May 23, 2002
Miscellaneous Subjects #144: Warming Warnings and Other Stuff
There are several bleak warnings in this one - and more to come in the next Green Holocaust compilation. Now back to my garden...
Earth Rainbow Network Coordinator
IMPORTANT: Please note that the amazing "Aurora Eruption" picture that was included in a recent compilation (The Light Series #23) - and on which the name and copyright had apparently been erased - was originally from Sigurdur Stefnisson in Iceland. As someone pointed out to me, it had been featured by the NASA as their Astronomy Picture of the Day on January 21, 2002. If interested you may also visit http://www.myndabanki.is to find more such beautiful pictures including those from Mr. Stefnisson. See also at http://www.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/100best/wallpaper09.html
1. Expert warns world is warming faster than forecast
2. Antarctic Ice Melt Poses Worldwide Threat
3. Breast Cancer: A Pinch of Cancer - Can Wearing a Bra Kill You?
4. Five Questions
5. Israeli Settlements Control Nearly Half of West Bank
6. The Reason "Why?"
Forget Kyoto deal for another 10 years, says Bush adviser (14 May)
The United States has in effect ruled out any possibility of taking part in the Kyoto treaty to reduce greenhouse gases for at least another 10 years, its senior climate negotiator said yesterday.
Species under threat as their habitats are cut in half (03 May)
Life on Earth is facing an extinction crisis that could be far worse than previously thought, according to two leading ecologists who have studied the rate at which animal populations are being lost.
Iceland walks out of whaling summit (21 May)
Islay to be world's first hydrogen-powered island (15 May 2002)
September 11, 2001: No Surprise
(...) the success of the 911 attacks reveals gross incompetence, criminal negligence, and general stupidity on the part of intelligence and other aspects of the government.
Monsanto Web of Deceit
Sent by "Mark Graffis" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
INTERVIEW - Expert warns world is warming faster than forecast
UK: May 14, 2002
LONDON - Planet earth is warming up faster than previously expected, the head of a leading climate research institute said yesterday.
Dying forests, expanding deserts and rising sea levels would wreak havoc to human and animal lives sooner than anticipated as global warming was accelerating, said Geoff Jenkins, head of the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research.
"It looks like it will be warmer by the end of the century than what we have predicted," he told Reuters in an interview.
Jenkins said recent revisions showed much greater output of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2) than earlier estimated. These gases are blamed for global warming.
Warmer weather will generate more droughts, floods and rising sea levels which many fear will create millions of refugees from drowning island-nations and possible wars over increasingly scarce fresh water.
Economies are also likely to take a blow as farming, fishing and business will be affected by the change in climate.
A 2001 United Nations' report on climate change forecast that global temperatures will rise two to five degrees Celsius by the end of the century.
But recent data suggest temperatures could rise even higher as a worst case scenario shows four times as much emitted CO2 in the atmosphere from today's levels which Jenkins said is significantly higher than previously expected.
Carbon dioxide is blamed for two thirds of all global warming and is largely produced when burning fossil fuels such as oil and coal.
NATURE'S DEFENCES WEAKENING
Despite efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 5.2 percent of 1990's levels during 2008-12 under a global Kyoto pact, the amount in the atmosphere is set to rise as warmer temperatures will curb nature's capacity to absorb the gases, Jenkins said.
Half of all CO2 emissions last in the atmosphere for about 100 years, while the rest is soaked up by seas, land and vegetation.
But the opposite effect may kick in as warmer weather and less rainfall in some places will dry out and kill trees which emit CO2 as they decompose, Jenkins said.
CO2-absorbing microbes in the soil are also set to boost emissions as higher temperatures will fuel their activities which produce the greenhouse gas.
"Instead of helping, they will make global warming worse," Jenkins said.
He echoed a warning from the Royal Society, Britain's national academy of science, that present measures to cut greenhouse gases were not sufficent to avoid the worst effects of global warming.
He said temperatures in the UK could rise by seven to eight degrees by 2080 compared with an expected four degree increase.
"We would have to cut emissions by 60-70 percent by the end of the century to stabilise CO2 levels," Jenkins said.
The European Union has said it will ratify the Kyoto treaty this summer and if Russia and Japan also do so the treaty can come into force without the world's largest producer of man-made CO2 emissions - the United States.
The U.S., which has the world's biggest economy, rejected the pact in 2001 over worries it would harm its industry.
Also sent by "Mark Graffis" <email@example.com>
Antarctic Ice Melt Poses Worldwide Threat
Published on Tuesday, May 14, 2002 by Reuters
by Michael Byrnes
HOBART, AUSTRALIA - The Antarctic Peninsula ice shelves are cracking up and, on the face of things, it is the most serious thaw since the end of the last ice age 12,000 years ago.
The break-up of the ice shelves in itself is a natural process of renewal, but the size and rate of production of icebergs -- some the size of major cities -- is alarming scientists, who blame global warming.
The break-off last month of a 500 billion ton chunk of the Larsen Ice Shelf -- 650 feet thick and with a surface area of 1,250 sq. miles -- is the second big break since a giant iceberg broke away in 1995 and is well beyond normal activity, scientists say.
The production of vast amounts of icebergs is a threat to the world's climate and the way the ocean's function, they say. And the process, once started, cannot be reversed.
The fear is that a snowball effect will lead to disintegration of the vast West Antarctic ice shelf, kilometers thick in parts.
"The (first) break-off said 'this is not theory, it's real -- a rapid and dramatic collapse of an ice shelf can happen'," says Neal Young, glaciologist with the Antarctic Cooperative Research Center (CRC) in Hobart.
"This is saying 'that wasn't a one-off thing."'
Significant warming in parts of the pristine Antarctic wilderness is expected to continue to send huge icebergs into the Southern Ocean, and lead to the disintegration of other sections of ice shelves that fringe Antarctica's continental ice cover.
A longer-term effect would be if the disintegration led to a meltdown of the grounded West Antarctic ice sheet, which would cause the world's oceans to rise by up to five meters (17 feet).
As they delve deeper into the mysteries of the southern continent, scientists are finding a jigsaw on a gigantic scale.
The Antarctic Peninsula, which juts out into the Southern Ocean, has warmed by 2.5 degrees Celsius over the past 50 years, while some other areas have cooled. Some parts of West Antarctica have been losing ice, while, like shifting grains of sand on a beach, ice has built up elsewhere.
But the main message from the world's biggest concentration of Antarctic scientists in Hobart, in Australia's southernmost city, is of retreating West Antarctic ice and massive break-offs.
Scientists are not too worried for the moment about rising sea levels. This is because floating ice shelves displace large amounts of sea water, and sea levels would effectively remain unchanged if the ice shelfs disappeared.
The real problems arise if the ice built up over millions of years on parts of Antarctica's land mass melts.
"We aren't too worried about the first 100 years or so when the ice shelves go, because there's no real effect on sea level and feedback on global climate is really rather small," said Bill Budd, Professor of Meteorology at the CRC.
The CRC is a co-operative body between Australia's Antarctic Division, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), the University of Tasmania and other bodies.
But scientists believe that the expected loss of half the Antarctic's sea ice by the end of the century will have important consequences for Earth's entire natural system.
They are finding that the world's deep ocean circulation system will slow as the Antarctic produces smaller amounts of dense oxygen-rich seawater, possibly within 30 years, threatening marine life.
"We can't reverse it. Because the greenhouse gas levels are already up, we can't bring them down, they just get higher, and the (ocean) cutoff will be stronger at higher levels," Budd said.
The Antarctic is normally the source for a large part of the "bottom water" which feeds oxygen to global ocean depths. And computer modeling results indicate production of this dense, rich water has fallen by 20 percent from pre-industrial times.
Sent by Arthur Bond <firstname.lastname@example.org> on 13 May 2002
Breast Cancer: A Pinch of Cancer - Can Wearing a Bra Kill You?
by William Thomas
If you didn't burn yours in the 'Sixties, you might want to put it away now. "Bras cause breast cancer. It's open and shut," says medical researcher Syd Singer.
The Singers became breast cancer sleuths in 1991. On the day Soma discovered a lump in her breast, the husband-wife team was studying the effects of Western medicine on Fijians. In the shower, Syd noticed that Soma's shoulders and breasts were outlined by dark red grooves. He remembered a puzzled Fijian woman asking his wife about her brassiere:
"Doesn't it feel tight?"
"You get used to it," Soma had replied.
Could bras be constricting breast tissue, Syd wondered, hampering lymph drainage and causing degeneration? Soma decided to stop wearing hers. But when Syd searched the medical literature he found no known causes of breast cancer, which
rarely appears before a woman's mid-thirties, most often after 40. The highest death rates from breast cancer are in North America and northern Europe, with the developing world catching up fast.
The World Health Organization calls chemical toxins the primary cause of cancer. But poisons accumulating in breast tissue are normally flushed by clear lymph fluid into large clusters of lymph nodes nestling in the armpits and upper chest. The Singers found that "because lymphatic vessels are very thin, they are extremely sensitive to pressure and are easily compressed." Chronic minimal pressure on the breasts can cause lymph valves and vessels to close.
"Less oxygen and fewer nutrients are delivered to the cells, while waste products are not flushed away," the Singers noted. After 15 or 20 years of bra-constricted lymph drainage, cancer can result.
Looking at other cultures, Soma and Syd were struck by the low incidence of breast cancer in poorer nations awash in pesticides dumped by northern nations. They didn't find peasant women wearing push-up bras. Instead, they discovered that the Maoris of New Zealand integrated into white culture have the same rate of breast cancer, while Australia's marginalized aboriginals have virtually no breast cancer. The same trend held for "Westernized" Japanese, Fijians and other bra-converted cultures.
In Dressed To Kill: The Link Between Breast Cancer and Bras, the researchers also observed that just before a woman begins her period, estrogen floods her system, causing her breasts to swell. If she continues wearing the same bra size, life-saving lymphatics will be even more tightly squished. Had they found the "estrogen link" to breast cancer?
Childless women never fully develop their breast-cleansing lymphatic system. Nor do women who have never breast-fed. Working women who wear bras everyday and postpone having children could be at higher risk, the Singers warn.
Even worse, a young woman's coming of age is often "marked" by her first bra. Like the ancient Chinese practice of foot-binding, "breast-binding" at puberty can eventually lead to severe medical complications.
Could bras be the "missing link" in a growing epidemic of breast cancer? Beginning in May, 1991, Soma and Syd Singer's 30-month "Bra and Breast Cancer" study interviewed some 4,000 women in five major US cities. All were Caucasian of mostly "medium income" ranging in age from 30 to 79. Half had been diagnosed with breast cancer.
Almost all of the women interviewed were unhappy with the size or shape of their breasts. Women who chose a bra for appearance, ignoring soreness and swelling, had twice the rate of breast cancer of those who did not.
But the most startling statistic was that three out of four women who wore their daytime bras to sleep contracted breast cancer. So did one out seven women strapped into a bra more than 12 hours a day. Bra-free women have just a one in 168 chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer, says Singer. The same as bra-free men.
"Don't sleep in your bra!" Syd Singer pleads. "Women who want to avoid breast cancer should wear a bra for the shortest period of time possible -- certainly for less than 12 hours daily."
Syd also submits that some 80% of bra-wearers who experience lumps, cysts and tenderness will see those symptoms vanish, "within a month of getting rid of the bra."
Not everyone is ready to hang up her halter. As one woman told the team, "My tits will sag all the way to my navel without a bra." But Surgeon Christine Haycock at the New Jersey College of Medicine says that inherited traits -- not ligaments or breast size -- are the reason some breasts give in to gravity. Bouncing bosoms help clear the lymphatics.
Well aware that their findings were "explosive," the Singers sent their survey results to the heads of America's most prestigious cancer organizations and institutes. None responded. Like the cancer business, the bra business is huge. Multiply how many worldwide women buy several $25 bras every year and you end up with a multiple of the $6 billion-a-year US bra business.
Syd Singer says that establishment censorship of the bra-breast cancer connection is killing women. Pointing to the biggest commonality among breast cancer patients, he's emphatic that it's bra-squeezed lymphatics.
Going bra-less for all occasions, Soma began dressing to de-emphasize her breasts. She also began regular breast massage and bicycle riding, vitamin and herbal supplementation, and drinking only purified water.
Two months later, her lump disappeared.
At the first frightening sign of a lump, an angry Syd Singer says, "women should take their bras off before they take their breasts off." Why wait, when you can liberate your lymphatics now.
IF YOU MUST WEAR A BRA:
Push-up and sports bras are out. Choose loose-fitting cotton bras. Make sure you can slip two fingers under the shoulder-straps and side-panels. The higher the side-panels, the more severe the restriction of major lymph nodes. Don't wear this disastrous device to sleep. Take it off at home. Massage your breasts every time you remove your bra. Sing your lymphatics into health -- or at least breathe deeply.
