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Friday, July 27, 2012

The Slippery Slope Isn't a Fantasy

Datechguy's Blog sets out a great example of the slippery slope in action:
I have heard a lot of people on the left self righteously complain that conservatives are unwilling to agree to “common sense gun control” that we are unreasonable fanatics who would oppose restrictions on the ownership of Sherman Tanks.

Most of all; we are totally wrong to believe that the left is after our guns just because of the proposed assault weapon ban.

Why would we have such a belief, how can the folks on the right even think we on the left are after their guns, all their guns?

The answer: Chick-Fil-A

Twenty years ago there was nobody NOBODY nationally who was pushing the idea of gay marriage. If Bill Clinton had come out for Gay Marriage in 1992 he would have lost 49 states.

Then came the VT Supreme Court ruling requiring civil partnerships.

When people suggested that this was going to lead to Gay Marriage liberals insisted they were alarmist. Nobody in the mainstream was pushing Gay Marriage and the whole argument was absurd. This was just addressing inheritance and hospital visitation issues which were not unreasonable.

In 1996 the defense of Marriage Act was proposed, at the time it was suggested that instead of a law, a constitutional amendment formally declaring Marriage was between a man or Woman should be passed. Such people were dismissed as alarmists. Nobody was talking about legalizing Gay Marriage and there was absolutely no need of a Constitutional Amendment to define a word the meaning of which the nation had understood for centuries.

No amendment was forthcoming but DOMA passed 85–14 in the Senate & 342–67 in the house. Democrats overwhelmingly supported the bill (32-14 senate & 188-65 house). Bill Clinton signed the bill into law and that was that.

Until for the third time a liberal State (Massachusetts) by a 4-3 ruling declared Gay Marriage Legal. Again we were told not to worry, the legality of Gay Marriage was just a question of equality and it wouldn’t make any difference in the lives of those who opposed it.

Then came the persecution of parents who opposed it.

Then came the Catholic Church being given a choice, violate your beliefs or stop placing children for adoption: never mind how well you place the children hardest to find homes for.

And as the supporters of Gay Marriage lost vote after vote after vote (and continue to block any vote in Massachusetts) they became louder and more vitriolic even to the point of assault

Look at memorandum on given day. Any person who opposes Gay Marriage is not defined as against “Gay Marriage” they are defined as “anti-gay” a bigot.

And now comes the Mayors of two large cities, Chicago & Boston, declaring publicly that Chick-fil-a is not welcome. That Chick-fil-a for daring to have Biblical principles and support them have no place in their civilized cities.

And if Chick-Fil-A is guilty then so is every Catholic Church, every Orthodox Church, Every Mosque (well apparently not Every Mosque) and the vast majority of Protestant Churches in the country, (at least the ones that are growing). If they are not welcome neither is the business of any person of faith who doesn’t bend to the pressure media and money can provide, a pressure that the President wilted against.

We have reached the point from the legality of Gay Marriage in Massachusetts, to the Mayor of the largest city in the Commonwealth publicly declaring in effect: If your business dare oppose the liberal politically correct position , your enterprise doesn’t belong in our enlightened city.

This has happened in the space of a decade, after being assured that “Gay Marriage” would have no effect on anyone else.

So when you on the left tell us, assure us, and promise us that if we on the right agree to just a little bit of Gun Control, you have our word that we have no designs on your personal firearms or anything else, you’ll pardon us for declaring:
You Lie!

If we are stupid enough to believe you on gun control then we deserve to lose the rights we are fighting to defend.
(H/t Instapundit).

The Cause of Irregular Orbits

The Solar System is remarkably regular, its eight planets orbiting the Sun in the same direction in very nearly circular trajectories. Their orbits lie nearly in the same plane, which is aligned with the Sun's equator. These facts point toward a common origin for the Solar System, where everything collapsed from a single protostellar disk.

However, many exoplanetary systems are very different: exoplanets often orbit in highly elliptical orbits, and some "hot Jupiters" (giant planets in very small orbits) even revolve in the opposite direction from their host stars. A current major challenge in astrophysics is to understand why irregular systems exist.

The exoplanet system Kepler-30 could provide some help. A new analysis by Roberto Sanchis-Ojeda and colleagues showed the three known planets in the system orbit in a regular fashion: nearly circular orbits aligned with the rotation of the host star Kepler-30a. The researchers found the Kepler-30 system to be as orderly as the Solar System, leading them to suggest that misaligned hot Jupiter systems arise from interactions among the planets, rather than a different process of planet formation.
* * *

Using 2.5 years of Kepler telescope data, the researchers found instances where more than one of the exoplanets passed successively across the same starspot group. This verified both the direction and the plane of orbit for each planet in the system within a range of values, which were consistent with a Solar System-like model. Independent measurements of the planets' orbits showed them to be nearly circular as well.

While Kepler-30 is just one star system, its regularity places it in the same category as the Solar System, making it very different from many exoplanet systems containing hot Jupiters. The authors argue that this could be an indication that hot Jupiters got where they are via orbital interactions with other planets. If other multi-planet systems have similarly low obliquities, then it's unlikely that protoplanetary disks formed out of alignment with the equators of the host stars. The starspot transit method laid out in this paper should help resolve whether all multiple-planet systems are similarly regular to Kepler-30 and the Solar System.
(Full story here).

ObamaCare Not So Caring

The latest CBO scoring of Obamacare, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision upholding the overhaul’s individual mandate as an allowable (although seemingly unprecedented) tax on inactivity, shows that President Obama’s centerpiece legislation would cost about $2 trillion over its real first decade (2014 through 2023). The CBO also says that — despite its colossal cost and its unprecedented expansion of power and control over Americans’ lives — Obamacare would, as of a decade from now, leave 30 million people uninsured.

TARP Was Even Worse Than You Think

Glenn Reynolds linked to this article (and video) on how abysmal TARP turned out to be. (Note, the video plays automatically).
Most Americans have a sense TARP was a badly managed program that bailed out "fat cat" bankers at the expense of U.S. taxpayers. Well, it's even worse than you think, according to Neil Barofsky, former special inspector general for TARP (SIGTARP).

Officials in both the Bush and Obama administrations took the attitude "bankers know best," Barofsky recalls. "It was somewhat shocking how much control big banks had over their own bailout [and] the overwhelming deference show by Treasury officials to the banks."

* * *

In the accompanying video, we focused more on TARP's failings to live up to its promise to help individual Americans, not just the big banks.

Congress never would've passed TARP if not for programs included in the program to help homeowners facing foreclosure and generally spur bank lending. "TARP was an abysmal failure on those very important goals the reason why they got that money to give to the banks in the first place," Barofsky says.

TARP "did help prevent financial Armageddon," he concedes. "But there's a reason why Congress required and Treasury promised TARP would do a lot more. It's not complicated to take hundreds of billions [of dollars] and pour them into institutions ... and they don't fail. You really can't evaluate TARP" exclusively on how it impacted the banks.

Similarly, Barofsky takes offense to Treasury's repeated proclamations that TARP has been profitable.

While the big banks have paid back their loans, the overall program is now projected to lose somewhere between $32 billion to $70 billion, with $109.1 billion owed as of June 30, according to SIGTARP. Most of those losses are tied to AIG -- Treasury still own 61% of the company -- but more than half of the 325 banks that received TARP aid have missed dividend or interest payments.

Why the IOC Won't Honor the Victims of the '72 Munich Massacre

Warning: this may make your stomach churn.

Guri Weinburg explains why the International Olympic Committee will never honor the victims of the 1972 Munich Massacre.
In 1996, I, along with other Munich orphans and three of the widows, were invited for the first time to the Olympic Games in Atlanta. Before the Opening Ceremony, we met with Alex Gilady. Gilady has been a member of the IOC's Radio and Television Commission since 1984 and has been the senior vice president of NBC Sports since 1996.

I have known Mr. Gilady since I was a kid; in fact, I grew up with his daughter. He had been supportive in the past regarding our plea for a moment of silence during the Opening Ceremonies, so we arrived with high hopes. Gilady informed us that a moment of silence was not possible because if the IOC had a moment of silence for the Israeli athletes, they would also have to do the same for the Palestinians who died at the Olympics in 1972.

My mother said, "But no Palestinian athletes died."

Gilady responded, "Well, there were Palestinians who died at the 1972 Olympics."

