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Wed, 26 Oct 2016
The World for People who Think



Bible fairy tales - A look at yesterday

© Born Again Pagan
British historian, F. W. Maitland wrote:
We study the day before yesterday in order that yesterday may not paralyze today, and that today may not paralyze tomorrow.
Which is a fancy way of saying, what really happened does matter.[1] In a similar vein, John Dominic Crossan said something like, if we get yesterday right, we have a chance of getting today better. So, let's look at yesterday.

Back in 1956, David Ben-Gurion, possibly struggling with his conscience, confessed:
If I were an Arab leader, I would never make terms with Israel. That is natural, we have taken their country. Sure God promised it to us, but what does that matter to them? Our God is not theirs. We came from Israel, it's true, but that was two thousand years ago, and what is that to them? There has been anti-Semitism, the Nazis, Auschwitz, but was that their fault? They only see one thing: we have come and stolen their country. Why should they accept that? [2]
"God promised it to us"?

Not so fast. More and more scholars, Jewish and humanist, are questioning the exodus story and that "promise". Rabbi David Wolpe raised just that provocative question before his congregation of 2,200 at Sinai Temple in Westwood, California back in 2001, saying:
After a century of excavations trying to prove the ancient accounts true, archeologists say there is no conclusive evidence that the Israelites were ever in Egypt, were ever enslaved, ever wandered in the Sinai wilderness for 40 years or ever conquered the land of Canaan under Joshua's leadership.[3]
Teresa Watanbe continues:
The modern archeological consensus over the Exodus is just beginning to reach the public. In 1999, an Israeli archeologist, Ze'ev Herzog of Tel Aviv University set off a furor in Israel by writing in a popular magazine that stories of the patriarchs were myths and that neither the Exodus nor Joshua's conquest ever occurred.[4]


Mass fish die-offs in Canadian river has scientists puzzled

© Twitter
Tens of thousands of fish are dead in the Yamaska River.
Wildlife officials in Quebec don't have a good answer for why tens of thousands of fish in the Yamaska River, near Saint-Hyacinthe, are dead. The fish kill was first noticed on Thursday, but many of the fish had been dead for several days.

The fish kill has not been selective, as wildlife officials say the dead fish include minnows to large fish, up to 15 to 20 centimeters (6 to 8 inches) in length.

Christian Blanchette, the regional coordinator for Urgence Environment told CTV News that biologists and scientists came to the river on Thursday and Friday, trying to discover the cause of the fish kill. He said they were looking into several possible causes, including spills, sewage and construction waste.

According to Blanchette, some fish were found at the bottom of the river in an advanced state of decay, indicating the die-off had been going on for a number of days. Two wildlife officials collected a number of the fish on Friday morning for further study.

Bizarro Earth

Mussels shells getting thinner researchers say

© Gizmodo
Do you enjoy eating mussels? Cool, same. Something, however, is happening to mussels as we know them. And it's changing them in a pretty horrifying way.

A team of researchers from the University of Chicago has been comparing the shells of live mussels pulled from the Pacific coast today with historical shells, some of them thousands of years old. They've come to an alarming realization: Mussel shells are getting thinner and thinner.

Shells collected that are over 1,000 years old are on average 27 percent thicker than today's shells, the researchers note in new paper in Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Thick shells were the norm until about the 1970s, when shells were 32 percent thicker than they are today. Then, things suddenly started to get thin fast.

The unsettling cause for the thinning shells is the rapidly acidifying waters of the Pacific Ocean. Essentially, the mussels are in the process of a slow dissolve in the acid bath they now spend their lives stewing in.

If the thought of being slowly consumed from all around as you swim isn't quite horrifying enough, the researchers project that this is only the beginning of the bad news for yummy shellfish. With an ocean that's only growing more and more acidic, we could easily see mussels—with their new brittle bodies—die out.

Reference - Royal Society B


Chinese scientists uncover first direct connection between microcephaly and the Zika virus

© Nacho Doce / Reuters
Five-month-old Laura born with microcephaly undergoes a medical test.
The first ever direct evidence of a long-suspected link between the Zika virus and the presence of microcephaly in newborns has been uncovered by Chinese scientists. Microcephaly is a condition that results in abnormal brain and skull development.

Suspicions have been held for a while, especially after a rise in cases in Brazil and elsewhere, in which the mother of a newborn infected with microcephaly was often found to have been bitten by a Zika mosquito. Now scientists with the Institute of Genetics and Development Biology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Microbiology and Epidemiology under the Academy of Military Medical Sciences say they have found a direct connection, CCTV reports.

They did this by studying the effect of the virus on fetal mouse brains, after pulling a sample from a Chinese patient. Xu Zhizheng of the Academy of Sciences says the virus felt right at home, quickly spreading and infecting neural stem cells. This led to an abnormal proliferation and differentiation of the cells, leading to neural death. As soon as the mouse embryos were carried to term, all of the symptoms associated with microcephaly manifested themselves as suspected, along with genetic abnormalities.

"We hope the model can be used in drug and vaccine tests, helping with the prevention and treatment of Zika infection," said Qin of the Institute of Microbiology and Epidemiology.

