War With Iran -Is It A Practical Solution?

US President George W Bush has refused to rule out a military attack on Iran should diplomatic efforts fail to reach an agreement over Teheran's nuclear program.There is a point of view, that given its support for Hezbollah and other terrorist organizations, as well as its hostility towards Israel, this is what Iran probably deserves.

Experts however sincerely hope that the US will consider the costs of any such misadventure before embarking on this course of action.The cost of Iraq and Afghanistan has already crossed $600 billion and the conflicts are expected to cost $2.4 trillion in all till 2017. This is half of what it would cost to keep Social Security solvent for 75 years.In a conventional war Iran is expected to be less of a pushover than Iraq, which would translate into higher costs and a larger number of US troops in combat over and above the 200,000 at present. It is argued that the present level of expenditure on Iraq and Afghanistan is only about 0.5% of GDP and therefore the US can sustain it almost indefinitely, unlike the Vietnam conflict during which it had risen to almost 12% of GDP and had threatened to derail the US economy.But this reasoning is seriously flawed in as much it does not take into account the likely impact of a conflict with Iran on the price of oil.The Saudi ambassador to the US, Prince Turki Al-Faisal has said that such an event could triple the price of oil. Not only is Iran OPEC's number two oil producer, any conflict involving Iran would threaten the Strait of Hormuz, through which most Middle East nations export their oil.Tankers carry an estimated 17 million barrels of oil through the channel every day.Although the US does have an emergency stockpile of almost 700 million barrels of crude, a prolonged conflict with Iran, like in Iraq would certainly have a devastating impact on the US as well as the world economy.Given the extensive common border that Iran shares with Russia and several former Soviet Republics the US may find it difficult to cut off its supply routes.It is a foregone conclusion that all these countries are going to support Iran because of religious or economic considerations or just to keep the US out of the area.Any lengthy campaign in Iran would only wear down US troops and equipment further.It will have to be remembered that Iran is not the only country that has the capacity to build a nuclear weapon.How many countries would the US be able to discipline alone. If it wanted to discipline Iran it should have done so thirty years back.That chance has been missed.Now the only hope is to build sufficient international pressure on Iran to persuade it to accept international safeguards.The role of Russia in any such arrangement will be crucial and they will expect due credit for it.Ideally an international machinery will come into existence to sort out all such problems in the future.

Feeling Depressed-Go To Sleep!

Lack of enough sleep is becoming increasingly commonplace in modern culture.The National Sleep Foundation says that the number of Americans with sleep problems is about 70 million. This problem is no longer confined to the sick and elderly. The most disturbing trend is that young adults are also increasingly affected by this problem. The number of such persons using sleeping pills is supposed to have doubled from 2000 to 2004. Some people tend to believe that they have trained themselves to get along with less sleep and therefore it is OK. This is not correct.It is well established that sleep regenerates various parts of the body, especially the brain. Till now psychological researchers were minimizing the effects of sleep deprivation, treating them as nothing more significant than an inconvenience which makes people feel a bit tired now and then.

This view is incorrect. Recent research suggests that each day with insufficient sleep increases our sleep debt, and when it becomes large enough, noticeable problems appear. When sleep deprivation becomes too large the effects mimic those of psychosis. Researchers at the University of California Berkley and Harvard Medical School have found that sleep deprivation affects our emotional health. "Most people think that when you are sleep deprived, what happens to the brain is that it becomes sleepy and less active," says Matthew Walker, assistant professor of psychology at Berkley. But Walker says that the imaging study published in Current Biology dated 23rd October, found that the brain's emotional centers became "60 percent more reactive." The study also suggests that lack of sleep elevates activity in the emotional centers of the brain most closely associated with psychiatric disorders such as depression. This finding runs contrary to the traditional belief that it is psychiatric disorders which cause poor sleep. The really bad news is that depression and sleep deprivation may operate in mutual reinforcement. That is, if you are depressed you get less sleep which further increases your depression and so the cycle continues.

Unfortunately research in this area is still incomplete. It is likely that just as some areas of the brain can cause emotional imbalance, other areas may help restore emotional stability.This would surely be one of the most significant medical breakthroughs once it is found.

