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Saturday, December 31, 2011

What Will Happen to the Pyramids?

It was a little over 10 years ago that the Taliban destroyed ancient statutes of Buddha in Afghanistan. Now that Egypt increasingly appears to be heading into adopting Sharia, the same thing may happen to the Pyramids. From the Daily Mail:
For now members of the Nour (The Light) Salafist party, which won 20 per cent of the vote in recent elections, are talking about putting an end to the 'idolatry' represented by the pyramids.

This means destruction - along the lines essayed by the Afghan Taliban who blew up the Banyam Buddhas - or 'concealment' by covering them with wax. Tourists would presumably see great blobs rather than the perfectly carved steps.
The author concludes:
One of the great tragedies of what is afoot in the Middle East is the extinction of the last vestiges of a vibrant, cosmopolitan culture, as represented by another great Egyptian novelist, the Cairo dentist, Alaa Al Aswany, author of the remarkable Yacoubian Building.

It is becoming hard to recall that in the 1950s - under King Farouk - Egypt had a thriving film industry, producing 300 movies a year, and that its national chanteuse, Umm Kulthum, was worshipped throughout the Middle East.

But now the fanatics are in the saddle, so its good bye to all that. We'll have to wait for fundamentalism to fail, as Nasserite 'national socialism' did before it. For Nour and the like surely have no answers to the problems of contemporary Egypt.

Maya in Georgia?

There was a brief flurry of stories in the past couple weeks about the possibility of Maya settlements in Georgia. First, this article in the Examiner provides some background:
Around the year 800 AD the flourishing Maya civilization of Central America suddenly began a rapid collapse. A series of catastrophic volcanic eruptions were followed by two long periods of extreme drought conditions and unending wars between city states.

Cities and agricultural villages in the fertile, abundantly watered, Maya Highlands were the first to be abandoned. Here, for 16 centuries, Itza Maya farmers produced an abundance of food on mountainside terraces. Their agricultural surpluses made possible the rise of great cities in the Maya Lowlands and Yucatan Peninsula. When the combination of volcanic eruptions, wars and drought erased the abundance of food, famines struck the densely populated Maya Lowlands. Within a century, most of the cities were abandoned. However, some of the cities in the far north were taken over by the Itza Maya and thrived for two more centuries.
The article continues:
The earliest maps show the name Itsate, for both a native village at Sautee and another five miles away at the location of the popular resort of Helen, GA. Itsate is what the Itza Mayas called themselves. Also, among all indigenous peoples of the Americas, only the Itza Mayas and the ancestors of the Creek Indians in Georgia built five-side earthen pyramids as their principal mounds. It was commonplace for the Itza Maya to sculpt a hill into a pentagonal mound. There are dozens of such structures in Central America.

The name of Brasstown Bald Mountain is itself, strong evidence of a Maya presence. A Cherokee village near the mountain was named Itsa-ye, when Protestant missionaries arrived in the 1820s. The missionaries mistranslated “Itsaye” to mean “brass.” They added “town” and soon the village was known as Brasstown. Itsa-ye, when translated into English, means “Place of the Itza (Maya).”

Into this scenario stepped retired engineer, Cary Waldrup, who lives near Track Rock Gap. In 2000 he persuaded the United States Forest Service to hire a professional archaeologist from South Africa, Johannes Loubser, to study the famous Track Rock petroglyphs, and also prepare a map of the stone walls across the creek in site 9UN367. Waldrup and his neighbors felt that the stone structure site deserved more professional attention. They collected contributions from interested citizens in Union County, GA to fund an archaeological survey by Loubser’s firm, Stratum Unlimited, LLC.

* * *

In July of 2011, Waldrup furnished a copy of the 2000 Stratum Unlimited, LLC archaeological report to People of One Fire members. Those with experiences at Maya town sites instantly recognized that the Track Rock stone structures were identical in form to numerous agricultural terrace sites in Chiapas, Guatemala, Belize and Honduras. Johannes Loubser’s radiocarbon dates exactly matched the diaspora from the Maya lands and the sudden appearance of large towns with Mesoamerican characteristics in Georgia, Alabama and southeastern Tennessee. Track Rock Gap was the “missing link” that archaeologists and architects had been seeking since 1841.

Archaeologists have been looking for vestiges of “high” Maya civilization in the United States, when all along it was the commoners “who got the heck out of Dodge City” when wars, famines, droughts and almost non-stop volcanic eruptions became unbearable. The Itza Maya middle class and commoners became the elite of such towns as Waka (Ocmulgee National Monument) and Etalwa (Etowah Mounds) Just as happened in England after the Norman Invasion, the separate cultures of the commoners and nobility of the indigenous Southeast eventually blended into hybrid cultures that became our current Native American tribes.
There is more discussion of the evidence supporting the theory in a second article here.

The reception from the academic community is mixed:
Thornton's ideas generated scorn from Mark Williams, a geologist with the University of Georgia who led a group studying the site in question. Williams reacted this week, saying, “The Maya connection to legitimate Georgia archaeology is a wild and unsubstantiated guess on the part of the Thornton fellow. No archaeologists will defend this flight of fancy.”

A peer-reviewed journal Early Georgia, published a paper in Spring 2010 by Johannes (Jannie) Loubser (Stratum Unlimited, LLC) and Douglas Frink (Worcester State College) which details excavations done on the site, which were halted as soon as grave sites were discovered, the holes filled and the rocks replaced in accordance with current federal guidelines. This paper makes no clear assertion on the origin of the stone piles, aside from dating them "almost certainly prehistoric." There was (at that time) no clear answer on the builders of the structures.

UGA scientist Dr. B. T. Thomas of the Department of Environmental Science was more supportive when contacted for a Rawstory.com article. Thomas indicated that, "while it is unlikely that the Mayan people migrated en masse from Central America to settle in what is now the United States, he refused to characterize Thornton’s conclusions as 'wrong,' stating that it is entirely possible that some Mayans and their descendants migrated north, bringing Mayan building and agricultural techniques to the Southeastern U.S. as they integrated with the existing indigenous people there."
More here.

Further Thoughts on Declining Attendance at Movie Theaters

Since the movie industry is attempting to blame its problems on "illegal downloading," I thought I would share yet another story about this issue.

I've posted articles concerning this issue before, here and here. Now an op-ed from Roger Ebert on this same issue:
I have some theories of my own, fueled by what people tell me. 1. Obviously, the absence of a must-see mass-market movie. When moviegoers hear about "Avatar" or "The Dark Knight," they blast off from home base and land in a theater seat as quickly as they can.

2. Ticket prices are too high. People have always made that complaint, but historically the movies have been cheap compared to concerts, major league sports and restaurants. Not so much any longer. No matter what your opinion is about 3D, the charm of paying a hefty surcharge has worn off for the hypothetical family of four.

3. The theater experience. Moviegoers above 30 are weary of noisy fanboys and girls. The annoyance of talkers has been joined by the plague of cell-phone users, whose bright screens are a distraction. Worse, some texting addicts get mad when told they can't use their cell phones. A theater is reportedly opening which will allow and even bless cell phone usage, although that may be an apocryphal story.

4. Refreshment prices. It's an open secret that the actual cost of soft drinks and popcorn is very low. To justify their inflated prices, theaters serve portions that are grotesquely oversized, and no longer offer what used to be a "small popcorn." Today's bucket of popcorn would feed a thoroughbred.

5. Competition from other forms of delivery. Movies streaming over the internet are no longer a sci-fi fantasy. TV screens are growing larger and cheaper. Consumers are finding devices that easily play internet movies through TV sets. Netflix alone accounts for 30% of all internet traffic in the evening. That represents millions of moviegoers. They're simply not in a theater. This could be seen as an argument about why newspapers and their readers need movie critics more than ever; the number of choices can be baffling.

6. Lack of choice. Box-office tracking shows that the bright spot in 2011 was the performance of indie, foreign or documentary films. On many weekends, one or more of those titles captures first-place in per-screen average receipts. Yet most moviegoers outside large urban centers can't find those titles in their local gigantiplex. Instead, all the shopping center compounds seem to be showing the same few overhyped disappointments. Those films open with big ad campaigns, play a couple of weeks, and disappear.

The myth that small-town moviegoers don't like "art movies" is undercut by Netflix's viewing results; the third most popular movie on Dec. 28 on Netflix was "Certified Copy," by the Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami. You've heard of him? In fourth place--French director Alain Corneau's "Love Crime." In fifth, "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"--but the subtitled Swedish version.
Cost is definitely a factor. I complain about the insanely high ticket prices, but I grew up not having enough money to afford movies, and now that I can afford movies, I have limited time and opportunity to go because of other obligations. The fact that it costs $50 for a couple people to go to a movie merely underlines how worthless the experience is to me.

