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pcwscreensavI often sit on my back porch, weather permitting, and watch the overhead night sky.

What I look for, in particular, are these rapidly moving lights that look like stars, but are not stars and are not planes and are not satellites. I call them flying stars.

I know they are not planes because planes have distinctive lights and do not fly that high.

I know they are not satellites because I use a satellite map and satellites are never in the area that I see these flying stars.

And I know they are not stars because, well, stars don’t really fly.

Unfortunately, I don’t see them all the time.

Some nights I might see one or other nights, a few. Many nights, none at all.

Sometimes they are really faint and other times they are quite bright.

Regardless, they fascinate me because I believe they are not of this world.

They move too fast and are too high up in the atmosphere.

If they are terrestrial-based then there are quite a few secrets being kept from us.

Their paths are never quite straight though they tend to go from east to west or north to south.

Sometimes they just stop… And then suddenly, start moving again.

I find them totally fascinating and practically break my neck watching them.

And I wonder what they really are…

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From AOL News

Vatican Looks for Signs of Alien Life

By ARIEL DAVID, AP

11/10/2009

Trial of GalileoVATICAN CITY (Nov. 10) – E.T. phone Rome. Four hundred years after it locked up Galileo for challenging the view that the Earth was the center of the universe, the Vatican has called in experts to study the possibility of extraterrestrial alien life and its implication for the Catholic Church.
“The questions of life’s origins and of whether life exists elsewhere in the universe are very suitable and deserve serious consideration,” said the Rev. Jose Gabriel Funes, an astronomer and director of the Vatican Observatory.
Funes, a Jesuit priest, presented the results Tuesday of a five-day conference that gathered astronomers, physicists, biologists and other experts to discuss the budding field of astrobiology — the study of the origin of life and its existence elsewhere in the cosmos.
Funes said the possibility of alien life raises “many philosophical and theological implications” but added that the gathering was mainly focused on the scientific perspective and how different disciplines can be used to explore the issue.
Chris Impey, an astronomy professor at the University of Arizona, said it was appropriate that the Vatican would host such a meeting.
“Both science and religion posit life as a special outcome of a vast and mostly inhospitable universe,” he told a news conference Tuesday. “There is a rich middle ground for dialogue between the practitioners of astrobiology and those who seek to understand the meaning of our existence in a biological universe.”
Thirty scientists, including non-Catholics, from the U.S., France, Britain, Switzerland, Italy and Chile attended the conference, called to explore among other issues “whether sentient life forms exist on other worlds.”
Funes set the stage for the conference a year ago when he discussed the possibility of alien life in an interview given prominence in the Vatican’s daily newspaper.
The Church of Rome’s views have shifted radically through the centuries since Italian philosopher Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake as a heretic in 1600 for speculating, among other ideas, that other worlds could be inhabited.
Scientists have discovered hundreds of planets outside our solar system — including 32 new ones announced recently by the European Space Agency. Impey said the discovery of alien life may be only a few years away.
“If biology is not unique to the Earth, or life elsewhere differs bio-chemically from our version, or we ever make contact with an intelligent species in the vastness of space, the implications for our self-image will be profound,” he said.
This is not the first time the Vatican has explored the issue of extraterrestrials: In 2005, its observatory brought together top researchers in the field for similar discussions.
In the interview last year, Funes told Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano that believing the universe may host aliens, even intelligent ones, does not contradict a faith in God.
“How can we rule out that life may have developed elsewhere?” Funes said in that interview.
“Just as there is a multitude of creatures on Earth, there could be other beings, even intelligent ones, created by God. This does not contradict our faith, because we cannot put limits on God’s creative freedom.”
Funes maintained that if intelligent beings were discovered, they would also be considered “part of creation.”
The Roman Catholic Church’s relationship with science has come a long way since Galileo was tried as a heretic in 1633 and forced to recant his finding that the Earth revolves around the sun. Church teaching at the time placed Earth at the center of the universe.
Today top clergy, including Funes, openly endorse scientific ideas like the Big Bang theory as a reasonable explanation for the creation of the universe. The theory says the universe began billions of years ago in the explosion of a single, super-dense point that contained all matter.
Earlier this year, the Vatican also sponsored a conference on evolution to mark the 150th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s “The Origin of Species.”
The event snubbed proponents of alternative theories, like creationism and intelligent design, which see a higher being rather than the undirected process of natural selection behind the evolution of species.
Still, there are divisions on the issues within the Catholic Church and within other religions, with some favoring creationism or intelligent design that could make it difficult to accept the concept of alien life.
Working with scientists to explore fundamental questions that are of interest to religion is in line with the teachings of Pope Benedict XVI, who has made strengthening the relationship between faith and reason a key aspect of his papacy.
Recent popes have been working to overcome the accusation that the church was hostile to science — a reputation grounded in the Galileo affair.
In 1992, Pope John Paul II declared the ruling against the astronomer was an error resulting from “tragic mutual incomprehension.”
The Vatican Museums opened an exhibit last month marking the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s first celestial observations.
Tommaso Maccacaro, president of Italy’s national institute of astrophysics, said at the exhibit’s Oct. 13 opening that astronomy has had a major impact on the way we perceive ourselves.
“It was astronomical observations that let us understand that Earth (and man) don’t have a privileged position or role in the universe,” he said. “I ask myself what tools will we use in the next 400 years, and I ask what revolutions of understanding they’ll bring about, like resolving the mystery of our apparent cosmic solitude.”
The Vatican Observatory has also been at the forefront of efforts to bridge the gap between religion and science. Its scientist-clerics have generated top-notch research and its meteorite collection is considered one of the world’s best.
The observatory, founded by Pope Leo XIII in 1891, is based in Castel Gandolfo, a lakeside town in the hills outside Rome where the pope has his summer residence. It also conducts research at an observatory at the University of Arizona, in Tucson.
Associated Press writers Victor L. Simpson and Alessandra Rizzo contributed to this report.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. The information contained in the AP news report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press. Active hyperlinks have been inserted by AOL.

