Offshore wind farms provide feeding opportunities for seals – and more

New research has revealed offshore wind turbines may act as artificial reefs and seals have been deliberately seeking out the structures whilst hunting for prey.

Dr Deborah Russell carried out research with her team from the University of St Andrews where they gathered data from GPS devices attached to seals in the North Sea. The findings were published in the journal Current Biology.

The movements of Harbour and Grey seals were tracked and the researchers found a proportion of the seals continued to return to offshore wind structures. This suggested seals forage around wind farms and underwater pipelines along British and Dutch coasts.

Russell said, “I was shocked when I first saw the stunning grid pattern of a seal track around Sheringham Shoal – an offshore wind farm in Norfolk.

“You could see that the seal appeared to travel in straight lines between turbines, as if he was checking them out for potential prey and then stopping to forage at certain ones.”

She added, “The behaviour observed could have implications for both offshore wind farm developments and the decommissioning of oil and gas infrastructure.”

A study published in the journal of Applied Ecology in May suggested that renewable energy projects could help certain marine species settle in new areas and thrive.

The first thing I learned about offshore structures when I started work down along the Gulf of Mexico was that the best fishing spots in the Gulf were underneath well producing platforms. Between structure and shade which offered temperature gradients, you always had better luck catching your limit next to an oil platform.

The shade was nice, too.

Thanks, Mike

Japan’s new secrecy law focuses on journalists and free speech

“Abe colour” is an expression occasionally used in Japan’s domestic media. It means those government policies that reflect Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s personal views, and the term relates to his hawkish security policies. Critics claim the secrecy bill passed into law in December 2013 is said to be one such example of “Abe colour”, and it will go into effect this December.

Proper safeguards and oversight bodies were supposed to be included, but critics say that this secrecy law is still far from adequate.

One of the strongest critics of the new law comes from the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, which has asked the government to completely reconsider the law. Yoichi Eto, its representative, told Al Jazeera that “this law simply provides new powers to the government officials. It says that they are authorised to do this or that. But it has nothing to say at all about what officials must not do…

The new Japanese secrecy law also specifically targets journalists. While there is language in the text that supposedly guarantees “normal” journalistic practice, it also says that reporters and others who utilise “inappropriate means” to learn a special secret may be subject to prosecution and up to five years in prison.

What exactly constitutes “inappropriate means” to gather the news? The law is silent on this point, suggesting once again that the government and police will decide for themselves what the law mandates, once they are faced with a specific case.

Japan’s freelance investigative journalists are at particular risk, as the government may not even recognise their status as being part of a legitimate news media…

Yu Terasawa, recently cited by Reporters Without Borders as one of the world’s “100 Information Heroes” – the only person in Japan given such an honor – sees the main purpose of the law as preventing the media from revealing embarrassing information to the public. “The present government has an unusually large number of things that it wants to hide,” Terasawa said.

“This includes issues surrounding the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant as well as, looking forward, possible conflicts with China, Russia, or North Korea…”

Even in the absence of the new secrecy law, the Japanese government’s actual operations are often guarded from public view. Almost every major study of Japan’s mainstream media notes its tendency to shy away from investigative political reporting and to “reveal” to the Japanese public that information simply handed to them by the public relations officials of the various ministries and other government agencies.

As Morton Halperin, former Director of Policy Planning at the US State Department, observed, “It is hard to imagine a country that less needs a secrecy law than Japan.”

I think it’s just another brick in the wall of militarism put in place by the stonemason in the White House. Obama works at what he thinks is his main task – propping up imperial America around the globe. He thinks Japan is a fitting junior partner. After all – they already have experience as part of an Axis.

Israelis shell Gaza hospitals


In the Al-Aqsa HospitalMohammed Abed/AFP-Getty Images

Israeli tanks have shelled a hospital in the central Gaza Strip, killing at least five people and wounding at least another 50.

Al Jazeera’s Stephanie Dekker, reporting from Gaza, said according to early reports the third floor of the al-Aqsa Hospital in Deir al-Balah had been hit by at least three tank shells on Monday…

Al-Aqsa Hospital is the third to be hit by Israeli tank fire since Israel launched its ground offensive in Gaza four days ago.

Al Jazeera’s Dekker said the scene of the hospital shelling was an area “where a lot of people had been fleeing to”…”There’s extremely heavy shelling going on in that neighbourhood. This is an area you’d think would be relatively safe,” she said…

A distressed doctor at the scene of the attack told Al Jazeera: “We cannot do anything here for our patients, all the patients, all the injured in the emergency department.”

There were no known indications that the hospital was used by armed factions of Hamas…

That is the excuse the Israeli military always uses for killing civilians in any facility normally protected by international protocols.

