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Member since: Tue Feb 10, 2004, 12:08 PM
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Environmental Scientist

Journal Archives

Berlin Wall Being Rebuilt in a Dazzling Display of 8,000 Glowing Orbs

In 1961, the infamous Berlin Wall was constructed and completely cut off West Berlin from East Germany and East Berlin. The infrastructure was taken down in 1989 and with it reclaimed free movement between East and West. That was nearly 25 years ago, and to commemorate this occasion, light artist Christopher Bauder and filmmaker Marc Bauder designed Lichtgrenze, a 10-mile reconstruction of the Wall. But, instead of concrete and barbed wire, the original path will feature 8,000 glowing white balloons to be set up for two days. The installation will commence in the middle of the night on November 7 to symbolize the how the original wall was constructed, which was literally overnight.

At six key locations along the route, Lichtgrenze will display historical footage of life during the Berlin Wall’s presence. Visitors will also find that every 500 feet features personal stories and memories of people who lived on both sides of barrier, or whose lives were affected by it in some way.

Lichtgrenze will be erected until November 9 at 7PM. During that time, thousands of volunteers (known as balloon patrons) will attach personal messages to the orbs, disconnect their strings, and send the lit balloons into the sky. The dazzling display will be eco-friendly, too. Researchers at the University of Hanover specially designed the balloons to make sure that they’re completely biodegradable.


Using Jailed Migrants as a Pool of Cheap Labor

HOUSTON — The kitchen of the detention center here was bustling as a dozen immigrants boiled beans and grilled hot dogs, preparing lunch for about 900 other detainees. Elsewhere, guards stood sentry and managers took head counts, but the detainees were doing most of the work — mopping bathroom stalls, folding linens, stocking commissary shelves.

As the federal government cracks down on immigrants in the country illegally and forbids businesses to hire them, it is relying on tens of thousands of those immigrants each year to provide essential labor — usually for $1 a day or less — at the detention centers where they are held when caught by the authorities.

This work program is facing increasing resistance from detainees and criticism from immigrant advocates. In April, a lawsuit accused immigration authorities in Tacoma, Wash., of putting detainees in solitary confinement after they staged a work stoppage and hunger strike. In Houston, guards pressed other immigrants to cover shifts left vacant by detainees who refused to work in the kitchen, according to immigrants interviewed here.

The federal authorities say the program is voluntary, legal and a cost-saver for taxpayers. But immigrant advocates question whether it is truly voluntary or lawful, and argue that the government and the private prison companies that run many of the detention centers are bending the rules to convert a captive population into a self-contained labor force.



Toon: Republican Strategy

Texas textbook review: ‘I’d like a Biblical check on that’

By Valerie Strauss

The Texas Education Agency held a special meeting this week at which members asked publishers to respond to criticisms of proposed textbooks in social studies, fine arts and mathematics in advance of next month’s vote on approval of next texts. Earlier this year after publishers submitted textbooks for adoption next month, critics pored over them and found what they said were numerous inaccurate, distorted and biased material in history, geography, government, religion and other subjects.

For example, ideas promoted in different books include the notion that American democracy was inspired by Moses and Solomon, that Jews views Jesus Christ as an important prophet, that in the era of segregation only “sometimes” were schools for black children “lower in quality” and that the U.S. economic systems run without significant government involvement. Some of the books also said that evolution should be taught to students as if it were not fact but simply a scientific theory, and that global warming is not a very serious problem confronting the world. Some critics pointed out simple factual errors, such as the number of Sikhs who live around the world.

At their September meeting, agency members heard complaints from dozens of people about the textbooks and that testimony was sent to the publishers, who provided written detailed responses which you can see here on the agency Web site. On Monday,members held a meeting to review the responses and further consider the textbooks. What happened at that meeting?

much more

Luckovich Toon- Thanks, Crooked Deal!

Decades-old scientific paper may hold clues to dark matter

By Adrian Cho

Here’s one reason libraries hang on to old science journals: A paper from an experiment conducted 32 years ago may shed light on the nature of dark matter, the mysterious stuff whose gravity appears to keep the galaxies from flying apart. The old data put a crimp in the newfangled concept of a "dark photon" and suggest that a simple bargain-basement experiment could put the idea to the test.

No one really knows what dark matter is. Since the 1980s, theorists' best hunch has been that it consists of so-called weakly interacting massive particles, or WIMPs. If they exist, WIMPs would have a mass between one and 1000 times that of a proton. They would interact only through the feeble weak nuclear force—one of two forces of nature that ordinarily flex their muscle only within the atomic nucleus—and could disappear only by colliding and annihilating one another. So if the infant universe cooked up lots of WIMPs, enough of them would naturally survive to produce the right amount of dark matter today. But physicists have yet to spot WIMPs, which every now and then should ping off atomic nuclei in sensitive detectors and send them flying.

