The Strange Deaths of Two Sisters in Thailand By Deborah Blum September 4, 2012 | 10:09 am Categories: Elemental, Science Blogs
The Phi Phi Islands sit off the western coast of Thailand, floating like jewels in a turquoise sea, a picture-perfect image of a tropical getaway. Director Danny Boyle filmed his 2000 psychothriller, The Beach, on the largest of those islands and if you know the movie, you know, despite the gem-like setting the story ends badly.
They say, though, that the movie put the largest of the islands, Ko Phi Phi Don, on the map as a tourist getaway, a reasonably priced home to glittering beaches and unlimited partying. And that’s undoubtedly what drew two young sisters from a small Canadian village, just north of the Maine border, to travel there for a summer break from their university studies.
Noemi Belanger was 26 and her sister, Audrey, 20, when they planned the June vacation. Both sisters lived in their hometown of Pohenegamook, Quebec. Did I mention that it was small, the kind of place where people know each other, stay close? The population is about 3,000 and both girls worked for their father, Carl, in his grocery store before starting university classes. They were happy girls, friendly, residents say, involved in their community, helping out at the local library, at public beaches.
This summer, they were ready to fly a little, indulge in a splashy vacation. So they saved their money and flew to Thailand in June, went to visit the Phi Phi Islands. And there, as a flood of mid-June news stories made obvious, things went very wrong. Very, very wrong.
The stories were puzzled, horrified. A story in Canada’s National Post described a hotel maid finding the sisters dead in their room, with lesions tracked across their bodies, their fingernails and toenails turned an odd grayish blue. They were huddled in their beds, relayed the Global Post, smeared with vomit and blood.
Rumors flew of an exotic poison, of a lurking killer. Dismissive statements from the police added to the sense of mystery. “We found many kinds of over-the-counter-drugs, including ibuprofen, which can cause serious effects on the stomach,” one investigator said, sounding as if packing painkillers was the real problem. Mysterious poison deaths of tourists visiting the Phi Phi Islands were recalled: the 2009 death of a Seattle woman, still unsolved today. The similar and also unexplained death of a 22-year-old woman from Norway the same year. An odd cluster of deaths in another Thai city during winter of last year, including a 23-year-old woman from New Zealand. The conspiracy theories expanded to include the unexplained deaths of two young women in Vietnam this summer. “Is this a cover-up?” asked a letter writer in the Bangkok Post after the police went on from the ibuprofen theory to one that involved food poisoning.
And not just any food poisoning. A leak from the investigation suggested that detectives were considering the possibility that the sisters had dined – somewhere – on either poisonous mushrooms or blowfish, sometimes called pufferfish or fugu. The fishes are considered a delicacy but they must be carefully prepared to exclude any contact with the liver or other internal organs, which contain an exceptionally potent neurotoxin called tetrodotoxin.
Neither of these suggestions, though, were an ideal match for the described symptoms. Tetrodotoxin is most famous for its ability to induce a corpse-like paralysis in victims; they may remain alert but unable to move or communicate, gradually suffocating as the lungs fail. Poisonous mushrooms tend to kill by gradually destroying the liver. As quickly as the suggestion was floated it seemed to disappear, leaving the questions to further simmer over the summer.
Until last week, when a preliminary autopsy report was announced, which apparently indicated a toxic level of exposure. According to news reports, toxicologists in Thailand now believed that the two sisters had been drinking a popular local cocktail that contains Coca-Cola, cough syrup, ground up leaves from the kratom tree, and the well-known mosquito repellent DEET and is admired for its hallucinogenic qualities. In their case, apparently, too much DEET had ended up in the drink.
Or as the tourism-focused island paper, Phuket Wan, wrote following the announcement:
Phi Phi is renowed as a rites-of-passage destination for 20-somethings and it transforms from a haven for day-trippers in the sunshine to a less beguiling island party after dark.
Alcohol is just one of the many ingredients that Phi Phi’s party people mix in their buckets.
Each bucket is a concoction of all kinds of juices and substances that are mixed into containers of various sizes and usually sucked through straws all night long.
It’s a nicely sinister portrait of cocktails in the Phi Phi islands. Still my first reaction was a kind of “DEET, really?” skepticism. We’re not talking about anything like tetrodotoxin here; this is a compound we routinely spray all over ourselves on camping trips and summer hikes. Our Environmental Protection Agency estimates that about 30 percent of the U.S. population uses a DEET-infused product every year. Plenty of us have accidentally swallowed a little during an over-enthusiastic assault on mosquitoes without getting sick (including myself). Not that you’d want to take it by the tumbler, of course. But it’s reasonable to ask whether it would take a tumbler to kill you
The short answer, yes, pretty close to that. DEET, by the way, stands for N.N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide, which is basically chemist-code for a formula that includes the familiar elements carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and oxygen. It apparently works as a repellent by disrupting insect olfaction-detection systems. And an EPA analysis found that it is slightly toxic to birds, fish, and aquatic invertebrates and has”very low toxicity potential” in mammals, such as ourselves.
So it’s not surprising that the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry reports that people have committed suicide with the repellent but only by drinking full “bottles of DEET” along with quantities of alcohol. In other words, evidence is that it would take that tumbler full to kill you. I also looked at the other ingredients in the suspect cocktail, except for the Coca-Cola (which hasn’t contained cocaine for more than a century). The codeine in cough syrup could, in a high enough amount, add to a sleepy buzz. And kratom – while known to be hallucinogenic – can also bring on a numbing lethargy in too high a dose. It is generally, though, considered to be most risky for its additive qualities than for its acute toxicity issues.
