Friday, June 29, 2007

Mesothelioma: A 21st Century Pandemic?

Mesothelioma, a rare and invariably fatal form of cancer that is caused by prolonged exposure to asbestos fibers might become more common by the middle of the 21st Century courtesy of the September 11,2001 attacks.

By: Ringo Bones and Vanessa Uy

The valiant men and women who helped the victims of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center that fateful morning of September 11, 2001 may be in for an unpleasant surprise by the middle of the 21st Century. Everyone at “Ground Zero”, victims and rescuers alike might invariably come down with mesothelioma. The “twin towers” of the World Trade Center were built before the comprehensive ban on the use of asbestos fibers for building construction was ratified thus both rescue workers and victims were exposed to large amounts of asbestos fibers. The following months after the September 11, 2001 attacks- New Yorkers were continuously exposed to asbestos fibers wafting around as the clean up at “Ground Zero” went on. The big question is, should everyone be concerned?

A research was conducted at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York 60 years before. The researchers spent 20 years studying 933 workers who produced asbestos insulation at a manufacturing plant in Paterson, New Jersey from 1941 to 1954. The researchers discovered that 186 of the workers had developed a then unique form of lung cancer. In 1973, the researchers began X-ray examinations of some of the worker’s families. The researchers found out that nearly 40 per cent of the 210 families tested had lung abnormalities common to asbestos workers. Four people who had come into contact with asbestos workers when they were children developed mesothelioma, a rare and invariably fatal form of cancer that is caused by exposure to asbestos fibers. Using this “occupational health study” data, the Mount Sinai Medical Center researchers feared that a plague of mesothelioma might break out around the year 2000. The World Trade Center / 9-11 incident could change mesothelioma forecasts for the 21st Century for the worse.

The pathologic description of malignant mesotheliona –according to Robbins’ “Pathologic Basis of Disease”- refers to an uncommon tumor of mesothelial cells. This tumor occurs most often on the pleura and rarely in the peritoneum or other organs. It is associated with exposure to asbestos in 90% of cases, but only 20% of patients have actual pulmonary asbestosis. The lifetime risk in heavily exposed individuals is 7 to 10%, and the latent period between exposure and the development of mesothelioma is 25 to 45 years. Nevertheless, bronchogenic carcinoma remains the most common lung tumor found in asbestos workers. The clinical features of mesothelioma are patients present with chest pain, dyspnea, and recurrent pleural effusions.

Since the recent scandal of soldiers wounded in action in Iraq receiving substandard treatment became headline news during the first few months of 2007. Many are concerned weather firefighters and law enforcement personnel who responded to the World Trade Center attacks will have adequate medical coverage if they develop mesothelioma in the future. Even Michael Moore is rumored to be already planning a sequel to his latest documentary “Sicko” devoted solely to the NYFD and NYPD personnel who will be diagnosed with mesothelioma in the future and how the US Government treats them. We hope that the next administration will take the ramifications of this issue very seriously.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

What Drives Our Global Energy Conservation Policies

When it comes to energy conservation, do the consensus reached by the powers-that-be driven by political or environmental demands?

By: Ringo Bones and Vanessa Uy

In a perfect world, climate and/or environmental protection should dictate our energy conservation policies. But the whole world learned –in a hard way- that this isn’t so. Look at the recent outcome of the Heiligendamm G8. The truth was revealed for the whole world to see that the worlds leading polluters’ reluctance to adapt to “green” technologies is due to their overriding policy of choosing economic growth and poverty eradication over safeguarding our planet’s environment. In our opinion, economic growth doesn’t always translate readily into poverty reduction. In a country like the Philippines where on average the economy grows 1% annually while the annual population growth 2.5%. At this rate poverty always wins hands down.

Our recent Al Gore driven environmental consciousness in almost all levels of society is viewed by the majority of environmentalist that are active since the 1960’s as a “too little too late reaction”, but is it? Plans to make the industrial world’s energy source independent from petroleum had been drawn up since the 1967 Arab – Israeli War. And we always got the same perennial excuse since then: these energy sources can’t compete with cheap Middle Eastern oil. When should the global community take environmental and energy security issues seriously?

Over the years, there had been “missed opportunities” where a charismatic leader of strong political will could expedite during these crucial moments of recent history with a high degree of success of ending the human race’s addiction to petroleum. One of these junctures in history was the very first “Earth Day” back in April 22, 1970. Humor me for a moment; imagine then US Vice President Spiro T. Agnew writing his own version of “An Inconvenient Truth” highlighting the evils of Middle Eastern oil. OPEC would never have come to power in 1973. The OPEC imposed oil embargo on Western nations that happened back in October 17, 1973 and ended on March 18, 1974 could have been just a bad dream. The US Government’s delayed reaction on the OPEC threat by establishing the Department of Energy back in August 4, 1977 would only have only existed in techno thriller – type fiction. Or what if the Operation: Desert Storm veterans voiced their concerns during the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) -held in Rio de Janeiro last June 1992- against the needless deaths of enlisted men and women to keep crude oil cheap. Friends of ours who served during Operation: Desert Storm genuinely believed –under enemy fire at that time- that by year 2000 cars will run on stuff- other- than- petrol. Then came September 11, 2001; then the Bush Administration/Oligarchy’s March 2003 invasion of Iraq in search of “Weapons of Mass Destruction”. Despite all of those incidents of the past 30 or so years, energy security was never a serious issue.

