Monday, June 29, 2009

ATH: US-Brazil Analyses

From Johannesburg To Johannesburg
By Clemente Lisi - NEW YORK, NY, U.S. National Team Players Association, ConfedCup, 11Jun09

Heartbreaking, upsetting, maybe even sad. There’s no shortage of adjectives to describe the United States’ 3-2 loss to Brazil on Sunday in the Confederations Cup final. The US, on the verge of making history in Johannesburg, playing a flawless first half – but broke down in the second – to lose its first-ever shot at winning a FIFA men’s tournament.

“Obviously, a good first half, but we give up the first goal so early in the second half that we put ourselves in a tough spot,” coach Bob Bradley told reporters afterwards.

Amid the incessant buzzing of the ever-annoying vuvuzela horns at Ellis Park Stadium, the Americans were all about teamwork during the first 45 minutes, displaying a tenacious defensive effort and outplaying the mighty Brazilians in every part of the field to take a 2-0 lead at halftime on goals from Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan.

Tim Howard was fantastic in net Oguchi Onyewu put in a solid defensive effort, and Dempsey used all his skill and experience to spearhead the attack.

The fun ended there for the US and its fans.

The miracle-wrecking Brazilians turned the pressure on early and were back in the game after just a minute in the second-half when Fabiano booted in the ball past Howard.

It was the beginning of the end for the American chances.

Brazil would go on to score two more goals – with captain Lucio heading in the game-winner with six minutes left to play – to win its third Confederations Cup title.

If the Americans did one thing wrong it was to underestimate how powerful the Brazilian offense could be once they got their act together. The US needed to move the ball forward – even use the counterattack like they did in the first half on Donovan’s goal – instead of trying to absorb the pressure.

That understandable criticism notwithstanding, the Americans put on a valiant effort. For once, US fans dared to dream. A win over Brazil in a major tournament appeared possible at halftime – something unthinkable even just a few years ago. They also gave the fans that 2-0 win over Spain.

The US had originally traveled to South Africa two weeks ago with a humble goal: get some experience ahead of next year’s World Cup. Instead, they became protagonists, defeating Egypt after going 0-2 in the first round, stunning top-ranked Spain in the semifinals and then barely losing to Brazil.

From Howard’s agility to Dempsey’s clinical finishing, the US has a lot to be proud of. Sure, there are no moral victories, but this was a great achievement just the same. The defense showed it could keep up with some of the world’s greatest strikers (just ask Spain’s Fernando Torres) and the offense got things done when they needed to.

“I think people around the world see that we have a good team, we have good players and hopefully we can continue to step forward,” Bradley said.

The US still has a long road ahead of it. The Gold Cup is just a week away and World Cup qualifying – with a key game in Mexico at the Azteca Stadium – picking up again in August.

The Americans showed the World it could play with the best of them. It's disappointing to see your team be the ones having to watch the other squad celebrate, but the US had to get there in the first place. Let’s be proud of this team and dare to dream of reaching another FIFA final in the not-so-distant future.

Brazil 3, U.S. 2
One giant leap for U.S.
Despite losing 2-0 lead, Americans make strides
By Mark Zeigler, 2:00 a.m. June 29, 2009

Parents will tell you that children don't gradually learn how to walk. They stand up, and fall down. Stand up again, fall down again.

Until one day, suddenly, magically, they walk.

And that's what happened with the U.S. men's national soccer team over the past fortnight at the FIFA Confederations Cup in South Africa, where it lost 3-2 to Brazil in yesterday's final after leading 2-0 at halftime. It walked.

It arrived.

There may be bigger single moments in the annals of American soccer – the 1-0 World Cup shocker against England in 1950, the 1-0 win at Trinidad and Tobago in 1989 that ended a 40-year qualification drought, the 2-0 win against Mexico to reach the 2002 quarterfinals – but never has there been a better eight days.

A 3-0 victory against a capable Egypt team, followed by a 2-0 triumph against No. 1-ranked Spain that ended a record 15-game win streak, followed by a 2-0 halftime lead against the boys from Brazil before the carriage turned into a pumpkin.

It was a lead forged by goals by Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan, plus a defensive organization and frenetic work rate that never let Brazil establish any sort of rhythm – a formula used so successfully four days earlier against Spain. But Brazil's Luis Fabiano found the net twice in the second half to tie it, and Lucio headed in the winner off a corner kick in the 84th minute when the exhausted Americans failed to mark him.

“The feeling is a mix of great disappointment but also great pride,” said U.S. coach Bob Bradley, whose job appeared in jeopardy after opening the eight-team tournament with 3-1 and 3-0 losses. “When we get past the disappointment, we know that we are making progress . . . I think people around the world see that we have a good team, we have good players.”

Added captain Carlos Bocanegra: “What we can take away from this is the confidence that we played so well against the big teams here. This is a difficult tournament, we did well here and got to the finals and we showed that we belong. We're not just going to be a pushover in the World Cup.”

It is a respect, a recognition, they have been craving for years, even decades. At the 2006 World Cup, the Italian players were asked what they knew about the U.S. team. Blank stares. They knew niente about the Americans. Most couldn't name a single player on the roster, much less the name of any team in Major League Soccer.

It's hard to blame the Italians. Many American sports fans couldn't, either.

But beat the No. 1 team in the world in the Confederation Cup semifinals, and people turn on the television to watch you play Brazil in the final. Take a 2-0 lead against the five-time world champions, and people go online at halftime to order a No. 10 Donovan jersey.

That's a good thing, certainly.

That's also a dangerous thing.

Both edges of the sword were sharpened in South Africa. Rising from the ashes of embarrassing group-play losses to knocking off Spain and taking Brazil to the brink certainly gives American players priceless confidence that they can compete with anyone, anywhere, anytime. But it also forced people to take notice, Americans and foreigners alike.

That means two things: The days of other nations taking the U.S. team lightly are probably over. And American fans, the consummate front-runners, will expect big things at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa from a team that might be ill-equipped to deliver – a team, remember, that has no field players currently playing for a top team in any of the world's top leagues.

And expectation has never been kind to the U.S. men, either because other teams started taking them seriously or because they took themselves too seriously.

They beat England in the 1950 World Cup, still regarded as one of sport's great upsets, and didn't quality for another for four decades.

Their lone victory in 15 attempts against Brazil came at the CONCACAF Gold Cup in February 1998. Four months later, they went 0-3 in the World Cup in France. Finished 32nd out of 32 teams.

After the thrilling quarterfinal run of 2002, they climbed to No. 5 in the FIFA world rankings a month before the 2006 World Cup. Where they went three and out.

Even yesterday, they took a 2-0 lead against a Brazilian team that was playing on a day's less rest and had looked lackluster against South Africa in the semifinals. They were 45 minutes from the first U.S. men's title in a major international tournament.

Their all-time record when leading by two goals at halftime: 47-0-1.

Then Brazil scored three times in the next 39 minutes and probably should have had a fourth if officials had seen, as replays indicated, Kaka's header cross the goal line before U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard batted it out.

“It's one thing to see the promise land, it's another to get there,” said ESPN analyst Alexi Lalas, who knows, having been part of good (1994) and bad (1998) World Cup teams.

“But at least they can saw it.”

Baby steps.

Soccer in the U.S. Is Still Waiting for Its Moment
By WILLIAM C. RHODEN, The New York Times, Published: June 28, 2009

This is the epitaph in the wake of a heartbreaking loss in Sunday’s Confederations Cup championship game.

Too harsh? Perhaps, considering the United States was facing a great Brazilian team. On the other hand, there must come a point in the discussion of soccer in the United States when the training wheels must be removed. Either this is youth soccer, in which the goal is to let everyone play, or this is the big time, in which second or third place is no longer acceptable.

There was so much momentum heading into Sunday’s game, so much enthusiasm after the United States’ stunning victory over Spain on Wednesday.

That victory became the talk from Johannesburg to New York.

Over coffee one morning, Irv Smalls, the executive director of Harlem Youth Soccer, spoke about the implications of a strong showing by the United States on the continuing initiative to bring soccer to the underserved.

“It definitely will get kids excited,” said Smalls, a former Penn State football player.

Speaking from Johannesburg before Sunday’s match, Sunil Gulati, the president of the United States Soccer Federation, cautioned against placing too much weight on one result.

At the same time, Gulati conceded that back-to-back, high-profile victories over Spain and Brazil in the Confederations Cup would give a much-needed jolt to a sport that continues to make inroads in the minds and hearts of the American audience.

“Anytime you’re playing for the championship against a team generally considered the best team in the world for the last 75 years, it’s a great chance to get a lot of people who are part of the soccer community in the United States interested in the national team and excited to be part of an international game,” Gulati said.

The United States carried a 2-0 lead over Brazil into halftime Sunday, and suddenly, a universe of possibilities emerged. This was the great American sports story. Finally, a breakthrough on the international championship stage. Finally, long-sought respect for United States soccer.

Don Garber, the commissioner of Major League Soccer, spoke of the United States’ victory over Spain and reaching the championship game.

“We’ve always believed we deserved more respect than we receive,” he said. “In sports, you’ve got to earn respect, you can’t just ask for it, and we’ve earned some respect this past week.”

Then the roof caved in: Brazil scored three unanswered goals in the second half. And just like that, the United States was back to being the little engine that could someday win on the world stage.

