Thursday, May 31, 2012

Space X Dragon Capsule Successfully Returns to Earth

The people at Space X should be proud of their accomplishment. From Cosmic Log:

SpaceX's Dragon cargo capsule parachuted to a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean today, ending the first-ever commercial mission to the International Space Station.

The 19-foot-long (6-meter-long), gumdrop-shaped Dragon made history last week as the first U.S. craft to reach the orbital station since last year's retirement of the space shuttle fleet, and it made history today as the first commercial craft to return a shipment from orbit.

The billionare founder of California-based SpaceX, Elon Musk, reported the Dragon's return in a Twitter tweet: "Splashdown successful!!"

It Isn't About Equal Rights

I've posted before about the ultimate aim behind the move to legalize "gay" marriage is to force a change in people's religious beliefs. This story merely supports my point:

A church in rural Indiana has gone on lock-down and its pastor has fled into hiding after a shocking video emerged of a four-year-old boy singing a homophobic song.

The clip shows the child receiving raucous applause and a standing ovation as he chants 'ain't no homos gonna make it to heaven.'

On Wednesday, members of Apostolic Truth Tabernacle Church in Greensburg, Indiana, said they have received death threats over the publication of the video.
If the issue was equal rights under the law, no one would care about this incident. Instead, it has become international news because the church members hold a belief that is not politically correct. The time is not far off when an incident like this will result in an investigation of child abuse by child protective services.

Monday, May 28, 2012

"China's Expansive Territorial Claims"

China is now engaged in bitter disputes with the Philippines over Scarborough Shoal and Japan over the Senkaku Islands, both located far beyond China’s 200-mile-wide territorial waters in the South China Sea. Indeed, so expansive are China’s claims nowadays that many Asians are wondering what will satisfy China’s desire to secure its “core interests.” Are there no limits, or does today’s China conceive of itself as a restored Middle Kingdom, to whom the entire world must kowtow?

So far, China has formally referred to Taiwan, Tibet, and Xinjiang province as “core interests,” a phrase that connotes an assertion of national sovereignty and territorial integrity that will brook no compromise. Now China is attempting to apply the same term to the Senkaku Islands in its dispute with Japan, and is perilously close to making the same claim for the entire South China Sea; indeed, some Chinese military officers already have.

. . . [A]t a meeting in Beijing earlier this month between Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao during a trilateral summit with South Korea, Wen mentioned the independence movement in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and the Senkaku Islands in the same breath. “It is important to respect China’s core interests and issues of major concern,” he emphasized.

Until that moment, the Chinese government had never applied the term “core interest” to the Senkaku Islands. Following Wen’s statement, the trilateral summit deteriorated. While South Korean President Lee Myung-bak held bilateral talks with Chinese President Hu Jintao, talks between Noda and Hu, and a scheduled meeting between Keidanren Chairman Hiromasa Yonekura and Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, were also canceled. The joint declaration issued at the summit was delayed a day, and omitted all references to North Korea – a prime concern of both Japan and South Korea.

. . . If gruff diplomacy was the only manifestation of China’s expansive territorial claims, Asian leaders could sleep more peacefully. But the fact is that China’s navy is becoming increasingly active in the South China Sea, at the Senkaku Islands and Scarborough Shoal in particular, but also around the Spratly Islands claimed by Vietnam. Given China’s mushrooming military budget and secretiveness, that assertiveness has set off alarm bells among the other countries bordering the South China Sea.

Moreover, China’s bullying of the Philippines included not only the dispatch of warships to Scarborough Shoals, but also the sudden imposition of import restrictions on Filipino produce. And China’s reactions toward Japan are far more paranoid since a non-LDP government took power.

The struggles for power within China’s ruling Communist Party over the purge of Bo Xilai, and the blind activist Chen Guangcheng’s escape from detention during economic talks with the US, have made Chinese leaders’ nationalist assertions even more strident than usual. No official wants to appear soft where China’s supposed “core interests” are concerned.

Prediction that Greece Will Exit the Eurozone on June 18

Greece will leave the euro zone on June 18 if the populist government wins the country’s elections on the 17 as the rest of the euro zone rounds on "cheaters," Nick Dewhirst, director at wealth management firm Integral Asset Management, told Monday.

* * *

He said suggestions of a bank run and contagion have been overplayed by some quarters.

“Yes, the banks would run dry but it can be done, there is a lot more money electronically than there is cash. In Argentina they closed everyone’s bank account and then they were reopened using Pesos. The club would rally round the rest so the weaker members - Spain, Italy, Ireland and Portugal -would receive a massive support mechanism. The Germans would provide support to the rest of the euro but not to the Greeks,” he said.

Kit Juckes, global head of foreign exchange at Societe Generale, told CNBC’s “Worldwide Exchange” that the best outcome was “the status quo.” “A Greek economy in depression, austerity that guarantees they’ll stay in depression and living on life support from the rest of Europe is the best,” he said.
I don't think that "cheating" is the right word. "Mooching" is the better term.

There is also this:

British electrical retailer Dixons has spent the last few weeks stockpiling security shutters to protect its nearly 100 stores across Greece in case of riot.

The planning, says Dixons chief Sebastian James, may look alarmist but it's good to be prepared.

Company bosses around Europe agree.

As the financial crisis in Greece worsens, companies are getting ready for everything from social unrest to a complete meltdown of the financial system.

Those preparations include sweeping cash out of Greece every night, cutting debts, weeding out badly paying customers and readying for a switch to a new Greek drachma if the country is forced to abandon the euro.

"Most companies are getting ready and preparing for a Greek exit and have looked at cash, treasury and currency issues," said Roger Bayly, a partner at advisory and accountancy firm KPMG.

The Puppet Masters

The Bilderberg group is set to have their meeting in Virginia this year. According to this article from Infowars:
With over a thousand protesters heading to the site of the 2012 Bilderberg Group meeting, Bilderberg insiders are becoming increasingly concerned at how the spectacle will impact their much cherished desire for secrecy, according to our sources.

As we divulged earlier this month, Alex Jones has developed two sources who have intimate connections with the Bilderberg Group, the shadowy organization set to meet this week at the Westfields Marriott Washington Dulles hotel in Chantilly, Virginia.

The sources, one of whom was able to relate that the code name for this year’s confab is the “Palm Tree Conference,” tell us that Bilderberg’s inner circle has become irate in recent days over having to beef their security preparations in anticipation of record numbers of demonstrators.

Bilderberg is also fuming over the significant amount of press coverage they have received before the conference has even started, most notably a Politico article that highlighted an story about Florida Senator Marco Rubio being a Bilderberg favorite for Romney’s VP.

Bilderberg has worked for over 50 years to keep the details of their meetings private, but this year’s confab promises to deliver a deluge of revelations about the group’s agenda, a threat that has Bilderberg running scared.
Well, if the Occupy movement is actually true to their supposed beliefs (confused as they are), they should be out in force at this meeting.

The author of this article believes that the U.S. Presidential Election will be one of the topics:
Every time a Bilderberg Meeting takes place, important things happen. The last time they met in the US was an election year, 2008 – and the world got Obama. This year they’re back in the US: will they decide who the next president will be?

­When in 2008 they gathered from June 5 to 8 in Chantilly, Virginia – just a stone’s throw from the Washington DC – Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were neck-in-neck in the battle for the Democratic Party’s presidential candidacy.

On June 5 of that year, Barack and Hillary mysteriously “disappeared” for some hours “somewhere in the DC area.” Their agendas blocked out, they clearly sneaked off to “Meet the Bilderbergers.”

The media kept mum about that, save for an Associated Press report on the campaign trail saying that, "reporters traveling with Obama sensed something might be happening between the pair (i.e. Obama and Hillary) when they arrived at Dulles International Airport after an event in Northern Virginia and Obama was not aboard the airplane. Asked at the time about the Illinois Senator's whereabouts, Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs smiled and declined to comment." (The AP dispatch “Obama and Clinton meet, discuss uniting Democrats” is, strangely, “no longer available” on their website).

Be that as it may, two days later, Hillary withdrew from the race and Obama became the presidential candidate. Did Bilderberg make Hillary “an offer she couldn’t refuse” to clear the way for Obama to the White House? Did they promise her that she would become his Secretary of State?

