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Archive for September 2010

Gates, Buffett say China charity meeting a success

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The mansion where the private banquet was held

After a night of wining and dining 50 of China’s richest people in the name of promoting philanthropy, Warren Buffett and Bill Gates told a horde of journalists on Thursday that the biggest difference between eating with Chinese tycoons and Western ones was the food.

Thus ended the two billionaires’ mission to promote charity in China, a journey that provoked weeks of breathless speculation here about whether this nation’s much-resented class of superrich was too miserly to measure up to Western philanthropic standards.

At a news conference, Mr. Buffett and Mr. Gates said the answer was an emphatic “no.”

“I was amazed last night, really, at how similar the questions and discussions and all that was to the dinners we had in the U.S.,” said Mr. Buffett, who had wisecracked about the food. “The same motivations tend to exist. The mechanism for manifesting those motivations may differ from country to country…”

On Thursday, the two men pronounced the dinner an unqualified success, saying that two-thirds of those who were invited had shown up, and that more than half of those at the dinner had offered their own ideas on how Chinese philanthropy should work…

China is widely reported to be second only to the United States in the number of dollar billionaires. Mr. Gates and Mr. Buffett said the nation was unique in that its wealthy class had arisen almost wholly in the past 30 years, so philanthropic practices that are entrenched among European and American dynasties are new here, and open to change.

What you have is a first generation of fortune,” Mr. Gates said, “and it’s natural that they’re thinking through, in this society in particular, ‘What do you do?’ ”

But Mr. Gates suggested that their philanthropic globetrotting was not yet over. “We may do an event in India,” he said.

I’ve worked on a number of homes for the nouveau riche who ended up choosing Santa Fe either as their primary residence or just a holiday home. Cripes, I worked on a “vacation cottage” that was 24,000 square feet in size.

But, even the folks who owned that last example were involved with charity from the local scale to global. As I’ve noted before, most folks I’ve worked with who made their own fortunes were not stingy. The greedy grasping types usually were trustfunders, those who inherited their wealth.

I think a fair number of folks who earned their own way remember where they come from.

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Written by Ed Campbell

September 30, 2010 at 10:00 pm

60+ charged in Zeus cybercrime roundup

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U.S. prosecutors have unveiled charges against more than 60 defendants allegedly involved in a global cybercrime scheme that used the Zeus Trojan and other Internet viruses to steal over $ 3 million dollars from U.S. bank accounts.

The scheme was engineered by unnamed hackers based in Eastern Europe who hijacked bank accounts…

The mouse and the keyboard can be far more effective than the gun and the mask,” U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara told reporters.

Prosecutors described a complex “money mule” organization in which foreigners who entered the United States on student visas were recruited as “mules” to open bank accounts under fake names. The accounts were then used to receive and transfer the stolen funds, they said.

Federal prosecutors announced charges against 37 defendants, while Manhattan District Attorney prosecutors charged 36 people on top of 19 previously arrested. City and federal prosecutors said a number of those charged were not yet in custody.

London’s Metropolitan Police arrested 19 people on Tuesday in a possibly related case in which 6 million pounds were allegedly stolen from a number of unidentified major world banks.

There still is no patch for stupidity.

Written by Ed Campbell

September 30, 2010 at 6:00 pm

AIG and government agree TARP exit plan

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Daylife/Reuters pictures used by permission

The American International Group has reached an agreement in principle to repay the Federal Reserve Bank of New York for the company’s 2008 rescue, and to gradually return the ownership of its stock to the public markets.

Robert Benmosche, chief executive of A.I.G., said the plan would allow the company to “remain on track to emerge with one of the largest, most diversified property and casualty companies in the world.”

The company and its rescuers in the federal government have been working intently in recent weeks to complete such a plan before the expiration of the Treasury’s Troubled Asset Relief Program on Oct. 3, and before the Fed’s bailout loan came due. The original terms called for A.I.G. to pay back the Fed within two years.

Under the plan, the Treasury Department will, for a time, own 92.1 percent of A.I.G. before it begins to sell its shares…

The company said it would use its own resources to pay back the $20 billion in loans, including the proceeds it expects to receive from the sale of a big overseas life insurance unit to MetLife. That sale, announced in March, should yield $6.8 billion in cash and $8.7 billion in MetLife stock, and close by the end of the year.

