Folks in Uruguay finally got around to building a bridge over Laguna Garzón

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When building bridges, designers do not often think about making their bridge round, but that is exactly what Uruguayan architect Rafael Viñoly did. The bridge spanning the Laguna Garzón in Uruguay just opened to the public and it has people wondering why such a structure was ever built. In sharp contrast to many purely architectural projects, this bridge actually has a need and purpose.

Designers of the bridge wanted to devise a way to slow down traffic while also forcing them to look out and appreciate the environment around them. The non-traditional circular design was selected through years of governmental debate. The bridge has a radius of 51.5 meters bracketed by two straight sections at the entrances measuring 46 meters. This design incredibly allowed for two lanes of traffic while creating a lagoon in the center that can be used for fishing…

Circular bridges aren’t uncommon, however they are rarely meant for road traffic. The Laguna Garzón bridge combines the beauty of a circular structure with key functional aspects of its design and the wonder of the landscape. While the project does not garner its attention from extreme size, the bridge is gaining a lot of interest, just as designers and officials intended.

Officials hope to attract the sort of tourist who cares for beauty, quiet design, nature – to a coastal region mostly ignored by the usual strain of sightseer.

Certainly attractive to me.

Nuclear weapons screwup withheld from experts reviewing nuclear weapons screwups


In the spring of 2014, as a team of experts was examining what ailed the U.S. nuclear force, the Air Force withheld from them the fact that it was simultaneously investigating damage to a nuclear-armed missile in its launch silo caused by three airmen…

The accident happened May 17, 2014, at an underground launch silo containing a Minuteman 3 intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM. The silo, designated Juliet-07, is situated among wheat fields and wind turbines about 9 miles west of Peetz, Colorado. It is controlled by launch officers of the 320th Missile Squadron and administered by the 90th Missile Wing at F.E. Warren Air Force Base at Cheyenne, Wyoming.

The Air Force said that while three airmen were troubleshooting the missile, a “mishap” occurred, causing $1.8 million in damage to the missile. The service declined to explain the nature of the mishap, such as whether it caused physical damage, saying the information is too sensitive to be made public.

The three airmen were immediately stripped of their certification to perform nuclear weapons duty. The missile was taken offline and removed from its silo. No one was injured and the Air Force said the accident posed no risk to public safety.

More than a year later the three airmen were recertified and returned to duty.

At the time of the accident, a group of nuclear weapons experts was nearing the end of a three-month independent review of the entire U.S. nuclear force…The experts were operating on orders from then-Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who asked them to begin their review in March. They reported their results to him June 2.

The AP asked Lt. Col. John Sheets, spokesman…whether the May 17 accident had been reported to the Hagel-appointed review group…“No. The accident was going through the investigative process when” the review teams made their visits to ICBM bases, Sheets said. Pressed further, he said he could say no more and referred questions about this to the Pentagon, which did not immediately comment…

…The Air Force would not disclose the cause or the evidence. It said the cause is cited in the investigation report. The Air Force refused to make that public, saying the report is classified, even though the service’s own policy requires the public release of accident board reports.

The amount of damage to the missile — $1.8 million, according to the Air Force — suggests that the airmen’s errors might have caused physical damage, Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists said. If so, he said, it could have been categorized by the Air Force as a “Bent Spear” event, which is an official reporting code word for a significant nuclear weapon incident…

…Pentagon leaders were briefed on the results of the accident investigation in December 2015. Members of Congress also were briefed…


Commodities bear market a positive for China’s new Silk Road

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While commodities producers grapple with the lowest prices in more than a decade, the slump could prove a blessing for President Xi Jinping’s signature initiative to build an intercontinental web of infrastructure and trade links with China at the center.

The New Silk Road program announced by Xi more than two years ago is finally gathering steam just as the prices of oil, steel, concrete and other building materials sink. That’s making it easier for China to sell its ambitious vision to build roads, railways, pipelines and ports from Xian to Athens, diversifying the country’s trade options and exporting excess industrial capacity…

The so-called Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road — or “One Belt, One Road,” for short — sits at the center of Xi’s effort to bolster geo-economic clout across more than 70 countries in Asia, Europe and Africa. With many nations along the route dependent on commodities exports, the prices slump could make them more willing to accept Beijing’s investment pitch and a share of its $40 billion Silk Road infrastructure fund.