Although most Bilderberg annual meetings are held in Europe – France, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, Denmark, England, Scotland, Norway – this US election year they’re again gathering at the Westfield Marriott Hotel in Virginia from May 30 to June 3. Either they’re very fond of that place… or of US elections… or both…!
He also explains:
So what exactly is Bilderberg? It’s neither an organization nor a lobby. The “Bilderberg Meetings,” as they dub themselves in their (apparently) official website, is a “by-invitation-only” club of around 140 very high-power people from business, finance, oil, politics, media, industry, academia and nobility who come together in a very private no-media / no cameras / extremely-tight-security surroundings to discuss… Well… there’s the rub: what exactly do they discuss?

They describe themselves as “a small, flexible, informal and off-the-record international forum in which different viewpoints can be expressed and mutual understanding enhanced. Bilderberg's only activity is its annual Conference. At the meetings, no resolutions are proposed, no votes taken, and no policy statements issued.”

True enough. Actually, they don’t need to because each individual member’s power is so very vast that whatever they agree will forcefully span the globe through their far-reaching leverage and clout.

So what are we to think of the altruistic or benevolent nature of the meetings? As Adam Smith stated: "People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.”

Of course, this is a little more than two butchers conspiring to fix prices. The attendees represent some of the most powerful and influential people in government and industry. So, perhaps Ether 8:25 is more appropriate. And for those who think it is a little paranoid to question the purposes of these meetings, remember that it was a similar, albeit smaller, meeting that was behind the transfer of banking and currency authority from the government to the Federal Reserve:
The 1910 "duck hunt" on Jekyll Island included Senator Nelson Aldrich, his personal secretary Arthur Shelton, former Harvard University professor of economics Dr. A. Piatt Andrew, J.P. Morgan & Co. partner Henry P. Davison, National City Bank president Frank A. Vanderlip and Kuhn, Loeb, and Co. partner Paul M. Warburg. From the start the group proceeded covertly. They began by shunning the use of their last names and met quietly at Aldrich's private railway car in New Jersey. In 1916, B. C. Forbes discussed the Jekyll conference in his book Men Who Are Making America and illuminates, "To this day these financiers are Frank and Harry and Paul [and Piatt] to one another and the late Senator remained 'Nelson' to them until his death. Later [, following the Jekyll conference,] Benjamin Strong, Jr., was called into frequent consultation and he joined the 'First-Name Club' as 'Ben.'" This book as well as a magazine article by Forbes is the only public mention to the conference until around 1930, when Paul Warburg's book The Federal Reserve System: Its Origin and Growth and Nathaniel Wright Stephenson's book Nelson W. Aldrich: A Leader in American Politics were published.

Nathaniel Stephenson, in the Notes section of his biography on Senator Aldrich, suggests that B.C. Forbes learned of the Jekyll conference from an incident taking place at the Brunswick train depot. Stephenson writes, "In the station at Brunswick, Ga., where they ostentatiously talked of sport, the station master gave them a start. 'Gentleman,' said he, 'this is all very pretty, but I must tell you we know who you are and the reporters are waiting outside.' But Mr. Davison was not flustered. 'Come out, old man,' said he, 'I will tell you a story.' They went out together. When Mr. Davison returned he was smiling. 'That's all right,' said he, 'they won't give us away.' The rest is silence. The reporters disappeared and the secret of the strange journey was not divulged. No one asked him how he managed it and he did not volunteer the information." From the Brunswick train station the men boarded a boat and traveled on to Jekyll Island.

The Jekyll Island conference offered a secluded location to discuss banking ideas and enabled the development of a plan that eventually became the Federal Reserve Banking System. The Federal Reserve System is the name given to the twelve central banks regulating America's banking industry and it insures that depositors will not lose their money in the event of funds mismanagement from an accredited bank. Paul Warburg in his book The Federal Reserve System: Its Origin and Growth explains the reason for secrecy behind the meeting. He states, "It is well to remember that the period during which these discussions took place was the time of the struggle of the financial Titans- the period of big combinations [of businesses], with bitter fights for control. All over the country there was a deep feeling of fear and suspicion with regard to Wall Street's power and ambitions."

Obtaining permission from J. Pierpont Morgan to use the facilities of the Jekyll Island Club, the conference attendees most likely resided in the clubhouse for about ten days. The meeting required long days and late nights of contemplation and reflection. European banking practices were assessed and numerous conversations held regarding the best way to craft a non-partisan banking reform bill. Paul Warburg in the book Henry P. Davison: The Record of a Useful Life recalls, "After we had completed the sketch of the bill, and before setting down to its definitive formulation, it was decided that we had earned 'a day off' which was to be devoted to duck shooting." The Jekyll Island Club was originally formed in 1886 as a hunting preserve and in the 1910s was well stocked with animals such as pheasants and wild hogs. Several ponds on the island attracted numerous game birds and wild ducks.

William Barton McCash and June Hall McCash in the book The Jekyll Island Club: Southern Haven for America's Millionaires offers this narrative of the Jekyll conference. They mention, "How long the surreptitious meeting lasted is uncertain, although the group spent Thanksgiving on the island, where they dined on 'wild turkey with oyster stuffing.' They worked throughout the day and night, taking only sporadic time out to explore Jekyl and enjoy its delights. Aldrich and Davison were both so taken with...[Jekyll Island]... that they joined the club in 1912."

For years members of the Jekyll Island Club would recount the story of the secret meeting and by the 1930s the narrative was considered a club tradition. The conference's solution to America's banking problems called for the creation of a central bank. Although Congress did not pass the reform bill submitted by Senator Aldrich, it did approve a similar proposal in 1913 called the Federal Reserve Act. The Federal Reserve System of today mirrors in essence the plan developed on Jekyll Island in 1910.
Whether you believe that the Federal Reserve has been good for the country or, like Milton Friedman, that it caused the Great Depression, the meeting was real, and represented a private conspiracy to introduce legislation creating a central bank whose controlling members just happened to be the very same banks whose management was involved in the meeting.

Review of "In Search of Muhammad" by Robert Spencer

This is from a review and summary of the book, In Search of Muhammad by Robert Spencer.  The review comes from the American Spectator.
Without indulging in polemics or pushing a partisan political agenda, the author simply investigates the question of whether we can really trust the traditional Islamic accounts for the life of Muhammad and the supposed early days of Islam during the Arab conquests.

To be sure, serious scholarship on Islamic historiography dates back to the latter half of the 19th century -- with the works of the Belgian Jesuit Henri Lammens and the acclaimed Geschichte des Qorans by Theodor Noldeke, to name just two pioneers of the field -- and Spencer makes no pretense to originality.

Yet a traditional problem with Islamic historiography has been the intended audience: that is, the academic specialist assumed to have extensive background knowledge, rather than the general reader. Thus, Spencer's book serves a useful purpose, for it flows nicely while providing the reader with a firm grounding for delving deeper into the subject. Indeed, the author provides a handy "Further Reading List" (pp. 239-40) for anyone interested in consulting specialist works. Spencer also deserves credit for integrating his sources nicely into his writing, avoiding the practice of simply quoting verbatim large chunks from other authors.

SO WHAT ARE THE MAIN arguments against the historicity of the traditional Islamic accounts of Muhammad's life and the subsequent rise of Islam through the Arab conquests?

To begin with, contemporary non-Muslim sources of the 7th century do not corroborate the canonical story. For example, the Doctrina Jacobi (a document dating to 634-40 CE and probably written by a Christian living in Palestine; p. 20), an account of the Arab conquest of Jerusalem by Sophronius -- the patriarch who is said to have surrendered the city in 637 -- and a letter written in 647 by the patriarch of Seleucia make no reference to the Arab conquerors as Muslims, or show any awareness of a religion called Islam.

The earliest account that can reliably be taken to refer to Muhammad is a chronicle by the Armenian bishop Sebeos, dating either to the 660s or 670s but containing material that sharply diverges from the traditional Islamic accounts: thus he has Muhammad "insisting on the Jews' right to the Holy Land -- even if in the context of claiming that land for the Ishmaelites, acting in conjunction with the Jews" (p. 32).