Still more money to repay the Fed is expected to come from an initial public offering of a second big foreign life insurance business on the Hong Kong exchange. The offering was delayed for several months while A.I.G. tried unsuccessfully to sell the unit to a British company, but A.I.G. now says the Hong Kong offering is back on. It did not provide a time frame.

In addition, the Treasury has agreed to help the Fed sever its ties with A.I.G., by providing the means for the company to redeem most of the Fed’s $26 billion in preferred interests. That money will come from the unused portion of an emergency assistance package that the Treasury made available to A.I.G. as its troubles reached a peak in early 2009…

Taking all of those steps will end the Fed’s role as a lender to A.I.G. and an investor in the company, a role that has never fit in well with the Fed’s duties as a central bank. The Treasury will come out of the transaction with a larger preferred stake in A.I.G., but expects the company to keep taking steps to pay it down, according to the new agreement in principle.

The range of fools, from hypocrites and sophists in the Republican Party to the just-plain-ignorant tea baggers who persist in whining about TARP confound reason. Whether your concern is history or economics, the truth remains self-evident. Not only did the TARP program keep a significant chunk of our economy from collapsing in the wake of the meltdown resulting from a decade or more of Free Market corruption, our Treasury and taxpayers continue to realize a profit from the payback.

It ain’t all over. But, the process is advanced enough that even the political losers and their obedient grunts should consider climbing on board and joining the move towards the future – instead of trying to turn back both time and progress.

Written by Ed Campbell

September 30, 2010 at 3:00 pm

Once captured by extraterrestrials, he remains World Chess Federation (FIDE) President

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Talking to aliens on his invisible cell phone?

[Kirsan Ilyumzhinov], who believes that chess was brought to earth by aliens was re-elected president of the World Chess Federation (FIDE) over [former World Champion] Anatoly Karpov in a vote that split the chess world…

“The vote showed that the overwhelming majority of countries support my work and my uniting of the chess world,” he told Ekho Moskvy radio station. “The main thing is that I have managed in the last 15 years to unite the chess world. We have one champion and one federation.”…

Earlier this year, Mr Ilyumzhinov, who only recently stepped down from another big job as president of the Russian republic of Kalmykia, claimed to have met aliens in his Moscow apartment.

He said he heard someone calling him to his balcony. “I went and looked. There was a semi-transparent pipe. I went into this pipe and saw people in yellow spacesuits. I was shown around their spaceship,” he said.

At least the alien critters sound friendly enough, almost like they were bored and needed something to do.

We had the classical school of chess, then the hypermodern…. I wonder what the current age should be called.

I remember when players were the news, not the bureaucrats.

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An extra morsel: Excavations have shown that chess was played with similar rules, in various continents, centuries ago, he says, adding: “There was no internet before, so how did it get across the world? It means that it was brought from somewhere.”

He also insists that there is “some kind of code” in chess, evidence for which he finds in the fact that there are 64 squares on the chessboard and 64 codons in human DNA. He then explains why he believes sweetcorn was brought to Earth by a different civilisation.

Written by K B

September 30, 2010 at 12:00 pm

Dominatrix wins decision overturning Canada’s sex trade laws

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A dominatrix has won a landmark legal case which could overturn Canada’s prostitution laws after she argued that banning brothels puts women at risk.

Terri-Jean Bedford, 50, ran a brothel called the Bondage Bungalow, which was raided and closed by police in the 1990s. She claimed the country’s laws were forcing sex workers to walk the streets and leaving them vulnerable to violent predators.

Ontario Superior Court Justice Susan Himel ruled in her favour and said prostitutes’ constitutional rights to “life, liberty and security” under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms were being violated.

In a 131-page ruling, the judge said: “I find that the danger faced by prostitutes greatly outweighs any harm which may be faced by the public.”

The ruling “decriminalises” prostitution by allowing for pimping, the operation of brothels and open communication between sex workers and clients.

Following her court victory, which was unexpected, Miss Bedford cracked a riding whip at a press conference and said: “It’s a great day for Canada. It’s like emancipation day for sex trade workers.

“How am I going to celebrate? I’m going to spank some ass.”

Technically, prostitution isn’t illegal in Canada. In practice, federal and provincial law surrounds the practice with sufficient roadblocks to make any trade illegal.

And, yes, I hope you didn’t think Canada’s Conservative government was going to let this decision stand without an appeal.

Written by Ed Campbell

September 30, 2010 at 9:00 am

Scientists GM silkworms to produce artificial spider silk

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A research and development effort…has succeeded in producing transgenic silkworms capable of spinning artificial spider silks.

