Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Inflatable spacecraft launches from Russia - Yahoo! News: "Inflatable spacecraft launches from Russia By ALICIA CHANG, AP Science Writer
5 minutes ago

An experimental inflatable spacecraft bankrolled by real estate magnate Robert Bigelow rocketed into orbit Wednesday to test technology that could be used to fulfill his dream of building a commercial space station.
The Genesis I satellite flew aboard a converted Cold War ballistic missile from Russia's southern Ural Mountains at 6:53 p.m. Moscow time. It was boosted about 320 miles above Earth minutes after launch, according to the Russian Strategic Missile Forces.
The launch was a first for the startup Bigelow Aerospace, founded by Bigelow, who owns the Budget Suites of America hotel chain. Bigelow is among several entrepreneurs attempting to break into the fledgling manned commercial spaceflight business.
Mission controllers began communicating with Genesis about seven hours after liftoff. Early indications showed that the spacecraft was behaving as planned, according to a statement by the company.
The spacecraft's internal battery was at full charge, meaning that it had deployed its solar panels, the statement said.
Despite the successful launch, significant hurdles remain.
Mission controllers will continue to download information from the spacecraft over the next several hours to determine its health. Once that's confirmed, it will begin the tricky job of ballooning itself to twice its pre-launch width in a process that could last several hours.
Bigelow hopes to use inflation technology to build an expandable orbital outpost made up of several Genesis-like modules strung together like sausage links that could serve as a space hotel, science lab or even a sports arena.

Monday, July 10, 2006

US judge to rule on legality of warrantless wiretaps - Yahoo! News: "US judge to rule on legality of warrantless wiretaps by Mira Oberman
Mon Jul 10, 7:15 PM ET

CHICAGO (AFP) - A federal judge heard arguments in a suit arguing that US President George W. Bush overstepped his authority when he authorized the use of warrantless wiretaps on Americans.
The arguments came less than two weeks after the Supreme Court ruled that the Bush administration overstepped its authority in setting up military tribunals to try war on terror detainees held at a US naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The American Civil Liberties Union asked a judge in Detroit, Michigan to rule that the wiretaps are illegal because they circumvent the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which requires the executive branch to obtain a warrant before engaging in electronic surveillance of Americans.
Those warrants are obtained in a secret court which has only denied three requests in nearly 30 years and which allows law enforcement to initiate surveillance before the warrant is obtained, Michael Steinberg, legal director of the ACLU of Michigan, told AFP.
'Our democracy depends on checks and balances,' he said. 'Obtaining a court order before intercepting people's personal communication serves as a check on unbridled executive power.'
A spokesman for the Department of Justice declined to comment on the case.
In a motion, the department argued that 'The United States submits that the actions authorized by the President are essential to meeting a continuing and grave foreign terrorist threat and are well within lawful bounds.'
It argued that to demonstrate this 'would require evidence that must be excluded from consideration under the military and states secrets privilege' and as a result the judge sh"

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Roots of human family tree are shallow - Yahoo! News: "Roots of human family tree are shallow By MATT CRENSON, AP National Writer
Sat Jul 1, 5:17 PM ET

Whoever it was probably lived a few thousand years ago, somewhere in East Asia � Taiwan, Malaysia and Siberia all are likely locations. He � or she � did nothing more remarkable than be born, live, have children and die.

Yet this was the ancestor of every person now living on Earth � the last person in history whose family tree branches out to touch all 6.5 billion people on the planet today.
That means everybody on Earth descends from somebody who was around as recently as the reign of Tutankhamen, maybe even during the Golden Age of ancient Greece. There's even a chance that our last shared ancestor lived at the time of Christ.
'It's a mathematical certainty that that person existed,' said Steve Olson, whose 2002 book 'Mapping Human History' traces the history of the species since its origins in Africa more than 100,000 years ago.
It is human nature to wonder about our ancestors � who they were, where they lived, what they were like. People trace their genealogy, collect antiques and visit historical sites hoping to capture just a glimpse of those who came before, to locate themselves in the sweep of history and position themselves in the web of human existence.
But few people realize just how intricately that web connects them not just to people living on the planet today, but to everyone who ever lived.
With the help of a statistician, a computer scientist and a supercomputer, Olson has calculated just how interconnected the human family tree is. You would have to go back in time only 2,000 to 5,000 years � and probably "

