Cartoon: same as it ever was

I had friends, kin, in the Allied force that invaded, confronted the German military ruling most of Europe till the crushing bonfire that was all that was left of Germany at the end of World War 2. They helped bring about an end to the Thousand-Year-Reich. Something much longer than anything Steve Bannon proposes for Trump and their white supremacist gang.

Along the way they were often reminded of what they could – and could not – fire upon. That latter category included anything with a sign that said Krupp.

Germany calls for Europe-wide ban on gas-powered cars by 2030


Click to enlarge

❝ After coming to the realization that they would need a mandate for all cars to be zero-emission by 2030 if they want to comply with the goals set by the Paris agreement to curb climate-warming emissions, Germany’s upper house of parliament gained approval for pushing a Europe-wide mandate to stop gas-powered car sales by 2030…

While nothing is made into law yet, the movement to stop new sales of cars equipped with internal combustion engines by no later than 2030 is starting to pick up steam.

❝ India recently confirmed that it is evaluating a scheme for all its fleet to be electric by 2030 and both the Dutch government and the Norwegian government are discussing the possibility to ban gas-powered car sales and only allow electric vehicle sales starting in 2025.

❝ Some governments are discussing actual bans on new gas-powered car sales that would virtually only allow all-electric vehicles to be registered, or potentially other zero-emission cars at the tailpipe like fuel cell vehicles, but most are discussing regulations that would gradually tax internal combustion engines and favor electric vehicles…

❝ The new push for a 2030 mandate comes as several German automakers announced important plans to accelerate their electric vehicle programs, including Volkswagen’s plan to build 2 to 3 million all-electric cars a year and unveil 30 new models by 2025 and Mercedes’ new all-electric brand: ‘EQ’.

VW has indicated recently that they’d probably start off their production of EVs exclusively in their United States facilities. Obviously, that will have to expand globally as this qualitative change takes hold.

American universities said “unqualified” – which a German university ignored – and he overturned 150 years of Biology


Click to enlargeConor Lawless

In 1995, if you had told Toby Spribille that he’d eventually overthrow a scientific idea that’s been the stuff of textbooks for 150 years, he would have laughed at you. Back then, his life seemed constrained to a very different path. He was raised in a Montana trailer park, and home-schooled by what he now describes as a “fundamentalist cult.” At a young age, he fell in love with science, but had no way of feeding that love. He longed to break away from his roots and get a proper education.

At 19, he got a job at a local forestry service. Within a few years, he had earned enough to leave home. His meager savings and non-existent grades meant that no American university would take him, so Spribille looked to Europe.

Thanks to his family background, he could speak German, and he had heard that many universities there charged no tuition fees. His missing qualifications were still a problem, but one that the University of Gottingen decided to overlook. “They said that under exceptional circumstances, they could enroll a few people every year without transcripts,” says Spribille…

Throughout his undergraduate and postgraduate work, Spribille became an expert on the organisms that had grabbed his attention during his time in the Montana forests — lichens.

You’ve seen lichens before, but unlike Spribille, you may have ignored them. They grow on logs, cling to bark, smother stones. At first glance, they look messy and undeserving of attention. On closer inspection, they are astonishingly beautiful. They can look like flecks of peeling paint, or coralline branches, or dustings of powder, or lettuce-like fronds, or wriggling worms, or cups that a pixie might drink from. They’re also extremely tough. They grow in the most inhospitable parts of the planet, where no plant or animal can survive.

Lichens have an important place in biology. In the 1860s, scientists thought that they were plants. But in 1868, a Swiss botanist named Simon Schwendener revealed that they’re composite organisms, consisting of fungi that live in partnership with microscopic algae. This “dual hypothesis” was met with indignation: it went against the impetus to put living things in clear and discrete buckets. The backlash only collapsed when Schwendener and others, with good microscopes and careful hands, managed to tease the two partners apart…

In the 150 years since Schwendener, biologists have tried in vain to grow lichens in laboratories. Whenever they artificially united the fungus and the alga, the two partners would never fully recreate their natural structures. It was as if something was missing — and Spribille might have discovered it.

