative to what our current, fossil-fuel-based economy produces, for 167 years.

“Any biofuel that causes clearing of natural ecosystems is likely to increase global warming,” Fargione says. But not all bio–fuels are alike. For one, sugarcane ethanol, produced in Brazil, stands out to both researchers as the most efficient source studied, in terms of emissions. As long as there is land conversion, though, biofuels do not diminish carbon dioxide emissions. made from sources that do not require land conversion, such as corn stover (the parts of corn plants left over after the ears are harvested), animal waste, damaged trees, algae, and food waste are promising alternatives.

• Plants and soils contain almost three times as much carbon as the atmosphere.
• About 20 percent of total current carbon emissions comes from land-use change.
• In 2004, 74 million acres of U.S. land were devoted to corn for livestock feed as well as food crops. By 2016 about 43 percent of that area will be used to harvest corn for ethanol.
• 27 percent of new palm oil plantations in Indonesia are created on land that began as tropical rain forest; 1.5 percent of these lands are being deforested each year.
• In 2006 the United States produced 250 million gallons of biodiesel. Total production capacity is already 1.4 billion gallons a year and is expected to more than double with new plants and expansion of existing ones.
• 2006 ethanol capacity was 4.4 billion gallons, with an expected increase of 2.1 billion gallons with current construction and expansion projects.
• U.S. gasoline consumption is 389 million gallons per day, or about 142 billion gallons per year.

Bruce Dale, a biofuels researcher at Michigan State University, says there is a huge amount of uncertainty when basing predictions on an inherently complex economic model. Additionally, he asserts that the United States should not be responsible for “anything but its own environmental profile” and that to take into account world land changes is unreasonable.
Nathanael Greene of the Natural Resources Defense Council responds that it is appropriate to incorporate economic models into life-cycle emissions analyses such as these. In contrast to Dale, he says that land-use changes in other nations should not be left out of calculations of biofuel impacts, since such indirect effects are commonly incorporated into environmental regulations.

Using agricultural waste rather than actual agriculture to create biofuels removes the need for land conversion—much of the stuff is just lying around—and produces more fuel than corn:

In the case of corn stover (the leaves and stalks remaining in the field after corn is harvested), 250 million dry tons are produced each year and are rarely utilized, other than to feed grazing cattle immediately after a harvest. Scientists believe that some stover should remain in the field to prevent soil erosion, but that still leaves about 40 to 50 percent to be used in making biofuels. An efficient way to break down cellulose into ethanol is necessary to reduce the cost of processing corn stover on a commercial scale. Last February, the Department of Energy selected six companies to receive funding towards building ethanol plants—scheduled to be operational within the next three years—that will utilize new technology for processing corn stover as well as other types of agricultural waste.

In contrast to corn stover, wood waste has limited potential due to the high cost associated with collection and transportation (in the case of wood left over from timber harvesting) and competing uses (in the case of mill residues, which are currently used for mulch, particle board, and to power other facilities).

Many farms have already developed methods of converting the billions of tons of animal waste produced each year into methane for electrical and heat energy; beginning in March, 1,200 households in California will be powered by cow manure. Still, using animal waste to create biofuels is not yet feasible on the national level because transporting it is unrealistic. It's in areas where there are lots of cattle (and the large amounts of manure they inevitably give back to the world) that companies are best equipped to divert animal waste from contaminating the air (via methane, CO2, and ammonia gases) and water towards fueling ethanol production.
Louis J Sheehan
One example is Panda Ethanol, which is building the largest biomass plant in the United States in Hereford, Texas, where it will use the waste of 3.5 million grazing cattle to fuel the production of approximately 115 million gallons of ethanol per year.
Louis J. Sheehan Esquire

In the United States, 96 billion pounds of food is wasted each year and much of it ends up in landfills where it emits greenhouse gases. Through anaerobic digestion—the bacterial breakdown of organic materials—food waste can be converted into biofuel. In California, Onsite Power Systems, Inc. has begun commercial production of an anaerobic digester system that uses a special design to create the optimal environment for bacteria and ultimately more efficient and cost-effective conversion of food waste to biogases (hydrogen and methane). These biogases can be used in cars or to heat homes.

