A Muslim weightlifter in Atlanta, Ga., will now be allowed to compete nationally after the sport’s international ruling body said she may wear a hijab and body-covering unitard.
Kulsoom Abdullah began lifting last year at her gym in Atlanta, and discovered she was surprisingly good at the sport. She qualified for the American Open Weightlifting Championships last December, but the event’s sponsoring body, USA Weightlifting, told her that she would not be able to compete in her modified uniform that covers everything but her hands, feet, and face.
Officials with the group said they had to follow the guidelines of the International Weightlifting Federation, which mandated that elbows and knees be uncovered so judges could tell that athletes had fully locked them out when they lifted. After the U.S. Olympic Committee and Abdullah petitioned the group, the IWF decided this week at a meeting in Malaysia that a tight-fitting unitard would be acceptable, since judges would still be able to see whether the knees and elbows were locked.
The new rule means Abdullah may now attend a national competition in July. She can lift 70 kilos (about 154 pounds) to her shoulders, and 60 kilos (or about 132 pounds) over her head, in a move called the “clean-and-jerk.”
“The newly approved competition costume modification promotes and enables a more inclusive sport environment and breaks down barriers to participation,” the IWF said in a press release. The group added that a hijab has always been allowed, as long as the athlete doesn’t touch it with the barbell.
Abdullah has a PhD in electrical computer engineering from Georgia Tech, and still does research at the university. She told The Lookout that what she likes about lifting is “there’s a lot of technique involved. Someone could be very strong and not be able to lift as much.”
Excelling at lifting “gave me confidence,” she said, adding that she hopes more women will take part in the sport if they hear about her story.
Abdullah’s problem is not unique in the world of sports. The Iranian woman’s soccer team showed up to a Olympic qualifying match against Jordan wearing hijabs earlier this month, and officials with the global soccer governing body, FIFA, promptly disqualified them. FIFA banned headscarves in 2007, citing choking hazards.
(Abdullah in a February competition: Photo provided by Abdullah)
Songbirds Use Grammar in Tweets
June 27, 2011 9:43:00 AM
We may not be able to use “bird brain” as an insult anymore. Japanese scientists have discovered that songbirds are using their own form of grammar.
The study challenges the belief that only humans are able to use grammatical rules to process strings of sound such as sentences.
Bengalese finches are tiny birds, which are easily domesticated and very social. They also do a lot of vocalizing. Each male has his own song call, which he varies quite a bit, but is distinctively his own, explains Abe. When he hears another male, his response is usually to make a burst of calls in reply (about 30 calls in 10 seconds).
Bird song can be thought of as being like a sentence, with the different sounds being like words. The scientists played jumbled-up bird songs to individual finches to see whether the birds responded with the usual burst of calls to the jumbled songs.
To their surprise they found that there were some jumbled songs that elicited a call-burst response and some that did not. Even more surprising: all the birds responded in the same way. If one bird ignored a jumbled call, all the other birds ignored that call too.
It seems that the order of syllables matters to the birds, and that suggests grammar in action.
“It’s as if you were presented with a sentence like ‘we will go to the zoo tomorrow,'” said Gisela Kaplan, an authority on bird song at the University of New England.
“Some versions of the sentence such as ‘tomorrow we will go to the zoo’ and ‘we will go to the zoo tomorrow’ are grammatically acceptable, others like ‘zoo go we will tomorrow the to’ are not.”
“Obviously with these birds the syllables can’t just be put anywhere, and that suggests that humans aren’t unique in being able to order sound logically. The fact that birds can do this, even if only at a simple level, is mind boggling,” said Kaplan.
In further experiments the scientists showed that the birds were able to learn new artificial grammar rules very quickly.
“Songbirds [can] discriminate auditory information that is much more complex than monkeys can handle”, said the researchers.
They also managed to identify the part of the bird’s brain that is important in doing the grammar processing.
Kaplan says this is particularly exciting because it means that birds can be used as animal models to better understand how the human brain processes language.
“Our results indicate that syllable sequences in bird songs convey some information,” said the Japanese researchers, which leads one to wonder whether birds extract any meaning from their songs.
“It may well mean something to the bird,” said Kaplan, “otherwise why would they bother?”
Coffee May Ward Off Alzheimer’s
June 28, 2011 6:28:11 AM
As scientists inch closer to figuring out what prevents dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, one avenue leads to that morning cup of Joe.
It’s likely that many complex factors influence the development of Alzheimer’s
|CANBERRA (Reuters) – Risks are growing that incidents at sea involving China could lead to war in Asia, potentially drawing in the United States and other powers, an Australian think tank warned on Tuesday.
