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Archive for November 18th, 2008

Missing radioactivity in ice cores bodes ill for part of Asia

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When Ohio State glaciologists failed to find the expected radioactive signals in the latest core they drilled from a Himalayan ice field, they knew it meant trouble for their research.

But those missing markers of radiation, remnants from atomic bomb tests a half-century ago, foretell much greater threat to the half-billion or more people living downstream of that vast mountain range.

It may mean that future water supplies could fall far short of what’s needed to keep that population alive…

The absence of radioactive signals in the top portion of these cores is a critical problem for determining the age of the ice in the cores. The signals, remnants of the 1962-63 Soviet Arctic nuclear blasts and the 1952-58 nuclear tests in the South Pacific, provide well-dated benchmarks to calibrate the core time scales.

“We rely on these time markers to date the upper part of the ice cores and without them, extracting the climate history they preserve becomes more challenging,” Thompson said.

“We were able to get a date of approximately 1944 A.D.,” Kehrwald said, “and that, coupled with the other missing signals, means that no new ice has accumulated on the surface of the glacier since 1944,” nearly a decade before the atomic tests…

“When you think about the millions of people over there who depend on the water locked in that ice, if they don’t have it available in the future, that will be a serious problem,” he said.

Does this sink in? Does this mean anything to you?

Or are you one of those smirking armchair climatologists who doesn’t understand the difference between weather and climate but “knows” none of this was human-caused and, therefore, why worry about the poor buggers downstream?

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Written by Ed Campbell

November 18, 2008 at 10:00 pm

Posted in Earth, Science

Tagged with , , , ,

Pentagon blows $600 million on incompetent contractors

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The Pentagon spent about $600 million on more than 1,200 Iraq reconstruction contracts that were eventually canceled, nearly half of them for mismanagement or shoddy construction, government investigators say.

The Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) found that 42% of canceled contracts were terminated because the contractor either failed to deliver or performed poorly.

The rest were canceled for the “convenience of the government,” usually for security problems, lack of funding or changing requirements, an inspector general report says.

The report…recommends better screening of contractors.

Now, there’s a startling conclusion. Cripes, I wouldn’t let these clowns manage the construction of a doghouse.

Written by Ed Campbell

November 18, 2008 at 6:00 pm

TSA ‘behavior’ screening is a sham

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Daylife/Getty Images

Fewer than 1% of airline passengers singled out at airports for suspicious behavior are arrested, Transportation Security Administration figures show, raising complaints that too many innocent people are stopped.

A TSA program launched in early 2006 that looks for terrorists using a controversial surveillance method has led to more than 160,000 people in airports receiving scrutiny, such as a pat-down search or a brief interview. That has resulted in 1,266 arrests, often on charges of carrying drugs or fake IDs.

In other words, the result of harassing passengers is a number of arrests that sounds to me like something less than what you’d find at a picnic grove on the average Saturday afternoon.

The TSA program trains screeners to become “behavior detection officers” who patrol terminals and checkpoints looking for travelers who act oddly or appear to answer questions suspiciously.

“That’s an awful lot of people being pulled aside and inconvenienced,” said Carnegie Mellon scientist Stephen Fienberg, who studied the TSA program and other counterterrorism efforts. “I think it’s a sham. We have no evidence it works.”

The TSA has not publicly said if it has caught a terrorist through the program.

What specious crap! Of course, the TSA will say the program is “effective” even as it’s shown to be useless.

Written by Ed Campbell

November 18, 2008 at 4:00 pm

Posted in Culture, Politics

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Sheikh ‘betrayed’ by Michael Jackson

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Michael Jackson’s attorney said Tuesday that the pop star might be too sick to travel to London to testify in a lawsuit claiming he owes an Arab sheikh $7 million.

“It would be unwise for him to travel, given what’s he’s got now,” lawyer Robert Englehart said, declining to elaborate “for the obvious reasons.”

It’s not the first time a sick note has been presented by Mr Jackson,” the shoeikh’s lawyer, Bankim Thanki said, also without elaborating…

Sheikh Abdulla bin Hamad Al Khalifa, the second son of the king of Bahrain, claims that Jackson reneged on a contract for an album, a candid autobiography and a stage play, after accepting millions from the sheikh.

Thanki said his client paid millions of dollars to shore up Jackson’s shaky finances and subsidize his lifestyle in the Gulf state. This support, he argued, was an advance on the proposed album and autobiography.

There is hardly a better example of a musical talent distracted to self-destruction with idle toys, ignorance and spooky, demented beliefs.

Written by Ed Campbell

November 18, 2008 at 2:00 pm

Weird Obama products on the way to market

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Where does Barack Obama rank in the rolling league table of global celebrity? A little above Sting, but some way below Madonna? Higher or lower than Michael Jackson?

According to canny marketeers, he’s right up at the top and there has been a scramble to trademark his name, and variations on it. Here are a few product names currently waiting for trademark approval in America:

Bearak Obama: a bear

ObamaLlama: needless to say, a llama

Broccoli Obama: frozen vegetables (?)

Obamajamas: pyjamas, differing from normal pyjamas I don’t know how

Obamaland: a company establishing itself to flog “educational publications and guides”

And a t-shirt carrying the slogan: “Who’s Yo’bama Now?”

I’d buy the t-shirt.

