30 June 2007

Bacterial Genome Transplanted, Next Step--Synthetic Organism?

After replacing DNA in mycoplasma capricolum organism with the chromosome from mycoplasma mycoides, scientists at the Ventner Institute are planning work on a completely synthetic organism.
Scientists at the J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI), a genomics research facility, transplanted a bacterial chromosome from one type of bacteria into another, and have completely replaced an entire bacterial genome and its expression. The work of Carole Lartigue, Ph.D. and colleagues was published in the latest issue of Science:

The JCVI team devised several key steps to enable the genome transplantation. First, an antibiotic selectable marker gene was added to the M. mycoides LC chromosome to allow for selection of living cells containing the transplanted chromosome. Then the team purified the DNA or chromosome from M. mycoides LC so that it was free from proteins (called naked DNA). This M. mycoides LC chromosome was then transplanted into the M. capricolum cells. After several rounds of cell division, the recipient M. capricolum chromosome disappeared having been replaced by the donor M. mycoides LC chromosome, and the M. capricolum cells took on all the phenotypic characteristics of M. mycoides LC cells.

As a test of the success of the genome transplantation, the team used two methods -- 2D gel electrophoresis and protein sequencing, to prove that all the expressed proteins were now the ones coded for by the M. mycoides LC chromosome. Two sets of antibodies that bound specifically to cell surface proteins from each cell were reacted with transplant cells, to demonstrate that the membrane proteins switch to those dictated by the transplanted chromosome not the recipient cell chromosome. The new, transformed organisms show up as bright blue colonies in images of blots probed with M. mycoides LC specific antibody.

The group chose to work with these species of mycoplasmas for several reasons -- the small genomes of these organisms which make them easier to work with, their lack of cell walls, and the team's experience and expertise with mycoplasmas. The mycoplasmas used in the transplantation experiment are also relatively fast growing, allowing the team to ascertain success of the transplantation sooner than with other species of mycoplasmas.

According to Dr. Lartigue, "While we are excited by the results of our research, we are continuing to perfect and refine our techniques and methods as we move to the next phases and prepare to develop a fully synthetic chromosome."

Synthetic biology is one of many approaches to studying the mechanisms of life. Craig Ventner says that he will create an organism that will solve the energy crisis. Perhaps he will. As long as western civilisation survives the onslaughts of anti-enlightenment thinking, I suspect that organisms that can produce unlimited energy will be the least of achievements from synthetic biology, nano-biology, biologic computing etc.

Because western educational systems do not teach students to use their broad intellectual capacities, most humans--even in the developed world--do not have a clue about the multiple revolutions in scientific discovery that are teetering on the very brink of the activation energy hump. Some students of the singularity believe that the true revolution will require the creation of a friendly superhuman machine intelligence.

Personally, I believe that machine augmentation of human intelligence will be enough--once humans learn to use the intellects they possess. But since the educational establishments are incapable of helping humans learn about their intrinsic capacity, there may be some delay.

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Carnivals--One Way to Cover Your Web Interests

We all have particular areas of interest. One of the huge benefits of browsing blogs is the large number of people who may be blogging on an interest of ours, at any given time. Blog carnivals are blog postings that collect exceptional blog entries on particular topics, and post them together in one place. The blog carnival operator browses the blogs so you do not have to. That is the theory. In reality, there is a lot of serendipitous discovery when reading blog carnivals, just as in browsing the web or doing web searches. So if you are avoiding blog carnivals because you think they are too tame, perhaps you should check some of them out occasionally--at least the ones that overlap with your interest set.

Carnival of Space #9

Carnival of Online Education

Personal Development Carnival It should be noted that personal development is the enemy of ideology and established institutions.

All Things Medical Things to look for in everyday life that may mean something, or may not.

Or browse the blog carnival index--watch for the most recent editions of each carnival.


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29 June 2007

Genesis II Launches Successfully

A Russian rocket boosted Bigelow Aerospace's Genesis II inflatable space habitat into orbit yesterday.
"It was beautiful," Bigelow Aerospace corporate counsel Mike Gold, who attended the launch, told SPACE.com immediately after the Dnepr blastoff. "Genesis 1 is about to have company."

Genesis 2 is a near-twin of Bigelow Aerospace's Genesis 1 module, which launched in July 2006 and remains operational today, but carries a series of enhancements and additional cargo, the Las Vegas, Nevada-based spaceflight firm has said. Both spacecraft are prototypes for future commercial orbital complexes that Bigelow Aerospace, and its founder and president Robert Bigelow, hope to offer for use by private firms and national space agencies.

....The Genesis 2 module sports a similar look as its Genesis 1 predecessor, but carries a suite of new sensors and avionics to monitor and control the spacecraft in orbit. The sensors will watch over internal pressure, temperature, vehicle attitude control and radiation levels, Bigelow Aerospace officials said.

Once in space, the 15-foot (4.4-meter) module is designed to deploy eight solar arrays and expand from its launch width of 6.2 feet (1.9 meters) to a flight diameter of eight feet (2.54 meters). Genesis 2 carries 22 cameras - more than the 13 imagers aboard Genesis 1 - to record scenes within the spacecraft's 406-cubic foot (11.5-cubic meter) volume.

Unlike its predecessor, Genesis 2 also sports a multi-tank system to inflate the module with compressed air. That improvement, the firm has said, adds vital redundancy in the inflation process and allows better control of the craft's gas supplies.

If all goes well, Genesis 2 is expected to have a long orbital life akin to that of Genesis 1, which continues to operate nearly a full year after its July 12, 2006 launch. Bigelow Aerospace officials said the older module may even continue to function through the next eight to 13 years.

Inflatable space habitats may play an ever larger role in space exploration, given the potential launch weight and space savings involved. In a vacuum, and inflatable structure can provide a great deal of strength. Radiation and micro-meteorite protection can be built into the lining of the structure. On a planetary surface, the inflatables can be partially surrounded with soil, providing further protection.

Over time, the sophistication of these habitats for both orbital and planetary structures should grow considerably.

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Pharmaceutical Innovation--Squeezing the Last Bastions

For several years, analysts have warned about the decline in innovation in the pharmaceutical industry. When profits of drug companies are held artificially low by government regulation, there will be less money available for R&D.
# For over 100 years, Europe has been a powerhouse of pharmaceutical progress and innovation. Over the last decade, however, Europe has gradually lost its leadership in the pharmaceutical sector, with a steady transfer of its R&D to the US - where policies and market conditions are more favourable to pharmaceutical innovation.
# Key benchmarking indicators show that between 1990 and 2002, R&D investment in United States rose more than fivefold, while in Europe it only grew 2.5 times.
# In 1990, major European research-based companies spent 73% of their worldwide R&D expenditure on the EU territory. In 1999, they spent only 59% on the EU territory. The USA was the main beneficiary of this transfer of R&D activity.
# The latest data on new molecular entities (period 2001-2005) show the predominance of the US which has now become the leading inventor of new molecules in the world (61 against 51 for Europe)
# The top 20 companies worldwide shows the leadership of US companies. In 2005, nine (9) of the top 20 pharmaceutical companies in the world are of American origin (against 8 for Europe).
# US companies significantly increased their share in the world's top selling medicines. On the top 30 worldwide products in 2005, 21 originate from the US against 8 from Europe.
# US companies are more successful in disseminating their new medicines at international level: 70% of the sales of new medicines launched on the world markets during the period 1998-2002 were made in the US, compared to only 18 % in Europe.
# Whereas the European pharmaceutical market was still the world's largest market in 1990 (representing 37.8% of the world market), it now only represents 30% of the world market (compared to 47 % for the North American market).