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From BBC News

image-80-tap-waterDrinking water which contains the element lithium may reduce the risk of suicide, a Japanese study suggests.

Researchers examined levels of lithium in drinking water and suicide rates in the prefecture of Oita, which has a population of more than one million.

The suicide rate was significantly lower in those areas with the highest levels of the element, they wrote in the British Journal of Psychiatry.

High doses of lithium are already used to treat serious mood disorders.

But the team from the universities of Oita and Hiroshima found that even relatively low levels appeared to have a positive impact of suicide rates.

Levels ranged from 0.7 to 59 micrograms per litre. The researchers speculated that while these levels were low, there may be a cumulative protective effect on the brain from years of drinking this tap water.

At least one previous study has suggested an association between lithium in tap water and suicide. That research on data collected from the 1980s also found a significantly lower rate of suicide in areas with relatively high lithium levels.

The Japanese researchers called for further research in other countries but they stopped short of any suggestion that lithium be added to drinking water.

The discussion around adding fluoride to water to protect dental health has proved controversial – criticised by some as mass involuntary medication.

In an accompanying editorial, Professor Allan Young of Vancouver’s Institute for Mental Health said “this intriguing data should provoke further research.

“Large-scale trials involving the addition of lithium to drinking water supplies may then be feasible, although this would undoubtedly be subject to considerable debate. Following up on these findings will not be straightforward or inexpensive, but the eventual benefits for community mental health may be considerable.”

Sophie Corlett, external relations director at mental health charity Mind said the research “certainly merits more investigation.

“We already know that lithium can act as a powerful mood stabiliser for people with bipolar disorder, and treating people with lithium is also associated with lower suicide rates.

“However, lithium also has significant and an unpleasant side effects in higher doses, and can be toxic. Any suggestion that it should be added, even in tiny amounts, to drinking water should be treated with caution and researched very thoroughly.”

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Pig KissesAre you concerned there might be a swine flu pandemic as reported by the World Health Organization (WHO)?

News stories are everywhere and some have more sensational headlines than others:

Reuters CNN

BBC Al Jazeera

My SA USAToday

The New York Times Bloomberg

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is currently investigating outbreaks of the flu in California and Texas and is keeping their website updated with information.

You realize that epidemics of flu have happened in the past with the last in 1918. Twenty to forty million people died during that flu pandemic – how many could die now that people mingle and travel more extensively than ever before?