More recently, theorists have explored other ideas, such as self-interacting dark matter. This would consist of a particle, known as a χ (pronounced chi), with a mass between 1/1000 and one times that of the proton. Those particles would interact with one another through a force like the electromagnetic force, which produces light. That force would be conveyed by a massive particle called a dark photon—a dark matter version of a particle of light—that might "mix" slightly with the ordinary ones. So with some small probability, a dark photon might interact with ordinary charged particles such as electrons and atomic nuclei—just as ordinary photons do.

Self-interacting dark matter has attractive properties. In particular, a dark photon could also explain a particle physics puzzle. A particle called the muon appears to be very slightly more magnetic than theory predicts, and that discrepancy could be resolved if the muon interacts with dark photons lurking in the vacuum. However, χs and dark photons would be hard to detect with WIMP detectors; with their low masses, they couldn't whack a nucleus hard enough to create a signal.



Roach Scurries Around Chicago City Council Chamber As Pest Control Boss Testifies

CHICAGO (CBS) – A top Emanuel administration official was embarrassed Thursday when a rather large bug showed up while he was testifying at a Budget Committee hearing.

WBBM Newsradio Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports Chicago Fleet and Facility Management Commissioner David Reynolds was talking to aldermen about aging equipment, when a very large roach was spotted crawling on the west wall of the City Council Chambers.

Reynolds said the timing was ironic, given pest control is part of his department’s job.

“I was mortified,” he said. “One of our duties is pest control. It’s an old building with lots of people in it, so we very routinely do treatments for cockroaches and other pets. We often just end up chasing them around.”



He went to Ferguson to protect the protesters. He got arrested instead

by Justin Hansford

The thing about jail is there is nothing to do. The novelty wears off after about five minutes. My cell was maybe 10-feet long and 8-feet wide, with a toilet, a faucet, and a sink. On the right was a metal bunk bed, and on the left was a third bed. Everything was made of cold metal. The mattress was thin and hard and worn and musky.

I'd been arrested earlier that day at a Walmart in Maplewood, Missouri, about 10 miles outside of Ferguson. I was there as part of Ferguson October, a historic, inspiring, and exhausting weekend of protests against the killing of Mike Brown and the pattern of racialized police violence that spawned it. I had been engaged in this struggle for months. At this particular moment, though, I wasn't a protester or participant — I was a legal observer. But just like the nationally recognized journalists who have been arrested in Ferguson while fulfilling their professional duties, I found that no tradition of professional courtesy could save me from the urge to squelch political dissent.

I had until then never even seen the inside of a jail cell, not even for a field trip.

I am a law professor who teaches human rights law and race and the law, and I participated in Ferguson October because I couldn't look at myself in the mirror if I didn't contribute what I could to this movement taking place 10 minutes from my home. As a legal observer, I was hoping to document (and maybe, by my presence, prevent) police brutality against protesters. Local Walmarts were selected as protest sites to amplify the connection between the killing of John Crawford, which took place at a Walmart in Ohio, and the killing of Mike Brown. Both are case studies in police impunity, the criminalization of black youth, and the logical consequence of the two: police too often feel that instead of simply patrolling black and brown communities, they can go hunting in them, without punishment.

Without warning and before I could think, I was being led away with both hands behind my back.



World's Longest Snake Has Virgin Birth

Virgin birth has been documented in the world's longest snake for the first time, a recent study says.

An 11-year-old reticulated python named Thelma produced six female offspring in June 2012 at the Louisville Zoo in Kentucky, where she lives with another female python, Louise. No male had ever slithered anywhere near the 200-pound (91-kilogram), 20-foot-long (6 meters) mother snake.

New DNA evidence, published in July in the Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, revealed that Thelma is the sole parent, said Bill McMahan, the zoo's curator of ectotherms, or cold-blooded animals. (Read: "'Virgin Birth' Seen in Wild Snakes, Even When Males Are Available.")

"We didn't know what we were seeing. We had attributed it to stored sperm," he said. "I guess sometimes truth is stranger than fiction."

Virgin births have been observed in other reptiles before, including other pythons and snake species, said James Hanken, a professor of herpetology at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.



Comet smells like rotten eggs, horse urine, alcohol, bitter almonds, vinegar

Rotten eggs, horse urine, alcohol, and bitter almonds: this is the bouquet of odours you would smell if a comet in deep space could be brought back to Earth, European scientists say.

An instrument aboard the European Space Agency's Rosetta spacecraft has detected some intriguing chemical signatures from Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (67P/C-G) since their rendezvous in deep space in August, the scientists said.

Molecules detected include ammonia, methane, hydrogen sulphide, hydrogen cyanide and formaldehyde.

"If you could smell the comet, you probably wish that you hadn't," said the team wryly in a blog posted on the European Space Agency (ESA) website.

The device, called Rosina-DFMS, is a mass spectrometer.


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