Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Southern Big Melt

Further information on generalized melting by New Scientist:

"A thin strip of ice, just 6 kilometres wide, is all that is holding back the collapse of a huge ice shelf in Antarctica, according to glaciologists.

The Wilkins ice shelf – previously some 16,000 square kilometres in area – has been disintegrating fast. On 28 February, an iceberg 41 km long and 2.5 km wide broke off the ice shelf. This triggered the runaway disintegration of a further 570 square kilometres of ice.

"I would be very surprised if it survives more than a couple more melt seasons," says Ted Scambos of the University of Colorado, US.

Other researchers, including David Vaughan of the British Antarctic Survey, believe it could be gone within weeks. "The ice shelf is hanging by a thread – we'll know in the next few days or weeks what its fate will be," he says.

'Narrow brace'

Although researchers agree the disintegration of the Wilkins ice shelf will not contribute to rising sea levels, they say it may help them understand what triggers such events in order to predict when they are likely to happen again.

"There now remains just a narrow beam of ice, roughly 6 km wide, which is bracing the rest of the shelf," says Scambos. "If that beam breaks up, about half of the ice shelf will probably very quickly break apart."

However Scambos says this is not likely to happen this year, as the southern winter is settling in.

The break up is already helping researchers understand what triggers the disintegration of ice sheets. They now know that waves generated by storms over the open ocean are just as important as air and water temperature."

Russia's New Arlington?

One can only begin to contemplate the implications of a new cemetery especially if this will be located in Russia. Apparently Vladimir Putin has been giving this some thought according to the Telegraph On Line:

"The Federal Military Memorial Cemetery, its designers boast, will be Russia's answer to America's Arlington. Arguably the most ambitious architectural project undertaken since the fall of the Soviet Union, it remains to be seen whether the cemetery, due to be completed by 2010, will become the landmark the Kremlin hopes.

There is no doubt that the project encapsulates the Putin era, which officially ends on May 7, though the president is likely to remain Russia's most powerful man in his new job as prime minister.

The cemetery will be a testament to extravagance, a piece of architectural monumentalism intended to reflect the glory of a resurgent Russia. For the critics, it is also a worrying sign of the Kremlin's flirtation with its Communist past. The design marks a return to the style many assumed had gone with the end of the Soviet Union.

Drawings show that the 132 acre site will feature obelisks, golden statues of figures from Russia's past and friezes of workers in heroic poses."

Russia is full of great cemeteries , Novodevichii and the Lavra come to mind, but new cemeteries usually require new occupants and quite frankly if I were Russian I would wonder who will be the new occupants?

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Big Melt Continues

Living in the American Upper Midwest it's easy to discount climate change given the past winter however all indications point towards more global warming. Another example cited by New Scientist shows that Arctic sea ice is even more transient than before, the above images showing that Arctic sea ice is now more likely than ever to melt away during the coming summer.

"You're looking down on the North pole. The figure to the left shows the average winter ice extent between 1985 and 2000; that to the right is the situation now, in February 2008. The colours are the big thing - they show how old the ice is, from six years and older in purple to less than one year in red.

The take-home message is that more than 70% of the ice in the Arctic has "grown" since last summer. That's a scarily low number - usually only half is "new growth".

"Ice can stay around for up to 10 years," says Walter Meier of the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado, US. "Old ice is really thick, tough as nails, and very resistant to short term melting." New ice, that red stuff in the figure above, is not thick, not tough - and not resistant to melting."

The Independent has further info on the seasonal changes in Britain that point towards climate disruption:

"In fact, the blurring of the seasons in Britain is now as serious a piece of evidence of climate change as the rapidly increasing melting of ice across the globe, in glaciers and in the land-based and marine ice sheets of the Arctic and the Antarctic.

The phenomenon shows that a whole range of organisms is already responding actively to the greatest environmental change in human history, in a way that people – and especially politicians – are not.

Last month, that shift produced its most remarkable image yet – a photograph, taken in Dorset, of a red admiral, an archetypal British summer butterfly, feeding on a snowdrop, an archetypal British winter flower.

Although that is not an event likely to cause alarm among the public, it was quite inconceivable until very recently. It is undeniable confirmation that a profound alteration in the environment, the consequences of which are likely to prove catastrophic, is already under way.

It is happening so quickly, and without people realising its true significance, because, in Britain, the major effects of climate change are initially being felt as less cold winters, rather than as hotter summers.

That has produced a startling rise in winter temperatures in recent years, clearly visible when current monthly means are compared to the average for 1961 to 1990.

To take the figures for last winter from the Central England Temperature Record, the world's oldest, which dates back to 1659: January 2007 was 3.2C warmer than the 1961-90 average, February was 2.0C warmer, March was 1.5C warmer, and April was 3.3C warmer. So far this year, January has been 2.8C above the 1961-90 average for the month, and February, 1.6C

Those are substantial rises. Although there is always natural variation in temperatures, recent winters taken together show a remarkable warming trend.

It has meant that many of what used to be thought of as the traditional signs of spring are happening very much earlier, causing primroses, for example, spring flowers par excellence, to bloom in some parts of the country as early as November. Other traditional spring plants, such as dog's mercury and the lesser celandine (a favourite of Wordsworth's) can be seen in January rather than March.

And in what is perhaps an even more vivid change, dandelions and daisies, which used to come into flower in spring on lawns (where they were permitted), now flower in many places all winter long.

Insects are responding similarly. A number of butterflies that overwinter as hibernating adults can now be seen in January rather than March or April, including the peacock and the comma, and especially the red admiral.

This last species used to be a spring migrant from the Continent but, in the recent warmer winters, it has begun to overwinter here.

Bumblebees have similarly become visible in mid-winter, and frogspawn, usually laid about March, can be seen in December in the South-west and south Wales."

Frogspawn, sea ice, and Red Admirals all seem to be saying the same thing.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Game (or Part of It )is Over

Victor Bout, arms dealer without peer, has been arrested and now faces charges in various countries including the U.S. and Russia. How many people have experienced death, maiming, and general suffering may never be known.
According to the Moscow Times he himself alluded to the "game":

"The game is over" were the first words uttered by Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout when he was arrested by Thai police on March 6 after the nearly 10-year "game" came to a dramatic end. It reveals little of the horror and tragedy that his business has caused and says much about the man and his methods.

Since his arrest, hundreds of articles have been written about Bout. What has been missed in the high drama of his capture are the countless victims who have been maimed and killed by the cargo he is accused of delivering to some of Africa's, Asia's and South America's bloodiest conflicts over the past 10 years. Millions of bullets, rocket-propelled grenade launchers and AK-47s have led to many innocent deaths in embargoed conflict zones. Bout must be tried for these crimes.

Officials from the United States and United Nations say that Bout's list of customers included former dictator Charles Taylor of Liberia, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, late dictator Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire, now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo, and both sides in the Angolan civil war.

Blame for not arresting Bout earlier must be equally shared between the United States and Russia. Through Bout, the United States apparently supplied weapons and embargoed goods to unsavory regimes and rebel groups that it supported tacitly but could not fund openly.

For Russia, Bout was a cash cow to be milked. Senior military and intelligence officials effectively gave Bout a carte blanche to operate, and they expected big payoffs in exchange for granting him unfettered access to the cargo planes he used and the open access to the country's Cold War-era weapons arsenals.

Then Bout became a political pawn in a tit-for-tat game between the United States, Britain and Russia. Britain hired Bout's planes, which fulfilled certain British Defense Ministry contracts. Russia blocked a Belgian candidate from becoming the chairman of the UN Panel on Somalia because of his anti-Bout campaign. In addition, although he was living in Moscow and freely gave radio and television interviews, he was never arrested by a Russian law enforcement agency, even after Interpol issued a notice for his arrest. How many lives would have been spared if he had been arrested years ago?"

The "Irish Independent" gives more details:

"The world's most notorious arms dealer was arrested in Thailand yesterday, after fuelling many of the most deadly recent conflicts and running rings around investigators for nearly two decades.

He is variously known as Vadim Aminov, Victor Balukin, Victor Butt, 'The Embargo Buster' and 'The Merchant of Death'. But the real name of the burly 41-year-old Russian is Viktor Bout.

According to Thai police he was attempting "to procure weapons for Colombia's FARC rebels''.

He is the subject of an American arrest warrant, and it is likely the US government played a major role in his arrest.

Bout built his extraordinary business empire on elaborate obfuscation, the ability to get anything to anywhere and complete immorality.

Bout was probably born in the Soviet Union in 1967. He trained in the military -- some have suggested in the KGB --and speaks at least six languages fluently.


He cut his first deal aged 25 when the Soviet Union collapsed and he spotted a business opportunity, buying three dilapidated Antonov cargo planes from the air force for around €90,000. He found plenty of buyers in Africa for the huge surplus of weaponry left over by the Soviet army.