“This research represents a significant breakthrough in the development of superior silk fibers for both medical and non-medical applications,” said Malcolm J. Fraser Jr…. “The generation of silk fibers having the properties of spider silks has been one of the important goals in materials science.”

Natural spider silks have a number of unusual physical properties, including significantly higher tensile strength and elasticity than naturally spun silkworm fibers. The artificial spider silks produced in these transgenic silkworms have similar properties of strength and flexibility to native spider silk.

Silk fibers have many current and possible future biomedical applications, such as use as fine suture materials, improved wound healing bandages, or natural scaffolds for tendon and ligament repair or replacement. Spider silk-like fibers may also have applications beyond biomedical uses, such as in bulletproof vests, strong and lightweight structural fabrics, a new generation athletic clothing and improved automobile airbags…

Fraser, with the assistance of University of Wyoming researcher Randy Lewis, a biochemist who is one of the world’s foremost authorities on spider silk, and Don Jarvis, a noted molecular geneticist who specializes in insect protein production, genetically engineered silkworms in which they incorporated specific DNAs taken from spiders…

Since silkworms are already a commercially viable silk production platform, these genetically engineered silkworms effectively solve the problem of large scale production of engineered protein fibers in an economically practical way.

Bravo! I doubt if we even have to worry about vegan Luddites fretting over people eating these silkworms.

Cripes. Materials engineers/structural designers will be having a ball.

Written by Ed Campbell

September 30, 2010 at 6:00 am

Stonehenge skeleton was a visitor from the Mediterranean

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A wealthy young teenager buried near Britain’s mysterious Stonehenge monument came from the Mediterranean hundreds of miles away, scientists said Wednesday, proof of the site’s importance as a travel destination in prehistoric times.

The teen — dubbed “The Boy with the Amber Necklace” because he was unearthed with a cluster of amber beads around his neck — is one of several sets of foreign remains found around the ancient ring of imposing stones, whose exact purpose remains unknown.

The British Geological Survey’s Jane Evans said that the find, radiocarbon dated to 1,550 B.C., “highlights the diversity of people who came to Stonehenge from across Europe,” a statement backed by Bournemouth University’s Timothy Darvill, a Stonehenge scholar uninvolved with the discovery.

“The find adds considerable weight to the idea that people traveled long distances to visit Stonehenge, which must therefore have had a big reputation as a cult center,” Darvill said in an e-mail Wednesday. “Long distance travel was certainly more common at this time than we generally think…”

Clues to the adolescent’s foreign origins could be found in the necklace, which isn’t a recognized British type. But he was traced to the area around the Mediterranean Sea by a technique known as isotope analysis, which in this case measured the ratio of strontium and oxygen isotopes in his tooth enamel…

It isn’t clear precisely what drew these people to Stonehenge, a site which has existed in various forms for some 5,000 years. It clearly had an important ceremonial function, and the area around it is dotted with the remains of prehistoric monuments and tombs.

Tourism ain’t so new is it? I doubt if he traveled from the Mediterranean to experience British weather. And we know he wasn’t mugged by the locals because he still had his amber.

That far back in history, no doubt there was something at least ceremonial if not spooky that drew him there. And he could afford the journey.

Written by Ed Campbell

September 30, 2010 at 2:00 am

Army’s largest base suffers four suicides in one weekend

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Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

Four soldiers from Fort Hood, Texas died over the week. In all four cases, it appears the soldiers, all decorated veterans from the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, took their own lives…

If confirmed as suicides, it would be on top of 14 other suicides on the base this year. Base officials called a news conference for Wednesday afternoon to discuss the problem of suicides at the huge base in central Texas.

Every one of these is tragic,” said Maj. Gen. William Grimsley, the post commander. “It’s personally and professionally frustrating as a leader.”

Grimsley did not announce any major action or response during the news conference. “I don’t think there is a simple answer,” he said.

The recent spate of incidents, began Friday Sept. 24 when the body of Pvt. Antonio E. Heath, 24, of Warren, New York, was found in Temple, Texas, the victim of a gunshot wound. Heath was deployed to Iraq for most of 2009 and earned a number of medals including the Army Commendation Medal.

The next day, Master Sgt. Baldemar Gonzales, 39, of Victoria, Texas was found dead in his residence on Fort Hood. During his service he had fought in Operation Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom. During that time he earned a Bronze Star, a Meritorious Service Medal with one oak leaf cluster, an Army Commendation Medal with four oak leaf clusters as well as numerous other decorations.