“Of course it’s disappointing, especially when we were up, 2-0,” Gulati said after the match Sunday. “On the positive side, we made progress at this tournament and are proud of reaching the final.”

Nice try, good effort. For the rest of us, it’s back to baseball until next summer’s run to the World Cup.

Garber was far from discouraged.

“Today, we proved that we can compete at the highest level,” he said. “For 45 minutes, we had one of the best teams in the world shocked and on their heels. Our guys weren’t happy to just play in the final, they wanted to win. And for a time, I thought we would.

“Over all, this was a great day for U.S. soccer that will go down in history as one of the truly great moments for our sport.”

Still, instead of talking about a great triumph, we’re back to talking about what United States soccer needs to break through at home.

Regardless of Sunday’s outcome, the sport faces two major challenges in the United States. The first is how to continue to attract great athletes.

Gulati said that a high-profile championship by the United States national team would, and still could, inspire young athletes to cast their lot with soccer.

“There are so many cases along the way in all sports when professional athletes say, ‘I was turned on because I saw this moment,’ whether it was Hank Aaron’s home run or Pelé’s bicycle kick,” Gulati said.

American soccer’s struggle to attract great talent is baffling because there are so many young people looking for something to do. The United States is one of the most powerful nations, one with phenomenal human resources.

The sprawling soccer federations reflect the nation: some have a lot, some have very little. The leadership must find the will — and a way — to redistribute resources. This is crucial for the long-term goal of having a great national team, year in and year out.

The more difficult challenge is to cultivate a broader consumer appetite for soccer in the United States. Debates continue about changing the nature of the sport to fit the American mind-set.

Please, no.

Soccer does not need to be dumbed down to accommodate our Twittered attention span. The sport does not need more scoring or more commercial timeouts.

“People don’t need the sport to be different,” Garber said. “They just need a reason to believe, and every now and again, something happens where they have that reason.”

That’s the greatest misfortune of Sunday’s loss to Brazil. A victory would have been that reason.

U.S. finds solace in defeat
By Martin Rogers, Yahoo! Sports Jun 28, 7:43 pm EDT

Flags and streamers and hymns of praise won’t greet the U.S. national team when it returns home from the Confederations Cup. That kind of welcoming reception will be reserved for champion Brazil, a nation whose citizens know how to throw a soccer-themed party better than anyone.

Yet for head coach Bob Bradley and his group of players, it will be more than a shiny silver medal, the tag of “gallant loser” and some pats on the back that they take from this tournament, staged in South Africa a year out from soccer’s Big One.

Given the muted expectations for Bradley’s group preceding the tournament, and the even-gloomier prognosis of its welfare a week into it, the eventual outcome of losing 3-2 to Brazil in Sunday’s final must be considered a relative triumph.

It may not have felt like it when the third and winning Brazilian goal flew into the net, sealing a storming comeback by the five-time world champion from a two-goal deficit, but this time in defeat there was hope, not merely another hard-luck story.

By riding on the back of a small collection of favorable coincidences and one stunning upset, the USA gained respect, belief and some well-deserved kudos. Most importantly, it answered a series of nagging questions that brewed over the past year and cast severe doubt on the team’s ability to make any sort of impact at the World Cup.

That tournament, soccer’s ultimate showcase, is where USA will have to prove itself all over again next summer. But there is certainly greater cause for optimism now, compared to the downbeat atmosphere of recent months.

Many of the questions surrounded head coach Bradley, whose position was under very real threat as he boarded the plane for South Africa.

The first, and most obvious concern, was whether he was the right man to lead them to the finals. Defeat in Costa Rica at the start of June set a somber tone and a somewhat negative mentality surrounded public perceptions of the team. Talk of possible replacements for Bradley was already under way, with former Germany head coach Juergen Klinsmann’s name popping up with monotonous regularity.

Indeed, as Bradley walked up the steps of Ellis Park to collect his runners-up medal on Sunday, it seemed scarcely possible that this was the same man whose job had been under such pressure. Juergen who?

A popular doubt expressed about Bradley was whether he could inspire his troops to fight for him. Two games into the Confederations Cup, with all hope seemingly extinguished, the answer figured to be no. A second-half capitulation against Italy and an embarrassingly timid effort against Brazil in group play left little room for solace.

Yet the 3-0 thumping of Egypt that secured an unlikely semifinal spot was a step in the right direction, and paved the way for a mighty display of tenacity and fortitude in the 2-0 defeat of European champion Spain. The final, too, against the most consistently dominant nation in the world, showed more backbone still.

Brazil was simply too good, but it did have to fight its heart out for the first time in the tournament. The South Americans swept aside the reigning world champion Italy and had cruised through the competition. But down 2-0, it had to finally move into top gear to pull out a win against USA.

A look at the Brazilian players’ reactions at the final whistle quashed once and for all suggestions that this was a tournament with no relevance. The tears streaming down the face of Lucio and the jubilant screaming of Kaka indicated a deeper level of caring than that.

Bradley’s tactical nous, or lack of it, was expected to be brutally exposed by Spain, and again by Brazil. Knocking off CONCACAF opponents at home was one thing, but did Bradley have any ideas on how to battle proper, established teams?

Past experience indicated that his Plan A, B and C against a high-profile side was to shut up shop and keep down the score. Yet the last two games indicated some imagination, courage and flexibility in his preparation. Perhaps the coach is drawing confidence from an upturn in fortunes in the same manner as his team.

It is not just about Bradley, though. The entire squad had come under fire, too, with the common perception that, individually and collectively, they were simply lacking in quality. Indications that the U.S. boasted performers who could lift their level when called upon were sporadic at best.

Yet the players stood tall here, too many to list all of them. Some of the standouts were familiar faces – Landon Donovan, Oguchi Onyewu and Tim Howard. Others, like Jay Demerit, Jonathan Spector and Charlie Davies, had rarely featured in the past but surely have a future at the heart of this lineup.

Few players have had more barbs thrown their way than Donovan, the best U.S. player of his generation but so often a target for vitriol. Yet it was nigh impossible to find fault with his Confederations Cup showing, and he produced again in the final. The man with the bristling personality kept his cool to finish a wonderful move to put the USA ahead 2-0.

The way the team went down the field from a Brazil mistake, just like the Brazilians had done against them in the group game, said everything about the confidence now coursing through this unit. Brazil’s fightback, in which Dunga’s side looked every inch a likely World Cup champion next year, will not change that.

No longer, for the USA, the constant inferiority complex. No more shaking and quaking when faced with top teams.

The Confederations Cup hasn’t taught us that USA will have a successful World Cup. But it has shown us that it can.

Loss to Brazil doesn't ruin U.S. accomplishments

by Jamie Trecker, Updated: June 28, 2009, 11:19 PM EDT

For 45 minutes, it looked like the U.S. might just pull off another miracle Sunday.

Up 2-0 against a confused-looking Brazil side, the Americans were displaying the acumen and grit they showed in their midweek upset of No. 1 ranked Spain. Fans were daring to believe that after all this time, and after so much heartbreak, this might finally be the U.S.'s moment to shine.

And so the final score was excruciating — 3-2 Brazil, with the golden boys showing how they got that nickname, and why they are among the best on the planet.

With intense pressure in the second half, they took the U.S. out of the game, and snatched away the Confederations Cup crown. For Brazil, it was its third crown and second straight.

For the U.S., it was its best-ever finish in a FIFA senior tournament.

It was harsh because the Americans seemed to be in control at halftime, disappointing because once again the Americans failed to protect a lead, and deeply troubling because the U.S. coaching staff will be called again into question for a series of substitutions that some fans will feel cost them the match.

As goalscorer Clint Dempsey says, champions don't make excuses. However, I am not Mr. Dempsey, and I will, for once, offer up an excuse for this American side which all too frequently has attempted to explain away otherwise inexplicable performances. This time, the Americans were valiant, and played a great game. But they were undone by the simple fact that Brazil is a better team.

The scoreboard may not lie, but it also overlooks the fact that this American team — in ruins just over a week ago — managed to come together in unexpected, spectacular fashion. This loss must not be allowed to undo that.

Let's also celebrate what the Americans did well. Landon Donovan has been the man of the tournament for the U.S., orchestrating the attack and rebounding on defense at a level few thought possible after his well-publicized flameouts abroad as a youngster. He is clearly the most intuitive player on the field for the Americans, and it is appearing more and more foolish that he is not getting an opportunity to hone his skills abroad.

Dempsey, who scored his third goal in three straight games, is also showing his class after being mired in a deep funk. Endlessly creative, he only lacks a partner up top he can parry with, and it is clear that when he gets service, he can make a huge difference.

Jay DeMerit, Jonathan Spector and Charlie Davies have also come away looking like winners. Davies has been a real force up top, and DeMerit has been so brave and composed that one wonders why he hasn't been a starter all along. Paired with Oguchi Onyewu, he forms the best tandem the U.S. has ever had in the middle of the defense. And Spector, finally healthy, displayed his class tonight with the thankless job of marking Kaka, and a series of defensive moves in emergency.

Still, what was a second-half collapse — and in any other American sport, giving up a two-goal lead would be called that — owed as much to world-level inexperience as to the real gulf in skill.

From the restart, Brazil decided it would do the things it had avoided strenuously in the first half — knocking the ball around, shifting the focus of attack, and playing the possession game which is so difficult to disrupt. Immediately, the U.S. was on the defensive, losing shape and finding no way to break the waves of pressure.