Think “shovel ready”

The Silk Road, which until recently appeared to be a nebulous collection of existing projects and civil engineer pipe dreams, is finally taking shape. Xi hosted senior financial officials from 57 countries in Beijing…to mark the formal launch of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which he envisions as a big sponsor for OBOR projects…

“This year was the year of action for the One Belt, One Road, the year when the concept materialized to action and implementation,” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told a conference in Beijing on Dec. 12. China signed more than 20 country-to-country energy cooperation deals last year to facilitate the plan…

The Silk Road has been cast as a solution to several of China’s most vexing challenges, from reducing reliance on oil shipped through Pacific ports to converting economic strength into geopolitical might. The project, outlined in a 9,000-word action plan released in March, would eventually “directly benefit 4.4 billion people, or 63 percent of the global population,” Xinhua said…

With the plan still ramping up, Chinese steelmakers, who produce about half the world’s steel, are already exporting at record levels. Outbound cargoes soared 20 percent to more than 112 million tons last year, an all-time high.

Low commodity prices also make it cheaper for Chinese state-owned companies to acquire energy and material assets along the Silk Road route in exchange for infrastructure, said Hong Hao, chief China strategist at Bocom International Holdings Co. in Hong Kong. “The commodity cycle is still in a secular bear market, and will probably start to consolidate at low levels,” Hong said. “As such, these assets can be had at a cheap price.”

Though there isn’t a direct parallel, it’s worth pointing out the cost-savings China is using to implement new construction could have been directed to repairing and improving our own crap transportation and traffic systems. Decrepit highways and bridges, archaic railways, airport terminals akin to backwater warehouses instead of modern people-movers – all could use some of those cheap commodities.

Instead our own politicians waver between advocacy for 19th Century social idiocy and doing exactly nothing. Wall Street is more concerned with commodities investors – especially those invested in fossil fuels – going down in flames.

Increasing breastfeeding could prevent hundreds of thousands of deaths

Just 1 in 5 children in high-income countries are breastfed to 12 months, whilst only 1 in 3 children in low and middle-income countries are exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months. As a result, millions of children are failing to receive the full benefits provided by breastfeeding. The findings come from the largest and most detailed analysis to quantify levels, trends, and benefits of breastfeeding around the world…

New estimates…reveal that increasing breastfeeding to near-universal levels for infants and young children could save over 800,000 children’s lives a year worldwide, equivalent to 13% of all deaths in children under two, and prevent an extra 20,000 deaths from breast cancer every year.

Although breastfeeding is one of the most effective preventive health measures for children and mothers regardless of where they live, it has been overlooked as a critical need for the health of the population, say the authors.

“There is a widespread misconception that the benefits of breastfeeding only relate to poor countries. Nothing could be further from the truth,” says Series author Professor Cesar Victora from the Federal University of Pelotas in Brazil. “Our work for this Series clearly shows that breastfeeding saves lives and money in all countries, rich and poor alike. Therefore, the importance of tackling the issue globally is greater than ever.”

Analysis of data from 28 systematic reviews and meta-analyses, of which 22 were commissioned specifically for the Series, indicate that breastfeeding not only has multiple health benefits for children and mothers, but it also has dramatic effects on life expectancy. For example, in high-income countries breastfeeding reduces the risk of sudden infant deaths by more than a third, while in low-and middle-income countries about half of all diarrhea episodes and a third of respiratory infections could be avoided by breastfeeding. It also increases intelligence, and might protect against obesity and diabetes in later life. For mothers, longer-duration breastfeeding reduces the risks of breast cancer and ovarian cancer…

Yet, worldwide rates of breastfeeding are low, particularly in high-income countries…“Breastfeeding is one of the few positive health behaviours that is more common in poor than richer countries, and within poor countries, is more frequent among poor mothers,” explains Professor Victora. “The stark reality is that in the absence of breastfeeding, the rich-poor gap in child survival would be even wider…”

Powerful political commitment and financial investment is needed to protect, promote, and support breastfeeding at all levels — family, community, workplace, and government, say the authors. Additionally, more needs to be done to regulate the multi-billion dollar breastmilk-substitute industry which undermines breastfeeding as the best feeding practice in early life

Perish the thought that it is reasonable to ask government and educators to intervene on behalf of healthful, natural life practices – which might lessen the profits of a few corporations.

