Saturday, March 28, 2009

Racist Russian Ad Features Obama

Russian PRAVDA notes racism, sloughs it off


An ice cream-making company in Yekaterinburg, Russia, is promoting a flavor of its ice cream in a racist advertisement using Barack Obama’s image.

The slogan of the chocolate-in-vanilla ice cream titled as “Duet” says: “The Flavor of the Week! Black in White!” The image of a black man standing against the background of the US Capitol was considered a manifestation of racism.

The Russian Company Voskhod (Sunrise), which designed the campaign, said that the image was not meant to carry any racist meaning in it. A spokesperson for the company said that the picture simply marked the presence of the black president in the White House.

Andrei Gubaidullin, the author of the advertisement, said his campaign was not linked to racism, because Russia, unlike the West, had a different point of view about ethnicity.

“This is not racism for Russia. It’s just fun,” the creative director of the advertising agency said.

The Russian nationalist online news site Pravda (Правда)—which ironically translates as Truthnoted the racism of the ad, but didn’t think it serious nor did it comment on the obvious insults to the US government.

Friday, March 27, 2009

I Don't Need No Brain, I Got GPS

BMW Cliff H1
This is the BMW of a Mr. Robert Jones of Doncaster, South Yorkshire, UK. Mr. Jones, a deliveryman, depends on a GPS navigation system, (which the Brits call Sat-Nav), in his work. “I rely on my sat-nav,” Mr. Jones said. "I couldn't do without it for my job.”

Naturally, he had one in his BMW.

On 22 March 2009, Mr. Jones was trying to find his way around Todmorden, West Yorkshire, when his GPS told him, “turn here.” Mr. Jones complied, even though the road looked a bit narrow, run-down and—well, odd.

The “road” was, in fact, part of the Pennine Way—a footpath used only by serious hikers.

“It kept insisting the path was a road, even as it was getting narrower and steeper, so I just trusted it,” Mr.Jones said.

Heeding the instructions from his GPS with a positively religious fervor, Mr. Jones followed the narrow and twisting footpath higher and higher, finally arrived at the top of the steep hill and proceeded down the other side.

BMW Cliff 2 H1
His journey ended when the BMW crashed into a fortuitously-placed wire fence—at the brink of a 100-foot precipice—preventing Mr. Jones from plunging to an almost certain Darwin Award.

A recovery team using a four-wheel drive ATV took nine hours to haul the BMW away from the cliff edge.

“What a maroon,” Bugs Bunny might say—but let's be kind: Mr. Jones is far from being the only driver who—when switching on a GPS, switch off what few, functioning neurons many of them seem to possess.

In the UK alone, there have been more than 300,000 mishaps involving people paying more attention to their GPS than their common sense.

An ambulance crew transferring a patient from King George Hospital in Ilford, UK, to Mascalls Park Hospital near Brentwood—a 12 mile journey which should have taken about 30 minutes—were were sent on an eight-hour, 200 mile journey to the outskirts of Manchester by—you guessed it—a faulty GPS system, (the patient survived the journey, but I’m sure he really had to pee.)

A Queensland, Australia, truck driver, led astray by his GPS, drove onto a road totally unsuitable for heavy vehicles and crashed—narrowly avoiding an 260-foot drop.

Luckington Avon
Drivers following a GPS-recommended route through the village of Luckington, UK, have found themselves splashing into the River Avon—despite warning signs on both sides of the road and a large expanse of water straight ahead. Local villagers found themselves pulling an average of two cars a day out of the river.

Near the town of Glubczyce, Poland, a man following GPS directions drove his minivan straight into a lake. It seems he took a road closed a year before when the area was flooded to create a reservoir. "He ignored three road signs warning of a dead end,” a police spokesman said. “His GPS told him to drive straight ahead—and he did."

Back in the UK, GPS devices are directing vehicle traffic to a ferry crossing intended for foot-traffic only.

A GPS unit led a convoy of tourists astray in Utah, finally stranding them on the edge of a sheer cliff.

With little food or water, the group of 10 children and 16 adults from California used their GPS to plot a backcountry route from Bryce Canyon National Park to the Grand Canyon—but the device couldn't tell how rough the roads were. One vehicle got stuck in soft sand and two others ran low on fuel; the GPS then offered suggestions leading them onto the wrong dirt roads, which ended at a series of cliffs. The group—so lost it couldn't figure out how to backtrack their route—was finally rescued by Sheriff's officers.

Lemmings H1
In the same area, a merry band of GPS-equipped Belgian tourists ended up licking condensation off their minivan's windshield after being stranded on Four Mile Bench without water. Riders on all-terrain vehicles stumbled across the group.

One night in Bedford Hills, NY, a man—assiduously following the directions from his GPS—obediently drove onto the tracks of the Metro-North Railroad, where his vehicle became hopelessly stuck. Said driver and his passengers were able to abandon the car before a train crashed into it, causing a two-hour delay and eliciting howls of indignation from some 10,000 angry commuters.

One has to wonder about the conversation which took place in that car:

Tom: "I think we're lost."
Dick: "Can't be. I got GPS. Brand spankin' new."
Harry: "What's it say?"
Dick: "Says to turn right."
Tom: "What, here?"
Dick: "Yep. 'Immediate Right.' S'what it says."
Harry: "But those are railroad tracks."
Dick: "Can't be."
Tom: "Why not?"
Dick: "'Cause the GPS says turn right. Wouldn't say that for railroad tracks now, would it? Gotta be a road."
Harry: "Sure looks like railroad tracks."
Tom: "There are rails."
Dick: "It's dark. Mus' be lane stripes."
Harry: "Awfully narrow lane."
Tom: "And a big sign that says, 'Railroad Crossing.'"
Dick (turning right): "S'gotta mean up ahead. Here we go."
Tom: "OW! Awfully bumpy for a road!"
Harry: "OOF! What happened? Why aren't we moving?"
Dick: "Stuck. Mus' be a pothole. I'll back up."
Tom: "We're still not moving."
Dick (working the shift): "Can't seem to back her up."
Harry: "What's that?"
Tom: "What's what?"
Harry: "That light."
Dick: "Headlight, that's all."
Harry: "Only one?"
Dick: "Ain'cha never seen a car with only one light?"
Tom: “... it's... wiggling."
Dick: "Prolly working itself loose like the first one. Hope he makes it home okay."
Harry: "That's a TRAIN!"
Dick: "Can't be. GPS says we're onna road."
Dick: "Tell ya what. I'll humor you guys, but you're gonna feel real silly when that beat-up ol' car drives by."
(All three leave the vehicle.)
Dick: "OW!"
Harry: "What's wrong?"
Dick: "Aw, I tripped over the lane stripe. Say, what's that noise? Sounds like... a tornado."
(A train zooms by, smashing into the car and dragging it down the tracks.)
Dick: "NOOOO!!! My... my... new GPS was in that car!"

But wait. There’s more!

There are new GPS systems not intended for mere cars or hikers as you can see at this article: GPS walkers for the elderly.

I can see the headlines now:
Elderly Man Rescued From Ledge Of Chrysler Building
Queens Nursing Home Resident, Bound for Restroom, Located In Yonkers
Ah, the wonders of modern technology.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Bumbling Bomber Blasts Best Buddies


A would-be suicide bomber accidentally blew himself up today, killing six other militant murders as he was bidding them farewell to leave for his intended target.

"The terrorist was on his way to his destination and saying good-bye to his associates and then his suicide vest exploded," the Afghan interior minister said.

Seems Allah wasn't on their side after all.

The happy accident occurred in the Helmand province of southern Afghanistan where allied troops—mainly British—are struggling against a growing Taliban-led insurgency.

I am unable to confirm reports that the bomber's last words were: "Bye, guys. Say, what does this button do again?"

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Has Cold Fusion Been Verified By US Navy Lab?

