Friday, November 30, 2012

Time For A Ban on Assault Bows

NBC reports on the latest mass killing:
Three people were killed Friday in an attack involving a bow and arrow-type weapon at Casper College in Casper, Wyo., police and college officials said.

The attack occurred before 9 a.m. (7 a.m. ET) at the physical science center, said Rich Fujita, a spokesman for the college.

Police told NBC station KCWY of Casper that two of the bodies were found on campus. One appeared to be a male faculty member, and the other appeared to be of "student age," Fujita said. At least one of them had been stabbed with a "bow and arrow type" weapon, police said.
[Does this mean that he was stabbed with the bow? Would this be similar to reporting a shooting as "someone was stabbed with a gun and bullet type weapon"?]

The third body was found off campus; no cause of death was reported.

No suspects were custody, and police said no suspects were at large, bolstering reports by the college that the attacker was believed to be among those killed.
I don't mean to be disrespectful to the victims, but sometimes the reporting/editing of news stories is terrible. And, of course, if a firearm had been used, there would have been all sorts of calls for a new "evil looking guns" ban. But I doubt we will be hearing a call for banning "assault" bows (or crossbows), or limiting quivers to 6 arrows or less, or limiting the sale of arrows with three or four cutting edges on the arrow head.

Water Ice on Mercury

Mercury likely harbors between 100 billion and 1 trillion metric tons of water ice in permanently shadowed areas near its poles, scientists analyzing data from NASA's Messenger spacecraft announced Thursday.

Life on sun-scorched Mercury remains an extreme longshot, the researchers stressed, but the new results should still put a spring in the step of astrobiologists around the world.

"The more we examine the solar system, the more we realize it's a soggy place," Jim Green, the director of NASA's Planetary Science Division, said during a press conference Friday. "And that's really quite exciting, because that means the amount of water that we have here on Earth — that was not only inherent when it was originally formed but probably brought here — that water and other volatiles were brought to many other places in the solar system," Green added. "So it really bodes well for us to continue on the exploration, following the water and its signs throughout the solar system."

Thursday, November 29, 2012

UN Votes for Palestinian Statehood

A day to live in infamy. The Washington Post reports:
The United Nations voted overwhelmingly Thursday to recognize a Palestinian state, a long-sought victory for the Palestinians and an embarrassing diplomatic defeat for the United States.

The resolution upgrading the Palestinians’ status to a nonmember observer state at the U.N. was approved by a vote of 138-9, with 41 abstentions, in the 193-member world body.

A Palestinian flag was quickly unfurled on the floor of the General Assembly, behind the Palestinian delegation. In the West Bank city of Ramallah, hundreds crowded into the main square waved Palestinian flags and chanted “God is great.” Others who had watched the vote on outdoor screens and television sets hugged, honked and set off fireworks before dancing in the streets.
Some additional thoughts from The Lid:
Today, with its vote to recognize Palestine as a non-member state the UN creates something out of nothing just as the Roman's did two thousand years ago, when they changed the name of the Jewish State from Judea to Palaestina. As a slap in the face to those stiff-necked "Jews" who revolted against Roman rule too many times. They renamed their homeland using the name of an ancient Israelite Aegean enemy who disappeared from the region over five centuries before--all to ensure that the land lost its Jewish identity.

But it never did lose its identity, because the Jews are a stiff-necked people who have clung to their faith and their God ever since a man named Abram left his father's house in Ur and traveled to the holy land and changed his name to Abraham.

This is not a centuries-old battle as many would describe it; the Children of Israel had lived in that particular piece of God-given land continuously since a disciple of Moses named Joshua led them back home three and a half millennia ago. Most of the two thousand years since Rome, there had been peace. Only in the past century and a half since the in gathering of the Jewish exiles began, has there been an attempt to take away the heritage of Israel.

Today the UN attempts to moves that Heritage process along by taking a group of refugees who were forced to fester by the King of Jordan and the President of Egypt until they were radicalized. Today the UN is creating something out of what has never been. There was never a country of Palestine, only a territory controlled by Rome, the Ottomans and the British. Yasser Arafat was its first official leader; it has no boarders or capital. Its only “ancient history" was as the Israelite land of Judea and Samaria. There was never even a call for a Palestinian State in the years Egypt controlled Gaza and Jordan controlled Judea and Samaria.

Today neither Fatah the terrorist organization controlling Judea and Samaria, or Hamas (which is biblical Hebrew for violence and chaos) recognize the Jewish people's right their historic homeland but today they are approaching the UN to give them a State with no history.
... This Palestinian entity ... is simply a band of terrorist thugs, born out of the hatred of Jews, forced to live in camps, left to fester by Egypt and Jordan who would not allow them to become citizens of their countries even though those countries controlled the land they lived in, and finally they were unleashed on the world to commit violence against innocents.

This Palestinian entity claims the Jewish People never lived in the land, that the Temples in Jerusalem, which were recognized by Mohammed and worshiped at by Jesus-- never existed. Despite a continual Jewish presence in the land since before the beginning of Christianity and Islam, they claim the nation of Israel was only formed because of the Holocaust. Two thousand years later the followers of the Muslim Prophet and the Christian Messiah are banding together to give those claims credence.

Every time the Jewish people and the nation of Israel attempts to defend herself against the terrorist mission Anti-Semitism intensifies in the Muslim world, the “Third world” and even in Europe and the United States.

Today the United Nations will recognize Palestine a name created by Rome to destroy the heritage of the Jews, and give it to a people whose goal is the same---to destroy the heritage of the Jews. In doing so this world body continues with what they started in 1974 with the invitation of a mass-murderer to the General Assembly--- to nurse terrorism and promote hatred of the Jewish people.

Declining Birth Rates in the U.S.

The U.S. birthrate plunged last year to a record low, with the decline being led by immigrant women hit hard by the recession, according to a study released Thursday by the Pew Research Center.

The overall birthrate decreased by 8 percent between 2007 and 2010, with a much bigger drop of 14 percent among foreign-born women. The overall birthrate is at its lowest since 1920, the earliest year with reliable records. The 2011 figures don’t have breakdowns for immigrants yet, but the preliminary findings indicate that they will follow the same trend.

The decline could have far-reaching implications for U.S. economic and social policy. A continuing decrease could challenge long-held assumptions that births to immigrants will help maintain the U.S. population and create the taxpaying workforce needed to support the aging baby-boom generation.
... “We’ve been assuming that when the baby-boomer population gets most expensive, that there are going to be immigrants and their children who are going to be paying into [programs for the elderly], but in the wake of what’s happened in the last five years, we have to reexamine those assumptions,” he said. “When you think of things like the solvency of Social Security, for example . . . relatively small increases in the dependency ratio can have a huge effect.”

The average number of children a U.S. woman is predicted to have in her lifetime is 1.9, slightly less than the 2.1 children required to maintain current population levels.
The article goes on to indicate that while birth rates tend to rebound after economic downturns (they seem overly optimistic that we are coming out of our "downturn"), it also notes that there are some shifts that suggest that the rebound will be more mild this time, including lower illegal immigration rates, better access to birth control, and more immigrants wanting smaller families.

Taliban Threaten to Avenge Death of Terrorist

So India executed one of the terrorists responsible for the Mumbai attacks, and the Taliban are upset. According to this article from the Times of India:
A Pakistani Taliban faction has claimed that its fighters were holed up in Amritsar and Hyderabad to carry out attacks to avenge 26/11 convict Ajmal Kasab's execution last week.

"We will avenge the death of Ajmal Kasab on Indian soil within a month,'' Ahmed Marwat, a spokesman for Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan's Jundullah group told the TOI from an undisclosed location on Wednesday. "His death will not go waste. (Our) group has a number of fighters in Amritsar and Hyderabad Deccan, who will soon take revenge of Ajmal Kasab. With the death of one Kasab, scores of his other comrades are ready for martyrdom.''
You know, its one thing to threaten a Western nation beholden to politically correct ideology, and quite another to threaten a nation that might actually take seriously its responsibility to protect its citizens....

