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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

U.S.S. Constitution Headed to Dry Dock Soon

Defense.gov News Photo 050716-N-0335C-005.jpg
(Source)
The USS Constitution will be going into drydock in May 2015 for repairs and maintenance. To mark the occasion, All Hands (the U.S. Navy magazine) has put together a special interactive website that gives you brief synopsis of the ship's history, as well as other features including virtual tours of the ship. Check it out.

Indiana's Governor Backpedals on Religious Rights

Gov. Mike Pence pledged Tuesday to "fix" Indiana's controversial religious freedom law to clarify that it does not allow discrimination against gays and lesbians. 
But he insisted the problem isn't the law itself but how it's being perceived, saying a fix is needed only because of "frankly, the smear that's been leveled against this law." And he said the fix won't involve statewide anti-discrimination protections for LGBT Hoosiers.
* * *
 "It would be helpful to move legislation this week that makes it clear that this law does not give businesses a right to deny services to anyone," Pence said in a press conference in Indianapolis on Tuesday.
Any such "fix" would gut the bill, which (at least in my understanding) was intended to prevent incidents such as this recent case from Washington where florist was fined for refusing to sell flowers to be used in a gay "wedding." That is, the bill was intended to allow the proprietor to not sell a product to certain individuals--or, perhaps, more correctly, the bill was designed to constrain the government from forcing a proprietor to sell to someone he or she did not want to sell.

The Christian Science Monitor claims that the issue here is that "the cherished right of freedom of religion has run headlong into the principle of nondiscrimination in the public sphere." What should be at issue, though, is whether anti-discrimination laws are moral. As others have pointed out, the same authority that a government claims to force you to sell a cake or flowers to someone is the same authority to force you to pick cotton for someone.


Monday, March 30, 2015

"Huge underground city discovered in Turkey--by accident"

A Fox News report on a newly discovered underground city in Turkey's Nevsehir province, which is estimated to be 30% larger than Derinkuyu, another underground city in Turkey.

Why Did Harry Reid Resign? (Updated)

One theory is that it was a culmination of a long list of corruption scandals that, now he was no longer the majority leader, might have led to a Senate ethics investigation. The other theory is that he angered some of his mob connections, who beat the crap out of him.

Update: An op-ed at Bloomberg challenges (debunks?) the theory that the mob beat up Reid, and the media was too disinterested to look into the incident.

Update (4/3/2015): Powerline Blog was contacted by a man who claims that Harry Reid's brother, Larry, confessed to getting in a fight with Harry on New Year's Eve.

Choices and Their Consequences

David P. Goldman tries to answer the question of "How should America compete with China?" To get there, he first addresses the naysayers that suggest that China's economy will crash for financial and/or political reasons. (While I don't disagree that China will weather its problems, I think that the debt load of its local governments and over inflated real estate market means that China will be hard pressed to avoid Japan's "lost decade"). Goldman also rejects a notion that China seeks world domination, which, I suppose, depend on whether its leadership has abandoned the expansionist policies of Communism.

However, that is not the part of his article that interests me. Rather, it is Goldman's overview of China's infrastructure development versus that in the U.S. He writes:
... American infrastructure is miserable compared to Asia’s newly built roads, trains and bridges, as any traveler who has the misfortune to land at JFK or O’Hare will attest. There is a reason for this: A journeyman bricklayer working on any federally-supported building project in Essex Country, New Jersey is expected to earn $67.26 an hour under the Davis-Bacon Act. That’s $134,520 a year without overtime. American public works projects cost the moon and take forever because they are run for the benefit of the construction unions. American politicians are as terrified to touch this torpedo as their French and Italian counterparts are terrified to amend protective labor laws in their countries. New York City expects to complete its Second Avenue subway line by 2029 at a cost of $17 billion, or 22 years after ground was broken. China builds whole subway systems for cities the size of New York in a year. 
Infrastructure is one of China’s great achievements. As the New York Times observed in a Sept. 13, 2013 report, China’s high-speed rail system already serves more passengers than the 54 million Americans who board domestic flights every day, and has transformed China’s economy. With 600 million Chinese migrating from the low-productivity countryside to higher-productivity employment in urban areas, the high-speed rail network has made business ventures possible that were not conceivable before.
It didn't have to be this way. At one time, America had a very bright future, best summed up in the song "IGY" by Donald Fagen, released as part of The Nightfly album.


The title of song refers to the International Geophysical Year which marked a high mark of Americans' expectations toward scientific and technological advancement and what life would be like by the end of the 20th Century. Fagen's song was released in 1982, and was probably intended to be ironic since we were, at the point, seemingly no nearer the ideals in 1982 than in 1958.

But it is worth examining why America did not achieve the dreams of the late 1950's and early 1960's. Certainly, as the wealthiest and most technologically advanced nation in the world we could have achieved much in the way of space travel and advanced infrastructure projects. As the moon missions and Skylab showed, it wasn't for want of technical ability. So what happened?

There are piddling little things that can be pointed to, such as the seemingly grossly inflated wages of the union workers mentioned in Goldman's article. But in reality, overpaid union workers were probably more common in the 1960s when we put men on the moon than they are now.

I would suggest that the difference was in spending priorities, and, in particular, the so-called "war on poverty." Last year there were several articles that examined the cost and results of 5 decades of intense social spending programs as part of the war on poverty, including a report authored by Robert Rector and Rachel Sheffield, published by the Heritage Foundation. From the abstract:
In the 50 years since that time, U.S. taxpayers have spent over $22 trillion on anti-poverty programs. Adjusted for inflation, this spending (which does not include Social Security or Medicare) is three times the cost of all U.S. military wars since the American Revolution. Yet progress against poverty, as measured by the U.S. Census Bureau, has been minimal, and in terms of President Johnson’s main goal of reducing the “causes” rather than the mere “consequences” of poverty, the War on Poverty has failed completely. In fact, a significant portion of the population is now less capable of self-sufficiency than it was when the War on Poverty began.
 (See also Louis Woodhill's article at Forbes entitled "The War on Poverty Wasn't A Failure -- It Was A Catastrophe." (Given the downward trajectory of poverty prior to 1965, and the violence that welfare has committed on the family structure, it seems ludicrous that poverty would have been substantially higher today without welfare programs, when poverty rates have remained steady since the mid-1960's).

