LA fires out of control – reduce hundreds of homes to ash

Over 500 homes destroyed in Oakridge mobile home community
Daylife/Reuters Pictures

Southern Californians endured a third day of destruction Saturday as wind-blasted wildfires torched hundreds of mobile homes and mansions, forced tens of thousands of people to flee and shut down major freeways.

No deaths were reported, but the Los Angeles police chief said he feared authorities might find bodies among the 500 burned dwellings in a devastated mobile home park that housed many senior citizens.

We have almost total devastation here in the mobile park,” Fire Capt. Steve Ruda said. “I can’t even read the street names because the street signs are melting.”

The series of fires has injured at least 20 people and destroyed hundreds of homes from coastal Santa Barbara to inland Riverside County, on the other side of the Los Angeles area. Smoke blanketed the nation’s second-largest city Saturday, reducing the afternoon sun to a pale orange disk.

As night fell, a fire fed by a sleet of blowing embers hopscotched through the winding lanes of modern subdivisions in Orange and Riverside counties, destroying more than 50 homes, some of them apparently mansions.

There is no end in sight as I’m posting this. When you get up in the morning, check online and on TV to see where it’s at!

UPDATE: 30,000 people evacuated, now.

‘Arid Aquaculture’ promoted to relieve pressure on drylands

“Arid aquaculture” using ponds filled with salty, undrinkable water for fish production is one of several options experts have proven to be an effective potential alternative livelihood for people living in desertified parts of the world’s expanding drylands.

Researchers with the United Nations University, the International Centre on Agricultural Research in Dryland Areas (ICARDA), and UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Program say alternatives to traditional crop farming and livestock rearing will need to be put in place in drylands in order to mitigate human causes of desertification.

While it may sound far-fetched, researchers say using briny water to establish aquaculture in a dry, degraded part of Pakistan not only introduced a new source of income, it helped improve nutrition through diet diversification. The researchers also showed it possible to cultivate some varieties of vegetables with the same type of brackish water.

And there are many other promising alternative livelihoods, successfully tested in eight countries.

Because they do not primarily depend on land productivity, these options have the potential to reduce the pressure on the fragile resource base in marginal drylands, says the report. “At the same time, these strategies proved to yield significantly higher income per investment than traditional land-based livelihoods.”

Look through the article. It offers hope to those with the courage and forethought to step out ahead of their ancestors, the limitations of their history.

E.P.A. decision signals trouble for Dirty Coal

Four Corners Power Plant – keeping Southern California happy

Environmentalists said that the coal industry was reeling following a ruling by the Environmental Appeals Board, an independent body of adjudicators within the Environmental Protection Agency.

The decision — which responded to a Sierra Club petition to review an E.P.A. permit granted to a coal plant in Utah — does not require the E.P.A. to limit carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, something which environmentalists have long sought.

Rather, it requires the agency’s regional office to at least consider whether to regulate carbon dioxide emissions, before the agency gives a green light to build the Utah plant. On a broader scale, it will delay the building of coal-fired power plants across the country, long enough for the Obama administration to determine its policy on coal, according to David Bookbinder, chief climate counsel for the Sierra Club.

“They’re sending this permit — and effectively sending every other permit — back to square one,” he said, adding, “It’s minimum a one to two year delay for every proposed coal-fired power plant in the United States.”

The decision references the landmark Massachusetts v. E.P.A. decision last year that declared carbon dioxide a pollutant under the Clean Air Act. That ruling, however, has not yet prompted the E.P.A. to act to regulate it.

Through the past eight years of know-nothing and do-less administration, whether the issue is the environment, war, education or the economy, the E.P.A. has fallen in line with our government’s reluctance to place public good ahead of corporate profits.

George W. Bush simply carried on with the voodoo versions of Ronald Reagan’s economics, environmental policy – and added in a war or two.

BTW – the dumbest headline of the week came from the AP which said, “Coal plants jeopardized over climate“. Never occurred to them the climate might be jeopardized by coal plants?

Senator Dorgan will offer bill on Net neutrality

Daylife/AP Photo by Susan Walsh

A senior U.S. lawmaker plans to introduce a bill in January that would bar Internet providers like AT&T Inc from blocking Web content, setting up a renewed battle over so-called network neutrality.

Sen. Byron Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat, believes a law is essential to prevent telephone and cable companies from discriminating against Internet content, even though regulators have taken actions to enforce free Web principles.

Dorgan has been influential on the issue, and will be among the highest ranking Democrats on the Senate’s Commerce Committee when it reconvenes in January.

The net neutrality fight pits Internet service providers (ISPs) like AT&T against content companies like Google Inc and Microsoft Corp.

And consumers like you and me.

The ISPs, which also include Verizon Communications Inc. and cable company Comcast Corp, say they need to manage the ever-growing traffic on their networks without government interference.

Content companies say the ISPs hold too power much to block or slow down traffic requiring more bandwidth, such as movie downloads, or certain content altogether.

President-elect Barack Obama supports net neutrality legislation. The election of Obama and more Democrats who back the concept adds momentum to the cause.

Every little bit helps, whether you access the Web in a competitive urban market or any of the stretches of suburban and rural America limited to few if any choices for service.

German troops have a thirst for Afghanistan

They made certain he was photographed drinking water

If the German defence ministry’s figures are anything to go by, being a soldier in Afghanistan is clearly thirsty work.