I heard one of the widows say to Gilady, "Are you equating the murder of my husband to the terrorists that killed him?"

Silence.

Then Ilana Romano burst out with a cry that has haunted me to this day. She screamed at Gilady, "How DARE you! You KNOW what they did to my husband! They let him lay there for hours, dying slowly, and then finished him off by castrating him and shoving it in his mouth, ALEX!"

I looked at Gilady's face as he sat there, stone cold with no emotion. This man knew these athletes personally. This man led the Israeli media delegation at the 1972 Olympics and saw this atrocity first hand. This man saw my father's dead, naked body thrown out front of the Olympic Village for all the world to see.

Without a hint of empathy, Gilady excused himself from our meeting.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Energy Department Favored Obama Donors

The House Energy and Commerce Committee released a report today on the Energy Department’s decision to subordinate taxpayers to private investors in the ill-fated Solyndra project. That is, the taxpayers would have to wait in line behind the private investors and let them recoup all of their losses first. Only after that could taxpayers could get any money back – assuming there would be any money to recoup at this point. In this case, that would be a reported $328 million of the $335 million federal loan guarantee to Solyndra.

This is significant because the plain language of the department’s own rules for loan guarantees states that taxpayers must not be subordinate and instead must come first. The committee’s report argues that Energy Department officials made a spur of the moment decision to violate this standard as part of a desperate attempt to keep the company afloat, then scrambled after the fact to justify their action....
 (Full story here).

Eye Implant Could Restore Sight

A revolutionary new eye implant could restore sight to the blind instantly - without bulky glasses or computer equipment.

The 'Bio Retina' will be implanted under local anaesthetic, and will offer black-and-white vision similar to a computer monitor.

The implant's effects will be enough to allow users to watch television and identify faces.

A prototype was made in 2011, and clinical trials are due to begin in 2013.
 
The device is specifically tailored to restore sight to patients suffering from age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma and cataracts.

Gun Control Failure Abroad

With the recent shooting in Aurora, CO, there have been some hysterical cries from some quarters for increased restrictions on firearms and ammunition. One way to examine the results of such restrictions is to examine other nations' experiences doing the same thing. The Vox Popoli blog cites the following:
... if the Australian Bureau of Criminology can be believed, Americans would be insane to concern themselves with what non-Americans think about American gun rights.
In 2002 -- five years after enacting its gun ban -- the Australian Bureau of Criminology acknowledged there is no correlation between gun control and the use of firearms in violent crime. In fact, the percent of murders committed with a firearm was the highest it had ever been in 2006 (16.3 percent), says the D.C. Examiner.

Even Australia's Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research acknowledges that the gun ban had no significant impact on the amount of gun-involved crime:

In 2006, assault rose 49.2 percent and robbery 6.2 percent.
Sexual assault -- Australia's equivalent term for rape -- increased 29.9 percent.
Overall, Australia's violent crime rate rose 42.2 percent.

Moreover, Australia and the United States -- where no gun-ban exists -- both experienced similar decreases in murder rates:

Between 1995 and 2007, Australia saw a 31.9 percent decrease; without a gun ban, America's rate dropped 31.7 percent.
During the same time period, all other violent crime indices increased in Australia: assault rose 49.2 percent and robbery 6.2 percent.
Sexual assault -- Australia's equivalent term for rape -- increased 29.9 percent.
Overall, Australia's violent crime rate rose 42.2 percent.
At the same time, U.S. violent crime decreased 31.8 percent: rape dropped 19.2 percent; robbery decreased 33.2 percent; aggravated assault dropped 32.2 percent.
Australian women are now raped over three times as often as American women.
So, if the USA follows Australia's lead in banning guns, it should expect a 42 percent increase in violent crime, a higher percentage of murders committed with a gun, and three times more rape. One wonders if Freddy even bothered to look up the relative crime statistics.
The International Crime Victims Survey, conducted by Leiden University in Holland, found that England and Wales ranked second overall in violent crime among industrialized nations. Twenty-six percent of English citizens -- roughly one-quarter of the population -- have been victimized by violent crime. Australia led the list with more than 30 percent of its population victimized. The United States didn't even make the "top 10" list of industrialized nations whose citizens were victimized by crime.
As for the small arms treaty before the United Nations, I think that the purpose of the treaty can be ascertained by looking at how much support it has from the most oppressive, abusive states in the world. When you finally get to be dictator for life, you want your life to be long. You don't want people to be able to protect themselves, and you definitely don't want revolutionaries to get firearms.

Non-Human Genes in Our DNA

Slate has been running a series on "Blogging the Human Genome," which has been rather interesting. One in particular I wanted to share is this post entitled "Entry 9: Humans have long enjoyed nonhuman lovers—the proof is in our DNA":
Geneticists have used noncoding DNA in other types of historical analyses as well. Until the past few years, most scientists doubted that human beings had ever stooped to interbreed with Neanderthals or other archaic hominids. That view has since been routed: DNA extracted from old Neanderthal bones proves that all people of European and Asian descent have a few percent of Neanderthal DNA inside them today, equivalent to the amount they inherited from each great-great-great-grandparent.

In addition, scientists have discovered that Melanesians, the people who originally settled the islands between New Guinea and Fiji, seduced another archaic human race, the Denisovans, somewhere on the long haul from Africa to the south seas. The Melanesians still carry Denisovan DNA today. In some sense, then, neither Neanderthals nor Denisovans ever quite went extinct: Their DNA lives on in various non-African ethnic groups.

So what about ancient Africans? Did they ever have hominid paramours? Scientists had a harder time answering that question because the hot climate of Africa—unlike the cold Eurasian climate where Neanderthal and Denisovans lived—tends to destroy ancient DNA. A clever study from 2011 got around this limitation, however, and suggests that Africans did indeed indulge in inter-Homo hanky-panky.

The study’s scientists pored over the noncoding DNA of various ethnic groups in Africa, looking for funny patterns. For instance, they looked for random mutations that no other ethnic groups worldwide had. They were especially keen on finding long stretches of such funny DNA, because these stretches were probably inherited en masse from an archaic hominid. Sure enough, regions on chromosome 18, among other places, fit the bill. The study concluded that, about 35,000 years ago, some central Africans had children with an unnamed and now-extinct race of hominids. Like Europeans and Asians before them, these people couldn’t resist the temptations of nonhuman lovers.
It reminded me of this passage from the Bible: "And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them, That the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose." Genesis 6:1-2. I know that this is not what the verse is talking about, but that was the first thing to come to mind.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Syria Threatens to Use Its Chemical and Biological Weapons

From USA Today:

Syria threatened Monday to unleash its chemical and biological weapons if the country faces a foreign attack, a desperate warning from a regime that has failed to crush a powerful and strengthening rebellion.

The statement — Syria's first-ever acknowledgment that the country possesses weapons of mass destruction — suggests President Bashar Assad will continue the fight to stay in power, regardless of the cost.

"It would be reprehensible if anybody in Syria is contemplating use of such weapons of mass destruction like chemical weapons," U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said during a trip to Belgrade, Serbia. "I sincerely hope the international community will keep an eye on this so that there will be no such things happening."

Syria is believed to have nerve agents as well as mustard gas, Scud missiles capable of delivering these lethal chemicals and a variety of advanced conventional arms, including anti-tank rockets and late-model portable anti-aircraft missiles.

* * *

During a televised news conference Monday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi stressed that the weapons are secure and would only be used in the case of an external attack.

"No chemical or biological weapons will ever be used, and I repeat, will never be used, during the crisis in Syria no matter what the developments inside Syria," he said. "All of these types of weapons are in storage and under security and the direct supervision of the Syrian armed forces and will never be used unless Syria is exposed to external aggression."
Yeah, right.

China Moves to Extends Its Control Over South China Sea

A couple of news items caught my eye on the issue of China and its claims to the islands and waters of the South China Sea. First:
The People’s Liberation Army, China’s central military authority, has approved the deployment of a military garrison in the newly declared Sansha City in the sparsely populated West Philippine Sea, said a report posted on China’s Ministry of National Defense website.

China's announcement is just the latest in a series of recent actions that have expanded its physical presence in the vast disputed waters and defied condemnation around the region.

The report said that the military garrison will be “responsible for managing the city’s national defense mobilization, military reserves and military operations.”

The Chinese defense ministry likewise said that military troops to be sent to the newly established garrison will be under the dual leadership of Hainan province’s military sub-command and Sansha City’s civilian leaders.

China had envisioned Sansha City as administering the West Philippine Sea including the Spratly Islands.

The announcement came despite a diplomatic protest lodged by the Philippines against China over the establishment of Sansha City.

The Philippine protest said that “the extent of the jurisdiction of the city violates Philippine territorial sovereignty over the Kalayaan Island Group and Bajo de Masinloc and infringes on Philippine sovereign rights over the waters and continental shelf of the West Philippine Sea.”

Aside from the Spratly Islands, Sansha City—which was established by the Chinese Cabinet last June 21—also claims political sovereignty over the Paracel Islands and Macclesfield Bank.

Portions of these territories are also being claimed by Vietnam, Taiwan and the Philippines.
(Full story here).


Second, in a poke to the Philippines' eye, figuratively speaking, China has sent a fleet of 30 fishing vessels to the contested Spratly Islands, including two government vessels for supplies and security. (See stories here and here).

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Rivers on Titan



The icy landscape of Titan was first discovered by Earth-bound researchers in 2004, when the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft which orbits Saturn first broke through the moon's atmosphere.

Scientists had previously been unable to see the amazing rivers which carve out channels in the moon's surface, as its atmosphere is so thick with methane and nitrogen that the landscape is not visible from Earth.

Intrigued by the discovery of the methane rivers, researchers from MIT and the University of Tennessee at Knoxville wanted to investigate the history of Titan's geology.

However, despite the visible river networks, the astronomers found less erosion than they had expected, given that Titan has been orbiting Saturn for four billion years.

Similarly, when they looked for craters which could have been caused by meteorites, there were far fewer than on most other moons in the solar system.

In fact, the number of craters was more reminiscent to the situation on Earth, where plate tectonics and volcanic explosions have covered up much of the impact of foreign bodies on the planet.

'Earth's continents are always eroding or being covered with sediment,' said Taylor Perron, assistant professor of geology at MIT. 'That may be the case on Titan, too.'

Discovering which factors were responsible for shaping Titan's landscape could be a challenge, as the satellite images do not give a good impression of the ups and downs of the moon's terrain.

'It's almost like we were thrown back a few centuries, before there were many topographic maps, and we only had maps showing where the rivers are,' Mr Perron added.

Despite the challenges, Mr Perron said he expected the similarities between Titan and Earth would give scientists an ongoing insight into how the moon's surface has changed over millennia.

'It's a weirdly Earth-like place,' he said, 'even with this exotic combination of materials and temperatures.

'And so you can still say something definitive about the erosion. It's the same physics.'
(Full story here).

By Any Means Necessary

I've noted before the blog The Ulsterman Report, which occasionally post interviews with the unnamed "White House Insider" and "Wall Street Insider." Recently, he published the first part of another interview with the "Wall Street Insider" ("WSI" in the transcript below) who had brought along someone with knowledge of the military realm, who he has referred to as the "Military Insider" ("MI" in the transcript below). Here is the relevant portion:
UM: So you’ve said – but getting back to the Agenda 21 thing…this whole globalization concept…it’s difficult to wrap my head around all of it without coming off…without sounding…

WSI: Crazy?

UM: Yeah – crazy.

WSI: That’s how it’s intended. Do that which you intend, and if any oppose that which you intend…mock them into submission while continuing on with your work. Call it outlandish, crazy, ridiculous, preposterous, all the while – continue doing the very thing they accuse of.

These Obama people are quite good at that.

UM: So the globalization thing…the plan…Agenda 21…it’s not just a Democrat thing?

MI: Correct.

UM: Republicans have gone along with it too?

MI: Correct. Let me clarify that a bit. If that’s ok?

UM: Please do.

MI: The architects are embedded within the various liberal sub groups, all of which are under the umbrella of today’s Democratic Party. They have been the ones to push this agenda – THE AGENDA…for the past several decades. There are Republicans…there have been Republicans, sympathetic to the superficial aspects of the plan.

(Long pause)

Saturday, July 21, 2012

More on the Colorado Shooting

Fox News seems to have a fairly complete and succinct report on what is known (without the speculation on some other pages):
Authorities plan to enter the booby- trapped apartment of the suspect in the deadly shooting spree at an Aurora, Colo., movie theater Saturday.

The suspect, James Holmes is accused of going on a shooting rampage at the movie theater during Friday’s midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises.” He was packing as many as 6,000 rounds of ammunition with the ability to shoot up to 50 a minute, police said.

Holmes’ apartment is believed to be loaded with explosives. Attempts to enter the apartment Friday were unsuccessful and police postponed efforts until Saturday. The FBI, ATF and local authorities are working together to enter the apartment.

Sgt. Cassidy Carlson of the Aurora Police Dept. said that authorities have broken the mission down into three phases and plan to carry them out throughout Saturday.

"There are still unknowns, we're not exactly sure of everything that's in there," Sgt. Carlson said. The unknown includes jars that are believed to contain accelerates.

The first phase will be to render the area safe and address the immediate threat of the wire trip booby trap, which may include a controlled detonation. The public has been warned that parts of these phases may cause loud booms and have planned for reverse 911 calls for the area so that the public may remain informed.

Authorities say they will send a robot into the apartment.

The second phase will be to dispose of the aerial shells which will include placing the devices into sand trucks and taken to a disposal site for a controlled detonation. Authorities believe there may be up to as many as 30 shells.

The third phase will be the investigation of the apartment itself.

"There is no timeline, I can't give you an end time," Sgt. Carlson said. "We don't need to rush anything," she said.

Relatives of two of the twelve dead confirmed late Friday that their loved ones were killed during the midnight showing of "The Dark Knight Rises."

The family of Alex Sullivan issued a statement confirming his death. He died on his 27th birthday.

Twenty-three-year-old Micayla Medek was also among the dead.

Her father's cousin, Anita Busch, says the sad news at least brought peace to the family.

The brother of Jessica Ghawi previously confirmed his sister's death.

"He looked like an assassin ready to go to war," said Jordan Crofter, a moviegoer who was unhurt in the attack early Friday, about a half-hour after the special midnight opening of "The Dark Knight Rises."

Holmes, used a military-style semi-automatic rifle, a shotgun and a pistol, stopping only to reload.

The suspect marched up the aisle in the stadium-style theater, picking off those who tried to flee, witnesses said. Authorities said he hit scores of people, with a few of the 70 victims suffering their injuries not by gunfire but in the ensuing chaos. At least one person was struck in an adjacent theater by gunfire that went through the wall.

"He would reload and shoot and anyone who would try to leave would just get killed," said Jennifer Seeger, adding that bullet casings landed on her head and burned her forehead.

Within minutes, frantic emergency services calls brought some 200 police officers, ambulances and emergency crews to the theater. Holmes was captured in the parking lot and remains in police custody. Police said they later found that his nearby apartment was booby-trapped.

Authorities gave no motive for the attack. The FBI said there was no indication of ties to any terrorist groups.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Scene of Colorado Shooting Banned Firearms

The Truth About Firearms blog is reporting that the movie chain where the Colorado shooting occurred--a Cinemark theater--had a policy of prohibiting anyone but law enforcement from carrying a firearm. In other words, they disarmed the very type of people that could have stopped this tragedy.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

This Will Fail Horribly

In the foreclosure-battered inland stretches of California, local government officials desperate for change are weighing a controversial but inventive way to fix troubled mortgages: Condemn them.

Officials from San Bernardino County and two of its cities have formed a local agency to consider the plan. The securities industry has been quick to register its displeasure and say it will only make loans harder to get.

Discussion of the idea is taking place in one of the epicenters of the housing crisis, a working-class region east of Los Angeles where housing prices have plummeted. Last week brought another sharp reminder of the crisis when the 210,000-strong city of San Bernardino, struggling after shrunken home prices walloped local tax revenues, announced it would seek bankruptcy protection.

Now — and amid skepticism on many fronts — officials from the surrounding county of San Bernardino and cities of Fontana and Ontario have created a joint powers authority to consider what role local governments could take to stem the crisis. The goal is to keep homeowners saddled by large mortgage payments from losing their homes — which are now valued at a fraction of what they were once worth.
Hmmm. How will that work?

A Couple of Interesting Articles

The Daily Mail has a couple of interesting articles. The first is about the recovery of 48 tons of silver ($38 million) from a British ship sunk in WWII.