Recter and Sheffield discuss why the war the poverty was a failure. I want to discuss the cost--$22 trillion, not including Social Security and Medicare, that essentially went to fund expensive and largely useless bureaucracies, the real goal of which was to buy votes. Adjusted for inflation, the Apollo program (inception to end) was approximately $100 billion (2010 dollars), while the total amount spent on manned space flight over 57 years (in 2010) was $486 billion. Imagine where we would be if even half the $22 trillion had been spent on space and infrastructure and the other half had remained in taxpayer's hands. What new businesses and scientific advances would have been achieved? I was not able to find any real analysis of this issue in my brief search of the internet. Perhaps somewhere someone has attempted to answer this question. But it is significant to remember that until only a few years ago, many of the expanding economies in Asia (including China) did not have extensive welfare systems. Would China have had the money into building its infrastructure if it had a welfare system comparable to the United States? I think not.

It has been said that Europe committed suicide with World War I. I would say that the United States committed suicide when it decided to flush trillions down the toilet of welfare programs.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

I Thought The Science Was Settled!

In 1977, the FDA was so sure that Saccharin caused bladder cancer that they wanted to ban it completely. The ban was blocked by Congress, but products containing Saccharin had to carry a warning label until 2000 when scientists realized that damage to mice bladders was due to different biology in mouse urine. Now, the Daily Mail reports on a study that indicates that Saccharin may help slow the growth of cancer cells, including cancers affecting the breast, liver, prostate, kidney and pancreas.

Friday, March 27, 2015

How A Russian Coup Might Go Down

"Rofer on The Fall of Beria and Putin’s Vanishing Act"--a look back at the convenient timing of Stalin's death, and the behind the scenes battle for control of the Soviet Union.

What is Meritocracy

Andrew Gelman at the Monkey's Cage explains that people focus too much on the "merit" and not enough on the "-ocracy."
In a meritocracy, the whole point of having “merit” is that you can run things (“ocracy”), and the point of running things is that you can get good jobs for your family and friends. 
As Sarah Lacy might say: You work really hard, you build something and you create something, and then you sock a couple million dollars in the bank, connect your friends to some amazing opportunities, and settle down and make sure that your kids have every possible opportunity to succeed in a competitive world. Nothing wrong with doing that—-it’s what meritocracy is all about—-but the result is you’ll have more and more Sam Lessins running around.
(Emphasis from original).


Why Poor, But Smart Kids, Can't Get Ahead

In "Economies of Scale Killed the American Dream," T. Greer discusses how class stratification and success is increasingly being concentrated in the Ivy League elites. 
 The world places higher emphasis on education and intelligence than it used to. The demand for brain power has increased. For this reason the instruction gained or achievements made in pursuit of a PhD or Ivy League degree are often less important than the possession of the degree itself. Regardless of what you studied, simply having a PhD from Harvard proves to employers that you are one of the few people with the intelligence and work ethic needed to get a PhD from Harvard. (The connections made in an Ivy League school are another lucrative side bonus). 
The story is larger than Harvard and the other Ivy League schools, but the subsequent careers of Ivy League alumni reveal a lot about the nature of America's class woes. An Ivy League education is the most direct route to the heights of American wealth and power: Wall Street firms fix hiring quotas to ensure that enough graduates from the Ivy League's most prestigious schools are hired (an offer graduates are glad to take - in 2009 40% of Princeton undergrads went to Wall Street after graduation!), while those with more ambition have access to even greater heights. 10% of U.S. Senators, 50% of all U.S. billionaires, and 60% of the President's cabinet have Ivy League alma maters to their name. 
It is a narrow funnel from which to form a ruling class.
But the flip side of the coin is that it is more difficult for smart, but poor, children to get ahead. On this point, Greer observes:
 As Caroline Hoxby of Stanford and Christopher Avery of Harvard show in a recent paper presented at the Brookings Institute, very few high-achieving students from low-income households end up even applying to a selective college. (Here, "high-achieving" is defined as the top 10 percent of overall test-takers on the SAT I or ACT, and a "selective" college is one of the top 236 schools in the country.) This, of course, is not how high-achieving, high-income students play the college admissions game. They follow their guidance counselors' advice, and apply to a few "reach" schools, a handful of "match" schools, and a "safety" school or two. 
...It's a totally different game for high-achieving, low-income students, because nobody tells them how to play it. Aside from magnet school kids, they mostly don't have parents or teachers or counselors with much experience applying to selective colleges. Nor do many know, despite the best efforts of the schools to inform them otherwise, that the most selective colleges have very generous financial aid packages that can take tuition all the way down to zero. Indeed, Harvard is pretty much free, including room and board, for students whose parents make $65,000 or less....  
This is how the American Dream ends. Not with a bang, but a whimper of elite school applications by poor kids. Like it or not, the Ivies and other top schools are our conduit to the top, and far too many low-income students who should be there are not. ...
(quoting "'The Great Gatsby Curve': Why It's So Hard for the Poor to Get Ahead" by Matthew O'Brian). That was my own experience: finishing in the 99% on the SAT, but not even trying for a high ranking university because I didn't know how I could afford to pay for it. Now I know enough to tell my son to just go for it--that if the school wants you, they will figure out a way for you to be there.

"Harry Potter and the Five-Sided Labyrinth"

War on the Rocks has a humorous comparison between the Harry Potter universe, and the military-defense establishment.

Eye Drugs that Give Night Vision

Human subjects were injected in the eyes with Chlorin e6 (Ce6), which is found in some deep-sea fish and has light-amplification properties.

Feel Good Story of the Day...

