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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Opening a New Front in the Cultural Wars

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"?
With that in mind, here is a story of a womyn upset because a Catholic priest wouldn't let her take communion because she is a lesbian.
A lesbian attending her mother’s funeral was denied Communion by the priest because she was 'living in sin'.

Barbara Johnson, who attended the funeral with her partner of 20 years, stood first in the line to receive the bread and wine at Saint John Neumann Catholic Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland, on Saturday.

But Father Marcel Guarnizo reportedly covered the bowl and said: ‘I cannot give you Communion because you live with a woman, and in the eyes of the Church, that is a sin.’

Johnson was stunned by the priest's actions and thought he might change his mind. 'I just stood there, in shock. I was grieving, crying,' the 51-year-old told the Washington Post.

Johnson, who runs an art studio, and members of her family, are now calling for the priest to be removed from his ministry.

‘You brought your politics, not your God into that Church yesterday, and you will pay dearly on the day of judgment for judging me,' she wrote in a letter to Guarnizo.

'I will pray for your soul, but first I will do everything in my power to see that you are removed from parish life so that you will not be permitted to harm any more families.’
So, there we have it. Someone arguing that a religious service is a "right" that must be extended to her irrespective of whether her lifestyle violates the standards of that religion or the person providing the service.

North Korea Suspends Nuclear Weapons Production in Exchange for Food

As its population suffers widespread malnutrition, North Korea has agreed to suspend uranium enrichment and put a moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile tests in exchange for 240,000 metric tons of food and the promise for potentially more to come.

U.S. State Department announced Wednesday that after two days of talks in Beijing last week the North has agreed to allow International Atomic Energy Inspectors to verify and monitor the moratorium on uranium enrichment and confirm disablement of its nuclear reactor at Yongbyon.
One of the almost singular achievements of communism is the ability to produce wide-spread starvation. China and the Soviet Union starved tens of millions of their own subjects to death. Who knows how many have starved in other countries due to communism. No wonder elitists like it.

Anyway, its hard to say whether this is a sign of reasonableness, desperation or guile. I'm guessing that this is like all prior situations--the peasants are about to revolt unless the aristocracy does something to get food to them. 
 
The relationship between North and South Korea (and, indirectly, the United States) is like that between an abusive spouse and his/her victim. Threaten and beat them (or, in this case, shell an island or two, sink a ship or two, rattle its sabers, sell nuclear technology to other countries), then apologize and swear it won't happen again in order to keep the spouse around (or get food and financial aid). Repeat as needed. And maybe just conduct your tests in some other friendly country.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Down and Out for Awhile

I've been hit hard by some sort of flu bug this weekend, so I probably won't be posting for a few days. My apologies to all of you, and I hope to back to blogging after that.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Another Green Failure

Germany, along with other EU nations, has been at the forefront of adopting "clean, renewable" energy such as wind generators and solar power. Then, following the Fukashima disaster, Germany took the momentous step of immediately shutting down seven nuclear power plants. The obvious result--steeply increasing energy prices which is driving some industries, such as steel mills, out of business.
Energy prices are rising and the risk of power outages is growing. But the urgently needed expansion of the grid, as well as the development of replacement power plants and renewable energy sources is progressing very slowly. A growing number of economic experts, business executives and union leaders are putting the blame squarely on the shoulders of Merkel's coalition, which pairs her conservatives with the business-friendly Free Democrats (FDP). The government, they say, has expedited de-industrialization.

The energy supply is now "the top risk for Germany as a location for business," says Hans Heinrich Driftmann, president of the Association of German Chambers of Industry and Commerce (DIHK). "One has to be concerned in Germany about the cost of electricity," warns European Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger. And Bernd Kalwa, a member of the general works council at ThyssenKrupp, says heatedly: "Some 5,000 jobs are in jeopardy within our company alone, because an irresponsible energy policy is being pursued in Düsseldorf and Berlin."
This is where the progressive have brought the West--to economic suicide.

China's Domestic Spending

An article from the China Daily discusses surveys on spending and consumption by Chinese women. The first thing that caught my attention was the large amount of money that went into investments and savings--nearly 40% of income, according to the article. The other point that caught my attention was this:
About seven out of 10 families invested in 2011, with Chengdu ranking first, followed by Guangzhou and Ningbo. The most popular investments were stocks, real estate, banking products, funds and commercial insurance.

But only 13.5 percent made a profit on their investment, 33.7 percent broke even and nearly 30 percent lost money. 
The article gave this example:
Lin Lang, who owns a wedding gown studio in Beijing, bought banking investment products and commercial insurance last year. But neither yielded returns in excess of the inflation rate.

To her disappointment, the market value of one of her properties in Beijing's Central Business District fell below what she paid for it in 2010.

"Stocks are risky. Gold might be an option," she said. "But I guess the best investment is to avoid spending and make more money from our real business."
The article further reported:
Huo Jianguo, president of the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation, a think tank of the Ministry of Commerce, said female spending had assumed a leading role in lifting domestic consumption.

Promoting domestic consumption is a government priority to spur economic growth as the export outlook dims amid slack demand from Europe and the US.
Another article, on China's oil exploration plans, stated:
China's crude oil demand rose 2.7 percent in 2011, while natural gas use rose 12 percent, according to the National Bureau of Statistics, which didn't give absolute volumes.
As has been noted in earlier posts and articles that I've linked to, China's official growth statistics are smoke and mirrors, and it often requires a peak at underlying statistics and information to get a feel for how China is really doing. For an economy that was white hot just a few years ago, anecdotes and statistics like that above don't paint a very rosy picture. The interesting thing to me is that, culturally, China is a nation of savers. But according to the information above, the savers are slowly losing their savings. Roughly a third lost money, and another third only broke even. "Broke even" doesn't sound like they beat inflation. Even for those that "made a profit," how profitable was it? If this continues, we can expect to see a significant shift in China's domestic investment/savings with people trying to pull their money out of investments such as stocks and real estate, and shift them to gold and silver (or move the money out of the country), which may trigger a sudden decline in stock and real estate prices.

With that in mind, you may want to read this article entitled "The End of the Chinese Century." The author writes:
Most people still assume that the 21st century will belong to China, which is projected to soon become the world’s largest economy. The International Monetary Fund, for instance, believes China will take over the top spot from the US by 2016.

Yet the country’s fate seems to be shifting rapidly. Since the IMF made that bold-sounding prediction in April last year, the Chinese economy has stalled. It began to stumble in September, and by December the signs of flat-lining growth were unmistakable: stagnant car sales, declining electricity consumption, plunging industrial orders and slowing exports. Container throughput has been flat, and air cargo has plunged.

The deterioration has been as rapid as it was unexpected. In short, after 35 years of virtually uninterrupted growth, the wheels are coming off the Chinese economy.

It is not hard to see why. To avoid the worst effects of the 2008 global downturn, Beijing applied too much stimulus.

In 2009 alone, Chinese technocrats and their state-owned banks pumped about US$1.1 trillion into a US$4.3 trillion economy. The maneuver added to GDP, but it also triggered stock and property market bubbles and runaway inflation.

The stock market boom of 2009 began to unwind in 2010. Beijing avoided the worst effects of that, but it has yet to deal with the other dislocations.

Inflation, in all probability, is still running at twice the official rate. And while inflation is cooling fast, that decline indicates an economy in distress.

Meanwhile, property prices are collapsing – developers are offering double-digit discounts in many coastal cities. That trend could create a negative wealth effect, ravage bank balance sheets and decimate revenues of local governments.
And China has expended about all of its tools for averting an economic meltdown:
If monetary tools prove ineffective, Beijing’s only real option will be direct spending – what some call “tidal wave investing.” The biggest risk for the economy this year is that this stimulus spending fails.

First, China has already built its “ghost cities” and other unviable projects. Second, prior spending has burdened banks and local governments. In 2010, for instance, about 85% of Liaoning province’s 184 financing companies (de facto government agencies) defaulted on debt service payments. The world has already seen the Japanese try spending their way out of a bubble and debt crisis – and we know how well that worked out.

