Monthly Archives: June 2011

arctic ice thickness

Mapping Arctic sea-ice thickness

On thin ice?

Jun 22nd 2011, 16:14 by P.K.

Satellite mapping reveals the thickness of Arctic sea-ice

THE first map of Arctic sea-ice thickness has been produced using data from CryoSat-2 (pictured), a satellite launched by the European Space Agency (ESA) in April last year. The map, unveiled yesterday at the Paris Air and Space Show, shows both the extent, and thickness in metres, of sea ice in the Arctic region.

Images showing the extent of sea ice have been available for decades. The National Snow and Ice Data Centre tracks the Arctic ice-shelf using tools developed by NASA, and has produced monthly satellite maps going back to 1979. But this is the first map to address the thickness of the ice as well as its extent.

The extent of the ice cap varies seasonally, and in September 2007 it reached its smallest recorded size. But to understand exactly how climate change is affecting the polar regions, the thickness of the ice needs to be known too.

The project to map the ice’s thickness, proposed in 1998 by Duncan Wingham and his team at University College London, relies on data collected by the ESA’s satellite (the second of its kind, after the original was lost in a launch failure in 2005) from an altitude of 700km. The satellite uses radar to measure its altitude above the ice sheet. Because the satellite’s altitude above sea level is known, the thickness of the ice above sea level can then be determined, allowing the overall thickness of the ice to be calculated.

The first map, shown below, shows the average thickness of the sea-ice in January and February this year, as the ice approached its annual maximum. But the real value of the project will be the ability to map changes in the thickness of the sea ice over time, as further maps are produced.


VIDEO: Watch our videographic on the receding Arctic ice-shelf, and the potential oil and gas reserves beneath.



plate techtonics

United plates of America: The making of a new world

15 June 2011 by Gaia Vince

Magazine issue 2816.
(Image: Stocktrek Images/Getty) (Image: Stocktrek Images/Getty)The collision of North and South America changed the Earth’s climate dramatically – and may have happened far earlier than we thought

THERE’S something rather impressive, and a little surreal, about watching a container ship glide through a mountain, but here in Panama it’s an everyday sight. Around 15,000 ships pass through the famous canal each year, slicing through an isthmus that changed the world.

It took the builders of the Panama canal more than 10 years to blast their way across Central America, but their efforts were worth it. Before the canal was opened in 1914, ships passing between the Atlantic and Pacific had to make the treacherous journey around Cape Horn. The canal cut journey times in half, saved countless lives and helped establish the global system of trade that underpins the modern world.

A few million years earlier in the same area, an event of even more lasting significance took place – this time driven by the closing, rather than the opening, of a waterway.

Go back 20 million years and the world was a very different place. Though plate tectonics had arranged the continents pretty much as they are now, there was one crucial difference: North America and South America were separated by a deep ocean channel, the Central American Seaway.

The closure of that channel by the land bridge we know as Panama was one of the most important geological events of the past 65 million years. It had major effects on the world’s oceans, climate and biology, and perhaps even triggered the evolution of humans. Now, palaeontologists working close to the canal have found evidence that dramatically changes our understanding of that continental collision. If confirmed, it will do more than upset geologists: it alters our understanding of what drives the world’s climate, with important implications for predictions of global warming and its consequences.

The orthodox account of the rise of Panama was pieced together in the 1980s by geologist Tony Coates of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) in Panama City. It begins with a series of volcanic eruptions that formed an archipelago to the south-west of the Central American Seaway, on a small tectonic plate called the Caribbean plate. As this plate drifted north and east, the archipelago entered the seaway, partially closing the gap. That was about 4 million years ago, and by 3 million years ago, following tectonic uplift and an accumulation of sediments, the two great continents had become linked by a land bridge – what we now know as Panama. It changed the world.

This closure of the Central American Seaway separated the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, completely changing ocean circulation patterns. With the seaway closed, the waters of the two oceans could no longer mix and their salinity began to diverge. Water evaporating from the Atlantic was carried west by trade winds and fell as rain into the Pacific, making the Atlantic saltier and the Pacific more dilute. This salinity gradient set in motion the giant oceanic loop that drives our modern climate system.

At the same time, warm Atlantic currents that previously flowed through the gap were deflected north, creating the Gulf Stream. This is thought to have tipped the world into the current glacial period – 23 ice ages and counting – and led directly to the formation of the Arctic ice cap. It also “reset” rainfall patterns, creating the African savannah that is credited with attracting our ancestors down from the trees. Quite a lot for a little spit of land.

Locally, it was a crazy time. Weird and wonderful creatures that had evolved in isolation in South America – sloths, marsupials, porcupines, anteaters and armadillos – were able to spread into North America. At the same time, North American animals – pigs, dogs, sabretooth cats, camelids, horses and elephants – went the opposite way. Their migration was far more successful. Much of South America’s native fauna was wiped out and animals of North American origin can still be found all the way down to Patagonia.
Dig for your life
Every land animal that made the transcontinental journey had to traverse an isthmus that in parts is just 80 kilometres wide. That makes Panama a palaeontologist’s dream – and now is the perfect time to explore it because the Panama Canal Authority is midway through a widening project that is exposing new deposits rich with fossils. For the first time, sites older than the established 3-million-year collision date can be explored, right down to the volcanic bedrock. But time is short: the researchers have got about a year left before canal water drowns the past forever.

Taking full advantage of this opportunity to delve into the deep past of Central America is Carlos Jaramillo, a Colombian scientist with unusual energy and drive. Based on the evidence he and his team at the STRI have unearthed in the past couple of years, they conclude that the Americas crashed into each other not 3 million years ago, but up to 22 million years ago – some 19 million years before the birth of the Arctic ice cap.

To say that this is controversial is an understatement. “Jaramillo will run his flag up the pole and some will salute it and some will burn it,” says Coates. “It’s a fascinating finding, if he’s right, but it’s going to cause a furore.”

First, Jaramillo has to confront several lines of evidence that point to the conventional closure date of around 3 million years ago. For example, sloth bones and droppings are seen in the North American fossil record from that time, but not before. Fossil evidence from the Caribbean points the same way.

