Wednesday, March 14, 2007

'Ortiz mourns soldier lost in Iraq'

By Maureen Mullen / Special to

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- We're all going to get them. It's not a matter of if -- just a matter of when. Those phone calls, the bits of news that strike from nowhere, turning a perfectly average day into an exceedingly miserable one.
They may be a part of life, but that doesn't make them any easier to take.

On Tuesday morning, Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz got one of those messages. A young soldier he met last summer at Fenway Park was killed last week in Iraq.

Sitting at his locker in the clubhouse of City of Palms Park after the morning workout, Ortiz called a reporter over.

"I have a story for you," Ortiz said.

With that he told the story of meeting Spc. Justin Rollins. Within minutes, this mountain of a man -- the one with the megawatt smile, whose booming voice precedes him into any room -- was reduced to tears.

Rollins, 22, of Newport, N.H., was killed with five other soldiers on March 5 in Samarra, Iraq, when an improvised explosive device (IED) detonated near their unit during combat operations. They were assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, N.C.

"He was such a good kid," Ortiz said. "He came to Fenway to watch a game, and he wanted to meet me. It was going to be his last game at Fenway because he was going to Iraq. He came by the clubhouse, and I talked to him for a while. He just seemed like he was so full of life."

So impressed was he by Rollins, Ortiz promised to hit a home run for the young soldier. Ortiz kept that pledge, and for added measure, it was one of his patented walk-off numbers, in the 10th inning against the Phillies on June 24.

"I told him at the time that that home run I was going to dedicate to him for going to Iraq," Ortiz said. "And just today I received a message from his family."

Clubhouse attendant Jared Pinkos had the unenviable task of delivering the news.

"He came in jovial, typical Ortiz, laughing," Pinkos said. "But this just knocked him out. He started shaking."

Asked to send something for the funeral, scheduled for Saturday in Newport, with burial on Monday in Arlington National Cemetery, Ortiz has dispatched a white No. 34 uniform jersey, with the inscription, "My deepest condolences to the Rollins family. It was an honor to meet Justin and I will keep him in my prayers. Sincerely, David Ortiz."

He is also sending a ball, to be placed in Rollins' casket, on which he wrote: "To Justin Rollins, Rest in peace. God bless, David Ortiz," and another with his autograph as a memento for the Rollins family.
"It's just so sad," he said. "He's a young kid, full of life. Unbelievable, you know. It's just sad."

Ortiz paused, turned away and grabbed a T-shirt from his locker, wiping the tears from his eyes.

Though it was the first time Ortiz had received a call informing him of the death of a soldier who was also a fan, he is no stranger to the pain of that kind of news. His mother, Angela Rosa Arias, died in a car accident on Jan. 1, 2002, at the age of 46. Her birthday was last week. He also has a friend coping with the loss of his own mother two days ago.

The memories brought on by his mother's birthday, his friend's loss and, now, the news of Rollins' death have all hit him very hard, he said.

"It just got me," he said. "I think of the pain coming from his family."

"I can't believe he remembered Justin," said Rollins' girlfriend, Brittney Murray. "Well, I can believe it because Justin left such an impression on people. But I know that Justin would be very excited right now. I remember him saying that home run just made him so happy, especially since it was dedicated to him."

Rollins was to have come home on leave in April, on his wish list a trip to Fenway with Murray, who has never been to the fabled park.

"That was one thing he said -- 'We have to go to a Red Sox game. I really want to take you to Fenway.' That was one of his priorities for his leave," Murray said. "He loved baseball, and he loved the Red Sox. He told me his favorite place in the world was Fenway. It meant a lot to him."

At his funeral service, Rollins will posthumously be awarded the Army Service Ribbon, the Iraq Campaign Medal Ribbon, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal Ribbon, the National Defense Medal Ribbon, the Army Overseas Service Ribbon, the Army Good Conduct Medal Ribbon, two Purple Heart Medal Ribbons and the Bronze Star with Valor.

