Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Continuing Need for Amphibious Warfare Capabilities

Amphibious forces are ideal for addressing many of the challenges we face in the Indo-Pacific region. The maritime character of the region, the geographic “tyranny of distance” it presents, the range of environmental crises that often impact the region, the threat of piracy that has affected maritime traffic in the Horn of Africa and Strait of Malacca, the tensions that often inflict the Korean Peninsula, and the modernization of China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) combined with its maritime territorial disputes, all stand to raise the profile of amphibious forces in the years ahead. A brief review of some of the capabilities an amphibious force can provide makes this abundantly clear. They can:

– Deter aggression, because their amphibious nature can provide credible forward-presence to respond rapidly in a crisis;

– Sustain operational access almost anywhere in the world, regardless of political or geographic hurdles;

– Provide ground forces in a combat zone where roads, ports, or airfields are not available;

– Complicate an opponent’s decision-making and impose new costs by multiplying the number of theaters they must seek to defend, stretching their resources and manpower. This was used to great effect during the Gulf War in 1991 when the Marines massed a large force off Iraq’s coast, luring Saddam Hussein’s forces away from the U.S.-led coalition’s main operations;

– Conduct counter-piracy operations;

– Conduct humanitarian and disaster response missions; and

– Assure allies of the United States’ credibility and capability to intervene decisively.

But we have work to do. In a blog post from last year, Adm. John Harvey, head of U.S. Fleet Forces Command, wrote that the military has neglected the Navy-Marine Corps team’s core amphibious competency of: “prompt and sustained amphibious expeditionary operations from the sea” over the last decade during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. To sharpen its skills, the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps will undertake their largest amphibious exercise in a decade, Bold Alligator 2012 (BA-12). This joint and multinational amphibious assault exercise, which I will attend as an observer, will take place this week and include participants from Australia, Canada, France, Italy, Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain and the United Kingdom. Over a two week period, BA-12 will include three large-scale events, including an amphibious assault at Camp Lejeune, N.C.; an aerial assault from the sea into Fort Pickett, Va.; and an amphibious raid on Fort Story, Va.
It actually seems self evident. We cannot always depend on having forward bases where we can preposition troops and/or equipment, or 6 months in which to slowly build up forces. There will be times when we need to get troops in fast to capture territory and project force against an opposing military force--something that special operations troops are not intended for or capable of doing.

This Doesn't Sound Like the Science is Settled

A mysterious, centuries-long cool spell, dubbed the Little Ice Age, appears to have been caused by a series of volcanic eruptions and sustained by sea ice, a new study indicates.

The research, which looked at chemical clues preserved in Arctic vegetation as well as other data, also pinpointed the start of the Little Ice Age to the end of the 13th century.

During the cool spell, which lasted into the late 19th century, advancing glaciers destroyed northern European towns and froze the Thames River in London and canals in the Netherlands, places that are now ice-free. There is also evidence it affected other continents.

"This is the first time anyone has clearly identified the specific onset of the cold times marking the start of the Little Ice Age," said Gifford Miller, a geological sciences professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and the lead study researcher. "We also have provided an understandable climate feedback system that explains how this cold period could be sustained for a long period of time."
 I am constantly amazed at the number of scientists that credit global temperature changes to particulate or gaseous materials in our atmosphere affecting the amount of solar radiation received (or heat retained), but discount fluctuations in solar output at the source.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Who is Assassinating Iranian Nuclear Scientists?

George Wittman at the American Spectator provides some analysis on this issue. While he doesn't have an answer, he also notes that the identity of the key scientists is not a mystery in the international nuclear community. He also writes:
One factor that certainly would not have been overlooked by Iranian security is the existence of a purely politically motivated internal faction that seeks to embarrass the current leadership. Hitting the regime through its highest profile secret program might be considered in anti-government terms to be the most effective form of public embarrassment that could be created. This would be so even if the assassinations do not have a serious impact on the nuclear weapon program as such. Indeed the internal dissidents might be connected to a foreign service -- or not.

Assassinations, such as those already accomplished in Iran, introduce an element of fear among scientific peers not only in the nuclear field but in similar sensitive industries. The killings, however, do not stop work except where the victim is technically irreplaceable. The value of assassination is that of a force multiplier: One can attain a possible result detrimental to the ultimate target (i.e. nuclear weapon development) at little cost materially or, in most instances, even politically. Assassination can be the ultimate sanction weapon short of any other military action.

While most Iranian public statements regarding the assassination of key individuals in the nuclear field focus on the Israelis, Americans, and sometimes the British, Tehran is aware that most Arab neighbors in the Middle East have considerable objections to Iran's nuclear weapon ambition. Wanting to avoid proliferation of these weapons in their region has been a well-known goal of the Saudis, the Gulf States, and Turkey. All these countries have a vested interest in any covert operations inhibiting Iran's growth as a military power. They can not be ruled out as at least collaborating in operations aimed at disrupting Iranian weapon development.

Japan's Population Will Shrink By A Third By 2060

The birth dearth will hit Japan hard.
Japan's population of 128 million will shrink by one-third and seniors will account for 40 percent of people by 2060, placing a greater burden on a smaller working-age population to support the social security and tax systems.

The grim estimate of how rapid aging will shrink Japan's population was released Monday by the Health and Welfare Ministry.

In year 2060, Japan will have 87 million people. The number of people 65 or older will nearly double to 40 percent, while the national work force of people between ages 15 and 65 will shrink to about half of the total population, according to the estimate, made by the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research.

The total fertility rate, or the expected number of children born per woman during lifetime, in 2060 is estimated at 1.35, down from 1.39 in 2010 -- well below more than 2 needed to keep the country's population from declining. But the average Japanese will continue to live longer. The average life expectancy for 2060 is projected at 90.93 for women, up from 86.39 in 2010, and 84.19 years for men, up from 79.64 years.
(Full story here).

I've written before about the birth dearth. As this article from The Independent points out, this is an issue for countries throughout Europe and Eastern Asia.
All this anxiety [of overpopulation] is premised upon the idea that the population of the world is mushrooming. It certainly was throughout most of the 20th century. But, quietly, something has changed in recent years. The global population is continuing to grow. But, fairly suddenly, birthrates are falling all across the globe. In the 1970s women around the world had six children each; today they have just 2.7 children on average, and in some places that figure is as low as 1.

The implications of this will take a generation to work through, because the children born in the boom years have yet to have their own children, so there is a great deal of increase built in. Demographers call that population momentum. But the United Nations has had to revise downwards its prediction that the world population would reach 11.5 billion by 2050. The human race is now expected to peak, according to one of the world's top experts, Dr David Coleman, Professor of Demography at Oxford University, at 9.5 billion people. Then, around 2070, it will begin to decline. We have reached a demographic crossroads which will have dramatic consequences for large sections of the world – including us.

The magic figure for demographers is 2.1 births per couple. That, allowing for the fact that some girls die before they reach child-bearing age, is the figure at which a population replaces itself. In Europe the last time that fertility was above replacement level was in the mid-1960s. But now, for the first time on record, birthrates in southern and eastern Europe have dropped below 1.3 – well below the 1.5 which the United Nations has marked as the crisis point. If things continue the population there will be cut in half in just 45 years. In Italy, one recent survey put it at 1.2. Cities such as Milan and Bologna recorded less than 1, the lowest birthrates anywhere.

Things are as bleak in Japan. There the total fertility rate declined by nearly a third between 1975 and 2001, from 1.91 to 1.33. The average family size has remained the same, but there are fewer families. Half of Japanese women have not married by the age of 30, and 20 per cent of them are not marrying ever.

But it is not just the developed world. The birthrate is plummeting in east Asia, too, in countries which were, until three decades ago, considered poor. Overall in Asia the fertility rate fell from 2.4 in 1970 to 1.5 today. China's rate is down from 6.06 to 1.8 and declining. Thailand is now 1.5. Singapore, Taiwan and Burma are similar. The lowest is South Korea with only 1.1 children per couple.
(I would note that, while the article says that population control focused on "the poor," the truth of the matter is that past efforts to control population actually focused on race--as exemplified by the Nazis, Planned Parenthood, and other left wing organizations with similar philosophies).
But Hans-Peter Kohler, José Antonio Ortega and Francesco Billari — the authors of the 2002 report — saw something new in the data. For the first time on record, birthrates in southern and Eastern Europe had dropped below 1.3. For the demographers, this number had a special mathematical portent. At that rate, a country’s population would be cut in half in 45 years, creating a falling-off-a-cliff effect from which it would be nearly impossible to recover. Kohler and his colleagues invented an ominous new term for the phenomenon: “lowest-low fertility.”