Third, China’s once-in-a-decade political transition, which formally begins in the fall and continues for perhaps two years, looks like it is already undermining efforts to revive the economy. In 2008, the central government acted quickly and decisively to forestall economic crisis. This time, however, political paralysis in Beijing means that officials can adopt only modest steps that seem inadequate in light of the evident severity of the downturn.

Finally, there is growing pessimism among Chinese people that Beijing can turn the economy around. Perhaps the worst sign is that the rich are illegally transferring funds out of the country. As a result, Beijing’s foreign reserves are now decreasing every day, according to some reports. The Chinese obviously sense that the end of their economic miracle is near.
The author may be overly pessimistic, but, as I stated, I would expect that the Chinese people will soon be starting to pull their money out of investments and savings en masse.

More Suggestions for Internet Privacy ...

... from Fox News. Includes tips for privacy settings for different browsers, and links to web-sites that can tell you who is tracking you using cookies. Anyway, read the whole thing.

Creeping Sharia or Simple Bias?

This is the story of a man who dressed up as a zombie Mohammad in a Halloween parade and was attacked by a Muslim man. For some reason, instead of being charged with simple assault and/or battery, the perp was charged with "harassment." Anyway, here is the story:
The Pennsylvania State Director of American Atheists, Inc., Mr. Ernest Perce V., was assaulted by a Muslim while participating in a Halloween parade. Along with a Zombie Pope, Ernest was costumed as Zombie Muhammad. The assault was caught on video, the Muslim man admitted to his crime and charges were filed in what should have been an open-and-shut case. That’s not what happened, though.
The defendant is an immigrant and claims he did not know his actions were illegal, or that it was legal in this country to represent Muhammad in any form. To add insult to injury, he also testified that his 9 year old son was present, and the man said he felt he needed to show his young son that he was willing to fight for his Prophet.
The case went to trial, and as circumstances would dictate, Judge Mark Martin is also a Muslim. What transpired next was surreal. The Judge not only ruled in favor of the defendant, but called Mr. Perce a name and told him that if he were in a Muslim country, he’d be put to death. Judge Martin’s comments included,
“Having had the benefit of having spent over 2 and a half years in predominantly Muslim countries I think I know a little bit about the faith of Islam. In fact I have a copy of the Koran here and I challenge you sir to show me where it says in the Koran that Mohammad arose and walked among the dead. I think you misinterpreted things. Before you start mocking someone else’s religion you may want to find out a little bit more about it it makes you look like a dufus and Mr. (Defendant) is correct. In many Arabic speaking countries something like this is definitely against the law there. In their society in fact it can be punishable by death and it frequently is in their society. 
Judge Martin then offered a lesson in Islam, stating,
“Islam is not just a religion, it’s their culture, their culture. It’s their very essence their very being. They pray five times a day towards Mecca to be a good Muslim, before you die you have to make a pilgrimage to Mecca unless you are otherwise told you can not because you are too ill too elderly, whatever but you must make the attempt. Their greetings wa-laikum as-Salâm (is answered by voice) may god be with you. Whenever, it’s very common when speaking to each other it’s very common for them to say uh this will happen it’s it they are so immersed in it. 
Judge Martin further complicates the issue by not only abrogating the First Amendment, but completely misunderstanding it when he said,
“Then what you have done is you have completely trashed their essence, their being. They find it very very very offensive. I’m a Muslim, I find it offensive. But you have that right, but you’re way outside your boundaries or first amendment rights. This is what, and I said I spent about 7 and a half years living in other countries. when we go to other countries it’s not uncommon for people to refer to us as ugly Americans this is why we are referred to as ugly Americans, because we are so concerned about our own rights we don’t care about other people’s rights as long as we get our say but we don’t care about the other people’s say”
But wait, it gets worse. The Judge refused to allow the video into evidence, and then said,
All that aside I’ve got here basically.. I don’t want to say he said she said but I’ve got two sides of the story that are in conflict with each other.”
And,
“The preponderance of, excuse me, the burden of proof… “
And,
“…he has not proven to me beyond a reasonable doubt that this defendant is guilty of harassment, therefore I am going to dismiss the charge”
Also link to video with the audio portion of the judge's ruling, and coverage by a local ABC affiliate. (H/t Jihad Watch).

It was obviously improper of the judge to lecture the victim about this case. The judge should have recused himself. The prosecutor/district attorney isn't going to risk the animosity of the judge by filing a complaint to an ethics panel. I would read this as not just a lecture to the victim, but also as warning to the prosecutor to not bring any more cases involving similar conduct.

Turning to the legal part of the decision. Under Pennsylvania Law, 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 2709:
A person commits the crime of harassment when, with intent to harass, annoy or alarm another, the person:
(1) strikes, shoves, kicks or otherwise subjects the other person to physical contact, or attempts or threatens to do the same;
(2) follows the other person in or about a public place or places;
(3) engages in a course of conduct or repeatedly commits acts which serve no legitimate purpose;
(4) communicates to or about such other person any lewd, lascivious, threatening or obscene words, language, drawings or caricatures;
(5) communicates repeatedly in an anonymous manner;
(6) communicates repeatedly at extremely inconvenient hours; or
(7) communicates repeatedly in a manner other than specified in paragraphs (4), (5) and (6).
The defense of ignorance of the law only applies to ignorance regarding a civil law that may have had some impact on the defendant's state of mind. Ignorance of the law of the offense (i.e., the criminal statute) is no excuse. The defendant claimed ignorance of the law of free speech. The judge seemed to accept that argument, but then went further and held that dressing as a zombie Mohammad didn't implicate free speech. Thus, per the judge's rulings, the defense of ignorance of the law was rendered moot because there was no free speech involved.

The judge's next action was to find that there was a question of fact that precluded finding that the the defendant was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. (I'm unclear as to why the trial was not before a jury, but it is notable that the defendant was so confident of the judge that he elected to not have a jury trial). To protect this decision in the event of an appeal, the judge refused to admit as evidence a video of the defendant's actions. I can't say whether this was a legitimate decision or not.

However, from the story, it appears that the man admitted to attacking the victim, and that he further testified that he did so to show his son that he needed to fight for the "prophet." The latter testimony alone establishes the intent element. Based on the story, it appears that at least one of the other elements (physical contact) was also established. So, if the "reasonable doubt" standard was satisfied, there is only one other valid explanation for a Muslim judge letting a Muslim perp off for attacking someone that the judge felt was mocking Islam.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Hints that Gravity is not a Fundamental Force

Back in 2011, ground-breaking research by scientists at the University of York provided a new perspective on the physics of black holes. Black holes are objects in space that are so massive and compact they were described by Einstein as "bending" space. Conventional thinking asserts that black holes swallow everything that gets too close and that nothing can escape its "event horizon," but the study suggested that information could escape from black holes after all. The implications could be revolutionary, suggesting that gravity may not be a fundamental force of Nature.

A Rebuttal to Anti-Mormon Smears

A lengthy op-ed discussing the recent interest in smearing the Mormon faith, comparing such attacks to antisemitism, and why such rants are wrong. Read the whole thing. (H/t Instapundit).

Afghanistan's President Needs to be Slapped Down

Can I just say that Obama is an idiot. His attempts to appease the insatiable demands of Muslims, acting as an enabler for terrorism, just encourages greater outrages. Now this:
Afghanistan wants NATO to put on public trial those who burned copies of the Quran at a NATO base, President Hamid Karzai's office said Thursday, after a third day of bloody protests over the incident.

It said NATO had agreed to a trial, but that could not be immediately confirmed.

Karzai had earlier accused a U.S. officer of "ignorantly" burning copies of the Quran, in an incident that has deepened anti-Western sentiment in a country NATO is trying to stabilize before foreign combat troops leave by the end of 2014.

Demonstrations have drawn thousands of angry Afghans to the streets, chanting "Death to America!" amid violence that has killed 11 people including two U.S. service personnel.