That same day the body of Sgt. Timothy Ryan Rinella, 29, of Chester, Virginia, was found in his home in Copperas Cove, just outside of Fort Hood. He had an “apparent gunshot wound,” according to information released by Fort Hood. Rinella served three tours of duty in Iraq and one tour in Afghanistan.

And then on Sunday, Sgt. Michael F. Franklin and his wife, Jessie, were found dead of apparent gunshot wounds in their home on the post. The case is being investigated as a murder-suicide. They were the parents of a 6-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son. Franklin served two tours of duty in Iraq in just the past four years, earning an Army Commendation Medal with two oak leaf clusters and several other decorations…

What is there to say? Speculation is easy. I think the sum of our government’s reliance on the military to achieve questionable political goals for decades makes incidents like these – absolutely unsurprising. The rest is details.

Written by Ed Campbell

September 29, 2010 at 10:00 pm

Pork Cookbook in Israel? Who-Hah!

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Dr. Eli Landau has written “The White Book,” touted as the first Israeli pork cookbook.

With 80 mainly Mediterranean recipes and Eastern European dishes, “The White Book” tries to reveal the secrets of the pig for cooks who have never prepared it nor perhaps even tasted it.

Since the mid-1950s, Israel has had laws restricting the sale of pork and banning its farm production in deference to biblical proscriptions. But because of legal loopholes, it was possible to raise pigs for science or in areas considered Christian. Pork buyers included secular Jews, Christian Arabs and more recently, immigrant workers and the hundreds of thousands of immigrants from the former Soviet Union who don’t keep kosher.

Now it is up to individual municipalities to determine whether pork can be sold in each neighborhood and whether shops will incur fines for selling it, much as they would for staying open on the Sabbath. Many Jews who ignore other kosher rules will not eat pork for cultural and historical reasons. Observant Muslims also abstain from it.

Even more than other nonkosher foods, pork is seen by many Israelis as an affront to Jewish nationalism. Pork sellers routinely face protesters, and in recent years, arsonists have attacked shops in cities like Netanya and Safed, where Orthodox Jews live near secular immigrant communities.

People are reluctant to cook pork at home,” said Dr. Landau, who is not an observant Jew. “I want to make it easier for chefs and personal cooks to bring it home and to the menus. If that happens, I’ll be more than happy.”

The book, which Dr. Landau self-published in January, has not caused much of a stir so far.

Dr. Landau said that ultra-Orthodox Jews, who would be most likely to protest, haven’t heard of it because they don’t watch cable news or read the mainstream press.

Pretty interesting tale. Landau reaches out to modern Mediterranean cuisine, shows good sense.

Life in a theocracy has got to be incredibly frustrating to anyone who makes contact on a regular basis with the real world.

Written by Ed Campbell

September 29, 2010 at 6:00 pm

Making music on a microscopic scale

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Strings a fraction of the thickness of a human hair, with microscopic weights to pluck them: researchers and students from the MESA+ Institute for Nanotechnology of the University of Twente have succeeded in constructing the first musical instrument with dimensions measured in mere micrometres – a ‘micronium’ – that produces audible tones…

Earlier musical instruments with these minimal dimensions only produced tones that are inaudible to humans. But thanks to ingenious construction techniques, students from the University of Twente have succeeded in producing scales that are audible when amplified. To do so, they made use of the possibilities offered by micromechanics: the construction of moving structures with dimensions measured in micrometres (a micrometre is a thousandth of a millimetre)…

The tiny musical instrument is made up of springs that are only a tenth of the thickness of a human hair, and vary in length from a half to a whole millimetre. A mass of a few dozen micrograms is hung from these springs.

The mass is set in motion by so-called ‘comb drives’: miniature combs that fit together precisely and shift in relation to each other, so ‘plucking’ the springs and creating sounds. The mass vibrates with a maximum deflection of just a few micrometres. This minimal movement can be accurately measured, and produces a tone. Each tone has its own mass spring system, and six tones fit on a microchip. By combining a number of chips, a wider range of tones can be achieved. “The tuning process turned out to be the greatest challenge”, says Johan Engelen. “We can learn a lot from this project for the construction of other moving structures. Above all, this is a great project for introducing students to micromechanics and clean room techniques.”

Bravo!

There’s a video about the process that debuted this weekend; but, their server doesn’t always keep up.

Written by Ed Campbell

September 29, 2010 at 3:00 pm

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