* * * 
The spiritual concerns aside, though, the main threats to Europe are economic. Alongside birthrate, the other operative factor in the economic equation is lifespan. People everywhere are living longer than ever, and lifespan is continuing to increase beyond what was once considered a natural limit. Policy makers fear that, taken together, these trends forecast a perfect demographic storm. According to a paper by Jonathan Grant and Stijn Hoorens of the Rand Europe research group: “Demographers and economists foresee that 30 million Europeans of working age will ‘disappear’ by 2050. At the same time, retirement will be lasting decades as the number of people in their 80s and 90s increases dramatically.” The crisis, they argue, will come from a “triple whammy of increasing demand on the welfare state and health-care systems, with a decline in tax contributions from an ever-smaller work force.” That is to say, there won’t be enough workers to pay for the pensions of all those long-living retirees.
The article goes on to explore possible reasons, including housing prices, changing views on family and children (for instance, in Germany, a large number of women simply don't want a child), and women's role in society (ironically, nations with more women in the workforce have higher fertility rates than nations with more "stay-at-home" mothers). Read the whole thing.

The World's First Guided Bullet

(Full story here).

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Global Warming Fail

Considering how Britain (as a nation) has swallowed the whole global warming scare hook, line and sinker, it is amazing to see this article coming from a British paper, and that the study is coming from the same university at the heart of the Climate Gate email scandal.

Anyway, the story is that Earth's temperature has not risen since 1997, and we are headed into a solar minimum that could put us back into another mini-Ice Age. From the Daily Mail:
The supposed ‘consensus’ on man-made global warming is facing an inconvenient challenge after the release of new temperature data showing the planet has not warmed for the past 15 years.

The figures suggest that we could even be heading for a mini ice age to rival the 70-year temperature drop that saw frost fairs held on the Thames in the 17th Century.

Based on readings from more than 30,000 measuring stations, the data was issued last week without fanfare by the Met Office and the University of East Anglia Climatic Research Unit. It confirms that the rising trend in world temperatures ended in 1997.Meanwhile, leading climate scientists yesterday told The Mail on Sunday that, after emitting unusually high levels of energy throughout the 20th Century, the sun is now heading towards a ‘grand minimum’ in its output, threatening cold summers, bitter winters and a shortening of the season available for growing food.
What!?! Our "anthropomorphic global warming" period coincided with a period of "unusually high levels of energy"? 
According to a paper issued last week by the Met Office, there is a 92 per cent chance that both Cycle 25 and those taking place in the following decades will be as weak as, or weaker than, the ‘Dalton minimum’ of 1790 to 1830. In this period, named after the meteorologist John Dalton, average temperatures in parts of Europe fell by 2C.

However, it is also possible that the new solar energy slump could be as deep as the ‘Maunder minimum’ (after astronomer Edward Maunder), between 1645 and 1715 in the coldest part of the ‘Little Ice Age’ when, as well as the Thames frost fairs, the canals of Holland froze solid.
Don't worry, though, because according to the Met Office, the extra green house gases from our irresponsible living will minimize impact on the temperature. However, other scientists are calling B.S.:
These findings are fiercely disputed by other solar experts.

‘World temperatures may end up a lot cooler than now for 50 years or more,’ said Henrik Svensmark, director of the Center for Sun-Climate Research at Denmark’s National Space Institute. ‘It will take a long battle to convince some climate scientists that the sun is important. It may well be that the sun is going to demonstrate this on its own, without the need for their help.’

He pointed out that, in claiming the effect of the solar minimum would be small, the Met Office was relying on the same computer models that are being undermined by the current pause in global-warming.

CO2 levels have continued to rise without interruption and, in 2007, the Met Office claimed that global warming was about to ‘come roaring back’. It said that between 2004 and 2014 there would be an overall increase of 0.3C. In 2009, it predicted that at least three of the years 2009 to 2014 would break the previous temperature record set in 1998.

So far there is no sign of any of this happening. But yesterday a Met Office spokesman insisted its models were still valid.

‘The ten-year projection remains groundbreaking science. The period for the original projection is not over yet,’ he said.

Dr Nicola Scafetta, of Duke University in North Carolina, is the author of several papers that argue the Met Office climate models show there should have been ‘steady warming from 2000 until now’.

‘If temperatures continue to stay flat or start to cool again, the divergence between the models and recorded data will eventually become so great that the whole scientific community will question the current theories,’ he said.

He believes that as the Met Office model attaches much greater significance to CO2 than to the sun, it was bound to conclude that there would not be cooling. ‘The real issue is whether the model itself is accurate,’ Dr Scafetta said. Meanwhile, one of America’s most eminent climate experts, Professor Judith Curry of the Georgia Institute of Technology, said she found the Met Office’s confident prediction of a ‘negligible’ impact difficult to understand.

‘The responsible thing to do would be to accept the fact that the models may have severe shortcomings when it comes to the influence of the sun,’ said Professor Curry. As for the warming pause, she said that many scientists ‘are not surprised’.

She argued it is becoming evident that factors other than CO2 play an important role in rising or falling warmth, such as the 60-year water temperature cycles in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

‘They have insufficiently been appreciated in terms of global climate,’ said Prof Curry. When both oceans were cold in the past, such as from 1940 to 1970, the climate cooled. The Pacific cycle ‘flipped’ back from warm to cold mode in 2008 and the Atlantic is also thought likely to flip in the next few years.

Pal Brekke, senior adviser at the Norwegian Space Centre, said some scientists found the importance of water cycles difficult to accept, because doing so means admitting that the oceans – not CO2 – caused much of the global warming between 1970 and 1997.

The same goes for the impact of the sun – which was highly active for much of the 20th Century.

‘Nature is about to carry out a very interesting experiment,’ he said. ‘Ten or 15 years from now, we will be able to determine much better whether the warming of the late 20th Century really was caused by man-made CO2, or by natural variability.’

Meanwhile, since the end of last year, world temperatures have fallen by more than half a degree, as the cold ‘La Nina’ effect has re-emerged in the South Pacific.

‘We’re now well into the second decade of the pause,’ said Benny Peiser, director of the Global Warming Policy Foundation. ‘If we don’t see convincing evidence of global warming by 2015, it will start to become clear whether the models are bunk. And, if they are, the implications for some scientists could be very serious.’
(Emphasis added).

No surprise, however, that the American media has circled its wagons to protect the global warming meme. Obama and his minions have invested heavily in selling global warming, and the media has invested heavily in Obama. This is typical of the stories in the American media--from Reuters:
A weaker sun over the next 90 years is not likely to significantly delay a rise in global temperature caused by greenhouse gases, a report said Monday.

The study, by Britain's Meteorological Office and the university of Reading, found that the Sun's output would decrease up until 2100 but this would only lead to a fall in global temperatures of 0.08 degrees Celsius.

* * *

Current global pledges to cut carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions are not seen as sufficient to stop the planet heating up beyond 2 degrees, a threshold scientists say risks an unstable climate in which weather extremes are common.

"This research shows that the most likely change in the sun's output will not have a big impact on global temperatures or do much to slow the warming we expect from greenhouse gases," said Gareth Jones, climate change detection scientist at the Met Office.
Only at the bottom of the article does it suggest that the study may be inaccurate:

"It's important to note this study is based on a single climate model, rather than multiple models which would capture more of the uncertainties in the climate system," he added.

During the 20th century, solar activity increased to a maximum level and recent studies have suggested this level of activity has reached, or is nearing, an end.

The scientists used this maximum level as a starting point to project possible changes in the sun's activity over this century.

The study also showed that if the sun's output went below a threshold reached between 1645 and 1715 - called the Maunder Minimum when solar activity was at its lowest observed level - global temperature would fall by 0.13 degrees Celsius.

Illinois' Debt Crises

From (via Instapundit):
To summarize, even after a massive tax increase Illinois is looking at a half a billion dollar deficit. That actually sounds manageable in the scheme of things — not even a billion dollars, chump change in this inflation-ravaged world. But the annual deficit is less of a threat than all those accumulated liabilities: “Looking at the bigger picture, the state has a backlog of about $8.5 billion in unpaid bills and owes about $27 billion in outstanding bonds. And then there’s the roughly $80 billion owed to the state’s public employee pension funds.”

The reported deficit, in other words, doesn’t include all the stuff that should have appeared in past budgets but was hidden in order to get through the next election. How a state with a constitutional mandate to balance its budget can do this in the first place — and how an “unpaid bill” can be excluded from the annual budget — is a question for future prosecutors. But for investors it’s a clear sign that some sort of default is coming.

Why then would anyone buy an Illinois municipal bond, or accept a state contract that requires future payments, or move a business to the state, or keep a business in the state, or do anything else that required faith in the willingness or ability of the state to pay its bills? The only possible answer is that Illinois isn’t Greece; it’s Spain or Italy, an entity so big and important that its failure is inconceivable. When it hits the wall, Washington will have no choice but to step in and cover its unfunded pensions and teacher salaries and muni bond interest. In the same way that a Spanish bond is really a German bond because Germany has no choice but to make good on it, the big insolvent US states are wards of the central government.
That's a nice picture--the rest of us having to pay for Illinois' folly.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Another Property of Graphene -- It Is Superpermeable

Research shows that graphene oxide sheets are impermeable to most gases, including helium, but is completely permeable to water vapor.
In a report published in Science, a team led by Professor Sir Andre Geim shows that graphene-based membranes are impermeable to all gases and liquids (vacuum-tight). However, water evaporates through them as quickly as if the membranes were not there at all.

This newly-found property can now be added to the already long list of superlatives describing graphene. It is the thinnest known material in the universe and the strongest ever measured. It conducts electricity and heat better than any other material. It is the stiffest one too and, at the same time, it is the most ductile. Demonstrating its remarkable properties won University of Manchester academics the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010.

Now the University of Manchester scientists have studied membranes from a chemical derivative of graphene called graphene oxide. Graphene oxide is the same graphene sheet but it is randomly covered with other molecules such as hydroxyl groups OH-. Graphene oxide sheets stack on top of each other and form a laminate.

The researchers prepared such laminates that were hundreds times thinner than a human hair but remained strong, flexible and were easy to handle.

When a metal container was sealed with such a film, even the most sensitive equipment was unable to detect air or any other gas, including helium, to leak through.

It came as a complete surprise that, when the researchers tried the same with ordinary water, they found that it evaporates without noticing the graphene seal. Water molecules diffused through the graphene-oxide membranes with such a great speed that the evaporation rate was the same independently whether the container was sealed or completely open.

Dr Rahul Nair, who was leading the experimental work, offers the following explanation: "Graphene oxide sheets arrange in such a way that between them there is room for exactly one layer of water molecules. They arrange themselves in one molecule thick sheets of ice which slide along the graphene surface with practically no friction.

"If another atom or molecule tries the same trick, it finds that graphene capillaries either shrink in low humidity or get clogged with water molecules."
The research indicates that these sheets can be used to filter or separate water from other chemicals.

(Full story here).

Half of Damascus Falls to Rebels

From the Daily Mail:

The growing power of a rebel army has seen control of the Syrian capital of Damascus split between rival gunmen fighting for or against President Bashar Assad.

Two days of bloody carnage in which at least 74 people have died has come as the rebel force - the Syrian Free Army - steps up its mission to take control of the streets from government forces.
* * *
A 'fierce military campaign' was also under way in the Hamadiyeh district of Hama since the early hours of Friday, according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and other activists.

However, the rebel surge has caused a spike in deaths that has claimed the lives of women and children as well as soldiers.

In the besieged city of Homs forces loyal to President Bashar Assad shelled homes and fired on crowds with machine guns in a dramatic escalation of violence yesterday, according to activists. 
* * *
The violence has inflamed the sectarian divide in the country, where members of Assad's Alawite sect dominate the regime despite a Sunni Muslim majority.

Some residents spoke of another massacre that took place when shabiha - armed regime loyalists - stormed the district, slaughtering residents in an apartment, including children.

'It's racial cleansing,' said one Sunni resident of Karm el-Zaytoun.
(Full story here).

Nagging Is Just As Destructive To A Marriage As Infidelity

From the Wall Street Journal (h/t Instapundit):
Nagging—the interaction in which one person repeatedly makes a request, the other person repeatedly ignores it and both become increasingly annoyed—is an issue every couple will grapple with at some point. While the word itself can provoke chuckles and eye-rolling, the dynamic can potentially be as dangerous to a marriage as adultery or bad finances. Experts say it is exactly the type of toxic communication that can eventually sink a relationship.

* * *

It is possible for husbands to nag, and wives to resent them for nagging. But women are more likely to nag, experts say, largely because they are conditioned to feel more responsible for managing home and family life. And they tend to be more sensitive to early signs of problems in a relationship. When women ask for something and don't get a response, they are quicker to realize something is wrong. The problem is that by asking repeatedly, they make things worse.

Men are to blame, too, because they don't always give a clear answer. Sure, a husband might tune his wife out because he is annoyed; nagging can make him feel like a little boy being scolded by his mother. But many times he doesn't respond because he doesn't know the answer yet, or he knows the answer will disappoint her.

Nagging can become a prime contributor to divorce when couples start fighting about the nagging rather than talking about the issue at the root of the nagging, says Howard Markman, professor of psychology at the University of Denver and co-director of the Center for Marital and Family Studies. For 30 years, Dr. Markman has researched conflict and communication in relationships and offered relationship counseling and marriage seminars. He says that while all couples deal with nagging at some point, those who learn to reduce this type of negative communication will substantially increase their odds of staying together and keeping love alive. Couples who don't learn often fall out of love and split up.

Research that Dr. Markman published in 2010 in the Journal of Family Psychology indicates that couples who became unhappy five years into their marriage had a roughly 20% increase in negative communication patterns consistent with nagging, and a 12% decrease in positive communication. "Nagging is an enemy of love, if allowed to persist," Dr. Markman says.

The good news: Couples can learn to stop nagging. Early in their marriage, Ms. Pfeiffer, now 62, repeatedly reminded her husband about household tasks and became more demanding when he ignored her. "If I was asking him to take care of something that mattered to me and he was blowing me off, that made me feel like I didn't matter," she says.

Mr. Mac Dougall, 58, says the nagging made his muscles tense, he would become silent and his eyes would glaze over in a "thousand-yard stare." "Her requests conveyed some sort of urgency that I didn't think was needed," he says. "If I said I was going to get to it, I would definitely get to it."

Ms. Pfeiffer decided to soften her approach. She asked herself, "How can I speak in a way that is not threatening or offensive to him?" She began writing requests on Post-it notes, adding little smiley faces or hearts. Mr. Mac Dougall says he was initially peeved about the sandwich note but did show up at Home Depot that evening smiling.

Ms. Pfeiffer sometimes writes notes to him from the appliances that need to be fixed. "I really need your help," a recent plea began. "I am really backed up and in a lot of discomfort." It was signed "your faithful bathtub drain." "As long as I am not putting pressure on him, he seems to respond better," Ms. Pfeiffer says. Mr. Mac Dougall agrees. "The notes distract me from the face-to-face interaction," he says. "There's no annoying tone of voice or body posture. It's all out of the equation."

The first step in curbing the nagging cycle, experts say, is to admit that you are stuck in a bad pattern. You are fighting about fighting. You need to work to understand what makes the other person tick. Rather than lazy and unloving, is your husband overworked and tired? Is your wife really suggesting she doesn't trust you? Or is she just trying to keep track of too many chores?
The real question is: Is this an article you can show your wife and/or girlfriend?

Friday, January 27, 2012

Vesta May Be Packed with Water Ice

The giant asteroid Vesta may contain a vast supply of water ice, a supply that has sat frozen for billions of years, a new study reveals.

The surface of Vesta — the second-largest object in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter — appears to be quite dry. But water ice may lurk underground over roughly half of the huge space rock's area, particularly near the poles, researchers said. And it may have been there for billions of years.
 (Full story here).

The Six Dirty Secrets of Presidential Politics in 2012

An analysis by John Ziegler at the American Thinker. The piece explores common myths and misconceptions about Presidential elections, and contends that elections are largely decided by uncaring, uninformed voters that basically make a decision based on what makes them feel good about themselves. And, what makes them feel good about themselves, is determined by the medial. And the media that these uncaring, uninformed voters will be influenced by is the liberal news and entertainment media. Mr. Ziegler writes:

The popular perception among most commentators is that the media's general influence is on the decline and that, therefore, liberals are slowly losing one of their most powerful political weapons. I have devoted most of the last four years of my life to proving that this premise is patently false.

The counterargument to mine goes something like this: because of fragmentation, the audience sizes of the traditional liberal news outlets is shrinking, and thanks to Fox News, talk radio, and the internet, we are able to get our message out around the old gatekeepers.

This might very well be the most dangerous fallacy in the conservative movement today.

There is no doubt that fragmentation has dramatically altered the entire media landscape for the worse (except for the Golf and History Channels) and that audiences for individual outlets are indeed getting smaller. The problem is that numerous factors (including having largely gotten away with singehandedly electing Obama in 2008) have freed up these same liberal outlets to allow their true selves to really come pouring out without a hint of self-restraint.

After what they so overtly did for Obama and against Sarah Palin in 2008, why would they ever go back to just the relatively tame "bias" of the Nixon and Reagan years? The referees have gone from putting a finger on the scales of justice to flat out sitting on them, and yet there have been almost no repercussions. Even though they don't have nearly the same weight/power that they used to, they are happy to simply use a much greater percentage of what they still possess in order to get the job done.

Conversely, it is a myth that Fox News, talk radio, and the internet allow conservatives to get our truth out. In reality, at best, these outlets allow the previously converted to feel better about what they already believe. At worst, they provoke the other side into justifying a more overt bias in order to "balance" things out.

The ultimate example of this comes in the way the cable news networks have positioned themselves. MSNBC is far more left than FNC is to the right, and now, significantly left CNN is somehow allowed to be perceived to be in the "middle."

It is important to note here that the definition of "media outlets" which influence presidential elections now goes far beyond the "news" variety. You can actually argue that entertainment media has even more control these days than news divisions do (assuming you can even tell the difference between them anymore).

Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Jay Leno, David Letterman, Bill Maher, Saturday Night Live, and other "entertainment" outlets all have incredible power to create the narrative of a presidential election (just ask Palin), and they are highly unlikely to do so in a way that would ever harm Obama.

One of the many reasons why Romney is the only Republican candidate with a chance is because he is the only one who would be the target of mostly harmless jokes (teasing about how rich, straight-laced, and boring he is won't be nearly as devastating what they would easily come up with for Gingrich, Santorum, Paul, or Perry). Interestingly, this past week's attempt by SNL to parody Romney in exactly that way bombed dramatically.

The 2000 election provided an important lesson in this area. Interviews since then indicate that SNL staff thought that they were destroying Bush 43 by making him seem stupid. Instead, they actually helped his candidacy by making him seem way cooler and more likable than Al Gore, whom they portrayed as incredibly annoying.

The media testified on behalf of Obama in 2008. They are simply not going to let him be a one-term disaster if they can possibly help it.


AMONG the many new gadgets unveiled at the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas was a pair of smartphones able to exchange data using light. These phones, as yet only prototypes from Casio, a Japanese firm, transmit digital signals by varying the intensity of the light given off from their screens. The flickering is so slight that it is imperceptible to the human eye, but the camera on another phone can detect it at a distance of up to ten metres. In an age of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, flashing lights might seem like going back to sending messages with an Aldis lamp. In fact, they are the beginning of a fast and cheap wireless-communication system that some have labelled Li-Fi.

The data being exchanged by Casio’s phones were trifles: message balloons to be added to pictures on social-networking sites. But the firm sees bigger applications, such as pointing a smartphone at an illuminated shop sign to read information being transmitted by the light: opening times, for example, or the latest bargains.
Yet that is still only a flicker of what is possible. Last October a number of companies and industry groups formed the Li-Fi Consortium, to promote high-speed optical wireless systems. The idea is that light can help with a looming capacity problem. As radio-based wireless becomes ubiquitous, more and more devices transmitting more and more data are able to connect to the internet, either through the mobile-phone network or through Wi-Fi. But there is only a limited amount of radio spectrum available. Using light offers the possibility of breaking out of this conundrum by exploiting a completely different part of the electromagnetic spectrum, one that is already ubiquitous because it is used for another purpose: illumination.
To turn a light into a Li-Fi router involves modulating its output, to carry a message, and linking it with a network cable to a modem that is connected to a telephone or cable-broadband service, just like a Wi-Fi router. Incandescent light bulbs and fluorescent tubes are not really suitable for modulation, but they are yesterday’s lighting technology. Tomorrow’s is the light-emitting diode. LEDs are rapidly replacing bulbs and tubes because they are more efficient. And because they are semiconductor devices, tinkering with their electronics to produce the flickering signals required for data transmission is pretty straightforward, according to Gordon Povey, who is working on light communication with Harald Haas and his colleagues at the University of Edinburgh, in Britain.
 Update: Advances in Li-Fi

Update (Feb. 10, 2016): "The First White Laser"--IEEE Spectrum. From the article:
Another important potential application could be "Li-Fi", the use of light to connect devices to the Internet. Li-Fi could be 10 times faster than today’s Wi-Fi, but "the Li-Fi currently under development is based on LEDs," Ning says. He suggests white-laser based Li-Fi could be 10 to 100 times faster than LED-based Li-Fi, because the lasers can encode data much faster than white LEDs.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

DNA Links Native Americans to Altai Region of Russia

DNA research revealed that genetic markers linking people living in the Russian republic of Altai, southern Siberia, with indigenous populations in North America.

A study of the mutations indicated a lineage shift between 13,000 and 14,000 years ago - when people are thought to have walked across the ice from Russia to America.

This roughly coincides with the period when humans from Siberia are thought to have crossed what is now the Bering strait and entered America.
Nothing in the article on what group of "Native Americans" was tested in the study, though.

The Campaign to Bring Jobs Back to the U.S.

Obama's State of the Union address from the other day (see here) included the following:

What's happening in Detroit can happen in other industries. It can
happen in Cleveland and Pittsburgh and Raleigh. We can't bring back
every job that's left our shores. But right now, it's getting more
expensive to do business in places like China
. Meanwhile, America is
more productive. A few weeks ago, the CEO of Master Lock told me that
it now makes business sense for him to bring jobs back home. Today,
for the first time in fifteen years, Master Lock's unionized plant in
Milwaukee is running at full capacity.

So we have a huge opportunity, at this moment, to bring manufacturing
back. But we have to seize it. Tonight, my message to business
leaders is simple: Ask yourselves what you can do to bring jobs back
to your country, and your country will do everything we can to help
you succeed.
(Emphasis added).

Right on cue, the New York Times has published an article entitled "Apple accused of ignoring labor abuses that can kill." (Story here via MSNBC). It states, in part:
In the last decade, Apple has become one of the mightiest, richest and most successful companies in the world, in part by mastering global manufacturing. Apple and its high-technology peers — as well as dozens of other American industries — have achieved a pace of innovation nearly unmatched in modern history.

However, the workers assembling iPhones, iPads and other devices often labor in harsh conditions, according to employees inside those plants, worker advocates and documents published by companies themselves. Problems are as varied as onerous work environments and serious — sometimes deadly — safety problems.
The article is pretty lengthy, but its premise is simple: Apple goes to China to manufacture its products because it is cheaper, and one of the main reasons it is cheaper is because the Chinese factories do not have to comply with safety standards and rules like those in the United States.

I don't doubt the basic facts of the article--like all other Communist countries, the Chinese leadership is poisoning and killing its people and land in order to increase their own wealth. What I question is the timing and the emphasis on a single American company that is keeping most of its money off-shore. There is also this:

When Barack Obama joined Silicon Valley’s top luminaries for dinner in California last February [2011], each guest was asked to come with a question for the president.

But as Steven P. Jobs of Apple spoke, President Obama interrupted with an inquiry of his own: what would it take to make iPhones in the United States?
. . .
 Why can’t that work come home? Mr. Obama asked.
Mr. Jobs’s reply was unambiguous. “Those jobs aren’t coming back,” he said, according to another dinner guest.
The president’s question touched upon a central conviction at Apple. It isn’t just that workers are cheaper abroad. Rather, Apple’s executives believe the vast scale of overseas factories as well as the flexibility, diligence and industrial skills of foreign workers have so outpaced their American counterparts that “Made in the U.S.A.” is no longer a viable option for most Apple products.

 . . .

However, what has vexed Mr. Obama as well as economists and policy makers is that Apple — and many of its high-technology peers — are not nearly as avid in creating American jobs as other famous companies were in their heydays.
(Full story here).

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The SOTU Repeats What Got Us Into This Mess In The First Place

Hugh Hewitt notes that Obama's speech about banks and home loans basically urges the same problems that created the housing bubble in the first place. And this:
I believe that’s what I heard the president advocate last night. But one term I didn’t hear, maybe I missed it: “The Constitution.” Then again, wasn’t he suggesting that, in brave times like these, we need to put aside those old rules. Do I have this straight?
(H/t Instapundit).

What Does Pelosi Know?

Nancy Pelosi voiced a vague threat against Newt Gingrich last night:
It came as the Democrat was asked by CNN's John King what would go through her mind if Republican Gingrich took the top job.

She replied: 'Let me just say this. That will never happen. He's not going to be President of the United States. That's not going to happen.

'Let me just make my prediction and stand by it, it isn't going to happen. There is something I know.

'The Republicans, if they choose to nominate him that's their prerogative. I don't even think that's going to happen.'

* * *
Last month, she hinted she had 'major dirt' on Gingrich that could tarnish his White House hopes.

She suggested she would reveal 'thousands' of pages of an ethics committee investigation into the GOP frontrunner 'when the time's right.'

'I served on the investigative committee that investigated him, four of us locked in a room in an undisclosed location for a year. A thousand pages of his stuff,' Mrs Pelosi told Talking Points Memo.
 (Full story here).

Fact Checking Obama's State of the Union Address

Addressing some of the major points in Obama's speech, including oil subsidies, health care, manufacturing and saving the automobile industry, and the Taliban, which were not exactly true. (Full story here). Conclusion:
It was a wish list, not a to-do list.

President Obama's array of plans in his State of the Union speech was light on a key piece of context -- namely, that his hands are so tied until after the election that it is doubtful many if any of them can be done in the remainder of his term. There can be little more than wishful thinking behind his call to end oil industry subsidies -- something he could not get through a Democratic Congress, much less today's divided Congress, much less in this election year.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Obama's State of the Union Address

(Link here to the full text of the speech). I didn't watch the speech--I had a prior commitment that took the whole evening, plus I can't stand listening to Obama speak. It's not from dislike of the person, but that I don't really find him to be that great of a public speaker. His cadence is off, with too many pauses, and he always sounds like he's scolding the audience. And, frankly, he is boring. It's like watching a marionette with a voice over by Ben Stein using his most boring monotone.

Anyway, Politico reminds us that sometimes what is not in the speech is as important as what is included. (Story here).

Like all of his other State of the Union addresses, this was merely another speech aimed, not at informing Congress or the American people of the State of the Union, but at getting reelected. The references to expanding domestic energy production was a joke. Obama has done nothing to aid in domestic production of energy, and has actually acted to reduce America's energy independence. (See my post touching on this issue here). This was nothing but a series of soundbites to soften or deflect criticism over the rejection of the Keystone pipeline, or any other attacks on Obama's anti-energy policies. (I would also note the conspicuous absence of any reference to coal, even though the U.S. sits on the largest coal reserves in the world). The fact is that Obama has too little time before the election to affect any real changes to energy production, so all he is really saying is that these are policies that he would enact if he were reelected. Given that he has had three years to do these things, but has instead attempted to strangle domestic oil and gas production, I am sure that he will do nothing to implement these latest promises even if he is reelected.

There rest of his speech is mostly empty rhetoric, as well. Just a different spin on the same old tired "promises" he has been promising for years if only he were emperor for a day. Let's hope he is gone in January.

Graphene May Exhibit Exotic Superconductivity Properties.

Graphene is a form of carbon with enough interesting electronic properties to merit the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics, which was awarded to Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov for their work in isolating and characterizing graphene. Although its very simplicity—it's a sheet of carbon a single atom thick—can limit its applications, Rahul Nandkishore, L. S. Levitov, and A. V. Chubukov propose a way to create an elusive type of superconductor out of graphene.

Chiral superconductivity may have been seen in strontium ruthenate (Sr2RuO4), but the phenomenon hasn't really been thoroughly studied experimentally. It differs from both standard superconductivity and high-critical-temperature superconductivity by being one-way: the resistance-free current flows through the material in one direction, but not the opposite way. This effect breaks time-reversal symmetry, and could be useful in constructing quantum computers, among other applications.

A new modeling paper suggests that graphene's electronic properties may allow it to exhibit chiral superconductivity with the addition of impurities, a process familiar from semiconductor technology, where it's known as doping.

Monday, January 23, 2012

United States v. Jones

The United States Supreme Court has released its opinion in United States v. Jones. This has the potential of being a landmark case. The basic facts are that the FBI and DC police attached a GPS tracking device to a vehicle in violation of the terms of a search warrant they had obtained. The data as to the vehicle's location was used to tie the suspect to drugs that were seized by the Feds, and, thus, support an indictment and conviction of the suspect as a drug dealer. Predictably, the criminal defendant challenged the use of tracker as having violated the Fourth Amendment, and the Supreme Court agreed. (It is significant that none of the Justices dissented from the outcome, even if there where four Justices that filed a concurring opinion rather than join in the majority).

What makes this case significant in my mind is the reasoning used by the Court. The court held that the Fourth Amendment violation was the result of (1) a trespass combined with (2) the collection of information. In doing so, the Court still upheld the "reasonable expectation of privacy" standard that was first articulated in Katz and which has been the hallmark of Fourth Amendment law for decades. The Court's reasoning is significant because it ties the Fourth Amendment back into private property rights, and provides a relatively bright line standard, which is a nice change from soft (and easily abused) "reasonable expectation" standard.

The actual impact of this decision may be minimal. I suspect that most judges give out search warrants like candy, and lower courts are notorious for trying to find some way to ignore Supreme Court precedent that they don't like. However, this is still a significant reaffirmation of our basic civil rights, which is welcome in the increasingly Orwellian world in which we live.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Rethinking the "Out of Africa" Hypothesis

Interview with Christopher Stringer from Edge on cracks in the "out of Africa" theory of human evolution.
At the moment, I'm looking again at the whole question of a recent African origin for modern humans—the leading idea over the last 20 years. This argues that we had a recent African origin, that we came out of Africa, and that we replaced all of the other human forms that were outside of Africa. But we're having to re-evaluate that now because genetic data suggest that the modern humans who came out of Africa about 60,000 years ago probably interbred with Neanderthals, first of all, and then some of them later on interbred with another group of people called the Denisovans, over in south eastern Asia.
After discussing Neanderthals, Dr. Stringer discussed the recently discovered Denisovans:
Then there are these enigmatic people called the Denisovans, who we only know about because of DNA work that's gone on in the site of Denisova Cave in Siberia. The site has been known for a long time. There were some very fragmentary human fossils from there, a finger bone; a couple of teeth, a foot bone, and each of them have yielded significant DNA. The surprise was that while the foot bone DNA turned out to be Neanderthal, at the eastern limit of their known range, the other fossils had DNA that was quite distinct: it wasn't clearly Neanderthal, it wasn't modern human. It was something different.

Svante Pääbo and his colleagues have dubbed these people the Denisovans. So we have this site in Siberia with Denisovans, and it looks like it was occupied in quite a short period of time by the Denisovans, by Neanderthals, and finally by modern humans. It's a remarkable site with three different kinds of humans living there in close proximity in time and space. However, the exact dating of these different occupations is still unclear.

Thus the Denisovans are only known from this one site, genetically. The fossils are too incomplete to tell us what these people were really like, except they've got big teeth. However, there are lots of ancient fossils from China, and one from India. We've known about the people in China for a long time, ones who didn't look Neanderthal, and didn't look modern human either. Fossils like from the ones from Dali, Jinniushan, Maba might well be Denisovans, but unfortunately we don't have DNA from them at the moment, and we have to hope that the DNA work will move on, and eventually we can unite the Denisovan DNA with more complete fossils, and say physically what these people looked like.

A further big surprise was that not only were there distinct humans in Siberia maybe 50,000 years ago, but when whole genome scans were done against modern humans, it turned out that there was one group of living humans that seemed to be related to the Denisovans, that had Denisovan DNA in them, and these people are down in Australasia. They're in New Guinea, Australia, and some neighbouring islands, so that's also very unexpected. The Denisovans are only known from their DNA in Siberia. Down in New Guinea and Australia, there is Denisovan DNA in living people. The best way to explain this at the moment is that modern humans were dispersing through southern Asia towards Australia and New Guinea, and Denisovans must also have been living in that region. So they weren't just in Siberia, they were actually right across eastern Asia and down into Southeast Asia, where there was another interbreeding with people whose descendants ended up in New Guinea and Australia. So those people have got a double archaic dose, if you like: they've got a bit of Neanderthal DNA that their ancestors picked up maybe in western Asia from encounters with some Neanderthals, and then coming through southeast Asia, they picked up some Denisovan DNA, and that gets added to the mix.
He also notes:

So for me, the exact processes involved in our African origin are still unclear. We don't know exactly when it happened, we don't know exactly where it happened. We have modern human fossils from Ethiopia at 160,000 years at Herto and 195,000 years from Omo Kibish. These do look physically like a more robust version of people today, but I think we're also learning that alongside those modern-looking people were surviving forms of more archaic humans, at sites like Omo Kibish, Ngaloba, Singa and Eyasi.

And there were further surprises from a specimen that I and collaborators published on a few months ago. It's the oldest fossil from Nigeria, from a site called Iwo Eleru. It's about 13,000 years old, and yet if you look at it, you would say from its shape that it's more than 100,000 years old. This reminds us that we have a very biased picture of African evolution, with many unknown areas, and there could be relics of human evolution hanging on not only outside of Africa in the form of the Neanderthals and the Denisovans, and over in Flores, this strange creature nicknamed the 'Hobbit'. In Africa itself, archaic humans could have lingered in parts of the continent as well. From some recent genetic analyses, there is evidence of an input of archaic DNA into some modern African populations as recently as 35,000 years ago. So even in Africa, the process was more complicated than we thought.

In terms of modern humans, this means that in a sense some modern humans have got more archaic genes than others. That does seem to be so. So it leads us on to ask again: what is a modern human? Some of the most fascinating ongoing research topics in the next year or two will be homing in on the DNA that some of us have acquired from Neanderthals, that some people have acquired from the Denisovans, and that some African people have acquired, perhaps even from Homo heidelbergensis.
There is a lot more there, so read the whole thing.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Freedom of Religion is Very Limited

I came across this op-ed by Peg McEntee yesterday in the The Salt Lake Tribune chastising The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Saints (popularly known as the "Mormon Church") for joining in "a multifaith statement saying that recognition of gay marriage threatens the one-man, one-woman unions...." She writes:
Worse, "Marriage and Religious Freedom: Fundamental Goods That Stand or Fall Together" proposes that acceptance of same-sex marriage would interfere with the religious freedom of those who "continue to affirm the true definition of marriage."

* * * 
The gist is that if individuals and religious organizations are forced to treat same-sex sexual conduct as the "moral equivalent" of marital sexual conduct, the consequences will be church-state conflicts spanning everything from employment benefits to housing, property and taxation.

And children. Religious adoption agencies, for example, would be "required by law to place children with persons of the same sex who are civilly ‘married.’"

The list goes on: Religious employers who offer insurance to married workers would have to provide it for gay couples. Religious marriage counselors? Same thing.

In short, faiths that refuse to treat same-sex marriage as they do traditional marriage "will be subjected to the full arsenal of government punishments and pressures reserved for racists."

Which leads me to the U.S. Constitution’s 1st Amendment and its assurance that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."
Although she doesn't expressly say so, the implication from her article is that religions cannot be forced to recognize homosexual marriage if they don't want to. The foregoing either displays profound ignorance concerning the status of the law concerning the First Amendment, or deception on the part of Ms. McEntee.

To illustrate Ms. McEntee's error, let's examine a Supreme Court case called Davis v. Beason, 133 U.S. 333 (1890). That case involves some uppity Democrats Mormons that wanted to maintain their religious beliefs as to polygamy (something that is still frowned upon in Utah, but apparently is okay in Dearborn, Mich.) and vote for candidates for political office. The specific law they were alleged to have violated was one making it a crime for anyone that was a polygamist, or a member of an organization or association that teaches, advises, counsels of encourages polygamy from registering to vote. In other words, the person did not even have to actually have practiced polygamy to be prohibited from voting, but just belong to an organization (i.e., a church) that taught polygamy as a doctrine.

The defendants were found guilty, and thereafter filed suit for a writ of habeas corpus, arguing that the law was one "respecting religion" that was prohibited by the First Amendment. The United States Supreme Court disagreed, writing:
On this hearing we can only consider whether, these allegations being taken as true, an offense was committed of which the territorial court had jurisdiction to try the defendant. And on this point there can be no serious discussion or difference of opinion. Bigamy and polygamy are crimes by the laws of all civilized and Christian countries. They are crimes by the laws of the United States, and they are crimes by the laws of Idaho. They tend to destroy the purity of the marriage relation, to disturb the peace of families, to degrade woman, and to debase man. Few crimes are more pernicious to the best interests of society, and receive more general or more deserved punishment. To extend exemption from punishment for such crimes would be to shock the moral judgment of the community. To call their advocacy a tenet of religion is to offend the common sense of mankind. If they are crimes, then to teach, advise, and counsel their practice is to aid in their commission, and such teaching and counseling are themselves criminal, and proper subjects of punishment, as aiding and abetting crime are in all other cases. The term ‘religion’ has reference to one's views of his relations to his Creator, and to the obligations they impose of reverence for his being and character, and of obedience to his will. It is often confounded with the cultus or form of worship of a particular sect, but is distinguishable from the latter. The first amendment to the constitution, in declaring that congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion or forbidding the free exercise thereof, was intended to allow every one under the jurisdiction of the United States to entertain such notions respecting his relations to his Maker and the duties they impose as may be approved by his judgment and conscience, and to exhibit his sentiments in such form of worship as he may think proper, not injurious to the equal rights of others, and to prohibit legislation for the support of any religious tenets, or the modes of worship of any sect. The oppressive measures adopted, and the cruelties and punishments inflicted, by the governments of Europe for many ages, to compel parties to conform, in their religious beliefs and modes of worship, to the views of the most numerous sect, and the folly of attempting in that way to control the mental operations of persons, and enforce an outward conformity to a prescribed standard, led to the adoption of the amendment in question. It was never intended or supposed that the amendment could be invoked as a protection against legislation for the punishment of acts inimical to the peace, good order, and morals of society. With man's relations to his Maker and the obligations he may think they impose, and the manner in which an expression shall be made by him of his belief on those subjects, no interference can be permitted, provided always the laws of society, designed to secure its peace and prosperity, and the morals of its people, are not interfered with. However free the exercise of religion may be, it must be subordinate to the criminal laws of the country, passed with reference to actions regarded by general consent as properly the subjects of punitive legislantion [sic].
(Emphasis added). In other words, the First Amendment only protects our beliefs vis-a-vis a creator; worship and all other practice of our belief is subordinate to the law.

Although the Supreme Court has since repudiated the holding that a person's religious beliefs can be used as a basis for prohibiting the right to vote (see Brandenburg v. Ohio, 395 U.S. 444 (1969)), the basic holding is still good law. That is:
[T]he enforcement of a reasonable nondiscriminatory regulation of conduct by governmental authority to preserve peace, tranquility and a sound economic order does not violate the First Amendment merely because it may inhibit conduct on the part of individuals which is sincerely claimed by them to be religiously motivated.
United States v. Kissinger, 250 F.2d 940, 943 (3d Cir. 1958). (In Romer v. Evans, 517 U.S.  620 (1996), the Court discusses in more detail the aspects of Davis that are no longer applicable, but did not reject the basic holding discussed above).
More to the point, many churches and religious organizations perform functions, offer services, and operate organizations that are not strictly "religious worship" and therefore fall outside the narrow First Amendment protections described above. These non-worship services and entities are subject to other laws. For instance, today there is an article reporting that entities operated by churches (other than houses of worship) will be required to adhere to Federal law requiring that they cover birth control as part of the health insurance they provide. The article states:
... the Obama administration announced Friday that church-affiliated institutions will get only one additional year to meet a new rule to cover birth control free of charge.

Friday's announcement by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius does not apply to houses of worship. Churches, synagogues, mosques and other places of worship were already exempt from the birth control coverage rule.

But in many cases, other religious-affiliated employers such as hospitals and universities traditionally have not provided any birth control coverage for their employees. They were seeking a broader exemption that would allow them to continue that practice.

... Last year, an advisory panel from the prestigious Institute of Medicine recommended that the government require birth control coverage as preventive care under Obama's law, meaning it would become available free of charge.

Sebelius quickly agreed, issuing a new federal regulation.

But religious groups complained that a conscience exemption included in that rule was too narrowly written. Catholic hospitals, which defied the bishops to support passage of Obama's health care law in Congress, were among those who objected.

Sebelius said her decision Friday was carefully considered.

"I believe this proposal strikes the appropriate balance between respecting religious freedom and increasing access to important preventive services," Sebelius said in a statement.
 Laws requiring church-run adoption agencies to not "discriminate" against same-sex couples in adoption services has already forced the Catholic Church to shut down adoption agencies in Illinois. (See story here). So, what Ms. McEntee says will never happen, is actually happening--religious organizations are being forced to decide between offering charitable services or running charitable operations, but being compelled to violate basic tenants of their religion, or not offering such services at all.

And who's to say that it won't stop there. In the Davis case, the Court stated that  "[f]ew crimes are more pernicious to the best interests of society, and receive more general or more deserved punishment" than polygamy. Courts use almost the same language to describe racial and gender discrimination today, and it is by no means unfathomable that they will extend the same scorn to someone opposed to homosexual marriage. If same-sex marriage and extra rights for homosexuals is deemed by the government to promote "peace, good order, and the morals of society," what is to stop the government from requiring a church to open its worship services and membership to homosexuals "merely because it may inhibit conduct on the part of individuals which is sincerely claimed by them to be religiously motivated"?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Quantum Computing Would Allow Secure Cloud Computing

Quantum computers are expected to play an important role in future information processing since they can outperform classical computers at many tasks. Considering the challenges inherent in building quantum devices, it is conceivable that future quantum computing capabilities will exist only in a few specialized facilities around the world – much like today's supercomputers. Users would then interact with those specialized facilities in order to outsource their quantum computations. The scenario follows the current trend of cloud computing: central remote servers are used to store and process data – everything is done in the "cloud." The obvious challenge is to make globalized computing safe and ensure that users' data stays private.

The latest research, to appear in Science, reveals that quantum computers can provide an answer to that challenge. "Quantum physics solves one of the key challenges in distributed computing. It can preserve data privacy when users interact with remote computing centers," says Stefanie Barz, lead author of the study. This newly established fundamental advantage of quantum computers enables the delegation of a quantum computation from a user who does not hold any quantum computational power to a quantum server, while guaranteeing that the user's data remain perfectly private. The quantum server performs calculations, but has no means to find out what it is doing – a functionality not known to be achievable in the classical world.
(Full story here). Of course, it is exactly this security that will make it unacceptable to the government.

A Memory Array Based on Just 12 Atoms

Researchers at I.B.M. have stored and retrieved digital 1s and 0s from an array of just 12 atoms, pushing the boundaries of the magnetic storage of information to the edge of what is possible.
The findings, being reported Thursday in the journal Science, could help lead to a new class of nanomaterials for a generation of memory chips and disk drives that will not only have greater capabilities than the current silicon-based computers but will consume significantly less power. And they may offer a new direction for research in quantum computing.
Read the whole thing.

Bob Beauprez Gives Some Thoughts on Obama and the Keystone Pipeline

An op-ed piece from Bob Beauprez on Fox News echoing my thoughts from yesterday, i.e., "Short of announcing it outright, President Obama could not have signaled in stronger terms than he did Wednesday how little he cares for the plight of the American public." He also notes that the rejection of the Keystone pipeline is not the end of Canada developing its oil sands; just that the oil will be going somewhere else. Probably China. So, our Manchurian Candidate of a President has once again sold out the U.S. to foreign powers.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Why We Should Get Out of Afghanistan

A theme I've harped on before is the risk of our troops being cut off due to changes in policy or politics in surrounding nations. Here is a better explanation than I can give to some of the risks:

Supply routes to Afghanistan via Russian territory — the northern portion of the Northern Distribution Network — have become increasingly important since Islamabad shut down transit corridors through Pakistan in late November. U.S. relations with Pakistan are arguably at a post-9/11 nadir.

Still, there are a few problems with the Russian option. First, Russia limits NATO to nonlethal equipment and only allows the alliance to ship supplies from the West to Afghanistan, not in the reverse direction. Second, the Kremlin may prove to be no less erratic than Pakistan. Moscow’s ambassador to NATO recently threatened to cut off Russian transit routes to Afghanistan unless the U.S. agrees to scale back its missile-defense plans in Europe. Finally, an expansion of the Russian route makes the U.S. even more reliant on the Kremlin, which may use its leverage to extract concessions in unrelated areas. In addition to missile defense, Russia’s demands could include reduced U.S. engagement with the countries of the former Soviet Union — Moscow’s “sphere of privileged interests” — and a diminution in U.S. criticism of what can mildly be called the Putin regime’s democratic shortcomings.
(Full story here).

We can pump all the blood and treasure we want to into Afghanistan, and never civilize them. Nation building is just not going to happen absent utter destruction of their culture and those who hold dear to that culture. It was a mistake to invest more than was needed for a punitive expedition. We've essentially destroyed Al Qaeda, which was the real international threat; let China, Russia and/or Pakistan, as they will, deal with the Taliban.

Obama Continues His Job's Policy -- Kill All Jobs

Some of the factors holding back the U.S. economy are high energy prices and a weak manufacturing and construction sector. The Keystone pipeline would address both issues and be a boon for the United States. So, of course, Obama opposes it. From MSNBC:

The Obama administration was poised on Wednesday to reject the Keystone crude oil pipeline, according to sources, a decision that would be welcomed by environmental groups but inflame the domestic energy industry.

The administration could make its announcement on TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline late on Wednesday or on Thursday, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters. ...
(Full story here).

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Big Brother Run Amok

Parents and civil rights activists are furious at the new program that will allow school administrators to monitor the heart rates, exercise, and sleep schedules of students using electronic bracelets.

A school district in Long Island, New York, announced that it would be the latest addition to the list of schools using the technology to help track students' activity and fight obesity.
(Full story here). Stupid parents probably think that their offspring belong to them, rather than being on loan from the State.

NYPD Is Developing Body Scanners to Use on the Street

It's a violation of the Fourth Amendment to use thermal imagers on homes, but apparently the NYPD thinks its okay on suspects. (Full story here).
A device that can detect whether a suspect is carrying a weapon without needing to frisk him is being developed by police.

Infrared rays will be used to scan a form of natural energy - like radiation - emitted from the body of someone concealing a gun on the street.

If something is obstructing the flow of that energy, such as a weapon, the gadget will show exactly where the object is on a suspect's body.

As a result, officers will get a digital outline of where the firearm is. The device could also be used to find suicide bomber vests, Newsday reported.

The New York Post reported that the device has been undergoing development for the past three years for the streets of New York City.

The device will be mounted on the top of NYPD vans and will shoot rays at a suspect or scan the streets for weapons.

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said it currently only works at a short range – from around three to four feet away from a person.

'This can be done from a short range,' Kelly said. 'We want a distance of at least 25 meters.'

Kelly said the department is working with the U.S. Department of Defense to develop the device.

The gadget would mean the NYPD would no longer have to stop and frisk those suspected of carrying weapons - a practice which rocketed by 13 per cent last year.
By "suspect," I fear they mean anyone they want to scan. I've often wondered how mylar space blanket material affects thermal imaging equipment, particularly now that Columbia is using this type of technology in some of their jackets.

The Higgs Boson--Time to Put Up or Shut Up

From Popular Science (h/t Instapundit):
Physicists at the LHC [Large Hadron Collider] look for Higgs particles by smashing other particles into each other so hard that something like a Higgs will appear out of the energy of the collision, leaving its signature in a detector. Previous experiments have suggested that the Higgs does not “live” at energies between 0 and 114 gigaelectron-volts, and physicists have now determined that 145 GeV is the uppermost limit, so they are running out of places to look.

