Friday, January 16, 2009

Listening To Conservative Talk Radio

Yesterday I listened to radio commentators Michael Savage and Mark Levin, and I was struck by the raging incoherence.

For example, Savage tried to whip his audience into a frenzy by invoking that oldest of hoary old European anti-Semitic stereotypes, that of the monocled, cosmopolitan financier, cackling over the various Washington bailouts currently underway.

So, what's supposed to make this evil financier take fright? A capital gains tax cut? More philo-Semitic military aid to Israel? Deregulation? What?

It just doesn't work. None of it works. It never did work, of course, but it works less-well now than ever.

One more week of 'God Bless George Bush, Our Commander In Chief', and then what?
The Universe Is A Hologram

Which explains some of the physical blurring, but doesn't explain why it's set up that way. Is the Universe some kind of cinematic art work?:
For many months, the GEO600 team-members had been scratching their heads over inexplicable noise that is plaguing their giant detector. Then, out of the blue, a researcher approached them with an explanation. In fact, he had even predicted the noise before he knew they were detecting it. According to Craig Hogan, a physicist at the Fermilab particle physics lab in Batavia, Illinois, GEO600 has stumbled upon the fundamental limit of space-time - the point where space-time stops behaving like the smooth continuum Einstein described and instead dissolves into "grains", just as a newspaper photograph dissolves into dots as you zoom in. "It looks like GEO600 is being buffeted by the microscopic quantum convulsions of space-time," says Hogan.

If this doesn't blow your socks off, then Hogan, who has just been appointed director of Fermilab's Center for Particle Astrophysics, has an even bigger shock in store: "If the GEO600 result is what I suspect it is, then we are all living in a giant cosmic hologram."

...The holograms you find on credit cards and banknotes are etched on two-dimensional plastic films. When light bounces off them, it recreates the appearance of a 3D image. In the 1990s physicists Leonard Susskind and Nobel prizewinner Gerard 't Hooft suggested that the same principle might apply to the universe as a whole. Our everyday experience might itself be a holographic projection of physical processes that take place on a distant, 2D surface.

The "holographic principle" challenges our sensibilities. It seems hard to believe that you woke up, brushed your teeth and are reading this article because of something happening on the boundary of the universe. No one knows what it would mean for us if we really do live in a hologram, yet theorists have good reasons to believe that many aspects of the holographic principle are true.

Susskind and 't Hooft's remarkable idea was motivated by ground-breaking work on black holes by Jacob Bekenstein of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel and Stephen Hawking at the University of Cambridge. In the mid-1970s, Hawking showed that black holes are in fact not entirely "black" but instead slowly emit radiation, which causes them to evaporate and eventually disappear. This poses a puzzle, because Hawking radiation does not convey any information about the interior of a black hole. When the black hole has gone, all the information about the star that collapsed to form the black hole has vanished, which contradicts the widely affirmed principle that information cannot be destroyed. This is known as the black hole information paradox.

Bekenstein's work provided an important clue in resolving the paradox. He discovered that a black hole's entropy - which is synonymous with its information content - is proportional to the surface area of its event horizon. This is the theoretical surface that cloaks the black hole and marks the point of no return for infalling matter or light. Theorists have since shown that microscopic quantum ripples at the event horizon can encode the information inside the black hole, so there is no mysterious information loss as the black hole evaporates.

Crucially, this provides a deep physical insight: the 3D information about a precursor star can be completely encoded in the 2D horizon of the subsequent black hole - not unlike the 3D image of an object being encoded in a 2D hologram. Susskind and 't Hooft extended the insight to the universe as a whole on the basis that the cosmos has a horizon too - the boundary from beyond which light has not had time to reach us in the 13.7-billion-year lifespan of the universe. What's more, work by several string theorists, most notably Juan Maldacena at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, has confirmed that the idea is on the right track. He showed that the physics inside a hypothetical universe with five dimensions and shaped like a Pringle is the same as the physics taking place on the four-dimensional boundary.

According to Hogan, the holographic principle radically changes our picture of space-time. Theoretical physicists have long believed that quantum effects will cause space-time to convulse wildly on the tiniest scales. At this magnification, the fabric of space-time becomes grainy and is ultimately made of tiny units rather like pixels, but a hundred billion billion times smaller than a proton. This distance is known as the Planck length, a mere 10-35 metres. The Planck length is far beyond the reach of any conceivable experiment, so nobody dared dream that the graininess of space-time might be discernable.

That is, not until Hogan realised that the holographic principle changes everything. If space-time is a grainy hologram, then you can think of the universe as a sphere whose outer surface is papered in Planck length-sized squares, each containing one bit of information. The holographic principle says that the amount of information papering the outside must match the number of bits contained inside the volume of the universe.

Since the volume of the spherical universe is much bigger than its outer surface, how could this be true? Hogan realised that in order to have the same number of bits inside the universe as on the boundary, the world inside must be made up of grains bigger than the Planck length. "Or, to put it another way, a holographic universe is blurry," says Hogan.

This is good news for anyone trying to probe the smallest unit of space-time. "Contrary to all expectations, it brings its microscopic quantum structure within reach of current experiments," says Hogan. So while the Planck length is too small for experiments to detect, the holographic "projection" of that graininess could be much, much larger, at around 10-16 metres. "If you lived inside a hologram, you could tell by measuring the blurring," he says.
Chinook For The Books

It's so cold on the East Coast! It's so cold in the Midwest!

Tell it to the Alaskans, who finally saw the crystalline air in their Frozen Hell move somewhere else for a change:
The temperature at Fairbanks International Airport hit a record high of 44 degrees just before midnight on Wednesday, continuing what has been a dramatic warm-up following one of the worst cold snaps in decades.

On Sunday, the final day of a cold spell that kept residents in Alaska’s second-largest city shivering for 16 days straight, the low temperature at the airport was negative 44. That’s a difference of 88 degrees in just three days.

“Incredible,” said meteorologist Rick Thoman at the National Weather Service in Fairbanks. “Is there any other place in the country that can do that?

“It’s just a spectacular chinook,” he said.

The temperature at Eielson Air Force Base hit 50 degrees just after midnight Wednesday, setting a new all-time record high for January at the military base 25 miles southeast of Fairbanks.

In Nenana, the temperature climbed to 54 degrees Thursday morning, another all-time high, Thoman said.

The 44-degree reading at the airport late Wednesday broke the record of 43 degrees set in 1981. Thursday’s high of 45 degrees in Fairbanks fell 5 degrees short of a record of 50 degrees set in 1981.

Other notable warm temperature readings were 54 at Birch Lake; 52 in Salcha; 48 in Healy; 46 in Denali Park; and 45 in Central, the latter two of which set new daily records.

“There’s July days when it’s not that warm at Birch Lake,” Thoman quipped.

Things cooled off at the airport by the afternoon — 27 degrees at 4 p.m. — but above-freezing temperatures and melting snow persisted throughout the day in much of the Fairbanks area.

The blast of warm air is the result of strong south winds pushing across the Alaska Range, Thoman said.

“The south winds busted through,” he said. “That warm air was aloft, and it was just a matter of getting it down to the ground.”