Why is Comcast Blocking File Sharing Traffic?

Suspicions had been voiced for sometime that Comcast was interfering with the file sharing activity of some of its high speed internet subscribers.The Associated Press confirmed Friday that this had been proved by nationwide tests conducted by it.

Comcast is the nation's largest cable TV operator and the second largest Internet Service Provider.

Their representatives avoid a direct response to this claim. However at the Web 2.0 summit in SanFrancisco Friday, Comcast Interactive Media President Amy Base responded to questions about P2P throttling by pointing to the company's need to 'manage' heavy Internet use. She seemed to suggest that heavy users could upgrade to higher cost commercial services for uninterrupted usage.

It appears that Comcast is only interfering with file sharing activity amongst users. It is using Sandvine traffic shaping hardware for this purpose. File sharing networks such as BitTorrent, eDonkey and Gnutella are likely to be severely affected if other ISP's were to also adopt this practice.

There is no formal law to ensure equal treatment of traffic or 'Net Neutrality' as it is called. In fact ISP's have been trying to somehow charge a fees for premium services. Their plans are currently on hold due to stiff opposition from consumers backed by influential voices such as Google Inc. and Amazon Inc.

ISP's have long complained that heavy traffic generated by a small number of subscribers using file sharing programs affects the quality of services to other subscribers. They claim that network management is both necessary as well as legitimate. However Comcast's approach is difficult to justify because instead of slowing down a particular type of traffic it is blocking it. Moreover the method used by Comcast is a kind of trick it plays on its users. For instance if one BitTorrent user attempts to share a complete file with another user each PC gets a message ostensibly from the other computer asking it to stop communicating. These messages are in fact sent by Comcast rather than either of the file sharers.Since both users are unaware of the deception they usually stop communicating.

Customers on their part argue that they have opted for broadband in the first place only because it allows them to share files. They also claim that at the time of signing on they are assured of unlimited and uninterrupted service. They consider the offer of upgrading at a higher cost to be a breach of that agreement.

Clearly it is high time that Congress passes laws that protect the free flow of ideas and commerce on the Internet.

Kansas Leads Fight To Protect Environment And Public Health

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment became the first government agency in the United States to reject an air permit for a coal fired electricity generating plant , saying that greenhouse gas threatens public health and the environment. The Thursday decision by Rod Bremby, secretary of health and environment prevents Sunflower Electric Power, a rural electric cooperative, from starting work on a proposed $3.6 billion project to build two 700 megawatt coal fired power plants in Holcomb, a town in western Kansas. One unit would have supplied power to parts of Kansas while the other would have supplied fast growing eastern Colorado. Sunflower Electric already operates a smaller coal fired power plant in Holcomb. The new power plants would have been an extension of the existing facility.

The decision draws support from the opinion given by Kansas Attorney General Paul Morrison who has said that the states' top health regulator can reject an application to build the plants, even if they meet all state and federal environmental regulations!

The proposed plants would have produced eleven million tons of carbon dioxide annually which is now recognized as one of the most important greenhouse gases contributing to climate change.

However the plants are not without supporters. Amongst others it is backed by the speaker of the state House, Melvin Neufeld. The backers of the project repeated the usual arguments as to how without the power plants the citizens of the state would lose access to low cost energy and that the loss of the proposed $3.6 billion investment would affect economic development and cost jobs. If the state went ahead with the plants, they argue, it would create more permanent jobs, bring in more tax revenue and also lead to the extension of transmission lines across the state which could be used for power generated by renewable energy sources, such as wind power. But the plants were strongly opposed by environmental groups and the residents of half a dozen eastern counties from Topeka to Kansas City. These counties have enough voters to influence statewide elections and that perhaps explains in part why they succeeded.

Sunflower on its part had proposed building an eco-friendly ethanol plant as well and also an $86 million facility, using the still experimental algae process to capture the carbon dioxide generated by the power plants.