Luis Fabiano's goal in the 46th minute, built off a deadly turn past DeMerit's frantic late lunge, signaled that the Brazilians wanted to compete, but it was the relentless, vicious attacks that signaled that the U.S. would eventually fall.

What happened?

The U.S., which was playing an effective counter-and-shield, was unable to marshal the same force. In the first half, Donovan and Davies were able to collect the ball and spark attacks. That was because DeMerit and Onyewu were compact, and Spector was given room to roam.

That dissolved after the half, with the center-halves being pulled wide, allowing Luis Fabiano and Kaka to combine with Robinho to start piecing apart the gut, forcing Tim Howard to make save after save. Remarkably, Brazil was teeing off on the American goal at a rate of a shot on frame every two minutes. No team can withstand that.

Let's address the subs, which, in hindsight will be parsed and second-guessed ad nauseum. Sacha Kljestan has shown he is not the answer in midfield, as he gave the ball away repeatedly and of the 11, displayed a disconcerting lack of confidence. Who else was there for Bradley to choose?

Jose Francisco Torres and Freddy Adu, of course, but neither of these men had played a minute in the tournament so far, and it's hard to argue that a small, young man who remains on the bench at his club deserves a shot in the biggest game to date.

That said, Adu will be the man fans point to as a man unfairly excluded, and Sunday's display by Kljestan — on the heels of an awful red card against Brazil the first time around — offered no compelling reason for him to be out there. Of course, had Michael Bradley not been shown a questionable red card in the semifinal and been available Sunday, both Kljestan and Adu would have been spectators and none of this would be discussed.

Conor Casey, subbed in late for Ricardo Clark, also showed little this tournament. He was a popular choice given his performance in MLS this season, but he is not fit for this level. Given the chances Taylor Twellman got, he might be one day. But seeing as he didn't even get a sniff at the Gold Cup, one has to feel this was his chance to shine, and he failed to make the most of it.

Last but not least, it's hard to excuse Jonathan Bornstein, if not in this match, then overall. He is not an international back, and he was not a good swap for Benny Feilhaber, who once again displayed a grit and desire at the international level that seems to elude him at his club(s).

Nonetheless, a performance with heart against a great team is no shame. And, for a few precious moments, it looked like the Americans had finally arrived.

To get to the next level, the U.S. is going to have to figure out how to beat these teams. That's going to require lessons in strategy and composure that the current coaching staff might not be able to provide. True, no one would have thought the U.S. would have been here in the first place. Yet, it would be nice to have a team that didn't need columnists to make their excuses for them.

It all comes down to the score, and Sunday, the U.S. fell short. But the Americans fell short with honor and with every reason to believe that — for whatever reason — an 11 may have been found in the ashes of two bitter defeats that began this tournament so poorly.

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ENV: Spix's Macaw

Three Spix macaws, one of the world’s rarest birds, hatched in captivity 28/06/2009 11:27:27

June 2009. Three critically endangered Spix's macaws have hatched at the Al Wabra Wildlife Preservation Centre (AWWP), located in the Arabian Gulf State of Qatar.

What makes this breeding success so important is that it came from AWWP's genetically most important pairing, including the genetically most important female in the international studbook managed population.

The first two chicks hatched in late February and the third on the 2nd of March. All three hatched without complications in AWWP's new bird nursery, which has three rooms exclusively for Spix's macaws; one for incubation, another for hand-rearing and an extra large room for fledglings.

66 Spix macaws in captivity - Extinct in the wild
AWWP is currently home to 50 of the 66 Spix's macaws in the Brazilian Government's international studbook managed breeding program. The Spix's macaw is almost certainly extinct in the wild where it has not been observed since the last known wild bird was last seen in October 2000.

Habitat recreation
The goal of the captive breeding program is to establish a genetically and demographically sustainable population from which carefully selected individuals can be re-established back to their place of wild origin; the semi-arid "Caatinga" biome of Northern Bahia State, Brazil. Efforts to provide suitable habitat for the birds have already started, with two key properties having been purchased from parties involved in Spix's macaw conservation including the recent purchase of the 2200 hectare Concordia Farm by AWWP's owner and founder HE. Sheikh Saoud Bin Mohd. Bin Ali Al-Thani late last year.

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ENV: Niceforo's Wren

Future Looks Brighter for One of World's Most Threatened Birds
Reserve Created for Niceforo's Wren – Just 50 Birds Remain

(Washington, D.C. June 23, 2009) American Bird Conservancy, its Colombian partner Fundación ProAves, and World Land Trust–US have taken a significant step forward in their efforts to protect the Niceforo's Wren, a Critically Endangered bird restricted to the last remnants of dry forest in the Chicamocha Valley of the eastern Andes of Colombia. The purchase of over 3,200 acres of some of the highest quality forest of this type remaining in the region has resulted in the creation of a new reserve to protect the wren, as well as several other endemic species, including the endangered Chestnut-bellied Hummingbird, and the Apical Flycatcher.

Surveys have established that Niceforo's Wren is one of the most imperiled bird species in the world, with a global population of fewer than 25 pairs, and a tiny range centered on the reserve. With a core population of just 14 pairs at imminent risk of extinction from man-made fires and intensive goat grazing, American Bird Conservancy, World Land Trust-US, and ProAves acted decisively to acquire the private properties containing the core population and remove over 500 goats and 50 cattle.

“To be able to give a species that is so close to extinction another chance at survival is a thrilling opportunity, and we are tremendously indebted to the supporters who have made this a reality,” said George Wallace, American Bird Conservancy's Vice President for International Programs. “Now begins the work of protecting the habitat on the ground as well as on paper, and we are working with ProAves to ensure the success of the project.”

The Chestnut-bellied Hummingbird's population is estimated to be between 1,000 and 2,500 individuals, the largest portion of which is also found at the reserve. The species is under severe threat due to wide-scale habitat loss and degradation .

“This is another example of how international cooperation is making a tangible difference to the most threatened birds in the Americas,” said Sara Lara, Executive Director of ProAves.” For the first time we can say that tomorrow holds a brighter outlook for the Niceforo's Wren and many other threatened and endemic animals and plants that share its unique habitat.”

The new reserve, located near the town of Zapatoca, is one-hour from Bucaramanga and open to visitors and students who can learn about this important and spectacular ecosystem. The Corporación Autónoma de Santander (CAS) is a valued collaborator in the project.

News from the IUCN for New Zealand’s Chatham Petrel was also good, and it was downlisted from Critically Endangered to Endangered. Unfortunately, the report also uplisted the Hooded Grebe to Endangered, and the newly discovered Gorgeted Puffleg , the Medium Tree-Finch (one of Darwin’s finches from the Galapagos), and the Palila (a Hawaiian honeycreeper), to Critically Endangered. A total of 1,227 bird species (12 percent) are now classified as globally threatened with extinction (includes Critically Endangered, Endangered, and Vulnerable). Of those, 192 are considered Critically Endangered.

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ENV: Endangered Ugly

Saving species no longer a beauty contest
Glamour not a requirement as homely creatures receive more help
By David A. Fahrenthold, The Washington Post, updated 6:49 a.m. CT, Mon., June 29, 2009

MENDOTA, Calif. - Are we ready to start saving ugly species?

When it began compiling lists of threatened and endangered animals and plants more than 35 years ago, the U.S. government gave itself the same mandate as Noah's Ark: Save everything.

But in practice, the effort has often worked more like a velvet-rope nightclub: Glamour rules.

The furry, the feathered, the famous and the edible have dominated government funding for protected species, to the point that one subpopulation of threatened salmon gets more money than 956 other plants and animals combined.

Now, though, scientists say they're noticing a little more love for the unlovely.

They say plain-Jane plants, birds with fluorescent goiters and beetles that meet their mates at rat corpses are getting new money and respect -- finally valued as homely canaries inside treasured ecosystems.

But it still can be a hard sell. That's obvious here in California's Central Valley, where farmers are locked in a bitter fight with a glassy-eyed smelt.

"Over a stupid fish," said Mendota Mayor Robert Silva.

"A worthless little worm," Rep. George Radanovich (R-Calif.) called the fish, "that needs to go the way of the dinosaur."

Bias toward ‘charismatic megafauna’
The government lists 1,318 U.S. species as threatened or endangered, everything from the American alligator to the Florida ziziphus, a spiny shrub. By one measure, the federal government has already done something miraculous for them: It has kept them around. Only nine listed U.S. species have been declared extinct since the act was passed in 1973.

But the idea was not just to arrest species at the edge of disappearing: It was to bring them back. And by that measure, most of the success has gone to glamour species.

Only 15 U.S. species have officially been declared "recovered." They are three plants, two obscure tropical birds -- and 10 animals that would look good on a T-shirt. These include gray wolves, bald eagles, brown pelicans and the Yellowstone subpopulation of grizzly bears.

"There has been a very heavy bias toward 'charismatic megafauna' -- relatively large, well-known birds and mammals," a pair of Harvard researchers wrote in the 1990s. "All other classes of fauna, and all flora, have gotten extremely short shrift."

How short? The classic tale involves the California condor, a vulture so homely that its head looks as if it's on inside-out. In the 1980s, scientists captured the remaining few dozen condors, deloused them and began breeding them in captivity.