But how relevant is this to the real question. The movie industry hasn't been interested in making movies for my demographic (married with children) since the 1960's. In fact, until statistics in the 1980's started showing that G rated movies had the largest return on investment of any type of movie, family films were almost completely ignored. Rather, the primary demographic has been kids--mostly teens, with tweens and young adults filling in the two sides of the bell curve. However, there are a few things interesting about this demographic--(i) it's smaller than a couple decades ago, (ii) it's poorer, and (iii) it spends more and more of its time and money in other forms of entertainment such as social media and video games.

The media companies' reaction so far has been the usual reaction of those in power in a kleptocracy--attempt to use law and regulation to kill competitors, and raise ticket prices. The problem is that the competition has been too strong to kill off via government edict, and the supply-demand curve is obviously not as steep as they had hoped. A reasonable response might be to attempt to produce movies for different demographics, but since that requires imagination, which is in short supply in Hollywood, I'm not holding my breath. Instead, we will simply see a stream of movies that were popular a long time ago re-released in 3-D (Star Wars and Titanic, soon), and more 3-D new releases.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Light Bulb Strategy

The Republicans were able to de-fund enforcement of the light bulb ban, for a while anyway, but the law and the new regulations still take effect on January 1, 2012. (H/t Instapundit).
New light bulb efficiency standards will begin phasing in on Jan. 1 despite intense opposition from conservatives, who have blasted the rules as a textbook unnecessary federal regulation.

While Republicans secured inclusion of a measure blocking funding for enforcement of the standards in a year-end spending bill, energy efficiency groups say the provision will have little practical impact. The Energy Department rules will nonetheless go into effect at the start of 2012.

"The [spending bill] cut funding for enforcement, however the law is still in effect," said Jack Gillis, spokesman for the Consumer Federation of America. "It is our expectation that companies will still comply with the law."
I've stocked up on 100 Watt bulbs this past year, although we only use them in one room. This coming year, however, is the important year to stock up because this will be the last year for the 75-Watt bulbs and, I presume, the 60-Watt, which are the ones we mostly use. I would suggest that you do the same.

In a couple years, when the general public wakes up to the fact that they have been screwed over, there should be a thriving "grey"--or perhaps, washed out--market for the older bulbs portable heat sources.

New Season of Sherlock

The hit British drama, Sherlock, will be finally returning with three new episodes. (Story here--warning: autoplay video at the link, so you may not want to go there if you are at work).
Doctor Who supremo Steven Moffat admits he was taken aback by the roaring success of his contemporary reboot of Arthur Conan Doyle’s classics, co-created with Mark Gatiss. In 2010, it attracted ratings of nine million and won two Baftas, but it’s taken over a year to make more. Now it finally returns for three 90-minute adventures.
The first three episodes are available via Netflix's streaming service.  Fans of the books and short stories will enjoy this series since, while modernized, still stays true to the original characters. (It probably helps that the modern Dr. Watson can also have newly returned from military service in Afghanistan). Hopefully, the new episodes will be just as good.

The News for the Day -- Panic!!!

One thing I dislike from the media is the constant spin on facts to make everything sound like a dire emergency. Its not enough to say that murder rates have declined, or that the number of highway deaths have declined. Instead, if the statistics won't support a story, they spit out a number with a headline of "OMG, X Number of People Die Because of Y." If this only had the impact of selling papers (or increasing web site traffic) it would be one thing. But this type of scaremongering leads to idiots calling for more laws or more regulations. (Case in point, declining highway deaths have led the National Transportation Board to call for prohibitions on the use of cell phones in cars). Unfortunately, both the media and politicians have to justify their existence, and both rely on scaremongering.

You might wonder what prompted my rant. Well, it is actually something seemingly minor. A few days ago, I noticed some stories like this one warning of an impending radio blackout from a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME). I went to the NASA space weather site and it indicated that the CME was minor and no disruptions were expected. But the next day, I saw even scarier stories about the impact of the CME. (For instance, this one from December 30, 2011). So what was the end result. SpaceWeather.com reports today:

DECLINING CHANCE OF MAGNETIC STORMS: The CME expected on Dec. 29th either missed Earth or its impact was too weak to notice. Geomagnetic activity remains generally low with only a 20% chance of storms around the Arctic Circle during the next 24 hours.
In other words, NASA never predicted any disruptions (specifically noting it was a minor CME) and, sure enough, there were no disruptions. A non-event spun up to something of almost disaster proportions.  I'll get off my soap-box now.

One Small Bit of Crony Capitalism Dies

Federal subsidies for corn ethanol dies. A small victory for freedom.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Our Sun--A Year in Review

Our Sun has been quite active this past year as it comes out of a solar minimum. Space.com summarizes major events of this year involving the Sun. Solar activity is expected to increase until at least 2013.

Movie Attendance Drops

More on the decline of theater attendance this year--the lowest in 16 years. What caught my attention was the excuse, brought up a couple times in the article, that the reason for decline is because of illegal downloads of pirated films. (We've heard similar excuses from the music industry in past years). In the minds of the movie industry executives, it couldn't be because of crappy films, high prices, the recession, or competition from other forms of entertainment such as video games. Gotta pass a new law or something.

A Roundup of New State Laws

Fox News has a roundup of some of the new state laws going into effect at the beginning of the year. These, of course, include the usual roster of nanny-state, knee-jerk, and politically correct reasons why no one's life, liberty or property is safe when the legislature is in session.

California always has to outdo every other state. In this case, apparently not content with how poorly their public school students are doing, the state is now mandating that students learn yet more useless, irrelevant, yet politically correct information. In this case, the "social contributions of Gays and Lesbians." Yeah, that will help prepare students for the working world.

"Plus another new law in the state [California] will require individuals under 18 to present a prescription for any drug containing dextromethorphan, or DXM, an ingredient in many over-the-counter cough syrups that can be used as a recreational drug." Well, maybe if they weren't stuck in prison school all day listening to useless drivel (see above) from overpaid state employees, they wouldn't feel the need to use drugs.

Utahans have once again decided that free agency is "bad," and forcing everyone to be "good" is, well, "good." In this instance, they are making it illegal to offer daily drink specials or "happy hour." I don't see any obvious public safety issue involved here that should override the right of contract, so I'm guessing that it is a revenue issue--discounted drinks mean less tax revenue for the state.

However, there appear to be a few common sense laws being passed as well. Illinois, for instance, is allowing motorcycles to proceed through a red light if the light doesn't change after a reasonable amount of time. I'm not sure how that one passed since it seems so common sense. Must have been some middle-of-night vote to bypass the nanny-statists.

A handful of states are enacting voter-ID laws, as well, based on the clever idea that citizenship should have its advantages.

The Grapevine Santa Murder/Suicide Was An Honor Killing

I had wondered when I had first read the victims and perpetrator's names, but wasn't sure. However, it turns out that this tragedy was yet another incident of Muslim domestic (as in "family") terrorism. (Story here and here).

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Twin NASA Grail Craft Will Arive in Moon's Orbit This Weekend

(Story here). The spacecraft will work in tandem--using signals between each other--to map the Moon's gravity.

Fight Shaping Up Over Recess Appointments

GOP senators are trying to block Obama using his recess appointment power by simply not recessing the Senate. (Story here). Rather than go through a Senate confirmation battle, Obama has appointed some members to boards using recess appointments--short (1-year) appointments that he can make if the Senate is in recess. 

In an effort to prevent these recess appointments, Republicans are having the Senate ‘gavel in gavel out’ every few days, meaning they are not officially adjourning for the year.

If this prevents the Senate from taking a recess, lawmakers believe Obama will be stopped from making any recess appointments.

However, this may all depend on how one defines a recess.

Obama could argue that two or three days can be defined as a recess, although recent history dictates that is not the case.
The people interviewed for the story seem to think that Obama won't push the issue, deeming it too risky politically. However, if we review his history, we see a President and his Congressional allies willing to make important votes in the middle of the night, willing to pass unconstitutional legislation (Obama Care, anyone), violate U.S. law and cause the murder of hundreds of innocent people just to justify further gun control laws in the U.S. (Gunwalker and related programs), ignore the requirements of the War Powers Act (Libya), bypass Congress to implement new laws (carbon caps by the EPA), and so on.

So, if Obama holds so little respect for the law, why would he be deterred in this instance? He'll merely argue that the appointments are necessary to protect workers and that the Republicans were unnecessarily blocking the process. Moreover, there would likely be no legal remedy. I would be willing to bet that the Courts would determine that pretty much no one would have standing to challenge any such appointment.

Stepping Up the Attacks on Shale Oil

Domestic oil production is, or should be, a hot topic for the presidential election. Obama has done nothing but damage or hinder domestic production of oil--whether its hindering the Keystone pipeline or shutting down Gulf oil production--but has agreed to subsidizing Brazil's oil industry. His policies have cost American jobs, and will cost American lives as we pursue a course that requires us to prop up Middle-Eastern tyrants. 

Paradoxically, the debate over the Keystone pipeline has had environmentalists showing up as the friends of Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia has no better friend than the Sierra Club, and the Emirates have no better salesmen than the environmentalists who keep the country hooked on conflict oil. The administration’s sabotage of the Keystone XL project through delays aimed at killing the pipeline is a cynical act of cowardice, and it’s a shot in the arm to the very regimes that it claims to oppose.

* * * 
No activist group in America has promoted the growth of tyranny around the world the way that the environmentalist movement has. Every time drilling equipment stands idle because it might endanger the home of the spotted purple mock warbler or the congealed nanny state lizard, the cash registers and card readers in the malls of Dubai ring in another payday.

What matters more, the lives of the thousands and tens of thousands of people being ground under by Islamic regimes fueled by oil money, or theoretical harm to the sub-species of a sub-species that no one had ever heard of until it became a convenient way to stop a project that might actually make driving a car a little more affordable?
The Saudi/Environmental axis seems to be gearing up its spin machine in the U.S, somewhat surprisingly at Fox News:
And environmentalists, like Tina Posterli from Riverkeepers, said the industry’s falsely putting a positive spin on it. “The gas and oil industry greatly exaggerate the benefits of fracking” she said. “They have these hopes of jobs, when the reality is they come into communities, they contaminate the water with their process, they destroy the land and people's properties and then they leave."

Posterli worries that concern over the economy and eagerness to make money from fossil fuels will lead to bigger, long term problems, like earthquakes and destruction of natural resources .

“Fracking is growing because there's this fallacy that we can hurry up get in there and solve all of our energy problems through this process and through getting there first."

An EPA report said the risk to groundwater is minimal and that no earthquake has been definitively linked to fracking.

Still, for now shale oil is tightly gripped in a tug of war with environmental concerns versus jobs and a domestic fuel source.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Science of How Pedestrians "Flow"

Applying fluid dynamics to the movement of crowds. (Story here).

Amazing Origami

You have got to see the origami art made by Brian Chan, an instructor at MIT. (Story and pictures here).



This one is my favorite, but there are some others, including a couple based on a praying mantis and a grasshopper that are almost indistinguishable from the real thing.

Eric Metaxas asks: Does Anyone in the Media Read the Bible?

No. They don't even know what it is, other than some book that stupid people in flyover states bitterly cling to. (Op-ed from Fox News).

Fight or Flash Mob? (Updated)

"50-strong Brawl Turns into Melee at Mall of America"

Update: Now its 200 people involved, and due to a rumor that rappers Drake and Lil' Wayne were visiting the Mall of America. (Story here).

Monday, December 26, 2011

China's Faustian Bargain

Ultimately, China's social stability and the fate of its authoritarian regime depend upon a simple equation that amounts to an unspoken agreement between the government and the people: high economic growth=social stability and support for the Communist Party. Throw in a hefty dose of nationalism - Chinese pride in being an increasingly powerful player on the global stage - and that is the leadership's formula for popular support.

But this turns out to be something of a Faustian bargain; in the final analysis, it reveals a government with no real moral authority. Success underpinned only by monetary gain and national and ethnic pride - despite the fact that this prescription has worked fairly well for the past 30 years - is a failure waiting to happen.

There will come a time - and it may be next year-when China's economic juggernaut slows to a pace that cannot sustain the country's grand plan for social development in a country of 1.3 billion people with a troubling wealth gap and poverty that remains rife.

* * *

Chinese leaders have calculated that they need to keep the country buzzing along at a minimum of 8% annual growth to assure social stability, and that is not going to happen if the eurozone collapses and the US dives into another recession. A broken Europe and broke America would not buy enough Chinese exports to keep Beijing's economic plans on track.

Already, those exports are dropping, falling to 13.8% in November, the slowest pace since 2009, with a consequent decline in manufacturing and foreign direct investment and a rise - although the government will not say how much - in unemployment.

With all this in mind, Chinese leaders have pledged to increase domestic consumption to compensate for falling export income. Because of the lack of a viable pension scheme, medical insurance or a social safety net for the unemployed and disabled, the Chinese are some of the chariest spenders in the world.

Rather than spend their hard-earned money, they prefer to save for a rainy day, with urbanites stashing away an astonishing 30% of their disposable income - by far the highest rate of saving for any major economy.

To convince the Chinese people to part with more of their savings, the government must deliver better retirement and medical programs, funding for which requires more economic growth. Indeed, when that growth slows, the Chinese are likely to save even more of their paychecks than before.

War of the Gas Pipelines

The Great Game is being played out--at least in part--via gas pipelines. (Story and analysis here).

My own opinion--uninformed though it may be--does not see Afghanistan being able to provide the security and stability needed for building a major pipeline through it, without bringing in a whole lot of Chinese troops, which isn't going to happen while the U.S. is there. However, the Afghani politicians must be watering at the mouth over the graft to be made from a pipeline. This may be enough to get them to push for American troops to be withdrawn.

I would bet on a pipeline via Iran and Pakistan. As the U.S. influence in Pakistan wanes, but grows in India, the reality is that this pipeline will probably head into China.

China's Provincial Governments Begin Defaulting on Loans

China's biggest provincial borrowers are deferring payment on their loans just two months after the country's regulator said some local government companies would be allowed to do so.
Also this:
As local governments delay payments for projects commissioned as part of the stimulus to ward off recession in 2009, less money is available for bank lending even as China is taking steps to inject more into the economy. The central bank has held interest rates at 6.56 percent since July to boost the economy, while the US Federal Reserve and the Bank of Japan have kept benchmark rates near zero since 2008.

"When companies start to roll over debt they're not retiring debt, and banks aren't retrieving their capital, so you're crowding out new lending," Patrick Chovanec, a professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing, said in a Dec 13 interview. "This is a problem that's going to start to bite next year." 
* * *
Even after the reduction in interest payments, Gansu Provincial Highway said that interest and principal payments in 2011 will amount to 3.33 billion yuan, more than its 2010 cash flow of 3.04 billion yuan, according to bond-marketing materials.

"This prospectus is telling us that banks can expect to only receive roughly half of what would have been expected in interest payments," Charlene Chu, a Beijing-based banking analyst with Fitch Ratings, said of the Gansu disclosure.
 More analysis here at Zero Hedge. (H/t Instapundit)

I've been following the decline of the Chinese economy for some time on my Practical Eschatology blog because of the obvious implications for worsening the economic crises. So, if you have not already done so, you may want to look at these posts from earlier this month:

--China's Growth Model Tests Its Limits

--China's Credit Bubble Has Burst

--Wealthy Chinese Trying to Smuggle Money Out of China

--Global Investors Predict that China is Heading Into Banking Crises

--Additional Thoughts on China's Near and Long-Term Future

Finland Allows Cargo Ship to Leave Port Sans Missiles and Explosives

A Finnish port official says a ship held after 69 surface-to-air missiles and 160 tons of explosives were found onboard has received permission to travel again, but without its cargo or captain.

British-registered cargo ship M/S Thor Liberty was originally destined for China. It is not immediately clear if it will go there now.

Its shipment was seized in the port of Kotka in southern Finland on Wednesday because the missiles lacked proper transit documents and the explosive -- picric acid -- wasn't properly stored.
(A slightly expanded version of the same story at the Washington Post).

I hadn't caught anything earlier about this story, although the ship was apparently seized several days ago. I also thought it potentially relevant that the type of missiles weren't described.

I found this article from Reuters which provides some of the the back story. The relevant part:
China denied on Friday any link to a batch of 69 Patriot missiles confiscated by Finnish authorities, saying the weapons were destined for South Korea.

"As far as we know these goods were made in Germany and were being sent to South Korea. This is a British ship which left Germany carrying Patriot missiles for South Korea," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin told a daily news briefing.

* * *

The surface-to-air missiles were found on Wednesday when authorities searched the cargo ship Thor Liberty in Kotka, southern Finland. They also discovered 150 tons of explosive material called nitroguanidine, which was not stowed properly.

Finnish authorities have confiscated the missiles found on the ship and arrested its Ukrainian captain and chief officer on suspicion of trying to transport the missiles via Finland without permission.

According to this article, the German government also maintains that the missiles were a legitimate shipment to South Korea. However, the same article notes:
Police said they also found explosives and propelling charges aboard the British-flagged cargo ship at the port of Kotka, about 75 miles east of Helsinki.

Police said the shipment was headed for Shanghai, China, but Neumann and the customs official said the destination was South Korea.

The Patriot is a surface-to-air missile system manufactured by the U.S. company Raytheon and has been sold to various nations.
This article from the Washington Post also quotes a German Defense official:
“Those patriot guided missiles are from the Bundeswehr’s stocks and have been shipped to South Korea” according to an intergovernmental treaty, he said, declining to be named in line with government policy.

He said no explosives were part of the shipment and he didn’t have any information on that part of the impounded cargo.

Finnish officials said the explosives were destined for China. Markku Koskinen, the director of traffic operations at the port of Kotka, said they were deficiently packed in wooden boxes on open pallets and would be moved to metal containers in line with rules on the maritime transport of explosives.

“We will do that as soon as the customs inspectors allow us to,” Koskinen told The Associated Press. “Otherwise, the shipment of explosives was legitimate and can continue on its way to China as soon as it’s safely packed.”
From the Army Technology website:
Patriot is a long-range, all-altitude, all-weather air defence system to counter tactical ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and advanced aircraft. Patriot (MIM-104) is produced by Raytheon in Massachusetts and Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control in Florida.

As well as the USA, Patriot is in service in Egypt, Germany, Greece, Israel, Japan, Kuwait, the Netherlands, Saudi Arabia and Taiwan.

Patriot missile systems were deployed by US forces during Operation Iraqi Freedom. The systems were stationed in Kuwait and successfully destroyed a number of hostile surface-to-surface missiles using the new PAC-3 and guidance enhanced missiles.
Germany and/or German companies were implicated in transferring weapons technology to Iraq (see also here). According to this article, Germany has been a major supplier of nuclear technology to Iraq, before the First Gulf War, and to other nations seeking to develop nuclear weapons.
Before the first Gulf war Germany exported more into Iraq than the rest of the world taken together. Between the two Gulf wars Germany was still Iraq's major trading partner, and many of the goods were dual-use items.
In 2003, the Asia Times reported:
Expurgated portions of Iraq's December 7 report to the UN Security Council show that German firms made up the bulk of suppliers for Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs. What's galling is that German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and his minions have long known the facts, German intelligence services know them and have loads of information on what Saddam Hussein is hiding, and Schroeder nonetheless plays holier than thou to an easily manipulated, pacifist-inclined domestic audience.
German companies have also been implicated with transferring banned weapons technology to Iran. From the May 21, 2010, Jerusalem Post:
Critics have long said that German and Iranian businessman have managed to deliver nuclear technology to Iran over the years because of Germany’s lax export controls.

“Various scandals regarding illegal Iran trade during the last years show that Germany needs to implement a much stricter export control system, and it should throw out Iranian state companies like the Ascotec GmbH in Düsseldorf and the front companies of the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines in Hamburg,” Jonathan Weckerle, a spokesman for the German chapter of the Stop the Bomb organization, told the Post.

Stop the Bomb seeks to dramatically curtail Germany’s flourishing trade relationship with Teheran and to promote Iran’s growing democracy movement.

“German exports to Iran increased by 3 percent in February 2010 when compared to February 2009. Imports even increased 159%, according to the latest numbers from the German-Iranian Chamber of Commerce,” Weckerle said.
(See also this 2007 article from Spiegel Online). German companies are reportedly reducing their trade with Iran, according to this February 2, 2010 New York Times report, but admit that this would be a process of several years:
German companies, long Iran’s biggest trading partners in Europe, are finding it increasingly difficult to do business there as the United States, Israel and others campaign for tougher United Nations sanctions in response to the country’s nuclear program.

Peter Löscher of Siemens said the company would gradually pull out of Iran over the next couple years.

Yet even those companies that said they were pulling out — most notably Siemens last week — will probably take years to wind down operations and wrap up outstanding contracts. Others are simply lowering their profile or finding third countries to do business through, fearing they will lose a lucrative market forever if they abandon it now.

“What our members want is a level playing field,” said Ulrich Ackermann, who is responsible for Iran and other countries in the region at the German Engineering Federation, a lobbying group for the sector. “If our German companies pull out, will other, non-German companies replace us?”
 So the question is, why should we trust Germany on this issue?

Cold War Spy Satellite Secret Revealed

Declassification of a cold war spy satellite program. (Story here). Whenever I read about the incredible advances made in these type of secret programs, I wonder if they ever bled over to commercial products. Our greatest defense against a foreign power is maintaining technical innovation, both for reasons of greater military capabilities and for economic supremacy. But how many technologies are developed, but never contribute to our economy, because they are kept secret?

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The "Science" of Santa

For the science geek that still believes.

New Book Claims to Answer Mystery of What Happened to Jimmy Hoffa

The answer?
‘It was his own people who did it,’ Mr Elkind said in excerpts of a new book published in the New York Post, adding Mafia member Tony Jack insinuated he was responsible.

The startling claim comes 36 years after Hoffa, who led the labour union for 13 years, vanished while on his way to meet two mobsters he knew well, Anthony Giacalone and Tony Jack – real name Anthony Provenzano.

The Renaissance Center was under construction when he disappeared.

Mr Elkind explains how, during a Teamsters conference in 1985, he was among a group of men walking from the city’s Omni International when the Center came into view.

Tony Jack nodded toward the tower’s base and said, ‘Say good morning to Jimmy Hoffa, boys’, Mr Elkind alleges in The Weasel: A Double Life in the Mob by Adrian Humphreys.

He also describes the rush to build the Renaissance Center following the disappearance of Hoffa – and claims the body was buried in wet cement.

‘There was a mad rush to get the concrete poured,’ the New York Post quotes the book as saying.

Merry Christmas -- Remembering Other Christians in Your Prayers

I would like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas as we celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior.

And as we give thanks at Church or the privacy of our homes, please also remember those Christians around the world that are not so lucky to live in a nation tolerant of their religion, but instead face stiff persecution. Here is more on this topic from Mark Steyn:
On this Christmas Eve, one of the great unreported stories throughout what we used to call Christendom is the persecution of Christians around the world. In Egypt, the “Arab Spring” is going so swimmingly that Copts are already fleeing Egypt and, for those Christians that remain, Midnight Mass has to be held in the daylight for security reasons. In Iraq, midnight services have been canceled entirely for fear of bloodshed, part of the remorseless de-Christianizing that has been going on, quite shamefully, under an American imperium.

Not merely the media but Christian leaders in the west seem to be embarrassed by behavior that doesn’t conform to their dimwitted sappiness about “Facebook Revolutions”. It took a Jew to deliver this line:
When Lord Sacks, chief rabbi in England, rose in the House of Lords to speak about the persecution of Christians, he quoted Martin Luther King. “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

Saturday, December 24, 2011

28th Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival

I first heard (and saw) about this festival in a documentary series called "Wild China." As part of the festival, they create a city carved out of ice, which is lit up by colored lights at night. See the whole story, with pictures, here.

The Reason the 2012 Election is So Important

The Federal government, generally, has been accumulating power in excess of that expressly granted under the Constitution since at least the 1930's, if not longer. However, what we have seen happening more recently has been accumulation of power by the Executive Branch that rightfully belongs to Congress. Whether it is "signing statements" from the President indicating that he does not have to follow portions of laws that he just signed into law, or the EPA deciding to destroy our economy by exercising powers in excess of those granted by Congress, we are witnessing a federal bureaucracy that is now placing itself above the law and beyond the control of our elected representatives. (One item that I find especially pernicious is our last several Presidents' refusal to acknowledge that only Congress has authority under the Constitution to authorize the initiation of hostilities against foreign powers--something quaintly referred to as "declare war").

This next election will be the one that determines whether we have a President that continues this accumulation of power past the tipping point, where any attempts to reform the government will result in a Constitutional crises between Congress and the President, or will voluntarily try to check the growth of the executive branch. Unfortunately, none of the likely candidates for President have the will or desire to reverse this course. But, when we go to the election booth, we can at least do what we can by voting for the person most willing to honor the principle of limited government.

Latest Bill Whittle "Afterburner" Video--Three Years Under Obama

A succinct review of Obama's failures and fraud over the last three years. (Video here).

Friday, December 23, 2011

Chinese Couple Punished for Having Too Many Kids

A wealthy Chinese couple have been evicted from their home, after the country’s strict one-child-family enforcers discovered they had eight babies.

The unnamed couple, from the southern metropolis of Guangzhou, had four boys and four girls over a two-month period last year – with the help of two surrogate mothers – but kept the children a secret.

They were exposed when envious staff at a photography studio alerted the media, sparking public outrage.
(Full story here). As I've said before, the future belongs to those who have kids. I don't think China is going to become rich before it heads off the demographic cliff.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Crony Capitalism and the Light Bulb Ban

From the Business Insider (h/t Instapundit):
But look who else is complaining [about the defunding of the incandescent light bulb ban]. As Politico reported, "big companies like General Electric, Philips and Osram Sylvania (are) fuming." Allegedly these companies are mad because they invested lots of money getting ready for the new rules.

Fact is, they were pushing for the ban all along.

In 2007, Philips urged an incandescent ban as a way to force the market toward high-efficiency bulbs, complaining that without such laws, "purchase price and functional performance often take precedence over environmental concern."

That same year, the National Electrical Manufacturers Association, which represents companies making 95% of bulbs sold in the U.S., told a Senate panel that a ban was needed "to further educate consumers on the benefits of energy-efficient products."
You can believe if you want these companies only had Mother Earth in mind with this ban. But more likely they saw it as a chance to fatten their bottom lines. Who wouldn't jump at the chance to outlaw a low-margin, 60-cent product when you're trying to hawk a high-margin $3 alternative?

This would hardly be the first time big business teamed up with big government to enhance profits through competition-crushing regulations. Timothy Carney's book, "The Big Ripoff," detailed many cases where businesses "profit from big government policies that rip off consumers."

Thanks to the GOP, consumers now can see this seedy process at work, clear as day.

You Can Lead a Horse to Water, But You Can't Make Him Drink

More violence in Iraq in the wake of the withdrawal of American troops.
A wave of violence ripped across Baghdad on Thursday morning, killing at least 57 people and injuring nearly 200 in a coordinated attack designed to wreak havoc in the Iraqi capital just days after American forces left the country.

The blasts were the worst violence since a political crisis between Iraq's Sunni and Shiite factions erupted this weekend. The political spat, which pits Iraq's Shiite prime minister against the highest-ranking Sunni political leader, has raised fears that Iraq's sectarian wounds will be reopened during a fragile time when Iraq is finally navigating its own political future without U.S. military support.

Iraqi officials said at least 12 blasts went off early Thursday morning in nine neighborhoods around the city. The explosions ranged from blasts from sticky bombs attached to cars to roadside bombs and vehicles packed with explosives.

Most of the attacks appeared to hit Shiite neighborhoods although some Sunni areas were also targeted.
The founding of a democratic government in the United States specifically, and the West, generally, was based on hundreds of years of political and religious advances recognizing inalienable, God-given rights, a background of at least limited representative government, the formation of national identities, expanding education, and a foundation in the belief in the rule of law and equality before the law. Although Western nations have not always lived up to these ideals, they have at least had ideals to look up to and model their behavior that include compassion and tolerance.

None of this exists in Iraq. Their "ideal" is a medieval theocracy whose economic health and vitality relied on plunder through warfare, slavery, and discriminatory taxation of Jews and Christians (who also represented the most productive members of society at that time). This ideal lacks both compassion for anyone considered unbelievers (which includes Muslim minority groups). There is no history of representative government or respect for the rule of law. There certainly is no history of equality before the law. Their history is one of tribal loyalties and tyranny.

I hope that most Iraqis would like a nation built on the rule of law, with equality of all before the law. But it is not something that can be forced on them--they have to grow into it. Considering that the Iraqi people have killed or driven almost all Christians and Jews out of Iraq during the American occupation, it was unrealistic to expect Shiites to support equal protection under the law for other groups once we were gone. It is also unrealistic to expect that more powerful and numerous minorities such as the Sunnis or Kurds will simply turn the other cheek and walk away as have the Christians and Jews.

The Permian Extinction Event May Have Been Because of Huge Coal Fires

Around 250million years ago about 96 per cent of marine life and 70 per cent of terrestrial lilfe was wiped out – now researchers believe that the burning of vast coal fields by volcanoes was the cause.

The event during the Permian period was known as the ‘Great Dying’ – the biggest-ever mass extinction - and researchers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego believe that when the coal was set alight it released so much heat-trapping carbon dioxide that life became impossible.

The volcanoes responsible were the massive Siberian Traps in northern Russia, say the researchers.

Earlier this year large amounts of coal were found in rocks in the area, along with fly ash, which is produced when coal burns.

The Siberian Traps are the largest volcanic event in the planet’s history and produced lava fields measuring 2.7 million square miles, which alone would have destroyed huge amounts of life.

But the research team, led by Darcy Ogden, believe that the lava from the volcanoes also burnt staggering quantities of coal, which released greenhouse gases on an unimaginable scale.

It’s thought that the coal fields burnt for thousands of years, with only the very hardiest of creatures surviving the rise in temperature.

To make matters worse, sulphur-eating microbes released hydrogen sulphide into the air, adding toxicity to the insufferable heat.

More on the Militarization of the Police

The spreading acquisition and use of military grade weapons and surveillance systems by local law enforcement. (Story here). The police argue that they need the weapons to maintain parity with the criminals (I think this is a b.s. argument) and to prepare for potential terrorist attacks--maybe so in a major city; farcical in a small mid-western town. The opposite argument is that they start applying military tactics to civilian law-enforcement--two activities that have different purposes.

This is my own thoughts on the matter: When the only tool you have is a hammer, pretty soon all your problems begin to look like nails. And that is what has happened with American law enforcement. The infrequent need for a SWAT team to serve high risk warrants or end a hostage situation has now led to using SWAT teams, or at least, SWAT tactics for minor offenses and baseless warrants.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Back Story on the Christmas Tree

Interesting article on the origins of the Christmas tree from Fox News. (Link here).

Evil People Don't Actually See Themselves as Being Evil

Every once in a while we need to be reminded that evil people don't really view themselves as evil.

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party has described Kim Jong Il as 'a lovely man'.

The dead North Korean leader was involved in the training and equipping of a para-military group in the African country in the early 1980s.

Mugabe sought help to train the infamous Fifth Brigade unit - which killed almost 20,000 people in an operation named Gukurahundi, meaning the first rains that wash the chaff. It has since been described as genocide.

Kim Jong Il played an instrumental role in training the crack special killer unit that operated outside normal Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) command.

More on the Lobbying Behind the Light-Bulb Ban

I had posted, nay, ranted, yesterday about the light-bulb ban. Reader Peter T., in his comment, pointed me to this link with more information on the industry push to ban incandescent light bulbs. One item cited there was a 2008 editorial from the Wall Street Journal (that unfortunately does not appear to be available online). The quoted part, however, reads:
Representatives of Philips and General Electric, two of the biggest lightbulb makers, say there's nothing to be concerned about.
And Larry Lauck of the American Lighting Association says, "I think everyone's pretty happy" with the new law.
But then, the lighting industry has no reason not to be:
People will need light, whatever the law says--according to Randy Moorehead of Philips, there are four billion standard-size (or "medium base") light sockets in America alone.

So if you're GE or Philips or Sylvania, the demise of the plain vanilla lightbulb is less a threat than an opportunity--an opportunity, in particular, to replace a product that you can sell for 50 cents with one that sells for $3 or more.
Yes, the $3 bulb lasts longer. Yes, it cuts your electricity bill.
Mr. Moorehead says that when every one of those four billion light sockets has an energy-saving bulb in it, the country will be saving $18 billion a year on its electric bill. That's $4.50 per bulb--and the bulb makers are standing by to make sure a substantial portion of those "savings" get transformed into profits for them.
Now it may be that those bulbs are worth more--because they last longer, etc. But some of those bulbs, like compact fluorescents and Philips' new "Halogena-IR" bulb, are already available. Currently they command all of 5% of the lightbulb market.
That means that, whatever value proposition GE and Philips are selling, consumers aren't buying. What we bulb buyers needed, it seemed, was a little nudge. Or, if you want to be cynical about it, the bulb business decided to migrate its customers to more-expensive--and presumably higher-margin--products by banning the low-cost competition.