Researchers have reported compelling new scientific evidence for the existence of low-energy nuclear reactions (LENR). The LENR process—also called "cold fusion"—may portend a limitless and environmentally-clean method for generating electricity. The group of Navy scientists describes what it terms the first clear visual evidence that LENR devices can produce neutrons; subatomic particles which indicate nuclear reactions are taking place.


Their report—which injects new life into this controversial field—was presented 23 March at the American Chemical Society's National Meeting. It was among 30 papers on the topic presented during a four-day symposium, New Energy Technology, coinciding with the 20th anniversary of the first description of cold fusion.

The study was undertaken at the U.S. Navy's Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center (SPAWAR) in San Diego, California, and published in the peer-reviewed journal, Naturwissenschaft, DOI: 10.1007/s00114-008-0449-x (SpringerLink subscription required).

Co-author and analytical chemist Pamela Mosier-Boss, Ph.D. said:

"Our finding is very significant… to our knowledge, this is the first scientific report of the production of highly energetic neutrons from an LENR device."

Fusion is the energy source which powers the sun and stars. Scientists have been striving to reproduce—in a controlled fashion—that power here on Earth. Fueled by deuterium—an abundant isotope of hydrogen easily extracted from seawater—fusion reactors would provide a clean and cheap source of electricity. For decades, prevailing fusion research concentrated on a sophisticated new genre of nuclear reactors able to withstand temperatures of tens of millions of degrees Fahrenheit—hence, often called “hot” fusion.

The first report on "cold fusion," presented in 1989 by Martin Fleishmann and Stanley Pons, was a global scientific sensation. In contrast to the huge, complex and tremendously expensive “hot” fusion reactors, Pons and Fleishmann claimed to have achieved nuclear fusion at comparatively "cold" room temperatures—in a simple, tabletop laboratory device termed an electrolytic cell.

Other researchers could not seem to reproduce Pons and Fleishmann’s results, and the field of cold fusion research declined. A stalwart cadre of scientists persisted, however, seeking solid evidence that nuclear reactions can occur at low temperatures. One problem in proving the existence of low-energy (cold) nuclear reactions involved the extreme difficulty in using conventional electronic instruments to detect the small number of neutrons produced in the process.

In their new study, Mosier-Boss and colleagues inserted an electrode composed of nickel or gold wire into a solution of palladium chloride mixed with deuterium or "heavy water" in a process called co-deposition. They passed electric current through the solution—causing a reaction within seconds—using a special plastic, CR-39, to capture and track any high-energy particles emitted, including any neutrons emitted during the fusion of deuterium atoms.

They examined the plastic microscopically, discovering patterns of "triple tracks;" tiny-clusters of three adjacent pits that appear to split apart from a single point, (see the photo above). The researchers say that the track marks were made by subatomic particles released when neutrons smashed into the plastic. Significantly, no such tracks were seen if the experiment was repeated using normal rather than heavy water. Mosier-Boss and colleagues believe the neutrons originated in nuclear reactions, perhaps from the combining or fusing deuterium nuclei.

"People have always asked 'Where's the neutrons?'" Mosier-Boss said. "If you have fusion going on, then you have to have neutrons. We now have evidence that there are neutrons present in these LENR reactions."

They cited other evidence for nuclear reactions occurring in their experiment, including X-rays, tritium, (another isotope of hydrogen), and excess heat. Meanwhile, Mosier-Boss and colleagues are continuing to explore the phenomenon to get a better understanding of exactly how LENR works—key to controlling it for practical purposes.

Mosier-Boss points out that the field currently gets very little funding and, despite its promise, researchers cannot predict when—or if—LENR may emerge from the lab with practical applications.

Paul Padley, a physicist at Rice University who reviewed Mosier-Boss's published work, said the study did not provide a plausible explanation of how cold fusion could take place in the conditions described.

"It fails to provide a theoretical rationale to explain how fusion could occur at room temperatures. And in its analysis, the research paper fails to exclude other sources for the production of neutrons," he told the Houston Chronicle. "The whole point of fusion is, you’re bringing things of like charge together. As we all know, like things repel, and you have to overcome that repulsion somehow."

Padley’s remarks in no way negate the SPAWAR team’s findings and those findings in no way negate Padley’s comments: Isaac Newton, in his Principia Mathematica, formulated the mathematical laws governing gravitational force, though Newton never understood what gravity was or how it attracted objects.

The Navy team has performed experiments and released the results of those experiments—a fundamental step in scientific inquiry. The next step is for other researchers to precisely reproduce the apparatus used by Mosier-Boss and her team, perform the same experiment the same way under the same conditions and see if they derive they same results. If they do, the following step is to attempt to explain exactly what is happening, why and what physical and chemical processes are involved.

Other speakers at the conference presented evidence supporting cold fusion, including Antonella De Ninno, a scientist with New Technologies Energy and Environment (Rome), who reported both excess heat and helium gas.

"We now have very convincing experimental evidence," De Ninno claimed.

Tadahiko Mizuno of Japan's Hokkaido University also reported excess heat generation and gamma-ray emissions.

All three research groups are currently exploring both experimental and theoretical studies in hopes of better understanding the cold fusion process well enough to commercialize it.

These experimental results may be due to a cold fusion/LENR process or they may be the effects of chemical or physical processes not yet understood. Clearly, something is going on in such experiments which requires further scrutiny. Whatever the ultimate explanation, science can only be enriched by answering the questions raised: There is no downside to exploring this matter to its definitive conclusion.

If these findings are, indeed, evidence of a cold fusion process and this process can be extenuated into a practical means of inexpensively generating electricity in large quantity, we may be witnessing the first steps of a discovery which will benefit mankind—not in a small way, but in a truly revolutionary fashion.

Those with high-speed connections may watch streaming videos from the ACS cold fusion conference at:

Session 1, Session 2

Monday, March 23, 2009

Draconian Internet Copyright Law Dead, Or Is It?

New Zealand Parliament relents after public outrage

Section 92A scrapped, to be re-written

New Zealand Commerce Minister Simon Power announced today that Section 92A of New Zealand's copyright law will not come into force on 27 March as previously planned.

As outlined in my 16 February 2009 article, Guilt On Accusation - Draconian Internet Copyright Law To Be Enacted, under this ill-conceived law, internet users’ accounts would have been terminated as a result of unproven accusations of piracy. Section 92A stated that if a copyright owner thinks an internet user guilty of repeatedly breaching copyright, the user’s ISP would have been forced the terminate the user's internet connections and websites.

In protest of this law and under encouragement from the Creative Freedom Coalition, thousands of New Zealanders blacked out their websites, Myspace pages, Facebook photos, and Twitter accounts.

In my 13 March follow-up to that article, Draconian New Zealand Copyright Law Foundering?, I noted that New Zealand's Telecommunications Carriers’ Forum (TCF) spent weeks trying to draft a Code of Practice dealing with the implementation of Section 92A, but TCF member TelstraClear stated they would veto that code.

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said Monday:

"We have now asked the minister of commerce to start work on a replacement section [for 92A]... There is a need for legislation in this area. Some progress was made between copyright holders and the ISPs but not enough to agree a code of conduct... In our view there are a number of issues that made it difficult to complete that code of conduct without fixing the fundamental flaws in section 92a."

The bottom-line in all this: Which is ultimately most important? Ensuring above all else that an extra 30-cents go into the pocket of a—likely wealthy—copyright holder, or protecting the rights of all citizens to due process of law in the face of unproven accusations? Seems like a no-brainer to me.

Does the New Zealand Parliament—or the government of any nation—first and foremost represent and protect its citizens? Or does it despotically chuck the peoples' rights out the window in order to placate grumbling, paranoid, billion-dollar corporations whose sole reason for existence is to make money? Should the rights of such corporations be protected? Certainly! But NEVER at the expense of the basic civil rights of the people which a government is required to protect!

