Wednesday, January 29, 2014

1299. The Life of Factory Farm Pig

By Farm Sanctuary, January 2014
A ham sandwich
The life of a breeding sow in the U.S. pork industry is one of extreme confinement, stress, and suffering. There were more than 5.8 million pigs used for breeding in the United States in 2011, most of whom were confined to gestation crates, typically lined up row after row in large sheds. These naturally curious and intelligent animals are first impregnated at 7 months of age and live out their lives in a cycle of pregnancy, birth, and nursing until they are eventually sent to slaughter.

The majority of breeding sows spend nearly the entirety of each pregnancy confined to a gestation crate, which is only slightly larger than their body, making it impossible for them to lie down comfortably or even turn around.
Gestation crate floors are usually made of slats, which allow manure to fall through, meaning that sows live directly above their own waste. This design exposes sows to high levels of ammonia, and respiratory disease is common in confined sows.
Standing on the hard, unnatural slatted flooring of a gestation crate takes a toll on pigs’ feet, causing excessive foot injuries, damage to joints, and even lameness.
The intense boredom and frustration pigs suffer in gestation crates have been blamed by researchers for abnormal, neurotic behaviors confined pigs sometimes exhibit, like repetitively biting at the bars of the gestation crate or chewing with an empty mouth. These behaviors can lead to additional suffering by causing sores and mouth damage.

Shortly before piglets are born, sows are moved to “farrowing crates” where the piglets will be nursed. The crates, meant to separate the mother from the piglets to avoid crushing, are restrictive to the point that the mother pig can only stand and lie down — she cannot even turn around to see her piglets.
At only 17–20 days old, the piglets are taken away from their mothers and undergo a series of mutilations, including being castrated and having a portion of their tails removed without any sort of pain relief. The piglets spend the next 6 months of their lives confined to pens until they reach “market weight”; they are then trucked to slaughter.

Once piglets are weaned, their mothers are put back into the restrictive gestation crates and re-impregnated, and the cycle continues at an average of 2.1–2.5 litters per year until the sow is considered spent and is sent to slaughter herself.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