Harry Reid has announced that he is retiring from the Senate, and will not run for election in 2016. Supposedly it has nothing to do with his serious facial and eye injuries he suffered in January of this year, However, one of the reasons he does lay out is that of his race--he is white--and that it would have soaked up money needed in other battleground states. The likely Democrat to run in his place is an Hispanic--Catherine Cortez Masto, the state’s former attorney general.

I can't find anything about Masto's religious background, but it may be a significant issue. Reid was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints ("Mormons"). Although Mormons have largely migrated to the Republican party since the 1970's and 1980's, I suspect that he still received a disproportionate share of the Mormon vote over what a Democratic candidate would receive. Some of those voters may now vote Republican.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

"Stock market rigging is no longer a ‘conspiracy theory’"

An article about how the central bank of Japan is buying up stocks to boost its stock market, and that perhaps the same is being done in the United States.

Saudi Arabia versus Iran

          The Shia-Sunni civil war is increasingly a war between Iran and the Gulf States--particularly Saudi Arabia--over whether Iran can establish a regional hegemony. David P. Goldman has been warning about war with Iran for at least 10 years. In his book How Civilizations Die, he observed that the Iran's falling birth rates were pushing it into a corner--either attempt a break-out war to establish its empire, or, like Europe, recede quietly into history. In a March 4, 2015, article entitled "The World Bows to Iranian Regional Hegemony," Goldman wrote:
The problem with Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu’s address to Congress March 3 was not the risk of offending Washington, but rather Washington’s receding relevance. President Barack Obama is not the only leader who wants to acknowledge what is already a fact in the ground, namely that “Iran has become the preeminent strategic player in West Asia to the increasing disadvantage of the US and its regional allies,” as a former Indian ambassador to Oman wrote this week.

For differing reasons, the powers of the world have elected to legitimize Iran’s dominant position, hoping to delay but not deter its eventual acquisition of nuclear weapons. Except for Israel and the Sunni Arab states, the world has no desire to confront Iran. Short of an American military strike, which is unthinkable for this administration, there may be little that Washington can do to influence the course of events. Its influence has fallen catastrophically in consequence of a chain of policy blunders.
 
* * * 
Most of the world wants a deal, because the alternative would be war. For 10 years I have argued that war is inevitable whatever the diplomats do, and that the question is not if, but how and when. President Obama is not British prime minister Neville Chamberlain selling out to Hitler at Munich in 1938: rather, he is Lord Halifax, that is, Halifax if he had been prime minister in 1938. Unlike the unfortunate Chamberlain, who hoped to buy time for Britain to build warplanes, Halifax liked Hitler, as Obama and his camarilla admire Iran. 
China is Chamberlain, hoping to placate Iran in order to buy time. China’s dependence on Middle East oil will increase during the next decade no matter what else China might do, and a war in the Persian Gulf would ruin it. 
Until early 2014, China believed that the United States would guarantee the security of the Persian Gulf. After the rise of Islamic State (ISIS), it concluded that the United States no longer cared, or perhaps intended to destabilize the region for nefarious reasons. But China does not have means to replace America’s presence in the Persian Gulf. Like Chamberlain at Munich, it seeks delay. 
* * * 
Apart from its nuclear ambitions, the broader deal envisioned by Washington would leave Iran as a de facto suzerain in Iraq. It would also make Iran the dominant power in Lebanon (via Hezbollah), Syria (via its client regime) and Yemen (through its Houthi proxies). Although Sunni Muslims outnumber Shi’ites by 6:1, Sunni populations are concentrated in North Africa, Turkey and South Asia. Iran hopes to dominate the Levant and Mesopotamia, encircling Saudi Arabia and threatening Azerbaijan.
* * * 
The Israeli prime minister asserted that the alternative to a bad deal is not war, but a better deal. I do not think he believes that, but Americans cannot wrap their minds around the notion that West Asia will remain at war indefinitely, especially because the war arises from their own stupidity. 
Balance of power in the Middle East is inherently impossible today for the same reason it failed in Europe in 1914, namely a grand demographic disequilibrium: Iran is on a course to demographic disaster, and must assert its hegemony while it still has time.
Game theorists might argue that Iran has a rational self-interest to trade its nuclear ambitions for the removal of sanctions. The solution to a multi-period game – one that takes into account Iran’s worsening demographic weakness – would have a solution in which Iran takes great risks to acquire nuclear weapons.
 
Between 30% and 40% of Iranians will be older than 60 by mid-century (using the UN Population Prospect’s Constant Fertility and “Low” Variants). Meanwhile, its military-age population will fall by a third to a half. 
Belated efforts to promote fertility are unlikely to make a difference. The causes of Iranian infertility are baked into the cake – higher levels of female literacy, an officially-sanctioned culture of sexual license administered by the Shi’ite clergy as “temporary marriage,” epidemic levels of sexually-transmitted disease and inbreeding. Iran, in short, has an apocalyptic regime with a lot to be apocalyptic about. 
Henry Kissinger is right: peace can be founded on either hegemony or balance of power. Iran cannot be a hegemon for long because it will implode economically and demographically within a generation. In the absence of either, the result is war. For the past 10 years I have argued in this space that when war is inevitable, preemption is the least damaging course of action. I had hoped that George W Bush would have the gumption to de-fang Iran, and was disappointed when he came under the influence of Condoleezza Rice and Robert Gates. Now we are back in 1938, but with Lord Halifax rather than Neville Chamberlain in charge.
          Unfortunately, Obama's decision to disengage from the Middle-East and support Iran has dangerously undermined Saudi Arabia's influence in the region. On March 16, 2015, Goldman wrote in "Iran as Regional Hegemon: Tehran’s Success and Riyadh’s Failure":
A sign of Saudi Arabia’s waning influence was Pakistan’s decision March 15 to refuse a Saudi request for Pakistani troops to deploy on its border with Yemen, now controlled by pro-Iranian Houthi rebels. A senior Pakistani official told the local press, “Pakistan would not rush to join the anti-Iran alliance that is being forged,” in the wake of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s visit to Saudi Arabia last week. “We cannot afford to involve ourselves in the disputes among the Muslim countries,” the official said, adding that Pakistan could spare no additional troops for Saudi Arabia. 
That is a serious rebuff for Riyadh, which reportedly financed Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program as a last-ditch guarantee of its own security. ...
Unfortunately for Saudi Arabia, as Goldman notes, the bet has not paid off (and he wonders if the United States and/or China influenced Pakistan to not provide troops). However, Goldman notes that the stars have not aligned for Saudi Arabia in other ways: the rise of militant Sunni Islam threatens China and Russia, driving both those powers into Iran's camp. Saudi Arabia's export of Wahhabism may have been Saudi Arabia's death warrant.