Despite of a long list of missed opportunities of ending our petroleum addiction, policymakers around the world still don’t learn about the gravity of the situation. Do they have to wait for an all out nuclear exchange in the Middle East to consider evaluating alternatives to petroleum? It’s getting increasingly hard for anyone around me from ignoring the fact that every time we flick on a light switch or ride on a gasoline- powered vehicle we are rewarding the bad behavior of despotic Middle Eastern states. Renewable energy doesn’t only mean environmentally friendly energy but guilt free as well. Politics truly is the driving force behind our global energy policy, if only the powers-that-be will realize that we don’t have to buy our energy needs from countries that hate our guts.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Rock Against Global Warming

Will Al Gore score another “first” by holding a Rock concert like “Live Earth” to spread awareness on the dangers of global warming?

By: Vanessa Uy

Al Gore is indeed a pioneering figure. He’s the first politician to use his influence to spread awareness on the possible harm global warming can cause to our planet and to our civilization. Despite of the Bush Administration/Oligarchy’s stance on the contrary, Al Gore successfully influenced most of the world’s policymakers to legislate climate protection laws.

“Live Earth” is a Rock concert slated across seven continents to spread awareness of global warming to the next generation. As of June 20, 2007, Al Gore was reportedly meeting with Madonna to strike a deal for a performance highlighting the seriousness of his efforts.

In the past 20 years, Rock concerts for a cause like Sir Bob Geldof’s “Live Aid” - were held for famine relief and humanitarian efforts for Ethiopia and various “needy” parts of Africa. As does the 2005 “Live 8” as a form of moral pressure to keep the powers-that-be in the Gleneagles G8 to make serious of their sincerity to make poverty history not just in Africa but for the rest of the world.

If it succeeds, “Live Earth” could go down in history – as the 1969 Woodstock does- as a unique musical event. I hope “Live Aid” does to our environment as the 1969 Woodstock did to a generation of young people back then i.e. a revolutionary cultural advancement. Back then Jimi Hendrix made white suburban white teens more aware of Dr. Martin Luther King’s message. Which artist or performer will do the same for the urgency of current environmental causes on this coming “Live Earth” concert?

The Albatross: The 21st Century’s Canary in the Mine?

Thanks to the support of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, the world –at-large is now more aware of the plight of the albatross.

By: Vanessa Uy

In our celebrity obsessed popular press, concern for animal welfare seldom make it to page two while the impact of human activity on rare and endangered species will be lucky to make it to page 14. But thanks to the support of HRH the Prince of Wales (a.k.a. Prince Charles) the world’s policy makers will be made more aware on the plight of the albatross. An orchestrated campaign was already set up to protect these endangered birds which about 100,000 are needlessly killed annually as a consequence of long line fishing. Also the “Save the Albatross” sailing race was held to spread awareness that the albatross-even in their home territory in the “roaring 40’s”- still need our help.

Biologically, albatross have comparable life span to humans. At 10 years, the albatross can breed. Their slow rate of reproduction at one chick every other year means that they cannot easily recover a population crash.

During the past few years, various researchers have noted a decline in albatross population. Ben Sullivan of Birdlife International notes that the census on albatross population decline over the past few years implies that someday the albatross will become extinct if current trends will continue.

One of the main culprits of the albatross population decline are the long line fishing boats that operate in the southern ocean i.e. "the roaring 40’s.” Equipped with lines up to 120 kilometers long and baited with thousands of fish- hooks. These serve as deathtraps to the albatross that are attracted to the bait. Unable to surface after being trapped, they drown by the thousands. The fishermen manning these vessels are concerned not only on the consequential reduction of catch quotas but also of the needless waste of albatross dying as a result. To avoid albatross by catch, long line fishing reforms such as the use of various mitigation measures like weighing the lines to allow it to sink quickly out of reach of the albatross. Streamers attached to the lines to scare away the albatross are also a success. Since the albatross are diurnal i.e. are active only during daylight ours, laying the lines after sundown are a good way of avoiding an albatross by catch.

Despite of the conservation efforts, albatross still continue to die needlessly due to “pirate fishing vessels.” These “pirate fishing vessels” flying under “flags of convenience”, were responsible for a quarter or more of annual albatross deaths. Currently, they are still very hard to catch/prosecute since albatross protection laws are only heavily enforced in South Georgia waters. Illegal unregulated fisheries (pirate fishermen) are killing the albatross as by catch with impunity.

One solution to stop this carnage is via consumer moral pressure. The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) together with the consumers can exert moral pressure to our policymakers to make albatross protection legally binding like the “dolphin friendly tuna campaign” of the 1980’s. Under their mandate, the Marine Stewardship Council also monitors if a batch of fish that enters the market were taken from their point of origin in a sustainable manner.

The relationship between the albatross and mariners are “romanticized” in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem “The Rime of an Ancient Mariner.” In the poem, a sailor kills an albatross. An act that later brought misfortune to the crew. In the 21st Century our concern for the welfare of the albatross goes beyond environmentalism, literary sentimentality or even superstition. This “canary in the mine” so to speak serves also to measure our humanity and on how civilized we are. Can all of us safely say that we are really more civilized today compared to when Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote “The Rime of an Ancient Mariner” when it comes to taking stewardship of our planet? Will the albatross someday –like the dodo- only exist in humanity’s collective memory?

Friday, June 15, 2007

Paradise Lost: Global Warming Threatens Tuvalu

Al Gore has been warning us in his documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” about “climate change refugees,” Tuvalu can be a case in point.

By: Vanessa Uy

If you want proof on the realities of global warming, look no further than Tuvalu. This small Pacific Island nation of about 12,000 inhabitants have already been trying to cope with the effects of sea level rise caused by global warming. Sea- water is already seeping into vulnerable parts of Tuvalu’s ground water table, damaging the nation’s corn and sugarcane farms. As the world’s 4th smallest nation, Tuvalu’s 25 square kilometer land area is principally composed of 9 atolls that barely rises more than 4 meters above sea level. Even during the normal high tide cycle threaten this country with sea- water encroachment, let alone during storm surges of tropical cyclones. Even back in 1989, the UN identified Tuvalu as a nation most likely at risk when global sea levels rise.