There is much more at the source above. Andrew Sullivan and Kevin Drum have been sparring about this issue recently. The basic gist of their argument is that Sullivan wants to keep US politicians from recapitulating the failures in Europe. Drum seems to want to copy Europe's approach exactly.

Government regulations and controls often bring many adverse consequences to a financial market or industry. For those who are committed to ever increasing government control over the marketplace, these adverse consequences are easily ignored and denied.

Economies are like biological ecosystems. It is easy to "overcontrol" an ecosystem, resulting in loss of vitality and diversity. The same is true in economic systems.

Socialists will never understand the issue, because ever increasing control of society is a socialist's lifeblood. For Europe, it may be too late. For most of the Anglosphere, there may still be some time.

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Leftist Intolerance Running Rampant At Universities

The University experience has become more about enforcing ideological purity than about teaching students to think clearly and independently.
The latest conflict in the academy between freedom of expression and ethnic and sexual diversity took place at Vassar College recently when minority students called for the banning of a school newspaper called "The Imperialist" because it criticized the creation of special social centers for minority and gay students.

...As is commonly known, events of this kind have been multiplying at universities over the last decades. The New York Times article that reported the incident reminds us of a low moment in 1997 at Cornell when university administrators defended as "symbolic" speech "the burning of conservative newspapers that printed a provocative article." There have been so many instances of this kind in recent years that an organization called the Foundation for Individual Right in Education (FIRE) was established in the nineties to watchdog campus freedoms.

....the same temperament that issues a fatwa on Salman Rushdie for his Satanic Verses, or threatens Danish cartoonists with death for insulting Islam, animates the American passion, on behalf of political or religious pressure groups, for suppressing offensive speech. People who believe their feelings have been hurt share the same DNA as those who believe their faith has been insulted. Both groups demand or inflict punishment considerably in excess of the original offense.

....But there has also been a continuing tension between the need to speak what is perceived as the truth and the need to protect minority feelings--between the need to achieve excellence (now known as "elitism") and the need to maintain an illusion of egalitarianism (now known as "political correctness")--and this has inevitably led to some kind of speech suppression.

....Given the history of dissent in the academy, one would have expected that university students and university professors would also have cherished these freedoms, and would also have fought to protect them, but that seems to be less and less the case. In the fifties, the liberties of many universities were suspended under pressure of McCarthyism. Today, they are under siege from their own faculties, administrations, and student bodies.

Those who question the frequency and importance of academic intolerance need to spend some time at the FIRE website. Go through the archives and read the details of the many cases FIRE has undertaken.

At one time, academic freedom and free speech on campus were important to leftists. Now it seems more important to leftists to shut down free speech on campus--in an attempt to create groupthink, clone think--the type of thinking that grew and typified the monstrous genocides of Pol Pot, Stalin, Mao, Hitler, and the other social engineers responsible for forced deaths of tens and hundreds of millions.

Given time to grow, leftist intolerance as is seen on modern university campuses would tend to become like those examples. This becomes particularly clear when one observes the growing alliance between leftist groups and islamist groups that support muslim terror. The fact that such alliances appear on the surface to be contradictory and unworkable does not erase their existence. Expediency is a powerful motive, when two apparently conflicting groups share a common enemy.

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28 June 2007

Consumer Reports Looks at Nanotechnology

Consumer Reports is a veteran magazine of product reviews for consumers. It is fitting that CR does a story on nanotechnology for consumers, on the doorstep of the nanotechnology age.
Imagine these technological marvels: drugs that seek out and destroy cancer cells, paint that changes color when viewed from different angles, molecular “ink” that encodes millions of pages of information in a square inch, and contact lenses that let you check your blood sugar by just looking in the mirror.

Those and a host of other innovations are already here, or soon will be, thanks to a scientific revolution called nanotechnology, which promises to change our world as profoundly as did electricity and the internal combustion engine.

Nanotech researchers create new materials in two main ways. They can reduce the particles in standard materials to sizes as small as a nanometer, or about one-hundred-thousandth the width of a human hair. At the nanoscale, where the ­mind-bending principles of quantum physics can apply, the characteristics of materials change: Carbon becomes 100 times stronger than steel, aluminum turns highly explosive, and gold melts at room temperature.

In addition, researchers can manipulate individual atoms and molecules, like tiny Lego pieces, to form microscopic tubes, spheres, wires, and films for specific tasks, such as generating electricity or transporting drugs in the body.

Exploiting the vast potential of those discoveries, manufacturers are bringing nanoengineered products to market at breakneck speed, spurred by a torrent of federal funding since 2001 for research and development. About $2.6 trillion worth of goods worldwide are expected to use nanotech by 2014, up from $50 billion in 2006. “Nanotechnology is creating fundamental changes in almost everything on earth,” says Mike Roco, the National Science Foundation’s senior adviser on nanotechnology, “and what we’re seeing now is just a hint of what’s to come."

The story then briefly discusses the dangers of nanotechnology to humans, which is appropriate for a magazine like CR. The problem is that no one truly understands the dangers of nanotechnology, not really. We will probably learn about those as they come up.

Michael Anissimov has looked at these issues at his website, as has Brian Wang. The Lifeboat Foundation likewise has devoted a lot of space to studying such threats.

It is nice for CR to mention this issue to its readers, just to cover the bases. But to really understand the issues, you should start with the websites above, or at The Foresight Institute website.


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27 June 2007

If Only It Could Fly!

Sure, it can drive on the highway at speeds up to 100 mph, and it can skim the surface of the water at up to 30 mph--pulling a water skier. But for my needs, it should also fly 1500 miles at 250 knots. One more thing--it really should be able to submerge to a depth of 100 meters with an underwater range of 500 miles.

The instrument panel would have to be flat panel computer screen--software transformable between instruments for flying, driving, boating, and submarining.

I feel that I am not really asking for a lot, and I am certain that many of you agree with me.

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The Ultimate Thrill Sport

Space diving is like sky diving, except higher, faster, and scarier. The only thing between you and vacuum is your space suit--made to shield you from the heat of re-entry.

This post gives more details.

Jumping out of a plane is scary enough, but jumping out of a spaceship in vacuum? That separates genuine thrillseekers from big talkers. Anyone can buy a ticket from Virgin Galactic or Blue Origin. But can they leave their spaceship at the peak of its trajectory, and return on their own?

It really comes down to the reliability of the space suit/individual re-entry vehicle, does it not?


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Nanotechnology and the Fear of Falling Behind

Vladimir Putin wants to see a "superpower future" for Russia. Beginning to sense the importance of nanotechnology for future offensive and defensive capabilities of nations, Putin has decided to throw money at the problem--a lot of money.
....the Kremlin now wants to pump more of Russia's huge oil and gas profits into high-tech research. So far, nanotechnology has especially captured the imagination of politicians. This year $5 billion is being plowed into a new state corporation, Rosnanotech, that will be responsible for overseeing and coordinating research in the area. Russia will certainly need to invest billions to catch up with other countries.

But Putin's initiative has also raised eyebrows. "It looks like monopolization of finance," says Irina Dezhina, an expert on science policy at the Institute for the Economy in Transition in Moscow, who notes that the nanotech program will receive three times more state funding than the rest of Russia's scientists put together. Mikhail Kovalchuk, the director of the Kurchatov Institute that will be the center of the new corporation, is a close friend of Putin's from his St. Petersburg days. That has fed gossip that nanotech funding is being awarded on personal or political grounds-hardly a recipe for future commercial success.

