Blue Marble - February 2007

New Technology May Help Iraq Vets Regrow Limbs

| Thu Feb. 15, 2007 2:30 PM EST

We all know that animals such as salamanders and newts can regrow body parts, but humans? An experimental technology using extracellular matrix—a fine powder derived from pig bladders—may lead to just that.

Thus far, the growth has been limited to soft tissue and blood vessels, and the only human test was on a doctor's brother who had (conveniently) chopped off 3/8 of an inch of the top of a finger. By using extracellular matrix, the missing part regrew in just four months. Except for a scar, "it was like the finger I always had," he said.

Less than half an inch of finger may not sound like a lot, but for the five Iraq vets testing the technology at a center in Texas it may mean the difference between fumbling for a pencil (or a fork, a hammer, etc.) and being able to pick it up. And as amputations are a key injury in this war, scientists are hoping that the new technology may one day lead to full limb regeneration. Stem cells are of course an important part of this debate. "Fetuses can regenerate just about everything," a scientist involved in the extracellular matrix therapy said. Most recently, human stem cells implanted in rats' damaged spinal cords reproduced and fused with the rats' nervous systems to repair function. This gives hope that paralyzed GIs may one day be able to regain at least some of their mobility instead of having to rely on expensive prosthesis.

With all the potential of biotechnological help for vets, why is Bush not behind stem cell technology? Bush says he won't allow the intentional destruction of human embryos, but he seems perfectly happy to witness the mental and physical destruction of the nation's young men and women. Bush's opposition to stem cells is not just hurting those injured today, but may actually be keeping researchers from helping others down the line.

—Jen Phillips

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Evangelicals Protect The Planet, The Planet God Created

| Thu Feb. 15, 2007 2:33 AM EST

Evangelicals have been green for some time, but lately it seems like they're going dark green. Deep green. Like a forest green. A Charleston green, even.

The Evangelical "What Would Jesus Drive?" green campaign of a few years ago has now paved the way for a new movement. An unprecedented group of Evangelical and scientific leaders just last month sent an urgent call to action to President Bush on behalf of "Creation Care," urging him to protect the environment and "defend life on earth." They are calling for a "fundamental change in values, lifestyles, and public policies" needed to address global warming and other environmental problems "before it is too late." Olympia Snowe and Barack Obama even jumped on board in support.

Richard Cizik, the pro-Bush vice president of governmental affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals, told the Inter Press Service News Agency:

"There are people in our community who don't yet accept the science of human-induced climate change and other environmental problems. What we're saying is, let's be in dialogue with the scientists who have the best information about these problems that we can come up with."

Climate change isn't the only turf Evangelicals have been walking on lately. Marcus R. Ross submitted a doctoral dissertation to the University of Rhode Island in December on the existence of mosasaurs, but was vocal about his status as a ''young earth creationist'' who, aside from his academic work, believes that the Bible is a literally true account of the creation of the universe, and that the earth is at most 10,000 years old.

The kicker of it all is that while 38% of Americans call themselves evangelical, only 9% actually agree with key evangelical beliefs. According to a study last year by the Barna Group, one out of every four self-identified evangelicals has not accepted Christ as their savior. Which means the third of our country who are evangelicals are a pretty diverse lot, and many of them are looking to do some saving of their own, all the better for a planet that can use all the help it can get.

—Gary Moskowitz

The Pure Products of America Go Crazy

| Wed Feb. 14, 2007 5:29 PM EST

Americans love their cars. A lot: We take 88 percent of all trips by car, pay high and unfair car insurance rates and tolerate 40,000 annual traffic-related deaths without flinching. Not to mention our parking woes.

Now with global warming hard and fast upon us and Democrats back in power, will the government take action to curb our enthusiasm for driving? Probably not, according to an article in the American Prospect.

Bush's proposed budget cuts funding for Amtrak and increases highway funding. The Democrats have requested a few additional pennies for railroads (remember mass transit?), but haven't said peep about the highway funding. Of course, the highway money could buy bike lanes, but it almost certainly won't. That's because improved mass transit has no one to lobby for it: The largest mass-transit lobby in the country has scarcely a dozen staffers. Meanwhile, big environmental groups tend to focus narrowly on saving land and species, failing to make a persuasive case against new roads or continued car emissions.

