Friday, May 23, 2008

Tasmanian Devils May Face Extinction within 15 Years

POSITIONED BY A WINDOW in a whitewashed shack on the rocky northwestern shore of Tasmania, Robert J. Blake, an American children’s book author and illustrator, lights a candle and begins to draw as he awaits the coming excitement. Then, from the constant howling of the wind emerges an extraordinary crunch!

A Tasmanian devil has chomped into a road-killed wallaby staked outside. The sound of shattering bones comes to Blake through a baby monitor wired to speakers inside the shack. He peers out the window, scribbling furiously. Resembling a black dog with white splotches and weighing no more than 20 pounds, the devil is gnawing at the wallaby’s hindquarters. With crushing jaw strength, the Tasmanian devil can devour carrion completely—meat, bones, skin and all.

Blake has come to King’s Run, an 830-acre private wildlife refuge overlooking the Southern Ocean, to write about the world’s largest remaining marsupial carnivores. While living in Australia, Blake let children vote through his website for the marsupial they most want to read about. They chose Tasmanian devils. King’s Run gives him the perfect opportunity for observing the animals. Started in 1999 when rancher and conservationist Geoff King, at the urging of state biologist Nick Mooney, turned a long-time family cattle property into a nature preserve, King’s Run may be one of the last places in the world to see healthy Tasmanian devils in the wild. King collects roadkills daily, freezes them and stakes them outside the shack when tourists come for a look.

During the past 10 years, devil facial tumor disease—one of only three contagious cancers known in the world—has devastated the species, which is found only in Tasmania, an Australian island-state 125 miles off the continent’s southeast tip. The disease produces tumors that deform the faces of infected devils and metastasize throughout their bodies. Infection is helped in part by the devils’ pugnaciousness—when they fight, they spread cancer cells.

The illness first appeared in 1996 in northeastern Tasmania and has reached more than 56 percent of the island, but it has not yet arrived in the northwest, where King’s Run is located. Studies show devils have no immunity against the disease, which kills within three to eight months after tumors appear. Biologists fear the cancer could cause the extinction of the Tasmanian devil in the wild within 15 years.

As hunters and scavengers, Tasmanian devils eat just about anything, even porcupine-like echidnas. They lead solitary lives, encountering one another—often with hostile results—only when feeding and during mating season. Typically, only equally matched devils fight. Males in particular carry hideous battle scars, and smaller devils risk being eaten. During the breeding season, which runs from March to April, females give birth to up to 50 rice-grain-sized young that crawl into the mother’s pouch. The pouch offers only four teats, to which four babies more or less attach themselves. After the lucky ones develop for 100 days, the mother transfers them to a grassy nest. They suckle for three more months, after which mom may eat them if they linger.

Fossils and cave drawings suggest that Tasmanian devils once lived throughout mainland Australia but went extinct there after aboriginal people brought in domesticated dogs—or dingoes—from Southeast Asia 5,000 years ago. In modern times, farmers relentlessly persecuted devils, convinced that they devoured sheep and livestock. “Farmers have traditionally not liked devils,” says Steve Smith, manager of the Tasmanian Devil Facial Tumor Disease Program, Tasmania’s overarching devil conservation program. Fearing devils would be hunted to extinction, the Tasmanian legislature formally protected the species in 1941.

In recent times, devils have flourished. The species ranges across the state, with historic strongholds in the north and east. “They thrive on the margins of agricultural country, where there are larger populations of wallabies and ’possums and prey items,” Smith says. Just prior to the disease’s emergence, the devils reached a high population density, a by-product perhaps of the large amounts of carrion available after the Tasmanian forestry industry began putting out poison baits to keep herbivorous wildlife from foraging on seedlings. In response to inroads made since then by the disease, Australia in 2006 declared devils “vulnerable to extinction.”

“In my mind there’s only three things that could turn this disease around,” says Menna Jones, a government scientist who oversees conservation efforts. “The most likely is the development of resistance, which is evolutionary.” Such an adaptation would take decades to develop even if helped by selective breeding of resistant animals, none of which have ever been found. The other possibilities include development of a vaccine, or extinction in the wild followed by reintroduction from captive populations. “You need 25 years and millions and millions of dollars to develop a vaccine,” Jones says, and applying it across vast stretches of remote wilderness would prove nearly impossible.