1298. Humans Have Not Evolved to Live in Space

By Kenneth Chang, The New York Times, January 27, 2014
Dr. Valery Polyakov who spent 438 days in the space
HOUSTON — In space, heads swell.
A typical human being is about 60 percent water, and in the free fall of space, the body’s fluids float upward, into the chest and the head. Legs atrophy, faces puff, and pressure inside the skull rises.
“Your head actually feels bloated,” said Mark E. Kelly, a retired NASA astronaut who flew on four space shuttle missions. “It kind of feels like you would feel if you hung upside down for a couple of minutes.”
The human body did not evolve to live in space. And how that alien environment changes the body is not a simple problem, nor is it easily solved.
Some problems, like the brittling of bone, may have been overcome already. Others have been identified — for example, astronauts have trouble eating and sleeping enough — and NASA is working to understand and solve them.
Then there are the health problems that still elude doctors more than 50 years after the first spaceflight. In a finding just five years ago, the eyeballs of at least some astronauts became somewhat squashed.
The biggest hurdle remains radiation. Without the protective cocoon of Earth’s magnetic field and atmosphere, astronauts receive substantially higher doses of radiation, heightening the chances that they will die of cancer. How much of a cancer risk later in life is acceptable?
At the Johnson Space Center here, the home base for NASA’s human spaceflight program, scientists probably have until the 2030s to dissect these problems before the agency sends astronauts to Mars — a mission that would take about 2.5 years, or nearly six times the current standard tour of duty on the space station.
The longest any human has been off Earth is almost 438 days, by Dr. Valery Polyakov on the Russian space station Mir in 1994 and 1995. (Two private organizations, Inspiration Mars and Mars One, have announced plans to launch a manned interplanetary flight sooner and have had no problem attracting people despite the risks, known and unknown.)
NASA recently announced that it would continue operating the space station until at least 2024, in part for additional medical research.
NASA officials often talk about the “unknown unknowns” — the unforeseen problems that catch them by surprise. The eye issue caught them by surprise, and they are happy it did not happen in the middle of a mission to Mars.
In 2009, during his six-month stay on the International Space Station, Dr. Michael R. Barratt, a NASA astronaut who is also a physician, noticed he was having some trouble seeing things close up, as did another member of the six-member crew, Dr. Robert B. Thirsk, a Canadian astronaut who is also a doctor. So the two performed eye exams on each other, confirming the vision shift toward farsightedness.
They also saw hints of swelling in their optic nerves and blemishes on their retinas. On the next cargo ship, NASA sent up a high-resolution camera so that they could take clearer images of their eyes, which confirmed the suspicions. Ultrasound images showed that their eyes had become somewhat squeezed.
NASA is now checking astronauts’ eyesight before, during and after trips to the space station.
The issue turns out not to be new. Many space shuttle astronauts had complained of changes in eyesight, but no one had studied the matter.
“It is now a recognized occupational hazard of spaceflight,” Dr. Barratt said. “We uncovered something that has been right under our noses forever.”
Dr. Barratt said the vision shift had no effect on his ability to work in space. The concern, however, is that the farsightedness may be just a symptom of more serious changes in the astronauts’ health. “What are the long-term implications?” he said. “That’s the $64 million question.”
It is one of the many things NASA will be monitoring in the health of Scott J. Kelly, who will spend one year on the space station beginning in spring 2015: twice as long as his stay there in 2010 and 2011 and the longest for an American. A Russian astronaut, Mikhail Kornienko, will also make a yearlong trip to orbit then. Dr. Polyakov and three other Russian astronauts have already had orbital stays longer than that and returned seemingly not much the worse for wear.
John B. Charles, chief of the international science office of NASA’s human research program, is setting up the medical experiments, designed to figure out whether there are differences between a six-month stay and a 12-month stay. “Logically, you might say, how can there not be?” Dr. Charles said.
But it is also possible that the body becomes acclimated to weightlessness after only a few months, and that the changes in vision and bones level off.
The doctors will also compare Scott Kelly’s health with that of Mark Kelly, his twin brother. “I imagine I’ll be giving blood and urine samples,” said Mark Kelly, who is married to Gabrielle Giffords, the former Arizona congresswoman. “My attitude is, I worked at NASA for 16 years and whatever I can do to help, I will.”
A decade ago, NASA scientists worried that astronauts were returning to Earth with weaker bones, their density draining away by 1 to 2 percent per month. In space, the body does not need to support its weight, and it responds by dismantling bone tissue much faster than on Earth.
NASA turned to osteoporosis drugs and improved exercises, like having the astronauts run while strapped to a treadmill. The up-and-down pounding set off signals to the body to build new bone, and NASA scientists reported that astronauts then came back with almost as much bone as when they had left.
“That was huge,” said Scott M. Smith, a NASA nutritionist.
Because both the formation and destruction occur at accelerated rates, “we don’t know if that bone is as strong as when you left,” Dr. Smith said. But the scientists now feel that bone loss is not a showstopper for a long-duration mission.
For the eyesight issues, scientists have more questions than answers. They suspect that the adverse effects result largely from the fluid shift, the higher pressure of the cerebrospinal fluid in the skull pushing on the back of the eyeballs, but that has not been proved. And that theory does not explain why it usually affects the right eye more than the left, and men far more than women.
Dr. Smith has also found that the astronauts who experienced a shift in vision had increased levels of the amino acid homocysteine, often a marker for cardiovascular disease. That may suggest that a zero-gravity environment sets some biochemical process in motion.
Artificial gravity could be generated by spinning the spacecraft like a merry-go-round, alleviating both the bone loss and the fluid shift. But that would also add complexity to a mission and raise the potential for a catastrophic accident.
The lack of gravity also jumbles the body’s neurovestibular system that tells people which way is up. When returning to the pull of gravity, astronauts can become dizzy, something that Mark Kelly took note of as he piloted the space shuttle to a landing. “If you tilt your head a little left or right,” he said, “it feels like you’re going end over end.”
That may not be as big an issue for a Mars spacecraft that lands autonomously, and in which the astronauts have time to rest before getting out of their seats.
Regarding radiation, NASA operates under a restriction that astronauts should not have their lifetime cancer risk raised by more than three percentage points, but that is an arbitrary limit. Mark Kelly, for one, said he would be willing to accept twice that if he had a chance to go to Mars.
There may be other complications, though. At Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island, scientists are bombarding mice with radiation that mimics high-energy cosmic rays that zip through outer space. Those mice take longer to navigate a maze, suggesting that the radiation may be damaging their brains.
Scientists say it may damage other organs, including the heart, nervous system and digestive system. “Those could be acute effects,” said William H. Paloski, the head of NASA’s human research program. “We just don’t know. It’s one we’re looking at.”
Beyond the body, there is also the mind. The first six months of Scott Kelly’s one-year mission are expected to be no different from his first trip to the space station.
But Dr. Gary E. Beven, a NASA psychiatrist, said he was interested in whether anything changed in the next six months. “We’re going to be looking for any significant changes in mood, in sleep, in irritability, in cognition,” he said.
For trips beyond Earth orbit, astronauts will be isolated from the rest of humanity. During the Apollo missions, there was a lag time of 1.3 seconds between a command from mission control and an astronaut’s hearing it, the time for a radio signal to travel the 240,000 miles from Houston to the moon. At Mars, the lags would stretch minutes, and real-time conversation with someone on Earth would be impossible.
The crew of a Mars mission — four or six astronauts in NASA’s current thinking — would have to be more self-reliant to solve any personality conflicts. Dr. Beven envisioned computer systems that could detect subtle changes in facial expressions or tone of voice, perhaps offering some suggestions for defusing tensions.
In a Russian experiment in 2010 and 2011, six men agreed to be sealed up in a mock spaceship simulating a 17-month Mars mission. Four of the six developed disorders, and the crew became less active as the experiment progressed.
“I think that’s just an example of what could potentially happen during a Mars mission, but with much greater consequence,” Dr. Beven said. “Those subtle changes in group cohesion could cause major problems.”
Dr. Charles said he thought NASA could already send astronauts to Mars and bring them back alive. But given the huge expense of such a mission, he said it was crucial that the astronauts arrived productive and in great health.
“My goal,” he said, “is to see a program that doesn’t deliver an astronaut limping to Mars.”