Only by around 730 CE, nearly one hundred years after Muhammad's death in 632 CE according to the canonical story, do we see an account by John of Damascus make detailed reference to parts of the Qur'an, but even then he does not name the Qur'an or allude to the existence of a complete holy book for those he calls "Hagarians," "Ishmaelites" or "Saracens" (but not Muslims).

Instead, we have reference to Qur'anic chapter titles like "The Women" (this is the fourth Sura of the Qur'an today), implying that he was drawing on fragments of text that were later incorporated into the Qur'an.

Arabic epigraphic evidence from the 7th century similarly fails to validate the canonical account. An inscription attributed to the first Umayyad caliph -- Muawiya -- in 677 or 678 CE makes reference to belief in God but gives no indication of belief in Muhammad as his messenger or the Qur'an as revealed scripture.

On coins from this period, we do find the word "Muhammad" inscribed, but curiously the inscription comes under kingly figures bearing a cross, a symbol of Christianity that is totally antithetical to traditional Islam (pp. 43-4).

Bearing in mind that "Muhammad" can also mean "the chosen/praised one," the coins could well be conveying the idea that the ruler is praised or chosen in God's name (p. 45). Alternatively, they could be referring to Jesus -- at a time when the religion of the Arab conquerors was still a vague monotheism -- or a proto-Muhammad figure still very much unlike the man depicted in the traditional accounts of his life. Even the inscriptions on the Dome of the Rock -- completed in 691 CE and often thought to be the first elaborations on traditional Islamic theology -- could be referring to Jesus, explaining how he ("Muhammad") is a mere messenger and not divine as orthodox Christianity held (pp. 56-7).

IT IS ONLY TOWARDS the middle of the 8th century (735 CE onwards) that we begin to see very clear epigraphic evidence referring to Muhammad as we know him from the Ahadith (plural of hadith) and Sira (pp. 61-2). This observation leads nicely to an examination of the reliability of biographical material from the Ahadith and Sira concerning the sunna (i.e. example) of Muhammad. The centrality of the Ahadith and Sira in interpreting various Qur'anic verses, whose meaning would otherwise be entirely obscure, cannot be overstated.
Read the whole thing.

Obama's Birth Certificate

Despite the release of Obama's record of birth, there are questions concerning the validity of the documents. World Net Daily (WND) reports:
Rivera’s guest was Lord Christopher Monckton, a prominent challenger of manmade global warming, who recently met with Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio who announced March 1 probable cause exists that Obama’s birth certificate and Selective Service Cards are forgeries.

“I have since had independent investigations made, and have discovered that there are clear irregularities in the document,” Monckton said.

“You’re all smoking crack together,” Rivera interrupted, pressing him to “name one irregularity.”

“I have consulted a 20-year expert in forgery of documents,” Monckton explained, “and I said I want reassurance that this document on the website is genuine. And the guy, having had a good look at it, said ‘I can’t do that.’ He says there are 17 red flags on this document: everything from the number of layers in the document so you can move the stamps about at will, to the fact that some of the document has been oriented incorrectly, the spacing of the words, the spacing of the letters, the number of different typefaces used by what should have been a single typewriter, there are just so many.”

Monckton also said the issue of Obama’s natural-born citizenship had to be cleared up with certainty, since every law signed by Obama could possibly be considered non-valid.

“Because he has signed as president various bills creating criminal offenses,” he noted, “it is open to the lawyers for any of those accused of such offenses to say in their defense, we want to satisfy ourselves that this law is a valid act.”

Sunday, May 27, 2012

U.K. Draws Up Plans to Restrict Immigrants if Euro Collapses

The Home Secretary says that the Government is already “looking at the trends” to determine whether immigration from beleaguered European countries is increasing. While there is no evidence of increased migration at present, she adds that it is “difficult to say how it is going to develop in coming weeks”.

On the subject of whether emergency immigration controls are under consideration, Mrs May says: “It is right that we do some contingency planning on this [and] that is work that is ongoing.”

The introduction of immigration controls within the EU would undermine a key part of the single market. However, it is allowed in “exceptional” circumstances under European law.

Controls are most likely to include restrictions on people seeking to work in Britain, who could be made to apply for visas.

Several European governments introduced temporary immigration controls when countries such as Poland and the Czech Republic joined the EU, to stop an influx of workers. France also threatened to reintroduce passport controls at the Italian border following an influx of Libyan and Tunisian refugees during the Arab Spring.

David Cameron has already said that Britain has made contingency plans to deal with the break-up of the single currency.

They involve preparations to evacuate Britons from Greece if civil disobedience spirals out of control....

Obama's History of Drug Abuse

Of course, you won't see the story spun that way, but it is true. This is part of the report from the Daily Mail:
A new book that delves into Barack Obama's teenage years gives fresh insight into the president's marijuana-smoking days as a high school student in the 1970s.

It reveals how a teen Obama and his friends formed The Choom Gang - slang for smoking marijuana - in which he invented inhaling techniques and rode a car called the Choomwagon.

In the book, Barack Obama: The Story, biographer David Maraniss calls the future president 'Barry' and reveals he 'was known for starting a few pot-smoking trends'.

One was 'total absorption' or 'TA', the rules of which stated that if you exhaled early, 'you were assessed a penalty and your turn was skipped the next time the joint came around'.

Another idea was 'Roof Hits' - rolling up car windows to stop smoke blowing out and going to waste.

'When the pot was gone, they tilted their heads back and sucked in the last bit of smoke from the ceiling,' Maraniss writes in the book, excerpted on Google Books and due out June 19.

'Wasting good bud smoke was not tolerated,' an old school friend told the author.And if that rule didn't give enough of an insight into how much Obama loved his marijuana, Maraniss goes on to reveal he was known for his 'interceptions' when a joint was being passed around.

'He often elbowed his way in, out of turn, shouted "intercepted", and took an extra hit,' he writes.

The anecdotes are from Obama's time studying at Punahou School in Honolulu, Hawaii and Occidental College in Los Angeles.

It is not the first time the spotlight has fallen on his teenage use of marijuana. In his 1995 autobiography, Dreams from My Father, the president made the admission himself.

He wrote about some of his smoking haunts, including 'a white classmate’s sparkling new van', 'in the dorm room of some brother' and 'on the beach with a couple of Hawaiian kids'.

'Pot had helped, and booze; maybe a little blow when you could afford it,' he adds in the memoir.

But Maraniss is quick to point out that Obama was surrounded with the drug in Hawaii - where a wide selection of varieties were on offer - and that 'Barry' did not fit the stereotype of a teen pot smoker.

'In fact, most members of the Choom Gang were decent students and athletes who went on to successful and productive lawyers, writers and businessmen,' he writes.
This doesn't describe a kid who had one or two puffs. Rather, this describes a spoiled rich (or, at least well-off) kid who regularly used drugs, and invented ways to get higher; and combined the drug use with drinking alcoholic beverages. In other words, the classic drug abuser.

Notably, the story also mentions that Obama wrote thanks in his yearbook to
"Tut [his grandmother], Gramps, Choom Gang, and Ray for all the good times." So who was "Ray"? "Ray, who dealt pot to the group and was known for his ability 'to score quality bud', was later killed by a 'scorned gay lover' armed with a hammer." I find the sexual orientation of Obama's drug dealer interesting, given the rumors of Obama's homosexual affairs.

Silent Run on Spanish Banks

I read somewhere recently that "bank run" is one of the top search queries on Google. So, I did some looking on Google to see what was happening in Spain, given the announcement of a bailout of the one of the major Spanish banks.

The LA Times has this to say today:
Investors are holding their breath for a run on Spanish banks, as depositors quietly worry whether their money is safe. Electronic transactions are up slightly, with money flowing from smaller Spanish banks to larger ones, and even to accounts outside the country, though the volume is far less than in more deeply troubled Greece.

. . . On May 17, Bankia's shares temporarily lost nearly a third of their value after a Spanish newspaper reported that more than $1 billion had been withdrawn from the bank in the previous week. In a hastily called news conference, the government denied that there had been a run on the bank, and shares recovered some, but not all, of their losses.

. . . The Standard & Poor's ratings agency also announced downgrades late Friday of five Spanish banks, dropping the credit ratings of three, including Bankia, to junk status. All five are cajas, community banks, which are required to invest depositors' money in local development projects with supervision of local politicians.

