Mice laced with a common painkiller parachuted into a United States Air Force base on Guam recently as part of an ongoing attempt to kill off invasive brown tree snakes that have caused enormous ecological damage on that South Pacific island. For the helicopter drop, the dead mice were attached to tiny paper streamers that deposited them in the forest canopy, where the snakes live. Each mice is dosed with 80 milligrams of acetaminophen, an amount scientists consider harmless to other animals and humans. (Acetaminophen tablets used for pain relief in humans commonly contain about 500 milligrams.) No mouse drops were made over populated areas. Guam is an American territory in the Mariana Islands.
Brown tree snakes, which are native to Australia and Papua New Guinea, entered Guam in the late 1940′s or early 1950′s, probably by traveling with military cargo. The snake is a fierce predator of small animals, including birds and lizards. Animals native to Guam had no experience of the snakes. Nor were there predators to control the snake’s numbers. In addition to destroying native bats and other animals, the snakes have wiped out 9 of the island’s 12 native bird species. An estimated 2 million of the snakes currently live on the island. Brown tree snakes slithering into electric power substations on Guam cause about 80 power outages each year, at a cost of up to $4 million in repairs and lost productivity.
The recent mouse bombardment was the fourth official aerial drop in the new snake eradication effort, which began in Sepember. Wildife experts on the island also employ snake traps, snake fences, snake-sniffing dogs, and human hunters. A study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) suggests that the snakes are taking the tasty but lethal bait. Scientists worry a brown tree snake invasion of nearby islands, including Hawaii, in cargo planes or ships could cost billions in damage.
In a blog on the Anderson Air Force Base website, Marc Hall, the supervisory wildlife biologist of the USDA at the base wrote, “Before the snakes arrived, Guam’s ecosystem was very different. Numerous birds could be seen and heard when walking through the northern limestone forests. Without the birds to disperse seeds and the fact that nonnative pigs and deer tear up the ground and eat sapling plants, the native limestone forest has been severely degraded and will require extensive help in order to recover.”
On Dec. 2, 1942, the world entered the age of nuclear power with the first controlled nuclear chain reaction. It took place in an experimental reactor, named Chicago Pile-1 (CP-1), assembled and started under the supervision of the Italian physicist Enrico Fermi. The construction of CP-1 was part of the much larger Manhattan Project, the top-secret effort by the United States to construct a nuclear bomb.
The reactor was built underneath one end of the University of Chicago’s Stagg Field, a football stadium. It was a rather crude construction consisting of a “pile” of graphite and radioactive uranium. Long rods of metal were inserted in the pile to prevent the reaction from beginning. When the rods were removed, the nuclear reaction began. The reaction ran for a total of about 28 minutes.
Fermi was convinced his calculations concerning the safety of the reaction were correct. However, many scientists would later voice their doubts about conducting such an experiment in one of the most heavily populated parts of a major city. The reactor was made without any cooling system or radiation shielding. The possibility of the reactor exploding or entering into a runaway chain reaction was quite real if the reactor had not been constructed properly. The site of the experiment is now designated a U.S. Historical Landmark.
Fermi continued his work with reactors and the construction of a nuclear bomb throughout World War II (1939-1945). The Manhattan Project eventually succeeded in the construction of a nuclear bomb. The historical significance of the December 2 experiment is without question. Releasing tremendous energy, it held the promise of both heralding an abundant new energy source and of making possible the construction of a terrible new weapon. Many people have wondered if it ultimately marked the beginning of a promising future or the start of a much more dangerous world.
United States Secretary of State John Kerry has announced that Iran and the international community have reached a deal on Iran’s nuclear program, claiming it will make Israel and the Middle East a safer place. Secretary Kerry characterizes the pact as “a first step in making sure Iran could not have nuclear weapons.”
