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The government of Cameroon has created a new national park aimed at protecting the critically endangered Cross River gorilla, the world’s rarest.

Takamanda National Park, on the border with Nigeria, is home to an estimated 115 Cross River gorillas.

The total population of the subspecies is thought to be less than 300.

The news comes as governments of 10 gorilla range states gather in Rome for the first meeting of a new partnership aimed at protecting the primates.

The Gorilla Agreement was finalised in June, and brings together all the countries where the various species and subspecies are found.

The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) helped establish the Takamanda park, and believes it will help curb the hunting and forest destruction that have brought Cross River numbers to such a minuscule level.

“The government of Cameroon is to be commended for taking this step in saving the Cross River gorilla for future generations,” said Steven Sanderson, president and CEO of WCS.

“By forming this national park, Cameroon sends a powerful message about the importance of conservation.”

Gorillas should be able to move freely between the Takamanda reserve and Nigeria’s Cross River National Park just across the border, helping to repair the fragmentation of habitat which can isolate tiny wildlife populations.

Communal benefits

Two years ago, with most gorilla populations falling, environment groups and concerned governments initiated a process designed to bring all the countries where the animals live into a new conservation deal.

The Gorilla Agreement, formulated under the UN Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), is the result.

Among other things, member governments have pledged to ensure suitable habitat is protected, co-operate with each other, restrain the spread of the Ebola virus, raise awareness of gorilla conservation and minimise conflict between the animals and human populations

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On Saturday, the 10 member countries hold their inaugural meeting in Rome.

“Getting the agreement signed was a great conservation achievement,” said David Greer, co-ordinator of the African Great Apes Programme with conservation group WWF.

“It is now time for action. Together, we will look specifically at what steps each government will take to ensure gorillas have a secure future in the wild – through direct conservation action in a way that also benefits local communities.”

This is a crucial aspect of the agreement. An estimated 15,000 people, for example, make a living from the flora and fauna of the Takamanda forest; without involving them in conservation initiatives, it is unlikely that the downward slide of Cross River gorillas could be stopped.

Other threats such as conflict would ideally be addressed under the agreement. Unrest in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has brought armed conflict to Virunga National Park, rendering conservation impossible and raising the chances of primates being shot for food.

A coalition of groups, including the UN Environment Programme and the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums, has declared 2009 the Year of the Gorilla in an attempt to raise awareness about the animals still further.

Weapon Of Mass Destruction

October 27, 2008

As much shit as we have the hippies talking about nuclear weapons, or our dolt of a President talking about Saddam’s pseudo-WMDs, the real weapon of mass destruction is right here in our backyard. Churches, temples, mosques, and other religious institutions have been spreading hate, death, and mass destruction far far longer than any man made weapon. I refuse to participate in any religion and refuse to ever support anything that doesn’t treat every other human on the planet as a God Damn equal until he does something to prove otherwise.

T h e S u i c i d e S o n g

Gloomy Sunday – the notorious ‘Hungarian Suicide Song’ – was written in 1933. Its melody and original lyrics were the creation of Rezső Seress, a self-taught pianist and composer born in Hungary in 1899.

The crushing hopelessness and bitter despair which characterised the two stanza penned by Seress were superseded by the more mournful, melancholic verses of Hungarian poet László Jávor.

When the song came to public attention it quickly earned its reputation as a ‘suicide song’. Reports from Hungary alleged individuals had taken their lives after listening to the haunting melody, or that the lyrics had been left with their last letters.

The lyricists Sam M. Lewis and Desmond Carter each penned an English translatation of the song. It was Lewis’s version, first recorded by Hal Kemp and his Orchestra, with Bob Allen on vocals (1936), that was to become the most widely covered.

The popularity of Gloomy Sunday increased greatly through its interpretation by Billie Holiday (1941). In an attempt to alleviate the pessemistic tone a third stanza was added to this version, giving the song a dreamy twist, yet still the suicide reputation remained. Gloomy Sunday was banned from the playlists of major radio broadcasters around the world. The B.B.C. deemed it too depressing for the airwaves.

Despite all such bans, Gloomy Sunday continued to be recorded and sold.

People continued to buy the recordings; some committed suicide.

Rezső Seress jumped to his death from his flat in 1968.