The second is the discovery on Mars of what appears to be an open crater leading to an underground chamber. (Photo at link).

Is Syria's Government on the Ropes?

Yesterday saw the rebels launch an attack against Damascus, while a suicide bomber killed several high ranking military and security officials, including Pres. Assad's brother-in-law. Now, it appears that Pres. Assad may have fled to the coast, while his wife is rumored to have fled to Russia. First, the Telegraph reports:
Opposition sources and a Western diplomat stated Mr Assad was in the coastal city of Latakia, directing the response to the assassination of his top lieutenants, according to Reuters.

Mr Assad, who has not made a public appearance since Wednesday's bombing, was said to be commanding the government operation but it was not clear whether Assad travelled to the Mediterranean Sea resort before or after the attack.

"Our information is that he is at his palace in Latakia and that he may have been there for days," said a senior opposition figure, who declined to be named.

David Cameron, the prime minister called on Mr Assad to give up power to avert more chaos and bloodshed. Speaking during a visit to Afghanistan, Mr Cameron said: "I have a very clear message for President Assad. It is time for him to go.

"It is time for transition in the regime. If there isn't transition it's quite clear there's going to be civil war."

Gen Daoud Rajha, the defence minister, Gen Hassan Turkmani, assistant to the vice-president and head of the crisis cell, and Assef Shawkat, the husband of Mr Assad's sister have been confirmed as casualties of the attack and a number of other senior leaders were injured.

Major Gen Robert Mood, head of the UN monitoring mission, warned that the violence was spiralling, as President Assad appeared to have gone to ground.

Security forces loyal to President Assad pounded rebel hideouts in Damascus on Thursday in retaliatory attacks for the blast that killed three top anti-insurgency leaders.

Hundreds fled Damascus flashpoint districts amid a surge of fighting following a bomb attack which killed three security chiefs, as residents reported shops closed and food shortages.

The troops used helicopters and heavy artillery against the rebels, while snipers took up positions on rooftops on the outskirts of the city, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. "Explosions are heard throughout the capital," it said.
The Daily Mail reports:
Syria's embattled president and his British-born wife have fled the capital Damascus after rebels killed three of his top security chiefs in a devastating bomb attack, it was claimed today.

Bashar al-Assad is believed to be in the coastal city of Latakia, directing a response to yesterday's attack which killed his brother-in-law and two other members of his inner circle.

Rumours that his wife Asma, who grew up in London, has fled to Russia swirled around Damascus, where pro-government forces today fought back against an all-out rebel offensive.

There were signs today that the 16-month uprising had reached a potentially pivotal stage, with soldiers apparently defecting en masse.

But anti-regime activists said that government forces had begun shelling neighbourhoods in and around the capital in response to the suicide bomb attack.

More than 200 people, mostly civilians, were killed in violence across the country yesterday, including 38 in Damascus, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
We may see a repeat of Iraq and Libya, where large stores of chemical weapons have gone missing. From the Daily Mail article cited above:
Leon Panetta, US defence secretary, warned the Assad regime that it would be responsible for anything that happened to the country's chemical weapons.

He said: ‘What we may be about to witness is the collapse of a heavily militarised Middle Eastern state with a huge stock of conventional and chemical weapons.’
This AFP article similarly contains a warning from King Abdullah II of Jordan:
The king of Jordan warned Wednesday that his northern neighbor Syria was on the brink of all-out civil war and that in a worst-case scenario, chemical weapons could fall into the hands of Al-Qaeda.
I suspect that we are past the point of no-return unless Syria gets a substantial amount of aid (including troops) from Russia or some other ally. And, as has happened too often in the past two decades, the collapse will of the Syrian regime will produce true civil war as tribes, religious, and ethnic groups all turn on each other. It may be years before stability returns to the country.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Some More Unsettled Science

Supporting a controversial view of how humans might have populated the Western Hemisphere, geneticists have found that groups from Asia traveled over the Bering Strait into North America in at least three separate migrations beginning more than 15,000 years ago — not in a single wave, as has been widely thought.
"We have various lines of evidence that there was more than one migration," said Dr. Andres Ruiz-Linares, a professor of human genetics at University College London and senior author of a report on the findings that was published Wednesday by the journal Nature.

The discovery was made possible by the sheer volume of genetic material the team was able to assemble and analyze, he said.

Ruiz-Linares and colleagues around the world analyzed DNA samples, primarily from blood, taken from hundreds of modern-day Native Americans and other indigenous people representing 52 distinct populations. These included Inuits of east and west Greenland, Canadian groups including the Algonquin and the Ojibwa, and a larger variety of people spanning the southern regions of the Americas from Mexico to Peru.

Investigating patterns in more than 350,000 gene variants, the scientists determined that most of the groups they studied did indeed descend from an original "First American" population.

However, they also saw that Eskimo-Aleut populations of the Arctic inherited almost half of their DNA from a second ancestral group, and the Na-Dene-speaking Chipewyans, from Canada, got about 10% of theirs from yet another group.

The results lined up nicely with a controversial model for the colonization of the Americas that was proposed in 1986 by Stanford University anthropological linguist Joseph Greenberg, Ruiz-Linares said.

By examining similarities between many native languages, Greenberg argued that the Americas were populated through three distinct migrations. But his hypothesis was widely rejected by researchers who didn't agree with his classification of languages.
And this from The Science Codex:
The evidence for a pre-13,000 year old non-Clovis culture in North America includes obsidian and chert artifacts known as Western Stemmed projectile points, and DNA-profiling of dried human excrement — more accurately known as coprolites. Both obsidian projectile points and coprolites were excavated from sediments in the Paisley Caves.

Previous investigations found that human coprolites in the caves predated the Clovis culture by over 1,000 years; however, critics questioned the interpretations by saying that the cave strata had not been sufficiently examined and that no Clovis-age stone tools had been found with the coprolites.

Critics also questioned whether or not younger DNA could have been washed down through the cave's sediments, thereby contaminating non-human coprolites with more recent human DNA. If true, evidence for pre-Clovis human presence would have been bogus.

The new study refutes every one of the critics' arguments and uses overwhelming archaeological, stratigraphic, DNA and radiocarbon evidence to conclusively state that humans — and ones totally unrelated to Clovis peoples — were present at Paisley Caves over a millennium before Clovis.

* * *

It's not the first time that the partners Dr. Jenkins from the US and Professor Willerslev from Denmark rewrite American prehistory.

In 2008, the two researchers presented a DNA-profiling's and radiocarbon dating of coprolites moving the first human settlements in North America back in time by one thousand years, from 13,000 to 14,340 years ago. As if that was not enough, the team showed through DNA analysis of ancient human excrement that these people originated in Asia and were the probable predecessors of modern indigenous Americans.

With the new results the international team has added an important piece to the puzzle of who peopled the Americas — the final continent on Earth to be colonized by humans.

Professor Willerslev says of the new results:

"Our investigations constitute the final blow to the Clovis First theory. Culturally, biologically and chronologically the theory is no longer viable. The dissimilar stone artefacts, as well as the DNA-profiling of the human excrement, show that humans were present before Clovis and that another culture in North America was at least as old as the Clovis Culture itself. Or to put it differently: Either America was populated several thousand years before Clovis by people who created 'mother' technologies to the two very different styles of Clovis tools and Western Stemmed Tradition tools. Or else there must have been two earlier migrations into North America of which one must have predated the Clovis immigration by at least one thousand years. Both assumptions would explain our findings, but trying to distinguish which is more likely is very premature."

Dr Paula Campos, a former postdoc at Willerslev's lab in Copenhagen, now at Science Museum, University of Coimbra, Portugal, elaborates the point:

"When we published the first DNA results from the Paisley Caves four years ago it caused an outcry. Many archaeologists felt that our results must be wrong. They considered it an established fact that Clovis were the first Americans. People would come up with any number of alternative explanations to our data in order to repudiate our interpretation. Today we demonstrate that our conclusions were right."

Thomas Stafford, also of the Centre for GeoGenetics in Copenhagen, and Loren Davies of Oregon State University agree:

"Critics said that the stratigraphy in the Paisley Caves is diffuse and chaotic and that this explains the finding of human coprolites older that Clovis. This couldn't be more wrong. The stratigraphy is well developed, clear and ordered correctly top to bottom."