That was a great thing for the condors but a catastrophe for an even uglier species: the California condor louse. "It passed out of existence when they washed off the condors," said Nathan Yaussy, an ecology graduate student at Kent State University who blogs at

No longer care about beauty
Today, the folks at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which cares for most protected species, say that charismatic animals may have had a leg up in the past -- but they no longer care about beauty. Instead, funding is supposed to be parceled out to those most at risk, and species at the center of legal fights.

"The program does not approach charismatic species as a top-tier" priority, said Bryan Arroyo, who heads the endangered species program. "We're not saying, you know, 'Here's wolves . . . or polar bears, or whatever, we're going to give more money to that.' "

But budget data show the beautiful and the edible are still coming out on top. The top 50 best-funded species include salmon, trout, sea turtles, eagles, bears -- and just one insect and no plants.

The Chinook salmon in the Snake River in the Northwest, whose needs include fish-friendly improvements at dams, was listed as receiving at least $69 million in help. Other fish in the ecosystem benefit, too, but that's still more money than the total spent on all insects, clams, snails, arachnids, corals, crustaceans and every species of threatened plant -- about 72 percent of the whole list.

Not the way nature works
Environmentalists say this isn't the way nature works.

"You can't disregard any of the pieces of the puzzle if you want to save all the pieces of the puzzle," said Trent Orr, an Oakland, Calif.-based lawyer with the environmental group Earthjustice. "You can't kind of cherry-pick and say, 'Oh, yes, let's have a world where there's charismatic mammals . . . but let's ignore the minnows.' "

There are small signs that people are listening.

The American burying beetle, which uses carcasses as nurseries for its young, gets three times the funding that it did in 1998. The orangefoot pimpleback, an endangered freshwater mussel, is getting six times what it did.

The Attwater's prairie chicken, a Gulf Coast species with a neck sac that looks like a radioactive gobstopper, is being bred in captivity at Texas zoos to keep it from disappearing.

And in Arkansas, a mud-brown mussel called a fatmucket has received new attention -- enough funding to track down new populations and sign on property owners to plant trees to filter runoff into streams.

"Mussels and the Arkansas fatmucket are definitely viewed in a different light, and they've definitely kind of gained a higher importance," said Joy DeClerk of the Nature Conservancy, who works with the animal. She said the attention seems to stem from a realization that mussels are a sensitive indicator of a river's overall health. "I'm cautiously hopeful," she said.

But there are good reasons not to be. Climate change is expected to put an even greater squeeze on endangered creatures. And scientists say many plants and animals have already been so harmed that they will probably never be "walkaway species," able to live on their own.

That means permanent human hand-holding, which is expensive. Kirtland's warbler, a colorful songbird that lives in Michigan forests, requires people to cut down trees to re-create its preferred young forest habitat, and to kill the cowbirds that invade its nests. Total cost: about $990,000 per year, at last count.

"Can we do that for the Furbish lousewort? I'm not sure," said Mike Scott, a scientist at the U.S. Geological Survey, mentioning a Maine plant. "And can we do it for the two-thirds of the species that are plants or invertebrates? I think that's a tough sell."

Is ugly in?
In California, the charisma-less, inedible Delta smelt is testing the notion that ugly is in.

The smelt, a three-inch-long minnow look-alike, lives only in the San Francisco Bay and the brackish river delta that feeds it. That is terrible luck: This delta is at the intake pipe for California's vast plumbing system, which sucks water from the north and pipes it to cities in the south and farms in the middle.

The fish's population has dropped to less than 10 percent of its historic high because of urban pollution, hungry invasive species and pumps that whoosh them through to alien habitats, environmentalists say. They sued to leave more of the water -- and the smelt -- where they were.

"They are one of the best indicators of the overall ecological quality" of the delta ecosystem, which also hosts migrating salmon, said Christina Swanson, executive director of a California environmental group called the Bay Institute. "Whither smelt, so goes the rest of the system."

They won. In 2007, a federal judge said the smelt needed greater protection. In December, the Fish and Wildlife Service issued a plan that included a rule to cut back water pumping at certain times.

'We are losing everything'
In this arid town in the Central Valley, farmers say that the restrictions, combined with a drought, have contributed to unemployment that may be as high as 40 percent.

"Because there's no water, there's no work," said Juan Carlos Diaz, who can't even draw customers to his thrift store. And all because of a fish, he said in Spanish: "Because of it, we are losing everything."

The battle goes on in the courts and in Washington, where Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) and California congressmen have sought to change the federal orders.

In the meantime, this month a group of California environmentalists held a day-long event in Oakland to make the point that fish in the delta and other nearby rivers have a value all their own.

They called it . . . SalmonAid.

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ATH: Brazil 3, USA 2

Brazil rallies to beat U.S. in Confed Cup final
Defending champs score 3 goals in second half against surprising Americans
The Associated Press, updated 5:36 p.m. CT, Sun., June 28, 2009

JOHANNESBURG - Brazil’s “Beautiful Game” came alive in the second half Sunday with three comeback goals in a 3-2 win over the United States in the Confederations Cup final.

Luis Fabiano scored two of the goals and Lucio added the third in the 84th minute to give Brazil its second straight Confederations Cup title and third overall.

But it was all looking good for the Americans, playing in the men’s final of a FIFA tournament for the first time, in the first half when Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan gave the team a 2-0 halftime lead.

“You realize why these guys are worth so much at times like this, but it’s still disappointing,” Donovan said. “We are in the position where we don’t want respect, we want to win.”

Brazil really did look like a beaten team in the first 45 minutes, creating little and being constantly stymied by the United States defense and goalkeeper Tim Howard. During that time, the American attack was stretching the nervous-looking Brazil defense, with Donovan working hard to give his team several scoring chances.

Although that quality play managed to give the Americans a hefty lead, Brazil was not about to let yet another title slip by.

“At halftime, we said there was something lacking, some lack of positioning,” Brazil coach Dunga said through a translator. “We corrected that and we pressured our opponent in the second half and we were able to score a goal.”

Luis Fabiano started the comeback in the 46th minute. The striker collected a pass from Ramires before turning and shooting past defender Jay DeMerit for his fourth goal of the tournament. He added a tournament-leading fifth to equalize in the 74th, heading in a rebound after Kaka’s cross was kicked against the crossbar by Robinho.

“We gave up the first goal so early in second half,” United States coach Bob Bradley said. “We really put ourselves in a tough spot.”

Lucio then delivered the decisive goal in the 84th, heading a corner from Elano past Howard.

“We made more use of the wings and we scored goals,” Dunga said.

Dempsey, who also scored in the 2-0 semifinal win over Spain, gave the Americans the lead in the 10th minute by redirecting a cross from Jonathan Spector. Donovan added the second by finishing off some nice passing play with Charlie Davies on a fast counterattack in the 27th.

Spector started the unthinkable after only 10 minutes, running down the right and sending a low cross into the area. Dempsey, who had plenty of room to maneuver, raised his right leg and put just enough of a touch on the ball to alter the direction and send it past a diving Julio Cesar.

Donovan then got possession at his own end shortly after Maicon had sent in a corner for Brazil from the right. The United States midfielder ran up the middle, passed to Davies and then reclaimed the ball from his teammate before beating Julio Cesar.

“They turned the ball over, Ricardo gave me a good pass in the middle,” Donovan said. “I gave it to Charlie and he did a good job getting it back to me. Just did the rest from there.”

The Americans appeared to get some luck in the 60th when Kaka headed a cross from Andre Santos to the near post. Howard stepped back into his goal and knocked the shot off the underside of the crossbar and then grabbed it safely in his arms.

Kaka appealed, arguing that the ball had crossed the line before Howard was able to get to it, and television replays appeared to show he was correct.

“I don’t know whether the ball crossed the goal line,” Kaka said. “Maybe the TV images will show. It would have been fantastic for me to score a legitimate headed goal.”

Brazil has won eight matches in a row, and is unbeaten in 16. The five-time world champions also won the Confederations Cup in 1997 and 2005.

And in 15 matches against the United States, the Brazilians have only lost once — a 1-0 result in the 1998 CONCACAF Gold Cup.

The Americans reached the semifinals at the first World Cup in 1930, and made the quarterfinals in 2002. Besides that, its most famous victory before ending Spain’s record 15-match winning streak in the semifinals was a 1-0 win over England at the 1950 World Cup in Brazil.

“I think people around the world see that we have a good team, we have good players,” Bradley said. “Hopefully we can continue to step forward.”

In the third-place match, Spain fought back to beat host South Africa 3-2 after extra time in Rustenburg.

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Friday, June 26, 2009

ATH: Pregame US v Brazil

from US National Team Players Association

Scouting Report: Brazil

By Clemente Lisi -- Mention the name Brazil and you conjure up soccer greatness... a rich tradition that spans fours decades highlighted by five World Cups. Brazil’s already-packed trophy case, which also includes two Confederations Cups, could see the addition of another title this Sunday.

The Confederations Cup final pitting favorites Brazil and the Cinderella underdog USA in Johannesburg, South Africa has all the makings of a classic encounter.

The Brazilians are an eclectic mix of the traditional jogo bonito-style and gritty determination. Although he has been criticized by pundits and fans for “not playing pretty enough,” coach Dunga has not been deterred, letting results do the talking.

The Americans have momentum on their side and are riding high on confidence after stunning Spain 2-0 in the semifinals.

Brazil had limped through the early part of 2010 World Cup qualifying before recently hitting their stride this year. The Selecao have finally reached their full potential at the Confederations Cup, trouncing World champion Italy 3-0 last Sunday during the group stage.