The findings were published in the Cell Stem Cell journal.

Comment: The Health & Wellness Show: The Zika Virus: Hype vs. Reality

Bizarro Earth

Saharan dust storms linked to pathogenic Vibrio blooms

© Jeff Schmaltz, LANCE/EOSDIS MODIS Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC
The moderate resolution imaging spectroradiometer on NASA's Terra satellite acquired this natural-color image of dust sweeping off the coast of Western Sahara and Morocco on Aug. 7, 2015.
Iron, a critical element for living organisms, can be hard to hard to come by in open marine waters—except each summer, when atmospherically transported dust from north Africa's Sahara Desert provides pulses of biologically important nutrients, including iron, to the tropical marine waters of the Caribbean and southeastern U.S.

In a study published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers from the University of Georgia found that Vibrio bacteria respond rapidly to this influx of iron-rich Saharan dust, leading to large blooms of the potentially harmful bacteria in ocean surface water.

Vibrio bacteria, common to ocean waters worldwide, are probably best known for their ability to cause serious illness in humans and other marine organisms. These bacteria are also characterized by their ability to reproduce rapidly and respond to newly available resources.

"Part of what makes these normal marine bacteria also potentially pathogenic is their ability to grow quickly when conditions are favorable, whether in a host or in the environment," said study co-author Erin Lipp, a professor of environmental health science in the UGA College of Public Health.

"While we are interested in how the population dynamics of Vibrio might cause disease, for this study we wanted to use Vibrio's opportunistic behavior as a model for how bacteria could exploit the availability of new nutrients and, in particular, iron delivered in dust."

In the laboratory, the researchers were able to show that iron in dust could cause test cultures of Vibrio to grow. To confirm these findings, the team traveled to sites in the Florida Keys and Barbados to measure the Vibrio growth during natural Saharan dust events. Not only did they observe that dissolved iron increases in ocean surface water as the dust arrived, but Vibrio grew from a background level of just 1 percent to almost 20 percent of the total microbial community within 24 hours of exposure.

Comment: Warmer sea temperatures from May to October cause the Vibrio bacterium to grow faster. People with open wounds can be exposed to the pathogen through direct contact with seawater or when they eat raw shellfish. Shellfish, including oysters, clams, and mussels, should be cooked thoroughly before eating, and raw shellfish should be avoided.

Bizarro Earth

North American tectonic plate peeling off

© Johan Swanepoel/Shutterstock
Scientists suspect that chunks from the bottom of the North American tectonic plate, which is the upper portion of the mantle, are peeling off and sinking. Replacing the resulting void is gooey material from the asthenosphere.
An odd phenomenon may explain why the Southeastern United States has experienced recent earthquakes, even though the region sits snugly in the middle of a tectonic plate and not at the edges, where all the ground-shaking action usually happens.

This seismicity — or relatively frequent earthquakes — may be the result of areas along the bottom of the North American tectonic plate peeling off, the researchers said. And this peeling motion is likely to continue, leading to more earthquakes in the future, like the 2011 magnitude-5.8 temblor that shook the nation's capital.

To figure out the cause of these earthquakes, Berk Biryol, a seismologist at UNC Chapel Hill, and colleagues created 3D images of the uppermost part of Earth's mantle, which is just below the crust and comprises the bottom of a tectonic plate. These tectonic plates scoot around atop a layer of warm, viscous fluid called the asthenosphere.

The resulting X-ray images revealed that the plate's thickness in the southeast United States was uneven, with thick regions of dense, old rock combined with thinner areas composed of younger rocks that were also less dense.


Yellow fever outbreak: Experts call on WHO to respond to latest global health 'emergency'

Expert call on WHO to set emergency committee to tackle emerging yellow fever outbreak.
Medical experts have called on the World Health Organization (WHO) to convene an emergency committee in an effort to tackle an emerging epidemic of yellow fever infection across the world.

Two experts from Georgetown University Medical Center wrote to the WHO to immediately hold the meeting to decide a response to the new outbreak, which is becoming the latest global health emergency.

Professor Daniel Lucey and Lawrence Gostin urged the health organization to "mobilize funds, coordinate an international response, and spearhead a surge in vaccine production."

In return, the WHO said that holding an emergency committee meeting on yellow fever was "under discussion."

The experts also said the world's health advocates should not have to call for convening an emergency committee for each new international health threat.

Instead, the organization "should establish a standing emergency committee" to decide how to respond as new threats emerge, they said.

"Prior delays by the WHO in convening emergency committees for the Ebola virus, and possibly the on-going Zika epidemic, cost lives and should not be repeated," wrote the experts.

Comment: All eyes on Africa: Yellow Fever is the latest viral outbreak fear-mongering campaign


Documents reveal 8 to 10 million Iranians died over Great Famine caused by the British in late 1910s

© Wikimedia Commons
The "Big Three" at the Tehran Conference.
One of the little-known chapters of history was the widespread famine in Iran during World War I, caused by the British presence in Iran. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, Britain became the main foreign power in Iran and this famine or--more accurately--'genocide' was committed by the British. The document in the American Archives, reporting the widespread famine and spread of epidemic disease in Iran, estimates the number of the deceased due to the famine to be about 8-10 million during 1917-19 (1), making this the greatest genocide of the 20th century and Iran the biggest victim of World War I (2).

