Saturday, April 19, 2008


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.

No comments: