Monday, April 26, 2010
Our tax dollars at work. No out cry from the right regarding the latest welfare for the the rich which destabilizes world peace from the Timesonline:
"Somewhere above earth is America’s latest spaceship, a 30ft craft so classified that the Pentagon will not divulge its mission nor how much it cost to build.
The mysterious X37B, launched successfully by the US Air Force from Cape Canaveral on Thursday, using an Atlas V rocket, looks like a mini-Space Shuttle — but its mission is top secret.
It is officially described as an orbital test vehicle. However, one of its potential uses appears to be to launch a surge of small satellites during periods of high international tension. This would enable America to have eyes and ears orbiting above any potential troublespot in the world.
The X37B can stay in orbit for up to 270 days, whereas the Shuttle can last only 16 days. This will provide the US with the ability to carry out experiments for long periods, including the testing of new laser weapon systems. This would bring accusations that the launch of X37B, and a second vehicle planned for later this year, could lead to the militarisation of space.
"US defence officials, who would not say how much the project had cost, insisted, however, that it was “just an updated version of the Space Shuttle activities”.
Thursday’s launch was more about testing the craft, a new generation of silica tile and a wealth of other advances that make the Shuttle look like yesterday’s space technology.
Nasa’s X37B programme began in 1999 and ran until September 2004 when it was transferred to the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency before being taken over by the US Air Force.
The flight of the X37B is being managed by the US Air Force Space Command’s 3rd Space Experimental Squadron.
“This bird has been through all of the shake, rattle and roll, the vibration tests, the acoustic tests that any spacecraft would go through,” said Gary Payton, Under Secretary of the Air Force for Space Programmes.
With all the focus on the launch of the secret X37B, another space launch by a Minotaur IV rocket from Vandenberg Air Force base in California received less attention.
It was carrying the prototype of a new weapon that can hit any target around the world in less than an hour.
The Prompt Global Strike is designed as the conventional weapon of the future. It could hit Osama bin Laden’s cave, an Iranian nuclear site or a North Korean missile with a huge conventional warhead."
Why shouldn't the rest of the world worry about us?
Saturday, April 24, 2010
Originally I was going to try and see what I consider one of the best groups ever at First Avenue in the Twin Cities with my friend the Wege, however a number of circumstances conspired against this and as a fall back Mrs. WINston Smith and I would go to Chicago and see them at the Congress Theater in Chicago. That was until she read the reviews of the venue which reminded her of a rather dumpy place in Milwaukee known as the Rave (the less said about that the better).
I finally recruited my son to accompany me with the now purchased tickets. What a fine show this turned out to be. The show was a spektakl, as Russians would say, of the first order. I haven't seen an audience this involved in years. Inspite of people jumping on stage and climbing wiring the band played on, of course Eugene did say it just looked like people having a "fucking good time". The venue BTW seemed just fine to me, though I never needed to check out the facilities. As a normal male unless pee and poop were ankle deep it probably wouldn't matter. The above video wasn't from the show but captures the spirit.
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Monday, April 19, 2010
The Goldman-Sachs saga drags on and the question of whether the criminal conspiracy known as the finacialization of the American economy which has raged on for the last 20 years will result in meaningful change. Business Week argues that this is unlikely, thus confirming fears on both the Left and Right:
" No one can have failed to notice the beating that bankers have taken in public opinion in the past two years. Real-estate agents have a better reputation for honesty, and parking inspectors have a higher rating for fairness.
No surprises there. The banks took huge and crazy risks, got ordinary taxpayers to bail them out, then went straight back to paying themselves massive bonuses as if nothing had happened. If that doesn’t send your reputation straight into the gutter, it is hard to know what will.
There is plenty of statistical evidence to show banks have plummeted in public esteem. In Harris Interactive’s latest survey of corporate reputations in the U.S., the banks took a hammering. Out of 60 companies, Goldman Sachs ranked 56th. Citigroup Inc. was at 57th, while Bank of America Corp. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. were also in the bottom 10. Only the tobacco industry fared worse than finance. You can’t sink much lower than that.
That, however, is what Joe Public thinks. Among the corporate and political elite the story is rather different.
Top of Polls
A British survey, conducted by the graduate-recruitment Web site TargetJobs, asked 100,000 students which companies they would like to work for when they graduate. Goldman Sachs topped the poll for investment banks. All that terrible press, it seems, hasn’t stopped young people wanting to get their feet under a desk in Goldman Sachs’s offices.
Likewise, Fortune magazine recently published its annual survey of the most-admired companies. Who topped the megabank category? That’s right. Goldman Sachs. It was up from 15th to eighth place in the all-industries ranking, ahead of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Coca-Cola Co.