Sent by Glenn Ashton <email@example.com>
May 8, 2002
By William Rivers Pitt
I often fantasize about having one hour alone with George W. Bush, armchair to armchair as it were, so I might put five questions to him. The questions change from week to week; this busy administration hardly passes a day without saying or doing something that, twenty years ago, would have obsessed the national media for weeks. It would be nice to hear him speak on these things, to listen to the insider's view.
After all, Bush is privy to virtually every decision made by Dick Cheney. It stands to reason, therefore, that George would know better than most what motivating factors move the White House. Cheney would never deign to sit with me; power like that has no time for the truth. Bush, on the other hand, could easily spare me an hour down in Crawford. He's there all the time, inspecting the patch of desert he calls a 'ranch.'
Below are the questions I'd ask if he called me down there tonight. They'll probably change twice before Monday, but only if we're lucky.
1. What is the true nature of the Saudi Arabian connection to 9/11, and why has this connection not been a priority for Bush's State Department?
Just today, American Undersecretary of State John Bolton gave a speech to the conservative think tankers at the Heritage Foundation entitled, "Beyond the Axis of Evil." In it, he leveled a military finger at Lybia, Syria and Cuba, accusing them of pursuing development programs for the creation of weapons of mass destruction.
In essence, Lybia, Syria and Cuba have joined the long line of potential targets along with Iran, North Korea, Iraq, Yemen, the Republic of Georgia, the Philippines, and Colombia. For some of these nations, it is the suspicion of the presence of the aforementioned weapons program that draws the ire of the State Department. For others, it is the shadowy accusation of fealty to the Al Qaida cause that brings forth our attention. Afghanistan has already been obliterated.
In all of this, there is scant mention of Saudi Arabia. The vast majority of the September 11th hijackers called Saudi Arabia home. Many Saudi Arabians fought with the Taliban in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union. One of those was named Osama bin Laden. The Bin Laden Group, a massive construction firm with deep business ties to America that was created by bin Laden's father, is based in Saudi Arabia. The extreme fundamentalist Wahabbi sect of Islam is rooted in Saudi Arabia, and it is from this movement that scores of would-be terrorists have grown.
The silence surrounding Saudi Arabia has been huge. How can we fail to pursue Saudi Arabia with the Bush Doctrine guiding our way? Nations that sponsor terrorism, or have terrorists operating freely within their borders, are in grave danger of invasion and destruction. This Doctrine was established in Afghanistan, and it appears many other countries face a similar fate. Yet Saudi Arabia, a veritable birthing bed for international terrorism, escapes taint.
Is this silence due entirely to Saudi Arabia's supply of oil? If so, please explain the details behind this necessity. Thousands of Americans have died, and the world has been plunged into war. If the prime suspect behind the 9/11 crime has been given a free pass, it is essential that we understand exactly why. Names and numbers, please.
2. Why has the Bush administration not been the loudest, most strident advocate for a far-reaching investigation into 9/11?
On the eve of Bush's State of the Union address, it was reported that he and Cheney issued a request to Senate Majority Leader Daschle that many interpreted as a veiled threat. Soft-pedal the 9/11 investigation, Bush and Daschle said. Don't interfere.
In the time between, the Bush administration has changed its tack somewhat, claiming to welcome an investigation. Yet there is silence, and silence, and silence on this front.
How can this administration fail to be the most ardent, vociferous advocate for an investigation into September 11th? How is it possible that the glaring security loopholes that allowed the attack to take place are not publicly dunned in the vigorous fashion that is required? These missed signals must be investigated and deconstructed, so that the security gaps they slipped through can be closed.
Why did the government's lead investigator into 9/11 quit?
What role did a planned natural gas pipeline through the subcontinent play in 9/11? What role does it play in the post-9/11 international relations situation?
The American people deserve to know exactly what happened on that day, and why. "The attackers hated our freedom and our way of life" is unconscionably insufficient. As this happened on this administration's watch, how is it they have failed to push relentlessly for answers that will undoubtedly enhance our security?
3. What, precisely, is the legal basis for a war with Iraq?
The resolution agreed to by Congress and the White House on September 14th gave Bush wide latitude to "use all and necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed or aided the terrorist attacks."
The resolution further allowed Bush to use military action "to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States" by those who perpetrated the September 11th attacks.
