EU rejects Obama’s continuation of Bush’s bank snooping

The European Parliament has strongly rejected a deal that would have allowed U.S. authorities continued access to data on European bank transfers, striking a blow to the Obama administration’s effort to continue a controversial global terrorist finance tracking program begun under the George W. Bush administration.

The lawmakers’ 378 to 196 vote is sure to spark a transatlantic tussle over what the United States has said is a significant tool in tracking and disrupting terrorist plots aimed at the U.S. and Europe.

The vote came despite intense lobbying in recent days by top U.S. officials including Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. The U.S. mission to the European Union said it was “disappointed” with the EU move, calling it “a setback for U.S.-EU counterterror cooperation…”

“There’s a whole list of concerns that have to do with insufficient redress for EU citizens, no sufficient clarity about whom the data will be shared with and the fact that it is bulk data that are shared,” said Sophie in’t Veld, a Dutch member of parliament opposed to the deal. “The data handed over is a huge pile, not targeted at all. So that was a huge issue.”

Craven beancounters needn’t cower too far under the covers, though. American banks are still forced upon pain of death, doom and destruction to comply with Bush-era rules.

China’s bullet train project shoots past schedule

The world’s largest human migration — the annual crush of Chinese traveling home to celebrate the Lunar New Year, which is this Sunday — is going a little faster this time thanks to a new high-speed rail line.

The Chinese bullet train, which has the world’s fastest average speed, connects Guangzhou, the southern coastal manufacturing center, to Wuhan, deep in the interior. In a little more than three hours, it travels 664 miles, comparable to the distance from Boston to southern Virginia. That is less time than Amtrak’s fastest train, the Acela, takes to go from Boston just to New York.

Even more impressive, the Guangzhou-to-Wuhan train is just one of 42 high-speed lines recently opened or set to open by 2012 in China. By comparison, the United States hopes to build its first high-speed rail line by 2014, an 84-mile route linking Tampa and Orlando, Fla.

Speaking at that site last month, President Obama warned that the United States was falling behind Asia and Europe in high-speed rail construction and other clean energy industries. “Other countries aren’t waiting,” he said. “They want those jobs. China wants those jobs. Germany wants those jobs. They are going after them hard, making the investments required.”

Indeed, the web of superfast trains promises to make China even more economically competitive, connecting this vast country — roughly the same size as the United States — as never before, much as the building of the Interstate highway system increased productivity and reduced costs in America a half-century ago…

On a recent Wednesday, the 2:50 p.m. bullet train glided smoothly out of Guangzhou’s station and within four minutes was traveling more than 200 miles an hour. Practically every seat on the 14-car train was full of migrants heading home for Chinese New Year…

China’s response to the Great Recession was to invest federal funds in infrastructure capable of moving people as well as commodities. The Bullet Train project was targeted at 2020 in the original plan. When the recession hit, the emergency decision was made to accelerate construction.

Hundreds of thousands of workers got instant jobs. Manufacturers of components – global and domestic – benefitted from the new pace of production. And we’re told by conservative beancounters we should worry more about deficits than jobs or results.

Utah votes “No Confidence” in science

Carbon dioxide is “essentially harmless” to human beings and good for plants. So now will you stop worrying about global warming?

Utah’s House of Representatives apparently has at least. Officially the most Republican state in America, its political masters have adopted a resolution condemning “climate alarmists”, and disputing any scientific basis for global warming.

The measure, which passed by 56-17, has no legal force, though it was predictably claimed by climate change sceptics as a great victory…

But it does offer a view of state politicians’ concerns in Utah which is a major oil and coal producing state…

Representative Mike Noel said environmentalists were part of a vast conspiracy to destroy the American way of life and control world population through forced sterilisation and abortion.

By the time the final version of the bill came to a vote, cooler heads apparently prevailed. The bill dropped the word “conspiracy”, and described climate science as “questionable” rather than “flawed”…

As Noel explained: “Sometimes … we need to have the courage to do nothing.”

As we all know, Republicans don’t really need encouragement to “do nothing”. Obstructionism, insofar as it delays jobs, public health, education or civil rights – is a Republican folk art.

CSI sleuths target 16th-century Italian murder

As seen on TV

Police in Sicily have called in an international team of forensic scientists and criminologists to help solve the case of a murdered Baroness, 447 years after the crime.