Overnight winds near 70 mph were recorded on Eagle Summit, and gusts of 40 mph were recorded at Eielson.

The chinook comes on the heels of a cold snap in which the low temperature hit 40 below on 14 of 16 days and the high temperature never rose above 20 below.

“It seems like so often we have these deep cold spells, and they end with a bang,” Thoman said, noting that was the case with the legendary cold snap of January 1989.
Funny Celebrity Photo Of The Day

Bear with it....
Trying To Re-reconfigure Ecosystems

It's like Whack-O-Mole:
It seemed like a good idea at the time: Remove all the feral cats from a famous Australian island to save the native seabirds.

But the decision to eradicate the felines from Macquarie island allowed the rabbit population to explode and, in turn, destroy much of its fragile vegetation that birds depend on for cover, researchers said Tuesday.

Removing the cats from Macquarie "caused environmental devastation" that will cost authorities 24 million Australian dollars ($16.2 million) to remedy, Dana Bergstrom of the Australian Antarctic Division and her colleagues wrote in the British Ecological Society's Journal of Applied Ecology.

"Our study shows that between 2000 and 2007, there has been widespread ecosystem devastation and decades of conservation effort compromised," Bergstrom said in a statement.

The unintended consequences of the cat-removal project show the dangers of meddling with an ecosystem — even with the best of intentions, the study said.

"The lessons for conservation agencies globally is that interventions should be comprehensive, and include risk assessments to explicitly consider and plan for indirect effects, or face substantial subsequent costs," Bergstrom said.

Located about halfway between Australia and Antarctica, Macquarie was designated a World Heritage site in 1997 as the world's only island composed entirely of oceanic crust. It is known for its wind-swept landscape, and about 3.5 million seabirds and 80,000 elephant seals migrate there each year to breed.

Authorities have struggled for decades to remove the cats, rabbits, rats and mice that are all nonnative species to Macquarie, likely introduced in the past 100 years by passing ships.

The invader predators menaced the native seabirds, some of them threatened species. So in 1995, the Parks and Wildlife Service of Tasmania that manages Macquarie tried to undo the damage by removing most of the cats.

Several conservation groups, including the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Birds Australia, said the eradication effort did not go far enough and that the project should have taken aim at all the invasive mammals on the island at once.

"It would have been ideal if the cats and rabbits were eradicated at the same time, or the rabbits first and the cats subsequently," said University of Auckland Prof. Mick Clout, who also is a member of the Union's invasive species specialist group.
Countdown - Chris Matthews On Bush's Last Speech

Chris hits the nail on the head.
Shedding Light

In the light of the previous discussion regarding Google, somewhat ironic statements from Tom Hanks:
Tom Hanks, Executive Producer for HBO’s controversial polygamist series “Big Love,” made his feelings toward the Mormon Church’s involvement in California's Prop 8 (which prohibits gay marriage) very clear at the show’s premiere party on Wednesday night.

“The truth is this takes place in Utah, the truth is these people are some bizarre offshoot of the Mormon Church, and the truth is a lot of Mormons gave a lot of money to the church to make Prop-8 happen,” he told Tarts. “There are a lot of people who feel that is un-American, and I am one of them. I do not like to see any discrimination codified on any piece of paper, any of the 50 states in America, but here's what happens now. A little bit of light can be shed, and people can see who's responsible, and that can motivate the next go around of our self correcting Constitution, and hopefully we can move forward instead of backwards. So let's have faith in not only the American, but Californian, constitutional process.”
There is nothing either pro- or anti-American about Proposition Eight supporters: they participated in the electoral campaign, as was their right.

People discriminate (aka, make judgments) all the time in society. Just look at your Federal Form 1040 to see an important example regarding income, or the text of marriage laws for any state (the line between blissful matrimony and statutory rape can be rather fine).

What separates pro and anti-Proposition Eight supporters is exactly how discrimination is to be practiced. In other words, it is a matter of public debate.

Discrimination, followed by exclusion or inferior treatment, for religious, political, racial or sexual reasons can cause a vast amount of harm. This kind of discrimination must be avoided, where possible.

A perfect example of political discrimination that edged into racial discrimination was the Bush Administration's response to Hurricane Katrina. The Administration saw a partisan political opportunity to cast blame for a slow emergency response onto the Democratic Governor of Louisiana, and concentrated their energies on having her surrender her emergency powers - something they did not do to the similarly-belabored Republican Governor of Mississippi. The political infighting that resulted from this misguided effort (no Governor will voluntarily surrender power in a crisis) resulted in a delay that cost the lives of 1,500 people. The American people rightly recoiled from the horror of that discrimination.

Proposition Eight was just another ballot measure presented to the voters for democratic consideration: not the first, and certainly not the last. The way to oppose it is through public education, persuasion, and mobilization: precisely those areas found wanting in the last election. Like others who cluster in like-minded thought ghettoes, anti-Proposition Eight folks tend to think that adequate public education, persuasion, and mobilization work has already been done. This is manifestly not the case.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Methane Plumes

Left: Methane plumes found in Mars' atmosphere during the northern summer season. Credit: Trent Schindler/NASA [animation]

Hmmm.... Well, it might be life, or it might be remnant volcanism....:

The situation sounds bleak, but research published today in Science Express reveals new hope for the Red Planet. The first definitive detection of methane in the atmosphere of Mars indicates that Mars is still alive, in either a biologic or geologic sense, according to a team of NASA and university scientists.

"Methane is quickly destroyed in the Martian atmosphere in a variety of ways, so our discovery of substantial plumes of methane in the northern hemisphere of Mars in 2003 indicates some ongoing process is releasing the gas," says lead author Michael Mumma of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. "At northern mid-summer, methane is released at a rate comparable to that of the massive hydrocarbon seep at Coal Oil Point in Santa Barbara, Calif."

Methane -- four atoms of hydrogen bound to a carbon atom -- is the main component of natural gas on Earth. It is of interest to astrobiologists because much of Earth's methane come from living organisms digesting their nutrients. However, life is not required to produce the gas. Other purely geological processes, like oxidation of iron, also release methane. "Right now, we don't have enough information to tell if biology or geology -- or both -- is producing the methane on Mars," said Mumma. "But it does tell us that the planet is still alive, at least in a geologic sense. It's as if Mars is challenging us, saying, hey, find out what this means."

If microscopic Martian life is producing the methane, it likely resides far below the surface, where it's still warm enough for liquid water to exist. Liquid water, as well as energy sources and a supply of carbon, are necessary for all known forms of life.

"On Earth, microorganisms thrive 2 to 3 kilometers (about 1.2 to 1.9 miles) beneath the Witwatersrand basin of South Africa, where natural radioactivity splits water molecules into molecular hydrogen (H2) and oxygen (O). The organisms use the hydrogen for energy. It might be possible for similar organisms to survive for billions of years below the permafrost layer on Mars, where water is liquid, radiation supplies energy, and carbon dioxide provides carbon," says Mumma.

"Gases, like methane, accumulated in such underground zones might be released into the atmosphere if pores or fissures open during the warm seasons, connecting the deep zones to the atmosphere at crater walls or canyons," he says.

