KC GlobeNews JUNE 2003 Special Vol.4, No.6
Current events, trends, travel, politics, eco and tech topics.
CALIFORNIA'S SEA OTTERS WEAKENED
US LOOKS AWAY
THE TIGER BALM STORY
GIVE US THIS DAY OUR BIG MAC
SEARCHING FOR LIFE ON MARS
CALIFORNIA'S SEA OTTERS WEAKENED
By Jean-Michel Cousteau
After nearly three decades of protection and recovery, California's southern sea otters are once again imperiled.
Since the beginning of 2003, nearly 100 sea otters have died and washed up on the shore - double the average over the past decade. Unlike mass strandings in years past, the danger today isn't leaky oil tankers or pelt hunters, but appears to be something much more difficult to legislate away: the marine environment itself.
The wayward stretches of coast that are the sea otter's habitat are changing in ways the species seems unprepared to deal with. And with so few otters left in the wild, the prospect of extinction looms with each new death. New plans for sea otter recovery should offer hope, but the recent events dampen enthusiasm. Are conventional solutions adequate, or is it time for a new paradigm?
The California coast was, for many centuries, ‘sea otter country.'
The southern sea otter thrived here, feasting on sea urchins, anemones and crabs, and raising families amid the shifting kelp forests. The fur business drove the species to apparent extinction at the turn of the last century. But in 1938, a tiny handful of individuals was found at Big Sur. In 1977, the species was declared ‘threatened' under the Endangered Species Act. Under federal protection, recovery was swift, and by the mid-1990's, the southern sea otter numbered 2,377.
But in 1995, the population began declining by nearly 5 percent each year, according to the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife. And starting in 1998, the deaths have come in larger pulses. The agency puts the present total population at around 2,200 animals, spread in colonies along a sparsely settled stretch of the central California coast. Its own target for recovery is a modest 3,090 sea otters. At the moment, the population appears much closer to 1,850, the number at which agency scientists would be forced to recommend the species for ‘endangered' status.
This spring's fatalities are all the more troubling because they come in spite of federal protection. A strongly regulated habitat, bans on hunting, and restrictions on boating and fishing are apparently not enough to stabilize the population at a fraction of its historic size.
In Alaska, where sea otters are also in decline, conservation biologists have identified a ripple effect in the food chain; overfishing by humans has suppressed the number of seals, and forced killer whales to prey on sea otters. But in California, the problem is more complicated.
A new UC Davis study suggests that parasitic and bacterial infections are leading causes of the sea otter's decline. In analyzing mortality data from the years 1998-2001, the researchers found that nearly two-thirds of the animals died of disease, a startling fact considering that nearly half were in their prime adult breeding years.
In addition, some 39 percent of the dead animals were infected with toxoplasma gondii, a protozoan spread via the feces of domestic cats, part of the waste stream of modern society. Together with sarcocystis, toxoplasma gondii can cause encephalitis and other neurological disorders. The researchers suspect that such problems may render the otters more vulnerable to sharks, boat propellers and other threats.
The study also revealed the presence of the thorny-headed worm, which makes its way from bird feces into sand crabs. These tiny crustaceans have lately--and inexplicably--become part of the sea otter's diet. It may be that anthropogenic disruptions in the food chain are responsible for this shift.
The scientists were surprised to find that a significant proportion of the animals suffered from heart failure.
Taken together, the data paints a picture quite different from the sea otter's historical legacy. Once violently exterminated in vast numbers by hunters, the remnant populations are now slowly and unspectacularly wasting away in waters infected by pollutants and impoverished by human overfishing.
The timing of these findings could not be more ironic. After 16 years of preparation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife has just put the finishing touches on its new Sea Otter Protection Plan. The agency is dedicated to continuing its research into the causes of sea otter declines, plans to reduce sea otter deaths through human activities' including fishing--and recommends extending the animals' protected range. Beyond these steps, the service recognizes the need to minimize ‘the amount of contaminants in ocean waters.'
The plan is not a radical departure from the existing approach. And as such, it is not likely to assure the sea otter's future. Enlarging the otter's range sounds like a good idea, especially if it can provide a buffer from localized problem areas, such as oil tanker routes, sadly still a part of the region's marine tapestry.
But what if that range is more generally so polluted that it cannot sustain the otters? What if their habitat, as they need it, no longer exists? Officials scratch their heads at the ‘mystery' of the recent sea otter declines. But there is no mystery--the otters live in a toilet.
Protection must be more than listing a species on paper. It must be a holistic philosophy of resource governance. In the U.S., many species have been saved because people recognized the importance of protecting habitat. In this synergy, the protected species continue to support the ecosystem that sustains them.
That philosophy is sound. It recognizes that humans are part of a larger biological system that sustains us in the same way it sustains other species.
