Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Queen's Brian May battles for threatened badgers - Houston Chronicle

LONDON (AP) â€" There's a battle over badgers in Britain â€" and rock star Brian May is facing off against the country's farmers.

For animal-loving Britons, the burrowing black-and-white creatures are a beloved part of the landscape. But to cattle farmers they are a menace, spreading bovine tuberculosis, a disease that can devastate herds.

This week the government approved a plan to kill badgers in some parts to slow the spread of infection.

May, the Queen guitarist, belongs to a coalition of animal welfare groups who are determined to stop the cull, which he calls "horrific."

They have gathered over 55,000 signatures and hope to convince the government to scrap the idea.

May said Wednesday he's confident "the public will speak and they won't allow the government to get away with this."

Opposition seizes on jail torture video before Georgian election - Chicago Tribune


TBILISI (Reuters) - Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili promised on Wednesday to punish those responsible for torturing and raping prisoners, after video of the abuse was shown on television and sparked protests in the capital Tbilisi.

The government of the former Soviet republic said guards had been paid to stage the abuse for political motives, less than two weeks before a parliamentary election in the former Soviet republic.

The prosecutor's office said 10 people had been arrested including the head of the Tbilisi prison, two deputies and a number of guards. The prisons minister said she was resigning.

"Tonight, I tell all the victims of these inhuman actions and the whole nation that the Georgia we have built and we are all building together shall not and will not tolerate such behavior - in its prisons or anywhere else," Saakashvili said in a statement issued in the early hours of Wednesday.

"Those who committed these crimes will spend long years in jail, as will those who bribed guards to stage these horrors and film them," he said, promising that the rights of prisoners would be better protected.

Georgia, a key transit route for oil and gas supplies across the volatile Caucasus region, is gearing up for an October 1 election in which Saakashvili and his United National Movement face a challenge from a new opposition coalition, Georgian Dream, led by billionaire entrepreneur Bidzina Ivanishvili.

'RAPE ME' POSTERS

Hundreds of demonstrators rallied overnight in the capital after two pro-opposition television channels, including one owned by Ivanishvili, showed the footage purporting to show torture, rape and other abuses in the Tbilisi prison.

"This bloody regime should step down," Dachi Tsaguria, one of the organisers of the protest, told Reuters.

The protesters, who were urged to join the rally by messages on Facebook, held posters saying "Rape me!"

Dozens of people began gathering in the center of the capital to resume the protest on Wednesday.

The government said the videos had been staged and recorded by police officers who had been bribed by "politically motivated persons".

"An investigation revealed that several members of the jail's security department had been involved in a plan to carry out abusive activities and record them," the Interior Ministry said in a statement.

"Evidence shows that payments were made to coordinate and stage these appalling activities," it said.

Georgian Dream, which unites several opposition parties, has gathered large numbers to its rallies in the Caucasus state, although most opinion polls show it trails the ruling party before the election.

Ivanishvili, 56, has a fortune estimated by Forbes magazine at $6.4 billion. He and other opponents accuse Saakashvili of curbing freedoms and criticise him for leading Georgia into a disastrous war with Russia in August 2008.

(Reporting by Margarita Antidze; editing by Mark Trevelyan)

Analysis: US meltdowns - History lessons for the euro - Reuters

The Euro currency sign is seen in front of the European Central Bank (ECB) headquarters in Frankfurt September 6, 2012. REUTERS/Alex Domanski

The Euro currency sign is seen in front of the European Central Bank (ECB) headquarters in Frankfurt September 6, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Alex Domanski

LONDON | Wed Sep 19, 2012 6:32am EDT

LONDON (Reuters) - In the early 1870s, property prices in Vienna, Berlin and Paris soared on the back of a state-promoted building boom fuelled by easy credit extended against the collateral of unbuilt or unfinished houses.

The crash that followed parallels what has happened more recently and may, with other lessons from U.S. history, provide pointers for the euro zone crisis.

As the property prices soared, Europe's world was turned upside down. Thanks to grain elevators, conveyor belts and huge steamships, American farmers opening up the fertile Midwest were able to export vast quantities of wheat and then processed food.