"Microbes that produced methane from hydrogen and carbon dioxide were one of the earliest forms of life on Earth," notes Carl Pilcher, Director of the NASA Astrobiology Institute which partially supported the research. "If life ever existed on Mars, it's reasonable to think that its metabolism might have involved making methane from Martian atmospheric carbon dioxide."

However, it is possible a geologic process produced the Martian methane, either now or eons ago. On Earth, the conversion of iron oxide (rust) into the serpentine group of minerals creates methane, and on Mars this process could proceed using water, carbon dioxide, and the planet's internal heat. Another possibility is vulcanism: Although there is no evidence of currently active Martian volcanoes, ancient methane trapped in ice "cages" called clathrates might now be released.

The team found methane in the atmosphere of Mars by carefully observing the planet over several Mars years (and all Martian seasons) using spectrometers attached to telescopes at NASA's Infrared Telescope Facility, run by the University of Hawaii, and the W. M. Keck telescope, both at Mauna Kea, Hawaii.

"We observed and mapped multiple plumes of methane on Mars, one of which released about 19,000 metric tons of methane," says Geronimo Villanueva of the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. Villanueva is stationed at NASA Goddard and is co-author of the paper. "The plumes were emitted during the warmer seasons -- spring and summer -- perhaps because the permafrost blocking cracks and fissures vaporized, allowing methane to seep into the Martian air. Curiously, some plumes had water vapor while others did not," he says.

According to the team, the plumes were seen over areas that show evidence of ancient ground ice or flowing water. For example, plumes appeared over northern hemisphere regions such as east of Arabia Terra, the Nili Fossae region, and the south-east quadrant of Syrtis Major, an ancient volcano 1,200 kilometers (about 745 miles) across.
The New Zealand Weather Book

I wanted to put in a quick plug for Erick Brenstrum's book, entitled "The New Zealand Weather Book".

New Zealand weather can be quite dramatic - more dramatic than one would suspect at first from the weather maps - and this guide is very helpful in preventing undue complacency. The mid-latitude marine influence is paramount, of course, and stormy precipitation often falls with little notice.

A good read!
U.S. Airways Plane Crashes Into The Hudson River

Double-Plus Ungood

Want to know where Proposition Eight donors live or work? Here is an interactive Google map with everything you need to know.

"1984" arrives in our lives, in bits and pieces. "Two Minutes Hate" need not be televised, but can arrive on your I-Phone, at your convenience.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Life On Mars?

Well, who knows, but the UK's tabloid press says there is, so it must be so.

What I find strange is that "The Sun" gives great weight to what NASA thinks, even though the Europeans, monitoring Mars Observer results, were the first to take note of methane, several years ago. So, as far as I'm concerned, the Europeans have bragging rights here, but what they think seems to be unimportant.

Are the Americans signing on to the organic explanation for the presence of methane? Why? Are they announcing previously-unavailable results from the Phoenix expedition? Who knows? Film at 11, I suppose....

(If you see any bear-like creatures emerging from giant metal cylinders, let me know....):
ALIEN microbes living just below the Martian soil are responsible for a haze of methane around the Red Planet, Nasa scientists believe.

The gas, belched in vast quantities in our world by cows, was detected by orbiting spacecraft and from Earth using giant telescopes.

Nasa are today expected to confirm its presence during a briefing at their Washington HQ.

And the find is seen as exciting new evidence that Martian microbes are still alive today.

Some scientists reckon methane is also produced by volcanic processes. But there are NO known active volcanoes on Mars.

Furthermore, Nasa has found the gas in the same regions as clouds of water vapour, the vital “drink” needed to support life.

Experts speculate that the methane is being emitted as a waste product by organisms called methanogens living in water beneath underground ice.
Speculation As The Source Of Last Year's Spectacular Oil Price Rise

I was reluctant at first to blame speculators for this, but it's hard to argue differently now: the amazing price fluctuation last year can have no other explanation. The price disturbance was so severe it may single-handedly ruin all American automobile manufacturers. And, as usual, the secrecy of the trades is not a bug; it's a feature, in the manner of Enron. This is what we can thank the Bush Administration for:
About the only economic break most Americans have gotten in the last six months has been the drastic drop in the price of oil, which has fallen even more precipitously than it rose. In a year's time, a commodity that was theoretically priced according to supply and demand doubled from $69 a barrel to nearly $150, and then, in a period of just three months, crashed along with the stock market.

So what happened? It's a complicated question, and there are lots of theories. But as correspondent Steve Kroft reports, many people believe it was a speculative bubble, not unlike the one that caused the housing crisis, and that it had more to do with traders and speculators on Wall Street than with oil company executives or sheiks in Saudi Arabia.

...[W]hen oil doubled to more than $147 a barrel, no one was more suspicious than Dan Gilligan.

As the president of the Petroleum Marketers Association, he represents more than 8,000 retail and wholesale suppliers, everyone from home heating oil companies to gas station owners.

When 60 Minutes talked to him last summer, his members were getting blamed for gouging the public, even though their costs had also gone through the roof. He told Kroft the problem was in the commodities markets, which had been invaded by a new breed of investor.

"Approximately 60 to 70 percent of the oil contracts in the futures markets are now held by speculative entities. Not by companies that need oil, not by the airlines, not by the oil companies. But by investors that are looking to make money from their speculative positions," Gilligan explained.

Gilligan said these investors don't actually take delivery of the oil. "All they do is buy the paper, and hope that they can sell it for more than they paid for it. Before they have to take delivery."

"They're trying to make money on the market for oil?" Kroft asked.

"Absolutely," Gilligan replied. "On the volatility that exists in the market. They make it going up and down."

He says his members in the home heating oil business, like Sean Cota of Bellows Falls, Vt., were the first to notice the effects a few years ago when prices seemed to disconnect from the basic fundamentals of supply and demand. Cota says there was plenty of product at the supply terminals, but the prices kept going up and up.

"We've had three price changes during the day where we pick up products, actually don't know what we paid for it and we'll go out and we'll sell that to the retail customer guessing at what the price was," Cota remembered. "The volatility is being driven by the huge amounts of money and the huge amounts of leverage that is going in to these markets."

About the same time, hedge fund manager Michael Masters reached the same conclusion. Masters' expertise is in tracking the flow of investments into and out of financial markets and he noticed huge amounts of money leaving stocks for commodities and oil futures, most of it going into index funds, betting the price of oil was going to go up.

Asked who was buying this "paper oil," Masters told Kroft, "The California pension fund. Harvard Endowment. Lots of large institutional investors. And, by the way, other investors, hedge funds, Wall Street trading desks were following right behind them, putting money - sovereign wealth funds were putting money in the futures markets as well. So you had all these investors putting money in the futures markets. And that was driving the price up."

In a five year period, Masters said the amount of money institutional investors, hedge funds, and the big Wall Street banks had placed in the commodities markets went from $13 billion to $300 billion. Last year, 27 barrels of crude were being traded every day on the New York Mercantile Exchange for every one barrel of oil that was actually being consumed in the United States.