Fortune canvasses the views of more than 4,000 executives, directors and analysts to compile its list. It is a measure of elite, not mass opinion. And in that narrow world, it appears that the big banks haven’t suffered at all.
The message couldn’t be clearer. An avalanche of bad publicity hasn’t really dented Goldman’s reputation, or that of any other major bank, either.
Nasty and Tough
There are two conclusions to be drawn from that.
First, we like our banks to be aggressive and mean. Imagine you were hiring a bodyguard or a divorce lawyer. Do you want one who promises to be conciliatory, kind and consensual? Or one who takes no prisoners? In reality, you want your team to be as nasty and tough as possible. The same is true of investment banking. As gangster rappers say, it pays to be bad.
Second, although there is a lot of waffling about reputation and corporate social responsibility, all that matters is the ability to get the job done. The firm of Nero, Khan (as in Genghis) & Capone would probably win a fair bit of business as long as it got that Greek bond issue sold, or found someone to unwind a position in Florida mortgage derivatives.
There is a moral in that for the investment banks.
They will all spend fortunes in the next couple of years getting their images back in shape. If you happen to have an orchestra you want sponsored, an orphanage that needs a new wing, or a rare species that needs saving from extinction, this is the right moment to send in a polite letter asking for a donation. Don’t forget to mention how their generosity will improve their public image. They will write out a check faster than you can say “giant vampire squid.”
But actually, for keeping the business going, there are only two audiences that really count.
While the banks can still attract the smartest, most ambitious young talent out of the universities, and so long as the people running big corporations still rate them, what the general public think doesn’t matter much.
And while the banks are repairing their images, it would also be worth remembering that they don’t want to go too far in the other direction. It won’t really do them any harm to be known as nasty and greedy -- that is what bankers are there for."
Saturday, April 17, 2010
A little Russian alternative music from Deadushki and Boris Grebenshchikov.
The Icelandic volcano is a reminder that natural forces have profound and unexpected effects on human activity.The more complex the human technology the deeper the implications. There is now concern that the effects of this eruption might be felt for years to come as noted in the Timesonline:
"The wider economic consequence to our ‘just-in-time’ society is incalculable at this stage given the disruption to holidays, business plans and indeed the wider business supply chain. However, the global cost of the disruption will surely ultimately result in a cost of billions rather than hundreds of millions of pounds.
It is exceptionally hard to gauge how long the current grounding of flights will remain in force, although Eyjafjallajökull, the Icelandic volcano which has erupted, could potentially sputter on for months or even more than a year. Much could depend upon weather patterns, especially wind direction, over the next few days.
The worst-case scenario in terms of precedent here is the 1783-1784 eruption at Laki (a very large eruption of 14km3 compared to the one in Mount St. Helens in 1980 of 1 km3) that had a huge impact on the northern hemisphere, reducing temperatures by up to 3 degrees. This led to catastrophe far beyond the shores of Iceland (where 25% of population died), with thousands of recorded deaths in Britain due to poisoning and extreme cold, and record low rainfall in North Africa."
The article goes on to also make an argument for the role of climate change:
"At the end of the last ice age, the rate of eruption in Iceland was some 30 times higher than historic rates. This is because the reduction in the ice load reduced the pressure in the mantle, leading to decompression melting there. Since the late 19th Century the ice caps in Iceland have been shrinking yet further, due to changing climate. This will lead to additional magma generation, so we should expect more frequent and/or more voluminous eruptions in the future."
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Monday, April 12, 2010
With the recent attention on nuclear arms limitation its important not to loose sight of the stakes of even a "small" nuclear conflict could have. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has a sobering article on the climate change that could be produced in even a limited conflict:
" Recent scientific studies have found that a war fought with the deployed U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals would leave Earth virtually uninhabitable. In fact, NASA computer models have shown that even a "successful" first strike by Washington or Moscow would inflict catastrophic environmental damage that would make agriculture impossible and cause mass starvation. Similarly, in the January Scientific American, Alan Robock and Brian Toon, the foremost experts on the climatic impact of nuclear war, warn that the environmental consequences of a "regional" nuclear war would cause a global famine that could kill one billion people.
Their article, "Local Nuclear War: Global Suffering," PDF predicts that the detonation of 100 15-kiloton nuclear weapons in Indian and Pakistani megacities would create urban firestorms that would loft 5 million tons of thick, black smoke above cloud level. (This smoke would engulf the entire planet within 10 days.) Because the smoke couldn't be rained out, it would remain in the stratosphere for at least a decade and have profoundly disruptive effects. Specifically, the smoke layer would block sunlight, heat the upper atmosphere, and cause massive destruction of protective stratospheric ozone. A 2008 study PDF calculated ozone losses (after the described conflict) of 25-45 percent above mid-latitudes and 50-70 percent above northern high latitudes persisting for five years, with substantial losses continuing for another five years. Such severe ozone depletion would allow intense levels of harmful ultraviolet light to reach Earth's surface--even with the stratospheric smoke layer in place.