To help ensure the devil doesn’t go extinct, in 2005 scientists gathered animals from across Tasmania for captive breeding—an effort dubbed Project Ark. After nearly two years in quarantine, about 50 devils, including 30 captives and their progeny, were shipped to mainland zoos. If the disease pushes the devil to extinction in the wild, biologists will use these animals to repopulate Tasmania.

The only other active option for saving the devil involves creating disease-free regions. Populations in such areas would become an integral part of Project Ark, serving as reservoirs of genetic diversity. On the isolated 250-square-mile Tasman Peninsula, connected to the bulk of Tasmania by only a narrow isthmus, biologists are removing infected devils to see whether it helps suppress the disease. If scientists can create a disease-free peninsula, they will isolate it by creating a devil-proof gate across the isthmus. “It’s the only tool that we’ve got for controlling the disease in wild populations,” Jones says. Biologists also are weighing the pros and cons of introducing devils to islands off the east coast of Tasmania. “If you introduce devils to any island, you’ve got to weigh up the benefits to the devil population against the possible impacts to species on the island,” Jones says. On the other hand, the Tasmanian devil plays a crucial ecological role as a scavenger. Its demise could cause a cascade of negative effects in the local ecosystem.

If efforts to protect the devils succeed, Blake’s book won’t turn into a memorial for a lost species. King is already planning for the next step. Once the disease hits his area, he will discontinue feeding to avoid drawing the animals near one another, which makes them more susceptible to disease transmission, but he will continue wildlife viewing tours. “It’s exciting to see a healthy one in the wild,” King says, “I’ve spent about 550 nights with people, but each night I go down I’m always interested to see what happens. I think that says a lot about the animal.”

Texas-based writer Wendee Holtcamp visited Tasmania for this story.

Original here

Police quiz photographer over nude shots

Police have interviewed photographer Bill Henson about an art exhibition featuring nude shots of teenagers.

The exhibition was to open at the Roslyn Oxley9 gallery in the Sydney suburb of Paddington last night.

The gallery agreed to suspend the exhibition while police conduct interviews.

Police still need to talk to a 13-year-old girl who appears on the invitation for the exhibition.

They also want to speak to her parents, before deciding if the exhibition should go ahead.

Images from the exhibition that were displayed on the gallery's website have been taken down.

Detectives from the Child Exploitation Internet Unit are reviewing them.

The Department of Community Services has also been contacted.

The Minister for Community Services, Kevin Greene, says police and the Office of the Children's Guardian are investigating to see if the photos break any laws.


The exhibition has reopened the debate about censorship and what constitutes pornography.

Gallery staff say they received a large number of phone complaints before the exhibition was suspended.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has told Channel Nine the photos are revolting.

"Kids deserve to have the innocence of their childhood protected," Mr Rudd said.

"I have a very deep view of this. For God's sake, let's just allow kids to be kids.

"Whatever the artistic merits of that sort of stuff, frankly I don't think there are any."

The New South Wales Opposition Leader, Barry O'Farrell, says the photographs are inappropriate.

"Art will always push society's boundaries, but protection of our children must always be the priority," he said.

"It wasn't OK for a 14-year-old model fully dressed to be on the catwalk for Australian Fashion week, [so] it's definitely not OK for naked children to have their privacy and childhood stolen in the name of art."

Child protection advocate Hetty Johnston thinks police should lay charges.

"It's child pornography by any name you want to call it."

'Surprising' reaction

But art market analyst Michael Reid saw the photos before the exhibition was due to open.

He says they do not sexualise the children involved.

"I went and had a very good look at that exhibition before it opened up," Mr Reid said.

"In my opinion it didn't [sexualise the children]."

College of Fine Arts Associate Professor Joanne Mendelsohn thinks the reaction to Henson's work is surprising.

