Monday, June 30, 2008

Live Fast, Die Young, Chameleon

Common name: Labord's Chameleon (Furcifer labordi), Madagascar
Photo: © Franco Andreone []
Madagascar lizard: Chameleon that lives mostly as an egg is found
Ian Sample, science correspondent, The Guardian, July 1, 2008

A species of chameleon that spends most of its short life as an egg has been discovered by conservationists in Madagascar. The unusual reptile, known as Labord's chameleon, develops inside an egg for up to nine months, but after hatching lives only a few months longer, during which it rapidly matures, mates and dies.

Because the chameleons all hatch at the same time, the entire population is the same age, apart from a very brief period when adults are still alive after laying their eggs. The life cycle is more akin to that of insects than reptiles or any other four-legged vertebrate, researchers said.Kristopher Karsten, a zoologist at Oklahoma State University, working with scientists in Madagascar and at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, discovered the reptile's unusual lifestyle during field studies over five seasons in the arid south-west of the island.

Hatchlings emerged at the beginning of the rainy season, around November, and reached sexual maturity within two months. By the beginning of February the chameleons had already started to show signs of old age, becoming slower, losing weight and occasionally falling out of trees because their grip had weakened. Some were found dead on the forest floor from unknown causes. Writing in the US journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the team says the animal may have compressed its lifespan to cope with extremes of weather in Madagascar. "The notorious rapid death of chameleons in captivity may, for some species, actually represent the natural adult life span," they said.

Creature Sets Record for Living Fast, Dying Young

You think kids today are immature? A species of chameleon in Madagascar spends most of its lifespan incubating inside its shell. After four or five months out in the world, it dies. Total pre-hatching and post-hatching existence: about 1 year.

In fewer than 60 days, body size for males can quadruple or quintuple as they reach adulthood. No other known four-legged animal has such a rapid growth rate and such a short life span, says researcher Kristopher B. Karsten of Oklahoma State University. The finding, detailed in the July 1 issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, raises issues about conservation of short-lived creatures, especially on biodiversity-rich Madagascar where forest habitats are being destroyed rapidly due to pressures relating to poverty and political instability.
"We've identified a species that does something really different from the others, but what is driving this system?" Karsten said. "One bad year could wipe out these chameleons."Most mammals, reptiles, birds and amphibians typically live two to 10 years. Some, including turtles and humans can live for a century. Only a handful of animals live just a year. The males in nine species of marsupials die off after a year, for example, as do most adults in about 12 species of lizards. Karsten discovered the unusual life cycle of the chameleon, Furcifer labordi or Labord's chameleon, almost by accident. "I showed up late in the season and found something weird," Karsten said. "There were no juveniles. But by February, I found carcasses all over with no signs of mutilation or predation. The population plummeted -- we've never seen this with other lizards."Now, after five seasons of data and sightings of nearly 400 of the lizards, the life cycle of F. labordi can be described. Hatching begins with the rains in November, and, once emerged, the chameleons develop rapidly, growing up to 0.1 inches (2.6 mm or the width of the base of a fork tine) a day -- much faster than any known lizard. After reaching maturity, the population reproduces, and females burrow through about a half foot of sand to lay their eggs. Once covered, the eggs wait out the dry season for the next 8 to 9 months, and all adults die.
"It is amazing to think that for most of the year, this chameleon species is represented only by developing eggs buried in the ground," said Christopher J. Raxworthy, of the American Museum of Natural History in New York, who helped with the chameleon research along with Laza Andriamandimbiarisoa of the Universite d'Antananarivo in Madagascar and Stanley Fox at Oklahoma State. The short life span of F. labordi, which only lives in southwestern Madagascar, comes as a "huge surprise," Raxworthy said, adding, "until now, the short life span of chameleons in captivity has always been considered as a failure to thrive. We need to rethink this."The chameleon's short life could be an adaptation to Madagascar's highly variable climate, Karsten and his colleagues write. Also, dying young can drive the evolution of growing fast and reproducing early in life, they say. The project was funded by the National Science Foundation.

How Buddhism Got to Russia

PRE- and POSTMORTEM: Pandido Itigilov, former head of all Russian Buddhists

Russian Buddhist Saint
Dashi-Dorzho Itigilov was the Pandido Khambo Lama, leader of all Russian Buddhists of the Tibetan tradition from 1911 til his death in 1927. He was interred sitting in the Lotus position as he requested. Itigilov had predicted that his body was “incorruptible” and stipulated that his corpse be exhumed and examined years after his death. Buddhist monks monitored the corpse over the years, noting that the body, which had not been embalmed, did not decay. In 2002, he was officially disinterred and examined by monks and scientists. Some devotees claim that Itigilov is not dead, but in a state of nirvana [jhana]. Scientists attribute his condition to an excessive amount of bromine in the tissue. Since 2005, Itigilov’s body has been in a glass case at the Buddist monastery Ivolginsky Datsan in Siberia. He is shown to the public on seven Buddhist holidays every year.

"Sacred Destinations" -- visit a Siberian monastery, see a Siberian Buddhist saint:

How Buddhism Got to Russia
Despite efforts of Stalin & Catherine the Great
Brendan I. Koerner (, posted Nov. 30, 2004)

After denying the Dalai Lama's visa requests for years, Russia has finally relented and allowed the Buddhist spiritual leader to visit the country. He will spend most of his time in the southern republic of Kalmykia, half of whose 300,000 residents are practicing Buddhists. How did there come to be so many Buddhists living in Kalmykia, an Ireland-sized region on Europe's eastern edge, thousands of miles from the religion's Asian heartland?
The Kalmyks, as the republic's residents are known, were once Mongolian nomads who lived and practiced their faith on the Central Asian steppe. A Chinese military offensive drove them westward in the 17th century, until they hit the banks of Russia's Volga River. There, they cut a deal with the Russian tsar Peter the Great: In return for being allowed to create a small kingdom, the nomadic émigrés would defend the Russian empire's frontier against invaders.
Catherine the Great, however, didn't warm to the idea of an independent kingdom on her doorstep, and she forced the Buddhists to become Russian subjects. Her campaign of oppression caused the 300,000 former nomads then living on the eastern side of the Volga to depart for their ancestral homeland in Central Asia. Few of them, however, survived the trip—they encountered starvation, banditry, and armed harassment by Russians and Kazakhs. Most of the Buddhists on the Volga's western side, however, stayed put; it was at this point they became known as the Kalmyks, from the Turkish word for "remnant."

Despite living as Russian subjects, the Kalmyks were free to practice Buddhism, and they built dozens of temples. Their brand of Buddhism is lamaist in nature, similar to that of Tibet and Bhutan, with a strong strain of shamanism thrown in. To this day, medicine men are lauded and respected figures in Kalmyk communities.

The Kalmyks almost didn't survive the Stalinist purges; during that period, virtually every Buddhist temple was destroyed. Stalin suspected the Kalmyks of being Nazi sympathizers—he thought the same about the Chechens—and had the Kalmyks deported to Siberia after World War II. They were not allowed to return until 1957, by which time their numbers had shrunk to just 70,000.

The fall of the Soviet Union brought about a Buddhist revival in Kalmykia, starting with the election of President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov in 1993. (Kalmykia is an autonomous member of the Russian Federation.) As he initially promised, President Ilyumzhinov has funded the building of several ornate khuruls, or temples, in the capital of Elista. He has also visited the Dalai Lama at his Indian headquarters and mandated that schoolchildren study Buddhist traditions and principles. (President Ilyumzhinov also heads the World Chess Federation and spent millions on an Elista chess stadium).