When Spain's housing and job markets collapsed, the cajas were hit hardest because they specialized in construction and real estate lending, and their investments were not as diversified as those of national or global banks. The previous Socialist government's strategy was to force mergers of small cajas, combining their assets to try to strengthen them against losses. Instead, the result in most cases was simply bigger banks with bigger debts.

Bailing out Spain's entire banking sector, and the cost of insuring its $1.25 trillion in deposits, would far exceed the price tag for rescuing smaller Greece. Spain would almost certainly need international aid to do so. The question is how many banks — what proportion of the entire banking system — Madrid could manage to prop up on its own.

Markets probably will deliver their verdict on Bankia's bailout when trading resumes Monday in Europe, and a day later in the United States, after the Memorial Day holiday.
The problem is that bank runs are harder to see today than in the past. Rather than long lines of people queuing up to withdraw cash, its easy to transfer the money electronically to different banks, or even different nations. Particularly so, because of the common currency.

The New York Times discussed this issue a couple of days ago in this article. It reported:
Ángel de la Peña, a Spanish government worker, is seriously considering the once unthinkable: converting some of his savings from euros to British pounds.

Alvaro Saavedra Lopez, a senior executive for I.B.M. in Spain, says many of his corporate counterparts across the country are similarly looking for safer havens by transferring their spare cash to stronger euro zone countries like Germany “on a daily basis.”

It is only a trickle so far, and not nearly enough to constitute a classic bank run. But these growing transfers of deposits out of troubled Spanish banks reflect a broader fear that the country’s problems could make it hard for Spaniards to get to their money if banks fail and cannot be supported by the government. In a worst case, some even worry their money will be worth substantially less if Spain is forced to leave the euro currency zone and re-adopt its old currency, the peseta.

Money already has been pouring out of banks in Greece, where many citizens believe it is increasingly likely that their country will be forced to leave the euro zone. But for European policy makers and economists, the possibility of mini-runs on banks spreading from Greece to other, bigger countries like Spain — with 1 trillion euros, or $1.25 trillion, in bank deposits — poses a much more serious risk. Indeed, the outflow of money from Spanish banks could increase if the ratings agency Standard & Poor’s, as expected, downgrades Spanish banks, in effect saying that their weakened state makes them riskier.

The havoc that a stampede might cause to the Continent’s financial system would greatly complicate efforts by European Union officials to fashion a longer-term plan to ease the debt crisis and revive Europe’s economy, because authorities would have to cope with the staggering added costs of shoring up banks.

“A bank run can happen very quickly,” said Matt King, an expert on international fund flows in London for Citigroup. “You are fine the night before, but on the morning after it’s too late.” It was a similar liquidity crisis on Wall Street in September 2008 — which started with nervous investors pulling money from troubled institutions, then quickly from healthier ones — that set off the financial crisis.
The article goes on to note:
In Greece, more than two years into its financial crisis, nearly one-third of the country’s bank deposits have already left the country.

There has been no such exodus in Spain so far, where over the last year about 4.3 percent of bank deposits, or 41 billion euros, the equivalent of about $51 billion, has been transferred out of the country. But that amount is in addition to a decline of 140 billion euros in foreign-owned financial assets in the last year, like the sale by foreigners of Spanish government bonds.
As you probably heard, Jim Cramer appeared on Meet the Press last Sunday, and stated: "I'm predicting bank runs in Spain and Italy in the next few weeks. Without coordinated policy there will be financial anarchy." (Source, with video, here).

The real information you would need is unavailable. That would be watching what the people in the know--top bankers and politicians--do with their money. However, unlike Argentina, you won't see people flying out of the country with suitcases crammed with foreign currency. As I indicated, it will be subtle--electronic transfers, mostly. And, of course, the banks and the government will say everything is fine right up until the point that they freeze the accounts.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Hundreds of Words Not To Use Online...

The Department of Homeland Security has been forced to release a list of keywords and phrases it uses to monitor social networking sites and online media for signs of terrorist or other threats against the U.S.

The intriguing the list includes obvious choices such as 'attack', 'Al Qaeda', 'terrorism' and 'dirty bomb' alongside dozens of seemingly innocent words like 'pork', 'cloud', 'team' and 'Mexico'.

Released under a freedom of information request, the information sheds new light on how government analysts are instructed to patrol the internet searching for domestic and external threats.

The words are included in the department's 2011 'Analyst's Desktop Binder' used by workers at their National Operations Center which instructs workers to identify 'media reports that reflect adversely on DHS and response activities'.

Department chiefs were forced to release the manual following a House hearing over documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit which revealed how analysts monitor social networks and media organisations for comments that 'reflect adversely' on the government.

However they insisted the practice was aimed not at policing the internet for disparaging remarks about the government and signs of general dissent, but to provide awareness of any potential threats.
Yeah, because "pork" is a commonly used term to describe natural disasters. What liars.

Anyway, here is the full list:

Newly Discovered Gene Could Lead to Male Birth Control Pill

Edinburgh University scientists have discovered a gene that is key to the production of sperm.

A drug that blocks the gene from working could be used as a contraceptive, liberating women from the burden of family planning.

The research could also lead to a 'genetic vasectomy' - a jab of genes that would leave a man permanently sterile.

Ultimately, within just five to ten years, it could even mean new treatments for infertile men, allowing them to achieve their dream of fatherhood.

The hopes come from an early-stage study in which scientists bred mice in which a gene called Katnal1 didn't work.

This left the male animals infertile. Tests showed that Katnal1 affects a key stage of sperm development, in which 'nursemaid' cells in the testicles nurture and nourish sperm as it matures.

If Katnal1 doesn't work properly, the sperm don't fully mature, the journal PLoS Medicine reports.

The discovery paves the way for drug that temporarily stops the gene from working.
The feminists should hate this--it will take away their monopoly on reproductive decisions.

Stanford Creates an Electronic Road Map for Ancient Rome

Stanford has created a travel map application similar to Google Maps or Map Quest for the Roman Empire, c. 200 A.D. From the Daily Mail:
The project, known as ORBIS: The Stanford Geospatial Network Model of the Roman World, was designed as an exercise to see how such a large-scale organisation could have functioned in the pre-technology days.

To rule this great empire, the Romans relied on energy generated by human and animal bodies, winds, and currents - and used the Roman road networks, the main navigable rivers, and hundreds of sea routes across the Mediterranean, Black Sea, and the coast of the Atlantic.And now, we can retrace those steps, finding the best route in terms of time and expense through ORBIS.

The system also takes into account the seasons, and tries to reflect the conditions around 200 AB, but with a few sites and roads created slightly later that century.

If you are a traveller in need of a destination, there are 751 sites to choose from, most of them urban settlements, and including 268 sea ports.

The road network covers 52,587 miles of road or desert tracks, and 17,567 miles of navigable rivers and canals.

The Stanford team have thought of nearly everything, with sea travel considering monthly wind conditions, strong currents and wave height.

There are 900 sea routes, well, 450 routes going in both directions, and most of them are sourced either from documented historical routes, and supplemented by coastal short-range connections between ports.

Their total length, which varies monthly, averages 111,864 miles.

Standorf said their model was helping them understand how large-scale systems like the Roman Empire worked in a pre-technological age.

The site quotes Fernand Braudel, who in writing about the Mediterranean in the sixteenth century, highlighted the 'struggle against distance' as the 'first enemy' of civilisation.

If you want to try your own hand at travelling Roman-style, try the map here.

The French Atlas is Shrugging

From the New York Times (H/t Instapundit):
With the election of the Socialist François Hollande as president this month, the wealthy in France are suddenly scrambling for places to stash their money for a while.

Well-heeled French citizens are scouring real estate opportunities in neighboring countries like Britain and Switzerland. The United States — particularly New York and Miami — is also drawing French investors looking to pick up rental properties or pieds-à-terre, brokers say.

In recent months, as Mr. Hollande’s victory appeared more possible, the French stepped up their house-hunting visits to New York, several brokers said.

These are not billionaire Russian oligarchs with blank-check budgets on the hunt for trophy properties. The French buyers most active in recent months are generally looking at properties between $500,000 and $5 million, brokers say.