1297. Genetic Engineered Weapons to Support Monoculture Cause for Concern

By Andrew Pollack, The New York Times, January 27, 2014
Monsanto is exploring the use of RNA interference to kill a mite that plays a role in bee die-off. Photo: Monsanto
Scientists and biotechnology companies are developing what could become the next powerful weapon in the war on pests — one that harnesses a Nobel Prize-winning discovery to kill insects and pathogens by disabling their genes.
By zeroing in on a genetic sequence unique to one species, the technique has the potential to kill a pest without harming beneficial insects. That would be a big advance over chemical pesticides.
“If you use a neuro-poison, it kills everything,” said Subba Reddy Palli, an entomologist at the University of Kentucky who is researching the technology, which is called RNA interference. “But this one is very target-specific.”
But some specialists fear that releasing gene-silencing agents into fields could harm beneficial insects, especially among organisms that have a common genetic makeup, and possibly even human health. The controversy echoes the larger debate over genetic modification of crops that has been raging for years. The Environmental Protection Agency, which regulates pesticides, will hold a meeting of scientific advisers on Tuesday to discuss the potential risks of RNA interference.
“To attempt to use this technology at this current stage of understanding would be more naïve than our use of DDT in the 1950s,” the National Honey Bee Advisory Board said in comments submitted to the E.P.A. before the meeting, at the agency’s conference center in Arlington, Va.
RNA interference is of interest to beekeepers because one possible use, under development by Monsanto, is to kill a mite that is believed to be at least partly responsible for the mass die-offs of honeybees in recent years.
Monsanto has applied for regulatory approval of corn that is genetically engineered to use RNAi, as the approach is called for short, to kill the western corn rootworm, one of the costliest of agricultural pests. In another project it is trying to develop a spray that would restore the ability of its Roundup herbicide to kill weeds that have grown Some bee specialists submitted comments saying they would welcome attempts to use RNAi to save honeybees. Groups representing corn, soybean and cotton farmers also support the technology.
“Commercial RNAi technology brings U.S. agriculture into an entirely new generation of tools holding great promise,” the National Corn Growers Association said.
Corn growers need a new tool. For a decade they have been combating the rootworm by planting so-called BT crops, which are genetically engineered to produce a toxin that kills the insects when they eat the crop.
Or at least the toxin is supposed to kill them. But rootworms are now evolving resistance to at least one BT toxin.
RNA interference is a natural phenomenon that is set off by double-stranded RNA.
DNA, which is what genes are made of, is usually double stranded, the famous double helix. But RNA, which is a messenger in cells, usually consists of a single strand of chemical units representing the letters of the genetic code.
So when a cell senses a double-stranded RNA, it acts as if it has encountered a virus. It activates a mechanism that silences any gene with a sequence corresponding to that in the double-stranded RNA.
Scientists quickly learned that they could deactivate virtually any gene by synthesizing a snippet of double-stranded RNA with a matching sequence.
Using GMO Crops to Target a Pest
Scientists at Monsanto are harnessing a new technique called RNAi to try to control the western corn rootworm. Corn the worms feed on is genetically modified to produce a type of RNA that corresponds to an essential gene in the worm. When the worm eats the corn, the RNA kills it by activating a gene-silencing mechanism that is believed to have evolved as a defense against viruses. But some scientists worry that the modified RNA could also possibly affect other insects that eat the corn or become exposed to the RNA in soil or water.Scientists design a type of double-stranded RNA that matches part of an essential gene in the western corn rootworm. Corn is then genetically modified to produce the RNA.
When the rootworm ingests the corn, the double-stranded RNA enters its cells. The cells react as if the RNA were a virus and act to defend themselves.
The cell defends itself by “turning off” the targeted gene. This gene, called snf7, is essential for moving proteins around in the rootworm. Turning the gene off causes the worm to die.

The scientists who first unraveled this mechanism won the 2006 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, and it was initially assumed that most of the use would be in medicine. Imagine drugs that could turn off essential genes in pathogens or tumors, or one that contributes to high cholesterol.
The initial euphoria has cooled somewhat, in part because it has been difficult to deliver the RNA through the bloodstream into the cells in the body where it is needed. Still, the challenges are gradually being overcome, and enthusiasm is rising again.
Using RNAi in insects, at least for beetles, should be easier than in people. Beetles, including the corn rootworm, can simply eat the double-stranded RNA to set off the effect.
One way to get insects to do that is to genetically engineer crops to produce double-stranded RNA corresponding to an essential gene of the pest.
Various genetically engineered crops already harness RNAi to silence genes in the crop itself. These include soybeans with more healthful oil and a nonbrowning apple that appears close to federal approval. The technique has also been used to genetically engineer virus resistance into crops like papaya.
But generally those crops had been developed using methods to modify DNA that were known to work but were not understood at the time to involve RNAi. Monsanto’s new rootworm-killing corn is one of the first in which the crop has been engineered specifically to produce a double-stranded RNA, in this case to inactivate a gene called Snf7 that is essential for moving proteins around in the rootworm. Monsanto, which is based in St. Louis, hopes to have the corn, which it calls SmartStax Pro, on the market late this decade.
The double-stranded RNA could also be incorporated in sprays.
Monsanto is developing a spray that would shore up one of its biggest product lines — crops resistant to its Roundup herbicide. Farmers have grown them widely because they can spray Roundup to kill weeds without hurting the crop.
Roundup, known generically as glyphosate, works by inhibiting the action of a protein plants need to survive. But many weeds have evolved resistance to Roundup. Some of these weeds make so much of the protein that Roundup cannot inhibit it all.
Monsanto’s spray would use RNAi to silence the gene for that protein, reducing production of the protein and restoring the ability of Roundup to kill the weed.
Monsanto is also looking at putting RNA into sugar water fed to honeybees to protect them from the varroa mite. The way to fight the mite now is to spray pesticides that can also harm bees.
“We were trying to kill a little bug on a big bug,” said Jerry Hayes, the head of bee health at Monsanto.
If the RNAi is directed at a genetic sequence unique to the mite, the bees would not be harmed by ingesting it, while the mites would be killed once they attacked the bees. One field trial showed that this technique could help protect bees from a virus. Monsanto acquired Beeologics, a company developing the RNAi technology for bees. It bought at least two other companies pursuing agricultural applications of the technology. And it has paid tens of millions of dollars for patent rights and technology from medical RNAi companies like Alnylam Pharmaceuticals and Tekmira Pharmaceuticals.
But Monsanto is not alone. In 2012, Syngenta signed an agreement to work on RNAi sprays with Devgen, a Belgian biotech company, and later said that it had acquired all of Devgen for around $500 million.
Some scientists are calling for caution, however, In a paper published last year, two entomologists at the Department of Agriculture warned that because genes are common to various organisms, RNAi pesticides might hurt unintended insects.
One laboratory study by scientists at the University of Kentucky and the University of Nebraska, for instance, found that a double-stranded RNA intended to silence a rootworm gene also affected a gene in the ladybug, killing that beneficial insect.
Concerns about possible human health effects were ignited by a 2011 paper by researchers at Nanjing University in China. They reported that snippets of RNA produced naturally by rice could be detected in the blood of people and mice who consumed the rice and could even affect a gene that regulates cholesterol. Such a “cross kingdom” effect would be extraordinary and was met with skepticism. At least three studies subsequently challenged the findings.