He has shown that largest and most species-rich group of lichens are not alliances between two organisms, as every scientist since Schwendener has claimed. Instead, they’re alliances between three. All this time, a second type of fungus has been hiding in plain view.

“There’s been over 140 years of microscopy,” says Spribille. “The idea that there’s something so fundamental that people have been missing is stunning.”

RTFA, please. Follow Toby Spribille’s journey from a childhood suffocated in superstition – skipping over an American education system that considered him worthless because he didn’t qualify by the book – to school in Germany and eventually to a career rich in discovery in his love for science.

Germany just had a day with so much renewable energy it had to pay people to use electricity


Click to enlargedIlmari Karonen/WikiMedia

On Sunday, May 8, Germany hit a new high in renewable energy generation. Thanks to a sunny and windy day, at one point around 1pm the country’s solar, wind, hydro and biomass plants were supplying about 55 GW of the 63 GW being consumed, or 87%.

Power prices actually went negative for several hours, meaning commercial customers were being paid to consume electricity.

Last year the average renewable mix was 33%, reports Agora Energiewende, a German clean energy think tank. New wind power coming online should push that even higher.

“We have a greater share of renewable energy every year,” said Christoph Podewils of Agora. “The power system adapted to this quite nicely. This day shows again that a system with large amounts of renewable energy works fine.”

Critics have argued that because of the daily peaks and troughs of renewable energy—as the sun goes in and out and winds rise and fall—it will always have only a niche role in supplying power to major economies. But that’s looking less and less likely. Germany plans to hit 100% renewable energy by 2050, and Denmark’s wind turbines already at some points generate more electricity than the country consumes, exporting the surplus to Germany, Norway and Sweden.

Germany’s good news demonstrated they’re still lacking flexibility. Any enterprise – even a public utility – hates to pay back consumers for being hooked-up.

Not bad news for consumers, though. Even the corporations that benefitted.

Thanks, Honeyman

Welcome to the 21st Century

Trump Oops

The start of 2016 has been anything but calm. Falling equity prices in China have destabilized markets worldwide. Emerging economies seem to have stalled. The price of oil has plunged, pushing petroleum producers into crisis. North Korea is flexing its nuclear muscles. And in Europe, the ongoing refugee crisis is fomenting a toxic tide of nationalism, which threatens to tear the European Union apart. Add to this Russia’s neo-imperial ambitions and the threat of Islamic terrorism, and comets streaking across the sky may be the only thing missing from a picture of a year shaping up to be one of prophetic doom.

Wherever one looks, chaos seems to be ascendant. The international order forged in the fires of the twentieth century seems to be disappearing, and we have not had even the faintest glimpse of what will replace it…

Political and economic order – particularly on a global scale – does not simply arise from peaceful consensus or an unchallenged claim by the most powerful. It has always been the result of a struggle for domination – often brutal, bloody, and long – between or among rival powers. Only through conflict are the new pillars, institutions, and players of a new order established.

The liberal Western order in place since the end of World War II was based on the global hegemony of the United States. As the only true global power, it was dominant not only in the realm of hard military power – as well as economically and financially – but in nearly all dimensions of soft power – for example, culture, language, mass media, technology, and fashion.

Today, the Pax Americana that ensured a large degree of global stability has begun to fray – most notably in the Middle East and on the Korean Peninsula. The US may still be the world’s strongest power, but it is no longer able or willing to play the role of the world’s policeman or make the sacrifices needed to guarantee order. Indeed, in a globalized world, with ever closer integration in terms of communication, technology, and – as we have recently seen – the movement of people, the centers of power are diluted and dispersed; by its very nature, a globalized world eludes the imposition of twentieth-century order…

In fact, the main challenge of the coming years is likely to be managing America’s declining influence. There is no framework for the retirement of a hegemon. While a dominant power can be brought down through a struggle for domination, voluntary retreat is not an option, because the resulting power vacuum would endanger the stability of the entire system. Indeed, overseeing the end of Pax Americana is likely to dominate the tenure of America’s next president – whoever that might be.