Which brings us back to the DEET theory of death. And that requires someone to pour a ridiculously large quantity of this pale yellowish liquid into a drink served to two sisters from Canada. Could someone be that careless? Sure, especially if they were enjoying the island brew themselves. Still, only the Belanger sisters died after that night on the beach; under this theory only one overtoxic cocktail was served. And that does raise a few other questions. For instance, why – as you may have noticed from my fatality list – is it mostly young women who are dying of mysterious chemical poisonings in a tropical paradise?
Even Phuket Wan (which seems remarkably tough-minded for a publication focused on tourism) seems unconvinced by the mosquito repellent hypothesis, noting that it would be unusual for only two people to be poisoned by a shared bucket drink.
Could it be a cover up, the paper asked, for a heavy-handed use of insecticide in the sisters’ room? Insecticides have been suspected in some of the other deaths. Could it be that island authorities were trying to hide the existence of a killer who was deliberately spiking drinks? Or, slightly less creepily, that the women had been killed by excessive use of insecticides by hotel management and that authorities were moving to protect reputations? “All options remain open,” the paper warned, until the authorities produce evidence of a much more meticulous investigation.
And, yes, you’ll find me in the “options remain open” camp as well. It may well be that this is as simple as it sounds, two trusting travelers from rural Canada drinking an untrustworthy bar drink. Still, at the moment, if I felt a sudden urge to go party in the Phi Phi islands, you would find me insisting on a nicely capped container – and, I think, opening that bottle myself.
Which, frankly, makes good sense most of the time anyway.
Central Bank Sets Bond Plan Meant to Ease Euro Debt Peril
By JACK EWING and MELISSA EDDY
FRANKFURT — The European Central Bank said Thursday it had agreed on a framework for buying the bonds of troubled euro-zone countries on the open market in unlimited quantities, but set conditions that could delay action for weeks or longer.
Despite the many conditions and qualifications, the E.C.B.’s action took euro zone monetary policy into a new dimension. While the E.C.B. president, Mario Draghi, insisted that the central bank was not violating a prohibition on financing governments, it is effectively becoming lender of last resort to nations as well as banks.
“We will have a fully effective backstop to avoid destructive scenarios with potentially severe challenges for price stability in the euro area,” Mr. Draghi said at a news conference. “The euro is irreversible.”
As many analysts had warned, there will be no immediate help for countries, like Spain, that are hoping E.C.B. intervention in the bond markets could reduce their borrowing costs. The euro zone’s troubled countries want such relief in order to roll over their debts and get their economies moving again after two years of crisis.
In essence, the bank left the next step to the beleaguered governments. They would be required to ask the E.C.B. formally to begin buying their bonds in the open market and would have to agree to follow detailed conditions for paying down their debt and hewing to fiscal discipline.
While such programs will be overseen by other European Union governments, it would ultimately be up to the E.C.B. to determine whether the terms of the agreement were acceptable, and whether the government was meeting those conditions over time.
By forcing governments to impose fiscal discipline on each other and remake their economies along lines dictated by the E.C.B., power will inevitably drift from national capitals to Brussels and Frankfurt.
“The E.C.B. did not disappoint in its decision to start a vast bond purchase program,” Marie Diron, an economist who advises the consulting firm Ernst & Young, said in a note. Markets seemed to agree. Major stock indexes in Europe rose Thursday.
The need for strong action has arguably increased. E.C.B. economists issued a more pessimistic prognosis for the euro zone economy Thursday, predicting a decline in output of 0.4 percent this year and little or not growth next year.
“We expect the euro area economy to recover only very gradually,” Mr. Draghi said.
A bond-buying program by the E.C.B. has been the subject of deep dispute, especially among Germans who remain fearful that such a strategy runs contrary to the bank’s mandate to control inflation and would falsely prop up the weakest countries in the currency zone.
“We act strictly within in our mandate to maintain price stability,” Mr. Draghi said.
He did not give an exact starting date for the bond purchase program, saying it depended on action by governments. A government must request help and agree to a “macroeconomic adjustment program” with the European rescue fund, the European Stability Mechanism. But the E.C.B. said this could be a so-called precautionary program, implying that it would be less onerous than the programs agreed to by countries like Portugal or Ireland.
The E.C.B. will buy bonds with maturities of three years or less, and it will withdraw as much money from circulation as it adds by buying bonds. This so-called sterilization is intended to forestall inflation.
The central bank will not treat itself as a preferred creditor, entitled to get paid before other bond holders if a country defaults. But it will not take losses on Greek bonds it already holds, even though private creditors were required to do so.
The E.C.B. also announced it would hold interest rates at their record-low level of 0.75 percent. The bank has cut its main interest rate three times since Mr. Draghi became president in November, but he and other central bank officials have complained that market interest rates have remained stubbornly high in the countries most desperately in need of credit.
Small companies in Spain and Italy pay more than 2 percentage points more for loans than their German counterparts, according to E.C.B. data. The higher interest rates make it even more difficult for companies to invest and for those economies to recover.
The bond-buying strategy could prevent borrowing costs for countries like Italy and Spain from becoming too high for the governments to afford. But bond buying is also designed to help companies, because market interest rates tend to track the rates paid by governments.
“A monetary policy signal, for example the one that the E.C.B. made in July with an interest rate cut, has only a modest impact or no impact at all in the real economy,” Jörg Asmussen, a member of the executive board of the E.C.B., said in Frankfurt on Tuesday.
Mr. Draghi said that the vote on the bond-buying program was not unanimous, but he refused to name the one dissenting vote, telling reporters coyly, “It’s up to you to guess.”
Jens Weidmann, president of the Bundesbank, has warned that euro zone governments could become addicted to E.C.B. support for their debt, and had vocally expressed his disagreement with Mr. Draghi’s proposal ahead of Thursday’s meeting.
Even if Mr. Weidmann is a lone voice on the 23-member governing council, he heads the central bank of the largest euro zone country. He is likely to have pushed hard to limit the bond buying and his dissent could raise doubts about how decisively the E.C.B. will act to contain market interest rates.
