Friday, July 18, 2008

Americans' Faith in Afghan War Fades

The Pentagon and presidential rivals Barack Obama and John McCain all seem to agree on the need to send more troops to Afghanistan, but they are at odds with much of the country these days on the need to send more Americans into the lawless Afghan mountains.
The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll found that a startling 45 percent of Americans said they do not think the war in Afghanistan is worth fighting, despite the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which provoked the war in the first place.

The growing disenchantment with the Afghan deployment hasn't reached the level of national frustration with the Iraq war, but after more than six years with U.S. troops stationed in Afghanistan and violence on the rise, Americans are becoming increasingly wary about the country's involvement.

Fifty-one percent of Americans now say that the U.S. military effort in Afghanistan has been unsuccessful, up from 24 percent in fall 2002.
Only 44 percent of Americans consider the war in Afghanistan a success, down from 70 percent in 2002.

The national poll of 1,119 randomly selected adults was conducted by telephone July 10-13, 2008, with a margin of error of three percentage points.

For Sholom Keller, a veteran who served in both Afghanistan and Iraq, it comes as no surprise that support for the war in Afghanistan is fading.
"I'm not shocked at all that American support is waning," Keller told "If we are in Afghanistan because the U.S. was attacked on Sept. 11, then I want to see the perpetrators captured and brought to justice.

"If we're not finding them in Afghanistan, then I don't know why we're there," he added. "And if they are there I want to know why we haven't found them in the last seven years if they've been giving troops the right intelligence and missions."

Experts on the Middle East told that many Americans share Keller's frustration, blaming several factors, including the fatigue from hearing about not one but two wars, as well as pressing issues at home, such as the failing economy.

Healthy Diets Shown to Have Benefit Despite Modest Weight Losses

In a tightly controlled dieting experiment, obese people lost an average of just 6 to 10 pounds over two years.
The study, published Thursday in The New England Journal of Medicine, was supposed to determine which of three types of diets works best. Instead, the results highlight the difficulty of weight loss and the fact that most diets do not work well.

The researchers followed 322 dieters, 277 men and 45 women. The dieters were assigned to follow one of three types of diets — a diet with about 30 percent fat, based on American Heart Association guidelines; a Mediterranean diet; and a low-carbohydrate diet based on the Atkins diet plan. The study was partly financed by the Atkins Research Foundation.

The trial was conducted at the Nuclear Research Center in Dimona, Israel, an isolated workplace that has its own medical department.

In addition to regular meetings and telephone calls with dietitians for the participants, the plan included nutrition counseling for spouses and a revamping of the food served in the center’s cafeteria.

Because the center is in an isolated area, the dieters consistently ate lunch, the largest meal of the day, in the company cafeteria, where food was color-coded to help dieters comply with their eating plan.

The biggest weight loss happened in the first five months of the diet — low-fat and Mediterranean dieters lost about 10 pounds, and low-carbohydrate dieters lost 14 pounds.

By the end of two years, all the dieters had regained some, but not all, of the lost weight. The low-fat dieters showed a net loss of six pounds, and the Mediterranean and low-carbohydrate dieters both lost about 10 pounds.

Researchers said the results sound modest, but they said the small weight loss had resulted in improvements in cholesterol and other health markers.

“In order to keep participants on the diet for long term as a way of life, we did not impose extreme diet protocols,” said Iris Shai, the study’s lead author and a registered dietitian at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev at the S. Daniel Abraham International Center for Health and Nutrition. “More dramatic diet protocols could probably reduce more weight for the short term, but participants would have dropped out.”

There were subtle differences in the three diets studied. Men did better on the low-carbohydrate diets, losing 11 pounds compared with about 9 pounds for the Mediterranean diet.

Women fared best on the Mediterranean diet, losing about 14 pounds compared with about 5 pounds on the low-carbohydrate plan.

For all dieters, there were improvements in the ratios of good to bad cholesterol.

“This suggests that healthy diet has beneficial effects beyond weight loss,” Ms. Shai said.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

10 U.S. Places to See Before You Die

Many people have a list of places they'd like to visit before they move on to the next world; here are a few American suggestions of my own.

For conversation's sake, I have avoided the obvious targets, but a stroll across the Golden Gate Bridge or a trip up the Empire State Building is still definitely worth it.

Though we are lucky to live in a beautiful country, I have mostly focused on smaller, manmade sites, simply because a catalog of pretty American places could stretch on forever.