Her Blighted World

A couple days ago, I came across this piece about mid-life crises among women called "The 40-Year-Old Reversion." The author, Amy Sohn, writes:
Why do moms in my generation regress, whether by drugging, cheating, or going out too late and too often? Because everything our children thrive on—stability, routine, lack of flux, love, well-paired parents—feels like death to those entrusted with their care. This is why they start drinking at wine o’clock, which is so dubbed not only because it coincides with whine o’clock but because it can begin at six p.m., or five, or even four. (Though the four o’clock mothers wind up in A.A.) I know a mom who drinks only on the weekends because she thinks it’s more responsible… but she starts with a mimosa at brunch on Saturday at eleven, and doesn’t stop until her Sunday night television shows are over.

My new novel, Motherland, is about five New York City parents who act out mid-life through adultery, marijuana or Grindr. The characters are inspired by my neighbors, who seek liberation not through consciousness-raising and EST the way their mothers did, but through Fifty Shades of Grey and body shots. They arrive home from girls' nights at three a.m. on a weeknight and then complain about hangovers at school dropoff. (And this regression is not confined to upscale neighborhoods in New York City—I hear similar stories from friends in Los Feliz, Montclair and Rye.) In flux, jaded by parenthood, confused about work and life, mothers are bored. So we rebel, just like bored adolescents—except adolescents, at least, can say they are acting their age.
 She adds:
About a quarter of the married moms I know have cheated in some form. If anyone says, “I have a great marriage but it takes a lot of work” it means they’ve cheated.

Yes, there are Brooklyn parents who have actual intercourse with their spouses, but it’s usually because one of them is on Wellbutrin, or French. Ninety percent of the sex being had in brownstone Brooklyn is by French ex-pats, and you can’t count that because they all have lovers back in Paris and it makes them generous. 
* * *

If married parents sound like they are misbehaving, they are chaste in comparison to divorced parents, the biggest Regressives of all. The divorced regressed themselves right out of their marriages and now they’re playing the field. Nothing wrong with that, except they want to tell you all about it. Divorced mothers have the sex drive of fifteen-year-old boys. They go all the way on the first date, because they still have IUDs left inside from their marriages, and then they corner you at parties to ask advice about eHarmony.
Maybe it is my own bias, but when I read the article, I had a mental image of a group of liberals, bitterly clinging to their drugs and sex, that wouldn't be caught dead in "flyover country." It also brought to mind this op-ed on the declining morality of our public and financial leaders, except describing it on a more personal level. I also found it disturbing that the author seemed to regard this behavior as normal and typical. But, then again, perhaps it is among her circle of friends.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

DARPA Investigated Cold Fusion and Found Excess Heat

At the Next Big Future (h/t Instapundit). I had a physics professor that had been involved in cold fusion research, and he certainly thought that there was something to it.

Museum Upset That Visitors Are Treating Its Peep Show As A Peep Show

It was supposed to be a tribute to a Renaissance master.

But the National Gallery’s latest exhibition – which features women recreating nude scenes from Titian’s paintings – is attracting a type of visitor not normally found in the capital’s cultural landmark.

Curators are disturbed at the plethora of ‘dirty old men’ who come to look through peepholes at the naked models, ignoring the masterpieces on the wall.

The Diana installation, part Metamorphosis: Titian 2012, was conceived by Turner Prize winner Mark Wallinger, whose previous work includes a video of himself dressed as a bear wandering aimlessly around a gallery.

His piece is inspired by Titian’s Diana paintings, in which the hunter Actaeon stumbles upon the chaste goddess as she bathes.

Since the show opened last week, men have been sidling up to staff and asking for directions to ‘the peepshow thingy’.

One has visited five times in just seven days, while some older men have even complained to staff about the quality of the nudes – and the small size of the peepholes.

One worker, who wished to remain anonymous, told the Daily Mail: ‘The gallery used publicity shots of the youngest and prettiest model, and dirty old men have got a bit aggressive that [most of the] models are women in their late forties and fifties.’

Another said: ‘We really have sunk to new lows with this idea. These visitors have no interest in art at all.’
(Full story here). What they are actually upset about is that it exposes the difference between "nude art" and "pornography" as a sham. That in practice the difference comes down to who views the subject ("intellectuals" and the wealthy versus blue collar workers) and where it is shown (an art gallery or performing arts center versus a strip bar).

Besides, the museum and "artist" have captured the essence of the myth. Actaeon didn't spy on Diana because he was admiring the lighting, or splendid use of color....

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Archaeologists Unearth Large Settlement Near Lake Ontario

Scientists have unearthed evidence of a 500-year-old settlement near Lake Ontario so cosmopolitan it has been branded the 'ancient New York City of Canada'.

The recently-discovered 'Mantle site' is thought to have had almost 2,000 inhabitants in a 'cosmopolitan' area in 1500 A.D. which was the size of Manhattan.

Archaeologists say pottery and art found at the site shows how inhabitants had 'unprecedented' trade with the Iroquois - the nations and tribes of indigenous North America.

But amazingly, the same groups also acquired European goods a full century before the first European explorers arrived in that region.

Despite its huge size, the giant site is thought to have remained undiscovered for so long because its longhouses were primarily made of wood.

Among the stunning finds made on the Mantle site are the earliest European goods ever found in the Great Lakes region of North America.

Life During the Middle Ages

Historian Ian Mortimer discuses what life was like in the Middle-Ages:
SPIEGEL: Readers of your book about the Middle Ages could be forgiven for coming away with rather starry-eyed images of the period you describe: The loudest noise to be heard was the chiming of the church bells, and stopping for a chat on market day was a firmly observed ritual. Was all well with the world then?

Mortimer: Well, it was also a time of death, disease, suffering and incredible violence. Both of us would probably be dead by now -- half the population didn't live past the age of 21. If you had a toothache, the doctors would explain to you that little worms were tunneling into the enamel of your teeth. On the other hand, this was also an age that saw the building of stunning cathedrals, and a time when Shakespeare took literature to new heights.

SPIEGEL: Your book, though, doesn't tell the reader much about those things. Instead, you give us an enormous amount of everyday detail about the Middle Ages. But why exactly do I need to know what kind of toilet paper a particular earl used?

Mortimer: It's about gaining an understanding of what the human race is actually like. I believe we can gain a much deeper understanding by looking back in time. Humans are unbelievably adaptable. As a group, we contended with the plague in the 14th century and with the terrible flu in the 16th century. We're extraordinarily creative, even under enormous pressure.

SPIEGEL: Still, humans themselves caused many of these crises, for example, with poor hygiene.

Mortimer: Absolutely. There was real filth and stench in the streets until less than 200 years ago. But people then were fussier than we imagine today. Bad breath was considered embarrassing beyond description, and 16th century people combated it with toothpowder or licorice lozenges. Good-manners guides were severe in their censure of belching, farting or even smacking one's lips at the table. Even in the simplest households, everyone washed their hands before and after the meal.

SPIEGEL: Conventions governing the other end of the digestive process, however, were not quite so strict ...

Mortimer: That's true. A man passing an acquaintance urinating by the side of the road would simply doff his hat in friendly greeting. Where else were they supposed to go? The flushable water closet wasn't invented by Sir John Harington until 1596 -- and for another 200 years after that, it was regarded as a useless curiosity. In a town, only the wealthy could afford to have a private cesspit emptied regularly.

SPIEGEL: Among the barbarous medieval behavior you describe were young men who banded together and committed terrible crimes. In comparison, today's young men are as docile as lambs.

Mortimer: The excessive violence was partly a product of the fact that adults in those days drank alcohol constantly. It was considered the only way to ingest liquids without poisoning oneself. And because of these marauding drunks, it was quite dangerous to be out alone. Women, in particular, almost never traveled on their own.

* * *

SPIEGEL: In their physical strength, as well, medieval men cut terrifying figures.

Mortimer: Men in those days were very strong -- as long as they got enough to eat. They may not have been bodybuilders, but they did hard physical labor out in the fields every day. Even young boys were good with weapons, such as the longbow, and were expected to play an active role in defending their communities. Many took part in life-or-death fights from a young age. Future knights received training from the age of six or seven. Jousting served both as sport, and as training for war, in which the aim was to unseat the opponent and break his neck.

Middle East Roundup

The Middle-East threatens to explode into numerous civil war and regional conflicts.

