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Archive for August 9th, 2012

India’s million-dollar physicist

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Ashoke Sen is a shy, reclusive Indian particle physicist working from a non-descript laboratory in the Harish-Chandra Research Institute in the not-so-happening town of Allahabad in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.

Yet, today he is one of the richest professors in the world, having been conferred the award which has prize money almost three times that of a Nobel Prize in Physics.

At his current monthly salary of about 150,000 rupees it would have taken him about 83 years of continuous work to earn as much as that.

The new prize was set up by the Russian internet entrepreneur, Yuri Milner – some are calling it the “Russian Nobel Prize”…In its inaugural year, it has also been awarded to eight others. Prof Sen is the only Indian to bag the award along with scientists working in the US and Russia…

Prof Sen works in an esoteric branch of physics called “string theory”, which he has been refining for the last two decades…It is a complex mathematical theory that hopes to explain almost everything we know about the matter and energy in the universe.

He describes the string theory as being based “on the idea that the elementary constituents of matter are not point particles, but one dimensional objects or strings. This theory automatically combines quantum mechanics, and general relativity – Einstein’s theory of gravity. It also has the potential for explaining the other known forces of nature – strong, weak and electromagnetic forces”…

Prof Sen’s wife Sumathi Rao is also a physicist who works at the same institute with him. They have no children.

The professor, who is fond of walking, says he has no hobby other than cooking and he likes to make tasty fried fish for his friends and family.

For somebody working on the frontiers of knowledge, Prof Sen admits he has “absolutely no religious inclinations”, though he respects all faiths…

Prof Sen, son of a physics teacher, was educated in the University of Calcutta before proceeding to the Stony Brook University in America.

Unlike many others, he chose to return and work in India.

As he said in the interview, “In theoretical physics one can in principle work from any place as long as one has a computer and internet connection.” Working in Allahabad had no disadvantages.

His mind works just as well as it might elsewhere. Perhaps better.

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Written by Ed Campbell

August 9, 2012 at 10:00 pm

Tell Homeland Security to stop hiring mall cop dropouts!

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The bomb was nice and safe under his desk

A federal review cites poor judgment by a security guard who found a bag outside a government building in Detroit last year and stashed it under a desk where it remained for weeks — with neither the guard nor anyone else in the building aware that it contained a bomb…

“Although the IED…did not explode, it represented a risk to the safety and security of the building and its occupants,” the report said.

After the bomb was discovered it was detonated harmlessly by Detroit police. A Michigan man subsequently was charged with placing the device in a canvas bag outside the building.

The canvas bag, containing a small locked Sentry safe, was discovered February 26, 2011, outside the 27-story building that houses the FBI and other offices and remained at the guard desk until it was identified as a threat three weeks later.

During that time, at least two employees X-rayed it in an unsuccessful attempt to determine its contents. One guard shook it in another failed attempt to learn more, and a federal inspector conducted four routine checks of the guard post without discovering that the bag contained an explosive device, according to the report by the inspector general, an independent watchdog…

In addition to receiving refresher training just three months before the incident, the guard was a sergeant with the Detroit Police Department. One FPS official asserted that he was one of the best guards in the building

That fills you with confidence, doesn’t it?

But on the day of the incident, the guard “misidentified the bag as found property and never treated it as suspicious, despite not knowing its contents,” the report said.

The bag was placed under the security desk in the McNamara building, where other security guards did not consider it suspicious because the space was used to store found property and personal belongings…

Following the incident, DECO fired the guard in question…

DECO also fired a guard and a supervisor who X-rayed the bag and incorrectly identified its contents. A second supervisor resigned before being fired, the report said. Numerous others were suspended, given written warnings, or retrained, it said.

You shouldn’t be surprised when a whole new class of security is instituted on behalf of a paranoid nation, batshit cowardly bureaucrats plus the usual cluster of opportunist politicians. You get screwups led by fools – operating with rules drawn up by politicians.

Written by Ed Campbell

August 9, 2012 at 6:00 pm

Ombudsman to defend Justice Department whistle-blowers

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Whistle-blowers inside the U.S. Justice Department have a new ally…Michael Horowitz, the department’s inspector general, announced the creation of a “Whistle-blower Ombudsperson,” a role designed to increase the attention paid to whistle-blowers, as well as providing a new level of protection from retaliation.

Whistle-blowers play a critical role in uncovering waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement and this new position will enable the OIG to continue its leadership as a strong and independent voice within the Department of Justice on whistle- blower issues,” Horowitz said in a statement.

Robert Storch, who recently joined the inspector general’s office as a counselor, will serve in the new position…

The new position will have oversight over all of the Justice Department whistle-blower complaints and will be responsible for ensuring that the inspector general reviews and responds to each one. The official also will monitor investigations into retaliation claims and serve as the office’s liaison to other agencies and outside advocacy groups.

Overdue.

Written by Ed Campbell

August 9, 2012 at 2:00 pm

U.S. starts to clean up Agent Orange in Vietnam — decades late!

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Just one of the reminders of America’s war on the Vietnamese people

More than half a century after the United States began dousing Vietnam with the defoliant Agent Orange in a bid to clear the jungle that provided cover for Viet Cong fighters, it is about to begin cleaning up one of the most contaminated spots left over from the war.

The cleanup is expected to take four years and cost more than $43 million. It is the first time that the U.S. has joined with Vietnam to completely cleanse a site tainted with Agent Orange, which has been linked to birth defects, cancer and other ailments.