"It's gong to be a long road," Murray said. "But he lived very passionately, and he passed that on to me. I'm glad to have known him. He believed in what he was doing, and he died doing what he loved."

Donations may be made to the Justin A. Rollins Memorial Scholarship Fund, payable to the Newport School District, c/o Diane Fisher, 245 North Main St., Newport, N.H. 03773.

Maureen Mullen is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

'From a Rapt Audience, a Call to Cool the Hype'

by William J. BroadThe New York Times

Hollywood has a thing for Al Gore and his three-alarm film on global warming, “An Inconvenient Truth,” which won an Academy Award for best documentary. So do many environmentalists, who praise him as a visionary, and many scientists, who laud him for raising public awareness of climate change.

But part of his scientific audience is uneasy. In talks, articles and blog entries that have appeared since his film and accompanying book came out last year, these scientists argue that some of Mr. Gore’s central points are exaggerated and erroneous. They are alarmed, some say, at what they call his alarmism.

“I don’t want to pick on Al Gore,” Don J. Easterbrook, an emeritus professor of geology at Western Washington University, told hundreds of experts at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America. “But there are a lot of inaccuracies in the statements we are seeing, and we have to temper that with real data.”

Mr. Gore, in an e-mail exchange about the critics, said his work made “the most important and salient points” about climate change, if not “some nuances and distinctions” scientists might want. “The degree of scientific consensus on global warming has never been stronger,” he said, adding, “I am trying to communicate the essence of it in the lay language that I understand.”

Although Mr. Gore is not a scientist, he does rely heavily on the authority of science in “An Inconvenient Truth,” which is why scientists are sensitive to its details and claims.

Criticisms of Mr. Gore have come not only from conservative groups and prominent skeptics of catastrophic warming, but also from rank-and-file scientists like Dr. Easterbook, who told his peers that he had no political ax to grind. A few see natural variation as more central to global warming than heat-trapping gases. Many appear to occupy a middle ground in the climate debate, seeing human activity as a serious threat but challenging what they call the extremism of both skeptics and zealots.

Kevin Vranes, a climatologist at the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado, said he sensed a growing backlash against exaggeration. While praising Mr. Gore for “getting the message out,” Dr. Vranes questioned whether his presentations were “overselling our certainty about knowing the future.”

Typically, the concern is not over the existence of climate change, or the idea that the human production of heat-trapping gases is partly or largely to blame for the globe’s recent warming. The question is whether Mr. Gore has gone beyond the scientific evidence.

“He’s a very polarizing figure in the science community,” said Roger A. Pielke Jr., an environmental scientist who is a colleague of Dr. Vranes at the University of Colorado center. “Very quickly, these discussions turn from the issue to the person, and become a referendum on Mr. Gore.”

“An Inconvenient Truth,” directed by Davis Guggenheim, was released last May and took in more than $46 million, making it one of the top-grossing documentaries ever. The companion book by Mr. Gore quickly became a best seller, reaching No. 1 on the New York Times list.

Mr. Gore depicted a future in which temperatures soar, ice sheets melt, seas rise, hurricanes batter the coasts and people die en masse. “Unless we act boldly,” he wrote, “our world will undergo a string of terrible catastrophes.”

He clearly has supporters among leading scientists, who commend his popularizations and call his science basically sound. In December, he spoke in San Francisco to the American Geophysical Union and got a reception fit for a rock star from thousands of attendees.

“He has credibility in this community,” said Tim Killeen, the group’s president and director of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, a top group studying climate change. “There’s no question he’s read a lot and is able to respond in a very effective way.”

Some backers concede minor inaccuracies but see them as reasonable for a politician. James E. Hansen, an environmental scientist, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and a top adviser to Mr. Gore, said, “Al does an exceptionally good job of seeing the forest for the trees,” adding that Mr. Gore often did so “better than scientists.”