In a paper prepared for Tuesday’s meeting, E.P.A. scientists said RNAi presented “unique challenges for ecological risk assessment that have not yet been encountered in assessments for traditional chemical pesticides.”

1296. Pete Seeger, American Folk Singer and Activist, Dies at 94

By Jon Parles, The New York Times, January 28, 2014

Pete Seeger, the singer, folk-song collector and songwriter who spearheaded an American folk revival and spent a long career championing folk music as both a vital heritage and a catalyst for social change, died on Monday in Manhattan. He was 94.
His death, at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, was confirmed by his grandson Kitama Cahill Jackson.
Mr. Seeger’s career carried him from singing at labor rallies to the Top 10 to college auditoriums to folk festivals, and from a conviction for contempt of Congress (after defying the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950s) to performing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at an inaugural concert for Barack Obama.
For Mr. Seeger, folk music and a sense of community were inseparable, and where he saw a community, he saw the possibility of political action.
In his hearty tenor, Mr. Seeger, a beanpole of a man who most often played 12-string guitar or five-string banjo, sang topical songs and children’s songs, humorous tunes and earnest anthems, always encouraging listeners to join in. His agenda paralleled the concerns of the American left: He sang for the labor movement in the 1940s and 1950s, for civil rights marches and anti-Vietnam War rallies in the 1960s, and for environmental and antiwar causes in the 1970s and beyond. “We Shall Overcome,” which Mr. Seeger adapted from old spirituals, became a civil rights anthem.
Mr. Seeger was a prime mover in the folk revival that transformed popular music in the 1950s. As a member of the Weavers, he sang hits including Lead Belly’s “Goodnight, Irene” — which reached No. 1 — and If I Had a Hammer,” which he wrote with the group’s Lee Hays. Another of Mr. Seeger’s songs, Where Have All the Flowers Gone?,” became an antiwar standard. And in 1965, the Byrds had a No. 1 hit with a folk-rock version of “Turn! Turn! Turn!,” Mr. Seeger’s setting of a passage from the Book of Ecclesiastes.
Mr. Seeger was a mentor to younger folk and topical singers in the ‘50s and ‘60s, among them Bob Dylan, Don McLean and Bernice Johnson Reagon, who founded Sweet Honey in the Rock. Decades later, Bruce Springsteen drew the songs on his 2006 album, “We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions,” from Mr. Seeger’s repertoire of traditional music about a turbulent American experience, and in 2009 he performed Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” with Mr. Seeger at the Obama inaugural. At a Madison Square Garden concert celebrating Mr. Seeger’s 90th birthday, Mr. Springsteen introduced him as “a living archive of America’s music and conscience, a testament of the power of song and culture to nudge history along.”
Although he recorded more than 100 albums, Mr. Seeger distrusted commercialism and was never comfortable with the idea of stardom. He invariably tried to use his celebrity to bring attention and contributions to the causes that moved him, or to the traditional songs he wanted to preserve.
Mr. Seeger saw himself as part of a continuing folk tradition, constantly recycling and revising music that had been honed by time.
During the McCarthy era Mr. Seeger’s political affiliations, including membership in the Communist Party in the 1940s, led to his being blacklisted and later indicted for contempt of Congress. The pressure broke up the Weavers, and Mr. Seeger disappeared from commercial television until the late 1960s. But he never stopped recording, performing and listening to songs from ordinary people. Through the decades, his songs have become part of America’s folklore.
“My job,” he said in 2009, “is to show folks there’s a lot of good music in this world, and if used right it may help to save the planet.”
Peter Seeger was born on May 3, 1919, to Charles Seeger, a musicologist, and Constance de Clyver Edson Seeger, a concert violinist. His parents later divorced.
He began playing the ukulele while attending Avon Old Farms, a private boarding school in Connecticut. His father and his stepmother, the composer Ruth Crawford Seeger, were collecting and transcribing rural American folk music, as were folklorists like John and Alan Lomax. He heard the five-string banjo, which would become his main instrument, when his father took him to a square-dance festival in North Carolina.
Young Pete became enthralled by rural traditions. “I liked the strident vocal tone of the singers, the vigorous dancing,” he is quoted in “How Can I Keep From Singing,” a biography by David Dunaway. “The words of the songs had all the meat of life in them. Their humor had a bite, it was not trivial. Their tragedy was real, not sentimental.”
Planning to be a journalist, Mr. Seeger attended Harvard, where he founded a radical newspaper and joined the Young Communist League. After two years, he dropped out and came to New York City, where Mr. Lomax introduced him to the blues singer Huddie Ledbetter, known as Lead Belly. Mr. Lomax also helped Mr. Seeger find a job cataloging and transcribing music at the Archive of American Folk Song at the Library of Congress.
Mr. Seeger met Mr. Guthrie, a songwriter who shared his love of vernacular music and agitprop ambitions, in 1940, when they performed at a benefit concert for migrant California workers. Traveling across the United States with Mr. Guthrie, Mr. Seeger picked up some of his style and repertory. He also hitchhiked and hopped freight trains by himself, trading and learning songs.
When he returned to New York later in 1940, Mr. Seeger made his first albums. He, Millard Lampell and Mr. Hays founded the Almanac Singers, who performed union songs and, until Germany invaded the Soviet Union, antiwar songs, following the Communist Party line. Mr. Guthrie soon joined the group.
During World War II the Almanac Singers’s repertory turned to patriotic, antifascist songs, bringing them a broad audience, including a prime-time national radio spot. But the group’s earlier antiwar songs, the target of an F.B.I. investigation, came to light, and the group’s career plummeted.
Before the group completely dissolved, however, Mr. Seeger was drafted in 1942 and assigned to a unit of performers. He married Toshi-Aline Ohta while on furlough in 1943.
When he returned from the war he founded People’s Songs Inc., which published political songs and presented concerts for several years before going bankrupt. He also started his nightclub career, performing at the Village Vanguard in Greenwich Village. Mr. Seeger and Paul Robeson toured with the campaign of Henry Wallace, the Progressive Party presidential candidate, in 1948.
Mr. Seeger invested $1,700 in 17 acres of land overlooking the Hudson River in Beacon, N.Y., and began building a log cabin there in the late 1940s. (He lived in Beacon for the rest of his life.) In 1949, Mr. Seeger, Mr. Hays, Ronnie Gilbert and Fred Hellerman started working together as the Weavers. They were signed to Decca Records by Gordon Jenkins, the company’s music director and an arranger for Frank Sinatra. With Mr. Jenkins’s elaborate orchestral arrangements, the group recorded a repertoire that stretched from “If I Had a Hammer” to a South African song, “Wimoweh” (the title was Mr. Seeger’s mishearing of “Mbube,” the name of a South African hit by Solomon Linda), to an Israeli soldiers’ song, “Tzena, Tzena, Tzena,” to a cleaned-up version of Lead Belly’s “Goodnight, Irene.” Onstage, they also sang more pointed topical songs.
In 1950 and 1951 the Weavers were national stars, with hit singles and engagements at major nightclubs. Their hits included “Kisses Sweeter Than Wine” and Mr. Guthrie’s “So Long (It’s Been Good to Know Yuh),” and they sold an estimated four million singles and albums.
But “Red Channels,” an influential pamphlet listing performers with suspected Communist ties, appeared in June 1950 and listed Mr. Seeger, although by then he had quit the Communist Party. He would later criticize himself for having not left the party sooner, though he continued to describe himself as a “communist with a small ‘c.’ ”
Despite the Weavers’ commercial success, by the summer of 1951 the “Red Channels” citation and leaks from F.B.I. files had led to the cancellation of television appearances. In 1951, the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee investigated the Weavers for sedition. And in February 1952, a former member of People’s Songs testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee that three of the four Weavers were members of the Communist Party.