The Lowy Institute said in a report that the Chinese military’s risk-taking behavior in the South and East China Seas, along with the country’s resource needs and greater assertiveness, had raised the chances of an armed conflict.
“The sea lanes of Indo-Pacific Asia are becoming more crowded, contested and vulnerable to armed strife. Naval and air forces are being strengthened amid shifting balances of economic strategic weight,” report authors Rory Medcalf and Raoul Heinrichs wrote.
“China’s frictions with the United States, Japan and India are likely to persist and intensify. As the number and tempo of incidents increases, so does the likelihood that an episode will escalate to armed confrontation, diplomatic crisis or possibly even conflict,” they said.
The study on major powers and maritime security in Indo-Pacific Asia was published as China prepares to unveil its first aircraft carrier, perhaps this week, a development that has added to worries in the region about China’s military expansion and reach.
This month, China sent its biggest civilian patrol ship to the South China Sea. That rattled the Philippines, which makes competing claims to some waters thought to hold vast oil and gas reserves.
On Monday, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution that deplored China’s use of force against Vietnamese and Philippine ships in the South China Sea.
Senator Jim Webb, chair of an east Asian and Pacific affairs subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said “a growing number of nations around the South China Sea are now voicing serious concerns about China’s pattern of intimidation.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei, speaking at a regular news briefing in Beijing, said the U.S. resolution “did not hold water” and that countries not directly involved in the dispute should not interfere.
“Countries not involved should respect the hard work of countries actually involved to peacefully resolve the dispute bilaterally through dialogue,” Hong said.
Ian Storey, an expert on maritime security in Asia, said the
report was a “balanced and credible assessment” of the risks of a clash in the South China Sea as “competition over territorial claims, maritime boundaries and natural resources heats up, and as China adopts more aggressive tactics.”
“The complete absence of confidence-building measures and conflict prevention mechanisms between the various claimants suggests that it is only a question of time before an incident at sea escalates into a more serious confrontation, with worrying implications for regional stability,” said Storey, a security analyst at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore.
Medcalf and Heinrichs said more maritime patrols and intrusive surveillance, nationalism and resources disputes would together make it harder to manage arguments over maritime sovereignty.
“All of these factors are making Asia a danger zone for incidents at sea: close-range encounters involving vessels and aircraft from competing powers, typically in sensitive or contested zones,” the authors said.
The report detailed tension between Beijing and Tokyo, which stemmed from an April 2010 Chinese naval exercise near the Japanese islands of Okinawa and were exacerbated by Japan’s arrest of a Chinese fisherman whose trawler had rammed a coastguard vessel.
Those incidents provoked a diplomatic crisis during which China cut its exports of crucial rare earth minerals to Japan, the United States’ closest ally in the region.
Despite initial signs of warmer bilateral ties following the March tsunami and nuclear crisis in Japan, a long-running dispute over a chain of isles which are close to potentially significant oil and gas reserves simmers.
“Helicopter buzzing incidents have continued, with Japan deploring as especially insensitive an instance that occurred in the weeks following the March disaster,” the authors said.
They said Beijing has caused concern in Southeast Asia over its “core interest” claim on the South China Sea and in Australia about its possible future security behavior, while the emergence of competition between India and China at sea is “only a matter of time.”
New efforts were needed to build regional confidence and to involve China in a continued military dialogue with the United States and Japan, they said.
They also said maritime security hotlines were needed between the United States and China, and Japan and China, to allow real-time responses to any incidents.
(Additional reporting by John Chalmers in Singapore, and Sabrina Mao and Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Editing by Robert Birsel)
By Jennifer Welsh, LiveScience Staff Writer
LiveScience.com | LiveScience.com – 6/27/11
Our sun may be on the verge of a relatively long snooze, as researchers have
found solar energy output could decrease in the coming decades. Though the
dip in solar activity isn’t expected to reverse climate change and plunge Earth
into a cold snap, similar phenomenon have happened in our planet’s history,
Some researchers say that changes in sun activity caused the “Little Ice Age”
from 1500 to 1800 — during the chilliest part of this cooling trend beginning in
1645, the sun reached its 75-year Maunder Minimum, when astronomers found
almost no sunspots. But the connection between solar activity and Earth’s climate
remains largely mysterious — scientists are not sure how much of a role the Maunder
Minimum played in fueling the little ice age.
And despite media claims in recent days that global cooling is imminent, experts
don’t expect a repeat of the little ice age anytime soon.
“It turns out this would be a very minor impact on the climate, even if we were to
return to Maunder Minimum conditions,” climate scientist Michael Mann, of
Pennsylvania State University, told LiveScience. “That would only lead to a
decrease in about 0.2 watts of power per square meter of the Earth’s surface —
that compared to greenhouse forcing, which is more than 2 watts per meter squared.
