31 August 2008

...And a Child With High Genetic Potential Plus Good Training Does Even Better Still . . . .

..."So a child who has a good home learning environment, good preschool and good primary school will do better than a child with only two who will do better than a child who has one who will do better than a child who has none of these.... _Telegraph
Everyone wants superior children, but no one seems to be willing to do anything to help bring them about. Bright mothers with good educations tend to have bright and capable children, relatively speaking. Sadly, society increasingly tries to shunt bright women away from motherhood, as if mothers cannot also succeed in other areas. Anyway, a University of London project looking at the effect of quality pre-school education suggests that the formative pre-school years of a child are very important to his future cognitive capacity.
Ten-year-olds who have attended "high quality" preschool tend to score higher on mathematics tests than those who haven't, reports Prof Edward Melhuish of Birkbeck, University of London, and colleagues from the Effective provision of Preschool and Primary Education (EPPE) project.

He said they were surprised by the degree to which early experience both in the preschool and home were so influential later in the child's life.

"For the average child who went to a particularly effective or high quality preschool their maths scores would be boosted by around 27 per cent," says Prof Melhuish.

However, the project revealed that the education of the parents - particularly the mother- still has the greatest influence, having twice the effect and thus boosting maths scores even more.

What parents did at home mattered too. "The effects of the early home learning environment were very strong, much stronger than people had anticipated."

"An ideal home learning environment would be rich in stimulation and very responsive to the child's communications and activities," says Prof Melhuish.

"Parents would talk to their children frequently, read to them, maybe visit library to increase range of books for child, provide opportunities to draw, paint, learn songs and rhymes, dance and physical activities, play with numbers and shapes.
Parents make the difference in the child's future life. From the genes, to the intrauterine environment, to early childhood and beyond, parents lay the foundation. Then parents hand children to schools, which may or may not care what happens to the child from then on.

As is seen in population groups where up to 70% of children are born out of wedlock, the results of a childhood without caring and resourceful parents can be stark indeed.

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China Wins Gold Medal in Poisoning Competition

This time, scores of Japanese were poisoned by Chinese dumplings in what may be an intentional poisoning.
The Chinese regime officially admitted for the first time the Chinese exported dumplings that has sicken many Japanese could have been deliberately poisoned inside the factory in China, according to Japan Broadcasting Corp (NHK) report on August 30....This January, the frozen dumplings from China’s Tian Yang Food Corp sickened dozens in Japan. Lab testing showed those dumplings contained traces of pesticide contamination. _Epoch
The latest China poisoning event joins a long list of other poisonings from China that have been labeled "the chinese poison train." It is the Chinese people themselves who suffer the most from unenforced standards within China, and if not for the poisoned products that are inadvertently exported, the outside world would know little of the problem.

Sadly for the Chinese people, the environment within China is growing so toxic that the poisons are beginning to taint habitats of humans and wildlife alike. And sadly for people outside China, the corrupt country's environmental toxins are spilling out to pollute large portions of the world at large. It is difficult to celebrate China's amazing (although certainly exaggerated in real terms) economic growth when such a huge price is being paid by the ordinary people of China and the world.

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Why Do Antidepressants Take 6 Weeks to Work?

Until fairly recently, psychiatrists and neuropharmacologists have been puzzled by the several-week delay in onset of antidepressant efficacy of commonly prescribed mood elevators. It shouldn't take that long to boost neurotransmitter levels. But straight from central casting, the neural stem cell made its appearance in the science annals, and it was found that some antidepressants stimulate the differentiation of neural stem cells to mature nerve cells. Voila! New neurons--a feat once thought impossible!--from neural stem cells, with a little help from pharmacology. Recent work from the University of Texas supports that hypothesis.
...Antidepressants act very quickly to increase levels of natural compounds, called neurotransmitters, which nerve cells use to communicate. It takes several weeks to several months, however, for the patients who respond to such treatments to feel less depressed. Dr. Parada said this implies that some other long-term mechanism is also at work.