Such corporations are acting purely in self-interest: By pressuring politicians to enact this and similar draconian laws, they have shown that they have absolutely no interest in the rights of others. These corporations and their representatives, the RIAA, RIANZ and others, are NOT police forces, they don’t know how to be police forces, they cannot be trusted to behave responsibly as police forces, and they must not be given—by any nation—the power to act as police forces. If they have evidence of theft of their products, such evidence should be turned over to appropriate authorities for a proper and lawful investigation—as any other private entity is required to.

Lets hope—indeed, all New Zealanders should expect and require—that in re-drafting this despicable law, New Zealand's Parliament—civil servants, NOT civil masters—will, this time, do their damn jobs: Protecting and ensuring the rights of the people of New Zealand, rather than abrogating those rights—and Parliament's mandate—by giving entertainment guilds, for pity's sake, independent powers of judge and jury over all internet users in New Zealand.

What on Earth were they thinking?

New Zealanders should contact their MPs through instructions and links on this page and let the rascals know you expect them to ensure civil rights and due process of law.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Battlestar Galactica Ends

International phenomenon lauded as one of best TV dramas of all-time

Producers and cast members meet with UN human-rights officials

BSG cast 1

 By Alan McCright

On the Sci-Fi network, 8 December 2003, the miniseries Battlestar Galactica premiered to 3.9 million viewers, among the strongest ratings in the network's history. The second night, saw 4.5 million viewers, practically unheard-of for a basic-cable miniseries. Sci-Fi picked up BSG as a full-fledged series, the first episode premiering on 4 January 2005. In ensuing years, BSG became popular with so many diverse facets of society, it even inspired a Battlestar Galactica forum on a knitting group.

Though portrayed as a science fiction series, it wasn’t really--in the larger sense: Oh, yes, it had spaceships and faster-than-light drives, but the plots didn’t rely on any aspects of science without which the stories themselves couldn’t function. Battlestar Galactica was a drama about characters; people with their travails, foibles, triumphs and sufferings. Rather than being set amongst the stars, BSG could as easily have depicted a wagon train in the American old west, or refugees and governments-in-exile fleeing a war-torn republic during one of the World Wars: Indeed, BSG has been called—rightly so—a modern-day equivalent of Virgil’s Aeneid and Homer’s Odyssey.

And the characters!

Rather than the one-dimensional characters of the 1979 series from which the the latest version was re-imagined, the modern BSG’s characters were fully three—perhaps, some might argue—four-dimensional. At one time or another each character had his or her moments of glory, despair, confusion, drunken hysterics, giddy happiness and fatal resignation. A character which in one episode was one of the most admired by the others might, in the next, be among the most reviled. They engaged in valor, self-loathing, political intrigues, changes of loyalty, vanity, humility—even a bloody mutiny. When the plot demanded it, major characters were killed outright.

Complex is too mild a word to describe the characters of this series—or its storylines.

Cast member Katee Sackhoff, (Kara Thrace), said: “Every season we got picked up, I was shocked. I was like, ‘Why do they keep watching this?’ I mean, I know it's fantastic, but normally people don't watch what's good on TV; they watch what's easy.” It was often—very often—a difficult, distressful drama to watch: Your heroes became villains, suddenly found themselves enslaved, made an ill-conceived or seemingly innocuous decision which resulted in dozens—even hundreds—of deaths, or, finally reaching a breaking point, descended into whiskey-sodden shadows of what they once had been.

But it was a drama you couldn’t not watch.

Born in the smoke and rubble of Al-Qaida's attacks in 2001, Battlestar Galactica’s story-lines were a mirror held up to our post-9/11 world: BSG examined such challenging, often unsettling issues as hatred, human rights, democracy, despotism, children and war, duty, self-preservation, self-sacrifice, altruism, terrorism, torture, reconciliation, dialogue among civilizations, love, spirituality, god, angels and faith. BSG’s storylines boldly approached, examined and often resolved these issues so well, with such seeming insight, that occasionally I mused our modern world might, perhaps, be better off if we let the producers and writers of Battlestar Galactica try running things for a while.

It might seem the United Nations doesn’t disagree with this view:

On 17 March 2009, at the invitation of the United Nations Economic and Social Council, the producers and cast of Battlestar Galactica met with high-level UN officials and NY students. The BSG contingent used clips from episodes of the series as examples of the various social, political and human rights issues on which they spoke. The discussion was the inauguration the UN Department of Public Information's Creative Community Outreach Initiative, which is aimed at partnering with the international film and television industries to raise awareness of global issues. More on this meeting of minds may be found here—the best report I have found, here, and here.

Even the Washington Post gave a bow to some of BSG’s insights when it published its list of: 10 Business Lessons From Battlestar Galactica.

On 20 March 2009, 5 years, 3 months and 13 days after the miniseries premiere, Battlestar Galactica came to an end.

It was a unique, fearless, probing and well-conceived drama which didn’t hesitate to explore—deeply and disturbingly—the human condition. It never lost its vision, it never lost its direction, it never lost its brilliance and it never lost its sheer guts. Many agree—as do I—that it was television’s finest moment. We may never see its like again.


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Cold War Is Back!


Medvedev announces arms build-up, military revamping

Kremlin perceives threats from neighbors, NATO, US

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev caused chills to travel up spines in many nations yesterday when he announced plans to strengthen and revamp Russia’s military infrastructure and “most importantly” strategic nuclear forces.

In his 17 March speech to Russia’s Defense Ministry board Medvedev said:

Any analysis of the military and political situation in the world shows that in a number of regions serious potential for conflict remains. There is always the risk of local crises and international terrorism. Attempts to expand the North Atlantic Treaty Organization on the borders of our country continue. All this requires a qualitative modernization of our Armed Forces to give them a new, forward-looking perspective. Despite the current financial difficulties, we can make all the necessary provisions.

The first challenge is improving the combat readiness of our troops, not just regular improvement but a quantum leap, most importantly in our strategic nuclear forces. They must be unequivocally ready to meet all the challenges necessary to ensure the military security of our nation. What is also on the agenda is the transfer of all combat units and formations to the status of permanent readiness. I want to stress that this is a key component of the new model or new image of the Armed Forces. [Emphasis mine]

The timing of Medvedev's announcement is likely a response to an ill-conceived overture from the White House:

Showing his characteristic lack of foreign-policy experience—and no understanding of the Russians whatsoever—Obama, in February, sent Medvedev a secret message, (since leaked to the press), offering to scrap US plans to place a ballistic missile defense system in Eastern Europe if Moscow would pressure Iran to cease development of its long-range missile and nuclear programs.

Even though the US defensive missile system is designed to shoot down missiles and not deliver nuclear or conventional warheads in an offensive role, the Kremlin has regarded it as a threat since the Bush administration announced plans for the system's deployment. As of this writing, the US still intends to deploy 10 Ground Based Interceptors (GBI) and a Patriot interceptor battery—manned by American crews—in Poland and a missile-tracking radar facility in the Czech Republic:

  • A Ground Based Interceptor is a silo-launched missile which will track, intercept and destroy a ballistic missile before that missile and its warhead have re-entered the atmosphere. It has no warhead—using the kinetic energy of high-speed impact to destroy the enemy warhead.
  • The Patriot system is a theater air defense missile battery capable of intercepting and destroying tactical ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and combat aircraft. A Patriot missile has a range of 42 miles and a conventional warhead containing 198 pounds of explosive.

The Kremlin, through the thin veil of the Russian state news agency's Novosti, treated Obama's offer with disdain in a recent article.

News of Obama's secret offer to Moscow distressed Polish and Czech officials who, finally free of decades of Russo-Soviet terror and oppression are not anxious for it to return. The deployments will also add a not-inconsiderable boost to the economies of both nations.

But it isn't only the Czechs and Poles who are wringing their hands: Much of Europe is nervous about the reprise of Russian aggression: The First and Second wars with Chechnya, Russia's April 2008 cyber-attack on Estonia, its August 2008 invasion of Georgia and it's bullying squabble with Ukraine, (in which Russia turned off Ukraine's supply of heating gas during the dead of winter), seem, to many, a return to Russian pugnacity and expansionism. The Russians even claim possession of the North Pole, having used a submarine to plant a flag on the ocean floor there.

