Pic of the Day

“I will keep fighting”
Daylife/Reuters Pictures

A pregnant woman attends the Carnation revolution 35th anniversary in Lisbon April 25, 2009. Portugal celebrates on April 25 the Carnation Revolution coup, which put an end to 48 years of dictatorship in 1974.

Yes, during all those 48 years of the Salazar dictatorship, you could count on more or less nothing being done to oppose Fascist rule in Portugal by either Democrat or Republican-controlled governments in the United States.

No matter. The Portuguese people eventually ended up running their own land – as a democracy.

American conmen stole fuel straight from military depot in Baghdad

“It’s engraved – Property of Halliburton Leasing”

In a confidence game that made a mockery of the United States military’s most secure compound in Iraq, a ring of Americans posing as contractors and their Nepalese drivers used tanker trucks, forged documents and sheer brazenness to steal at least $40 million worth of jet and diesel fuel from an Army depot, according to an indictment returned by a federal grand jury in Virginia.

Until they were caught, the dozen or so men in the ring operated an astoundingly successful con game in a war zone, the papers contend, apparently showing up in Iraq with nothing more than fake IDs and a talent for forging official requisition forms. Each time they filled up the tanker trucks at the depot in American headquarters near the Baghdad International Airport, the men would simply drive downtown and sell the fuel on the local black market…

The operation described in the indictment contained elements of an international crime thriller and a Cheech & Chong movie: expletive-filled e-mail messages detailing payment schedules to ring members; a phony security contractor whose nickname was Bong; and the forged signature of a military contracting officer named Sergeant Bonus. The ring members said they worked for a company called Future Services.

An Army spokesman said, “…it would be inappropriate for the Army to comment at this time.”

So, what does “most secure” mean if you can simply drive in and out the gate with stolen goods? Show someone a legit looking piece of paper and you could walk off with the Pentagon bathrooms.

Tequila farming could lead to Oz biofuel

Tequila has fuelled many a wild night out and now it could be set to fuel our cars as well.

Two cane growers in the Childers [Australia] area, who did not want to be named, are working with Ausagave and CQUniversity to trial the growth of agave tequilana in the area. Agave tequilana is more commonly known for producing tequila, but the trials will determine if it is economically viable to grow the plant in Childers to produce ethanol, to be used as a biofuel.

Central Queensland University researcher Associate Professor Nanjappa Ashwath said the reason cane- growing areas had been chosen was because of similar infrastructure requirements.

Sugar cane mills only work six months of the year and the tequila can take over the other six months,” Assoc Prof Ashwath said…

“It is very easy to grow, does not produce any seeds, is very hardy and will use very similar infrastructure to sugar, so why not let it fill the gap?”

“We need to prove it can grow here, how much land you will need, the yield it produces…” he said. “Once we do all those things and we find it is going well, we need to find out how we can harvest and the most economical way of harvesting.”

Folks who can turn GreenTech into greenbacks are going to move sound ecology forward as quickly as any other means. Maybe faster.

Poisonally, I could care less about their motivation as long as the end product is benefiting our lives and our planet.

Florida politicians chasing bible-thumper vote

Next up…

If you want Jesus on your license plate, the Florida Senate is looking out for you.

Religious specialty plates offered by Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Valrico, and Sen. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando, made it onto a bill Friday even though many members had not seen images of those plates and none were produced for the debate.

Siplin didn’t mince words when asked what his ”Trinity” plate looks like, saying: “It has a picture of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

Storms’ ”I Believe” plate would benefit Faith in Teaching, an Orlando company that funds faith-based programs at schools. The design features a cross over a stained-glass window…

The issue is whether the state of Florida ought to be producing license plates with religious images on them,” said Sen. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, “and I don’t believe that we should.”

Before the day was over, the Anti-Defamation League and the ACLU registered opposition, and across the hall in the House, proposals for the same plates were withdrawn from legislation.

Florida has more than 100 specialty plates with several new ones proposed this year.

Separation of church from state is always the issue – except when opportunist political hacks are trying to claw a few more votes.

Bull in a supermarket! WTF?

A bull filmed rampaging around a supermarket after escaping from a cattle market has put a small town in the west of Ireland on the international map.

CCTV footage from the security cameras in Cummins’ SuperValu store in Ballinrobe, County Mayo, put on YouTube has been viewed by thousands of people around the world.

Residents’ relatives have been calling from as far afield as Sydney and Hong Kong to say they have seen it.


Levees by themselves cannot save New Orleans

Building bigger, stronger levees in New Orleans will not be enough to save the US city from another Hurricane Katrina, a report has said…

The report said the authorities should consider raising the level of buildings and even abandoning flood-prone areas…

New Orleans has about 563 km (350 miles) of barriers, levees and other structures intended to protect the city. But in August 2005, large sections of this system failed and much of the city was inundated by the storm surges brought by Katrina.

The report, from the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) and the National Research Council (NRC), said the disaster had exposed the “many weaknesses in the hurricane protection and preparedness systems” for New Orleans and surrounding areas. It said there had been “undue optimism” about the ability of the protection systems to withstand the impact of a storm on the scale of Katrina.