How to tell if conspiracy theories are real

David Robert Grimes, a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Oxford who studies cancer, is familiar with conspiracy theorists. His mainstream writing for the likes of The Guardian and BBC News has included controversial topics that lend themselves to conspiracies, including homosexuality, climate change and water fluoridation.

“The charge that there is a scientific conspiracy afoot is a common one,” said Grimes, in an email interview with Live Science, “and almost inevitably those making these charges will descend into accusing one of shilling or being an agent of some malignant entity…”

For this new study, Grimes considered four common conspiracy beliefs: that NASA faked the 1969 moon landing during the Apollo 11 mission, that human-caused climate change isn’t real, that vaccines are unsafe, and that pharmaceutical companies are hiding cancer cures from the public. He created an equation to figure out how long these four cover-ups would likely last (if indeed they were cover-ups), given how many people are involved, the likelihood of leaks from the inside (whether on purpose or by accident), and how much upkeep would be required to keep everything under wraps.

Grimes then calculated the potential success of the four conspiracies that continue to garner support. He used the best-case scenario for the conspirators, where the fewest number of people are involved who could leak such undercover machinations…Using the same equation but modifying it to consider the need for added conspirators, the “lie” of climate change would last nearly 27 years if only scientists were involved in the cover-up, but under four years if scientific bodies were to take part. The vaccination conspiracy makes it to almost 35 years if it’s confined to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization, but is revealed in three years and two months if drug companies are co-conspirators. The suppression of a cancer cure — maintained by Novartis, Pfizer, Roche, Sanofi, Merck and Co., Johnson and Johnson, GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca — fails after around three years and three months as well.

Grimes is not idealistic about the impact of his study

“I think true believers will never change their views; in the words of Leon Festinger, ‘A man with a conviction is a hard man to change,'” he said. “While these people are ideologically deeply invested in a given narrative, I would hope that this paper might help the more rational people who have maybe heard some claims and want to ascertain if they’re probable or not.”

His main concern is the myths and conspiracies that could cause serious harm, such as climate change doubters and the anti-vaccination movement. As more people forgo vaccinations for their kids, so-called herd immunity — in which large numbers of people with immunity from a disease can shield smalls numbers of people who are not immune because outbreaks are unlikely — collapses. With this work Grimes is attempting to chip away at the less confident conspiracists and move them toward more science-based beliefs.

There still is no patch for stupidity.

New U.S Navy combat ship sucks at defending against little attack boats

Click to enlarge — Navy strategists still travel in Cold War circles

The U.S. Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship struggled in drills at sea to fend off a swarm of small attacking vessels like the Iranian boats it could encounter in the Persian Gulf, according to the Pentagon’s chief weapons tester.

The fast-attack boats were ultimately defeated by the USS Coronado during three mock engagements in August and September to test its guns and targeting gear. But in two exercises an attacker came too close, penetrating the vessel’s “keep-out” zone, Pentagon testing director Michael Gilmore said in his annual report on major weapons submitted to congressional defense committees.

While Gilmore didn’t mention Iran as a threat, its Islamic Revolutionary Guards operate small boats with crews trained for swarming attacks in the contested waters of the Persian Gulf. The Coronado’s “inability to defeat this relative modest threat beyond ‘keep-out’ range routinely under test conditions raises questions about its ability to deal with more challenging threats…”

“Challenging threats” like military trained for years in tactics using these small attack craft – and fighting to defend their homeland.

The report adds to questions about the vulnerability and reliability of the ships, designed in two versions by Lockheed Martin Corp. and Austal Ltd. and intended to operate in shallow coastal waters…

Gilmore also cited reliability issues with both versions of the ships, from troubles with generators and air-conditioning units to “cybersecurity deficiencies that significantly degrade operational effectiveness.”

That’s a particularly serious problem for the Littoral Combat Ship because its ability to survive in combat depends on communicating with better-armed vessels and support on shore through a maritime battle network linked by computers and sensors.

The lightly manned vessel also relies on ship-to-shore and satellite communications to help crews monitor the ship’s condition, perform repairs and order medical supplies. At least 245 functions traditionally performed aboard a Navy ship will be done onshore.

Of course, this is a discussion about a vessel designed solely to attack the coastal defenses of another nation as part of our crap foreign policy, military policies — which says we’re “defending” the United States by invading countries all around the world.

Kyocera begins work on world’s largest floating solar farm

Click to enlarge – one of Kyocera’s smaller projects

The Japanese electronics multinational Kyocera has begun work on what it says will be the world’s biggest floating solar farm.

