Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Delhi professor discovers three new legless amphibians

Three new species of legless amphibians were discovered from forests of northeast India. Amphibian researcher professor SD Biju, professor, University of Delhi, popularly known as 'Delhi's Frogman' led the team that made this discovery together with his PhD student Rachunliu G Kamei.

This discovery is a result of collaboration between DU and The Natural History Museum, London through The Royal Society London/ CSIR, India initiatives.

The research team had two collaborators from The Natural History Museum, London - Drs David Gower and Mark Wilkinson. The new find has been published in the latest issue of Zootaxa (International Journal of Zoological Taxonomy). In a rare scientific feat in 2012 February, which was described as 'discovery of the year', Biju and his team found a new family of legless amphibians commonly known as caecilians.

The new family has been named Chikilidae, consisting of tailless burrowing caecilians, which evolved separately from other caecilian species more than 140 million years ago.

In fact Biju has the rare feat of discovering two new families of amphibians - one in 2003 (the famous purple frog) after a gap of 100 years. The three new species discovered belongs to the to the caecilian amphibian family Chikilidae that was described in the year 2012.

According to Biju, "Worldwide, there are less than 200 species of caecilians. The discovery came following an unprecedented fieldwork effort of soil-digging surveys (involving over 1200 person hours of soil digging) in about 250 localities spread over five years (2006-2010) in various parts of every Northeast Indian state (Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura, Sikkim and Darjeeling district of West Bengal) such that the sampling was truly representative of the biogeographic region. The work is one of the most extensive systematic program of dedicated caecilian surveys ever attempted and the first in Northeast India.

The results were based on morphological traits and using molecular (DNA) markers. Chikilidae comprises a group of caecilians that has been shown to be of ancient lineage (about 140 million years old) with its closest relatives in Africa, and so far known to be restricted to only the Northeast India.

This publication is unique because the family Chikilidae contained so far only one species (Chikila fulleri) known only from a broken museum specimen, which is over 100 years old. The caecilian-dedicated soil-digging surveys across the Northeast India revealed that three species of Chikila were unknown to science. The three new species have been named as Chikila alcocki, Chikila darlong and Chikila gaiduwani.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Pure Michigan Campaign Brought $1 Billion in Tourism in 2012

 The "Pure Michigan" tourism campaign was a rousing success in 2012, according to new figures released on Monday. The report, compiled by research firm Longwoods International, estimated that the campaign resulted in 580,000 more trips to the state than in 2011, and generated an additional $80 million in new business, according to reports by television station WOOD and other media outlets.

The Pure Michigan campaign to spark more tourism both from within and from outside the state launched in 2006. In 2011, state officials began placing a greater emphasis on the campaign's potential impact, and increased funding. This year, the tourism initiative will receive a $13 million boost in television advertising. The new ads will air around the country, as reported by the Associated Press.

Here is some of the key information that has emerged from the new report on tourism in Michigan.

* All told, the Pure Michigan campaign helped convince more than 3.8 million out-of-state visitors to take a trip to Michigan in 2012. Those 3.8 million people generated an estimated $1.1 billion in tourism, as noted by WOOD.

* Research by Longwoods International also found that the Pure Michigan campaign generated an estimated $5.76 in tourism for every $1 spent on out-of-state advertising.

* Gov. Rick Snyder is reportedly quite pleased with the Pure Michigan campaign, stating in a news release on Monday that it "plays a vital role in growing our tourism industry by consistently attracting new visitors to Michigan, as well as "delivering a strong return on investment," as quoted by WOOD.

* Last year, Longwoods International conducted an online survey to determine the impact that putting an even greater emphasis on the Pure Michigan campaign in 2011 had made on the state's tourism. That report, released in 2012, indicated at that time that the efficacy of the Pure Michigan campaign in attracting tourists from outside the state looked to be on an upswing, bringing in 3.2 million visitors from out-of-state and raising nearly $1 billion.

* Longswoods International's 2012 report was released on Monday at the start of the annual Pure Michigan Governor's Conference on Tourism, a three-day affair that takes place at Detroit's Renaissance Center each year.

* As noted by The Michigan Traveler, however, not all the numbers released Monday regarding the campaign showed indications of being on the same upward trend. The overall return on the Pure Michigan campaign's investment -- the amount the campaign brings in overall versus what is spent -- dropped from $9.85 per $1 in 2011 to $8.06 per $1 in 2012.

