U.S. housing construction plummets to 17-year low

The U.S. housing downturn continues to worsen, with construction of new homes and apartments falling in August to the lowest level in 17 years, the U.S. Commerce Department has reported.

Housing construction dropped 6.2 per cent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 895,000 units. The size of the drop surprised analysts, who had forecast a decline of just 1.6 per cent.

The August figures represent the slowest building pace since January 1991, when housing was also going through a painful correction. Thousands of construction jobs have been lost, helping push the overall unemployment rate to a five-year high of 6.1 per cent.

Building permits, which are considered a good indicator of future activity, dropped 8.9 per cent in August to an annual rate of 854,000 units.

Even before the mismanagement and corruption of the Bush Administration had succeeded in destroying one of the healthiest sectors in the U.S. economy, remodeling and renovations had surpassed new construction in revenue for contractors.

Now that I’m retired, I needn’t stay on top of monthly figures other than economic trends like this one. But, my friends who are struggling to make a buck as contractors or subs – are running as fast as they can to build and extend market share on repairing and renovating what families already own.

Eating crap processed foods helps CSI catch you

The inventor of a revolutionary new forensic fingerprinting technique claims criminals who eat processed foods are more likely to be discovered by police through their fingerprint sweat corroding metal.

Dr John Bond, a researcher at the University of Leicester and scientific support officer at Northamptonshire Police, said processed food fans are more likely to leave tell-tale signs at a crime scene…Dr Bond said sweaty fingerprint marks made more of a corrosive impression on metal if they had a high salt content.

And he revealed he was currently in early talks with colleagues at the University of Leicester to assess whether a sweat mark left at a crime scene could be analysed to reveal a ‘sweat profile’ ie more about the type of person who left the mark.

Dr Bond…has developed a method that enables scientists to ‘visualise fingerprints’ even after the print itself has been removed. He and colleagues conducted a study into the way fingerprints can corrode metal surfaces. The technique can enhance – after firing– a fingerprint that has been deposited on a small calibre metal cartridge case before it is fired.

RTFA – there are some interesting avenues for forensic research suggested by Dr. Bond’s work.

Turkish holiday hotel fires philandering male staff

A small hotel on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast has fired all its male employees for repeatedly having affairs with foreign female guests. Pelin Yucel, manager of Image Hotel in Marmaris, said her 27-room hotel now only employs female staff. Most of the guests are British and Russian tourists, she said.

We had been facing the same problem every year but after the last incident we decided to run the hotel by only female staff,” she told Reuters by phone.

“The last straw was when I saw our bartender, who was a very decent man, walk out of the bathroom with a British tourist.”

Around 20 million tourists visited Turkey last year, many of them drawn by its sandy beaches and turquoise waters.

And something a bit more energetic than wading, apparently.

Chrysler pushing Ram into cold truck market

Fuel prices are falling but still high, big vehicles are unpopular and Chrysler, known for big vehicles, is struggling. So it may seem surprising that it is putting all of its marketing muscle behind a new truck.

This month, Chrysler, which is owned by Cerberus Capital Management, will begin advertising the first revamped Dodge Ram pickup truck in six years. Instead of focusing on price, Chrysler is selling the workingman truck narrative with a Web-based, reality-style competition showing the trucks hurtling through off-road courses that brings to mind television shows like “Ice Road Truckers” or “America’s Toughest Jobs.”

“Now is not the time to do the typical truck launch,” said David Lubars, chief creative officer of BBDO North America, part of the Omnicom Group, which created the campaign. “We know the amount of people out there who are going to buy a truck is going to shrink.

It’s a smaller group than usual, and we have to get all of them,” Lubars said.

I love my Dodge truck – but, I won’t be buying into the sell!

I took a look through the website Cerberus/Chrysler setup for the promotion. Wondering if I could be tempted into replacing my 4WD RAM 1500, the first thing I looked at is powertrain. After all, Chrysler has access to a couple of terrific mid-size diesel engines: a 3.0 liter and a 4.2 liter. Both have more than adequate torque to push a 1500, even with 4WD, through a heavy day’s work.

Result? Nothing, nada, nuttin’ honey. Not worth my time to look farther than that.

Australia licenses cloning human embryos

The Australian government has issued its first license allowing scientists to create cloned human embryos to try and obtain embryonic stem cells. The in vitro-fertilization firm Sydney IVF was granted the license and reportedly has access to 7,200 human eggs for its research. If the firm is successful it would be a world first.

