Winner gets to bury the GOP

I presume the eventual winners of the Final in this international competition will also be awarded the opportunity to bury the moribund Republican Party. Driven to distraction, self-harm and suicide by continued support of the proto-fascist regime of the Fake President…that political party has lost all respect. From traditional members and office-holders, from political conservatives around the world with the backbone to hold to standards rejecting bigotry, racism and fascist brutalizing of any nation.

Shale frackers running out of tricks to survive


Ain’t anything moving here

In 2015, the fracking outfits that dot America’s oil-rich plains threw everything they had at $50-a-barrel crude. To cope with the 50 per cent price plunge, they laid off thousands of roughnecks, focused their rigs on the biggest gushers only and used cutting-edge technology to squeeze all the oil they could out of every well.

Those efforts, to the surprise of many observers, largely succeeded. As of this month, U.S. oil output remained within four per cent of a 43-year high.

The problem? Oil’s no longer at $50. It now trades near $35.

For an industry that already was pushing its cost-cutting efforts to the limits, the new declines are a devastating blow. These drillers are “not set up to survive oil in the $30s,” said R.T. Dukes, a senior upstream analyst for Wood Mackenzie Ltd…

The Energy Information Administration now predicts that companies operating in U.S. shale formations will cut production by a record 570,000 barrels a day in 2016. That’s precisely the kind of capitulation that OPEC is seeking as it floods the world with oil, depressing prices and pressuring the world’s high-cost producers. It’s a high-risk strategy, one whose success will ultimately hinge on whether shale drillers drop out before the financial pain within OPEC nations themselves becomes too great…

❝“You are going to see a pickup in bankruptcy filings, a pickup in distressed asset sales and a pickup in distressed debt exchanges,” said Jeff Jones, managing director at Blackhill Partners, a Dallas-based investment banking firm. “And $35 oil will clearly accelerate the distress…”

Couldn’t happen to a more deserving crowd.

A return to cheaper oil was thought to be disastrous for shale, but companies figured out how to increase productivity and lower costs.

Producers slashed spending, idling more than 60 per cent of the rigs in the U.S. They drilled and fracked faster, meaning fewer rigs and workers could make the same number of wells. They focused on their best areas and used more sand and water in the fracking process so each well gushed with more crude. By April, when the rig count had fallen in half, output was still rising.

All that effort did was push prices lower and expectations for a price recovery further out into the future. Now shale companies face a grim future, having played most of their best cards…

Extractive industries have one supremely disastrous feature. They consider the cost of start-up [or re-starting] “too expensive”. So, tapering, slowing down rates of extraction is considered a sin in the religion of profiteering. Not just oil. Coal, iron ore, copper, aluminum…all the mined commodities are in similar trouble.

And, as is traditional, the executives who acted just like their predecessors are now getting the same result. Starting with losing their jobs.

Couldn’t happen to a more deserving crowd.

Population benefits of sexual selection confirm that males are useful

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Biologists have long puzzled about how evolutionary selection, known for its ruthless requirement for efficiency, allows the existence of males — when in so many species their only contribution to reproduction are spermatozoa.

But research published…in Nature shows that sexual selection — when males compete and females choose over reproduction — improves population health and protects against extinction, even in the face of genetic stress from high levels of inbreeding.

The findings help explain why sex persists as a dominant mechanism for reproducing offspring.

Lead researcher Prof Matt Gage, from UEA’s School of Biological Sciences, said: “Sexual selection was Darwin’s second great idea, explaining the evolution of a fascinating array of sights, sounds and smells that help in the struggle to reproduce — sometimes at the expense of survival.

“Sexual selection operates when males compete for reproduction and females choose, and the existence of two different sexes encourages these processes. It ultimately dictates who gets to reproduce their genes into the next generation — so it’s a widespread and very powerful evolutionary force.

“Almost all multicellular species on earth reproduce using sex, but its existence isn’t easy to explain because sex carries big burdens, the most obvious of which is that only half of your offspring — daughters — will actually produce offspring. Why should any species waste all that effort on sons?

“We wanted to understand how Darwinian selection can allow this widespread and seemingly wasteful reproductive system to persist, when a system where all individuals produce offspring without sex — as in all-female asexual populations — would be a far more effective route to reproduce greater numbers of offspring.

“Our research shows that competition among males for reproduction provides a really important benefit, because it improves the genetic health of populations. Sexual selection achieves this by acting as a filter to remove harmful genetic mutations, helping populations to flourish and avoid extinction in the long-term.”

Phew! Had me worried for a while. 🙂

RTFA for details of the analysis.

Asia’s Multilateralism


That’s Bob Shiller’s book on Irrational Exuberance on the shelf

The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank are poised to hold their annual meetings, but the big news in global economic governance will not be made in Washington DC in the coming days. Indeed, that news was made last month, when the United Kingdom, Germany, France, and Italy joined more than 30 other countries as founding members of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). The $50 billion AIIB, launched by China, will help meet Asia’s enormous infrastructure needs, which are well beyond the capacity of today’s institutional arrangements to finance.