Curiously, the spiritual head of the Kalmyks is a native of Philadelphia. Erdne Ombadykow was born to Kalmyk parents and sent to study Buddhism in India as a 7-year-old. There, the Dalai Lama recognized Ombadykow as the reincarnation of Telo Tulku Rinpoche, a Buddhist saint who could supposedly revive animals from the dead. Though his wife and child live in Erie, Colorado, Ombadykow currently lives in Elista, where Kalmyks revere him as a holy figure and seek his blessing. He is essentially the Buddhist equivalent of an archbishop, overseeing a flock in Europe's only Buddhist nation.

Russian Buddhism

Ivolga Monastery, Russia (

Historically, Buddhism was incorporated into Russian lands as early as the late 16th century, when Russian explorers travelled to and settled in Siberia and what is now the Russian Far East. It is also believed that Indian King Ashoka had sent monks to spread Buddhism all over the world including Siberia.

Mongolian and Tibetan lamas first appeared on the eastern shores of Lake Baikal in the middle of the 17th century and quickly spread Buddhism in the area. Later in that century Buddhism emerged as the dominant religion in Tuva. The Kalmyks who migrated from China to the lower reaches of the Volga River in the later half of the 17th century also professed Buddhism. Tzarist authorities were fairly tolerant with respect to Buddhists.

Ivolga monasteryLater, religious centers -- Buddhist monasteries, or datsans -- appeared in other areas of Buryatia, too. Within a short time most of the Buryats living east of Lake Baikal were converted to Buddhism. In 1764, Zayaagiyn Damba Darjaa, the high priest of the Tsongol datsan -- the oldest in the Baikal region -- became head of the entire Buddhist clergy with the title Bandida Khamba Lama.

In the late sixteenth century the Kalmyks were converted to Buddhism by Mongolian lamas in Dzungaria (China). In the seventeenth century, they moved to the lower reaches of the Volga River, retaining their religion. At that time the Kalmyks gained access to the first works of Buddhist literature translated from the Tibetan language.

The main form of Buddhism in Russia is the Gelukpa school of Tibetan Buddhism. Although Tibetan Buddhism is most often associated with the peoples of Tibet, in the north the school spread into southwestern and northern China, Mongolia, and finally Russia. In the south, it took hold in Bhutan and parts of northern India and Nepal.

Münko-lama and a Tibetan doctor from the Buryat Ivolga monastery. He became later Bandida Khambo-lama. Munko-lama belonged to generation so called "old lamas" who taught Buryat Buddhist tradition during bolshevik repressions and after II WW officially re-established Buryat Buddhist tradition again. Afterwards, it began to spread into the geographically and culturally adjacent Russian constituent regions known today as: Amur Oblast, Buryatia, Chita Oblast, Tuva Republic, and Khabarovsk Krai. There is also Kalmykia, another constituent republic of Russia that is in fact the only Buddhist region in Europe, perhaps paradoxically located to the north of the Caucasus. Buddhism has been in Russia for four centuries.

PHOTOS: Ivolga Monastery, Russia; Russian monks in Nepal

(Igor Troyanovsky at
Statistics: There are about 300,000 people of Buddhist faith, 432 Buddhist communities, and 16 datsans (monasteries) with 70 lamas in Soviet republics. Most Buddhists are located in the Huryat, Kalmyk, and Tuva republics, in the Chita Region of the Russian Federation, and in Leningrad and other cities.

Organizations: The highest authority for Soviet Buddhists is the Central Buddhist Board based in the Ivolginski Datsan in the Buryat Republic. (A permanent office in Moscow is concerned with external relations). The congress of clergy and laity convenes once in four years and elects the members of the Board. Head of the Central Buddhist Board is Bandido Khambo-Lama Munko Tsybikov, 82.

Brief History: Mongolian and Tibetan lamas first appeared on the eastern shores of Lake Baikal in the middle of the 17th century and quickly spread Buddhism in the area.... (More)

Huge Tunguska Explosion Remains Mysterious 100 Years Later

A full century after the mysterious Tunguska explosion in Siberia leveled an area nearly the size of Tokyo, debate continues over what caused it.

Many questions remain as to what crashed into the Earth from above -- how big it was and what it was made of. Some question whether it even came from space at all, or whether it erupted from the ground instead. And there is always speculation that it was caused by a UFO or famed inventor Nikola Tesla's "death ray."

Death from above? The explosion near the Podkamennaya Tunguska River on June 30, 1908, flattened some 500,000 acres (2,000 square kilometers) of Siberian forest. Scientists calculated the Tunguska explosion could have been roughly as strong as 10 megatons to 20 megatons of TNT -- 1,000 times more powerful than the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

The longstanding theory regarding the cause of the event is a cosmic impact from an asteroid or comet. In the last decade, researchers have conjectured the event was triggered by an asteroid exploding in Earth's atmosphere and measuring roughly 100 feet wide (30 meters) and 617,300 tons (560,000 metric tons) in mass -- more than 10 times that of the Titanic. But recent supercomputer simulations suggest the asteroid that caused the extensive damage was much smaller.

Specifically, physicist Mark Boslough at Sandia National Laboratory in Albuquerque, N.M., and his colleagues say it would have been a factor of three or four times smaller in mass and perhaps 65 feet (20 meters) in diameter. As the asteroid exploded as it ran into Earth's atmosphere, Boslough and colleagues calculate it would have generated a supersonic jet of expanding superheated gas. This fireball would have caused blast waves that were stronger at the surface than previously thought.

However ... At the same time, prior estimates may have overstated the devastation the event caused. The forest back then was unhealthy, according to foresters, so it would not have taken as much energy to blow down such trees. In addition, the winds from the explosion would naturally get amplified above ridgelines, making the explosion seem more powerful than it actually was. What researchers had thought to be an explosion between 10 and 20 megatons was more likely only 3 to 5 megatons, Boslough said.

As to whether the impact was similar to a stony, carbonaceous asteroid or a comet, "while the community has pretty much accepted the view that it was a carbonaceous asteroid, I'm not sure it's a slam dunk," Boslough said. "The main argument against it being a comet is statistical. There are a lot more small Earth-crossing asteroids than comets at least by a couple orders of magnitude. While it's unlikely to be a comet, I'm not convinced it's physically impossible."

Discovering the size and makeup of whatever hit at Tunguska could shed light on how often such a devastating impact might take place, explained NASA Ames Research Center planetary scientist and astrobiologist David Morrison. "As interesting though Tunguska is, I'm more interested in the next Tunguska," Morrison told "We know small objects are far more numerous than large ones out there, so we want to see how much damage they might be able to do."

Death from below? Instead of a cause from above, in the last decade some researchers have suggested the Tunguska explosion actually came from below. Astrophysicist Wolfgang Kundt at the University of Bonn in Germany and others have suggested that an eruption of natural gas from kimberlite, a kind of volcanic rock best known for sometimes holding diamonds, could be to blame.

"It would have come from the molten earth, some 3,000 kilometers deep (1,864 miles)," Kundt said. "The natural gas would be stored as a fluid that deep, and when it reaches the surface it would become a gas and expand by a factor of thousand in volume, for a huge explosion." For support, he cited the pattern the trees fell in, as well as chemical anomalies.