...Matching the timeframe for medicated patients to feel less depressed, it takes several weeks for new nerve cells to grow, Dr. Parada said. This parallel effect, he said, may mean that antidepressants need to stimulate growth of new cells in the dentate gyrus in order to achieve their full effect. _Sciencedaily
Antidepressants stimulate the production of new nerve cells in the hippocampus, and appear to protect nerve cells from apoptosis, at least in animal studies. The time delay for the mood elevation from antidepressants appears to be caused by the time to differentiation and integration of new neurons.

All this time, psychiatrists have been engaging in regenerative neuromedicine, and did not even realise it. Now that we have a better idea of what we are doing, perhaps we can learn to do it better?

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30 August 2008

Two Hurricanes, Two Governors

US Republican Party presidential candidate John McCain's selection of Alaska governor Sarah Palin as his VP running mate seems to have energized the US Republican Party base. If Barak Obama had named former Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco as his VP running mate, would that have energized the Democratic Party base? Certainly, when Mr. Obama failed to select Hillary Clinton as his running mate, the letdown felt by many US women was palpable.

But about Ms. Blanco, former governor of Louisiana? Would her selection by Obama as VP candidate for the USDP energize the Democratic Party base? Why not? In one word, Katrina. The infamous hurricane Katrina of August 2005 devastated New Orleans and ruined Blanco's chances for political advancement. Although the press neglected to emphasize the point, Blanco was far more responsible for the failure of state and local relief agencies to perform in a timely manner to the disaster than anyone in the US federal government. Blanco's failure to prepare and respond to Katrina marked her for life.

Blanco was not very smart, but she was smart enough not to run again for governor. She had proven herself as totally incompetent in the face of crisis, and would not be given another chance. Louisiana elected a different governor, Bobby Jindal, giving Louisiana's famously corrupt Democratic Party political machine a huge loss.

In the face of hurricane Gustav, Jindal has mobilized state and local agencies, law enforcement, etc. well in advance, and has maintained clear communications with all levels of federal government. Jindal is prepared as far as possible. Jindal is a hands-on governor with a meritocratic system--as opposed to the incredibly nepotistic and corrupt Democratic Party machine that Blanco operated within.

Louisiana (except perhaps New Orleans?) has never been better prepared for a hurricane than now. The city of New Orleans is still under Mayor Nagin's control, although it is a much smaller city now. And the more intelligent people of New Orleans will never take Nagin seriously again. They will take responsibility for themselves. For Nagin is part of the famously corrupt Democratic Party political machine. Like Nancy Pelosi, Barbara Boxer, etc., Nagin is incompetent because the machine he is part of is incompetent.

Alaska's Sarah Palin is a hands-on governor like Bobby Jindal. She inspires confidence as Jindal does, and currently has an 80% approval rating in her state. There is no question as to the energizing effect her presence on the ticket has already had on the base of her national political party.

Governors matter. Their decisions matter. In routine operations and planning, and in crises. Governors are executives, they run things. Legislators such as senators can easily skate by for decades without needing to demonstrate real world competence. Governors have to have something going for them, or they are apt to be found out--like Blanco.

Gustav is building for impact with Cuba, then on to the Gulf of Mexico. Every hurricane, every natural disaster, every designed disaster is a test of the competence of government officials. In most countries (and previously in Louisiana) elected office was a corrupt sinecure, meant mainly as a base to distribute favours to campaign contributors, friends, and relatives. But in the Anglosphere, officials are expected to behave honorably and with distinction in the face of a crisis. Kathleen Blanco failed. She was replaced. She is now a political embarassment, and Obama certainly never considered her as his running mate.

Bobby Jindal was considered as a running mate for McCain, but Jindal was not ready to jump a crippled ship for higher office. Palin was asked, and she accepted. Both Palin and Jindal have demonstrated records of achievement and competence.

Senators are hard put to match the achievements of a governor. That is why US Senators are so rarely elected US President. Baby senators such as Obama, who has barely "served" half a term--spending most of the time running for president--would never have a chance without "magical" circumstances aiding them. But Obama chose another US Senator as his running mate--not someone with executive decision-making experience. That was a mistake.

Gustav, like time, global jihad, and the Russian Army, will not stop for incompetents.