Yet for every 3-0 scoreline the Brazilians have put together as of late, there have been numerous games where they could barely eek out a win. Recent examples of that include the 4-3 victory over Egypt in the first round of the Confederations Cup (thanks to a last-gasp penalty kick by Kaka) and a 1-0 win over hosts South Africa on Thursday in the semifinals (on a goal off a free kick with two minutes left by Daniel Alves).

The difference between this Brazil team and the ones from the past is the ability to grind out results. There's a simple enough reason: Brazil is loaded with quality players. The bulk of the roster plays for Europe’s top clubs, making them very difficult to surprise, much less beat. Then again, so was Spain and we all saw how that ended.

Dunga has utilized a variety of players and strategies since being appointed Brazil coach in 2006. Players like Kaka, Luis Fabiano and Robinho have made it so that there is no shortage of scorers. Whether playing a 4-4-2, a 4-3-3 or 4-3-1-2, the Brazilians use passing, speed and lethal counterattacks to instill fear in opposing defenses.

The Brazilians are also very solid defensively and this is why they have conceded few goals. At this tournament, Brazil has given up just three (all against Egypt) over four matches. Their net is in safe hands with Inter Milan goalkeeper Julio Cesar (who has recorded three straight shutouts). Defenders Maicon and Lucio work tirelessly to clear loose balls and try to get the offense rolling with splendid plays along the wings and on dead balls.

With the abundance of talent that Dunga has at his disposal, he can afford to mix and match his squad until he finds the ideal blend before next year’s World Cup. So much so, that he left the likes of Ronaldinho and Adriano at home in favor of younger players like midfielder Felipe Melo and forward Luis Fabiano. These last two are great with the ball and have been able to help the team create scoring chances against the run of play.

The US, of course, comes into the game after beating Spain, another team loaded with skilled players with plenty of experience playing in various European leagues. The Brazilians may not want to look at their 3-0 win last week over the Americans in the group stage as any indication of how the US can play. A lot has changed since then. If the Brazil-South Africa semifinal thought us one thing is that an attentive defense and packed midfield – the sort of style employed by the US – can frustrate the South Americans.

The Americans have improved dramatically over the past week, like a lower-seeded team that gets hot in the playoffs. On the other hand, the favorite Brazilians have hardly looked like World beaters, but remain a team to fear.

Never before has there appeared to be such a narrow gap in talent level between the National Team and Brazil. A win over No. 1-ranked Spain will do that to a team. The US needs to be the best team in the stadium against Brazil, not necessarily the best in the world, come Sunday. Should the Americans keep the score close early on and avoid any sloppy errors that marred their performance in their last game against Brazil, it will truly be anyone’s game.

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OBT: More than the King of Pop

Michael Jackson’s life cut shockingly short
‘King of Pop’ had been spending many hours preparing for comeback tour
The Associated Press, updated 7:51 a.m. CT, Fri., June 26, 2009

LOS ANGELES - Michael Jackson, defined in equal parts as the world’s greatest entertainer and perhaps its most enigmatic figure, was about to attempt one of the greatest comebacks of all time. Then his life was cut shockingly — and so far, mysteriously — short.

The 50-year-old musical superstar died Thursday, just as he was preparing for what would be a series of 50 concerts starting July 13 at London’s famed 02 arena. Jackson had been spending hours and hours toiling with a team of dancers for a performance he and his fans hoped would restore his tarnished legacy to its proper place in pop.

An autopsy was planned for Friday, though results were not likely to be final until toxicology tests could be completed, a process that could take several days and sometimes weeks. However, if a cause can be determined by the autopsy, they will announce the results, said Los Angeles County Coroner Investigator Jerry McKibben.

Jackson died at UCLA Medical Center after being stricken at his rented home in the posh Los Angeles neighborhood of Holmby Hills. Paramedics tried to resuscitate him at his home for nearly three-quarters of an hour, then rushed him to the hospital where doctors continued to work on him.

“It is believed he suffered cardiac arrest in his home. However, the cause of his death is unknown until results of the autopsy are known,” his brother Jermaine said.

Cardiac arrest is an abnormal heart rhythm that stops the heart from pumping blood to the body. It can occur after a heart attack or be caused by other heart problems.

Jackson’s death brought a tragic end to a long, bizarre, sometimes farcical decline from his peak in the 1980s, when he was popular music’s premier all-around performer, a uniter of black and white music who shattered the race barrier on MTV, dominated the charts and dazzled even more on stage.

His 1982 album “Thriller” — which included the blockbuster hits “Beat It,” “Billie Jean” and “Thriller” — is the best-selling album of all time, with an estimated 50 million copies sold worldwide.

As word of his death spread, MTV switched its programming to play videos from Jackson’s heyday. Radio stations began playing marathons of his hits. Hundreds of people gathered outside the hospital. In New York’s Times Square, a low groan went up in the crowd when a screen flashed that Jackson had died, and people began relaying the news to friends by cell phone.

“No joke. King of Pop is no more. Wow,” Michael Harris, 36, of New York City, read from a text message a friend had sent him. “It’s like when Kennedy was assassinated. I will always remember being in Times Square when Michael Jackson died.”

The public first knew him as a boy in the late 1960s, when he was the precocious, spinning lead singer of the Jackson 5, the singing group he formed with his four older brothers out of Gary, Ind. Among their No. 1 hits were “I Want You Back,” “ABC” and “I’ll Be There.”

He was perhaps the most exciting performer of his generation, known for his backward-gliding moonwalk, his feverish, crotch-grabbing dance moves and his high-pitched singing, punctuated with squeals and titters. His single sequined glove, tight, military-style jacket and aviator sunglasses were trademarks, as was his ever-changing, surgically altered appearance.

“For Michael to be taken away from us so suddenly at such a young age, I just don’t have the words,” said Quincy Jones, who produced “Thriller.” “He was the consummate entertainer and his contributions and legacy will be felt upon the world forever. I’ve lost my little brother today, and part of my soul has gone with him.”

Jackson ranked alongside Elvis Presley and the Beatles as the biggest pop sensations of all time. He united two of music’s biggest names when he was briefly married to Presley’s daughter, Lisa Marie. Jackson’s sudden death immediately evoked comparisons to that of Presley himself, who died at age 42 in 1977.

“I am so very sad and confused with every emotion possible,” Lisa Marie Presley said in a statement. “I am heartbroken for his children who I know were everything to him and for his family. This is such a massive loss on so many levels, words fail me.”

As years went by, Jackson became an increasingly freakish figure — a middle-aged man-child weirdly out of touch with grown-up life. His skin became lighter, his nose narrower, and he spoke in a breathy, girlish voice. He often wore a germ mask while traveling, kept a pet chimpanzee named Bubbles as one of his closest companions and surrounded himself with children at his Neverland ranch, a storybook playland filled with toys, rides and animals. The tabloids dubbed him “Wacko Jacko.”

“It seemed to me that his internal essence was at war with the norms of the world. It’s as if he was trying to defy gravity,” said Michael Levine, a Hollywood publicist who represented Jackson in the early 1990s. He called Jackson a “disciple of P.T. Barnum” and said the star appeared fragile at the time but was “much more cunning and shrewd about the industry than anyone knew.”

Jackson caused a furor in 2002 when he playfully dangled his infant son, Prince Michael II, over a hotel balcony in Berlin while a throng of fans watched from below.

In 2005, he was cleared of charges that he molested a 13-year-old cancer survivor at Neverland in 2003. He had been accused of plying the boy with alcohol and groping him, and of engaging in strange and inappropriate behavior with other children.

The case followed years of rumors about Jackson and young boys. In a TV documentary, he acknowledged sharing his bed with children, a practice he described as sweet and not at all sexual.

Despite the acquittal, the lurid allegations that came out in court took a fearsome toll on his career and image, and he fell into serious financial trouble.

Michael Joseph Jackson was born Aug. 29, 1958, in Gary. He was 4 years old when he began singing with his brothers — Marlon, Jermaine, Jackie and Tito — in the Jackson 5. After his early success with bubblegum soul, he struck out on his own, generating innovative, explosive, unstoppable music.

The album “Thriller” alone mixed the dark, serpentine bass and drums and synthesizer approach of “Billie Jean,” the grinding Eddie Van Halen guitar solo on “Beat It,” and the hiccups and falsettos on “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’.”

The peak may have come in 1983, when Motown celebrated its 25th anniversary with an all-star televised concert and Jackson moonwalked off with the show, joining his brothers for a medley of old hits and then leaving them behind with a pointing, crouching, high-kicking, splay-footed, crotch-grabbing run through “Billie Jean.”

The audience stood and roared. Jackson raised his fist.

During production of a 1984 Pepsi commercial, Jackson’s scalp sustains burns when an explosion sets his hair on fire.

He had strong follow-up albums with 1987’s “Bad” and 1991’s “Dangerous,” but his career began to collapse in 1993 after he was accused of molesting a boy who often stayed at his home. The singer denied any wrongdoing, reached a settlement with the boy’s family, reported to be $20 million, and criminal charges were never filed.

Jackson’s expressed anger over the allegations on the 1995 album “HIStory,” which sold more than 2.4 million copies, but by then, the popularity of Jackson’s music was clearly waning even as public fascination with his increasingly erratic behavior was growing.