One effect of the gap closing was to cut the Atlantic off from a huge upwelling of cold, nutrient-rich deep waters along the Pacific coast of the Americas. This created the warm, clear and nutrient-poor Caribbean we now know, and marine palaeontologists see a massive crash in biodiversity around the Caribbean 3 million years ago. Around the same time, coral diversity changed, with species favouring clear, warm waters increasing and those that prefer churned-up nutrients declining.

“Caribbean biodiversity is now remarkably poor for a tropical ocean. There were twice as many coral species before the isthmus formed,” says marine palaeoclimatologist Aaron O’Dea, also at STRI. “What we are seeing, I think, are the effects of a mass extinction.”

Perhaps the most compelling piece of evidence for the conventional date is provided by the glaciation of the Arctic around 3 million years ago, which is generally believed to have been triggered by the emergence of the Gulf Stream. Though it seems counter-intuitive that warm water surging north could have led to the formation of ice sheets in the Arctic, the logic is clear. The Gulf Stream delivers an otherwise missing ingredient for ice-cap formation: moisture. Warm water evaporates and falls as rain or snow, either directly into the Arctic Ocean or indirectly via Siberia’s great rivers, diluting the sea water and allowing ice to form at relatively mild temperatures. Once the ice cap grew, it reflected heat back into the atmosphere, further cooling the polar zone.

That’s the accepted theory. But if Jaramillo is right then the Arctic freeze may be unconnected to the Gulf Stream and we may have to work out an entirely new scenario for how the ice cap formed. That raises important questions about the future as well as the past. How the current melting of the glaciers in Greenland will affect the Gulf Stream – and vice versa – becomes even less predictable.

Such ifs and maybes hinge on Jaramillo being right. So what’s the evidence? “When Tony Coates did his study, he didn’t have the fantastic site exposures or the technologies we have now. He was really starting from scratch,” Jaramillo says. “Tony was only able to look at sediments on top of the volcanic bedrocks and date them from remains found there. But we are now able to look at the volcanic rocks themselves.”

Using a tool called thermochronology, Jaramillo’s geologist colleague Camilo Montes has been able to date the major uplift created by the collision between the Caribbean plate, carrying the beginnings of Panama, and the South American plate. “We can see that signal, dated at 22 to 25 million years ago, everywhere from our canal site to Colombia.” says Montes.
Magma rising
The technique relies on the fact that volcanic rock is created by magma rising from a chamber and then cooling, causing crystals to form and then crack. Once you know at what temperature a particular crystal, say zircon, cracks, it is possible to use the cracks to calculate how many years ago it was raised by an eruption or continental collision.

Another new technique also places Panama and South America in close proximity 20 million years ago. Sediments can now be dated and traced back to the mountains from which they eroded, sometimes hundreds of kilometres away. Using this “provenance” technique – which relies on measuring ratios of elements such as uranium and lead – the team has traced 20-million-year-old sediments found near Cartagena, on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, back to their roots. “It is clearly from a mountain in Panama being weathered 20 million years ago,” Jaramillo says. “The sediment could only have reached Cartagena if the Panamanian rock was close enough – less than 150 kilometres away.”

Perhaps the most persuasive evidence for the earlier collision comes from the canal excavations: remains of distinctly South American animals and plants dating from 22 million years ago. “We’ve found many animals, including freshwater crocodiles, river turtles and snakes,” Jaramillo says. “We are still cleaning up enormous amounts of sediments, looking for tiny bones, seeds and fruits. It’s like panning for gold.”

But even if Jaramillo is right and Panama struck South America around 20 million years ago, that doesn’t necessarily mean that this was when the Central American Seaway closed. The key question is the location of North America at the time of the collision. Was Panama already connected to it, or was it just a series of islands? If the latter, then the collision would not have closed the gap.

Jaramillo again found his answer at the Panama canal site: fossilised remains from 22 to 23 million years ago revealing a mature forest containing large mammals. “We found everything from horses to camels to bear-dogs, as well as large tree trunks,” Jaramillo says, which strongly suggest that Panama was already joined to North America by the time of the collision. “If it was an island, we would expect to see different animals to those on the mainland. But they are all typical fauna of the rest of North America.”

Jaramillo is now convinced that the continental closure happened long before the conventional date of 3 million years ago. He accepts, however, that it may have taken another 15 million years after the plates collided to create an unbroken land bridge. That may be why he sees crocodiles and turtles but not other large animals: the shallow channel would have prevented the latter from bridging the divide.

Jungle clearance
He also concedes that there is no evidence for North American animals moving south around 20 million years ago, but points out that this may be because there are no accessible sites in the South American tropics that date back that far. “We are just starting to dig at the collision zone site in Colombia, but we have to clear jungle first,” he says – not to mention the risks of working in an area controlled by the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

As for the Caribbean coral extinction 2 to 3 million years ago, Jaramillo says: “There have been many coral extinctions, including one that occurred 22 million years ago, perhaps related to the isthmus forming.” He cites recent evidence that suggests the extinction 3 million years ago may have been caused by a change in ocean chemistry unrelated to the closure of the seaway.

Further supporting evidence for Jaramillo’s early date may come later this year. An international ocean-drilling project working off the coast of New Jersey, where the Gulf Stream passes, is bringing up core samples extending as far as 3 kilometres below the seabed to probe ocean currents going back 40 million years. Meanwhile, Jaramillo has asked researchers at the Laboratory of Climate Science and the Environment, run by the French National Centre for Scientific Research in Gif-sur-Yvette, to model ocean circulation through the Central American Seaway as it became narrower and shallower, to see when the Gulf Stream could have started up.

Perhaps his biggest challenge, though, is to explain how the Arctic iced up independently of the Gulf Stream. “Maybe plate tectonic configurations elsewhere, or a drop in carbon dioxide made the Arctic colder,” he guesses. Another possibility is that the tilt of Earth’s axis altered slightly around 3 million years ago, reducing the amount of sunlight hitting the northern hemisphere.

Jaramillo can take encouragement from the fact that he isn’t alone in challenging the orthodoxy. Climatologist Gerald Haug of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich also suspects that the continents collided much earlier. “Certainly, there is evidence of a proto-Gulf Stream – far weaker than today’s – 20 million years ago,” he says. Despite that, he says he has “compelling evidence” that the salinity of the Atlantic and the Pacific didn’t diverge until 4.5 million years ago, suggesting that the Central American Seaway remained at least partially open until then. “The shallow channel provided sufficient interchange until that date. And it is the salinity imbalance that drives the strong Gulf Stream we see today.”