At a time of economic crisis in the US and Representative Barney Frank's (Loony-Mass.) pressure on Obama to cut spending in vital military programs, a time when the US needs Russia—to keep Iran on a short leash and to help keep US military supply lines open in Afghanistan—a Russian politician would see Obama's humble offering as nothing but a sign of weakness, and act accordingly.

During the Cuban Missile Crisis in October of 1962, the Soviets placed nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles in Cuba—ninety miles from the shores of the United States. After a tense, two-week battle-of-wills between US President John F. Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, the Kremlin agreed to remove their weapons from Cuba. Khrushchev blinked first.

Undoubtedly, the Kremlin views this as almost the same scenario: The difference being that unlike the intended defense system for Eastern Europe, those Soviet Missiles could only be used offensively—each warhead killing potentially millions of Americans.

This time, however, Obama blinked first—and early in the game: Putin and his puppet Medvedev won't forget that. With his foolish show of weakness so early after assuming office, Obama has lost a very great deal of ground to the Kremlin which he may never regain. He’s no Jack Kennedy.

Who leaked Obama’s missive to the press? The first mention of it appears to have been in the Russian newspaper Kommersant. This strongly suggests that the story was intentionally leaked by the Kremlin as a way of showing that the Obama administration was weak on the idea of the defense of Europe—strengthening the Russian position on the matter. The “leak” will also tend to make things more difficult for the White House in dealings with Eastern European—and other—governments.

Obama would do well to remember that for decades, the Kremlin and, more recently, Dictator Prime Minister, (former KGB colonel), Putin have been known for playing—evilgames: indeed, they are masters, they are ruthless and they are playing those aggressive, expansionist games once more. Obama would also do well to remember who the game of Russian Roulette is named after. And why.

“I'd rather have the United States be the world's policeman than the Soviet Union be the world's jailer”

Aleksander Solzhenitsyn

Obama Manages NOT To Offend Irish PM

Fountains at the White House ran green in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day as Obama welcomed the Irish prime minister, Brian Cowen.

At a White House press conference, Mr. Cowen presented—as per tradition—Obama with a Waterford Crystal bowl filled with shamrocks. The two leaders gave speeches reaffirming the friendship and solidarity between their two countries. The only glitch occurred when, about twenty seconds into what he thought was his speech, Mr. Cowen realized he was repeating Obama’s speech, which had accidentally been recycled through the teleprompter due to a technical problem.

Perhaps Obama is starting to get the hang of this—we’ll see.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Obama To Open Secret Laboratories to Germany? Maybe not!

Obama To Open Secret Laboratories to Germany: That was the headline in Spiegel Online, the internet arm of Germany's Der Spiegel—one of Europe's largest weekly magazines with a circulation of more than one million per week.

On Monday, US Homeland Security Director Janet Napolitano and Germany's Minister of Education and Research Annette Schavan, signed an agreement on the future scientific and technological cooperation between the two nations in the field of civil security.

Whether this cooperation goes so far as the United States opening it's secret labs to Germany, as Der Spiegel maintains, is questionable.

Maddeningly, outrageously and unacceptably, I was unable to locate a copy of this public document anywhere online—including US and German government sites. However, claims to have obtained the full text of the document.

I have provided a synopsis of their analysis below:

The agreement was merely a "framework for the promotion, development and facilitation of bilateral scientific and technological cooperation activities in the context of civil security," and there is nothing specific in the agreement about the sharing of secret information.

The main points of the 31-page agreement are the:

  • Defense and the detection of threats to civil security and response to these threats
  • Forensic Science and placement in relation to security threats
  • Protection of critical infrastructure and key resources
  • Crisis response and consequence management and mitigation of serious events

Special attention is applied to the:

  • Development of solutions to the security of people
  • Development of solutions which increase the security of individuals without restricting their freedom

“Conversely, this means that solutions which do in fact limit civil liberties could also be developed, even if they are not the main focus of research efforts.”

Monday, March 16, 2009

Obama To Celebrate St. Pat’s With Irish PM

Irish PM Brian Cowen
Brian Cowen
Taoiseach of Ireland

Catholic Prime Minister brings genealogical gifts

When he arrives at the White House to celebrate St. Patrick's Day—now that that Brazilian guy's been sent packing—Irish Taoiseach, (tea-shock, equivalent to Prime Minister), Brian Cowen will present Obama with a copy of baptismal records which prove Obama's Offaly connections, (that's just too easy, folks—I'm not even going to touch it).

Prime Minister Cowen will give Obama a photograph of Templeharry Church in Moneygall, where Obama's great-great-great-grandfather, Fulmouth Kearney, (um... nope, still too easy), was baptized, along with parish records and a picture of the schoolhouse his ancestors attended.

Mr. Cowen will also extend an invitation to Obama to visit Ireland and Moneygall—which has nothing to do with Obama's economic policies.


Top of the agenda during Mr Cowen's visit will be the global economy, Cowen's proposed relaxing of work visa requirements for Irish entry to the US, and the rekindling of “The Troubles" in Northern Ireland.

White House aides are reportedly scrambling to find a menorah to honor Mr. Cowen's visit.

Obama Manages To Offend President Of Brazil As Well


Obama 0 for 2 as he offends two Heads of State in a row

Obama and his staff managed to offend Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, (known simply as Lula), before he even arrived.

Obama arranged a White House meeting during a telephone call to Lula, the two leaders agreeing to meet on 17 March—St. Patrick’s day. Obama also agreed to meet with Ireland’s Taoiseach, (tea-shock, equivalent to Prime Minister), Brian Cowen and formally celebrate—you guessed it—St. Patrick’s Day.

Isn’t there anyone in the White House familiar with the basic uses of a calendar? Hair-dressers don’t make such bumbling goofs, how on Earth does Obama manage to do so?

Lula’s trip was pushed forward from Tuesday because, remarkably, someone in the White House possessed of more than two working neurons, dimly realized that it made somewhat less sense to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with a Brazilian than an Irishman—and kudos to that rocket scientist.

Lula’s aides and the Brazilian press interpreted this as a snub, saying the offhand schedule shuffling made Latin America once again look like an afterthought.

Adding yet another insult to the mess, the White House announcement of the Obama-Lula meeting misspelled Lula’s name as "Luis Ignacio" and put "Lula"—a nickname that decades ago became a legal part of the Brazilian leader's name—in quotes.

How will Obama treat the Prime Minister of Ireland? Serve a traditional English breakfast? Pipe him into the White House with a rousing rendition of God Save the Queen? Re-gift Cowen with the Winston Churchill biography the UK prime Minister gave him?

The stumble for statesmanship continues.

Mars Update to Google Earth

Mars' Valles Marineris
Credit: NASA/Google Earth

NASA and Google announce an update to Mars in Google Earth, a 3D mapping tool for the Red Planet.

Originally released with Google Earth 5.0, Mars in Google Earth now contains even more features that give users a sense of how our knowledge of Mars, and our study of astronomy, has evolved over time.  After selecting 'Mars' from the toolbar in Google Earth, users “fly” to a 3D view of the Red Planet, complete with informational layers, imagery, and terrain.  The tools for navigation and exploration on Mars are identical to those on Earth - zoom in and out, change the camera view, or spin the entire planet with a click of the mouse.

There are several new features in this updated version of Mars in Google Earth:

First, users can “travel back in time” to see the Red Planet through the eyes of the pioneers of Mars science in the Historical Maps layer by exploring antique maps by astronomers Giovanni Schiaparelli, Percival Lowell, and others .

Then, they can fast-forward to the present day with the new Live from Mars layer, featuring a continuous stream of the latest imagery from today's Mars spacecraft.  Live from Mars includes imagery from NASA's THEMIS camera on board the Mars Odyssey spacecraft, and lets users fly along with Odyssey as well as the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to see what they have been observing lately and where they are headed next.

Users can discover these, and other exciting features—and learn all about the history of Mars science and exploration—with two new guided tours of Mars narrated by Ira Flatow of Public Radio's Science Friday and Bill Nye the Science Guy.

You may wish to view the narrated tutorial here or here.

Mars in Google Earth also contains several updated elements, in addition to the many popular features that were available at the original launch:

Updated imagery from NASA and ESA, and improved the search function to make it easier to explore well-known sites on Mars.  Just as they could in the original version of Mars in Google Earth, users can read geo-located articles from William K. Hartmann’s A Traveler's Guide to Mars about the solar system's largest canyon, Valles Marineris, its tallest volcano, Olympus Mons, the infamous “Face on Mars”, and many other famous Martian locations.  They can also follow the paths of Mars rovers and view hi-resolution panoramic photos of the Mars surface.

Life, the Universe and Obama

Note: Having no desire to answer the same questions time and again in different comments in different articles, I am posting this primarily for the referral of future commenters. So please consider this a FAQ of sorts.

As far as Obama continually insulting the British, (not to mention other dignitaries), and my pointing out the facts as I understand them:

I am not any sort of an apologist for the British, (or, you will find, anybody-the-hell-else): My father was treated quite—I'll be civil—shabbily by Brits as an American stationed in England for a time during World War II and thereafter never had a kind word for them—far from it. I have nothing against the British as a people—many of whom are among the warmest, friendliest people I've ever met—I'm a rabid Dr. Who fan and I have respect for Her Majesty The Queen as an entity separate from her government. But for reasons of personal experience I have absolutely no love for the British government—again, far from it.

Putting my personal feelings aside—as Obama or any holder of political office in the United States is expected to—I recognize the blatantly obvious political, diplomatic, military, economic and scientific needs to maintain the alliance the US has had with the UK for generations.

As to my motives for anything I say about any politician:

I am neither a democrat or republican. In my observation and experience, all politicians are lying scoundrels, (or become so, soon after taking office), possessed of their own agendas which always benefit them and rarely the voters. Consequently, when I cast my ballot, I vote for the lesser of two evils; sometimes the lesser scoundrel is a democrat sometimes a republican, sometimes a libertarian and when the candidates tie as low-life miscreants I may write-in Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt or my cat. Those who peruse this site in its entirety will note that I point out McCain's idiocy as readily as Obama's. I am, as of the above date, preparing to lambast some other republican scoundrels—stay tuned.

Politicians are civil servants, no matter how much they like to perceive themselves as civil masters. They work for you. They work for me. Political malefactors of any persuasion need to have their chicanery and bad behavior pointed out.

Do I believe it's my job to do so? No. Do I feel I'm going to Save All Mankind? Don't be silly. I am simply exercising the natural and inalienable right that all people have: I'm putting in my two-cents. Take it or leave it.

Regarding Obama's disgraceful behavior towards the British, the question was asked:

"But how can we expect someone whose grandfather was tortured by the British under Churchill to feel the same way about him?"

It is entirely possible that Obama's grandfather was tortured by the British—I wouldn't doubt that such a horrible thing may have occurred. I find it curious, however, that there seems to be only one media report on this torture story which has been recounted—essentially verbatim—in many, many media outlets. Yet Obama himself has said nothing about such torture and his own account of his grandfather's treatment by the British in his book Dreams of my Father differs from that media account. They can't both be true. Where does the truth lie?

Regardless of the truth of that allegation, the President is expected to act on behalf of the American People—not on his own personal hatreds. Look at Nixon, who, as President, acted on little but his own personal hatreds. Want him back?

As to Churchill:

"Sir Winston Churchill has been named the greatest Briton of all time in a nationwide poll attracting more than a million votes."

The British, under Queen Victoria, supported the Confederate States during the American Civil War. What do you suppose would be the American reaction—or Obama's—if a newly-elected British prime minister rudely and unceremoniously booted out a bust of Abraham Lincoln at 10 Downing Street? (Note: Please read this article in its entirety for my complete take on this issue.

Winston Churchill met with Charles de Gaulle and Joseph Stalin at the end of World War II—two men he passionately loathed. Under trying circumstances, he behaved as a gentleman toward them no matter how much he groused about them behind their backs. Obama could learn a great deal from Churchill. Don't hold your breath, though.

And then there's the slave thing:

"Michelle Obama's great-great-great grandfather worked as a slave"
"Obama's Ancestors Were Slave Owners"

Now, I'm Scots-Irish. You won't hear me going on about the bloody Viking invasions of Scotland and Ireland and the resultant murder and enslavement of my ancestors or how modern-day Scandinavians should be made to feel ashamed and to share in the guilt of those atrocities, because it would be just damn silly. Lunatic.

You won't hear me going on about how the Irish, (especially Irish Catholics), under British domination—slavery—in the 1800's starved to death in the hundreds of thousands, were deprived of most of what we consider basic human rights, were treated as little better than animals, were branded criminals for little or no offense and transported—men, women and children—to penal colonies in Australia and elsewhere.

Yet there are those—white and black—who refuse to put the slavery thing behind them and still gnash their teeth and beat their breasts about it, just as there are people today who hate all living Jews because a handful of Jews, who died 2,000 effing years ago, crucified Christ—never mind that Jesus himself was a Jew. Lunacy.

Yes, all these things are horrible to read about. Painful to contemplate. But they are things of the past: The actions, hatreds, travails and sufferings of people generations and centuries dead. It's history. I, for one, choose to live in the here and now.

White Guilt:

How many of you reading this own slaves? No one? Neither do I. Neither did my parents, nor theirs, nor theirs, nor theirs...

I did not cause slavery. I did not promote slavery. I did not end slavery. I was not involved at all.

I am not responsible—and I refuse to be held responsible by anyone in any way, shape or form—for anything, anywhere, which occurred before I was even born. If you choose to believe differently, you are mentally unbalanced.

Black Angst:

On this page: a self-professed black American left, in part, this plaintive comment:

"...try to imagine what it has been like for generations of blacks trying to move past the effects of over 200 years of slavery, followed by another 100 years of oppression thanks to our good buddy Jim Crow and others. 300 years. Three HUNDRED Years. 40 years is not enough time for all of those feelings to heal or to move past the results of centuries of institutionalized racism." [Emphasis, mine].

My response is this:


What a lame, racist, excuse to blame others for the inner misery in which you have chosen to wallow.

Go to Japan sometime. You'll be treated—almost certainly—very well because it is in their culture to be polite. Whatever color you are—as long as you aren't Japanese—ask a man there for permission to date his daughter and all of a sudden you're a gai-jin pal, and boy-o-boy then you'll see the politeness vanish and the racism appear.

I've been to countries where there hasn't been slavery in a lot more than three hundred years and people of other colors or simply different nationalities are nonetheless treated differently—often insufferably and sometimes violently so. If you are fortunate, you will be tolerated.

I'm white and I've been treated differently by, (some), black neighbors, shopkeepers, politicians—even police officers—simply because of my skin color. I wasn't unkind to them, never said a bad word to them, but they reacted to me as though I had personally bought and sold their great-granddaddies. Sometime their behavior toward me was standoffish, sometimes harsh, sometimes threatening. Two of them burned my house down, so I don't live in that neighborhood anymore. Racists, pure and simple. Their racism is their problem, not mine: I've got better things to do.

Their words, actions and attitudes didn't change my behavior, my opinions or my self-esteem and certainly never have and never will have any part whatsoever in defining who I am or how I feel about myself. I define who I am; other people—living or dead—do not.

Read the Bible, the Koran, the Talmud—read history. This—slavery, racism—isn't an American thing and it isn't a recent thing; its been going on in thousands of places for thousands of years and—sad as it may be—things aren't going to be any different when you wake up tomorrow or the next day or the day after that.

