Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Nightowl Newswrap - a roundup of news you might have missed

Flordia evacuates: As Tropical Storm Fay made its way towards Florida's coast, Key West started boarding up businesses in its historic downtown preparing for a possible hurricane by landfall...Florida Keys officials closed schools, opened shelters and urged visitors to leave as Fay threatened to strengthen into a hurricane today. Residents and tourists seemed in no hurry to evacuate. Traffic remained light leaving Key West and the Lower Keys this afternoon. In the Upper Keys, authorities say traffic is becoming heavy. Fay could start pelting parts of the Keys and South Florida late Monday or early Tuesday as a strong tropical storm or minimal hurricane.

Turmoil in Afghanistan: Scores of police manned checkpoints around Afghanistan's capital Sunday after authorities ordered more than 7,000 officers to secure Kabul ahead of the country's Independence Day, an indication of how militants pose a growing threat to the capital. The rest of the country saw a surge in violence. Officials said several clashes in Afghanistan's south and east killed 73 Taliban fighters and five private security guards, while a roadside blast killed 10 policemen. The Interior Ministry said the beefed-up police force in the capital would search buildings as well as cars to "create an environment of trust and prevent any disruptive actions by the enemy."

Global warming is leading to the discovery of missing ships and people: Canada said Friday it will search for two fabled British explorer ships that disappeared in the Arctic more 160 years ago, fearing melting ice caused by global warming could entice others to find and plunder the underwater tombs. Environment Minister John Baird announced the Parks Canada-led search for British Arctic explorer Sir John Franklin's ships. The HMS Erebus and HMS Terror were last seen in the late-1840s. Franklin and 128 hand-picked officers and men vanished mysteriously on an expedition that began in 1845 to find the fabled Northwest Passage. Franklin's disappearance prompted one of history's largest rescue searches, from 1848 to 1859, which resulted in the discovery of the passage. The route runs from the Atlantic to the Pacific through the Arctic archipelago. European explorers sought the passage as a shorter route to Asia, but found it rendered inhospitable by ice and weather.

Fanciful claims always lead to lawsuits: The makers of Airborne tablets have agreed to pay $30 million to settle a lawsuit and federal regulators' charges that they made false claims about the cold-fighting benefits of the fruit-flavored remedies. The Federal Trade Commission said Thursday there is no evidence that products from Bonita Springs, Fla.-based Airborne Health Inc. "provide any tangible benefit for people who are exposed to germs in crowded places." The company, founded by Victoria Knight-McDowell and Thomas John McDowell, markets a line of water-dissolving tablets that are sold in pharmacies and grocery stores nationwide. Airborne's chief executive stressed Thursday that the FTC charges deal with advertising and labeling that the company no longer uses.

Calm the fuck down--it's just a rocket: The White House said Sunday that Iran's announcement it had launched a home-built rocket into space was "troubling" because such technology could also be used for ballistic missiles. "The Iranian development and testing of rockets is troubling and raises further questions about their intentions," spokesman Gordon Johndroe said as US President George W. Bush spent time on his Texas ranch. "This action and dual use possibilities for their ballistic missile program have been a subject of IAEA discussions and are inconsistent with their UN Security Council obligations," Johndroe said, referring to the International Atomic Energy Agency -- the UN nuclear watchdog. He spoke after Tehran said it had sent a home-built rocket carrying a dummy satellite into space on Sunday, in a move that could further exacerbate tensions with the West over its nuclear drive. "The Safir (Ambassador) rocket was successfully launched. All its systems ... are Iranian made," Reza Taghipour, head of Iran's space agency, told state television, adding that a "test satellite was put into orbit."Ooh! Scary! Except when you consider they've been developing this technology for years: Iran has pursued a space program for several years, and in October 2005 a Russian-made Iranian satellite named Sina-1 was put into orbit by a Russian rocket. But why deal with the facts when scaring the shit out of people will do?

Evacuations at the Grand Canyon: Days of heavy rains around the Grand Canyon caused an earthen dam to fail Sunday and created flooding that forced helicopters to pluck hundreds of residents and campers from the gorge. No injuries were immediately reported. The failure of the Redlands Dam caused some flooding in Supai, a village on a canyon floor where about 400 members of the Havasupai tribe live, said Grand Canyon National Park spokeswoman Maureen Oltrogge. The current floods and potential for more required the evacuations, she said. No structures were damaged after the dam failed about 45 miles upstream from Supai, but some hiking trails and footbridges were washed out, she said. Trees were uprooted, the National Weather Service said.

They already make our enemies stupider--it's called the Media: Forget performance-enhancing drugs for soldiers, the next frontier is performance-degrading drugs for our enemies. Rick Weiss at the Science Progress blog has just written a nice post about a just-released 150-page report from the National Research Council and the Defense Intelligence Agency that argues that the military needs to do a better job keeping up with neuroscience: in part so it can learn how to make our enemies stupider. “Although conflict has many aspects, one that warfighters and policy makers often talk about is the motivation to fight, which undoubtedly has its origins in the brain and is reflected in peripheral neurophysiological processes," quotes Weiss from the report. “So one question would be, ‘How can we disrupt the enemy’s motivation to fight?’ Other questions raised by controlling the mind: ‘How can we make people trust us more?’ ‘What if we could help the brain to remove fear or pain?’ ‘Is there a way to make the enemy obey our commands?’… As cognitive neuroscience and related technologies become more pervasive, using technology for nefarious purposes becomes easier.”

The worst pandemic ever? Survivors of the devastating 1918 influenza pandemic are still protected from the virus, according to researchers in the US. American scientists found that people who lived through the outbreak can still produce antibodies that kill the deadly strain of the H1N1 flu. The study, published in the journal Nature, could help develop emergency treatments for future outbreaks. The Spanish flu outbreak of 1918 killed an estimated 50 million people.

Biden goes to Georgia: Senator Joe Biden, a top Obama surrogate who's being discussed as a potential Veep for Obama, just announced that he'll be visiting Georgia, too, in addition to key McCain surrogates Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham. "I am going to Georgia this weekend to get the facts first-hand and to show my support for Georgia's people and its democratically-elected government," Biden said in a statement released today. "I look forward to reporting to my colleagues in the Senate and on the Foreign Relations Committee, as well as the Administration, about what I learn." The move, which is likely to stir even more speculation about Biden's Veep chances, could play in Obama's favor. The Illinois Senator would almost certainly like one of his key foreign policy allies to visit Georgia, too, at a time when McCain is trying to usurp the commander-in-chief role with regard to the Russia-Georgia crisis by talking to the lead actors in the crisis almost daily and dispatching his own campaign allies to the region.

A short lived peace: A day after Barack Obama and John McCain exchanged an embrace during a faith forum at a California megachurch, Obama called the U.S. economy a disaster thanks to "John McCain's president, George W. Bush," and chided his Republican rival's campaign for trying to make him look unpatriotic and weak.