“This is huge, considering that for many years the U.S. and Vietnam could not see eye to eye at all about this issue,” said Susan Hammond, director of the War Legacies Project, a Vermont-based nonprofit group. “It was one of the last unresolved war legacies between the U.S. and Vietnam…”

“Huge” is not acting after decades of ignoring responsibility. It would be huge if the United States acknowledged the imperial arrogance central to our foreign policy since the end of World war 2. Huge would be assuming the task of cleaning up the death and destruction we have distributed about this planet from Hiroshima to Lebanon, from atomic weapons to Claymore mines and cluster bombs.

Near the Da Nang site, Vo Duoc fought tears as he told the Associated Press that he and other family members, who have suffered diabetes, breast cancer and miscarriages, had tested high for dioxin. Now he fears his grandchildren could be exposed as well.

They had nothing to do with the war,” Duoc told the AP. “But I live in fear that they’ll test positive like me.”

The U.S. has chipped in for programs to help Vietnamese youth with disabilities but has shied away from saying their problems are specifically linked to the chemical. Vietnam has bristled at that resistance, pointing out that the U.S. has paid billions of dollars in disability payments to American veterans suffering illnesses linked to Agent Orange…

Da Nang, once used as an American military base, is widely seen as the most worrisome hot spot because it sits in the middle of a densely populated city. Nearby lakes are used to raise fish and ducks for human consumption.

Vietnamese authorities poured a concrete slab over the most badly contaminated area 4 1/2 years ago, with technical assistance from U.S. environmental officials and the Ford Foundation, Bailey said. American aid officials also helped plan for the remaining cleanup to destroy the dioxin in soil and sediment on the site.

I hope no one in Washington harms themselves whilst patting each other on the back for this belated attempt at reparations for crimes committed in the name of the United States. The Leaders of the Free World demonstrated a disdain for humanity in Southeast Asia easily matching the worst of European colonialism.

In practice, the Euros and Brits have probably performed slightly better at recognizing both responsibility for their crimes and the appropriateness of aiding the colonial peoples they oppressed. I expect you still couldn’t get a serious aid package for VietNam through Congress valued, say, at the equivalent of what we provide annually for updating our nuclear arsenal.

Written by Ed Campbell

August 9, 2012 at 10:00 am

July was hottest month on record for continental United States

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July was the hottest month in the continental United States on record, beating the hottest month in the devastating Dust Bowl summer of 1936, the U.S. government reported on Wednesday.

It was also the warmest January-to-July period since modern record-keeping began in 1895, and the warmest 12-month period, eclipsing the last record set just a month ago, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said.

This is the fourth time in as many months that U.S. temperatures broke the hottest-12-months record…

Along with record heat, drought covered nearly 63 percent of the 48 contiguous states, according to NOAA’s Drought Monitor, with near-record drought conditions in the Midwest, where 75 percent of the U.S. corn and soybean crops are grown.

Analysts expect the drought, the worst since 1956, will yield the smallest corn crop in six years, meaning record-high prices and tight supplies. It would be the third year of declining corn production despite large plantings…

Drought and heat fed each other in July, according to Jake Crouch, a scientist at NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center.

Dry soils in the summer tend to drive up daytime temperatures, and because dry soils prevailed over so much of the United States, that helped make things hotter over a wide area, Crouch said…

The hotter it gets, the drier it gets, the hotter it gets,” Crouch said.

President Obama has called on Congress to pass a farm bill so disaster aid can flow to livestock producers. Crop insurance covers most row-crop growers but ranchers aren’t especially covered.

Of course, the folks who pray for rain – could pray for a Congress that pays attention to science and real-time economics. Mail me a penny postcard when that happens. The Congress, that is. Not the praying.

Written by Ed Campbell

August 9, 2012 at 6:00 am

Grassland diversity brings resilience to drought, climate change

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Click photo to enlarge – look at the real diversity within this piece of prairie

For much of the year drought has been plaguing American grasslands. But a recent study found that grasses do not appear to be losing the turf war against climate when it comes to surviving with little precipitation.

The Kansas State University-led study looked at the drought tolerance of 426 species of grass from around the world. The goal was to better understand how grasslands in different parts of the world may respond to the changes in frequency and severity of drought in the future.

Grasslands have several important ecological functions, according to Joseph Craine…the study’s lead author. Grasslands convert and store carbon dioxide, are a food source for grazing animals like cattle and bison, and help cool the surrounding atmosphere.

“The idea is that if you maintain a diverse grassland, you’ll have a large number of drought-tolerant species ready to take over critical functions if there is a change in climate or an extended period of drought, like what we’ve had this year,” Craine said. “Yet, we’ve never known which grasslands have drought-tolerant species in them…”

…Grasses were grown on campus in a walk-in growth chamber with high intensity lighting that simulated sunny weather. After six weeks, researchers stopped watering the grass samples and observed at what point each grass stopped being able to take up water.

“In the end they all succumbed to drought,” Craine said. “But that was our goal: to stress them all enough to know at what point they give in. What we saw was that some of grass species were about as tough as lettuce, meaning that after a day or two without water they would start to wilt and curl up. Others, however, were able to go for a week or two without water…”

“If we still have grasslands that are diverse, the grasslands are going to continue to function relatively well and not change too much,” Craine said. “But when we replace our prairies with ones that just have a few species in it, then it’s less likely that grasslands will be able to function normally in the future. That affects the animals and other things that depend on grasslands, making it more likely that the whole ecosystem collapses.”

Consistent with most ecologies. Natural or human-altered, monocultures are less likely to survive major changes in climate or the ravages of disease. The best farmers figured this out long ago – in my mind.

Written by Ed Campbell

August 9, 2012 at 2:00 am

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