Can you imagine any of the policies promoted by the 19th Century hucksters popular today in the Republican Party bringing anything other than war and ruin to the world? Really, the question which should be central in the minds of American voters this coming November is who can we elect to maintain a global economy, a world of commerce, which at least permits some opportunity to resolve questions of democracy and opportunity, health and peace.

I don’t see anyone on the Right with the modicum of good sense required for self-preservation. Reading his article, it’s clear the former Foreign Minister and Vice Chancellor of Germany would feel the same if he was an American voter. No doubt he clearly recalls his nation’s criminal adventure with alternatives.

Crowds in Munich greeting refugees who made the trek from Budapest

In pouring rain, they crossed the last few metres into Austria in the early hours of Saturday morning. The waiting Austrian police in their heavy waterproofs were taken aback by the refusal of the Hungarian bus drivers to take their passengers the last two kilometres, over the border and on to the Nickelsdorf train station where they were expected, and where a Vienna-bound train was waiting.

Instead, the officers had to guide the way with torches, helpless to offer shelter to the tired clusters of men, women and children coming through the puddles at the side of the motorway in the darkness…

A Red Cross tent offered a respite from the rain, with medics and volunteers working shifts while people waiting their turn to board special half-hourly bus and train services, laid on by the Austrian Federal Railway, to Vienna and Salzburg, and from there to Munich…


German volunteers feeding refugees as they arrive in Munich

By midday on Saturday, said Colin Turner, volunteers’ spokesman at Munich railway station, a total of 3,000 people had arrived. German officials expected up to 7,000 to arrive through the city by the end of the day.

This, said the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, was a “defining moment” for the 28-nation European Union. Already the heroes and villains of the piece were being laid out – with condemnation of the response of the Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán, and praise for Germany’s Angela Merkel and the Austrian chancellor, Werner Faymann, who announced they were opening their doors to refugees in the early hours of Saturday.

Around the same time, Hungary unexpectedly decided to provide buses for those who had simply walked out of Budapest on foot, heading for the Austrian border, after being prevented for several days from catching trains out of the capital. Some had been taken to a refugee camp.

In what the Hungarian media called a “day of uprisings”, 350 people had broken through a police cordon on Friday and begun heading to Austria, 137km away, on tracks leading away from the railway station. By late afternoon on Friday, a day after Orbán had warned of a “Muslim threat” to a Christian culture, up to 2,000 people – most from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan – were walking towards the border in chaotic scenes.

The sudden appearance of blue public buses was a staggering about-turn – and an unexpected rejection of the Dublin convention, which says refugees should be kept in the first EU country they enter, and which Hungary had insisted on upholding. The country is already under fire for its plans to close and wire-fence its borders, saying it will effectively seal the frontier to migrants as of next week, in the face of EU Schengen rules…

The buses triggered alarm. Many refugees distrusted the Hungarian authorities after some of those camped at Budapest railway station had earlier boarded buses that they were told were heading for the Austrian border, only to end up in a refugee camp in Hungary. Many feared a similar ploy this time. “Who’s organising it, the Hungarians?” asked Ali, a Syrian on the march, after seeing the buses were coming. “Forget it, I’m walking.”…

In Austria, the mood was one of pride – for the way the government responded to the crisis and for the overwhelming response from people ferrying donations of food, water and clothes to train stations in Vienna and Salzburg…

By Saturday afternoon, officials in Vienna had to ask people to stay away from the station, which was heavily overcrowded with well-wishers bearing donations…

On Saturday night at Munich’s main station, dozens of Germans lined up behind police barriers to clap, cheer and distribute sweets to welcome refugees to their new home. A sophisticated official operation provided food and transport to temporary lodging.

RTFA for many more details.

To me it is clear the response from each nation’s government – guided the public response. Conservatives and rightwing politicians provoked all the worst in anti-human attitudes. In other lands – like Germany and Austria, more traditional Conservatives along with their Left-wing peers focused on providing aid and assistance to refugees from war.

Same as it ever was.