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Philip Slater: Let's Get Real About Atrocities, And Which Kind We're Comfortable With - Yahoo! News: "Philip Slater: Let's Get Real About Atrocities, And Which Kind We're Comfortable With Philip Slater
Wed Jun 28, 7:06 PM ET

Military experts are said to be 'stunned' by recent reports of American soldiers committing 'atrocities' against Iraq civilians. In response to a recent marine rampage the Pentagon instituted a two hour 'training course' to teach soldiers that it isn't cricket to kill unarmed civilians, and congratulated itself publicly for cutting civilian murders to one a week, down from seven a week last year.

The hypocrisy in all this is the pretence that atrocities are an occasional occurrence perpetrated by a few bad apples--that it's possible to bomb and invade a country humanely. But the atrocities committed by a few marines, overcome with fear and rage, are nothing compared to those committed by cool and comfortable pilots on bombing raids. The latter are not counted as 'atrocities', despite the fact that (or because) they are far more common and far more devastating. Whether a child is slaughtered by a deliberate act or by 'collateral damage' doesn't matter much to the parent.
The last two decades have seen a flood of novels and memoirs by American and European authors depicting the horrible agony of losing a child. If a novel or memoir were written and published by every parent who has lost a child to 'collateral damage' there would be no room in the bookstores for anything else. It's the height of hypocrisy to be horrified by incidents of savagery committed by young boys under constant threat of death--boys inadequately prepared for the quagmire they've been thro"

New York Times defends its patriotism - Yahoo! News: "New York Times defends its patriotism by Catherine Hours
Thu Jun 29, 1:00 AM ET

NEW YORK (AFP) - The New York Times hit back at bitter government criticism of its decision to disclose details of a secret US anti-terror program to monitor global banking transactions.

In an editorial titled 'Patriotism and the Press,' the Times firmly rejected charges from President George W. Bush and senior Republicans that the report had undermined national security and offered succour to terrorist groups.
The story bore 'no resemblance to security breaches, like disclosure of troop locations, that would clearly compromise the immediate safety of specific individuals,' the newspaper said.
As for tipping off terrorists, the newspaper argued that terror groups would have to be 'fairly credulous' not to have already suspected that such a fund monitoring program was in place.
It highlighted a public 2002 UN report that specifically cited the US policy of monitoring suspicious transactions.
The searches involved millions of records held by the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), a Belgium-based international cooperative that serves as a clearing house for transactions.
Bush labelled the Times decision to publish in the face of government opposition a disgrace, while Peter King, the Republican chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security, said the newspaper should be prosecuted under the Espionage Act.
The Times responded that its report had exposed 'an alarming pattern' that has emerged since the September 11 attacks, of the Bush administration citing security imperatives to bypass the normal checks and balances placed on the executive branch.
'It has created powerful ne"

Fewer wars, but what is a 'conflict'? - Yahoo! News: "Fewer wars, but what is a 'conflict'? By CHARLES J. HANLEY, AP Special Correspondent
Wed Jun 28, 2:50 PM ET

From the African bush to Indonesia's shores, the number of wars worldwide has dropped to a new low, peace researchers report. But the face of conflict is changing, they say, and free-for-all violence in such places as the Congo can defy their definitions.