Within minutes of the announcement, members of Germany’s liberal Free Democrats party, coalition partners in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government, warned the E.C.B. that it was risking its credibility by launching the bond buying program.
“We view with great concern that the mandate of the E.C.B. is increasingly endangered,” Rainer Brüderle, the party’s parliamentary leader told reporters, the German news agency, DPA reported. He said it risked taking pressure off of the countries in crisis needed to push them to carry out necessary changes to return to competitiveness.
A new breed of robot can crawl around like an insect, undulate like a jellyfish, run like a cheetah, and walk like a human.
By Erik Sofge 6 September 2012
Bio-Inspired MAV Locomotion: Flapping Creator: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Another unnamed bot, this bird-size "bio-inspired MAV" (or micro air vehicle) developed by researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, distinguished itself by successfully perching on a human hand. As with many biologically inspired modes of locomotion, the goal is to reduce complexity and size. Instead of, say, mounting various rotors on the robot, its articulated wings give it a controlled glide, and a quick flap and reorientation of its tail pull it out of its dive, to land deftly on target. The researchers see this as a crucial step toward flying robots that can interact with people. A flock of tiny, nimble bird-bots is much less of a hazard or nuisance than a swarm of rotor-bladed microhelicopters.
In Quest of the Cosmic Origins of Silver: Silver and Gold Materialized in Different Stellar Explosions
ScienceDaily (Sep. 6, 2012)
In the quest for the cosmic origins of heavy elements, Heidelberg scientist Dr. Camilla Hansen has established that silver can only have materialised during the explosion of clearly defined types of star. These are different from the kind of stars producing gold when they explode. The evidence for this comes from the measurement of various high-mass stars with the help of which the stepwise evolution of the components of all matter can be reconstructed.
The findings from the investigations conducted by Dr. Hansen of Heidelberg University's Centre for Astronomy (ZAH) in conjunction with other scientists in Germany and fellow astronomers in Japan and Sweden have been published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.
The lightweight elements hydrogen, helium and traces of lithium came into being a few minutes after the Big Bang. All heavier elements materialised later in the interior of stars or during star explosions, with each generation of stars contributing a little to enriching the universe with chemical elements. The elements a star can generate in its lifetime depend largely on its mass. At the end of their lives, stars about ten times the size of our sun explode as so-called supernovae, producing elements sometimes heavier than iron that are released by the explosion. Depending on how heavy the star originally was, silver and gold can also materialise in this way.
When various stars of the same mass explode, the ratio of elements generated and hurled out into the universe is identical. This constant relation is perpetuated in the subsequent generations of stars forming from the remnants of their predecessors. The investigations by Dr. Hansen and her associated scientists have now demonstrated that the amount of silver in the stars measured is completely independent of the amounts of other heavy elements like gold. These observations indicate clearly for the first time that during a supernova silver takes shape in an entirely different fusion process from that in which gold forms. Accordingly, the scientists contend that silver cannot have originated together with gold. The elements must have materialised from stars of different masses.
"This is the first incontrovertible evidence for a special fusion process taking place during the explosion of a star," says Dr. Hansen. "Up to now this had been mere speculation. After this discovery, we must now use simulations of these processes in supernova explosions to investigate more precisely when the conditions for the formation of silver are present. That way we can find out how heavy the stars were that could produce silver during their dramatic demise."
September 4, 2012 Family Life According to the Brotherhood By MONA EL-NAGGAR
CAIRO — Women are erratic and emotional, and they make good wives and mothers — but never leaders or rulers. That, at least, is what Osama Abou Salama, a professor of botany at Cairo University and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, told young men and women during a recent premarital counseling class.
What was striking, though, was the absence of any reaction. None of the 30 people in the class so much as winced.
“A woman,” Mr. Abou Salama said, “takes pleasure in being a follower and finds ease in obeying a husband who loves her.”
Since the Brotherhood rose to power and one of its former leaders was elected president, much of the uncertainty over its social agenda has centered on its plans for women. Will the Brotherhood try to impose a conservative dress code? Will it try to bar women from certain fields of work? Will its leaders promote segregation at schools?
But in a country where a vast majority of women already cover their hair and voluntarily separate from men in coed environments, those questions are largely academic.
Mr. Abou Salama’s class makes that case. “Can you, as a woman, take a decision and handle the consequences of your decision?” he asked.
A number of women shook their heads even before Mr. Abou Salama provided his answer: “No. But men can. And God created us this way because a ship cannot have more than one captain.”
More than any other political group in Egypt, the Brotherhood is fluent in the dialect of the masses. By upholding patriarchal and traditional values about a woman’s place in society, it garners popular support, builds political capital and reinforces social conservatism.
“The woman is the symbol of a moral platform through which easy gains can be made,” said Hania Sholkamy, an anthropologist and an associate professor at the Social Research Center at the American University in Cairo. “Those who deprive women of their rights, limit their freedom or place them in a subordinate position believe that the political cost of doing so is very low.”
The lectures of Mr. Abou Salama, who has raised three daughters, are part of a four-week workshop called “Bride and Groom Against Satan” and sponsored by Family House, a charity financed by the Brotherhood. It is one of several Brotherhood efforts that have grown since the revolution, reflecting, as much as promoting, the religious values that define a large segment of society. Among its many activities, Family House offers financial support to struggling households, provides a matchmaking service and sponsors mass weddings for low-income couples.
“This is part of the reformist methodology of the Muslim Brotherhood,” said Walaa Abdel Halim, the Family House coordinator who organizes the youth counseling workshop. “Shaping a righteous individual leads to shaping a righteous family, and by shaping a righteous family, you get a righteous society that can choose a righteous leader.”