Sunflower Electric disagrees with the decision as it feels the permit process should be based only on the company's adherence to existing environmental regulations and not on any other consideration. Along with the state lawmakers it is planning to challenge the rejection of the permit by the state's environmental regulator. Utility companies across the nation are troubled by the decision as it is likely to be used as a precedent elsewhere. Whatever be the final outcome, it shows that at last some states are waking up to the challenge of climate change and are willing to do something about it.

Why Is China Annoyed With US Over Award To Dalai Lama

Yesterday the US Government presented its highest civilian award, The Congressional Gold Medal, to the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader.

The ceremony went ahead in spite of warnings issued by the Chinese government that this decision could seriously damage relations between the two countries.

The Dalai Lama has been living in exile in India since he fled Tibet in 1959 after a failed uprising against the Chinese who had invaded and occupied Tibet in 1950. He is widely respected the world over and has already been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. Despite the efforts of the Chinese government he continues to be hugely popular in Tibet.Although he has stated in recent years that his aim is not independence from China but only greater autonomy within it, the Chinese Government remains deeply suspicious of him.In order to completely destroy Tibetan identity the Chinese government has flooded Tibet with ethnic Han Chinese migrants.Moves are also afoot to appoint official Lamas or Tibetan priests as well as to appoint a successor to the present Dalai Lama.The Chinese government claims that the aim of the Dalai Lama is to obtain total independence for Tibet. China opposes any form of self determination for Tibet by claiming that historically Tibet has always been a part of China. It also suggests that while Tibet was independent, its peasantry was exploited and lived in poverty while the ruling classes led luxurious lives.Restoring Tibet to its erstwhile rulers therefore does not find favor on ideological grounds as well.

There are reasons why the US government on its part has chosen to honor the Dalai Lama at this point in time.The US is facing increasing criticism over the way it has handled Iraq.Therefore it wants to be seen as a nation which honors men of peace.It also hopes to send a message that it is not opposed to rulers who govern on the basis of religion.Most importantly championing freedom and democracy has been an important theme of the Bush Presidency. The US sincerely believes that by such actions as well as by continuous economic engagement with China, that country could be persuaded to improve its human rights record and move towards granting greater individual liberties.

As far as the award itself is concerned it was first given to George Washington in 1776. Each proposed recipient has to be approved by a two-thirds majority in the House of Representatives
and in the Senate. Once the award is approved the US Mint is commissioned to produce a unique design based on the achievements of the individual.So no two awards will ever be alike.

Humans May Stay Young For 400 Years

'In principle, if you understand the mechanisms of keeping things repaired, you could keep things going indefinitely,' says Cynthia Kenyon, biochemist at the University of California at San Francisco. In her lab she has increased the life span of tiny worms called Caenorhabditis elegans up to six times their normal lifespan by suppressing a single gene. This regulator gene, named daf-2, in combination with other genes, appears to control an entire cluster of genes that direct aging not only in worms, but in similar genetic pathways in flies, mice and, possibly humans. This is the equivalent of people living for 400 years, and the good news is that the worms stay young for most of their extended lifespans.

Diet it seems is a major contributory factor.An experiment with the worms proves that sugar turns on a genetic sequence that increases the amount of insulin produced by an organism, which in turn causes the body to demand more sugar. This increases damage to cells in the body, speeding up the slow degradation of cells that contribute to aging. Red wine and green tea have been shown to help repair cells and contribute to an increased lifespan.

The most significant finding is that the worms remained vigorous till until the very end of their extended lives. In human terms it would mean that a person would remain young for decades, growing old very slowly. It also suggests a radical new method for treating maladies of aging such as Alzheimer's, Huntington's and some cancers, which might be put off or eliminated if youth is extended. 'Age is the single largest risk factor for an enormous number of diseases,' says Kenyon. 'So if you can essentially postpone aging, then you can have beneficial effects on a whole wide range of disease.'