"I remember seeing a major exhibition of his work at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, it might have been his Venice works, about 10 years ago. Not a peep, not a murmur, and yet the work that was shown then is remarkably similar to the work that has caused such an uproar now," she said.

Original here

This guy deserves NOTHING

Of all the ridiculous lawsuits I've heard of this one takes the cake.
But in 2001 Mr Mustapha noticed one whole fly and another half fly in an unopened bottle as he was loading it onto his cooler.
Ok, that's pretty gross. I don't think I would have been very happy either. However, I wouldn't have sued the company because of it. I would merely have called them, explained the situation and requested a new bottle for the cooler. Perhaps I would have called over whoever was around so they could partake in the whole 'ewww, that's gross' game. At the end of the day however, dead flies really aren't that serious. He didn't find one in his drink, after all.

But not Mr. Mustapha, no. Mr. Mustapha apparently suffered 'extreme depression' from this incident.

After this, he began to feel nauseous and depressed, and developed a phobia for water, only being able to take showers with his head down, so the water did not strike his face.
Justice John Brockenshire found in the original damages case in 2005 that Mr Mustapha suffered a "major depressive disorder".
In his ruling, he said: "He pictures flies walking on animal
faeces or rotten food and then being in his supposedly pure drinking water." Has this guy ever had a picnic outside on a hot sunny day? There are flies everywhere. People don't get nauseous and suddenly become afraid of food. They wave the flies off the food. Hell, I've tipped back a soda can only to find a bee crawling out instead of sweet sugary goodness. Freaked me out, sure. But I didn't suddenly become afraid of soda cans and have nightmares of bees pouring out of soda bottles.

I'm going to make a guess here: Mr. Mustapha either had a pre-existing mental imbalance or he was just trying to get rich quick. I'm going to go for the latter. Here was Mr. Mustapha's chance to make some money off an unfortunate incident in which no one really got hurt. I simply cannot buy that any reasonable person would have such a reaction to a fly in a water bottle. This man was just trying to take advantage of a minor situation and blew the whole thing out of proportion. Shame on him.

For the sake of argument, even if this incident did trigger depression in Mr. Mustapha I highly doubt that it was the intention of the water company to do so. If the depression was pre-existing, the company is still blameless. I still think that Mr. Mustapha saw an opportunity to sue and he jumped on it.

There are so many people out there who LOVE to sue. They sue for everything (which is why we have stupidly obvious warnings on everything). These people either feel they are somehow entitled or victimized or just plain greedy. Suing costs insurance companies a lot of money - premiums go up. So every time some dumb jackass sues over a dead fly in a bottle of water someone else pays the price. Way to go, jackass.
Waddah Mustapha had been awarded $341,775 in damages in 2005, but the
Supreme Court of Canada has now overturned that award.

What the hell were they thinking to reward him anything in the first place, let alone that much money? Thankfully it was overturned.

Mr. Mustapha - get over it. It was just a fly.

Original here

The 7 Most Annoying People On Digg

Digg Front Page

Digg has grown over the last couple years from a small community of tech enthusiasts sharing nerdy news to a huge internet powerhouse, which has turned the tide of the US democratic primaries, taken down a cult, and made news left and right, spawning several copycat sites. But despite being arguably the most mainstream site of its kind, it still is not free of the countless horrors that spawn in the seedy underbelly of the net. Today, we take you on a virtual safari to show you some of the worst species in the digg community.

7.The Powerusers (Diggitus Eliteus)

Top 100 Diggers

Threat Level: 4

These are the most prominent nuisances on Digg, but perhaps the most harmless. In fact, they tend to be fairly beneficial to the community on a whole, but don’t be fooled. They are still a problem. They find articles and submit them, just like your average user, but the difference is that these articles will make it to the front page with little to no effort, while average users are forced to spend hours promoting their submissions, begging anyone and everyone for that one little digg to get them to the front page. They are the alpha-males of the digg herd, and for those beta- to omega-males, this can be quite a frustration.

Feeds on: The devotion of their hordes of fans, and the souls of the damned.