Those broader efforts at shaping a conservative religious society, played out over decades by the Brotherhood, were seen as partly responsible for helping elect Mohamed Morsi president in June. At the time, Mr. Morsi, who resigned from the Brotherhood after taking office, gave assurances that he would protect the rights of women and include them in decision making. Less than three months into his presidency, though, Mr. Morsi has not fulfilled a campaign promise to appoint a woman as a vice president. Instead, he named a team of 21 senior aides and advisers last week that included three women.
One of those three, Omaima Kamel, a medical professor at Cairo University and a member of the Brotherhood since 1981, makes it clear that she is not about to press society to change attitudes about women.
“Let’s face it, if your work took you away from your fundamental duties at home and if your success came at the cost of your family life and the stability of your children, then you are the one who stands to lose,” she said by telephone. “A woman can work as much as she wants, but within the framework of our religious restrictions.”
Many analysts and critics of the Brotherhood see that kind of philosophy, one that gives women independence so long as they maintain their traditional obligations, as effectively constraining women to established gender roles.
“There is an absence of a well-defined vision, so they use words like ‘religious restrictions,’ ” said Ibrahim el-Houdaiby, a researcher of Islamic movements and a former member of the Brotherhood. “O.K., sure, so what exactly are those restrictions, so we can know them and figure out how to deal with them? As long as we don’t define what those limits are, then we can expand them to the point where women, practically speaking, cannot work.”
In Mr. Morsi’s political program, called “The Renaissance,” there is an emphasis on a woman’s “authentic role as wife, mother and purveyor of generations.” The program then makes recommendations to safeguard family life; foremost among them are premarital classes for youths.
Free from the restrictions of the government of Hosni Mubarak, which outlawed the Brotherhood, the movement’s social outreach programs have mushroomed since Mr. Morsi’s election. In less than a year, Family House expanded from a single office to 18 branches around Egypt and is developing a plan to encourage all couples to attend.
At the group’s headquarters, in the densely populated Cairo neighborhood of Nasr City, Mr. Abou Salama walked into a spacious room where the front seats were for men and the back seats were for women. He lectured on qualities to seek in a partner, getting acquainted under parental supervision, dealing with in-laws and consummating marriage. In his social paradigm, understanding that the woman was created to be an obedient wife and mother and that the man was created to fend for his family holds the secret to a happy marriage.
“I want you to be the flower that attracts a bee to make honey, not the trash that attracts flies and dirt,” Mr. Abou Salama said as the women listened intently.
Canada closes Iran embassy, to expel remaining Iranian diplomats
Fri Sep 7, 2012 10:15am EDT
OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada has closed its embassy in Iran and will expel all remaining Iranian diplomats in Canada within five days, Foreign Minister John Baird said on Friday, denouncing Tehran as the biggest threat to global security.
Baird cited Iran's nuclear program, its hostility towards Israel and Iranian military assistance to the government of President Bashar al-Assad Syria, which is locked in civil war with rebels.
"Canada views the government of Iran as the most significant threat to global peace and security in the world today," Baird said in a statement, accusing Iran of showing blatant disregard for the safety of foreign diplomats.
"Under the circumstances, Canada can no longer maintain a diplomatic presence in Iran ... Diplomatic relations between Canada and Iran have been suspended," he said.
Ottawa has long had poor relations with Iran, in part because of its enmity towards close Canadian ally Israel.
The United States has not had a functioning embassy in Tehran since the hostage crisis of 1979. Britain's embassy in Tehran has been closed since it was stormed by protesters last November.
(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Vicki Allen)
UFO Festival to be Held Near Site of Reported 1974 UFO Crash
A small Texas town near where a UFO reportedly crashed in 1974 will be the site of the First Annual Border Zone UFO Festival, to be held Oct. 19 & 20, 2012, with lectures by Stanton Friedman, Noe Torres, Ruben Uriarte, Dennis Balthaser, and others.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Border Zone UFO FestivalPRLog (Press Release)
- Sep 06, 2012 -
Presidio, a Texas border town within 40 miles of where a flying saucer allegedly crashed in 1974, is commemorating the event by hosting its first annual “Border Zone International UFO Festival” on October 19th and 20th, 2012. Among the festivities is a two-day lecture series featuring a number of speakers, including nuclear physicist Stanton Friedman, the world’s best-known UFO investigator, who will present a lecture titled “Man’s Place in the Universe” and another called “Star Travel? YES!” Lectures will be held at the Presidio Activity Center, 1400 E. O’Reilly Street. Admission is free, and vendor spaces are also free. More information is available at UFOborderzone.com
Also scheduled to speak at the festival are Noe Torres and Ruben Uriarte, authors of Mexico’s Roswell, the first book to reveal the story of a reported mid-air collision between a small plane and a UFO about 40 miles northwest of Presidio on August 25, 1974. According to the book, the crash destroyed the plane but did little damage to the UFO, which was then allegedly found by Mexican soldiers and moved from the crash site on a flatbed trailer. Shortly after the soldiers made the recovery, all of them died from exposure to an unknown contaminant that apparently emanated from the crashed UFO.
After the death of the Mexican soldiers, U.S. helicopters from the Fort Bliss Army base in El Paso, Texas, reportedly brought in a clandestine team of “crash retrieval” personnel, dressed in Hazmat gear. The U.S. team is said to have used a large cargo helicopter to take the fallen UFO back to Texas, crossing the Rio Grande River near Candelaria, Texas. The remaining evidence left behind in the Mexican desert was supposedly obliterated by the use of high explosives.
Following the announcement of the upcoming UFO festival in Presidio, two long-time area residents came forward for the first time to disclose that they saw a large “fireball” in the sky in 1974 and that several residents of Candelaria reported seeing several U.S. military helicopters, including a double-rotor cargo helicopter, coming back from Mexico about a day after the fireball sighting. The revelation by retired school teacher Johnnie Chambers, 82, and her son, John, has helped bolster the argument that something very unusual did indeed happen here in 1974.