What the French are so concerned about is Mr. Hollande’s campaign vow to tax income over 1 million euros at a 75 percent rate. The Socialist government, trying to put a dent in France’s $1.3 trillion euro debt, has said it will also raise the tax rate on capital gains to the same level as the tax on ordinary income.

“So there would not be any kind of advantage to invest in something in France, in the stock market or real estate,” said Mr. Pous-Bertran de Balanda, who runs Black Tulip Capital, a New York-based real estate asset management company he started last August that helps clients find properties and manages them.

To Mr. Pous-Bertran de Balanda and other wealthy French people, the news feels like a rerun of 1981, when President François Mitterrand decided to nationalize several big companies and raised taxes (though both moves were later reversed). And after the tax policy flip-flops by President Nicolas Sarkozy over the past five years — he gave the wealthy tax breaks only to raise taxes two years later — many in France see their own market is too volatile, and are searching for a safe haven.

The flagging euro and the economic struggles in Greece, Italy and Spain have only further shaken their confidence in investing at home. Last month, a Parisian couple in their 50s decided to buy a $4 million waterfront house in Miami after first considering Cannes, said Christophe Bourreau, a French broker with Barnes International who is now based in New York.

“They feel like the new president is hunting the wealthy,” Mr. Bourreau said, “and that the sooner their money is out of France the better.” The window may close soon: Mr. Hollande has said he will look to put his tax plans in place this summer, after parliamentary elections next month.
Maybe they can start local real estate bubbles and still lose their money.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Space Station Successfully Grabs SpaceX Dragon Capsule

The Dragon was on its way to a 30-meter (98-foot) checkpoint when the team at SpaceX's Mission Control in Hawthorne, Calif., ordered the spacecraft to retreat to a distance of 70 meters (230 feet). NASA's Mission Control said the SpaceX team wanted to correct bad laser sensor readings that the Dragon was getting from a stray reflector on the station's Japanese-built Kibo laboratory. To work around the problem, SpaceX narrowed the field of view for the laser sensor so that it wouldn't pick up light from the offending reflector. Dragon then returned to the 30-meter checkpoint and moved in for the final approach.

When the craft reached a distance of 10 meters (33 feet), NASA astronaut Don Pettit used the station's 17-meter-long (60-foot-long) robotic arm to grab hold of the Dragon's grapple attachment at 9:56 a.m. ET.

"It looks like we've got us a Dragon by the tail," Pettit told Mission Control. Applause broke out at NASA's Johnson Space Center as well as at SpaceX in Hawthorne.

Pettit joked that the operation went so smoothly it felt like a computer simulation. "Looks like this sim went really well," he said. "We're ready to turn it around and do it for real."

It took another couple of hours to pull in the Dragon and get it fully hooked up to the station's Harmony module. NASA and SpaceX refer to this operation as a "berthing" rather than a "docking," because the Dragon is being passively pulled in rather than powering itself into the docking port.

The completion of berthing at 12:02 p.m. ET put SpaceX in the company of four governmental space ventures — NASA, the Russian Federal Space Agency, the European Space Agency and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency — that have built vehicles capable of hooking up with the space station.

Wow! Someone in the MSM Finally Noticed

A nationwide real estate downturn, stalling exports and declining consumer confidence have produced what a Chinese cabinet adviser, quoted on the official government Web site on Thursday, characterized as a “sharp slowdown in the economy.”

Though the Chinese economy continues to expand, construction workers are losing jobs in droves and retail sales grew last month at the slowest pace in more than three years. Investments in fixed assets have increased more slowly this year than in any year since 2001.

The most striking feature of the slowdown is that it extends beyond the coastal provinces, which depend on exports and are closely linked to the global economy, to the country’s far more insular interior, including cities like Xi’an here in northwestern China.

China’s unexpected economic difficulties are starting to unnerve investors in world markets, especially commodity markets, as China is the world’s largest consumer of most raw materials and the second-largest consumer of oil.

A deepening slowdown would ripple across the world economy. Until now, China’s economy barreled ahead mostly unhindered as the main engine of global growth, even as Europe struggled with its government debt crisis and the United States limped along with a crippled housing market.
 Read the whole thing.

Earthquake at the Time of the Crucifixion

The article claims that the earthquake was used to fix the time of the crucifixion, but it appears to me that the crucifixion was used to determine the date of the earthquake. In any event:
Jesus, as described in the New Testament, was most likely crucified on Friday April 3, 33 A.D.

The latest investigation, reported in the journal International Geology Review, focused on earthquake activity at the Dead Sea, located 13 miles from Jerusalem. The Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 27, mentions that an earthquake coincided with the crucifixion:

“And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open.”

To analyze earthquake activity in the region, geologist Jefferson Williams of Supersonic Geophysical and colleagues Markus Schwab and Achim Brauer of the German Research Center for Geosciences studied three cores from the beach of the Ein Gedi Spa adjacent to the Dead Sea.

Varves, which are annual layers of deposition in the sediments, reveal that at least two major earthquakes affected the core: a widespread earthquake in 31 B.C. and an early first century seismic event that happened sometime between 26 A.D. and 36 A.D.

The latter period occurred during “the years when Pontius Pilate was procurator of Judea and when the earthquake of the Gospel of Matthew is historically constrained,” Williams said.

"The day and date of the crucifixion (Good Friday) are known with a fair degree of precision," he said. But the year has been in question.

In terms of textual clues to the date of the crucifixion, Williams quoted a Nature paper authored by Colin Humphreys and Graeme Waddington. Williams summarized their work as follows:
  • All four gospels and Tacitus in Annals (XV,44) agree that the crucifixion occurred when Pontius Pilate was procurator of Judea from 26-36 AD.
  • All four gospels say the crucifixion occurred on a Friday.
  • All four gospels agree that Jesus died a few hours before the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath (nightfall on a Friday).
  • The synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) indicate that Jesus died before nightfall on the 14th day of Nisan; right before the start of the Passover meal.
  • John’s gospel differs from the synoptics; apparently indicating that Jesus died before nightfall on the 15th day of Nisan.
When data about the Jewish calendar and astronomical calculations are factored in, a handful of possible dates result, with Friday April 3, 33 A.D. being the best match, according to the researchers.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

China Warns Australia to Choose Between It or US

One of the more startling pronouncements in this vein occurred last week when Song Xiaojun, a former senior officer of the People's Liberation Army, warned that Australia cannot juggle its relationships with the United States and China indefinitely and "Australia has to find a godfather sooner or later. Australia always has to depend on somebody else, whether it is to be the 'son' of the US or 'son' of China. (It) depends on who is more powerful, and based on the strategic environment." Noting the rising importance of China as an export market Song added that Australia depended on exporting iron ore to China "to feed itself," but "Frankly, it has not done well politically."

What is also notable about Song’s remarks is that they coincided with Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr's first official visit to China, where Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi urged Australia to dismiss its alliance with the United States, a decades-old bipartisan and central pillar of the nation’s foreign policy, as ''the time for Cold War alliances has passed.''

The year 2012 is significant for the two nations, as it marks the 40th anniversary of the establishment of Australian-Chinese diplomatic relations.

Australia is one of the few countries to actually run a trade surplus with China, which for the period January-November 2011, amounted to $15.15 billion, a 274.2 percent increase over 2010. Last year Australia-China bilateral trade rose to $80.73 billion, up by 44.2 percent. Australia’s exports to China were worth $47.94 billion growing 59.7 percent over the previous year, accounting for 25 percent of Australia’s total exports. Last year Australian imported $32.79 billion of goods from China.

China is now Australia’s largest trading partner, as well as its single biggest export market and import source, while Australia is now China’s seventh-largest trading partner. While iron ore is Australia’s single largest export item to China, worth $35 billion in 2010, energy exports are also significant as in 2010 Australia exported 17 million tons of coking coal to China, accounting for 37 percent of China’s total coking coal imports, a trade that is expected to increase by around 20 percent by 2015 as new mining and infrastructure investments in Queensland and New South Wales come online.

Such trade can only increase in the future, as both Australia and China are moving towards concluding a Free Trade Agreement.
Empires often turn to pillaging foreign countries to sustain their economies (e.g., Rome, Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union). Australia presents a large land area with significant natural resources (i.e., lebensraum), with a small military and disarmed populace, no nuclear weapons, and is morally crippled by political correctness. China is showing clear signs of imperial ambition. I fear for Australia's future.