Jackson married Lisa Marie Presley in 1994, and they divorced in 1996. Later that year, Jackson married Deborah Rowe, a former nurse for his dermatologist. They had two children together: Michael Joseph Jackson Jr., known as Prince Michael, now 12; and Paris Michael Katherine Jackson, 11. Rowe filed for divorce in 1999.

Jackson also had a third child, Prince Michael II. Now 7, Jackson said the boy nicknamed Blanket as a baby was his biological child born from a surrogate mother.

Billboard magazine editorial director Bill Werde said Jackson’s star power was unmatched. “The world just lost the biggest pop star in history, no matter how you cut it,” Werde said. “He’s literally the king of pop.”

Jackson’s 13 No. 1 one hits on the Billboard charts put him behind only Presley, the Beatles and Mariah Carey, Werde said.

“He was on the eve of potentially redeeming his career a little bit,” he said. “People might have started to think of him again in a different light.”

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ENV: The Mystery of the Legless Frogs

Legless frogs mystery solved
Matt Walker, Editor, Earth News

Scientists think they have resolved one of the most controversial environmental issues of the past decade: the curious case of the missing frogs' legs.

Around the world, frogs are found with missing or misshaped limbs, a striking deformity that many researchers believe is caused by chemical pollution.

However, tests on frogs and toads have revealed a more natural, benign cause.

The deformed frogs are actually victims of the predatory habits of dragonfly nymphs, which eat the legs of tadpoles.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, researchers started getting reports of numerous wild frogs or toads being found with extra legs or arms, or with limbs that were partly formed or missing completely.

The cause of these deformities soon became a hotly contested issue.

Some researchers believed they might be caused naturally, by predators or parasites.

Others thought that was highly unlikely, fearing that chemical pollution, or UV-B radiation caused by the thinning of the ozone layer, was triggering the deformations.
Once they grab the tadpole, they use their front legs to turn it around, searching for the tender bits, in this case the hind limb buds, which they then snip off with their mandibles
Biologist Stanley Sessions describes the dining habits of dragonfly nymphs

"Deformed frogs became one of the most contentious environmental issues of all time, with the parasite researchers on one side, and the 'chemical company' as I call them, on the other," says Stanley Sessions, an amphibian specialist and professor of biology at Hartwick College, in Oneonta, New York.

"There was a veritable media firestorm, with millions of dollars of grant money at stake."

After a long period of research, Sessions and other researchers established that many amphibians with extra limbs were actually infected by small parasitic flatworms called Riberoria trematodes.

These creatures burrow into the hindquarters of tadpoles where they physically rearrange the limb bud cells and thereby interfere with limb development.

"But that was not end of the story," says Sessions.

"Frogs with extra limbs may have been the most dramatic-looking deformities, but they are by far the least common deformities found," he explains.

"The most commonly found deformities are frogs or toads found with missing or truncated limbs, and although parasites occasionally cause limblessness in a frog, these deformities are almost never associated with the trematode species known to cause extra limbs."

Missing legs

The mystery of what causes frogs to have missing or deformed limbs remained unsolved until Sessions teamed up with colleague Brandon Ballengee of the University of Plymouth, UK. They report their findings in the Journal of Experimental Zoology Part B: Molecular and Developmental Evolution.

For a decade, Ballengee and Sessions have collaborated on a series of art and science projects that image amphibians' bodies to show the detail within, the most recent of which is funded by the Arts Catalyst organisation, based in London.

As part of this work, Ballengee and Richard Sunter, the official Recorder of Reptiles and Amphibians in Yorkshire, spent time during the summers of 2006 to 2008 surveying the occurrence of deformities in wild amphibians at three ponds in the county.

In all, they found that between 1.2% and 9.8% of tadpoles or metamorphosed toads at each location had hind limb deformities. Three had missing eyes.

"We were very surprised when we found so many metamorphic toads with abnormal limbs, as it was thought to be a North American phenomenon," says Ballengee.

While surveying, Ballengee also discovered a range of natural predators he suspected could be to blame, including stickleback fish, newts, diving beetles, water scorpions and predatory dragonfly nymphs.

So Ballengee and Sessions decide to test how each predator preyed upon the tadpoles, by placing them together in fish tanks in the lab.

None did, except three species of dragonfly nymph.

Crucially though, the nymphs rarely ate the tadpoles whole. More often than not, they would grab the tadpole and chew at a hind limb, often removing it altogether.

"Once they grab the tadpole, they use their front legs to turn it around, searching for the tender bits, in this case the hind limb buds, which they then snip off with their mandibles," says Sessions.

Stunted growth

Remarkably, many tadpoles survive this ordeal.

"Often the tadpole is released and is able to swim away to live for another day," says Sessions. "If it survives it metamorphoses into a toad with missing or deformed hind limbs, depending on the developmental stage of the tadpole."

If tadpoles are attacked when they are very young, they can often regenerate their leg completely, but this ability diminishes as they grow older.

The researchers confirmed this by surgically removing the hind limbs of some tadpoles and watching them grow. These tadpoles developed in an identical way to those whose limbs had been removed by dragonflies, confirming that losing a limb at a certain stage of a tadpole's development can lead to missing or deformed limbs in adulthood.

Adult amphibians with one one hind limb appear able to live for quite a long time, Sessions says, explaining why so many deformed frogs and toads are discovered.

Why do the dragonflies like to eat the hind legs only?

As toad tadpoles mature, they develop poison glands in their skin much earlier than those in their hind legs, which could make the hind legs a far more palatable meal.

The front legs of tadpoles also develop within the gill chamber, where they are protected.

Sessions is careful to say that he doesn't completely rule out chemicals as the cause of some missing limbs. But 'selective predation' by dragonfly nymphs is now by far the leading explanation, he says.

"Are parasites sufficient to cause extra limbs?," he asks. "Yes. Is selective predation by dragonfly nymphs sufficient to cause loss or reduction of limbs. Yes. Are chemical pollutants necessary to understand either of these phenomena? No."

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Thursday, June 25, 2009

OBT: Farrah Fawcett

i want to give Farrah her time . . .

Farrah Fawcett succumbs to cancer at 62
‘Charlie’s Angels’ star helped redefine sex appeal in the 1970s
The Associated Press, updated 1:10 p.m. CT, Thurs., June 25, 2009

Farrah Fawcett, the “Charlie’s Angels” star whose feathered blond hair and dazzling smile made her one of the biggest sex symbols of the 1970s, died Thursday after battling cancer. She was 62.

The pop icon, who in the 1980s set aside the fantasy girl image to tackle serious roles, died shortly before 9:30 a.m. in a Santa Monica hospital, spokesman Paul Bloch said.

Ryan O’Neal, the longtime companion who had reunited with Fawcett as she fought anal cancer, was at her side, along with close friend Alana Stewart, Bloch said.

“After a long and brave battle with cancer, our beloved Farrah has passed away,” O’Neal said. “Although this is an extremely difficult time for her family and friends, we take comfort in the beautiful times that we shared with Farrah over the years and the knowledge that her life brought joy to so many people around the world.”

Other “Charlie’s Angels” stars paid tribute to her.

“Farrah had courage, she had strength, and she had faith. And now she has peace as she rests with the real angels,” Jaclyn Smith said.

Said Cheryl Ladd: “She was incredibly brave, and God will be welcoming her with open arms.” She burst on the scene in 1976 as one-third of the crime-fighting trio in TV’s “Charlie’s Angels.” A poster of her in a clingy swimsuit sold in the millions.

She left the show after one season but had a flop on the big screen with “Somebody Killed Her Husband.” She turned to more serious roles in the 1980s and 1990s, winning praise playing an abused wife in “The Burning Bed.”

She had been diagnosed with cancer in 2006. As she underwent treatment, she enlisted the help of O’Neal, who was the father of her now 24-year-old son, Redmond.

This month, O’Neal said he asked Fawcett to marry him and she agreed. They would wed “as soon as she can say yes,” he said.

Documentary detailed her struggle
Her struggle with painful treatments and dispiriting setbacks was recorded in the television documentary “Farrah’s Story.” Fawcett sought cures in Germany as well as the United States, battling the disease with iron determination even as her body weakened.

“Her big message to people is don’t give up, no matter what they say to you, keep fighting,” her friend Stewart said. NBC estimated the May 15, 2009, broadcast drew nearly 9 million viewers.

In the documentary, Fawcett was seen shaving off most of her trademark locks before chemotherapy could claim them. Toward the end, she’s seen huddled in bed, barely responding to a visit from her son.

Fawcett, Kate Jackson and Smith made up the original “Angels,” the sexy, police-trained trio of martial arts experts who took their assignments from a rich, mysterious boss named Charlie (John Forsythe, who was never seen on camera but whose distinctive voice was heard on speaker phone.)

The program debuted in September 1976, the height of what some critics derisively referred to as television’s “jiggle show” era, and it gave each of the actresses ample opportunity to show off their figures as they disguised themselves in bathing suits and as hookers and strippers to solve crimes.

Backed by a clever publicity campaign, Fawcett — then billed as Farrah Fawcett-Majors because of her marriage to “The Six Million Dollar Man” star Lee Majors — quickly became the most popular Angel of all.

Her face helped sell T-shirts, lunch boxes, shampoo, wigs and even a novelty plumbing device called Farrah’s faucet. Her flowing blond hair, pearly white smile and trim, shapely body made her a favorite with male viewers in particular.