6. Refreshers (Diggitus Obsessi)

Cracked and XKCD

Threat Level: 4

Of a slight relation to the Powerusers, these users can be found refreshing and relentlessly at midnight, hoping to be the first to submit an article which will inevitably make it to the front page and getting that tiny taste of fame. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, you’ll see a thousand identical submissions from these automatons. Odds are, they’ll make it to the front page once or twice in their short lifetimes, milk it for everything it’s worth, and then die a slow peaceful death, forgotten like so many one-hit wonders.

Feeds on: Short fleeting moments of pseudo-fame, and cheap frozen dinners.

5. The “Old” Police (Diggitus Geezerus)

Old People Comment

Threat Level: 5

These are seen everywhere, disguised as regular users, until somebody submits something that the user saw a year or so ago. Then they will pop out of their hobbit-holes to comment-blast the submission with claims that their submission is ‘old as the internet’, or that it was submitted 2 years ago to digg when nobody actually saw it. They seem to suffer from delusions, thinking that if they’ve seen something, everyone else must have seen it as well. Most often, they complain that things are old only because they are mad at themselves for not thinking to submit it earlier.

Feeds on: Their own inability to comprehend that not everyone has been on the internet since the early 90’s.

4. The Article Snobs (Diggitus Notgonnadiggit)

Snobby Comments

Threat Level: 7

The Article Snobs come in many forms. They could be seen bitching and moaning that an article was put on two pages to help increase much-needed ad revenue, or whining about how horrible the Daily Mail is, but only after reluctantly and hypocritically digging it, favoriting it, and shouting it to all their friends, so that their spiteful little comments can get seen by more people. They can easily be spotted by their big, sharp, pointy teeth, and refusal to digg this article, because “who cares about some guy’s blog?”

Feeds on: High-end ramen noodles and pure, raw hatred.

3. Obama Lovers and Hillary Haters (Diggitus Changeusa)

Obama Wankers

Threat Level: 8

These are everywhere now, slowly spreading like some kind of political plague. One cannot look at the front page without at least 10 articles either claiming Obama’s godliness or (ironically) belittling Clinton’s belittling attitude. They are a mutation of the regular user (Who simply likes Obama, not loves), designed to stop at nothing to make sure that everyone knows that Obama is the best thing since Chuck Norris. We get it, you think Obama should be president. Now shut up about it until it comes time to vote. They will digg up any and all articles with a positive light on Obama, then comment the same old stale comments that America needs change, or that Hillary is a bitch. (Which are true, but seriously, STFU already.)

Feeds on: Political articles and pseudo-intellectual debate.

2. The 4chan Rejects (Diggitus Anonymus)

4chan logo

Threat level: OVER 9000!!!!!

CAUTION. If you spot this breed of digger, don’t make any sudden movements, and slowly make your way to the nearest adult. 4chan Rejects can be hazardous to your health.

This is a species becoming more and more common by the day. They are the cancer that’s killing digg, taking it over with LOLcats and demotivational posters. These crude beasts are spewed forth from the asshole of the net, /b/, prepared to regurgitate memes left and right until they become funny, and turn more decent human beings into more mudkip-lieking, facepalming, pedobear-posting abominations. They’re like zombies or vampires, but exponentially less cool. Luckily for you, they’re easy to identify. Just follow the trail of Captain Picards and O RLY? owls until you find someone wearing a Guy Fawkes mask, then block their ass from here to eternity.

NOMS ON: Stale memes, delicious copypasta, and tears of fallen angels.

1. The Flaming Complainers (Diggitus Getthefuckouticus)


Threat Level: 10

These are by far the most annoying people ever to grace the vast plains (and tubes) of the internet. They will complain about any of the other top 7, and even complain about their own kind. Some of the most annoying ones can be found making ‘Top 7′ lists declaring their hatred of other diggers. The more mild sub-species are usually caught commenting about how they think MrBabyMan should quit digg, or moaning about the current political domination of Digg. Several of them will simply just yell at everyone on digg because it’s far to strenuous to find a reason to yell at someone.

Feeds on: The pain and suffering of others.