          Anyway, as recent events have shown, the U.S. efforts (and perhaps we should question how much effort was actually made) to support Yemen in the face of the Iranian backed Houthi rebels have failed, with the Yemeni president having to flee the country for safety. Now, Saudi Arabia is taking direct military action. Al Arabiya reports:
Saudi Arabia waged early Thursday “Operation Decisive Storm” against the Houthi coup in Yemen and in support of legitimate President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
A Saudi air campaign was launched overnight which has already resulted in the elimination of several Houthi leaders.
 
Yemen air space is currently under full control of the Saudi Royal Air Force.
As the operation continues, a coalition of all GCC countries, barring Oman, is taking part in the campaign, including Sudan, Egypt, Morocco, Jordan and Pakistan.
 
Saudi Arabia has deployed 100 fighter jets, 150,000 soldiers and other navy units, Al Arabiya News Channel reported. 
Meanwhile, Yemen shut its major seaports on Thursday while Saudi Arabia halted flights to seven airports south of the Kingdom, Reuters news agency reported.
Fox News' report on the strike indicates that Iran is upset:
A coalition of Arab nations led by Saudi Arabia launched airstrikes against military bases held by Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen early Thursday, as Iran warned that Riyadh was taking a "dangerous step." 
The statement Thursday from Tehran's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham did not name Saudi Arabia but called the airstrikes an "invasion." The statement went on to claim that the campaign would worsen the already deteriorating security situation in Yemen.  
Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya News reported that the kingdom had deployed 100 fighter jets, 150,000 soldiers and other navy units. News footage of the strikes aired by Saudi-owned Al-Hadath TV showed flashing lights and what sounded like machine gun fire. 
Some of the strikes hit positions in Yemen's capital, Sanaa. In response, the Houthis, were calling on their supporters to protest in the city's streets on Thursday afternoon, Yemen's Houthi-controlled state news agency SABA reported. 
The airstrikes were announced in a rare news conference late Wednesday, Eastern Time, by Saudi ambassador to the U.S. Adel al-Jubeir, who said the Saudis "will do anything necessary" to protect the people of Yemen and "the legitimate government of Yemen." Al-Jubeir said his government had consulted closely with the U.S. and other allies but that the U.S. military was not involved in the operations.
 An article in The Guardian, "Iran-Saudi proxy war in Yemen explodes into region-wide crisis," notes:
Like a ticking timebomb left unattended for too long, Yemen’s undeclared civil war has suddenly exploded into a region-wide crisis that will have far-reaching, unpredictable international consequences, not least for Britain and the US. 
The conflict, spreading outwards like a poison cloud from the key southern battleground around Aden, pits Saudi Arabia, the leading Sunni Muslim power, plus what remains of Yemen’s government against northern-based Houthi rebels, who are covertly backed by Shia Muslim Iran. 
What has until now been an unacknowledged proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia, the two great powers of the Middle East, has now burst into an open confrontation that appears to be escalating rapidly as other countries and players are sucked in. The primary Saudi aim is to pacify Yemen, but its wider objective is to send a powerful message to Iran: stop meddling in Arab affairs.
* * *
Iran is widely believed to have trained Houthi fighters and supplied arms since the insurgency began. But this is flatly denied in Tehran. Iran has nevertheless kept up a constant barrage of criticism of Saudi and western efforts to forge a political settlement in Yemen. It appears to see the country in terms of a region-wide struggle for power and influence between itself and Saudi Arabia, a struggle that in turn reflects the Sunni-Shia schism across the Muslim world. 
Its first reaction to Saudi-led air strikes overnight was to condemn them as “US-backed aggression”. The foreign ministry in Tehran described the intervention as a dangerous step with unpredictable consequences. “Iran wants an immediate halt to all military aggressions and air strikes against Yemen and its people … Military action in Yemen, which faces a domestic crisis … will further complicate the situation … and will hinder efforts to resolve the crisis through peaceful ways,” the ministry spokeswoman, Marzieh Afkham, said. 
It seems possible that the success of the Houthis’ drive south, and the dramatic Saudi reaction in mobilising an international intervention, has taken Iran by surprise. It is unclear how much control Tehran exercises over the rebels. 
The long-running rebellion has been a useful, low-cost way for Iran to keep the Saudis off-balance and under pressure in the regional power battle. Now the puppet may have broken loose from the puppeteers. Iran is facing off against Saudi Arabia on other fronts in Syria, the Gulf and not least in Iraq, where the Shia-led government in Baghdad is widely seen to be under Tehran’s influence. 
Iranian-backed militia are also leading the current fightback against Sunni Muslim Islamic State forces north of Baghdad, whom Saudi Wahhabi hardliners and groups are said to have funded.
         I don't believe that Iran will let itself be drawn directly into the war in Yemen, at least in a military sense. Rather, it's role, if any, may end up being as a peace broker, increasing its influence in the region and further undermining Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, Obama's fecklessness will have created yet another failed state.