It should be noted that Iran had been one of the main suppliers of food grains to the British forces stationed in the empire's South Asian colonies. Although bad harvest during these two years made the situation worse, it was by no means the main reason why the Great Famine occurred. Prof. Gholi Majd of Princeton University writes in his book, The Great Famine and Genocide in Persia, that American documents show that the British prevented imports of wheat and other food grains into Iran from Mesopotamia, Asia, and also the USA, and that ships loaded with wheat were not allowed to unload at the port of Bushehr in the Persian Gulf. Professor Majd argues that Great Britain intentionally created genocide conditions to destroy Iran, and to effectively control the country for its own purposes. Major Donohoe describes Iran of that time as a "land of desolation and death" (3). But this event soon became the subject of a British cover up.

Britain has a long record of its several attempts to conceal history and rewrite it in their own favor. The pages are filled with conspiracies that were covered up by the British government to hide its involvement in different episodes that would tarnish the country's image. One of the clear examples is the "Jameson Raid"; a failed coup against Paul Kruger's government in South Africa. This raid was planned and executed directly by the British government of Joseph Chamberlain under the orders of Queen Victoria (4) (5). In 2002, Sir Graham Bower's memoirs were published in South Africa, revealing these involvements that had been covered up for more than a century, focusing attention on Bower as a scapegoat for the incident (6).

The records that were destroyed to cover up British crimes around the globe, or were kept in secret Foreign Office archives, so as to, not only protect the United Kingdom's reputation, but also to shield the government from litigation, are indicative of the attempts made by the British to evade the consequences of their crimes. The papers at Hanslope Park also include the reports on the "elimination" of the colonial authority's enemies in 1950s Malaya; records that show ministers in London knew of the torture and murder of Mau Mau insurgents in Kenya and roasting them alive (7). These records may include those related to Iran's Great Famine. Why were these records that cover the darkest secrets of the British Empire destroyed or kept secret? Simply because they might 'embarrass' Her Majesty's government (8).


Movement of water around the world contributes to Earth's rotational wobbles says NASA

© NASA/JPL-Caltech
Earth does not always spin on an axis running through its poles. Instead, it wobbles irregularly over time, drifting toward North America throughout most of the 20th Century (green arrow). That direction has changed drastically due to changes in water mass on Earth.
Using satellite data on how water moves around Earth, NASA scientists have solved two mysteries about wobbles in the planet's rotation -- one new and one more than a century old. The research may help improve our knowledge of past and future climate.

Although a desktop globe always spins smoothly around the axis running through its north and south poles, a real planet wobbles. Earth's spin axis drifts slowly around the poles; the farthest away it has wobbled since observations began is 37 feet (12 meters). These wobbles don't affect our daily life, but they must be taken into account to get accurate results from GPS, Earth-observing satellites and observatories on the ground.

In a paper published today in Science Advances, Surendra Adhikari and Erik Ivins of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, researched how the movement of water around the world contributes to Earth's rotational wobbles. Earlier studies have pinpointed many connections between processes on Earth's surface or interior and our planet's wandering ways. For example, Earth's mantle is still readjusting to the loss of ice on North America after the last ice age, and the reduced mass beneath that continent pulls the spin axis toward Canada at the rate of a few inches each year. But some motions are still puzzling.


Taiwan sees 37% increase in gonorrhea cases

Taiwan health officials are urging the public to avoid unsafe sex in light of the new numbers on gonorrhea cases on the island released earlier this week.

According to the surveillance data compiled by Taiwan Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the number of gonorrhea cases reported increased from 2,622 in 2014 to 3,584 in 2015, reflecting a 37% increase. Moreover, the increase in the number of infected women (41%) is higher than that in the number of infected men (36%).

Further, a 47% increase in cases aged between 10 and 19 from 2014 to 2015 has been observed. Although the number of reported cases among underage girls is only a few, an 107% increase in the number of reported cases among girls aged between 10 and 19 from 2011 to 2015 has been observed, which is higher than the 102% increase in the number of reported cases among boys in the same age group.

Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused the bacterium, Neisseria gonorrhoeae. This bacterium can infect the genital tract, mouth and rectum of both men and women. Ejaculation does not have to occur for the disease to be transmitted. It can also be transmitted from mother to baby during delivery.

Symptoms of gonorrhea usually appear with 2 to 5 days after sexual contact with an infected partner, occasionally symptoms make take longer to appear.

Men have symptoms more often than women and they may include; a white, yellow or green discharge from the penis with pain, burning sensations during urination, and painful, swollen testicles.In women, infection may be asymptomatic. If present, the early symptoms of gonorrhea are often mild. The first symptoms in women are frequently; painful or burning sensations when urinating, an increase in discharge (yellow or bloody) and bleeding after intercourse.