So listen up, Bub. I don't give a levitating rodent's patootie if you're black, white, brown or yellow, or what kind personal hells you have decided to create for yourself. If you are going to whine about it, moan about it, despair about it and "oh, poor me" about it—all the while sitting on your hands and waiting for things to change—you are going to waste whatever life you have left. And it won't be my doing or Jefferson Davis' doing or Jim Crow's doing. It will be your doing.

Whatever you may think about Obama and however Obama may feel about this issue, you can credit him with one thing; putting it behind him long enough to make himself the first black President. Think about that.

As long as people, whatever their heritage, insist on perceiving the world in terms of color—racially, which is... now let's not always see the same hands... yes, Johnny, it's racism—their angst and guilt will continue unabated: There will always be a part of them that is miserable, there will always be a part of them which lives in fear, and they will have no one—living, dead or yet to be born—to blame but themselves.

It sure as hell ain't my fault.

Having said all that, lets again explore Obama's behavior toward the British:

Every President is expected—indeed, required—to behave as a statesman.

My grandfather was born in 1873—he was alive when Custer was. At one point, in Texas, the neighbors—best friends—of my grandfather and grandmother were—the only appropriate word is "slaughtered”—by Indians and my grandparents had to flee their home, barely escaping the same fate.

Now that was bad enough, but what if my grandfather or grandmother, (perish the thought, and may they rest in peace), had been captured and tortured by the Indians? And what if one of their descendants, (and there are a great many; my grandparents had 28 children. No, that's not a misprint), what if one of their descendants were elected President of the United States? How would the American people today expect—require—that President to behave toward the Crow or the Sioux or the Kiowa or the Comanche?

The President is expected to behave like a head of state and not a racist or Anglophobe or Russophobe and so-on ad infinitum.

(Before the amateur mind-readers out there start howling, I have many friends who represent several Native American Nations, (tribes, to the uninformed)—and Lou, if you're reading this, I mean you especially, dear.)

But lets cut to the chase and look at the very essence of the question regarding Presidential behavior:

Should the President of the United States—a public servant and the ultimate representative of the American people, whose decisions and actions affect certainly over 300,000,000 people and potentially billions—let his personal feelings color those decisions rather than basing them on the pros and cons of the facts alone? Should he not be held to the absolute highest standards?

Let's look at a comparatively recent event. Please keep in mind that the situation was far more complex than I am making it appear here, and therefore this may be considered by many a simplistic view—I won't argue that. Whether history ultimately reveals it to be true or not true, it nevertheless serves as an excellent example:

Many believe the deciding factor in President George W. Bush's decision to invade Iraq in 2003 seems to have been that Saddam Hussein—in Bush's words—"tried to kill my dad."

The bottom line is this:

When a man is elevated to the office of President, he damn well should act like The President—the ultimate representative and symbol of the People of the United States—and not a neurotic, angst-ridden ninny, who constantly embarrasses himself, his office and the American People.

To paraphrase Bill Clinton:

"It's the Office, stupid."


Other comments, or salient portions thereof and my responses:

I include them because I feel they feel they belong in this kinda-sorta FAQ, for reasons I hope are obvious.

(Note: previously I was using "JS-Kit" to handle my comments, became disenchanted with it and removed it. In the process and despite JS-Kit's indications to the contrary, some comments were, alas, lost. I have no idea why some were lost and others remained. My apologies. I have yet to intentionally remove a comment no matter how oafish.)

Concerning the Thursday, February 5, 2009 Global Warming piece at:

Anonymous... said 1:
"'re just a lying bastard..."

Thank your for your crude, infantile and insulting comment. I will deign to answer it, even though you hadn't the guts or civility to simply present an opposing point of view—which I would have been happy to read and to which I would have politely responded. Your churlish and vehement comment convinces me that the article shattered your pathetic, ill-informed, world view, and you're too much of a simpering cretin to face reality. The next time you wish to leave a comment, state it in a gentlemanly manner and you will receive a gentlemanly response in turn.

So. "'re just a lying bastard..."

I'd like to think I'm not "just" anything.

As to the bastard part, my birth certificate indicates my parents were married at the time of my birth, so, no; I am apparently not a bastard. Not that such a silly thing matters.

As for being a liar: I am neither a lawyer, Hollywood actor, politician, talk-show host, union organizer, journalist, banker, broker, car salesman, lobbyist, real estate agent or evangelist. I am not a member of or associated with the United Nations, Handgun Control Inc., Current TV, The View, the New York Times, CNN, ABC, CBS, NBC or the American Medical Association, nor do I have an agenda to promote.

Generally speaking, lying stems through fear. I am not afraid of you or—since my grandmother passed away in 1965—anybody else.

That being said, I do believe in civility: If someone thinks it important that I hear the intimate details of the surgery they underwent at the hands of their proctologist, I will feign interest. Though, after half-an-hour or so, I will suddenly remember an appointment.

Concerning the Thursday, March 12, 2009 article: Obama Just Loves To Insult Our British Allies at:

Anonymous said... 4
"There are more complex issues here than you are willing to admit."

Ye Gods, another amateur mind-reader! Just what the heck are you talking about, Bub? Enlighten us, please.

I submit that, perhaps things are simpler than you are able to grasp.

There is nothing complex about courtesy. There is nothing complex about decorum. There is nothing complex about maintaining the dignity of your office in the eyes of the world... Civility is simple—unless, of course, you are anonymously insulted by someone implying you are lying.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Draconian New Zealand Copyright Law Foundering?

Major player TelstraClear withdraws its cooperation

Update! See follow-up article: Draconian Internet Copyright Law Dead, Or Is It? March 23, 2009

On 16 February 2009, I wrote about the New Zealand Copyright Act (Section 92A) in Guilt On Accusation - Draconian Internet Copyright Law To Be Enacted. This law would allow American and New Zealand film and music industries to pressure Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to terminate any individual or business users solely on their say so.

On 23 February, the New Zealand government suspended Section 92A which had been scheduled to become active on 28 February. For months, the ruthless law has been under fire from many quarters—not the least of which are some of the ISPs themselves.

Members of the Telecommunications Carriers’ Forum (TCF) a New Zealand organization which develops standards and codes of practice for the New Zealand telecommunications industry, have spent many weeks trying to draft a Code of Practice dealing with the implementation of Section 92A: That Code of Practice needs a unanimous vote to pass TCF's board.

Now TCF member and New Zealand Internet Service Provider giant TelstraClear have stated they will veto the code, saying:

"TelstraClear considers that there is a fundamental problem with the TCF being a party to any code of this nature, which is that the code would be based on flawed legislation… In TetstraClear’s view, any industry code would simply be an attempt to tidy up poorly drafted legislation. TelstraClear does not consider this to be the responsibility of the TCF. Indeed the best outcome would be if s92A was repealed. Failing that, it should be amended to address the above concerns."

InternetNZ, the group which oversees the Internet in New Zealand—including the management of the .nz domain name system—says implementation of Section 92A will be impossible without TelstraClear's participation:

...TelstraClear’s decision not to support the Telecommunications Carriers’ Forum Copyright Code of Practice means the Government should promptly repeal Section 92A of the Copyright Act.

“Executive Director Keith Davidson notes that the TelstraClear decision means the TCF cannot now implement the Code.”It is clear that the agreement that the Government sought will not now be reached between ISPs and rightsholders. To attempt to bring 92A into force now would invite disaster,” Davidson says.

“The problems with the Code have come to a head because the Government made the future of Section 92A dependent on agreement between a limited group of rights holders and a small number of ISPs.

“What about everyone else who is affected? Section 92A applies to any business that provides Internet services to its staff or hosts a website, and can be triggered by any rights holder or claimed rightsholder with a genuine complaint or a malicious axe to grind,” says Davidson.

The University of Auckland has expressed its concerns:

"The main problem is in Section 92A of the Copyright Act which we believe should be removed from the Act or, if it is to remain in some form, then substantially redrafted with input from stakeholders as would have happened during a select committee process."