Even stranger ideas
Wilder theories have been bandied about over the years regarding what caused the Tunguska explosion, including:

A UFO crash. Struck by the similarity of Tunguska and Hiroshima decades later, a science fiction writer named Alexander Kazantsev wrote a story in which the Tunguska blast was the exploding nuclear power plant of a spaceship from Mars. A few Russian scientists took up the cause and claimed to find various bits of evidence -- never substantiated -- for a civilized alien explanation.

The annihilation of a chunk of antimatter from space. This does not account for mineral debris the explosion left behind.

A black hole zipping through Earth. This also does not account for mineral debris the explosion left behind, and there was no subsequent explosion as such a black hole, having tunneled through the Earth, would have shot back out through the surface of the Atlantic.

A Nikola Tesla "death ray." The man who pioneered radio and modern alternating current electric power (AC) systems was often seen as a mad scientist. One story alleges he test-fired a death ray on the evening of June 30, 1908, and once he found out about the Tunguska event, he dismantled the weapon, deeming it too dangerous to remain in existence.

All the speculation concerning Tunguska is to be expected, Boslough said. "Lots of theories are going to pop up -- it's like a crime scene, and everyone wants to have a hand in solving the mystery," he commented. "It's fun to speculate."

By Charles Q. Choi -- special to
PHOTO: Tunguska before and after (

Study: World Gets Happier

PHOTO: Rick Gunn (

Despite the anxieties of these times, happiness has been on the rise around the world in recent years, a new survey finds. The upbeat outlook is attributed to economic growth in previously poor countries, democratization of others, and rising social tolerance for women and minority groups.

"It's a surprising finding," said University of Michigan political scientist Ronald Inglehart, who headed up the survey. "It's widely believed that it's almost impossible to raise an entire country's happiness level." Denmark is the happiest nation and Zimbabwe the the most glum, he found. (Zimbabwe's longtime ruler Robert Mugabe was sworn in as president for a sixth term Sunday after a widely discredited runoff in which he was the only candidate. Observers said the runoff was marred by violence and intimidation.) The United States ranks 16th.

The results of the survey, going back an average of 17 years in 52 countries and involving 350,000 people, will be published in the July 2008 issue of the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science. Researchers have asked the same two questions over the years: "Taking all things together, would you say you are very happy, rather happy, not very happy, not at all happy?" And, "All things considered, how satisfied are you with your life as a whole these days?" A Happiness Index created from the answers rose in 40 countries between 1981 and 2007, and it fell in the other 12.

Scientists had thought happiness is stable over time when looking at entire societies. "Most previous research suggests that people and nations are stuck on a 'hedonic treadmill,'" Inglehart said. "The belief has been that no matter what happens or what we do, basic happiness levels are stable and don't really change." So Inglehart's team was surprised that happiness "rose substantially." They speculate reasons for the sunny outlooks include societal shifts in recent decades: Low-income countries such as India and China have experienced unprecedented rates of economic growth; dozens of medium-income countries have democratized; and there has been a sharp rise of gender equality and tolerance of ethnic minorities and gays and lesbians in developed societies.

Previous research has found that happiness is partly inherited and that money doesn't buy much of it. Yet the new survey finds people of rich countries tend to be happier than those of poor countries. And controlling for economic factors, certain types of societies are much happier than others. "The results clearly show that the happiest societies are those that allow people the freedom to choose how to live their lives," Inglehart said.

A survey released last week found one reason America doesn't top the list: Baby Boomers are generally miserable compared to other generations. Further, a public opinion poll released by the Pew Research Center in April found that 81 percent of Americans say they believe the country is on the "wrong track." The response is the most negative in the 25 years pollsters have asked the question. The World Values Surveys, led by Inglehart, was funded by the National Science Foundation, the Swedish and Netherlands Foreign Ministries, and other institutions.

(; the Associated Press contributed to this report)

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Scientists: atom-smasher to reveal the world

MEYRIN, Switzerland— The most powerful atom-smasher ever built could make some bizarre discoveries, such as invisible matter or extra dimensions in space, after it is switched on in August. But some critics fear the Large Hadron Collider could exceed physicists' wildest conjectures: Will it spawn a black hole that could swallow Earth? Or spit out particles that could turn the planet into a hot dead clump?
Ridiculous, say scientists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, known by its French initials CERN — some of whom have been working for a generation on the $5.8 billion collider, or LHC. "Obviously, the world will not end when the LHC switches on," said project leader Lyn Evans. David Francis, a physicist on the collider's huge ATLAS particle detector, smiled when asked whether he worried about black holes and hypothetical killer particles known as strangelets. "If I thought that this was going to happen, I would be well away from here," he said. The collider basically consists of a ring of supercooled magnets 17 miles in circumference attached to huge barrel-shaped detectors. The ring, which straddles the French and Swiss border, is buried 330 feet underground. The machine, which has been called the largest scientific experiment in history, isn't expected to begin test runs until August, and ramping up to full power could take months. But once it is working, it is expected to produce some startling findings. Scientists plan to hunt for signs of the invisible "dark matter" and "dark energy" that make up more than 96 percent of the universe, and hope to glimpse the elusive Higgs boson, a so-far undiscovered particle thought to give matter its mass. The collider could find evidence of extra dimensions, a boon for superstring theory, which holds that quarks, the particles that make up atoms, are infinitesimal vibrating strings.

In this Feb. 29, 2008 file photo, the last element, weighing 100 tons, of the ATLAS (A Toroidal LHC ApparatuS) experiment is lowered into the cave at the European Organization for Nuclear Research CERN (Centre Europeen de Recherche Nucleaire) in Meyrin, near Geneva, Switzerland. ATLAS is part of five experiments which, from mid 2008 on, will study what happens when beams of particles collide in the 27 km (16.8 miles) long underground ring LHC (Large Hadron Collider). ATLAS is one of the largest collaborative efforts ever attempted in the physical sciences. There are 2100 physicists (including 450 students) participating from more than 167 universities and laboratories in 37 countries.(AP Photo/Keystone, Martial Trezzini, FILE)

The theory could resolve many of physics' unanswered questions, but requires about 10 dimensions — far more than the three spatial dimensions our senses experience. The safety of the collider, which will generate energies seven times higher than its most powerful rival, at Fermilab near Chicago, has been debated for years. The physicist Martin Rees has estimated the chance of an accelerator producing a global catastrophe at one in 50 million — long odds, to be sure, but about the same as winning some lotteries. By contrast, a CERN team this month issued a report concluding that there is "no conceivable danger" of a cataclysmic event. The report essentially confirmed the findings of a 2003 CERN safety report, and a panel of five prominent scientists not affiliated with CERN, including one Nobel laureate, endorsed its conclusions. Critics of the LHC filed a lawsuit in a Hawaiian court in March seeking to block its startup, alleging that there was "a significant risk that ... operation of the Collider may have unintended consequences which could ultimately result in the destruction of our planet." One of the plaintiffs, Walter L. Wagner, a physicist and lawyer, said Wednesday CERN's safety report, released June 20, "has several major flaws," and his views on the risks of using the particle accelerator had not changed.
On Tuesday, U.S. Justice Department lawyers representing the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation filed a motion to dismiss the case.
The two agencies have contributed $531 million to building the collider, and the NSF has agreed to pay $87 million of its annual operating costs. Hundreds of American scientists will participate in the research. The lawyers called the plaintiffs' allegations "extraordinarily speculative," and said "there is no basis for any conceivable threat" from black holes or other objects the LHC might produce. A hearing on the motion is expected in late July or August. In rebutting doomsday scenarios, CERN scientists point out that cosmic rays have been bombarding the earth, and triggering collisions similar to those planned for the collider, since the solar system formed 4.5 billion years ago. And so far, Earth has survived.