"We talked to the largest physical trader of crude oil. And they told us that compared to the size of the investment inflows - and remember, this is the largest physical crude oil trader in the United States - they said that we are basically a flea on an elephant, that that's how big these flows were," Masters remembered.

...If anyone had any doubts, they were dispelled a few days after that hearing when the price of oil jumped $25 in a single day. That day was Sept. 22.

Michael Greenberger, a former director of trading for the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the federal agency that oversees oil futures, says there were no supply disruptions that could have justified such a big increase.

"Did China and India suddenly have gigantic needs for new oil products in a single day? No. Everybody agrees supply-demand could not drive the price up $25, which was a record increase in the price of oil. The price of oil went from somewhere in the 60s to $147 in less than a year. And we were being told, on that run-up, 'It's supply-demand, supply-demand, supply-demand,'" Greenberger said.

A recent report out of MIT, analyzing world oil production and consumption, also concluded that the basic fundamentals of supply and demand could not have been responsible for last year's run-up in oil prices. And Michael Masters says the U.S. Department of Energy's own statistics show that if the markets had been working properly, the price of oil should have been going down, not up.

...Masters believes the investor demand for commodities, and oil futures in particular, was created on Wall Street by hedge funds and the big Wall Street investment banks like Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, Barclays, and J.P. Morgan, who made billions investing hundreds of billions of dollars of their clients’ money.

"The investment banks facilitated it," Masters said. "You know, they found folks to write papers espousing the benefits of investing in commodities. And then they promoted commodities as a, quote/unquote, 'asset class.' Like, you could invest in commodities just like you could in stocks or bonds or anything else, like they were suitable for long-term investment."

Dan Gilligan of the Petroleum Marketers Association agreed.

"Are you saying that companies like Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley and Barclays have as much to do with the price of oil going up as Exxon? Or…Shell?" Kroft asked.

"Yes," Gilligan said. "I tease people sometimes that, you know, people say, 'Well, who's the largest oil company in America?' And they'll always say, 'Well, Exxon Mobil or Chevron, or BP.' But I'll say, 'No. Morgan Stanley.'"

Morgan Stanley isn't an oil company in the traditional sense of the word - it doesn't own or control oil wells or refineries, or gas stations. But according to documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Morgan Stanley is a significant player in the wholesale market through various entities controlled by the corporation.

It not only buys and sells the physical product through subsidiaries and companies that it controls, Morgan Stanley has the capacity to store and hold 20 million barrels. For example, some storage tanks in New Haven, Conn. hold Morgan Stanley heating oil bound for homes in New England, where it controls nearly 15 percent of the market.

The Wall Street bank Goldman Sachs also has huge stakes in companies that own a refinery in Coffeyville, Kan., and control 43,000 miles of pipeline and more than 150 storage terminals.

...Asked if there is price manipulation going on, Dan Gilligan told Kroft, "I can't say. And the reason I can't say it, is because nobody knows. Our federal regulators don't have access to the data. They don't know who holds what positions."

"Why don't they know?" Kroft asked.

"Because federal law doesn't give them the jurisdiction to find out," Gilligan said.

It's impossible to tell exactly who was buying and selling all those oil contracts because most of the trading is now conducted in secret, with no public scrutiny or government oversight. Over time, the big Wall Street banks were allowed to buy and sell as many oil contracts as they wanted for their clients, circumventing regulations intended to limit speculation. And in 2000, Congress effectively deregulated the futures market, granting exemptions for complicated derivative investments called oil swaps, as well as electronic trading on private exchanges.

"Who was responsible for deregulating the oil future market?" Kroft asked Michael Greenberger.

"You'd have to say Enron," he replied. "This was something they desperately wanted, and they got."

Greenberger, who wanted more regulation while he was at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, not less, says it all happened when Enron was the seventh largest corporation in the United States. "This was when Enron was riding high. And what Enron wanted, Enron got."

Asked why they wanted a deregulated market in oil futures, Greenberger said, "Because they wanted to establish their own little energy futures exchange through computerized trading. They knew that if they could get this trading engine established without the controls that had been placed on speculators, they would have the ability to drive the price of energy products in any way they wanted to take it."

"When Enron failed, we learned that Enron, and its conspirators who used their trading engine, were able to drive the price of electricity up, some say, by as much as 300 percent on the West Coast," he added.

"Is the same thing going on right now in the oil business?" Kroft asked.

"Every Enron trader, who knew how to do these manipulations, became the most valuable employee on Wall Street," Greenberger said.

But some of them may now be looking for work. The oil bubble began to deflate early last fall when Congress threatened new regulations and federal agencies announced they were beginning major investigations. It finally popped with the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers and the near collapse of AIG, who were both heavily invested in the oil markets. With hedge funds and investment houses facing margin calls, the speculators headed for the exits.

"From July 15th until the end of November, roughly $70 billion came out of commodities futures from these index funds," Masters explained. "In fact, gasoline demand went down by roughly five percent over that same period of time. Yet the price of crude oil dropped more than $100 a barrel. It dropped 75 percent."

Asked how he explains that, Masters said, "By looking at investors, that's the only way you can explain it."
Carlos Coyote Does Couture

Recycling vogue:
SANTA FE, N.M. -- In the world of trashy fashion, designer Nancy Judd has hit the big time.

Ms. Judd spends her days in a studio here crafting clothing from castoff plastic bags, electrical wire and old cassette tapes. Now, her Dumpster couture has caught the eye of environmental activists, who plan to showcase her work in Washington at Saturday's Green Inaugural Ball honoring President-elect Barack Obama.

The star piece: A man's coat made from Mr. Obama's campaign fliers. She says it took her 200 hours to cut and paste and sew it.

Showing her stuff in the nation's capital is a big step for a woman who used to put on a furry blue costume and sweat her way through parades as Carlos Coyote, Santa Fe's recycling mascot. Working for the city trash department, Ms. Judd did the coyote gig for years. She also ran workshops and recorded radio ads urging New Mexicans to recycle. But she worried that nobody was paying attention.

Ms. Judd began to wonder whether she could spark new interest in solid waste by making garbage glamorous.

Ms. Judd, who is 40 years old, has no training in fashion. She can't sketch. She gets design ideas from old paper dolls. Still, she figured out how to craft a saucy cocktail dress from a shower curtain and aluminum cans. She fashioned a slinky black gown from canvas scraps and hundreds of rusty nails. When worn, it clinks alluringly.

She once spent 400 hours, she says, unspooling cassettes and crocheting the crinkled tape into a fake-fur coat.

As attire, the outfits have their limitations. An evening gown sparkling with 12,000 bits of glass tends to shed; a fitted jacket cut from the vinyl top of a convertible is so well insulated, it doubles as a sweat lodge.

Also, says Ms. Judd, "you can't sit down in any of them."

But these aren't meant to be wardrobe mainstays. Ms. Judd conceives of them more as wearable sculpture. "I like the idea of making aluminum elegant, or rusty nails sexy," she says.
Paul Kennedy Finally Speaks

Where has he been during the last decade? Events during the Bush Era seemed to follow the terrible blueprint he laid out in "The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers", 20 years ago:
So while today's Russia, China, Latin America, Japan and the Middle East may be suffering setbacks, the biggest loser is understood to be Uncle Sam.