A Workable Warp Drive

The idea came to White while he was considering a rather remarkable equation formulated by physicist Miguel Alcubierre. In his 1994 paper titled, "The Warp Drive: Hyper-Fast Travel Within General Relativity," Alcubierre suggested a mechanism by which space-time could be "warped" both in front of and behind a spacecraft.

Michio Kaku dubbed Alcubierre's notion a "passport to the universe." It takes advantage of a quirk in the cosmological code that allows for the expansion and contraction of space-time, and could allow for hyper-fast travel between interstellar destinations. Essentially, the empty space behind a starship would be made to expand rapidly, pushing the craft in a forward direction — passengers would perceive it as movement despite the complete lack of acceleration.
White speculates that such a drive could result in "speeds" that could take a spacecraft to Alpha Centauri in a mere two weeks — even though the system is 4.3 light-years away.

"Remember, nothing locally exceeds the speed of light, but space can expand and contract at any speed," White told io9.
[In fact, current theories on the Big Bang and the early universe require space to have expanded much faster than light speed following the Big Bang]. "However, space-time is really stiff, so to create the expansion and contraction effect in a useful manner in order for us to reach interstellar destinations in reasonable time periods would require a lot of energy."
And indeed, early assessments published in the ensuing scientific literature suggested horrific amounts of energy — basically equal to the mass-energy of the planet Jupiter (what is 1.9 × 1027 kilograms or 317 Earth masses). As a result, the idea was brushed aside as being far too impractical. Even though nature allowed for a warp drive, it looked like we would never be able to build one ourselves.
"However," said White, "based on the analysis I did the last 18 months, there may be hope." The key, says White, may be in altering the geometry of the warp drive itself.
... "I suddenly realized that if you made the thickness of the negative vacuum energy ring larger — like shifting from a belt shape to a donut shape — and oscillate the warp bubble, you can greatly reduce the energy required — perhaps making the idea plausible." White had adjusted the shape of Alcubierre's ring which surrounded the spheroid from something that was a flat halo to something that was thicker and curvier.

... And in fact, White says that the warp drive could be powered by a mass that's even less than that of the Voyager 1 spacecraft.
That's a significant change in calculations to say the least. The reduction in mass from a Jupiter-sized planet to an object that weighs a mere 1,600 pounds has completely reset White's sense of plausibility — and NASA's.
Read the whole thing. See also this article at the Atlantic.

Moving Toward Cheaper Lidar Sensors

An alternative [to stereoscopic sensors]—and in many ways better—approach is lidar. Light detection and ranging (by analogy with radio detection and ranging, or radar) sweeps a laser beam over the field of view. By recording how quickly reflections return from different places, a lidar knows exactly how far away they are. The result can then be used by, for example, a robot that wishes to move around in that environment.

Lidar, however, has two problems: it is bulky and it is expensive. But engineers at Vescent Photonics of Denver, Colorado, hope to change this. They have developed a lidar that they think can be shrunk to the size of a box of matches and which will, according to Scott Davis, one the firm’s co-founders, cost hundreds, rather than thousands of dollars if mass produced.

Existing lidars sweep the beam mechanically, and this mechanism takes up space. Vescent has managed to replace these moving mechanical parts with a solid-state beam-steering system. The Steerable Electro-Evanescent Optical Refractor (SEEOR), as the company dubs its invention, sends the laser beam along a glass waveguide that has a special liquid-crystal cladding. Most of the light passes through the glass but part of it, known as the evanescent wave, skims the surface of the liquid crystal. And that allows the whole beam to be manipulated.

One property of liquid crystals is that applying a voltage to them changes their refractive index—that is, the speed of light passing through them. This, in turn, causes the light’s angle of travel to shift. Altering the voltage across the liquid crystals in a SEEOR thus instantly shifts the direction of the emerging beam.

Vescent is not the first outfit to come up with the idea of using liquid crystals to manipulate a lidar beam, but previous attempts to do so have managed to move the beam only a degree or so. SEEOR can scan a beam horizontally over an angle of 60°, and vertically over 20°, thanks to the use of a special liquid crystal, whose refractive index is particularly sensitive to changes in voltage, and also by the perfection of the evanescent-wave approach (previous prototypes sent the whole beam through the liquid crystal, which is less efficient).

Dr Davis thinks that is just the start. He is confident the next version of SEEOR will be able to sweep 120°, both vertically and horizontally. Its range will increase, too, from a few hundred metres to several kilometres. And its size, currently that of a paperback book, will shrink to that of a pack of cards – and ultimately to that of a matchbox.

"America Has Become An Old World Country"

This op-ed from the Telegraph says that the U.S. has become like many European nations:
The United States is now officially one of us: an Old World country complete with class hatred, ethnic Balkanisation, bourgeois guilt and a paternalist ruling elite. And it is locked into the same death spiral of high public spending and self-defeating wealth redistribution as we are. Welcome to the future, and the beginning of what may turn out to be the terminal decline of the West.
However, it also has one of the clearest insights into why so many misjudged the outcome of the election.
It has become clear why it was so easy to misjudge the significance of the apparently lacklustre Obama campaign – the drastically reduced crowds at his events; his underwhelming, peevish performances in the debates, and his failure to produce any substantive plan for a second term – as signs of how the election would go. Mitt Romney may have pulled far larger and more enthusiastic audiences for his stump speeches but this contest was not, in the end, going to be about speeches or arguments. The reason that so many of those who would vote for the incumbent president did not bother to turn out to see him as he toured the country was that they were largely untouched by the campaign: their voting allegiance was always a certainty. It was not about political ideas at all. It was about identity: about who and what you were in the most visceral and personal sense – about race, about class, about being the kind of person you believed it was necessary to be.
(Underline added). Read the whole thing.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Iran Building Atomic Bomb

Completely unbelievable, I know, but Iran apparently had been lying when they said their nuclear program was peaceful. And our own dear leader, Obama, likely knew about this and didn't bother to inform the public of the truth. From Israel National News (via Drudge):
Iran is planning to build a nuclear bomb with at least triple the force of the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima in World War II, diagrams obtained by the Associated Press indicates. According to AP, the diagrams were first discovered by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) scientists after an inspection of an Iranian nuclear facility. The document was published by the AP Tuesday after, the news agency said, it was leaked by officials critical of the way the West has been handling the Iran issue.

The diagrams discovered by the IAEA show Iranian scientists calculating the desired "nuclear explosive yield" in a device they were apparently working on. IAEA inspectors described the diagrams in a report, and a senior official who is working with the Geneva-based UN organization confirmed that the diagrams obtained by AP were the same ones mentioned in the report.

The diagrams showed a scientific calculation of the expected yield of a nuclear device, with a maximum force of 50 kilotons, experts who saw the AP diagrams said. There was no possibility that the diagrams referred to a process other than construction of a nuclear weapon, the experts said.
Was the Administration going to just sit on this information until Iran detonated a test device?

Phidippides and Endurance Sports

You probably remember the story of the Battle of Marathon.
In the fifth century BC the Persians were the superpower of their day and Ionia in what is now western Turkey was one of many subjugated territories under the Persian Empire. When the Ionians rebelled the Athenians came to the aid of their fellow Greeks. The Ionian rebellion was crushed, but the Persians were not satisfied. Out of revenge and a determination to expand their domain, the Persian fleet landed in the bay of Marathon with the goal of subduing the impudent Greeks.

During a five-day stalemate the Athenian General Miltiades dispatched a professional runner named Phidippides to Sparta for reinforcements. Phidippides ran the 150 mile distance in two days. The superstitious Spartans, however, would not leave their homes during a full moon. The Athenians, however, could not wait and, although far outnumbered, they attacked the Persians anyway. Amazingly, the Greeks defeated the Persian infantry and forced the fleet to return to Asia.

Legend has it that forty-year-old Phidippides ran from Marathon to Athens, 25 miles, to announce the victory over the Persians and then collapsed and died.
(Underline added). It is the death of Phidippides that is of interest to me here. The Wall Street Journal reports:
A fast-emerging body of scientific evidence points to a conclusion that’s unsettling, to say the least, for a lot of older athletes: Running can take a toll on the heart that essentially eliminates the benefits of exercise.

“Running too fast, too far and for too many years may speed one’s progress toward the finish line of life,” concludes an editorial to be published next month in the British journal Heart.