To add to the confusion, Haug has yet another take on the glaciation question. He thinks the Gulf Stream played no part in provoking the Arctic big freeze – in fact, it did the reverse. “I call it the Panama paradox,” he says. “The Earth had been cooling for millennia and had reached the threshold conditions for glaciation around 4.5 million years ago. But then the strong Gulf Stream caused by Panama closing brought warmth to the area and delayed glaciation until 2.7 million years ago.”

Who is right? Did the rise of Panama trigger the glaciation of the Arctic, delay it, or have no effect? The answer matters enormously as we try to model the consequences of climate change. The isthmus that changed the world is as relevant as ever.

Gaia Vince is a writer based in London

another skellig?

Iron Age settlement found on one of Europe’s most inhospitable islands

By Daily Mail Reporter
Saturday, Jun 18 2011

Archaeologists have discovered evidence of a settlement which could date back to the Iron Age on one of Europe’s most inhospitable islands.It had been thought that no people had ever lived on the St Kilda island of Boreray, 40 miles west of the Outer Hebrides in the Atlantic Ocean.

Inhabitants of nearby Hirta island used to visit Boreray only in the summer to hunt birds and gather wool, a practice which ended in the early 20th century.
Location, location: Evidence of a permanent settlement dating from as far back as the iron Age has been discovered on the inhospitable St Kilda island of Borera
Location, location: Evidence of a permanent settlement dating from as far back as the iron Age has been discovered on the inhospitable St Kilda island of Borera

Rugged landscapes: Boreray was previously thought to have been too difficult an area for any settlements to flourish
Rugged landscapes: Boreray was previously thought to have been too difficult an area for any settlements to flourish

But the new discovery suggests that people may have lived on the steep slopes of the island as far back as prehistoric times.

The remaining 36 inhabitants of the St Kilda archipelago were evacuated from the islands at their own request in 1930.

Archaeologists from the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments (RCAHMS) of Scotland and the National Trust for Scotland made the new discovery on an eight-day research trip to Boreray.

RCAHMS Surveyor Ian Parker said: ‘This is an incredibly significant find which could change our understanding of the history of St Kilda.

‘Until now we thought Boreray was just visited for seasonal hunting and gathering by the people of Hirta.

‘But this new discovery shows that a farming community actually lived on the island, perhaps as long ago as the prehistoric period.
Farmed: Though the island has very steep slopes, the team found remnants of an agricultural field system and crop terraces
Farmed: Though the island has very steep slopes, the team found remnants of an agricultural field system and crop terraces

‘These agricultural remains and settlement mounds give us a tantalising glimpse into the lives of those who lived for a time on Boreray.

‘Farming what is probably one of the most remote and inhospitable islands in the North Atlantic would have been a hard and gruelling existence.

‘And given the island’s unfeasibly steep slopes, it’s amazing that they even tried living there in the first place.’

The team found remnants of an agricultural field system and crop terraces.

Wildlife: Boreray is known for its biodiversity as well as cultural heritage, both recognised by Unesco
Wildlife: Boreray is known for its biodiversity as well as cultural heritage, both recognised by Unesco

Three possible settlement mounds were also uncovered. One of these contained the intact remains of a stone building with a ‘corbelled’ roof, sealed by soil over the centuries.

The archaeologists think some of the remains could date to the Iron Age.
St Kilda is one of 27 locations in the world with dual World Heritage Status by Unesco in recognition of both its natural and cultural heritage.

Cared for by the National Trust for Scotland, it is home to tens of thousands of seabirds, including 45,000 gannets, and a few hundred wild sheep.

Hirta is the largest island in the archipelago.

Jill Harden, who is under contract with the National Trust for Scotland, said: ‘New discoveries and interpretations are fundamental to people’s understanding of ways of life associated with all the islands and stacs that make up the St Kilda archipelago.

‘It is refreshing to know that there is still so much to learn about these islands.’

The team were on the island last summer and have spent the past year analysing their findings.

Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop said: ‘This extraordinary discovery is further evidence of the international importance of the St Kilda archipelago, reinforcing its value as one of Scotland’s five World Heritage Sites.’

Flighty population: Cared for by the National Trust for Scotland, the island is home to tens of thousands of seabirds, including 45,000 gannets
Flighty population: Cared for by the National Trust for Scotland, the island is home to tens of thousands of seabirds, including 45,000 gannets

St Kilda lies 40 miles west of the Outer Hebrides in the Atlantic Ocean
St Kilda lies 40 miles west of the Outer Hebrides in the Atlantic Ocean

women priests yay

yeah, i’m never going back to being a catholic until this is allowed for real.

Women Priests Defy Catholic Church At The Altar

by NPR Staff

Roman Catholic Women Priests on their ordination day, June 4th at St. John’s United Christ Church of Christ in Catonsville, MD.
Roman Catholic Women Priests on their ordination day, June 4th at St. John's United Christ Church of Christ in Catonsville, MD.
Courtesy of Gene Renner
Roman Catholic Women Priests on their ordination day, June 4th at St. John’s United Christ Church of Christ in Catonsville, MD.

June 12, 2011

In 2002, seven women were secretly ordained as priests by two Roman Catholic bishops in Germany. After their ordination, a kind of domino effect ensued.

Those seven women went on to ordain other women, and a movement to ordain female priests all around the world was born. The movement, named Roman Catholic Womenpriests, says more than a hundred women have been ordained since 2002, and two-thirds of them are in the U.S.

On a recent June day in Maryland, four more women were ordained as priests. The gallery at St. John’s United Church of Christ was filled with Catholic priests and nuns, there to support the women and the ordination movement — though visitors were asked not to photograph them. Witnessing the ceremony was enough to risk excommunication.

The audience turned to watch as the women made their way down the aisle, beaming like brides. The two-and-a-half-hour ceremony ended with Holy Communion — the moment they’d been waiting for. Each woman performed the rites for the first time as a priest, breaking bread and serving wine as tears of joy flowed down their faces.