China Blames Philippines for Escalating Tensions

China has acknowledged sending additional ships to the territory it disputes with the Philippines in the South China Sea but is blaming Manila for the escalation.

Thursday, China on called the Philippines "insincere" in wanting to resolve a two-month standoff about a disputed island in the South China Sea.

China’s Foreign Ministry cited unspecified provocative actions by Manila around the Scarborough Shoal.

At the same time, spokesman Hong Lei acknowledged sending more ships to the rocky islands, known as Huangyan in China, to strengthen its control.

China has indisputable sovereignty over Huangyan Island, he said. Ships there are government vessels and conduct maritime surveillance and provide some guarantee to the fishing boats. By providing such assurance, Hong said Chinese fishermen can operate freely there.

The Scarborough Shoal has been the site of a standoff since April when a Philippine warship tried to stop Chinese fishing boats.

Chinese surveillance ships blacked them from being detained and the two sides have since engaged in a war of words.

The arrival of more Chinese ships demonstrates how Beijing’s naval capabilities compare to the Philippines, said Carl Thayer, professor at the Australian Defense Force Academy.

“The arrival of other ships puts enormous pressure on the Philippines which, in the best of times, its coast guard is lucky to have one ship in good repair out at sea," he said. "But to station a boat up at the Scarborough Shoal, far removed from the Spratly islands and other areas where it should be patrolling, puts a strain on the resources and also on the capability. So, it looks like China is supplying extraordinary pressure --a ll non-violent, not threatening -- to demonstrate its sovereignty,” said Thayer.

Chinese authorities acknowledged about 20 fishing boats are in the area, despite a temporary self-imposed fishing ban. The Philippines say the Chinese fishermen are violating the ban.

Lost Trans-Himalayan WWII Aircraft

An interesting article from Fox News:
Nothing James Browne learned in flight school prepared him for “The Hump,” a perilous, Himalayan no-man’s land that became a graveyard for hundreds of fearless WWII-era fliers who battled Japanese fighters, impossible weather and a supply route from hell.

Just 21 years old on Nov. 17, 1942, when he took the co-pilot’s seat of a C-47 bound for Dinjan, India, from Kunming, China, Browne was one of hundreds of fearless American fliers who took the infamous supply route over the Himalayas, ferrying supplies to China as it battled Imperial Japan. Browne, like many others, had signed on before the U.S. entered the war that was rapidly engulfing the globe.

“He was deeply aware of the threat to this country even though we were yet to declare war,” recalled Browne’s cousin, Bob Willett, now 85 and retired in Florida. “He said to himself, they need fliers and I’m a good one.”

Somewhere high above the Himalayas, the aircraft’s wings iced over. The best guess is that it stalled out and dropped like a rock, landing in the rugged mountain jungle, its location a mystery that would endure for more than 70 years. Browne, who grew up in the Chicago suburb of Winnetka, Capt. John Dean, the pilot and a veteran of the legendary Flying Tigers, and a Chinese crewman were listed as missing in action.

The plane was one of hundreds to go down in the rugged and remote mountain region fliers dubbed “The Hump” by American fliers who dodged Japanese fighter planes, steering their unarmed and rickety aircraft for 20-hour stretches with unreliable instruments in winds that could reach 200 mph. Experts believe more than 700 planes crashed trying to surmount the Hump, making the Himalayan region an inaccessible tomb of legendary fliers and rusted fuselages. 
* * *

Working off the last transmission from the plane, Kuhles eventually zeroed in on the summit ridge of Cangshan Mountain in Burma as the likely site of the crash. But it would take three trips, over five years, before he hacked through bamboo and high-altitude grass to finally lay his eyes on the plane he’d promised to find.

After climbing 14,000 feet, and being abandoned by all his guides and porters except a 17-year-old boy who spoke no English, “the impenetrable wall of bamboo, as tough as iron and sharp as razor-blades” yielded to Kuhles' machete. Gleaming in the sun was the wreckage of the C-47 transport plane in which Dean and his crew had been entombed.

“It was like stepping into an ancient Egyptian (pyramid),” recalled Kuhles. “I knew it was the plane I was looking for. Finally, Dean and the others would have a chance to come home.”
Read the whole thing.

Archaeologists Discover Ancient Seal Naming Bethlehem

Fox News reports:

Israeli archaeologists have discovered a 2,700-year-old seal that bears the inscription "Bethlehem," the Israel Antiquities Authority announced Wednesday, in what experts believe to be the oldest artifact with the name of Jesus' traditional birthplace.

The tiny clay seal's existence and age provide vivid evidence that Bethlehem was not just the name of a fabled biblical town, but also a bustling place of trade linked to the nearby city of Jerusalem, archaeologists said.

Eli Shukron, the authority's director of excavations, said the find was significant because it is the first time the name "Bethlehem" appears outside of a biblical text from that period.

Shukron said the seal, 1.5 centimeters (0.59 inches) in diameter, dates back to the period of the first biblical Jewish Temple, between the eighth and seventh century B.C., at a time when Jewish kings reigned over the ancient kingdom of Judah and 700 years before Jesus was born.

* * *

Shukron said the first line most likely read "Beshava'at" -- or "in the seventh" -- most likely the year of the reign of a king. The second line, he said, has the crumbling letters of the word "Bethlehem." The third line carried one letter, a "ch" which Shukron said was the last letter of the Hebrew work for king, "melech."

Gay Group Makes Wave at California Evangelical College

On the same day President Obama became the first U.S. president to come out in support of same-sex marriage, a group of students announced the presence of the "Biola Queer Underground" at this small evangelical university, touching off a highly-charged debate about Christianity and homosexuality.

The group launched a website and posted flyers around the Biola University campus May 9 with the following message: "We want to bring to light the presence of the LGBTQ community at Biola. Despite what some may assume, there are Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, Transgender, and Queers at Biola. We are Biola's students, alumni, employees, and fellow followers of Christ. We want to be treated with equality and respected as another facet of Biola's diversity.The emergence of the group, whose members remain anonymous, has shaken this 104-year-old Christian college in Southern California. Like many schools rooted in evangelical Christianity, Biola has a code of standards that includes prohibitions on sex outside of marriage and same-sex relationships: Sex is "designed by God to be expressed solely within a marriage between a husband and wife," according to Biola's student handbook, which goes on to say that "sexual misconduct, depending on the facts and circumstances of each case will result in disciplinary action."
So, we are supposed to be sympathetic to a group that flaunts the code of standards? As you read the rest of the article, although not clearly spelled out, the presumption seems to be not so much that the students may be homosexual, but that they want to engage in homosexuality. In other words, the heterosexual student is expected to be chaste and refrain from sexual intercourse while attending the school, but the homosexual students do not want to be bound by the same standards. We all have our crosses to bear, and perhaps that of the "gay Christian" is to be celibate.

Space X's Dragon Capsule Passes Critical Orbital Test

The unmanned SpaceX Dragon capsule flew within one and a half miles of the orbiting lab as it performed a practice lap and checkout of its communication and navigation systems.

Officials at NASA and the SpaceX company said the rendezvous went well, although the test results still were being analyzed. The historic linkup is on track for Friday.

It is the first U.S. vessel to visit the space station since NASA's shuttles retired last summer — and the first private spacecraft to ever attempt a delivery. The Dragon is carrying 1,000 pounds of provisions.

The space station astronauts struggled with bad computer monitors and camera trouble as the Dragon zoomed toward them, but the problem did not hold up the operation. Indeed, all of the tests appeared to go well.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Facebook Bubble Slowly Deflating

Facebook's IPO has been disappointing. Shares went public on Friday with an initial IPO price of $38 per share, briefly climbing to $45, then slowly deflating.

The Telegraph reported yesterday (Monday):
Shares in the Californian company fell by 10pc within minutes of the opening of trading on Monday on the Nasdaq stock exchange in New York, and lost as much as 13.7pc to $33 (£21).

By contrast, Apple shares climbed 1.5pc to $538 today.

Today's decline follows Friday's debut in which the shares finished just 0.6pc higher at $38.23, failing to live up to expectations that they would enjoy a sharp rise.

Facebook's flotation reaped $16bn for the company and some of its early investors as the social networking site sold more than 400m shares at the top of the range set out by its bankers.