"The LHC is only going to reproduce what nature does every second, what it has been doing for billions of years," said John Ellis, a British theoretical physicist at CERN. Critics like Wagner have said the collisions caused by accelerators could be more hazardous than those of cosmic rays. Both may produce micro black holes, subatomic versions of cosmic black holes — collapsed stars whose gravity fields are so powerful that they can suck in planets and other stars. But micro black holes produced by cosmic ray collisions would likely be traveling so fast they would pass harmlessly through the earth. Micro black holes produced by a collider, the skeptics theorize, would move more slowly and might be trapped inside the earth's gravitational field — and eventually threaten the planet. Ellis said doomsayers assume that the collider will create micro black holes in the first place, which he called unlikely. And even if they appeared, he said, they would instantly evaporate, as predicted by the British physicist Stephen Hawking. As for strangelets, CERN scientists point out that they have never been proven to exist. They said that even if these particles formed inside the Collider they would quickly break down. When the LHC is finally at full power, two beams of protons will race around the huge ring 11,000 times a second in opposite directions.
They will travel in two tubes about the width of fire hoses, speeding through a vacuum that is colder and emptier than outer space. Their trajectory will be curved by supercooled magnets — to guide the beams around the rings and prevent the packets of protons from cutting through the surrounding magnets like a blowtorch. The paths of these beams will cross, and a few of the protons in them will collide, at a series of cylindrical detectors along the ring. The two largest detectors are essentially huge digital cameras, each weighing thousands of tons, capable of taking millions of snapshots a second. Each year the detectors will generate 15 petabytes of data, the equivalent of a stack of CDs 12 miles tall. The data will require a high speed global network of computers for analysis. Wagner and others filed a lawsuit to halt operation of the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider, or RHIC, at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York state in 1999. The courts dismissed the suit. The leafy campus of CERN, a short drive from the shores of Lake Geneva, hardly seems like ground zero for doomsday. And locals don't seem overly concerned. Thousands attended an open house here this spring. "There is a huge army of scientists who know what they are talking about and are sleeping quite soundly as far as concerns the LHC," said project leader Evans.
By Douglas Birch (AP)

Burning Man participants watch a 40-foot wooden figure know as "The Man" burn on the playa at the Black Rock Desert near Gerlach, Nev., on Saturday, Sept. 1, 2007, during the Burning Man festival. A San Francisco man was arrested Tuesday after allegedly burning The Man four days ahead of schedule, but festival-goers rebuilt it.

Man gets prison for burning Burning Man

"Be here now" being celebrated, annual Burning Man Festival

RENO, Nevada -- A San Francisco performance artist was sentenced Friday to as many as four years in prison and ordered to pay restitution for the early torching last summer of the signature effigy of the counterculture Burning Man festival.

Paul Addis pleaded guilty in May to one felony count of injury to property stemming from the burning of the 40-foot icon on Aug. 28 — four days earlier than planned. He was ordered to pay $30,000 in restitution. Addis, 35, was taken into custody after a hearing this week in Pershing County District Court in Lovelock.

Burning Man organizers rebuilt the effigy in time for it to go up in flames in the ceremonial climax of the annual weekend festival in the northern Nevada desert. In March, Addis pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts related to an alleged arson attempt at San Francisco's historic Grace Cathedral, according to the city prosecutor's office. Addis was out on bail in the Burning Man case when police say he was found with an ammunition belt of small explosives outside the Episcopal church. He was sentenced to three years of probation and ordered back to Nevada to face the charges there.

Burning Man, an eclectic art, music and performance festival that draws more than 40,000 people, began in 1986 at San Francisco's Baker Beach and was moved to the Black Rock Desert in 1990.

Booking photo provided by Pershing County Sheriff's Office shows Paul Addis, 35, of San Francisco on Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2007 in Lovelock, Nev. The San Francisco performance artist was sentenced Friday, June 27, 2008 to prison and ordered to pay restitution for the early torching last summer of the signature effigy of the counterculture Burning Man festival (AP Photo/Pershing County Sheriff's Office).

(AP) Fri Jun 27, 2008

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

New Jhanas Book

TITLE: Jhanas Advice from Two Spiritual Friends
Available now at ($14.95)

"Stephen Snyder and Tina Rasmussen know of what they write. They know through their own direct experience as dedicated yogis. Their book serves as a bridge for Westerners, a conduit to the traditional teachings of the Buddha as outlined in the discourses (sutras) and the Path of Purification (Visuddhimagga), as well as my book Knowing and Seeing. Many years ago, my teacher told me to plant the seed of this teaching in the West. Their book serves to water this seed and help it flower. I strongly recommend this book to all who are drawn to the meditative-absorptions (jhānas), and who seek to practice the Buddhist path as the Buddha lived and taught it" --Ven. Pa Auk Sayadaw (Abbot, Pa Auk Monastery, Burma).

"Written with great sincerity, precision, and grace, this is a unique road map to the extraordinary and transforming states of mind known as the jhānas. By two accomplished Western professionals, and drawing on the teachings of Pa Auk Sayadaw (widely regarded as a master of the jhānas), this book is both a fascinating account of the possible upper reaches of human potential and a step-by-step practice guide for how to get there. As a psychologist and as a practicing Buddhist, I recommend this book wholeheartedly" - Rick Hanson, Ph.D. (clinical psychologist).

"I lived and practiced as a monk at Pa Auk Monastery for two years. While there, I saw sincere meditators from all over the world attempting to undertake this beautiful but rigorous practice. I have read or reviewed all the books in English on jhāna practice. Jhānas Advice from Two Spiritual Friends not only provides a much-needed bridge for a modern audience to understand and then access these ancient practices, but it also conveys a kind of dhamma transmission of the profoundly subtle aspects of the jhānas" - Robert Cusick (former monk at Pa Auk Monastery, and Spirit Rock manager of retreats).
"Making ancient wisdom accessible to Western readers is a delicate and demanding task, which Stephen and Tina have done admirably. They go well beyond the text of the classical Visuddhimagga and describe how a Theravadan master actually taught the classical text, what blocks Westerners are likely to meet, and how to navigate those rarely charted waters" - Michael Hagerty (Professor Emeritus, University of California at Davis).
"I am astounded by the simplicity/complexity and nuance of this practice, and that two lay Westerners have been able to both do this amazing practice and articulate it in very simple terms. I feel a sense of optimism and accessibility—as well as relief—that the practice is doable by Westerners who are not monastics. After reading this book I am both deeply touched by the very real possibility, and also inspired to explore this for myself and for the benefit of others" - Cyndia Biver (marketing consultant, Spirit Rock retreat manager).

"The jhāna practice is a very important part of the Buddha’s path. Ven. Pa Auk Sayadaw is recognized as one of the most rigorous jhāna teachers in the world. This book on Stephen and Tina’s experience would be useful to any Buddhist who wishes to undertake the jhānas as practiced by the Buddha and taught by Ven. Pa Auk Sayadaw" - Roland K. Win (entrepreneur, benefactor of Ven. Pa Auk Sayadaw).