...But the biggest problem, investors and entrepreneurs complain, is Russia's hazy protection of intellectual property rights. In particular, the state is reluctant to let scientists exploit their inventions if they were funded with the government's help. "There are lots of bright scientists in Russian government institutions, and I'd love to work with them. But I can't because my invention will be claimed by the government," says Dmitry Kulish, a former Intel venture capitalist who recently formed a biotech startup to make anti-hepatitis drugs. Alexei Oblayov, global business analyst with U.S. biotech giant Genencore in Moscow, says that the company has rejected the idea of working with Russian academics for similar reasons. "If it's academic research, it's unclear who owns this. The only business model that works is a private research institute," he says.

While Putin wants Russia to keep up with the US, Japan, Europe, China, and India, he also wants to nationalise every enterprise in Russia that is profitable--unless it may belong to one of his close friends. Putin's hard-headed stupidity in the area of international investment and finance keeps the smarter investors away.

Nanotechnology will play a critical role in military strategy and tactics in the future. While the billions of dollars that Putin is throwing at Russia's nanotechnology deficit may help Russia, without a broader based economic thriving and foreign investment, Russia will not be able to keep up with more cutting edge economies.

While Eric Drexler and others are understandably reticent to spell out some of the darker possibilities of military nanotechnology, science fiction authors have not been so timid.

Try this or this to begin with.

I have a lot of ideas myself which I am reluctant to introduce outside of a fictional setting. All of the advances in genetics, robotics, wireless networking, and soon nanotechnology, will combine to provide very potent means for acting out the full spectrum of emotions of which humans are capable. That could be good, and it could be very, very bad.

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25 June 2007

Watch Out for Flying Generators!

Previous proposals suggested floating wind generators on helium balloons. Now, Israeli researchers are proposing floating photovoltaic cells on helium balloons, for off-grid applications.
Gurfil and doctoral student Yossi Corrie developed a technique of using helium-filled balloons coated with solar energy cells to provide electricity. The same cable that brings the helium to the balloon will also carry the electricity to the ground.

The Technion researchers estimate that each home or apartment would need only two balloons. If they were mass produced, their cost could be reduced below the estimated $700 per square meter of today's solar cells.

The pair filed a patent application for their invention and hope the technology will compete with existing power producers.

Coated helium balloons could be used, at first, to supply electricity to ships and homes in jungles, deserts and other isolated spots off electricity grids.

This is not a particularly good idea, except perhaps for very isolated locations that just happen to have an excess of helium lying around. As I suggested in this post, flying tethers create a large navigation hazard for aircraft. And as Jeb from Numberwatch pointed out, at the present there are no tether materials known that would be strong enough for gusty winds, light enough not to pull the balloons down, and also have the conductive capacity to carry appreciable current.

If promoters of flying generators can solve those problems, no doubt there are still a few we have not thought of yet.


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24 June 2007

Last Days of Europe--Before the Deluge

It is Europe’s doom that Walter Laqueur explores and explains in this succinct and clearly written book. He does not say anything that others have not said before him, but he says it better and with a greater tolerance of nuance than some other works on this vitally important subject.

There are three threats to Europe’s future. The first comes from demographic decline. Europeans are simply not reproducing, for reasons that are unclear. They seem to care more about the ozone layer and carbon emissions than they do about the continuation of their own societies. Or perhaps bringing up children interferes with what they conceive to be the real business of life: taking lengthy annual holidays in exotic locations and other such pleasures.

The second threat comes from the presence of a sizable and growing immigrant population, a large part of which is not necessarily interested in integration. As the population ages, the need for immigrant labor increases, and among the main sources of such labor are North Africa, the Middle East, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. When I recently drove to Antwerp from the South of France, I thought I had arrived in Casablanca. There are parts of Brussels where the police are enjoined not to be seen eating or drinking during Ramadan. Similar accommodations are occurring all over Europe: in the Central Library in Birmingham, for example, I found a women-only table occupied exclusively by young Muslims dressed in the hijab. (They were the lucky ones, members of liberal households that allowed them out on their own.)

The third threat comes from the existence of the welfare state and the welfare-state mentality. A system of entitlements has been created that, however economically counterproductive, is politically difficult to dismantle: once privileges are granted, they assume the metaphysical status of immemorial and fundamental rights. The right of French train drivers to retire on full pension at the age of 50 is probably more important to them than the right of free speech—especially that of those who think that retirement at such an age is preposterous. While Europe mortgages its future to pay for such extravagances—the French public debt doubled in ten years under the supposedly conservative Chirac—other areas of the world forge an unbeatable combination of high-tech and cheap labor. The European political class, more than ever dissociated from its electorate, has hardly woken up to the challenge.

All this Laqueur lays out with exemplary clarity. He sees Europe, once the home of a dynamic civilization that energized the rest of the world, declining into a kind of genteel theme park—if it’s lucky. The future might be grimmer than this, of course: there might be a real struggle for power once the immigrants and their descendents become numerically strong enough to take on the increasingly geriatric native population.

While the intelligentsia of Europe chooses to wallow in anti-Americanism, and worries itself over a non-existent climate crisis, the genuine death of Europe is occurring from within.

The 21st century--if not saved by a fractured singularity--appears to be setting itself up for even more wanton bloodletting than the 20th. The difference is that in Europe, there is not enough blood to be let, without bleeding her dry.

The Last Days of Europe: Epitaph for an Old Continent, Walter Laqueur, Thomas Dunne Books, 256 pages Review by Theodore Dalrymple. More at link above.

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23 June 2007

European Anti-Americanism--A Study in Media Bigotry

This video gives a fascinating glimpse into Euro-media instigated anti-American attitudes in Europe. Even though the US saved Europe three times in the 20th century from hot and cold wars, and continues to provide an expensive defensive umbrella over all of Europe, European media continues to successfully promote anti-Americanism among Europeans.

The American media has not covered this rather egregious display of Euro-media bigotry, but published book accounts and blog accounts describing the bias are common.

Much more at David's Medienkritik

It is sad to see a continent turning on a nation that has spilled so much blood to protect its freedoms. What is so perverse about this media-inspired and driven hatred of America, is the imminent threat to Europe from another direction altogether--Islamist jihad and imperialist supremacy. If the Europeans do not wake up to this threat, and stop wasting so much time and energy generating imaginary phantom threats from across the Atlantic, there may not be a free Europe for many decades longer.

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22 June 2007

DNA "Computer" Works Inside Living Cells, Suggests Possibilities

Although DNA computers have been made that can play simple games like tic-tac-toe, programming DNA computers to work inside living cells is much more interesting.
The goal is to inject human cells with DNA that can determine whether a cell is cancerous or otherwise diseased, based solely on the mix of molecules inside the cell. Sensing disease, the DNA might trigger a pinpoint dose of treatment in response. That technology, however, is a long way off. For now, researchers are testing different ways of turning DNA into versatile computers that can detect certain combinations of molecules and respond by producing other molecules.

...RNAi is something that cells do naturally. Cells produce what are known as short interfering RNA (siRNA) molecules, which recognize corresponding DNA sequences in genes and cause them to shut down.

Benenson and colleagues engineered a target gene to be sensitive to several different siRNAs of their own design. In the simplest case, they introduced a single siRNA molecule to switch off a target gene that encoded a fluorescent protein. In more complex cases, a pair of siRNAs or either of two siRNAs switched off another target gene, which in turn switched off a gene for a fluorescent protein. To make sure the system worked as intended, the researchers based their siRNAs on those of other species, they report in a paper published online today by Nature Biotechnology.

In principle, the RNAi technique can reach great heights of complexity, Benenson says, by making genes sensitive to more and more siRNAs in various combinations. "The scalability is very important, because eventually you want to make complex decisions," he says.