The investigation in Carini — a small town near Palermo — centers on the castle where Baroness Laura Lanza was killed in 1563 with her lover Ludovico Vernagallo when they were caught in bed together…

The Baroness’s father Cesare confessed to the honor killing in a letter to the king, which is currently archived in the Chiesa Madre church in Carini.

“Legend has it, however, that Cesare Lanza did not act alone, but was helped by his son-in-law, Don Vincenzo La Grua,” said the Mayor…

“The idea for the investigation began as a joke,” Marco Strano told Reuters. “I visited Carini in June and when I met La Fata I teased him for not having resolved the murder yet, so he challenged me to solve it.”

And the tourism biz can always use a boost.

iTunes soon to reach 10 billion song milestone – WINNER

Apple’s iTunes music store will soon reach 10 billion songs sold since its inception in April of 2003, and is marking this accomplishment with a contest rewarding the purchaser of the 10 billionth song a $10,000 iTunes card.

While Apple’s iTunes took nearly three years to reach its first billion, it will soon surpass 10 billion songs sold since the online music service was introduced in 2003…

“iTunes changed the way you buy music, making songs and albums available for download, day or night. Seven years later, we’re about to celebrate our biggest milestone for music, yet — 10 billion songs downloaded,” states Apple’s website.

You can enter at the site without a purchase, BTW.

Apple celebrated 3 billion songs sold in July of 2007 after four years of sales. Thursday’s contest announcement reveals that sales trends since then have greatly increased. iTunes has taken only three years to make its 10 billion song milestone.

In many ways, iTunes has been a core qualitative change in entertainment communications – usually unmentioned by pundits who only focus on hardware and the software running on that hardware.

iTunes functions – for me – as a cloud aggregator, as a media manager for home entertainment and more. I have a dozen or so regular iTunes subscriptions which bring HDTV programs, mostly documentaries and geek programs like Tekzilla into my living room TV set via AppleTV on a weekly basis.

iTunes and the AppleTV serve the same function for programs, documentaries, I download from the Web and import into iTunes to be distributed throughout the house as required. It’s all simple and easy – as it should be. I don’t mind mentioning, as I often have to content providers, if you’re sensible enough to make your content available on iTunes the market for your intellectual wares is broadened and deepened so much more over making consumers search for it through the whole web.

Update WINNER: Louie Sulcer of Woodstock, Georgia. The 10 billionth song downloaded? “Guess Things Happen That Way” by Johnny Cash.

Mescal worm test shows DNA leaks into booze

Just because you don’t swallow the worm at the bottom of a bottle of mescal doesn’t mean you have avoided the essential worminess of the potent Mexican liquor, according to scientists at the University of Guelph.

Researchers from U of G’s Biodiversity Institute of Ontario (BIO) have discovered that mescal itself contains the DNA of the agave butterfly caterpillar — the famously tasty “worm” that many avoid consuming

The BIO researchers set out to test a hypothesis that DNA from a preserved specimen can leak into its preservative liquid. As part of their study, they tested a sample of liquid from a bottle of mescal. The liquor was found to contain DNA, which they amplified and sequenced to obtain a DNA barcode — telltale genetic material that identifies species of living things.

Comparing the sample to thousands of records of Lepidoptera DNA barcodes stored in the Barcode of Life Data Systems database at Guelph confirmed that the mescal liquid contained DNA related to the agave’s family…

“Showing that the DNA of a preserved specimen can be obtained from the preservative liquid introduces a range of important possibilities,” Mehrdad Hajibabaei said. “We can develop inexpensive, high-throughput, field-friendly and non-invasive genetic analysis protocols for situations where the original tissue cannot be touched or when there is simply no sample left for analysis.”

Another important possibility is a helluva sci-fi movie about a drunk turning into a killer caterpillar.


The great tv-smashing video

A 23-year-old Georgia man has been charged with walking into a Walmart, picking up a metal baseball bat from the sports department and pummeling 29 flat-screen TVs

Lilburn, Ga., police accused Westley Strellis of 29 counts of criminal damage to property in the amount of $22,000….

Police said Strellis told officers that the prescription medicine he was carrying in his pocket is for treatment of depression.

Hmm.. I wonder how loud the tvs were. It’s the first question I would have asked as a reporter.