Sunday, July 05, 2015

Crying Wolf

We know well the story of the "Boy Who Cried Wolf". One wonders whether the FBI is doing the same thing. Over the past fourteen years we have been warned over forty times of a terrorist attack that an attack is imminent. But none of the warnings has seen the light of reality.

A week ago Michael Morrell, former Deputy Director of the CIA, told us that there have been fifty ISIS arrests so far this year. However, when you look at these arrests, no members of ISIS were arrested; the arrestees were members of the FBI, and their 'informants', acting as such.

Studies have concluded that you’re much more likely to be killed by:
Brain-Eating Parasites, Texting While Driving, Toddlers, Lightning, Falling Out of Bed, Alcoholism, Food Poisoning, Choking On Food, a Financial Crash, Obesity, Medical Errors or “Autoerotic Asphyxiation” than by Terrorists.

Friday, July 03, 2015

Solar Impulse lands in Hawaii

And he's only 15!

How many Catholics are there in Norway

Norway is the only European country where subsidies granted to the church are dependent on its membership numbers. The numbers are made up of registered Catholics. The Church does the registration. It admits that it used improper methods to calculate the number registered. For example, it registered some church employees as Catholic people with Polish names found in the phone book. Norway may charge the leading bishop with a crime. The country is also seeking the return of approximately $6.3 million.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

The government is asleep once more

The Center for Public Integrity is publishing a series of articles on work-related disease in America. Here is a summary of their initial findings: 
  • America’s system for preventing worker illnesses and deaths from chemicals, fumes and dust is so broken that OSHA warns companies not to rely on its legal exposure limits to protect employees.
  • One example of the U.S. government’s failure to properly regulate toxic substances in American workplaces: The effort to tighten rules for lung-damaging silica is 40 years old and still hasn’t crossed the finish line.
  • U.S. workers face high cancer risks if exposed over their careers to certain chemicals at the legal limit, according to analyses by OSHA and a separate analysis by the Center for Public Integrity and a former OSHA official.
  • The vast majority of the tens of thousands of chemicals made or used in the U.S., including some very common and toxic substances, have no workplace exposure limits.
  • Even though OSHA’s workforce exposure limits are too loose, companies don’t always comply with them. OSHA samples testing positive for lead, for instance, frequently topped legal levels.
By and large it is not the fault of the companies. They are complying with the rules. The problem is that the vast majority of tens of thousands of chemicals used in workplaces fall under no rules at all.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Ho Hum

The F-35 keeps coming up short. Now, we find out that it would probably lose an air battle to the F-16 which it is meant to replace. The turning rate of the F-35 was simply too slow to catch up with the nimbler F-16. Consequently, the F-35 also was incapable of adequately maneuvering out of the way of an F-16 attack.

Life under ISIS

Der Spiegel has a devastating article on what it is to ive in a city controlled by ISIS. Here are excerpts:
  • Smoking is prohibited. Drinking alcohol is prohibited. Wearing hair gel is prohibited. Portraits on T-shirts and other articles of clothing are prohibited, whether they are of the Prophet Mohammed, Kurt Cobain or Donald Duck. Men are not allowed to be clean-shaven, while women are required to wear the niqab, the black face veil that covers everything but the eyes. Now secular music is also prohibited. Being in favor of democracy and free elections is prohibited. Treating Shiites as orthodox Muslims and Yazidis as human beings is prohibited. The fewer Shiites and Yazidis that exist, the better it is for the world of the Islamic State. The same applies to Christians and Jews, who must either convert or pay protection money. Anyone who refuses to comply is killed. It is a civic duty to advocate multiple genocide in the new Islamic State, which aims to be a country of Sunni Muslims.
  • Executions in Mosul happen suddenly on public squares, in parks and in the streets. The routine manner in which they are performed is calculated, an expression of the contempt the Islamic State has for political enemies and religious sinners. In fact, executions conducted by IS are not meant to be a spectacle but rather a daily performance, something entirely banal, like a car accident during morning rush hour.
  • A document from Aleppo Province in Syria lists crimes and the corresponding punishments that will apply in the future. Blasphemy: death. Blaspheming against the Prophet Mohammed: death, even if the offender repents. Blaspheming against Islam: death. Homosexuality: Death, for both men. Stealing: amputation of one hand. Drinking alcohol: 80 lashes. Slander: 80 lashes. Spying in the service of infidels: death. Renunciation of Islam: death. Robbery: If robbery and murder are committed, death by crucifixion. If only robbery is committed, amputation of the right hand and the left foot.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Welcome to Yellowstone

Reality speaks up

Courtesy of McClatchy

Experimenting in the air

Airlines are trying to reduce their carbon emissions. While Solar Impulse is truly experimental and not allied with the airlines, it does represent a major attempt to make the world cleaner. Now, we learn that United Airlines will be using biofuels, fuel created from farm waste and oils derived from animal fats. It will be making a $30 million investment in one of the largest producers of aviation biofuels, Fulcrum BioEnergy.

Fulcrum turns municipal waste — household trash — into sustainable aviation fuel that can be blended directly with traditional jet fuels. The company claims its technology can cut an airline’s carbon emissions by 80 percent compared with traditional jet fuel.

United is not alone in going down this road. Other airlines are also experimenting with biofuels. 

Monday, June 29, 2015

Time leaps

Addicted to War

William Astore is a retired Lieutenant Colonel who writes for TomDispatch. His latest article is entitled "America's Got War". It addresses a fundamental problem with this country. Here are some excerpts:
War on Drugs. War on Poverty. War in Afghanistan. War in Iraq. War on terror. The biggest mistake in American policy, foreign and domestic, is looking at everything as war. When a war mentality takes over, it chooses the weapons and tactics for you. It limits the terms of debate before you even begin. It answers questions before they’re even asked.
When you define something as war, it dictates the use of the military (or militarized police forces, prisons, and other forms of coercion) as the primary instruments of policy. Violence becomes the means of decision, total victory the goal. Anyone who suggests otherwise is labeled a dreamer, an appeaser, or even a traitor.