According to military sources, around 1 million litres of beer were shipped to German troops stationed in Afghanistan last year, as well as almost 70,000 litres of wine and sekt, a German sparkling wine.

The admission has shocked a country that has never had much time for the Afghan mission. Newspaper reports under headlines such as Drink for the Fatherland and Bundeswehr Boozers have suggested that alcohol is the only way of keeping soldiers onside at a time when it is becoming ever harder to recruit them.

The figures suggest that the 3,600 German soldiers based in Afghanistan as part of Nato’s ISAF reconstruction mission, are each consuming around 278 litres of beer a year each as well as 128 standard measures of wine. The figures are set to rise by around 10% this year as troop numbers also increase.

I imagine the American troops are consuming their fair share of weed, as well.

Lehman Brothers makes Enron look like a candy store heist!

Daylife/Reuters Pictures

Yes, this is the scariest commentary and analysis I’ve seen about the global credit and banking disaster! We’ve watched the corruption spread never quite realizing it was this expansive.

Administrators grappling with the European arm of the failed investment bank Lehman Brothers have told creditors their task is “10 times as big and as complicated” as the unwinding of Enron.

Speaking after the first creditors’ meeting, a team from PricewaterhouseCoopers said they had identified more than $1 trillion in assets and liabilities that need to be accounted for.

At the meeting, held behind closed doors in a conference hall at the O2 dome in London, the lead administrator, Tony Lomas, told hundreds of representatives and lawyers that he had recovered about $5 billion out of a potential $550 billion of obligations owing to creditors. A further $22.3 billion of client assets had been identified, all of which will be returned to their owners…

The settlement of Lehman credit insurance contracts linked to the bank’s bonds suggested debt holders could expect to recover less than nine cents in the dollar.

Christ on crutches! These criminal bastards were living on paper that wasn’t even close to real assets. Their board of directors should end up behind bars.

‘Nanobamas’ Fuse Art, Science, Technology and Politics

A University of Michigan professor has created 3-D portraits of the president-elect that are smaller than a grain of salt. He calls them “nanobamas…”

Each one contains about 150 million carbon nanotubes stacked vertically like trees in a forest. A carbon nanotube is an extraordinarily strong hollow cylinder about 1/50,000th the width of a human hair.

To create the nanobamas, the researchers converted Shepard Fairey’s famous red, white and blue poster of Barack Obama to a line drawing. They shrunk it and printed it on a glass plate with a laser to create a mask. They shined ultraviolet light through the masked glass plate on to a silicon wafer to create the pattern. Then they grew the carbon nanotubes on the pattern, using a high-temperature chemical reaction.

The researchers photographed the nanobamas with an electron microscope. The faces are half a millimeter in size.

Professor Hart has an excellent eye for the beauty in nature and science. Take a look at his gallery when you have a chance.

Doubts raised over success for ‘hasty summit’

Daylife/Reuters Pictures

More than 20 of the world’s leaders gathered at the White House last night at the start of a two-day emergency summit on the global financial crisis that will continue in five hours of policy discussions.

But even as participants began to assemble in what is the largest collection of presidents and prime ministers in almost a decade, doubts were raised that it would achieve anything beyond immediate moves to stimulate the world economy and an agreement to meet again…

The fact that the gathering brings together representatives of about 85% of the world’s economy has prompted inevitable comparisons to the 1944 Bretton Woods meeting when 44 countries gathered in New Hampshire to devise the postwar international monetary system. But most analysts believe that “Bretton Woods II” will resemble its predecessor only in the scale of the crisis…

The summit was convened at the request of the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, backed by Gordon Brown, and extended by George Bush beyond the usual parameters of the G8 to include a much wider spectrum in recognition of the global nature of the economic crisis.

Expectations are low partly as a result of the vacuum at the summit’s centre, a product of the lame duck nature of US government. Barack Obama, the president-elect, will be notable by his absence, though he sent two envoys.

The economic world needs strong, competent, all-encompassing leadership. Narrow politics – even with global phrase-mongering from Sarkozy and Brown – does not a consensus make. The absence of Obama has already made this nothing more than the largest collection of photo ops in decades.

Microsoft caved-in to Intel on Vista “Junk PC” requirements

A new round of documents out in the Vista “Junk PC” lawsuit shows that Intel bullied Microsoft into saying an Intel chipset could run Vista, when in fact, it couldn’t run the most vital parts of the new operating system, such as running Aero. Intel had billions of dollars at stake, and Microsoft, in the words of one exec, “caved” in to Intel.

At the heart of Intel’s pressure was its 915 chipset, which was incapable of running Vista’s Aero interface. Intel had a significant number of those chipsets on hand. Because the chipsets were incapable of running Vista, Intel wouldn’t be able to unload them. That’s why they pressured Microsoft into putting “Vista Capable” stickers on PCs with 915 chipsets, even though those PCs couldn’t run Aero or other parts of Vista.

The latest filings are part of a class-action lawsuit against Microsoft for a marketing scheme in which people claim that Microsoft misled consumers into buying “Windows Vista Capable” PCs, even though the PCs couldn’t run the most important features of Vista.

The dirt comes out and it smells worse than many thought it would.

Read the details. If you’re supporting Windows, this costs you money and time.