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29 August 2008

Military Plans to Create Artificial Cat Brain in Silico

By way of Brain Stimulant Blog, this story reveals a complex effort by the US military to recreate a cat's cortical brain in silico. What will the military do with a silicon cat's brain?
Darpa, the Defense Department's way-out research arm, recently tapped is in late-stage negotiations with Malibu's HRL Laboratories to spearhead its Systems of Neuromorphic Adaptive Plastic Scalable Electronics ("SyNAPSE") program. The goal: Build a chip with a "neuroscience-inspired architecture that can address a wide range of cognitive abilities -- perception, planning, decision making, and motor control," a company release notes. [UPDATE: An HRL spokesperson says the deal, in fact, "has not been finalized yet." The press release "should not have been sent out."]

The first nine-month phase of the program will focus on designing, fabricating, and characterizing synaptic and neural elements and combining them into a high-density, interconnecting microelectronic "fabric," which will be incorporated into a more complex system-level fabric design...

In the following 15-month phase, HRL [a joint venture between Boeing and General Motors] will combine the synaptic and neural elements to fabricate and demonstrate "cortical microcircuits" that can model various lower-level brain functions and actually "learn" by interacting with the environment.

"The follow-on phases of the project will create a technology that functions like the brain of a cat, which comprises 10^8 neurons and 10^12 synapses," Dr. Narayan Srinivasa, SyNAPSE Program Manager and Senior Scientist, said. "The human brain has roughly 10^11 neurons and 10^15 synapses."

The gray area between circuitry and gray matter has become one of the hotter topics in military research. The Army is funding a study into "synthetic telepathy" that would translate the brain's electrical activity into computer code. Darpa-funded researchers have taught monkeys how to control robotic limbs with their thoughts. Defense contractor Northrop Grumman is building binoculars that tap the unconscious mind. Honeywell has built a system that monitors pre-conscious neural firings, to help pick out targets in satellite imagery. The JASONs, the Pentagon's premiere scientific advisory board, has warned of the dangers of enemies implanted with brain-computer interfaces. And the Defense Intelligence Agency just released a report, saying the military needs to spend more on neuroscience - up to and including "mak[ing] the enemy obey our commands." _Wired
Other similar projects include the Blue Brain project, the Utah Brain Project, the China Brain Project (PDF), among others.

Interesting, but we are not at all close to the age of brain downloads. The critical component is timing. Brains are asynchronous, and timing is crucial for functional integration of information across different brain centers. We should learn something from all this.


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Science Is Evolving, But People: Not So Much

Human nature resists change, despite the best efforts of social engineers and would-be utopians. All the soaring rhetoric in the world will not raise the average IQ or EF of the vast herds of short-lived human grazers. Very few humans are directly involved in magnificent scientific and technological efforts such as this or this. The Earth-shaking consequences of nanotechnology and convergence owe nothing to the 99% of humans whose lives will eventually be transformed by the advances.

Modern education and child-raising creates lazy human minds. This laziness is reflected in politics, the media, popular amusements, and general attitudes. Even within academia, laziness occupies center stage. No other area of academia is lazier than the "social sciences."
One effect of the impressive progress in the physical sciences is that it conferred credibility to the “social sciences” as well. Knowing that a person is a scientist has become meaningless. The first question one needs to ask is what this person studies and how. The philosopher David Hume said it best when he said:

“When we run over libraries, persuaded of these principles, what havoc must we make? If we take in our hand any volume of divinity or school of metaphysics, for instance, let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames, for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.” David Hume ‑ An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding,1748, Section XII, Part I
As lazily fraudulent as the social sciences frequently are, you see the same type of laziness creeping into more mainstream sciences via politicisation--particularly in climate science, and in gender-driven "reforms" to science education, hiring, funding, and publication. It is human nature for zealots within an organisation to attempt to strengthen their faction. It is also human nature for non-zealots to eventually become too weary to continually fight them off.

Parasitical politics is ubiquitous in human organisations. It is simply a manifestation of human nature within a particular niche. The masses are lazy. Politically oriented people tend to greediness and power-hunger. They make a perfect match, since laziness and greed/power hunger are basic human traits that are present in the proper ratio for a hungry few to control the complacent many.