"The activities of a university also make use of third party copyright materials. These activities could be seriously affected by copyright notices from rights owners demanding the termination of the accounts of a staff member or a student who has legitimately downloaded material under the fair dealing and education provisions of the Act or under the many licences [sic] the University holds to copy and use third party copyright materials. Universities largely have processes and penalties in place to deal with any copyright infringement by staff and students, but these may or may not incorporate the termination provisions. The requirement to terminate accounts or comply with a Code which cuts across those policies threatens institutional autonomy. A university may face unreasonable compliance costs and procedures if it adopts the Draft Code."

Judge David Harvey, former Chair of the New Zealand Copyright Tribunal and author of - Selected Issues
has this to say:

"[Section 92A] is poorly drafted and makes a number of unsupported assumptions, but in essence it suggests that an Internet service provider must develop a policy to cancel an existing contract as a result of copyright infringement.

"The reality of the matter is that the cancellation or termination of the contract arises at the behest, not of the Internet service provider, but of copyright owners. Without significant justification in normal circumstances this could amount to an interference with economic relations and raises significant issues about the sanctity of contract... section 92A is unnecessary and gives rise to a situation where a person may be deprived of rights under a contract without proper legal process."

Google voiced its objections in a 6 March 2009 document to TCF:

“Google has a number of concerns around the new section 92A and the impact the section 92A obligation is likely to have on the balance of interests served by copyright law:

"Section 92A undermines the incredible social and economic benefits of the open and universally accessible Internet, by providing for a remedy of account termination or disconnection that is disproportionate to the harm of copyright infringement online.

"Section 92A puts users’ procedural and fundamental rights at risk, by threatening to terminate users’ Internet access based on mere allegations and reverse the burden of proof onto a user to establish there was no infringement. In Google’s experience, there are serious issues regarding the improper use and inaccuracy of copyright notices by rights holders.

"Section 92A could impose significant burdens on ISPs, as it threatens to require enforcement of policies based simply on rights holders’ allegations of infringement."

There are those who maintain that the withdrawal of TelstraClear sounds the death knell for Section 92a, but the New Zealand parliament is still debating courses of action.

The bottom line in all this is that no one—anywhere—should be deprived of their civil rights, of due course of law, particularly when the accuser is a private party with an agenda but no clear evidence of an internet user’s wrongdoing.

The battle for New Zealanders’ civil rights continues.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Obama Just Loves To Insult Our British Allies

Makes Bush looks like sophisticated Man-Of-The-World

I have refrained from commenting on this until now, waiting for the fallout to settle so the damage might be assessed.

The military—of any nation—is composed of human beings. As in any group of people, in the military you will find those who are the salt of the Earth, those who are absolute jerks—even villains, and everything in between. Correspondingly, you are taught that when you salute, you are saluting the uniform and not the man.

Obama might have learned that lesson had he ever served in the military. But he didn't. He has apparently never even heard of the practice—that, or he just doesn’t care.

Obama appears to be an Anglophobe. He has said that his grandfather was detained for more than six months by the British who suspected him of involvement in the bloody Mau-Mau rebellion. True or not this should be irrelevant. In dealing with the heads and the ambassadors of other nations, Obama is mandated to represent the people of the United States of America—not embark on childish and disgraceful public snit-fits.

First, Obama surprised and insulted the British by returning a bust of Winston Churchill, presented to the Oval Office by the British Government as a show of friendship and solidarity after 9/11.

Then British Prime Minister Gordon Brown arrived in Washington—the first official visit of any head of state to the new President.

Obama cancelled the Rose Garden press conference—traditional in welcoming heads of state—"because of snow" and held a small, awkward and ill-prepared press conference in the Oval Office, leaving out more than a dozen British reporters for lack of room, (there are 132 rooms in the White House, including the huge East Room which was presumably free of snow at the time.) Obama also denied the British prime minister an official state dinner.

Prime Minster Brown presented Obama a pen holder carved from the remains of the HMS Gannet, a Victorian warship that once ran anti-slavery missions along the African coast. The wood of HMS Gannet's sister ship, HMS Resolute, was used to create the President's famous Resolute Desk, a gift from Britain which has been in the Oval Office since 1880. The Prime Minister also gave Obama the framed, original commission of the HMS Resolute, and a first edition of Sir Martin Gilbert's seven-volume authorized biography of Winston Churchill.

Obama's gift to the Prime Minister? A box of 25 DVDS including ET, The Wizard of Oz, Star Wars, Raging Bull, Casablanca, The Graduate and—perhaps most poignant of all—Psycho.

To make matters worse—if that's possible—Obama wasn't smart enough to know that DVDs made for US audiences won't work on British DVD players. British and American DVD players use incompatible formats.

Mrs. Brown then presented the Obama children with two outfits from Topshop, one of Britain's trendiest and most expensive women's-wear stores.

Apparently having learned the art of tastelessness at her husband's side, Mrs. Obama had an aide run down to the White House gift shop to snatch away two toy Marine One Helicopter pieces of junk models for the Prime Minister's children.

Obama then cut the meeting short in order to meet with a group of Boy Scouts, (I'm not making this up, folks.)

But wait—there’s more:

British Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell is now saying that 10 Downing Street is finding it "unbelievably difficult" to get in touch with members of Obama's administration. British officials can't seem to get past the White House answering machines as they try to coordinate plans for the upcoming G20 summit.

O'Donnell said that when he tries to get in touch with key members of Obama's Treasury Department "there is nobody there." The phones ring and no one answers or he gets only a answering machine message. "You cannot believe how difficult it is," O'Donnell said to participants of a civil service conference.

I could say more about this disgraceful state of affairs, but what more needs be said? Well, perhaps more of the British reaction. I will end with comments on the debacle from the UK's Telegraph newspaper:

One thing’s certain when President Obama arrives in London at the end of March - he’ll receive a far warmer and more cordial welcome than the one he doled out to Gordon Brown in Washington earlier this week. As the British media widely noted, the Prime Minister was given a humiliatingly low key reception at the White House at the hands of a new US Administration that seems to care little for the Anglo-American alliance or even the basics of international diplomacy.

No British leader in modern times has been greeted with less decorum by his American counterpart, and the amateur reception he received was more fitting for the arrival of a Third World potentate than the leader of America’s closest ally...a British Prime Minister deserves to be treated with respect, even he is a lame duck at home or is barely recognizable to much of the American public.

President Bush was frequently labeled a cowboy and an isolationist by his critics, but the Bush White House knew how to receive its guests (including traveling press corps) with tremendous dignity, respect for tradition and sincere warmth towards visitors who had traveled thousands of miles to be there.

When Joe Biden outlined the US administration’s foreign policy at the Munich Security Conference last month, he delivered a muddled, quintessentially European-style speech that projected naiveté and confusion. It was a weak-kneed address that could easily have been drafted in Paris or Brussels, a celebration of “soft power” at a time of growing threats to international security. His words revealed a soft underbelly to the American superpower, one that will be probed and exploited by Washington’s worst enemies.

Whether Obama is actually up to the task remains to be seen. His meeting with Brown this week was nothing short of a PR disaster, the embarrassing fledgling steps of a new president unschooled in foreign affairs. He was out of his depth and it showed... the young president could learn a thing of two about leadership from Sir Winston Churchill, the British hero whose bust he so crassly removed from the Oval Office.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Kremlin-backed Group Behind Estonia Cyber Attacks

Russian politician: 'My assistant started Estonian cyberwar'


At a 3 March 2009 panel discussion between Russian and American experts on information warfare in the 21st century, Sergei Markov, a State Duma deputy from Vladimir Putin's Unified Russia party, admitted his involvement in the 2007 attack that shutdown Estonia’s internet traffic.

"About the cyberattack on Estonia... don't worry, that attack was carried out by my assistant. I won't tell you his name, because then he might not be able to get visas," Markov said.

