A Daily news digest by Jasper van Santen

Archive for April, 2012|Monthly archive page

Brothers diagnosed with ‘Benjamin Button’ age-reversing disease – Telegraph

In Nonsense on April 30, 2012 at 14:21

Brothers develop 'Benjamin Button' age-reversing disease

Brothers diagnosed with ‘Benjamin Button’ age-reversing disease 

Two middle-aged brothers who once had normal relationships and jobs have been forced to move back in with their parents after being diagnosed with a rare “Benjamin Button” disease that makes them behave like children.

Matthew and Michael Clark have steadily regressed to the point where they now have the mental age of young children and need round the clock care.

They were diagnosed with terminal leukodystrophy last year, a condition so rare it estimated that only around 100 adults in the UK are affected.

Michael, 42, served as a gunner with the RAF and once had a place on the parade display team. However, he is now estimated to have a mental age of ten, watches cartoons and giggles constantly.

Matthew, 39, who worked in a Walkers crisp factory, married in 1990 and has a 19-year-old daughter who is expecting a baby.

But his relationship crumbled when he began to display early symptoms of the disease. He lost his job and was evicted from his flat, eventually ending up on the streets.

The brothers’ parents, Anthony Clark, 63, and his wife Christine, 61, said it was terrible to watch their grown sons deteriorate before their eyes and described feeling “powerless” to help them.

Mr Clark drew parallels between the disease and the 2008 fantasy drama, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, based on the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, in which an old man played by Brad Pitt gradually gets younger.

“It’s a devastating disease. Both of them are very childlike now,” he said.

“Matthew went out the other day and bought himself a train set and a Mr Potato Head.

“We will be out walking and things which might interest a toddler interest them, the other day we were walking home when Michael saw a balloon and pointed it out to us.

“He also has these awful episodes where he screams and shouts and says ‘I don’t know what I’m doing’ because the disease effects his memory he can’t remember much of who he was.

“In the mornings we have a routine where we have to get a board game out and let him play with that so that he comes out of his ‘state’ as we call it.

“It is like an adult having a toddler’s tantrum. It’s obviously worse for him but it is terrible for us too. There’s nothing we can do to help and we feel absolutely powerless.”


Is Netanyahu misleading Israelis over Iran? – Al Jazeera English

In News, Politics on April 30, 2012 at 13:14

vIs Netanyahu misleading Israelis over Iran? –

Israeli security and military commanders have criticised Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, accusing him of misleading the Israeli people on important policy issues.

Does this signal a rift between the prime minister and the country’s security establishment and how might it affect Netanyahu’s chances of re-election?

Yuval Diskin, the former head of the Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic intelligence agency, has become the latest member of the country’s security establishment to openly criticise Netanyahu.

He said Netanyahu and Ehud Barak, his defence minister, should not be trusted to lead policy on Iran and that attacking the Islamic Republic might accelerate Iran’s nuclear programme.

“I don’t believe in either the prime minister or the defence minister,” Diskin said. “I don’t believe in a leadership that makes decisions based on messianic feelings.”

Diskin is not alone in his opposition to the prime minister.

In comments that contradict those of Netanyahu, Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz, Israel’s military chief of staff, told the Haaretz newspaper that he does not think Iran has already made a decision to build nuclear weapons.

“Iran is going step-by-step to the place where it will be able to decide whether to manufacture a nuclear bomb,” Gantz said. “It hasn’t decided yet whether to go the extra mile.”

Gantz added that he believes the Iranian leadership is composed of “very rational” people who will not take the risk of building a nuclear weapon.

Meir Dagan, the former head of Israel’s foreign intelligence service, Mossad, has also joined the fray, calling military action against Iran the “stupidest idea” he has ever heard.

“[Diskin] was closer to [Netanyahu and Barak] than anybody else and he was really the guy that knew everything. He was there until a year ago so you cannot dismiss any word he says and the headlines in the Israeli press show a division among decision makers ….”

– Daniel Ben Simon, a member of the Knesset

But, despite the many current and former high-level members of Israel’s security and military establishment making similar statements, Netanyahu continues to stick to his hard line.

On April 18, he said: “The truth is that a nuclear-armed Iran is an existential threat to the state of Israel. The truth is that a nuclear Iran is also a potential threat to other countries in the region and a serious threat to world peace. And the truth is that it is necessary to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. It is the duty of the world. But first of all, it’s our duty.”


If Peas Can Talk, Should We Eat Them? – NYTimes.com

In Nonsense on April 29, 2012 at 20:17

If Peas Can Talk, Should We Eat Them?

A team of scientists from the Blaustein Institute for Desert Research at Ben-Gurion University in Israel published the results of its peer-reviewed research, revealing that a pea plant subjected to drought conditions communicated its stress to other such plants, with which it shared its soil. In other words, through the roots, it relayed to its neighbors the biochemical message about the onset of drought, prompting them to react as though they, too, were in a similar predicament.