Algae may be the most promising biofuel. Not only does algae use carbon dioxide to grow (and could potentially use CO2 from power plants to create biofuel), but it can grow anywhere and does not require a large area to propagate. Some species are made of up to 50% of their body weight in oil which can be extracted and processed to create biodiesel. Currently, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory is collaborating with Chevron to develop more cost-effective processes for growing and harvesting large quantities of the green fuel.

if you're looking for a picture of how the Latin language evolved or a history of Rome with a difference, you should read Ostler's Ad Infinitum - A Biography of Latin. Although there is an immense amount of material in its 382 pages, it is mostly easy to read and you can skip to sections that interest you. Even so, be sure to read the preface and the best section, Part I.

Although you could probably read it without any familiarity with non-English languages, you may find it hard to understand, so my recommendation is that you read it only if you ever studied Latin or the Romance languages.

* Thorough history of Latin and the Roman Empire
* Copious examples and details
* Provides welcome context for obscure and even somewhat familiar topics/names


* Sometimes confusing (see next)
* Uses technical linguistic concepts
* Seems to rush through towards the end especially compared with the start
* Requires some Latin, but why would you read it if you had none?

* Nicholas Ostler studied Greek, Latin, and more at Oxford and received his Ph.D. in linguistics at MIT under Noam Chomsky.
* The book is a Western Civ course focusing on the language -- Latin and its daughters.
* Shows the effect of major events/movements, like Christianity, Islam, and the printing press, on Latin's dominance.
* Appendix 1 explains Latin mottoes used as chapter titles. App. 2 lists Etruscan borrowings in Latin. Both are interesting.
* The 3rd appendix, sound change, has good information, but is hard to follow and could use actual modern language examples.

Ad Infinitum - A Biography of Latin, by Nicholas Ostler
Just as Rome came to dominate Europe, western Asia, and northern Africa, so the language of the Romans became universal. As Nicholas Ostler shows in Ad Infinitum - A Biography of Latin, the process was basically the same for politics as for language. Time passed; the originally Asian-based Christianity gained a foothold in the Empire, but still Latin remained dominant. Several factors led to the emergence of the Romance languages out of Latin, but still Latin was the lingua Franca.
Even when it lost out in most areas, it kept a toehold in botany, and even when Latin came to be associated with the oppressive bourgeosie and other elites, Latin endured, coming up in odd places, like the Internet, where there is a Latin version of Wikipedia, and in an even odder place, Finland (host of weekly Latin radio broadcasts), where neither Latin nor any Latinate language was ever the national language.

While this is the survey that Nicholas Ostler presents and embellishes with details from many disciplines, I was unclear about his conclusion. Yes Latin is used in certain limited places, like semantics (referring to categories of relationship and color), the Internet, and Finnish radio, but he also calls it a language that has survived 2500 years and is now a language of the past "sic transit gloria mundi 'so the glory of the world must pass.'" I find this mixed message confusing and/or depressing.

There's no other major item most of us own that is as confusing, unpredictable and unreliable as our personal computers. Everybody has questions about them, and we aim to help.

Here are a few questions about computers I've received recently from people like you, and my answers. I have edited and restated the questions a bit, for readability.

Q: We are connected to Comcast cable and use no antennas. Will we need one of the government-subsidized converter boxes next February?

A: Not if you are using a cable set-top box, like the vast majority of cable customers. If you are one of the minority of cable households whose TVs use an internal cable tuner, you may need a converter box. To be sure, contact your cable company or TV manufacturer.

Q: In your laptop buying guide last week, you recommended buying a machine equipped for the "n" type Wi-Fi of wireless router. I was under the impression that this has not yet been standardized. Is that wrong?

A: The engineering committee that has been debating the standard for years has not yet completed its work, but the market has simply moved ahead on its own. This new, faster version of Wi-Fi is being built into routers, computers and other devices by nearly every major manufacturer. In my limited tests, I have found no compatibility problems, and it is backwards compatible with the older "g" and "b" standards.

Q: Is the Mac immune to viruses? If not, do you have a recommendation of the type of antivirus software one should procure and load onto a Mac?