Americans' inability to rethink the car is what leads to dubious solutions like corn ethanol, which uses almost as much gas to produce as it replaces.

Valentine's Day, Mother Jones-Style

| Wed Feb. 14, 2007 11:18 AM EST

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone. Or if you are one of those people, happy grumpy I-hate-this-silly-manufactured-nonsense day. It will assuredly be a day of blissful complaining for you.

Think Valentine's Day is the sort of thing Mother Jones wouldn't cover? Wrong! There's always a MoJo angle. In 2003, we sent a correspondent out to find a truly organic, pesticide-free Valentine's Day rose. The results -- surprise! -- were not good. A year earlier, we examined the environmental and human cost of Ecuador's rose industry -- the world's fourth largest and a major exporter to the United States. Just a loving reminder from Mother Jones that consumer ethics never take a holiday.

Dutch Lead Rearguard Action Against Sea Level Rise

| Tue Feb. 13, 2007 8:20 PM EST

The Associated Press via the International Herald Tribune reports that Dutch engineers are considering creating "breaker islands" off the country's North Sea coast as a possible defense against rising sea levels caused by global warming. Should we be following their lead?

More than two-thirds of the Netherlands' 16 million population lives below sea level, and Dutch policy makers are counting on a rise in sea level of around 80 centimeters (30 inches) in the coming century regardless of the ongoing scientific debate on the causes and likely impact of global warming. Bakker cited a strategy increasingly being used to strengthen the dunes that protect the country's coast: pumping sand into strategic offshore locations where currents in the North Sea sweep them into place, bulking up the dunes.

"This strategy is successful and relatively cheap" in addressing immediate needs to strengthen the country's water defenses, Bakker said. "We could use a similar more natural approach in strengthening our coastal defenses in the longer term. For example, by creating a series of small islands off the coast ... instead of raising the current dunes or dams."

That would help protect against storm surges such as the one in 1953 that drove water near the Dutch coast more than 4 meters (13 feet) above normal levels, breaching defenses and killing more than 1,800 people. That set off a massive 40-year building project that made the country's water defenses among the strongest in the world. But the country's undersecretary of Transportation Melanie Schultz said the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina was a "wake up call" that more work remains.

"We can't delude ourselves that natural disasters occur only in developing countries," she said.

So while we misspend billions on the wrong war for homeland security, the Dutch are engineering really good defense systems designed for the watery battlefront of the 21st century.

The Dutch government approved a new euro14 billion (US$18.5 billion) increase in spending on water defenses and water quality improvements over the next 20 years in December. That's on top of euro3 billion (US$4 billion) in extra projects already in the works this decade against the threat from river floods, as Dutch climate models predict global warming will lead to more abrupt showers in the Rhine catchment area, whose water ultimately funnels through the Netherlands on its way out to the sea.

The recent IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change) reports the seas will rise for at least 1,000 years. We'll need a whole civilization of Hans Brinkers with stout fingers and, well, not ice skates… maybe Jetskis.

Quiet Your Legs, Gamble Your Lifesavings, New Drugs Do All This and More

| Tue Feb. 13, 2007 7:05 PM EST

A study from the Mayo Clinic says that a class of drugs used to treat restless leg syndrome has the bizarre side effect of turning regular folks into compulsive gamblers. (… note to Karl Rove: GWB's excuse?...) The modern world is strange, but no stranger than this: peddling a new drug for a syndrome no one's ever heard of and then creating a solution far worse than the problem.

Compulsive gambling with extreme losses -- in two cases, greater than $100,000 -- by people without a prior history of gambling problems has been linked to a class of drugs commonly used to treat the neurological disorder restless legs syndrome (RLS). A new Mayo Clinic study is the first to describe this compulsive gambling in RLS patients who are being treated with medications that stimulate dopamine receptors in the brain.

One patient, a woman seen in the Mayo Clinic Sleep Disorders Center, had a five-year history of regular nighttime creeping-crawling sensations in her legs, accompanied by the strong urge to move her legs. Two and a half years prior to her Mayo Clinic visit, she had been diagnosed with RLS and treatment with pramipexole was begun.