"Hungry Ghosts" as Metaphor

Detail from Scroll of Hungry Ghosts depicting ghosts devouring corpses in a graveyard.
Hungry Ghosts and Rational Faith
(By John Remy, Posted January 28th, 2008)

"A few years back, I took a graduate course called 'Japanese Ghosts.' It was a fascinating blend of cultural, folklore, literary, feminist, political, and religious studies. One article argued against the common assumption among academics that the pre-modern world view was somehow less rational than our own and brought in hungry ghosts (Japanese: gaki 六道, Sanskrit: preta) to support this assertion.

"In medieval Japan, there were many influences on cosmology, but the Buddhist concept of the Six Realms of rebirth (rokudô 六道) was a powerful one. Depending on your karma in this life, you could be reborn into anything from paradise to hell, including the in between states of animals and hungry ghosts. Hungry ghosts had a pretty bad lot. It wasn’t quite as bad as the many Buddhist hells, which included the familiar Christian themes of fire and brimstone and demons jabbing poor souls in the groin with pointy things, but one-upped them with creative tortures like drowning in pools of menstrual blood (apparently all women who reached puberty qualified for this punishment) and getting devoured from the inside-out by disease and insects (reserved for merchants who watered down their sake). Hungry ghosts got to hang out in our world, trying to force organic garbage, fecal matter, and dead bodies through impossibly thin throats into bellies swollen with hunger.

"Buddhism dominated the intellectual world of medieval Japan. It was of great antiquity, had been transmitted to Japan through the long established Chinese and Indian civilizations, and had a huge canon of complex philosophical and theological support. Given this intellectual framework (and the apparent lack of microscopes), it’s not surprising that some Japanese speculated that hungry ghosts were responsible for nibbling at feces, corpses and last week’s bad tofu. This happened even when you protected the repugnant stuff from insects. Something had to be eating at it, and Buddhism provided yet another convenient and entirely rational explanation for the unseen world...." (Read entire post, view scroll: SOURCE).

A worshipper dressed in a costume as "Ba Ye" dances during the Cheng Huang Ye parade as part of the Hungry Ghost Festival or "Zhong Yuan Jie" in Hsinchu August 26, 2007. It is believed by worshippers that the gates of Hell are opened during the month and the dead ancestors return to visit their relatives. The Hungry Ghost Festival is celebrated every year during the seventh month of the Chinese lunar calendar (Reuters).

"In Tibetan Buddhism, 'hungry ghosts' (Pali petas; Sanskrit pretas) have their own realm depicted on the Wheel of Life (Bhava-cakra). They are represented as teardrop or paisley-shaped with bloated stomachs and necks too thin to pass food. Attempting to eat is therefore incredibly painful. Some are described as having "mouths the size of a needle's eye and a stomach the size of a mountain." This is a metaphor for people futilely attempting to fulfill their illusory physical desires.

The idea of ghosts in many cultures and religions seems over emphasized -- given that we do not often SEE ghosts, if at all. The Secret of the Golden Flower, the Chinese meditation classic, states that "If we do not meditate for a day, then we become a ghost for that day." This stuck with me, as I have always had trouble keeping my daily practice consistent. This idea implies that if we do not practice becoming closer to our natural physical bodies, we enter a "ghost world" of floating bodiless. And we're "hungry ghosts" because a lack of meditation will condition our hungry desires to surface.

This has illustrated the world of "hungry ghosts" a lot better for me, and it puts the mystical idea into a practical, observable context. It seems one frequently encounters "hungry ghosts" in society, who encourage us to leave our physical body behind and drift with them looking for trash to "eat." (Source: Wikipedia &

Recent Chinese-American celebrations, San Gabriel, California

Original Concept of Hungry Ghost

(Petavatthu 1.5 translated by Ven. Thanissaro,

Outside the walls they stand,
and at crossroads.
At door posts they stand,
returning to their old homes.

But when a meal with plentiful food and drink is served,
no one remembers them:
Such is the karma of living beings.

Thus those who feel sympathy for their dead relatives
give timely donations of proper food and drink
— exquisite, clean —

[thinking:] "May this be for our relatives.
May our relatives be happy!"
And those who have gathered there,
the assembled shades of the relatives,
with appreciation give their blessing
for the plentiful food & drink:
"May our relatives live long
because of whom we have gained [this gift].
We have been honored,
and the donors are not without reward!"
For there [in their realm] there's
no farming,
no herding of cattle,
no commerce,
no trading with money.
They live on what is given here,
hungry shades,
whose time here is done.
As water raining on a hill
flows down to the valley,
even so does what is given here
benefit the dead.
As rivers full of water
fill the ocean full,
even so does what is given here
benefit the dead.
"He gave to me, she acted on my behalf,
they were my relatives, companions, friends":
Offerings should be given for the dead
when one reflects thus
on things done in the past.
For no weeping,
no sorrowing
no other lamentation
benefits the dead
whose relatives persist in that way.
But when this offering is given, well-placed in the Sangha,
it works for their long-term benefit
and they profit immediately.
In this way the proper duty to relatives has been shown,
great honor has been done to the dead,
and [monastics] have been given strength:
The merit you've acquired
is not small.

Death in the Park: Suicide

Artwork by Bjorn Treuter

18 Suicides Reported in National Parks this Year
By Mike Stark (AP, June 25, 2008)

SALT LAKE CITY - Having mailed a farewell letter to his family back in Minnesota, Jerry O. Wolff stepped off a shuttle bus on a sunny Sunday morning and disappeared into Utah's rugged Canyonlands National Park.

"I am gone in a remote wilderness where I can return my body and soul to nature. There is no reason for anyone to look for me, just leave me where I am," he wrote. No trace of Wolff has been found since he was last seen May 11. Park officials assume the 65-year-old biology professor committed suicide. Millions of people come to national parks each year to enjoy the splendors of wildlife and natural beauty, but a tiny fraction arrive with a grim agenda. So far this year, at least 18 people have committed suicide in America's national parks, from the swamplands of the Everglades and the beaches of Cape Cod to the rain-soaked forests of Olympic National Park and the bleak expanse of the Mojave Desert. For some, the parks are apparently just a convenient place to end it all. Others, though, seem to seek out the beauty and solace of these spots.

"Parks hold a special place in people's hearts," said Al Nash, a spokesman at Yellowstone, where five suicides have been recorded since 1997. "There are some individuals who feel it's important to have that kind of connection in those final moments." As for Wolff, Jim Hughes, the police chief in his hometown of Sartell, Minn., said the St. Cloud State University professor had been to Canyonlands before for research. As for why he apparently took his life, Wolff had "some personal issues," the chief said. But he said he had no details.

The day after Wolff disappeared, searchers found the body of a 27-year-old man who drove into Colorado National Monument near Grand Junction, Colo., parked on the side of a road, walked about 200 yards away and shot himself. At the same park last October, a 57-year-old woman drove her station wagon off a 250-foot cliff. A few weeks later, a 63-year-old man drove to an overlook at the park called Cold Shivers Point, sat on a rock outcropping overlooking a valley and shot himself. "It's become known in this area as a place that suicides are happening, but you can be sure the staff here are doing everything we can to prevent them," said Joan Anzelmo, superintendent of the Colorado National Monument.