A: No personal computer or personal computer operating system of which I am aware is "immune" to viruses, spyware or other malicious software. That includes the Macintosh and its operating system, Mac OS X Leopard. Hackers have demonstrated the ability to invade the Mac. However, there are only a handful of viruses or other malicious programs for the Macintosh that have successfully spread beyond the lab. And these have harmed only a small number of actual users.

Of the well over 100,000 known viruses, spyware programs and other malicious software applications that are about in public, all but this handful are written to run on Microsoft Windows, and cannot operate on the Macintosh OS. For that reason, I don't believe Macintosh owners need security software, unless they install and run Windows on their computers. If they do run Windows, Mac owners are well advised to purchase and install Windows security software to protect the Windows portion of the machine.

Having said that, I do not mean that Mac owners should be blind to security threats that don't involve viruses or spyware.
Louis J. Sheehan, Esquire
Just like Windows users, Mac users can succumb to what is called "social engineering" -- scams and schemes that operate via email and Web sites that are often authored by crooks but made to look official. So, like Windows users, they must be on their guard.

The Creative Energy Behind ADHD

While many viewers get emotional watching Ty Pennington deliver remodeled homes to deserving families on "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," his mom, Yvonne Pennington, cries for different reasons. After being told years ago that her unruly son was the worst kid in his school, she says, "my tears come from the joy, at how far he has come."

That's because Mr. Pennington has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Some 7.8% of children ages 4 to 17 have been told by a doctor or other health professional that they have or might have ADHD, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says. The behavior disorder, which often causes children to struggle mightily in school and in life, can be "impairing," says Mark Wolraich, lead author of the American Academy of Pediatrics' clinical guidelines on diagnosing ADHD.

Many frazzled parents of hyperactive kids are looking for the silver lining. Clearly, ADHD didn't cripple such noteworthy sufferers as JetBlue founder David Neeleman or Kinko's founder Paul Orfalea. How can you tell whether all that splintered energy will help your own child succeed? And how can you help channel all that mental voltage productively? As a parent of two children with ADHD, I've often wondered about these things. I asked a few famous ADHD sufferers and their parents for answers.

Look for the creativity. Mr. Neeleman's family refused to regard his hyperactivity as an impairment. "We always thought ADD was a plus," says his father, Gary, a retired media executive. He advises "looking at the kid as somebody who has a different way of looking at things, and maybe a more creative way." Then, "put your arms around them and say, 'Boy, you're sure smart. You can handle this.' "

Parental support couldn't smooth out all the bumps for David. Through school, he says, "I just thought I was stupid." Adolescence was a fog of watching "Gilligan's Island" reruns. But as an adult, he was able to see opportunities others missed. He is credited with inventing electronic airline ticketing, he founded two airlines and is working on a third start-up in Brazil. He still has trouble sustaining a conversation for more than a few minutes, must delegate administrative tasks and ultimately got fired as JetBlue's CEO after service foul-ups. But he continues to focus on new ideas. "If you're doing something you love," he says, "you'll be the best."

Similarly, retailing entrepreneur Cynthia Gerdes, who also has ADHD, was treated by her parents as "the creative one" in her family, she says. Ms. Gerdes was encouraged to express herself as a child. As an adult, she created a Minneapolis toy-store chain, Creative Kidstuff, that grew to $12 million in sales before she sold out last year.

Emphasize the positive. Ty Pennington says the negative messages from school can be overwhelming for a child with ADHD; "You're constantly the one who is sent to the principal's office, constantly in trouble." Yvonne Pennington adds, "I thought I was the worst mother in the world." Asked as a small child to work at his desk, Ty would "wear it" instead, she says, separating the chair from the desk, popping the connecting assembly over his shoulders, and running around the room screaming. "He was h- on wheels," she sighs.

Both say life improved after Yvonne started using behavior-modification techniques to reward Ty when he did something right. Also, Ty says his life turned after he started medication in his teens and gained maturity and the freedom to develop his creativity. Now, as a TV host, he gets paid for the kind of behaviors that got him in trouble in school. And Yvonne, now an Atlanta psychologist, has a busy practice training others in "positive parenting."

Never despair. Mr. Orfalea's mother came home in tears after he was expelled from school for the fourth time; a school official told her he'd do well to become an unskilled laborer, says the Kinko's founder, who also has dyslexia.
But she didn't allow it to shape her regard for Paul. "My mother had a good saying: 'Look at your five fingers. All five are different for a reason. School wants to make you all the same,' " he says.