A poster of her in a dampened red swimsuit sold millions of copies and became a ubiquitous wall decoration in teenagers’ rooms.

Thus the public and the show’s producer, Spelling-Goldberg, were shocked when she announced after the series’ first season that she was leaving television’s No. 5-rated series to star in feature films. (Cheryl Ladd became the new “Angel” on the series.)

But the movies turned out to be a platform where Fawcett was never able to duplicate her TV success. Her first star vehicle, the comedy-mystery “Somebody Killed Her Husband,” flopped and Hollywood cynics cracked that it should have been titled “Somebody Killed Her Career.”

The actress had also been in line to star in “Foul Play” for Columbia Pictures. But the studio opted for Goldie Hawn instead. “Spelling-Goldberg warned all the studios that that they would be sued for damages if they employed me,” Fawcett told The Associated Press in 1979. “The studios wouldn’t touch me.”

She finally reached an agreement to appear in three episodes of “Charlie’s Angels” a season, an experience she called “painful.”

She returned to making movies, including the futuristic thriller “Logan’s Run,” the comedy-thriller “Sunburn” and the strange sci-fi tale “Saturn 3,” but none clicked with the public.

Fawcett fared better with television movies such as “Murder in Texas,” “Poor Little Rich Girl” and especially as an abused wife in 1984’s “The Burning Bed.” The last earned her an Emmy nomination and the long-denied admission from critics that she really could act.

As further proof of her acting credentials, Fawcett appeared off-Broadway in “Extremities” as a woman who is raped in her own home. She repeated the role in the 1986 film version.

Not content to continue playing victims, she switched type. She played a murderous mother in the 1989 true-crime story “Small Sacrifices” and a tough lawyer on the trail of a thief in 1992’s “Criminal Behavior.”

She also starred in biographies of Nazi-hunter Beate Klarsfeld and photographer Margaret Bourke-White.

“I felt that I was doing a disservice to ourselves by portraying only women as victims,” she commented in a 1992 interview.

In 1995, at age 50, Fawcett posed partly nude for Playboy magazine. The following year, she starred in a Playboy video, “All of Me,” in which she was equally unclothed while she sculpted and painted.

She told an interviewer she considered the experience “a renaissance,” adding, “I no longer feel ... restrictions emotionally, artistically, creatively or in my everyday life. I don’t feel those borders anymore.”

Fawcett’s most unfortunate career moment may have been a 1997 appearance on David Letterman’s show, when her disjointed, rambling answers led many to speculate that she was on drugs. She denied that, blaming her strange behavior on questionable advice from her mother to be playful and have a good time.

Fought cancer publicly
In September 2006, Fawcett, who at 59 still maintained a strict regimen of tennis and paddleball, began to feel strangely exhausted. She underwent two weeks of tests and was told the devastating news: She had anal cancer.

O’Neal, with whom she had a 17-year relationship, again became her constant companion, escorting her to the hospital for chemotherapy.

“She’s so strong,” the actor told a reporter. “I love her. I love her all over again.”

She struggled to maintain her privacy, but a UCLA Medical Center employee pleaded guilty in late 2008 to violating federal medical privacy law for commercial purposes for selling records of Fawcett and other celebrities to the National Enquirer.

“It’s much easier to go through something and deal with it without being under a microscope,” she told the Los Angeles Times in an interview in which she also revealed that she helped set up a sting that led to the hospital worker’s arrest.

Her decision to tell her own story through the NBC documentary was meant as an inspiration to others, friends said. The segments showing her cancer treatment, including a trip to Germany for procedures there, were originally shot for a personal, family record, they said. And although weak, she continued to show flashes of grit and good humor in the documentary.

“I do not want to die of this disease. So I say to God, ‘It is seriously time for a miracle,”’ she said at one point.

Born Feb. 2, 1947, in Corpus Christi, Texas, she was named Mary Farrah Leni Fawcett by her mother, who said she added the Farrah because it sounded good with Fawcett. She was less than a month old when she underwent surgery to remove a digestive tract tumor with which she was born.

After attending Roman Catholic grade school and W.B. Ray High School, Fawcett enrolled at the University of Texas at Austin. Fellow students voted her one of the 10 most beautiful people on the campus and her photos were eventually spotted by movie publicist David Mirisch, who suggested she pursue a film career. After overcoming her parents’ objections, she agreed.

Soon she was appearing in such TV shows as “That Girl,” “The Flying Nun,” “I Dream of Jeannie” and “The Partridge Family.”

Majors became both her boyfriend and her adviser on career matters, and they married in 1973. She dropped his last name from hers after they divorced in 1982.

By then she had already begun her long relationship with O’Neal. Both Redmond and Ryan O’Neal have grappled with drug and legal problems in recent years.

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ENV: Seychelles Paradise Flycatcher

Hope for Seychelles' last Critically Endangered species
BirdLife International, 23-06-2009

The first Seychelles Paradise-flycatcher Terpsiphone corvina chicks to fledge successfully outside La Digue Island, Seychelles for over 60 years is flying on Denis Island, a coral island in the inner Seychelles group. The newly-fledged birds are flying well, very noisy, and being fed by their parents –"typical normal and healthy flycatcher chicks", according to Nirmal Shah, Director of BirdLife Partner Nature Seychelles, the Species Guardian for the paradise-flycatcher.

The paradise-flycatcher is the only Seychelles species still listed as Critically Endangered. Formerly Critically Endangered Species including Seychelles Magpie-robin Copsychus sechellarum, Seychelles White-eye Zosterops modestus and Seychelles Scops-owl Otus insularis have all been downlisted as a result of conservation action. The population of the paradise-flycatcher has been steadily increasing in recent years. In 1996 there were 69-83 pairs; this had risen to 104-139 pairs by the last comprehensive survey in 2000.

Seychelles Paradise-flycatchers, probably "overspill" birds from the population on La Digue, are regularly seen on neighbouring islands, but have been unable to establish viable populations. The reintroduction to Denis Island is part of a three-year project, funded by the UK Government's Darwin Initative, and carried out by Nature Seychelles together with the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE) and the collaboration of other organisations and the Seychelles Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources.

"We predict that we will have a large enough population to downlist it to Endangered in the next two years or so" —Nirmal Shah, Nature Seychelles

Seychelles Paradise-flycatcher requires mature stands of indigenous badamier Terminalia catappa and takamaka Calophyllum innophylum trees. However, its habitat requirements may be less strict than previously thought. As the population on La Digue has increased, a number of birds have established territories in open woodland with housing encroachment, and an increasing number of tree species are used for nesting.

Nature Seychelles began ecosystem restoration on Denis Island in 2002, with funding from two Global Environment Facility projects facilitated by the World Bank and with the collaboration of the island owners, and this work has continued under the current Darwin Initiative-funded flycatcher project. The island is free of alien predators.

Last November, 23 Paradise-flycatchers were translocated from La Digue to Denis Island by Nature Seychelles and DICE, in collaboration with the La Digue Development Board and other partners. Nature Seychelles currently knows the whereabouts of 21 of these birds, with the recent reappearance of a male which had been replaced or ousted from his territory by another young male.

It is believed that the population on Denis could reach 40-50 birds. Other islands are being assessed for their suitability for future translocations.

"We predict that we will have a large enough population to downlist it to Endangered in the next two years or so", said Nirmal Shah. "This will be another huge triumph for Nature Seychelles with its international partners BirdLife, the RSPB and DICE."

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NAT: I'll take Ignorance for $500

Alcohol worries kept hand sanitizer from flu-hit reserves
By Meagan Fitzpatrick, Canwest News Service, June 24, 2009

OTTAWA -- Federal officials spent days debating whether to send hand sanitizers to First Nations communities struggling with swine flu outbreaks because of their alcohol content, a Senate committee heard Tuesday.

Anne-Marie Robinson, assistant deputy minister for the First Nations and Inuit Health branch of Health Canada, told the committee there was “some difficulty” in procuring the hand sanitizer that some chiefs were asking for but that it is now available.

She later confirmed to the committee that there were discussions “with chiefs and amongst our public health officials” about alcohol-based sanitizer products. She said there have been “rare” cases when hand sanitizer has been problematic in some communities where people have alcohol addictions.

“We’ve had a number of people come forward and some evidence where this could potentially put people at risk,” said Ms. Robinson. “For the vast majority of people it’s not an issue but ... that discussion was had with the best interest of our clients in mind and we have now distributed hand sanitizers.”

Hand sanitizers were among the supplies in nursing stations on some of the reserves that have been hard-hit by the illness, but chiefs wanted it available in the wider community because many homes lack running water. Frequent hand-washing with soap and water as a protective measure against the spread of the swine flu, also called the H1N1 virus, was therefore not an option for those residents.

Manitoba Senator Sharon Carstairs and the Assembly of First Nations’ senior public health adviser, Dr. Kim Barker, said during the Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples meeting that the need for hand sanitizers and other supplies was critical in the remote northern Manitoba communities of Garden Hill and St. Theresa Point, yet they took so long to arrive that one chief eventually drove hundreds of kilometres to go and buy them himself.

Ms. Robinson testified that hand sanitizer is being given out door-to-door in Garden Hill, an island community about 600 kilometres north of Winnipeg, and has also been made available in St. Theresa Point, which is near Garden Hill. Both communities have had hundreds of residents fall sick with flu symptoms since May and close to 150 people have been flown by air ambulance to Winnipeg for treatment.