This list is admittedly subjective, but comes from 30 years of professional wandering. Some places are more well-known than others, but all share a sense of tranquility and wonder.

And since I review small boutique hotels for a living, I have included nearby recommended places to stay. Happy travels!

1. San Francisco de Asis Church, Ranchos de Taos, N.M.

Famously painted by Georgia O'Keefe and described by her as "one of the most beautiful buildings left in the United States by the early Spaniards," this handsome adobe mission a few miles outside of Taos Pueblo yokes together a staggering five centuries of North American history.
Harper hotel: Casa de las Chimeneas, Taos.

2. Whaling Museum, Nantucket, Mass.

At its whaling peak during the first half of the 19th century, the small island of Nantucket had 88 ships scattered across the oceans. The Whaling Museum is wonderfully evocative of this era (plenty of scrimshaw and rusty harpoons), and out-of-season Nantucket Town, with its Greek Revival mansions and cobblestone streets, is equally enchanting.
Harper hotel: The Wauwinet.

3. Battery District, Charleston, S.C.

The historic Battery District of Charleston, South Carolina, home to dozens of stately antebellum mansions, is one of the prettiest U.S. neighborhoods I've ever explored. Follow the promenade along the shores of the Charleston peninsula; Fort Sumter, where the first shots of the Civil War were fired, sits broodingly across the Cooper River.
Harper hotel: Planters Inn.

4. Madison Valley, Montana

Montana's Madison Valley, which runs between the Madison and Gallatin ranges down to West Yellowstone, is magnificent Lewis and Clark territory. This is unspoiled land, vast and uncompromising — everything you hope Big Sky Country will look like.
Harper hotel: The Lodge at Sun Ranch.

5. Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston

Housed in a charming Venetian-style palazzo, this gem of a gallery displays works by Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Whistler and Sargent. It's small enough to tour in an hour or so, and you can spend the rest of your time enjoying the sunny, flower-filled courtyard. And if your name happens to be Isabella, you get in free.
Harper hotel: XV Beacon.

6. The Four Seasons Restaurant, New York City

If you had to choose only one restaurant in New York City to visit, this would be the one. The city's prettiest dining room was designed by architects Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson, and astutely hasn't been touched since its introduction in 1959. The Pool Room is a study in muted sophistication, despite some of the outsized egos at the tables.
Harper hotel: The Lowell.

7. The Rothko Chapel, Houston

This small, non-denominational chapel located just off the Menil gallery in Houston's Museum District seems unassuming at first, but spend some time surrounded by the 14 mysterious paintings by Mark Rothko, and it may start sinking into your skin.
Harper hotel: St. Regis.

8. The Huntington Gardens, San Marino, Calif.

Huntington did quite well in railroads, and he's left us with a wonderful afternoon escape just outside of Los Angeles. After admiring some of the spoils of his industry — a Gutenberg Bible, a Shakespeare folio, Thomas Gainsborough's "The Blue Boy" — venture out into the superb botanical gardens, home to dozens of unique environments: an almost eerily authentic Japanese garden, a lily pond straight out of a Monet painting, and an entrancing collection of cacti.
Harper hotel: Hotel Bel-Air.

9. Robie House (Frank Lloyd Wright, Chicago

The Robie House, the world's first modern home, was designed in 1908 by architect Frank Lloyd Wright, and still seems startlingly contemporary 100 years later; with its broad horizontal lines and sleek art-glass windows, it looks like a modernist yacht. Wright himself showed up to protest the planned demolition of the house (it was to be replaced by a seminary dormitory) at the ripe old age of 90.
Harper hotel: Four Seasons.

10. The Oregon Coast

Highway 101 along the Oregon Coast swerves through 360 miles of jagged cliffs, rocky outcrops, sweeping dunes and temperate rain forests. The coastline lacks deep harbors, so there are no large cities here — just old logging towns, fishing villages and the occasional artist colony. And the entire coast is public land, which makes for excellent picnic opportunities in rugged and remote spaces.
Harper hotel: The Stephanie Inn, Cannon Beach

Gore sets 'moon shot' goal on climate change

WASHINGTON - Just as John F. Kennedy set his sights on the moon, Al Gore is challenging the nation to produce every kilowatt of electricity through wind, sun and other Earth-friendly energy sources within 10 years, an audacious goal he hopes the next president will embrace.
The Nobel Prize-winning former vice president said fellow Democrat Barack Obama and Republican rival John McCain are "way ahead" of most politicians in the fight against global climate change.

