Monday, June 29, 2009

"The worst scientific scandal in history"

Steve Fielding recently asked the Obama administration to reassure him on the science of man-made global warming. When the administration proved unhelpful, Mr. Fielding decided to vote against climate-change legislation.

If you haven't heard of this politician, it's because he's a member of the Australian Senate. As the U.S. House of Representatives prepares to pass a climate-change bill, the Australian Parliament is preparing to kill its own country's carbon-emissions scheme. Why? A growing number of Australian politicians, scientists and citizens once again doubt the science of human-caused global warming.

Among the many reasons President Barack Obama and the Democratic majority are so intent on quickly jamming a cap-and-trade system through Congress is because the global warming tide is again shifting. It turns out Al Gore and the United Nations (with an assist from the media), did a little too vociferous a job smearing anyone who disagreed with them as "deniers." The backlash has brought the scientific debate roaring back to life in Australia, Europe, Japan and even, if less reported, the U.S.

The number of skeptics, far from shrinking, is swelling. Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe now counts more than 700 scientists who disagree with the U.N. -- 13 times the number who authored the U.N.'s 2007 climate summary for policymakers.

Full story here


Quote du jour

From The Straight Dope - 6/26/2009

Dear Cecil:

In his book Collapse, Jared Diamond claims, "When NASA wanted to find some place on Earth resembling the surface of the Moon, so that our astronauts preparing for the first moon landing could practice in an environment similar to what they would encounter, NASA picked a formerly green area of Iceland that is now utterly barren." This struck me as wrong. Growing up, I heard the slag fields around Sudbury, Ontario, helped get the lunar astronauts accustomed to the moon's desolation. I've heard similar things about islands in the Canadian arctic and deserts in the American southwest. I can't see NASA hauling astronauts around the world just to look at places without trees. I wonder if the real explanation is that the astronauts had to take geology lessons. True? Cameron Barr, Edmonton

Cecil replies:

You nailed it, friend. Most astronaut field trips were about geology, not getting used to a bleak hell unfit for life. For that they could have stayed in Houston...

Thursday, June 18, 2009

A defiant Marine

Leading the fight is Gunnery Sgt Michael Burghardt, known as 'Iron Mike' or just 'Gunny'. He is on his third tour in Iraq .. He had become a legend in the bomb disposal world after winning the Bronze Star for disabling 64 IEDs and destroying 1,548 pieces of ordnance during his second tour.

Then, on September 19, he got blown up. He had arrived at a chaotic scene after a bomb had killed four US soldiers. He chose not to wear the bulky bomb protection suit. 'You can't react to any sniper fire and you get tunnel-vision,' he explains. So, protected by just a helmet and standard-issue flak jacket, he began what bomb disposal officers term 'the longest walk', stepping gingerly into a 5 foot deep and 8 foot wide crater.
The earth shifted slightly and he saw a Senao base station with a wire leading from it. He cut the wire and used his 7 inch knife to probe the ground. 'I found a piece of red detonating cord between my legs,' he says. 'That's when I knew I was screwed.' Realizing he had been sucked into a trap, Sgt Burghardt, 35, yelled at everyone to stay back. At that moment, an insurgent, probably watching through binoculars, pressed a button on his mobile phone to detonate the secondary device below the sergeant's feet 'A chill went up the back of my neck and then the bomb exploded,' he recalls. 'As I was in the air I remember thinking, 'I don't believe they got me.' I was just ticked off they were able to do it. Then I was lying on the road, not able to feel anything from the waist down'

His colleagues cut off his trousers to see how badly he was hurt. None could believe his legs were still there 'My dad's a Vietnam vet who's paralyzed from the waist down,' says Sgt Burghardt. 'I was lying there thinking I didn't want to be in a wheelchair next to my dad and for him to see me like that.. They started to cut away my pants and I felt a real sharp pain and blood trickling down.. Then I wiggled my toes and I thought, 'Good, I'm in business.' As a stretcher was brought over, adrenaline and anger kicked in. 'I decided to walk to the helicopter. I wasn't going to let my team-mates see me being carried away on a stretcher.' He stood and gave the insurgents who had blown him up a one-fingered salute. 'I flipped them one. It was like, 'OK, I lost that round but I'll be back next week'.'

Copies of a photograph depicting his defiance, taken by Jeff Bundy for the Omaha World-Herald, adorn the walls of homes across America and that of Col John Gronski, the brigade commander in Ramadi, who has hailed the image as an exemplar of the warrior spirit.

Sgt Burghardt's injuries - burns and wounds to his legs and buttocks - kept him off duty for nearly a month and could have earned him a ticket home. But, like his father - who was awarded a Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts for being wounded in action in Vietnam - he stayed in Ramadi to engage in the battle against insurgents who are forever coming up with more ingenious ways of killing Americans.

47th Mersenne Prime found

Missed this announcement a few months back.

Where else, indeed?

Chiron gave Annabel and me each a canteen of nectar and a Ziploc bag full of ambrosia squares, to be used only in emergencies, if we were seriously hurt. It was good food, Chiron reminded us. It would cure us of almost any injury, but it was lethal to mortals.

"So let me get this straight," I said. "I'm supposed to go to the Underworld and confront the Lord of the Dead."

"Check", Chiron said.

"Find Zeus's lightning bolt, the most powerful weapon in the universe."


"And get it back to Olympus before the summer solstice, in ten days."

"That's about right."

"So where do we go? The oracle just said to go west."

"The entrance to the Underworld is always in the west. It moves from age to age, just like Olympus. Right now, of course, it's in America."


Chiron look surprised. "I thought that would be obvious enough. The entrance to the Underworld is in Los Angeles."