'To say conflict as a whole is in decline, I could not draw that conclusion,' said Caroline Holmqvist of Sweden's Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
That institute's newly released Yearbook 2006, drawing from data maintained by Sweden's Uppsala University, reports the number of active major armed conflicts worldwide stood at 17 in 2005, the lowest point in a steep slide from a high of 31 in 1991.
The Uppsala experts added one conflict to their list in 2005: the resurgent war between the 4-year-old Afghan government, with its U.S.-led allies, and fighters of the ousted Taliban. But they also subtracted three: conflicts that ended in Rwanda, southern Sudan and Algeria. Those joined such other recent additions to the 'peace' column as Liberia and Indonesia's Aceh province.
The deadliest war of 2005 was the complex conflict in Iraq, where latest estimates say a minimum of 50,000 people have been killed since the U.S.-British invasion of 2003. The oldest conflict, dating to 1948, is the separatist struggle of the Karen people in Myanmar.
The 14 other major armed conflicts listed by Uppsala University for 2005 were in Burundi, Uganda and Sudan's Darfur province in Africa; in Colombia and Peru in Latin America; the global U.S. campaign against al-Qaida; in Turkey and in Israel and the Palestini"

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Berkeley, Calif. wants vote on Bush impeachment - Yahoo! News: "Berkeley, Calif. wants vote on Bush impeachment By Jim Christie
Wed Jun 28, 7:47 PM ET

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Berkeley plans to give voters a say on a measure calling for the impeachment of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, the mayor of this famously liberal California city said on Wednesday.

A number of local governments across the United States have passed resolutions urging impeachment. But the Berkeley city council wants to be the first to put the issue directly to voters, Mayor Tom Bates said in an interview.
'This is basically giving the people a chance to talk, to join the debate,' Bates said. 'The issues go way beyond impeaching the president. They go to safeguarding the Constitution.'
Cheered on by Iraq war protester Cindy Sheehan, who has moved to Berkeley, the council voted unanimously on Tuesday to have the city attorney review the measure that would appear on the November ballot.
The Berkeley Peace and Justice Commission, which advises the city on civil rights issues, recommended the measure to the council.
The panel accuses the Republican White House of intentionally misleading Congress to justify an unnecessary war in Iraq, pursuing unlawful surveillance programs and permitting torture of detainees suspected of links to terrorism.
Bush and Cheney 'have acted in a manner contrary to their trust as President and Vice President of the United States and subversive of Constitutional government, to the great prejudice of the cause of law and justice and to the manifest injury of the People of the United States of America,' the commission said in a statement.
Berkeley has seen its politics march steadily leftward since the 1960s, when the Free Speech Movement"

"Loose lips" kill Americans, top Republican says - Yahoo! News: " 'Loose lips' kill Americans, top Republican says By Andy Sullivan
Wed Jun 28, 7:37 PM ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Declaring that 'loose lips' kill Americans, a congressional Republican leader said on Wednesday the House of Representatives would debate a resolution condemning the U.S. media for exposing details of secret intelligence programs.

The move heaps more criticism on The New York Times and other newspapers that reported last week on a secret program by the U.S. Treasury Department that monitors private bank records in an effort to track terrorist organizations.
'What we're talking about is people who are leaking classified information. It's not news. It's classified information our government is using to fight terrorists,' said House Speaker Dennis Hastert, of Illinois.
'Loose lips kill American people,' he added.
The nonbinding resolution, released later in the day, said the House 'expects the cooperation of all news media organizations in protecting the lives of Americans and the capability of the government to identify, disrupt and capture terrorists by not disclosing classified intelligence programs such as the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program.'
A floor vote is scheduled for Thursday, said a spokesman for House Majority Leader John Boehner.
News reports of the bank-monitoring program and a separate surveillance effort that monitors phone traffic without a court warrant have drawn criticism from President George W. Bush and other Republicans who say coverage of the programs undermines their effectiveness.
'There can be no excuse for anyone entrusted with vital intelligence to leak it, and no excuse for any newspaper to print it,' Bush said at "

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Robert Scheer: "Disgracefully" Attacking the Messenger - Yahoo! News: "Robert Scheer: 'Disgracefully' Attacking the Messenger Robert Scheer
1 hour, 12 minutes ago