What are your concerns? Do you avoid crowded areas? Have you bought face masks? Have you talked to your doctor? Are you generally worried, anxious, or concerned that it will turn into a pandemic situation? If so, what will you do? Do you have a survival plan? Are you afraid of dying??

Me? So far, I’m not overly concerned but I’m not heading to any crowded places. I haven’t purchased a mask yet but it doesn’t mean that the occasion won’t arise where I’ll need to… I’m not afraid of death – everyone has to go sometime, somehow…

So now we have the swine flu and the avian flu to consider as potential pandemics – or maybe we will get hit with both…

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The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) revved up today and was cheered on by hundreds, thousands, maybe even millions of scientific types around the globe.

What’s the LHC you ask? This little cement bunker baby is buried a couple of miles down (under France and Switzerland – thank goodness let ’em have it!) and is approximately 17 miles in total length. Scientists will be smashing protons and the like as they attempt to recreate what our universe may have looked like shortly after the Big Bang.

What’s the hoopla about black holes you ask? While they are banging and smashing protons at extremely high velocities it is possible that small black holes could be created. Many scientists have stated that it is highly unlikely that anything could ever come of the black holes if they are created, in fact the chances are like 1 in 50 million or something like that, but some naysayers are stating that it spells doom for us all.

So I want to know: Should I even bother paving my driveway with all this doomsday mayhem happening? Should I now fear the LHC? I, mean, what’s the sense of paving if its just going to be sucked up anyway. A one in 50 million chance happens in the lottery so I know it’s a real possibility. So what would you do?

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Press Release from StreetInsider.com

May 15, 2008 12:39 PM EDT

Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine (OISM)

Who: Dr. Arthur Robinson of the OISM

What: release of names in OISM “Petition Project”

When: 10 AM, Monday May 19

Where: Holeman Lounge at the National Press Club, 529 14th St., NW, Washington, DC

Why: the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine (OISM) will announce that more than 31,000 scientists have signed a petition rejecting claims of human-caused global warming. The purpose of OISM’s Petition Project is to demonstrate that the claim of “settled science” and an overwhelming “consensus” in favor of the hypothesis of human-caused global warming and consequent climate damage is wrong. No such consensus or settled science exists. As indicated by the petition text and signatory list, a very large number of American scientists reject this hypothesis.

It is evident that 31,072 Americans with university degrees in science – including 9,021 PhDs, are not “a few.” Moreover, from the clear and strong petition statement that they have signed, it is evident that these 31,072 American scientists are not “skeptics.”

CONTACT: Audrey Mullen, +1-703-548-1160, for the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine

/PRNewswire-USNewswire — May 15/

SOURCE Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine

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From Excite/AP News

More Testing for Drugs in Water Soughtmedication_pills.png

Mar 16, 3:38 PM (ET)
By MARTHA MENDOZA

Test it, study it, figure out how to clean it – but still drink it. That’s the range of reactions raining down from community leaders, utilities, environmental groups and policy makers in reaction to an Associated Press investigation that documented the presence of pharmaceuticals in major portions of the nation’s drinking water supplies.

“There is no wisdom in avoidance. There is wisdom in addressing this problem. I’m not suggesting that people be hysterical and overreact. There’s a responsible way to deal with this – and collectively we can do it,” said Washington-based environmental lawyer George Mannina.

A five-month-long inquiry by the AP National Investigative Team found that many communities do not test for the presence of drugs in drinking water, and those that do often fail to tell customers that they have found trace amounts of medications, including antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers and sex hormones. The stories also detailed the growing concerns among scientists that such pollution is adversely affecting wildlife and may be threatening human health.

As a result, Senate hearings have been scheduled, and there have been calls for federal solutions. But officials in many cities say they aren’t going to wait for guidance from Washington to begin testing.

Pharmaceutical industry officials said they would launch a new initiative Monday with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service focused on telling Americans how to safely dispose of unused medicines.

The subject of pharmaceuticals in drinking water also will be discussed this week when 7,000 scientists and regulators from 45 countries gather in Seattle for the annual meeting of the Society of Toxicology. “The public has a right to know the answers to these questions,” said Dr. George Corcoran, the organization’s president.

“The AP story has really put the spotlight on it, and it is going to lead to a pickup in the pace,” he said. “People are going to start putting money into studying this now, instead of a few years from now, and we’ll get the answers sooner than we would have otherwise.”
Environmental leaders said some answers are easy.