Marellen Mayers was one of the women ordained that day, and like her fellow ordinands, she was raised in the Catholic Church. Her mother had an altar at home, and when Mayers was a child, she would stand in front of it, wearing a cloth as her vestments and saying the Latin Mass.

“My brother and sister would be kneeling behind me, and if I said, ‘Dominus vobiscum,’ I would turn around and say, ‘You’re supposed to say ‘Et cum spiritu tuo,'” Mayers recalls.

The "Laying On Of Hands" during the ordination ceremony. The priests lay hands on the candidates, invoking the Holy Spirit, before they are officially ordained. They are, left to right: Ann Penick, Marellen Mayers, Bishop Andrea  Johnson (center, performed the ordination), Patricia "Patti" LaRosa and  Caryl Johnson.

Courtesy of Gene Renner
The “Laying On Of Hands” during the ordination ceremony. The priests lay hands on the candidates, invoking the Holy Spirit, before they are officially ordained. They are, left to right: Ann Penick, Marellen Mayers, Bishop Andrea Johnson (center, performed the ordination), Patricia “Patti” LaRosa and Caryl Johnson.

Fellow ordinand Patti LaRosa had a similar experience growing up. She came from a close-knit Italian family and always felt comfortable in the Catholic Church. In the late 70s she got married, had two kids, and was working as an assistant at a law firm in Rochester, N.Y.

Several times a week she would go to church during her lunch break, and one day she realized, “I’m supposed to be a priest.”

As members of the Roman Catholic Church, these women priests are all breaking church rules, which allow ordination only to baptized males. No member of the Roman Catholic Women priests has been excommunicated by the Church, but they have felt repercussions. They’ve not only been threatened, they’ve lost friends and colleagues within the Church — many of whom fear they will lose their jobs if they support the women’s ordination movement openly.

LaRosa recognizes they are breaking Church law — specifically Canon 10:24 — but says, “when you have an unjust law, sometimes it needs to be broken before it can be changed.”

paramagnetic paint

i want to paint my house so that it changes color with temperature and humidity. this is as close as i can come in published articles.

Scientists Develop Auto Paint That Changes Color With the Press of a Button

Shopping for a car will never be the same as scientists have developed a new form of auto paint that changes color with the touch of a button. This revolutionary new paramagnetic paint is a technical wonder and is viewed by Nissan and other auto companies as an amazing innovation that would draw huge traffic to dealerships and will make it easier for consumers to get the exact option level they want on a car without the sacrifice of their favorite color.

Research with this new science of special light reflecting coatings has been going on for years and there have been several different approaches used to achieve the effect but recent breakthroughs have taken it out of the laboratory and into a real commercial product for large scale applications.

The process starts out with a standard galvanized piece of automotive sheet metal steel. A special polymer is applied to the steel with superparamagnetic iron oxide particles embedded within it. The nanoscale crystalline particles of magnetite (iron oxide) are controlled using a low grade magnetic field which is used to effect the spacing of the colloidal crystals and thereby controlling their ability to reflect light and change color.

The coatings are perfect for an automotive application because a continuous small magnetic charge is needed to keep the desired color active and the driver also has the ability to turn off the system at which time the vehicle turns back to its default color of white. The coating has the ability to reproduce the full spectrum of colors and can change to a specific color in about a second. The actual materials used in the process are not expensive and are non-toxic. A special hard clearcote is used to seal and protect the surface and testing has shown that the color consistency of the finish is uniform even with the sharp creases and severe bends utilized in the exterior of automotive panels. With progress continuing on current levels paramagnetic paint could make it’s appearance on some models by 2010.

there’s also thermochromic paint.  and these guys seem to have the market boxed.  and these guys.

by the people, for the people

Mob rule: Iceland crowdsources its next constitution

Haroon Siddique, Thursday 9 June 2011 18.43 BST

Country recovering from collapse of its banks and government is using social media to get citizens to share their ideas

Iceland's parliament (the althing)

The new constitution will include checks and responsibilities for Iceland’s parliament (the althing). Photograph: Brynjar Gauti/AP

It is not the way the scribes of yore would have done it but Iceland is tearing up the rulebook by drawing up its new constitution through crowdsourcing.

As the country recovers from the financial crisis that saw the collapse of its banks and government, it is using social media to get its citizens to share their ideas as to what the new document should contain.

“I believe this is the first time a constitution is being drafted basically on the internet,” said Thorvaldur Gylfason, member of Iceland’s constitutional council.

“The public sees the constitution come into being before their eyes … This is very different from old times where constitution makers sometimes found it better to find themselves a remote spot out of sight, out of touch.”

Iceland’s existing constitution dates back to when it gained independence from Denmark in 1944. It simply took the Danish constitution and made a few minor adjustments, such as substituting the word “president” for “king”.

In creating the new document, the council has been posting draft clauses on its website every week since the project launched in April. The public can comment underneath or join a discussion on the council’s Facebook page.

The council also has a Twitter account, a YouTube page where interviews with its members are regularly posted, and a Flickr account containing pictures of the 25 members at work, all intended to maximise interaction with citizens.

Meetings of the council are open to the public and streamed live on to the website and Facebook page. The latter has more than 1,300 likes in a country of 320,000 people.

The crowdsourcing follows a national forum last year where 950 randomly selected people spent a day discussing the constitution. If the committee has its way the draft bill, due to be ready at the end of July, will be put to a referendum without any changes imposed by parliament – so it will genuinely be a document by the people, for the people.

Given that it was intended to go to a referendum, Gylfason said, the idea was that the public should be involved from the start of the process and not just at the end. Social media is seen as a way of making that happen with Iceland’s population among the world’s most computer-literate. Two-thirds of its people are on Facebook.

Gylfason said he had been pleasantly surprised by the level of discussion. “There’s been a lot of goodwill for what we are trying to do. The public have added much to our debate. Their comments have been quite helpful and they have had a positive effect on the outcome.”

Gylfason, an economics professor at the University of Iceland, said the draft bill would include checks and responsibilities for parliament and provisions for separation of powers intended to prevent a repeat of the financial crisis. It would also contain significant changes in the way MPs are elected and judges appointed.

pirate uniforms

if i had to write uniforms, they would be someplace between those gothic skull shirts you see everywhere and indian chic.