The Crash of the Germanwing Airliner

          Reuters reports:
A young German co-pilot locked himself alone in the cockpit of a Germanwings airliner and flew it into a mountain with what appears to have been the intent to destroy it, a French prosecutor said on Thursday. 
Investigators and grieving relatives were left struggling to explain what motivated Andreas Lubitz, 28, to kill all 150 people on board the Airbus A320, including himself, in Wednesday's crash in the French Alps. 
French and German officials said there was no indication the crash was a terrorist attack, but gave no alternative explanation for his motives. 
Lubitz gained sole control of the aircraft after the captain left the cockpit. He refused to re-open the door and sent plane into its fatal descent, Marseille prosecutor Brice Robin said. 
He did this "for a reason we cannot fathom right now but which looks like intent to destroy this aircraft," Robin told a news conference in Marseille broadcast live on national TV. 
Describing the final 10 minutes of the passengers on board as the plane hurtled towards a mountain range, Robin said sound recordings from one of its black boxes suggested most of them would not have been aware of their fate until the very end. 
"Only towards the end do you hear screams," he said. "And bear in mind that death would have been instantaneous ... the aircraft was literally smashed to bits."
The disturbing part was that the pilot can be heard knocking on the door, then attempting to break the cockpit door down to get back into the cockpit. BBC reports:
"We hear the pilot ask the co-pilot to take control of the plane and we hear at the same time the sound of a seat moving backwards and the sound of a door closing," Mr Robin told reporters. 
He said the pilot, named in the German media as Patrick S, had probably gone to the toilet. 
"At that moment, the co-pilot is controlling the plane by himself. While he is alone, the co-pilot presses the buttons of the flight monitoring system to put into action the descent of the aeroplane.
"He operated this button for a reason we don't know yet, but it appears that the reason was to destroy this plane." 
Mr Lubitz was alive until the final impact, the prosecutor said. 
Mr Robin said "the most plausible interpretation" was that the co-pilot had deliberately barred the pilot from re-entering the cockpit.
Lubitz's religion is currently unknown, but he apparently suffered from severe depression several years ago. That latter article also indicates that the flight cockpit recording indicated that Lubitz was breathing until the crash--he was not unconscious. (See also this article).

         The inability of someone to get into the cockpit in the event of an emergency has been a concern for a while. Instapundit linked yesterday to a March 19, 2014, article at Popular Mechanics concerning Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which warned that cockpits could be too secure:
In the days following 9/11, securing the cockpit was the number one priority for the airline industry. Once-flimsy cockpit doors were reinforced with Kevlar so that no one could force their way in with a gun or with sheer brute force. Doors were required to be bolted and locked at all times once the cabin door was shut. Air marshals were posted near the flight deck (to the point where it became a common parlor game to pick out the guard from the rest of the front cabin). Passengers were forbidden to congregate anywhere nearby. 
* * * 
John Magaw, the first person to head the nascent TSA in 2001, told CNN that an always-locked cockpit was a concern since the outset. He said he told airlines, "Don't lock those doors so that you can't get in from the outside if something happens, and it fell on deaf ears," alluding to a well-publicized case of pilots who "flew past the airport because they were both asleep." However, some pilots scoffed at the idea that a locked cockpit is a serious concern, noting that planes are programmed to fly safely and even land on autopilot in the unlikely event both pilots nod off. 
Former Jetblue CEO and founder David Neeleman, whose airline was the first to install the reinforced cockpit doors system-wide after 9/11, tells PopMech that the latest troubling scenario means that "perhaps there needs to be way to get back in that door." 
"But nobody ever thought about having to protect the passengers from the pilots," he says.

The Real Purpose of Pushing Global Warming

Bill Nye admitted in a speech to students at the University of Albany, that the purpose of a carbon tax was "not just to be mean, it’s to redistribute wealth." He also pointed out that if everyone had to pay a carbon tax or fee, it would force them to upgrade to more efficient vehicles and appliances. So, redistribute wealth (from which the middlemen would take a cut) and force people to buy new products they don't want. Sounds like it's all for a few to become very rich.

... In Other News...


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Developments in Yemen

"Did I do that!?!"



Yemen's president has fled the country in a boat (apparently the airport was unavailable), and Saudi Arabia is massing troops on its border with Yemen.

Saudi Arabia's Abusive Relationship With Other Countries

Sweden provides an example of how Saudi Arabia beats the politically correct into a submission. The AFP reports that in response to Sweden's Foreign Minister's recent comments about Saudi Arabia being a "dictatorship" that violated women's rights and whipped bloggers, the Saudi's withdrew their ambassador, and have accused Sweden of being insensitive to Sharia and Islam. Of course, the gist of the comments are true (Saudi Arabia is not technically a"dictatorship" because it is ruled by a monarch, but otherwise the comments are spot on). However, like the partner in an abusive relationship, Saudi Arabia immediately threatened to leave and guilted  Sweden into backing down.

How pathetic.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Why Only Cops Should Have Guns--Marital Aid Edition

A former decorated detective who let a woman use his Glock pistol as a sex toy during a steamy encounter at a NSW police station will learn if he'll spend the next 20 months in prison. 
Mark Garner began a relationship with the woman, who cannot be named, after she came into the Tweed Heads police station in June 2011 to say she had been sexually assaulted. 
On one night in September 2011, while Garner was supposed to be a general duty supervisor at Tweed Heads, he and the woman snuck into the closed Kingscliff police station and had sex in various locations. 
During the encounter, the woman used Garner's police-issued Glock as a sex toy.
The news report doesn't mention whether the firearm was loaded at the time.

(H/t The Truth About Guns)

Monday, March 23, 2015

Boeing Patents Force Field

From the Daily Mail:
A force field that can protect vehicles from the destructive blastwaves thrown out by explosions has been development by aircraft manufacturer Boeing. 
The company has been granted a patent for a device that appears to work like the fictional shields seen in science fiction movies like Star Wars and Star Trek. 
The system works by using an 'arc generator' to rapidly heat the air in front of a shockwave creating a cloud of electrically charged gas. 
This, Boeing says, creates a buffer that can refract, deflect and absorb the energy contained within the shockwave.

"Israel: Beware of Obama"

Michael Goodwin warns Israel about Der Fuhrer Obama.

The Myth of the STEM Shortage

For years, large technical companies have been arguing for expansion of the H1-B visa guest worker programs contending that there was a shortage of qualified scientists, technologists, engineers, and mathematicians (STEM) and, therefore, that more foreign workers with these skills needed to be imported. Unquestioned for many years, there has been an increasing amount of skepticism over the claimed shortage. Here are some articles, for instance, discussing whether there is, in fact, a shortage of STEM workers:

Charette observes that once you dig past the dire predictions of a STEM shortage, and the need to expand H1-B visa programs:
... you’ll also find reports suggesting just the opposite—that there are more STEM workers than suitable jobs. One study found, for example, that wages for U.S. workers in computer and math fields have largely stagnated since 2000. Even as the Great Recession slowly recedes, STEM workers at every stage of the career pipeline, from freshly minted grads to mid- and late-career Ph.D.s, still struggle to find employment as many companies, including Boeing, IBM, and Symantec, continue to lay off thousands of STEM workers.
He also explains that one of the reasons for perpetuating the myth is to suppress wages in STEM fields:
Companies would rather not pay STEM professionals high salaries with lavish benefits, offer them training on the job, or guarantee them decades of stable employment. So having an oversupply of workers, whether domestically educated or imported, is to their benefit. It gives employers a larger pool from which they can pick the “best and the brightest,” and it helps keep wages in check. No less an authority than Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the Federal Reserve, said as much when in 2007 he advocated boosting the number of skilled immigrants entering the United States so as to “suppress” the wages of their U.S. counterparts, which he considered too high. 
Although Charette's accusation is poo-pooed, there seems to be anecdotal evidence to support it, including last year's layoff of 18,000 workers at the same time Bill Gates had published an op-ed in the New York Times calling for more H1B high-tech workers. The most recent example is Southern California Edison, as shown in this report from The Washington Examiner:
The Senate Judiciary Committee recently held a hearing into abuses of the H-1B skilled guest worker visa program. Lawmakers heard experts describe how the use of foreign workers has come to dominate the IT industry, with many tech giants using the program to fire well-paid current workers and replace them with workers from abroad at significantly lower pay. 
"The current system to bring in high-skill guest workers ... has become primarily a process for supplying lower-cost labor to the IT industry," two experts who testified at the hearing, Howard University's Ron Hira and Rutgers' Hal Salzman, wrote recently. "Although a small number of workers and students are brought in as the 'best and brightest,' most high-skill guest workers are here to fill ordinary tech jobs at lower wages." 
Exhibit A in the abuse of H-1Bs was the case of Southern California Edison, which recently got rid of between 400 and 500 IT employees and replaced them with a smaller force of lower-paid workers brought in from overseas through the H-1B program. The original employees were making an average of about $110,000 a year, the committee heard; the replacements were brought to Southern California Edison by outsourcing firms that pay an average of between $65,000 and $75,000.

"Simply put, the H-1B program has become a cheap labor program," Hira, author of the book Outsourcing America, testified. "To add insult to injury, Southern California Edison forced its American workers to train their H-1B replacements as a condition of receiving their severance packages."
 
It was a powerful presentation, especially in light of the fact that many Republicans and Democrats in Congress do not want to address abuses of the H-1B problem but rather want to greatly increase the number of H-1B visa workers allowed into the United States. 
But one voice was missing from the hearing, and that was the voice of laid-off workers. That was no accident. In addition to losing their jobs and being forced to train their foreign replacements, many fired workers are required to sign non-disparagement agreements as a condition of their severance. They are workers with families and bills to pay, and they are told that if they do not agree to remain silent, they will be terminated with cause, meaning they will receive no severance pay or other benefits and will face an even tougher search for a new job and a continued career. So they remain silent.

Rogue Planets May Be More Common Than Previously Thought

Computer simulations in the 1970s gave planetary scientists their first hints that rogue planets might exist. As planets formed around a star, some planetary material would have been scattered into far-flung orbits. A few miniplanets may have been tossed far enough to be ejected completely from the star’s gravitational grasp. 
Later estimates suggested that every planetary system in the galaxy booted at least one planet into interstellar space. With billions of planetary systems in the Milky Way, there may be billions, maybe even hundreds of billions, of rogue planets in the galaxy, says planetary scientist Sara Seager of MIT. 
The first actual observations of what appeared to be free-floating planets came in 2000, suggesting that the simulations were on to something. In the last 15 years, astronomers have stumbled upon about 50 of these planetlike worlds. Some have all the characteristics of planets, minus a parent star. Others raise questions about how stars and planets can form. They all appear to challenge the standard definition of a planet. 
The article goes on to describe how rogue planets may form, how our solar system likely ejected a rogue planet at some time in the past, and even suggests a mechanism by which a rogue planet might be able to generate enough heat to produce conditions amicable to life.

Paging Immanuel Velikovsky....

Thursday, March 19, 2015

DARPA Looking at Cure for Ebola That Will Work For Other Diseases

From the Daily Mail:
The US military’s Defense Advance Research Projects Agency (Darpa) says they may have a method to stop all infectious diseases - including Ebola. 
By encoding RNA and DNA in a specific way, Darpa say a person could simply go into a shop and get an injection to protect them against a disease. 
This could be used to prevent mass outbreaks in affected areas. 
* * * 
The method works by creating powerful antibodies from survivors of an infectious disease. 
‘Instructions’ on how to make these antibodies are then encoded into RNA and DNA, which are injected into people who might come into contact with the disease. 
Their cells then start creating the antibodies, protecting them from catching the potentially dangerous disease. 
Darpa is currently funding the project through Emory University in Atlanta. 
Experts say the method, if proven to be safe and effective, would be faster and cheaper than conventional drug production and could potentially be used to treat illnesses such as seasonal flu or malaria.

