Saturn’s jet stream hexagon emerges from darkness

After waiting years for the sun to illuminate Saturn’s north pole again, cameras aboard NASA’s Cassini spacecraft have captured the most detailed images yet of the intriguing hexagon shape crowning the planet.

The new images of the hexagon, whose shape is the path of a jet stream flowing around the north pole, reveal concentric circles, curlicues, walls and streamers not seen in previous images.

The last visible-light images of the entire hexagon were captured by NASA’s Voyager spacecraft nearly 30 years ago, the last time spring began on Saturn. After the sunlight faded, darkness shrouded the north pole for 15 years. Much to the delight and bafflement of Cassini scientists, the location and shape of the hexagon in the latest images match up with what they saw in the Voyager pictures.

The longevity of the hexagon makes this something special, given that weather on Earth lasts on the order of weeks,” said Kunio Sayanagi, a Cassini imaging team associate at the California Institute of Technology. “It’s a mystery on par with the strange weather conditions that give rise to the long-lived Great Red Spot of Jupiter…”

“Now that we can see undulations and circular features instead of blobs in the hexagon, we can start trying to solve some of the unanswered questions about one of the most bizarre things we’ve ever seen in the solar system,” Baines said. “Solving these unanswered questions about the hexagon will help us answer basic questions about weather that we’re still asking about our own planet.”

Questions, of course, that will be answered by scientists committed to knowledge, research – rather than paid Exxon flacks and their acolytes.

Yes, Virginia – there really is a Google phone – UPDATED

HTC Bravo – which may be the base for GooglePhone

Om Malik is barely back in the country from attending Le Web in Paris and he’s on the hunt for the Google Phone story. Stay tuned.

Yes Virginia, there really is a Google Phone! And no, I don’t mean all those Android-powered devices, but instead a Google-branded phone that is made by an original equipment maker. The company has started giving away these devices to its employees, who started tweeting about it last night, and the company had to make an announcement this morning.

In a blog post on the Android Blog, Mario Queiroz, Vice President, Product Management writes:

We recently came up with the concept of a mobile lab, which is a device that combines innovative hardware from a partner with software that runs on Android to experiment with new mobile features and capabilities, and we shared this device with Google employees across the globe. This means they get to test out a new technology and help improve it. Unfortunately, because dogfooding is a process exclusively for Google employees, we cannot share specific product details. We hope to share more after our dogfood diet.

Amazing, crazy, why? Those were the first things that ran through my mind when I read that Google is actually to make a device. This is very much a page out of Microsoft’s playbook. Microsoft makes specification designs and Google seems to be doing just that…

Reading between the lines, Google’s decision to release a device shows that the company is worried about the fear of fragmentation of the Android ecosystem that we have often talked about. By putting its stake in the ground, the company is hoping that it doesn’t make the mistake that Microsoft made by dragging its feet in releasing Zune and ceding the market to Apple’s iPod.

I think it’s the smart way to deal with open source. Everyone and their dog can have their shot at rejiggering Android to fit their needs; but, it’s incumbent upon the designer of the OS to maintain core standards – and what better way to do so than by offering their own hardware.

UPDATE: A bit more info this morning, including natural tie-in with T-Mobile and the phone being sold only direct retail – no carrier.

Iranian men don hijabs to protest student leader’s arrest

Iranian opposition supporters have launched an online campaign to free a student activist accused of dressing as a woman to try to avoid arrest.

Hundreds of men have posted photos of themselves wearing Islamic headscarves as part of the “Be a man” campaign to show solidarity with Majid Tavakoli. He was arrested during protests in Tehran on Monday and state media showed images of him in headscarf and robes.

The opposition say the pictures were staged in a bid to discredit him. They say he was not wearing the headscarf and robes when he was arrested.

Iranian state media say Mr Tavakoli was arrested as he sought to leave Tehran’s Amir Kabir university “disguised as a woman” after Student Day protests.

One US-based website for Iranian expatriates,, has posted scores of photos submitted by readers.

Iranian men are showing their solidarity with Tavakoli by wearing a hijab and posting their photo on the web,” reads its appeal to send in photos.

Some of the website’s readers argue that the campaign is also a gesture of solidarity with Iranian women, who are obliged by the authorities to wear the hijab in public.

Har! There must be some useful parallels for folks in the GOUSA.

We could wear hockey skates and pretend to be Canadians during debates on healthcare reform.

Canadian writer beaten and arrested at US border

Hugo-award-nominated science fiction author Dr. Peter Watts is in serious legal trouble after he was beaten, pepper-sprayed and imprisoned by American border guards at a Canada U.S. border crossing December 8.

Peter, a Canadian citizen, was on his way back to Canada after helping a friend move house to Nebraska over the weekend. He was stopped at the border crossing at Port Huron, Michigan by U.S. border police for a search of his rental vehicle. When Peter got out of the car and questioned the nature of the search, the gang of border guards subjected him to a beating, restrained him and pepper sprayed him.

At the end of it, local police laid a felony charge of assault against a federal officer against Peter.