As engagements dried up the Weavers disbanded, though they reunited periodically in the mid-1950s. After the group recorded an advertisement for Lucky Strike cigarettes, Mr. Seeger left, citing his objection to promoting tobacco use.
Shut out of national exposure, Mr. Seeger returned primarily to solo concerts, touring college coffeehouses, churches, schools and summer camps, building an audience for folk music among young people. He started to write a long-running column for the folk-song magazine Sing Out! And he recorded prolifically for the independent Folkways label, singing everything from children’s songs to Spanish Civil War anthems.
In 1955 he was subpoenaed by the House Un-American Activities Committee, where he testified, “I feel that in my whole life I have never done anything of any conspiratorial nature.” He also stated: “I am not going to answer any questions as to my association, my philosophical or religious beliefs or my political beliefs, or how I voted in any election, or any of these private affairs. I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked, especially under such compulsion as this.”
Mr. Seeger offered to sing the songs mentioned by the congressmen who questioned him. The committee declined.
Mr. Seeger was indicted in 1957 on 10 counts of contempt of Congress. He was convicted in 1961 and sentenced to a year in prison, but the next year an appeals court dismissed the indictment as faulty. After the indictment, Mr. Seeger’s concerts were often picketed by the John Birch Society and other rightist groups. “All those protests did was sell tickets and get me free publicity,” he later said. “The more they protested, the bigger the audiences became.”
By then, the folk revival was prospering. In 1959, Mr. Seeger was among the founders of the Newport Folk Festival. The Kingston Trio’s version of Mr. Seeger’s “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” reached the Top 40 in 1962, soon followed by Peter, Paul and Mary’s version of “If I Had a Hammer,” which rose to the Top 10.
Mr. Seeger was signed to a major label, Columbia Records, in 1961, but he remained unwelcome on network television. “Hootenanny,” an early-1960s show on ABC that capitalized on the folk revival, refused to book Mr. Seeger, causing other performers (including Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Peter, Paul and Mary) to boycott it. “Hootenanny” eventually offered to present Mr. Seeger if he would sign a loyalty oath. He refused.
He toured the world, performing and collecting folk songs, in 1963, and returned to serenade civil rights advocates, who had made a rallying song of his “We Shall Overcome.”
Like many of Mr. Seeger’s songs, “We Shall Overcome” had convoluted traditional roots. It was based on old gospel songs, primarily “I’ll Overcome,” a hymn that striking tobacco workers had sung on a picket line in South Carolina. A slower version, “We Will Overcome,” was collected from one of the workers, Lucille Simmons, by Zilphia Horton, the musical director of the Highlander Folk School in Monteagle, Tenn., which trained union organizers.
Ms. Horton taught it to Mr. Seeger, and her version of “We Will Overcome” was published in the People’s Songs newsletter. Mr. Seeger changed “We will” to “We shall” and added verses (“We’ll walk hand in hand”). He taught it to the singers Frank Hamilton, who would join the Weavers in 1962, and Guy Carawan, who became musical director at Highlander in the ‘50s. Mr. Carawan taught the song to the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee at its founding convention.
The song was copyrighted by Mr. Seeger, Mr. Hamilton, Mr. Carawan and Ms. Horton. “At that time we didn’t know Lucille Simmons’s name,” Mr. Seeger wrote in his 1993 autobiography, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone.” All of the song’s royalties go to the “We Shall Overcome” Fund, administered by what is now the Highlander Research and Education Center, which provides grants to African-Americans organizing in the South.
Along with many elders of the protest-song movement, Mr. Seeger felt betrayed when Bob Dylan set aside protest songs for electric rock. When Mr. Dylan appeared at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival with a loud electric blues band, some listeners booed, and reports emerged that Mr. Seeger had tried to cut the power cable with an ax. But witnesses including the festival’s producer, George Wein, and production manager, Joe Boyd (later a leading folk-rock record producer), said he did not go that far. (An ax was available, however. A group of prisoners had used it while singing a logging song.)
In later recountings, Mr. Seeger said he grew angry because the music was so loud and distorted that he couldn’t hear the words.
As the United States grew divided over the Vietnam War, Mr. Seeger wrote “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy,” an antiwar song with the refrain “The big fool says to push on.” He performed the song during a taping of “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” in September 1967, his return to network television, but it was cut before the show was broadcast. After the Smothers Brothers publicized the censorship, Mr. Seeger returned to perform the song for broadcast in February 1968.
During the late 1960s Mr. Seeger started an improbable project: a sailing ship that would crusade for cleaner water on the Hudson River. Between other benefit concerts he raised money to build the Clearwater, a 106-foot sloop that was launched in June 1969 with a crew of musicians. The ship became a symbol and a rallying point for antipollution efforts and education.
In May 2009, after decades of litigation and environmental activism led by Mr. Seeger’s nonprofit environmental organization, Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, General Electric began dredging sediment containing PCBs it had dumped into the Hudson. Mr. Seeger and his wife also helped organize a yearly summer folk festival named after the Clearwater.
In the ‘80s and ‘90s Mr. Seeger toured regularly with Arlo Guthrie, Woody’s son, and continued to lead singalongs and perform benefit concerts. Recognition and awards arrived. He was elected to the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1972, and in 1993 he was given a lifetime achievement Grammy Award. In 1994, he was given a Kennedy Center Honor and President Bill Clinton handed him the National Medal of Arts, America’s highest arts honor, given by the National Endowment for the Arts. In 1999, he traveled to Cuba to receive the Order of Félix Varela, Cuba’s highest cultural award, for his “humanistic and artistic work in defense of the environment and against racism.”
In 1996, Mr. Seeger was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as an early influence. Arlo Guthrie, who paid tribute at the ceremony, mentioned that the Weavers’ hit “Goodnight, Irene” reached No. 1, only to add, “I can’t think of a single event in Pete’s life that is probably less important to him.” Mr. Seeger made no acceptance speech, but he did lead a singalong of “Goodnight, Irene,” flanked by Stevie Wonder, David Byrne and members of the Jefferson Airplane.
Mr. Seeger won Grammy Awards for best traditional folk album in 1997, for the album “Pete,” and in 2009, for the album “At 89.” He also won a Grammy in the children’s music category in 2011 for “Tomorrow’s Children.COMMENTS
Mr. Seeger kept performing into the 21st century, despite a flagging voice; audiences happily sang along more loudly. He celebrated his 90th birthday, on May 3, 2009, at a Madison Square Garden concert — a benefit for Hudson River Sloop Clearwater — with Mr. Springsteen, Dave Matthews, John Mellencamp, Joan Baez, Ani DiFranco, Roger McGuinn of the Byrds, Emmylou Harris and dozens of other musicians paying tribute. That August he was back in Newport for the 50th anniversary of the Newport Folk Festival.
Mr. Seeger’s wife, Toshi, died in 2013, days before the couple’s 70th anniversary. Survivors include his son, Daniel; his daughters, Mika and Tinya; two half-sisters, Peggy, also a folk singer, and Barbara; eight grandchildren, including Mr. Jackson and the musician Tao Rodriguez-Seeger, who performed with him at the Obama inaugural; and four great-grandchildren. His half-brother Mike Seeger, a folklorist and performer who founded the New Lost City Ramblers, died in 2009.
Through the years, Mr. Seeger remained determinedly optimistic. “The key to the future of the world,” he said in 1994, “is finding the optimistic stories and letting them be known.”