Heather Barwick's Open Letter to Gay Parents

I’m writing to you because I’m letting myself out of the closet: I don’t support gay marriage. But it might not be for the reasons that you think. 
It’s not because you’re gay. I love you, so much. It’s because of the nature of the same-sex relationship itself. 
It’s only now, as I watch my children loving and being loved by their father each day, that I can see the beauty and wisdom in traditional marriage and parenting. 
Growing up, and even into my 20s, I supported and advocated for gay marriage. It’s only with some time and distance from my childhood that I’m able to reflect on my experiences and recognize the long-term consequences that same-sex parenting had on me. And it’s only now, as I watch my children loving and being loved by their father each day, that I can see the beauty and wisdom in traditional marriage and parenting. 
Same-sex marriage and parenting withholds either a mother or father from a child while telling him or her that it doesn’t matter. That it’s all the same. But it’s not. A lot of us, a lot of your kids, are hurting. My father’s absence created a huge hole in me, and I ached every day for a dad. I loved my mom’s partner, but another mom could never have replaced the father I lost. 
I grew up surrounded by women who said they didn’t need or want a man. Yet, as a little girl, I so desperately wanted a daddy. It is a strange and confusing thing to walk around with this deep-down unquenchable ache for a father, for a man, in a community that says that men are unnecessary. There were times I felt so angry with my dad for not being there for me, and then times I felt angry with myself for even wanting a father to begin with. There are parts of me that still grieve over that loss today. 
I’m not saying that you can’t be good parents. You can. I had one of the best. I’m also not saying that being raised by straight parents means everything will turn out okay. We know there are so many different ways that the family unit can break down and cause kids to suffer: divorce, abandonment, infidelity, abuse, death, etc. But by and large, the best and most successful family structure is one in which kids are being raised by both their mother and father.
Read the whole thing.

Monday, March 16, 2015

By 2030, China Will Produce More CO2 Than Rest of World Combined

Article at Watts Up With That

Deep Ocean Cooling

In an article entitled "Bad News for Trenberth’s Missing Heat – New Study Finds the Deep Oceans Cooled from 1992 to 2011 ..." Watts Up With That notes a new study showing that the deep ocean temperatures have actually been declining, ruling out yet another explanation of the "pause" in global warming.

Computer Expert Claims to Have Found Atlantis

Source
Not a very timely article since the computer expert, Michael Hubner, apparently formulated his theory in 2008 and died in 2013. Anyway, The Daily Mail reports:
Michael Hubner claimed Atlantis was overwhelmed by a tsunami, which then receded leaving the remains undiscovered, near the coast of Marrakesh. 
The German computer expert formed his theory using mathematics to calculate the precise GPS coordinates of the lost city. 
He meticulously gathered every detail he could from Plato's 'Timaeus' and 'Critias' which describes Atlantis in detail and gives in total 51 clues about the mysterious city. 
These 'clues' include that Atlantis was near the sea and had a ring-like structure surrounding its centre. Crucially, it was also said to be 3,100 miles from Athens. This area includes Europe, Africa and the Middle East.  
Other clues were that Atlantis was not in ancient Europe or Asia and had very high and big mountains, with Morocco having the Atlas mountains. It was also said to lay west of Egypt and Tyrrhenia. 
Using these details Hubner put the measurements into a computer programme and used a map which divided the area into 400 squares.

Hubner marked the areas where more characteristics were present and came out with one region which had the most clues - the Souss Massa plain in Morocco, about 100 miles south of Marrakesh.
 
He then took the GPS coordinates and went to have a look himself. 
What he found appeared to have many of the attributes of Atlantis described 2,600 years ago by Plato, regarded as one of the greatest Western thinkers.

The site was in a desert basin just seven miles from the sea and in the centre was a small mound, similar to the raised area at the heart of the ancient city described by Plato.
 
Surrounding it were circular dry riverbeds, matching Plato's description of the city being surrounded by concentric circles, which alternated between land and sea. 
Hubner concluded it was highly improbable that all the characteristics of Atlantis were present in this area purely by chance.
Sort of like Heinrich Schliemann's discovery of Troy--he decided that the legend had some truth and followed the clues.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Iran Declares Victory in Nuke Talks

Basically, Iran is taking the position that the very fact that the U.S. has engaged in talks to limit Iran's development of nuclear weapons has made Iran a "global power broker."  And then there is this:

Meanwhile, Iran’s military continues to unveil a range of new strategic missiles and advanced weapons meant to project strength throughout the region. 
Iran disclosed during military drills late in February that it is developing a missile capable of being fired from a submerged submarine. Top Iranian military leaders have described the missile as a “very special weapon,” according to IHS Jane’s, a defense industry news source. 
“I believe that this weapon is a strategic weapon,”Admiral Ali Fadavi, the naval commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), said on state television, according to Jane’s. “It has special characteristics.” 
Fadavi declined to provide additional details about the missile. “I would like to keep this information for the future. It is a very special weapon and the Americans cannot even surmise how strong and effective this weapon is.” 
On Tuesday morning, the commander of Iran’s navy previewed the unveiling of “advanced surface and subsurface vessels” that will soon be incorporated into the country’s fleet, according to the state-run Fars News Agency. 
Iran has put great stock in its navy, investing significant resources to bolster the force and make it a principal player in key global shipping lanes, including around the Strait of Hormuz, the Gulf of Oman, and the Caspian Sea. 
Sea-based weapons were a major focus of recent high-level meetings between Iranian and Russian officials, who agreed to a new arms pact.

Invade and Plunder

The LA Times reports that although the number of illegal aliens entering the country is currently down, it is expected to surge this summer. But don't worry: "... even with the projected decline, the number of families crossing the border illegally would be more than triple the number in 2013, when 14,855 family members crossed."

And who knows if there might not be a new surge due to changes in Social Security. Not only will the Federal government not prosecute illegals for using dead people's Social Security Numbers, but illegal aliens are now going to get credit for work done while working illegally, including if using a false SSN. Oh, and they are demanding safer conditions for sneaking into the U.S.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Dawn Spacecraft in Orbit Around Ceres

The spacecraft's trajectory means it is currently on the side of Ceres that faces away from the Sun, so the most recent images taken by Dawn on Mar. 1 show Ceres as a crescent. As Dawn emerges from Ceres' dark side around mid April, it will deliver ever-sharper images and a myriad of other measurements as it spirals closer and closer to Ceres during the year.
--The Christian Science Monitor

Well Duh!