But this process, and the philosophy on which it rests, is threatened by a political leadership eager to gut key environmental protections such as the Clean Water Act. If the Bush Administration and its clones at the lower echelons of government are successful in weakening landmark legislation, then it will become virtually impossible to protect species by protecting their habitat. More importantly, perhaps, the nation would lose the benefits of the holistic approach, and the conservation process would most certainly devolve into a Babel of parochial squabbles over individual species, individual locales, individual interests.
The sea otter is just one small animal whose fate is shaped by a wide range of environmental factors. We are another such species. Instead of weakening the laws that protect our habitat, we must expand their scope, as we struggle to understand the large and complex systems that permit us to survive. This month, the yearly federal census of sea otters begins; its tidings should remind us that what affects one animal affects us all.
Learn more about Jean-Michel Cousteau and the Ocean Futures Society:
US LOOKS AWAY AS NEW ALLY TORTURES
Abdulkhalil was arrested in the fields of Uzbekistan's Ferghana valley last year. The 28-year-old farmer was sentenced to 16 years in prison for "trying to overthrow the constitutional structures".
Last week his father saw him for the first time since that day on a stretcher in a prison hospital. His head was battered and his tongue was so swollen that he could only say that he had "been kept in water for a long time".
Abdulkhalil was a victim of Uzbekistan's security service, the SNB. His detention and torture were part of a crackdown on Hizb-ut-Tahrir (Party of Liberation), an Islamist group.
Independent human rights groups estimate over 600 politically motivated arrests a year in Uzbekistan, and 6,500 political prisoners, some tortured to death. According to a forensic report commissioned by the British embassy, two prisoners were even boiled to death.
The US condemned this repression for many years. But since September 11 rewrote America's strategic interests in central Asia, the government of President Islam Karimov has become Washington's new best friend in the region.
The US is funding those it once condemned. Last year Washington gave Uzbekistan $500m (£300m) in aid. The police and intelligence services - which the US state department's website says use "torture as a routine investigation technique" received $79m of this sum.
Mr Karimov was President Bush's guest in Washington in March last year. They signed a "declaration" which gave Uzbekistan security guarantees and promised to strengthen "the material and technical base of [their] law enforcement agencies".
The cooperation grows. On May 2 Nato said Uzbekistan may be used as a base for the alliance's peacekeeping operations in Afghanistan.
Since the fall of the Taliban, US support for the Karimov government has changed from one guided by short-term necessity into a long-term commitment based on America's strategic requirements.
Critics argue that the US has overlooked human rights abuses to foster a police state whose borders give the Pentagon vantage points into Afghanistan and the other neighboring republics which are as rich in natural resources as they are in Islamist movements.
The geographical hub of the US-Uzbek alliance is 250 miles south of the capital, Tashkent. Outside the town of Karshi lies the Khanabad military base, the platform for America's operations in Afghanistan.
The town of Khanabad has been closed for months by the Uzbek government. Locals say the restrictions are compensated for by the highly paid work the base brings.
Journalists are not allowed in to see its runway, logistical supply tents and troop lodgings, all set on roads named after New York avenues. One western source said: "[The Americans] expect to be here for over a decade."
This will suit the Uzbek government, which welcomes America's change in attitude as its own security forces continue to repress the population. Uzbeks need a permit to move between towns and an exit visa to leave the country. Attendance at a mosque seems to result in arrest.
In the city of Namangan, in the Ferghana valley, there are many accounts of the regime's brutality. Ahatkhon was beaten by police and held down while members of the Uzbek security service stuffed "incriminating evidence" into his coat pocket. They called in two "witnesses" to watch them discover two leaflets supporting Hizb-ut-Tahrir. He was forced to inform on four friends, one of whom - an ex-boxer - is still in pain from his beating. Abdulkhalil and Ahatkhon prayed regularly. This seemed to have been enough to brand them as the Islamists the Karimov government fears.
The Ferghana valley has been a base for the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), which the US and the UK say has links with al-Qaida. But the group is thought to have been crippled by the operations in Afghanistan. Analysts dismiss US claims that the IMU is targeting American military assets in the neighboring republic of Kyrgyzstan.
The fight against the IMU has been used to justify the repression of Islamists. But the Islamic order advocated by Hizb-ut-Tahrir fills a void left by devastating poverty and state brutality.
Craig Murray, the British ambassador to Uzbekistan, said: "The intense repression here combined with the inequality of wealth and absence of reform will create the Islamic fundamentalism that the regime is trying to quash."
Another senior western official said: "People have less freedom here than under Brezhnev. The irony is that the US Republican party is supporting the remnants of Brezhnevism as part of their fight against Islamic extremism."
The US is also funding some human rights groups in Uzbekistan. Last year it gave $26m towards democracy programs. A state department spokesman said America's policy was "reform through engagement" and that Uzbekistan had "taken some positive steps", including "registering a human rights group and a new newspaper".