He says the next step is figuring out how to make the molecules inside a cell—such as those that are overproduced in cancer—trigger the production of siRNAs.

This is a very simple approach to DNA "computing", but for all its conceptual simplicity it suggests possibilities that are much more complex. It is best to go very slowly and carefully. The type of control of gene expression hinted at here is not only promising as a cure for cancers, it is threatening.

This type of research appears ideal for a synthetic biological organism. At this time synthetic biologists are attempting to design the simplest possible cells, from other species, by including the smallest possible gene set for viability. Presumably, as the synth biologists master the simpler life forms, they will attempt to create more complex organisms.

Synthetic organisms could potentially become ideal biological models for studying various human diseases. Eventually, synthetic organisms and biological systems could replace most animal models--eliminating much of the need for animal research and testing.

This is yet another research field that bears close watching.

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Alan Greenspan Starts the Clock Ticking For a China Bubble Collapse

The last time Alan Greenspan referred to "irrational exuberance" in an economy, three years later the economy crashed. We refer to that bubble as the dot.com bubble. Now Alan Greenspan is referring to a China Bubble, and it may take three years before people take the former Fed Chairman seriously.
China could be ripe for a crisis of its own that might resemble the collapse of Japan's "Bubble Economy" in the early 1990s -- and have enormous global impact, analysts warn.

Just as in Japan at that time, stock and property prices here are soaring. Banks have lent billions to build malls, office towers and apartment buildings -- although many remain unfilled.

Authorities warn the economy may be overheating and are taking steps to cool investment and lending, but to little avail. An attempt in late May to rein in surging stock prices sent shares tumbling for a couple days before they resumed their climb.

The likely trigger of a crisis, should it erupt, would be a pile-up of bad loans in a weak banking system, analysts say.

"The banking system is still based on collateral and the collateral is all overvalued," says Andy Xie, an independent economist based in Shanghai and Hong Kong.

"If the bubble bursts, then you will have a banking crisis like Japan in 1990," he says. "The question is how China can manage after the bubble."

Given China's growing role in global manufacturing, financial markets and commodities, the repercussions of such a collapse would be far-reaching.

China's banks are not behaving responsibly, and it is quite likely that the financial reports submitted by the banks are not honest and accurate.

Meanwhile, a large number of ordinary Chinese citizens are pouring their life savings into the booming Shanghai stock market, riding the ongoing expansion.

If history is any indication, they have three more years to ride.


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Recent Carnivals of Interest

Here is the 2nd Carnival of Climate Change Brand new blog carnival on climate from a broader perspective than the media can provide. Look for the Al Fin entry.

Carnival of Space #8This edition appears to contain several provocative space postings.

Encephalon #25Always worth a look--fascinating tidbits and perspectives on neuroscience and mind.


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21 June 2007

Sunni Insurgents Turning Against Al Qaida in Iraq

A recent Time article by Joe Klein describes some of the recent "turning away" by Sunni insurgents, from an earlier alliance with Al Qaida in Iraq.
After the briefing I asked Colonel Antonia if he'd asked the Sunnis why they had turned against al-Qaeda. "They said it was religious stuff," he said. "AQI demanded that the women wear abayas, no smoking and they preached an extreme version of Islam in the mosque. They'd also spent the winter without food and fuel because of the violence al-Qaeda was causing. One guy said to me, 'We fought against you because you invaded our country and you're infidels. But you treat us with more dignity than al-Qaeda,' and he said they'd continue to work with us. I've been involved in many operations here and this is a first—usually everybody's shooting at us. This is the first time we've had any of them on our side." (In web postings, the 1920 Revolutionary Brigade has denied it is cooperating with the Americans.)

Odierno later told me similar anti-al-Qaeda rebellions were happening throughout the country, including some neighborhoods of Baghdad. "Iraqis notice things. They noticed what happened when we began to support the Sunni tribes against al-Qaeda in al-Anbar. And al-Qaeda seems to have overplayed its hand."

Does this mean the US is "winning" the war in Iraq? Of course not. Iraq is a battlefield where "soldiers" from many nations are fighting for their own reasons, while the Iraqis themselves are divided by tribe, clan, ethnicity, religion, and goals for the future. Perhaps the Kurdish region of Iraq has a future, but the Arab parts of Iraq are cursed with the historical tendency of Arabs to cut their own throats while trying to cut the throats of everyone around them. Still, if the tribes of Iraq can agree to eradicate the religious extremists among them--both Sunni and Shia--perhaps even the Arabs can find some peace eventually.

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The Coming [Little] Ice Age

Global cooling has always been the real climate threat. When the sun's activity ramps downward, as it did during the Little Ice Age, there is very little that humans can do to moderate the killing effects of cooler weather.

Recent study of solar activity points toward another cooling period, beginning within the next ten to fifteen years.
Solar scientists predict that, by 2020, the sun will be starting into its weakest Schwabe solar cycle of the past two centuries, likely leading to unusually cool conditions on Earth. Beginning to plan for adaptation to such a cool period, one which may continue well beyond one 11-year cycle, as did the Little Ice Age, should be a priority for governments. It is global cooling, not warming, that is the major climate threat to the world, especially Canada. As a country at the northern limit to agriculture in the world, it would take very little cooling to destroy much of our food crops, while a warming would only require that we adopt farming techniques practiced to the south of us.

...In a 2003 poll conducted by German environmental researchers Dennis Bray and Hans von Storch, two-thirds of more than 530 climate scientists from 27 countries surveyed did not believe that "the current state of scientific knowledge is developed well enough to allow for a reasonable assessment of the effects of greenhouse gases." About half of those polled stated that the science of climate change was not sufficiently settled to pass the issue over to policymakers at all.
Climate theory is far from settled--in fact it is still a baby science, in its infancy. It is past time for intelligent observers to learn what is available on this topic--beyond what the media chooses to dish out. It is your responsibility to look beneath the veneer, to the vigorous debate below the surface.
The hurricane expert who stood up to UN junk science -- The Deniers Part III

Polar scientists on thin ice -- The Deniers Part IV

The original denier: into the cold -- The Deniers Part V

The sun moves climate change -- The Deniers Part VI

Will the sun cool us? -- The Deniers Part VII

The limits of predictability -- The Deniers Part VIII
Look to Mars for the truth on global warming -- The Deniers Part IX

Limited role for C02 -- the Deniers Part X

End the chill -- The Deniers Part XI

Clouded research -- The Deniers Part XII

Allegre's second thoughts -- The Deniers XIII

The heat's in the sun -- The Deniers XIV
Unsettled Science -- The Deniers XV
Bitten by the IPCC -- The Deniers XVI
Little ice age is still within us -- The Deniers XVII
Fighting climate 'fluff' -- The Deniers XVIII

Science, not politics -- The Deniers XIX
Gore's guru disagreed -- The Deniers XX
The ice-core man -- The Deniers XXI
Some restraint in Rome -- The Deniers XXII
Discounting logic -- The Deniers XXIII
Dire forecasts aren't new -- The Deniers XXIV
They call this a consensus? - Part XXV
NASA chief Michael Griffin silenced - Part XXVI
Forget warming - beware the new ice age - Part XXVII

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20 June 2007

More on Aeroponics

Update 21 June: This BBC story describes a "vertical farm" for large metropolitan areas. One of the advantages to high-rise urban farming, is the close proximity to markets and consumers. In case of large scale disasters, many urban areas could very well be cut off from rural food supplies. The in stock inventory of distributors and retailers might be depleted in just a few days.
Followingan earlier post about aeroponics, I began to wonder why this ingenious and water-thrifty method of growing crops and plants is not more commonly utilised.