Children who are overindulged by their parents are more likely to be narcissistic.

Explaining the Clintons

Why would an uptight lesbian stay married to a man who obviously detests her, and sleeps around any chance he gets? The Diplomad explains the "business and political partnership unlike any other we have seen in recent American politics." Basically, it comes down to enabling corruption. When Bill Clinton was president, Hillary was in a position to receive and funnel "donations" to the couple's charities and foundations; when Hillary was Secretary of State, Bill took over that role. Read the whole thing.

Plum Island--A Harbinger of Global Warming

The Daily Mail reports on Plum Island, Massachusetts, a small coastal island community where residents are faced with flooded basements, backed up sewage, breakdown of their water system, and coyotes wondering the town looking for food. What caused this apocalyptic scene? Record snow and cold.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Why Only Cops Should Have Guns: D.C. Shooter Was Former Prison Guard

The Daily Mail reports on Hong Young, the man who allegedly took pot shots at people and buildings in Maryland, including the NSA headquarters. Buried deep in the story is this: "Stephen Moyer, Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services Secretary, said Young was a prison guard from January 2012 to May 2014."

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Alabama Supreme Court Stops Issuance of Gay Marriage Licenses

Reuters reports:
The Alabama Supreme Court ordered probate judges on Tuesday to stop issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in apparent defiance of the U.S. Supreme Court, underscoring the depth of opposition to gay matrimony in the socially conservative state. 
The 7-1 ruling comes roughly three weeks after U.S. District Judge Callie Granade's decision overturning Alabama's ban on gay marriage went into effect after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to put it on hold. 
"As it has done for approximately two centuries, Alabama law allows for 'marriage' between only one man and one woman," Tuesday's state supreme court ruling said. "Alabama probate judges have a ministerial duty not to issue any marriage license contrary to this law. 
"Nothing in the United States Constitution alters or overrides this duty."
First, it was not in defiance of the U.S. Supreme Court because SCOTUS didn't issue a ruling--it simply refused to hear the case. Second, as I've argued before, the States have preeminence when it comes to family law matters, which this clearly is. Third, marriage between a man and woman deserves the special protection of the state because it is the relationship most fitted for producing well adjusted children--i.e., future tax payers.

... And This Is How You Become A Billionaire

By creating a product no one wants, then getting the government to force everyone to buy your product. From the Washington Free Beacon:
Billionaire John Catsimatidis is working to slip a biofuel mandate that would add $150 million to New Yorkers’ heat expenses into the state budget just as a company he owns completes construction of the largest biofuel plant in the region. 
The New York Post reports that Catsimatidis’ lobbyists are putting the pressure on State senators to slip a provision that would require all heating oil sold in New York to contain “2 percent or more of soybean oil and/or spent vegetable oils.” 
Catsimatidis is building a biofuel-processing plant in Brooklyn that will be the largest plant in the Northeast, according to the report.
He's very close to the Clintons.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Why Liberals Hate Walmart

It's because Walmart provides goods at low cost to the masses--and Liberals hate the masses. Daniel Greenfield explains:
Why does the left really hate Walmart? It doesn't really have a lot to do with unions and has a lot to do with class. Walmart's crime is industrial. It's the crime of the factory and the supermarket and every means of mass production and consumption. It makes cheap products too readily available to the masses. Liberals like to believe that they oppose consumerism, but what they really want to do is raise the entry levels to the lifestyle. Liberal consumerism is all about upselling ethics. 
When tangible goods become too easy to produce, you add value through intangibles. The fair trade food tastes the same as non-fair trade food. Organic, a category with a debatable meaning, doesn't really provide that much more value. And environmental labels are worth very little. And yet the average product at Whole Foods is covered in so many "ethical liberal" labels that it's hard to figure out what it even is. 
Intangible value is all about class. And class is all about creating barriers to entry.
Liberalism has become a revolt against the middle class that its grandparents struggled to reach, a rejection of their "materialism" while substituting the "ethical materialism" of liberalism in its place that envisions a much smaller upper and middle class that derives its wealth and power not from hard work in the private sector, but highly profitable social justice volunteerism in the public sector.
 
An American Dream of universal prosperity has been pitted against the left's dream of a benevolent feudal system in which the few will be very well paid to oversee the income equality of the many.  
Hence, Naomi Klein's anger that consumer goods have been made available to developing countries.

Ancient "Monkey God" City Found

The Telegraph reports:
The jungle-choked remains of a "lost city", abandoned by a mysterious civilisation several centuries ago and long fabled for reports of its gold and "monkey children", have been uncovered in the depths of the rainforests of Honduras. 
A team of American and Honduran archaeologists, aided by the bushcraft and survival skills of former British SAS soldiers, has just emerged from one of the most remote locations on Earth with news of their stunning discovery. 
The expedition was seeking the site of the legendary "White City", also known as the "City of the Monkey God", a goal for Western explorers since the days of the Spanish conquistadores in the 16th century. 
The city, believed to be one of many lost in the Mosquitia jungle, was home to an unknown people that thrived a thousand years ago but then vanished without trace – until now. 
Unlike the Maya, so little is known of this pre-Columbian culture that it does not even have a name.
More at National Geographic.

Monday, March 2, 2015

The Most Important Communication Tower in the United States

The New York Stock Exchange communication tower located
"just off MacArthur Boulevard and Route 17 in Mahwah, New Jersey." (Source: Zero Hedge)
Zero Hedge reports that the tower recently had a new upgrade--a laser which is part of a communication system being installed by Anova. The laser based system is expected to shave a few nanoseconds off transmission times, which may result in millions of dollars of profits in the fast-paced world of computer controlled high frequency trading.