August 7 2006


August 7 2006



Summations in his trial began in Baghdad but without Saddam. He was off on a hunger strike, protesting the proceedings. The 17-day fast prompted his guards to insert a feeding tube on Sunday. Despite the reduced calories, Saddam found enough strength to pen a 5,000-word letter to Americans, urging them to quit Iraq. His rambling missive argued that President Bush had misled them and blamed both Israeli supporters and his old enemy, Iran, with urging the invasion.


Seeds in space

Chinese space authorities are planning the country’s first allvegetable space mission this fall: a recoverable satellite will expose 2,000 varieties of seeds to microgravity and cosmic radiation in a bid to improve yields for fruits and vegetables. It’s known that the extremely low gravity of orbit produces mutations in seeds: previous missions with seeds aboard have resulted in tomato and pepper plants producing 10 to 20 per cent larger yields.

African split

Satellite images are enabling scientists to observe the birth of a new sea in Africa, albeit one growing with millennial slowness. A scientific team is recording a rift widening in Ethiopia’s Afar Desert. Last year, a 60-km piece of land spread by as much as 8 m. Magma rose from below with a volume twice that produced by the 1980 Mount St. Helens eruption. If the crack continues to widen, in several

million years it could spread wide enough for the Red Sea to flood the zone, splitting Africa in two.

Go forth, multiply

Are the northern lights seeding the universe with bacteria from the earth? So far it’s only a theory, but it’s a tantalizing one. At last week’s biennial meeting of the international Committee on Space Research, scientists learned of U.S. government studies into electromagnetic radiation and how it could loft bacteria into the upper atmosphere. There, says the theory, they could evolve resistance to ultraviolet light and the vacuum of space. Highlevel electromagnetic currents might carry them into space and on to other planets.

Blow it out your ocean

The ocean farts, and that’s bad. Experts from the University of California at Santa Barbara have examined methane “blowouts,” large bubbles of the combustible gas rising from the ocean floor. Some bubbles have been measured at 5,000 cubic feet. Ira Leifer

of the school’s Marine Science Institute, says such blowouts could have a major impact on climate change, because methane is 20 times more potent a contributor to global warming than carbon dioxide.


Tigers burning out

How long has it taken for tigers’ habitat to shrink by 40 per cent? Just 10 years, conservationists report. Now down to just 7 per cent of their historic range, the world’s tiger population has fallen from 100,000 a century ago to somewhere between 5,100 and 7,500 today (although recent miscounts in India mean that figure could be even lower). Habitat loss, hunting and illegal commerce have slashed their numbers. Eric Dinerstein, chief scientist for the World Wildlife Federation, warns, “another decade like the last one will be catastrophic for tigers.” The WWF and other organizations have created a strategy to save the big cats that includes consolidating larger habitats.

Blanket foils Houdini

His owners gave Houdini the Burmese python an electric blan-

ket to keep him warm while he slept. But while eating a rabbit in bed recently, Houdini somehow got the electric blanket entangled and ended up swallowing the blanket, its electrical cord and even the control box. A veterinarian in Houdini’s home town of Ketchum, Idaho, made a 45-cm incision and removed the apparatus, probably saving the 27-kg python’s life.


Prescribed death

Medical painkillers have surpassed heroine and cocaine as the most common source of fatal accidental drug overdoses in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control have reported 4,451 prescription-drug deaths in 2002, compared to 2,569 for cocaine and 1,061 for heroin. Among the killer prescriptions were oxycodone and methadone. However, it’s not known how many overdose deaths were the result of recreational users taking the prescription painkillers. Deaths from all unintended drug overdoses increased by 5-3 per cent a year between 1970 and 1990, then a shocking 18.1 per cent between 1990 and 2002.


Afer a five-year civil war and three years of incomplete peace, Congo will hold UN-supervised elections on Sunday. However, the central African nation’s bishops have urged their 60 million adherents to boycott the vote if allegations of electoral fraud go unaddressed. Meanwhile, the British horse-racing authority will investigate jockey Paul O’Neill after his horse, City Affair, threw O’Neill while in the parade ring last Sunday. O’Neill lost his temper and head-butted the animal.

Let it run

A review of research into the use of antibiotics to treat colds and other illnesses that make your nose run has come to the conclusion that it’s better not to take the drugs for those illnesses. The University of Auckland found that only one person in seven benefits from antibiotics for runny-nose infections. Besides, there can be side effects, such as vomiting and diarrhea, and, doctors warn, it increases bugs’ resistance to antibiotics.

Never too late

It doesn’t matter when you start exercising in life, even after age 40, just so long as you exercise. A new study at Germany’s University of Heidelberg found that people who are active throughout their lives have a 60 per cent lower chance of developing coronary disease compared to completely sedentary people. However, those who started exercising for the first time after age 40 still have a 55 per cent chance of avoiding heart attacks and stroke. The biggest benefits of all were enjoyed by those who took no exercise then became very active.

Bad air, bad heart

There’s another health menace in polluted air: it can increase your risk of succumbing to a fatal heart attack. Swedish researchers have found that 30-year residents of places badly polluted with, among other things, carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide and particulates, have a 40 per cent higher risk of a fatal heart attack. Although the long-term effects of air pollution on the heart are still not well understood, science believes that pollutants add to heart attack risks through chronic inflammation and promoting hardening of the arteries and altering heart functions.


It’s the boss’s fault

An overwhelming number of workers blame poor morale on their bosses’ poor leadership. A study conducted by an American personnel firm found that 73 per cent of employees say that how their bosses lead them directly affects workplace morale. Another 16 per cent say their morale is affected by workloads, while 11 per cent blamed salaries

and benefits. Almost none of respondents cited long hours or threat of layoff.

My first bank

For Canada’s financial institutions, getting them hooked while they’re still kids is important. A new poll shows that 44 per cent of Canadians still bank at the institution where they opened their first accounts (at the average age of 13). Quebecers are even more loyal to their first banks, with 59 per cent sticking with them (45 per cent of Canadians opened accounts to deposit job earnings).


Billy Buster

Computer science professor Andrew Ng is working on a “Billy Buster,” a robot capable of assembling IKEA’s Billy bookcases, of which more than one million have been sold worldwide. Ng, who has bought two of them, says a robot would take the drudgery and confusion out of putting together unassembled furniture. He teaches at California’s Stanford University, a global leader in robotics, and has thrown 30 researchers into the task. “Building a bookcase from scratch, without any specific programming, is the ultimate challenge,” Ng says. “After that, I hope it can tidy up the mess.”

Sins of the jet set

The Anglican bishop of London has condemned holidays by jet as sinful. Richard Chartres has urged his flock to stay off the jumbos and adopt a more ecofriendly way of life. “Sin is not just a list of moral mistakes,” he says. “It is living a life where people ignore the consequences of their actions,” he says. The Church of England is encouraging parishioners and the church itself to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.


Gianmario Roveraro,70, financier. A former Italian Olympic pole vaulter, he founded Akros Finanziaria, a financial firm investigated by Italian police for its role in the Parmalat scandal, in which the global food giant collapsed in 2003 with more than $20 billion in debts. Roveraro was kidnapped July 5, shortly after attending a meeting of Opus Dei, a conservative Catholic group. His body, dismembered by a chainsaw, was discovered last Friday. A financial consultant with whom Roveraro participated in an investment scheme gone bad has been questioned in connection with the murder.

Jack Warden, 85, actor. A former middleweight boxer and paratrooper he usually played gruff policemen, coaches and businessmen. A fixture in television dramas, he rose to prominence in movies with 12 Angry Men and received two Oscar nominations, for Shampoo and Heaven Can Wait. M