And so the liberal experiment tentatively begun in ancient times, smoldering undetected throughout the dark ages, flaming up in the renaissance - reformation - industrial revolution - American Constitution and Experiment, can easily collapse under the weight of the brain dead and top-heavy mass of the political tumour that ultimately starves the body politic to death. It is simple human nature.

Revolutionary science is done by a vanishingly small number of people. In order for the good work being done in labs to provide good results for humans in general, the natural human parasitic politics threatening to smother human transformative initiative must itself be smothered in its feathered bed. But gently, as in a dream.


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28 August 2008

I Got My Mind Right Boss


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Fetish of Innocence, Hung Tightly Round the Neck

Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1)
fet·ish /ˈfɛtɪʃ, ˈfitɪʃ/ [fet-ish, fee-tish] noun
  • 1. an object regarded with awe as being the embodiment or habitation of a potent spirit or as having magical potency.
  • 2. any object, idea, etc., eliciting unquestioning reverence, respect, or devotion: to make a fetish of high grades.
  • 3. Psychology. any object or nongenital part of the body that causes a habitual erotic response or fixation.
Increasingly, couples are having only one child (if any) and devoting most of their energies to pampering and maintaining the extended innocence of this "pet child." Children are born "innocent" to be sure, but the perverse intent of modern society to maintain this innocence--far beyond infancy, beyond childhood, into adulthood--is spawning a multitude of problems that society has yet to comprehend, much less ascribe to its own counter-productive habits and modern customs.

Children pass through a number of "critical developmental periods" between conception and the ages of 25 or 30. Those who are deprived of the nutrients, basic needs, and experiences necessary to develop the particular capacity of that developmental window will fail to develop. They may maintain their innocence. But if so, innocence becomes a perversion--a fetish--not a virtue. Imagine a society that intentionally prevented infants and toddlers from hearing human language. The children would grow up "innocent of language", but helpless to participate meaningfully in human society.

Child abuse, you say? Yes, but hardly worse than much of what goes on in the name of proper child-raising and educating using methods developed by the "very best" of educators and child psychologists, and administered under threat of deadly force by governments. Child abuse, yes.

What happens to a society that restricts the access of its children to the experiences which would allow them to develop as independent, self-sufficient, clear thinking and decisively acting adults? It grows very specialised, very brittle, very divided, and increasingly helpless to deal with threats from within and without. It grows charismatic leaders who promise to relieve voters of the burden of thinking for themselves. And we all know what comes next.

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27 August 2008

Why Is This Best-Selling Author and Public School Teacher Homeschooling His Kids?

Best selling author of the excellent novel "Snow Falling on Cedars", David Guterson, happens to teach English at a public high school in the Pacific Northwest. So why does he homeschool his own kids? For that matter, why do a high percentage of public school teachers send their own kids to private schools? But I digress. Guterson has recently written a comprehensive book on the topic of homeschooling, which appears worth a look for anyone who has considered that option.
...In Chapter Two: What About Democracy, Guterson addresses the concerns that home-schooling somehow undermines democracy, pointing out that "your average classroom is more like a little Kremlin than a little congress [ . . . ] more like totalitarianism than democracy. There are bells and PA systems and student cards and hall passes and classrooms where you listen day in and day out to authoritarian voices" (p. 42).

...Chapter Three: Homeschoolers Among Others capably addresses the concern about socialization -- that homeschooled won't get socialized properly if they are not with their peers. Guterson points out that "Schoolchildren may be openly and consciously obsessed with their peers, but their unconscious desperation for meaningful relationships with adults can be plainly seen in their eye" (p 65). In addition, a child not tied to the school clock has the opportunity to live "as an integral part of a community, among the elderly, store clerks, gardeners, carpenters, plumbers, mechanics, and electricians in their world, [ . . . ] are apt to develop a sensitive social understanding and a sophisticated feeling for the lives of others as they are lived on a daily basis" (p. 64).