On 25th July, Germany streamed 78% of its energy needs from renewable sources


Click to enlargeReuters/Fabian Bimmer

An ideal combination of sunny and stormy weather in different parts of Germany on July 25th allowed the country to meet 78% of its energy needs from wind, solar, and other renewable sources, a new national record.

The previous national record for renewable energy generated in a single day was set in May 2014, when 74% of Germany’s domestic energy needs were met by solar, wind, biomass, and hydro power.

Germany is aiming to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 80% before the year 2050. It’s also trying to cut down on its reliance on nuclear power, which it trades with France.

A blog post from Germany’s Energiewende…project explained what made the new record possible: A storm generated high winds in the north, where Germany’s wind turbines are installed; in the south, where its country’s solar panels are located, it was “a relatively sunny day.” Preliminary figures indicate that wind and solar generated a combined 40.65 gigawatts of power, 7.25 GW came from biomass and hydro power, and total domestic power demand that day was 61.1 GW.

Our government applauds American efforts because we’re capable of 7% replacement. Obama says we’re a world leader. Add in Congress’ contribution and I’d say we absolutely dominate the Liars’ Club.

Germany halts treason charges against journalists – for the present


Andre Meister and Markus Beckedahl

A treason investigation into two journalists who reported that the German state planned to increase online surveillance has been suspended by the country’s prosecutor general following protests by leading voices across politics and media.

Harald Range, Germany’s prosecutor general, said on Friday he was halting the investigation “for the good of press and media freedom”. It was the first time in more than half a century that journalists in Germany had faced charges of treason.

Speaking to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Range said he would await the results of an internal investigation into whether the journalists from the news platform netzpolitik.org had quoted from a classified intelligence report before deciding how to proceed.

His announcement followed a deluge of criticism and accusations that Germany’s prosecutor had “misplaced priorities”, having failed to investigate with any conviction the NSA spying scandal revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden, and targeting instead the two investigative journalists, Markus Beckedahl and Andre Meister.

In a scathing attack, the leading Green MP Renate Künast, who is also chair of the Bundestag’s legal affairs committee, called the investigation a “humiliation to the rule of law”. She accused Range of disproportionately targeting the two journalists, whilse ignoring the “massive spying and eavesdropping [conducted] by the NSA in Germany”.

Künast told the Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger: “Nothing happened with that. If it wasn’t for investigative journalism, we would know nothing.”…

In articles that appeared on netzpolitik.org in February and April, the two reporters made reference to what is believed to be a genuine intelligence report that had been classified as confidential, which proposed establishing a new intelligence department to monitor the internet, in particular social media networks.

The federal prosecutor’s investigation was triggered by a complaint made by Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) over the articles, which it said had been based on leaked documents…

In an act of solidarity, the research website Correctiv reported itself to the general prosecutor’s office on Friday, saying that it too was “guilty of treason”, at the same time as republishing the controversial documents originally published by netzpolitik.org.

“They should be investigating the whole lot of us!” said Correctiv’s editor-in-chief, Markus Grill. Meanwhile, German lawyers called for the abolition of the offence “journalistic treason”.

The uproar against NSA-style security measures seems to have had the desired effect for now. German justice minister, Heiko Maas, is requesting the dismissal and retirement of the chief federal prosecutor, Harald Range, who initiated the charges against the journalists.

Of course, I wouldn’t expect the same to happen here in the GOUSA. And it hasn’t. Much of our Free Press is owned by entertainment media corporations. They aren’t about the rock the boat. The Democratic Party couldn’t turn out a united demonstration for Free Speech if it threatened the military-industrial complex. Republicans would start wearing armbands if requested. And American Greens don’t seem able to generate a grassroots movement with the energy and smarts to grow into a national party.

Yup. Still a cynic. Mail me a penny postcard when Obama invites Ed Snowden to return home.

Nosferatu Lives

It reads like the script from one of his horror films; a stolen head, burnt black candles and satanic symbols – but this week they became elements of Berlin police department’s latest case.