Continue reading

Oh no! A global chocolate shortage

Surging consumption of chocolate in Asia is pushing cocoa-bean prices to the highest level in three years as buyers including Barry Callebaut AG expand their search for more supply.

While demand in the region ranked as the world’s lowest per capita in 2013, the market will grow at almost twice the global rate over the next four years, according to researcher Euromonitor International Ltd. Barry Callebaut, based in Zurich and the world’s largest producer of bulk chocolate, has doubled capacity in Asia since 2009 as Cargill Inc. and Archer-Daniels-Midland Co. added bean-processing plants.

Growth in Asian demand has contributed to a rally in cocoa, the key ingredient for chocolate, which climbed to the highest level since August 2011 in New York on July 3. Rising consumption in emerging markets including China and India may spur shortages that extend into the next decade, with the global bean deficit seen reaching 1 million metric tons by 2020, according to Hardman & Co., a London-based research firm.

“In the longer term, the scarcity of quality cocoa is a serious concern for our entire industry,” Barry Callebaut Chief Executive Officer Juergen Steinemann said by e-mail in reply to Bloomberg questions.

A serious concern for chocoholics, too!

I already checked. The climate here in high desert country is not amenable to growing cocoa trees. What will we do?

Dumb crook of the day

dumb selfie

An Illinois woman who allegedly stole a dress from a West Frankfort store was arrested after she posted a selfie of herself wearing the pilfered garment on Facebook.

Danielle Saxton allegedly swiped a leopard-print dress from Mortie’s Boutique and then posted four photos of herself wearing the ill-gotten garb just hours later. Saxton even made one of the snaps her profile picture.

People who had also seen the store post about the theft were able to connect the dots and alert police. “Not two hours and our stolen dress has shown up on Facebook,” Mortie’s posted. “Gotta love it.”

“We just had a description and a direction of travel, but when the social media aspect played into it, we were able to identify who it was. And by looking at the background of the photograph we were able to pinpoint where she was at,” said Police Chief Shawn Talluto.

When police arrived to arrest the 27-year-old suspect, she was holding the dress and other stolen clothes.

The store previously used its surveillance cameras and social media to catch three other…shoplifters.

Same as it ever was. You don’t set off on a day’s worth of stealing because you’re extra bright.

Operator of failing nuclear dump gets $1.9 million bonus


Visitors to Carlsbad, New Mexico, in proper summer attire

The contractor that operates the federal government’s underground nuclear waste dump in southeastern New Mexico received a $1.9 million bonus just five days after an underground truck fire closed the facility.

The Albuquerque Journal reported Sunday that the U.S. Department of Energy awarded Nuclear Waste Partnership the funds based on an “excellent” job performance in maintaining the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad.

Some observers say last February’s fire and the radiation leak that followed nine days later show the contractor failed at its job.

Initial probes by federal regulators into both incidents identified a host of management and safety shortcomings.

The Department of Energy says it is not considering revising or terminating its contract with Nuclear Waste Partnership.

The company has a contract to operate the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant through 2017.

Consistency is the leading mental illness in our government. Time in office, time on the job is considered praiseworthy and a sign of qualification by the Senators and Congress-critters that dole out taxpayer dollars like so many blue ribbons at a hog-calling contest. Quality of work is meaningless.

The Waste Isolation Pilot Project was run badly enough that the chief executive at the site was fired as a result of the equipment fire and, separately, the radiation leak.

There are nations with an honorable civil service, competent, dedicated bureaucrats. The United States just doesn’t happen to be one of them.

Thanks, Mike

Snowden addresses HOPE Conference


Barton Gellman/Getty Images/AP

Edward Snowden, the former U.S. spy agency contractor who leaked details of major U.S. surveillance programs, called on supporters at a hacking conference to spur development of easy-to-use technologies to subvert government surveillance programs around the globe.

Snowden, who addressed conference attendees on Saturday via video link from Moscow, said he intends to devote much of his time to promoting such technologies, including ones that allow people to communicate anonymously and encrypt their messages…

At the HOPE hacking conference, several talks detailed approaches for thwarting government surveillance, including a system known as SecureDrop that is designed to allow people to anonymously leak documents to journalists.

Attorneys with the Electronic Frontier Foundation answered questions about pending litigation with the NSA, including efforts to stop collection of phone records that were disclosed through Snowden’s leaks.

Snowden is seen as a hero by a large segment of the community of hackers attending the HOPE conference [and the nation and the world], which includes computer experts, anti-surveillance activists, artists and other types of hackers.

HOPE in this case stands for Hackers On Planet Earth.

And if you think every kind of government snoop wasn’t doing their best to photogrqph, record and trace everyone at the conference – you’re still living in cloud cuckoo-land — watching Father Knows Best on TV.