"I was kind of involved at the very beginning" of this legislation, Mr. Moorehead says modestly.
Indeed, in December 2006, Philips announced a campaign to encourage governments all around the world to phase out low-cost bulbs by 2015.
What's remarkable about this bit of market interference is that there is, basically, nothing wrong with the present-day, Edison-style lightbulb.
It's not a lawn dart or a lead-painted toy or a magnet that will perforate your kid's intestines if he swallows it. It is what it is, and for most people in most applications, it was good enough. So the lightbulb makers and the environmentalists convinced Congress to ban them for no better reason than they believed everyone would be better off with something else.

Note that the lightbulb makers shouldn't need a ban to convince consumers to "upgrade." Microsoft, Dell, Apple and any number of other companies manage to convince the Joneses that they need a better "one"--whatever it is--every few years.
If Philips wanted a Halogena-IR bulb in every socket, it had only to put them on the market at a price that made them irresistible compared to the 50-cent bulb of yore. Likewise with the much hailed compact fluorescent. They have been on the market a good deal longer than Philips's fancy new incandescent. The prices have come down and the quality has gone up. But not, apparently, enough for 95% of the bulb-buying public.

A few years back, one could have argued with a straight face that consumer awareness of the benefits of CFLs was inadequate.
No more.
The sticking point lies at that ineffable nexus between price and quality--with all that "quality" implies, whether it be service life, the delay between flicking the switch and full power, or color temperature or the look of the thing.

There are billions to be made--and spent--figuring out how to get consumers to pay more for something.
This year Steve Jobs convinced a million people to pay $400 for a cell phone in a market in which many people believe that the phone should come free with a service contract.
But why worry about making a product so good people feel they have to have it, when you can instead get the government to tell them they have no choice?
Peter T has more information on the light bulb ban at his blog here.

Some Thoughts on Gun Control and Reducing Violance from TTAG

The Truth About Guns has a commentary up on reducing crime by ending the "war on drugs" and recognizing the right to bear arms (as opposed, to merely possessing arms). It also discusses continued problems with persecution of gun owners that lawfully carry firearms. Read the whole thing.

Democracy Fail in Iraq? Yeah, Pretty Much

Last week I had posted about signs that Iraq was not going to sustain a viable democracy. (Link here). Now that Vice-President has declared the war over in Iraq, the true blood-bath seems poised to begin. From the Weekly-Standard (h/t Instapundit):
... The ethno-sectarian settlement achieved at such cost to Iraqis and Americans is unraveling rapidly. The principal Sunni bloc has withdrawn its members from the Iraqi Parliament and is threatening to withdraw from the government altogether within two weeks unless Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki adheres to the written commitments he made during the negotiations to form a government.

Maliki prompted their action by arresting and torturing the bodyguards of Sunni vice president Tariq al Hashemi. Multiple unconfirmed reports indicate that on Thursday night, Maliki moved elements of the Baghdad Brigade, commanded by his son, to surround the residences of Sunni political figures, including Hashemi. In retaliation for the Sunni parliamentarians' walkout, Maliki has demanded a no-confidence vote for Sunni deputy prime minister Salah Mutlaq, and indicated his intent to bring charges against Hashemi and others for conspiring to assassinate him. The crisis is not confined to Baghdad. Fearful of the moves Maliki had already made to consolidate autocratic rule under the fist of his Shi’a Dawa Party, Sunni provincial leaders in Salahuddin and Diyala Provinces have declared their intention to form federal autonomous regions. Maliki has angrily rejected their rights to do so. Communities have reportedly begun mobilizing to defend themselves against potential sectarian conflict in Diyala.
* * *

The decision to abandon Iraq entirely will stand as one of the monumental strategic follies of the 21st century, and the cost of that disastrous choice are already emerging starkly.
As we watch our attempts at "nation building" fall apart because President Narcissus Obama and his henchmen were too stupid and/or too incompetent to negotiate our retention of a few military bases, we should consider these words from Narcissus Obama during his recent 60 minutes interview:
... I would put our legislative and foreign policy accomplishments in our first two years against any president — with the possible exceptions of Johnson, F.D.R., and Lincoln — just in terms of what we’ve gotten done in modern history.
(Source; h/t Instapundit). (More on the President's interview here).

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Quantum Entanglement Between Two Diamonds

(Story here and here). Does this remind anyone else of the book, Crystal Singer?

Scientists Find Two Planets Almost Identical in Size to the Earth

Astronomers using the Kepler telescope have discovered two rocky exo-planets that are almost identical in size to the Earth. (Story here).
Although the planet, Kepler-20f could have a thick water-vapour atmosphere, its surface is believed to be too hot for life.

A second planet in the same system, Kepler-20e, is only slightly smaller than Earth and even hotter.

Both worlds circle their parent star closely with 'years' that last just nine and sixteen days respectively.

Dr Francois Fressin, one of the astronomers from the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics in Cambridge, US, said: ‘It is the first time humanity has been able to discover an object similar to the Earth around a star, so maybe we will be able to find others.

‘This could be an important milestone. I think 10 years or maybe even 100 years from now people will look back and ask when was the first Earth-sized planet found. It is very exciting.’
Similar composition and size also means similar gravity. Now if we could find something similar in the habitable zone of a nearby star.

The Light Bulb Ban

We gained a slight reprieve on the light bulb ban when the budget bill included a rider that removed funding for enforcement of a light bulb ban. (More here). However, this is not the end of the matter. From Politico:
The rider may have advanced GOP talking points about light bulb “freedom of choice,” but it didn’t win them many friends in the industry, who are more interested in their bottom line than political rhetoric.

Big companies like General Electric, Philips and Osram Sylvania spent big bucks preparing for the standards, and the industry is fuming over the GOP bid to undercut them.

After spending four years and millions of dollars prepping for the new rules, businesses say pulling the plug now could cost them. The National Electrical Manufacturers Association has waged a lobbying campaign for more than a year to persuade the GOP to abandon the effort.

Manufacturers are worried that the rider will undermine companies’ investments and “allow potential bad actors to sell inefficient light bulbs in the United States without any fear of federal enforcement,” said Kyle Pitsor, the trade group’s vice president of government relations.
To put it in plain language instead of the political spin, old fashioned light-bulbs just didn't generate enough of a profit. Based on well-known, and simple technology on which all patents had expired, profit margins were thin and the barriers to competitors entering the market were too low. So, the big companies decided they could address both concerns by introducing high-tech light-bulbs. And by bribing lobbying Congress-critters to pass laws requiring these high-tech light bulbs, they don't need to worry about being competitive in price or quality (and I've used the compact fluorescent lamps, the majority of which failed within the first couple of months--far less than a standard bulb).

What do the Congress-critters behind the ban say? From the Politico article:
Congressional energy aides on both sides of the aisle say they haven’t heard from any industry groups seeking a repeal of the lighting standards.

“The only people we are aware of who have opposed the bulb standards are some politicians and some conservative commentators,” said Bill Wicker, a spokesman for Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.).
That's sort of odd, since the very same article notes:
The Lupus Foundation of America has lobbied both chambers of Congress on a bill aimed at blocking the new standards, warning that lupus patients could suffer if incandescent bulbs become tougher to find.

Maggie Maloney, a spokeswoman for the foundation, said there have been indications that fluorescent lights can contribute to lupus flares. “We think it’s important that people with lupus to have options,” she said.
And a reminder for those who think that a RHINO president is an acceptable option:
The rules — authorized under a 2007 energy law signed by President George W. Bush — call for incandescent light bulbs to be 30 percent more energy efficient.
If our government wasn't bought and sold to the highest bidder, they would just leave us alone and let the free market decide what is best.

Families are Staying Away from Movies Due to High Costs and Poor Quality

Bottom line--it just isn't worth the expense. (Story here).
Tickets are expensive, the theaters are becoming increasingly run down and DVDs come out so quickly that it just isn’t worth it to Stuart, a freelance writer and mom blogger based out of Tampa, Florida, to shell out the cash. 
“I generally pay to see a movie with my kids once a year because the price is so high. I took all three children to see a matinee movie in September and it cost $36. That's a lot of money for one afternoon. Last year, all five of us attended a matinee showing in 3D and it was $60! There is a vast array of things we could do with that amount of money as a family that would be more fun and exciting,” Stuart, who chronicles life with her kids and her husband on the blog MinivansareHot.com tells Fox411.