. . . What the new research suggests is that the benefits of running may come to a hard stop later in life. In a study involving 52,600 people followed for three decades, the runners in the group had a 19% lower death rate than nonrunners, according to the Heart editorial. But among the running cohort, those who ran a lot—more than 20 to 25 miles a week—lost that mortality advantage.

Meanwhile, according to the Heart editorial, another large study found no mortality benefit for those who ran faster than 8 miles per hour, while those who ran slower reaped significant mortality benefits.

Those two studies—presented at recent medical conferences—follow the publication in recent months and years of several other articles finding cardiac abnormalities in extreme athletes, including coronary artery calcification of a degree typically found in the utterly sedentary.

Opinion is nearly unanimous among cardiologists that endurance athletics significantly increases the risk of atrial fibrillation, an arrhythmia that is estimated to be the cause of one third of all strokes. “Chronic extreme exercise appears to cause excessive ‘wear-and-tear’ on the heart,” the editorial says.
The article goes on to note that not everyone agrees with the conclusions of these studies. But, poor Phidippides may beg to differ.

Going Galt--Wealthy Fled Britain To Escape High Taxes

Consequences. Something that liberals don't seem to understand. From the Telegraph:
In the 2009-10 tax year, more than 16,000 people declared an annual income of more than £1 million to HM Revenue and Customs.

This number fell to just 6,000 after Gordon Brown introduced the new 50p top rate of income tax shortly before the last general election.

The figures have been seized upon by the Conservatives to claim that increasing the highest rate of tax actually led to a loss in revenues for the Government.

It is believed that rich Britons moved abroad or took steps to avoid paying the new levy by reducing their taxable incomes.
... Far from raising funds, it actually cost the UK £7 billion in lost tax revenue.

Liberal Moochers

I've previously written (here, here, here and here) about what one writer termed the "slut vote"--essentially, young, single, females (and males) whose primary issue apparently was sex without consequences. I've also noted the importance of the youth vote for Obama. So, while perusing Instapundit I noticed a few articles that trace the same themes.

First, Pew has published an analysis of the youth vote. Some highlights:
Among all voters 30 and older, Obama ran behind Mitt Romney (48% for Obama, 50% for Romney). Four years ago, Obama edged John McCain, 50% to 49%, among all 30+ voters.

In Florida, Ohio, Virginia and Pennsylvania, Obama also failed to win a majority of voters 30 and older. Yet he swept all four battleground states, in part because he won majorities of 60% or more among young voters.
... Young voters continue to identify with the Democratic Party at relatively high levels and express more liberal attitudes on a range of issues – from gay marriage to the role of the federal government – than do older voters. In fact, voters under 30 were as likely to identify as Democrats in the 2012 exit poll as they had been in 2008 (44% now, 45% then). And they are the only age group in which a majority said that the government should do more to solve problems.
The question is why the disparity between generations, which apparently was not so pronounced in elections prior to 2008. It may very well come down to the same basic issues of the "slut vote"--voting for a lack of consequences, or as one old song said it, "the world owes me a living...."

Let's look at Sandra Fluke, who has made the short-list for Time's "person of the year." Michael Graham at the Boston Herald notes that Fluke may well be the perfect poster child for the younger voters:
Because she’s a 32-year-old woman who’s still in college (“Grade 25,” as humorist Mark Steyn calls it)?

Because, even at this late age, she expects other people to pay her bills — specifically for her birth control?

Because she chose to attend a Catholic college, then demanded they drop their profound theological objections and pay for her “morning-after” pill?

Because she lacks even one accomplishment to point to, a single achievement that would put her in the same category as the inventors, presidents and popes who’ve been given this award in the past?

Yes, all those things are true — which is exactly why Sandra Fluke should be named Person of the Year! Or “American of the Year” at the very least.

Can you think of anyone who better represents the America of 2012 than Ms. Fluke? I can’t.

She’s got it all: The “Generation Cupcake” inadequacy (“So what if she didn’t earn the award — give it to her, anyway!); the “Occupod” sense of entitlement (“Somebody should be buying my condoms, and it ain’t gonna be me!”); and, of course, the liberal detachment from reality (“There’s a war on women! We’re being oppressed! Just ask Hillary Clinton, Condi Rice and Oprah!”).

Then there’s the economic angle. One could argue that the icon of the failing Obama economy is the college grad with a worthless degree under his arm and a bed in his mom’s basement.

Time magazine gives us Sandra Fluke, with a bachelor’s degree in (no joke) Feminist, Gender, & Sexuality Studies, no marketable skills, and still on the academic track, living on the largess of others.
She's not the only visible example. Betsy Woodruff at the National Review makes the following observations in her review of the television series "Girls":
For those of you who are really good about not watching TV, Girls is a wildly popular HBO show about four young women living in Brooklyn and trying to “make it,” whatever that means these days. It’s produced by Judd Apatow (that’s important, and I’ll get into it in a bit) and created by and starring Lena Dunham. If you used the World Wide Web in the last month, you may know her as the tattooed brunette who made the “Voting for Obama is like losing your virginity” ad. ...

... At its core, Girls feels like a deliberate, dissective examination of a group of people who stubbornly refuse to grow up and are lucky enough to be able to pull it off. The main thing Dunham’s characters share is the idea that just because they exist, somebody else should give them stuff. In and of itself, depicting that isn’t at all a bad thing. Girls is an interesting project, it’s well executed, and it can be really, really funny. Look, I like Girls, and I’m excited about the second season.

But Dunham’s stupid little YouTube ad for the president might have ruined it all for me. That’s because she sounds like she’s channeling her character, Invasion of the Body Snatchers–style. They share the same baffling, na├»vely egomaniacal understanding of justice — they both seem to think that because they exist, the universe needs to make sure that all the sex they choose to have is consequence-free.

You can almost argue that Lena Dunham sees President Obama as the perfect surrogate for everything missing in her characters’ lives: He’s their gentle lover, supportive parent, and empathetic friend. He’s special. He won’t let them down. He’s Prince Charming. And that kind of defeats the purpose of feminism.

You’d think the feminist elevation of agency would result in women who take pride in being responsible for their own bodies. You’d hope that telling women that they can do whatever they want would imply that they’re responsible for what they do. You’d think serious feminists would argue that true empowerment is something you lay claim to, not something the federal government dispenses in all its benevolence. But for Dunham, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

... But if you don’t want men in Washington telling you how to use your sexuality, you shouldn’t expect them to subsidize it. But Dunham seems to actually believe they should. Dunham makes tons of money, and I’m quite confident she can afford to pay for her own birth control. But she doesn’t seem to take pride in that; it’s not what her characters aspire to, and given her foray into the delightful world of presidential-election ads, it doesn’t seem to be something she aspires to, either.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The White House is Cracking Down on Whistleblowers

The National Insider Threat Memorandum that everyone is talking about. (Link here). So you don't have to go to the White House website if you don't want, I have posted the text below. As you can see, it is pretty short, and that is because it is just a cover sheet. The actual "National Insider Threat Policy" and "Minimum Standards" are obviously separate documents.

* * * * *


SUBJECT: National Insider Threat Policy and Minimum Standards for Executive Branch Insider Threat Programs

This Presidential Memorandum transmits the National Insider Threat Policy and Minimum Standards for Executive Branch Insider Threat Programs (Minimum Standards) to provide direction and guidance to promote the development of effective insider threat programs within departments and agencies to deter, detect, and mitigate actions by employees who may represent a threat to national security. These threats encompass potential espionage, violent acts against the Government or the Nation, and unauthorized disclosure of classified information, including the vast amounts of classified data available on interconnected United States Government computer networks and systems.

The Minimum Standards provide departments and agencies with the minimum elements necessary to establish effective insider threat programs. These elements include the capability to gather, integrate, and centrally analyze and respond to key threat-related information; monitor employee use of classified networks; provide the workforce with insider threat awareness training; and protect the civil liberties and privacy of all personnel.

The resulting insider threat capabilities will strengthen the protection of classified information across the executive branch and reinforce our defenses against both adversaries and insiders who misuse their access and endanger our national security.