Estonian officials always claimed the attacks originated from Russia. The attacks, according to computer experts, were distributed denial-of-service, or DDoS, attacks; hundreds or thousands of "zombie" computers are enlisted to overwhelm the target network. They began after April 27, when Estonia removed a World War II Soviet memorial from its capital, Tallinn, provoking howls of protest from the Kremlin, (which seems to spend a very great deal of it’s time howling.) The internet attacks continued to mid-May.

Russia has consistently denied any involvement. On 10 March, however, Konstantin Goloskokov—Markov’s assistant—a commissar in the pro-Putin youth group Nashe, (Молодежное демократическое антифашистское движение «Наши»), which works for the Kremlin, admitted he and some associates had launched the attack—apparently the first time anyone has claimed direct responsibility.

Nashe—which means “Ours!”—is Russian Prime-Minister-For-Life Vladimir Putin's version of the Soviet Komsomol, (Коммунистический союз молодёжи), or Communist Union of Youth.


Vladimir Putin:
The buck stops with him

"I wouldn't have called it a cyber attack; it was cyber defense," Goloskokov said. "We taught the Estonian regime the lesson that if they act illegally, we will respond in an adequate way."

"We were attacked by 178 countries," quipped Katrin Pargmae, a spokeswoman for the Estonian Informatics Centre, which administers the state's information systems, including the internet.

It is believed to have been the first attack of its kind, directed against virtually the entire informational infra-structure of a NATO country.

And then:

August 2008: Russia's invasion of Georgia was accompanied by a wave of cyber attacks on Georgian government websites. The cyber attacks—which began well before Russian tanks rolled in—overwhelmed Georgian government websites with swarms of data: some websites were defaced by hackers.

There was no clear proof of Russian military involvement (investigators have reportedly traced some of the data to Russian servers tied to organized-crime groups), so the perpetrators may have been nationalists. Still, the timing suggests that even if the responsible parties weren't in uniform, they coordinated their moves with the Russian military.

November 2008: Russian hackers successfully penetrated Pentagon computer systems in the most severe cyber attacks ever on US military networks.

The attacks struck computers within the US Central Command, which oversees Iraq and Afghanistan, and involved malicious software—known as malware—which permeates a network. The attacks were so serious, Admiral Michael Mullen, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, briefed President  Bush and Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

I smile when they tell me the Cold War is over. I try not to guffaw out loud, though.

“Soviet Union foreign policy is a puzzle inside a riddle wrapped in an enigma, and the key is Russian nationalism.”

— Winston Churchill

British May Launch Spaceplane Within 10 Years

Single-Stage-To-Orbit spacecraft would use runways for take-off and landing


Illustration of Skylon spaceplane in orbit

The European Space Agency and the British Government have awarded $1.28 million dollars to Reaction Engines Limited as part of a multi-million dollar package aimed at developing the SABRE hybrid engine. The SABRE engine is capable of operating as both an air-breathing jet engine and a rocket engine.

SABRE engines would make possible the 269-foot-long Skylon Spaceplane, capable of taking off from and landing on a runway like any airliner, (the Boeing 747-300 is 231 feet long). However, after take-off, Skylon will ascend high above the Earth where at Mach 5.5 Skylon’s SABRE engines will switch from air-breathers to rockets, propelling the craft into orbit.

With a payload capacity of 13 tons and a 40-foot cargo bay, Skylon will be capable of hefting satellites and orbital base (space) station modules into orbit. There are even plans for a 40-passenger payload module for astronauts or space tourists.

Computer-generated Skylon Spaceplane animations may be viewed at REL’s website in QuickTime or Flash.

Water Found On Mars… Yet Again?

Update: Based on a comment to this article, it seems I overestimated the degree of general knowledge concerning the conditions of the Martian climate and the properties of water. I have updated this article to include data showing why I think the globules are not evidence of liquid water.

Phoenix touched down at its landing site in the Martian arctic on 25 May 2008. Recent examinations of early Phoenix photographs show globules of what may be liquid water on the lander’s struts.

Image: Mars water, Renno, et al., NASA

Images of one of Phoenix's struts taken by the lander's robotic arm camera on Sols (or Martian days) 8, 31 and 44 of the mission. The two spheroids enclosed by the circle appear to merge with each other.

Some Phoenix scientists argue is a sign that the globs are liquid water, but researchers are divided on just what the photographs actually show.

Let’s talk about water and triple point:

The triple point of any substance is that temperature and pressure at which the material can coexist in all three phases (solid, liquid and gas) in equilibrium. Specifically the triple point of water is 273.16 K, (0.01° C, 32.018° F) at 611.2 Pa [pascals], (6.112 mb [millibars]).

Now, let’s look at this diagram showing water in relation to the Martian atmosphere:


The atmospheric pressure on Mars is so low, even in the most favorable spots where the pressure is higher than average, liquid water is restricted to the temperature range +0.01º C to +9 °C.

So, for liquid water to exist on Mars, the atmospheric pressure would have to be between 6.1 mb to 10 mb and the temperature between +0.01º C to +9 °C.

The temperature and pressure at Phoenix’ location on the dates the three photos were taken were:

(Martian day number, low temp, high temp, atmospheric pressure)

Sol 8 -83 ºC, (-117.4º F), -31 ºC, (-23.8º F), 8.49 mb (849 Pa, 0.00837 atm)
Sol 31 -79 ºC, (-110.2º F), -31 ºC, (-23.8º F), 8.16 mb (816 Pa, 0.00805 atm)
Sol 44 -78 ºC, (-108.4º F), -30 ºC, (-22.0º F), 8.04 mb (804 Pa, 0.00793 atm)

Highs between Sol 8 and Sol 44, inclusive:
-25 ºC, (-13º F, 248º K) 8.5mb, (850 Pa, 0.00838 Atm)

For those “globules” to be pure liquid water, we would have to throw out the physics of water as we understand it, the physics of the Martian atmosphere as we understand it, or both. Neither are likely to be incorrect on this scale.

So. The globules aren’t pure liquid water. BUT—what if the water is contaminated?

Phoenix found perchlorates in the soil around the lander. Perchlorates are highly water soluble and in solution allow the water to remain in a liquid state to -70°C. The presence of perchlorates increases the plausibility of water solutions in a liquid state.

Also, Phoenix’ landing rockets “burned” hydrazine, which decomposes into ammonia, nitrogen gas, and hydrogen gas. I have not calculated the phase states of hydrazine or ammonia under Martian climatic conditions, but I propose either would be a better bet than pure liquid water.

In any event, the globules really can’t be pure liquid water, though they may be water with antifreeze added—big deal. NASA’s press release is much ado about nothing but it serves to demonstrate that such releases are a bad idea until all your data is in, properly reduced, and passed around for comment and critique by other researchers.

Every once in a while, there is a “sensational” story about water being found on Mars as though it was a new discovery. To set the record straight, it has long been known that there IS, in fact, water on Mars.

A small, small sample of such stories from only the BBC:

21 June, 2000, Water 'found on Mars'

26 July, 2001, Water reserves found on Mars

28 May, 2002, Mars ice could flood planet

16 February, 2003, Ankle-deep on Mars

24 January, 2004, Long history of water and Mars

6 March, 2004, More signs of water found on Mars

18 May, 2004, Rover finds new Mars water signs

26 July, 2004, Probe maps water vapour on Mars

21 February 2005, Mars pictures reveal frozen sea

29 July 2005, Ice lake found on the Red Planet

5 September 2005, Martian dunes hide water secret

30 November 2005, Radar sees ice deep below Mars

16 March 2007, Polar water 'would blanket Mars'

19 December 2007, 'Active glacier found' on Mars

20 December 2007, Greenhouse clue to water on Mars

17 July 2008 14:28 Water 'widespread' on early Mars

31 July 2008 22:15 NASA's lander samples Mars water

There’s water on Mars. So okay already. Move on.