Her symptoms improved, however, a problematic behavior developed soon after she started taking the medication. She developed an uncontrollable urge to gamble when visiting the nearby casino. As the dose increased, her gambling compulsion grew stronger. The transition of her therapy to another dopamine agonist, ropinirole, further increased her compulsion to gamble. Prior to her treatment for RLS, she had no history of gambling and viewed gamblers as "unfortunate individuals," the authors report. The patient lost more than $140,000 from gambling.

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War Comes Home as Children of Deployed Military Suffer Stress

| Tue Feb. 13, 2007 6:44 PM EST

A study from the Medical College of Georgia tells a predictable yet neglected story, that the children of parents in the military during wartime have significant physical and mental health issues. Stress not only, well, stresses them, it also effectively ages them beyond their years.

Researchers looked at 121 adolescents – including 48 with civilian parents, 20 with a parent deployed to Iraq and 53 with a parent in the military but not deployed – days after Operation Iraqi Freedom was launched in March 2003 and nearly three months later when President Bush announced major hostilities had ceased.

At both points, adolescent offspring of military personnel self-reported higher levels of stress and measures of blood pressure and heart rates supported that.

"We expected stress levels would push up blood pressure and heart rates," says Dr. Vernon Barnes, physiologist at the Medical College of Georgia and principal author of a paper published in the January issue of Military Medicine.

Dr. Barnes and his colleagues used a posttraumatic stress disorder questionnaire developed by the military for personnel and modified for adolescents, a survey to assess psychosocial concerns such as sense of well-being and faith in government as well as more objective heart rate and blood pressure measures.

Not surprisingly, they found that particularly adolescents with deployed parents had higher rates than their classmates. Studies were done at the Academy of Richmond County, a high school in Augusta, Ga., attended by many children whose parents are stationed at Fort Gordon.

Casualties without boundaries.

Another PR Firm Poses as an Activist Group

| Tue Feb. 13, 2007 3:41 PM EST

The California Alliance to Protect Private Property Rights feels your pain. You've been upset about eminent domain abuse—when cities take land from the little guys and pass it to developers of chain stores, car dealerships, and golf courses—haven't you? It's so un-American. Well, the Alliance sympathizes, and it wants to channel your feelings into… opening up nature preserves and greenbelts to developers.

Up close, the "Alliance" doesn't look like much an alliance. It looks more like a public relations firm. The man running the show, Marko Mlikotin, might be on Wal-Mart's payroll. He was spotted recently drumming up community support for two Wal-Mart supercenters in Chico, Calif. But public relations is a tough job, and he's having a rough go at it. Reporter Tom Gascoyne writes, "When I asked him questions, he would say, 'I'm not sure,' or 'Don't quote me.'"

Anyway, "Marko the Mysterious" just sent out a press release trumpeting a recent survey. The pollster is the Public Opinion Strategies, a Republican firm which says, "As our roots are in political campaign management, our research is focused on producing information…." Doesn't sound so objective.

You can guess the poll results: People don't like eminent domain abuse. They would support a law to protect homeowners. But the survey didn't differentiate between the private property rights of homeowners and those of Wal-Mart. And what people weren't asked about is how much they value open space and greenbelts and nature preserves. People don't want a law like Prop 90, which citizens smartly defeated in November, because it would have crippled environmental regulation and cost the states billions of dollars. A "pay-or-waive scheme," Prop 90 would have required the government to compensate landowners for new regulations that devalue their property, or waive the regulations altogether. (In Oregon, which has pay-or-waive, property owners in three months last summer filed more than $5 billion in claims).

As far as I can tell, no news agencies have picked up the survey, which means folks are onto Marko and his "alliance." But the point is, they're back. Special interests behind this "alliance" are drumming up support for another Prop 90. Get ready.

Update on Sea Shepherd Pursuit of Japanese Whaling Ship

| Fri Feb. 9, 2007 5:24 PM EST

Pirate excitement continues during the long days of the austral summer in the stormy Southern Ocean. Sea Shepherd crews aboard the Farley Mowat and the Robert Hunter continue in hot pursuit of the Japanese factory whaling ship the Nisshin Maru. For a while disaster loomed, as two crewmen went adrift in a Zodiak chase boat crippled after its confrontation with the Japanese whaler.