Her support instilled his faith in himself. When he got the idea, while waiting in line for a copy machine in college, to start his own copying business, he trusted it in the face of criticism from others. The company he opened in a storefront, named for his kinky red hair, later grew to the 1,200-store giant that was acquired in 2004 by FedEx.

The University of Bristol has a press release out yesterday reporting that a Sumerian clay tablet provides an account of an impact event at Köfels, Austria.

I call bullshit. Here’s why, starting with some background information.

Köfels does not have a crater; it has what looks like a giant landslide, about half a kilometer thick and five kilometers in diameter. In the mid 20th-century, the impact hypothesis was raised to explain the formation. Apparently there is a lot of glass in the formation, which some geologists think could have been formed when rock melted in the landslide, and others think is more plausibly from an impact. There’s no doubt that other impact events have created quite a bit of glass. The age of the Köfels glass has been measured using radiometric methods, so we know the glass was formed between 8,000 years to 16,000 years ago.

Perhaps the strongest evidence for an impact origin of the Köfels structure is the reported presence of planar deformation features in quartz taken from the site. PDFs, as they are called, are microscopic features of silicate (e.g., quartz, feldspar) grains, and they are basically very thin planes of glass arranged in parallel sets that have particular orientations with respect to the containing crystal’s structure. They are utterly diagnostic of impact events - no other geologic event can form them, not even highly energetic volcanic eruptions.

The presence of shocked quartz - quartz with PDFs - means that this quartz, at some time, was in the neighborhood of an impact event. If the big landslide-looking formation at Köfels was formed by impact, then the shocked quartz could have been formed then. Or it could be from an older impact, and was transported by later geologic events, such as huge landslides. The shocked quartz will survive a lot longer than an impact crater, given the way the Earth covers such structures up relatively quickly, so this may well have happened. However the shocked quartz got where it is found today, we know that it was formed when a meteoritic body impacted the ground. Shocked quartz does not form from a meteoritic airburst - a meteorite that explodes before impact - it requires a ground impact.

Science marches on, and the impact hypothesis to explain the origin of the Köfels formation fell out of favor as we discovered more and more about impacts.
The main problem was the lack of parallels between the Köfels features and other known astroblemes - namely, there is no crater at Köfels, and there darn well ought to be if there is 8-16 kiloyear-old glass and shocked quartz from an impact event at the site. Here’s a picture of a smaller impact that is five times that age:

Currently, the consensus of scientific opinion is that Köfels is not from an impact. It is not listed in the Earth Impact Database, not even as a possible impact site. Googling “Köfels impact” turns up a zillion outlets parroting the Bristol press release, but there’s almost nothing else about it on the net.

So, where does this Sumerian tablet come in?

The researchers say the tablet dates from 700 BCE, or about 3,000 years ago. They hypothesize it is a copy of an earlier work:

With modern computer programmes that can simulate trajectories and reconstruct the night sky thousands of years ago the researchers have established what the Planisphere tablet refers to. It is a copy of the night notebook of a Sumerian astronomer as he records the events in the sky before dawn on the 29 June 3123 BC (Julian calendar).

I happen to have some software that can do that. Starry Night, Skymap Pro, or Stellarium, among numerable others, can do the job. So this isn’t rocket science. Anyone know where I can get a high-quality photograph of the tablet that I can use to test their hypothesis from my own reseources?

But a better question might be:

Assuming that the original source is a “night notebook” of a Sumerian astronomer, why is it being copied by a scribe 2,423 years later? No reason is given for this remarkable act in the press release, at least. Already it sounds a little fishy to me.

The press release continues:

Half the tablet records planet positions and cloud cover, the same as any other night….

Wait a second. Do we really know that half the tablet records conditions “the same as any other night?” Because if we do, that means we have a bunch of other examples of this genre of tablet to compare this tablet to. And if so, that’s fine, but then why does the press release say this:

A cuneiform clay tablet that has puzzled scholars for over 150 years has been translated for the first time.

They can either have their cake, or eat it: Either the tablet was mysterious and untranslated; or we can’t really know that this tablet is a typical nightly astronomical report of sky conditions, just like any other.