Grain producers from Russia and central Europe simply could not compete with what came to be known as the American Commercial Invasion.

The crash came in central Europe in May 1873 as the low costs of the new industrial superpower exposed long-held growth assumptions as unrealistic. Continental banks collapsed, prompting British lenders to hold back their capital, unsure who was most exposed to souring mortgages. Interbank rates rocketed.

The banking crisis soon spread to the United States. Railway companies were among the first casualties, burdened by complex financial instruments that promised investors a fixed return.

Fast forward 135 years and this tale of woe, by U.S. historian Scott Reynolds Nelson, bears an uncanny resemblance to today's chronic banking and debt problems, according to Stephen Ross, a professor of financial economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sloan School of Management.

"Substituting Asia for America and the West for Europe, we get a description of what has happened in the current crisis. The West has been financed by the new producing economies of the East and that fueled a housing and consumption binge," he said.

"Not unlike 1873, the financial institutions and the new financial instruments made this easier, and the role of government to prod an expansion of affordable housing played a major role," Ross added in a recent lecture at the Cass Business School in London.

Crises, he concluded, are just as much a feature of the nexus between politics and finance today as they were in the late nineteenth century.

Which in turn helps explains why, as the current malaise stretches into a sixth year, there is keen interest in teasing out the lessons to be learned from history.

NOT FOR THE FIRST TIME

As well as the 1873 meltdown, Nelson profiles American financial calamities in 1792, 1819, 1837, 1857, 1893 and 1929. All resulted in Europeans wondering "if Americans would honor their financial promises, or was America simply a nation of deadbeats?"

Hence the title of Nelson's work, "A Nation of Deadbeats: An Uncommon History of America's Financial Disasters".

Then as now, complex financial engineering was a frequent feature when boom turned to bust, according to a Reuters review of Nelson's book by Bernard Vaughan. link.reuters.com/seg72t

In each case, as with the dodgy railroad bonds, financial intermediaries convinced themselves that the instruments they had created were sophisticated enough to protect them from defaults.

"And in each case the complex chain of institutions linking borrowers and lenders made it impossible for lenders to distinguish good loans from bad," Nelson, a history professor at the College of William and Mary, writes.

The 1837 financial crunch gives its title to another trawl through financial history by Alasdair Roberts, a professor at Suffolk University law school in Boston.

In "America's First Great Depression: Economic Crisis and Political Disorder after the panic of 1837", Roberts describes how a burst property bubble - yes, again - triggered a banking crisis - yes, again - that by 1842 led to a third of U.S. states being in default on their foreign debts.

The parallel with the euro zone crisis barely needs spelling out. For Mississippi, an early defaulter, read Greece.

The United States was roughly 60 years old at the time, as is the European Union now, which makes the far-reaching policy response to the states' debt crisis especially intriguing, according to Charles Robertson, an economist with Renaissance Capital in London.

Six defaulting states adopted constitutional debt brakes, while eight others introduced borrowing limits - a drive echoed, 170 years later, by the fiscal compact agreed by euro zone members at Germany's bidding.

As investors regained confidence, the prices of Pennsylvania's and Indiana's bonds more than doubled between 1842 and 1847. Holders of defaulted Greek debt will be hoping that history repeats itself.

NOT SO CHEERY PARALLEL

In another echo of Europe today, American politics got messy as populist politicians harangued banks and investors. But as global recovery set in by 1845, the American economy and the political climate stabilized. Most of its states regained market access.

However, Robertson draws a darker lesson from Roberts's book, namely that the economic shocks of the first Great Depression loosened the bonds forged in the war of independence from Britain 60 years earlier and paved the way for the U.S. civil war of 1861-1865.

Southern American states favoured free trade with Britain, while the northern states wanted tariffs and taxes to build up manufacturing. Europe, too, faces a fundamental north-south divide, Robertson argues.

"The core around Germany is a low-debt, high-savings, manufacturing and export powerhouse, with a preference for deflation to protect savings. Much of the south is a low-savings, high-borrowing group of countries with an inherent preference for inflation to resolve their debt burdens," he said in a report.