Curiously, having received the signal, plants not directly affected by this particular environmental stress factor were better able to withstand adverse conditions when they actually occurred. This means that the recipients of biochemical communication could draw on their “memories” — information stored at the cellular level — to activate appropriate defenses and adaptive responses when the need arose.

In 1973, the publication of “The Secret Life of Plants,” by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird, which portrayed vegetal life as exquisitely sensitive, responsive and in some respects comparable to human life, was generally regarded as pseudoscience. The authors were not scientists, and clearly the results reported in that book, many of them outlandish, could not be reproduced. But today, new, hard scientific data appears to be buttressing the book’s fundamental idea that plants are more complex organisms than previously thought.

The research findings of the team at the Blaustein Institute form yet another building block in the growing fields of plant intelligence studies and neurobotany that, at the very least, ought to prompt us to rethink our relation to plants. Is it morally permissible to submit to total instrumentalization living beings that, though they do not have a central nervous system, are capable of basic learning and communication? Should their swift response to stress leave us coldly indifferent, while animal suffering provokes intense feelings of pity and compassion?


Obama Campaign Confronts Voter ID Laws – NYTimes.com

In News, Politics, Really?!? on April 29, 2012 at 17:17

Obama Campaign Confronts Voter ID Laws 

WASHINGTON — Field workers for President Obama’s campaign fanned across the country this weekend in an effort to confront a barrage of new voter identification laws that strategists say threaten the campaign’s hopes for registering new voters ahead of the November election.

In Wisconsin, where a new state law requires those registering voters to be deputized in each of the state’s 1,800 municipalities, the campaign sent a team of trainers armed with instructions for complying with the new regulations.

In Florida, the campaign’s voter registration aides traveled across the state to train volunteers on a new requirement that voter registration signatures be handed into state officials within 48 hours after they are collected.

And in Ohio, Mr. Obama’s staff members are beginning outreach to let voters know about new laws that discourage precinct workers from telling voters where to go if they show up at the wrong precinct.

Many of the laws in question — including the ones in Florida and Wisconsin — are the subject of legal challenges by Democratic groups who allege they are part of a partisan, Republican effort to dampen turnout of voters, particularly minorities, for Mr. Obama and his party.

But senior aides to Mr. Obama said the campaign is preparing for the laws to be upheld and in force this fall — just in case.

“We have to assume that these laws will be in effect in November,” Jeremy Bird, the field director for the campaign, said in an interview. “We are not allowing laws that are challenging and put in our way to stop us from doing what we need to do.”

Advocates of the new laws, which have been passed in about 30 states since the last presidential election, say they are necessary to prevent voter fraud. They include tougher voter identification requirements and more rules about where and how groups can register new voters.

Mark Cole, a Virginia lawmaker who sponsored a bill requiring voters to show identification, told Virginia Statehouse News that it is “a good ballot integrity measure” that will “increase confidence in the electoral process.”


Florida pastor Terry Jones holds another Koran-burning ceremony – NYPOST.com

In News, Nonsense on April 29, 2012 at 13:07

Florida pastor Terry Jones holds another Koran-burning ceremony – 

Although I believe the Koran is just a book, And that book burning like flag burning is (and should be) protected by the First Amendment, this man could not be more of  jackass,  What possible good does it do? It offends ALL muslims, not just those who disagree with the actions of the United States and her allies. It is likely to radicalize moderates… and could result in the death of  members of both the US military and soldiers serving for her allies.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A controversial Florida pastor held another Koran-burning ceremony outside his church to protest the imprisonment of a Christian clergyman in Iran, The Gainesville Sun reported.

Jones, who made headlines worldwide by videotaping a similar Koran-burning ceremony in March 2011, burned several copies of the Islamic holy book alongside an image depicting the Muslim prophet Muhammad on Saturday evening.

About 20 people gathered for the ceremony outside the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla., during which Jones demanded the release of Youcef Nadarkhani, an Iranian pastor, currently in jail for apostasy after converting from Islam to Christianity.

Moments after the burning, the Gainesville Fire Rescue issued a citation against the church, claiming it did not have the required authorization to burn books.

The church will be fined $271, including court costs, fire chief Gene Prince told the newspaper.

The pastor, who is the head of the church, went ahead with the controversial ceremony despite reports that the Pentagon urged him not to, as it could put US soldiers in Afghanistan and elsewhere at risk.

The 2011 Koran-burning ceremony unleashed days of bloody protests in Afghanistan, during which an attack on a United Nations compound left seven staff members dead.