The problems continue:

…but the other half of the tablet records an object large enough for its shape to be noted even though it is still in space. The astronomers made an accurate note of its trajectory relative to the stars, which to an error better than one degree is consistent with an impact at Köfels.

Okay, I guess - something 500 kilometers away and 1 kilometer in diameter will be a tenth of a degree across, which is just about big enough to determine shape; and it could have been closer and still been in outside the atmosphere.
And it is possible to record a trajectory to better than a degree using naked-eye methods.

It is also possible to integrate a bunch of orbits that intersect with Köfels, and it is plausible to believe that some of those orbits might be consistent with the observation of a celestial object that is hypothesized to be recorded in this copy of a hypothesized tablet that existed 5,000 years ago, and it is plausible to believe that some of these orbits would have the object out of Earth’s atmosphere when it was observable over Sumeria.

But really, this is beginning to look a bit like a house of cards, yes? Let’s read on.

The observation suggests the asteroid is over a kilometre in diameter and the original orbit about the Sun was an Aten type, a class of asteroid that orbit close to the earth, that is resonant with the Earth’s orbit.

The bit about the Aten asteroids being resonant is just wrong. Many are resonant, some more strongly than others; but Aten asteroids are defined as those with a semi-major axis of less than one astronomical unit. An AU is, in lay terms, the average distance between the sun and the Earth. A semi-major axis is simply the distance of the long axis of an ellipse, divided by two. Almost all Atens have orbits that cross Earth’s orbit - in other words, most Atens get both closer to the sun than Earth, and farther away from it, depending on what part of its orbit it is in. That’s all - you don’t need the asteroid to be in a resonant orbit to be an Aten.

And a resonant orbit certainly doesn’t lead to a craterless impact, as I initially read the following as claiming:

This trajectory explains why there is no crater at Köfels. The in coming angle was very low (six degrees) and means the asteroid clipped a mountain called Gamskogel above the town of Längenfeld, 11 kilometres from Köfels, and this caused the asteroid to explode before it reached its final impact point. As it travelled down the valley it became a fireball, around five kilometres in diameter (the size of the landslide). When it hit Köfels it created enormous pressures that pulverised the rock and caused the landslide but because it was no longer a solid object it did not create a classic impact crater.


This is just preposterous.

First, you’re going to find plenty of evidence of the impact at Gamskogel if this were true. Any impact significant enough to badly disrupt an asteroid-type impactor, which is what the researchers hypothesize, is going to take out a big chunk of the mountain, cause all sorts of fracturing, landslides, and other highly noticeable effects. The physics of impact are such that, if the impact were truly strong enough to liquify or vaporize a >1 km asteroid, the mountain would have been converted into a crater - much like we see countless times on the moon.

Test of hypothesis number one: Is there a huge crater on the mountain, or has the mountain been obliterated by a huge crater?

The impact of an asteroid with a mountain will result in the classical shock wave in the impact medium and create an ejecta blanket. If the impact hypothesis is true, we should see planar deformation features on the mountain and ejecta more or less symmetrically around it.

Test of hypothesis number two: Is there shocked quartz on the mountain?

Test of hypothesis number three: Is there an ejecta blanket around the mountain?

Next, why would an impactor become a fireball? We all know that meteors in the process of burning up are hot, but they are not, literally, fireballs2. The researchers claim that that an asteroidal-type meteorite, after clipping the mountain, was “not a solid object” - but why? And how? How do you get an asteroidal impactor hitting so solidly that it vaporized it, but so softly that it doesn’t shock quartz or create a crater?

Sorry, but you just can’t.

You don’t solve any problems by breaking up an impactor into a million pieces - it still impacts. So you end up with a bunch of smaller craters - the total energy is the same.
Here’s an example of either a binary impactor, or disrupted impactor, on the Earth:

Clearwater Lakes

and an example on the Moon:


Supposing you can disrupt a 1-km asteroid impactor into pieces no larger than molecular size. What happens then? You still get craters:


That’s a microcrater in glass, too small to be seen by eye.