Europe will not descend into civil war, but the ties binding the euro zone are weak, with deep cultural and linguistic differences and limited labour mobility, he added.

"A break-up of the currency union is more plausible, because the key popular support for the euro zone union is not emotional, nationalistic or rooted in fears of external threats. It is primarily economic," Robertson concludes.

The metronomic recurrence of crises might suggest that markets and regulators are incapable of learning: the one still festering broke out within a decade of the dotcom boom and bust and Asia's financial meltdown of 1997/98.

"My gravest concern is that with all the talk about reform we really haven't done anything that we can confidently say will stop or even make a second crisis less likely," said Ross, the MIT professor. "The banks, for example, will still have razor-thin equity margins and governments will still provide the backstop."

In fact, Ross acknowledged, policymaking is much more enlightened than it was last century. For example, governments no longer close banks in response to a crisis, as they did to disastrous effect during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

But, he concluded, there are only so many lessons to be learned from studying the historical record. Financial accidents will keep happening as night follows day.

"It is difficult for people to believe that crises are endemic to the political-economic system and even more difficult to believe that crises and failures will always be a feature of political economic systems," he said.

(Editing by Jeremy Gaunt.)


Romney keeps relearning history's gaffe lessons - Businessweek

WASHINGTON (AP) â€" Who says Mitt Romney doesn't worry much about the very poor? That he believes corporations are people, too? That his wife drives two Cadillacs?

Romney himself, that's who. When it comes to portraying the Republican nominee as an uncaring, out-of-touch rich guy, he's his own worst enemy, offering up a bonanza for Democratic attack ads.

Romney hit the trifecta this time by saying that 47 percent of Americans believe they are victims, think "government has a responsibility to care for them" and are unwilling to step up and support themselves.

He may seem doomed to relearn the same loose-lips lesson over and over again in 2012. But Romney's far from the first candidate to blunder into a buzz saw of his own words. His rival, President Barack Obama, still hasn't lived down a similar incident from 2008.

In both cases the uproar was amplified because the remarks were intended only for the ears of wealthy campaign donors, said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Public Policy Center. "It's damaging when the public perceives that something said in private is not being said in public," she said.

But this time, for Romney, the perception "that the statement speaks potentially to character and personality as well as to policy positions makes it more potentially damaging," Jamieson added.

Obama was caught on video belittling small-town Midwesterners in remarks to San Francisco liberals at a private fundraiser during his first presidential campaign. People struggling to get by in the small towns of Pennsylvania and the Midwest "get bitter, they cling to guns or religion," Obama said.

Obama's Democratic primary rival, Hillary Rodham Clinton, pronounced his remark "elitist and out of touch."

Four years later, GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan is keeping the gaffe alive by pointedly declaring himself proud to be a Catholic deer hunter.

And witness the Republicans' joyful riffing on Obama's more recent "You didn't build that" comment.

Steve Frantzich, a U.S. Naval Academy professor who wrote a book on candidates' "oops" moments, predicts an even faster rate of flubs in the future, thanks to smartphones, YouTube and such. "There is no backstage area in modern campaigns," Frantzich said. Words gone wrong are nothing new, however.

Romney has said he first learned to fear such slip-ups as a young man, when the presidential hopes of his father, Michigan Gov. George Romney, imploded 45 years ago under the weight of a single ill-chosen phrase.

Asked why he had previously supported the Vietnam War, the elder Romney said that during an overseas tour, generals and diplomats had influenced him with "the greatest brainwashing that anybody can get." He quit his campaign amid outcry and derision.

Some other overheard or off-the-cuff gaffes:

â€"OBAMA AND THE RUSSIANS: In March, an open microphone caught Obama telling Russia's outgoing president that he needed space to work out their disagreements over U.S. missile defense plans. "After my election, I have more flexibility," Obama quietly told Dmitry Medvedev, who said he would carry that message home. Romney called it evidence that Obama is hiding a secret agenda for a second term.