Sunday, January 26, 2014

1295. Interplanetary Dust Particles Could Deliver Water and Organics to Jump-Start Life on Earth

By Science Daily, January 24, 2014

The surfaces of tiny interplanetary dust particles are space-weathered by the solar wind, causing amorphous rims to form on their surfaces. Hydrogen ions in the solar wind react with oxygen in the rims to form tiny water-filled vesicles (blue). This mechanism of water formation almost certainly occurs in other planetary systems with potential implications for the origin of life throughout the galaxy.

Researchers from the University of Hawaii -- Manoa (UHM) School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST), Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and University of California -- Berkeley discovered that interplanetary dust particles (IDPs) could deliver water and organics to Earth and other terrestrial planets.

Interplanetary dust, dust that has come from comets, asteroids, and leftover debris from the birth of the solar system, continually rains down on Earth and other Solar System bodies. These particles are bombarded by solar wind, predominately hydrogen ions. This ion bombardment knocks the atoms out of order in the silicate mineral crystal and leaves behind oxygen that is more available to react with hydrogen, for example, to create water molecules.

"It is a thrilling possibility that this influx of dust has acted as a continuous rainfall of little reaction vessels containing both the water and organics needed for the eventual origin of life on Earth and possibly Mars," said Hope Ishii, new Associate Researcher in the Hawaii Institute of Geophysics and Planetology (HIGP) at UHM SOEST and co-author of the study. This mechanism of delivering both water and organics simultaneously would also work for exoplanets, worlds that orbit other stars. These raw ingredients of dust and hydrogen ions from their parent star would allow the process to happen in almost any planetary system.