First, Iran continues to pursue its nuclear weapons program notwithstanding that everyone in the region expects that Iran would use its weapons offensively, or a shield to allow it to attack weaker neighbours. Thus, it was announced earlier this week that the U.S. is moving to the Gulf of Arabia underwater "drones" designed to seek out and destroy sea mines.
The Navy is rushing dozens of unmanned underwater craft to the Persian Gulf to help detect and destroy mines in a major military buildup aimed at preventing Iran from closing the strategic Strait of Hormuz in the event of a crisis, U.S. officials said.

The tiny SeaFox submersibles each carry an underwater television camera, homing sonar and an explosive charge. The Navy bought them in May after an urgent request by Marine Gen. James Mattis, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East.

Each submersible is about 4 feet long and weighs less than 100 pounds. The craft are intended to boost U.S. military capabilities as negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program appear to have stalled. Three rounds of talks since April between Iran and the five countries in the United Nations Security Council plus Germany have made little progress.

Some U.S. officials are wary that Iran may respond to tightening sanctions on its banking and energy sectors, including a European Union oil embargo, by launching or sponsoring attacks on oil tankers or platforms in the Persian Gulf. Some officials in Tehran have threatened to close the narrow waterway, a choke point for a fifth of the oil traded worldwide.
In Egypt, it is increasingly looking like there may be a clash between the secularist military and Islamic Brotherhood.
Sacked MPs vowed to force their way through a security cordon in a bid to re-open parliament on Tuesday despite a hardline statement from the military.

In what was seen as a warning to President Mohammed Morsi, the military said it expected everyone to respect constitution

The military said it “was confident all institutions of state will respect constitutional decrees,” adding “the importance of the sovereignty of law and the constitution” to protect the state.

The Constitutional Court upheld its dissolution of parliament, escalating a power struggle between Mohammed Morsi, the new president, and Egypt’s generals.

The showdown represents an attempt by Morsi to reclaim much of the authority shorn from him by his military rivals, who claimed legislative power for themselves just before he took office ten days ago.

Its outcome could dictate Egypt’s immediate future.

In an open challenge to the generals, Mr Morsi on Sunday ordered parliament, which is dominated by fellow members of the Muslim Brotherhood, to reconvene despite a court order, made at the military’s behest, for it to dissolve.
By the end of this, the generals are going to wish that they had backed Mubarak. But, Obama will get his wish--an Egypt actively hostile to the West.

And Iraq once again demonstrates that the Middle-East is not really ready for Western style democracy, as it edges closer to a civil war based on religious and tribal affiliation.
A dramatic uptick in violence and political instability in Iraq have raised fears that Baghdad once again is tilting toward civil war.

A half-year after the U.S. military left Iraq, the war-weary country is beset by violence as insurgents take advantage of the power struggles between the country’s ethnic and sectarian factions.

“Iraqis are living in real tragedy every day. It is unfair to just leave the Iraqis facing such difficult circumstances,” Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi said in an exclusive interview with The Washington Times.

June was Iraq’s second-deadliest month since U.S. troops pulled out Dec. 18, 2011, and a major bombing or shooting rampage occurs about twice a week. Many target Shiite pilgrims and carry the hallmarks of al Qaeda — although some Iraqis said they think other factions are responsible.

Clashes in neighboring Syria and lethal attacks by the Sunni-led opposition to President Bashar Assad’s regime are emboldening Iraqi Sunnis to attack government targets, exacerbating sectarian tensions in a “spillover” effect, regional analysts say.

“It’s quite remarkable to me that everyone is so concerned about Syria and the spillover that could take place with a Syrian civil war, but an Iraqi civil war would be worse,” said Ken Pollack, director of the Brookings Institution's Saban Center for Middle East Policy.

“Iraq is an oil producer and is in the midst of one of the most important regions. The spillover could affect Iran, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia,” Mr. Pollack said. “All the things that make us concerned about Syria ought to go double for Iraq.”
 And the civil war in Syria took on a more serious and sinister note with the Syrian military has started moving its stockpiles of chemical weapons.
Syria has started to move part of its chemical weapons arsenal out of storage facilities, according to U.S. officials.

The country's undeclared stockpiles of sarin nerve agent, mustard gas and cyanide have long worried the U.S. officials and its allies in the region, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Western nations have looked for signs amid the rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad's government of any change in the location of those weapons, believed to be the world's largest stockpile.

American officials are divided on the reason for moving the arsenal.

Some fear Assad may want to use the weapons against rebels or civilians, while others said perhaps he is trying to safeguard them from his opponents.
If the weapons are being moved to "safeguard" them, it indicates that the government fears losing territory to the rebels. That simply pushes Syria one step closer to using the weapons out of desperation.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Water Planets May Be the Predominate Planets in the Galaxy

What Kepler is telling us about habitable planets that we didn’t know beforehand is info that bears directly on the search for life," says Geoff Marcy, an astronomer at UC Berkeley and a co-investigator on the Kepler project. So far, he says, Kepler has discovered about 3000 planets, and about three-quarters of those are between the size of Earth and two to three times that of Earth. "What are these planets? We have some very good clues," he says. "We have been able to measure the density of 15 or so. They are nearly one gram per cubic centimeter. That’s the density of water." And water is the first and most important indicator of the possibility of life.

"When you look up at the night sky at the stars your naked eye can see, what you know is that a vast majority of those stars have these remarkable planets," Marcy says. "There must be large amounts of water . . . and water is the key solvent of biochemical reactions. I think what Kepler has discovered is it’s very likely these water worlds are a predominant type of planet in the universe and can certainly serve as the petri dishes for life as we know it."

Seth Shostak, senior astronomer at the SETI Institute, says Kepler’s data has helped SETI scientists sharpen their methods in the search for life. Without Kepler, they’d still be looking at the entire sky. With Kepler, they have a host of new exoplanets to study—and they know a lot more about the makeup of alien solar systems.

"The trump card in all this is the result that planets are very commonplace. Before 1995, we didn’t know that," Shostak says. "Essentially all stars have planets. The number of planets around stars is in the order of a trillion. That’s very good news for SETI."

President Grants DHS Emergency Power Over Private Communication Networks

The Obama administration has given the Department of Homeland Security powers to prioritize government communications over privately owned telephone and Internet systems in emergencies.

An executive order signed June 6 “gives DHS the authority to seize control of telecommunications facilities, including telephone, cellular and wireless networks, in order to prioritize government communications over private ones in an emergency,” said Amie Stephanovich, a lawyer with the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC).

The White House says Executive Order 13618, published Wednesday in the Federal Register, is designed to ensure that the government can communicate during major disasters and other emergencies and contains no new authority.

“The [order] recognizes the creation of DHS and provides the Secretary the flexibility to organize the communications systems and functions that reside within the department as [she] believes will be most effective,” White House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said in an email. “The [order] does not transfer authorities between or among departments.”
And the statutory authority for the order?
Ms. Hayden said the legal basis for the order is Section 706 of the 1934 Communications Act. The section authorizes the president to “cause the closing of any facility or station for wire communication” and gives him “control of any such facility or station” if a state of war, or the threat of one, exists.
Not sure how they can justify the use of the term "state of war" (which is specific) to mean the more general "emergency." I guess its good to be the King.

This is yet another example of why there should be a Constitutional amendment placing a sunset clause on all legislation and regulations.

"It's Not Our Fault"

As you may or may not have heard, San Bernardino, CA, has filed for bankruptcy. City officials, however, have requested a criminal investigation contending that they were given misleading financial reports.
The Sheriff's Department said Thursday it was working with police and the district attorney's office to investigate possible criminal activity within the government of San Bernardino, where city officials voted this week to take the rare step of filing for bankruptcy.

Sheriff-Coroner Rod Hoops said in a statement the investigation began at the request of city officials several months ago.

City Attorney James Penman said earlier this week that the City Council had been presented with falsified documents that masked the city's deficit for 13 of the past 16 years, and he had given evidence of financial mismanagement to "appropriate government agencies," declining to provide further details.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Astronomers Discovery 5th Moon of Pluto (But It Is Still Not a Planet)

Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope have discovered Pluto's fifth moon, a little more than three years before a NASA space probe is due to sail past the dwarf planet and its tribe of satellites.

