David Goodall arrived in Switzerland, today — to die

❝ A 104-year-old Australian scientist arrived Monday in Switzerland before his planned assisted suicide, unbowed about his intentions and hopeful that his premeditated death will send a message to legislators back home…

“I am glad to arrive,” Goodall said from a wheelchair. “The message I would like to send is: Once one passes the age of 50 or 60, one should be free to decide for oneself whether one wants to go on living or not.”

❝ Lucid and humorous, Goodall reiterated his frustration about not being as free or as mobile in his later life as he once was. While not suffering from a terminal illness, he said he hoped his trip to take his own life in Switzerland — which allows assisted suicide, unlike Australia — would change legislators’ minds one day…

Goodall is expected to meet Tuesday with a doctor who will assess his mindset and hold another news conference on Wednesday. On Thursday, he plans to swallow a lethal cocktail of chemicals, ending his life.

More power to you, Doctor Goodall. I agree with your right to make such a determination. I consider it likely I’ll be making a similar choice some day or other. Especially living in a nation where the medical-industrial complex assures its political and economic power courtesy of primitive belief systems – and Congress.

Not 12 Monkeys – but, a Fouine shuts down the Large Hadron Coillider

Fouine
Click to enlargeAlamy

The world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator has been brought to its knees by a beech marten, a member of the weasel family, that chewed through wiring connected to a 66,000-volt transformer.

The Large Hadron Collider on the outskirts of Geneva was designed to recreate in miniature fireballs similar to the conditions that prevailed at the birth of the universe, but operations of the machine, which occupies a 17-mile tunnel beneath Switzerland, have been placed on hold pending repairs to the unit.

The collider, which discovered the Higgs boson in July 2012, is expected to be out of action for a week while the connections to the transformer are replaced. Any remains of the intruder are likely to be removed at the same time.

In an in-house report on the incident, managers at Cern, the European nuclear physics laboratory that runs the LHC, described the incident at the transformer unit as being caused by a “fouine” – a beech marten native to the region. The report concluded it was “not the best week for the LHC”.

The glitch echoes a similar event in 2009 when the power was cut to one of the LHC’s cooling plants leading to unwelcome temperature rises in the collider’s apparatus. That incident was blamed, at least tentatively, on a bird dropping part of a baguette on a compensating capacitor where the mains supply entered the LHC from the ground.

Fodder for the spookier portions of global nutball culture. My mate in Oz who emailed the link to this article couldn’t resist declaring the fouine was “clearly sent from the future to stop the apocalypse” often predicted by the tinfoil-hat set as a result of the LHC turning Switzerland into a Black Hole.

Thanks, Honeyman

Where do the really, really wealthy park their money?


Come to the Caribbean — visit Mitt Romney’s money

In some circles, “redistribution” of wealth has become a dirty word, and recent efforts to make the tax system more progressive have run into serious political resistance, above all from Republicans. But whatever your political party, you are unlikely to approve of the illegal use of tax havens. As it turns out, a lot of wealthy people in the United States, Europe, and elsewhere have been hiding money in foreign countries — above all, Switzerland, Luxembourg, and the Virgin Islands. As a result, they have been able to avoid paying taxes in their home countries. Until recently, however, officials have not known the magnitude of that problem.

But people are paying increasing attention to it. A vivid new documentary, The Price We Pay, connects tax havens, inequality, and insufficient regulation of financial transactions. The film makes a provocative argument that a new economic elite—wealthy managers and holders of capital—is now able to operate on a global scale, outside the constraints of any legal framework. In a particularly chilling moment, it shows one of the beneficiaries of the system cheerfully announcing on camera: “I don’t feel any remorse about not paying taxes. I think it’s a marvelous way in life.”

Gabriel Zucman, who teaches at the University of California at Berkeley, has two goals in his new book, The Hidden Wealth of Nations: to specify the costs of tax havens, and to figure out how to reduce those costs. While much of his analysis is technical, he writes with moral passion, even outrage; he sees tax havens as a “scourge.”