Matilda Bogner of Human Rights Watch's office in Tashkent said: "I would deny there has been any real progress.
"The steps taken are basically window dressing used to get the military funding through the US Congress's ethical laws. Nothing has changed on the ground."
Hakimjon Noredinov, 68, agreed. He became a human rights activist after a morgue attendant brought him his eldest son, Nozemjon. He had been left for dead by the security service but was still alive despite having his skull fractured. Nozemjon is now 33, but screamed all night since they split his skull open. He is now in an asylum, Mr Noredinov said. "People's lives here are no better for US involvement," he said.
"Because of the US help, Karimov is getting richer and stronger."
Source: Guardian Unlimited http://www.guardian.co.uk/
THE GOOD NEWS
THE TIGER BALM STORY
Tiger Balm has been used for nearly 100 years. It is an effective external analgesic rub. Over 20 million jars of TIGER BALM are sold annually in over 70 countries. The extra strength pain relieving ointment penetrates quickly and provides effective temporary relief for numerous ailments such as sore muscles, tension, overexertion, headaches, and colds.
The success story of Tiger Balm is the story of the ingenious marketer Aw Boon Haw. A self-made man. An upstart, a tenacious tiger of a man who started with almost nothing and created a fantastically wealthy and visually compelling empire.
Aw Boon Haw combined the talents of circus promoter P.T. Barnum in marketing his medicines, theme-park magnate Walt Disney in creating a fairytale environment, and newspaperman and castle builder William Randolph Hearst in starting the largest chain of newspapers in Southeast Asia and building lavish mansions. Furthermore, he was one of Southeast Asia's most generous philanthropists, giving over half his income to charities.
Aw Chi Kim, Aw Boon Haw's father, was a poor Hakka herbalist who emigrated from China to Rangoon in the 1860s. In 1870 he opened a small herbal shop but never made more money at his profession than what he needed to feed his family. He would often treat patients who could not pay or trade his services for food and other goods.
Shortly after their father's death, in 1908, Aw Boon Haw and his brother, Aw Boon Par, perfected the formula for Tiger Balm in their Rangoon home. Aw Boon Par oversaw Tiger Balm's production, while the more flamboyant Aw Boon Haw packaged and marketed the product.
Although untrue, myths that the balm contained a part of the tiger--popularly believed to help improve one's sexual potency--proliferated. Shrewdly, the Aw brothers did nothing to dispel these rumors.
While the balm was a good product, many competing Chinese medicine shops produced similar remedies. Aw Boon Haw realized that for his product to be a success, it would have to stand out from others on pharmacy shelves. With attention to the tiniest detail, Aw Boon Haw created layered packaging that captured the eye, with a dominant springing tiger. The complex, full-color designs accented with gold made Tiger Balm packages easy to identify on shelves crowded with a plethora of brands.
The Aw brothers bought panel trucks to make deliveries, painting the sides of them like billboards. Aw Boon Haw traveled to remote areas and gave away free samples. Aw Boon Haw's relentless marketing paid off. By 1918, the Aw family was the richest Chinese family in Rangoon.
Aw Boon Haw soon realized that he could have an even wider market for his Tiger Brand products. In 1929, after moving Eng Aun Tong headquarters to Singapore, he started the Sin Chew Jit Poh newspaper, which became a powerful voice for the Chinese community. The newspapers also afforded ample space for advertising Tiger Brand products. After Sin Chew Jit Poh's success in Singapore, Aw Boon Haw expanded his publishing ventures to Penang, Bangkok, and Hong Kong.
Eng Aun Tong built new branch offices throughout Asia, many of which celebrated grand openings with parades staged by the Tiger Band. Men dressed in tiger suits playing brass and percussion instruments marched through city streets. Like the traveling sideshows of snake-oil entertainers, Aw Boon Haw's novel fanfare attracted crowds to the site, and the expense paid off in immediate sales.
It was predictable that when Aw Boon Haw commissioned a personal automobile, it too would serve to publicize the tiger. The contractor sculpted a metal head mounted on the front of the car and painted the car with tiger's stripes. No one who encountered this vehicle could forget it, and the Tiger became indelibly stamped in one's memory.
Tiger Balm website:
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GIVE US THIS DAY OUR BIG MAC AND DELIVER US FROM EVIL
McDonald's became an official sponsor of Pope John Paul II.
The infamous fast food chain provided food for a multitude: the 500,000 faithful Spaniards who showed up for a May 21 "pray-in" with the pope at a Madrid airport.
Believers received a "pilgrim's bag," with rosary, prayer book, cap and vouchers for burger, fries, soft drink and a baked apple pie.
FUTURE IS NOW
SEARCHING FOR LIFE ON MARS
One will sniff, dig and bake. Two others will roam, grind and bore. Together, they could revolutionize our knowledge of the red planet and extraterrestrial life.