“Seeing a movie isn't the experience it used to be. Movie theaters tend to be so sterile and bland that paying that kind of money just for a matinee isn't worth it for our family. In fact, I can count on two fingers the number of times we have gone to the movies as a whole family (my husband included). It just ends up being a lot of money for a very short experience.”
I have to agree. The costs of a ticket in my area is north of $10. The theaters don't give matinee discounts for children anymore. It costs as much for popcorn and a soda as it would cost for the whole family to eat out. Moreover, in addition to the out-of-pocket expenses, there is the cost in time and aggravation to travel to a theater, find parking, wait in line, get seated, and then sit through a bunch of advertisements before the movie even starts. We generally wait until a movie comes out on DVD or is showing at a "dollar" theater. And, I have to admit, that I also don't like shelling out the money for mediocre, unoriginal movies produced by, directed by, and starring people that publicly mock the values and beliefs of the majority of Americans. 

Lego Reportedly Has a Contract for Lord of the Rings and the Upcoming Hobbit Movies

Alright! Another Lego Wii game. (Story here).

Monday, December 19, 2011

Polish Special Forces Participate in Jungle Warfare Training in India

For the first time in the history of the Polish Special Forces commandos took part in an exercise in the tropical jungle. On 15-28 November 2011 in the territory of India held a combined Indo-Polish special forces exercise pk. Tiger Claw first

The aim was to include exercises to improve the ability to conduct combined operations przeciwterrorystycznych [sic] in a tropical jungle. Exercise was held in Counter Insurgency and Jungle Warfare School (CIJWS) capable of Mizoram (India). The exercise was attended by operators of the Polish Armed Forces Special Forces and soldiers of the 21st Indian special forces battalion.
 Some great photos as well.

The Piper At the Gates of Dawn (Updated)

After a day of frantic searching by more than 200 people, a 21-month-old South Carolina boy has been reunited with his family.

Jason Burton wandered off through the front door sometime Friday when his mother was in the bathroom, his family told police.

Though he was lost for more than a day in woods near his home and spent a rainy night outdoors, rescuers found him unharmed and sleeping on a log beneath the river’s embankment.
(Updated -- "The Piper At the Gates of Dawn")

I Hope This is Included in Their Taxable Income

Our overworked, yet under-appreciated, President is taking yet another vacation. With his busy vacation schedule, I don't know how he ever finds time to work. Anyway, here is the cost breakdown (via The Daily Mail):

  • Obama's Air Force One flight estimated at $3,271,611
  • Total travel costs for Hawaii holiday are $3,629,622
  • Housing comes to $151,200 and hotels at $72,216
  • Hawaii Reporter estimates total cost at $4,113,038
If you think this is outrageous, how about this from the story: " A spokesman for the White House told the Hawaii Reporter that the costs are 'in line' with other presidential vacations."

If my employer paid for my vacation expenses, it would be considered taxable income. What are the odds the Obamas include this in their income?

Violent Crime Continues to Decline in the U.S.

"Murders, rapes and other violent crimes dropped sharply in the United States in the first six months of 2011, continuing a downward trend that has lasted 4 1/2 years, the FBI reported on Monday."

U.S. May Become Net Oil Exporter This Year

The U.S. exported more oil the first three quarters of this year than it imported. If this last quarter holds true to this trend, this year will have been the first year in 6 decades that the U.S. was a net exporter of oil. (Story here).

This is good news all around. It means that the U.S. won't need to be so heavily involved in the Middle-East in the future, and not so beholden to the Middle-Eastern states like Saudi Arabia (the true source of much of the world's terrorism). It means that the U.S. will not be competing against China for oil to the degree it would otherwise have been doing so. It means that the U.S. can do something to reduce trade deficits. Assuredly, Congress, the President, and/or the EPA will screw this up.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Democracy Fail in Iraq?

A while back, I had posted concerning the Egyptian elections and the futility of insisting on democratic elections in tribal based societies. The problem is the lack of commitment to freedom or democratic government. It looks like the same issues are blatantly showing up in Iraq now that the U.S. is withdrawing its troops. (Story here; h/t Instapundit).
Iraq’s political process was unraveling faster than had been anticipated Saturday, with Sunni politicians walking out of the nation’s parliament and threatening to resign from the government even before the last U.S. troops had left the country.

The crisis was triggered by reports that security forces loyal to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, are planning to arrest the country’s Sunni vice president, Tariq al-Hashimi, and charge him with terrorism.

Those reports have fueled fears among Sunni politicians that Maliki intends to further consolidate his grip on power by moving against his rivals now that U.S. troops have gone. In recent days, the homes of top Sunni politicians in the fortified Green Zone have been ringed by tanks and armored personnel carriers, and rumors are flying that arrest warrants will be issued for other Sunni leaders.
Now that the U.S. is leaving, it is payback time.

If I were to give a prediction of a major strategic trend, it is that the national borders artificially drawn by the European colonial powers are breaking down as tribal, ethnic, and religious affiliations begin to reassert themselves. There are two results to this: (1) national and provincial borders will revert to more natural borders, and/or we'll see an increase in "autonomous" zones; and (2) incidents of genocide will increase as smaller minority populations are simply exterminated or forced to leave (think of the Jewish and Christian populations in Iraq, which have all but disappeared in the past 10 years; or the Copts in Egypt), and fights break out between larger groups for control of territory.

This is bad news for Afghanistan and Pakistan which are home to various tribal groups that hate each other. Certainly, the Pashtun tribes of Afghanistan and Pakistan will continue to fight against the "central" governments of those respective countries. All of our "nation building" efforts will ultimately be for naught because the people are too infantile, in a political sense, to tolerate sharing power and rights with other tribes or groups.

This is also bad news for Iraq and Turkey. The Sunnis and Shiites will continue to kill each other, while the Kurds continue strengthening their position as a semi-autonomous region and, possibly, finally seek full independence from Iraq. Either way, successes by the Kurds in Iraq will fuel continued demands for independence from the Kurds living in Turkey.

The only way that this trend will reverse itself would be through a strong, charismatic leader to emerge in the Middle-East that can wield both political and religious authority.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Photos from the Battle of the Bulge

The Daily Mail has photographs newly released by Life Magazine of the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944 - January 1945.


At the end of the of the 41-day offensive, 19,000 American soldiers were dead. The British Army lost 1,400 lives. Total allied casualties are estimated at 110,000 - making it the bloodiest battle for American troops in all of World War II.

German casualties were lower at about 85,000. But the Wehrmacht - Germany's unified military command - ultimately lost their gambit to break through the Allied lines and capture key supplies -- especially fuel for tanks and aircraft.

Under-manned and not prepared to camp out in temperatures that dropped to four degrees below zero Fahrenheit, American forces held out against German tanks and troops until reinforcements, including General George S. Patton's Third Army arrived and beat back the Nazi offensive.

The German surprise attack came after Allied forces liberated France and were beginning to look forward to surging into Nazi Germany. Some historians say complacency among Allied commanders left troops totally unprepared for the German counterattack that sparked the Battle of the Bulge.

Perhaps the most famous story of the bloody battle came during the German siege of the Belgian town of Bastogne. Surrounded, American units were running out of ammunition and food. Medical supplies were scarce.

When the Nazi commander demanded the surrender of the Americans, Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe, the commander of the 101st Airborne Division responded with a one word answer: 'NUTS!'
Today, the media would be calling Allied resistance a failure, and would interview Nazis about the atrocities and war crimes committed by the American troops.

Some Newly Released Empirical Data on Global Warming

In a recent post, I cited an article discussing why the climate scientists cannot be trusted. Now there has been a release of data that gives some empirical data on global warming. (Story here -- h/t Instapundit). The salient points:
The end of November 2011 completes 33 years of satellite-based global temperature data, according to John Christy, a professor of atmospheric science and director of the Earth System Science Center (ESSC) at The University of Alabama in Huntsville. Globally averaged, Earth’s atmosphere has warmed about 0.45 Celsius (about 0.82° F) during the almost one-third of a century that sensors aboard NOAA and NASA satellites have measured the temperature of oxygen molecules in the air.