Maybe the press release is saying that the low angle of impact, supposedly of only six degrees, would not result in the formation of a crater. But that’s wrong too. Highly oblique impacts - thought to be considerably shallower than 6° - produce elongated craters:

Elongate Crater

So, there’s gonna be a crater, or two, or a billion, no matter what you do to the impactor3. Just because the asteroid “clips” a mountaintop on its way to its final resting place doesn’t mean there will be no crater. There will be one, or many, period.

Test of hypothesis number four: Go find the crater(s).

Test of hypothesis number five: Go find fragments of the impactor. There will be some, even if the main impactor vaporizes.

Let’s read on:

Mark Hempsell, discussing the Köfels event, said: “Another conclusion can be made from the trajectory. The back plume from the explosion (the mushroom cloud) would be bent over the Mediterranean Sea re-entering the atmosphere over the Levant, Sinai, and Northern Egypt.

“The ground heating though very short would be enough to ignite any flammable material – including human hair and clothes. It is probable more people died under the plume than in the Alps due to the impact blast.“

Ok, so there’s no crater because the impactor “wasn’t solid,” but there was enough ejecta - which only comes from craters - to kill people, and cover an area thousands of miles around, including northern Egypt and the Levant, where we should be able to go today and find - ummm, ejecta.

Test of hypothesis number six: Let’s go find ejecta, or evidence of widespread burns, in strata that we can date, using, e.g., pottery shards, to around 3100 BC in multiple archaeological digs in both Egypt and in the Levant. The strata should be iridium-enriched compared to terrestrial facies, ought to include shock products if the impact were powerful enough to spread material over that wide an area, and ought contain impact glass.

Ok, we’re done. Just to sum up, here’s why we can be pretty sure this press release promotes a wrong conclusion.

The researchers hypothesize:

* That Sumerians made regular celestial observations (probably true);
* One of them observed a large body very close to Earth before it had entered the atmosphere (very improbable - whereas seeing a very bright meteor is not only probable, but certain, if you keep looking)
* They recorded the trajectory to an accuracy of +/- one degree or less (plausible)
* The tablet they recorded this on was reproduced by a scribe 2,423 years later (possible, but why?)
* Even though apparently no other nights’ observations were similarly copied (why not? There would have been TONS of interesting stuff, and just as correlated with significant happenings on Earth - not by causation, but by coincidence)
Louis J. Sheehan Esquire

* And this tablet has never been translated before (I’ll stipulate that this is true even though I don’t really know)
* Two researchers - one a space infrastructure engineer, the other a rocket engine engineer, and neither linguists - translated it (huh? how?)
* And the tablet records an impactor (maybe)
* even though the impact glass found at the site is 8,000 to 16,000 years old (not 5,000 years old as the hypothesis says)
* And the impactor was a >1 km Aten asteroid (seriously, people, it requires several hours or days of precise, modern astronomical observations to determine if an asteroid is an Aten - you need either triangulated observations over a short time, or observations over a longer period of time, to extract that kind of data from the observations they say the Sumerians recorded)
* And that impactor landed at Köfels (maybe, but you need triangulated observations of incoming impactors to really determine where and if a possible impactor landed, because you can’t tell celestial distances or radial velocities - motion toward or away from you - by just looking)
* But not before “clipping” a mountain (oh, come ON! can we say “ad hoc hypothesis?”)
* Which turned it into something other than a solid (I’ve heard of shock melting, but turning an entire 1 km impacting asteroid into a liquid with a glancing blow with a mountain is beyond the pale, and turning it all into gas would be even more ludicrous)
* Which then created no craters when it landed (it still should have)
* But which did distribute ejecta all over the eastern Mediterranean (you don’t get ejecta without a crater)
* Which ejecta has not been found anywhere in the eastern Mediterranean (ouch)

I’ll add one more thing: This “research” hasn’t cleared peer review - the authors are trying to sell a direct-to-paperback book for $25 (USD). The press release says it is being published by Alcin Academics, but I can’t find them on the web and I can’t find any other book they’ve published. A quick look at the Amazon page for the book shows that the real publisher is WritersPrintshop - a self-publishing company. I’m thinking if this were a plausible hypothesis supported in a well-written book, they’d have gotten a real publisher to release it.

I’m not buying it - the book or the zany hypothesis. If anyone wants to change my mind, send me a copy of the book, and I’ll read it and reconsider.