...The first reason, surely, is the U.S.'s truly exceptional budgetary and trade deficits. There is nothing else in the world like them in absolute measures and, even when calculated in proportion to national income, the percentages look closer to those you might expect from Iceland or some poorly run Third World economy. To my mind, the projected U.S. fiscal deficits for 2009 and beyond are scary, and I am amazed that so few congressmen recognize the fact as they collectively stampede towards the door entitled "fiscal stimulus."

...Never mind, I am told, the foreigners will pay gladly for that paper. This notion makes me queasy. In the first place, it is (without its advocates ever acknowledging it) a dreadful sign of America's relative decline. If you have seen Clint Eastwood's poignant war movie "Flags of Our Fathers," you also will have been stirred by the scenes where the three bewildered Iwo Jima veterans are dragged all over the country to beg the cheering audiences: "Buy American Bonds!" It's uncomfortable all right, but there was one massive consolation. The U.S. government, fully converted to Keynesianism, was asking its citizens to dig into their own hoarded savings to help sustain the war effort. Who else, after all, could buy? A near-bankrupt British Empire? A war-torn China? The Axis? The Soviet Union? How fortunate it was that World War II doubled U.S. GDP, and the savings were there.

Today, however, our dependency upon foreign investors will approximate more and more the state of international indebtedness we historians associate with the reigns of Philip II of Spain and Louis XIV of France -- attractive propositions at first, then steadily losing glamour.

...Do people really think that China can buy and buy when its investments here have already been hurt, and its government can see the enormous need to invest in its own economy? If a miracle happened, and China bought most of the $1.2 trillion from us, what would our state of dependency be then? We could be looking at as large a shift in the world's financial balances as that which occurred between the British Empire and the United States between 1941 and 1945. Is everybody happy at that? Yet if foreigners show little appetite for U.S. bonds, we will soon have to push interest rates up.

...Moreover, no three or four of those countries -- and perhaps not a dozen of them combined -- have anywhere like the staggering array of overseas military commitments and deployments that weigh upon Uncle Sam's shoulders. That brings us back, I'm sorry to say, to the "imperial overstretch" remarks I made some 20 years ago.

As I suggested at that time, a strong person, balanced and muscular, can carry an impressively heavy backpack uphill for a long while. But if that person is losing strength (economic problems), and the weight of the burden remains heavy or even increases (the Bush doctrine), and the terrain becomes more difficult (rise of new Great Powers, international terrorism, failed states), then the once-strong hiker begins to slow and stumble. That is precisely when nimbler, less heavily burdened walkers get closer, draw abreast, and perhaps move ahead.
Partisanship Will Serve Obama Best

Thomas Frank, excellent as always:
Centrism is something of a cult here in Washington, D.C., and a more specious superstition you never saw. Its adherents pretend to worship at the altar of the great American middle, but in fact they stick closely to a very particular view of events regardless of what the public says it wants.

And through it all, centrism bills itself as the most transgressive sort of exercise imaginable. Its partisans are "New Democrats," "Radical Centrists," clear-eyed believers in a "Third Way." The red-hot tepids, we might call them -- the jellybeans of steel.

...Yet what the Beltway centrist characteristically longs for is not so much to transcend politics but to close off debate on the grounds that he -- and the vast silent middle for which he stands -- knows beyond question what is to be done.

...[T]he real-world function of Beltway centrism has not been to wage high-minded war against "both extremes" but to fight specifically against the economic and foreign policies of liberalism. Centrism's institutional triumphs have been won mainly if not entirely within the Democratic Party. Its greatest exponent, President Bill Clinton, persistently used his own movement as a foil in his great game of triangulation.

And centrism's achievements? Well, there's Nafta, which proved Democrats could stand up to labor. There's the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act. There's the Iraq war resolution, approved by numerous Democrats in brave defiance of their party's left. Triumphs all.

...Centrism is a chump's game. Democrats have massive majorities these days not because they waffle hither and yon but because their historic principles have been vindicated by events. This is their moment. Let the other side do the triangulating.
RIP, Ricardo Montalban

Like Jerry says, "Who's going to be the third?"

I always liked Montalban's attitude as a product spokesperson towards the pronunciation of words from different cultures. I remember hearing an interview regarding this subject, I think, on NPR.

For example, when representing the Chrysler Cordoba to American audiences, he placed the accent in "Cordoba" on the second syllable, as Americans do, even though he knew the correct Spanish is to place the accent on the first syllable. And when representing Colgate Toothpaste to Mexican audiences, he broke "Colgate" into three syllables, as Mexicans do, even though he knew the correct English is to have just two syllables. Paraphrasing Montalban: "you pronounce words according to the people amongst whom you find yourself."
Marcus Schrenker Caught

It's just hard to disappear:
With his world crumbling around him, investment adviser Marcus Schrenker opted for a bailout. However, his plan to escape personal turmoil was short-lived.

In a feat reminiscent of a James Bond movie, the 38-year-old businessman and amateur daredevil pilot apparently tried to fake his death in a plane crash, secretly parachuting to the ground and speeding away on a motorcycle he had stashed away in the pine barrens of central Alabama.

But the captivating three-day saga came to an end when authorities finally caught up to Schrenker in North Florida. Gadsden County Sheriff's Lt. Jim Corder said late Tuesday night that police there had Schrenker in custody.

Schrenker was on the run not only from the law but from divorce, a state investigation of his businesses and angry investors who accuse him of stealing potentially millions in savings they entrusted to him.

"We've learned over time that he's a pathological liar — you don't believe a single word that comes out of his mouth," said Charles Kinney, a 49-year-old airline pilot from Atlanta who alleges Schrenker pocketed at least $135,000 of his parents' retirement fund.
They Might Be Giants - "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)"

Prisoner Parody

Dreadful, but funny. With Teddy Bears.
RIP, Patrick McGoohan

Oh, sad news! Number Six has passed on!

I remember clearly the Summer of 1967, when I was ten years old. The air waves were enlivened by "The Prisoner" and I became an instant fan.
The Decline Of The Republican Reputation For Virtue

In the 1960's, even the suggestion of political calculations in the Justice Department sent the Republican Party into paroxysms of anger. They called officials of LBJ's Administration to Capitol Hill many times to answer for even minor infractions.

Which makes this recent report on Bradley Schlozman so sad. Everything he is accused of is blatantly illegal, and yet he went on with it, day in and day out, for years, answering to no one, except his hyper-partisan bosses in the White House, who liked what he was doing.

I will be so glad to see this scurvy band of criminals turned out of power.

And how do Republicans ever again expect to be trusted with power?
A former Justice Department official discriminated against liberal job applicants at the department and then made false statements to Congress on the matter, according to a Justice Department report released Tuesday.

...According to the report, Schlozman circumvented many of his colleagues and arranged the hiring of lesser-qualified applicants based on their conservative political ideology.

The jobs involved were not political appointments but career positions for which candidates, according to federal law and guidelines, are to be selected for their qualifications, not their political or ideological leanings.

