Vauxhall and Opel will not be sold off by GM

Daylife/Reuters Pictures used by permission

America’s biggest motor manufacturer, General Motors, performed an abrupt U-turn [and has decided] to keep its European car manufacturing division, abandoning a proposed sale of Germany’s Opel and Britain’s Vauxhall brands at the eleventh hour.

Emboldened by encouraging global sales figures, GM’s directors emerged from a meeting of the company’s 13-strong board in Detroit to announce that an improvement in the European business environment had prompted them to change their minds about offloading the business, which employs 55,000 people, including 5,000 in Britain.

Instead of selling the operation to the Canadian car parts firm Magna, GM intends to spend €3 billion on restructuring the division “in earnest” – a process still likely to involve government aid and that may yet lead to significant job cuts…

“While strained, the business environment in Europe has improved,” said GM’s chief executive, Fritz Henderson. “At the same time, GM’s overall financial health and stability have improved significantly over the past months, giving us confidence that the European business can be successfully restructured…”

“We understand the complexity and length of this issue has been draining for all involved,” said Henderson. “However, from the outset, our goal has been to secure the best long-term solution for our customers, employees, suppliers and dealers, which is reflected in the decision reached today…”

Monthly sales figures released earlier yesterday provided an indication that business was improving. GM’s US car sales in October were up 4% in comparison with the same month in 2008 – the first year-on-year rise since January last year.

As a lifetime motorhead, I’ve spent an appropriate amount of time pointing out what I liked and disliked about GM. Aside from Zora Arkus-Duntov there hasn’t been much initiated in Detroit I found worthwhile. The Euro divisions were an occasional bright spot – even when they were prevented by the home office from offering much of anything new.

The good folks at tweaked some discussion here [sorry, offline discussion] when they posted about Frank Weber leaving Volt and returning to Opel just the other day. I admit that none of us figured out this good news was coming. My guess is that he was shipped over to prep folks for the policy change.

None of this will be easy; but, I’m not the sort of critic who wishes the object of my criticism to fail.

Ethiopian rift confirmed as new ocean growing in the desert


In 2005, a gigantic, 35-mile-long rift broke open the desert ground in Ethiopia. At the time, some geologists believed the rift was the beginning of a new ocean as two parts of the African continent pulled apart, but the claim was controversial.

Now, scientists from several countries have confirmed that the volcanic processes at work beneath the Ethiopian rift are nearly identical to those at the bottom of the world’s oceans, and the rift is indeed likely the beginning of a new sea.

The new study, published in the latest issue of Geophysical Research Letters, suggests that the highly active volcanic boundaries along the edges of tectonic ocean plates may suddenly break apart in large sections, instead of little by little as has been predominantly believed. In addition, such sudden large-scale events on land pose a much more serious hazard to populations living near the rift than would several smaller events, says Cindy Ebinger, professor of earth and environmental sciences at the University of Rochester and co-author of the study…

“The whole point of this study is to learn whether what is happening in Ethiopia is like what is happening at the bottom of the ocean where it’s almost impossible for us to go,” says Ebinger. “We knew that if we could establish that, then Ethiopia would essentially be a unique and superb ocean-ridge laboratory for us. Because of the unprecedented cross-border collaboration behind this research, we now know that the answer is yes, it is analogous.”

Atalay Ayele’s reconstruction of events showed that the rift did not open in a series of small earthquakes over an extended period of time, but tore open along its entire 35-mile length in just days. A volcano called Dabbahu at the northern end of the rift erupted first, then magma pushed up through the middle of the rift area and began “unzipping” the rift in both directions, says Ebinger.

Wow! How many times have I said this? Starting out today – this would be one of the places I would head to – to try to be of some use – either as chronicler or working in computational analysis.

Are you ready to include prayer in Health Care Reform?

A little-noticed measure would put Christian Science healing sessions on the same footing as clinical medicine. Critics say it violates the separation of church and state.

I wouldn’t use the word “critics”. How about people with a brain? How about Constitutionalist?

Reporting from Washington – Backed by some of the most powerful members of the Senate, a little-noticed provision in the healthcare overhaul bill would require insurers to consider covering Christian Science prayer treatments as medical expenses.

The provision was inserted by Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) with the support of Democratic Sens. John F. Kerry and the late Edward M. Kennedy, both of Massachusetts, home to the headquarters of the Church of Christ, Scientist.

The measure would put Christian Science prayer treatments — which substitute for or supplement medical treatments — on the same footing as clinical medicine. While not mentioning the church by name, it would prohibit discrimination against “religious and spiritual healthcare.”

It would have a minor effect on the overall cost of the bill — Christian Science is a small church, and the prayer treatments can cost as little as $20 a day. But it has nevertheless stirred an intense controversy over the constitutional separation of church and state, and the possibility that other churches might seek reimbursements for so-called spiritual healing…

Dr. Norman Fost, a pediatrician and medical ethicist at the University of Wisconsin, said the measure went against the goal of reducing healthcare costs by improving evidence-based medical practices.

“They want a special exception for people who use unproved treatments, and they also want to get paid for it,” he said. “They want people who use prayer to have it just automatically accepted as a legitimate therapy.”

Let’s face it. The religious nutballs who dedicate their lives to bankrolls and political power will jump on this bandwagon like stink on a cesspool.

Fear of fatwa axed disaster scene from film “2012”

He blew up the Empire State Building and the White House in Independence Day, sent a giant monster careering through the heart of Manhattan in Godzilla and destroyed the famous Hollywood sign in The Day After Tomorrow. But it seems there are places even Roland Emmerich will not go – the German film-maker has revealed he abandoned plans to obliterate Islam’s holiest site on the big screen for fear of attracting a fatwa.

For his latest disaster movie, 2012, the 53-year-old director had wanted to demolish the Kaaba, the iconic cube-shaped structure in the Grand Mosque in Mecca that Muslims the world over turn towards every day when they pray and which they circle seven times during the hajj pilgrimage…

“I wanted to do that, I have to admit,” Emmerich told “But my co-writer Harald [Kloser] said I will not have a fatwa on my head because of a movie. And he was right.

We have to all, in the western world, think about this. You can actually let Christian symbols fall apart, but if you would do this with [an] Arab symbol, you would have … a fatwa, and that sounds a little bit like what the state of this world is.

He thinks he’s safe blowing up secular symbols like the White House – and he’s probably correct. He thinks he’s safe blowing up Christian symbols like the Sistine Chapel or Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio – and he’s probably correct – unless he tries for the Ten Commandments in some jerkwater town in the Bible Belt.

The saddest aspect is he’s probably also right about endangering the lives of thousands of moviegoers – if he destroyed the Kaaba.

I think all religions are about as useless as our vestigial appendix, all the leftovers from our cave-dwelling days and earlier. For a few to give themselves the right to censor freedom, art and opinion is criminal.

Flu vaccine for pregnant women protects their infants

Infants born to women who received influenza vaccine during pregnancy were hospitalized at a lower rate than infants born to unvaccinated mothers, according to preliminary results of an ongoing study by researchers at Yale School of Medicine…

Influenza is a major cause of serious respiratory disease in pregnant women and of hospitalization in infants. Although the flu vaccine is recommended for all pregnant women and children, no vaccine is approved for infants less than six months of age. Preventive strategies for this age group include general infection control and vaccination of those coming in close contact with them. Few studies have examined the effectiveness of the flu vaccine during pregnancy…

“We found that vaccinating mothers during pregnancy was 80 percent effective in preventing hospitalization due to influenza in their infants during the first year of life and 89 percent effective in preventing hospitalization in infants under six months of age,” said Marietta Vázquez, M.D..

“These results not only have a positive impact on the health of susceptible infants, but also may be very cost effective, as it involves one vaccine providing protection to two individuals,” Vázquez added. “The findings may also help establish public health policy, increase awareness of the importance of influenza vaccination during pregnancy, and even help to overcome barriers to vaccination.”

Bravo! I don’t know if I can take so much good news in such a short article.

Republican fears healthcare reform more than terrorists – WTF?

A Republican member of Congress said Monday Americans “have more to fear” from Democratic healthcare reform than from terrorists.

Rep. Virginia Foxx said people in her North Carolina district are afraid of the Democrats’ healthcare reform proposal, which could be brought to the full House for debate as soon as this week, CNN reported…

“I believe we have more to fear from the potential of that bill passing than we do from any terrorist right now in any country.”

The Democratic National Committee issued a statement calling Foxx’s comments “outrageous.”

“Sadly, these inexplicable comments represent what is now the mainstream of a Republican Party that has been hijacked by an extremist far right-wing faction that craves ideological purity, will purge dissent, and offer nothing but reactionary opposition to progress,” the statement said.

Even taking into account where this nutball comes from – lobbying for federal subsidies for growing tobacco is the core of her political mandate – you have to wonder from what part of cloud-cuckooland she gets her bank account ideology.

Or has the insurance industry gotten so desperate they will hurl money at political hacks who oppose pretty much any sensible benefits for working folks?