Iran has agreed, for a limited period, to curb some of its nuclear activities in return for the lifting of some international economic sanctions. Iran has also agreed to stop enriching (concentrating) uranium to create material with more than 5-percent U-235 and to dilute (weaken) much of its existing stores of 20-percent U-235 to 5 percent. Natural uranium contains 0.7 percent of an isotope of uranium known as U-235. U-235 is the only natural isotope of uranium whose nucleus (core) can easily be made to undergo fission—that is, to split into two nearly equal parts. The fission process releases the nuclear energy used in power plants and weapons. Most nuclear reactors at power plants in the United States use fuel that contains about 2- to 4-percent U-235. Nuclear weapons and the reactors for nuclear-powered ships require uranium with concentrations of about 90-percent U-235.
The agreement bars Iran from adding new centrifuges and capping or, in some cases, eliminating, stockpiles of uranium. (Centrifuges are rapidly spinning tubes used to enrich uranium.) In addition, Iran promised to open its nuclear facilities to unprecedented “daily” inspections.
The deal was condemned by the government of Israel as a “historic mistake” that rewards Iran while getting nothing in return. (Former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad repeatedly vowed that Iran would “eliminate the Zionist regime,” referring to Israel.)
International affairs experts suggest that the agreement, in fact, presents President Barack Obama with the opportunity to steer a new American course in the Middle East for the first time since the Iranian Revolution in 1979. They point out that after 34 years of estrangement, the United States and Iran have signed a diplomatic accord that opens the door to further progress. “No matter what you think of it, this is a historic deal,” stated Vali R. Nasr–dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies–in an interview with The New York Times. “It is a major seismic shift in the region. It rearranges the entire chess board.”
Andrew Carnegie was born this week in 1835. Carnegie was a philanthropist and one of the world’s richest people during his time. He made his fortune in the steel business and used his wealth to establish many educational, scientific, and cultural institutions.
Carnegie was born on Nov. 25, 1835, in Dunfermline, Scotland. He was 12 when his family immigrated to the United States and settled in Allegheny City, Pennsylvania. As a teenager, Carnegie held a number of jobs, including cotton mill worker, telegraph messenger, and telegraph operator. In 1853, he took a job with the Pennsylvania Railroad, where he worked his way up from clerk and telegraph operator to division superintendent. During this time, Carnegie began investing in such iron companies as the Keystone Bridge Company, which built iron railroad bridges. He also bought stock in an oil company and a sleeping car company.
Carnegie left Pennsylvania Railroad in 1865 to run his own businesses. He got into the steel business and joined forces with Henry Clay Frick, a hard-nosed, wealthy industrialist who controlled the coke industry in the Pittsburgh area. Coke is a fuel made from coal. When Carnegie combined three of his companies to form the Carnegie Steel Company, he chose his trusted business partner Frick to be the chairman of the new company. Frick handled the daily operation, and Carnegie handled investments and long-range planning. This happy union, however, would eventually turn into one of the bitterest feuds in American industrial history and would last the rest of their liveIn the meantime, Carnegie built steel mills all over the United States. He used new methods and technology that made producing steel faster and easier. This process revolutionized steel production in the United States. Carnegie Steel soon became the largest steel company in the world, and Carnegie became a very rich man. While Carnegie had built a reputation as being a pro-labor industrialist, Frick was harsh with the steelworkers and did everything he could to control them and break their labor union. He cut their pay and ruthlessly put down strikes by the steelworkers. This caused tension between him and Carnegie, and it reached the boiling point following the bloody Homestead Strike in 1892. Frick locked out the striking steelworkers at the mill in Homestead, Pennsylvania, and hired Pinkerton guards to keep them out. Fighting broke out between the strikers and the guards, and 10 people were killed, including seven steelworkers. Though Frick had crushed the strike, Carnegie blamed him for the cold-hearted way he had handled it. This made Frick angry and resentful and led to constant bickering between the two men. Eventually, Frick left Carnegie Steel, and he and Carnegie never spoke again.
In 1901, Carnegie sold Carnegie Steel to J.P. Morgan for $480 million, making Carnegie the richest man in the world at that time. Carnegie spent his remaining years writing and giving away much of his fortune to worthy causes. He set up foundations and built libraries and educational institutions, including Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Carnegie died on Aug. 11, 1919.