Mexico’s hottest fashion craze: ‘Narco Polo’ jerseys

Trend sweeps neighborhoods, inspired by drug dealers who were arrested wearing shirts

Edgar Valdez Villarreal

Alexandre Meneghini  /  APTexas-born fugitive Edgar Valdez Villarreal, alias “the Barbie,” center, smiles during his presentation to the press after his arrest in Mexico City. “Narco Polo” is the new fashion trend sweeping lower-class neighborhoods in Mexico.
The Associated Press
updated 6/10/2011 11:29:52 PM ET

MEXICO CITY — “Narco Polo” is the new fashion trend sweeping lower-class neighborhoods in Mexico, inspired by seven high-ranking drug traffickers who were arrested over a three-month stretch wearing open-neck, short-sleeved jerseys with the familiar horseman-with-a-stick emblem.

The polo shirts are becoming ubiquitous in street vendors’ stalls from the drug-war-ravaged state of Tamaulipas to the cradle of Mexican drug trafficking, Sinaloa.

Demand is so high that a Mexico City street vendor named Felipe stocks several colors, and names them after the drug lord who was wearing that color at the time of his arrest.

“This is the ‘J.J’,” he says, pointing to a blue one, “and this is ‘La Barbie,'” indicating a green number. That was a reference to Jose Jorge (“J.J.”) Balderas, who allegedly dealt drugs and shot soccer star Salvador Cabanas in the head, and to U.S.-born Edgar Valdez Villarreal, “La Barbie.”

Despite their Ralph Lauren labels, the shirts on sale on Mexico City streets for 160 pesos ($13.50) are clearly pirated goods, sold by unlicensed vendors like Felipe who don’t want their full names used for fear of attracting police attention.

But some of Felipe’s customers have their first names embroidered on the back of the shirts, a service he offers for an extra fee, as a sort of dare.

It’s probably not the demographic that designers at Ralph Lauren were thinking of for their polo shirts. The company did not respond to several requests for comment about the shirts’ popularity in Mexican criminal circles.

The shirt La Barbie wore when captured appeared to be the only potentially authentic one of the bunch. The rest of the drug traffickers appeared to be wearing cheap knockoffs of the $98 to $145 Ralph Lauren “Big Pony” jerseys.

‘You can’t say anything to me’
The shirt is becoming so pervasive that it provoked public grumbling from Sinaloa Gov. Mario Lopez Valdez.

“Now you see how these shirts like La Barbie’s have become the fashion,” said Lopez Valdez. While he didn’t suggest an outright ban, he told a local radio station that “I think we have to close off everything that promotes criminal behavior.”

He complained that the fad glorifies traffickers.

Image: Suspect Victor Valdez, known as "El Gordo Varilla" (The Big Stick) is being presented to the media in Cuernavaca Reuters
Victor Valdez, known as “El Gordo Varilla”, in Cuernavaca in May 2011. The suspected drug boss is wearing one of the Lauren-style shirts now popular in lower-class neighborhoods in Mexico.

“Many young people want to emulate them as idols in some way … and they want to be drug traffickers. And there are a lot of young girls who want to be the girlfriends of drug traffickers.”

But it may not be sheer adulation; wearing the shirts may also be a way for youths to thumb their noses at authority, a time-honored pastime among young people around the world.

“To the police, it’s a message that says ‘I could be a drug trafficker and walk right in front of you and you can’t say anything to me because I’m just wearing a shirt,'” said Oscar Galicia Castillo, a psychologist at the IberoAmerican University who studies prison inmates. “Many youths are also using it as a way of making fun of snobbish status markers.”

For Pedro, who sells snacks at a stand on a downtown Mexico City street, his light blue polo shirt just represents an indefinable sense of cool. He said the shirts had become all the rage in his tough neighborhood of Tepito, and that his wife bought him one as a surprise.

“It looks good. It gives you class,” he said. He declined to give his last name, saying police had recently caught him selling cigarettes to minors.

In some rough barrios, a shirt that conveys a vague sense of menace and a “don’t mess with me” attitude may be helpful.

“The guys who buy them want people to think they’re tough,” said Cesar, a counterfeit-shirt vendor who said most of the customers at his downtown Mexico City stall are young males. “It’s about putting on a look.”

All about standing out
For at least two decades, Mexicans have fretted about youths emulating drug traffickers, from the days when narcos favored the designs of Versace and exotic-leather boots, or marijuana-leaf insignia on belt buckles, shirts and baseball caps. But such trends remained largely regional, and were derided as tacky.

But the new fashion trend has been helped along by a new, more urbane and sophisticated generation of drug traffickers, who dress more like Mexico’s wealthier classes.

In 2010, Vicente Zambada Niebla, the son of drug lord Vicente “El Mayo” Zambada, was arrested in an upscale Mexico City neighborhood, wearing a preppy ensemble of sports coat, designer jeans and striped cotton shirt.

Vicente Carrillo Leyva, the son of another drug lord, was collared around the same time wearing a jogging suit emblazoned with the name “Abercrombie.”

Media coverage also can promote the trend. Newly captured capos are paraded before television cameras wearing the latest narco-fashion, often with beautiful girlfriends at their sides. Authorities allow some, like J.J., to sit down for interviews looking self-assured, fit and unrepentant.

“My business improved. Everybody wanted to work with me,” Balderas said of the notoriety he achieved while a wanted man.

It wouldn’t be the first time designers have faced an unexpected market. Uber-preppy designer Tommy Hilfiger’s clothes became a must-have item for inner-city youths a few years ago.

For Galicia Castillo, the psychologist, it’s all about standing out, identifying oneself as a member of a certain sector of a crowded world, probably much the same reason people shell out $145 for the original: “That’s why I wear it, so that everyone will look at me, will see that I can afford this. And I could be a narco, so don’t mess with me.”

pet cemetery

like old people eating dog food, someday people are going to take the cheaper way out when disposing of their remains.  it may even come to dumpsters wrapped in garbage bags.