His figures are arresting. About 8 percent of the world’s wealth, or $7.6 trillion, is held in tax havens. In 2015, Switzerland alone held $2.3 trillion in foreign wealth. As a result of fraud from unreported foreign accounts, governments around the world lose about $200 billion in tax revenue each year. Most of this amount comes from the evasion of taxes on investment income, but a significant chunk comes from fraud on inheritances. In the United States, the annual tax loss is $35 billion; in Europe, it is $78 billion. In African nations, it is $14 billion.

Zucman is the first economist to produce specific numbers of this kind, and to do so, he had to undertake some creative detective work. In order to identify hidden wealth, he focuses on “anomalies”—situations in which international balance sheets show, in aggregate, more liabilities than assets…Zucman puts it this way: “as far back as statistics go, there is a ‘hole’; if we look at the world balance sheet, more financial assets are recorded as liabilities than as assets, as if planet Earth were in part held by Mars.”

For the purpose of producing an accounting of hidden wealth, that is actually helpful, because “money doesn’t evaporate randomly into the ether, but instead follows a precise pattern of tax evasion…”

A strong virtue of Zucman’s book is that it puts a bright spotlight on an area in which significant reforms might appeal to people who otherwise disagree on a great deal. You might believe that the tax system should be made more progressive, or you might believe that it should be made less so. But whatever you think, you are unlikely to support a situation in which trillions of dollars are hardly taxed at all.

RTFA for quite a detailed discussion internal to Sunstein and Zucman. As complex as the topic – but, you learn even more about the politics of wealth and deceit.

Currency manipulation leads to unintended consequences

Switzerland’s decision to lift the cap on the franc’s value against the euro has had unexpected consequences – in the form of intercepted pizza deliveries.

Swiss people looking for a bargain have been dialling up restaurants across the border in Germany, but now the authorities have had enough…

Uli Burchardt, the mayor of Constance, which borders Switzerland to the northeast, told the publication that German vans have been stopped by Swiss customs officials after it was discovered they had been delivering up to 60 pizzas at a time. And fast food is not the only thing the Swiss have been seeking elsewhere, as people cross the border to do their weekly shop and even visit the dentist.

Cripes. There are dentistas in Mexico who have public school contracts in Arizona and California.

Following the decision to lift the €1.20 cap last month, the franc shot up by 40 per cent against the euro. The franc also rose 30 per cent against the dollar and 15 per cent against sterling. In short, the Swiss can now get more for their money.

However, there is concern that businesses will be negatively impacted by the strong franc. Eurozone companies that buy their products in Switzerland are at risk of being priced out of the market, while Swiss businesses situated on the border may find themselves passed over in favour of their perceived better-value eurozone counterparts.

Interesting – and eventually acceptable when the situation stabilizes. Not out of line with long-term commerce in cross-border towns along the US-Canadian border or the US-Mexican border.

Of course, hypocrites in government can’t pass up an opportunity to whine for domestic political advantage. So, both the White House and Congress whine about so-called Chinese currency manipulation when the biggest fraud in Asia comes from the Bank of Japan. As it always has.

CERN ready to continue the search for exotic particles


Click to enlargeMartial Trezzini/European Pressphoto Agency

The Large Hadron Collider at CERN is once again getting ready to smash protons together, hoping to find evidence of elusive and exotic particles that have never been detected before.

The largest and fastest particle accelerator in the world, located in Geneva, will officially start up again in March. When it is turned on, scientists and engineers say the two beams of protons that fly around its 17-mile loop at close to the speed of light will collide with nearly double the energy of the previous run.

The collider’s first stint of proton smashing led to the discovery of the Higgs boson or Higgs particle — a long theorized but never before seen subatomic particle. It exists for just a fraction of a second, and yet its discovery helps explain the existence of all the mass in the universe.

Scientists are not sure what they will find this time around, but some possibilities include particles associated with dark energy and dark matter, as well as particles that could provide evidence for a theory known as supersymmetry. This theory holds that there is a mirror universe made up of invisible particles that have mass but do not react with light, and that correspond to particles that we can detect…

For the last two years the collider has been undergoing repairs and changes in preparation for its next, super-powered run. Already it has already been cooled to its normal operating temperature of 1.9 degrees Kelvin, or -456.25 degrees Fahrenheit.