Oh - and one more thing: Shame, shame on you, PhysOrg for credulously running this ridiculous story but ignoring the asteroid names announced last week.

Sources for Köfels background information:

* Graham, Bevan and Hutchison, “Catalogue of Meteorites”, 4th Edition, (1985)
* Kurat, Richter; Meteoritics, vol.4, p.192, 1969
* Störzer et al.; Meteoritics, vol.6, p.319, 1971

Update: I’ve been pointed to some additional references regarding the Köfels formation, which somewhat changes what I’ve written above. First, shocked quartz, with PDFs, have not been found at Köfels as some have claimed; quartz with lamellar deformation features typical of tectonic processes were found instead. Also, the Köfels formation was not a single landslide, but a result of several landslides at different times.
These are both further blows to the already discredited impact hypothesis for the origins of the Köfels formation, and casts even more doubt onto the conclusions that Sumerians observed a greater than 1 km wide Aten asteroid that impacted at Köfels.

It is a phone call that women dread. Something is not quite right on the mammogram: come back for another one. But don’t worry, the script goes, most repeat tests wind up normal.

Still, most women know someone who has breast cancer, and even the calmest, most rational minds may think the worst when summoned back to the clinic.

At many centers, these nerve-racking calls are on the rise, at least temporarily — the price of progress as more and more radiologists switch from traditional X-ray film to digital mammograms, in which the X-ray images are displayed on a computer monitor.

Problems can arise during the transition period, while doctors learn to interpret digital mammograms and compare them to patients’ previous X-ray films. Comparing past and present to look for changes is an essential part of reading mammograms. But the digital and film versions can sometimes be hard to reconcile, and radiologists who are retraining their eyes and minds may be more likely to play it safe by requesting additional X-rays — and sometimes ultrasound exams and even biopsies — in women who turn out not to have breast cancer.

Digital is growing fast. In the United States, 32 percent of mammography clinics now have at least one digital machine, up from only 10 percent two years ago. Eventually, film will be phased out.

The rush to digital is occurring in part because for certain women — younger ones and others with dense breast tissue — it is better than film at finding tumors. Digital is especially good at picking up tiny calcium deposits, or calcifications, which are sometimes — but by no means always — a sign of cancer. In the long run, radiologists say, digital technology will make mammograms more accurate for many women.

There have been no studies yet to measure what happens during the transition period, but many radiologists say they do find themselves calling more women back. About 35.8 million mammograms a year are done in the United States, including those for screening and follow-ups for problems. The National Cancer Institute recommends mammograms every year or two for most women over 40 (women at high risk may be advised to start earlier). Mammography is not perfect — it can miss tumors — but even its critics say it has helped to lower death rates from breast cancer, which is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in women, after lung cancer.

There are about 178,000 new cases of breast cancer each year in the United States, and 40,000 deaths.

Of 10 radiologists interviewed for this article, eight said that during the transition from film to digital, recall rates went up in women who were ultimately found to have nothing wrong. Normally a recall rate of 10 percent or less is considered desirable.
But during the transition period at their clinics, the doctors estimated that callbacks of women who turned out to be healthy increased by a few percentage points to as many as 10. Only one radiologist reported no problems: Dr. Etta D. Pisano, a professor of radiology and biomedical engineering at the University of North Carolina.

“I don’t believe it,” Dr. Pisano said. “I question that there’s a problem with the transition.”

But Dr. Mary Mahoney, a professor of radiology and the director of breast imaging at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, said, “I am living through the pain of this transition period on a daily basis.”

Dr. Mahoney’s center recently opened an entirely digital clinic for breast cancer screening.

“Our whole group is kind of pulling our hair out some days,” she said. “You struggle and you struggle. It’s just so much harder. These are really experienced, qualified radiologists who are wringing their hands. It’s where the increase in callbacks and biopsies is coming into play. It happens every day. Many times we’re able to bring the woman back, do additional views and feel comfortable we can follow that area.”

Regarding the higher callback rates, Dr. Mahoney said: “I know it’s not a small thing, the anxiety. Patients are practically in tears because they’re so worried. But I think in the long run it’s going to be to everybody’s benefit.”

Dr. Margarita Zuley, the director of breast imaging at Magee-Women’s Hospital at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, said it could take six months to a year to learn to interpret the new images.