However, analysts say that aggressive pricing is likely to have left little in the way of investor appetite for a company that made just $205m of profits in the first quarter of the year.
Then, this morning, word came out that Facebook's lead underwriter, Morgan Stanley, had slashed estimates of Facebook's profits. From Fox News:
Shares of Facebook (FB: 31.00, -3.03, -8.90%) took another tumble on Tuesday as word spread that the company’s lead underwriter slashed its revenue target during the social-networking heavyweight's IPO road show.

The latest slide gives further fuel to critics who believed Facebook’s initial public offering overvalued -- and overhyped -- the company.

According to Reuters, lead underwriter Morgan Stanley’s (MS: 13.31, +0.12, +0.91%) consumer Internet analyst told major clients he was reducing his second quarter and 2012 revenue forecasts during the run-up to Facebook’s $16 billion IPO.

Two investors who were advised of the new forecast from Scott Devitt told Reuters they were shocked by the disclosure and say it may have helped contribute to the stock’s 10% plunge on Monday. Typically lead investment banks paint rosy pictures about the companies they are bringing public.

"This was done during the roadshow -- I've never seen that before in 10 years," a mutual-fund source who was called by Morgan Stanley told the wire service.

Shares of Facebook were recently off 6.35% to $31.84 and tumbled as low as $30.98 -- 18.5% below the company’s $38-a-share IPO price. Even during the Friday trading debut, Facebook's underwriters had to step in to prevent the shares from breaking issue.

Facebook’s highly-anticipated IPO valued the company at a whopping $104 billion -- roughly the same size as Internet veteran (AMZN: 215.33, -2.78, -1.27%) -- despite serious questions about the its ability to lure advertisers and monetize its mobile offerings.

* * *

The Morgan Stanley revenue revision came on the heels of Facebook filing an amended prospectus with the Securities and Exchange Commission that expressed caution about revenue growth due to a shift to mobile by users, Reuters reported.
Shares of Facebook continued to slide Tuesday, even as the broader market managed a modest gain, as fallout from the company's IPO last week continued.

The social network’s share price was lately down 3 percent, adding to a decline of 11 percent seen in Monday's session. Facebook is now down 27 percent from Friday's intra-day high of $45 a share. ...

Facebook's market debut on Friday was beset by problems, so much so that Nasdaq said on Monday it was changing its IPO procedures. That may comfort companies considering a listing, but it does little for Facebook, whose lead underwriter Morgan Stanley had to step in and defend the $38 offering price on the open market.

Facebook, its investment bankers and the Nasdaq market have come under fire for not making sure one of the most anticipated market offerings in recent memory happened smoothly.

When a stock falls below its offer price so soon after an IPO it is considered a disappointment for the company, particularly when the IPO is the most heavily traded ever and concerns such a high profile company.

A number of reasons for the stock decline have been offered by observers. Some pointed to underwriters offering too many shares, while others blamed an overly strong IPO price and worries about slowing revenue growth at the social network.

Also, Reuters reports that Facebook’s lead underwriters -- Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs -- cut their revenue forecasts for the company in the run-up to the company’s $16 billion IPO.
Actually, the decline is not that great of mystery--the company has been over-hyped. It is heading to the same place My Space has gone.

In June of 2011, the Guardian ran a story suggesting that the popularity of Facebook had peaked. It noted:
The number of people using Facebook has dropped in the UK for the second month in a row, mirroring similar falls in the US, Canada and Norway, giving the first signs that the social network's popularity may be waning in the west.

The website continued to grow worldwide, hitting an all-time high of 687 million users, according to data from the tracking company Inside Facebook, which uses Facebook's own advertising tools to determine the number of people using the site every month. Growth slowed however, having risen by 13.9m accounts in April and then just 11.8m in May. Typically in the past year it has grown by 20m a month. That slowdown could thwart founder Mark Zuckerberg's ambition to reach 1 billion users worldwide, despite his prediction last June that "it is almost a guarantee that it will happen".

Growth in Facebook use seems to peak in any country once the site is used by roughly half of those who have internet connections – though with more than 2 billion people online worldwide, the site could still reach the 1 billion figure. However, it would need people who have joined the site to stay with it – and that hasn't been happening in some countries.

Magnus Hoglund, chief executive of the law media portal, who has worked on digital media companies for the past decade, said: "From my experience, I get the sense that being on Facebook is not cool anymore. The early adopters and trend setters are moving away. [But] these are also exactly the type of people brand advertisers want to reach; if they are leaving, it doesn't look good for Facebook."
This article from Periscope Post from last June also noted the decline in membership in the U.S., and suggested that Facebook had reached its saturation point.

More recently, in February of this year, the Next Web reported:
Although the report says that the number of visits to Facebook continues to grow across all platforms, the world’s largest social network has reached saturation point among active Internet users in more markets, with significant user-growth restricted to emerging markets such as India, Indonesia and Brazil.

More importantly across the three waves of research in 2011, Facebook users globally have reduced the frequency of key Facebook activities including sending digital presents, searching for new contacts or sending message to friends.

The latest data shows Facebook Fatigue is spreading in the US from the early adopters who it identified as “disengaging” in the GWI.5 report. Declines in social networking activity such as messaging friends fell 12% over the six waves of research, searching for new contacts fell 17% and joining a group 19% among all Facebook users in the US.
The same article suggested that trends showed that, rather than moving toward a universal "Internet culture," markets were fragmenting and showing preferences for local social networks and products.

I think there are several issues underlying Facebook's peaking popularity, some of it the fault of Facebook.

First, Facebook is no longer new and cool. Just as people migrated from My Space because it became overwhelmed by younger kids, Facebook has become oversaturated. It's no longer cutting edge. Moms and dads use it. Businesses advertise on it. It is mundane.

Second, it has increasing competition not only from Twitter, but, as alluded to in the articles above, from other similar social networking products in countries such as China, Russia, and Brazil.

Third, it's no longer enjoyable. I stopped using Facebook when I started being inundated with updates on every little action or activity my Facebook "friends" experienced in their Facebook games. I understand that I could shut off the feed, but that isn't the point--I should never have had to put up with those updates in the first place.

Finally, and related to the last item, Facebook became unfriendly to its members, screwing around with the privacy policies, trolling for information to support adds, and became a liability to more and more people. As this op-ed from January this year notes:
The way Facebook is structured now, you feel like if you don't dip your toes into the social network's stream of information for a second here, a minute there, you will miss out. The dashboard, once a study in relative simplicity, vaguely resembles a busy screen from World of Warcraft. The News Feed breaks up updates by Top and Recent Stories, a distinction I've never needed. And the live ticker chronicles the minute moves of friends as they happen, which sounds great in theory, but is more a visual distraction in practice.

Privacy wasn't an issue (for me) until lately. Facebook's charm once lay in the feeling of exclusivity it projected, a closed off virtual playground open only to a smallish group of friends where I could communicate without second thought. Now when I do so, I edit myself. To some extent, my profile and updates are visible to extended family, colleagues, professional connections, and a large number of others, so I post rather benign messages, images and links aimed at the largest common denominator. Sure, I could create different groups of Facebook friends and select who can and can't see my updates, but organizing and maintaining those groups is too much work.

Ever-increasing Facebook partnerships means I need to be careful about the content I consume. Because I naively clicked on an online Washington Post story a Facebook friend read, all the stories I read from that outlet are automatically broadcast. With other apps like Spotify, Facebook integration is mandatory, meaning half the time, I enter a "Private Session" so others can't see which songs I'm listening to. And while I get that targeted advertising can be a win-win for marketers and consumers, I don't know whether to be amused or uncomfortable with recurring "Sponsored Stories" like this one. (For the record, Facebook, I neither like guys with tattoos nor cedar enzyme baths.)

Facebook has also given rise to user etiquette unique to the social network -- and not all of it's good. The same way behavior in the movie theater has gone downhill -- cell phones ringing, people chattering mid-scene -- I'm noticing some users becoming less polite. People bug me if I don't "Like" something they put up. ("Dude, 'Like' it!") Others expect me to know what they've been up to because we're Facebook friends. (Well, you saw on Facebook... right?") And because Facebook nurses our propensity for immediate gratification, we expect things to happen even more quickly there than in real life. Wrote one friend un-ironically on another's wall: "Why haven't you poked me back yet? It's been 20 minutes!"