Due to the disease-free environment that is unique to aeroponics, many plants can grow at higher density (plants per sq meter) when compared to more traditional forms of cultivation (hydroponics, soil and NFT). Commercial aeroponic systems incorporate hardware features that accommodate the crops expanding root systems.

....In 1986 Stoner was the first person ever to market fresh aeroponically grown food to a national grocery chain. He was interviewed on [NPR] and discussed the importance of the water conservation features of aeroponics for both modern agriculture and space.[3]

Stoner is considered the father of commercial aeroponics. Stoner's aeroponic systems are in major developed countries around the world. His aeroponic designs, technology and equipment are widely used at leading agricultural universities worldwide and by commercial growers.[1]

....NASA's long range plans indicate for man's visit to Mars will utilize inflatable structures to house the spaceship crew on the Mars surface. Planning is under way to incorporate inflatable greenhouse facilities for food production.

NASA planning scenarios also reveal the Mars surface crew will spend 60% of their time on Mars farming to sustain themselves. Aeroponics is considered the agricultural system of choice because of its low water and power inputs and high volume of food output per sq meter.


You can find much more information here.

As humans expand their habitat into space, they will need the utility and efficiency of aeroponic crop production. Aeroponics should also work well for ocean-top seasteads, undersea colonies, and as a good local source for year-round fresh produce in large urban areas.

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19 June 2007

Nano News Shorts

Delivery of drugs via nano-particles is becoming a booming industry. Such nano-encapsulation of therapeutic agents is likely to be very useful for treating cancer and Alzheimer's disease. Eyedrops for treating glaucoma may soon incorporate nano-encapsulated drugs.

Do you find it difficult at times to keep up with your children? Imagine strap-on gloves and stockings that incorporate nano-tube adhesive. Voila! Instant spider-man children. The little urchins will be climbing the walls and ceilings with little effort. Skyscrapers would be next.

TEBAL--transmission electron beam ablation lithography--is capable of fabricating devices smaller than 10 nm. This technique may enable tiny sensors, molecular sized transistors, and ultra-small DNA sequencers.

Here is a look at the recent Cornell symposium "The Future of Nanotechnology."

While all of these news reports discuss beneficial uses of nanotechnology, you can be sure that behind the scenes, military uses are being researched and developed.

Between nanotechnolgy, biotechnology, and auto-controlled robotics, the world is becoming much more complex.

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18 June 2007

Mutating Mice and Other Genetics News

Researchers from the University of Utah and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute have developed a quicker and less expensive way of creating mutant mice--to test the effect of mutations in non-gene DNA.
The new method for mutating large, non-gene stretches of DNA is outlined in this week’s online edition of Nature Genetics. Capecchi and Wu conducted the research with two other University of Utah human geneticists: Guoxin Ying, a postdoctoral fellow, and Qiang Wu, an assistant professor (and no relation to Sen Wu).

In the journal paper, the University of Utah scientists report:

* They found a way to delete or duplicate moderately long to very long pieces of DNA and make those mutations happen much more frequently than other methods can. That makes it easier to find out what defects or diseases arise due to such mutations, and thus what the DNA does normally.

* They devised a much more efficient method for mixing and recombining pieces of two chromosomes, making it easier to breed mice with human cancers. Such mice are needed to develop new treatments.
Read more at the Source

In this study, researchers at the University of Chicago the genetic basis of phenotype differences between chimps and humans. They discovered that much of the difference between gene expression in ten genes in humans and chimps, was due to differences in promoter activity. In other words, even with almost the same genes, differences in gene regulation achieves significant phenotype differences.

Berkeley Lab researchers are discovering more of the importance of "junk DNA" for cell organisation and survival.

Researchers at the University of Virginia Health System discovered yet another interesting determinant of gene expression. It seems that the chromatin packaging of genes (how tightly the genes are wrapped on histones) can determine how quickly, and at what level, the gene will be expressed. This is particularly important in development and cell differentiation.

A collaborative study published in Nature offers more information about the relationship of "junk DNA" and disease causation.

And Yale researchers are using advanced gene sequencing technology to identify HIV strains that are resistant to standard therapy. These particular strains were not detectable using available hospital lab testing.

Gene expression is far more complex than originally thought. The gene regulating effect of "junk DNA" may explain a great deal of disease etiology and progression that has been a mystery up until now. Phenotypic differences between species with similar genomes are becoming easier to explain as the larger picture of gene regulation is elucidated.

We are literally only just beginning to open the book of genetics.

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17 June 2007

At Last! A Carbon Tax Policy that Makes Sense!

Carbon trading schemes are hopelessly mired in corruption and fraud. A fair carbon tax may work better, if a rational scheme for such a tax could be devised.
The IPCC predicts a warming rate in the tropical troposphere of about double that at the surface, implying about 0.2C to 1.2C per decade in the tropical troposphere under greenhouse-forcing scenarios. That implies the tax will climb by $4 to $24 per tonne per decade, a much more aggressive schedule of emission fee increases than most current proposals. At the upper end of warming forecasts, the tax could reach $200 per tonne of CO2 by 2100, forcing major carbon-emission reductions and a global shift to non-carbon energy sources.

Global-warming activists would like this. But so would skeptics, because they believe the models are exaggerating the warming forecasts. After all, the averaged UAH/ RSS tropical troposphere series went up only about 0.08C over the past decade, and has been going down since 2002. Some solar scientists even expect pronounced cooling to begin in a decade. If they are right, the T3 tax will fall below zero within two decades, turning into a subsidy for carbon emissions.

....Under the T3 tax, the regulator gets to call everyone's bluff at once, without gambling in advance on who is right. If the tax goes up, it ought to have. If it doesn't go up, it shouldn't have. Either way we get a sensible outcome.

But the benefits don't stop there. The T3 tax will induce forward-looking behaviour. Alarmists worry that conventional policy operates with too long a lag to prevent damaging climate change. Under the T3 tax, investors planning major industrial projects will need to forecast the tax rate many years ahead, thereby taking into account the most likely path of global warming a decade or more in advance.

And best of all, the T3 tax will encourage private-sector climate forecasting. Firms will need good estimates of future tax rates, which will force them to look deeply, and objectively, into the question of whether existing climate forecasts have an alarmist bias. The financial incentives will lead to independent reassessments of global climate modelling, without regard to what politicians, the IPCC or climatology professors want to hear.

Policymaking in the real world is messy, and ideas that sound good in theory can come out hopelessly gummed up with extraneous provisions that dilute or contradict the original purpose. But as a thought experiment, I find the T3 tax clarifies a lot of issues.

Read the whole thing. It is clear that apocalyptic prophecies that aspire to public policy need to be called to account. Alarmist bureaucrats and "scientists" must be forced to "put their money where their mouths are."

Alarmist predictions that can not possibly come true before everyone now alive is long since dead, are not worth taking seriously. Benchmarks must be set and adhered to. Otherwise it is all a cynical game on the part of the IPCC and its pet computer modelers.

Originally published in Al Fin Energy.


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China and the Rule of Law--The Problem of Coming to Grips With Modernity

One of the things that separates China from modern nations, is the lack of "rule of law." While in China power flows from the Communist Party downward, in modern nations even the leadership is constrained by the law. Although it can be said that China has made some progress from this:
In a society where all economic activities were organised and managed by the government and where economic entities were seen as players in state operations, economic laws were not needed. In a society where the government is all encompassing there was no soil for administrative laws to take root as government rules and regulations took their place. Under the philosophy that the government represents the people, internal government procedures regulated conflicts between the government and the individual, not laws.
Even so, it is still the case that
China has an authoritarian political system controlled by the Communist Party. Party committees formulate all major state policies before the government implements them. The Party dominates Chinese legislative bodies such as the National People's Congress (NPC), and fills all important government positions in executive and judicial institutions through an internal selection process. Party control extends throughout institutions of local government. Chinese authorities have ruled out building representative democratic institutions to address citizen complaints about corruption and abuse of power, and instead are recentralizing government posts into the hands of individual Party secretaries. The absence of popular and legal constraints to check the behavior of Party officials has led to widespread corruption and citizen anger. The Party has strengthened the role of internal responsibility systems to moderate official behavior, but these systems have provided some local Party officials with new incentives to conceal information and abuse their power.