Torres and Uriarte are hoping that other local residents who saw something in 1974 might step forward and tell their stories during a “Town Hall” meeting on the afternoon of October 20. The meeting will feature all of the lecturers together at once, and they will take questions from the audience, as well as invite people to tell their own stories of UFO contacts. In the past, similar events related to other UFO incidents have yielded a wealth of additional witnesses.
In addition to the UFO lectures and meetings, the Border Zone International Festival will also feature a number of other festivities, including several that will be held across the international bridge from Presidio, in Ojinaga, Chihuahua, Mexico. Also, the annual “Dude of the Dead” Music Festival will take place during the same weekend (Oct. 19-21), with most of the concerts taking place on Saturday night beginning at around 8 p.m. (after the final UFO lecture). Texas Monthly magazine calls it “an event akin to Burning Man that mashes Día de los Muertos rituals with live music … like one big séance.” Music will take an “Americana” slant, with acts that include The Doodlin’ Hogwallops, Jim Keaveny, Skin ‘N Bones, Anthony Ray Band, The Rocky Top Alien Breeding Experiment, David Shane & the Dusty Ramblers, 7 Year Drought, and Pablo Menudo. Admission to the music is $10 and more information is available at http://DudeoftheDead.net.
About his lecture regarding Man’s place in the universe, Stanton Friedman said, “Since 1930, our view of the universe has changed dramatically, to where we now know that the universe is billions of years old and that there are likely billions of life-sustaining planets elsewhere in the cosmos. Scientists now estimate there are at least 100 billion planets in the Milky Way alone! It is indeed time to review man’s place in the universe — especially in view of the enormous amount of evidence showing that extraterrestrials have been visiting Earth, that governments have been lying about those visits, that technological progress comes from doing things differently, and that the future is not merely an extrapolation of the past.”
Describing his lecture about interstellar travel, Friedman said, “Many scientists say that UFOs cannot be from faraway planets because star travel, if it is even possible, would take too long. In truth, star travel is not only possible but is already within our reach! In this lecture, I will show that mankind already possesses the technology necessary to make a round trip to the closest stars within a person’s life span. If interstellar travel is possible for us, it certainly is possible for other, more advanced civilizations elsewhere in the universe. The U.S. government and its industry partners have been developing nuclear-powered engines since the 1960s, and many such engines have been successfully tested. Take a peek ‘behind the curtain’ at scientific achievements that have been mostly kept secret from the general public. You will be shocked to learn that travel to other stars is technically already possible!”
In addition to their lecture about “Mexico’s Roswell,” Noe Torres and Ruben Uriarte will also speak on their latest book Aliens in the Forest: The Cisco Grove UFO Encounter. In disclosing one of the world’s most intriguing and least known UFO cases, the presentation will feature video testimony from principal eyewitness Donald Shrum, who speaks out in public for the first time ever about his terrifying encounter with aliens in a dark forest near Cisco Grove, California.
Other speakers at the UFO lecture series include veteran UFO researcher Dennis Balthaser of Roswell, New Mexico, who will speak on “The 1947 Roswell Incident, Then and Now.” The reported UFO crash near Roswell has been Balthaser’s primary research interest for the past 20 years, and he will give a complete history of the world’s most famous case. Balthaser will also lecture on “A Closer Look at Area 51,” a disclosure about Nevada’s top secret Groom Lake military base. He will show photos of and describe unconventional aircraft that are test flown there. Dennis will also discuss the reasons behind the high level of secrecy, and he will present documentation explaining this secrecy.
Ismael Cuellar, director of the Laredo Paranormal Research Society (LPRS), will present “Marfa Lights and Other Anomalies.” Cuellar’s group uses cutting-edge scientific instruments to investigate paranormal phenomena, such as UFOs, mystery orbs, spirit entities, and more. In this presentation, they will share the results of their research into the Marfa Lights phenomenon, as well as other “mystery orbs” that have been detected near Laredo, Texas. Cuellar and his group will also present a lecture called “UFO Hunters,” about the group’s discovery of strange flying objects in and around Laredo.
Also scheduled to speak is Gilberto Rivera, director of the Chihuahua-based UFO research group GIFAE (Grupo de Investigación de Fenómenos Aeroespaciales). He organized the “Chihuahuan X-Files” Conference and the 1st International Congress of Ufology in Chihuahua city. Since 1996, he has been writing articles about UFOs for the journal “Year Zero.” He has also appeared on numerous television programs in Mexico and abroad. In this presentation, he brings us the latest information about UFO sightings in Chihuahua and throughout Mexico. His presentation, titled “Chihuahua UFO Research” will be in Spanish with translation into English.
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KABUL (Reuters) - A 14-year-old suicide bomber detonated explosives near the heavily barricaded NATO headquarters in Kabul on Saturday, killing six civilians including children, NATO and local officials said.
The bomber wore a vest packed with explosives and rode right up to the NATO gates on a bicycle, underscoring the insurgents' ability to strike deep inside the Afghan capital, ahead of the withdrawal of most foreign combat forces by the end of 2014.
Pieces of flesh and splattered blood lay on the street near the base, where the small bodies of children were lifted into ambulances. Scores of young children peddle trinkets and chewing gum around the foreign bases, hoping to earn a bit of cash.
Wailing women in head-to-toe burqas who said they were the dead children's mothers rushed shortly after the attack to the site, where small flip flops lay strewn in the mud.
Kabul Police, in a statement to media, said the bomber was 14 years old, without giving details.
The Taliban took responsibility for the attack, but denied they had deployed a teenage bomber, saying instead he was a 28-year-old who targeted the Kabul offices of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) condemned the use of children. "Forcing underage youth to do their dirty work again proves the insurgency's despicable tactics," said spokesman Brigadier General Gunter Katz.