The robotic explorers from Europe and the United States are using entirely different approaches to the cosmic quest, which began this month with launches that took advantage of an exceptionally close Earth-Mars alignment.
The Beagle 2 lander is a shoestring biologist, built by the British at the behest of the European Space Agency for an estimated $60 million. It departed from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
The dog-sized bot, only 73 pounds (33 kilograms), will look for direct evidence of existing life, whether combing the Martian atmosphere for methane, a possible biological byproduct, or checking rocks for a form of carbon favored by cells.
NASA's Mars Exploration Rovers, mobile geologists that together cost the U.S. space agency about $800 million, will do more indirect detective work on the dry, cold planet, thought to have been wet and warm billions of years ago.
The twin landers, each the size of a desk and weighing 375 pounds (170 kilograms), will ramble dozens of meters a day, drilling into rocks and scooping up soil in preliminary field studies to help identify ancient oases.
Future landers might investigate the spots for signs of a Martian fossil record.
Most agree that Beagle 2 has more ambitious objectives, but whether it will deliver the goods is the question.
"Because the instrumentation aboard Beagle 2 is specifically designed to look for signs of current or extinct life, it will more than likely get the most attention," said Barry DiGregario, who wrote the book, "Mars: The Living Planet.
"It may be that the grand prize of confirming life on Mars could go to the British," he said.
Home run or strike out?
"Beagle 2 is trying to hit a home run. I don't think they'll hit it, but I wish them luck," said Harold "Hap" McSween, a NASA rover team member and University of Tennessee geologist who doubts life exists now on the red planet.
Scientists with the Beagle 2 program offer a spirited defense of Europe's first planetary lander, but acknowledge the mission is fraught with risks.
"If we didn't try to hit a home run, there wouldn't have been a mission," said Mark Sims, Beagle 2 landing manager and University of Leicester professor.
The project had to aim high to attract sponsors, "otherwise it would not have happened," Sims said.
But there are monetary and weight constraints on the craft. "Beagle is a small spacecraft with very little redundancies on it. Consequently, if anything fails, I'm afraid it's game over," Sims said.
The UK scientist who spearheaded Beagle 2, named for the ship that carried famed biologist Charles Darwin around the world in the 19th century, said the lack of frills did not mean compromised objectives.
"At the beginning, some people thought we were a 'me too' mission: Send a lander to Mars and take a picture," said Colin Pillinger, a professor at the Open University in Britain.
"But this is serious science. I wouldn't let one of these instruments get chopped off to save anything," Pillinger said.
A crowded place
The Mars neighborhood will be an extremely busy place in late December and January when five spacecraft are expected to arrive. Besides the landers, two satellites should begin orbiting the red planet.
One is the European Space Agency's Mars Express, on which Beagle 2 is hitching its 35 million-mile (56 million-kilometer) ride. Shortly before going into orbit, it will jettison the small probe to the surface.
Another, Japan's Nozomi orbiter, was due to arrive in 1999. But a costly navigation error pushed back the due date to late 2003, and an unexpected blast of solar radiation later knocked out communications. Whether the mission can be salvaged remains unknown.
Such setbacks are common for robotic explorers to Mars.
More than 30 have undertaken the journey, but only a handful have succeeded, including NASA's Viking and Pathfinder landers in 1976 and 1997, and the Surveyor and Odyssey orbiters in 1997 and 2003, both of which remain in operation.
The U.S. space agency has by far the best track record, but the experience did not prevent two dismal failures in 1999, including an orbiter that burned up in the atmosphere because propellant engineers mixed up metric and English units.
Despite the dangers, robotic trips to Mars will likely continue. NASA has a handful already in the works, including one to return Martian samples to Earth.
James Head, a planetary geologist at Brown University, explains part of the allure:
"You look at the moon and it's very exciting, but Mars is easier to identify with. The ice caps, the wind, the evidence of flowing water and lava flow. These are things that are familiar to us. It's a world that has Earth-like geology and features."
And someday the scientific expeditions could include more than just circuits and chips, Squyres hopes.
"Do I wish I could go? Oh yeah, in a heartbeat."
Ron Cogan's Green Car Journal industry newsletter is considered "the bible" of the worldwide automotive environmental industry.
Green Car Journal Special Edition 2003 is a full-color magazine that de-mystifies the field of low emission, high fuel economy, and advanced technology vehicles.
Its focus includes hybrids, fuel cells, alternative fuels, and environmentally-conscious cars, trucks, and SUVs now in showrooms, or coming soon.
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THE PUNCH LINE
The justices on the Supreme Court are supremely unrecognized by the American public.
According to a survey by FindLaw.com, 66 percent of Americans can't name even one justice.
The most popular judge, Sandra Day O'Connor, only received 25 percent of the vote. Meanwhile, only 1 percent knew there's a justice named John Paul Stevens.