The Unmentionable Solution

Justin Katz at the Ocean State Current discusses the unmentionable solution to the current debt crises--rolling back government laws and regulations that stifle economic activity. Katz argues:
When the Clinton administration took the wheel, a different debt became the fuel. Finance-industry deregulation allowed new instruments to capitalize the future mortgage payments of people who were unlikely to be able to make those payments. The government-sponsored Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac gave this speculative source of future wealth the security of government backing, and investors brought a corresponding amount of their own resources into the mix.

But less of the newly active money went to GDP and more to investment. When the gamble crashed in the late ’00s, government stimulus inflated the stock market back to its previous heights while productive activity effectively stagnated.

The lessons are, first, that there is more wealth in the economy than is presently counted in dollars and, second, that wealth and inflation are mobile within the economy. The solution to our current conundrum is to draw unused wealth and productivity into circulation and wean ourselves from government debt.

The closed-door negotiations concerning the cliff shouldn’t be an exchange of revenue chips for spending chips; it should be an exchange of fiscal relaxation for regulatory loosening and safety-net tightening. Raise the debt ceiling for a while, but with the conditions that neither taxes nor spending increase and that Americans are given opportunity and incentive to invest and to be economically productive by means of policy changes that aren’t typically part of this conversation.

The U.N.'s Sneak Attack on the Internet

The primary purpose of the U.N. is to maintain dictators in power. Notice the three U.N. hot-topics the past few weeks: (i) the small-arms treaty (i.e., subjects don't need weapons), (ii) so-called global warming (i.e., siphoning money from industrial nations to give to tin-pot dictators), and (iii) the U.N. wanting to establish control over the internet. As to the latter subject, the Wall Street Journal states:
Many of the U.N.'s 193 member states oppose the open, uncontrolled nature of the Internet. Its interconnected global networks ignore national boundaries, making it hard for governments to censor or tax. And so, to send the freewheeling digital world back to the state control of the analog era, China, Russia, Iran and Arab countries are trying to hijack a U.N. agency that has nothing to do with the Internet.

For more than a year, these countries have lobbied an agency called the International Telecommunications Union to take over the rules and workings of the Internet. Created in 1865 as the International Telegraph Union, the ITU last drafted a treaty on communications in 1988, before the commercial Internet, when telecommunications meant voice telephone calls via national telephone monopolies.

Next week the ITU holds a negotiating conference in Dubai, and past months have brought many leaks of proposals for a new treaty. ...

Having the Internet rewired by bureaucrats would be like handing a Stradivarius to a gorilla. The Internet is made up of 40,000 networks that interconnect among 425,000 global routes, cheaply and efficiently delivering messages and other digital content among more than two billion people around the world, with some 500,000 new users a day.

... The self-regulating Internet means no one has to ask for permission to launch a website, and no government can tell network operators how to do their jobs. The arrangement has made the Internet a rare place of permissionless innovation. ...

Proposals for the new ITU treaty run to more than 200 pages. One idea is to apply the ITU's long-distance telephone rules to the Internet by creating a "sender-party-pays" rule. International phone calls include a fee from the originating country to the local phone company at the receiving end. Under a sender-pays approach, U.S.-based websites would pay a local network for each visitor from overseas, effectively taxing firms such as Google ... and Facebook ... . The idea is technically impractical because unlike phone networks, the Internet doesn't recognize national borders. But authoritarians are pushing the tax, hoping their citizens will be cut off from U.S. websites that decide foreign visitors are too expensive to serve.

Regimes such as Russia and Iran also want an ITU rule letting them monitor Internet traffic routed through or to their countries, allowing them to eavesdrop or block access. ...

Don't Answer the Question--White House Edition

NPR reported the following (h/t Instapundit):
Asked whether the White House was forewarned about President Morsi’s power grab, Jay Carney said today that the administration has “expressed and raised concerns” about it.
Except, the question was whether the White House knew about it in advance. 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Why Egypt's Military Won't Stop Morsi

From Barry Rubin at PJ Media:

Partly under international pressure, it [Egypt's military] gave power to an elected president without securing a single one of its demands. So much for the tyrannical generals. Scores of top officers resigned and they are now being replaced by the choices of one man, the president.
Who is Mursi going to appoint to head the new Egyptian army? Given the lack of Islamist sympathizers at the top — there is much debate over how many there are among more junior officers — he needs to put in place opportunists. These would be men who in exchange for their rank and privileges will do his bidding. That is what’s happening now; the Islamist high command should come later.
Lacking any ideological orientation against revolutionary Islamism; without charismatic leadership; not at all united, and in a sense fat and greedy; without any foreign encouragement; and not wanting to shoot down its own people and set off a civil war, the Egyptian army is not a bulwark against the country becoming an Islamist dictatorship. If the Islamists could overcome a far more coherent and ideologically anti-Islamist military in Turkey so easily, there’s no reason to think a similar process won’t happen in Egypt, too.
What are the red lines for the army? First and foremost that nobody touch their economic empire and cut their budget. Mursi isn’t stupid enough to get into trouble on that issue.
Second, those who attack the military with guns must be dealt with harshly. Mursi is willing to crack down on those extremely radical Salafist groups — notably in the Sinai — who shoot Egyptian soldiers rather than just restricting themselves to attacks on Israel.
Third, the preservation of U.S. military aid. No worries there; it would take a lot for the Obama administration to cut off this assistance. The regime can go far toward suppressing women and Christians, making clear it is helping the forces seeking to wipe Israel off the map, subverting other Arabic-speaking countries, and setting up a dictatorship without having to worry about losing the aid.
Finally, will the Egyptian military constantly refuse to take steps that might entangle it in a war with Israel? Here is the most likely hope of restraint though Mursi isn’t eager for such a direct conflict either. The danger, however, is not so much an executive decision to go to war but a slow slide into conflict. Along the way, Egypt can be permissive toward those staging cross-border attacks on Israel; allow Egyptian volunteers in large numbers to go to the Gaza Strip to fight; and allow lots of weapons in the Gaza Strip. Small-scale border clashes or a future Israel-Hamas war could move things in that direction.
For the time being, however, as indicated by the ceasefire, Egypt’s new regime doesn’t want a conflict either. Consolidating its power within the country and creating a new order that will last for decades is a big task. All the institutions must be transformed, a constitution finalized and adopted, billions of dollars of foreign aid begged, oppositions tamed. As an indication, the radical nationalist regime in the 1950s spent three years at that task before turning toward an attempt to dominate the region.

Life in Antarctic "Lake"

The Guardian reports:

Scientists have found life in an Antarctic lake that was sealed off from the outside world by a thick sheet of ice several thousands of years ago.
Brine collected from boreholes drilled into Lake Vida contains scores of bacteria that clung on to life despite making their home in one of harshest environments on Earth.
The lake lies in a barren region called the McMurdo Dry Valleys, in the east of the continent. The water in Lake Vida is acidic, starved of oxygen, and so salty that it remains liquid despite its temperature hovering around the -13C mark all year round.
Researchers identified organisms from eight major groups of bacteria, among them common forms such as proteobacteria, firmicutes and bacteroidetes. Another group, the verrucomicrobia, are named for their wart-like bulges.
The discovery of the ecosystem pushes the boundaries of what life can endure, and may inform the search for alien microbes on other planets, such as Mars, or on icy moons such Jupiter's Europa.

U.S. Plans to Keep 10,000 Troops in Afghanistan

My question is "why?" From the Guardian:

The long-term US military presence in Afghanistan is likely to be a "light footprint" of about 10,000 American troops, boosted by a few thousand more soldiers from Nato allies, according to US media reports.
Most foreign combat troops are expected to be out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014, a deadline agreed by Nato and Kabul a few years ago. The White House favours keeping a small force on the ground for some years after that, although diplomats insist they are not seeking permanent bases. Troops would stay to train the Afghan security forces, which still need help with everything from bomb detection to medical evacuation and fuel supplies, and run counter-terrorism campaigns, particularly along the lawless border with Pakistan.
Plans are still tentative but senior officials in the Obama administration would like to keep about 10,000 troops in Afghanistan, the Wall Street Journal reported.
General John Allen, the commander of US and Afghan forces in Afghanistan, has made a preliminary recommendation that 6,000 to 15,000 troops should stay on, the paper said.
Under the emerging plans, the counter-terrorism unit focused on al-Qaida could be under 1,000, the New York Times reported, leaving a substantial number of soldiers to support and train the Afghan police and army.
For comparison, there are currently 90,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Plans to Colonize Mars

Elon Musk, founder of Space-X, discusses his plans for colonizing Mars. From the Daily Mail:
Musk, already the first private space entrepreneur to launch a successful mission to the International Space Station this spring, says what would begin by first sending less than 10 people could blossom 'into something really big.'