Economically, not so much has changed since Tuvalu was granted independence by Great Britain in 1968. Despite having signed a trade deal with Australia and New Zealand back in 1980, the average annual income hovers at around US$1,000 a year. If industrialized nations won’t do their part to combat global warming, Tuvalu’s citizens might become the first batch of “climate change refugees” in search of a new homeland. The two closest nations that have the resources to provide sanctuary to Tuvalu’s citizens if the sea level rise gets worse are Australia and New Zealand. Since Australia and New Zealand has stringent immigration laws which require anyone applying for citizenship should earn on average US$12,000 a year to be safely admitted, or has a bank account with an average daily balance of US$10,000. Unless Australia and New Zealand will amend the rules regarding their immigration policy, this rules out the majority of Tuvalu’s citizens.

Maybe it’s time for the West to give back what they have taken from the Pacific Islanders during the last 500 years or so of oceanographic exploration and colonization. Even during World War II, the Pacific Islanders were instrumental in making possible the Allied victory against the Imperial Japanese expansion. There’s more here at steak than electoral votes when the politicians of industrialized nations adopt a stronger stance on climate protection which might not be popular to the “industry lobbyists.” Or do the world’s top polluters need to wait for international opinion to exert moral pressure.

Our Bees Are Dying

The idea seems so absurd, but toward the end of 2006, everyone in the United States agricultural community had noticed that bees – especially in America’s Northeast region – are becoming scarce.

By: Vanessa Uy

Albert Einstein once said that if all the bees in the world were to disappear, the human race has only four years to live. Bees are extremely important to agricultural crops because without bees not only will our food crops fail to yield their fruits, our food crops won’t be able to reproduce without the aid of bees in their pollination. Remember apiculture (bee keeping) is more than just producing honey.

The phenomenon that describes the continuing decline of honeybee population in the United States is called: “Colony Collapse Disorder.” Colony Collapse Disorder was first observed in a blueberry farm in the state of Maine. Ken State University had conducted bee “autopsies” in the field where Colony Collapse Disorder had occurred. Dennis Van Engelsdorp, one of the researchers investigating the phenomenon have found out that autopsies conducted on the dead bees show that signs of disease are present but the cause is still a mystery. As of the middle of May 2007 the preliminary findings suggest that “Colony Collapse Disorder” -might be caused -by an agent that affects the bee’s immune system.

Even though the jury is still out, “Colony Collapse Disorder” has already been declared as a “calamity” by various farm and agricultural communities in the US. Watermelons and other honeybee dependent crops have shown decline in their yields during the past two years. This had cost farmers millions of dollars in lost yields. At present, “Colony Collapse Disorder” is still localized in the northeastern part of the United States. If we don’t understand this phenomena and create a solution before this spreads around the world, mankind is doomed.

Extraordinary Renditions: The 21st Century Inquisition?

As yet another program by the Bush Administration / Oligarchy to turn back the clock on human rights and civil liberties on a global scale.

By: Vanessa Uy

The world owes yet another debt of gratitude to courageous news channels like the BBC who are brave enough to report on the shortcomings of the US Government’s “War on Terror.” It’s a well- accepted conventional wisdom that torture seldom – if ever – works because anyone under the pain and torment of torture will say anything to end it. Thus proving the unreliability of information / intelligence obtained under duress. Even when armed with the foreknowledge on the ineffectiveness of “Ecclesiastical Inquisition” style of torture, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) still practices these “Extraordinary Renditions” on captured Al Qaeda / terrorists suspects. “Extraordinary Rendition” is CIA speak for flying captured terror suspects without trial to another location or country with lax human rights laws to be tortured as to extract “useful information.” As featured in BBC’s “The World Uncovered” documentary about the CIA’s “Extraordinary Renditions”, Ethiopian exile and long time UK resident Binyam Mohammed suffered under the inhuman conditions of the CIA sanctioned torture. Radical Egyptian Cleric Abu Omar was abducted in Milan, now his whereabouts is unknown. While Khaled El Masri was taken to one of the CIA’s secret “Black Sites” then tortured. He was later released due to his innocence but not before enduring “Inquisition” style torture that left him mentally scarred for life.

These “Extraordinary Renditions” had been going on since the succeeding days after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and has been kept out of the prying eyes of the world’s media. Luckily, humble “plane spotters” have photographic proof of the planes used in these “Extraordinary Renditions” like the Gulfstream with registry numbers N379P, thus have blown the cover on the CIA’s “illegal operation.” Dick Marty, the Council of Europe’s chief investigator has already collected enough proof that the CIA ran secret prisons in Europe since 2002. Also, there is enough proof so that the 25 CIA agents can be tried “in absentia” in Milan.

How did it come to this? Has America squandered the world’s sympathy after the September 11, 2001 attacks? Haven’t the last thousand years taught the West about the futility of torture as an intelligence- gathering tool? And by the way, how can arresting Muslim Clerics who are more concerned about how to spend their scant funds on improving their local Mosques cripple Al Qaeda? Had the Bush Administration / Oligarchy came to a point that they think they are so infallible that everything they do for our protection they think is right. Must we stand idly by that for every legitimate Al Qaeda operative that the CIA agents apprehend 50 innocent people have to undergo the CIA’s “Extraordinary Rendition.”