The irregular moon, estimated to be 6 to 15 miles (10 to 25 kilometers) across, was found in the course of checking out the potential collision hazards facing NASA's New Horizons spacecraft for the Bastille Day flyby on July 14, 2015. "The inventory of the Pluto system we're taking now with Hubble will help the New Horizons team design a safer trajectory for the spacecraft," the mission's principal investigator, Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute, said in a Hubble news release.

Stern and his colleagues suspect this fifth moon won't be the stuff they find in Pluto's neighborhood. "The discovery of so many small moons indirectly tells us that there must be lots of small particles lurking unseen in the Pluto system," said Harold Weaver of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.

Call it P5 ... for now
The fifth moon is currently known only by its provisional names: S/2012 (134340) 1, or P5 for short. It'll be up to the discoverers to propose a more lyrical name to the International Astronomical Union, which classified Pluto as a dwarf planet in 2006.
 Full story here.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

It Isn't About Religious Purity--It's About Destroying Things

Most of you probably have heard of the Muslim rebels (terrorists) in Mali destroying Muslim tombs in Timbuktu. The New York Times reminds us that this is not the first time:
IN the past week, Islamists have destroyed and desecrated the tombs of Muslim saints in the fabled town of Timbuktu in northern Mali, recalling the Taliban’s 2001 destruction of two giant Buddhas in Bamiyan, Afghanistan.

In defiance of the West and many local Muslims, Islamists in northern Mali are prohibiting people from worshiping at tombs and erecting structures on graves. Although both practices are widespread throughout the Muslim world, religious extremists consider them un-Islamic and are seeking to stamp them out.
The LA Times provides some more detail:
Islamist rebels who have seized control of northern Mali used axes, shovels and automatic weapons to destroy tombs and other cultural and religious monuments for a third day on Monday, including bashing in the door of a 15th century mosque in Timbuktu, news agencies reported.

Rebels of the Ansar Dine faction fighting to assert Sharia law over the African nation at the crossroads of ancient trade routes ignored the appeals of United Nations officials over the weekend to cease the "wanton destruction" of the region's cultural heritage.

In New York, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Sunday called on "all parties to exercise their responsibility to preserve the cultural heritage of Mali," saying the attacks "are totally unjustified.”

Irina Bokova, head of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, on Saturday urged the Ansar Dine fighters “to stop these terrible and irreversible acts” after militants smashed mud-walled tombs in Timbuktu.

On Monday, the Islamists, who claim allegiance to Al Qaeda, tore open the door to the Sidi Yahia mosque, telling townspeople they were wiping out "idolatry" at the monuments to Sufi Islamic saints and scholars.

"In legend, it is said that the main gate of Sidi Yahia mosque will not be opened until the last day [of the world]," said the town imam, Alpha Abdoulahi, according to Reuters news agency, which reached him in Timbuktu by telephone.

Food Price Spike Ahead

Zero Hedge warns of a spike in food prices due to a disasterous drop in corn production:
Who knew the next black swan would be deep fried? The biggest piece of imminent food inflation news over the past months, coupled with what is shaping up to be another record hot summer (for the best tracking of real-time electricity consumption primarily for cooling news we recommend the following PJM RT tracker of power load), has been the collapse in the corn harvest due to the worst drought since 1988 as 56% of America is in drought conditions. Today, the US just added some burning oil to the popcorn by cutting the corn-crop forecast by 12% to 13 billion bushels on expectations of a 13.5 billion harvest.
Of course, its not just corn, and its not just in the U.S. This article from Bloomberg a couple weeks ago notes:
Droughts withering wheat crops from the U.S. to Russia to Australia will probably spur the biggest reduction in global supply estimates since 2003 and drive prices to the highest in almost a year.

Kansas, the top U.S. grower of winter wheat, is poised for its driest May on record, the state’s climatologist estimates. Ukraine and Russia, accounting for 11 percent of world output, have endured drought conditions for three months, University College London data show. The U.S. Department of Agriculture may cut its global crop estimate by 1.2 percent next month, the biggest drop in a June report since 2003, according to the average of 18 analyst estimates compiled by Bloomberg.
The price increases are not just limited to the U.S. The Examiner reports:
The economic consequences of this drought are just emerging. The top story today is the possibility of our country's corn and soybean crop drying up. The extreme heat and dry conditions are driving corn and soybean prices to record, or near-record highs.

World food prices are predicted to rise in the coming months. The spike in food prices will be the third time in the past five years that this has happened.

Previously, in 2007-2008, and in 2010-2011, food prices spiked due to bad weather conditions affecting food crops. The earlier food spikes triggered riots and social unrest in dozens of countries worldwide.

America is the worlds leading exporter of corn and soybeans. What happens here can and will affect world food prices, the price of meat, and the price of livestock feed.

Mexico and Central America are dependent on corn as a staple in their diets, and will be affected directly. In North Africa, the price of a loaf of bread could become exorbitant.

In industrialized countries, where meat is a staple of the diet, the cost of feeding livestock, chickens, pork and beef, will be affected. After all, corn and soybeans are used in livestock feed.
There is also this from USA Today:


The Department of Agriculture on Wednesday dropped the estimated average U.S. corn yield by 20 bushels per acre, from 166 to 146, and blamed "scarce rainfall coupled with record-breaking temperatures." It said conditions are the worst since 1988. Lower soybean yields also were predicted.

Smaller harvests mean higher prices. The forecast sent December prices for corn up as much as 30 cents to $7.48 a bushel at the Chicago Board of Trade. The USDA predicted the corn harvest will total 12.97 billion bushels, down 12% from a month ago. It still would be the third-largest on record.

Besides increasing costs for manufacturing the thousands of products that contain corn — everything from cereal to soft drinks — higher grain costs have a ripple effect, says Scott Shellady of Trean Group, a Chicago-based brokerage.

"If you can't feed cattle because the price of corn is too high, cattle go to slaughter," he says. That translates into ample meat availability and lower prices this year, but "in six months time, we won't have any cattle."

That could mean higher prices for meat and dairy products next year, says Corinne Alexander, an agricultural economist at Indiana's Purdue University. "We're seeing multiple years where price levels are increasing," she says. "It puts a lot of pressure on consumers' budgets."

Global Warming Alert! -- Earth Has Been Cooling for 2000 years (Updated)

Rings in fossilised pine trees have proven that the world was much warmer than previously thought - and the earth has been slowly COOLING for 2,000 years.

Measurements stretching back to 138BC prove that the Earth is slowly cooling due to changes in the distance between the Earth and the sun.

The finding may force scientists to rethink current theories of the impact of global warming.

It is the first time that researchers have been able to accurately measure trends in global temperature over the last two millennia.

Over that time, the world has been getting cooler - and previous estimates, used as the basis for current climate science, are wrong.

Their findings demonstrate that this trend involves a cooling of -0.3°C per millennium due to gradual changes to the position of the sun and an increase in the distance between the Earth and the sun.

‘This figure we calculated may not seem particularly significant,’ says Esper, ‘however, it is also not negligible when compared to global warming, which up to now has been less than 1°C.

'Our results suggest that the large-scale climate reconstruction shown by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) likely underestimate this long-term cooling trend over the past few millennia.’

The finding was based on semi-fossilised tree rings found in Finnish lapland.

Professor Dr. Jan Esper's group at the Institute of Geography at JGU used tree-ring density measurements from sub-fossil pine trees originating from Finnish Lapland to produce a reconstruction reaching back to 138 BC.

In so doing, the researchers have been able for the first time to precisely demonstrate that the long-term trend over the past two millennia has been towards climatic cooling.

‘We found that previous estimates of historical temperatures during the Roman era and the Middle Ages were too low,’ says Esper. ‘Such findings are also significant with regard to climate policy, as they will influence the way today's climate changes are seen in context of historical warm periods.’
Update: Here is the link to the article at Nature. It indicates:
Solar insolation changes, resulting from long-term oscillations of orbital configurations, are an important driver of Holocene climate. The forcing is substantial over the past 2,000 years, up to four times as large as the 1.6 W m−2 net anthropogenic forcing since 1750, but the trend varies considerably over time, space and with season. Using numerous high-latitude proxy records, slow orbital changes have recently been shown to gradually force boreal summer temperature cooling over the common era. Here, we present new evidence based on maximum latewood density data from northern Scandinavia, indicating that this cooling trend was stronger (−0.31 °C per 1,000 years, ±0.03 °C) than previously reported, and demonstrate that this signature is missing in published tree-ring proxy records. The long-term trend now revealed in maximum latewood density data is in line with coupled general circulation models, indicating albedo-driven feedback mechanisms and substantial summer cooling over the past two millennia in northern boreal and Arctic latitudes. These findings, together with the missing orbital signature in published dendrochronological records, suggest that large-scale near-surface air-temperature reconstructions relying on tree-ring data may underestimate pre-instrumental temperatures including warmth during Medieval and Roman times.
(Notes omitted).

