May 1 2006


May 1 2006



For the first time in 16 years of enjoying power as George W. Bush’s political architect, the White House deputy chief of staff suffered a voltage reduction. He was relieved of his job of developing domestic policy, but was allowed to keep a role in political strategy. It was an unprecedented setback for the power-loving Rove. While he put on a brave face, one political insider noted, “Let’s put it this way—he didn’t go home and celebrate this with his family.”


Words and music

Japan’s NTT has developed a version of “orthogonal frequencydivision multiplexing,” an audioencoding system that can transmit embedded text inside radio signals. It would enable broadcasters and even stores to send out URLs embedded in music that direct cellphones to appropriate websites. Store customers, for example, would hear only music, but see websites on Webenabled phones.

Synthetic oil

A double whammy of two chemical catalysts can make synthetic hydrocarbons. Scientists have discovered how to use an iridium-based molecule to yank

hydrogen atoms off the short molecular chains that make up coal or natural gas. When that happens, the carbon atoms rearrange themselves into long chains. Next, the scientists use a newly discovered “Schrocktype” catalyst to force the carbon atoms to distribute themselves into even longer, more complex molecules. Finally, they use the iridium catalyst to peg the hydrogen back on. The result is a practical hydrocarbon molecule

that can be used to make petroleum products such as diesel fuel.

Girl crazy

Women may have already realized this, but Belgian scientists have proved that men’s decisionmaking skills can be addled by the sight of a beautiful woman. Tests using business-transaction simulations showed that men who saw pictures of beautiful women in lingerie were more likely to accept unfair offers than those who were not exposed to such pictures.

Beneath Antarctica

An ice core from Antarctica, believed to be millions of years old, has been extracted by an expedition, which is hoping the sample will yield secrets of the

distant past through analysis of its air. The institute retrieved the ice from 3.7 km beneath Antarctica’s surface. Meanwhile, other researchers have found a whole network of rivers that connect hundreds of underground lakes beneath the frozen continent. The rivers apparently circulate water between the lakes. Sealed for centuries, they may prove to be the site of an undiscovered ecosystem. But the trouble with exploring the deep rivers

is the danger of contaminating an environment cut off from our world.


Hero cat

A baby boy, abandoned on a doorstep in Cologne, Germany, escaped possible death by hypothermia thanks to an unnamed cat. A homeowner, awakened by the animal’s loud yowling, saw the cat with the baby on the doorstep. The child, whose mother hasn’t been found, suffered only mild exposure. “The cat is a hero,” said a police spokesman.

Retired star

He’s outlived them all: Cheeta, the chimpanzee who co-starred with the late Johnny Weissmuller and the late Maureen O’Sullivan in the 1930s series of Tarzan movies, celebrated his 74th birthday on April 9. The oldest known chimpanzee, he observed the day with a small party, complete with cake and party hats, in his California animal sanctuary.

Atomic animals

Chernobyl is turning into a huge animal reserve. Wildlife experts say that populations of animals are growing rapidly, unhindered by motor traffic, hunters or engineers intent on draining marshes. The experts have tracked wild boars, whose populations grew eightfold in the years after the disaster. Their numbers are now held in check by wolf packs. As well, songbirds and horses roam the area. Although first generations of many animals died or failed to reproduce consistently after the 1986 nuclear accident, subsequent generations are proving healthier.

Back from the brink

They look like pandas crossed with sheep. And last week, the

Kerry Hill breed of sheep came off an annual “watch list” maintained by Britain’s Rare Breeds Survival Trust, which tracks the dwindling populations of exotic breeds of domesticated animals. The Kerries have dense, unusually white fleece, except around their ears, eyes, noses and knees, which are black. The sheep were once numerous, but their numbers had declined until recently, when they became popular among small farmers and enthusiasts who fall for their plush, toy-like look.


