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Alleged White House-Petraeus Arm Wrestling Over September Report a Ruse?

| Thu Aug. 16, 2007 11:34 AM EDT

Add me to the list of the puzzled. Many signs are from those advising Iraq commander Gen. David Petraeus that he and his advisors think they have a strategy that they say is somewhat succeeding and don't want Congress to pull the plug. In other words, Petraeus and the White House are ostensibly pretty close in advocating a continued large scale US presence in Iraq for as long as possible.

So it's bizarre that the White House is apparently indicating that it wants to preempt his findings and hijack the Petraeus report from Petraeus, and confine Petraeus and Amb. Ryan Crocker to testifying before Congress in closed session.

So puzzling that one is suspicious: is the White House ultimately going to "give in" to Congressional pressure and "let" Petraeus testify, only to have it revealed, that, what do you know, it turns out that the good general too thinks the surge has done wonders and, with time, might reduce violence to a degree that greater political reconciliation takes hold. He even forecasts that over the next year, he might be able to move troops out of the areas where violence has gone down, hinting at a lower US troop presence by next year, without offering too many specifics.

Of any reported White House effort to silence or sideline Petraeus, one of the general's close associates emails me, "I do not believe it."

I am not sure I do either. The only explanation that makes sense to me is that the White House is seeking to control the optics with Congressional Republican leaders anxious about how basically continuing a maximal US presence in Iraq will affect their '08 reelection prospects.

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The Suppression of David Petraeus Continues

| Thu Aug. 16, 2007 11:05 AM EDT

You know how Gen. David Petraeus was supposed to write that all-important September report, but won't? He's also the one who is supposed to present it to Congress and the public. But looks like he won't. Military officials are said to be "puzzled" that Condi Rice and Robert Gates will present the report, and that Gen. Petraeus won't be allowed to appear in public at all.

For a guy that the administration has endlessly hyped, he sure doesn't get much of a chance to show his talents to the world.

Update: The White House is now saying Petraeus will testify.

Iraqi Government Shake-Up to Pass US-Demanded Legislation

| Thu Aug. 16, 2007 10:33 AM EDT

Yesterday, a report in Dubai-based Gulfnews forecast a Baghdad govenrment "shake-up":

Under pressure from the Congress, Arab states and Sunni Iraqi leaders, the US administration on Tuesday set the stage for "major" political changes in Iraq.
The changes will be in "the structure, nature and direction of the Iraqi state," a senior American official in Baghdad was quoted by AP as saying.
He did not give out details, but the plan is expected to be high on the agenda of a 'crisis summit' which would be attended by key Iraqi leaders who seek to save the crumbling national unity government of Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki.

A Different Casualty of War: Army Suicide Rate Skyrockets

| Thu Aug. 16, 2007 3:06 AM EDT

The Associated Press got a hold of new Pentagon report out tomorrow detailing the latest stats on suicides within the already-beleaguered Army. Last year 99 soldiers committed suicide, up from 88 the year before, and the rate of 17.3 troops per 100,000 taking their own lives is the highest in 26 years (and nearly double the all-time low of 9.1 per 100,000 in 2001). The 99 suicides included 28 soldiers deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan and 71 who were out-of-theater, the report says. And about twice as many women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan committed suicide as did women not sent to war.

Not included in any of these Pentagon tallies, I am almost sure, are the suicides (and attempts) of troops home, out of the army, reservists, guardsmen and women, all dealing with PTSD, job losses and the like. Suicides, depression, rage, PTSD, the range of mental health issues is already exacting a heavy, if relatively silent, toll. Expect it to only get worse, a lot worse.

'Cool Farms' Mask Global Warming

| Thu Aug. 16, 2007 12:25 AM EDT

You've heard of urban heat islands that generate pockets of hot air. Now researchers confirm the existence of their opposite: cool farm patches that tend to cool things down, reports New Scientist. These have been felt in California for more than a century, in areas of intensive irrigation, like the Central Valley, where "cool farms" have counteracted global warming. Researchers from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, extrapolating back to when irrigation began in 1887, calculate that intensively irrigated parts of the Central Valley are ~3.0 to 5.75°F cooler than they would otherwise have been. The cooling happens because much of the solar energy hitting irrigated ground during the day goes to evaporate the extra water in the soil and plants instead of heating the air. The cool farms could explain why minimum and maximum winter temperatures steadily rose in California between 1915 and 2000, while maximum summer temps did not. The warmer winters can only be explained by the greenhouse effect, and the authors speculate the cool-farms effect may have masked the impact of global warming on summer temps — since irrigation is mostly carried out during the summer.

But the cool times may not last. A rollback of the cooling effect of irrigation in the face of continued global warming could mean that California will be hit by substantial warming. This could also mean that irrigated regions around the world, which now provide about 40% of global food production, will feel more than their share of warming in the future, with the obvious impact on food security. . . So, plant your water gardens now. JULIA WHITTY

Indians Predated Newton 'Discovery' By 250 Years

| Wed Aug. 15, 2007 11:51 PM EDT

Okay, geek that I am, I love this stuff. So I'm going to post long here. A school of scholars in southwest India discovered one of the founding principles of modern mathematics hundreds of years before Newton. According to new research by George Gheverghese Joseph from The University of Manchester, the 'Kerala School' identified the 'infinite series' — one of the basic components of calculus — in about 1350. The discovery is currently, and wrongly, attributed to Sir Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibnitz at the end of the seventeenth centuries. The team reveals the Kerala School also discovered what amounted to the Pi series and used it to calculate Pi correct to 9, 10 and later 17 decimal places. And there is strong circumstantial evidence that the Indians passed on their discoveries to mathematically knowledgeable Jesuit missionaries who visited India during the fifteenth century. That knowledge, they argue, may have eventually been passed on to Newton himself. Joseph made the revelations while trawling through obscure Indian papers for a yet to be published third edition of his best selling book The Crest of the Peacock: the Non-European Roots of Mathematics.