Rangers are trained in suicide prevention, and park officials are contemplating closing certain areas at night and adding more guardrails. Employees in places like Grand Canyon are taught to keep an eye out for notes taped to steering wheels. Ten people have killed themselves at the Grand Canyon since 2004, the most of any park in recent years, according to the Park Service. The 1991 movie Thelma & Louise — which ends with the pair driving off a cliff in a classic Thunderbird convertible — has been blamed by some for a string of copycat suicides at the Grand Canyon, even though the scene was actually filmed at a state park in Utah. "Maybe it's the romanticization of a suicide attempt in a spectacular place," said Michael Ghiglieri, who has co-written books about deaths at the Grand Canyon and Yosemite.

Among the stories he has recounted: A young man once asked a couple to take his picture at Grand Canyon, then jumped to his death in front of them. Another man, who had squandered an inheritance, climbed to the top of Yosemite Falls, wrote his will — leaving money to have a redwood planted on his grave — and then leaped off the falls, the highest in North America. Lanny Berman, executive director of the American Association of Suicidology, said that when it comes to suicides in national parks, in general, "the driving force for most is availability and accessibility and, secondarily, whether that site offers something that other sites don't."

At Colorado National Monument, Anzelmo said, suicides there are, in part, a reflection of nearby Mesa County, where the suicide rate is roughly twice the national average. One of the first recorded suicides in national park history was that of a 27-year-old woman in Yellowstone who apparently killed herself with an overdose of morphine in 1884, just 12 years after the national park was created, according to Yellowstone historian Lee Whittlesey. Most suicides in that park's history were by park employees, he said. "Perhaps these persons wanted their last moments to be spent in a beautiful or famous place, or perhaps they wanted their deaths somehow inextricably linked to nature," Whittlesey wrote in his book "Death in Yellowstone."

Last year, there were at least 26 suicides or probable suicides in the national park system's 391 units, according to Bill Halainen, who compiles ranger reports daily for the Park Service. The Park Service does not have complete figures for earlier years. Halainen said he believes the numbers fluctuate from one year to the next, and there is "no clear indication of any sustained upward trend." This year began with a search for a 46-year-old carpenter with cancer who drove his truck to Everglades National Park, climbed into his canoe and vanished. The most recent case involved a 47-year-old man at Timpanogos Cave National Monument in Utah who called the sheriff's department from the visitors center June 10 and told dispatchers he was going to shoot himself and where his body could be found. The body was discovered 15 minutes later. When people vanish, Park Service employees and sometimes volunteers typically mount a search. Recovering bodies and vehicles, particularly when they go over a cliff, can require helicopters, rappelling and other dangerous exploits.

"Our expectation is that people are coming to the national parks to have a good time," said Maureen Oltrogge, a spokeswoman at Grand Canyon. "When something tragic happens, it's really difficult on the staff."

Suicide Results

Panatipata veramani sikkapadam samadiyami: "I undertake to observe the training rule to abstain from taking the life of living beings."
Depriving someone of life -- whether an insect, animal, or even yourself -- is an unskillful act with painful results. The immediate result, because of the state of mind during the act, tends to be immediate rebirth in the Peta Loka (realm of hungry-ghosts). Taking a life, particularly a human life, and particularly when motivated by disgust or revulsion, is an unskillful response to unbearable pain or sudden change in fortune. The negative mental states that act as the volition and motivation to kill (oneself or someone else) spell trouble karmically. Suicide is a permanent reaction to what is only a temporary problem.


Some people may find suicide acceptable, as with the modern notion of a right to choose euthanasia. It may be acceptable to turn down artificial life support. However, asking for euthanasia goes a step further. In moving away from "prolonging the agony" or experiencing pain, one may enter a bargain not realizing the postmortem results. If life ended here then there would be no need to concern oneself with anything but here. Since life is not limited to just this, concern with Samsara (the wheel of life and death) and repeated birth in various planes of existence, however difficult they may be to believe in, is a wise consideration.

The world of hungry-ghosts (petas) is more or less aware of the human realm but is a painful existence. There is deprivation. There is weakness. There generally a lack of an ability to help oneself or communicate the need for help. There is a literal hunger and many other privations. There is a metaphorical hunger, a longing and lamenting. Details of this existence and its descent into the Great Waste are chronicled in the Pali Canon (Khuddaka Nikāya) in a portion known as the Petavatthu.


HUNGRY GHOSTS: Characterized by greed, insatiable cravings, addictions. "I want this, I need this, I have to have this." This is the realm of intense craving. Hungry ghosts are shown with enormous stomachs and tiny necks. They want to cat, but cannot swallow; when they try to drink, the liquid turns to fire, intensifying their thirst. The torment of a hungry ghost is not so much the frustration of not being able to get what it wants. Rather, it is clinging to those things mistakenly thought to bring satisfaction and relief...(Buddha Mind).

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Ancient Maya: First American Buddhists

BOOK: How the Swans Came to the Lake:
A Narrative History of Buddhism in America
(Shambhala Publications, 492 pp., 1986)

WISDOM-BOOKS.COM SYNOPSIS: Far more than a history of Buddhism's arrival and growth in America -- a development which led to the sudden rise of the ancient Mayan culture -- this highly readable account is packed full of interesting stories and anecdotes, and includes a wealth of material on the spread of Buddhism to the West from the time of Alexander the Great onwards.

This book gives the definitive treatment to the impact Buddhism has had on American thought, and it is a goldmine of information on early Buddhism in Europe. It covers the early Western Buddhist pioneers, plus those who profoundly influenced and paved the way for its appearance in the West.

Included are: the Greeks in India, King Ashoka; the Gnostics; Sir William Jones and the Royal Asiatic Society; Emerson and Thoreau; Whitman and Walden; Edwin Arnold; Madame Blavatsky and the Theosophical Society; the Chinese and Japanese immigrant communities in the States; the Pali Text Society; the World Parliament of Religions; D T Suzuki; Sokei-an; Nyogen Suzuki; Alan Watts; Allen Ginsberg, Kerouac and the Beat Poets; Shunryo Suzuki; Philip Kapleau; Chogyam Trungpa; Tarthang Tulku; Geshe Wangyal; Thomas Merton; Jack Kornfield; Joseph Goldstein and Thich Nhat Hanh; and many others.

"Heroic in scope and of undeniable importance" -- L.A. Times.

The mystery story of the Maya slowly reveals new twists

One of the exceptionally well preserved buildings discovered at Kiuic and mapped by George Bey's project. This building dates to the Late/Terminal Classic (A.D. 800-1000) and is part of the later major royal Palace discovered at the site. Bolonchen Regional Archaeological Project

Maya map
George Bey
Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies

By Dan Vergano, USA Today
Don't tell Indiana Jones, but most archaeologists pack spades, not bullwhips, and big discoveries usually come after lots of digging, not looting. Maya discoveries in Mexico that are rewriting the history of this classic civilization, for example, are coming from years of careful digging, not looted idols.

The classic Maya were part of a Central American civilization best known for stepped pyramids, beautiful carvings and murals and the widespread abandonment of cities around 900 A.D. in southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize and El Salvador, leaving the Maya only the northern lowlands of the Yucatan peninsula. The conventional wisdom of this upheaval is that many Maya moved north at the time of this collapse, also colonizing the hilly "Puuc" region of the Yucatan for a short while, until those new cities collapsed as well.

But that story of the Maya is wrong, suggests archaeologist George Bey of Millsaps College in Jackson, Miss., who is co-leading an investigation of the abandoned city of Kiuic with Mexican archaeologist Tomas Gallareta of Mexico's National Institute of Archaeology and History. "Our work indicates that instead the Puuc region was occupied for almost 2,000 years before the collapse in the south," says Bey, by e-mail.