Written by Ed Campbell

November 18, 2008 at 12:00 pm

Posted in Business, Politics

Tagged with , , , ,

Sumitomo Rubber offering oil-free tires

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Sumitomo Rubber Industries Ltd, Japan’s second-biggest tire maker, plans to start selling in Japan tires that include no petrochemical materials by 2013, a company spokesman said on Tuesday.

The company has set a medium-term strategy to fight climate change by introducing a tire which uses as little raw material made from oil as possible and at the same time that spins more smoothly to save more fuel than a conventional tire.

In June, Sumitomo Rubber launched in Japan tires in which petrochemicals account for 3 percent of raw materials, compared with 56 percent of its ordinary tires. The remaining 97 percent consists of oil-free materials such as steel wires, vegetable oil, fibers from plant cellulose and natural rubber.

[Currently] Its price is more than 30 percent higher than that of an ordinary tire.

“How to produce the remaining 3-percent part from other natural resources but oil is now under development,” the spokesman Ryota Senshu said. The remaining additives currently made from petrochemical materials are used to protect tires from aging and for other purposes, he said.

I’d buy ‘em. I also spent enough time representing Japanese tire manufacturers to know they’ll keep that “bonus” price high as long as they can.

Let’s hope that competing brands get the smarts together to start mass production asap. This ain’t rocket science, folks.

Written by Ed Campbell

November 18, 2008 at 10:00 am

Posted in Business, Earth

Tagged with , , , ,

Newspapers heading the way of Circuit City and other dinosaurs

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In March 2007, Circuit City came up with a plan to confront softening sales and competition from online and offline retailers: fire the most talented, experienced employees.

Of course, those workers were the retail chain’s single most important point of difference from the legion of Internet retailers and general merchandisers, but in a single stroke, Philip Schoonover, the chief executive of Circuit City, wiped out that future.

For Circuit City, not so great. The “wage management initiative” erased morale, both for employees and the folks who shopped there. Sales sank after the one-time gain from the layoffs. And last week, the company sought bankruptcy protection.

So are newspapers reacting to their downturn as Circuit City did?

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Ed Campbell

November 18, 2008 at 8:00 am

Couple officially married again – virginity appeal overturned

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A French appeals court reinstated the marriage of a Muslim couple today, overturning an earlier annulment won by the groom after the bride admitted lying about her virginity.

In a controversial case that pitted France’s secular values against the traditions of its growing immigrant communities, a lower court in the northern town of Douai granted the annulment in April, saying the woman “acquiesced” to the man’s demand to end the marriage “based on a lie concerning her virginity”.

Today, the appeals court in Douai overturned the annulment, effectively ruling that the couple are married, said Xavier Labbee, the husband’s lawyer.

The couple must now seek a divorce if they want to separate.

Prosecutors argued the annulment discriminated against women and wanted it thrown out. The lower court had based its decision on an article of the French Civil Code that states that a spouse can seek an annulment if the partner has misrepresented his or her “essential qualities.”

We discussed this a bit back when the case first hit the courts. Nice to see secular decisions override crapular religious rigamarole.

Written by Ed Campbell

November 18, 2008 at 6:00 am

Posted in Politics, Religion

Tagged with , , , ,

Google Voice Search hands-on. Verdict: Awesome!

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The new voice-activated Google Mobile app for the iPhone is finally here. Whatever the reason for the delay, it was worth the wait.

As we wrote last week, the search app knows when you bring the phone to your face to speak into it.

It beeps, you talk, and it executes a Google search on what you said. (If you’re using a headset, you have to press a button. You can type in your queries, too, if you want.)

It is freakishly accurate. It’s not perfect, but it’s extremely good. Good enough to be used frequently, I’d say, although this review is based on only 15 minutes of experimentation.

To get the app, go to this link or visit the iTunes Application Store and search for “Google Mobile App.”

Sounds like yet another reason to get an iPhone – to me.

Written by Ed Campbell

November 18, 2008 at 4:00 am

Posted in Geek, Technology

Tagged with , , , ,

Son of Turkish immigrants picked as leader of German Greens

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Daylife/AP Photo by Jens Meyer

The Green party, one of Germany’s main political parties, has elected the son of Turkish immigrants to its top political post, the first time any party here has chosen a leader with an immigrant background.

The election Saturday of Cem Ozdemir, 42, born in southern Germany of parents who had come from Turkey to work as “Gastarbeiter,” or guest workers, during the 1960s, marks a major turning point not only for the opposition Greens, but also for the country as a whole.

Even though more than 2.6 million Turks live in Germany, accounting for 3 percent of the population, few have managed to make it to the higher ranks of the professions, including politics and the civil service.

But with a conservative party that had chosen Angela Merkel to run as chancellor in 2005 – a successful gambit – and now an ethnic Turk at the helm of an influential party, it appears that German society is slowly breaking with the past, when women were inconspicuous in public and immigrants’ voices were seldom heard.

Good article. Thorough – as I would expect from the IHT.

We’re sitting here discussing this as another positive step towards a world which just may turn its collective back on 2nd-class citizenship. Maybe even move towards sensible, science-based reason [well, just a little].

Kind of where a lot of the world was going until Reagan-Populism took over the United States.

Written by Ed Campbell

November 18, 2008 at 2:00 am

Posted in Politics

Tagged with , , , ,

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