Original here

Nation's Poorest 1% Now Controls Two-Thirds Of U.S. Soda Can Wealth

Can magnates like this Chicago-based entrepreneur often take advantage of obscure deposit loopholes in ME, VT, NY (5¢), and MI (10¢)

WASHINGTON—A report on growing disparities in the concentration of U.S. aluminum-can wealth, released Tuesday by the Department of Commerce, revealed that 66 percent of the nation's recyclable assets are now held by the poorest 1 percent of the population.

According to the sobering report, the disproportionate distribution of soda-can wealth is greater than ever before, and has become one of the worst instances of economic inequality in the nation's history. Data showed that over-salvaging of cans by a small and elite group of can-horders has created a steadily growing and possibly unbridgeable gap between the rich and the mega-poor.

Enlarge Image Can Wealth

"Although our nation's upper middle class actually consumes the most beverages, a staggering percentage of these cans wind up in the hands of a very few," said economist Cynthia Pierce, who worked as a consultant on the three-year, $14 million government study. "It's a troubling trend. And as a tiny fraction of the population continues to maintain its stranglehold on redeemable can wealth, it's a trend that shows no sign of slowing."

According to Pierce, the study points to a distinct economic advantage for the most can-affluent—those who possess the resources necessary to collect, transport, separate, and accumulate more and more cans than the rest of the population.

"Members of this exclusive group come from exceedingly poor backgrounds and have access to outrageously low levels of education, which makes them much better prepared to reap the benefits of digging around in garbage," Pierce added.

The report details several key factors involved in the lopsided distribution of container wealth, including aggressive foraging, which leads to higher returns on deposits and a tendency to reinvest can profits in additional redeemables, such as beer. In addition, the report found that those involved in the returnable-gathering industry often minimize financial risk by diversifying between aluminum cans and glass-bottle holdings.

While less than 1 percent of Americans own the domestic rights to a majority of Coca-Cola and Pepsi cans, this same group has also cornered the international market by branching out into such imported container commodities as Fanta and Perrier.

"The typical American spends an average of $65 on beverages for every dollar he or she earns back through redeemable deposits, and the rest of that money goes to the country's can and bottle barons," the report stated. "Americans who are at a foraging disadvantage due to over-employment and home ownership therefore have limited access to these discarded commodities, causing the market to unfairly favor those with an exclusively disposables income."

Perhaps more alarming, the report continued, the can monopoly enjoyed by the poorest 1 percent has been unintentionally buoyed by millions of environment-conscious Americans who leave plastic bags full of recycling in front of their homes, which are in turn preyed upon by enterprising collectors.

"These people were born into a lifestyle, often going back generations, where any can left on the street is seen as their birthright, whether they purchased it or not," Houston resident Dale Palmer said. "They have the knowledge and ability to get out there and scoop up all the good cans before anyone even knew they were there."

The vast disparity in can-wealth distribution is difficult to understand for many Americans. Most people, according to the report, cannot relate to the lifestyles of the super-poor, who never have to go to work, pay a mortgage, or struggle to find money for rent.

One canned individual cited in the study is can tycoon Will Dorsey, a 33-year-old Detroit resident who spent his childhood living off the funds collected from his family's vast can holdings. At the age of 16, Dorsey inherited five carts and dozens of garbage bags overflowing with recyclables when his father passed away unexpectedly one cold December morning.

According to economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, people like Dorsey, who maintain an ultra-poor lifestyle that is vastly different from the rest of the population, are egregiously out of touch with the everyday economic realities of mainstream America.

"Dorsey is one of those select few who come from old can money," Krugman said. "They're just hoarding their assets so nobody else can benefit. And then they parade down the street with their carts full of recycling."

In the wake of the report's disturbing findings, many citizens claim to feel exploited by those who convert their discarded property into cash or change without sharing the incredible profits.

"It's not fair," Chicago native Melissa Arnold said. "Something should be done to even the playing field."

In an attempt to mitigate the disparities in soda-can wealth distribution, Congress is currently exploring numerous options, including levying an 80 percent tax on the incomes of those possessing 100 or more refundable containers, with the ultimate goal of eliminating all recycling programs by 2010.

Original here