Sitting Down is Bad for You! – NYTimes.com

In News on April 29, 2012 at 09:56

Stand Up for Fitness – Reynolds

Studies of daily movement patterns, though, show that your typical modern exerciser, even someone who runs, subsequently sits for hours afterward, often moving less over all than on days when he or she does not work out.

The health consequences are swift, pervasive and punishing. In a noteworthy recent experiment conducted by scientists at the University of Massachusetts and other institutions, a group of healthy young men donned a clunky platform shoe with a 4-inch heel on their right foot, leaving the left leg to dangle above the ground. For two days, the men hopped about using crutches (and presumably gained some respect for those people who regularly toddle about in platform heels). Each man’s left leg never touched the ground. Its muscles didn’t contract. It was fully sedentary.

After two days, the scientists biopsied muscles in both legs and found multiple genes now being expressed differently in each man’s two legs. Gene activity in the left leg suggested that DNA repair mechanisms had been disrupted, insulin response was dropping, oxidative stress was rising, and metabolic activity within individual muscle cells was slowing after only 48 hours of inactivity.

In similar experiments with lab animals, casts have been placed on their back legs, after which the animals rapidly developed noxious cellular changes throughout their bodies, and not merely in the immobilized muscles. In particular, they produced substantially less of an enzyme that dissolves fat in the bloodstream. As a result, in animals and humans, fat can accumulate and migrate to the heart or liver, potentially leading to cardiac disease and diabetes.

To see the results of such inactivity, scientists with the National Cancer Institute spent eight years following almost 250,000 American adults. The participants answered detailed questions about how much time they spent commuting, watching TV, sitting before a computer and exercising, as well as about their general health. At the start of the study, none suffered from heart disease, cancer or diabetes.

But after eight years, many were ill and quite a few had died. The sick and deceased were also in most cases sedentary. Those who watched TV for seven or more hours a day proved to have a much higher risk of premature death than those who sat in front of the television less often. (Television viewing is a widely used measure of sedentary time.)

Exercise only slightly lessened the health risks of sitting. People in the study who exercised for seven hours or more a week but spent at least seven hours a day in front of the television were more likely to die prematurely than the small group who worked out seven hours a week and watched less than an hour of TV a day.


Nuns Reprimanded by the Vatican – NYTimes.com

In News on April 29, 2012 at 09:53

We Are All Nuns – Krisof

The Vatican issued a stinging reprimand of American nuns this month and ordered a bishop to oversee a makeover of the organization that represents 80 percent of them. In effect, the Vatican accused the nuns of worrying too much about the poor and not enough about abortion and gay marriage.

What Bible did that come from? Jesus in the Gospels repeatedly talks about poverty and social justice, yet never explicitly mentions either abortion or homosexuality. If you look at who has more closely emulated Jesus’s life, Pope Benedict or your average nun, it’s the nun hands down.

Since the papal crackdown on nuns, they have received an outpouring of support. “Nuns were approached by Catholics at Sunday liturgies across the country with a simple question: ‘What can we do to help?’ ” The National Catholic Reporter recounted. It cited one parish where a declaration of support for nuns from the pulpit drew loud applause, and another that was filled with shouts like, “You go, girl!”

At least four petition drives are under way to support the nuns. One on Change.org has gathered 15,000 signatures. The headline for this column comes from an essay by Mary E. Hunt, a Catholic theologian who is developing a proposal for Catholics to redirect some contributions from local parishes to nuns.

“How dare they go after 57,000 dedicated women whose median age is well over 70 and who work tirelessly for a more just world?” Hunt wrote. “How dare the very men who preside over a church in utter disgrace due to sexual misconduct and cover-ups by bishops try to distract from their own problems by creating new ones for women religious?”

Sister Joan Chittister, a prominent Benedictine nun, said she had worried at first that nuns spend so much time with the poor that they would have no allies. She added that the flood of support had left her breathless.

“It’s stunningly wonderful,” she said. “You see generations of laypeople who know where the sisters are — in the streets, in the soup kitchens, anywhere where there’s pain. They’re with the dying, with the sick, and people know it.”


Ex-Israeli spy boss attacks Netanyahu and Barak over Iran – guardian.co.uk

In News, Politics on April 29, 2012 at 08:53

Ex-Israeli spy boss attacks Netanyahu and Barak over Iran

Israel’s former security chief has censured the country’s “messianic” political leadership for talking up the prospects of a military stike on Iran’s nuclear programme.

In unusually candid comments set to ratchet up tensions over Iran at the top of Israel’s political establishment, Yuval Diskin, who retired as head of the internal intelligence agency Shin Bet last year, said he had “no faith” in the abilities of the prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, and the defence minister, Ehud Barak, to conduct a war.

The pair, who are the foremost advocates of military action against Iran’s nuclear programme, were “not fit to hold the steering wheel of power“, Diskin told a meeting on Friday night.