GPS and teens

New and inexpensive global positioning system devices such as mini-cellphones and units embedded in shoes enable parents to keep track of where their children are. But one human rights expert, Privacy International’s Simon Davis, is warning that parents can become obsessed with following their kids, to the point of forming unhealthy fixations that harm their relationship with their children, especially teenagers who need an increasing sense of space and freedom to develop into adults. In addition, he warns that if parents can track their kids, it’s possible for others to do so too.


Microsoft challenges the European Commission’s 2004 antitrust ruling against it in the European Union’s Court of First Instance, the EU’s second-highest tribunal. The court will decide whether to overturn a ruling that Microsoft abused its near-monopoly status with Windows. Meanwhile, in a London court, British officials will argue that Saudis accused of torturing British-Canadian William Sampson (left) should be immune from civil litigation filed in the United Kingdom.

Teens and clothes

How much more can teenaged girls possibly spend on clothes? Apparently, a lot. A survey of North American girls found that spending rose 16 per cent in the last year alone. Fashion purchases, according to research firm Piper Jaffray & Co., consumed 43 per cent of the total teen spending budget.


Stem cells from fat

Clinical trials will begin in Japan shortly to determine whether stem cells can be cultivated from fat tissue. The company undertaking the trial, which has been approved by Japanese regulators, says a test of 20 women who have undergone partial mastectomies owing to breast cancer could prove whether new breast tissue can be generated from the stem cells.


They may have more of an excuse than the average couch potato, but people suffering from arthritis are even less likely to exercise, despite the fact that it can

benefit those with the debilitating and painful joint disease. A U.S. health survey last week said 37 per cent of people with arthritis do no exercise, even though strength training and cardiovascular work can improve their conditions.


Where’s the cash?

The Spanish government is trying to figure out why a quarter of all 500-euro banknotes in circulation are ending up in Spain and then disappearing. More than 100 million 500-euro notes were issued to Spanish retail banks than were returned by them. With a booming construction industry in Spain, it’s suspected that cash-economy workers are using the notes—which are worth $700 apiece—as well as the na-

tion’s busy army of money launderers. The notes have been nicknamed “bin Ladens” in Spain, because everyone knows they’re around but no one sees them.


Sovereign Scots

Scots are divided on the prospects of sovereignty, with 46 per cent supporting independence from the United Kingdom vs. 39 per cent who are opposed. The last vestige of Scotland’s independence ended in 1707. Although Scots have had a limited legislative assembly with tax powers since 1999, 82 per cent would favour a referendum on the question of full independence.

Big decisions

Almost half of U.S. Internet users consult the Web for help in making major decisions in life. That can range from choosing schools for their children or helping someone close to them through a serious illness. A study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project found that 45 per cent of Internet users, about 60 million people, reported that the Net helps them make such big decisions. About 16 million Americans use the Net for help on major investments.


Money down drain

German police last week revealed that a senior citizen in Kiel, under the mistaken impression that the nation’s former currency, the Deutschmark, had become worthless since the introduction of the euro, flushed DM60,000 down his toilet. Although obsolete, the $43,000 worth of flushed Deutschmarks could be exchanged for euros at any bank. Sewer workers managed to recover half the banknotes from

the man’s plumbing, and most of the others clogged a local sewer line and were fished out.

Skimpy anniversary

The two-piece bikini bathing suit has turned 60. Created by French automotive engineer Louis Reard,

the bikini caused a sensation in 1946 Paris. Reard named the bathing suit after Bikini Atoll, in the South Pacific’s Marshall Islands, where the United States had just begun testing atomic bombs.


Albert Scott Crossfield, 84, test pilot. The first man to fly at twice the speed of sound, Crossfield also flew the famous X-15 rocket plane, reaching 1,920 mph. He died last week in a Cessna recreational airplane he was piloting.

Shin Sang-ok, 80, filmmaker. The pioneering movie director in postwar South Korea was abducted to North Korea in 1978, where Kim Jong II ordered him to make propaganda films. Shin refused and was sent to prison, where for a time he had to eat grass and tree bark to survive. He was released in 1986 and eventually moved to Hollywood, where he made 3 Ninjas. M