As they collide more and more particles, and detect more and more promising signatures, physicists will become increasingly sure that they’ve detected a Higgs. By this summer, they will be 95 percent confident, but for physicists that’s not good enough. By the end of this year, they will be dead certain one way or the other.


I came across this op-ed from Peter Moici today warning that Romney's stance on immigration could cost him the election. Besides the fact that I still think it is a little early to call the winner of the Republican primaries, the author raised some issues about immigration generally that need to be addressed.

First, the author makes a broad, blanket statement that Americans as a whole are complicit with encouraging illegal immigrants to enter and work in the United States. I think that is incorrect. Certain segments of the country may encourage it, including various industries (the agricultural and food industries seem to be the greatest violators--oh, and all those rich people that like having live-in nannies, maids, and gardeners), but I haven't seen any polls showing that Americans, as a whole, condone illegal immigration.

The author offers evidence of the above-statement that the Federal government receives little or no assistance from State and local governments in enforcing immigration laws, and specifically notes that local governments freely enroll children of illegal immigrants in schools. This places the cart before the horse. The reasons that State and local governments do not do more to assist in immigration law, and provide services to illegal immigrants, are varied, but the big one is that Federal law won't let them. Under various anti-discrimination laws and court interpretation of the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause, local schools are required to admit children of illegal immigrants. See Plyler v. Doe, 457 U.S. 202 (1982). While States do not have to provide many other services to illegal immigrants, there are exceptions. See, e.g., 8 U.S.C.A. § 1621. And, as we have seen with Arizona and other states, one of the fastest ways to get sued by the Federal government is to require law enforcement agencies to make even a cursory attempt to "assist" in enforcing immigration laws.

In addition to the "big stick" of lawsuits, there are also "carrots", including additional Federal aid or grants for increased numbers of eligible "poor" or "disadvantages" participants. Thus, Mr. Moici's reasoning that State and local governments, and the American people generally, tacitly support illegal immigration is nothing more than a straw man for his main argument which is that the United States needs a speedier and more streamlined process for shuttling immigrants from "illegal" to "legal" status.

I'll freely admit that I don't have specific solutions to the immigration issue. But I would offer an observation that unlimited and unregulated immigration can destroy a nation. The Roman Empire is a case in point. The problems we face with immigration is a large influx of people that (a) do not want to assimilate into the dominant culture, thereby fracturing the body politic and weakening the common national identity; and (b) consume more in resources than they contribute to the economy.

As to the first issue, while it may seem harsh to some, immigrants should, at a minimum, demonstrate a basic mastery of English. Coddling non-English speakers does them no good in the long-run. Democrats and liberals want to keep immigrants from learning English because it helps keep immigrants in an underclass that is beholden to Democrats for assistance and services. Sort of a kinder, gentler form of slavery.

The second issue is also a major problem. Illegal immigrants consume more public benefits than they contribute in taxes or to the economy. This study, for instance, estimated a net deficit on the Federal level of more than $10 billion in 2002. This article reports the cost as over $115 billion in 2010. This article notes that in 2004 alone, it cost California over $10 billion to educate children of illegal immigrants, provide health care for illegal immigrants, and imprison those that break the law. Another study from the Heritage Foundation determined:
The Heritage Foundation issued two studies in 2007 pointing out that the big problem with mass legalization is that (a) most illegal aliens are low-skilled and therefore do not earn enough money to pay enough taxes to cover the government benefits they receive; and (b), amnesty would eventually make them eligible for the full array of welfare and medical benefits offered by local, state and federal governments. They found the cost of allowing illegal aliens to remain in the United States, and eventually to become citizens, would be $3.7 trillion through the year 2056. That works out to a present cost of $1 trillion, at a 5 percent discount rate. In other words, immediately upon passage of an amnesty bill, the United States government would need to put $1 trillion into an investment earning 5 percent per year if it were honest about paying for the costs of amnesty.
(Source here).

Difficult, emotional issues. But, bottom line, harboring illegal immigrants is just another form of welfare for the ruling elite--the businesses and wealthy people that regularly use illegal aliens for cheap labor, and those seeking to exploit them for their votes. Whatever the solution, however, it needs to be a simple bright line law or process, with harsh penalties for those who violate the law (including employers), but an easier immigration process for those that follow the law.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Dowloadable Paper Models

As an interesting project for you (or your kids), there are numerous sites with paper models that you can download, print, cut-out, and paste. Here is an article from Low-Tech Magazine with links to some sites.

No One Seems to Know where the Russian Probe Crashed to Earth

There are conflicting estimates of where the Russian space probe crashed to Earth.
News agencies had cited Defense Ministry spokesman Alexei Zolotukhin as saying Sunday that fragments of the craft fell in the Pacific Ocean off Chile's coast. But Zolotukhin told The Associated Press Monday that estimate was based on calculations, and no witness reports had been received.

The deputy head of Russia's space agency, Anatoly Shilov, told state news channel Vesti that agency data assumed the craft broke up somewhere over Brazil.

A statement Monday from the space agency, Roscosmos, cited the reported Defense Ministry assessment, but gave no further information, noting "the lack of means of visual and other monitoring" in the region.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Russian Probe Falls to Earth

Pieces from the Phobos-Ground, which had become stuck in Earth's orbit, landed in water 775 miles west of Wellington Island in Chile's south, the Russian military Air and Space Defense Forces said in a statement carried by the country's news agencies.

The military space tracking facilities were monitoring the probe's crash, its spokesman Col. Alexei Zolotukhin said. Zolotukhin said the deserted ocean area is where Russia guides its discarded space cargo ships serving the International Space Station.

RIA Novosti news agency, however, cited Russian ballistic experts who said the fragments fell over a broader patch of Earth's surface, spreading from the Atlantic and including the territory of Brazil. It said the midpoint of the crash zone was located in the Brazilian state of Goias.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

At Least 3 Dead in Cruise Ship Incident

From Fox News:
Survivors who escaped a luxury cruise liner that ran aground and tipped over off Italy's coast recounted a chaotic and terrifying evacuation through the ship's upended hallways on Saturday, as divers searched the submerged part for any people still unaccounted for in the confusion.

Three bodies were recovered from the sea after the Costa Concordia with 4,234 people aboard ran aground hundreds of yards off the tiny island of Giglio near the coast of Tuscany late Friday, tearing a 160-foot gash in its hull and sending in a rush of water.

* * *

Passengers described a scene reminiscent of "Titanic", saying they escaped the ship by crawling along hallways, desperately trying to reach safety as the lights went out and plates and glasses crashed around them. Helicopters whisked some survivors to safety, others were rescued by private boats in the area, and witnesses said some people jumped from the ship into the dark, cold sea.

* * *

The ship was lying virtually flat off Giglio's coast, its starboard side submerged in the water and the huge gash showing clearly on its upturned hull.

Passengers complained the crew failed to give instructions on how to evacuate and once the emergency became clear, delayed lowering the lifeboats until the ship was listing too heavily for many of them to be released.

Friday, January 13, 2012

CIA Involved in Drug Trade?

An article from the Huffington Post on the CIA's involvement in the drug trade in the 80's to finance the Iran-Contra operation.

The CIA has turned a blind eye to drug trafficking when convenient. The CIA has reported close ties to opium traffickers in Afghanistan. (See here; see also this article on opium production in Afghanistan generally).  It also was aware of drug trafficking in Laos during the Vietnam War period. (See here).

Other alphabet agencies may also be involved in assisting drug trafficking. The DEA, for instance, has apparently been involved with helping drug cartels launder money, and smuggle money and drugs. (See here and here). This is on top of reports that the ATF has been involved with yet another operation to smuggle guns to Mexican cartels--this one, operation "White Gun." (See here). (See also this op-ed giving a brief overview of the Gunwalker scandal; and this one about the ATF purchasing weapons which it passed on to the drug cartels).

It's hard to draw generalities here. The CIA's drug activities in the Iran-Contra affair appears to have been to raise cash for a project that couldn't be legally funded--i.e., by-pass Congress. The DEA's involvement is probably a case of "the end justifies the means," which is really just a method of justifying making really stupid decisions. The ATF operation may have been just plain stupidity, but it certainly played into the anti-gun strategy of the Obama Administration, which was to blame the guns in Mexico on illegal sales in the U.S. ... without mentioning that the federal government was behind the illegal sales.