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Another Global Warming Fail--Himalayan Glaciers

The Daily Mail reports:
Huge glaciers in the area between Pakistan and China are puzzling scientists - and disproving the doom-laden predictions of some climate experts.

The glaciers in the Karakoram Range between northern Pakistan and western China have actually grown, rather than shrinking.

Unlike most mountain glaciers, the Karakoram glaciers, which account for 3 percent of the total ice-covered area in the world, excluding Greenland and Antarctica, are not shrinking.

A team of French glaciologists has recently confirmed that these glaciers on average have remained stable or may have even grown slightly in recent years.

The new study used data from satellites to study the Karakoram Range of northern Pakistan and western China.

The researchers found that the ice had actually increased in thickness by 0.11 (plus or minus 0.22) meters per year between 1999 and 2008.

Experts cautioned that the gain is so small that the glaciers might not actually be growing - but what is clear is that the glaciers are not shrinking, according to a report published in Nature Geoscience.

The Road to Hell is Paved With Good Intentions -- Mali Edition

I have to wonder if American and European policy makers were born this stupid, or if it is something special they teach at Harvard, Yale, Oxford, etc. Seriously, even if they couldn't predict the specifics, they had to know from past experience that when you destroy a government, military arms are going to be stolen and sold, and the thugs that typically make up a third world military are not going to slip easily into retirement. From the Telegraph:
Mali’s army had little chance of preventing the loss of two thirds of the country. After Col Muammar Gaddafi’s downfall last year, Libya’s military stockpiles were thrown open to all-comers, turning the country into the world’s biggest source of illegal weapons.

Both AQIM and the Tuareg rebels from northern Mali seized their chance: they soon outgunned the national army.

Gaddafi had also recruited thousands of soldiers from Mali; one brigade of the old Libyan army consisted almost entirely of Tuaregs. These battle-hardened troops returned to their homeland after he was overthrown, taking their weapons with them. They duly became the backbone of AQIM and the Tuareg rebellion.

When Britain and France went to war to topple Gaddafi, they were inadvertently clearing the way for al-Qaeda to take control of a swathe of the Sahara. At first, AQIM allowed Tuareg rebels to take the lead, helping them to capture Mali’s three northern regions in April. Since then, AQIM has thrust the insurgents aside and become the dominant force in the area, acting through an offshoot known as “Ansar Dine”, or “defenders of faith”.

They have no viable opponents: Mali’s official government has simply collapsed. A military coup toppled President Amadou Toumani TourĂ© in March. An interim leader, appointed to supervise new elections, was then left for dead by a mob that raided his office. He now lies in a hospital bed in France, leaving no one in charge in the capital, Bamako.

Even if Mali had a functioning government, the army lacks the military capability to retake the north. So far, AQIM’s leaders can take comfort from the fact that no outside force threatens their control. “If you have a vast unpoliced, ungoverned area, you can do what you like in it,” said a Western diplomat in Bamako. “The fact is that two thirds of the territory of a sovereign country is not under the control of the government.” 
* * *

Al-Qaeda’s allies have imposed the rigours of Sharia, banning alcohol and music, blocking the local television signal and preventing radio stations from broadcasting anything but official announcements and Koranic verse.

Earlier, Mr Maigar witnessed the flogging of a man and a woman in Sankore Square in Timbuktu, allegedly for having sexual intercourse outside marriage.

Djenebou TraorĂ©, 48, left the city in May after two men came to her door and demanded to know whether any of the women inside were unmarried. They would be handed to the new overlords for compulsory “marriage”.

AQIM’s priority appears to be consolidating its control, rather than striking targets beyond the country’s borders. Officials warn this could change. “This could ultimately be the base to attack Europe,” said the diplomat.
The problem is that these Islamist warlords and terrorist just don't understand their own beliefs. We just need to send them a copy of the Arizona State University study that analyzed and believed the terrorist's own propaganda to determine that Muslim terrorists don't want to impose Islam on other peoples, but are only trying to defend themselves against outside groups. 'Cause propaganda does not lie.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Mars Exploration Photos

Some new photos released from NASA.


More photos and information at the Daily Mail.

Summer Already Over?

As much of the U.S. weathers record high temperatures, the U.K. is experiencing one of the wettest and coldest summers on record. From the Daily Express:
BRITAIN is facing its “worst ever” summer with cold wet weather ruining family holidays and blighting the Olympics, forecasters warned last night.

August is set to be a washout following a miserable July and the wettest June since records began – meaning summer is effectively over.

Gloomy forecasts suggest dire weather will continue as officials last night put Britain on flood alert after torrential downpours yesterday wreaked havoc.

As the Environment Agency warned of a “potential danger to life” with rivers swelling to breaking point in the Midlands, Yorkshire and Wales, Government forecasters were on standby to brief the Cabinet if severe floods strike.

The agency last night issued 51 flood warnings – meaning flooding is expected – and 135 alerts. Monsoon-like downpours hit 85,000 music fans at the T In The Park festival in Kinross, Scotland, and 28,000 Formula 1 spectators camping for the British Grand Prix weekend at Silverstone. Race meetings today in Nottingham and Carlisle were cancelled while play was delayed on all courts at Wimbledon – other than Centre Court.
In Leeds, organisers cancelled music festival MFEST over safety concerns.

Emergency services reported a surge of flood callouts, dispatched special operations teams and told motorists not to drive through floodwater.

The misery is set to continue with parts of the Midlands and northern Britain braced for six inches of rain – more than two months’ worth – in the 72 hours to tomorrow night.
(H/t Instapundit). Glenn Reynolds notes: "Brits can comfort themselves with the knowledge that what they’re experiencing is merely variable weather, while the United States is experiencing climate change." Ha.

I would note that the cold, rainy weather isn't just limited to England. There is also this report about the flooding in Southern Russia.

Continuing Tensions Over the South China Sea

It's been awhile since I posted about the tensions between China and its neighbors over the South China Sea, generally, and more particularly between the Philippines and China. However, the tensions are still there, and perhaps growing. The Telegraph reports:
Around 200 protesters marched through the centre of Hanoi on Sunday waving banners and chanting "Paracels -Vietnam, Spratlys-Vietnam".

Although security forces blocked the demonstration when it came within 300 feet of the Chinese embassy, the fact that the protest was allowed to go ahead in authoritarian Vietnam indicates how relations between Hanoi and Beijing have deteriorated dramatically in recent weeks.

Last month, Hanoi passed legislation designating both the Paracels and Spratlys as part of Vietnam. Beijing responded by allowing the state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corporation to call for bids to explore for oil in the disputed waters, a decision which prompted a smaller anti-China rally in Hanoi last Sunday.

China claims much of the oil and natural gas-rich South China Sea as its own, and is now involved in territorial disputes over the waters with a number of its neighbours in southeast Asia. Beijing's efforts to assert its dominance over the South China Sea is believed to be behind Washington's decision to move 60 per cent of its navy to the Asia-Pacific region by 2020.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Last Chance to Check for DNSChanger

Technology Review reminds us that, as of Monday, if your computer is infected with DNSChanger, you will not be able to connect to the Internet.
Hundreds of thousands of people are likely to be confused on Monday when they fire up their home or office computers and can't connect to the Internet. Their network connections will be fine, but attempts to visit their favorite domains will be fruitless.

These people will be the unfortunate leftover victims of the DNSChanger botnet. Between 2007 and October of last year, the DNSChanger virus infected four million computers in 100 countries, according to the FBI. Often without the victims' knowledge, the computers were turned into drones that were instructed by rogue servers to visit websites and click on ads in a scheme to generate fraudulent advertising revenue.
You can check your computer by going here.  If your computer is infected, this site has information on fixing it.

Blogging the Civil War

Stars and Stripes Forever is blogging the American Civil War (or War of Northern Aggression, if you prefer).

Dora the Explorer Movie

Some humor from College Humor. Those of you with children will understand....