Rising fuel costs, climate change and the national security threats posed by U.S. dependence on foreign oil are conspiring to create "a new political environment" that Gore said will sustain bold and expensive steps to wean the nation off fossil fuels.

"I have never seen an opportunity for the country like the one that's emerging now," Gore told The Associated Press in an interview previewing a speech on global warming he was to deliver Thursday in Washington.

Gore said he fully understands the magnitude of the challenge.

The Alliance for Climate Protection, a bipartisan group that he chairs, estimates the cost of transforming the nation to so-called clean electricity sources at $1.5 trillion to $3 trillion over 30 years in public and private money. But he says it would cost about as much to build ozone-killing coal plants to satisfy current demand.

"This is an investment that will pay itself back many times over," Gore said. "It's an expensive investment but not compared to the rising cost of continuing to invest in fossil fuels."

Called an alarmist by conservatives, Gore has made combatting global warming his signature issue, a campaign that has been recognized worldwide — from an Academy Award to a Nobel Prize. He portrayed Thursday's speech as the latest and most important phase in his effort to build public opinion in favor of alternative fuels.

He knows politicians fear to act unless voters are willing to sacrifice — and demand new fuels.

"I hope to contribute to a new political environment in this country that will allow the next president to do what I think the next president is going to think is the right thing to do," Gore said. "But the people have to play a part." He likened his challenge to Kennedy's pledge in May 1961 to land a man on the moon by the end of the decade.

Gore narrowly lost the presidential race in 2000 to then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush after a campaign in which his prescient views on climate change took a back seat to other issues. While dismissing a suggestion that he pulled his punches eight years ago, Gore said his goal now is to "enlarge the political space" within which politicians can "deal with the climate challenge."

To meet his 10-year goal, Gore said nuclear energy output would continue at current levels while the nation dramatically increases its use of solar, wind, geothermal and so-called clean coal energy. Huge investments must also be made in technologies that reduce energy waste and link existing grids, he said.

If the nation fails to act, the cost of oil will continue to rise as fast-growing China and India increase demand, Gore said. Sustained addiction to oil also will place the nation at the mercy of oil-producing regimes, he said, and the globe would suffer irreparable harm.

Government experts recently predicted that, at the current rate, world energy demand will grow 50 percent over the next two decades. The Energy Information Administration also said in its long-range forecast to 2030 that the world is not close to abandoning fossil fuels despite their effect on global warming.

While electricity production is only part of the nation's energy and climate change problem, Gore said, "If we meet this challenge we will solve the rest of it."

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Obama has 7-point edge on McCain

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democrat Barack Obama has a 7-point lead on Republican John McCain in the U.S. presidential race, and holds a small edge on the crucial question of who would best manage the economy, according to a Reuters/Zogby poll released on Wednesday.

More than a month after kicking off the general election campaign, Obama leads McCain by 47 percent to 40 percent. That is slightly better than his 5-point cushion in mid-June, shortly after he clinched the Democratic nomination fight against New York Sen. Hillary Clinton.

But Obama's 22-point advantage in June among independents, a critical voting bloc that could swing either way in the November election, shrunk to 3 points during a month in which the candidates battled on the economy and Obama was accused of shifting to the centre on several issues.

Obama had a 44 percent to 40 percent edge nationally over McCain on who would be best at managing the economy, virtually unchanged from last month. Among independents, the two were tied on the economy.

"There has been a real tightening up among independents, and that has to be worrisome for Obama," pollster John Zogby said. "It doesn't seem like Obama is coming across on the economy."

The economy was ranked as the top issue by nearly half of all likely voters, 47 percent. The Iraq war, in second place, trailed well behind at 12 percent. Energy prices was third at 8 percent.

The faltering economy had been expected to be a weakness for McCain, an Arizona senator and former Vietnam prisoner of war who has admitted a lack of economic expertise.

McCain has portrayed Obama, an Illinois senator, as a proponent of higher taxes, while Obama has tried to link McCain with President George W. Bush's unpopular economic policies.

Global warming may expand U.S. 'kidney stone belt', say scientists

OTTAWA - One of the first direct impacts that global warming has on our health may hit us where it hurts: In the kidneys.

People will develop more kidney stones in a hotter climate, because the heat tends to make us dehydrated and that causes the stones to form, two Texas urologists say.

