New Amazon Species Discovered Every 3 Days for a Decade

Scientists searching the Amazon have discovered new species – creatures such as a baldheaded parrot, a blue-fanged tarantula and a bright red catfish, at the rate of about one every three days for the past 10 years, reports the World Wildlife Fund.

“What we say now, and we’re very conservative, is one in 10 known species is found in the Amazon,” said Meg Symington, a tropical ecologist and the fund’s managing director for the Amazon. “We think when all the counting is done, the Amazon could account for up to 30 percent of the species on Earth.”

The great diversity of life in the Amazon includes species and habitats that have direct benefits for people worldwide, Symington said. Compounds found on the skin of the poison dart frog, for example, turned out to be important for anesthesia and other medical products.

The Amazon rainforests also have an impact on the regional and global climate. Some climate models show that the Amazon influences rainfall in the U.S. Midwest.

The World Wildlife Fund reviewed scientific literature and counted more than 1,200 new species, including 637 plants, 257 fish, 216 amphibians, 55 reptiles, 16 birds and 39 mammals, that were discovered in the Amazon from 1999 to 2009. The full count would be much higher, because the report didn’t include the vast majority of newly found invertebrates.

The World Wildlife Fund reported that at least 17 percent of the Amazon rainforest has been destroyed in the last 50 years. The fund has a program in Brazil and the seven other countries of the Amazon Basin to protect the rainforest from agriculture, ranching and roads while promoting sustainable economic development.



Dalai Lama Advocates a Secular Approach to Compassion

James Doty, left, director and founder of the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, and the Dalai Lama at the morning lecture at Maples Pavilion.

James Doty, left, director and founder of the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, and the Dalai Lama at the morning lecture at Maples Pavilion.

The Dalai Lama recently spoke to about 6,300 people on “The Centrality of Compassion in Human Life and Society” at Standford University.  He repeatedly stressed a secular approach to compassion that reaches beyond individual creeds and beliefs. He spoke of the need for mutual respect and friendship, the care and education of children, and ongoing dialogue for conflict resolution.

Evident throughout was his fascination with science, the neurology of the mind and brain, the interest in the intricate distinctions between mind and body that led him to be a founding benefactor for the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE) at Stanford.

The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, is an old friend at Stanford: This event marks his third visit in recent years, with the promise of more to come. His talk was peppered with personal anecdotes, and although he spoke in a broken, heavily accented English, occasionally consulting his translator, his infectious chuckle quickly had the audience eating out of his hand.

He chose to focus on what unifies us: Beyond race, ethnicity, nationality and religion, “We all have the desire to achieve a happy life, and everyone has the right to achieve a happy life,” he said.  “We are 100 percent the same on this level,” he said. “We human beings are created as social animals. Any social animal in order to survive depends on community,” he said.

In answer to complicated situations of deceit and injustice, he emphasized taking a holistic view – “compassion, combined with wisdom, always helps a broader perspective…Affection begins in the home, he said, and particularly from mothers – but this biologically rooted compassion will not extend far beyond the family unless extended by reasoning and unless the understanding our own well-being is linked to the love of others.”

During a question-and-answer session, about the poor – why one is unable to bridge the “compassion gap” from feeling sympathy to acting with compassion – “You should be realistic: If you can do something on the spot, do it.”

In a valedictory note, he turned the future over to the students gathered to hear him. “This century, whenever we face problems, we have to find ways through dialogue,” he said. The 200 million people murdered in the last century, he said, underscore the need for non-violence, mutual respect and compassion.  “You belong to the 21st century,” he said. “My people belong to the 20th century. We’re ready to say goodbye.”

Stanford neurosurgeon James Doty, the director of CCARE, told the Maples Pavilion gathering: “Often when we see immeasurable suffering, we feel overwhelmed. But every one of us has the capacity to make one person suffer less every day. Every day go forth and do what you can do.”