The CIA’s “Extraordinary Rendition” reminds me of the days when the Vatican was still a “superpower.” The Vatican set up the “Inquisition” supposedly to protect mankind from evil, but all that happened was a lot of property confiscated by the Papacy and a lot of people burned at the stake – close if not similar- to the CIA’s “Extraordinary Rendition” of today. Did the burning of Joan of Arc or Giordano Bruno change the Catholic Church for the better? God only knows. And don’t even ask me to try to fathom on how Galileo – by accepting Copernicus’ views- threaten the Catholic Churches “Canon Law.”

The Bush Administration / Oligarchy had ran the “War on Terror” and “Operation: Enduring Freedom” in a way that reflects obsession of turning back the clock to the good or bad old days, depending –of course- if you’re a Democrat or a Republican. Back to the days of the “Ecclesiastical Inquisition” with the CIA’s “Extraordinary Rendition”– or even further- to the days before the existence of the “Magna Carta” with their “warrantless arrests” of terror suspects. Their actions make the Baader-Meinhoff Gang / Red Army Faction seems more humane by comparison.

It’s only in the 21st Century that we now fully realize the extent of damage “Institutionalized Torture” can inflict. Former political prisoners incarcerated during the 1970’s and 1980’s are now speaking out their own individual ordeals and torments. A well-known side effect of this “Institutionalized Torture” is “Indoctrinated Dehumanization” where whole societies forgot what human rights and civil liberties mean. Here in the Philippines, “Indoctrinated Dehumanization” is the resulting side effect of the “Institutionalized Torture” widely used during President Ferdinand Marcos’s regime. At that time, torture was routinely practiced with impunity to suppress political dissent. As a side effect of this, a generation of Filipinos – probably 99% of them- who are in the High School and College-level readily accepts legally/state sanctioned torture as right as long as it saves lives or stops terrorism. I wonder if the Philippine Government has complicity in the CIA’s “Extraordinary Renditions” program. Better brush-up on my Urdu and Pashtun, who knows if you could accidentally meet face-to-face with these “terror suspects.”

When George W. Bush’s term ends, will he gobble up needlessly the Secret Service’s resources because he made so many enemies by allowing the CIA’s “Extraordinary Renditions” to go on? With this issue dogging him, he can never retire quietly and peacefully. There are probably three places when he can retire with guaranteed security with the peace and quiet he so desires. The Chemical Corps section of Fort Bragg amid tanks of dimethyl sulfate. The Groom Lake facility in Nevada officially known as “Area 51” where Hangar 18 is a very good defensible position. Lastly, NORAD the US Space Command complex inside Cheyenne Mountain officially known as “Area 52.”

30 Centuries of Scott Walker

A retrospective on a career that spans from being a lead singer for the Walker Brothers to “The Drift” album, will a documentary on Scott Walker’s creative process shed more light on his artistry?

By: Vanessa Uy

“Scott Walker: 30 Century Man” a “Rockumentary” released to whet the appetite of dedicated Scott Walker fans. Being young, I’ve only known Scott Walker’s circa 1960’s musical career with the Walker Brothers after seeing this documentary. I never knew that the Walker Brothers’ fame at the time rivaled that of The Beatles. Also, the deep baritone voiced Scott Walker was named as one of the most influential people of Rock music history and one of his famed admirers were David Bowie. Despite of this, Scott Walker is not exactly a household name in either Britain or America. But if you can manage to find a dedicated fan from both sides of the Atlantic (there are more of them than you think), you might gain a first-hand experience of what it means to be a dedicated Scott Walker fan.

After his success during the 1960’s, Scott Walker withdrew from the public limelight. Now 64 years old, Scott Walker still receive god-like devotion from his fans and most of them (even the under 35’s) claim that they stuck by him since the “Walker Brothers” days. “Scott Walker: 30 Century Man” is a documentary directed by Stephen Kijak documenting Scott Walker’s creative genius and his legacy with the attendant live performance footage from the 1960’s to the present. This documentary serves to spread awareness of Scott Walker’s works and even his existence (!) to the uninitiated.

In assessing the merits of “Scott Walker: 30 Century Man”, I also reevaluated my views on Scott Walker’s last two albums: “Tilt” and “The Drift”. I can say that Scott Walker is one of those gifted musicians who are terrified by fame even though he truly deserves praise for his talent. To me, Scott Walker probably single-handedly influenced the “anti-fashion” musical movement of the 1990’s with his Richard Wagner meets Heavy Metal style. After first hearing “Jesse” from Scott Walker’s “The Drift” album, my first impressions are- Did Scott Walker just invented a new genre of music? “Jesse” is a trippy sounding Oriental Modalism meets Guitar-Driven-Rock. This is a very radical departure from the sex-drugs-and-rock n’ roll that we have come to know and love of “conventional” Rock music. “Difficult avant- garde musician” is a description that comes to mind after hearing Scott Walker’s latest album. And the DVD of “Scott Walker: 30 Century Man” is also worth it because it caters to the uninitiated-and successfully-at that. Although the documentary raises more questions than answers about weather Rock music in its current format needs revision beyond its dogmatic “three chords and the truth” format.

If you like Keiji Haino or love those Miles Davis’ albums that are a tribute to the passing of Jimi Hendrix like “Bitches’ Brew” and “Agharta” then you will surely love this documentary and the attendant music. Scott Walker just reminded me why I love listening to music in the first place.

Friday, June 8, 2007

A Run for Clean and Safe Drinking Water

When it comes to campaigns for social and environmental welfare, you can never have enough of these in the harsh reality of today.

By: Vanessa Uy

Blue Water Run, a campaign to highlight the lack of safe and clean drinking water in the developing world. Over 2 million people a year die due to water borne illnesses. Blue Water Run is supported by film star Hillary Swank.