The U.S. embassy in Kabul said in a statement that using "the most impressionable and vulnerable", such as a teenager, to carry out such attacks revealed the true nature of the insurgents.
Ministry of Interior spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said six civilians were killed in the attack, which took place just before noon, and five more wounded, including children.
Security was beefed up across the capital on Saturday as celebrations were underway to commemorate the 11th anniversary of the death of Ahmad Shah Massoud, the hero of the 1980s war against Soviet forces, and later a fierce opponent to the Taliban.
Massoud was killed on September 9 by al Qaeda militants posing as reporters.
The Saturday bombing was the latest example of how militants are able to strike the most secure parts of the Afghan capital even after more than a decade of fighting Western forces with far superior firepower.
President Hamid Karzai blamed Afghan intelligence officials and NATO for failing to prevent the last major insurgent attack in Kabul, when a group of insurgents stormed several buildings in the diplomatic quarter in April, resulting in an 18-hour stand-off between security forces and militants.
Sediqqi speculated on his Twitter feed that Saturday's attack may have been carried out by the Haqqanis, the most experienced insurgents in Afghanistan.
On Friday the United States said it is designating the Haqqani network -- blamed for a number of high-profile attacks on Western and Afghan targets in Kabul -- a terrorist organization.
Senior Haqqani commanders told Reuters from an undisclosed location that the move showed the United States was not sincere about peace efforts in Afghanistan and warned of more attacks on American forces in Afghanistan.
(Additional reporting by Jessica Donati, writing by Amie Ferris-Rotman, Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)
As Coolant Is Phased Out, Smugglers Reap Large Profits
By ELISABETH ROSENTHAL and ANDREW W. LEHREN
MIAMI — The chief executive of the century-old company from America’s heartland shifted nervously on the witness stand here as he tried to explain how a trusted senior vice president had been caught on a wiretap buying half a million dollars in smuggled merchandise, much of it from China.
But the contraband purchased by Marcone, a St. Louis-based company that claims to be the nation’s largest authorized source for appliance parts, was not counterfeit handbags or fake medicines. It was a colorless gas that provides the chill for air-conditioners from Miami to Mumbai, from Bogotá to Beijing.
Under an international treaty, the gas, HCFC-22, has been phased out of new equipment in the industrialized world because it damages the earth’s ozone layer and contributes to global warming. There are strict limits on how much can be imported or sold in the United States by American manufacturers.
But the gas is still produced in enormous volumes and sold cheaply in China, India and Mexico, among other places in the developing world, making it a profitable if unlikely commodity for international smugglers.
So in 2009, Carlos Garcia, the Marcone vice president, generated big business for his company’s growing air-conditioning operation by selling smuggled foreign gas to repairmen at rock bottom prices in a promotion called Freaky Freon Fridays, drawing on a brand name that many use as a synonym for coolants.
Although it has been illegal to sell new air-conditioners containing HCFC-22 in the United States since 2010, vast quantities of the gas are still needed to service old machines. Importing HCFC-22 without the needed approvals, as Marcone did, violates international treaties and United States law and regulations.
Yet for a long time, “Mr. Garcia was a hero to his company” for the profits his Freaky Freon Friday campaign generated, an assistant United States attorney, Thomas A. Watts-FitzGerald, told a rapt federal courtroom here in April.
On June 26, Mr. Garcia was sentenced to 13 months in federal prison.
International efforts to curb the use of HCFC-22 are faltering for dozens of reasons, from loopholes in environmental treaties to the reluctance of manufacturers to step up development of more environmentally friendly machines.
But the underlying problem is that even as international treaties and United States law demand that companies renounce the use of the coolant, economics propels them to use ever more — sometimes even if it means breaking the law.
Although the Marcone case is the largest smuggling prosecution anywhere so far, investigators believe that smuggled gas is used by other companies in the United States, and European customs officials have intercepted shipments of contraband gas arriving in Finland, Slovenia and Poland in the last two years, said Halvart Koeppen, a United Nations official who tracks illegal trade of the gas. This is “the tip of the iceberg,” he said.
Much of the global air-conditioning industry relies on the gas the way the auto industry does on gasoline. But while oil is getting harder to find and more expensive, HCFC-22 is becoming more abundant and remaining cheap on the global market.
“There is no question that this is inhibiting phaseout,” said Rajendra Shende, a former head of the United Nations Ozone Action Program who runs the Terre Policy Center, an environmental research institute in Pune, India.
In the meantime, the price of legitimately obtained gas has been rising in the United States and throughout Europe. That is because governments of industrialized nations, to comply with the ozone treaty known as the Montreal Protocol, restrict the use of the environmentally damaging gas in various ways. In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency requires that companies obtain a license to make, sell or buy specific amounts of HCFC-22, with such “allowances” decreasing year by year.
The dwindling supply has led to pronounced spikes in price. What once cost retailers like Marcone $55 a canister was by 2009 going for $140 in the United States. By reducing the supply of the coolant and encouraging prices to rise, the United States government hoped to force manufacturers and consumers to scrap old machines and invest in more environmentally friendly, if more expensive, alternatives. But it has not worked out that way, especially in recessionary times when people hang on to old appliances and search for cheap shortcuts.
Many air-conditioning manufacturers have even figured out how to sidestep the 2010 ban on selling new machines containing HCFC-22, by offering unfilled air-conditioning compressors that service workers swap into existing units and then fill with the gas, creating refurbished machines that are as good as new.
The chemical giant DuPont has estimated that the service demand for HCFC-22 could exceed the supply by 27.5 million pounds annually in the United States for the next three years.
A big chunk of that shortfall will be made up through smuggling, experts say. And smuggled gas is cheaper, going for $130 a canister in the Marcone case.
