Friday, December 26, 2003
1. MARS: COALITION FORCES LAUNCH AN INVASION OF THE RED PLANET.
Oblivious to the frantic efforts of earthlings to make contact,
Beagle II, a 63-centimeter saucer-shaped British lander, has so
far maintained radio silence. Meanwhile, Beagle II's mother
ship, the European Space Agency's Mars Express, successfully
entered Mars orbit. It is equipped with a long-wavelength radio
probe to search for subsurface water. Mars Express joined two
American orbiters, Mars Odyssey and Mars Global Explorer. Two
American rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, are approaching Mars.
They are expected to land in January. Efforts to contact Beagle
II will resume later today. The painful vigil is reminiscent of
the loss of the Mars Polar Lander in December of 1999 (WN
99). In fact, two-thirds of the missions launched to Mars have
failed. This should be put in perspective: no lives have been
lost, and robotic missions to Mars cost less than shuttle flights
into low-Earth orbit, where they just go in circles. The Mars
missions, on the other hand, are searching for extra-terrestrial
life, which is perhaps the most exciting quest in science.
2. MAD COW DISEASE: TRUST ME, IT'S NOT JUST COWS THAT ARE MAD.
A British Lab confirms that the sick cow in Washington had the
disease. After months of seeking an audience, Stanley Prusiner,
the UCSF neurologist who was awarded a nobel prize for discovered
prions, infectious proteins that cause Mad Cow disease, warned
Agriculture Secretary Anne Veneman weeks ago that it was "just a
matter of time" before the disease would be found in the U.S. He
told her that every sick cow should be tested beginning now, and
eventually all cows upon slaughter. It's ironic that discovery
of mad cow disease in the U.S. should come just as the demand for
beef was soaring as a result of enormously popular high-protein
diets, such as the Atkins and South Beach diets. Mad Cow aside,
the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine issued a 1985
alert warning that long-term high-protein eating is linked to
heart disease, colon cancer, osteoporosis and renal failure. It
has been common belief among endurance athletes for decades that
a high-protein diet can lead to dehydration as the body seeks to
protect the kidneys from the toxic effects of amines, a byproduct
of protein metabolism. Dehydration, they argue, is the principal
factor in temporary weight loss when on a high-protein diet.
3. AIR POLLUTION: ATTEMPT TO CIRCUMVENT CLEAN AIR ACT IS BLOCKED.
When first enacted, the Act grandfathered existing power plants
from pollution controls required of new plants, since in time
they would be replaced. Wrong. Industry found it cheaper to
just rebuild old plants and keep polluting. So Congress rewrote
the law to include "upgrades." The Bush administration, however,
ruled that upgrades were really just maintenance -- in effect
overturning an act of Congress the a federal appeals court ruled.