One would have thought that the AIIB’s launch, and the decision of so many governments to support it, would be a cause for universal celebration. And for the IMF, the World Bank, and many others, it was. But, puzzlingly, wealthy European countries’ decision to join provoked the ire of American officials. Indeed, one unnamed American source accused the UK of “constant accommodation” of China. Covertly, the United States put pressure on countries around the world to stay away.

In fact, America’s opposition to the AIIB is inconsistent with its stated economic priorities in Asia. Sadly, it seems to be another case of America’s insecurity about its global influence trumping its idealistic rhetoric – this time possibly undermining an important opportunity to strengthen Asia’s developing economies.

China itself is a testament to the extent to which infrastructure investment can contribute to development. Last month, I visited formerly remote areas of the country that are now prosperous as a result of the connectivity – and thus the freer flow of people, goods, and ideas – that such investments have delivered.

The AIIB would bring similar benefits to other parts of Asia, which deepens the irony of US opposition. President Barack Obama’s administration is championing the virtues of trade; but, in developing countries, lack of infrastructure is a far more serious barrier to trade than tariffs.

A generally wholistic understanding of the workings of the global economy is just one of the reasons Joe Stiglitz was honored with the Nobel Prize in economics. It ain’t a bad start.

RTFA and understand why modern economists think our government’s hypocrisy ain’t new – just backwards for a couple new reasons.

Space telescope capable of images 1,000 times sharper than Hubble


Aragoscope – artist’s conception

The Hubble space telescope has given us decades of incredible images, but it’s reaching the end of its service life and the question is, what will come after? One possibility is the Aragoscope from the University of Colorado Boulder, which uses a gigantic orbital disk instead of a mirror to produce images 1,000 times sharper than the Hubble’s best efforts.

The Aragoscope is named after French scientist Francois Arago who first noticed how a disk diffracted light waves. The principle is based on using a large disk as a diffraction lens, which bends light from distant objects around the edge of the disk and focuses it like a conventional refraction lens. The phenomenon isn’t very pronounced on the small scale, but if the telescope is extremely large, it not only becomes practical, but also extremely powerful.

When deployed the Aragoscope will consist of an opaque disk a half mile in diameter parked in geostationary orbit behind which is an orbiting telescope keeping station some tens to hundreds of miles behind that collects the light at the focal point and rectifies it into a high-resolution image…

The new orbital telescope was selected last June by NASA as one of 12 proposals for its NASA Innovative Advanced Concept (NIAC) program – each of which received US$100,000 to fund nine-months of research for projects ranging from capturing asteroids to sending submarines to the lakes of Titan. The Aragoscope is now up for being one of six projects that will receive an additional US$500,000 in April.

The team sees the Aragoscope as a way to penetrate farther into the universe to observe phenomena like black hole event horizons, or turned on the Earth to pick out objects the size of a rabbit. The next phase of the project involves testing the concept. This will involve laboratory work using a one-meter disk set several meters from a telescope. If this is successful, a more dramatic demonstration will use a disk set on a mountain top while a telescope mounted on a helicopter tries to focus on the star Alpha Centauri.

“Pick out objects the size of a rabbit”, eh? I recall a scientist cautioning me BITD when the US and USSR were involved in a race to develop spy satellites with the finest resolution. He told me if I was going to have sex outdoors – make sure it was under a tree.

I hope someone offers an app which automatically notifies everyone whenever our government turns the Aragoscope around to face Earth instead of deep space.

Angry viewers demand that NBC cancel “Shark Hunters”

shark fins
Shark fins drying — click to enlarge

With the advent of the second season of NBC Sports’ terrible show about killing threatened species, “Shark Hunters,” the internet is starting to erupt. Over 16,000 people have signed an online petition calling for the network to cancel the show, and countless others have taken to Twitter to express their outrage.

The show follows a group of fishers as they compete in a tournament to win money for bringing in the biggest shark. Among other disturbing things about the show, the hunters target only species that are listed as vulnerable by the IUCN Red List for the contest — Mako, thresher and porbeagle sharks. In a world where shark finning and loss of apex predators is a major concern, the glorification of killing these animals seems incredibly backwards.

The petition, hosted by Change.org, is addressed to Mark Lazarus, Chairman of NBC Sports Group, and several other executives in the company. It reads:

Programs like this not only glamorize shark hunting and killing but also make the whole action “OK”. Sharks play an important role in our oceans and if we continue to hunt them, our ocean’s health will continue to decline. Change.org petitions have successfully convinced other channels, like National Geographic and the Discovery Channel, to cancel other violent hunting shows. I’m sure with enough signatures, we can get NBC to listen.

I’m not so sure. I’d also suggest you send an email or otherwise complain to Comcast – who owns NBC-Universal.

Even killing sharks “for food” is a load of crap when often all that’s taken is the fins for soup and seasoning. That’s like the last Sun King of France killing thousands of song birds to have a pate made from their tongues.

Thanks, Mike