. . . Rather than lounging around on an interplanetary vacation, the passengers would be sent to work, carrying with them equipment to build sustainable housing on the dusty and currently barren soil for future generations.

Immediate ground work would focus on building transparent domes pressurized with CO2 while possibly covered in a layer of water to serve as protection from the sun.

. . . With the CO2, Mars' soil would be capable of growing crops for food, he said.
Additional equipment carried over could also produce fertilizer, methane and oxygen using the atmosphere’s natural elements of nitrogen, carbon dioxide and its surface of ice water.
Musk believes one person out of every 100,000 people would be interested in making the journey with 8 billion expected on Earth by time his plans become reality.
Still, the first step is getting man to the Red Planet, a mission he expects to be completed in the next 15 to 20 years.
Once that's established, phase two would require a SpaceX design of a 'rapid and reusable' vertical-landing rocket, calling this: 'the pivotal step to achieving a colony on Mars.'

A Rather Damning Op-Ed from Pravda

Putin in 2009 outlined his strategy for economic success. Alas, poor Obama did the opposite but nevertheless was re-elected. Bye, bye Miss American Pie. The Communists have won in America with Obama but failed miserably in Russia with Zyuganov who only received 17% of the vote. Vladimir Putin was re-elected as President keeping the NWO order out of Russia while America continues to repeat the Soviet mistake.

After Obama was elected in his first term as president the then Prime Minister of Russia, Vladimir Putin gave a speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in January of 2009. Ignored by the West as usual, Putin gave insightful and helpful advice to help the world economy and saying the world should avoid the Soviet mistake.

Recently, Obama has been re-elected for a 2nd term by an illiterate society and he is ready to continue his lies of less taxes while he raises them. He gives speeches of peace and love in the world while he promotes wars as he did in Egypt, Libya and Syria. He plans his next war is with Iran as he fires or demotes his generals who get in the way.

Putin said regarding the military,

"...instead of solving the problem, militarization pushes it to a deeper level. It draws away from the economy immense financial and material resources, which could have been used much more efficiently elsewhere."

Well, any normal individual understands that as true but liberalism is a psychosis . O'bomber even keeps the war going along the Mexican border with projects like "fast and furious" and there is still no sign of ending it. He is a Communist without question promoting the Communist Manifesto without calling it so. How shrewd he is in America. His cult of personality mesmerizes those who cannot go beyond their ignorance. They will continue to follow him like those fools who still praise Lenin and Stalin in Russia. Obama's fools and Stalin's fools share the same drink of illusion.

Reading Putin's speech without knowing the author, one would think it was written by Reagan or another conservative in America. The speech promotes smaller government and less taxes. ...

... President Vladimir Putin could never have imagined anyone so ignorant or so willing to destroy their people like Obama much less seeing millions vote for someone like Obama. They read history in America don't they? Alas, the schools in the U.S. were conquered by the Communists long ago and history was revised thus paving the way for their Communist presidents. Obama has bailed out those businesses that voted for him and increased the debt to over 16 trillion with an ever increasing unemployment rate especially among blacks and other minorities. All the while promoting his agenda.

. . . The red, white and blue still flies happily but only in Russia. Russia still has St George defeating the Dragon with the symbol of the cross on its' flag. The ACLU and other atheist groups in America would never allow the US flag with such religious symbols. Lawsuits a plenty against religious freedom and expression in the land of the free. Christianity in the U.S. is under attack as it was during the early period of the Soviet Union when religious symbols were against the law.

Let's give American voters the benefit of the doubt and say it was all voter fraud and not ignorance or stupidity in electing a man who does not even know what to do and refuses help from Russia when there was an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Instead we'll say it's true that the Communists usage of electronic voting was just a plan to manipulate the vote. Soros and his ownership of the company that counts the US votes in Spain helped put their puppet in power in the White House. According to the Huffington Post, residents in all 50 states have filed petitions to secede from the Unites States. We'll say that these Americans are hostages to the Communists in power. How long will their government reign tyranny upon them? Russia lost its' civil war with the Reds and millions suffered torture and death for almost 75 years under the tyranny of the United Soviet Socialist Republic. Russians survived with a new and stronger faith in God and ever growing Christian Church. The question is how long will the once "Land of the Free" remain the United Socialist States of America? Their suffering has only begun.
 There we have it. Those who most truly know what Communism is have branded Obama a communist.

U.S. Chooses Stability Over Democracy in Egypt

James Brandon writes at the Commentator on how the Obama Administration has decided to back Egyptian President Morsi over democratic reforms in hopes of achieving stability (something they had with Mubarak, I might add). Mr. Brandon writes, in part:
On Thursday, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood president Mohammed Morsi passed an extraordinary presidential decree. This unilaterally fired the country’s prosecutor-general, banned the judiciary from dissolving the country’s constituent assembly and, conveniently, also declared all the president’s decisions to be irrevocable and immune from any form of judicial challenge or overturn.

Morsi said this would allow him to achieve ‘political and economic stability’ in Egypt and to ‘defend the revolution’: an ominous phrase beloved by every revolutionary-turned-despot from Robespierre to Lenin and Mao.

This momentous step – which one Egyptian legal expert described as ’absolute fascism’ - was almost certainly given the nod by the Obama administration, either implicitly or explicitly. Only a few hours before his announcement, Hillary Clinton had told a press conference in Cairo that:

“Egypt's new government is assuming the responsibility and leadership that has long made this country a cornerstone of regional stability and peace.”

After Morsi’s announcement, the US State Department merely observed that Morsi’s moves “raise concerns for many Egyptians and for the international community”, hardly a resounding US denunciation.

The ‘stability and peace’ trade-off that was reached between Clinton and Morsi in Cairo is clear; in return for Morsi persuading Hamas to agree to a ceasefire with Israel, the US would allow him to seize new ‘temporary’ political powers under the guise of ensuring ‘stability’, both in Egypt and in the region.

This move – the latest instance of the Obama Whitehouse dressing up naivety for hard-nosed realism -- is short-sighted for two main reasons:

Firstly, it grants the Muslim Brotherhood the power to act with minimal checks and balances from Egypt’s judiciary. Now that Egypt’s non-ideological military has realised that it can prosper under an Islamist regime, the judiciary was the last branch of government still acting as a significant brake on Brotherhood ambitions.

For all its faults, this institution is now likely to be purged and silenced, with knock-on effects for Egyptian politics: opposition protesters will face tougher sentences, Brotherhood members – already widely accused of attacks on rival demonstrators and of using sexual assault to intimidate liberal female oppositionists - will be able to act with greater impunity.

Ongoing, politically motivated prosecutions of opposition leaders, on charges from blasphemy to corruption, will also likely increase. Weakening Egypt’s judges will also enable the Brotherhood to move against other sources of opposition formerly protected by the judiciary.

On Friday, Gehad al-Haddad, a senior Brotherhood adviser, tweeted ominously that after the Brotherhood had dealt with the judiciary, ‘the police needs its own cleansing project, which this declaration enabled. Let’s hope it’s swift’.

Secondly, Hillary Clinton’s ‘peace and stability’ trade-off has only granted Israel a short-term reprieve and has in the longer-term stacked the odds against the survival of the Jewish homeland.

Following Clinton’s visit, Mohammed Badie, the Brotherhood’s real leader who was prevented from standing for the presidency on a technicality, publicly reiterated the group’s view on Israel that “jihad was obligatory” on Muslims, his sole proviso being that an armed attack on Israel by Arab states should only be “the last stage”, once the Muslim world had achieved “unity”-- incidentally a word used by Morsi to justify his power-grab.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Corruption in Chinese Education

Bribery [in China] has become so rife that Xi Jinping devoted his first speech after being named the Communist Party’s new leader this month to warning the Politburo that corruption could lead to the collapse of the party and the state if left unchecked. Indeed, ordinary Chinese have become inured to a certain level of official malfeasance in business and politics.