"NATO officials, in response to a request for the trial and punishment of the perpetrators ... promised this crime will brought to court as soon as possible," Karzai's office said in a statement.
This is a perfect example of "you can lead a horse to water, but you can't force it to drink." We've shown them civilization and they have rejected it. Nation building and "winning hearts and minds" is and has always been a losing strategy.

Three Simple Steps to Delete Your Google Browsing

With only a week to go before Google changes its privacy policy, this article describes the three steps to delete your Google browsing history and provide limited protection into the future.
There is just a week to go until Google controversially changes its privacy policy to allow it to gather, store and use personal information about its users.

But there is one way to stymie the web giant's attempts to build a permanent profile of you that could include personal information including age, gender, locality and even sexuality.

From March 1, you won't be able to opt out of the new policy, which has been criticised by privacy campaigners who have filed a complaint to U.S. regulators.

But before that date you can delete your browsing history and, which will limit the extent to which Google records your every move - including your embarrasing secrets.
This isn't just about protecting secrets, either. According to the article, the information collected will be used to suggest search results and create targeted advertisements.

Anyway, instructions and helpful screen shots at the link.

Glitch in the OPERA Neutrino Experiment?

Months after researchers reported that they measured neutrinos traveling faster than light, they're finding that the incredible result may have been due to a bad connection rather than a violation of Albert Einstein's special theory of relativity.

* * *

Now sources familiar with the OPERA review say scientists have identified two potential problems with the experimental apparatus. One has to do with a fiber-optic connector that sends a GPS time stamp to the experiment's master clock. That connector may not have been functioning correctly when the neutrino-timing measurements were made, and as a result, the recorded flight time would be shorter than the actual time. That alone could explain the seemingly faster-than-light results.

Another potential problem has to do with the oscillator that was used to generate the time stamps for GPS synchronization. This problem could have made the flight time look longer than it really was.
This doesn't necessarily invalidate the basic finding, however:
But rather than invalidating the stunning superspeed finding, the flaw may have led scientists to underestimate it.

Citing sources familiar with the experiment, Science magazine’s website reported Wednesday that the 60-nanoseconds discrepancy that led to the startling speed conclusion came from a bad connection in a fiber optic cable connecting a GPS receiver (used to correct the timing of the neutrinos' flight) and a computer.

After tightening the connection and then remeasuring the time it takes data to travel the length of the cable, researchers found that the data arrive 60 nanoseconds earlier than assumed, the website said. (More data will be needed to confirm this hypothesis.)
In other words, the neutrinos may have been traveling even faster than measured.

Apologizer-In-Chief at it Again


Obama apologizes to Afghanistan for the alleged mishandling of the Koran. Does the "man" have a spine? Does he not see that he is simply enabling the thugs? Does he even care? I would guess that the answer is "no" to all of these questions. Meanwhile:
Two U.S. soldiers were also shot dead Thursday at a protest about the desecration of the holy books.

A man wearing an Afghan government soldier's uniform killed the American troops and wounded four others at the demonstration in Nangarhar province, officials told NBC News. 
Good job, Apologizer-in-Chief.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Building a Bean Stock

Japanese engineers are drawing up plans to put tourists into space within 40 years using a massive elevator that travels more than 22,000 miles into orbit.

If created, up to 30 passengers at a time would spend a week travelling a quarter of a way to the moon at speeds of 120mph.

At the end they would reach a space station where they could get an astronaut’s view of the Earth with little or no training beforehand.




Plans: An elevator, like this one shown in this artist's impression, could be made using carbon fibre that travels from the Earth to a station 22,000 miles into the orbit

There are also plans that could allow scientists to travel beyond this first station using carbon fibre ribbon that is anchored to our planet from a satellite in space.

The construction, which echoes the vision of British science fiction author Arthur C Clarke, is estimated to cost £6billion.

Report: CCTV Cameras Have Not Reduced Crime


London is considered the most spied-on city in the world, courtesy of its ubiquitous CCTV cameras, purportedly there to reduce crime. But according to a recent report, there's been little or no change in London's crime rates since they were more widely installed in the mid 1980s.

* * *

BBW estimates there are now some 51,000 police-run cameras watching British citizens in urban areas, not including private cameras or cameras situated in other public buildings like train stations or bus depots.

A common figure cited is a total 4.2 million cameras across the Britain based on a working paper published in 2002, by academics Michael McCahill and Clive Norris but research last year by Cheshire Police puts the figure closer to 1.85 million.

But Ms. Carr says that without official registrations and research it is impossible to calculate.

The civil rights group Liberty estimates that the average Londoner is captured on camera around 300 times a day while BBW claims Britain has 20 percent of the world’s CCTV cameras and only 1 percent of the world’s population.

There is a perception that the cameras reduce the crime rate, but there is no evidence for that, say activists. “The Met police have said that in 2008, only one crime was solved for every 1,000 CCTV cameras,” says Carr.

The PIGS Are Not Happy


The $172 billion Greek bailout package hammered out in Brussels Tuesday averts a looming Greek default and, its architects hope, will ward off dangerous financial consequences for neighbors.

The sheer size of the bailout and a promised debt write-off of roughly 100 billion euros ($132 billion) represents a more favorable outcome than Greek officials expected. But the bailout comes with rigorous budget cuts demanded by northern European states and other requirements that represent an unprecedented amount of European Union control over a sovereign member.
"We have been learning for years how to share sovereignty in Europe," says Loukas Tsoukalis of the University of Athens and head of the think tank Eliamep, which deals with European and foreign policy. "With the crisis, we are all being asked to take some difficult steps further. It is uncharted territory. If you are a country on the verge of default, such as Greece, sovereignty and economic survival may create awkward tradeoffs."
* * *

Yet with strikes planned in Athens today and public opinion on spending cuts ranging from resignation to fury it's unclear whether the Balkan state can deliver on its promises and restore the kind of economic growth needed to meet its budget targets.

"There's a serious contradiction among the people," says Charalambous Tsardanidis, director of International Economic Relations in Athens. "Greeks accept and insist on staying in the eurozone. They don't want a return to the drachma. All polls show this. But with the same majority, we don't see the austerity programs as an answer. After all the austerity, we still don't see an answer. We need to see development, jobs, building highways -- but that's not what the bailout deal is concerned with."Greek unemployment is 20 percent, citizens have lost a quarter of their income in the past four years, and removed an estimated 60 billion euros from local banks, fearing their collapse.
The Spanish aren't too happy about the imposed austerity measures either:
After four days of daily protests, some violently dispersed, Spain is bracing for a cycle of social unrest against the harshest austerity measures in decades. At stake is not only Spain’s economic recovery, but that of the European Union.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, of the conservative Popular Party, pled yesterday for calm and sacrifice after hundreds of thousands marched against his labor reform on Feb. 19. He insisted he has no intention of backtracking on steep budget cuts that have only begun to be introduced. Even on the campaign trail, Rajoy warned of pain to come – and his party was still elected.

But while Spanish and European authorities say budget cuts are necessary, experts warn the Spanish measures could be too much, too fast. A population already on edge could be galvanized to action. Social instability in a country the size of Spain, especially in rejection of European Union-imposed policies, could spread to other countries in the eurozone facing angry publics.

“The government’s legitimacy could soon be questioned on the street," says Jaime Pastor, professor of political science and an expert on mass mobilizations at UNED, a university. “The ghost of Spain turning into the next Greece is still there. If the trend is for Spain to follow that model, the European crisis is going to get worse."
They will soon be looking for a strong leader to ride in on his white horse and save the day.

Gasoline Thieves and an Oil Driven Recession


I came across this article about an attempted gasoline heist while reading a different article about increased gasoline prices (h/t Instapundit).
Hillsborough County [Florida] Sheriff’s officials say several suspects parked a van over the in-ground fuel tanks at a BP gas station near Tampa early Tuesday and began siphoning gasoline into the vehicle.

Deputies say the suspects abandoned the van — with several hundred gallons of gasoline inside — sometime after 1:10 a.m. Tuesday. They say about 25 gallons of gas spilled into the parking lot.
We are going to see a lot more of this as gas prices peak this summer.

The article on gas prices is also interesting. It relates that in some areas of Florida, consumers are already paying nearly $6 per gallon for gasoline, even though the state average is $3.67. Moreover:
“It doesn’t look like we will have relief at the pump anytime soon,” Brady told CBS Tampa. “I do think we will see prices surpass $4 a gallon. I think we will see that closer to spring time.”

One reason for the high prices is the conflict with Iran over the Strait of Hormuz. Iran has threatened to disrupt oil shipments through the waterway due to the European Union sanctions leveled against the country over its nuclear program, causing the price of crude to skyrocket. Trading on a barrel of crude today is a little over $106.

Another reason for the high gas prices: positive economic news. The drop in the unemployment rate and improved housing market numbers have caused gas and oil prices to rise.

“I know it frustrates quite a few consumers why positive news will lead to higher prices,” Brady told CBS Tampa. “It really just comes down to speculation.”

A third culprit behind the gas price boom is Greece. The EU’s bailout for the indebted country only adds to the global fuel demand.

And because of these reasons, Brady believes that Florida and the rest of the U.S. could see historic gas prices.

“I think this year we will see much higher highs.”

Believe it or not, those prices aren’t the highest in the nation. According to GasBuddy.com, motorists in Alaska are paying a whopping $6.34 for a gallon of regular at some gas stations. The cheapest gas can be found in Wyoming at $2.75 a gallon.
Obama wanted higher energy prices and is probably dancing a jig over this type of report. This may ultimately be bad news for Obama, though. The fact of the matter is that the current recession and financial woes began because of a prolonged shock to the economy due to high oil prices before the housing collapse. As this article notes:
The initial contention was that the primary reasons for the recession that hit the country in 2008 was the downfall of the financial services market and the housing market. More and more financial experts came forward with another, more accurate reason for the financial crash. The reason put forward and accepted widely was that the market financial crash was caused by the high oil price rise which shot to an all time high of $147 per barrel in the year 2008.
Although the economy has adapted, to a certain extent, to higher energy costs, a rapid run up in prices will further dampen demand for goods and services, which will ripple across the economy.
The problem here is that we seem to be caught in a vicious circle as far as market crashes and high oil prices are concerned with both of them aiding and abetting each other. A higher oil price increases the trade deficit of the US. This increased export bill leads to a weaker state of the dollar currency. A weak dollar in turn pulls up the international prices of dollar denominated commodities. This allows the oil prices to increase further leading to exorbitantly higher oil prices. A market crash for the US then becomes inevitable.
So, if gas prices jump as expected this summer, expect the economy to take a beating ... just before the elections.

(Note: this is cross-posted from my other blog).

This Doesn't Sound Like the Science is Settled (Part 2)

Over the last couple months, it has been acknowledged that there has been no global warming over the past 10 years, and the glaciers in the Himalayas are not disappearing. In fact, the last few years have been nothing but bad news for the false religion (or mass delusion) of man-made global warming. So, for some more unsettling news: changes in the Earth's cloud layers may be helping with cooling.
Earth's clouds got a little lower by around one per cent a year on average during the first decade of this century.

That's the finding by a new NASA-funded university study based on satellite data. The results have potential implications for future global climate.
* * *
A consistent reduction in cloud height would allow Earth to cool more efficiently, reducing the surface temperature of the planet and potentially slowing the effects of global warming.

This may represent a ‘negative feedback’ mechanism - a change caused by global warming that works to counteract it.
So, the science is not even settled that we're doomed.

While we are at it, I would be remiss not to mention that Peter Gleick has confessed to obtaining documents from the Heartland Institute through deception, and that the key document allegedly obtained (an anonymous memo outlining a plan to, among other things, fight global warming indoctrination in schools) appears to be a fake. (H/t Instapundit).
One could go on, but that is more than enough. Let me be perfectly clear: I think it is obvious that Peter Gleick fabricated this document–the only one he posted that makes the Heartland Institute look bad–because the real ones he stole from Heartland didn’t serve his partisan purpose. Or, if he didn’t make it up himself, he got it from an ally who fabricated it. No knowledgeable person could mistake Gleick’s hoax for a legitimate top-secret Heartland memo.

So, Peter Gleick: if I am wrong, sue me. If I am right, apologize for fabricating a document and attempting to perpetrate a hoax, and retire from public life.
I guess desperate times call for desperate measures.

Greece is still Doomed

Notwithstanding the almost deal arrived at for a further EU bailout (it still needs approval from bondholders and, due to upcoming elections, the Greek electorate), Greece is doomed. From The Atlantic:
Greece has finally secured a new $170 billion loan from its European landlords, and the terms are just as unrealistic and doomed-to-fail as you expected. The fact that the country requires a second bailout that's practically the size of its economy -- now crashing through $270 billion and still falling* -- tells you what you need to know about the hopelessness of Greece.

* * *

This plan won't work for the same reason that no austerity and loan plan can work for Athens. Greece's private sector is in a free fall. Unemployment is cresting over 20 percent. Ideally, the government should act as the stabilizer of last resort, and the central bank should flood the country with money to avoid deflation and make exports more competitive. Instead, the opposite is happening. Government spending is down a whopping 34%, and Athens doesn't own the keys to the money-flood machine. The result is turning into one of the worst recessions for a developed country in modern history.

* * *

"Greece is totally gone," Desmond Lachman of the American Enterprise Institute once put it to me. "It's just a matter of time until they have a disorderly default." So why this foot-dragging, can-kicking exercise in futility?

Kicking the can down the road is normally considered idle procrastination. This is different. This is deliberate procrastination. If Greece falls today, nobody knows what kind of economic domino effect it will have on other debtors like Portugal, Italy, and Spain, or the rest of the Europe. Europe has selected the muddle-through and draw-random-recovery-lines option. The honest and inevitable choice -- a wild default or even Greece's departure from the EU -- is impossible for euro ministers to imagine suffering through, for today. Meanwhile, Greece suffers.
Check out the graph on unemployment for those under 25 (which is now approaching 50%) and how much the Greek economy must immediately turn around.

Political Correctness will be the Death of Us

Just a few stories that need to be placed in juxtaposition.

First, this one about the FBI removing training documents that are offensive to Muslims:
The FBI has removed hundreds of counterterrorism training documents after a months-long review found inaccuracies and other problems in their description of Muslims.

The review was triggered after a September blog in Wired magazine revealed training documents that reportedly called the Prophet Muhammad a "cult leader," claimed "devout" Muslims have been generally violent for hundreds of years and made other controversial statements.
A couple points about this. (a) It is "Muhammad" not "the Prophet Muhammad." The use of the title--acknowledging Muhammad as a prophet (with a capital P)--speaks volumes of the author's bias. If the media is going to insist on referring to Muhammad as a prophet, that it should provide the same courtesy to other religions and faith, e.g., "the Prophet Joseph Smith", "Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ", and so on). (b) "Controversial" is not the equivalent of "inaccuracies."

A trial court in Iran has issued its final verdict, ordering a Christian pastor to be put to death for leaving Islam and converting to Christianity, according to sources close to the pastor and his legal team.

Supporters fear Youcef Nadarkhani, a 34-year-old father of two who was arrested over two years ago on charges of apostasy, may now be executed at any time without prior warning, as death sentences in Iran may be carried out immediately or dragged out for years.

It is unclear whether Nadarkhani can appeal the execution order.
Third, this one about spreading protests in Afghanistan over the destruction of copies of the Koran which Taliban prisoners had used to smuggle hand-written messages to one another while in prison.
Seven people were killed in clashes between Afghan security forces and protesters demonstrating against the burning of Muslim holy books at a NATO military base, Afghanistan's Interior Ministry said Wednesday.

The anger over the Quran burning has sparked two days of protests across Afghanistan and tapped into anti-foreign sentiment fueled by a popular perception that foreign troops disrespect Afghan culture and Islam.
All from one day.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Scientists Resurrect Ice Age Plant


From the Telegraph:
From the fruit tissues, a team of Russian scientists managed to resurrect an entire plant in a pioneering experiment that paves the way for the revival of other species.

The Silene stenophylla is the oldest plant ever to be regenerated, the researchers said, and it is fertile, producing white flowers and viable seeds.

* * *
The Russians research team recovered the fruit after investigating dozens of fossil burrows hidden in ice deposits on the right bank of the lower Kolyma River in northeastern Siberia, the sediments dating back 30,000-32,000 years.

The sediments were firmly cemented together and often totally filled with ice, making any water infiltration impossible – creating a natural freezing chamber fully isolated from the surface.
The story also discusses efforts to resurrect other Ice Age species. A herd of mammoths would be a site to see.

Astronomers Announce Discovery of "Watery" World

At seven times the Earth's mass, and with surface temperatures of over 400 degrees F, it's no Cachalot. From MSNBC:
Scientists have discovered a new type of alien planet — a steamy waterworld that is larger than Earth but smaller than Uranus.

The standard-bearer for this new class of exoplanet is called GJ 1214b, which astronomers first discovered in December 2009. New observations by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope suggest that GJ 1214b is a watery world enshrouded by a thick, steamy atmosphere.

"GJ 1214b is like no planet we know of," study lead author Zachory Berta of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass., said in a statement. "A huge fraction of its mass is made up of water."

* * *

But GJ 1214b, which is located 40 light-years from Earth in the constellation Ophiuchus (The Serpent Bearer), is something new altogether, researchers said.

This so-called " super-Earth " is about 2.7 times Earth’s diameter and weighs nearly seven times as much as our home planet. It orbits a red-dwarf star at a distance of 1.2 million miles (2 million kilometers), giving it an estimated surface temperature of 446 degrees Fahrenheit (230 degrees Celsius) — too hot to host life as we know it.

* * *

Since astronomers know GJ 1214b's mass and size, they're able to calculate its density, which turns out to be just 2 grams per cubic centimeter (g/cc). Earth's density is 5.5 g/cc, while that of water is 1 g/cc.

GJ 1214b thus appears to have much more water than Earth does, and much less rock. The alien planet's interior structure is likely quite different from that of our world.

"The high temperatures and high pressures would form exotic materials like 'hot ice' or 'superfluid water,' substances that are completely alien to our everyday experience," Berta said.

GJ 1214b probably formed farther out from its star, where water ice was plentiful, and then migrated in to its current location long ago. In the process, it would have experienced more Earth-like temperatures, but how long this benign phase lasted is unknown, researchers said.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Our Galaxy's Next Supernova...

... and how we would detect it.

Dark Energy Just Anti-Gravity Caused by Anti-Matter?

In 1998 scientists discovered that the universe is not only expanding but that its expansion is accelerating.

This totally unexpected behavior has been called the "most profound problem" in physics, because our current understanding of gravity says that attractions between mass in the universe should be causing the expansion to slow down.

The leading theory to explain the accelerating expansion is the existence of a hypothetical repulsive force called dark energy.
But in the new study, Massimo Villata, an astrophysicist at the Observatory of Turin in Italy, suggests the effects attributed to dark energy are actually due to a kind of "antigravity" created when normal matter and antimatter repel one another.

"Usually this repulsion is ascribed to a mysterious dark energy that would uniformly permeate the cosmos, but nobody knows what it is nor why it behaves this way," Villata said in an email.

"We are replacing an unknown force caused by an unknown element with the repulsive gravity of the well-known antimatter."

According to Villata, the keys to accelerated expansion lie in large-scale voids that are seen scattered throughout the cosmos.

These holes in our map of the universe—which can each be millions of light-years wide—are inexplicably empty of galaxies and galaxy clusters. The nearest hole to us is called the Local Void, bordering the Virgo supercluster of galaxies.

Villata thinks these voids harbor vast quantities of antimatter, which could even be organized into antimatter galaxies, complete with antimatter stars and planets.

All this antimatter doesn't emit radiation that can be detected by current sensors, making it effectively invisible, Villata said.

"There can be various reasons why antimatter in voids should be invisible, but we do not know which of them is the right one," Villata said. "Moreover, antimatter in laboratories could have different behavior, since it is 'immersed' in a world of matter."

While we can't see antimatter superstructures, we can observe their effects on our visible universe, Villata argues, because antimatter must repel the normal matter in galaxies, pushing them farther from one another.

Villata says his theory, which will appear in an upcoming issue of the journal Astrophysics and Space Science, has the potential to solve other cosmic mysteries, such as the universe's "missing antimatter" problem.

Breakthrough in Graphene Could Lead to Thinner, More Powerful Electronics

A breakthrough in controlling graphene could see the highly conductive and super-strong ‘wonder material’ replace silicon and change the face of electronics, leading to faster, thinner gadgets.

Researchers at Northwestern University in Chicago have made a giant step in overcoming one of the hurdles blocking the development of graphene for use in everyday devices – that it’s difficult to electrically ‘turn off’ the flow of current through it.

Now scientists have found a way of chemically altering the material to ‘tune’ its electronic properties and make it more functional.Until now the most prevalent strategy is the ‘Hummers method’, a process developed in the 1940s that oxidises graphene, but that method relies upon harsh acids that irreversibly damage the fabric of the graphene lattice.

Researchers at Northwestern's McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science have recently developed a new method to oxidise graphene without the collateral damage encountered in the Hummers method.

Their oxidation process is also reversible, which enables further tunability over the resulting properties of their chemically modified graphene.

* * *

To create the graphene oxide, researchers leaked oxygen gas (O2) into an ultra-high vacuum chamber. Inside, a hot tungsten filament was heated to 1500C, causing the oxygen molecules to dissociate into atomic oxygen. The highly reactive oxygen atoms then uniformly inserted into the graphene lattice.

The resulting material possesses a high degree of chemical homogeneity. Spectroscopic measurements show that the electronic properties of the graphene vary as a function of oxygen coverage, suggesting that this approach can tune the properties of graphene-based devices.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

al-Shabaab Warns of Suicide Attacks

The Islamic terrorist group al-Shabaab has warned of suicide attacks in Somalia to coincide with a conference in London over the situation in Somalia.
The warning, from senior al-Shabaab leaders and repeated on the militants' Twitter page, came after seven Somali officers were injured when a car-bomb exploded at a police station in Mogadishu, the capital.

"The explosion was the beginning of a series of suicide and bombing attacks that mujahedeen fighters plan to carry out in Mogadishu in the coming days," Sheikh Abdulaziz Abu Musab, an al-Shabaab spokesman, said.

On its Twitter feed, al-Shabaab added that it "hereby warns all Muslims of Somalia to stay away from the enemy bases in order to avoid being unintentional victims of this new campaign".

The intensified bombing campaign appears timed to show that the Islamists are not a spent force, as heads of state and senior Somali officials gather at Lancaster House in London for the largest international conference on Somalia, on Thursday.

The meeting, called by the Prime Minister, aims to "galvanise efforts to find solutions to long-standing Somali challenges", in the words of British officials.
(Full story here).

Progress in Producing Vat Grown Meat


By generating strips of meat from stem cells researchers believe they can create a product that is identical to a real burger.

The process of culturing the artificial meat in the lab is so laborious that the finished product, expected to arrive in eight months' time, will cost about £220,000 (EUR250,000).

But researchers expect that after producing their first patty they will be able to scale up the process to create affordable artificial meat products.

Mass-producing beef, pork, chicken and lamb in the lab could satisfy the growing global demand for meat - forecast to double within the next 40 years - and dramatically reduce the harm that farming does to the environment.

* * *

To produce the meat, stem cells are placed in a broth containing vital nutrients and serum from a cow foetus which allow them to grow into muscle cells and multiply up to 30 times.

The strips of meat begin contracting like real muscle cells, and are attached to velcro and stretched to boost this process and keep them supple.

At the moment the method produces meat with realistic fibres and a pinkish-yellow tinge, but Prof Post expects to produce more authentically coloured strips in the near future.

He forecast that, with the right funding and regulatory approval, his method could be scaled up to industrial proportions within as little as ten years.

But creating different cuts, such as steaks, would be more problematic because to grow thicker strips of meat would require an artificial blood supply, he added.
Rest assured, PETA and its ilk will still complain about it.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Civilization May Have Arisen Earlier Than Thought

Humans first took the leap from village life to urban sprawl in Mesopotamia sometime during the 4th millennium B.C.E. in what archaeologists call the Uruk phase, named after a southern Iraq metropolis. But recent excavations in Kuwait, Syria, Iran, and Saudi Arabia provide mounting evidence that the origin of the urban revolution is to be found in the prior era, called the Ubaid, which lasted from 5500 B.C.E. until about 4000 B.C.E. Some archaeologists argue that crop irrigation and the resulting food surplus spurred the rise of cities, while others cite the appearance of kings, colonial domination, or spread of a common religion. But the new Ubaid finds add weight to the hypothesis that growing contact among different groups was the spark that eventually ignited the urban revolution, suggesting that the Ubaid was a time of mutual exchange among independent peoples rather than control asserted by a single sophisticated group.
 Unfortunately, the full article is behind a pay wall.

Kamala Harris as Next Supreme Court Nominee?

Reports (or rumors, if you prefer) that Kamala Harris may be Obama's choice to replace Justice Ginsburg. (See here). Why is this significant?
The California Attorney General is Kamala Harris. Her brother-in-law is a gentleman by the name of Tony West who himself is an Assistant Attorney General working directly under Obama Attorney General Eric Holder. Insiders are already indicated West may in fact be among a short list of potential replacements should Holder resign his position.

Now Tony West was a big time campaign bundler for Barack Obama back in 2008 as was described by this San Francisco Chronicle report in 2009:

As co-chairman of Obama’s campaign, West was instrumental in helping the candidate raise an estimated $65 million in California and has been considered a rising star in both the legal and political circles of the nation’s most populous state. He is an attorney in the San Franciscooffices of Morrison & Foerster.

$65 million dollars is a lot of campaign cash – even by Obama standards. And Mr. West also gained notoriety in 2007 as a member of the “American Taliban” John Walker Lindh’s defense team. So we have a former Obama campaign bundler and defense attorney of a Taliban terrorist, who also happens to be the brother in law of the California Attorney General whose state just received a multi-billion dollar housing bailout – the same man who might soon find himself being placed in the position of being the next Attorney General of the United States.

Is SOCOM Seeking Greater Autonomy?

This op-ed at the Small Wars Journal suggests that the Special Operations Command is seeking greater autonomy from the regular forces to carry out its missions. The author suggests that this may be in anticipation of conducting unconventional warfare in Syria. He writes:
This week, the New York Times reported on a draft proposal circulating inside the Pentagon that would permanently boost the global presence and operational autonomy of U.S. special operations forces. According to the article, Adm. William McRaven, the Navy SEAL who oversaw the raid that killed Osama bin Laden and who is now the commander of U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), is requesting additional authority and independence outside of the normal, interagency decision-making process.

After the successful direct action strike against bin Laden and SOCOM's important role in training allied security forces in Afghanistan, the Philippines, and elsewhere, it is easy to understand how McRaven's command has become, as the New York Times put it, the Obama administration's "military tool of choice." A larger forward presence around the world and more autonomy would provide McRaven's special operations soldiers with some of the same agility enjoyed by the irregular adversaries SOCOM is charged with hunting down.

McRaven's request for more operational authority is an understandable reaction to the additional responsibilities the Obama administration and the Pentagon are heaping on SOCOM's shoulders. In the post-Afghanistan era, it will be more politically difficult for U.S. policymakers to employ large numbers of conventional ground forces. But the work of hunting down terrorists and training foreign security forces in unstable areas will go on -- missions that will fall to McRaven's men. In addition, U.S. policymakers expect McRaven's troops to track down loose weapons of mass destruction anywhere in the world and to conduct discreet on-the-ground reconnaissance and intelligence gathering when high-tech overhead systems can't collect the information needed.

But the growing crisis in Syria could provide the most challenging test for McRaven and the operating authorities he seeks. Last year's successful overthrow of Muammar al-Qaddafi showed how outside military support for insurgents -- a core special forces mission called unconventional warfare (UW) -- can produce decisive results with a small investment. Should a coalition of Arab and Western powers eventually intervene in support of Syria's rebels, McRaven and his operators might face their most complicated mission yet.

The New York Times piece made no inference to UW, but it is a mission that dates back to the origins of U.S. Army special forces at the start of the Cold War and is a basic component of special forces training. Special forces UW doctrine usually foresees a Special Forces-led UW operation as just one line of effort in a larger military campaign typically dominated by conventional forces. But after Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S. policymakers may look to special operations UW campaigns to go it alone, doing the disruptive and controversial regime changing once entrusted to large armies. Major combat operations and unconventional warfare are both offensive operations. But with the use of conventional forces politically constrained, policymakers may look to McRaven's special operators to use their UW skills to carry out regime change, the most controversial of offensive missions.

The Libyan rebels who ousted Qaddafi were supported by a classic unconventional warfare campaign. In addition to British and French special operators, hundreds of Qatari soldiers infiltrated into Libya during the fighting last summer. These covert forces (none, officially, from the United States) provided arms, equipment, training, and coordination with the NATO fighter-bombers that were systematically destroying Qaddafi's army. After a slow start, Libya's rebels, once provided with outside support, combined with NATO air power and drove Qaddafi from power. UW methods achieved a decisive result at little cost and seemingly little risk. Some now look to Syria and wonder whether a UW campaign could achieve the same result. Proponents will point to Libya as a model for success.

Isaac Newton's Theological Papers Posted Online

From the New Scientist:
Besides mathematics and physics, Newton's interests spread into alchemy and theology, and now a collection of around 7,500 of his original manuscripts, mainly on theology, have been digitised and launched online by the National Library of Israel in Jerusalem. The handwritten papers show his feverish dedication to this work, which includes investigations in Hebrew and Greek as he tried to unlock the secrets of ancient texts.

For those who find his scribbling writing illegible, there are also efforts going into the task of interpreting these and other Newtonian papers into electronic text by the collaborative Newton Project.

And, in case you want to mark the date in your diary, the new online papers also include Newton's own prediction of the apocalypse. From his in-depth study of biblical writings, Newton calculated that the world would end in 2060.

Gunrunner versus Fast & Furious

As a good follow up to my post yesterday about Mexico's "No More Weapons" sign, is this article at the American Thinker explaining the difference between Project Gunwalker, started under the Bush administration, to crack down on weapon smuggling, and Fast & Furious under Obama, which was intended to put U.S. civilian weapons in the hands of the cartels.

And this possible explanation for the whole program:
A commenter on one of my Comments raised a possibility I had not previously considered. As soon as Obama was elected, gun owners across America, fearing just this kind of undermining of their constitutional rights by an administration incubated in Chicago, one of the most anti-gun metropolitan areas in America, began a furious buying of guns and ammunition. Ask anyone in the firearms industry, the Obama presidency has been the best sales stimulator they have ever experienced. Fearing that some form of federal ban or punitive excise tax might be forthcoming from this Chicago mob, I, like many millions of others, enhanced my personal arsenal and bought up large quantities of ammunition.

And that phenomenon raises the question postulated by the commenter: Was Fast & Furious a knee-jerk liberal reaction by an anti-gun administration that feared a quickly re-arming America? Plant guns in Mexico that could be eTraced back to the U.S. and then use that evidence to anger the American public into going along with stricter, federal gun control legislation? The obviously too-orchestrated claims by too many federal officials that ninety percent of the weapons confiscated following violent crimes in Mexico were simply too pat and too obvious to those of us who know something about the procurement of weapons. It simply made no sense whatsoever for the rich and powerful cartels to engage in nickel and dime purchases of semi-automatic* weapons in dribs and drabs across one of the most heavily-defended borders in the world when they could buy fully-automatic** weapons by the shipload from multiple sources around the world and at far lower prices. For that reason, folks in the know all around the world hoo-hawed at the Obama administrations blatantly phony attempts to link gun violence in Mexico to American-purchased arms. On the other hand, the lefties of the world ate it up.

We are faced with a clear reality: an armed citizenry represents a clear and present danger to those leftists and Marxists who would seek to render them a harmless and complacent herd. These same leftists and Marxists are joined in this belief with despots all across the political spectrum, and all around the world. Regardless of whether you are a left-wing dictator or a right-wing tyrant, you have to be keenly aware that an unarmed populace isn't likely to storm the palace and inflict fatal wounds upon those who have subjugated them.

Getting back to the foolishness and fatality of Operation Fast & Furious, I'm not certain at this point about its motivation. But, because our Attorney General and his justice department are furiously stonewalling the congressional investigation, the American public can only conclude that there is something very harmful to the continuance of the Obama Administration that must not be revealed. For a cover-up at this level and of this intensity, that something has to be either politically terminal or criminally indictable.

And that folks, is the difference between the Bush project, designed to interdict weapons transfers into Mexico for the perfectly legitimate government goal of reducing criminal activity, and the Obama operation, designed to mislead and misinform the American public into quiescently giving up their constitutional rights to gun ownership and possession. And never forget that Obama and his gun-hating administration had what they believed was a clever, fail-safe, fall- back position: if they were exposed they could always point to Project Gunrunner and blame everything on Bush.

When you're talking to those liberal co-workers and family members who buy into this garbage and try to blame Bush, ask them this: how many people, American or Mexican, died as a result of the Bush program?

And then ask how many have died because of Fast & Furious?

*A semi-automatic weapon fires only one projectile per each separate trigger pull.

**A fully-automatic weapon fires continuously as long as the trigger is depressed-a machine gun to the civilian mind.

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Greek Tragedy

 The siren song of easy credit for Greece has now trapped Greece into an impossible situation of giving up autonomy or watching their economy crash and burn. From the Telegraph:
The regime of drastic cuts has tipped the economy into a violent downward spiral. They thought that private industry would muddle through as the state went through the austerity mincer. What the EU-IMF "Troika" did not fully understand is how many firms were really part of the state in disguise.

"The Greek government outsources everything," said one official with close knowledge of the events.

Faced with the guillotine, the state first slashed procurement contracts and then stopped paying its bills altogether. The government is now €7bn (£5.8bn) in arrears to private companies, including €3bn in unpaid VAT refunds for exporters. It is why business has borne the brunt of the fiscal squeeze, suffering 450,000 job losses, and why Greece's unemployment has soared to 21pc.

At the same time the banking system seized up. More than €60bn of deposits were withdrawn. By November, no Greek bank could issue a letter of credit accepted anywhere in the world, with calamitous implications for trade. "Greece became a leper, and is now stuck in Catch-22," said one official.

Hellenic Petroleum was unable to import basic fuel. The reason why Greece's reliance on oil imports from Iran jumped from 15pc to 70pc in a two-week period in November was because Tehran agreed to take on the credit risk.

* * *

The rhetoric has turned poisonous as Berlin, Helsinki and The Hague show every sign that they intend to eject Greece from the euro whatever it now does, calculating that the eurozone is at last strong enough to withstand contagion.

German finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble is raising fresh demands, suggesting that Greece should postpone April's elections and appoint a technocrat government for a year without key PASOK and New Democracy parties, prompting the headline "Schaeuble Junta" in newspaper Eleftheros Typos.

DIY Biotech

DIY biology is part of a wider trend in design that's sometimes called maker culture: people are using 3-D printing services or cheap, custom electronic circuits to develop prototypes of gadgets, products, or vehicles. Now that amateurs can put rockets into space, what's to stop them from genetically modifying life forms in the kitchen?

Several DIY biologists have begun making inexpensive equipment so that more people can participate. CoFactor, a California company, now sells a $599 DNA-copying machine called OpenPCR. And via Shapeways, a 3-D printing company, Garvey is selling a plastic test-tube holder he designed. When attached to a drill bit at home, the $50 piece becomes a fast-spinning centrifuge. Near San Francisco, there's now a 2,400-square-foot laboratory called BioCurious, where community members can test their molecular-biology skills.

George Church, a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School, helped pioneer the DIY movement in biology. One reason he thinks the trend can't be dismissed is that the cost of both synthesizing and decoding DNA molecules is now falling five times faster than the cost of computing power. That makes it "very interesting to watch," he says.

Mexico to U.S. -- "No More Weapons"

Mexico has erected a sign spelling out "No More Weapons" using crushed firearms to spell out the words. (Story here).
President Felipe Calderon on Thursday unveiled a "No More Weapons!" billboard made with crushed firearms and placed near the U.S. border. He urged the United States to stop the flow of weapons into Mexico.

The billboard, which is in English and weighs 3 tons, was placed near an international bridge in Ciudad Juarez and can be seen from the United States.

Calderon said the billboard's letters were made with weapons seized by local, state and federal authorities.

"Dear friends of the United States, Mexico needs your help to stop this terrible violence that we're suffering," Calderon said in English during the unveiling ceremony.

"The best way to do this is to stop the flow of automatic weapons into Mexico," he added.
I fully agree. Although there are major inconsistencies as to the number of weapons seized, and the number that allegedly came from the U.S., it is clear that sales of military weapons to Mexico and other Central American countries comprise the bulk of the weapons used by the drug cartels. (See here, citing Wikileaks cables; this article discussing weapons being stolen from the El Salvadoran military and sold to cartels; this article noting that over 90% of the weapons seized by Mexico do not come from the United States). And don't forget the thousands of weapons that the ATF allowed to cross the border.

To sum up, it is the United States government that is indirectly arming the drug cartels:
If you ever watch video or look at pictures of the drug war in Mexico, you'll notice some pretty heavy weapons. This is a war being waged with rockets and plastic explosives, not pea shooters and Saturday Night Specials. Consider these incidents:

- A M26A2 fragmentation grenade used against a U.S. Consulate in Mexico in 2008

- Explosive projectiles and 21 grenades found during a raid in Guadalupe

- An unexploded grenade and pull ring used to attack a TV station in Monterrey

- Automatic weapons, including U.S.-made M16s, found at a cartel crime scene in May 2009

- U.S. military-issued ammunition found in a cartel raid in Reynosa in November 2008

You can't buy this stuff at a U.S. gun store. So where do the cartels get it? According to leaked diplomatic cables, there are three sources.

1. U.S. Defense Department shipments to Latin America, known and tracked by the U.S. State Department as "foreign military sales."

2. Weapons ordered by the Mexican government, tracked by the State Department as "direct commercial sales."

3. Aging, but plentiful arsenals of military weapon stores in Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua.

Even though these facts were well-known by the Obama administration, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Attorney General Eric Holder, it blamed much of the violence in Mexico on U.S. gun stores.

"More than 90 percent of the guns recovered in Mexico come from the United States, many from gun shops that line our border," President Obama said in February 2009.

That was contested, but few listened to gun store owners and former vets like Lynn Kartchner, owner of Allsafe Security, a gun shop in Douglas, Ariz.

"We in the gun industry knew from Day One the allegations that the preponderance of sales came from gun stores like this one was totally not true," Kartchner said.

In fact, many of these weapons are getting to Mexico via the U.S. government. Tens of thousands of firearms and explosives are sold legally through the U.S. State Department to the Mexican government. These weapons are then funneled to the traffickers and cartels by corrupt officials within the Mexico Ministry of Defense and local and state police departments.

According to State Department documents, in 2009 Mexico bought nearly $177 million worth of American-made weapons, exceeding sales to Iraq and Afghanistan. That number includes $20 million in semi- and fully automatic weapons.

"Most of the M16s were sold legally to the Mexican government and disappeared," Kartchner added.