That’s a factor of 10 larger.” [The
World’s Weirdest Weather]
Predicting solar activity
When researchers refer to solar activity, they generally mean the number and intensity
of sunspots, which are dark, cool, magnetically twisted areas on the sun that sometimes
erupt violently and send streams of charged particles into space. This activity ebbs and
flows in an 11-year cycle.
Even while approaching the next peak in the cycle, a typically storm period called solar
maximum that’s due in late 2013, the sun seems to be entering a decreased solar output phase,
new research has suggested, one that might all but eliminate sunspot activity during the
next cycle, which hits its maximum again in 2022. The data supporting this come from
three separate analyses of sunspot activity, solar jet streams and the magnetic field.
“I’m skeptical of all three pieces of evidence that were presented,” said Doug Biesecker,
of NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center, who notes that the data is based on only
a few years of observations. “We know the sun doesn’t behave exactly the same way all
the time, so give the sun a chance to show its normal behavior before we say it’s abnormal.”
Fewer sunspots would mean lower sun activity in general, the researchers who presented the
work believe; and they expect fewer of the suns’ intense bright spots called faculae, which
ring the sunspots. This decreased brightness would lower the amount of energy that reaches
the Earth from the sun. But by how much is an open question.
A new Little Ice Age?
The Little Ice Age that began in the 1500s could have been caused by decreased solar output
of just 0.2 percent, previous research by Peter Foukal suggests, though he believes that there
were most likely other, earthly factors (including several erupting volcanoes) at play as well.
“If it really were true that the sun were to descend into a period of literally no sunspots for
tens of years, there’s a possibility that what occurred in the 17th century could occur again,”
Foukal, of HelioPhysics Inc., told LiveScience. “But we can’t be sure there is a causal effect,
we can’t say for sure why it happened in the 17th century.”
Foukal believes that the effect of a solar minimum could help mitigate some of the global
warming we are experiencing, though he warns that eventually the minimum will end.
“It could mitigate partially if the sun does cool things a little bit, but it’s a matter of time
before the sun comes back to life again [and] you will roast,” Foukal told LiveScience.
Even if the sun has reached a new low point in its cycle, the change in solar output would
not be nearly enough to undo even the current warming we’ve already experienced from
increased greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere, Mann said.
Predicting solar output
Researchers have a tough time predicting changes in solar output, though scientists include
in their climate simulations the little information they have about solar changes. The known
11-year-cycle is already built into their climate predictions, though it’s difficult to know
how active any given cycle will be.
A paper published last year by Georg Feulnerand Stefan Rahmstorf (of the Potsdam Institute
for Climate Impact Research in Potsdam, Germany) in the journal Geophysical Research
Letters tried to use these models to predict what would happen if the sun did actually enter
a new Maunder Minimum starting in 2030. The model found the numbers that agreed with those
quoted by Mann — a decrease of 0.2 watts of power per meter, which is the equivalent of
0.2 degree Fahrenheit (0.1 degree Celsius) of cooling.
“The influence of the grand solar minimum is to decrease the effect of the greenhouse gasses
by a few tenths of a degree,” Mann said about the results of that study. “How much of a player
compared to other drivers that we know are important? It’s almost down in the noise, it’s a
blip on the radar screen.”
The sun and the Little Ice Age
While admitting that a small decrease in warming could happen, Mann doesn’t agree that it
could send Earth into another Little Ice Age. “It’s ludicrous, there is no scientific support for
that whatsoever,” Mann said. “The science doesn’t even remotely support that conclusion.”
Mann believes that the temperature changes during the Little Ice Age were mainly caused
by several volcanic eruptions during that time, which changed the temperatures and
dynamics of the atmosphere, causing localized cooling.
Changes to the jet stream also affect local temperatures, as it moves cooler air upward
across Europe. The jet stream is dependent on ozone levels in the atmosphere, which
in turn can be affected by either solar radiation or by volcanic output in the atmosphere.
The debate still rages as to how big of an effect each of these factors play.
- Photos: Sunspots on Earth’s Closest Star
- Earth in the Balance: 7 Crucial Tipping Points
- Top 10 Surprising Results of Global Warming
Adding to our list of odd, colloquial words, today we have “kaput.”
When I looked this one up, I wasn’t even sure how to spell it,
much less its etymology. Enjoy!
–adjective Slang .
1. ruined; done for; demolished.
2. unable to operate or continue: The washing machine is suddenly kaput.
3. go kaput, to cease functioning; break down: The old car finally went kaput.