U.S. Program to Feed 390,000 Children in Haiti, Afghanistan

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that the United States will donate 11,000 tons of rice, vegetable oil, yellow peas and lentils valued at more than $21 million for projects that will help feed 390,000 children in Haiti and Afghanistan.

The food is being made available under the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program, which supports education, child development and food security in low-income, food-deficit countries that are committed to universal education.

“The food provided through the McGovern-Dole program is an important part of our efforts to alleviate child hunger around the world,” Vilsack said. “The feeding programs in Haiti and Afghanistan receiving this food will lay the groundwork for future success long after funding ends.”

The program provides donations of U.S. agricultural products as well as financial and technical assistance for school feeding and maternal and child nutrition projects. Currently, the United States funds 32 active agreements with 15 sponsors in 28 countries, assisting more than 5 million beneficiaries. To date, the McGovern-Dole Program has provided meals to more than 22 million children.

The program is named in honor of former Senator George McGovern and former Senator Robert Dole for their efforts to encourage a global commitment to school feeding and child nutrition. In October of 2008, the men were recognized with the World Food Prize for their leadership in forging the link between the productivity of American farmers and the needs of hungry children around the world.

Additional information about the McGovern-Dole Program is available on the U.S. Agriculture Department’s website.


Down Syndrome Senior Crowned Homecoming Queen

The title of homecoming queen is typically reserved for the head cheerleader or student class president, but not so at one Texas high school where this year’s queen saw hundreds of onlookers moved to tears as she was crowned.

“There wasn’t a dry eye to be seen,” said Carolyn Pass, the mother of newly crowned queen Kristin Pass, who was born with Down syndrome 18 years ago.  Kristin was thrilled to receive the crown.  “I was surprised and happy,” she said.  The crowd at the Aledo High School football stadium erupted into cheers and gave her a standing ovation during halftime. “Her smile was probably as big as the state of Texas,” said Hust of her niece’s reaction to her prize. “She kept mouthing ‘thank you’ from the stage.

Down syndrome affects one in every 733 babies born each year, according to the National Down Syndrome Society, and occurs when a person has three, not two, copies of the 21st chromosome.   And while some may assume Pass’ condition might alienate her from her peers, the teen’s family and friends say that she’s always had a lot of friends. “I don’t think there is another human in this world who has as many friends as Kristin does,” said Chari Hust, Kristin’s aunt. “She’s a great kid.”

“Everyone in the stands burst into tears – I’ve never heard anything so loud in my life,” Hust said. “Everyone was on their feet yelling, ‘Yeah, Kristin!’ louder than they had been cheering during the game…There was no campaign to make sure that Kristin won — this naturally happened,” Hust said. “She is the coolest kid in the whole wide world.”

On top of battling the hardships of living with Down syndrome, Kristin’s father died suddenly two years ago. Her father’s absence meant tweaking the high school’s tradition of having the homecoming queen candidates escorted to the event by their fathers.  For Kristin, it was her grandfather, David Campbell, who led her onstage to be crowned.  “It was very emotional,” said Campbell, who also drove the red convertible Kristin rode in during the homecoming parade. “You can’t measure how proud I was. Every fiber in my body was happy for her.  “She didn’t say much (when she was crowned), she was too busy smiling,” he said. “I gave her a kiss on the cheek and a hug and she was kind-of letting it soak in. It got real when we got to the sidelines. All her friends came over and she was giving high-fives to everyone.”

Source: www.

Driller from Denver Becomes Chile Mine Rescue Hero

The T-130 drill operators, Jeff Hart, left, and Matt Staffel, right, both from Denver, Colorado, embrace Elizabeth Segovia, sister of trapped miner Dario Segovia Rojo at the San Jose mine near Copiapo, Chile Saturday, Oct. 9, 2010. A drilling rig punched through to the underground site where the 33 miners have been trapped for 66 days under the Chilean desert, raising cheers, tears and hopes. (AP Photo/Roberto Candia)

Jeff Hart was drilling water wells for the U.S. Army’s forward operating bases in Afghanistan when he got the call to fly to Chile.  He spent the next 33 days on his feet, operating the drill that finally provided a way out Saturday for 33 trapped miners.