By constantly reregistering his ever-growing fleet of planes in different jurisdictions and under different names, he evaded Western intelligence agencies for years.

Among Bout's clients was Charles Taylor, the Liberian dictator now on trial for war crimes in Sierra Leone.

In their book 'Merchant of Death', American journalists Douglas Farah and Stephen Braun laid bare much of Bout's operation. It was not just guns Bout delivered. He flew frozen chickens from South Africa to Nigeria and Belgian peace keepers to Somalia.

His planes delivered French soldiers to Rwanda after the genocide and United Nations food aid to some of the crises his weapons had helped to create.

In 1997 his planes flew Mobutu Sese Seko, the dictator of the Congo, to safety as rebels closed in on him. Bout had armed the rebels.

By the end of the 1990s Western intelligence had realised that the common factor in many of Africa's wars was Viktor Bout and his fleet of Antonovs. He retreated to a luxury apartment in Moscow where he was safe from extradition.

In an interview with the New York Times he explained his love of Africa and the life he led on its jungle airstrips.

"In the middle of nowhere you feel alive, you feel part of nature,'' he said. "What I really want to do now is take one of my helicopters to the Russian arctic and make wildlife films for National Geographic.''

The subject of American arrest warrants and a freeze on his assets, he continued to run rings around his pursuers.

After America invaded Iraq in 2003 there was a great demand for airfreight companies. In the confusion, Bout's airlines won contracts. "By the summer,'' wrote Farah and Braun, "Antonovs were roaring into Bagdhad's cratered airport carrying everything from tents and video players to armoured cars and refurbished Kalashnikovs.''

Bout got a contract with Federal Express, the courier company. Before long -- to intense official embarrassment later -- he was carrying equipment for the US air force and army, and personnel and machinery for Halliburton, the American multi-national corporation

Although the weapons Viktor Bout sold killed untold thousands many of his deals were probably not illegal.

"Illegal weapons?'' he once asked, "What does it mean? If rebels control an airport and they give you clearance to land, what's illegal about that?''

Nicolas Cage's character in the 2005 film' Lord of War' is generally reckoned to be based on Bout."

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Showing the World How to Cheat

For those who read Russian, Novaya Gazyeta has a great article entitled "Americans Falsify Their Elections Better Than Us", which is no small achievement. Discussed at length is the role of compromised corporations such as Diebold and Election Systems and Software. The article points out that 80% of the country's elections are controlled by these two companies. Furthermore the rest of the world seems to be joining in to some degree, and the following quote discusses Latin America, Kazakhstan and others in the cheating footsteps of the future:

" В других странах ошибки США, послуживших чем-то вроде испытательного полигона для всего остального мира, постарались не повторять. Заметим, кстати, что впервые электронные устройства для голосования использовала еще в 1989 г. Индия. Сейчас электронные машины для голосования используются в десятке европейских стран (в основном на местных выборах), а также в Латинской Америке: между прочим, свой знаменитый референдум 2004 года, как и президентские выборы 2006-го, Чавес в Венесуэле проводил именно с помощью электронных машин, причем американского производства! В Казахстане уже несколько лет применяются СЭГ, причем неизменно подвергаются критике со стороны оппозиции.

Отечественный электорат, как ни странно, относится к СЭГ вполне лояльно: по крайней мере, треть граждан склоняется к ним при наличии выбора (в том же Казахстане — только 7%). Надо отдать тут должное ЦИК, который еще со времен Вишнякова особой волны не гонит и внедряет машины для голосования без излишней торопливости. Возможно, поэтому отечественные комплексы электронного голосования (КЭГ) и комплексы обработки избирательных бюллетеней (КОИБ) производства НИИ «Восход», в отличие от многих других подобных случаев выпуска продукции «политической значимости», показали в работе себя на удивление неплохо. А в сравнении с американским бардаком наши машины представляют собой просто-таки верх совершенства.

Собака, однако, зарыта в том, что вся «электронность» в российских машинах работает только на стадии подсчета голосов: занесение данных в протокол и дальнейшая передача в систему ГАС «Выборы» происходит по старинке, вручную. То есть остается как минимум три этапа, где результаты подвержены не только прямому вмешательству властей, но и произволу местных чиновников или других заинтересованных лиц. Потому техника техникой, но вопрос доверия остается ключевым и от технологий совершенно не зависит."