“My major problem is that I have no faith in the current leadership, which must lead us in an event on the scale of war with Iran or a regional war,” he said.

“I don’t believe in either the prime minister or the defence minister. I don’t believe in a leadership that makes decisions based on messianic feelings. Believe me, I have observed them from up close … They are not people who I, on a personal level, trust to lead Israel to an event on that scale and carry it off.

They are misleading the public on the Iran issue. They tell the public that if Israel acts, Iran won’t have a nuclear bomb. This is misleading. Actually, many experts say that an Israeli attack would accelerate the Iranian nuclear race.”

Government aides described Diskin’s comments as irresponsible and motivated from personal frustration.

Diskin’s remarks followed a furore over comments made on Wednesday by Israel’s serving military chief, Benny Gantz, which starkly contrasted with Netanyahu’s rhetoric on Iran. Gantz said he did not believe the Iranian leadership was prepared to “go the extra mile” to acquire nuclear weapons because it was “composed of very rational people” who understood the consequences.

In what was seen as a veiled rebuke to the prime minister, Gantz added: “Decisions can and must be made carefully, out of historic responsibility but without hysteria.”

The chief of staff later attempted to gloss over suggestions of a breach between the military and political leaderships, telling reporters there was “really no distance” between his view and the prime minister’s.

Neither Netanyahu nor Barak have moderated their rhetoric. The prime minister recently said that those who downplayed the threat from a nuclear Iran “have learned nothing from the Holocaust”. He added: “The Iranian regime is openly calling for our destruction and working frantically for the development of nuclear weapons as a means to that end.”


And in Swaziland today…..King says new jet ‘a gift from Kuwait’ – ArabianBusiness.com

In News, Really?!? on April 29, 2012 at 08:48

King Mswati III of Swaziland is said to be worth a total of $100m. (Getty Images)

Swaziland king says new jet ‘a gift from Kuwait’ 

The nephew of King Mswati III of Swaziland has denied the monarch’s new multimillion dollar luxury private jet was bought with taxpayer funds, insisting it was a gift from Kuwait.

Prince Omari Dlamini said the McDonnell Douglas DC-9 twin-engine aircraft worth ZAR360m (US$46m) was bestowed upon the absolute monarch by friends from the Gulf state, South African media has reported.

“His Majesty did not buy the jet…” Dlamini was quoted as saying. “[It] was a gift from Kuwait.”

Labour movements and banned opposition parties in the poverty-stricken country are furious about the jet, which they believe was paid for with taxpayers’ money.

The aircraft, which arrived in the country on Tuesday, is to be used by the ruler and his 13 wives.

The South Africa-based Swaziland Solidarity Network (SNN) said the timing of the buy was particularly bad, given that Swaziland was in the middle of its worst economic crisis ever.

According to the figures, seven out of every ten of Mswati’s 1.1m citizens are living below the international poverty line of US$1 a day, while Mswati is ranked as the world’s 15th-richest monarch by Forbes.

Mswati is thought to have close ties to countries such as Qatar and Kuwait – rumoured to have provided financial support for a ZAR300m international airport outside the capital.


Dutch court upholds ‘weed pass’ restrictions -Al Jazeera English

In Nonsense on April 28, 2012 at 15:49

Dutch court upholds ‘weed pass’ restrictions

Change is in the air

A Dutch judge has upheld a government plan to introduce a “weed pass” to prevent foreigners from buying marijuana in coffee shops in the Netherlands.

A lawyer for coffee shop owners said on Friday he would file an urgent appeal against the ruling by the judge at The Hague District court that clears the way for the introduction of the pass in southern provinces on May 1.

In a written ruling, the court on Friday agreed with government lawyer Eric Daalder that the fight against criminality linked to the drug trade justified the measure.

The changes are the most significant rollback in years to the traditional Dutch tolerance of marijuana use.

The pass will be implemented in the rest of the country, including Amsterdam, next year.

It will turn coffee shops into private clubs with membership open only to Dutch residents and limited to 2,000 members per shop.

‘Political judgment’

Amsterdam, where coffee shops are a major tourism draw, opposes the plan, and mayor Eberhard van der Laan says he wants to negotiate a compromise.

“The judge completely fails to answer the principal question: Can you discriminate against foreigners when there is no public order issue at stake?'”

– Maurice Veldman, lawyer

“This is a totally political judgment,” said Maurice Veldman, one of the team of lawyers who represented coffee shop owners in the case.

“The judge completely fails to answer the principal question: Can you discriminate against foreigners when there is no public order issue at stake?”

Veldman said he would appeal, but added it was unlikely he could do so before the new policy comes into force May 1.

The government argues that the move is justified as a way of cracking down on so-called “drug tourists’,’ effectively couriers who drive over the border from neighboring Belgium and Germany to buy large amounts of marijuana and take it home to resell.