The power plant is being built on a reservoir in Japan’s Chiba prefecture and is anticipated to supply enough electricity for nearly 5,000 households when it is completed in early 2018.

Space-starved Japan has already seen several floating solar farms built as part of the country’s drive to exploit more renewable energy in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima disaster. The shutdown of nuclear plants has seen Japan increasingly reliant on fossil fuel imports that have hit its emissions-cutting ambitions.

The Yamakura dam power plant will see more than 50,000 solar photovoltaic panels cover a 180,000 m sq area, but compared to other land-based plants it is relatively small. At 13.7MW when finished, it would not make the top 100 of the world’s largest solar photovoltaic farms…

Kyocera has already built three floating solar farms, which are much smaller than the new one…

Context is everything. Space constraints have made Japan a world leader in many space efficiencies. Americans are just discovering tiny house living. It’s a way of life for millions in Japan. The same is true for reuse, repurposing technology. It’s already not unusual to find large battery packs designed for electric cars or plug-in hybrids being reused as backups and storage for home solar panel arrays. They’re already used beyond flexible storage requirements for mobile use – and perfectly fine for such a repurposing.

Paul Krugman: the Anti-Fed two-step

Back when Ted Cruz first floated his claim that the Fed caused the Great Recession — and some neo-monetarists spoke up in support — I noted that this was a repeat of the old Milton Friedman two-step.

First, you declare that the Fed could have prevented a disaster — the Great Depression in Friedman’s case, the Great Recession this time around. This is an arguable position, although Friedman’s claims about the 30s look a lot less convincing now that we have tried again to deal with a liquidity trap. But then this morphs into the claim that the Fed caused the disaster. See, government is the problem, not the solution! And the motivation for this bait-and-switch is, indeed, political.

Now come Beckworth and Ponnuru to make the argument at greater length, and it’s quite direct: because the Fed “caused” the crisis, things like financial deregulation and runaway bankers had nothing to do with it…

I’d just add that if there were anything to this story, we should have seen a sharp increase in long-term real interest rates, as investors saw the Fed getting behind the disinflationary curve. Here’s the real 10-year rate in the months leading up to Lehman:

Do you see the kind of spike that could cause a catastrophe?

But to come back to the main point: It’s a very dubious claim that the Fed could have prevented the crisis with more aggressive policy in 2008; it’s three-card monte to transmute that into the claim that the Fed caused the crisis.

Objective analysis of the cultural costume jewelry adhering to today’s excuse for conservatism automagically includes self-delusion and outright lies. The incidence of the Great Recession following on from fraud and investment hustles brings us to a repeat of an older, long-standing conservative character flaw. They take responsibility for nothing.

Hat tip to Tom Keene

California coppers have been snooping your cellphones at Disneyland

The Anaheim Police Department has acknowledged in new documents that it uses surveillance devices known as Dirtboxes — plane-mounted stingrays — on aircraft flying above the Southern California city that is home to Disneyland, one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world.

According to documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, the Anaheim Police Department have owned the Dirtbox since 2009 and a ground-based stingray since 2011, and may have loaned out the equipment to other cities across Orange County in the nearly seven years it has possessed the equipment.

This cell phone spying program — which potentially affects the privacy of everyone from Orange County’s 3 million residents to the 16 million people who visit Disneyland every year — shows the dangers of allowing law enforcement to secretly acquire surveillance technology,” says Matt Cagle, technology and civil liberties policy attorney for ACLU-NC

Stingrays and Dirtboxes are mobile surveillance systems that impersonate a legitimate cell phone tower in order to trick mobile phones and other mobile devices in their vicinity into connecting to them and revealing their unique ID and location. Stingrays emit a signal that is stronger than that of other cell towers in the vicinity in order to force devices to establish a connection with them. Stingrays don’t just pick up the IDs of targeted devices, however. Every phone within range will contact the system, revealing their ID.

The use of stingrays by local law enforcement agencies has been widespread for many years. But the use of the more invasive Dirtboxes has largely been limited to federal law enforcement, though at least two large cities were known before to be using them…Subsequent news reports revealed that Los Angeles and Chicago local police departments possessed Dirtboxes as well. Anaheim is the smallest city known to have one.

Dirtbags using dirtboxes. Something poetic about that, I guess.