â€"OBAMA AND THE ISRAELIS: A technology glitch allowed reporters to overhear Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy last year grousing about the difficulty of dealing with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Sarkozy called Netanyahu a "liar" and Obama responded sympathetically, "I have to work with him every day."

â€"KERRY AND THE WARS: A response to a question at a campaign event tripped up 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry. Asked about a spending bill for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, Kerry said, "I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it." Republicans ridiculed the remark and featured it in an ad showing a windsurfing Kerry zigzagging "whichever way the wind blows." Kerry later explained it as "one of those inarticulate moments."

â€"CLINTON AND DRUGS: Bill Clinton was mocked for acknowledging in a TV interview that he had tried marijuana as a college student but insisting that he "didn't inhale." With character questions already dogging his 1992 campaign, the remark increased complaints that he was slick and evasive, but didn't keep him from winning the White House.

Scholar: Jesus refers to having wife, named Mary, in ancient papyrus - CBS News

(AP) BOSTON (AP) - A Harvard University professor on Tuesday unveiled a fourth-century fragment of papyrus she said is the only existing ancient text quoting Jesus explicitly referring to having a wife.

Karen King, an expert in the history of Christianity, said the text contains a dialogue in which Jesus refers to "my wife," whom he identifies as Mary. King says the fragment of Coptic script is a copy of a gospel, probably written in Greek in the second century.

King helped translate and unveiled the tiny fragment at a conference of Coptic experts in Rome. She said it doesn't prove Jesus was married, but speaks to issues of family and marriage that faced Christians.

Four words in the 1.5-by-3-inch fragment provide the first evidence that some early Christians believed Jesus had been married, King said. Those words, written in a language of ancient Egyptian Christians, translate to "Jesus said to them, my wife," King said in a statement.

King said that in the dialogue the disciples discuss whether Mary is worthy and Jesus says "she can be my disciple."

Christian tradition has long held that Jesus was unmarried, even though there was no reliable historical evidence to support that, King said. The new gospel, she said, "tells us that the whole question only came up as part of vociferous debates about sexuality and marriage."

"From the very beginning, Christians disagreed about whether it was better not to marry," she said, "but it was over a century after Jesus's death before they began appealing to Jesus's marital status to support their positions."

King presented the document at a six-day conference being held at Rome's La Sapienza University and at the Augustinianum institute of the Pontifical Lateran University. While the Vatican newspaper and Vatican Radio frequently cover such academic conferences, there was no mention of King's discovery in any Vatican media on Tuesday. That said, her paper was one of nearly 60 delivered Tuesday at the vast conference, which drew 300 academics from around the globe.

The fragment belongs to an anonymous private collector who contacted King to help translate and analyze it. Nothing is known about the circumstances of its discovery, but it had to have come from Egypt, where the dry climate allows ancient writings to survive and because it was written in a script used in ancient times there, King said.

The unclear origins of the document should encourage people to be cautious, said Bible scholar Ben Witherington III, a professor and author who teaches at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. He said the document follows the pattern of Gnostic texts of the second, third and fourth centuries, using "the language of intimacy to talk about spiritual relationships."

"What we hear from the Gnostic is this practice called the sister-wife texts, where they carried around a female believer with them who cooks for them and cleans for them and does the usual domestic chores, but they have no sexual relationship whatsoever" during the strong monastic periods of the third and fourth centuries, Witherington said. "In other words, this is no confirmation of the Da Vinci Code or even of the idea that the Gnostics thought Jesus was married in the normal sense of the word."

These kinds of doubts, King said, should not stop scholars from continuing to examine the document.

Those who conducted initial examination of the fragment include Roger Bagnall, a papyrologist who's the director of the New York-based Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, and AnneMarie Luijendijk, a scholar of the New Testament and early Christianity from Princeton University. They said their study of the papyrus, the handwriting and how the ink was chemically absorbed shows it is highly probable it's an ancient text, King said.

Another scholar, Ariel Shisha-Halevy, professor of linguistics at Hebrew University and a leading expert on Coptic language, reviewed the text's language and concluded it offered no evidence of forgery.