NY tells pet cemeteries to stop taking in humans

Associated Press
Jun 10, 2011 7:40 PM EDT


HARTSDALE, N.Y. (AP) — A state agency has told New York’s animal cemeteries to stop burying the ashes of pet owners alongside their beloved cats, dogs and parakeets.

The order from New York’s Division of Cemeteries comes as a growing number of Americans are deciding to share their final resting place with their pets.

The ruling has blocked at least one burial at the 115-year-old Hartsdale Pet Cemetery, which claims to be the nation’s oldest. And it has upset a woman who had prearranged to have her ashes interred there along with five pets, four of which are already buried.

“Suddenly I’m not at peace anymore,” Rhona Levy of the Bronx said Friday. “You want to be with the people you are closest with, your true loved ones. The only loved ones I have in my life right now are my pets, which I consider my children.”

Levy, 61, said she has no backup plan and is hoping the state order will be reversed.

Taylor York, a law professor at Keuka College in Penn Yan, N.Y., said the state order compounded the grief in her family after the April death of her uncle, Thomas Ryan.

Ryan’s wife, Bunny, and their two dogs, B.J. I and B.J. II, are buried at Hartsdale. Ryan had arranged, and prepaid, to join them, York said. There’s also a space for B.J. III, who’s still alive.

But Ryan’s ashes sit in a wooden box at his sister’s home because the state’s new rule won’t allow him into Hartsdale.

“My mother is completely distraught over this,” York said. “She breaks down in tears again and again, every time it crosses her mind. After watching her brother die, she has to go through this insanity?”

Hartsdale was ordered to stop taking in human ashes – it never allowed intact human remains – on Feb. 8, three days after it was featured in an Associated Press story about human burials in pet cemeteries. The order was issued statewide in April, said Lisa MacSpadden, spokeswoman for the New York Department of State, which includes the cemetery division.

She said that remains buried in human cemeteries benefit from state protections more so than if they are buried at pet cemeteries. For instance, she said human cemeteries qualify for the state-mandated permanent maintenance fund, which ensures that lots and cemeteries are maintained.

Hartsdale, 20 miles north of Manhattan, has an estimated 700 humans interred with about 75,000 animals. It has added 10 or 12 in each of the past few years, compared with three to five before, Ed Martin Jr., the cemetery’s president and director, said in February. The International Association of Pet Cemeteries and Crematories has also noted a recent increase nationwide.

The New York cemetery division said any cemetery providing burial space for humans must be operated as a not-for-profit corporation. And by promoting the human-interment service and charging a fee – $235 to open a grave and add ashes – Hartsdale was violating laws governing not-for-profit corporations, it said.

However, Martin says the pet cemetery is a private, for-profit business. And the Division of Cemeteries’ own website says private cemeteries do not fall under its jurisdiction.

“It seems ridiculous we can’t do it,” Martin said Friday. “As of now, we’ve suspended the human part of it, but it’s our position that they don’t have the authority to do this.” He said the service was an accommodation for customers and never raised significant revenue.

York, who has a law practice in addition to her teaching post, has sent the cemeteries division a legal memo detailing why she believes it cannot prevent human burials in pet cemeteries.

“The law is clear,” she said. “There’s no authority for this board to just arbitrarily impose nonprofit corporation law on a privately incorporated for-profit business. … If I have to file a lawsuit, then I’ll file a lawsuit.”

“My uncle wants to be buried beside his wife and what he considered to be his children and I’m not letting anyone stand in the way,” she added. “His love for those dogs was just as real and just as strong as any parent’s for any child.”

The state asked Martin to sign a pledge that Hartsdale had stopped human interments, but he has resisted.

Instead, he asked the state to at least “grandfather” the cases of people who had already arranged to have their ashes buried with their pets.

MacSpadden said that request would be discussed at the next Cemetery Board meeting.

The state position could disrupt Martin’s own plans. He said earlier this year he hoped his ashes would be added to a family plot – including a dog – at Hartsdale.

grandad potheads

Senior Citizens’ Marijuana Use Divides Retirement Community

Joe Schwartz
GILLIAN FLACCUS   06/ 8/11 06:17 AM ET
LAGUNA WOODS, Calif. — Joe Schwartz is a 90-year-old great-grandfather of three who enjoys a few puffs of pot each night before he crawls into bed in the Southern California retirement community he calls home.

The World War II veteran and stroke sufferer smokes the drug to alleviate debilitating nausea and is one of about 150 senior citizens on this sprawling, 18,000-person gated campus who belongs to a thriving – and controversial – medical marijuana collective operating in the middle of one of the largest retirement communities in the United States.

The fledgling collective mirrors a nationwide trend as more and more senior citizens turn to marijuana, legal or not, to ease the aches and pains of aging. But in Laguna Woods Village, tucked in the heart of one of the most conservative and wealthiest counties in California, these ganja-smoking grandparents have stirred up a heated debate with their collective, attracting a crackdown from within the self-governed community.

Many members of the 2-year-old collective keep a low profile, but others grow seedlings on their patios and set up workshops to show other seniors how to turn the marijuana leaves into tea, milk and a vapor that can be inhaled for relief from everything from chemotherapy-related nausea to multiple sclerosis to arthritis.

The most recent project involves getting collective members to plant 40 seeds from experimental varieties of marijuana that are high in a compound said to have anti-inflammatory properties best suited for elderly ailments. The tiny plastic vials, each containing 10 seeds, are stamped with names like “Sour Tsunami.”

Under California law, people with a variety of conditions, from migraines to cancer, can get a medical marijuana card with a doctor’s recommendation and join a pot collective to get what they need. All the members of Laguna Woods Village’s collective have medical marijuana cards and are legal users under state law, but the drug is still banned under federal law.

Lonnie Painter, the collective’s president and perhaps most activist member, worries daily about his high-profile position within the tiny community of pot users. The 65-year-old grandfather supplements regular painkillers with marijuana tea for osteoarthritis and keeps stacks of marijuana collective applications on a desk in the living room, just a few feet from the Lego bricks his 7-year-old grandson plays with on his frequent visits.

“We’ve got people who don’t like it here, they don’t like marijuana and they still have that `communism’ and `perversion’ and `killer weed’ attitude,” said Painter, who has shoulder-length gray hair, a white goatee and wears several gold necklaces. “What I get more worried about is myself getting put in jail. If you were just a patient you’d be safe, but if you are active and involved in any way in making it available for others, the federal government can come and scoop you up.”