A sinkhole in Dunedin, Florida, has swallowed a 14-foot (4.3-meter) boat and a backyard swimming pool, and parts of two houses are collapsing into it. One house lost the boat and a screened-in porch. The neighboring house lost the in-ground swimming pool and the master bedroom. The garage is also giving way. The sinkhole is currently 70 feet (21 meters) wide and 53 feet (16 meters) deep. Police evacuated six houses in Dunedin, a city on central Florida’s west coast, and electric power and natural gas lines are cut off.
Sinkholes are relative common in Florida where sandy soil sits on top of layers of clay and limestone. Over time, an acid created from oxygen in water causes the limestone to dissolve, undermining the ground, which eventually gives way. In February, a man in Seffner, Florida, near Tampa, died when a sinkhole opened under his bedroom. His body was never recovered. In August, sections of a hotel at a resort near Orlando collapsed into a sinkhole. The guests escaped without injury.
One hundred and fifty years ago this week, U.S. President Abraham Lincoln delivered a brief speech at the dedication ceremony for the Gettysburg National Cemetery. Four and a half months earlier, the Union Army had defeated Confederate forces at the Battle of Gettysburg. This battle, between about 90,000 Union troops and 75,000 Southern troops, has been called the greatest engagement ever fought on Unites States soil. The battle resulted in more than 45,000 total casualties (people killed, wounded, captured, or missing), exceeding the number of casualties in all previous American wars put together.
When Lincoln spoke at the dedication, he tried to give meaning to the sacrifices of those who died at Gettysburg, while also defining for the people of the North the purpose for fighting the Civil War.
“We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”
When Lincoln returned to his seat, he reportedly told Ward Hill Lamon, his friend and bodyguard, that his speech was a “flat failure and the people are disappointed.” Some newspapers even dismissed Lincoln’s remarks as unremarkable or too brief (the speech lasted just two or three minutes). However, many others immediately recognized the greatness of Lincoln’s remarks. Edward Everett, the most famous orator in the nation and the principal speaker at the dedication, wrote to Lincoln the following day: “I should be glad if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion in two hours as you did in two minutes.”
Five different versions of the Gettysburg Address are known to exist. The fifth version was written in 1864 and differed somewhat from the speech he actually gave. This version is carved on a stone plaque in the Lincoln Memorial.
Philippine President Benigno Aquino declared a state of national calamity yesterday in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan. He issued a statement that thousands of survivors are desperately waiting for aid to reach them in the two worst-affected provinces, Leyte and Samar. Friday’s massive cyclone left widespread destruction and loss of life on both islands. Tacloban, the Leyte provincial capital with a population is 200,000, is nearly leveled. Authorities fear that up to 10,000 people died in Tacloban alone. On the island of Samar, the small city of Guiuan was also largely destroyed. Relief workers told a BBC correspondent that areas in the far north of Cebu province suffered “80 to 90 percent” destruction.
The Philippine government estimates that the storm has affected some 9.5 million people—about 10 percent of the nation—and displaced more than 600,000 people. Entire regions are without food, water, and medical supplies. The head of the Philippine Red Cross, Richard Gordon, described the situation as “absolute bedlam,” and Jane Cocking, the humanitarian director for Oxfam, told the BBC that her colleagues witnessed “complete devastation. . . entire parts of the coastline just disappeared.” (Oxfam is an international confederation of 17 organizations working to find solutions to poverty and related injustice worldwide.) A team of 90 U.S. Marines and sailors based in Okinawa, Japan, landed in the Philippines yesterday to assess how the U.S. Department of Defense might best aid in the relief effort.
Meteorologists have confirmed that Haiyan was one of the strongest storms in recorded history. It smashed into the central Philippines On November 8 with sustained winds of 147 miles (235 kilometers) per hour and gusts of 190 miles (305 kilometers) per hour. The winds drove tsunami-like storm surges that were 40-feet- (12-meters-) high in places, leveling everything in their paths. In some areas, as much as 15.75 inches (400 millimeters) of rain fell, triggering massive flooding.
Typhoon Haiyan made landfall in Vietnam this morning, much weakened but, nevertheless, with sustained winds of 85 miles (140 kilometers) per hour.