Drs. Margaret Peale and Yair Lotan of the University of Texas say there's already a "kidney stone belt" in the hot, humid U.S. southeast, stretching from Louisiana to Florida and north to Tennessee.
Expect that belt to move north with the warmer climate, increasing kidney stone rates outside today's belt by 30 per cent by 2050, they say in a paper published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study doesn't cover Canada, but it suggests changes coming close to our doorstep. Of two computer models used in their study, one predicts most of the increase will come in central states such as Kentucky and Kansas. But the other forecasts a greater increase in states bordering Canada such as Ohio and Pennsylvania, and the U.S. Eastern seaboard generally.

Wherever the greatest effect happens, both models agree the kidney stone belt will expand northwards, approaching Canada, in some way.

The study worked by comparing the rate of kidney stones reported in different geographic regions, and comparing these with temperature records by region. From there the team looked at forecasts of how the U.S. climate is likely to change by the year 2050.

Kidney stones are a common ailment. They affect roughly one in 10 men in North America over a lifetime, though fewer women.

Normally, urine carries waste chemicals out of the body. But people who become dehydrated in hot weather have trouble producing enough urine to do the job.

Mineral salts left behind can form solid crystals in the kidneys, and eventually these can develop into painful "stones."

The link between temperature and kidney stones is well known, Peale said.

"When people relocate from areas of moderate temperature to areas with warmer climates, a rapid increase in stone risk has been observed. This has been shown in military deployments to the Middle East for instance."

It's the second recent piece of bad medical news for people in the U.S. Southeast.

In June, researchers reported that this area is also a "stroke belt," where the risk of stroke is about 10 per cent higher than in other regions, and even visiting increases the risk of a fatal stroke.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Oil rises above $146 a barrel

Oil moves back above $146 a barrel as supply threats keep floor under prices
Oil rebounded above $146 a barrel Tuesday as a series of threats to supply in a skittish market kept a firm floor under prices.

"The oil market right now is fundamentally tight, which is why prices have been high and volatile," said David Moore, a commodity strategist with Commonwealth Bank of Australia in Sydney.
Light sweet crude for August delivery was up $1.30 at $146.48 a barrel by noon in Europe in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

The contract rose 10 cents in Monday's floor session to close at $145.18 a barrel, just over a dime short of the all-time settlement high. It has traded as high as $147.27 a barrel, a record set last week.

Most consumers in the major consuming countries feel the bite of pricey oil at the pump. In a research note, analyst and trader Stephen Schork wrote that although U.S. gasoline and diesel prices decreased marginally last week they "still averaged 79.9 cents (30 percent) above last year's pace."

"As a result, the year to-date average is now more than 50 percent, or $1.348 a gallon,bove last year's pace," he wrote.

Threats to supply in Brazil, Iran and Nigeria have been keeping oil near the record levels hit last week.

A five-day strike by Brazilian oil workers that began early Monday has cut the production of Petroleo Brasileiro SA, or Petrobras by about 4 percent, according to the state-run oil company. Oil workers are striking at 33 rigs in a dispute over pay but only two rigs were totally stopped, Petrobras said.

Petrobras produces about 1.6 million barrels of oil a day. It is estimated to be the world's sixth largest oil company in terms of market capitalization.

Also, tensions remain between Iran and the U.S. and Israel over what the two allies say are Tehran's suspicious nuclear programs. Investors worry that any worsening of the standoff has the potential to disrupt shipments from OPEC's second-largest oil exporter.

Still, some analysts say they expect an easing of pricing later in the second half of the year.

Oil prices that have doubled in the past year have begun to weaken demand, said Moore.

"We've started to see weaker demand in the U.S., but we don't expect this to help lower prices until the fourth quarter," he said. He expects the price of oil to average about US$143 in the third quarter and about US$137 in the fourth.

Also, a weakening of the dollar helped to support commodity prices Tuesday. Many investors view oil and other commodities as hedges against inflation and a weakening dollar, and their prices tend to rise as the currency declines.

The dollar fell to 105.79 yen in Asian currency trade, while the euro rose to an all-time high of $1.6038 in European trading, before settling back at $1.5983.

On Monday, President Bush lifted an executive ban on offshore oil drilling. That alone is not expected to loosen global supplies in the short term since a Congressional prohibition remains in place and any new wells would take years to complete.

August Brent crude rose $1.44 cents to $145.36 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.

In other Nymex trade, heating oil futures rose more than 4 cents to $4.1072 a gallon while gasoline prices gained over 2 pennies to $3.5790 a gallon. Natural gas futures rose just over 3 cents $11.990 per 1,000 cubic feet.