The Lightning Thief
Rick Riordan
Miramax Books

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Guantanamo Prisoners Get Laptops, Computer Lab

U.S. taxpayers are buying laptops and computer lessons for terrorism suspects jailed at Guantanamo Bay prison so that they can be reintroduced into a modern society when the president fulfills his campaign promise of releasing them.

A south Florida newspaper reports that the U.S. military is actually setting up a sophisticated computer lab for the detainees—who already get phones and fast-food takeout—and providing them with high-tech laptop computers. The terrorism suspects will be taught how to send electronic mail and will receive language and basic user skills training to help them find jobs when they get released.

Compliments of Uncle Sam, the costly program is part of the Obama Administration’s effort to persuade Americans and European allies that some detainees don’t represent a threat and can therefore resettle in their backyard. The effort seems to ignore several Pentagon reports revealing increases in the number of detainees who rejoined terrorist missions after being released.

Nearly half of the 255 suspected terrorists imprisoned are Yemenis and defense officials say scores should never be released because they pose a serious threat the United States.

Some will undoubtedly be repatriated under Obama’s new plan, which means they will go through a rehabilitation program similar to the Saudi rehab that the former detainee turned Al Qaeda leader (Said Ali al-Shihri) went through a few years ago. He ended up organizing a deadly bombing of the United States Embassy in Yemen’s capital and separate car bombings outside the American Embassy that killed more than a dozen people.

Under Obama’s new plan to introduce detainees to modern society, that terrorist probably would have received a U.S. taxpayer-financed laptop and computer skill classes.

Full story here.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Who drove the Chevy off the levee?

How on earth did this happen?

General Motors, the 100-year-old car company that once employed more than 500,000 workers and had a 50 percent market share, just crumbled into bankruptcy. The government now runs it.

Chrysler, 30 years ago, teetered on the brink of bankruptcy. If it had been allowed to collapse, the remaining Big Two would likely have purchased much of Chrysler's plants and equipment and hired at least some of its workers. Instead, Congress provided financial aid to "rescue" the company. By not letting Chrysler fail, two major things occurred. First, a feeble company remained alive, only to limp from financial crisis to financial crisis for the next several decades. Second, it sent a message not only to Detroit but also to the rest of America: Expect a taxpayer bailout if the government deems a business "too big to fail."

After World War II, manufacturers in Japan sought out the advice of W. Edwards Deming, an American quality-control expert. American businesses ignored Deming's theories on continual improvement, but Japanese companies lingered on his every word.
Today outstanding Japanese companies receive the Deming Application Prize for excellence in total quality management.

Back in Michigan in the '70s, I read article after article about how the Big Three should/could/would respond to the foreign invasion. But in practice, I saw excuses and pleas for protectionism.

"Why doesn't General Motors," I recall asking my roommate, "offer a boatload of money, steal Toyota's No. 2 executive and put him in charge?" My roommate laughed, "Because he doesn't speak English and wouldn't be able to understand the American market." I said, "And General Motors does?"

Today I know that my idea of stealing a Toyota exec was bad. GM should have picked up the phone, asked the government to buy a majority share in the company, handed the office keys to the President of the United States, and said, "Here. You run it."

Full story here

Larry Elder

An Easily Understandable Explanation of Derivative Markets

Heidi is the proprietor of a bar in Detroit. She realizes that virtually all of her customers are unemployed alcoholics and, as such, can no longer afford to patronize her bar. To solve this problem, she comes up with new marketing plan that allows her customers to drink now, but pay later.

She keeps track of the drinks consumed on a ledger (thereby granting the customers loans).

Word gets around about Heidi's "drink now, pay later" marketing strategy and, as a result, increasing numbers of customers flood into Heidi's bar. Soon she has the largest sales volume for any bar in Detroit.

By providing her customers' freedom from immediate payment demands, Heidi gets no resistance when, at regular intervals, she substantially increases her prices for wine and beer, the most consumed beverages. Consequently, Heidi's gross sales volume increases massively.

A young and dynamic vice-president at the local bank recognizes that these customer debts constitute valuable future assets and increases Heidi's borrowing limit. He sees no reason for any undue concern, since he has the debts of the unemployed alcoholics as collateral.

At the bank's corporate headquarters, expert traders transform these customer loans into DRINKBONDS, ALKIBONDS and PUKEBONDS. These securities are then bundled and traded on international security markets. Naive investors don't really understand that the securities being sold to them as AAA secured bonds are really the debts of unemployed alcoholics.

Nevertheless, the bond prices continuously climb, and the securities soon become the hottest-selling items for some of the nation's leading brokerage houses.

One day, even though the bond prices are still climbing, a risk manager at the original local bank decides that the time has come to demand payment on the debts incurred by the drinkers at Heidi's bar. He so informs Heidi.

Heidi then demands payment from her alcoholic patrons, but being unemployed alcoholics they cannot pay back their drinking debts. Since, Heidi cannot fulfill her loan obligations she is forced into bankruptcy. The bar closes and the eleven employees lose their jobs.

Overnight, DRINKBONDS, ALKIBONDS and PUKEBONDS drop in price by 90%. The collapsed bond asset value destroys the banks liquidity and prevents it from issuing new loans, thus freezing credit and economic activity in the community.

The suppliers of Heidi's bar had granted her generous payment extensions and had invested their firms' pension funds in the various BOND securities. They find they are now faced with having to write off her bad debt and with losing over 90% of the presumed value of the bonds. Her wine supplier also claims bankruptcy, closing the doors on a family business that had endured for three generations, her beer supplier is taken over by a competitor, who immediately closes the local plant and lays off 150 workers.

Fortunately though, the bank, the brokerage houses and their respective executives are saved and bailed out by a multi-billion dollar no-strings attached cash infusion from the Government. The funds required for this bailout are obtained by new taxes levied on employed, middle-class, non-drinkers.

Now, do you understand?