Blue Water Run is billed as a round the world relay race that involves 20 runners in 60 different countries. The runners will be on the road for 95 days.

To me, it’s quite refreshing when famous celebrities use their influence to fast track campaigns to improve the living conditions of the world’s poor. These problems usually rank at the bottom – if ever discussed at all – of the priorities of the powers-that-be during the previous G8 summits. Will the issue of a steady supply clean drinking water for poor communities be ever discussed on the Heiligendamm G8 summit? The Bush Administration will probably “hog” the summit with the issues concerning their “missile defense program.”

For a minimum donation of US$30, you can lend a helping hand in providing a safe and steady supply of clean drinking water for the world’s poorest communities. For more details, just go to

Renewable Energy: Made in Germany?

Is the German industry “putting their money where their mouth is” when it comes to renewable energy?

By: Vanessa Uy

As manufacturer of a third of all the world’s solar photo voltaic cells and half of the world’s wind turbines, Germany – or more specifically – the German industry is very serious indeed when it comes to the industrial utilization of renewable energy. NORDEX, a German wind turbine manufacturing company is currently setting up an assembly plant in Beijing, China. In full operation, the Beijing NORDEX plant can produce 400 wind turbines a year. With the attendant technological transfer, wind turbines work very well in China due to large tracks of windswept plains just in the outskirts of every major city there. And wind turbines could serve as a viable alternative to China’s reliance on greenhouse gas producing coal-fired power plants.

As Germany is currently developing ever more efficient solar photo voltaic cells, a day will come when all of our electricity generating systems will not produce even a gram of carbon dioxide. Thus newly industrialized countries like China and India can develop their industry freely without endangering the environment.

Gliese of Orion

After being scrutinized by astronomers back in December 2006, Gliese 581 – a star in the constellation Orion – has been found to contain a couple of Earth-like planets.

By: Vanessa Uy

Unlike the “romantic” names of the planets of our Solar System - which are named after ancient Roman gods – Gliese 581c might seem “unromantic.” Named after the red dwarf star Gliese 581 in the constellation Orion and the “c” means the third planet from the said star. This planet from outside of our Solar System is the best hope we have so far of finding life outside of our own planet. Discovered by a team of Swiss astronomers, Gliese 581c is one of the latest batches of extrasolar Earth-like planets. Glise 581c is located 20 light-years away from us. It’s radius is 50% larger than that of Earth with a surface temperature of 0 to 40 degrees Celsius which easily allows water to exist in liquid form. Like Earth, Gliese 581c orbits in the region of it’s parent star called the “habitable zone” thus raising the prospects for Earth-like life. Gliese 581c is so far away that it cannot be viewed directly by existing optical telescopes. The data on this planet was recently provided via advanced spectroscopic analyses of the starlight using the European Southern Observatory in Chile. In reality, Gliese 581c was “seen” by noting the parent star’s spectroscopic anomaly on its angular momentum. Dr. Gero Rupprect of the European Southern Observatory in Chile developed the spectrometer that “saw” Gliese 581c.

Another Earth-like planet that orbits the red dwarf star Gliese 581 was also recently discovered. Physicist Werner von Bloh discovered an Earth-sized planet but it orbits much closer to the parent star compared to Gliese 581c. As a consequence, this new planet’s rate of rotation is extremely slow to non-existent that this planet always keeps one side permanently facing it’s parent star while the other side faces away in perpetual darkness causing very extreme climate of cyclones on its sunlit side. This quirk is due to the consequence of the conservation of angular momentum that planets situated very close to their parent stars have an extremely slow rate of rotation-if at all- like our own Mercury.

For the time being, the red dwarf star Gliese 581 in the constellation Orion will be keeping astronomers hunting for Earth-like planets elsewhere in the universe busy for a while. As Mark Snow said: “The truth is out there.”

High Definition Multimedia Content Anyone?

Does the latest generation of downloadable high definition (HD) multimedia content worth viewing and hearing in our dedicated HD-ready home theater set-ups?

By: Vanessa Uy

Nowadays, HD (high definition) multimedia content (audio and video) that can be downloaded from the net via your own home PC is of such quality that most of them-if not all- deserve to be viewed and heard in your existing HD-ready home theater system. If you’re like me – as most of anyone in the audiophile community- who thinks that your PC and home theater system should not mix (i.e. share the same outlet) because the former can degrade the performance of the latter must face a somewhat insurmountable problem. How to send that high definition movie -with the attendant surround sound data- that you legally downloaded from the net, from your PC to your home theater set up?

There are a number of systems in which you can deliver/send that HD content you have downloaded from the web. One of them is a relatively new technology - which uses your mains/ac line to send your data. Consumer devices that utilize this principle of sending data only came to the market near the end of 1997. So the ones currently available in your local AV/computer store not only works better, it’s likely to be cheaper as well thanks to almost ten years of progress. This has the advantage of avoiding the clutter that can be created when installing the necessary data-transfer cables. The problem with this system is that if you own a state-of-the-art home theater system, you probably bought with it a very good dedicated mains/ac line filter to maintain the consistently good performance of your home theater system while protecting it from electrical interference and lightning strikes. The same mains/ac line conditioner blocks the digital data that you intend to send down your mains/ac lines. Another way to send your multimedia data while avoiding the clutter of additional cables is via WIFI or wireless data transfer systems. The current generation of WIFI systems can easily handle the bandwidth required in sending HD multimedia content but will be easily vulnerable to signal interference especially if you use your mobile phone while using the WIFI system. If you want to maintain signal integrity while transferring HD multimedia data, ethernet networks are a good choice. A word of warning though because these systems involve additional wiring if you are squeamish about the clutter factor. The latest “Cat 6” or category 6 high speed ethernet connections are a good choice and could be a very good investment because of it’s future proof status. This is due to the fact that it can handle data transfer speeds of 10 Gigabits per second and anything faster is yet in the far off future.