LITERAL ENGLISH TRANSLATION:

It is autumn and the leaves are falling
All love has died on earth
The wind is weeping with sorrowful tears
My heart will never hope for a new spring again
My tears and my sorrows are all in vain
People are heartless, greedy and wicked…

Love has died!

The world has come to its end, hope has ceased to have a meaning
Cities are being wiped out, shrapnel is making music
Meadows are coloured red with human blood
There are dead people on the streets everywhere
I will say another quiet prayer:
People are sinners, Lord, they make mistakes…

The world has ended!

Hello world!

October 26, 2008

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The destruction of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil has accelerated for the first time in four years, Brazilian officials say.

Satellite images show 11,968 sq km of land was cleared in the year to July, nearly 4% higher than the year before.

The government said the figure was unsatisfactory but could have been a lot worse if it had not taken action against illegal logging.

High commodity prices had allegedly tempted farmers to clear more land.

In recent years the Brazilian government has been able to celebrate three successive falls in deforestation.

But the latest estimate from the National Institute for Space Research, known as INPE, shows that this trend has come to a halt.

‘Could be worse’

Gilberto Camara of the Space Research Institute, said they would have liked better news.

“We believe it is a setback, but we believe it is also positive in the sense that the expected levels were much higher,” Mr Camara said.

“There was a lot of burning on the ground in the second half of 2007, which could have led to a much greater increase in deforestation.”

In late 2007 and early 2008 there were signs that deforestation was on the rise again – with land said to be in demand for cattle and soya at a time when commodity prices were high, says the BBC’s Garry Duffy in Sao Paulo.

In response the government announced a series of measures to clamp down on illegal logging, including a major operation involving police and environmental inspectors known as the “Arc of Fire”.

Brazil’s Environment Minister, Carlos Minc, said that without actions like this, the figures could have been much higher.

“Many had expected an increase of 30-40% and we managed to stabilise it,” Mr Minc told a news conference.

But he said that the government was still not satisfied.

“We want to lower numbers even more. We want zero deforestation.”

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Japanese consumer electronics firm Panasonic has cut its annual profit forecast by 90% because of the global economic downturn.

The company now expects to report net profits of 30bn yen ($315m, £210m) for the year ending in March 2009.

Panasonic made a net profit of 281.88bn yen a year ago and had originally forecast a 310bn yen profit this year.

It said conditions were “deteriorating sharply” because of falling consumer spending and tougher competition.

The company also cut its sales forecast by 7.6% to 8.5 trillion yen.

Panasonic cited the rise in the value of the yen as another reason for weaker profits. A stronger yen cuts the exporter’s overseas earnings.

depression There is little doubt that  Much as fatty diets, cigarette smoking, inactivity and obesity are linked with an increased risk of heart disease, recent evidence suggests that mental health has a similarly powerful impact. The question has always been, why?

Now, researchers provide the first data that may explain the association. Published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the findings suggest that depression contributes to heart disease indirectly — by fostering unhealthy behaviors like smoking — rather than directly. Certain biological factors linked with depression, such as inflammation and the levels of brain chemicals like serotonin, may play some role in heart health, researchers say, but the new study found that the factors that most increased heart disease risk in depressed people were the ones you might expect: Lack Of Excercise and Smoking.

“We looked at all sorts of biological markers that could potentially play a role in linking depression and heart disease,” says Dr. Mary Whooley, an internist at the VA Medical Center in San Francisco, and lead author of the new study. “We measured all of those, and found that they did not explain the association. All we needed to do was to ask the patient how much they were exercising to be able to explain the link.”

Whooley studied more than 1,000 patients with heart disease at the VA for nearly five years. The patients filled out regular questionnaires to determine their mood state, and were asked yearly to report on any heart-related events. Researchers took blood and urine samples to measure their levels of omega-3 fatty acids, cortisol and the inflammatory marker C-reactive protein, as well as the neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine — all agents that may be involved in both depression and heart disease. In all, about 20% of the participants reported depressive symptoms; over five years, those patients had a 50% higher rate of additional heart problems, compared with their non-depressed peers.