I surprised we haven’t yet suffered the onslaught of popsci/junksci Talking Heads predicting the end of the world as soon as the the ON-switch is thrown at CERN.

Not that it requires any original thought. Less-than-competent conspiracy nuts have been predicting a human-made end of the earth since the first nuclear reaction. I don’t doubt the Leyden Jar provoked as much fear and trepidation. You’d think the expanding base of real knowledge would diminish fear-mongers.

But, then, who would be left to vote for Prohibition?

Dronie on the Jungfrau


Click to enlarge

Jungfrau is a mountain in the Bernese Alps of Switzerland. It rises 13,642 feet high. Nine climbers with the outfitting company Mammut reached the peak. Using a drone with a fisheye lens, they captured a photo of themselves, locked arm in arm, around the peak.

This is one of many outstanding photos that Mammut has staged in the Alps. You can see the rest here, and you really should.

The Jungfrau is a beautiful mountain and standing along with the Monch adjacent to one of the most fearsome climbs in the world – The Eiger. Spent a couple of delightful summers camped below the Eiger while my mate Clyde reconnoitered for a climb of the North Face. Ate lots of tree-ripened apricots from the orchard we camped in. 🙂

Thanks, Ursarodinia

Swiss officials discovered dump was radioactive 18 months ago — and didn’t tell residents!

A highly radioactive substance, emitting in some places radiation 100 times the permitted amount, has been discovered in Switzerland, local media reported, saying the hazard was known about for 18 months.

Le Matin Dimanche and Sonntags Zeitung reported on Sunday that federal, regional and local officials decided not to reveal the discovery of radium in an old dump in the town of Bienne in case it scared the 50,000 residents.

“120kg of radioactive waste was obtained after sorting. We measured doses of several hundred microsieverts at the source,” Daniel Dauwalder, a spokesman for the Swiss federal office for public health, told Le Matin Dimanche…

In certain places, measurements of 300 microsieverts per hour were taken, more than 100 times the permitted amount for an old dump, the newspapers reported.

Anyone exposed for three hours would absorb the equivalent of a year’s permitted dose.

The waste came from a paint used by the watch-making industry to illuminate the numbers on watch faces.

The substance, which has been banned since 1963 due to its radioactive nature, was discovered when roadworks were started at the site…

The president of the federal commission in charge of monitoring radiation, which was not informed of the incident, said the various authorities had made a “mistake”.

“This will all come back to bite us and it is much more difficult to stay credible and win back the public’s trust,” Francois Bochud told Le Matin Dimanche.

Are we supposed to think the company making the radioactive paint wasn’t aware of the dangers presented by the crap they poured into the town dump? Especially after it was declared illegal to use anymore?

Is someone going to track these scumbags down and make them liable for health and pollution damages? And make the town and regional officials dig up this crap by hand – with trowels.

Swiss voters say NO to Gripen fighter deal in nationwide referendum

Swiss voters have shot down a government plan to procure nearly two dozen Saab-made Gripen jet fighters from Sweden…

The Swiss government said 53.4 percent of those voting on Sunday were against funding the procurement, which would have cost $3.5 billion…

The Swiss air Force currently flies the F/A-18, due for retirement in 2025. The Federal Council planned to replace the U.S.-built planes with 22 Gripens…

Swiss opponents to their government’s Gripen deal argued the money spent to procure the planes could better be spent on other things.

NSS. The Minister of Defense said “This decision has the effect of creating security gaps.” He has gaposis of the brain. Sitting around worrying about someone invading Switzerland next week is like worrying about Canada’s great land army waging a major assault upon Yankee Stadium.

Now, here in the United States, we’re being asked to acquire 2,443 killer F-35 fighter aircraft at a cost of $125 million to $156 million a copy depending on options, radio, powered sub-woofers, Pandora, etc..

Good thing we have Congress to take care of unreasonable and outright stupid expenditures like this from falling on the shoulders of American taxpayers.

Oh.