On October 29, FEMA held a press conference to brief the public on the ongoing California wildfires. According to an internal review, the agency’s press secretary, Aaron Walker, was given approximately an hour to hold the event. Aides notified reporters 15 minutes before the briefing was scheduled to begin—not enough time for any to attend. Six minutes before commencing the conference, Walker e-mailed external affairs staffers so that they would be prepared to fill chairs and ask questions in place of the absent reporters. It was not clear to the investigators why reporters listening by telephone were kept from asking questions. All of the information deputy administrator Harvey E. Johnson Jr. provided was accurate and he was unaware of the staffers posing as reporters, the review stated. Aaron Walker was asked to resign by FEMA Administrator R. David Paulison for his part in staging the event. As a result of the incident, FEMA will give at least an hour’s notice of news conferences and only allow reporters to ask questions whether present or by telephone.
Source: Washington Post
For the first time in over 25 years, obesity in Americans isn’t on the rise. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 34.3 percent of adults, more than 72 million Americans, were classified as obese in 2005 and 2006. Since the previous two-year period, the numbers have remained almost unchanged. Experts suggested increased fitness club memberships, the trans-fat ban, and the government’s persistent pleas for citizens to lose weight as possible explanations for the leveling off. Glenn Gaesser, an exercise physiologist at the University of Virginia and author of the iconoclastic book Big Fat Lies, believes that the lull in growth is due to physical limitations. “You can only get so fat,” he said. Time will tell whether the numbers indicate a decline in obesity or just a plateau. Obesity is a serious health issue—400,000 people died of obesity-related illnesses in 2004, just under smoking-related diseases at 435,000. The Department of Health and Human Services set health guidelines that call for the obesity rate to drop to 15 percent by 2010, rates equivalent to the early 1970s.
Sources: Los Angeles Times
An 80-year-old turtle weighing 90 pounds is now living alone in a blue-and-white tiled-pool in a zoo in Changsha, a city in the Hunan province of China. Unremarkable and ignored for its 51-year tenure at the zoo, until earlier this year it was announced as the last living female Yangtze giant soft-shell turtle—the largest species of freshwater turtle in the world. Now it receives a special diet of raw meat and has been surrounded in bulletproof glass. The only male lives in a zoo in the city of Suzhou, is 100 years old, and weighs 200 pounds. Artificial insemination is planned for the spring in an attempt to breed them. These turtles are only symbols of the threatened biodiversity in China, where nearly 40 percent of mammals, 70 percent of nonflowering plants, and 86 percent of flowering plants are threatened. Competition for land and water in the overpopulated, rapidly developing nation has led to habitat destruction, increased development, and pollution—all of which take a toll on wildlife. Many major international conservation groups have opened offices in China and there have been successes with endangered animals. Approximately 2,000 pandas now live in reserves, and the Chinese alligator and Tibetan antelope are growing in number, but these animals hold national importance and by comparison their numbers do little to reverse the damaging effects to Chinese biodiversity. Just last year the Yangzte River dolphin, or baiji, was declared extinct and many other species are closing in on such a fate.
Source: New York Times
A military air strike on a radio station in Sri Lanka, in late November, that killed three editorial staff members brought the work-related deaths of journalists and media workers to an all-time high of 171 casualties for the year. With more than a month left in 2007 (as of this writing), the incident exceeded the 168 deaths of 2006. “The news media death toll around the world has risen almost every year since the millennium, each year worse than the one before,” said Rodney Pinder, director of the International News Safety Institute. “This is despite international calls for an end to the murder of journalists and other news professionals and an end to impunity for their killers.” Iraq is the most dangerous country for media workers. Since the war began, at least 235 journalists were killed—64 last year. Sri Lanka, with six deaths, has the second highest casualties and Afghanistan, Mexico, India, and the Philippines each have five. Four media workers have died in each of the nations of Haiti, Pakistan, and Somalia.
Source: The Guardian (UK) and International News Safety Institute