The Chinese government has vowed to weed out the corruption of local Party officials, but there are many problems preventing intelligent persons from taking these vows very seriously.
The following are the most glaring weaknesses of the Chinese legal system today. First, lack of judicial independence. The court system is controlled by the Chinese Communist Party and local governments. Judges are appointed by the party and local governments, judges lack job security and power to adjudicate court cases. The courts are dependent on local governments for funding. Party and government officials routinely interfere in court decisions. Second, weak judicial authority. Because Chinese courts are really part of the state bureaucracy they typically lack the political authority to enforce their decisions. As a result court judgments cannot be enforced if they are resisted by local authorities.

Third, judicial corruption, the political control over the court system has led to widespread corruption in the legal system. Unethical judges routinely take bribes in exchange for judgments favoring those who offer the bribes. Chinese press often carries reports of senior judges being prosecuted for corruption. Finally, no respect for the law. This is largely because laws on the books in China are not enforced or are ignored by the government itself in reality. This has created a huge discrepancy. While a large number of Chinese laws have strong provisions for individual and property rights, in reality such provisions have little meaning because the government, especially local authorities, can ignore them with impunity.

Worsening the rule of law in China is the fact that many in China see smuggling, bribes and piracy as victimless crimes, and thus tolerated. (Bribes and success mean almost the same thing.) The gap in perceptions highlights the difficulties the Chinese government faces as it tries to curb corruption. As China is becoming a leading global trading partner, the lack of law among the government and the citizens is also becoming an important problem worldwide. This problem must not be ignored.

China will not have realized the rule of law until senior Party and government officials feel constrained by the law and adapt their behavior accordingly. Given that the emergence and development of rule of law in China has been to a considerable extent a top-down, government orchestrated movement largely in response to urgent economic needs, it remains to be seen whether the ruling regime will continue to support the development of rule of law when it seriously impinges on its authority and power.

...Clearly, the Party will not tolerate threats to its existence and will shove law aside if necessary to quash any perceived threats, as evidenced in the recent campaign against Falungong and the unrelenting persecution of political dissidents and any group that advocates major political change. Further, despite improvements in the various mechanisms for reining in government officials, in practice government officials are often beyond the law's reach for a variety of reasons, including the weakness of the judiciary.

Ultimately, the issue is one of power. How does the legal system obtain sufficient authority to control the Party when the Party has hitherto been above the law? How is power to be controlled and allocated in a single party state? In a democracy, the final check on the ruling party's power is the ability of people to throw the ruling regime out and elect a new one. In the absence of genuine multiparty democracy, implementation of the rule of law in China depends on the voluntary compliance of the Party; it requires the Party to abide by the law even though doing so may jeopardize the Party's ability to continue to rule. Although there may be various pressures on the Party to accept the binding force of law, in the end an authoritarian regime must either voluntarily relinquish some of its power or else have it taken away by force.

Naturally, Party leaders will resist giving up power so readily.

China's leadership appears very insecure, and jealous of power. Consider this:
The communist regime in Beijing explodes every time a country ventures even mild criticism about China’s appalling human rights record, screaming “interference” in its domestic affairs.

....The bully boys in Beijing are showing their true colours by threatening the Howard Government and other political leaders.

The threats about “maintaining healthy Sino-Australian relations” are not only unacceptable, they are hollow.

The concepts of freedom and democracy clearly do not sit well with the communist regime.

Or this:
So far, China has benefited by eliminating the totalitarian economic controls from its Communist past—but it has not succeeded at implanting the capitalist cornerstones of honesty, enforcement of contracts, respect for property rights, and the rule of law. Thus, the usual advice given to Westerners who want to do business in China is: don't trust anyone.

That is what is holding China back—and if it wants to continue to thrive on international trade, the Chinese government is going to have to establish the honesty and trust that is possible only under the rule of law.

In reality, there are a huge number of problems that cannot be mentioned here. Problems with China's Communist authoritarian government that suggests that it will be able to go so far---and no further.

It is good to be optimistic about the future of a country, particularly a country with as large and dynamic a population as China. But it is even better to face unpleasant facts and take them into account, in your assessment.


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16 June 2007

Behind the Curtain of the Wizard of Gore

Behind the Wizard's curtain, lurk several inconvenient truths.
The founder of Climate Care, Mike Mason, told the environment audit select committee in February: "I think planting trees is mostly a waste of time and energy." And yet Climate Care relies for some 20% of its online sales on forestry. Mr Mason explained apologetically: "People love it unfortunately."

The idea of buying and retiring EU carbon permits is becoming equally discredited. The first phase permits, which run to the end of this year, are now worthless. The second phase, due to cap the carbon emissions of European companies from 2008 to 2012, are high-risk investments. Nobody knows whether the European commission has got its calculations right this time.

The BBC recently reported that carbon trading has actually increased CO2 emissions.
The EU's carbon trading scheme has increased electricity bills, given a windfall to power companies and failed to cut greenhouse gases, it is claimed.

An investigation by BBC Radio 4's File on 4 programme has found that after two and half years the scheme has yet to cut in carbon dioxide emissions.

The consumer body Energywatch said customers are getting a raw deal.

Al Gore is up to his neck in European carbon trading.
Gore is just one of the most visible parts of the elaborate (and bi-partisan) schemes that have been set in motion under cover of climate change. Gore's personal financial involvement is blatant, especially through Goldman Sachs—a large shareholder of CCX, and in 2004, the creator of Gore's very own London-based hedge fund, Generation Investment Management.

CCX has multiple interconnections with the London-run Intercontinental Exchange, Inc. (ICE), whose subsidiary is the International Petroleum Exchange, the world's largest petroleum futures and options market. The dirty details of ICE and the Great Oil Price Swindle came out extensively at a May 8, 2006 Senate Democratic Policy Committee hearing

Al Gore, along with partners and friends, stand to make billions of dollars through these questionable schemes.
Just how big a market is the "certified tradeable offset" business set to commence in 2008? The World Bank estimates a $10 to $20 billion market. That may be a pittance compared to the real value of carbon trading.

In 2005, Grist Magazine went further, offering that "carbon could become one of the largest markets in the world, with a trading volume of $60 billion to $250 billion by 2008."

More recent estimates suggest carbon trading may exceed US $200 billion yearly. Much of this trading appears to be based upon outright fraud.
The FT investigation found:

■ Widespread instances of people and organisations buying worthless credits that do not yield any reductions in carbon emissions.

■ Industrial companies profiting from doing very little – or from gaining carbon credits on the basis of efficiency gains from which they have already benefited substantially.

■ Brokers providing services of questionable or no value.

■ A shortage of verification, making it difficult for buyers to assess the true value of carbon credits.

■ Companies and individuals being charged over the odds for the private purchase of European Union carbon permits that have plummeted in value because they do not result in emissions cuts.

Francis Sullivan, environment adviser at HSBC, the UK’s biggest bank that went carbon-neutral in 2005, said he found “serious credibility concerns” in the offsetting market after evaluating it for several months.