* Still, the vice president of Travel Michigan, George Zimmerman, told The Michigan Traveler on Monday that the state has "tourism momentum." 

Monday, March 25, 2013

Mark Zuckerberg to enter politics with political campaign group

 The 28-year-old billionaire is forming a political campaign group that is expected to focus initially on liberalising the US immigration and visa system.

Mr Zuckerberg, who has previously donated $100 million (£65 million) of his $13 billion fortune to the state school system in his native New Jersey, is said to be ready to use another $20 million on the new venture.

Work on the group will reunite him with Joe Green, his room-mate at Harvard University, who also went on to be a successful technology entrepreneur.

The pair are courting other financial backers.

Technology firms such as Mr Zuckerberg's social networking giant have complained that America's strict migration controls prevent them from recruiting talented foreigners and overseas graduates.

Earlier this month he and 99 other chief executives wrote a letter to President Barack Obama and leaders in Congress, urging them to ensure that plans currently being drawn up address this problem.

"Many high-skilled immigrants who want to stay in America are forced to leave because they are unable to obtain permanent visas," they wrote. "Some do not bother to come in the first place".

Mr Zuckerberg is also poised to further upset Left-wing admirers whom he shocked earlier this year by hosting a fundraiser in his California home for Chris Christie, the Republican governor of New Jersey.

His new campaign group is to be fronted by Jon Lerner and Rob Jesmer, political consultants from the Right wing of the Republican party, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Mr Lerner once produced an advertisement dismissing American liberals as "latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving, New York Times-reading" freaks.

However Joe Lockhart, a former press secretary for Bill Clinton and PR chief for Facebook, will also be involved in the campaign group, it was reported.

Senators from both parties are thrashing out details of a bill to overhaul the US immigration system, which Mr Obama named as his top priority after being sworn in for a second White House term.

The plan is expected to include a "pathway" to US citizenship for at least some of the 11 million illegal immigrants estimated to be living in the country.

Monday, February 25, 2013

KFC launches China campaign to rebuild brand

 KFC launched a campaign on Monday to rebuild its battered brand in China, promising tighter quality control after a scandal over misuse of drugs by its poultry suppliers.

The company, a unit of Yum Brands Inc., promised to test meat for banned drugs, strengthen oversight of farmers and encourage them to improve their technology.

It said more than 1,000 small producers used by its 25 poultry suppliers have been eliminated from its network.

KFC is China’s biggest fast-food chain, with more than 4,000 outlets, but was hit hard when state television reported in December that some suppliers violated rules on the use of drugs to fatten chickens.

The company estimates January sales plunged 37%. “Starting now, we will stress strict management and the principle of zero tolerance in food safety,” Sam Sun, the chairman of Yum Restaurants China, said at a news conference.

“We will immediately drop any supplier that lacks the determination or the ability to manage breeding well.” The complaint against KFC was less serious than other product scandals in China over the past decade in which infants, hospital patients and others have been killed by phony or adulterated milk powder, drugs and other goods.

But KFC’s high profile attracted attention, and its status as a foreign company with less political influence meant Chinese media could publicize its troubles more freely.

Yum, based in Louisville, Kentucky, said it expects sales in China to tumble by up to 25% in the current quarter. The company also owns Pizza Hut and Taco Bell.

CEO David Novak said earlier the company would need the “gift of time” for the controversy to die down. KFC has declined to say when it expects the business to fully recover.

The stakes are high for Yum. Even before the chicken scare, growth in China was slowing and fell into negative territory in October.

Executives blamed slower Chinese economic growth and the comparison with earlier explosive expansion. But KFC and other Western fast food chains also face mounting competition from young but ambitious Chinese rivals.

The locals started out copying global brands, but are developing their own identity and the elusive skills to manage chains of hundreds of outlets and networks of far-flung suppliers.

One chain, Yonghe Dawang, copied KFC’s Colonel Sanders logo so closely with its image of a smiling, grandfatherly Chinese man that Western tourists did a double-take at its restaurants.

More recently, Yonghe Dawang has developed its own image and switched to a logo of a noodle bowl. Since being acquired by Jollibee Foods Corp., a Philippine fast food upstart that has expanded throughout Southeast Asia, Yonghe Dawang has expanded to 307 restaurants.