The smuggling is difficult to stop because gas canisters can be readily mislabeled to mask their content. Inspections are time-consuming, policing requires expensive testing equipment that is in short supply, and border agents have more pressing targets like guns and narcotics.
In the 1990s, when the world began a successful campaign to eliminate the use of an even more powerful ozone-depleting substance called CFC-12, smuggling was also a problem. But 20 years later, the challenges are far greater: the center of the cooling industry has moved to Asia, where gas production is more difficult to monitor. China now makes more than 70 percent of the world’s room air-conditioners and more than half of the world’s supply of HCFC-22.
It is also easier for smugglers to hide contraband in the dizzying flows of legitimate goods in an increasingly globalized world.
“This is a crime that has all the profits of drug trafficking and none of the risk,” said Mr. Watts-FitzGerald, the prosecutor in the Miami case. In many ways, it was Mr. Garcia’s bad luck that the only United States attorney’s district office to have a special environmental crimes unit is in South Florida.
Its relentless two-year investigation — complete with wiretaps and informants — raised the curtain on a multimillion-dollar web of smugglers and trafficking routes stretching from factories in the developing world — mostly China — to the Dominican Republic, Wales, Mexico and other points before the coolant gas ended up in American homes.
The smuggled Marcone coolant entered the United States through a variety of ruses, evidence collected by prosecutors showed.
Some of the Chinese gas on offer traveled to Ireland and the Dominican Republic before arriving in Miami, hidden among legitimate goods in three cargo containers on a small freighter. Mr. Garcia helped falsify shipping documents, express-mailing faked invoices to middlemen in the Dominican Republic to ease passage into the United States.
Other canisters came in an illegal shipment from Harp International, a leading manufacturer of the gas in Wales, accompanied by false documentation that the gas had been recycled to comply with import restrictions.
One lot of smuggled gas traveled a particularly dizzying journey: made in the United States and exported to Mexico, only to be sent back to Miami.
DuPont exports gas to Mexico — the top foreign destination for American-made HCFC-22 — because it makes more of the coolant at its Louisville, Ky., factory than it is allowed to sell in the United States. But because Mexico does not yet restrict use of the gas, the market price in Mexico is far lower than in the United States.
The smugglers took advantage of the differential, buying cheaper DuPont gas in Mexico and routing it back through the Caribbean to Miami for sale at north-of-the-border prices. The shipment was stopped after federal agents noticed that the canisters’ markings indicated that they had been packaged for the Mexican market.
As a result of the Miami investigation, Marcone pleaded guilty to violating federal laws, although on the witness stand its chief executive said he had not realized Mr. Garcia’s imports were illegal. So did several smugglers, including a Florida couple and a now-jailed Irish national financed by a Peruvian businessman who was recently indicted as well.
Caught on a wiretap, Mr. Garcia once asked a supplier whether the product was from Honeywell or DuPont.
“From China,” the man answered.
Over time, he apparently became comfortable with his booming business, bragging about how easy it was to smuggle coolants into the United States.
“Remember that there are a bunch of tricks,” he said.
A lone wolf, his lost dog and an Internet miracle by Scott Craven - Sept. 7, 2012 11:38 PM The Republic | azcentral.com
When Rusty Reed opened the camper door for the second time that morning, he felt his heart drop from his chest.
His best friend and traveling companion was nowhere to be seen, the 50-foot leash leading to an empty collar.
The vast Utah landscape that had been so welcoming the day before now appeared daunting. It could swallow up a wayward dog in the blink of an eye, and Reed had been asleep for hours.
All the military vet could do was grab his cane and start looking. And so he walked along the only trail he knew, the one he and his malamute-shepherd mix had hiked frequently over the last few days.
Only now he walked slowly, without the constant pull of Timber at the end of his leash.
Rusty Reed is familiar with the label most people use to describe him.
Homeless military veteran.
And it's accurate as far as labels go.
But he spent years as a different persona, a mountain man living off the land. For three decades, he says, he walked the West, trailed by his two donkeys. In 2004, the newspaper in Big Bear, Calif., wrote about the mountain man who lived in his tent and treated himself with an occasional trip to the grocery store.
When his donkeys passed away and his knees began to ache, Reed bought a battered 1975 Ford F100, built a camper shell, and painted the whole thing camouflage.
Arizona was his home, summering near Flagstaff, wintering in Lake Havasu City (where he rents a mailbox at a UPS store), moving among campgrounds that welcome visitors.
It was on one of his occasional trips three years ago when Reed ran into an acquaintance in Washington who owed him money. The man offered Reed a choice: cash or a dog.
"The dog," Reed says now, recalling the moment he laid eyes on the puppy he would call Timber. "A dog lasts longer than money."
Adjustments had to be made. He glued a Big Gulp cup to the floorboard for a water bowl. Some of his military pension went to canine maintenance, including food, leashes, a collar and the occasional vet visit.
Just about every day they would venture out with Timber on a 6-foot leash -- the "walkin' leash" -- or the dog could roam on his 50-foot tether -- the "explorin' leash."
In the evening Timber would relax under Reed's mattress, propped on a makeshift platform. And when Reed crawled into bed, Timber jumped in beside him.
But Reed's favorite moments came when he pulled the keys from his pocket and Timber danced at his feet waiting for those magic words: "Wanna go for a ride?"
A man traveling solo in a camouflage truck can be intimidating. But a man in a camouflage truck playing with a handsome dog can be welcoming.
So in April, as Reed camped outside Ash Fork, west of Flagstaff, a woman camping nearby approached and introduced herself and her two dogs.
They talked about a shared love of the road. In April, Reed thought it was only a chance meeting.