I just hope that the circa-2007 PC and AV convergence will bear the fruits of a better audio and video quality that doesn’t cost the earth. Unlike the divergence of 10 or 15 years ago were hi-fi manufacturers have the luxury of producing and selling obscenely expensive AV equipment with impunity. Since all of our present media formats are digital in one form or another, convergence is inevitable due to the fact that digital data is both robust and universal.

Will “We7” Save the Music Industry?

Will Peter Gabriel’s “We7” make music downloads equitable for musicians, music lovers and record label executives?

By: Vanessa Uy

Slated to be launched on June 2007, Peter Gabriel – supported “We7” not only promises to please musicians and record label executives but also provide a legal and legitimate music download service that’s free of charge for those who have acquired a taste of Napster’s “poisoned fruit.” The music downloads on “We7” are free in the sense that music lovers and/or fans don’t have to pay a single cent to the site. The site itself uses the revenue created by the adverts on the site itself to pay the musicians and record label executives according to how often their “works” are downloaded. Another “Bolshevist” feature of this site is that users are encouraged to share the music that they downloaded to other music lovers so that they will also “fall in love” with “We7”. To me this is a far better proposition than Digital Rights Management or DRM.

Sound quality issues aside, the downloadable music phenomena on the web has the advantage of worldwide accessibility that is quantum leaps ahead compared to traditional music distribution systems like record stores-even specialist ones. For example: the freak commercial success of Ed McMahon’s “Star Search” alumnus Tracey Spencer during 1989 has been a boon to music lovers everywhere who are into the politically-correct-side-of-altruism message. But a follow up of something similar has been slow in coming. The posthumous success of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan to American MTV audiences in 1998 was much delayed due to the slowness of traditional music distribution systems back then. Even though a handful of adventurous music lovers has been enjoying the music of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan in the US since the mid- 1980’s. If you seek to introduce a more adventurous variety to your musical taste, its much easier today via on- line music downloads. The Turkish-German RnB sensation Muhabbet became well known via the internet. Muhabbet means to talk to each other in Turkish, has gained enough fame for his talent to be noticed. And now, Muhabbet has become UNICEF’s goodwill ambassador. Interested parties can contact Muhabbet at

I just hope that “We7” doesn’t forget the sound quality aspect of their site because as a legal music download site, sound quality can serve as a unique selling point for a site that supports the welfare of hardworking musicians and others in the music biz. As Peter Gabriel is a humanitarian-at-heart, the extent of “We7’s” benefits could put a major dent on extreme poverty. But for now, on line music download services like “We7” provides a level playing field for musicians anywhere in the world who are very talented but still lack the recognition they rightfully deserve.

Sustainable Tropical Hardwoods Anyone?

While the global powers-that-be wrangle in the Heiligendamm G8 over how the Kyoto Protocol threatens their “industry”, some entrepreneurs are saving the planet via sustainable business practices.

By: Vanessa Uy

Tropical hardwoods harvested by sustainable means and have ecological certification has been in vogue lately with top- notch European furniture designers. These woods are priced by the designers not only for their exquisite quality but also the fact that you can purchase one guilt-free. Finally, we can now experience the pride of ownership of beautiful tropical hardwood furniture in our own homes without the guilt that used to come with these items like deforestation and/or swindling indigenous tribes from an honest and fair transaction.

A German company called Unique Wood imports rare tropical hardwoods from Paraguay that are grown and harvested by sustainable means with the attendant certification. As you know, the concept and practice of sustainable forestry was invented in Germany in the 19th Century. So it’s only right for her to set an example for the rest of the world.

A German business consulting firm, GTZ train the local Paraguayan wood suppliers on sound business practices while maintaining the environmentally friendly ethos that keeps the tropical hardwood supply sustainable. Just as well because the demand in Europe for tropical hardwoods has increased over the past few years. At present, only 5% of Paraguay’s original forest remain today. When Unique Wood’s suppliers harvest tropical hardwoods, nothing is wasted. The excess limbs and branches are turned into charcoal with ecological certification in keeping in line with sustainable development so that the biodiversity of the local forests are preserved. Sadly, not all –if enough- of Paraguay’s forest resources are harvested and managed in a sustainable manner.

Is There an Alternative to the Heiligendamm G8?

With the somewhat failed promise of the Gleneagles G8 back in 2005 on African aid, will the current G8 be better?

By: Vanessa Uy

Aside from Sir Bob Geldof’s and Bono’s anti-poverty campaigns, nobody today seems to remember – or feign interest – about the hollow rhetoric of the Gleneagles G8. With its failed promise to provide a 50 billion dollar- a- year aid package for Africa. Do we really need an alternative to G8? Since it’s inception back in 1975, G8 – or was it called G7 back then – has always been perceived globally as a “promise formulating” rather than a “problem solving” summit.

Groups who are opposed to G8 range from riot inciting “anarchists” who are not that far removed from your typical European “soccer hooligans”, to legitimate anti-G8 groups like ATTAC, Justice Now, Interventionist Left, and the most famous of them all: Greenpeace. ATTAC with its battle cry of “The world is not for sale!” appeal to those who are disenfranchised with the overly bureaucratic organizations like G8. To me, G8 is a fundamentally flawed organization due to its extremely limited legislative powers. Especially now, with the vastly differing views on how to tackle climate change between the United States and the European Union.