Over the last five years, Bey and his colleagues have started unearthing Maya cities in the Puuc region dating back to more than 800 B.C. "It is both the number of sites we are finding as well as that some of them produced large-scale monumental architecture — pyramids and an acropolis — while others have ball courts." At Kiuic, Bey's team has found a large platform that held at least two large ceremonial structures with ceramics. The cities dated back more than a millennium earlier than anyone had thought Maya cities existed in the region.

"This is interesting stuff. The northern lowlands usually get the short end of the stick because all the well-known classic sites are in the southern lowlands," says Maya archaeologist Lisa Lucero of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, whose own research is in Belize. "There is no doubt that many people went north after the collapse, but, there is a fuller, longer story to the northern lowlands."

The buildings, ceramics and trade items, such as Guatemalan obsidian and Olmec jade, found at Kiuic indicate these early cities of the Puuc were tied to Maya centers further south. Archaeologists had known that people lived in the region for a long time, he adds, but the complexity — large cities with hundreds of thousands of people living nearby — was unknown until recently. In 1980, only one site, Komchen, was known in the Puuc, and now there are hundreds, says Bey. "Part of the problem was that people didn't think it existed, so we were not, until recently, looking for it."

The research paints a picture of the classic Maya civilization as one big connected society from antiquity, and the "collapse" looks more like a series of local catastrophes, rather than a single apocalyptic event (apologies to Mel Gibson for the Apocalypto reference.) "The public needs to understand that the so-called Maya collapse was not an overnight affair that resulted in the total disappearance of the Maya people. The collapse took place over a period of more than 200 years," says Bey. "The result was the breakdown of elite culture and the abandonment of their cities. However, millions of Maya continued to live in Mesoamerica, especially in the northern Maya lowland, as they do so today."

Kiuic's abandonment sometime in the 10th Century is also part of the collapse story. Bey and his colleagues have found large grinding stones turned on their sides at the site, a regular practice for farmers planning to return to them — but more ominously, a large number of spear points as well. They plan to keep on digging into the mystery. "I believe there is an even earlier occupation than what we have defined thus far," Bey says, perhaps dating back before 1000 B.C. "I may be optimistic, but I think now that we are looking for it, it is only a matter of time."

Monday, June 23, 2008

Juno: "Hitler is Alive!"


Mt. Everest Cleanup 2009

A tourist stops before a chorten on the trail to Mount Everest, background, near Namche Bazaar, Nepal in this May 12, 2003 file photo. Starting in Jan. 2009, a global poll will allow people worldwide to vote and select the seven natural wonders of the world.(AP Photo/Gurinder Osan, File)

BEIJING - With the debris of more than 50 years of climbing — oxygen canisters, tents, backpacks and even some bodies — Mount Everest has been called the world's highest garbage dump. Now China is moving to clean up its northern side of the mountain and protect its fragile Himalayan environment, announcing a trash collection campaign that could limit the number of climbers and other visitors in 2009.

"Our target is to keep even more people from abusing Mount Everest," Zhang Yongze, Tibet's environmental protection chief was quoted Monday as saying by the Xinhua News Agency. Everest's 29,035-foot peak — the world's tallest — lies on the border between China and Nepal, with climbers providing a large source of income for both countries. However, overcrowded routes and the accumulation of debris have led to some calls for the mountain to be closed to climbers temporarily.

Last year, more than 40,000 people visited the mountain from the Chinese side, which is located in Tibet, the China Daily newspaper said. Although that number was less than 10 percent of those who went to the mountain on the southern, or Nepali, side in 2000, the paper said environmentalists estimate they could have left behind as much as 120 tons of garbage, or about 6 pounds per tourist. There is no definitive figure on how much trash has been left on Everest in 54 years of climbing since Edmund Hillary of New Zealand and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay first conquered the mountain on May 29, 1953.

The high altitude, deep snow, icy slopes and thin air make it difficult for climbers to carry anything other than the necessities down the mountain once they reach the summit. The Nepalese government has tightened its laws, and climbers and their guides are now required to carry out gear and trash or forfeit a $4,000 deposit. While China isn't known to have a similar rule, it has enacted other restrictions, including forbidding vehicles from driving directly to the base camp at 16,995 feet, Zhang said. The move also was aimed at preserving the melting Rongbuk glacier, which has retreated 490 feet at the base of Everest in the past decade, he said.

Zhang said his bureau is planning on launching a refuse collecting campaign in the first half of 2009 and is urging that the number of tourists and mountaineers be restricted. Everest featured most recently as the backdrop for the Beijing Olympic torch relay, in which a team of Chinese and Tibetan climbers carried the flame to the summit and back down. Chinese authorities enraged climbers by convincing Nepal's government to join it in completely shutting down the mountain for several days at the height of the climbing season to prevent any possible disruption of the Everest leg.

Tibetan activists accused Beijing of using the climb to symbolize its control over Tibet. China says it has ruled the Himalayan region for centuries, although many Tibetans say their homeland was essentially independent for much of that time. The 2009 date may also be politically sensitive because it falls on the 50th anniversary of the Dalai Lama's flight to India after a failed uprising against Chinese rule. The exiled spiritual leader is has long been reviled by Beijing, which recently accused his supporters for inciting bloody anti-Chinese riots in Tibet's capital of Lhasa and other Tibetan communities in neighboring provinces in March. "We find their latest environment claim unlikely to believe, considering for example the fact that China, against international protests, paved a road to base camp for their torch event this year," Tina Sjogren, editor-in-chief of, said in an e-mail to The Associated Press. She said the southern side has had pollution controls in place that work "fairly well."

Members of the Chinese Mount Everest expedition team climb up to measure the height of the mountain in this May 2005 file photo. Starting in Jan. 2009, a global poll will allow people worldwide to vote and select the seven natural wonders of the world.(AP Photo/Xinhua, Suolang Luobu, File)

The Xinhua report did not give any more details about the trash collecting campaign, and calls to Zhang's agency rang unanswered Monday. A climbing official in Nepal said he had not received any information from China on its plans to restrict access to the mountain next year. Mountaineering department official Ramesh Chetri said Nepal planned to keep Everest open for the 2009 spring climbing season. "I did not hear anything about this," Ang Tshering, chairman of expedition company Asian Trekking, said by telephone from Katmandu. He said he would contact Chinese officials on Tuesday for details, and added that he did not think closing Mount Everest or limiting climbers was a good solution. China began cleanup efforts in 2004, when 24 volunteers removed eight tons of garbage from the slopes at between 16,800 feet and 21,300 feet. In 2005, the number of people helping out increased to 100 in hopes of making a dent in the litter, which includes abandoned tents, oxygen canisters, bottles, cans and plastic wrappers. Everest also holds the corpses of some climbers who died while trying to conquer the mountain.

Ken Noguchi, an acclaimed Japanese mountaineer, has said he has collected an estimated 19,800 pounds of garbage from both sides of the mountain in five trips, beginning in 2000. Alton Byers, director of the Denver-based Alpine Conservation Partnership, a group that protects and restores alpine ecosystems worldwide, said Everest's litter problem is a nuisance but relatively easy to solve.