“The police, the fraud squad and trading standards need to be looking into this.

While Al Gore's Oscar for "An Inconvenient Truth" may be his pride and joy, his bread and butter is these "behind the curtain" scams that he is running with his London friends.

Do you believe? Do you have faith in the Wizard of Al?

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Waking Up To Capitalism--A Modern Rip Van Winkle

Jan Grzbebski woke up from a 19-year-long coma, and he seems to like the smell of capitalism in the morning.
When Jan Grzbebski woke up after 19 years in a coma the Polish railway worker found himself living in the future.

The Soviets had disappeared. So had food rationing. The only thing that stayed the same was his doting wife, Gertruda. She refused to believe the doctors who threw up their hands after diagnosing her comatose husband with brain cancer and said he was likely to die within a few years of the accident.

....Communism collapsed. Their four children married and produced 11 grandchildren.

"When I went into a coma there was only tea and vinegar in the shops, meat was rationed and huge petrol queues were everywhere," Grzebski tells TVN24, according to Reuters. "Now I see people on the streets with cellphones and there are so many goods in the shops it makes my head spin."

Check out this BBC video.

Communist Poland suffered under the "knowledge problem," like all strictly communist or true socialist economies. Without the straightjacket of communism, Poland has the opportunity to recover from a decades long nightmare coma of its own.

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15 June 2007

Trusting the IPCC, and Other Things a Chump Might Do

The IPCC has made a lot of false claims that have been swallowed hook, line, and sinker by the mainstream media, and those who trust the media. But some intelligent people are beginning to look at the IPCC a bit more skeptically.
Although the media often reports that the IPCC conclusion is based on the “consensus of 2500 world experts,” there are perhaps not more than a few hundred genuine climatologists in the world.

....In the present modeling, natural changes of unknown causes, including the Big Ice Ages, the interglacial periods, Medieval warming, the Little Ice Age and some multi-decadal changes, are mostly beyond the consideration of many participating meteorologists and modelers. Even if they knew all the forcing functions, their positive or negative feedback processes may be too complex to comprehend in applying them to the Earth system.

I am aware that many climatologists and geologists are deeply concerned about the present trend in the study of global warming, since they are aware of many known climate changes with unknown causes. However, they can contribute little to the discussion of present warming, because they cannot offer concrete forcing functions, other than changes in the Earth’s orbital path around the sun, so that many remain as a silent minority.

....A serious defect of the present IPCC approach is that it does not pay much attention to the possible presence of natural changes, which are so obvious as one examines climate changes even during the last several hundred years. This is simply because, by training, the participating meteorologists do not know how to deal with forcing functions of unknown natural causes; some of them may believe that all the forcing functions are well understood. Nature is far more complex than they seem to be willing to admit.

Unfortunately, most meteorologists and modelers tend to concentrate only on details of the known forcing functions. Indeed, most of them are concerned only with the greenhouse effect during the last 100 years, since the physics of the greenhouse effect is well established and aerosol effects may be dealt with. As a result, they do not examine previous climate change, even as recently as during the last several hundred years. They are also afraid of dealing with ‘low quality’ data in the past or of taking too much effort to gather them (compared with satellite data). However, these are what climatologists have to face.

....Even a casual study of climate change during the last few hundred years, based on the well-known literature, shows that there is a possibility that the Earth is still recovering from the Little Ice Age. This recovery may explain much warming due to unknown causes that has occurred even during the present interglacial period; the warming rate of this recovery may be as much as 0.5°C/100 years from about 1700 to the present*. This is comparable with the rate of 0.6°-0.7°C/100 years, which the IPCC claims to be due to the greenhouse effect. The cause of the Little Ice Age is not known; in consequence, the cause of the temperature rebound is also not known. Therefore, it cannot be included as a forcing function. Nevertheless, it exists. Many glaciers in the world began to recede starting about 1700, and sea ice in the Arctic Ocean began to recede starting in 1800, so these phenomena began long before 1940 when CO2 began to increase rapidly.

...For these reasons, it may be said that the present state of global warming study is not advanced enough to become the basis of global policy-making based on the temperature rise by 2100 that is predicted by the IPCC.

There are many clear and serious reasons to reduce the usage of energy in the future, completely aside from the IPCC’s incomplete and alarming reasons.

The IPCC has been riding a runaway bandwagon of CAGW for several years now. Although most journalists have been taken in, journalists are not very intelligent. Politicians who accept what journalists write at face value, are likewise not very intelligent--but there are a lot of them, and many wield a lot of budgetary influence in their governments.

But just like Mike Nifong--of the infamous Duke Lacrosse Team lynchings--the IPCC will eventually be called to account for its excesses and abuse of power. When that happens, most of us will be too busy having a life to say "I told you so" to the chumps who fell for the IPCC gag.

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Fascinating Nanotechnology Video

Hat tip to JW Bats at Our Technological Future

This video is a good intro to "state-of-the-art" nanotechnology research, for people who have read Engines of Creation, and wonder where we are right now.

Although we are not yet ready for molecular assemblers, nano-scale engineering research is making important discoveries.

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Grand Old Man of the Left Rails Against "Global Warming" Religion

Most of the driving force behind the CAGW bandwagon and crusade has come from the left. Leftist environmentalist movements particularly, but the anti-globalist left and the anti-American left have also leaped on board the bandwagon with enthusiasm. So how do you explain Alexander Cockburn, one of the more prolific and literate leftists of them all, condemning CAGW as a capitalist-inspired fiction of destruction?
The marquee slogan in the new cold war on global warming is that the scientific consensus is virtually unanimous. This is utterly false. The overwhelming majority of climate computer modelers, the beneficiaries of the $2 billion-a-year global warming grant industry, certainly believe in it but not necessarily most real climate scientists-people qualified in atmospheric physics, climatology and meteorology.

...The first global warming modelers simply threw up their hands at the complexity of the water problem and essentially left out the atmospheric water cycle. Over time a few features of the cycle were patched into the models, all based on unproven guesses at the effect of increased ocean evaporation on clouds, the effect of clouds on reflecting the sun's energy and the effect of cloud warming on rainfall and snow. All of these "band aid" equations are hopelessly inadequate to repair the computer models' inability to describe the water cycle's role in temperature.

Besides the inability to deal with water, the other huge embarrassment facing the modelers is the well-researched and well-established fact published in many papers that temperature changes first and CO2 levels change 600 to 1,000 years later....
Much more at the Source

Readers of Al Fin will find nothing new in Cockburn's arguments. The most interesting thing is the person making the argument. How will the true believers of CAGW confront this heretic of the left? Will they accuse him of being in the pay of coal interests? Or will they simply ignore him?

Because the one thing they cannot afford to do is to engage him on the face of his arguments. Because based upon rational argument the CAGW true believers cannot win. They can only have faith in the righteousness of their cause.

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14 June 2007

Still No Gender Equity in Physics

It has long been known that at the elite levels of math and physics, women lag men badly. While Harvard University fired Larry Summers for hinting at the mere possibility of gender inequity at elite levels of math and physics, people who actually work in the field have known about the disparity for many years.

Harvard researchers recently claimed to be able to narrow the gender gap using improved interactive teaching methods, but a newer, larger, more definitive study done at CU Boulder suggests that better teaching methods may actually widen the gender gap!
Interactive classes don't necessarily solve the performance imbalance between the genders in physics classes, according to a new study that stands in stark contrast to previous physics education research. In fact, while students as a rule benefit from interactive classrooms, the teaching technique may even increase the imbalance in some cases.