According to Joseph: "The beginnings of modern maths is usually seen as a European achievement but the discoveries in medieval India between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries have been ignored or forgotten. The brilliance of Newton's work at the end of the seventeenth century stands undiminished — especially when it came to the algorithms of calculus. But other names from the Kerala School, notably Madhava and Nilakantha, should stand shoulder to shoulder with him as they discovered the other great component of calculus — infinite series. There were many reasons why the contribution of the Kerala school has not been acknowledged — a prime reason is neglect of scientific ideas emanating from the Non-European world — a legacy of European colonialism and beyond. But there is also little knowledge of the medieval form of the local language of Kerala, Malayalam, in which some of most seminal texts, such as the Yuktibhasa, from much of the documentation of this remarkable mathematics is written. For some unfathomable reasons [actually, pretty easily fathomable…], the standard of evidence required to claim transmission of knowledge from East to West is greater than the standard of evidence required to knowledge from West to East. Certainly it's hard to imagine that the West would abandon a 500-year-old tradition of importing knowledge and books from India and the Islamic world. But we've found evidence which goes far beyond that: for example, there was plenty of opportunity to collect the information as European Jesuits were present in the area at that time. They were learned with a strong background in maths and were well versed in the local languages. And there was strong motivation: Pope Gregory XIII set up a committee to look into modernising the Julian calendar. On the committee was the German Jesuit astronomer/mathematician Clavius who repeatedly requested information on how people constructed calendars in other parts of the world. The Kerala School was undoubtedly a leading light in this area. Similarly there was a rising need for better navigational methods including keeping accurate time on voyages of exploration and large prizes were offered to mathematicians who specialised in astronomy. Again, there were many such requests for information across the world from leading Jesuit researchers in Europe. Kerala mathematicians were hugely skilled in this area.

Never too late to set history straight. Can't wait to read Joseph's new edition. JULIA WHITTY

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Headless Walruses Appear in Droves on Alaskan Shores

| Wed Aug. 15, 2007 9:58 PM EDT

Dozens of decapitated walruses have washed up on the beaches of western Alaska this summer, but a particular surge in Norton Sound, a bay of the Bering Sea, has called for a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service investigation. To hear why this is happening, continue reading this post on our science and health blog, The Blue Marble.

Headless Walruses Appear in Droves on Alaskan Shores

| Wed Aug. 15, 2007 8:39 PM EDT

Dozens of decapitated walruses have washed up on the beaches of western Alaska this summer, but a particular surge in Norton Sound, a bay of the Bering Sea, has called for a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service investigation.

The heads have likely been taken because of the walruses' valuable ivory tusks. The federal Marine Mammal Protection Act requires the use of at least the heart, liver, flippers, chest meat, and red meat. The only people allowed to hunt walruses for subsistence purposes are Alaska Natives who reside in Alaska. As of now, it is unclear if these beheadings were carried out by Alaskans and whether crimes were committed. But something seems fishy.

Authorities have counted 79 carcasses between Elim and Unalakleet, which is the largest number of walruses in the area in 10 years. Besides this wasteful disposal of walruses, the carcasses can be very disturbing to people visiting the beach not only by being aesthetically barbaric, but by also omitting a terrible stench.

—Anna Weggel

Chevron to Stand Trial in San Francisco for Human Rights Abuses in Nigeria

| Wed Aug. 15, 2007 8:30 PM EDT

After nearly ten years of legal wrangling, a group of nine Nigerians from the impoverished Niger Delta has been given the green light by a federal judge in San Francisco to go to trial against Chevron. Attorneys for the plaintiffs allege that Nigerian police, paid by Chevron and using Chevron helicopters and boats, tortured and shot people and destroyed two villages that were allegedly opposed to Chevron's oil Delta oil developments. A jury trial in the case is expected within the year.

Another case involving Chevron and human rights abuses was, the last time I checked, also winding its way through the San Francisco federal courts. But that case, involving four aggrieved women from the Ecuadorian rain forest, was actually welcomed by Chevron. Or at least Chevron did nothing to encourage it to be remanded to Ecuador. Why the different approach? Ecuador has been cracking down on oil company abuses while Nigeria is happy to pocket their money. In between these global poles of quasi-socialism and kleptocracy lies San Francisco. Looks like we'll soon find out whether Chevron finds a jury of its Bay Area peers to be a favorable middle ground.

Wide World of Blogs

| Wed Aug. 15, 2007 6:26 PM EDT

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  • The Daily Swarm has scans of Mixmag's pics from the inside of Daft Punk's pyramid, plus descriptions of the actual equipment, all much better than the last ones I posted. Nerd alert.

  • Brooklyn Vegan's got the scoop on the new Midtown Manhattan music venue, Terminal 5. Hell's Kitchen is so hot right now.
  • Idolator continues its countdown of the 100 Greatest R&B Songs of All Time: 80-61 now posted.
  • Yellow Stereo has some new Imperial Teen tunes. Hooray Imperial Teen!
  • Popbytes has the trailer for the new Michel Gondry film Be Kind Rewind starring Jack Black and Mos Def as video store clerks who have to re-enact all the movies after the tapes get erased.