Iraq falls under neither heading. No proof whatsoever has linked Saddam Hussein or his government to the 9/11 terrorists. No proof exists that he intends to help any entity or nation to perpetrate future attacks. The state of his weapons program exists in a state of innuendo, as there have been no inspectors over there for some time.
Why do we threaten Iraq with war while leaving Saudi Arabia unmolested and unthreatened? Which aspect of the Bush Doctrine applies to this apparent double-standard?
Speaking tactically, how do military threats levied against Syria, Jordan, Iran, Lybia and Yemen strengthen our fighting capabilities in the region surrounding Iraq? We'll need those countries to keep their powder dry, as they did during the Gulf War, to avoid a region-wide conflagration. Moreover, we'll need neighboring allies (Saudi Arabia again) unmiffed enough to allow us to base troops and fighters for jump-offs towards Baghdad.
It looks as though we are cruising towards a conflict with Iraq that has little to do with the September 14th resolution, and in the process we seem to be alienating and infuriating other nations in that region in a manner that will make a war with Iraq far more dangerous and destabilizing. Please explain the wisdom of these policies.
4. Where is the anthrax killer?
There is not much to add after the initial query. There's a killer with deadly poison in hand wandering free in this country. The evidence points directly to home-grown terrorism. What is the status of this investigation, and how is it that such a dangerous killer has escaped detention?
5. What role did America play in the recent failed coup in Venezuela?
When Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was ousted from office in a coup perpetrated by Venezuelan military officers and businessmen early in April, the Bush administration fell over itself in a rush to welcome the new government into the family of nations. Never mind that Chavez won two popular elections in that democratic nation. As administration officials admitted, winning an election does not necessarily convey legitimacy.
The collapse of the coup and the reinstatement of Chavez left a large wad of egg on the face of the Bush White House. As the story behind the failed coup has begun to coalesce, several prominent American officials have been named by the foreign media, and by Chavez himself, as having had a hand in the overthrow. Among them are:
Eliot Abrams, member of the White House National Security Council, once convicted for lying to Congress about the Reagan administration's role in the Iran/Contra scandal, is reported to have given American approval for the coup;
Otto Reich, senior White House policy advisor on Latin America, once the American ambassador to Venezuela under Reagan, met several times with Pedro Carmona, the erstwhile coup leader ousted after 24 hours of rule. Reich, after the coup began, gathered the Latin American ambassadors to him and stated bluntly that democracy had not been violated in Venezuela, and that America would support Carmona;
John Negroponte, American ambassador to the United Nations, former ambassador to Honduras under Reagan who held that post during the worst atrocities of the Iran/Contra affair, was reportedly warned of the coup as early as last January;
Lt. Colonel James Rodgers, assistant military attaché to Venezuela, who was spotted with the coup plotters right up to the moment the plot unfolded.
What is the truth behind all of this? Where are America's hands, and are they as dirty as they seem? As Venezuela leads OPEC, and is a major petroleum source for the United States, are we dealing with yet another foreign policy fiasco based upon oil? How can the Bush administration condone the overthrow of a democratically-elected government?
So...those are the questions for today. I will have more tomorrow. Hopefully, someone in the mainstream press with access to Bush will read these and choose to ask them, tape recorder in hand. I'm still waiting for my call from Crawford.
Once again sent by "Mark Graffis" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Published on Tuesday, May 14, 2002 by OneWorld.net
Israeli Settlements Control Nearly Half of West Bank
by Jim Lobe
While Israeli settlements currently constitute less than two percent of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, they control a total of 41.9 percent of the territory, according to a report released by Israel's most important human rights organization Monday.
The group, B'Tselem, or the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, charged that Israeli authorities have created a "regime of separation based on discrimination," in which they apply two different systems of law in the same area, basing the rights of individuals there on their nationality.
"This regime is the only one of its kind in the world, and is reminiscent of the distasteful regimes of the past, such as the Apartheid regime in South Africa," according to the report, entitled 'Land Grab: Israel's Settlement Policy in the West Bank.'
Its publication comes at a critical moment in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Recent invasions by Israeli military forces in the West Bank in retaliation for suicide bombings have been widely denounced by the international community as major setbacks to the Oslo peace process, which was based on the principle that Israel would eventually vacate most of the settlements in exchange for a permanent peace agreement with the Palestine National Authority headed by Yasser Arafat.