“You have to feel through your feet what the drill is doing; it’s a vibration you get so that you know what’s happening,” explained Hart, a contractor from Denver, Colorado.  A muscular, taciturn man with callused hands and a sunburned face, Hart normally pounds rock for oil or water.  He’s used to extreme conditions while he works the hydraulic levers that guide the drills’ hammers.  But this was something different – 33 lives were depending on him.

“I was nervous today,” said Hart, 40.  He joked that he thought it was his heart stopping when he felt an unexplained “pop” just before the drill broke through into a chamber far underground. “I didn’t want anything to go wrong.  Within hours after the gold and copper mine collapsed August 5th, Chile’s government realized the mine’s owners were ill-equipped to handle the rescue and asked the state-owned Codelco mining company to take the lead.

Codelco turned to Geotec Boyles Bros., a U.S.-Chilean company, to handle the “Plan B” escape shaft, one of three simultaneous drilling efforts that raced to reach the miners.  Geotec operations manager James Stefanic said he quickly assembled “a top of the line team” of drillers.  Hart was called in from Afghanistan, “simply because he’s the best,” Stefanic said.

Standing before the levers, pressure meters and gauges on the T130’s control panel, Hart and the rest of the team faced many challenges in drilling the shaft. At one point, the drill struck a metal support beam in the poorly mapped mine, shattering its hammers. Fresh equipment had to be flown in from the United States and progress was delayed for days as powerful magnets were lowered to pull out the pieces.

Fisher, Stefanic and Hart called it the most difficult hole they had ever drilled, because of the lives at stake.  “If you’re drilling for oil and you lose the hole, it’s different. This time there’s people down below,” Stefanic said.  “We got the job done,” Hart said simply.  “I’m very happy now.”

Source: The Associated Press

Hero of the Day: Victor Perez

The California man who helped rescue an 8-year-old girl abducted outside her Fresno home says he is grateful he was able to intervene, but doesn’t feel he did anything out of the ordinary.  “I thank God that he put me here to help out that little girl, that’s for sure,” said Victor Perez, the man police are now hailing as a “good Samaritan” and a “hero.”

The girl was abducted in front of her Fresno home Monday night.  A statewide Amber Alert was issued after the abduction.  Perez, a 29-year-old local grape picker and father of two who had decided not to go to work because of inclement weather, had heard the Amber Alert and spotted a suspect vehicle around 7 a.m. on Tuesday.

When driving that day, Perez saw the truck from the Amber Alert, followed him and cut him off of the road.  “I thought, that could be the truck,” Perez said.  Perez did not initially see the girl inside the vehicle, but decided to pursue it and eventually saw the child stick her head up. “I kept telling him, ‘That’s not your little girl!’ ” Perez said. “We argued. We exchanged words.” Perez said it took him several attempts to cut off the suspect vehicle, but when he finally managed to block it, the suspect pushed the child out of the vehicle.

“When she was dropped off, I just stayed with her, and the guy took off.”  The girl was taken to Community Regional Medical Center, where she was treated and reunited with her mother. Less than an hour after the rescue, the California Highway Patrol arrested the perpetrator.

Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer told “The Early Show” that Perez is a hero whose intervention probably saved the girl’s life.  Perez, however, is modest about his involvement in the ordeal and thanks a higher power for placing him in the right place at the right time.  “I just felt like I was doing my part…I just felt like everybody should step up in their own communities and when something like this happens, come together and try to do your part to help out,” Perez said. “And, you know, I just thank that God I was put in the right situation to do what I did. Thank the man above for that.”


Thought for the Day: “The Pale Blue Dot”

Earth as seen from Voyager 1 while on the edge of our solar system (approximately 3,762,136,324 miles from home).

Carl Sagan’s words are worth remembering:

“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every ‘superstar,’ every ‘supreme leader,’ every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there — on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”