Still, Dr. Hansen said, the former vice president’s work may hold “imperfections” and “technical flaws.” He pointed to hurricanes, an icon for Mr. Gore, who highlights the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and cites research suggesting that global warming will cause both storm frequency and deadliness to rise. Yet this past Atlantic season produced fewer hurricanes than forecasters predicted (five versus nine), and none that hit the United States.

“We need to be more careful in describing the hurricane story than he is,” Dr. Hansen said of Mr. Gore. “On the other hand,” Dr. Hansen said, “he has the bottom line right: most storms, at least those driven by the latent heat of vaporization, will tend to be stronger, or have the potential to be stronger, in a warmer climate.”

In his e-mail message, Mr. Gore defended his work as fundamentally accurate. “Of course,” he said, “there will always be questions around the edges of the science, and we have to rely upon the scientific community to continue to ask and to challenge and to answer those questions.”

He said “not every single adviser” agreed with him on every point, “but we do agree on the fundamentals” — that warming is real and caused by humans.

Mr. Gore added that he perceived no general backlash among scientists against his work. “I have received a great deal of positive feedback,” he said. “I have also received comments about items that should be changed, and I have updated the book and slideshow to reflect these comments.” He gave no specifics on which points he had revised.

He said that after 30 years of trying to communicate the dangers of global warming, “I think that I’m finally getting a little better at it.”

While reviewers tended to praise the book and movie, vocal skeptics of global warming protested almost immediately. Richard S. Lindzen, a climatologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a member of the National Academy of Sciences, who has long expressed skepticism about dire climate predictions, accused Mr. Gore in The Wall Street Journal of “shrill alarmism.”

Some of Mr. Gore’s centrist detractors point to a report last month by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations body that studies global warming. The panel went further than ever before in saying that humans were the main cause of the globe’s warming since 1950, part of Mr. Gore’s message that few scientists dispute. But it also portrayed climate change as a slow-motion process.

It estimated that the world’s seas in this century would rise a maximum of 23 inches — down from earlier estimates. Mr. Gore, citing no particular time frame, envisions rises of up to 20 feet and depicts parts of New York, Florida and other heavily populated areas as sinking beneath the waves, implying, at least visually, that inundation is imminent.

Bjorn Lomborg, a statistician and political scientist in Denmark long skeptical of catastrophic global warming, said in a syndicated article that the panel, unlike Mr. Gore, had refrained from scaremongering. “Climate change is a real and serious problem” that calls for careful analysis and sound policy, Dr. Lomborg said. “The cacophony of screaming,” he added, “does not help.”

So too, a report last June by the National Academies seemed to contradict Mr. Gore’s portrayal of recent temperatures as the highest in the past millennium. Instead, the report said, current highs appeared unrivaled since only 1600, the tail end of a temperature rise known as the medieval warm period.

Roy Spencer, a climatologist at the University of Alabama, Huntsville, said on a blog that Mr. Gore’s film did “indeed do a pretty good job of presenting the most dire scenarios.” But the June report, he added, shows “that all we really know is that we are warmer now than we were during the last 400 years.”

Other critics have zeroed in on Mr. Gore’s claim that the energy industry ran a “disinformation campaign” that produced false discord on global warming. The truth, he said, was that virtually all unbiased scientists agreed that humans were the main culprits. But Benny J. Peiser, a social anthropologist in Britain who runs the Cambridge-Conference Network, or CCNet, an Internet newsletter on climate change and natural disasters, challenged the claim of scientific consensus with examples of pointed disagreement.

“Hardly a week goes by,” Dr. Peiser said, “without a new research paper that questions part or even some basics of climate change theory,” including some reports that offer alternatives to human activity for global warming.

Geologists have documented age upon age of climate swings, and some charge Mr. Gore with ignoring such rhythms.