Beneath the smoke, the loss of warming sunlight would produce average surface temperatures colder than any experienced in the last 1,000 years. There would be a corresponding shortening of growing seasons by up to 30 days and significant reductions in average rainfall in many areas, with a 40-percent decrease of precipitation in the Asian monsoon region. Basically, the Earth's surface would become cold, dark, and dry......
Here it's important to point out that the 100 Hiroshima-size weapons detonated in Robock and Toon's regional war scenario contain less than 1 percent of the combined explosive power in the 7,000 or so operational and deployed nuclear weapons the United States and Russia possess. If even one-half of these weapons were detonated in urban areas, Robock and Toon have predicted that the resulting nuclear darkness would cause daily minimum temperatures to fall below freezing in the largest agricultural areas of the Northern Hemisphere for a period of between one to three years. Meanwhile, average global surface temperatures would become colder than those experienced 18,000 years ago at the height of the last Ice Age.
Amazingly, however, no follow-up studies have been initiated to further evaluate the decreases in temperature, precipitation, or ozone depletion predicted to arise from either regional or strategic nuclear war. Large studies were conducted in the 1980s on "nuclear winter" by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the World Meteorological Organization, and the International Council for Science's Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment. But given that Robock and Toon's new research has found that these early studies significantly underestimated the climatic and environmental consequences of nuclear war, wouldn't it make sense for such groups to now revisit the subject? At the very least, Washington and Moscow, with 95 percent of the world's nuclear weapons, should be required to investigate the environmental and climatic consequences from a nuclear war created by their nuclear arsenals."
Saturday, April 10, 2010
This is truly bizarre, a plane carrying the upper echelon of the Polish government crashes on the way to commemorate the Katyn Massacre practically at the site of the massacre. Julia Ioffe from True/Slant has more:
"This morning, a crappy, Soviet-era Tu-154 was headed from Warsaw for Smolensk (near the site of the massacre), but found that its ability to land was hampered by the fog. It tried to land again and again, with no success. On its fourth attempt, the plane grazed a tree, which ripped off its back section, and sent it hurtling into to the ground at 10:50 a.m. local time.
Every crew member died, as did all the passengers. Among them were the Polish President, Lech Kaczynski, his wife, the head of the National bank, the vice speakers of the Sejm and the Senate, the chief of staff, the head of national security, the Olympic committee head, the deputy defense minister, and a row of senators.
Vladimir Putin, newly reconciled with the Poles, said he would personally oversee the investigation.
Stranger than fiction, as they say."
Thursday, April 08, 2010
Mark Juergensmeyer has one of the more erudite commentaries on Christianic fundamentalist terrorism in America. It is no exaggeration to say that Christian fanatic organizations have the most developed terrorist networks in the United States today.
"Christian terrorism has returned to America with a vengeance. And it is not just Roeder. Last week, when members of the Hutaree militia in Michigan and Ohio recently were arrested with plans to kill a random policeman and then plant Improvised Explosive Devises in the area where the funeral would be held in order to kill hundreds more, this was a terrorist plot of the sort that would impress Shi'ite militia and al Qaeda activists in Iraq. The Southern Poverty Law Center, founded by Morris Dees, which has closely watched the rise of right-wing extremism in this country for many decades, declares that threats and incidents of right-wing violence have risen 200% in this last year — unfortunately coinciding with the tenure of the first African American President in US history. When Chip Berlet—one of this country's best monitors of right wing extremism warned in a perceptive essay published last week on this website that the hostile right-wing political climate in this country has created the climate for a demonic new form of violence and terrorism, I fear that he is correct." read more
Wednesday, April 07, 2010
The CIA inspired revolutions through the former Soviet Union continue to go bad. These include the Ukraine, Georgia, and now Kyrgyzstan.As per the Seattle Post Intelligencer" :
"But as in Ukraine and Georgia, where peaceful revolutions raised similar hopes, dreams of sweeping change have soured. Many worry that this struggling Central Asian nation is rapidly plummeting into full-blown authoritarianism.
"The world is actively discussing the shortcomings of a model of democracy based on elections and human rights," Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev told a national assembly Tuesday. "There is no certainty that such a model is suitable for all countries and peoples."
Kyrgyzstan lacks the copious oil and gas reserves of its neighbors, but its strategic location has made it the object of lively interest from Russia and the United States, which both maintain bases here.
Attention from these eager suitors has done little, however, to improve the country's economic health, and many people are gloomy about Kyrgyzstan's future.