When asked whether it was possible to be immortal Kenyon says 'I think it might be possible. I'll tell you why. You can think about the life span of a cell being the integral of two vectors in a sense, the force of destruction and the force of prevention, maintenance and repair. In most animals the force of destruction has still got the edge. But why not bump up the genes just a little bit, the maintenance genes. All you have to do is have the maintenance level a little higher. It doesn't have to be much higher. It just has to be a little higher, so that it counterbalances the force of destruction. And don't forget, the germ lineage is immortal. So it's possible at least in principle.'

Twenty Percent Americans Victims Of Financial Scams.

In a survey conducted by the US Postal Inspection Service along with advocacy groups and companies such as Bank of America, Citigroup and American Express, nearly one in five adult Americans admitted they or a family member have fallen victim to a financial scam of some sort.Victims typically lose $3,000 to $4,000, according to an estimate by the non-profit National Consumers League.

Lottery scams are one of the most common scams over the internet.This is how it works.The victim receives an unsolicited e-mail which says that he has won a major prize in an international lottery.His e-mail address is stated to have been collected online and attached to a random number that was then entered in a draw for the lottery.In order to collect the prize the victim is requested to contact the agent in charge of his case and is also advised to keep it confidential for security reasons. This is a random phishing attempt and if the victim responds to the e-mail he will be requested to provide banking details,personal information and maybe copies of passport and driving license. This information is supposedly required as proof of identity, and if it is given, the scammers will at least have stolen his identity. Thereafter the scammers will usually ask for some advance fees to cover administrative costs, legal or delivery expenses.If the victim pays he may be requested to pay some more to cover 'unexpected expenses' and so on till he realizes he has been tricked. These days scammers are even sending fake cheques to cover the initial expenses.Thanks to technology these cheques look quite genuine. Victims deposit it in their bank accounts and the banks usually credit it to their accounts in a few days as per rules, pending verification.The victims gladly send this money to the scammers. Later on when the banks find out that the cheques are fake they realize the money from the victim.

In a drive against scammers the Postal Inspection Service, along with law enforcement agencies abroad, has seized more than half a million fake cheques, with a face value of over $2 billion and made several arrests in the Netherlands, Nigeria and Canada. The Postal Inspectors have formed a group called the Alliance for Consumer Fraud Awareness. Their anti-fraud campaign includes a website,Fakechecks.org Hopefully it won't be long before protection from such scams becomes available.

Will Putin Be Next Russian Prime Minister?

Vladimir Putin had signaled that he would abide by the Russian Constitution and not seek a third term in office after he retires next spring.He would be eligible to seek re-election only in 2012.The West had all along felt that a person as popular and powerful in his country as Putin would be unlikely to give up total control and that he would most likely continue to exert influence from behind the scenes.This analysis seemed to be confirmed when Putin appointed Viktor Zubkov, the head of the country's financial monitoring system as Prime Minister. It was widely believed that Sergei Ivanov an ex KGB man himself, like Putin, was being groomed for President. But today Putin has dropped a bombshell that has confounded all experts and caused unease in the West.

Putin has gone on to announce that he is not averse to the idea of becoming PM of Russia once again(he had earlier served as PM under Boris Yeltsin in 1999). The problem that Putin might be unwilling to take up the less important post of PM is easily set right. It will not be too difficult for Putin to transfer some of the powers of the President to the office of the PM. Mr. Zubkov could then be backed to become President. A loyalist like Mr.Zubkov is not expected to object to this arrangement. However many still believe that Mr.Zubkov has been chosen to ensure a smooth transition between Mr. Putin and his successor. Mr. Zubkov, although unknown to the public at large is an influential person in the Kremlin and is considered to be a compromise figure who is capable of holding together different factions in the Kremlin.

Putin is hugely popular in Russia. He is perceived as a strong President who has brought stability and relative prosperity to the country. In this he has been helped in large measure by booming prices and production of gas and oil. Putin has also started following a more aggressive foreign and defense policy, restarting long range bomber patrols and upgrading Russia's missile systems. There is no doubt that whomsoever Putin supports for presidentship will win the election.

Russian stocks that trade in London were buoyed by this announcement as it would mean a continuation of present policies and reform programs.

Whoever may be the next Russian President, events have clearly shown that Putin remains in total control of Russian politics.