“Nowhere does Mr. Gore tell his audience that all of the phenomena that he describes fall within the natural range of environmental change on our planet,” Robert M. Carter, a marine geologist at James Cook University in Australia, said in a September blog. “Nor does he present any evidence that climate during the 20th century departed discernibly from its historical pattern of constant change.”

In October, Dr. Easterbrook made similar points at the geological society meeting in Philadelphia. He hotly disputed Mr. Gore’s claim that “our civilization has never experienced any environmental shift remotely similar to this” threatened change.

Nonsense, Dr. Easterbrook told the crowded session. He flashed a slide that showed temperature trends for the past 15,000 years. It highlighted 10 large swings, including the medieval warm period. These shifts, he said, were up to “20 times greater than the warming in the past century.”

Getting personal, he mocked Mr. Gore’s assertion that scientists agreed on global warming except those industry had corrupted. “I’ve never been paid a nickel by an oil company,” Dr. Easterbrook told the group. “And I’m not a Republican.”

Biologists, too, have gotten into the act. In January, Paul Reiter, an active skeptic of global warming’s effects and director of the insects and infectious diseases unit of the Pasteur Institute in Paris, faulted Mr. Gore for his portrayal of global warming as spreading malaria.

“For 12 years, my colleagues and I have protested against the unsubstantiated claims,” Dr. Reiter wrote in The International Herald Tribune. “We have done the studies and challenged the alarmists, but they continue to ignore the facts.”

Michael Oppenheimer, a professor of geosciences and international affairs at Princeton who advised Mr. Gore on the book and movie, said that reasonable scientists disagreed on the malaria issue and other points that the critics had raised. In general, he said, Mr. Gore had distinguished himself for integrity.

“On balance, he did quite well — a credible and entertaining job on a difficult subject,” Dr. Oppenheimer said. “For that, he deserves a lot of credit. If you rake him over the coals, you’re going to find people who disagree. But in terms of the big picture, he got it right.”

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

'160,000-year-old jawbone redefines origins of the species'

I love the author's name on this particular topic. Without meaning any disrespect, His name sure sounds like "Uhh, LockJaw."

Tuesday March 13, 2007
by Alok Jha
The Guardian

Modern humans were living in northern Africa far earlier than previously thought, according to scientists. A new analysis of a 160,000-year-old fossilised jawbone from Morocco shows that the homo sapiens in the area had started having long childhoods, one of the hallmarks of humans living today.

It is known that the species homo sapiens emerged in Africa 200,000 years ago, but the oldest fossils that resemble modern humans come from sites in Europe dated to around 20,000 to 30,000 years ago.

The latest find shows that the key time in the development of a complex human society came much earlier than previously thought. The longer people had to learn and develop their brains as children, the more sophisticated their society could become. The new study pushes the date that modern humans emerged back by more than 100,000 years.

"When you look across primates as a whole or mammals you see things that tend to grow fast and reproduce young, they don't tend to be as socially complex as things like great apes and humans," said Tanya Smith of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig. "That has social implications. You can imagine being parents and having your kids grow up at 10 or 12 versus 16 or 18, it has a lot of implications for your social structure."

By looking at the teeth of a 160,000-year-old human fossil found at Jebel Irhoud in Morocco, she found remarkable similarities to modern humans. "If you were to take a jawbone of an eight-year-old person today and compare it with the relative degree of dental development with this individual from Morocco they would be nearly identical."

She said that the results, published yesterday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, were unexpected. "We know that earlier fossil humans show a more rapid period of growth and development. At a given age they show more teeth erupted than a living human today. This is the earliest evidence of something that ... hadn't been detected before in the fossil record older than maybe 20,000 - 30,000 years ago."

Analysing teeth is an established proxy for understanding the development of ancient humans. "In studying the teeth we understand more how growth and development would be characterised in a species and how it's changed through time," said Dr Smith. "There's a strong relationship between when an individual erupts their teeth and how long their childhood is, what age they begin reproducing, how long they live."