In one Jan. 30, 2004, e-mail, Schlozman declined a lunch invitation from a colleague, citing a previous commitment to interview "some lefty who we'll never hire."

In a March 5, 2004, message, he referred to potential hires in another division of the department as "commies" and said that "as long as I'm here, adherents of Mao's little red book need not apply."

The report notes that Department of Justice officials interviewed as part of the investigation said Schlozman believed many career employees at the departments were holdovers from prior administrations and not, as Schlozman reportedly said, "on the team." He wanted to hire "real Americans," a term those interviewed said Schlozman used "when referring to political conservatives."

Additionally, in a February 2006 voice mail Schlozman left for a colleague, he said that in hiring volunteer interns, experience relevant to the job should not always work in the candidate's favor.

"[W]hen we start asking, 'What is your commitment to civil rights? ... [H]ow do you prove that? Usually by membership in some crazy liberal organization or by some participation in some crazy cause ? Look, look at my resume -- I didn't have any demonstrated commitment, but I care about the issues. So, I mean, I just want to make sure we don't start confining ourselves to, you know, politburo members because they happen to be a member of some, you know, psychopathic left-wing organization designed to overthrow the government."

After their review of e-mails and other messages from Schlozman and interviews with his former colleagues, the investigators found that he "favored applicants with conservative political or ideological affiliations and disfavored applicants with civil rights or human rights experience whom he considered to be overly liberal."

In addition, he winnowed down the applicant pool for the prestigious jobs before allowing section chiefs in his division to review resumes, the report concluded.

Schlozman testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in June 2007, and under questioning from lawmakers, he said that he "did not" violate government statutes, which state that a candidate's political ideology cannot be considered when hiring for a so-called career position.

Based on Schlozman's statements during the hearing and his written responses to lawmakers' questions, investigators concluded that he was not truthful in his testimony.
Into The Heart Of Chaos

E.: MMMMAAAARRRRCCCC! Don't worry about the pile of clothes on the floor of my bedroom. This weekend, I'll start picking them up.
M.: You've said the same thing, every weekend, for years. And nothing ever seems to change. Look at the papers at the bottom of this pile of clothes. They date from 2003. This pile of clothes has been in the middle of your bedroom floor for five years! It collects dust and may be a fire hazard! And this bag of candy has been on the floor for years too, and might attract ants. That's why I've started to organize your papers and put away your clothes.
E.: You're giving me a headache!
M.: And we've got to start throwing away a few of these things.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Looting The USSR's Old Nuclear Lighthouses

Interesting story with pictures (via John) about how automated lighthouses fell afoul of recyclers:
It was a kind of robot-lighthouse which counted itself the time of the year and the length of the daylight, turned on its lights when it was needed and sent radio signals to near by ships to warn them on their journey. It all looks like ran out the sci-fi book pages, but so they were.

Then, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the unattended automatic lighthouses did it job for some time, but after some time they collapsed too. Mostly as a result of the hunt for the metals like copper and other stuff which were performed by the looters.
Rabbit-Proof Fence

Rabbit Proof Fence Documentary - forced removal scene

I checked out this 2002 movie, "Rabbit-Proof Fence" , last night on DVD. A simple story, but sweeping in its emotional grandeur, as three Aboriginal girls, kidnapped as part of official Australian government policy, escape the school to which they had been brought, and return home (1,500 miles on foot) along the Rabbit-Proof Fence, their only guide through the desolate Australian Outback.

The DVD also featured commentary, and a documentary describing Director Peter Noyce's efforts to locate suitable child actresses to play the three girls. The requirements were daunting: with only recent exposure to non-Aboriginal ways, the girls had to be natural actresses, but emotionally mature despite extreme youth. Wonderful choices!

Noyce, an Australian director known mostly for his American spy thrillers, also displayed a laudable discipline, even a severity, that suited the material and the country well.

The recent interest shown by Australians in what are now known as The Stolen Generations is a welcome contrast to the silence of Americans with the nearly-simultaneous, nearly-identical situation in the American West: the Indian boarding schools of the Navajo and Hopi (and probably others as well: the Apache and the Sioux, and others). There are many untold or poorly-heard stories out there - stories of separation, forgetfulness, and loss - and sometimes stories of return as well.

Imdb has some interesting commentary from movie-watchers too:
For instance, the girls arrive at a farmstead and are given clothing and food by a white woman. The motherly instinct of this woman understood that the girls had to be with their mothers. But at the same token the farm woman could not jeopardise her own family by looking after the girls or else it would have brought trouble. It was wonderful scenes like these that was played out visually without having to dumb it down with words. As human beings we understand these actions and need no explaining.

The most interesting relationship was the one between the aboriginal tracker in search of the girls. He could sense the persistence of these girls to get home by making it difficult for him to track them down. This he respected and slightly dropped his guard. Once again, a string of images tell of this distant relationship between tracker and girls.

...Only by the performances of the girls do these scenes work because they are so natural and heartfelt. Children who overplay their role just become cute but those who underplay and rely on emotions of the situation deliver a powerhouse performance that a trained actor may sometimes find difficult to achieve. At first the name of a high calibre actor - such as Kenneth Branagh - in an Australian film warns you where the limelight will shine. But Kenneth just took a step back and become another important confrontational figure in the journey.


This film has quite a few remarkable features. First of all is its title which is rather unusual and immediately grabs one's interest. Next there is the fence itself which runs for thousands of miles to protect what few green plants there are in these desert regions from the voracious appetites of millions of wild rabbits. This fence plays an important role in this true story. Then there is the diector who not only scoured the continent to find three suitable aboriginal girls to play the leads but moulded these inexperienced beginners into the believable characters of Molly, Daisy and Gracie. The director Phillip Noyce has achieved remarkable success in creating three good little performers and should be given full credit for his difficult task.

For those who do not know the desert regions of Australia, it must be said that the "outback" country is harsh and cruel and can only be crossed by those with experience...those with a knowledge of the land. I think the camera makes it clear that the hostile environment is very much like a fence in itself...almost impossible to cross. All the more remarkable therefore that these girls accomplished what they set out to do. May be it was a reckless decision they made but thanks to the fence they found their way back to family and friends.


The production and direction are excellent. Noyce has created a beautiful vision of the Australian Outback that really feeds the film. However the sound is also superb. Rhythmic footsteps ring out, crunching and banging of the landscape – it works best in a cinema I guess but it adds to the dramatic feel of the film, even if some sudden noises caused me to jump without any reason in the scene to do so.

The cast are mixed but are important where it matters. Sampi is amazing as Molly. She carries the film with her strength but also little facial expressions that reveal that she is a child, reveal her strength and tell so very much. Both Sansbury and Monaghan also do well but not as well as the lead. Branagh is also perfectly pitched. Neville could easily have been overplayed as a hammy villain of the piece but here he is played just right – he is a real man and we are left to decide for ourselves what to make of him. Some of the cast are average – some of the children in the camp can't act and the majority of the white police officers are maybe a shade too much caricatured as evil men who dislike the blacks.
Do You Want Fries With That?

Clang! Romantic, low-stress wedding at Taco Bell:
NORMAL, Ill. (AP) - Wedding bells meant Taco Bell for Paul and Caragh Brooks.