In the first two years of the collective’s life, however, Painter and other members have had more trouble from their fellow residents than from the government.

When things first got under way, Painter and three others were growing about two dozen plants with names like Super Silver Haze in the Laguna Woods Village community garden. Photos show his 800-square-foot plot overflowing with marijuana plants taller than a grown man butting up against the staked tomatoes and purple flowering clematis of other gardeners.

But the Golden Rain Foundation, the all-volunteer board that governs the community, cracked down and prohibited the cultivation of marijuana on all Laguna Woods Village property. The vote followed the report of the theft of two marijuana plants, tangerines and a rake and shovel from the community garden, according to meeting minutes of the Community Activities Committee’s Garden Center Advisory Group.

The foundation, which maintains the 3-square-mile community’s 153 acres of golf courses, seven clubhouses and other amenities, adopted the policy late last year after a lengthy legal review.

“We thought that it was not proper. It sets a precedent. Our gardens are for flowers and vegetables, and that’s all, and it’s been that way since 1964 or 1965 when this was started,” said Howard Feichtmann, who was chairman of the Garden Advisory Group. “We thought that’s what it should remain and not get involved with medical marijuana or anything else that is considered on the fringe.”

Those with medical marijuana cards can still grow the state limit of six mature plants per person in their private residences.

Susan Margolis, who sat on the Garden Center Advisory Group, said the debate has divided people along generational lines in a community where the average age is 78 but new residents can move in at 55. She estimated that up to 10 of her younger neighbors take medical pot for ailments but said many older residents are fiercely opposed.

“This did stir up a lot of feelings,” said Margolis, 67, who said those opposed the public pot plots had valid safety concerns. “There are a lot of people that have never used marijuana and there are younger people who have used marijuana who say, `Come on now, this is just ridiculous.'”

After the vote, the collective had to rip its plants out and has struggled to produce the pot it needs for its members.

At first, the senior citizens tried to run their own grow site by creating a greenhouse in a rented facility off-site, but they lost thousands of dollars of crop when someone plugged a grow light into the wrong outlet, giving the plants 24 hours of light a day during the critical flowering period instead of 12 hours. Then, they gave seedlings to a grower operating a greenhouse in Los Angeles, but that ended just as badly: The place was busted by police, and all the plants were confiscated and destroyed.

Now, a fellow Laguna Woods Village resident and collective member recently started growing for the group in two off-site greenhouses whose location Painter and others declined to provide. The all-organic supply is distributed to members on a sliding scale, from $35 an ounce to about $200 an ounce based on ability to pay and need. Many members also grow their legal limit of six seedlings on private patios or in space-age looking indoor tents designed to coddle the growing weed.

The collective’s website, which includes three albums of photos of the pot plants growing alongside regular produce, dresses down the community’s board members for the collective’s rocky path, calling them “ill-informed, intolerant tyrants” who have violated members’ rights.

“It’s just so difficult and it shouldn’t be because it makes me feel like I’m doing something criminal but I’m not,” said Barbara Ayala, a Laguna Woods Village resident and collective member who says she received nasty emails when she organized a daylong medical marijuana workshop. “I’m only trying to provide people with medicine … that is the best quality that we can provide.”

when we grow old, we shall be hippies

i’ve been saying it for years.  when we get old, old folks homes will be just another version of the hippie commune, and institutionalized old folks homes will be like prisons.

Growing Old Together, in New Kind of Commune

FEB 27 2006

Stan and Peggy Northup-Dawson in the courtyard of Glacier Circle, communal housing in Davis, Calif., that they developed with 10 friends.

Some of the residents of the Glacier Circle complex gathered last week for a meeting at the home of Dorie Datel. Clockwise from left, Lois Grau, Mary Ellen and Ray Coppock, Ms. Datel (obscured), and Stan and Peggy Northup-Dawson.

DAVIS, Calif., Feb. 23 — They are unlikely revolutionaries. Bearing walkers and canes, a veritable Merck Manual of ailments among them, the 12 old friends — average age 80 — looked as though they should have been sitting down to a game of Scrabble, not pioneering a new kind of commune.

Opting for old age on their own terms, they were starting a new chapter in their lives as residents of Glacier Circle, the country’s first self-planned housing development for the elderly — a community they had conceived and designed themselves, right down to its purple gutters.

Over the past five years, the residents of Glacier Circle have found and bought land together, hired an architect together, ironed out insurance together, lobbied for a zoning change together and existentially probed togetherness together.

“Here you get to pick your family instead of being born into it,” said Peggy Northup-Dawson, 79, a retired family therapist and mother of six who is legally blind. “We recognized that when you’re physically closer to each other, you pay more attention, look in on each other. The idea was to share care.”

The four couples, two widows and two who are now living solo live in eight individual town houses, grouped around an inner courtyard. Still under construction is the “common house” with a living room and a large kitchen and dining room for communal dinners; upstairs is a studio apartment they will rent at below market value to a skilled nurse who will provide additional care. It is their own self-styled, potluck utopia.

“It’s an acknowledgment that intimacy doesn’t happen by chance,” said John Jungerman, 84, a retired nuclear physicist and one of several Ph.D.’s in the group, who is perpetually clad in purple socks and sandals.

“At first John said, ‘I’m not old enough,’ ” his wife, Nancy, said of the commune. “I said, ‘You’re 80 years old. How old do you have to be?’ ”

There are about a dozen co-operative housing developments for the elderly in development, from Santa Fe, N.M., to St. Petersburg, Fla., a fledgling movement to communally address “the challenge of aging non-institutionally,” said Charles Durett, an architect in Nevada City, Calif., who imported the concept he named co-housing — people buying homes in a community they plan and run together — from Denmark in the late 1960’s.

Though communal housing for the elderly is new, intergenerational communities have been around since 1991, when the first opened in this politically progressive university town. There are now 82 across the country.

In Abingdon, Va., residents are beginning to move into ElderSpirit, a development founded by a 76-year-old former nun, Dene Peterson. The community of 37, 10 years in the making, includes a “spirit house” for ecumenical prayer and meditation.