As the United States continues to “hog” the Heiligendamm G8’s proceedings with rhetoric on the justification of the Bush Administration’s “Missile Defense Program” that has increased the tension between Washington and the Kremlin not seen since Cold War days. An alternative summit has started in Rostock to discuss issues that the powers-that-be of the G8 summit are too squeamish to discuss like AIDS, global poverty, fair trade, and human rights to name just a few. Organized by Tillmann G√ľnter, the Alternative Summit 2007 in Rostock serves to empower cause- oriented groups who are voicing their concerns that the global powers- that- be seem – or choose – to ignore.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Thailand’s Birth Control Program: A Model for the Rest of Southeast Asia

Thanks to “Mighty Mechai,” Thailand’s birth/population control program has been a resounding success.

By: Vanessa Uy

Despite of the “American Media’s” perception of 1980’s Bangkok as the world’s largest red-light district. Thailand is generally quite a conservative country, especially in the open discussion of sex education and birth control. But thanks to public health activist Mechai Viravaidya also known as “Mighty Mechai.” He is also dubbed as the “condom king” because of his campaign of freely handing out condoms almost everywhere especially in large social gatherings-except on funerals, which in doing so is a cultural faux pas in Thailand.

As an economist, Mechai Viravaidya was concerned that an unchecked booming birth rate is something that Thailand’s economy just can’t support. His population control program has been considered a resounding success despite of the Thai society’s reluctance to openly discuss birth control and sex education issues. When the AIDS scare of the mid -1980’s came along, the Thai society’s perception of sex education issues change from taboo to a public health issue. At the same time, “Mighty Mechai’s” condom distribution program has an added benefit of curbing the spread of AIDS in Thailand. Since then, Mechai Viravaidya has been credited for raising the conscience of the Thai populace about “human welfare” that an overpopulated country simply just can’t provide. To me, this raises the question why Buddhists-in general-have a more pragmatic view about “human welfare” compared to the Vatican?

Despite of the fame that he earned due to the success of his birth control program, Meccai Viravaidya just wants to be remembered as a self-effacing man. Maybe Mechai Viravaidya should spread his message of birth control here in the Philippines.

Mount Everest Rubbish Problem

A problem that’s long overdue for a clean- up, can the Japanese team tackle this problem single-handedly?

By: Vanessa Uy

Ever since, mountaineers from distant land’s flock to Nepal to fulfil their ambitions to reach to the summit of Mount Everest. The worlds journalist-at-large continually seem to ignore the rubbish problem that’s been steadily piling up around Mount Everest. Threatening to spoil the pristine nature of the surrounding landscape.This even earned the area surrounding Mount Everest as "The highest garbage dump in the world."

In May 29, 2007-a Japanese team led by acclaimed mountaineer Ken Noguchi is probably the first organized Mount Everest clean-up crew. Ken Noguchi and his team have their work cut out for them. Especially in the “death zone” where the air is so thin no human can survive for prolonged periods. This is where spent oxygen bottles litter the landscape and the odd human remains lay were they originally fell because even top sherpas don’t have enough strength to recover bodies from the “death zone.” Ken Noguchi and team’s commendable efforts are set to coincide with the anniversary of the first successful scaling of Mount Everest back in 1953 by Sir Edmund Hillary and acclaimed sherpa Tensing Norgay.

The Japanese teams efforts will undoubtedly be welcomed with open arms by the global mountaineering community since humanitarian efforts like these around the Himalayas are few and far between. Ken Noguchi and his team’s efforts rank those with Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenseng Norgay’s Educational Fund that the two set up to provide free education to the children of sherpas.

Japan versus the International Whaling Commission

Is Japan making the International Whaling Commission unable to execute its mandate in maintaining the welfare of the worlds shrinking whale population?

By: Vanessa Uy

The International Whaling Commission’s venue this year: 59th Annual IWC Meeting Anchorage Alaska 2007- promises to improve the present conditions of the world’s whales. Except they had not been able to stop Japan from hunting whales with impunity-all in the name of “scientific research.” Since the 1986 whaling moratorium, Japan has been steadily increasing “scientific catch” quotas that present day quotas are double that of 10 years ago. Japan has been able to do this because of some legal loophole of the IWC “Article 8” which permits scientific whaling. Whaling is never humane though because it results in the whale dying a slow painful death, which usually lasts 90 minutes on average.

Japan’s plea to the International Whaling Commission to restart whaling in the name of tradition only generates worldwide condemnation. This is quite paradoxical because almost all of Japanese youths no longer follow the tradition of eating whale meat. Because of this increasingly large quantities of whale meat now languish in Japan’s cold storage facilities. The Japanese chapter of Greenpeace has been appalled by the Japanese government’s planned resumption of large scale whaling despite of the huge whale meat surplus.

Various environmental groups like Greenpeace are increasingly concerned on the IWC allowing the subsistence whaling of indigenous groups because these groups use vessels intended for large scale industrial whaling. This oversight needs to be reevaluated by the IWC.

Today only 36,000 sperm whales remain in our oceans and the humpback whale-the favorite of whale watchers due to their acrobatic leaps-are only 10,000 strong. And remember; humpback whales are featured in the movie “Star Trek: The Voyage Home.” This movie is considered a beginner’s guide to whale conservation by most environmentalists. The only species of whale whose numbers is on the rise are the minkie whale. Even then, environmental groups doubt that their present population can support the scale of industrial whaling that prevailed in the last century. Japans desperation to restart her whaling industry has forced her to resort to vote buying on poor member countries of the IWC via development aid.

A Ban on Cluster Bombs

In Lima, Peru a conference was held campaigning for a total ban on cluster bombs by next year. Will it fair better than Princess Diana’s campaign for a global ban on land mines?