“It’s basic. We need to test, tell and protect health,” said Richard Wiles, executive director of the Washington-based Environmental Working Group.

Wiles said the Environmental Protection Agency needs to widely expand the list of contaminants that utilities are required to test for. That list currently contains no pharmaceuticals. He also said government agencies and water providers that don’t disclose test results “are taking away people’s right to know, hiding the fact that there are contaminants in the water. We don’t think they have that right. It’s hubris, it’s arrogance and it’s self-serving,” said Wiles.

As part of its effort, the AP surveyed 62 metropolitan areas and 52 smaller cities, reporting on positive test results in 24 major cities, serving 41 million Americans. Since release of the AP investigation, other communities and researchers have been disclosing previously unreleased local results, positive or negative.

In Yuma, Ariz., for example, city spokesman Dave Nash said four pharmaceuticals – an antibiotic, an anti-convulsant, an anti-bacterial and caffeine – have been detected in that city’s drinking water. In Denver, where the AP had reported undisclosed antibiotics had been detected, a Colorado State University professor involved in water screening there e-mailed the names of 12 specific drugs that had been detected.

Officials at many utilities said that without federal regulations, they didn’t see a need to screen their water for trace amounts of pharmaceuticals. But others have now decided to test, including Scottsdale and Phoenix in Arizona, Palm Beach County in Florida, Chicago and Springfield, Ill., Bozeman, Mont., Fargo, N.D.; Danville, Va.; and a group of four sewer partners in the Olympia, Wash., region.

“We read the AP story and made a determination that we should test our water and be transparent, just let the people know what we find. I’m confident we have safe and clean drinking water,” said Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon.

Officials in Freeport, Ill., one of the smaller cities surveyed, said they plan to work with the state EPA to test the area’s drinking water for pharmaceuticals. Mayor George Gaulrapp said he is looking to the state agency for standards, regulations and testing procedures for that city’s water, which comes from a deep well.

In some places, residents learned that the rivers and lakes that feed their drinking water treatment plants have already been tested, or that tests are under way.

In Marin County, California, officials said repeated tests in their watershed for pharmaceuticals have come back clean. In Massachusetts, the state Department of Environmental Protection announced a program to screen rivers, streams and reservoirs for pharmaceuticals.

Dozens of newspaper editorials called for testing in communities where water is not being screened and the release of any test results.

“The first, and least expensive, step is to let the sunshine in: Water utilities that currently test for pharmaceuticals should make that information freely available to their customers, along with more information on the potential impacts of drugs in the water supply,” read an editorial in the Daytona Beach News-Journal.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram has filed an open records request for a copy of a study conducted on the city’s water after the mayor refused to give the AP and the newspaper the name of a pharmaceutical detected in the drinking water. City officials say publishing that information could jeopardize public safety, citing post-Sept. 11 security concerns. A Texas attorney general’s opinion is being sought on possible release of the information.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel urged readers to take responsibility as well.

“It’s a problem in which the average person has both a stake and a role in the solution,” read a Journal Sentinel editorial. “He or she can do something as simple as not flushing unused medications down the toilet or into the drain.”

And the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette observed that “given the national scope of the problem, a strong leadership role for the federal government suggests itself in areas such as testing and upgrading water treatment plants. So it is discouraging to note that the Bush administration in its 2009 budget proposal cut $10 million from the water monitoring and research program.”

While the local responses are encouraging, Lisa Rainwater, policy director of Riverkeeper, a New York-based environmental group, said the EPA should step aside and let the National Academy of Sciences or the General Accounting Office study the impacts on humans and wildlife.

“Frankly, the EPA has failed the American public for doing far too little for far too long,” she said.

At least one local water official is putting part of his faith in another quarter. Wayne Livingston of the Oxford Water Works in Alabama said he has confidence in the existing treatment system. But he said his agency probably will test for pharmaceuticals now, although he doubts anything will turn up because the water is pumped from underground.

“The good Lord filters it,” he said. “But this is something we should keep an eye on.”

National writer Jeff Donn in Boston and writers Justin Pritchard in Los Angeles and Gene Johnson in Seattle contributed to this report.

The AP National Investigative Team can be reached at investigate (at) ap.org

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