King and Luijendijk said they believe the fragment is part of a newly discovered gospel they named "Gospel of Jesus's Wife" for reference purposes. King said she dated the time it was written to the second half of the second century because it shows close connections to other newly discovered gospels written at that time, especially the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Mary and the Gospel of Philip.

To see a report on this by "CBS Evening News" anchor Scott Pelley, click on the video in the player above.

Israel's prehistoric Soreq Cave now a clean, eerily lighted place - Los Angeles Times

SOREQ CAVE, Israel â€" This prehistoric cave on the slopes of Israel's Judean Mountains has always felt a little otherworldly.

Like other dripstone caverns, Soreq Cave is packed with stunning natural sculptures formed by hundreds of thousands of years of mineral-rich water drops slowly leaving behind a rock residue.

On the roof is a hanging forest of different-sized rods, resembling icicles, giant carrots, elephant trunks and twisting octopus tentacles. Rising up to meet them from the limestone floor are 30-foot sand castles, spiraling rock towers and billowy hills that resemble coral reefs or heads of cauliflower.

As if it wasn't strange enough, a recent ecological makeover has added a lighting system as spectacular as it is eerie.

Glowing amber spotlights fade into midnight blue mixed with circles of emerald, bathing the 50,000-square-foot cave and its formations in almost hallucinogenic color. Programmed to change every few minutes, the lighting turns a bright sunrise orange before slowly transforming into a deep purple.

"It's like the cave is breathing," said guide Boris Kripak, a Russian-born archaeologist who works at the cave, which was discovered in 1968 during rock-blasting for a nearby quarry.

The Hollywood-style lighting wasn't installed for artistic or aesthetic reasons. Instead, the colors were selected as part of a decades-long ecological battle to keep the cave's stalactites and stalagmites as pristine as possible.

By using only a limited part of the color spectrum of light and focusing on certain shades of orange, blue and green, scientists are betting the new system will eradicate one of the cave's biggest threats: algae.

From the moment the cave was opened to the public in the 1970s, the introduction of white light, initially provided by automobile headlamps, triggered photosynthesis that led to the growth of algae.

Public use has also raised the temperature slightly and altered the all-important balance of carbon dioxide, said Tomer Saragusti, manager of the national Soreq Cave Nature Reserve.

"Just by opening the cave, we changed it and hurt it, so we're always thinking about what's best ecologically for the cave," Saragusti said. "And it's working. The cave is still alive and growing."

If the algae were left unchecked, the magnificent formations â€" naturally amber, brown, rust and white â€" would turn into moss-covered green and black blobs.

If the scientists are correct, photosynthesis won't occur if the traditional white lights, which contain all the colors of the spectrum, are replaced by cooler LED lights in limited hues.

It's the latest volley in park officials' war on algae. At first they tried limiting the use of lights, but with 200,000 visitors a year, there wasn't much downtime.

Then they used ultraviolet light at night to kill the algae, but that left an unsightly soot-like residue that had to be cleaned. And eventually the algae developed an immunity to UV light.

"They call it a primitive plant, but algae is pretty smart," Kripak said.

Finally, geologists found that they could remove the algae by painstakingly dabbing it with a bleach-soaked sponge on the end of a long pole.

Since the lighting system was installed this summer, cave officials have not noticed any new growth.

"We're not popping the champagne, but we are not expecting to see any more algae," Saragusti said. A similar system has proved effective at Crete's Sfendoni Cave.

Park officials hired lighting designer Micha Margalit, whose work has varied from rock concerts to archaeological ruins, to decide where to position the lights and which formations to highlight. The formations are like a Rorschach test for visitors, who report seeing all kinds of things: people climbing a mountain, the Lion King, the U.S. Capitol, an ice cream cone, a woman carrying a baby on her back.

"I wanted to make it a show, so people would come in and say, 'Wow,'" said Margalit, who spent hours in the cave staring at the shapes and following tourists around.

Initially he and park officials expected to mix all three colors together to create something that was as close to white as possible. But during some of the early previews for government officials and journalists, Margalit played around with the more dramatic coloring at the end of the tour, and it was so popular with visitors that it stuck.