But the lack of integrity among educators and school administrators is especially dispiriting, said Li Mao, an educational consultant in Beijing. “It’s much more upsetting when it happens with teachers because our expectations of them are so much higher,” he said.

Affluent parents in the United States and around the world commonly seek to provide their children every advantage, of course, including paying for tutors and test preparation courses, and sometimes turning to private schools willing to accept wealthy students despite poor grades.

But critics say China’s state-run education system — promoted as the hallmark of Communist meritocracy — is being overrun by bribery and cronyism. Such corruption has broadened the gulf between the haves and have-nots as Chinese families see their hopes for the future sold to the highest bidder.

“Corruption is pervasive in every part of Chinese society, and education is no exception,” Mr. Li said.

It begins even before the first day of school as the competition for admission to elite schools has created a lucrative side business for school officials and those connected to them.

. . . Government officials have also found a way to game the system. The 21st Century Business Herald, a state-run newspaper, reported that powerful agencies and state-owned enterprises frequently donated to top schools under what is known as a “joint development” policy. In exchange, education reformers say, the children of their employees are given an admissions advantage.

The same practice has been taken up by private companies that provide “corporate sponsorships” to top schools.

. . . Some parents have found that the only way to preserve any integrity is to reject a Chinese education altogether. Disgusted by the endemic bribery, Wang Ping, 37, a bar owner in Beijing, decided to send her son abroad for his education. In August, she wept as she waved goodbye to her only child, whom she had enrolled at a public high school in Iowa.

“China’s education system is unfair to children from the very beginning of their lives,” she said. “I don’t want my son to have anything more to do with it.”
In one respect, this is just an example of basic economics--if there is an artificial price ceiling, but the intersection of the supply and demand curves are higher than the price ceiling, one method of balancing out the inequality is some hidden cost. Often, it will be bribes, "favors," "gifts," alumni donations, etc. Thus, government imposed price ceilings, so beloved of socialist societies, will inevitably produce either shortfalls in  supplies or corruption, and generally both.

In another respect, this story is yet another example of how wealth is always self-reinforcing by limiting the best education to those with the most money. Of course, the purpose of socialism has never been to produce equality, but to replace one aristocracy with another.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

MGM Spends $1M to Censor "Red Dawn"

The Daily Mail reports on how MGM has spent $1,000,000 to scrub all references and symbols of China from its remake of "Red Dawn." The original plot was that China invades the U.S. to resolve the debt crises by brute force. Now its been changed to North Korea invading. From the article:
In the remake, Thor alum Chris Hemsworth and his ragtag band of mature-looking teenaged relatives and friends lead an insurrection against the Chinese-turned North Korean occupiers who promise to bring economic salvation, but do so with an iron fist.   
The filming of Red Dawn was completed back in 2010, but was shelved for two years after declaring bankruptcy amid financing troubles coupled with a barrage of criticism from the Asian nation which happens to hold about $1.12trillion of U.S. debt. 
In an obvious effort to salvage ticket sales in China, which is the fifth largest movie market in the world that has been bringing American filmmakers $1.5billion in profit per year, MGM opted to swap the villains, casting North Koreans in the role of ruthless invaders.
While the Communist nation is notorious for its nuclear capabilities, Hollywood big wigs evidently figured that it is better to incur the wrath of the pariah of the Far East rather than alienate the region's economic juggernaut.   
To that end, the production company had reportedly spent $1million removing every reference to China from the film in post-production, from flags to soldiers’ insignia and propaganda posters on the walls, according to the Los Angeles Times.
While changing Chinese symbols into Korean ones was just a matter of a few  - albeit expensive - clicks of the keyboard, the choice of the new baddies raises some important questions: why and how would a nation of 24 million starving people cross the ocean to invade a nation of 313 million well-armed and well-fed Americans?
Actor C. Thomas Howell, who starred in the original Red Dawn, publicly mocked the swap in a recent interview with USA Today.
‘Quite frankly, we all know North Korea cannot afford to invade (itself).How is that going to happen?’ asked Howell. ‘That's already stupid in my book.’

More Looting in New York

(Full story here).

Russian Arms Official Assassinated

From the World Tribune (h/t Instapundit):
A Russian official assigned to supply military equipment to Syria has been assassinated according to media reports here.
The Turkish daily Hurriyet said Vyacheslav Trukhachev was shot dead in the Russian city of Tula by an unknown assailant.
Hurriyet, regarded as close to the government of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan, identified Trukhachev, deputy manager of the missile manufacturer KBP, as responsible
for most weapons exports to the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
No claim of responsibility was issued for the killing of Trukhachev. But Syrian rebels have warned over the past four months that Russia could be targeted for its continued weapons shipments to Assad.

A New Milestone in Nanotechnology

From the Foresight Institute (h/t Instapundit):

From KurzweilAI “How to design proteins from scratch“:
… By following a set of rules, they designed five proteins from scratch that fold reliably into predicted conformations. In a blind test, the team showed that the synthesized proteins closely match the predicted structures.
“What you have now is a flexible set of building blocks for nanoscale assembly,” says Jeremy England, a molecular biophysicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, who was not involved in the work. …

. . . The best summary of the significance of this result is given by the authors in the conclusion of their paper (reference numbers omitted from quotation):
The design principles and methodology we have described should allow the ready design of a wide range of robust and stable protein building blocks for the next generation of engineered functional proteins. Almost all protein design and engineering efforts so far have repurposed naturally occurring proteins that evolved for some other, often unrelated, function. It should now become possible to custom-design protein scaffolds ideal for the desired function, and to build larger assemblies and materials from robust ideal building blocks.
From the standpoint of advanced nanotechnology/molecular manufacturing, the “build larger assemblies” part is especially interesting. The abstract of the research is available on the journal web site, and the authors have made a full text PDF available on the Baker lab web site.

The Benghazi Cover Up Enters a New Phase

Breitbart reports that the Benghazi coverup is entering a new phase--covering up the original coverup. As you may remember, the Administration spent a considerable amount of effort the first couple of weeks after the attack telling us that the attack was spontaneous and the result of anger over a YouTube video. The Administration took out an advertisement in Pakistan blaming the video, while here, in the U.S., the author of the video was arrested.

The focus right now is the talking points used by Susan Rice on her round-robin of Sunday political news programs and who edited those talking points. From the Breitbart article:
In reference to the edited talking points, another source told CBS News that… [emphasis added]
"The points were not, as has been insinuated by some, edited to minimize the role of extremists, diminish terrorist affiliations, or play down that this was an attack," the official tells CBS News, adding that there were "legitimate intelligence and legal issues to consider, as is almost always the case when explaining classified assessments publicly."
"Most people understand that saying 'extremists' were involved in a direct assault on the mission isn't shying away from the idea of terrorist involvement," added the official. "Because of the various elements involved in the attack, the term extremist was meant to capture the range of participants."
This is important because if the talking points were not edited "to minimize the role of extremists," that, then, was a decision Susan Rice made all on her own (with likely prompting from the White House ). The same goes for White House spokesman Jay Carney and the President himself, both of whom would spend nearly two weeks spinning this same false narrative.
This false White House narrative, which only sharpened over time, was all about a spontaneous protest over a YouTube video that turned into a deadly riot. But if the edited talking points were not meant to "diminish terrorist affiliations, or play down that this was an attack," that was a decision the White House made, and one that conflicts entirely with the excuse that they were simply telling us what they were told by the intelligence community.
And it wasn't just the fact that the White House chose to focus on the YouTube video. Time and again, for nearly two weeks, Rice and Carney would go the extra mile in this deception by telling the media that there was absolutely no evidence the assault on our consulate was premeditated. 
Finally, the primary defense for the editing of al-Qaeda out of the talking points is this ridiculous notion that we didn't want the group responsible for the attack to know we were after them. That never came close to passing the smell test, and now the intelligence community is pushing back against that nonsense:
[A]n intelligence source tells CBS News correspondent Margaret Brennan the links to al Qaeda were deemed too "tenuous" to make public, because there was not strong confidence in the person providing the intelligence.
In other words, the removing of the al-Qaeda references wasn't about tipping anyone off; it was about making sure it was this particular al-Qaeda affiliated militia. There was never any doubt the attack was a premeditated terror attack, but amongst all the extremists in Libya, we just weren't sure which one was responsible.
So, if what CBS is reporting is true, this is what we know now:
1. At the time, Susan Rice knew the information she repeated five times on five Sunday shows wasn't true.
2. The edited talking points were never meant to deceive and conceal the fact that what happened in Libya was a terror attack. And yet, that's exactly what Rice and the White House did for nearly two weeks.
3. Contrary to what the White House and media told us, the talking points were not edited to keep the group responsible for the attack from knowing we were on to them. Therefore…
4. We were lied to for reasons that had nothing to do with national security.
5. The media's going to allow the Obama Administration to get away with this. (Why else would CBS play down its own story the way they did this one?)
Everything goes back to the motive for this cover up, which, apparently, was to run out the clock to Election Day with a Narrative meant to hide the fact that on Obama's watch there was a successful terror attack that resulted in the murder of an American ambassador and three other Americans. And let's also not forget that, just a few days before the attack, at his nominating convention, Obama bragged before the whole world that "al-Qaeda is on the path to defeat."