Gov. Jerry Brown to build world’s largest solar plant in Inland Empire
Shakespeare’s Relative May Have Inspired Ophelia
June 8, 2011 12:35:00 PM
The death of William Shakespeare’s relative may have provided the inspiration for tragic heroine Ophelia, the doomed object of Hamlet’s love, Oxford University researchers claimed Wednesday.
Coroner’s reports of accidental deaths in Tudor England showed that a Jane Shaxspere drowned aged two-and-a-half while picking corn marigolds 20 miles (32 kilometers) from Shakespeare’s Stratford-upon-Avon home, researchers found.
In Shakespeare’s classic, Ophelia drowns in a brook after hanging flowers in a willow tree. The poetic moment is famously captured in John Everett Millais’s 1852 painting.
The Bard would have been five at the time of Jane Shaxspere’s 1569 death, and the Oxford team believe the two children may have been related.
“It was quite a surprise to find Jane Shaxspere’s entry in the coroners’ reports,” Steven Gunn of Oxford University’s Faculty of History said.
“It might just be a coincidence, but the links to Ophelia are certainly tantalizing,” he added.
The coroner recorded a verdict of “misfortune” on Jane’s death.
Emma Smith, of Oxford’s Faculty of English Language and Literature, agreed the incident could be behind one of literature’s most poignant scenes.
“Even if Jane Shaxspere were not related to the playwright, the echo of their names might well have meant this story stuck in his mind,” she argued. “It’s a good reminder that, while Shakespeare’s plays draw on well-attested literary sources, they also often have their roots in gossip, the mundane, and the domestic detail of everyday life.”
SANTA FE, New Mexico (Reuters) – When Diane Granito was hired to recruit
foster and adoptive parents in New Mexico, she was told to review the photos
of children available for adoption.
The shots were "uniformly bad," Granito said.
She knew they had to be better if people were going to be drawn to adopt the
Granito, the adoption events manager for New Mexico’s Children, Youth and
Families Department, asked some of the state’s most talented photographers to
help capture the beauty and spirit of the state’s foster children. A large-scale art
show at a local gallery would help spread the word, she thought.
This weekend marks 10 years since the first exhibition of the Heart Gallery.
There are now 130 different Heart Gallery organizations around the country,
and two recently started in Ontario, Canada.
Granito recently launched a national organization, Heart Gallery of America,
and hopes to expand in Europe.
That first exhibition of the Heart Gallery broke gallery records, drawing more
than 1,200 people to Santa Fe’s upscale Gerald Peters Gallery in a single evening.
On display were 50 various-sized photos of children who had been removed
from their homes because of abuse or neglect and were looking for their forever families.
"When I walked into that gallery and saw all those beautiful portraits looking at me,
I knew we were on to something," Granito told Reuters.
"The portraits were so powerful, I knew we were going to help these kids step
out of the shadows."
Indeed, six children were matched with families that first night, including a group
of three siblings and one child who was adopted by a photographer who was asked
to take portraits.
Within a few years, news of success stories began to spread. Heart Gallery officials
say 5,000 children have been adopted as a direct result of the photographic portraits.
"It’s all about getting the message out that we have children here in the U.S. that need
families," Granito said. "People have all these myths in their head about adoption: that
it’s expensive, that it’s too difficult."
Nationally, about half a million children are in foster care, and about 119,000 of those
cannot go home again because their parents’ rights have been terminated, Granito said.
Jackie Mathey was in her second year volunteering for the Heart Gallery when she was
asked to photograph a young girl who had just come into the system in Albuquerque.
"On the way back home from the shoot, I called Diane and said, ‘I think I’m in trouble,
I really fell for this girl,’" said Mathey, a Santa Fe photographer who went on to adopt
"I certainly wasn’t looking for it or planning on it," Mathey told Reuters. "It’s like falling
in love. You don’t expect it — it just blindsides you."
When Faye arrived at the Mathey family’s home, she was drawn to the piano, having never
played one before. On Saturday, Faye, now just shy of 19, was to play her own piano
composition as part of the Heart Gallery 10-year celebration.
"No one knew she had this beautiful music inside of her," Mathey said. "After nine years,
I always wonder, what if she had landed in a home without a musical instrument and never
had this opportunity?"
Ellen Covey and her sister Jane had fostered and adopted 12 children in New Mexico when
they considered adopting one more.
"We got on the Heart Gallery website and there was Derrick," Ellen Covey told Reuters.
The photo showed a boy with wire-rimmed glasses and an easy smile looking over the
pages of an open Spider-Man book.
"It was the picture that drew us to him, so we made the call," she said.
The sisters recently adopted another boy they saw in the Heart Gallery, 17-year-old Justin.
(Editing by Corrie MacLaggan and Jerry Norton)