"All the talented and educated people are leaving the country," said Aisha Maratova, a 39-year-old music teacher in the capital, Bishkek. "Kyrgyzstan was once respected as a democratic state - now it has an international image of a corrupt and backward country."
Bakiyev - the opposition leader who spearheaded the Tulip Revolution of March 24, 2005 - was hailed as a reformer when he was appointed caretaker president that day following the sacking of Akayev's office.
Emerging from parliament, Bakiyev told a cheering crowd assembled in a central square of the capital that "freedom has finally come to us."
Since then, Bakiyev has tightened his grip on power at the expense of the very liberties he promised.
In recent years, government opponents have faced physical intimidation, threats and legal prosecution. Last summer, Bakiyev was elected to a second term as president in an election described as fraudulent by international election observers.
Independent reporters and political analysts critical of the government have been subjected to vicious beatings. And in recent weeks, the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Kyrgyz radio service has been taken off the air, while prominent Central Asia-focused Web sites have been made inaccessible.
Kyrgyz authorities deny they are trying to silence dissent, but experts are skeptical.
"The Tulip Revolution marked a negative turning point in the democratic development of Central Asia," said Alexander Cooley, a political scientist at Columbia University.
Some hoped Kyrgyzstan's revolt would help bring democracy and the rule of law to other former Soviet countries, but the opposite may have been the case.
"In countries such as Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Belarus and Azerbaijan, alarmed governments equated democratization with regime change and clamped down on the activities of domestic civil society, externally sponsored non-governmental organizations and their media," Cooley said."
Tuesday, April 06, 2010
While I'm a fan of disarmament the recent agreement between the U.S. and the Russian Federation does stretch a few concepts particularly the difference between bombs and bombers as noted by the Federation of American Scientists:
"The treaty does not even approach territory that would call for a fundamental rethinking of how we deploy our nuclear weapons. As the military would say, the treaty protects the force structure. That is, we will still have a triad of bombers and both land-based and sea-based ballistic missiles, another obsolete artifact of the Cold War that dates back to fears of a disarming first strike from the Soviet Union (and inter-Service competition). Even Air Force advocacy groups such as the Mitchell Institute have considered eliminating the nuclear mission for the manned bomber and moving from a triad to a dyad of land- and sea-based missiles. In fact, the treaty contains a peculiar counting rule that increases the importance of bombers: each bomber counts only as one nuclear bomb although the B-52 can carry 20 nuclear-armed cruise missiles and the Russian bombers, for example the Backfire and Blackjack, have similar payloads. If we define corn as a type of tree, then suddenly Iowa would be covered in forests. If we define a bomber with 20 bombs as a single bomb, then suddenly we get a substantial reduction in the nuclear of weapons. (Hans discusses the numbers in more detail.) This rule reportedly resulted from Russia’s refusal to allow the necessary on-site inspections at its bomber bases but it creates an important caveat on any claim of “reductions.”
Meanwhile Pavel Podvig at the Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces Blog gives the Russian take on the same issue:
"The way the United States and Russia will be counting bombers in New START has raised some questions about the treaty - the change in counting rules in effect means that neither side would have to make any substantial cuts to comply with the new treaty. (See the projections I published earlier and Hans Kristensen's analysis.)
The United States said that it was ready to count bombers with their actual weapons load, but Russia objected to the transparency provisions that this arrangement would entail. This is not the first time Russia gets a bad rap for resisting transparency, but I don't think this is the case here. As Hans Kristensen noted, they could have counted each bomber as carrying, say, ten warheads. No transparency is needed for that.
Another possible reason for Russia's position on bombers is that if they were counted with their real weapons load, the United States would have to find some other place to cut 400 warheads. Most likely this would have been done primarily by "downloading" SLBMs. The problem with this, of course, is that it would increase the U.S. "upload potential" - the ability to quickly bring the warheads back.
Whether or not that was the real reason and regardless of whether the concerns about the upload potential are justified, Russia appears to have been consistent in pushing for lower number of launchers and, if that is not possible, for keeping the warhead limit relatively high to avoid increasing the upload potential. We know now, for example, that it was Russia that insisted on putting 1675 into the "1500-1675" range agreed in Moscow in July 2009.
Whatever the real Russia's reasons, I am sympathetic to its position - reducing the number of warheads just by offloading them from missiles and keeping the capability to bring them back intact is not real reductions. Nuclear weapon states have to be held accountable for their nuclear-capable launchers as well At the time, I suggested keeping the old START count in place to do just that and it looks like the New START treaty will be able to do it to some extent.
As for the bombers, I'm not sure that Russia gained anything in particular there. We get better accountability for launchers, but leave quite a few warheads unaccountable. One can argue that Russia may be more worried about SLBMs than about bombers - it may well be the case. In any event, I don't think that the trick with bomber count weakens the treaty."