Zhen Gong Fu, which sells bowls of rice with beef, pork and other meat, has 479 restaurants nationwide. Other competitors include Master Kong Chef’s Table, with 100 outlets in 30 cities.

Executives note that Yum has bounced back from other troubles, such as an avian flu scare in 2005 that dragged down sales by as much as 40%. The company says it plans to maintain its rapid pace of opening new restaurants in China.

Another 700 new sites are planned for this year, with Yum focusing more on cities outside Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen where it sees greater potential for growth.

Monday, January 14, 2013

National stage: Will Modi be BJP’s campaign committee chief?

Will he, won’t he? Narendra Modi, who has convincingly held on to his throne in Gujarat is now reportedly set to be primed for a role in national politics by making him in charge of the campaign committee while the party evaluates if he is to be the next prime ministerial candidate.

The Economic Times quotes an unnamed BJP leader as saying,”This is a strategic way to elevate Modi and enthuse the cadre ahead of the next contest at the Centre without disturbing the equations within the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance.”

According to the leader, the elevation is a result of the BJP and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh coming to an agreement that Modi needed to be elevated beyond his restricted role in the state.

As Firstpost noted, even in this time’s Vibrant Gujarat summit while industrialists were effusive in their praise, they stayed clear of Prime Minister references, given that there’s a strong possibility he might just make it to the race.  Likely, they didn’t want to end up on the wrong side of the UPA government by endorsing him openly just yet.

The BJP leader is also no stranger to campaign management, both having micro-managed his own campaign in the state and managing national campaigns in the past as well. He has managed national campaigns for senior party leaders like LK Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi in the past, and has also been national secretary of the party where he was in charge of states like Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Chandigarh, and Jammu and Kashmir.

Modi has campaigned in other states across the country during local elections but hasn’t played a prominent role in the national politics of the party so far. Facing some elements of dissent among leaders within his own party and from others who are part of the NDA alliance, the Gujarat Chief Minister has been bringing his allies and supporters closer and more in the open as seen during his swearing in ceremony.

As he prepares for his big step into the national arena, Modi and the BJP can be expected to make small incremental moves to test the waters before deciding the Guajrat Chief Minister’s role in the next national elections. This may just be the first of many more to come.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Pakistan activists support renaming of chowk after Bhagat Singh

Pakistani Civil society activists have filed two applications in a Lahore High Court asking it to make them parties to a case challenging the renaming of a traffic roundabout in Lahore after freedom fighter Bhagat Singh.

 Activists Taimur Rehman and Saeeda Diep filed the applications in the Lahore High Court yesterday through lawyer Yasir Latif Hamdani.
They contended that a frivolous impression was created by Tehreek-e-Hurmat-e-Rasool, the petitioner in the case, that the decision to rename Fawara Chowk at Shadman after Bhagat Singh was a "conspiracy against Pakistan".  

  However, the office of the registrar of the High Court raised objections to the applications.  The applicants stated that the renaming of the roundabout after Bhagat Singh was a "supreme act of patriotism".

They said Pakistan is a Muslim country where everyone respects and cherishes the Prophet Mohammed.   They said the Tehreek-e-Hurmat-e-Rasool had no locus standi in the matter as Bhagat Singh was known to hold no animosity towards Islam or the Prophet.

 They argued that Bhagat Singh was a non-communal freedom fighter who stood for the independence of the subcontinent from British imperialism for all people, including Muslims.

 The applicants also said the Tehreek-e-Hurmat-e-Rasool was incensed by the move to rename the roundabout, which was earlier named after Chaudhry Rehmat Ali, who in his writings abused and attacked Pakistan's founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah.

 They said it was true that Ali came up with the name Pakistan but it was well-known that he distanced himself from the country after its creation in 1947 and chose to live in Britain for the rest of his life and wrote against Jinnah and the Muslim League.

  They further argued that the decision of the Lahore city district government to rename the roundabout was a legitimate exercise of executive authority which could not be impugned as it was an executive decision and was certainly not anti-Pakistan or anti-Islam by any stretch of imagination.

The applicants asked the court to make them party to the case. The Tehrik-e-Hurmat-e-Rasool, a sister organisation of the Jamaat-ud-Dawah, had moved the High Court against the city district government's decision to name the roundabout after Bhagat Singh.

 It even threatened to launch a drive against the move.