The report said improvements made to the flood protection system since Katrina had “reduced some vulnerabilities”. But, it said that “the risks of inundation and flooding never can be fully eliminated by protective structures, no matter how large or sturdy those structures may be”.

The authors advised that as there can be no absolute protection against storm surges and flooding, the authorities should consider encouraging people to move away from areas at risk. Where this is not possible, “significant improvements in flood-proofing measures will be essential”.

This would include raising the standard height for ground floors of properties, strengthening critical infrastructure such as power and telecommunications and improving evacuation plans.

Seems pretty reasonable to me. Not that my opinion is worth a whole hill of beans. I haven’t lived there in decades and folks whose roots are deep and timed into the city ain’t ever paying much attention to outsiders.

British coppers recorded trying to recruit protester who was wired – Har!

The Horrors of Free Speech

Undercover police are running a network of hundreds of informants inside protest organisations who secretly feed them intelligence in return for cash, according to evidence handed to the Guardian.

They claim to have infiltrated a number of environmental groups and said they are receiving information about leaders, tactics and plans of future demonstrations.

The dramatic disclosures are revealed in almost three hours of secretly recorded discussions between covert officers claiming to be from Strathclyde police, and an activist from the protest group Plane Stupid, whom the officers attempted to recruit as a paid spy after she had been released on bail following a demonstration at Aberdeen airport last month.

Matilda Gifford, 24, said she recorded the meetings in an attempt to expose how police seek to disrupt the legitimate activities of climate change activists. She met the officers twice; they said they were a detective constable and his assistant. During the taped discussions, the officers:

• Indicate that she could receive tens of thousands of pounds to pay off her student loans in return for information about individuals within Plane Stupid.

• Say they will not pay money direct into her bank account because that would leave an audit trail that would leave her compromised. They said the money would be tax-free, and added: “UK plc can afford more than 20 quid.”

• Explain that spying could assist her if she was arrested. “People would sell their soul to the devil,” an officer said…

This mostly falls under the category of recording the bastards who’re recording you. I may as well look on the humorous side of it all – though over beaucoup years I’ve spent challenging the kreeps in charge, I witnessed enough attempts by the FBI, CIA and other alphabet soup sluggos to turn friends and family into informants.

Turning them out to the public Left was one of my specialties, one of my delights.

Cell phones achieve primacy over air conditioners

What would you give up first, air conditioning or your cell phone?

In tough economic times with people looking to cut costs many Americans said a cell phone or computer are must-have items and regard a clothes dryers, air conditioner and microwave as less of a necessity, according to survey by the Pew Research Center. “A relative newcomer in the everyday lives of most Americans, the cell phone is among a handful of newer gadgets that have held their own on the necessity scale from 2006 to 2009”.

The number of people who said microwaves were a necessity for their homes fell 21 percentage points in 2009 from 2006. Air conditioners dropped 16 points while dishwashers slumped 14 points, the poll showed.

Job losses, the months-long recession, and tight access to credit have convinced U.S. consumers to reduce their spending in the past year on anything they consider unnecessary or a luxury…

But as tech gadgets increasingly find a place in homes, cell phones, flat screen TVs and Apple’s iPod are now part of the must-have category, according to the survey of 1,003 adults.

No surprise to me. Americans are still in love with cars. What kind of car – or pickup – may be changing; but, the flexibility, mobility, enabled by those 4-wheel fuel-suckers still rules.

Hard X-ray Laser Achieves ‘First Light’

Looking East down the LCLS Undulator Array

The world’s brightest X-ray source sprang to life last week at the U.S. Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. The Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) offers researchers the first-ever glimpse of high-energy or “hard” X-ray laser light produced in a laboratory.

When fine tuning is complete, the LCLS will provide the world’s brightest, shortest pulses of laser X-rays for scientific study. It will give scientists an unprecedented tool for studying and understanding the arrangement of atoms in materials such as metals, semiconductors, ceramics, polymers, catalysts, plastics, and biological molecules, with wide-ranging impact on advanced energy research and other fields.

“This milestone establishes proof-of-concept for this incredible machine, the first of its kind,” said SLAC Director Persis Drell. “The LCLS team overcame unprecedented technical challenges to make this happen, and their work will enable frontier research in a host of fields. For some disciplines, this tool will be as important to the future as the microscope has been to the past.”

Even in these initial stages of operation, the LCLS X-ray beam is brighter than any other human-made source of short-pulse, hard X-rays. Initial tests produced laser light with a wavelength of 1.5 Angstroms, or 0.15 nanometers—the shortest-wavelength, highest-energy X-rays ever created by any laser. To generate that light, the team had to align the electron beam with extreme precision. The beam cannot deviate from a straight line by more than about 5 micrometers per 5 meters—an astounding feat of engineering.

This is the most difficult lightsource that has ever been turned on,” said LCLS Construction Project Director John Galayda. “It’s on the boundary between the impossible and possible, and within two hours of start-up these guys had it right on.”

Good luck – and science the world over will be watching and waiting for information. I was around in early days when X-ray metallography just began to reach into commercial use. I can only imagine what a tool like this will be capable of producing.