The Zodiac inflatable carrying 2nd Officer Karl Neilsen, 29, of Australia, and Engineer John Gravois, 24, of the United States, fell back from the other Sea Shepherd ships after its fiberglass hull cracked and filled with water. The damage was caused when the inflatable struck the steel hull of the whaling vessel Nisshin Maru in heavy seas. The two were quickly lost as heavy fog, snow, and sleet conditions suddenly occurred.

Captain Paul Watson immediately put the Farley Mowat into a search grid and then issued a maritime distress call and was joined by the Sea Shepherd ship Robert Hunter. Because it was an official distress, the Japanese factory vessel was obligated to participate and joined in the search. The search lasted eight hours.

The crewmembers were found by the Farley Mowat; both were unharmed and slightly cold. They were spotted by Farley Mowat Quartermaster Jaime Brown of New Zealand. They were both wearing wetsuits under survival suits. Karl and John were glad to be rescued and were not suffering any ill effects.

Captain Paul Watson called the Nisshin Maru to thank them for their assistance in the search and then said, "We're all back on schedule." At this point, the two Sea Shepherd ships resumed their pursuit of the Japanese whaling fleet as conditions continue to worsen, and winds and swells increase.

Yet fair maritime play was soon followed by foul, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society says, as the Nisshin Maru claimed injury of two crew from the butyric acid attack. Not possible, swabbies, says Captain Watson.

"My crew did not injure anyone," said Captain Watson. "This is just a spin designed to get public sympathy for men who are themselves vicious and ruthless killers of whales."

The Japanese claim that two whalers were injured when six liters of butyric acid were tossed onto the flensing deck of the Nisshin Maru.

According to Japan's Fisheries Agency spokesman, Hideki Moronuki, the two Japanese crewmen sustained injuries from the attack after one was hit by an empty container of acid and the other had acid squirted in his eye.

"Nice try, but a total fabrication," said Captain Watson. "The butyric acid is contained in one-liter glass bottles, all of which broke upon contact with the flensing deck of the Nisshin Maru. These bottles are sealed and the acid released after being broke, so it is impossible to be hit by an empty bottle. Secondly, no one squirted butyric acid into anyone's eye, and even if they did, this is a simple non-toxic butter acid, basically rancid butter. It will not cause eye injury. If we had tossed marshmallows on the deck of the Nisshin Maru, I'm sure the whalers would try to claim they were injured by them"

Every minute the whaling fleet runs from the Sea Shepherd ships is a minute less spent hunting whales. And, no, the whalers won't just hunt longer or raise prices dockside in response because there isn't any market in Japan for whale meat anymore. Greenpeace describes how that other pirate whaling nation, Iceland, can't figure out what to do with its tons of whale meat it hoped to sell to Japan.

In Iceland we have discovered an unprecedented amount of the whale meat from the recent hunt has not been used. Even whaling captain Sigurður Njálsson has said the meat is unfit for domestic consumption. 200 tonnes of the meat is in storage with a further 179 tonnes of entrails buried at a landfill site. But despite demand for whale meat plummeting, Japan and Iceland continue to hunt whales. An icy landfill site has been used to dump a vast proportion of the fin whale remains. Underneath the snowy floor around 179 tonnes of bones and entrails have been left to rot. Around 200 tonnes of meat and blubber - a vast proportion of the total yield - are sitting elsewhere in storage waiting to be tested for chemical contamination.

"Iceland claims their commercial whaling is sustainable – but how can they justify it when they are hunting endangered species, without domestic demand, and an over-supply of whale products in Japan?" said Greenpeace Nordic Oceans campaigner, Frode Pleym. "Both Iceland and Japan continue to whale in the face of domestic and international opposition, even though there is no scientific, economic or environmental justification for it," added Pleym.