She said that as children grow a record of lines is left behind in their teeth, similar to rings in a tree. "These lines are left behind in the dental hard tissues and they persist for millions of years. You can count them and measure them. By knowing their spacing you know the speed of growth, and by knowing their number you know the time."

Chris Stringer, research leader in human origins at the Natural History Museum in London, said that the new study was important because the Jebel Irhoud site was often neglected by palaeontologists. "This paper certainly provides evidence of a pattern of growth like our own, and this is perhaps not surprising, as there is a very modern-looking child's skull from Herto in Ethiopia."

"While I think that the Irhoud material is probably less modern overall than do the authors of this paper, nevertheless these fossils could certainly represent populations ancestral to modern humans, and they show that North Africa may well have played a significant part in our origins."

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Review of 'Tartuffe' Lexington (KY) Herald-Leader


Tartuffe performances stellar; setting amiss
March 10th, 2007

As the old adage goes, some things never change.

Tartuffe, Actors' Guild of Lexington's latest production, satirically highlights something that hasn't changed since the play's debut in the French court nearly three centuries ago -- religious con-artists.

Tartuffe, the play's title character, swindles and cons his way into an affluent household. Dripping with faux-piety and manipulative, self-serving displays of so-called virtue, Tartuffe preys on the wavering faith of others for his own personal gain.

In his program notes, director Rick St. Peter dedicates the production to two genuine men of faith who have positively influenced him ·the Rev. Albert Pennybacker and the Rev. Ronald Luckey.

Conversely, he is quick to warn of spiritual predators. "Tartuffe comes in many disguises," he notes, "from Jim Jones to David Koresh to Jim Baker to Fred Phelps to Ted Haggard and many, many others..."

This production's Tartuffe, deliciously played by Scott Wichmann, seems to integrate the worst qualities of all of them to nastily sleazy effect.

Wichmann's performance packs a powerful hypocrisy-soaked punch, with wildly hilarious over the top entrances and smarmy displays of slimy self-reverence.

In short, because it is so much fun to hate him, you know he's done his job.

The supporting cast is no less stellar. Missy Johnston's Elmire, the subject of Tartuffe's carnal desires, balances a restrained elegance with a penchant for comic timing. The infamous "table scene" between her and Wichmann had the audience in stitches. Laura Blake as the saucy, sharp-tongued maid Dorine has a refreshing air of naturalness in her performance that lights up the stage. And Charles Edward Pogue as the Tartuffe-enamored Orgon is nothing short of brilliant.

Perhaps his intimate relationship with the text helps him on this front, for in addition to acting in the production, Pogue penned the adaptation of this Moliere classic.

Pogue's language sparkles with color and is ripe with crisp cleverness, making versatile leaps from theological discourse to the basest of juicy double entendre. The ensemble cast proves more than up to the task of its delivery, though the average theater patron may struggle to wade through its occasional density.

Despite a fantastic cast and a first-rate adaptation, something feels amiss in this production, but it is difficult to say exactly what. Perhaps it is the staggered momentum -- it does take a few scenes before the production hits its stride and even then, there are pockets of inaction where the production seems to stall.

Exaggerated direction is the name of the game in this satire, and while that works most of the time, sometimes it is just jarring. A replica of the set's beautiful, geometrically skewed stained glass window is colorfully painted on the stage floor, which at times distractedly draws the eye away from the actors.

But perhaps most unsettling is the decision to set the 17th century classic in the literal here and now -- the delightfully affected language is anything but contemporary, and the deus ex machina arrival of an emissary from the king proves less effective, almost irrelevant to our 21st century monarchy-free audience than it did in Moliere's day. It prompts one to ask, "What world IS this anyway?"

These unconventional choices may be artistically sophisticated, but they risk overloading the audience's capacity to suspend disbelief.

Yet overall this ambitious production proves its point -- that purity of belief, whether suspended or not, cannot be measured by garish displays of false faith, but only in the privacy of one's heart.