"The garbage is really cosmetic. You can pay a bunch of porters to take it out and people do that every year," he said. Byers said one of the tougher challenges is preventing people from ripping up the local shrub juniper. Hundreds of thousands of pounds of the slow-growing shrub are harvested each year and burned as fuel by Everest climbing expeditions, resulting in soil erosion and threatening the delicate Himalayan ecosystem, Byers said. Jon Miceler, managing director of the World Wildlife Fund's Eastern Himalayas Program, said that the southern side has suffered significant ecological damage since it opened to climbers in the 1960s. The northern side has been less impacted because the government only began allowing international expeditions to climb there in the 1980s. But it has become increasingly popular — and polluted — since then.

Buddhist monk 'A Wong Du Wong' walks around the 1300-year-old Rongbo De Hermitage, part of the nearby Rongbo Monastery, the world's highest monastery at an altitude of over 5,100 metres (16,732 feet), located at the foot of Mount Everest (back), also known as Qomolangma, in the Tibet Autonomous Region May 2, 2008.(David Gray/Reuters)
"It's gotten to a critical point on the north side with so many more people going up," Miceler said. He listed human waste, food wrappers, old tents and spent oxygen canisters as some of the litter building up on the mountain. "It's not an unwise thing to limit in 2009 the number of expeditions going up the north side," he said. Zhang described the Olympic expedition as a model of environmental responsibility, saying climbers, support crews and media had carted away large amounts of garbage and relied on a pair of "environmental toilets" to keep from fouling the mountain. Jim Whittaker, the first American to conquer Mount Everest, welcomed China's plans to limit the number of people climbing the mountain. "You've got to have some controls on it," said Whittaker, 79. "For one thing, if you have a bottleneck on the mountain, you can get some seriously dangerous conditions." He said climbers are getting better about removing their trash, although it's not always easy to do. "You get up high on the mountain and you are lucky to get yourself off it, let alone your garbage," he said.


By Audra Ang (AP). AP writers Binaj Gurubacharya in Kathmandu, and Alexa Olesen, and Carley Petesch in New York contributed to the report.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Indians invented Chess

Not these "Indians," the other victims of conquest and colonialism.

Can’t beat your pre-teen daughter at the game? You might at least impress her with a history lesson.

Not the oldest board game on record (the East Asian game Go, at over 4000 years, is the likely winner), chess still outdates any Parker Brother’s pastime you could name.
Early forms of chess originated in India around the 6th century AD. One ancestor was Chaturanga, a popular four-player war game that prefigured several key aspects of modern chess. A form of chaturanga traveled to Persia, where the name of the "king" piece changed from the Sanskrit rajah to the Persian shah. From shah all European names for the game are derived. We receive the English words "chess" and "check" from the French descendant echec. (And "rook" descends from the Persian rukh, meaning either "chariot" or "boat").

The Persians also introduced the notions of "check" and "checkmate," so thank them whenever little Lisa topples your king.

Simpsons chess set

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Ancient Buddhist Blessings

Everything's spinning out of control

Presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama (R) and former Vice President Al Gore shake hands during a campaign stop at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, Michigan June 16, 2008.(Rebecca Cook/Reuters)

By Alan Fram and Eileen Putman (AP) June 21, 2008

WASHINGTON - Is everything spinning out of control? Midwestern levees are bursting. Polar bears are adrift. Gas prices are skyrocketing. Home values are abysmal. Air fares, college tuition and health care border on unaffordable. Wars without end rage in Iraq, Afghanistan and against terrorism. Horatio Alger, twist in your grave.

The can-do, bootstrap approach embedded in the American psyche is under assault. Eroding it is a dour powerlessness that is chipping away at the country's sturdy conviction that destiny can be commanded with sheer courage and perseverance. The sense of helplessness is even reflected in this year's presidential election. Each contender offers a sense of order — and hope. Republican John McCain promises an experienced hand in a frightening time. Democrat Barack Obama promises bright and shiny change, and his large crowds believe his exhortation, "Yes, we can." Even so, a battered public seems discouraged by the onslaught of dispiriting things. An Associated Press-Ipsos poll says a barrel-scraping 17 percent of people surveyed believe the country is moving in the right direction. That is the lowest reading since the survey began in 2003. An ABC News-Washington Post survey put that figure at 14 percent, tying the low in more than three decades of taking soundings on the national mood. "It is pretty scary," said Charles Truxal, 64, a retired corporate manager in Rochester, Minn.
"People are thinking things are going to get better, and they haven't been. And then you go hide in your basement because tornadoes are coming through. If you think about things, you have very little power to make it change." Recent natural disasters around the world dwarf anything afflicting the U.S. Consider that more than 69,000 people died in the China earthquake, and that 78,000 were killed and 56,000 missing from the Myanmar cyclone. Americans need do no more than check the weather, look in their wallets or turn on the news for their daily reality check on a world gone haywire. Floods engulf Midwestern river towns. Is it global warming, the gradual degradation of a planet's weather that man seems powerless to stop or just a freakish late-spring deluge?

It hardly matters to those in the path. Just ask the people of New Orleans who survived Hurricane Katrina. They are living in a city where, 1,000 days after the storm, entire neighborhoods remain abandoned, a national embarrassment that evokes disbelief from visitors. Food is becoming scarcer and more expensive on a worldwide scale, due to increased consumption in growing countries such as China and India and rising fuel costs. That can-do solution to energy needs — turning corn into fuel — is sapping fields of plenty once devoted to crops that people need to eat. Shortages have sparked riots. In the U.S., rice prices tripled and some stores rationed the staple. Residents of the nation's capital and its suburbs repeatedly lose power for extended periods as mere thunderstorms rumble through. In California, leaders warn people to use less water in the unrelenting drought.

Want to get away from it all? The weak U.S. dollar makes travel abroad forbiddingly expensive. To add insult to injury, some airlines now charge to check luggage. Want to escape on the couch? A writers' strike halted favorite TV shows for half a season. The newspaper on the table may soon be a relic of the Internet age. Just as video stores are falling by the wayside as people get their movies online or in the mail. But there's always sports, right? The moorings seem to be coming loose here, too. Baseball stars Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens stand accused of enhancing their heroics with drugs. Basketball referees are suspected of cheating. Stay tuned for less than pristine tales from the drug-addled Tour de France and who knows what from the Summer Olympics.

It's not the first time Americans have felt a loss of control. Alger, the dime-novel author whose heroes overcame adversity to gain riches and fame, played to similar anxieties when the U.S. was becoming an industrial society in the late 1800s. American University historian Allan J. Lichtman notes that the U.S. has endured comparable periods and worse, including the economic stagflation (stagnant growth combined with inflation) and Iran hostage crisis of 1980; the dawn of the Cold War, the Korean War and the hysterical hunts for domestic Communists in the late 1940s and early 1950s; and the Depression of the 1930s. "All those periods were followed by much more optimistic periods in which the American people had their confidence restored," he said. "Of course, that doesn't mean it will happen again." Each period also was followed by a change in the party controlling the White House. This period has seen intense interest in the presidential primaries, especially the Democrats' five-month duel between Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton. Records were shattered by voters showing up at polling places, yearning for a voice in who will next guide the country as it confronts the uncontrollable.

Never mind that their views of their current leaders are near rock bottom, reflecting a frustration with Washington's inability to solve anything. President Bush barely gets the approval of three in 10 people, and it's even worse for the Democratic-led Congress. Why the vulnerability? After all, this is the 21st century, not a more primitive past when little in life was assured. Surely people know how to fix problems now. Maybe. And maybe this is what the 21st century will be about — a great unraveling of some things long taken for granted.