On Wednesday, he posted bond and was taken across the border to Canada in shirtsleeves (he was released by Port Huron officials with his car and possessions locked in impound, into a winter storm that evening).

He’s home safe. For now. But he has to go back to Michigan to face the charge brought against him.

The charge is spurious. But it’s also very serious. It could mean two years in prison in the United States, and a ban on travel in that country for the rest of Peter’s life. Peter is mounting a vigorous defense, but it’s going to be expensive – he’s effectively going up against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and he needs the best legal help that he can get.

RTFA for details, an interview with Peter, comments by friends and peers.

Thanks, Cinaedh

Lawsuit tourism trundles down to Oz!

In an internet defamation case that lawyers say could set an “extraordinary precedent”, an American games company is suing a British blogger in the Australian courts.

Evony, an online games company registered in the US state of Delaware, is suing Coventry-based blogger Bruce Everiss for libel over a series of allegations made on his website. In a bizarre twist, however, Evony has decided not to pursue its case in Britain or America, but 10,000 miles away.

A hearing in Sydney on Monday will determine whether or not the supreme court of New South Wales has jurisdiction – with the potential to set a precedent for the way defamation laws are applied to the online world.

Evony’s owners…have accused Everiss – a 30-year veteran of the computer games industry – of damaging their reputation with a series of claims made on his blog. Among the allegations that Evony is objecting to are claims that the game is exploitative and has links to another company that is already being sued for fraud by Microsoft.

Evony – which has also threatened legal action against the Guardian for similar claims made in an article published in July – says that the assertions made by Everiss are completely untrue and damaging to its business, and that neither the company nor its owners are associated with fraud or implicated or involved with the Microsoft case.

Before the case against Everiss reaches court, however, Evony must first argue why a company registered in the US should use the Australian courts to take action against a British citizen…

The blogger himself, who does not intend to make an appearance in Sydney, has responded angrily to the action and accused Evony of libel tourism.

Sleaze is becoming America’s primary export.

Year-end audit finds TARP program effective and improving

Timothy Geithner and Elizabeth Warren
Daylife/Reuters Pictures used by permission

The independent panel that oversees the government’s financial bailout program concluded in a year-end review that, despite flaws and lingering problems, the program “can be credited with stopping an economic panic.”

The Congressional Oversight Panel, which issued the report, was created in October 2008 by the same law that established the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program. The panel has often been critical of the Treasury Department’s management of the bailout operation, especially at its start in the Bush administration but also under the Obama administration.

In the latest monthly report released on Wednesday, the panel again criticized the Treasury Department under Secretary Timothy F. Geithner for “failure to articulate clear goals or to provide specific measures of success for the program” as it has morphed over time from rescuing financial institutions to propping up securitization markets, auto manufacturers and home mortgages in danger of default. The panel also described the program’s foreclosure mitigation efforts as inadequate.

Mr. Geithner announced Wednesday that the administration would extend the bailout program until Oct. 3, 2010. In a letter, Mr. Geithner told lawmakers that the extension was needed to assist families and stabilize financial markets.

Which is – after all – what the economic critics were asking for.

The assessment by the oversight panel coincides with the Obama administration’s expansion of TARP yet again, to extend credit to small businesses that cannot get loans from still-skittish banks. President Obama highlighted the new mandate in his economic speech, saying that the bailout program should now work for Main Street as well as Wall Street…

“Even so,” the panel concluded, “there is broad consensus that the TARP was an important part of a broader government strategy that stabilized the U.S. financial system by renewing the flow of credit and averting a more acute crisis.”

It added, “Although the government’s response to the crisis was at first haphazard and uncertain, it eventually proved decisive enough to stop the panic and restore market confidence.”

I would presume that after another couple decades of progress – if we provide the oversight erased by eight years of voodoo economics – we may have up to a dozen or so folks in Congress who have studied economics, Keynes, Leontiev, and make an effort to understand a taste of managing a market economy.

No doubt that will include no Republicans. The only part they “get” is subsidizing non-consumable goods, e.g., their pet military-industrial corporations.

Whiners try for White House Hanukkah tsimmis

Why wasn’t I invited?

In a statement issued Friday, the president and first lady Michelle Obama sent “warmest wishes to all who are celebrating Hanukkah around the world.”

But a Hanukkah party in the State Room next Wednesday has generated some criticism over the size of the guest list and the wording of the invitation, The New York Times reported.

Some are disturbed that the guest list for the president’s party is smaller than at Hanukkah parties in the Bush administration.

An Israeli newspaper ran a headline, “Obama downsizes Hanukkah in the White House,” the Times said…

But Rabbi Levi Shemtov, tasked with making sure the White House kitchen is kosher for the party, called it a tempest in a teapot…

This is all one big overblown latke,” Shemtov said. “I feel that we need to save our communal kvetching in reserve for when it’s more called for and really matters.”

“Really matters” doesn’t really matter, of course, to nudniks whose only remaining role in politics – since the last election – is to whine.