Lecturing in Manhattan recently about the transition to digital, Dr. Zuley told an audience of radiologists: “When you first start out, you may feel a little anxious and recall more patients because everything looks like a cancer to you. It’s O.K. Just bring the patients back. It’s part of the learning curve.”

Regarding higher recall rates during the transition, Dr. Zuley said: “Everybody sort of knows it, but it’s anecdotal. There are no numbers.”

Meanwhile, patients or their insurers are paying for the extra tests. Fees for mammograms vary around the country. A clinic in Manhattan recently billed an insurer $387 for a digital mammogram and then $336 for extra images of one breast — needed because of confusion between the old films and the new digital pictures — and was paid about half of those fees. Fees for film-based mammograms are usually $45 to $120 less.

Nancy Liber, a radiologic technologist at Dr. Mahoney’s center, was called back by her own colleagues at the center after her mammogram last month.

“I thought exactly what every woman does,” Ms. Liber said. “Immediately you panic and think, ‘Oh my gosh, what if something is really wrong?’ ”

She found herself worrying about what would happen if she became ill and unable to take care of her children. She did not even tell her husband what had happened until after the second test, which turned out normal. The concerns were due entirely to the difference between film and digital images. the stressful experience, Ms. Liber said that from what she had seen in her work, digital mammograms were the way to go.

“The inconvenience it may cause is worth it,” she said. But, she added, “I definitely know what these women are going through.”

Radiologists say one of digital’s advantages is that it lets them adjust features like contrast and magnification, and see things that were blurry or maybe even invisible on film. In the long run, doctors say, the increased clarity of digital mammograms may lead to fewer callbacks of healthy women — but it takes time to learn the ropes.

Dr. Constance D. Lehman, the director of breast imaging and a professor of radiology at the University of Washington, said she was not sure whether more women were called back during the transition. But describing the two technologies, she said, “In some areas it’s like comparing apples and oranges.”

When looking at a woman’s first digital image, Dr. Lehman said, radiologists must ask themselves whether a seeming change in the breast is truly new, or was it there all along but just not visible with earlier techniques.

Once a woman has had enough digital mammograms, the comparisons should be easier, radiologists say. But the first few may raise questions because when radiologists compare, they often go back to images from two or three years before. And in some clinics that have a mixture of film and digital machines, if a woman is switched between the two types from year to year, ambiguities may crop up again and again.

Many women do not know the difference between film and digital, or notice which is being used, and clinics may or may not inform them of potential problems during the changeover.

Digital mammography got a boost from a large study in 2005 that showed it was better than film at finding tumors in women under 50, or women of any age who had dense breasts, meaning a lot of glandular and connective tissue in proportion to fat.

A buzz grew around digital after the study. Some radiologists use the technology as a selling point, and others feel they must follow suit. Now there is such a demand for digital machines that there is a six-month wait for certain types, Dr. Zuley said, even though they cost $350,000 to $600,000, about three to five times as much as units that use film.

Dr. Leonard M. Glassman, who practices at Washington Radiology Associates, said that his practice in the Washington, D.C., area, which performs 85,000 mammograms a year, converted to digital about two years ago.

“There’s an increase in the rate of things you think are abnormal for about three months, and then you get used to it,” Dr. Glassman said. “You take more extra pictures, of things that six months later you would dismiss.

It happened probably 5 to 10 percent of the time right at the beginning, so it’s a significant amount, and then it tails off.”

When questions first arise, Dr. Glassman said, he does not warn women that the imaging may be the culprit because he cannot be sure what the problem is until he sees the second set of X-rays.

“At the end I tell patients, ‘You were a victim of technology,’ ” he said. “They give me a blank stare. I say: ‘Your last one was film; this one was digital. They look different, and we just didn’t know that.’ ”

Rising a million miles from the surface of the sun, the highest solar prominence ever recorded was observed by Mt. Wilson Observatory scientists on March 20, the Carnegie Institution of Washington has announced.

Reports of measurements made by Dr. Edison Pettit on photographs of the prominence indicate that a gigantic mass of erupting calcium and hydrogen gas rose nearly vertically from the sun that morning at speeds first of 40 miles per second, then 80 miles per second, and when last noted, 124 miles per second.

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