....And what does the federal Constitution say? Nothing. Why not? " [ . . . ] the Constitution doesn't mention homeschooling in part because its writers didn't have the word in their vocabulary. Learning outside of schools, back then, was pretty common. [ . . . ] In the past, governments didn't take it upon themselves to see to education. They didn't think of it as their proper role as governments do today." So in 200 years we've gone from one end of the spectrum (families are responsible for educating their off-spring) to the other (families can barely be trusted to educate their young, and even then must be supervised by a state employee and submit reports and show results lest they lose their grudgingly-granted privilege). Indeed, "Every child is entitled to a public education," as Texas Governor Rick Perry asserts, then adds, "but public education is not entitled to every child." _ADL
And so on. A nice synopsis of Guterson's book. But if you are truly interested in the homeschool option you will want to look for a copy yourself.

There are many intelligent and conscientious school teachers and administrators working in the government school system. Unfortunately, they cannot make up for what policies derived from a century and a half of poor decision making and bureaucracy building are inflicting upon today's children.

Time to wake up.

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How to Make Your Own Milk Even If You're a Man

No, I'm not suggesting taking hormones. I'm suggesting you look into buying a pet animal the size of a German Shepherd dog, that can give you 16 pints of milk a day and will also crop your lawn without costing a cent for gasoline. How? What? No need to stay in suspense, my friends. The answer is the mini-cow, a family pet that will provide milk, companionship, and free lawn care for many years--then when it dies you can put it in your freezer as fresh beef.
For between £200 and £2,000, people can buy a cow that stands no taller than a large German shepherd dog, gives 16 pints of milk a day that can be drunk unpasteurised, keeps the grass “mown” and will be a family pet for years before ending up in the freezer.

The Dexter, a mountain breed from Ireland, is perfect for cattle-keeping on a small scale, but other breeds are being artificially created to compete with it, including the Mini-Hereford and the Lowline Angus, which has been developed by the Australian government to stand no more than 39in high but produce 70% of the steak of a cow twice its size.....

“With high food prices, they are actually quite an attractive option if you like producing your own food,” said Sue Farrant. “Both my husband and I have full-time jobs so we’re keeping them on the side as an interest. They do largely look after themselves and they’ve been hugely popular with the children.” Her husband said: “They have a phenomenal reputation for the quality of the beef. I think they are proving very attractive to families who have a bit of land and are interested in organic produce. From an economic point of view, we get to eat as much meat as we want and we roughly break-even, but you can sell what you don’t eat.

“As long as you’ve got plenty of grass they will be fine. You don’t really have to feed them.” _TimesOnline
By considering all the aspects of keeping a mini-cow, the economics can be quite favourable. This is what Swamp Woman was trying to tell me a few weeks ago, but I was too busy to listen. I suspect that a person would need a couple of acres of grass to provide feed for the critter. You'd best tell the kids not to give it treats without clearing them with the Vet first.


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3% of Earth's Oceans Can Replace All Fossil Fuels

Ricardo Radulovich has a plan to replace fossil fuels with energy from seaweed. He claims that only 3% of the oceans can grow enough biomass for energy conversion to replace the more polluting fuels. It sounds like an idea that should be looked into.
...where are the best areas to grow seaweed? “There are many places already identified where seaweeds can be properly farmed such as on the Pacific Coasts of North and South America, and in the Caribbean where there are currently several seaweed farms,” Radulovich says. In those places, the seaweed is grown primarily for food and fertilizers. “Actually, any place where seaweeds grow naturally may be good for farming. In fact, since farming implies using ropes and other means for seaweed attachment, many seas where seaweeds don’t grow naturally could also be good places for farming.” Radulovich emphasizes that if the seaweed can be tied for floatation or drifting, farming could be an option. “I think even the Sargasso Sea, with its extensive calm waters, could be used for this,” he says. In the future, he would like to explore the Sargasso Sea further, as it may provide a low-cost basis for large-scale seaweed cultivation.

...Radulovich says his experiments involve obtaining 2 percent recoverable oil content on a dry-weight basis. “This produced about 1,000 liters (264 gallons) of oil per hectare per year,” he says. The oil yield can be increased by selecting or developing seaweed strains that produce more oil.