The conclusion comes from research at the University of Colorado at Boulder where physics professors attempted to duplicate an earlier Harvard study. The researchers in both studies looked at interactive teaching methods, which can include online homework systems, help-room sessions, student discussions, and other methods that have not typically been part of science classes in the US.

Unlike the Harvard study, which showed significant narrowing in the performance gap between male and female students, the CU Boulder study indicated that the gap stayed roughly the same in both partially and fully interactive classrooms. There were some instances where the gender gap got worse, particularly in the partially interactive classrooms.

On the bright side, both male and female students performed better in the interactive classes than students laboring in traditional lecture-based classes. Overall, however, male students benefited as much or more than females, which doesn't help to narrow gender-based performance gaps.

While Harvard researchers under new President Drew Faust appear committed to gender equity in physics (whether it actually exists or not), the intelligence research community at large has had no success in finding a way to narrow the gender gap.

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Gaza and the Arab Death Cult

Some of you may remember when the word "Beirut" was shorthand for bloody barbaric anarchy. Now the word is "Gaza." If only the barbarity were limited to a single city or strip of coast. Unfortunately, the seeds of this death cult seem to lie within Arab Islam.
We need to stop making politically correct excuses. Arab civilization is in collapse. Extremes dominate, either through dictatorship or anarchy. Thanks to their dysfunctional values and antique social structures, Arab states can't govern themselves decently.

We gave them a chance in Iraq. Israel "gave back" the Gaza Strip to let the Palestinians build a model state. Arabs seized those opportunities to butcher each other.

The barbarity in Gaza has become so grotesque that not even the media's apologists for terror can ignore it (especially since Islamist fanatics began to target journalists).

Over the weekend, Hamas gangbangers-for-Allah grabbed a Fatah functionary and dropped him from the roof of a high-rise to check out the law of gravity (the only law that still obtains in Gaza). Tit-for-tat, Fatah gunmen grabbed a Hamas capo and gave him the same treatment.

Of course, we are accustomed to seeing Arabs behead innocent bystanders they have snatched off the streets. But usually they could connect these innocents with Zionists or Crusaders, somehow. In Gaza we are seeing what this generation of Arabs is all about. It is not just Gazans. It is not just Palestinian Arabs. Clearly when you look at the state of world terrorism, you can trace most of it to its source in Arab Islam.

Iran would probably protest and say that it deserves a lot of the credit for muslim bloodletting today. Perhaps. But it is the Arabs who participate most enthusiastically, regardless of where you look. Or, in the case of muslim violence in Europe, it is Arab-inspired and financed extremist mosques that serve as the focus for Islamic Supremacist violence.

So, what is wrong with arabs?


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Anti-Americanism: An Interesting, and Very Old, Phenomenon

It is always fascinating to listen to people describing their hatreds. America hatred is old, and dates back multiple decades or more in Europe and the third world.
Anti-American sentiment in Europe originated with the discovery of America, the study of the Native Americans, and the examination of its flora, fauna, and climate. The first anti-American theory, the "degeneracy thesis," portrayed America as a regressive and culturally bankrupt continent. The theory that the humidity and other atmospheric conditions in America physically and morally weakened both men and animals was commonly argued in Europe and debated by early American thinkers such as Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson.

In 1768 Cornelius de Pauw, court philosopher to Frederick II of Prussia and chief proponent of this thesis, described America as "degenerate or monstrous" colonies and argued that, "the weakest European could crush them with ease."[16]

The theory was extended to argue that the natural environment of the United States would prevent it from ever producing true culture. Paraphrasing Pauw, the French Encyclopedist Abbé Raynal wrote, "America has not yet produced a good poet, an able mathematician, one man of genius in a single art or a single science."[17] (So virulent was Raynal's antipathy that his book was suppressed by the French monarchy.)

....[a] Nazi propaganda poster address[ed] the Dutch public in 1944 with the words: "The USA are supposed to save European culture". The image utilize[d] a number of themes, some of which (racism, use of excessive force, American culture and the influence of Judaism) are still in use within some varieties of modern anti-Americanism.

The French Revolution created a new type of anti-American political thought, hostile to the political institutions of the United States and their impact upon Europe. Furthermore, the Romantic strain of European thought and literature, hostile to the Enlightenment view of reason and obsessed with history and national character, disdained the American project.

The German poet Nikolaus Lenau encapsulated the Romantic view, "With the expression Bodenlosigkeit (rootlessness), I think I am able to indicate the general character of all American institutions; what we call Fatherland is here only a property insurance scheme."

With the rise of American industry in the late nineteenth century, intellectual anti-American discourse entered a new form. Mass production, the Taylor system, and the speed of American life and work became a major threat to some intellectuals' view of European life and tradition.

Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, "The breathless haste with which they (the Americans) work - the distinctive vice of the new world - is already beginning ferociously to infect old Europe and is spreading a spiritual emptiness over the continent."

If you are an American traveling to Europe or the UK, you might be surprised at some of the personal hostility you may face.
European elites tend to look at Americans as a subcivilized mass, whose function is to be obedient consumers in a system run by big business. The role of competition in U.S. economic life--and in every other aspect of life--is ignored, because competition is something Continental Europeans like to keep to a minimum and under careful control.

Although Americans are seen as highly materialistic consumers, they are also despised and feared for their spiritual interests, their participation in religious worship and their subscription to creeds of morality. Europeans see no inconsistency in their condemnation of the U.S. for being at one and the same time paganly unethical and morally zealous.

The truth is, any accusation that comes to hand is used without scruple by the Old World intelligentsia. Anti-Americanism is factually absurd, contradictory, racist, crude, childish, self-defeating and, at bottom, nonsensical. It is based on the powerful but irrational impulse of envy--an envy of American wealth, power, success and determination. It is an envy made all the more poisonous because of a fearful European conviction that America's strength is rising while Europe's is falling.

Several experiences of an American ex-pat in London reported in the British press stirred up a hornet's nest of comments--which tended to reinforce the truth of what her narration.
Typical British pub banter is one thing, says Christian Cox, but the "pure hatred" she says is directed at her for being American is really starting to wear her down.

The former model moved to London a year ago, where she is setting up her own business, and has been surprised at how some people have reacted to her nationality.

Ms Cox, 29, says she has been called, among other things, "terrorist", "scum", "low life", and feels that she is constantly being held to account for the actions of President Bush and for US foreign policy.

This is despite the fact that she doesn't agree with the war in Iraq and didn't vote for Bush.
Reading the comments accompanying the article suggests that many Britons have indeed become intellectually brittle and intolerant. This is unfortunate, given the imminent threat from muslim immigrants that the UK is currently facing. Perhaps a great deal of the blame for English intolerance should be placed at the feet of the British press.

Had the USSR won the cold war, rather than the western world, I suspect that criticism of the USSR would be muted, out of fear of retribution. No one fears retribution from the US, for although the US is wealthy and powerful, historically it has tended to rescue Europeans, not attack them.

This America hatred bears watching. It was there long before Bush and will be there long after Bush. As long as it does not affect the actions of European governments beyond occasional condemnations and non-binding resolutions, there should be no problem. If it rises to the level of an all-out trade war, things could get rather dicey.

There is a slowly rising undercurrent of anti-Europeanism in reaction to perceived anti-Americanism. Eventually, if the reciprocal hatred is allowed to escalate too far, a trade war may be the least of concerns.

Europeans are finding it more difficult to manage healthy economies at the same time as they try to maintain burgeoning social welfare demands. Further, Europeans are under siege from immigrants who are suceptible to barbarian, anti-liberal ideas originating from a militant, imperialist, supremacist religion. Anti-americanism may serve as a useful diversion from the more serious problems that Europeans face. Think of it as an ideological methamphetamine.


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