Scientists in other countries have made stem cells they believe are similar to embryonic cells using a variety of techniques, but none have been able to extract embryonic stem cells from cloned human embryos.

An Australian ban on the research, known as therapeutic cloning or somatic cell nuclear transfer, was lifted in December 2006 after a rare conscience vote in the national parliament…Human cloning for reproductive purposes is banned…

Initially, any stem cells extracted would be used to test new drugs to fight diseases such as muscular dystrophy and Huntington’s disease, and later therapeutic cloning would be used to produce body tissue matched to patients.

The short answer is “Overdue”. Ethical considerations are always part of serious scientific advances. That doesn’t require politicians and priests.

GM unveils electric Volt. Savior or silliness?

General Motors Corp has unveiled the production version of its highly anticipated Chevrolet Volt, a plug-in electric car that is the centerpiece of its effort to move away from gas-guzzling SUVs and recharge sagging sales.

Chief Executive Rick Wagoner introduced the small, curvy four-seater at the automaker’s Detroit headquarters during an event to celebrate GM’s 100th anniversary.

In what has been billed as a race with Toyota Motor Corp to be the first to market with a plug-in car, GM has pushed hard to develop the Volt in time for it to hit showrooms in 2010. Fanfare surrounding the Volt comes as the No. 1 U.S. automaker has been struggling with flagging sales of less-efficient sport-utility vehicles and pickup trucks amid soaring prices at the pump.

Those high gasoline prices, the credit crunch and a slowing economy have dragged U.S. auto sales down to 15-year lows. GM’s sales in particular were down 18.5 percent in the first eight months of the year. Fuel-saving hybrid electric cars — like Toyota’s popular Prius model — have been one of the few bright spots for the industry in 2008 so far.
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Cray partners with Intel, Microsoft – launches desktop supercomputer

Supercomputer maker Cray has announced a new desk-side, low-end, bladed office supercomputer in conjunction with chip partner Intel and software partner Microsoft. The new CX1 supercomputer is the first product to come to market after Cray tapped Intel as its future strategic chip supplier, dissing long-time chip partner Advanced Micro Devices.

Cray, which has been struggling financially since clustered Linux boxes became the rage in supercomputing a decade ago, is known for creating the fastest vector and parallel supercomputers in the world, and with the CX1, it is trying to push down into a market where newbies in life sciences, digital rendering, financial services, and other fields are playing around with supers for the first time.

It’s also attempting to lure scientists and researchers with discretionary IT budgets to forget using shared, giant clusters and get their own box and tuck it in behind their desk where no one can see it to run their workloads locally. The personal supercomputer is not a new idea, but this is the first time that Cray is trying it out in the market…
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Republicans exploit mortgage crisis to stop the evicted from voting

The Obama campaign yesterday went to court to block what it alleged was an attempt by Republicans in Michigan to stop people who lost their homes in the mortgage crisis from voting in November’s election.

The suit, filed in a Michigan court yesterday, is the latest sign of contention over voting procedures. Voting rights activists in several battleground states have reported an aggressive push by Republican elected officials and activists to make it harder to vote.

In Macomb county, Michigan, a swing constituency, Republican officials for the first time tried to use America’s housing crisis as a way of striking people off lists, the Obama camp told reporters yesterday. “There is no doubt that there is an immediate threat to the voting rights of citizens in Michigan whose names could appear on a foreclosure list,” said Bob Bauer, an Obama lawyer.

The situation came to light last week when the Republican party chairman of Macomb county told a local newspaper he planned to draw on publicly available lists of home foreclosures to bar people from casting their vote.

The national Republicans later distanced the party from his comment, but other state party officials confirmed there were plans to deploy an army of poll “challengers” who would check voters’ credentials.

If you lost your home in this trickle-down-your-leg economy – the Republican Party is going to make certain you’re also cut off from your right to vote, as well.

Spain bans political party supporting Basque separatists

Spain’s Supreme Court on Tuesday outlawed a leftist political party for its links to the Basque separatist group ETA, and ordered its immediate dissolution.

The court outlawed the Basque Nationalist Action party, or ANV, as it is known locally. It has about 100 elected town councilors in Basque city halls, and they are expected to lose their seats under the ruling, an analyst told CNN.

A lower court judge suspended the party’s activities last February, preventing it from running candidates in Spain’s national elections last March, due to suspicions about its ties to ETA…
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