Top US general in Africa may escape being court-martialed

The former top U.S. general in Africa won’t face court martial over accusations he misused hundreds of thousands of dollars, former military lawyers predict.

A report by the Defense Department’s inspector general says Gen. William “Kip” Ward committed a variety of non-criminal offenses as the first head of Africa Command…

Among the offenses, the inspector general said Ward was reimbursed for personal travel, spent $18,500 on gifts at his change-of-command ceremony and accepted free meals and tickets from a prohibited source.

While Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is due to decide in the next few weeks whether to charge Ward, former military attorneys said court-martialing a senior officer is a difficult task.

Military rules require that jurors deciding any court-martial be of equal or greater rank than the defendant. In Ward’s case, it’s not certain that his alleged wrongdoings reach the level appropriate for a court-martial. However, he could be tried for failing to obey an order or regulation.

It’s more likely, the attorneys say, that Ward will face a battery of non-judicial administrative punishments…He could be reprimanded and fined, and forced to retire at a lower rank, which would slash his monthly benefits.

Rank still has its privileges. Including how to escape from a jury because of scarce peers.

Internet Cat Video Film Festival — a purrfect evening

Minneapolis — You could hear the meows nearly a block away, and also the “awwws.” The laughter too.

On Thursday evening the Walker Art Center, one of the nation’s most prominent institutions of contemporary art, hosted the inaugural Internet Cat Video Film Festival here. An estimated 10,000 people turned out for an event that was, from its inception to its closing credits, an online meme made flesh (and fur).

The crowd — easily double what organizers expected — packed the lawn outside the museum, spilling onto the sidewalks across the street. There were local cat lovers and out-of-state fans of Fluffy; many wore kitty-theme T-shirts or simply ears and whiskers. Some took real cats on leashes. A few dogs came, for irony.

They all settled in for a screening of cats behaving badly, or cutely, or mysteriously, sometimes all at once. That much of the audience had already seen the clips on YouTube did not seem to diminish the enthusiasm. Quite the contrary…

It is an axiom of Internet life that the cat video is king, so perhaps it was only a matter of time until something like this sprang up. Museum officials were quick to note that it was a playful, not curatorial, offering, less Cannes than I Can Haz Film Fest, as the Lolcats might have it. But the festival did feed into the desire, driven by social media, to translate digital culture and create community offline. It explored the ways that august institutions can employ the Web as they seek new audiences. And it highlighted an age-old rift, bringing some potentially embarrassing behavior out of the shadows…

The Golden Kitty award, chosen by visitors to the Walker’s Web site, went to Will Braden for his two-minute opus “Henri 2: Paw de Deux,” about the existential angst of a black-and-white French puss. “This goes to show that the shared love of cat videos isn’t just a virtual thing, isn’t just a matter of a few clicks, but actually something people can share in real life,” Mr. Braden, 32, said. “I think this legitimizes it.”

A filmmaker from Seattle, he now makes his living from Henri, le Chat Noir, as he’s called. There is an online store that sells $1,000 worth of T-shirts and mugs a week, he said, and a book — the philosophical musings of Henri — due from a Random House imprint.

Read the whole article, immerse yourself in the feeling of an art festival created entirely by nutty netizens like us all – and our small companions.

Burning container ship off England’s coast is a floating bomb

The stricken MSC Flaminia, described as a “floating bomb”, has been burning for seven weeks in the Atlantic Ocean after an explosion left a crewman dead and caused extensive damage to the vessel.

It was due to be towed to Germany after limping around international waters since early July but its crew are now awaiting a final coastal inspection and permission from Hugh Shaw, the government’s salvage representative, to continue.

Amid fears of a major leak, Mikhail Voytenko, the former editor-in-chief of the online Sovfrakht Marine Bulletin, claimed the cargo in 149 containers was classed as hazardous, corrosive or flammable.

Among its contents were liquid polychlorinated biphenyls [PCBs], the pesticide isopropylamine, nitromethane, a fuel used in the Oklahoma City bombing, phosphorus, liquid amines and sodium.

“MSC Flaminia is actually a big chemical, toxic and miscellaneous dangerous substances floating bomb,” said Mr Voytenko, who fled from Russia in 2009 and is now exiled in Bangkok, Thailand…

Mr Shaw has so far refused to allow Dutch, British and Italian tug skippers to tow it through British coastal waters until an international six-man team of inspectors can examine persistent “hot spots” in the hold.

Environmental groups have expressed outrage at the slowness of the response to the emergency and France’s environment ministry has said that 37 of the containers on board the ship “could be a risk for the environment”…

The ship’s owners have permission for it to unload at a deep-water berth near Wilhelmshaven, Germany; but, Hugh Shaw is adamant about inspecting before a tow can begin.

Meanwhile…tick, tick, tick!

Secret royal veto powers over new laws exposed to public

Is this where the final say on law in the UK must reside?

A little-known power enjoyed by the Queen and Prince of Wales to alter new laws is due to be exposed after the government lost a legal battle to keep details of its application private.