Whooley’s team studied the depressed group further. Researchers systematically adjusted for each potential risk factor to figure out whether it was mediating the link between depression and heart disease. Physiological factors, such as serotonin levels or CRP, for example, appeared not to have much impact. But when researchers adjusted for physical activity — that is, when they analyzed the data by assuming identical levels of exercise in both depressed and non-depressed patients — the difference in heart disease risk between the groups disappeared. Indeed, inactivity among the depressed patients gave them a 44% greater risk of having a heart event than people who were not depressed, accounting for nearly all of the depressed patients’ 50% higher risk. Picking up the remainder of the increased risk was cigarette smoking.

The findings suggest that the effect of depression on heart health may have less to do with changes in hormones or other biochemical pathways, and more to do with behavior. Compared with other people, notes Whooley, the depressed are less healthy overall — they’re less likely to exercise or take their heart medications, and are more likely to smoke. The relationship also feeds back on itself; previous studies show that exercise not only improves cardiovascular health, but also elevates mood and can ease depression.

The study may even help to explain why treating depression alone — rather than addressing patients’ mental state and accompanying behavioral changes — has not proven successful in reducing the risk of heart disease. “We have always looked at certain behaviors like physical activity and smoking in isolation with respect to their effect on heart disease,” says Dr. Clyde Yancy, president-elect of the American Heart Association and medical director of the heart and vascular institute at Baylor College of Medicine. “But one or both could be manifestations of depression, which in turn leads to heart disease.”

And while researchers are intrigued by the question of which comes first — depression or heart disease — the study points out that, in practice, it doesn’t really matter. “It’s hard to tease out which came first,” says Whooley. “But our bottom line is that regardless of which is coming first, this study introduces a new pathway that might get at that risk, by focusing not so much on depression itself, but by getting at the behaviors that go along with depression.” It may be easier to take Prozac than to take a jog, but as the study suggests, it may not always be as effective.

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Man-made pollution is raising ocean acidity at least 10 times faster than previously thought, a study says.

Researchers say carbon dioxide levels are having a marked effect on the health of shellfish such as mussels.

They sampled coastal waters off the north-west Pacific coast of the US every half-hour for eight years.

The results, published in the journal PNAS, suggest that earlier climate change models may have underestimated the rate of ocean acidification.

Ocean pH

Professor Timothy Wootton from the department of ecology and evolution, University of Chicago, in Illinois, says such dramatic results were unexpected as it was thought that the huge ocean systems had the ability to absorb large quantities of CO2.

“It’s been thought pH in the open oceans is well buffered, so it’s surprising to see these fluctuations,” he said.

The findings showed that CO2 had lowered the water pH over time, demonstrating a year-on-year increase in acidity.

The research involved taking daily measurements of water pH levels, salinity and temperature, off the coast of Tatoosh island, a small outcrop lying in the Pacific Ocean, just off the north-western tip of Washington state, US.

As well as measuring physical factors, the health of marine life present in the coastal ecosystem was also tracked.

Professor Wootton says biological factors were missing from previous models of ocean climate systems – and that life in the ocean, or in this case on the ocean edge, can also affect seawater pH.

“Over a short time, biology is affecting pH, through photosynthesis and respiration, but current models don’t include biological activity as part of the story,” he explained.

Calcium carbonate

Every summer, Professor Wootton returned to the same sites on Tatoosh island’s windswept coasts, to look at the abundance and distribution of life at the water’s edge. He was especially interested in barnacles, algae and the dominant species, the Californian mussel.

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The mussel has a calcium carbonate -based shell, which can be weakened or even dissolved by exposure to acid. Professor Wootton says the increase in acidity may be responsible for the decline in mussels noted in the study.

“Patterns show the chances of mussels being replaced are higher than for species without calcified shells,” he said.

Other species quickly move into the space previously occupied by the mussels – though one of these species, the barnacle, also has calcified shells.

To explain this apparent anomaly, Professor Wootton says the decline of the dominant species allows a window where another species may thrive – though he expects this to be temporary as the interloper too will eventually be affected by the increasing acidity.

“In the short term, the long term decline is offset by the release from competition,” he explained.

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Chemical oceanography

The researchers say they were surprised that the plants and animals in their study are so sensitive to CO2 changes. These organisms live in the harsh inter-tidal zones, they may be submerged under water, exposed to the sun, then lashed by waves and storms.

Professor Wootton says the most troubling finding is the speed of acidification, with the pH level dropping at a much greater rate than was previously thought.

“It’s going down 10 to 20 times faster than the previous models predicted,” he says.