Originally posted at

The Bush administration's jihad against newspapers that reported on a secret program to monitor the personal-banking records of unsuspecting citizens is more important than the original story. For what the president and his spokesmen are once again asserting is that the prosecution of this ill-defined, open-ended 'War on Terror' inevitably trumps basic democratic rights in general and the constitutionally enshrined freedom of the press in particular.
The stakes are very high here. We've already been told that we must put up with official lies about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the unprecedented torture of prisoners of war and a massive electronic-eavesdropping program and other invasions of privacy. Now the target is more basic -- the freedom of the press to report on such nefarious government activity. The argument in defense of this assault on freedom is the familiar refrain of dictators, wannabe and real, who grasp for power at the expense of democracy: We are in a war with an enemy so powerful and devious that we cannot afford the safeguard of transparent and accountable governance.
'We're at war with a bunch of people, who want to hurt the United States of America, and for people to leak that program, and for a newspaper to publish it, does great harm to the United States of America,' President Bush said Monday.
The 'bunch of people' Bush says we are fighting was originally believed to be those behind the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, specifically Osama bin Laden and hi"

Tropical Stonehenge may have been found - Yahoo! News: "Tropical Stonehenge may have been found By STAN LEHMAN, Associated Press Writer
Tue Jun 27, 11:04 PM ET

SAO PAULO, Brazil - A grouping of granite blocks along a grassy Amazon hilltop may be the vestiges of a centuries-old astronomical observatory � a find archaeologists say indicates early rainforest inhabitants were more sophisticated than previously believed.

The 127 blocks, some as high as 9 feet tall, are spaced at regular intervals around the hill, like a crown 100 feet in diameter.
On the shortest day of the year � Dec. 21 � the shadow of one of the blocks, which is set at an angle, disappears.
'It is this block's alignment with the winter solstice that leads us to believe the site was once an astronomical observatory,' said Mariana Petry Cabral, an archaeologist at the Amapa State Scientific and Technical Research Institute. 'We may be also looking at the remnants of a sophisticated culture.'
Anthropologists have long known that local indigenous populations were acute observers of the stars and sun. But the discovery of a physical structure that appears to incorporate this knowledge suggests pre-Columbian Indians in the Amazon rainforest may have been more sophisticated than previously suspected.
'Transforming this kind of knowledge into a monument; the transformation of something ephemeral into something concrete, could indicate the existence of a larger population and of a more complex social organization,' Cabral said.
Cabral has been studying the site, near the village of Calcoene, just north of the equator in Amapa state in far northern Brazil, since last year. She believes it was once inhabited by the ancest"

Huge Asteroid to Fly Past Earth July 3 - Yahoo! News: "Huge Asteroid to Fly Past Earth July 3 Joe Rao Skywatching Columnist
Mon Jun 26, 1:00 PM ET

An asteroid possibly as large as a half-mile or more in diameter is rapidly approaching the Earth. There is no need for concern, for no collision is in the offing, but the space rock will make an exceptionally close approach to our planet early on Monday, July 3, passing just beyond the Moon's average distance from Earth.

Astronomers will attempt to get a more accurate assessment of the asteroid's size by �pinging� it with radar.
And skywatchers with good telescopes and some experience just might be able to get a glimpse of this cosmic rock as it streaks rapidly past our planet in the wee hours Monday. The closest approach occurs late Sunday for U.S. West Coast skywatchers.
The asteroid, designated 2004 XP14, was discovered on Dec. 10, 2004 by the Lincoln Laboratory Near Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR), a continuing camera survey to keep watch for asteroids that may pass uncomfortably close to Earth.
Although initially there were concerns that this asteroid might possibly impact Earth later this century and thus merit special monitoring, further analysis of its orbit has since ruled out any such collision, at least in the foreseeable future.
Size not known
Asteroid 2004 XP14 is a member of a class of asteroids known as Apollo, which have Earth-crossing orbits. The name comes from 1862 Apollo, the first asteroid of this group to be discovered. There are now 1,989 known Apollos.
The size of 2004 XP 14 is not precisely known. But based on its brightness, the diameter is believed to be somewhere in the range of 1,345 to 3,018-feet (410 to 920 meters). That's between a quarter mi" -- New Cosmic Defense Idea: Fight Asteroids with Asteroids: " New Cosmic Defense Idea: Fight Asteroids with Asteroids