Another Photo

I took this a while back while helping my son with a school project.

(c) 2012 The Docent

Friday, November 23, 2012

Peace In Our Time?

The Daily Mail reports on a study suggesting that we are heading toward a peaceful world:
Futurologists from the University of Oslo in Norway and the Peace Research Institute Oslo have predicted that global conflict will halve in the next 40 years.
Their study claims the combination of higher education, lower infant mortality, smaller youth cohorts, and lower population growth are a few of the reasons why the world can expect a more peaceful future.

That will mean in the next five years the current conflicts in Libya, Tajikistan, Syria, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Mauritania and Iraq will probably be over, the research suggests.
As the risk of war decreases worldwide, by 2017 it will be greatest in India, Ethiopia, the Philippines, Uganda and Burma.
And by 2050, as the number of countries at war falls from one in six to one in 12, the risk of conflict will be greatest in India, Nigeria, Sudan, Ethiopia and Tanzania.
The authors of the study also contend that part of the influence is one of costs:
'It has become too expensive to kill people. Modern society is dependent on economic development. It is too expensive to use violence to destroy this network. It has also become harder to take financial capital by force.
'It is easy to move capital across national borders. Therefore, a cynical leader will be less likely to choose violence as a strategy.'
It is hard to discern the most important reason why the future will be more peaceful, but some studies suggest that education is the crucial factor.
'Education may be a fundamental causal explanation, but this is difficult to show with our methods. Demographers believe that more education leads to fewer children. There are fewer mouths to feed.'
Another explanation is the UN's peacekeeping operations. The world has become better at employing means of preventing states using violence.
'The UN operations in Bosnia and Somalia failed. But the UN's operations have been more successful since 2000. Of course, the UN cannot prevent conflicts, but fewer die and the intensity is lower when they intervene.'
We've been hearing the "its too expensive to wage war" since before WWI, so I don't think it is relevant. 

I don't believe that the authors are incorrect. Violence and warfare have been declining, and the odds of dying from violence are, overall, lower now than at any time in human history. However, if you look at the factors relied on in this study, and other books and articles on the subject, the overall trend toward less warfare is due to civilization. That is, one of the primary benefits of civilization is less violence. Hence, to gauge whether our future is going to be one of violence or peace, one actually has to examine whether civilization will continue. However, as noted in Why Civilizations Die, we are seeing the death of Islamic and European civilizations. Europe may die peacefully, but Islamic civilizations probably will not.

Another factor is whether there will be frictions that could lead to war. WWII eliminated many frictions because Europe specifically, and the world more generally, was dominated by the two superpowers. Now we have new frictions developing. War between India and Pakistan is likely a matter of time. We will probably see increased friction between India and China, and China and its other neighbors. Another source of friction is that the artificial borders imposed by the European powers are beginning to break down, and various tribal and ethnic groups are beginning to push for autonomy in Asia, the Middle-East, and Africa.

In short, I'm not discounting that we are headed toward fewer wars based on the data from the past 50, 100, or even 1000 years. However, can we extrapolate this forward? The past 1000 years have seen the advance of civilization. But what if we are on the edge of seeing civilization retreat, as at the end of the Western Roman Empire?

Attempted Coup in Sudan

All Africa is reporting on arrests of senior military and government officials in Sudan. First, this article reports:

The Sudan government has arrested at least 14 high ranked army and security officials and several civilians connected to the ruling party of president Omar Al Bashir for an allegedly coupe attempt.
Radio Dabanga reports on Thursday, 22 November, that tanks were roaming the Ebed Khatim-road south of the Kober-bridge in Khartoum where many top officers including the president and vice-president are residing.
It is the first time that internal clashes within the ruling Islamic movements erupted to the surface. The movement sidetracked the leader of the Islamic movement, Ali Osman Taha, the vice-president of Sudan.
He was replaced by Zubair Ahmed Hassan, a Minister of Economic Affairs. The government spokesman said in a public appearance today that the 'coup'-stagers took disadvantage from rumors about the 'health situation of President Omar Al Bashir'.
Amongst the arrested people are retired major general Salah Abdalla Gosh (former security chief), general Adil Altayeb of the Sudan Armed Forces and Brigadier-general 'Wad' Mohamed Ibrahim. He was in charge to protect the oil fields in Kordofan (Heglig), but it failed after the Southern army walked in easily occupying the oil-wells preventing it from exploration. Only this week the first oil started to flow again.
Another article reports:

Sudan's National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) announced this morning that they have foiled a plot to "destabilize security" led by unidentified opposition figures.
The brief statement carried around 5 a.m. local time by Sudanese Media Center (SMC) website, that is believed to be run by NISS, quoted a security source as saying that arrests were made that included civilian and military individuals.
The detained figures are undergoing interrogation as security measures are being undertaken, the report said.
Witnesses told Reuters they saw tanks and armored vehicles moving down a major street named Obeid Khitm in central Khartoum, the capital, around midnight. However, a Reuters reporter said security in the area appeared normal in the early morning.
It is not clear what the scope of the sabotage attempt was and the statement gave no indication that this was a coup attempt against the government of president Omer Hassan al-Bashir who ruled the country since 1989.
See also this article.

Blowback Against Morsi

Not all Egyptians are happy with Morsi's self-appointed powers. From the Associated Press (via Fox News):
Thousands of opponents of Egypt's Islamist president clashed with his supporters in cities across the country Friday, burning several offices of the Muslim Brotherhood, in the most violent and widespread protests since Mohammed Morsi came to power, sparked by his move to grant himself sweeping powers.
The violence, which left 100 people injured, reflected the increasingly dangerous polarization in Egypt over what course it will take nearly two years after the fall of autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
Critics of Morsi accused him of seizing dictatorial powers with his decrees a day earlier that make him immune to judicial oversight and give him authority to take any steps against "threats to the revolution". On Friday, the president spoke before a crowd of his supporters massed in front of his palace and said his edicts were necessary to stop a "minority" that was trying to block the goals of the revolution.
"There are weevils eating away at the nation of Egypt," he said, pointing to old regime loyalists he accused of using money to fuel instability and to members of the judiciary who work under the "umbrella" of the courts to "harm the country."
Clashes between his opponents and members of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood erupted in several cities. In the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, anti-Morsi crowds attacked Brotherhood backers coming out of a mosque, raining stones and firecrackers on them. The Brothers held up prayer rugs to protect themselves and the two sides pelted each other with stones and chunks of marble, leaving at least 15 injured. The protesters then stormed a nearby Brotherhood office.
State TV reported that protesters burned offices of the Brotherhood's political arm in the Suez Canal cities of Suez, Ismailia and Port Said, east of Cairo.