Swine flu has also hit aboriginal communities in Saskatchewan and Ontario. Non-alcohol-based hand sanitizer products are on back order, Ms. Robinson said, and will be made available to the communities of concern.

When asked whether the concerns were raised by Health Canada officials or by leaders in the community, Ms. Robinson responded, “Both, over the years.”

Ms. Carstairs, however, said that while concerns may have been raised in the past by community leaders about alcohol-based products, particularly those from “dry” reserves where alcohol is not allowed, certainly during a pandemic situation they would not slow down access to them.

She blamed the discussion over alcohol-based products for the delay in getting sanitizer to the Manitoba communities and said she was “horrified” when she learned about it.

“I think it’s another example of the paternalistic attitude in which aboriginal people are treated,” Ms. Carstairs said. “This appears to be a discussion taking place at levels here in Ottawa, and it’s just [a] further example of why the Indian Act does not serve aboriginal people well here in Canada.”

The Assembly of First Nations’ health adviser was similarly distraught by the debate, she told the committee.

“We heard that argument as well, that people were sitting down spending days discussing the pros and cons of a non-alcohol-based hand sanitizer versus an alcohol-based one because of the concerns around addictions in communities -- absolutely outrageous, quite frankly,” Dr. Barker said.

Health officials aren’t sure yet why the illness appears to be affecting aboriginal people more severely than other Canadians, but the outbreaks on reserves have drawn attention to the living conditions, lack of clean water, overcrowded housing and health-care access.

Dr. Barker said as the swine flu spread through First Nations communities over the last few weeks, there were delays in delivering supplies, a breakdown in communications between the provincial and federal governments and a lack of consistency in how the outbreaks have been managed.

She suggested a task force be struck to better co-ordinate responses to the disease among aboriginal people, and that more planning be done and more resources committed in advance of the fall flu season when the swine flu is expected to strike more Canadians.

A pandemic preparedness plan specifically designed for aboriginal communities is also needed, Dr. Barker said, because the current pan-Canadian plan is simply ineffective for them.

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NAT: Language Extinction

Never mind whales, save the languages
Peter Monaghan | June 24, 2009 | The Australian

WORRIED about the loss of rainforests, the ozone layer, quokkas? Well, none of those is doing any worse than a large majority of the 6000 to 7000 languages that remain in use on earth. One-half of the survivors will almost certainly be gone by the middle of this century, while 40 per cent more will probably be well on their way out. In their place, almost all humans will speak one of a handful of megalanguages - Mandarin, English, Spanish - although often a poor version of them.

Linguists know what causes languages to disappear. Demographic shifts, government neglect or suppression of regional and indigenous languages and the depredations of mass media all play a role.

Less often remarked is what happens on theway to disappearance; languages' vocabularies, grammars, and expressive potential all diminish.

"Say a community goes over from speaking a traditional Aboriginal language to speaking a creole," says Nick Evans, an Australian National University linguist and leading authority on Aboriginal languages. "Well, let's just use talking about the natural world as an example. You leave behind a language where there's very fine vocabulary for the landscape. Inside the language there's a whole manual for maintaining the integrity of the landscape, for managing it, for using it, for looking for stuff. All that is gone in a creole. You've just got a few words like 'gum tree' or whatever."

As speakers become less able to process and express the wealth of knowledge that has imbued ancestors' lives with meaning over millennia, it's no wonder that communities tend to become demoralised, says Evans, who has dedicated his career to the tall order of keeping shrinking languages going.

"There are times when what people speak is like seeing the world through very badly made, thick glasses," he says. "You can avoid bumping into objects, but you don't see all the beautiful detail."

Evans describes the dimensions of the loss, culled from his years of work in northern Australian Aboriginal communities, in the recently released Dying Words: Endangered Languages and What They Have to Tell Us (Wiley-Blackwell). The situation is so serious that it warrants a global effort to document and preserve languages, he proposes.

How much would that cost? To train one linguist to document one struggling language costs about $500,000. That covers doctoral training and two or three years of postdoc work. "Multiply that by, say, 4000 languages," says Evans. "That's $2 billion."

Too much? It's small potatoes, compared with big-science budgets, he notes. "How much did sequencing the human genome cost? A fair bit more than that, I'd think."

The scientific payoffs would be enormous, he says. That kind of Manhattan Project of human speech would secure the raw data that linguists depend on to shape theories about how language works. And even programs that only partially resuscitated languages would reap social benefits. With the compilation of a dictionary, a grammar, and other printed materials, "people suddenly see their language as something immensely valuable, as something to be proud of, and to learn", Evans says.

If the losses are so huge, why are relatively few linguists combating the situation? Australian linguists, at least, have distinguished themselves by the preservation they have achieved. Just as governments have supported documentation efforts in some countries, including Germany, China, and Russia, Australian governments began in the 1970s to back a major push that has resulted in good documentation of most of the 130 remaining Aboriginal languages, although almost all the survivors are at risk of dying off.

In England, the Arcadia Fund (formerly Lisbet Rausing Charitable Fund) has helped another Australian linguist, Peter Austin, to direct one of the world's most active efforts to stem language loss, at the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies. Austin, who like Evans studied at the ANU linguistics department during the long tenure there of Aboriginal languages specialist Bob Dixon, heads a program that has trained many documentary linguists in England as well as in language-loss hotspots such as west Africa and South America.

At linguistics meetings in the US, where the endangered language issue has of late been something of a flavour of the month, evidence is mounting that not all interventions will be particularly helpful. Some linguists are boasting, for example, of more and more sophisticated means of capturing languages: digital recording and storage, internet and mobile phone technologies, and knowhow from such fields as signal processing and global positioning systems. But those technologies, say some doubters, are encouraging a "commando style" of recording trip: Zip in, switch on digital recorder, clear off, download to hard drive, and nod at funding agencies' requirement that speaker communities have access to gathered material.

That's not quite what some endangered language advocates have been seeking, for more than 30 years. Most loud, and untiring, has been Michael Krauss, of the University of Alaska. He has often complained that linguists are whistling Dixie while most of their raw data disappears on the breeze.

Who is to blame? Noam Chomsky, say Krauss and many others. Or, more precisely, they blame linguists who have fetishised the approaches of the most prominent of all linguists. Documentary linguists, who go out into the field to study, record and describe languages, argue that theoretical linguists, who draw conclusions about how languages work, have held such sway that the field has largely ignored the death throes of languages.

Chomsky, from his post at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has been the doyen of theoretical linguists for far longer than he has been a prominent political commentator. In 1957, he published his landmark Syntactic Structures, which argues that all languages exhibit certain universal grammatical features, encoded in the human mind. American linguists, in particular, have focused largely on theoretical concerns ever since, even while doubts have mounted about Chomsky's universals.

Austin and co are in no doubt that because languages are singular and irreducible, even if they do tend towards common syntactic features, creating dictionaries and grammars requires prolonged dedication and is inevitably a hard slog. As Krauss puts it: "You learn a language by sitting there with people. You ask an old lady what she calls various kinds of bushes."

That patient study may require knowledge of geographic features, farm tools, ethnobotany, mythology, and oral literature. It requires that linguists remain alert not only to languages' structural subtleties, but also the social, historical, and political factors that bear on them.

It also calls for persistent funding of field scientists who may sometimes have to wade, intrepid, into harsh and even hazardous settings. Once there, they may need such non-linguistic skills as diplomacy in the face of community suspicion.

Evans makes no bones about showing communities that he is willing to fight for their rights, linguistic and other. He often acts as an expert witness and interpreter in legal proceedings relating to land rights, for example. He notes that because Aboriginal community leaders expect to engage in give and take with visiting outsiders, linguists canbuild relationships that permit "sustainable linguistics".

So much the better, he says, because endangered language communities have cause to doubt or even oppose efforts to preserve their languages. They may have seen support and funding for such projects as immersion schools come and go. They may have ceased bothering to speak their languages to children, whom they believe will profit from speaking a dominant tongue.

Plenty of students continue to be drawn to the intellectual thrill of linguistics field work. Postgraduate programs have increased in several countries. That's all the more reason to clear away barriers, contend Evans, Austin, and others. The highest, they agree, is that the linguistics profession's emphasis on theory saps young field linguists of their enthusiasm, over time.

Chomsky disagrees. He recently has begun to speak in support of language preservation. But his linguistic, as opposed to humanitarian, rationale for that stance is, let's say, unsentimental: The loss of a language, he states, "is much more of a tragedy for linguists whose interests are mostly theoretical, like me, than for descriptive linguists who focus on specific languages, since it means the permanent loss of the most relevant data for general theoretical work".

There's a certain cold logic to that argument. Chomsky says he certainly deplores the force that most often causes language deaths. "It's known as imperialism," he says.

But outrage about that damage, he argues, should not lead the profession essentially to lower its standards by rewarding more greatly the documentation of languages.

At the moment, few institutions award doctorates for such work, and that's the way it should be, he reasons. In linguistics, as in every other field, he believes that good descriptive work requires thorough theoretical understanding and should also contribute to building new theory.

But that's precisely what documentation does, objects ANU's Evans. The process of immersion in a language, to extract, analyse, and sum it up, deserves a PhD because it is "the most demanding intellectual task a linguist can engage in".

Peter Monaghan, a graduate of the Australian National University, writes regularly for The Chronicle of Higher Education.

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