By Robert Roy Britt
Senior Science Writer
posted: 20 June 2006
06:06 am ET

In a Space Age version of fighting fire with fire, French scientists have suggested using one asteroid to destroy another rather than letting Earth get pummeled.
The offbeat plan is intentionally incomplete and would allow the planet to be showered by fragments. But it might be better than a civilization-ending whack.
No asteroids are presently known to be on collision courses with Earth. But existing holes in the ground suggest that inevitably one will eventually be found. There is no firm plan for how to deflect or destroy an incoming asteroid, though scientists have pondered firing rockets at them, moving them gently with solar sails, or nudging them with nuclear explosions.
Lock and load
The new idea is to capture a relatively small asteroid�perhaps 100 feet (30 meters) wide�by sending a robot to it.

Lagrange points exist in any two-body system. Find out how they work.

The robot would heave material from the asteroid's surface into space, and the reaction force would gradually direct the asteroid to a Lagrange point, one of a handful of nodes along Earth's orbit where the gravity of Earth and the Sun balance out. Scientists know that objects can be kept stable at a Lagrange point with little or no energy.
The captured rocky weapon would be held there, traveling around the Sun ahead of or behind the Earth, held until needed.
Then, if a large asteroid threatens to hit us, the small one is moved into its path, using the same heaving technique. The rocks collide, and the big one is broken into somewhat less harmfull bits.
The collision disperses"

Bush slams leak of terror financing info - Yahoo! News: "Bush slams leak of terror financing info By TERENCE HUNT, AP White House Correspondent
40 minutes ago

WASHINGTON - President Bush said Monday it was 'disgraceful' that the news media had disclosed a secret CIA-Treasury program to track millions of financial records in search of terrorist suspects. The White House accused The New York Times of breaking a long tradition of keeping wartime secrets.

'The fact that a newspaper disclosed it makes it harder to win this war on terror,' Bush said, leaning forward and jabbing his finger during a brief question-and-answer session with reporters in the Roosevelt Room.
The Times has defended its effort, saying publication has served America's public interest.
The newspaper, along with the Los Angeles Times and the Wall Street Journal, revealed last week that Treasury officials, beginning shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, had obtained access to an extensive international financial data base � the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, or Swift.
The New York Times late last year also disclosed that the National Security Agency had been conducting warrantless surveillance in the United States since 2002 of people with suspected al-Qaida ties.
'Some in the press, in particular The New York Times, have made the job of defending against further terrorist attacks more difficult by insisting on publishing detailed information about vital national security programs,' Vice President Dick Cheney said in a speech at a political fundraising luncheon in Grand Island, Neb.
'The New York Times has now twice � two separate occasions � disc"

Monday, June 26, 2006

Bush ignores laws he inks, vexing Congress - Yahoo! News: "Bush ignores laws he inks, vexing Congress By LAURIE KELLMAN, Associated Press Writer
32 minutes ago

WASHINGTON - Sen. John McCain (news, bio, voting record) thought he had a deal when President Bush, faced with a veto-proof margin in Congress, agreed to sign a bill banning the torture of detainees. Not quite. While Bush signed the new law, he also quietly approved another document: a signing statement reserving his right to ignore the law. McCain was furious, and so were other lawmakers.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is opening hearings this week into what has become the White House's favorite tool for overriding Congress in the name of wartime national security.
'It's a challenge to the plain language of the Constitution,' the committee's chairman, Sen. Arlen Specter (news, bio, voting record), R-Pa, said in an interview with The Associated Press. 'I'm interested to hear from the administration just what research they've done to lead them to the conclusion that they can cherry-pick.'
Apparently, enough to challenge more than 750 statutes passed by Congress, far more than any other president, Specter's committee says. The White House does not dispute that number, but points out that Bush is far from the nation's first chief executive to issue them.
'Signing statements have long been issued by presidents, dating back to Andrew Jackson all the way through President Clinton,' White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Monday.
Specter's first hearing Tuesday is about more than the statements. He's been keeping a laundry list of White House practices he bluntly says could amount to abuses of executive power � from warrantless domestic wiretapping program to s"