Israeli Soldiers Kill Palestinian Man

The Associated Press (via Fox News) reports that groups of Palestinians rushed several areas of fences along the border between Gaza and Israel, and the soldiers were forced to open fire, killing one man. The incident, itself, is not that significant. What caught me was the blatant antisemitism displayed by the following comment:
Israeli troops fired Friday to push back Gaza crowds surging toward Israel's border fence with the Hamas-ruled territory, killing one Palestinian and wounding 19 in the first violence since a truce between Israel and Hamas took hold a day earlier.
(Underline added). However, as I noted yesterday, Hamas had continued to launch rockets at Israel after the "cease fire." So, today's shooting was not the first violence since the cease fire. Presumably, the AP reporter was aware of the continued rocket attacks (if not, he/she should be fired for incompetence), so the purpose of the statement probably was to inaccurately portray Israel as breaking the truce.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

M23 Demand that Goma Police and Soldiers Turn in Their Arms

The armed rebel group M23, in control of the eastern city of Goma since Tuesday, has called on any remaining police officers and soldiers from the national Congolese army to hand in their weapons and register with M23. A police officer explains why he decided to comply with the rebels’ demands.

On Wednesday morning, police officers and soldiers headed to a local football stadium to register with the M23 and turn in their weapons. This turned into a public meeting, to which hundreds of Goma residents showed up to hear announcements from the M23’s spokesperson, Colonel Vianney Kazarama.

According to the M23, more than 2,000 national army soldiers and 700 police officers have been “registered” since Tuesday. Our Observers went to the stadium and confirmed that M23 fighters were essentially collecting weapons from the stands. According to these Observers, many soldiers had already fled the city, dressed in civilian clothing to avoid being spotted and killed by the M23.
Made me think of this song, "Sheep" by Pink Floyd:
Harmlessly passing your time in the grassland awayOnly dimly aware of a certain unease in the airYou better watch outThere may be dogs aboutI've looked over Jordan and I have seenThings are not what they seem.

What do you get for pretending the danger's not realMeek and obedient you follow the leaderDown well trodden corridors into the valley of steelWhat a surprise!A look of terminal shock in your eyesNow things are really what they seemNo, this is no bad dream.

Hamas Still Launching Rockets at Israel (Updated)

Like Obama, every Hamas promise has an expiration date. France 24 reports:
Twelve rockets fired from the Gaza Strip hit Israel on Wednesday in the first hours that followed a ceasefire agreement ending hostilities in the week-long Gaza conflict, a police spokesman told AFP. 
Update: From another article is this little tidbit of humility from Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal:
Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal said on Wednesday that Israel had "failed in all its goals" after a Gaza truce deal came into effect, while thanking Egypt and Iran for their support during the conflict.

"After eight days, God stayed their hand from the people of Gaza, and they were compelled to submit to the conditions of the resistance," Meshaal said.
"Israel has failed in all its goals," he told reporters in a Cairo hotel.
Yes, Israel failed. That is why Meshaal is hiding like a frightened girl in a hotel in Egypt instead of standing with his people in Gaza.  Well, Mashaal, why don't you make a drive back to Gaza in your ostentatious motorcade and give Israel's IDF another chance?

Every Obama Promise Has An Expiration Date ...

. . . and some are sooner than others.
Peace, one of two turkeys pardoned by President Obama last year, was euthanized Monday, according to an official who insisted the timing of the death - days before the Thanksgiving holiday - was not suspicious.

Morsi Assumes Dictatorial Powers

Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi assumed sweeping powers on Thursday, putting him on a collision course with the judiciary and raising questions about the country's democratic future.

The move, just a day after Morsi took diplomatic centerstage in brokering a ceasefire between Israel and Gaza's Islamist Hamas rulers, earned him the same derisive monicker of "new pharaoh" leveled at veteran strongman Hosni Mubarak before his ouster in a popular uprising last year.

"The president can issue any decision or measure to protect the revolution," according to a decree read out on television by presidential spokesman Yasser Ali.

"The constitutional declarations, decisions and laws issued by the president are final and not subject to appeal."

The move is a blow to the pro-democracy movement that toppled Mubarak last year, and raises concerns that Islamists will be further ensconced in power.

Nobel laureate and former U.N. atomic energy agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei lashed out at the declaration, which effectively puts the president above judicial oversight.

"Morsi today usurped all state powers and appointed himself Egypt's new pharaoh. A major blow to the revolution that could have dire consequences," ElBaradei wrote on his Twitter account.

Morsi also sacked prosecutor general Abdel Meguid Mahmoud, whom he failed to oust last month, appointing Talaat Ibrahim Abdallah to replace him, amid strong misgivings among the president's supporters about the failure to secure convictions of more members of the old regime.

Within minutes of the announcement, the new prosecutor was shown on television being sworn in.
No surprise for two reasons. First, Islamic culture is inherently autocratic. Second, Obama seems to like Morsi, and, well, we all know how much Obama likes dictators....

(H/t Weasel Zippers)

More on the Fake EPA Mail Accounts

I had noted recently an article reporting on the EPA setting up email accounts for officials under fake names. Politico reports further on this issue:

EPA officials say the agency wasn’t trying to hide anything by giving Administrator Lisa Jackson a secondary email address to use when corresponding with other government officials.
But the name she chose to use — “Richard Windsor” — has triggered an inadvertent ruckus for an agency already under fire from conservatives.

The name came from that of a family dog when Jackson lived in East Windsor Township, N.J., an EPA official said Tuesday.
Except it didn't. The blog, Reboot Congress, has looked into this whole story in greater detail. However, as to the name Jackson chose, "Richard Windsor was a Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) enforcement attorney who, in 1997, began working for Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER)." An overzealous one, according to Reboot Congress. Read the whole thing.

(H/t Instapundit)

Book Review: "Endless Universe: Beyond the Big Bang"

Book: Endless Universe: Beyond the Big Bang by Paul J. Steinhardt and Neil Turok (2007) (304 pages) (Amazon link here).

Overview: The authors present an alternative explanation to the standard Big Bang/Expansionist model of the universe, postulating a cyclical universe of two "branes" that separate and then rebound to create recurring "big bangs".

Impression: I first came across this book in the library several years ago, and then recently purchased it for my Kindle so I could re-read it, so I can tell you that I enjoyed reading the book. The authors have made the book readable, which is great for the lay reader (such as myself), but perhaps too simple for those with greater knowledge and background in physics and/or cosmology.

Notable Points: The authors begin the book by noting the universal acceptance of the Big Bang theory, but that, other than the basic idea, "nearly every other feature of the theory has had to be modified." In particular, they note the addition of dark matter, inflation, and dark energy to explain observations. They also note a fundamental problem--explaining why the Big Bang occurred and what was before the Big Bang.

The authors proposition is a cyclical universe that evolves through each cycle. As they explain:
Each cycle begins with a bang, but the bang is not the beginning of space or time. Rather, it is an event with a "before" and an "after" that can be described by the laws of physics. Each cycle influences the next. The events that occurred before the last bang shaped the large-scale structure of the universe observed today, and the events that are occurring today will determine the structure of the universe in the cycle to come.
The underlying model the authors propose is based on M-theory. Specifically, they imagine two parallel universes separated along an extra dimension.
The observable universe lies on one of the branes, often called our "braneworld." It is separated by a tiny gap, perhaps [10^-30] centimeters across, from a second "hidden braneworld." According to the equations of M theory ... all of the particles and forces we are familiar with, and even light itself, are confined to our braneworld. We are stuck like flies on flypaper, and can never reach across the gap to the "hidden" world, which contains a second set of particles and forces with different properties from those in our braneworld.

Although we cannot touch or see anything in the hidden brane world, its effect can be felt because gravity exists throughout space and can cross the gap between brainworlds. ...
... One appealing possibility (though it is not required by the cyclic model) is that the dark matter accounting for most of the mass in galaxies and galaxy clusters consists of matter lying on the hidden braneworld.
The authors idea is that the braneworlds oscillate, moving apart and building up energy, then move back together. A collision would produce a dense spray of energy, filling each brane with hot radiation--in other words, a big bang.

(Note: I don't receive anything for endorsing this book; nor for reference to The link is for your convenience only).