The information commissioner has ruled that the Cabinet Office must publish an internal Whitehall guide to the way the senior royals are consulted before legislation is introduced to ensure it does not harm their private interests.

The application of the controversial veto was revealed by the Guardian last year and has been described by constitutional lawyers as “a royal nuclear deterrent”. Some believe it may underpin the influence Prince Charles appears to wield in Whitehall over pet issues ranging from architecture to healthcare…

Lord Berkeley, a Labour peer who was told to seek Charles’s consent on a marine navigation bill, said the commissioner’s decision was “absolutely right”. He said publication could shed light on a little-known procedure that allows the prince and the Queen “to fiddle around with bills to make sure they don’t affect their private interests”.

“People will start thinking, what the hell is going on?” he said. “We are in the 21st century, not the 18th century and it is crazy to think they are even trying to do this. The royal family should give up this special privilege and we should all obey the law of the land. Just because they have private estates, private incomes and land from several centuries ago doesn’t mean they should have the right to interfere.”

The latest crack in the edifice of secrecy around Charles’s influence on public life came after a legal scholar, John Kirkhope, asked for Whitehall’s internal manuals on consulting the royals…”As a citizen of this country I have a proper interest in ensuring the process by which laws are made should be transparent and that those who are given special privileges should be accountable. That is demonstrably not the case with regard to the Duchy of Cornwall.”

RTFA for chilling examples of Prince Charles interfering with local planning and construction permissions which didn’t meet his aesthetic requirements. Which – in one instance – resulted in the architect being fired and the whole project redrawn to the Prince’s specification.

Most Americans look at retention of the monarchy in the UK as an exercise in a nationalized Royal Disneyland. As a fiscal conservative I think the expenditure is absurd and criminal. But, it’s your boat, folks. If you want to pay off someone for the privilege of rowing it yourselves – please continue to do so.

Republican whine: Not enough “angry white guys” to sustain GOP

Try as Republican leaders might to foreground as many minority party members as they can find, the lack of racial diversity in the GOP is evident, and at least one prominent Republican lawmaker is becoming increasingly concerned.

“The demographics race we’re losing badly,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told the Washington Post. “We’re not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term.”

True enough: In a recent piece on the presidental election’s “racial calculations,” National Jounal’s Ron Brownstein noted that Camp Romney needs to secure a likely unattainable percentage of white voters for a chance to win in November.

“A GOP coalition that relies almost entirely on whites could squeeze out one more narrow victory in November,” Brownstein writes. “But if Republicans can’t find more effective ways to bridge the priorities of their conservative core and the diversifying Next America, that weight will grow more daunting every year.”

Ain’t it heartwarming to hear one of these Republican power brokers admit that their racist strategy, their commitment to reliance upon racist fears, is wearing thin.

That Republican “big tent” couldn’t house half my neighborhood. The half that ain’t Anglo.

Schlumberger’s clever frack takes aim at NatGas costs

Production costs of natural gas from unconventional fields could tumble in the United States if a new technique developed by Schlumberger lives up to its billing.

The world’s largest oilfield services company by market value and others working in the industry have suffered this year because the runaway success of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and horizontal drilling techniques to extract so-called unconventional gas has created a glut and caused a price slide.

But using a proprietary system called Hiway that only became commercially viable last year, Schlumberger’s fracker in chief believes he has knocked a lump out of the infant industry’s three major cost components; water, sand, and trucks…

Less sand, less water and less pumping adds up to fewer trucks, Kyel Hodenfield explained on the sidelines of the Offshore Northern Seas (ONS) conference in Stavanger, Norway.

“Those are the big costs. Anything you can do to reduce the amount of sand, the amount of water, and the amount of horsepower is going to fall to the bottom line…”

Hodenfield, who grew up in North Dakota where the Bakken field is at the centre of the U.S. shale gas boom, brightens at the opportunity to explain a process that adds a proprietary fiber to the traditional sand and fluid mix, and uses a “pulsing” system to send globs of the fiber in between each injection.

The dissolvable fiber globs create more effective channels for the gas to flow, and the pulsing rhythm can be made to match the geological structure of the rock, also pushing the sand deeper into the cracks and resulting in more effective openings that conduct gas better for every liter pumped in…

Hodenfield says smarter technology is also the key to reducing the environmental impact of fracking in shale rock, tight gas, coal bed methane and other unconventional gas fields.

“We have a choice,” he said. “We can take the brute force approach and drill a lot of wells and frack a lot of wells and live with the production variation and compensate that by drilling even more wells (with the consequent environmental footprint), or you drill only the best wells by defining the sweet spot and optimize the completion by technology.”

BITD, I always wanted to go to work for Schlumberger. They’ve always been the smartest guys in the oil field. They ran the cleanest job sites – and that is a for-real reflection of their attitude towards environmental questions.

And natural gas is the best choice we have for converting existing power sources running on fossil fuel. It’s the most cost-efficient conversion process, the cheapest of the fossil fuels and pollution diminishes by half or more. And the United States has beaucoup natural gas.

I know one local enviro driving a production Honda that runs on NatGas. His mileage is as good as ever and he pays the equivalent of $1.61 a gallon for the good stuff.