The polarization caused by the conflict, the latest and most violent phase in the so-called al-Aqsa intifada that began in September, 2000, has hardened the position of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon who, while nominally in favor of the eventual creation of a Palestinian state, has more recently vowed not to give up any Israeli settlements.
On the other hand, a poll taken just last week by the Dahaf Institute in Israel found that 59 percent of Israelis believe that a withdrawal that includes evacuating most of the settlements will lead to a renewal of the peace process, and 72 percent said it would also improve Israel's battered international standing.
The poll was released in advance of the biggest peace demonstration in Israel since the latest intifada began. Between 50,000 and 60,000 Israelis turned out in Tel Aviv this past weekend in support of a Saudi peace plan which calls for Israel to dismantle the settlements and withdraw fully from the occupied territories in return for full peace with all of its Arab neighbors.
B'Tselem's report charges that Israel's settlement policy--that has resulted in some 380,000 Israeli citizens living in the West Bank--violates international humanitarian law which bans an occupying power from transferring its citizens into occupied territory and from making any permanent changes in occupied areas unless they are undertaken for the benefit of the local population or for urgent military needs.
"Israel's settlement policy violates these regulations," the report concludes, noting that Israel has used the settlements to "justify numerous violations of the Palestinians' human rights, such as the right to housing, to earn a livelihood, and the right to freedom of movement."
"The drastic change that Israel has made in the map on the West Bank prevents any real possibility for the establishment of an independent, viable Palestinian state as part of the Palestinians' right to self-determination," according to the report, which is particularly critical of what it calls "the manipulative use of legal tools in order to give the settlement enterprise an impression of legality."
Thus, when Jordanian legislation served Israel's goals, it applied Jordanian law, arguing that international law obliges it to respect the legislation in effect before occupation on the West Bank of the Jordan River. On the other hand, where Jordanian legislation interfered with Israel's plans, it was changed through military legislation.
B'Tselem called such practices "cynical and biased," as well as violations of international conventions to which Israel is itself a party.
To redress these injustices, the report called for an immediate halt to the construction of new settlements and building within settlements; a freeze on the planning and construction of new bypass roads and the expropriation of land for those purposes; a return to the Palestinian communities of all undeveloped areas within the municipal boundaries of the settlements; and the abolition of special planning committees in the settlements which are used to extend their control.
Sent by "Nanny Ynez" <email@example.com>
The Reason "Why?"
Does the statement, "We've always done it that way" ring any bells? The US standard railroad gauge (distance between the rails) is 4 feet, 8.5 inches. That's an exceedingly odd number. Why was that gauge used? Because that's the way they built them in England, and English expatriates built the US Railroads. Why did the English build them like that? Because the first rail lines were built by the same people who built the pre-railroad tramways, and that's the gauge they used. Why did "they" use that gauge then? Because the people who built the tramways used the same jigs and tools that they used for building wagons, which used that wheel spacing.
Okay! Why did the wagons have that particular odd wheel spacing? Well, in some of the old, long distance roads in England, that's the spacing of the wheel ruts. So who built those old rutted roads? Imperial Rome built the first long distance roads in Europe (and England) for their legions. The roads have been used ever since.
And the ruts in the roads? Roman war chariots formed the initial ruts, which everyone else had to
match for fear of destroying their wagon wheels. Since the chariots were made for Imperial Rome, they were all alike in the matter of wheel spacing.
The United States standard railroad gauge of 4 feet, 8.5 inches is derived from the original specifications for an Imperial Roman war chariot, and bureaucracies live forever.
So the next time you are handed a specification and wonder what horse's ass came up with it, you may be exactly right, because the Imperial Roman war chariots were made just wide enough to accommodate the back ends of two war horses.
Now the twist to the story...
When you see a Space Shuttle sitting on its launch pad, there are two big boosters attached to the sides of the main fuel tank. These are solid rocket boosters, or SRBs. The SRBs are made by Thiokol at their factory in Utah. The engineers who designed the SRBs would have preferred to make them a bit fatter, but the SRBs had to be shipped by train from the factory to the launch site. (Do you see what's coming??) The railroad line from the factory happens to run through a tunnel in the mountains. The SRBs had to fit through that tunnel. The tunnel is slightly wider than the railroad track, and the railroad track is, as you now know, about as wide as two horses' behinds.
So; a major Space Shuttle design feature, of what is arguably the world's most advanced transportation system, was determined over two thousand years ago by the width of a horse's ass... and you thought being a HORSE'S ASS wasn't important!
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