That may be why several current and former users I've spoken with continue to steer clear of Facebook, deactivate their accounts, or ratchet down their usage. The evolving Facebook experience has either turned them off or the social network increasingly drew them away from the real world, breeding a false sense of intimacy where following friends and family on Facebook displaced deeper, quality interactions with them.
To sum up, this article, published on May 15 this year, reported:
Half of Americans think Facebook is a passing fad, according to the results of a new Associated Press-CNBC poll. And, in the run-up to the social network’s initial public offering of stock, half of Americans also say the social network’s expected asking price is too high.

* * *

The privacy issue is a stinger. Three of every five Facebook users say they have little or no faith that the company will protect their personal information. Only 13 per cent trust Facebook to guard their data, and only 12 per cent would feel safe making purchases through the site. Even Facebook’s most dedicated users are wary — half of those who use the site daily say they wouldn’t feel safe buying things on the network.

As for how Facebook makes most of its money — selling ads — 57 per cent of users say they never click on them or on Facebook’s sponsored content. About another quarter say they rarely do.

Space X Has Successful Launch

Probably the most important news story of the day. From MSNBC:
Private spaceflight supporters saw a major validation Tuesday with the successful launch of the first commercial vehicle to visit the International Space Station.

The unmanned Dragon capsule, built by the commercial firm Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX), lifted off atop the company's Falcon 9 rocket at 3:44 a.m. EDT (0744 GMT) from a pad here at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

"I think we're really at the dawn of a new era for space exploration and one where there's a much bigger role for commercial companies," SpaceX founder and chief designer Elon Musk said during a news briefing following the launch. Musk, a billionaire entrepreneur, watched over the flight from SpaceX's mission control center at its Hawthorne, Calif., headquarters.

* * *

Dragon is due to rendezvous with the space station on Thursday (May 24); the next day, astronauts inside the outpost plan to grab onto the capsule with the station's robotic arm and berth it to the laboratory.

The mission is the final test flight for the Dragon capsule before it can start delivering cargo to the space station. SpaceX is contracted to fly at least 12 delivery missions over the next few years for a total of $1.6 billion.

European Physicists Break Teleportation Record

It was just last week that Chinese scientists announced a new distance record for teleporting photons. Now that record has been broken:
Today, European physicists say they've broken the record again, this time by teleporting photons between the two Canary Islands of La Palma and Tenerife off the Atlantic coast of north Africa, a distance of almost 150 kilometres.

That's sets the scene for a fascinating prize. Both teams say the next step is to teleport to an orbiting satellite and that the technology is ripe to make this happen.

The Canary islands experiment was no easy ride. In ordinary circumstances, the quantum information that photons carry cannot survive the battering it gets in passing through the atmosphere. It simply leaks away.

Indeed, the European team say that unusually bad weather including wind, rain, rapid temperature changes and even sand storms all badly affected the experiment. "These severe conditions delayed our experimental realizations of quantum teleportation for nearly one year," say Anton Zeilinger at the Institute for Quantum Optics and Quantum Information in Vienna and a few pals.

(However, they are quick to point out that satellite-based quantum communication shouldn't be as susceptible since there is less weather to pass through if you fire photons straight up.)

To perform this experiment, Zeilinger and co had to perfect a number of new techniques to dramatically reduce noise, which would otherwise overwhelm the quantum signal.

Perhaps the most significant of these is a way of using entangled photons to synchronise clocks on both islands. That's important because it allows the team to send photons and then look for them at the receiver at the exact instant they are due to arrive.

This significantly reduces the number of extraneous photons that could swamp the signal. The GPS system allows clocks to be synchronised in a way that allows a 10 nanosecond coincidence window. But entanglement-enhanced synchronisation allowed Zeilinger and co to use coincidence windows just 3 nanoseconds long. 

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Ring of Fire Solar Eclipse

For those of you interested in the solar eclipse, here is an article from National Geographic on the eclipse, and a Wikipedia article with more information.

Here is the NASA website discussing the eclipse, and a Google interactive map showing where you can see the eclipse and the duration. (The time is given in Universal Time--Greenwich--so you will have to adjust accordingly).

What are They Protesting?

CBS News reports on the protests on the NATO summit:
Thousands of protesters walked the sweltering streets of Chicago on Sunday to vent their opposition to NATO and the government leaders meeting just a few hundred yards away.
 * * *
CBS News correspondent Dean Reynolds reports that as their chants echoed off the facades of downtown skyscrapers, a massive cordon of police - including SWAT teams - marked their every footstep and led them along their approved path.

The ranks of the more violence-prone participants had been thoroughly infiltrated by undercover officers days ago, including three arrested last week who prosecutors accused of conspiracy to commit terrorism.
There was also a cyber attack on the city of Chicago's website that lasted several hours. The hacker group which calls itself Anonymous claimed responsibility.

"We are actively engaged in actions against the Chicago police department and encourage anyone to take up the cause," the hacker group said in a statement.

But while some demonstrators were looking for trouble, for the most part the protests have been peaceful - something the city police superintendent noted amid the crowds along Chicago's lakefront.

"You're seeing us facilitating peaceful protests, protecting people, providing for the public safety, while at the same time being intolerant of crimes being committed," said Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy.
It's not really clear what they are protesting, however. This article from the Associated Press states:
Thousands of protesters marched through downtown Chicago on Sunday in one of the city's largest demonstrations in years, airing grievances about war, climate change and a wide range of other complaints as world leaders assembled for a NATO summit.

The protest, which stirred worries about violence in the streets, was largely peaceful until the end, when a small group of demonstrators briefly clashed with a line of police who tried to keep them from the lakeside convention center where President Barack Obama is hosting the gathering. 
* * *

Some participants called for the dissolution of NATO, the 63-year-old military alliance that is holding its 25th formal meeting in Chicago.

* * *

"Basically NATO is used to keep the poor poor and the rich rich," said John Schraufnagel, who traveled from Minneapolis to Chicago for the march. Since the end of the Cold War, he said, the alliance has become "the enforcement arm of the ruling 1 percent, of the capitalist 1 percent."

Peace activists joined with war veterans and people more focused on the economy. Marchers assembled at Grant Park with signs denouncing NATO, including ones that read: "War(equals)Debt" and "NATO, Go Home."

But the crowd was mostly filled with protesters whose primary concerns had little to do with the discussions at the summit.

What's Going on in the South China Sea?

I've referenced numerous articles concerning the standoff between China and the Philippines over the Scarborough Shoal, including that this is part of a bigger picture of China flexing its muscles to gain more control over the natural resources (primarily oil) that underlay the South China Sea and the vital sea lanes. Today, the Philippine Star reports that 5 Chinese ships have been deployed near the shoals, although they are still in international waters. The article suggests, however, that they may be there to support the Chinese ships actually in the shoal.

This article from the Diplomat discusses the larger picture, including that the dispute over the Scarborough Shoal is merely the prelude to further conflicts in the region. It notes:
The active flashpoint today is in the Scarborough Shoal, located in the South China Sea or West Philippine Sea. It’s a chain of reefs and rocks claimed by China, the Philippines, and Taiwan. China is accused of using its superior force to assert ownership of the territory. Its decision to dispatch oversized quasi-civilian boats near the shoal is interpreted by many Filipinos as an act of bullying and aggression.

But the main conflict in the region involves the resource rich Spratly Islands, which are being claimed by six countries: China, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei, and the Philippines. Tension is permanently high in the area because of the military posts established by the claimants. If the dispute isn’t resolved diplomatically today or in the near future, it could potentially trigger a broader conflict in the Asia-Pacific.
Whether it was planned, or just an opportunity that presented itself, I think the Scarborough Shoal was, or became, both a matter of China flexing its muscles in order to intimidate its weaker neighbors, and a test to see how the U.S. would react. Unfortunately, we do not know the full reaction from the U.S. Certainly, the incident did not cause the U.S. to back down on going ahead with previously scheduled joint military exercises with the Philippines, and appears to have strengthened military ties between the U.S. and the Philippines. As the article from the Philippine Star noted, American submarines were patrolling in Philippine waters.