By: Vanessa Uy

In the week ending May 26, 2007 – the conference for the comprehensive global ban on the use and production of cluster bombs / sub munitions took place in Lima, Peru. 46 countries have already sign up earlier this year in Norway in support for the campaign, while 20 more countries have sign up during the conference in Lima, Peru as a show of solidarity in banning the use and production of cluster bombs and/or sub munitions. Not surprisingly, the biggest users and producers of cluster bombs and/or sub munitions namely: the US, Russia, China, and of course Israel are absent.

As anti-personnel weapon systems go, cluster bombs don’t work very well militarily. This is due to the inherent manufacturing faults where sometimes 50% of the sub munitions won’t explode immediately upon deployment. These UXO (unexploded ordnance) has a nasty habit of maiming and killing non-combatants/civilians long after the military conflict is over. The UN has even declared that UXO - like land mines are considered as a pollutant because of their ability to render croplands useless. Since the 1980’s, there has already been a global campaign to ban these weapons. In the Vietnam War movie “Bat 21”, the indiscriminate nature of cluster bombs were portrayed on celluloid. Also unexploded ordnance has a nasty habit of being turned into IED (improvised explosive devices) by resourceful “freedom fighters.” It was also known that as late as the mid 1990’s, nomads of the Sub-Saharan region have the misfortune of finding out that anti-personnel mines laid by German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel’s “Afrika Korps” still work.

Another New Extra Solar Planet Discovered

Will these series of newly discovered planets renew the public’s interest on astronomy, or allow the US Congress to increase funding on astronomical research?

By: Vanessa Uy

A new Neptune-like extra solar planet with a thick layer of water. As gas giants go, this planet is a class of it’s own because jovian (Jupiter-like) gas giants usually don’t have abundant water. The team of American astronomers who discovered the new planet almost “jumped out of their clothes” in excitement on the discovery. Instruments show the planet to have a rocky core. Spectroscopic anomalies on the planet’s angular momentum show the planet to be covered entirely by a large ocean of liquid water.

The inherent difficulty of finding planets outside of our own solar system makes such discovery a vindication that our latest generation of astronomical instruments such as telescopes really work. The series of newly discovered planets, a number of which only slightly larger than Earth renew humanity’s hopes that there is life elsewhere in the universe.

Pluto No Longer a Planet

The astronomical community’s consensus to reclassify Pluto’s status as a planet will have repercussions that won’t easily die down.

By: Vanessa Uy

That’s right, Pluto is no longer a planet. Astronomers didn’t have to wait the 248.4 years it takes for Pluto to complete it’s orbit around the sun to reclassify it from a planet to something like one of those large bodies that belong to the Kuiper belt. The Kuiper belt is the region of our solar system where short-period comets originate and this is where material that’s left over from the formation of the planets currently resides.

In 1978, it was found out that Pluto had a moon. The astronomical community named it Charon. Charon is almost the same size as Pluto and this “dumbbell system” has quite a curious effect on Pluto’s angular momentum. Pluto’s highly eccentric orbit will no longer make it as the farthest “planet” from the sun starting 1978. Pluto’s highly eccentric orbit is a consequence of Albert Einstein’s “General Relativity” theory.

How Legitimate is G8 2007?

This year’s G8 summit concerns primarily on climate protection issues, but there are other pressing issues that need discussion too.

By: Vanessa Uy

The 2007 incarnation of G8, dubbed “G8 Plus 5” has very lofty goals that it promises to achieve. Formulating a binding agreement on climate change protection and a cap on greenhouse gas emissions are on the top of the agenda won’t be easy. And the issue of sustainable development and “carbon credits” need more than good intentions to formulate a binding resolution that the global community would find equitable. The somewhat esoteric issue about “hedge funds” should also be discussed by the conference. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has shown concern over the issue of “hedge funds.” She even proposed a code of conduct on “hedge funds” and a discussion on minimum private quotas. If all goes well, this could make globalization more equitable for the world’s poor.

Germany’s current G8 presidency might result in a significant progress on climate protection issues because Germany-like most of the European Union-is staunchly pro environment and probably the only ones with the political will to meet the 2012 Kyoto Protocol targets on greenhouse gas emissions. This caused howls of protests from the US and China who perceives that Angela Merkel’s pro environment policies-like the rest of the EU states-undermines the economic well being of American and Chinese industries.

While anti-globalization activists defend their view that the G8 lacks legitimacy because it puts first the interests of rich industrialized countries like the US above those of the needs of developing nations. This is the reason why every annual G8 summit draws in it’s fair share of angry demonstrators and activists. And “G8 Plus 5” will be no different because it takes more than good intentions to solve the pressing problems of global warming and extreme poverty.

Planet Vulcan

Is this a “Tabloid Press” planet, or one of the astronomical community’s honest mistakes?

By: Vanessa Uy

Sometimes a currently held wisdom of astronomy is redefined over time, usually due to recent advances in science. The advancing perihelion of the planet Mercury; was once believed to be caused by as a yet undiscovered planet. Astronomers at that time dubbed the planet Vulcan after the Roman god of fire and due to the planets supposedly close proximity to the sun- closer than Mercury in fact. Even though Vulcan was never directly observed by optical and/or radio telescopes, astronomers at the time were confident of Vulcan’s existence due to its effect on Mercury’s orbit.

It was later proven that the advancing perihelion of the planet Mercury’s orbit is a consequence of Albert Einstein’s “General Relativity” theory. Thus the existence of Vulcan was ruled out. Vulcan was just a fictitious planet that was accidentally “created” by the astronomical community back then to describe a phenomena that’s not yet fully understood at the time.