Customers inside the fast-food restaurant continued to order tacos and burritos as the couple sat Friday in an orange booth at Taco Bell and exchanged vows.

"It's appropriate," groom Paul Brooks said. "It's an offbeat relationship."

Employees displayed hot sauce packets labeled with the words "Will you marry me?" They decorated the restaurant with streamers and balloons.

The bride wore a $15 hot pink dress and the entire wedding cost about $200. Several dozen guests looked on as the couple's friend, Ryan Green of Normal, administered the vows while wearing a T-shirt. He was ordained online.

"This is the way to go - there's no stress," said the groom's mother, Kathy Brooks.

Caragh Brooks, 21, of Australia, met Paul Brooks, 30, on an Internet dating Web site. They already had the same last name.

The couple wrote back and forth and talked on the phone for nine months before Caragh Brooks moved to the United States.

"We have the same brain, just in two bodies," Paul Brooks said. "We think alike in virtually every manner. We have the same interests, viewpoints."

He proposed on New Year's Eve and, because they like to spend time at the local Taco Bell, they decided to wed there.
Too Many People Know Too Much

It's getting harder and harder all the time to go anonymous:
A man whose financial management business is under investigation faked a life-or-death emergency in his private aircraft before secretly parachuting out and letting his plane crash in the Florida panhandle, authorities said Monday.

The pilot, identified as Marcus Schrenker, 38, later checked into a hotel in Alabama under a fake name and then put on a black cap and fled into woods, authorities in Alabama said, according to the Santa Rosa County Sheriff's Office in Milton, Florida.

...Schrenker "appears to have intentionally abandoned the plane after putting it on autopilot over the Birmingham, Alabama, area and parachuting to the ground" Sunday night, the sheriff's office said in a news release.

The plane crashed at 9:15 p.m. CT on Sunday in a swampy area of the Blackwater River in East Milton, authorities said.

It's unclear what time Schrenker made the earlier distress call. He told air traffic controllers that the window of his plane had imploded and he was bleeding profusely.

...After the call came in, military aircraft were dispatched to intercept the plane. The jets spotted the Piper and deployed flares to illuminate the plane as it was flying and noticed that its door was open and the cockpit was dark, according to the Santa Rosa authorities. The jets continued to follow the plane until it crashed. Rescuers searched the area where the plane went down and began a search for the pilot.

Meanwhile, Schrenker reportedly was more than 220 miles north of the crash site.

The Santa Rosa County Sheriff's Office got a call at 2:26 a.m. Monday from the Childersburg Police Department in Alabama saying that a white male, identified as Schrenker by his Indiana driver's license, approached a Childersburg officer at a store.

Schrenker, who was wet from the knees down and had no injuries, told the officer that he had been in a canoeing accident with friends, the Santa Rosa Sheriff's Office said in a news release. Schrenker had goggles that looked like they were made for "flying," according to the release.

The Childersburg police didn't know about the plane crash, so they took Schrenker to a nearby hotel, authorities said. When police found out about the crash, they went back to the hotel and entered Schrenker's room. He was not there, they said.

According to Santa Rosa authorities, Schrenker had checked in under a fake name, paid for his room in cash and "put on a black toboggan cap and ran into the woods located next to the hotel."

Monday, January 12, 2009

ROTC Field Training Goes Awry

I remember once jumping aboard a New Mexico National Guard helicopter during a recruiting visit to UNM, and getting flown all around the city of Albuquerque. Fun!

This visit here sounds less fun:
One person is confirmed dead and four others are injured after a Texas Army National Guard Black Hawk helicopter crashed Monday afternoon on the campus of Texas A&M University in College Station.

...The helicopter went down in a field near the Corps of Cadets Quadrangle.

It happened during an ROTC field training exercise that involved as many as five helicopters.
Andrew Visits

The international jet-setter drops in for an hour....
Keep Your Eyes On The Prize

Look, people, this is progress, but if we don't try harder, we'll never get there. So, bring out the bon-bons for MLK Day!:
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The number of obese American adults outweighs the number of those who are merely overweight, according to the latest statistics from the federal government.

Numbers posted by the National Center for Health Statistics show that more than 34 percent of Americans are obese, compared to 32.7 percent who are overweight. It said just under 6 percent are "extremely" obese.
Why The Little Mermaid Has Good Teeth

Today, I went for my thrice-yearly teeth cleaning over at Dr. Woo's.

At the end of the plush waiting room, I spotted what I had really come for - a jigsaw puzzle (aka a Marc Magnet) Dr. Woo's staff leaves out for customers. So, I made a beeline towards the end of the waiting room.

But, surprise! They have a little cubbyhole over there for kids, with computer games and an oceanic theme!

Left: And look at this! An aquarium! A real aquarium, with real tropical fish, and everything!

Now, I could see this happening to me, if I'm not careful....:
An eccentric loner is believed to have died of thirst after becoming trapped in a bizarre and intricate network of tunnels built from rubbish in his home.

Investigators believe the labyrinth was so complicated that Gordon Stewart, 74, may have become lost inside it. It is thought he may have died as a result of dehydration, after becoming unable to find his way out of the stinking mass.

...Locals say Mr Stewart, who wore a ponytail, was often spotted riding his bike around the streets. Officers discovered him entombed in his own creation, built from discarded carrier bags, boxes, old furniture and other assorted junk.

One neighbour, who asked not to be named, said: 'He was slightly eccentric, but very clever. He was just a collector. He came home with a load of cardboard boxes and lived in his own world.'

...Neighbours said Mr Stewart's home had been accumulating rubbish for at least 10 years. This week, plastic bags were clearly seen piled across his front window, while outside further bags, broken furniture, computer parts and even an old TV set spilled over his front lawn.

A car dating back to the 1950s stands in the garage believed to have been left untouched for years as garbage built up around it.

Discover Magazine's Top 100 Stories Of 2008

The interesting ones I include from this post - the others seemed like a lot of hot air, or were less interesting, or whatever:

#4: Slime Is Turning the Seas Into Dead Zones
Pollution, overfishing, and the rise of microbes spell doom for many bodies of water.
#5: Nations Stake Their Claims to a Melting Arctic
Undiscovered oil and gas reserves below the ice set off a polar gold rush.
#6: Phoenix Lander Strikes Ice on Mars
Finally, positive confirmation of what we long thought and hoped for.
#8: Cavemen: They're Just Like Us
Neanderthals were a sophisticated bunch, according to new research. 12.21.2008
#15: The Lost Cities of the Amazon
What is now sparsely populated jungle held large urban settlements hundreds of years ago.
#27: Astronomers Spy the Youngest Planet Ever Found
The latest, newest protoplanet is a "dusty, rocky, gaseous lump."
#30: Magpies Recognize Themselves in the Mirror
The birds pass the test for "rudimentary sense of self."
#31: Fish Farming Threatens Wild Salmon
Lice, interbreeding, and contaminants are killing off the species.
#35: Scientists Find the Key to Bringing Dead Zones Back to Life
Phosphorus levels can make or break a lake, it turns out.
#36: Creationism Lurks in Public High Schools
One in six teachers say they believe the earth is 6,000 years old.
#37: Shorebird Population Is in Rapid Decline
Australian and Asian birds are a clear example of population collapse.
#39: Amazonian Tribe Doesn't Have Words for Numbers
The Pirahã people overturned scientists' belief about human cognition.
#44: The Baffling Bee Die-Off Continues
Colony Collapse Disorder continues its relentless march.
#45: Huge Population of Lowland Gorillas Found
For once, researchers come up with good news for an endangered species.
#58: Smart People Are Better Able to Keep a Beat
Good neural functioning is good neural functioning.
#60: Mars Became Lopsided After Massive Asteroid Collision
After 30 years, the debate over the red planet's shape may be over.
#62: Researchers Discover Why Wound-Licking Works
Compounds in saliva actually do speed healing.
#67: Drilling, Not Earthquake, Caused Giant Hot Mud Volcano
Some claim an earthquake caused this mud river, but new research says otherwise.
#68: Solved: The Mystery of Gravity-Defying Sap
One synthetic tree accomplishes what loads of scientists never could.
#71: Slime Molds Show Surprising Degree of Intelligence
A creature with no brain can learn from and even anticipate events.
#73: Giant Ice Meteors Fall From Clear Skies
20-pound chunks of ice falling on a sunny day? It's no urban myth.
#75: Chilies' Fire Is Self-Defense Against a Surprising Foe
Capsaicin keeps fungus from chomping on pepper plants but does nothing to dissuade hungry bugs.
#76: Europe’s Oldest Hominid Makes Its Debut
Archaeologists in Spain uncover the remains of a 1.2-million-year-old human.#77: X-Rays Reveal Ship-Wreckage to Be 2,000-Year-Old Astronomy Computer
The Antikythera Mechanism tracked heavenly movements like clockwork.
#79: The Ancient Rat as Big as a Bull
This giant rodent weighed as much as a compact car.
#80: Invented: Self-Healing Rubber Made From Vegetable Oil and Pee Ingredient
Hydrogen bonds let ripped material re-form.
Bacteria Can Control the Weather
The tiny organisms may play a big role in causing precipitation.
#90: The Platypus Genome Is a Mash-Up of Reptiles, Birds, and Mammals
One animal, three completely different ancestors.
#94: Seaweed Creates Its Own Sunscreen
The soggy brown kelp protects itself with iodides.
#95: Organic Matter Found in Saturn's Mystery Moon
Icy Jets from the planet's sixth-largest moon contain primitive components of life.

Jive And ABBA

I've been thinking for years that ABBA's "So Long" would make the perfect jive tune, but "Waterloo" will do, for now....

Sunday, January 11, 2009

PVC Pipe Paranoia

This afternoon, as I dumped a wheelbarrow full of fallen leaves from my backyard into a big pile in the street for city pickup tomorrow, I noticed, in the distance, that my neighbor seemed to be flooding his yard with water. The water was spilling into the street and down the storm drain. "Wasteful," I thought, "particularly during a drought." I returned the wheelbarrow to the back yard, to rake up yet more leaves.

I thought I should first look for something in my basement, however, so I opened up the basement door, and heard - flowing water. Towards the front of the basement, a large pipe had severed and a vast flood of water was overwhelming the area. Panicked, it took me several minutes react sensibly. I called Joe the Plumber for help, and located a suitable water shutoff valve. Suddenly, I realized that the reason my neighbor's yard was full of water was that, having swamped my own yard with the stuff, there was nowhere else for the water to go. I fretfully worried when Joe would arrive.

It's unclear why the coupling on the PVC pipe severed. That particular basement wall had been replaced by Joe The Plumber in late 2007. When Joe arrived and took stock of the situation, he pointed out that the light gray PVC glue on the severed pipe coupling did not point to him as the culprit (his trademark is an electric blue color). Maybe so, but if the hole in the wall cut for the pipe was too tight, it is possible that the settling of the house, with time, had made the wall place too much pressure on the pipe, leading to the failure of the coupling (with Joe as the ultimate culprit). Alternatively, with the cold temperatures we've been having lately, maybe there had been some ice activity there, leading to PVC coupling failure.

In any event, it could have been much worse. The flood had gone unnoticed probably only for half an hour. At least I was home, and not in New Zealand (otherwise, with E. at the helm, the flood could have gone on for days). The flood occurred in a part of the basement where previous flooding had led me to install a sump, with pump, three years ago. So, the damage seemed to be limited.

Still, I fear for the future of my pipes.....
From The USA Phrasebook: The Difference Between Northern And Southern California

More interesting reading:
A single word neatly demarcates North from South: 'hella', an intensifier which means very or really, as in 'she's hella cool'. Southern Californians know the term, which easily identifies someone from the Bay Area, but never use it. (A variant is 'hecka', but avoid it if possible.) 'Hella's' East Coast correlate is Boston's 'wicked' which has spread to some degree throughout New England (Mainers use it). In Boston you can say something is wicked, period; in Berkeley or Moraga or surrounding areas of the Bay Area, the word cannot stand alone.

Meanwhile people from SoCal convey their general disdain for the North by commonly referring to the area as NoCal instead of NorCal. 'Grippa' is a sometimes-heard SoCal term meant to deride the NorCal 'hella'. It is used in the same way as hella, but in a condescending or sarcastic manner: 'Being from NoCal is grippa cool' - not.
Midtown Players Improv Performance

Midtown Players presents:

An Improv Show

Directed by Carrie Bray

A Loaves and Fishes Charity Event
With Musical Guests "The Konnektion "

January 16th & 17th at 7 p.m.

Geery Theatre
2130 L Street
Sacramento, CA 95816
(L Street & 22nd Avenue)

$10 minimum donation
For more information:
RSP 2009 Season Preview Show--Matchmaker, Matchmaker

Oh, this is cute! At the time, I was so caught up in my forthcoming New Zealand trip I hadn't paid attention....
Hey, B-Girl Emiko Will Be Here Next Week!

B-Girl Emiko will teach, along with Daniel Kwan (Silky) and Kurt Horiuchi (Kurt The Hurt), a Hip Hop and Funk Open Styles Workshop, at Step One Dance and Fitness, 19th & T Street, Sacramento, from 4 p.m. - 7:30 p.m., on Saturday, January 17th (call Vince for details at 916-616-1798).
Lawn Anemia

As the tiny hummingbird perched in the tree above my head, and sang its tiny alien song of love and loss, I carefully poured an evil-black liquid into a large bucket and diluted it with water. Just as I picked it up to pour into the decorative planter, the spooky next-door-neighbor lady materialized behind my shoulder and whispered in her alien tobacco rasp: "What are you doing? What is that stuff?"

Startled, I put the bucket down and explained: "This is an iron supplement. The plants to the right of the front door seem to have yellowed and look like they are suffering. I suspect chlorosis. The iron supplement should help. On the other hand, the plants to the left look fine."

She nodded with her lips pursed thoughtfully and said "I noticed the plants to the right seemed to be having some trouble."

I offered her some evil-black liquid, but I think she is going to wait a few weeks first to see if I inadvertently annihilated half my household foliage....