Implications of this work are potentially huge: Airless bodies in space such as asteroids and the Moon, with ubiquitous silicate minerals, are constantly being exposed to solar wind irradiation that can generate water. In fact, this mechanism of water formation would help explain remotely sensed data of the Moon, which discovered OH and preliminary water, and possibly explains the source of water ice in permanently shadowed regions of the Moon.

"Perhaps more exciting," said Ishii, "interplanetary dust, especially dust from primitive asteroids and comets, has long been known to carry organic carbon species that survive entering the Earth's atmosphere, and we have now demonstrated that it also carries solar-wind-generated water. So we have shown for the first time that water and organics can be delivered together.”

It has been known since the Apollo-era, when astronauts brought back rocks and soil from the Moon, that solar wind causes the chemical makeup of the dust's surface layer to change. Hence, the idea that solar wind irradiation might produce water-species has been around since then, but whether it actually does produce water has been debated. The reasons for the uncertainty are that the amount of water produced is small and it is localized in very thin rims on the surfaces of silicate minerals so that older analytical techniques were unable to confirm the presence of water.

Using a state-of-the-art transmission electron microscope, the scientists have now actually detected water produced by solar-wind irradiation in the space-weathered rims on silicate minerals in interplanetary dust particles. Futher, on the bases of laboratory-irradiated minerals that have similar amorphous rims, they were able to conclude that the water forms from the interaction of solar wind hydrogen ions (H+) with oxygen in the silicate mineral grains.

This recent work does not suggest how much water may have been delivered to Earth in this manner from IDPs.

"In no way do we suggest that it was sufficient to form oceans, for example," said Ishii. "However, the relevance of our work is not the origin of the Earth's oceans but that we have shown continuous, co-delivery of water and organics intimately intermixed."
In future work, the scientists will attempt to estimate water abundances delivered to Earth by IDPs. Further, they will explore in more detail what other organic (carbon-based) and inorganic species are present in the water in the vesicles in interplanetary dust rims.

Story Source:
The above story is based on materials provided by University of Hawaii. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Journal Reference:

1. J. P. Bradley, H. A. Ishii, J. J. Gillis-Davis, J. Ciston, M. H. Nielsen, H. A. Bechtel, M. C. Martin. Detection of solar wind-produced water in irradiated rims on silicate minerals. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2014; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1320115111

1294. Rainforests in Far East Shaped by Humans for the Last 11,000 Years

By Science Daily, January 24, 2014

New research from Queen's University Belfast shows that the tropical forests of South East Asia have been shaped by humans for the last 11,000 years.

The rain forests of Borneo, Sumatra, Java, Thailand and Vietnam were previously thought to have been largely unaffected by humans, but the latest research from Queen's Palaeoecologist Dr Chris Hunt suggests otherwise.
A major analysis of vegetation histories across the three islands and the SE Asian mainland has revealed a pattern of repeated disturbance of vegetation since the end of the last ice age approximately 11,000 years ago.

The research, which was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the British Academy, is being published in the Journal of Archaeological Science. It is the culmination of almost 15 years of field work by Dr Hunt, involving the collection of pollen samples across the region, and a major review of existing palaeoecology research, which was completed in partnership with Dr Ryan Rabett from Cambridge University.
Evidence of human activity in rainforests is extremely difficult to find and traditional archaeological methods of locating and excavating sites are extremely difficult in the dense forests. Pollen samples, however, are now unlocking some of the region's historical secrets.

Dr Hunt, who is Director of Research on Environmental Change at Queen's School of Geography, Archaeology and Palaeoecology, said: "It has long been believed that the rainforests of the Far East were virgin wildernesses, where human impact has been minimal. Our findings, however, indicate a history of disturbances to vegetation. While it could be tempting to blame these disturbances on climate change, that is not the case as they do not coincide with any known periods of climate change. Rather, these vegetation changes have been brought about by the actions of people.

"There is evidence that humans in the Kelabit Highlands of Borneo burned fires to clear the land for planting food-bearing plants. Pollen samples from around 6,500 years ago contain abundant charcoal, indicating the occurrence of fire. However, while naturally occurring or accidental fires would usually be followed by specific weeds and trees that flourish in charred ground, we found evidence that this particular fire was followed by the growth of fruit trees. This indicates that the people who inhabited the land intentionally cleared it of forest vegetation and planted sources of food in its place.
"One of the major indicators of human action in the rainforest is the sheer prevalence of fast-growing 'weed' trees such as Macaranga, Celtis and Trema. Modern ecological studies show that they quickly follow burning and disturbance of forests in the region.
"Nearer to the Borneo coastline, the New Guinea Sago Palm first appeared over 10,000 years ago. This would have involved a voyage of more than 2,200km from its native New Guinea, and its arrival on the island is consistent with other known maritime voyages in the region at that time -- evidence that people imported the Sago seeds and planted them.”

The findings have huge importance for ecological studies or rainforests as the historical role of people in managing the forest vegetation has rarely been considered. It could also have an impact on rainforest peoples fighting the advance of logging companies.

Dr Hunt continued: "Laws in several countries in South East Asia do not recognise the rights of indigenous forest dwellers on the grounds that they are nomads who leave no permanent mark on the landscape. Given that we can now demonstrate their active management of the forests for more than 11,000 years, these people have a new argument in their case against eviction."