State Department cables obtained by WikiLeaks confirm that fear. One cable from November 2009 reads, "U.S. law enforcement has fair reason to worry a number of weapons simply disappear... "

Another from June 2009 says, "Rogue elements of the Guatemalan military are selling weapons to narcos."

“These are weapons that have been stockpiled either through U.S. aid programs or currently being shipped there under the guise of military support," said a confidential informant in Arizona who has worked for federal agencies such as the FBI, ATF and DEA.

"The governments and military in those countries realize that the economy is such that they are far better off to push these weapons north and sell them than they are to keep them in their own arsenals and reserves," he said.

Evidence of that is also contained in the Small Arms Survey. The table shows U.S. government sales of rifles, machine guns and handguns in the hundreds of thousands over a five-year period number.

And a GAO report from last year details both foreign military and direct commercial sales of arms from 2005 to 2009.

After looking at a warehouse full of high-powered weapons, allegedly stolen by a corrupt Mexican federal police officer, the informant said it was obvious to him that such weapons did not come from the "mom and pop" gun stores identified by the administration.
Calderon's own statement (perhaps inadvertently) underscores this fact. He called for the U.S. to stop the flow of automatic weapons. With limited exceptions, automatic weapons are restricted to law enforcement and military in the United States. You can't walk into a gun store and just buy one. So, even Calderon recognizes that it is the sale of military weapons that is the problem.

So, I agree with Mexican President Felipe Calderon. We should cut off the flow of automatic weapons to Mexico. And the best way to do that is to immediately stop all sales of military weapons to the Mexican government.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Harvard Scientists Create Pop-Up Micro-bots

Harvard scientists have invented a method of mass-producing robot insects - creating 'sheets' of tiny robot bees that pop up ready for action.

When activated, a 2.4 millimetre-tall robot insect 'pops up' out of the sheet. The scientists say they aim to create 'swarms' of independently flying robot insects.

The entire product is approximately the size of a U.S. quarter, and dozens of the microrobots could 'pop up' out of a single sheet.

* * *
The sheets consist of carbon fibre, plastic film, titanium brass and ceramic, laser cut into a sheet.They are assembled by robots and can be mass-produced rapidly.

The 18-layer structure incorporates flexible hinges that allow the three-dimensional product—just 2.4 millimeters tall—to assemble in one movement, like a pop-up book.
Photos and video at the link.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Greece Continues Its Death Spiral


I had linked recently to an op-ed that described Greece as being in a death spiral. Things seem to just be getting worse
New figures showed that economic output slumped by 7 per cent year-on-year in the fourth quarter of 2011 – amid increasing fears that Greece will not deliver the £2.8billion cuts package it has pledged in return for another huge bailout.

Experts had expected a fall of only 5 per cent ahead of the latest round of deeply unpopular austerity measures.

* * *

Greece is now in its fifth year of recession and faces even deeper spending cuts in exchange for bailout funds from Europe and the Inter-national Monetary Fund.

‘We were expecting the recession to get worse but not at this pace,’ said Nikos Magginas, senior economist at National Bank of Greece.

Fears that Greece is heading for a chaotic default on its towering debts were fuelled after an emergency meeting of eurozone finance ministers planned for tonight was cancelled.

Jean-Claude Juncker, the Luxembourg Prime Minister who chairs the so-called eurogroup, said he was still waiting to receive assurances from Greek leaders over the £2.8billion package of cuts to wages, jobs and pensions.

Athens went up in flames on Sunday night as Greek MPs voted for the savage austerity bill to satisfy their international paymasters and secure a new £110billion bailout.

Mr Juncker said ‘further technical work’ was required between Greece and the troika of lenders – the European Union, the European Central Bank and the IMF – including details of another £270million of cuts.

‘Furthermore, I did not yet receive the required political assurances from the leaders of the Greek coalition parties on the implementation of the programme,’ he said.

Greek conservative party leader Antonis Samaras – a frontrunner to win elections in April – refused to sign a written pledge to implement painful spending cuts if he becomes prime minister.

Mr Samaras has suggested that he would rather renegotiate the terms of the austerity package thrashed out on Sunday night – much to the irritation of European leaders.

‘So far Samaras has not given a letter of commitment and this is a problem,’ said a source close to the talks.

European aides also said that last night’s meeting of the ‘euro working group’ – senior officials from eurozone finance ministries – was disrupted by a widening split over whether Athens can be trusted with a second bailout.
With a crumbling economy, Greece can't count on taxes from greater productivity.  In fact, with a declining population, I'm not sure that they could count on taxes even if their economy was doing okay. If they raise taxes on their productive class, their economy will further collapse.

They have been lying about adopting austerity measures, but that doesn't seem to be working anymore. No one trusts them. With a lack of trust, they can't count on borrowing.

They will probably start trying to bully money out of the E.U.

A Story on the Mormon Practice of Baptism on Behalf of the Dead...

... at the Washington Post. This is something that is sure to garner even more attention as the Presidential Race continues.

What? You Can't Suspend the Laws of Economics?

Back in college, I learned some silly nonsense about the interrelation between supply and demand. Government types that never bothered to take Econ 101 always think that you can manipulate demand by regulating supply. The problem is that when you artificially move to reduce supply, such as through laws and regulations, then unscrupulous people will attempt to fill the deficit. And unscrupulous people aren't always going to manufacture the best quality products.
The discovery that a fake version of the widely used cancer medicine Avastin is circulating in the United States is raising new fears that the multibillion-dollar drug-counterfeiting trade is increasingly making inroads in the U.S.

The practice has largely been relegated to poor countries with lax regulations. But with more medicines and drug ingredients for sale in the U.S. being manufactured overseas, American authorities are afraid more counterfeits will find their way into this country, putting patients’ lives at risk.

* * *

The FDA announced Tuesday it is investigating fake vials of Avastin that were sold to at least 19 doctors or clinics, including 16 sites in California, two in Texas and one in Chicago. Tests showed the vials did not contain the active ingredient in Avastin, which is given intravenously in hospitals, clinics and doctors’ offices to treat several types of cancer.

The contents of the vials are still being analyzed, and the FDA said it has not received any reports of patients who were harmed.

FDA officials said the counterfeit Avastin was imported from Britain and distributed by Volunteer Distribution, a wholesaler based in Gainesboro, Tenn. British regulators notified the FDA about the products in December, but the agency didn’t confirm they were fake until last week.
(Full story here).

Galactic Collision Creates a Larger Black Hole

The black hole was detected three years ago in the edge-on spiral galaxy ESO 243-49, about 290 million light-years from Earth, and raised a question that's been bugging astronomers ever since.

... [S]cientists are just beginning to figure out how galaxy formation can lead to the creation of supermassive black holes that are millions or billions of times heavier than the sun. This particular black hole, designated HLX-1, was even more of a puzzler: It's about 20,000 times as massive as our sun, a kind of midsize monster that's rarely seen in our celestial neighborhood.

... Now he and his colleagues are suggesting that the midsize black hole is a leftover from a dwarf galaxy's unfortunate encounter with the much bigger galaxy less than 200 million years earlier.

They came to that conclusion based on observations of light toward the reddish side of the spectrum — so much red light that it can't be explained just by the blaze of material falling into the black hole. Farrell and his colleagues think the light is coming from a cluster of hot stars surrounding the black hole.

"The fact that there’s a very young cluster of stars indicates that the intermediate-mass black hole may have originated as the central black hole in a very low-mass dwarf galaxy," Farrell said in a news release from the European Space Agency's Hubble team. "The dwarf galaxy was then swallowed by the more massive galaxy."

As the dwarf galaxy was ripped apart, the black hole and some of its surrounding material would have survived.

The researchers say it's not yet clear what will happen to the black hole. It might spiral into the center of ESO 243-49, merging with the supermassive black hole that's already there. Or it might settle into a stable orbit in the bigger galaxy's outer environs. Either way, the X-ray emissions that brought the black hole to light in the first place will eventually fade away.