The Icelandic meat and blubber in storage is intended for export to Japan, despite the fact that Japan already has 4962 tonnes of whale meat stockpiled (as of October 2006) according to the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

Last year, 5500 tons of whale meat was supplied to the Japanese market. This includes whale meat which does not get eaten and is simply thrown away because it didn't sell. Even if we generously assume all of the meat was in fact eaten, that is only about 46g of whale meat per person , as opposed to 5.6kg of beef, 12.1kg of pork, and 10.5kg of chicken.

"It is no surprise that there are massive stockpiles of whale meat, when a recent survey shows that 95 percent of Japanese people never or have rarely eaten whale meat. It is time for all governments to make a commitment to the whales and not an outdated, unwanted and pointless industry," said Greenpeace Japan's campaign director, Junichi Sato.

Talk about outlaw nations, axes of evil. Add Norway to the list and you've got a Triumvirate of Terror that Ahab would be proud of.

Sea Shepherd Ships Attack Japanese Whaling Fleet in Antarctic Waters

| Thu Feb. 8, 2007 6:36 PM EST

This just in from the Sydney Morning Herald. The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's two ships, the Farley Mowat and the Robert Hunter, have found the Japanese whaling fleet in Antarctic waters after six weeks of searching and attacked them.

Sea Shepherd's president, Paul Watson, told the SMH online that his ships evaded satellite surveillance in order to pounce on the fleet near the Balleny Islands, far south-west of Tasmania. "I ran the ships through the ice fields south of the Balleny Islands and came up on them from the other side," Captain Watson said. "We took a pounding in the ice, but the satellite cannot track a ship and wake through ice nor would they be looking there. "The Robert Hunter is easily keeping up with the factory ship. The Nisshin Maru was fleeing the Robert Hunter and came directly towards the Farley Mowat. At two miles, they turned and fled in the other direction."

In their first attack, Captain Watson said his crew cleared the whale-flensing deck of the Nisshin Maru, when they threw a non-toxic "butter acid" on it from an inflatable dinghy. Activists in inflatables armed with nail guns were also fixing steel plates over drain outlets in the side of the fleeing factory ship, preventing the escape of whale blood from the flensing deck. He said the fleet had scattered and the Robert Hunter was still in contact with Nisshin Maru, which was steaming away at high speed and attempting to use its water cannon on the activists. "They are easily avoided," he said.

The attack came almost five weeks after Sea Shepherd began searching for the fleet in the Ross Sea, and with their vessels beginning to run low on fuel. The group has begun negotiations to enter Australia or New Zealand ports, a decision complicated by their status as "pirate" whalers.

Well, the SMH's got it wrong there. The Japanese ships are the only pirate whalers in the Antarctic just now, since their claim of "scientific whaling" is laughably bogus if it weren't so frackin' tragic. Watson's fleet is made up of pirate ships, flying without a flag, as Reuters via the Alaska Report reports.

"We haven't broken any law or regulation, but now we're not registered anywhere -- we're technically a pirate ship without a flag," said Captain Paul Watson from the Farley Mowat. "It means that we could be attacked and confiscated at will by any nation including the Japanese," he said.

All this righteousness from that pirating-nation-of olde, Britain, over butter acid? Back to the SMH:

The Farley Mowat has been stripped of its Belizean registration, and Britain is to de-register the Robert Hunter in 10 days' time. Talks are under way with both the Australian and New Zealand Governments in a bid to avoid arrest.

Greenpeace's ship Esperanza, which had hoped to be first to reach the whalers, was about a day's sailing away from the position where Sea Shepherd found them, and approaching from the west, a Greenpeace spokesman said. The Japanese Government's Institute for Cetacean Research, which owns the fleet, is harpooning up to 935 minke whales and 10 fin whales under its program of "scientific research".

Meanwhile, Watson delivered this message to the Japanese pirate whalers:

Nisshin Maru, this is Captain Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd vessel Farley Mowat. Please be advised that you are killing whales in the Antarctic Whale Sanctuary. You are targeting endangered species of whales in violation of international conservation law. You are killing whales in violation of the IWC global moratorium on commercial whaling. Please cease and desist your illegal whaling operations and leave the Antarctic Whale Sanctuary. We are acting in accordance with the principles of the United Nations World Charter for Nature. The Charter authorizes non-governmental organizations and individuals to uphold international conservation law.

Aye aye.