This is at the lower end of computer model projections of how much the atmosphere should have warmed due to the effects of extra greenhouse gases since the first Microwave Sounding Unit (MSU) went into service in Earth orbit in late November 1978, according to satellite data processed and archived at UAHuntsville’s ESSC.
“While 0.45 degrees C of warming is noticeable in climate terms, it isn’t obvious that it represents an impending disaster,” said Christy.
The article goes on to note that some areas, including Antarctica, have seen declines in temperature, while the Arctic areas has seen increased temperatures:
On average, the South Pole region has cooled by about 0.05 C per decade, or 0.16 C (0.30° F) in 33 years. The globe’s fastest cooling region is in the central Antarctic south of MacKenzie Bay and the Amery Ice Shelf. Temperatures in that region have cooled by an annual average of about 2.36 C (4.25° F). 
* * *
The greatest warming has been in the Arctic. Temperatures in the atmosphere above the Arctic Ocean warmed by an average of 1.75 C (3.15° F) in 33 years. The fastest warming spot is in the Davis Strait, between the easternmost point on Baffin Island and Greenland. Temperatures there have warmed 2.89 C (about 5.2° F).
So, based on the foregoing, you might think that, yes, there is a definite warming, and that increases at the north pole are largely being offset by decreases at the south pole. But there is more:

While Earth’s climate has warmed in the last 33 years, the climb has been irregular. There was little or no warming for the first 19 years of satellite data. Clear net warming did not occur until the El Niño Pacific Ocean “warming event of the century” in late 1997. Since that upward jump, there has been little or no additional warming.

“Part of the upward trend is due to low temperatures early in the satellite record caused by a pair of major volcanic eruptions,” Christy said. “Because those eruptions pull temperatures down in the first part of the record, they tilt the trend upward later in the record.”

Christy and other UAHuntsville scientists have calculated the cooling effect caused by the eruptions of Mexico’s El Chichon volcano in 1982 and the Mt. Pinatubo volcano in the Philippines in 1991. When that cooling is subtracted, the long-term warming effect is reduced to 0.09 C (0.16° F) per decade, well below computer model estimates of how much global warming should have occurred.
So, in three decades, the data shows a total warming of less than 0.5 ° F, hardly the emergency that it is portrayed. In fact, it is not even clear that there is any man-made global warming.
What it doesn’t do is tell scientists how much of the remaining warming is due to natural climate cycles (not including volcanoes) versus humanity’s carbon dioxide emissions enhancing Earth’s natural greenhouse effect.
The science is unsettled.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Carlos the Jackal Gets Second Life Sentence

Story here.

(Update: "Jacket" changed to "Jackal." Note to self: get more sleep)

Claims that Romney Lived in "Palace" While on His Mission--I call B.S.

This story claims that Romney's spent his Church mission living in a "palace," instead of his claims that he lived in small apartments and had to defecate in buckets.

I didn't go to France on my mission, and certainly not at the time Romney did. But, I did serve a mission in a foreign country back when missionaries had to pay their whole expenses (instead of the level pay method that is now used), and I know lots of people that served foreign missions; and, believe me, you pretty much lived in the cheapest rat holes you could afford. Perhaps Romney spent part of his mission at the mission home, which generally are pretty comfortable because that is where the mission president resides. That is the only place that the son of the mission president would have met him anyway. So, yes, I tend to believe Romney's recollection.

And, just for the nay sayers out there who think that I'm shilling for Romney, I just want to state that I don't like Romney's politics. He is a RHINO through and through. Nuff said.

Pictures from the One World Trade Center Building.

The Daily Mail has a story about the progress on the One World Trade Center Building in New York, and some very nice pictures. Check it out. This is my favorite:

Iran Claims to Have Hacked U.S. Drone

Iranian engineers claim that they spoofed GPS signals to a U.S. spy drone to make it land in Iran rather than Afghanistan. (Story here).
Iranian electronic warfare specialists were able to cut off communications links of the American bat-wing RQ-170 Sentinel, says the engineer, who works for one of many Iranian military and civilian teams currently trying to unravel the drone’s stealth and intelligence secrets, and who could not be named for his safety.

Using knowledge gleaned from previous downed American drones and a technique proudly claimed by Iranian commanders in September, the Iranian specialists then reconfigured the drone's GPS coordinates to make it land in Iran at what the drone thought was its actual home base in Afghanistan.

"The GPS navigation is the weakest point," the Iranian engineer told the Monitor, giving the most detailed description yet published of Iran's "electronic ambush" of the highly classified US drone. "By putting noise [jamming] on the communications, you force the bird into autopilot. This is where the bird loses its brain."

The “spoofing” technique that the Iranians used – which took into account precise landing altitudes, as well as latitudinal and longitudinal data – made the drone “land on its own where we wanted it to, without having to crack the remote-control signals and communications” from the US control center, says the engineer.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Global Warming Fraud

An article from the National Association of Scholarship on the lack of scientific integrity in climate research. (Although, I would note that this is not a problem limited to just climate research).
Climategate parts one and two are a series of leaked e-mails from arguably the most prominent researchers promoting the idea that humans are causing catastrophic global warming. The e-mails show the scientists involved to be violating their professional ethics with the result that climate science in particular and science as an institution more generally is brought into question.

The first group of e-mails released in 2009 showed scientists attempting to suppress or alter inconvenient data, destroying raw data so that others would be unable to analyze it, using tricks to change reported outcomes, conspiring to avoid legally required disclosure of taxpayer-funded data, and trying to suppress dissent by undermining the peer review process. On the latter point the researchers involved threatened to boycott and get editors fired at journals publishing findings questioning the urgency of the climate crisis.

Climategate 2 is a second release of e-mails, in November 2011, from the same cabal of scientists exposed in Climategate 1. There is little new to the revelations—just more hiding data, trying to figure out how to downplay dissent or have papers that would seem to undermine one part or another of anthropogenic global warming theory ignored or discredited.

To be clear, these e-mails do not disprove that humans are causing potentially catastrophic global warming. Whether or not humans are or are not, in fact, causing or contributing to dangerous climate change, the only thing clear that emerges from the Climategate e-mails is that the scientists claiming that “the science is settled” and that there is “consensus” among scientists that humankind are acting as planet killers, can’t be trusted, nor can their research be pointed to as solid proof of anthropogenic global warming.
The consequence of all of this is that the political establishment and media is now invested in advancing global warming, and so anyone speaking out is subject to persecution and witch hunts. (See here and here and here).

Marriage Rates Drop

U.S. News/MSNBC is reporting that marriage rates in the United States are at their lowest rates ever. The relevant portion states:
More dramatic news from the report was a 5 percent decrease in the number of new marriages between 2009 and 2010, an unusually sharp one-year drop that “may or may not be related to the sour economy,” according to the Pew study.

Over the long haul, the marriage rate for the 18-29 age group has fallen from 59 percent in 1960 to 20 percent today. Divorce rates soared in the 1960s and '70s, becoming a major factor in the growing contingent of singles in the United States but then leveled off in the last two decades.

Wilcox says that divorce rates remain high, and declines in marriage are particularly concentrated in lower income brackets. He calls the trend the "de-institutionalization of the working class."

"Strong marriages and strong families flourish in a healthy economic and community context. Those contexts have weakened particularly in working class and poor communities in the last 30-40 years," Wilcox said. "People are less likely to be engaged in stable fulltime work, their church community, the JC."

The age of first marriages has climbed to a record high of 26.5 for brides and 28.7 for grooms, Pew reports.

“It is not yet known whether today’s young adults are abandoning marriage or merely delaying it,” the study said.
The report suggests that it is simply a matter of economics. However, there is more going on here than simple bad times. This is a trend that has been around a long time and, as hinted at, leading in Europe.

Part of the issue is that as women have entered the workforce and become more educated over the last century, their definition of "Mr. Right" has edged ever upward. I've posted about this previously. (This hasn't necessarily worked out for the benefit of women--also, here). During the same time, schools and universities have edged ever more into misandry, with the result that the education system has become hostile to boys and men. (Here are several articles on the K-12 discrimination against boys: Here and here and here). Thus, the number of men attending collage (as a percentage) is dropping. In other words, at the same time that female expectations have been increasing, the number of males attaining those educational and financial goals has declined.

The legal system has also turned to misandry, punishing men in divorces, and raising the risks of getting married in the first place. Whether you agree with him or not, you should read this article from the Futurist concerning this issue.

A third issue, and probably one of the key drivers, is that men have become increasingly irrelevant to families as the government has increasingly taken on the role of parent and provider. This trend has long been visible in the African-American community, as reported here. But it has moved more broadly into the white working class as well.

In short, there is little incentive for men to get married, and social forces and government policy actually discriminates against men and, therefore, erodes the traditional family structure. Since families form the fundamental social unit on which all of the rest of our societal structures are built, its pretty easy to see where this is going.