The research team are now working together with chemical oceanographers to see how their coastal observations can be matched with large scale observations, to try to explain why the decline in pH levels seems to be happening so quickly.

“We actually know surprisingly little about how ocean acidity is changing over time, we need a broader network of measurements,” said Professor Wootton.

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The bird, known as “flying barn doors” because of its size, could be reintroduced into Norfolk next summer if the scheme gets the go-ahead.

The government’s conservation agency Natural England, the RSPB and Anglian Water hope to bring back the species.

It was driven out of England more than 200 years ago and had disappeared from the UK by 1918.

The plans come after the sea eagle, also known as the white-tailed eagle, was brought back to west Scotland in a project that began in 1975.

There are now more than 40 breeding pairs in the area, with 34 chicks produced last year, and another scheme has begun in east Scotland.

Natural England’s chief scientist, Tom Tew, said returning the sea eagle to East Anglia would boost the local economy, put a top predator back in its natural place in the ecosystem and be “inspirational” for people.

On the Isle of Mull it has been estimated that the reintroduction of the birds bring in an extra £1.5m a year to the local economy.

Dr Tew said: “They are a magnificent bird and the UK’s rarest bird.

“Bringing them back would be inspirational to people and a boost for the local economy brought by eco-tourism.

“They are also the missing piece in the jigsaw, the top predator which should be in a wetland ecosystem.”

Scottish problems

He said Norfolk had been assessed as the best place in England for releasing sea eagles, because it contained large areas of wetland habitat.

And with only about 7,000 pairs of the eagle in the world, establishing a population in England could also help global efforts to conserve the species, Dr Tew added.

Rob Lucking, RSPB area manager for The Wash and North Norfolk, said: “The sight of birds of prey like the white-tailed eagle is a sure sign of a strong and healthy environment.

“Without them our ecosystem is disfigured, our natural and cultural heritage diminished and we are all the poorer.

“A re-introduction must be done properly and with due regard to the people and wildlife nearby but, if it can be done, then the sight of eagles soaring over Norfolk would give a huge lift to people’s spirits and to the local economy.”

The reintroduction of the birds in Scotland has produced problems, including poisoning incidents and claims that the birds have been taking lambs.

Natural England and the RSPB are now keen to consult local people and landowners before deciding whether to attempt to reintroduce them elsewhere.

Bicycle Day:PARIS

October 2, 2008

paris_bicycle The mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoe, might have something on Chanel and Louis Vuitton when it comes to the latest must-have accessory in the French capital. Last July the city introduced a popular new bike rental program called Velib’ (a slang combination of the French words velo, for bike, and liberte, for liberty). The bikes, which are available from over 1,421 stations around the city, can be rented on a half-hourly basis (1 euro for the first half hour and 2 euros for the second half hour) or subscribers can pay 29 euros for an entire year of bike riding. Riders can pick up the bike at one station and return it to any of the other stations scattered approximately 300 meters apart around the city. This system, along with the tariff, is meant to encourage riders to use the bikes as they would a car or public transport. The ultimate goal, of course, is to reduce traffic and pollution in the city. But the mayor has also said that he likes the idea of Parisians and tourists alike enjoying the city by bicycle.

The bike program — which started in Lyon — has become extremely popular with Parisians of all ages. Although riders must be at least 14 years old and 1.50 meters tall, these restrictions have not stopped teenagers from using the bikes to go out at night. “You can ride them home after a party, when the metro is closed,” explained Agathe Deschamps, 14, who uses Velib’ to get to school sometimes. In fact the Velib’ is so popular, enthusiasts often have to visit two or three stations before finding a free bike. At a recent dinner party, one guest excused herself for arriving so late because she couldn’t find a free Velib’.

Although helmets are not required by French law, they are strongly recommended and rules of the road are spelled out on the Velib’ website (www.en.velib.paris.fr). An increase in bicycle-related accidents has been inevitable despite the addition of some 371 kilometers of bike paths in the city. And some riders complain that the pearl gray bikes, which feature baskets and rear lights that turn on automatically when the bike moves, do not have rear-view mirrors. One frequent Velib’ user suggested this might be a big opportunity for eyewear manufacturers. After all, the city plans to have over 20,600 bikes circulating by December. Note to Chanel and Vuitton: get the bike accessories onto the market, fast.