“I just thought there had to be a better way for older people to live,” said Ms. Peterson, who formed a nonprofit development corporation with three other former Glenmary sisters, a Catholic order, and knit together a variety of private and governmental funds (16 of the 29 units are subsidized affordable housing).

Ms. Peterson says she was haunted and inspired by her work with elderly public housing residents in Chicago in the 1960’s.

“The elderly were dying,” she recalled, “and they were anonymous.”

With millions of baby boomers moving toward retirement, gerontologists and developers are looking to communal housing for the elderly with growing interest, building on a generation’s mythology that already includes communes and college dormitories.

In co-operative housing, said Janice Blanchard, a gerontologist and housing consultant in Denver, “the social consciousness of the 1960’s can get re-expressed.” Baby boomers, she predicted, “are going to want to recreate the peak experience of their lives. Whether a commune or a college dorm, the common denominator was community.”

Rich Morrison, 79, a retired psychologist from Sacramento State University and the sole single man at Glacier Circle, only recently gave up his hobby, swimming the major rapids of the Colorado River. “Emotionally, there’s no reason why I can’t continue to grow until I’m 100, if I’m lucky,” he said.

Mr. Morrison is once widowed and twice divorced. Like others in the group who have struggled through every loss, from a child’s suicide to the death of a spouse, he speaks about now being able to make “heart choices,” hard won.

“I’ve been lonely,” said Lois Grau, 87, whose husband died three years ago. “Little things go wrong that he would have fixed.”

Mrs. Grau and her friends have known each other for nearly 40 years, raising children in the same neighborhood. Many residents met through the local Unitarian Universalist Church, and they still begin weekly meetings by pledging to “listen deeply and thoughtfully” to each other. Davis is known for its involved citizenry who dash off to their book groups at 7 p.m. The Glacier Circle 12 even partake of what they call a “dream group,” in which they discuss their dreams.

Their talents and resources are by no means typical. They are all accomplished professionals, and the market value of their homes allowed them to purchase land and build their dream at a cost of $3.2 million, or about $400,000 each, plus $350 a month in dues. They expect to collect $850 a month in rental income. Individuals own their own homes but share expenses of common areas.

Stan Dawson, 75, a resident who has a doctorate from the Harvard School of Public Health, retired as chief of air pollution standards for the State of California to navigate the project full time through bureaucratic hurdles.

“It was a wonderful thing my dad played golf every day,” he said of his father’s retirement. “But I wanted to further my life in old age.”

The design-by-democracy may not work for everyone.

The architect, Julie Haney, 49, said tension broke out over the color of gutters and trim on their bungalow-style homes. As Ms. Haney explained, “Ann likes blue, Stan wanted brown, Ann hates brown, everyone liked purple.”

Ms. Haney, whose own elderly parents died as the design was nearing completion, said the residents forgot things more often than her younger clients did but made up for it with perspective. “I asked, ‘Do you want a 20-year roof or a 40-year roof?” she recalled. “They said, ‘If it lasts five years, we’ll be happy.’ ”

To be sure, the challenges are daunting. Sue Saum, 74, for instance, moved in with her husband Jim, 84, a retired professor who, during the course of planning the community, was told he had Alzheimer’s disease. Shortly thereafter, Mrs. Saum was operated on for breast cancer, and recently she had back surgery. At some point, she acknowledges, her husband may need care beyond their friends’ abilities.

“It’s one of those day-at-a-time, figure-it-out-as-you-go things,” she said. “But creating a community like this, you learn a lot about the strength of the human spirit.”

Twelve friends’ buying land at age 80 requires a certain leap of faith. By its nature Glacier Circle will change over time. A homeowners association, consisting of one resident from each unit, has the right of first refusal to buy any home when a vacancy arises, for whatever reason, or what Dr. Jungerman nonchalantly calls a visit from “the great father in the sky.”

Glacier Circle is too small to legally mandate age restrictions, but Ray Coppock, 83, a retired editor, thinks that will take care of itself. “They’ll take one look at us,” he said. “That should reduce the potential buyer situation.”

At ElderSpirit in Virginia, which will be fully occupied in late spring, spirituality is the major draw. Ms. Peterson defined spirituality as “people finding meaning in their lives, acknowledging ways to give up the ego and grow the soul.”

Six more ElderSpirit communities, in St. Petersburg, Fla., Wichita, Kan., and elsewhere, are in planning stages, with some financing from the Chicago-based Retirement Research Foundation.

Not surprisingly, a streamlined form of community housing may be in the wind, as efforts spring up around the country to speed up the planning process, which normally takes two and a half to three and a half years.

Unlike intergenerational co-operative housing, a niche market of about 5,000 people, communal housing for the elderly has “far more market potential,” said Jim Leach, president of the Wonderland Hill Development Company in Denver, which is building Silver Sage, a communal housing development for the elderly scheduled to open in Boulder next year.

Dr. William Thomas, who developed the “Eden Alternative,” a widely publicized effort to make nursing homes less institutional, is developing Eldershire in Sherburne, N.Y., south of Syracuse, a hybrid between co-operative housing and a traditional development. The idea is to build first and then attract residents who will run it themselves.

Dr. Thomas compares co-operative housing, and its time-consuming community planning, with “homemade bread — people get together, mix the ingredients, let the dough rise.” He’s trying to adapt the concept for broader consumption — “100 million people,” he says, “buy bread at the store.”

Even revolutionaries need to be flexible. At Glacier Circle, where the first tulips of spring are popping up, the group had approved special wall insulation for Mr. Morrison, who has a penchant for playing Mahler’s Ninth Symphony at 3 a.m. When the bass and timpani pulse through his subwoofer, his neighbor Dorie Datel, a youthful 80-year-old, just lets it slide. For Ms. Datel, whose husband left her for “the other woman” he met at Elderhostel, this group’s wisdom and resolve are embedded in the square footage.

“We’ve all lived through the Depression and war and the big stuff, so we know that things don’t always stay the same,” Ms. Datel said. “All of us are interested in living.”

Glacier Circle and ElderSpirit are self-developed cohousing communities. The Elder Cohousing Network, founded four years ago, offers for-profit how-to workshops. General information is available through a national non-profit,