The head in question belonged to Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau, the director of the iconic early-20th-Century Dracula film adaptation ‘Nosferatu – a Symphony of Horror’, taken from his grave near the German capital.

And officers have have already turned their attention to Germany’s darker sects as they search for those who took the well-preserved body part from a grave site often scrawled with pentangles and other symbols of devil worship.

Murnau’s ‘Nosferatu’ was and remains one of the most important milestones in cinema.

Based upon Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel ‘Dracula’, it told the story of Count Orlok of the undead, and its moody scenes and clever camera angles influenced generations of fans and filmakers alike.

But death was at the heart of the movie and death has continued to stir the passions of vampire lovers ever since it was made in 1922.

Indeed, his own death in 1931 aged 41 was enough to elicit some fascination of its own: openly homosexual, he was engaging in oral sex with his 14-year-old Filipino houseboy on the Pacific Coast Highway at Santa Barbara when he lost concentration and slammed into a telegraph pole.

His corpse was embalmed and placed in a metal coffin, and the following year it was shipped to Germany for burial in Stahnsdorf’s south-west cemetery.

And down the years the lovers of the undead – goths, ghouls and living vampires who get their sexual thrills from the drinking of human blood – have made the pilgrimage to the grave of Murnau to pay their respects to a man…

Stahnsdorf cemetery warden Olaf Ihlefeldt found the head missing as he slid the lid of the coffin away while investigating minor damage he had spotted on mausoleum number 22.

‘The body is still in pretty good condition,’ he said.

Murnau’s head was still recognisable and had its hair and teeth, he added, ‘the last time I saw it‘.

RTFA for tidbits and collateral tales of Satanism, vampire cults and other slightly disturbing religious rationales for often-demented, sometimes fanciful behavior.

Good enough for today’s TV series.

I must admit when my parents convinced the head librarian of our neighborhood Carnegie Library that I – 8-years-old – had exhausted the offerings for teens and pre-teens and required an adult library card, I almost blew it when the first book I went to borrow was Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”.

Murnau’s “Nosferatu” has long been my favorite silent film. If you require a soundtrack, try the version by Werner Herzog, “Nosferatu the Vampyre”, starring Klaus Kinski and Isabelle Adjani.

Woo hoo!

Don’t fear that killer Volkswagen robot

Headlines rang out across the internet…that a robot killed someone in Germany. Beneath the sensationalist surface, there was a tragic truth: an industrial robot at a Volkswagen plant in Germany had indeed killed a 22-year-old worker who was setting it up. Coverage notwithstanding, this didn’t seem like the start of a machine-led apocalypse–I wanted a second opinion before heading to my backyard bunker. Ryan Calo is a law professor at the University of Washington, and he’s published academic works on our coming robot future, and the interaction between robots and cyberlaw.

Here are some of the questions…paired with his responses:

Popular Science: Yesterday Twitter was all abuzz about an industrial robot killing someone. You said at the time “this is relatively common.” What did you mean by that?

Ryan Calo: In the United States alone, about one person per year is killed by an industrial robot. The Department of Labor keeps a log of such events with titles like “Employee Is Killed When Crushed By Robot” (2006) or “Employee Was Killed By Industrial Robots” (2004).

You’ve written before about the potential for unique errors from autonomous machines. In future “robot kills man” stories, what characteristics should we look out for that make something go from “industrial accident” to “error with autonomy”?

Right. Industrial robots tend to do the same thing again and again, like grabbing and moving, and cannot generally tell what it is they are working with. That’s why factories establish “danger” or “kill” zones that people have to stay out of while the robot is operating…

Initial reports attribute the death to human error. At what point do you think having a human “in the loop” for an autonomous system constitutes a liability, instead of a safety feature?

In industrial robotics, that ship has long sailed. You couldn’t have a person in the loop and maintain anything like today’s productivity. Rather, you have to try to make sure — through protocols, warnings, etc. — that people stay out of the robot’s way

RTFA for more of the same sensible discussion guaranteed never to make it into your local newspaper.

BTW, Professor Calo says he wouldn’t guarantee that Atherton’s questions weren’t being answered by a robot.🙂