Sue Rogers is a cautious traveler. Since April 2011, when she sold her home in Georgia and bought a 17-foot trailer just large enough for her and her dogs, Spike and Badger, the 60-something hit the road and hasn't looked back.
She prefers a solitary life, noting that on her blog at rvsueandcrew.com.
"By nature I'm a loner," she wrote.
On the road, Rogers kept a careful eye on her ever-changing surroundings, particularly the nights she spent "boondocking," or parked outside marked campgrounds.
Yet on a chilly day in April, after settling onto a lonely plot in empty land outside Ash Fork, she was walking her dogs and was drawn to a man who sat outside a camouflage camper.
She remembers that he stopped playing with his dog long enough to offer a broad wave.
She trudged up to slope to meet Reed, a traveling man whose wanderlust equaled hers.
Rogers would describe the chance encounter in her blog, and how phone numbers were exchanged with promises to stay in touch.
Rogers pulled up stakes and watched Reed and Timber fade in the rearview mirror. It was a bit of a surprise when, four months later and almost a thousand miles away, Reed's name lit up her cellphone screen.
They chatted a bit, with Rogers mentioning she was in Oregon, and Reed suggesting places to see. Rogers asked about Timber.
The story came pouring out.
It started in southern Utah, where Reed often would spend the hottest part of summer. He wasn't sure how long he'd be there, given the heavy scent of approaching wildfires.
Early on July 9, parked on a hilltop outside Loa, Utah, Reed says, he woke to Timber scratching at the back of the camper.
He let him out, clipping the dog's collar to his 50-foot leash.
Reed climbed back into the truck for just a few more minutes of sleep.
He awoke a few hours later, refreshed. He opened the back to find only the leash. The trail soon gave out.
Reed looked on and around that hilltop for three days, as smoke from a nearby wildfire began to fill the air. He walked, he hiked, he drove.
Finally the smoke thickened to a point that made it hard to breathe. It was time to return to Arizona.
Before he did, he scattered 8 pounds of dog food on the ground and cut open a 5-gallon jug of water. If he couldn't find Timber, at least he wanted to give the dog a chance.
Still, Reed couldn't help but feel that he had let down his best friend. Two weeks later, overcome by guilt and grief, Reed would gather up Timber's toys from under the bed in the camper, along with his food that had been stacked to the side, and throw them away.
All he kept was the walkin' leash, the one thing he couldn't bear to part with.
The only thing Sue Rogers could do was listen and offer a shoulder to cry on.
She was in Oregon, 1,000 miles away.
But she did one more thing. That night, she typed up the story of a grieving friend.
"Rusty starts a tale I immediately sense is not going to have a happy ending," she wrote that night.
And if her story had been written in a diary, rather than posted to her blog, she would have been right.
At the end of most days, when the Internet signal is steady, Rogers posts her latest adventures at rvsueandcrew.com. Her audience has grown steadily from the blog's start in April 2011, and she had more than 450 followers.
Shortly after midnight on Aug. 26, she posted Timber's tale. By 6 p.m., the post had nearly 90 comments.
Most expressed sympathy. But a handful were from someone who identified herself only as a retired police officer living in New York.
At 1:26 p.m., she too expressed sympathy.
Then she posted a link to Animal Control of Southern Utah, and news of a similar-looking dog there -- but a female.
At 2:19, she posted a report of a shepherd mix found July 10 near Loa, Utah, but there was no photo to go with the description.
At 4:40, another possible match, a male at the Animal Control shelter.
At 4:49, Rogers jumped in. She had called the people who found the dog near Loa. She was sending them a photo of Timber and waiting to hear back.
At 6:20, a post from Rogers: "IT LOOKS LIKE WE MAY HAVE FOUND TIMBER!"
But there was just one problem.
Daisy Pettem looked at the photos attached to the e-mail.
She looked at the rather skinny dog at her house in Boulder, Colo., then back to the photos. One more time at the dog.
His ears went up.
It seemed so odd calling him Timber, she remembers now. Pettem knew the rambunctious pooch as Willy.
Her father had found the dog as he camped outside Loa, Utah, in early July.
The dog approached to check him out, as well as his two dogs. Its friendly demeanor hinted at an owner, but a search of the nearby area proved fruitless. He checked with forest-service personnel, but no one had reported a missing canine. Pettem's father couldn't leave the dog behind, so he took it to California, where he would visit his ailing mother.
The wayward dog had a new name to go with his new family. Willy, inspired by Wile E. Coyote.
A week later, the crew was back in Colorado. Everyone fell in love with Willy.
Still, Pettem recalls, she was sure this dog had belonged to someone. He got along so well with people, and he was neutered. Someone, she knew, was missing Willy.
Which is why Pettem scoured the Internet in the days following Willy's arrival at her home, searching for posts about lost dogs matching his description. She found nothing, so she posted a "Found dog" notice on fidofinder.com. She put the description, added her contact information, and waited. And waited.
As July passed, Willy played with Pettem's 9-year-old son and their terrier.
Later, Willy went with Pettem and her father on a trip to see family in Canada.
Then, on Aug. 26, she received an e-mail from FidoFinder.
Soon, she was on the phone with a woman named Sue. Then she got an e-mail with photos of a missing dog. The lost dog had the same build and coloring. He had a slash of white on his forehead.
Just like the dog at her house.
She had been right. Someone was missing Willy.
Rusty Reed remembers his heart was nearly beating out of his chest.
He was on the phone with Sue Rogers again, just a day after he had called her.
A dog that could well be Timber was with a family in Boulder, she told him. She had a name and a phone number.
Seconds after hanging up, the man who had shunned technology for most of his 62 years punched that number into his new cellular phone. The woman who answered told him all about Willy and how her father had found him outside Loa, Utah, in July.
Here it was, almost September. Reed asked her to put the phone to the dog's ear, and then repeated a phrase he had used often over the years.