Since unveiling the new lighting, the number of monthly visitors nearly doubled compared with the average in recent years.

Park officials had mixed feelings, worrying that the color display would distract from the natural beauty and scientific importance of the cave.

"We don't want to turn the cave into a discotheque," Kripak said.

Yet they decided to install audio wires with the lights, just in case they want to add the sound of, say, water dripping or music.

"It's not exactly kosher," Saragusti said. "But it's what people expect."

edmund.sanders@latimes.com

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Harvard scholar's discovery suggests Jesus had a wife - Fox News

A Harvard University professor on Tuesday unveiled a fourth-century fragment of papyrus she said is the only existing ancient text quoting Jesus explicitly referring to having a wife.

Karen King, an expert in the history of Christianity, said the text contains a dialogue in which Jesus refers to "my wife," whom he identifies as Mary. King says the fragment of Coptic script is a copy of a gospel, probably written in Greek in the second century.

King helped translate and unveiled the tiny fragment at a conference of Coptic experts in Rome. She said it doesn't prove Jesus was married but speaks to issues of family and marriage that faced Christians.

Four words in the 1.5-by-3-inch(3.8-by-7.6-centimeter) fragment provide the first evidence that some early Christians believed Jesus had been married, King said. Those words, written in a language of ancient Egyptian Christians, translate to "Jesus said to them, my wife," King said in a statement.

King said that in the dialogue the disciples discuss whether Mary is worthy and Jesus says "she can be my disciple."

Christian tradition has long held that Jesus was unmarried even though there was no reliable historical evidence to support that, King said. The new gospel, she said, "tells us that the whole question only came up as part of vociferous debates about sexuality and marriage."

"From the very beginning, Christians disagreed about whether it was better not to marry," she said, "but it was over a century after Jesus's death before they began appealing to Jesus's marital status to support their positions."

King presented the document at a six-day conference being held at Rome's La Sapienza University and at the Augustinianum institute of the Pontifical Lateran University. While the Vatican newspaper and Vatican Radio frequently cover such academic conferences, there was no mention of King's discovery in any Vatican media on Tuesday. That said, her paper was one of nearly 60 delivered Tuesday at the vast conference, which drew 300 academics from around the globe.

The fragment belongs to an anonymous private collector who contacted King to help translate and analyze it. Nothing is known about the circumstances of its discovery, but it had to have come from Egypt, where the dry climate allows ancient writings to survive and because it was written in a script used in ancient times there, King said.

The unclear origins of the document should encourage people to be cautious, said Bible scholar Ben Witherington III, a professor and author who teaches at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. He said the document follows the pattern of Gnostic texts of the second, third and fourth centuries, using "the language of intimacy to talk about spiritual relationships."

"What we hear from the Gnostic is this practice called the sister-wife texts, where they carried around a female believer with them who cooks for them and cleans for them and does the usual domestic chores, but they have no sexual relationship whatsoever" during the strong monastic periods of the third and fourth centuries, Witherington said. "In other words, this is no confirmation of the Da Vinci Code or even of the idea that the Gnostics thought Jesus was married in the normal sense of the word."

These kinds of doubts, King said, should not stop scholars from continuing to examine the document.

Those who conducted initial examination of the fragment include Roger Bagnall, a papyrologist who's the director of the New York-based Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, and AnneMarie Luijendijk, a scholar of the New Testament and early Christianity from Princeton University. They said their study of the papyrus, the handwriting and how the ink was chemically absorbed shows it is highly probable it's an ancient text, King said.

Another scholar, Ariel Shisha-Halevy, professor of linguistics at Hebrew University and a leading expert on Coptic language, reviewed the text's language and concluded it offered no evidence of forgery.

King and Luijendijk said they believe the fragment is part of a newly discovered gospel they named "Gospel of Jesus's Wife" for reference purposes. King said she dated the time it was written to the second half of the second century because it shows close connections to other newly discovered gospels written at that time, especially the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Mary and the Gospel of Philip.