War, in short, is the great simplifier -- and it may even work when you’re fighting existential military threats (as in World War II). But it doesn’t work when you define every problem as an existential one and then make war on complex societal problems (crime, poverty, drugs) or ideas and religious beliefs (radical Islam).
Recent American leaders have something in common with their extremist Islamic counterparts: all of them define everything, implicitly or explicitly, as a jihad, a crusade, a holy war. But the violent methods used in pursuit of various jihads, whether Islamic or secular, simply serve to perpetuate and often aggravate the struggle.

Think of America’s numerous so-called wars and consider if there’s been any measurable progress made in any of them. Lyndon Johnson declared a “war on poverty” in 1964. Fifty-one years later, there are still startling numbers of desperately poor people and, in this century, the gap between the poorest many and richest few has widened to a chasm. (Since the days of President Ronald Reagan, in fact, one might speak of a war on the poor, not poverty.) Drugs? Forty-four years after President Richard Nixon proclaimed the war on drugs, there are still millions in jail, billions being spent, and drugs galore on the streets of American cities. Terror? Thirteen years and counting after that “war” was launched, terror groups, minor in numbers and reach in 2001, have proliferated wildly and there is now something like a “caliphate” -- once an Osama bin Laden fantasy -- in the Middle East: ISIS in power in parts of Iraq and Syria, al-Qaeda on the rise in Yemen, Libya destabilized and divvied up among ever more extreme outfits, innocents still dying in U.S. drone strikes. Afghanistan? The opium trade has rebounded big time, the Taliban is resurgent, and the region is being destabilized. Iraq? A cauldron of ethnic and religious rivalries and hatreds, with more U.S. weaponry on the way to fuel the killing, in a country that functionally no longer exists. The only certainty in most of these American “wars” is their violent continuation, even when their original missions lie in tatters.
Historically, when a nation declares war, it does so to mobilize national will, as the U.S. clearly did in World War II. Accompanying our wars of recent decades, however, has been an urge not to mobilize the people, but demobilize them -- even as the "experts" are empowered to fight and taxpayer funds pour into the national security state and the military-industrial complex to keep the conflicts going.

What America needs right now is a 12-step program to break the urge to feed further our national addiction to war. The starting point for Washington -- and Americans more generally -- would obviously have to be taking that first step and confessing that we have a problem we alone can’t solve. "Hi, I’m Uncle Sam and I’m a war-oholic. Yes, I’m addicted to war. I know it’s destructive to myself and others. But I can’t stop -- not without your help."
True change often begins with confession. With humility. With an admission that not everything is within one’s control, no matter how violently one rages; indeed, that violent rage only aggravates the problem. America needs to make such a confession. Only then can we begin to wean ourselves off war.

Views from space

Courtesy of The Atlantic

Solar Impulse

Well, it's had its first major delay. It had planned to fly from China to Hawaii on its next leg, but had to stop in Japan. The Solar Impulse is powered only by the sun. Here is its voyage around the world thus far.

The pilot sits in a cockpit that is about the same size as a telephone booth. If the plane doesn't get enough sun during the day, he will have to bail. He can take naps for only twenty minutes and not too many of them.

The President Sings

Sunday, June 28, 2015

SpaceX problem

Oil and Gas Companies Should Pay U.S. More as they move into the 21st Century

At least as far as what they pay the government to drill on our land. The companies pay the feds a royalty of 12.5%. That's the same rate they paid in 1920, ninety-five years ago. The fed rate is one of the lowest in the world. The states do better, some of them get double that, 25%. 

But the royalty is not the only money the fed gets from these companies. There is something called a bond. When an oil and gas company successfully bids on a lease, it must post a bond—or insurance—to guarantee that it will comply with the terms of the lease, including cleanup costs for unseen disasters during production and after the well stops producing. The bonding requirements on federal land have not been updated in more than 50 years. Currently, under regulations set in 1951, a company can secure a nationwide bond for all its oil and gas wells on public lands for only $150,000.  This works out to less than $100 per well. Yet, reclaiming a well can cost anywhere between $2,000 and $30,000.

Then, there are the bonus bids, which grant the company the right to drill on the leased land for a period of 10 years. This costs the companies $2 per acre. Finally, companies pay an annual rental fee to the federal government. Current rental rates are set at $1.50 per acre for the first five years of a lease, and $2 per acre thereafter.

Most estimates conclude that, as a result of these antiquated regulations, we are forgoing more than $730 million in revenue every year. 

Give me your tired, your poor..

...Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. That's what Emma Lazarus wrote a century or so ago. While she was writing about the U.S., it applies to all countries for the world has a refugee crisis unlike any preceding one. According to the UN, nearly 60 million people are now classified as refugees, more than at any time since such records have been kept. The number of refugees increases by 45,000 each day. And more than half are under the age of 18.

It's war and the collapse of nations that are the primary causes of the diaspora, although many of these refugees are  internally displaced. If refugees formed a country, it would be the 24th most populous in the world, between South Africa and Italy.

We have not done much to alleviate the problem. We have taken in 700 of the
4 million Syrian refugees. But other developed countries have done little, as well. The developing world hosts 9 out of 10 refugees. The top host countries, in terms of the number of refugees per capita, are Lebanon, Jordan, Nauru, Chad, Djibouti, South Sudan, Turkey, and Mauritania. Only when you get to the ninth place on the list does a truly rich country appear: Sweden.