Story Source:
The above story is based on materials provided by Queen's University, Belfast. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Journal Reference:

1. C.O. Hunt, R.J. Rabett. Holocene landscape intervention and plant food production strategies in island and mainland Southeast Asia. Journal of Archaeological Science, 2013; DOI: 10.1016/j.jas.2013.12.011

Saturday, January 25, 2014

1293. Keystone XL Pipeline Fight Lifts Environmental Movement

By Sarah Wheaton, The New York Times, January 24, 2014

WASHINGTON — Environmentalists have spent the past two years fighting the Keystone XL pipeline: They have built a human chain around the White House, clogged the State Department’s public comment system with more than a million emails and letters, and gotten themselves arrested at protests across the country.
But as bad as they argue the 1,700-mile pipeline would be for the planet, Keystone XL has been a boon to the environmental movement. While it remains unclear whether President Obama will approve the project, both sides agree that the fight has changed American environmental politics.
“I think it would be naïve for any energy infrastructure company to think that this would be a flash in the pan,” said Alexander J. Pourbaix, president of energy and oil pipelines at TransCanada, the company that has been trying to get a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline since 2008.
Environmentalists want to stop the transport of 800,000 barrels a day of heavy crude from oil sands formations in Canada to Texas refineries, and an oil extraction process that emits more greenhouse gases than other forms of production. Proponents of the Keystone XL project say that the oil will come out of the ground with or without a new pipeline and that other methods of transport, like rail, cause more pollution. They point out that TransCanada began operations on Wednesday on a southern pipeline segment that connects to existing pipelines to provide a route from Alberta to the Gulf Coast.
Although some critics say the environmental movement has made a strategic error by focusing so much energy on the pipeline, no one disputes that the issue has helped a new breed of environmental organizations build a mostly young army eager to donate money and time. The seven-year-old email list of, an organization that focuses on climate change, has more than doubled to 530,000 people since the group began fighting the pipeline in August 2011. In addition, about 76,000 people have signed a “pledge of resistance” sponsored by seven liberal advocacy groups in which they promise to risk arrest in civil disobedience if a State Department analysis, expected this year, points toward approval of the pipeline.
The Keystone XL project has also raised the profile of a diverse generation of environmental leaders, like the activist Bill McKibben, a former writer for The New Yorker and founder of, and the billionaire venture capitalist Thomas F. Steyer, who is estimated to have contributed at least $1 million to the movement and has starred in four 90-second ads opposing the pipeline. Not least, it has united national and local environmental groups that usually fight for attention and resources.
“Over the last 18 months, I think there was this recognition that stopping the pipeline is, in fact, important,” said Ross Hammond, a senior campaigner at Friends of the Earth. “But it has also brought a huge number of people into the movement.”
That movement, Mr. McKibben said in an interview, “looks the way we want the energy system to look: not a few big power plants, but a million solar panels all tied together.”
Politically, the draw of Keystone XL comes from its physical presence. It is far easier, environmental activists say, to rally people around something as vivid as a pipeline bisecting the United States than, say, around cap-and-trade legislation that would have forced industry to pay a price for its carbon emissions. The legislation failed in Congress in 2009.
“When we’re able to focus on distinct, concrete projects, we tend to win,” said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club. “And when we tend to focus on more obscure policies or places where we need action from Congress, we tend to stall, like
The pipeline has been a particular hit with small donors, especially as environmental organizations turn more to protests, fund-raisers said. Last year, the Sierra Club raised $1 million in six weeks for a major rally in Washington. About $100,000 of that came from contributions of less than $1,000.
“This is not one of our usual long-term campaigns,” said Jackie Brown, the Sierra Club’s chief advancement officer. “This was an emerging upswelling of support.”
Wealthier donors are also opening their wallets. Betsy Taylor, a longtime environmental fund-raiser, said her network of contributors was increasingly supporting the more aggressive campaigns run by groups like and Bold Nebraska, a shift away from the environmental research and policy organizations that have traditionally drawn such contributions.
Keystone XL — the XL stands for express line — would be a shortcut to the Gulf of Mexico as well as an extension of TransCanada’s existing Keystone pipeline, which runs from Alberta to Nebraska, with small branches to Illinois and Oklahoma. Keystone XL would be a far more direct route across the United States. Keystone consists of a three-foot-diameter pipe that is three feet underground. Keystone XL would also be three feet in diameter, but four feet underground.
A new energy technology will soon be on the market, called LENR. It's been kicking around now for a few years. Did people really believe...
Initially, opposition to Keystone XL consisted of scattered people and groups along the proposed route of the pipeline, including indigenous tribes in Alberta. The fight went national in June 2011 when James E. Hansen, a former NASA climate scientist, wrote an open letter calling the pipeline “game over for the climate” and urged people to write to Hillary Rodham Clinton, then the secretary of state. (Because the project crosses an international boundary, it is subject to approval by the State Department.)
Mr. McKibben, the author of numerous books about climate, decided to use to campaign against the pipeline. That fall, he urged his members to commit civil 
“I remember when I heard the call for civil disobedience, I thought, ‘Yeah, right, you’ll get like 40 people to show up,’ ” said Mr. Hammond of Friends of the Earth. “And then, bam!” Over a two-week period, about 1,200 people were arrested at the White House.
Stephanie Kimball, 30, a Wisconsin dentist, said in a recent telephone interview that she had been “trying to figure out where to jump in” to the environmental cause when a talk by activists arrested in 2011 inspired her to volunteer as a local coordinator for She said she was also working to stop a pipeline by the Canadian corporation Enbridge.
To counter the campaign, TransCanada has had to run television and radio ads to promote the jobs that the pipeline could provide. Industry allies like the American Petroleum Institute have also been running ads.
If Mr. Obama approves the Keystone XL pipeline, Mr. Brune of the Sierra Club said, it will be “the Vietnam of his presidency.” But, he added, environmentalists’ efforts will hardly have been for nothing.

“If you lose on this,” said Mike Casey, a consultant on a number of environmental efforts, including Mr. Steyer’s, “this infrastructure doesn’t go away. It remains deployable and passionate.”