When: 8 p.m. Fri., Sat.; 2 p.m. Sun. through April 1.

Where: Downtown Arts Center, 141 E. Main St.

Cost: $15-$24.

Call: (859) 225-0370.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007


I used to live in Bellows Falls, Vermont when I was a kid. I have a deep love for the Green Mountain State and for the political will and tenacity of the people there. This is how movements get started-- one person, one household, one town, one state at a time...

Vermont Votes to Impeach Bush/Cheney
by John Nichols

When Vermont Governor Jim Douglas, a Republican with reasonably close ties to President Bush, asked if there was any additional business to be considered at the town meeting he was running in Middlebury, Ellen McKay popped up and proposed the impeachment of Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.

The governor was not amused. As moderator of the annual meeting, he tried to suggest that the proposal to impeach -- along with another proposal to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq -- could not be voted on.

But McKay, a program coordinator at Middlebury College, pressed her case. And it soon became evident that the crowd at the annual meeting shared her desire to hold the president to account.
So Douglas backed down.

"It became clear that no one was going home until they had the chance to discuss the resolutions and vote on them," explained David Rosenberg, a political science professor at Middlebury College. "And being a good politician, he allowed the vote to happen."

By an overwhelming voice vote, Middlebury called for impeachment.
So it has gone this week at town meetings across Vermont, most of which were held Tuesday.
Late Tuesday night, there were confirmed reports that 36 towns had backed impeachment resolutions, and the number was expected to rise.

In one town, Putney, the vote for impeachment was unanimous.
In addition to Governor Douglas's Middlebury, the town of Hartland, which is home to Congressman Peter Welch, backed impeachment. So, too, did Jericho, the home of Gaye Symington, the speaker of the Vermont House of Representatives.

Organizers of the grassroots drive to get town meetings to back impeachment resolutions hope that the overwhelming support the initiative has received will convince Welch to introduce articles of impeachment against Bush and Cheney. That's something the Democratic congressman is resisting, even though his predecessor, Bernie Sanders, signed on last year to a proposal by Michigan Congressman John Conyers to set up a House committee to look into impeachment.

Vermont activists also want their legislature to approve articles of impeachment and forward them to Congress. But Symington, also a Democrat, has discouraged the initiative, despite the fact that more than 20 representatives have cosponsored an impeachment resolution.
"It's going to be hard for Peter Welch and Gaye Symington to say there's no sentiment for impeachment, now that their own towns have voted for it," says Dan DeWalt, a Newfane, Vermont, town selectman who started the impeachment initiative last year in his town, and who now plans to launch a campaign to pressure Welch and Symington to respect and reflect the will of the people.

It is going to be even harder for Governor Douglas, who just this month spent two nights at the Bush White House, to face his president.

After all, Douglas now lives in a town that is on record in support of Bush's impeachment and trial for high crimes and misdemeanors.

For the record, Middlebury says:

We the people have the power -- and the responsibility -- to remove executives who transgress not just the law, but the rule of law.

The oaths that the President and Vice President take binds them to "preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States." The failure to do so forms a sound basis for articles of impeachment.

The President and Vice President have failed to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution" in the following ways:

1. They have manipulated intelligence and misled the country to justify an immoral, unjust, and unnecessary preemptive war in Iraq.

2. They have directed the government to engage in domestic spying without warrants, in direct contravention of U.S. law.

3. They have conspired to commit the torture of prisoners, in violation of the Federal Torture Act and the Geneva Convention.

4. They have ordered the indefinite detention without legal counsel, without charges and without the opportunity to appear before a civil judicial officer to challenge the detention -- all in violation of U.S. law and the Bill of Rights.
When strong evidence exists of the most serious crimes, we must use impeachment -- or lose the ability of the legislative branch to compel the executive branch to obey the law.

George Bush has led our country to a constitutional crisis, and it is our responsibility to remove him from office.