After the oil is extracted, the seaweed biomass may be used for alcohol production. “Ethanol yield is expected at about 40 percent of the biomass yield on a dry weight basis,” Radulovich says. “Thus more than 20,000 liters (52,843 gallons) of ethanol per hectare per year can be obtained.”

After ethanol production, a considerable amount of residue is left, which can be burned to generate electricity. _BiomassMag
His conversion of litres to gallons appears to be a mistake, but you can get the general idea of his preliminary estimates.

Take wastewater that currently pollutes coastal areas. Divert it to ocean algal farms where it will promote algal growth. Turn the algae first into oil. Then turn what is left to ethanol, methanol or butanol. Then take the biomass residue, torrefy and compress it, and use it in place of coal in a combined cycle electrical generating plant. Be resourceful. Love your planet.

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26 August 2008

Global Cooling Descending: Will We All Be Forced to Live in a Giant Pyramid Arcology in Dubai?

Following up on observations from the Armagh Observatory, observations at the National Solar Observatory in Tucson add weight to predictions that solar activity may be dropping to levels lower than seen in over 100 years. An increasing number of solar scientists are contemplating the possibility of a "mini ice age" resulting from reduced solar activity.
The number of sunspots visible on the Sun normally shows an 11-year periodicity, and the current sunspot cycle (cycle 23) had a maximum in 2001, and is entering a minimum phase with few sunspots currently visible. Our data show that there are additional changes occurring in sunspots, independent of the sunspot cycle, and these trends suggest that sunspots will disappear completely. Such an event would not be unprecedented, since during a famous episode from 1645-1715, known as the Maunder Minimum, the normal 11-year periodicity vanished and there were virtually no sunspots visible on the solar surface (Eddy 1976). Recent studies of the appearance rate and latitudinal drift of sunspots (Hathaway et al., 2004) and of the solar magnetic field (Svalgard etal, 2005) predict that the number of sunspots visible in future cycles will be significantly reduced......the occurrence of prolonged periods with no sunspots is important to climate studies, since the Maunder Minimum was shown to correspond with the reduced average global temperatures on the Earth (Foukal et al., 1990). _Icecap
During the "Little Ice Age", temperatures plunged, crops failed, and large areas of high latitude lands became uninhabitable. Should the same thing happen again in the first half of this century, the human toll would likely be far worse--given the much greater population of Earth currently. If climate grows much cooler, crops in the breadbasket regions of North America, Europe, Australia, Argentina, and parts of Europe will certainly either fail or be severely curtailed in yields. We had better hope the sun does not choose this time to take an extended vacation. More here.

Of course, more affluent people may choose to take refuge in huge self-contained "cities within single buildings", otherwise known as "Arcologies," located near the tropical zones. One such arcology--the Dubai Pyramid City--will stand 4000 feet high and contain a full time population of 1 million people.
The solar-powered pyramid project – dubbed Ziggurat after the ancient Mayan pyramids – was announced this week by Timelinks, an eco-design firm that plans to unveil the engineering wonder at Cityscape Dubai later this year.

If completed, it’s expected to be the largest man-made residential structure on the planet, with its foundation covering more than two square kilometres.

"The pyramid will be more than a kilometre tall and will house one million people inside," "It will be completely self-sustainable."

Using solar and wind power, the mega structure will create its internal weather. Steam generated from solar power and collected through photovoltaic cell panels on the pyramid’s exterior might well be piped from the ground level to the uppermost heights of the pyramid’s interior and then released, instantly turning into rain, which may then fall on the lush garden communities inside the pyramid.

An eco system, full of vegetation, mild temperatures and regular rainfall, may make this a highly marketable city for people living in dry desert conditions.

...Matonis said the pyramid project requires 90 per cent less land than a traditional city. "Cities can be accommodated in complexes that take up less than 10 per cent of the original land surface. Public and private landscaping will be used for leisure pursuits or irrigated as agricultural land." _NextEnergyNews
Besides generating its own energy and weather, an arcology might be largely self-sufficient in food production. Whether a pyramid is the best shape for such a structure is up for debate. Certainly the pyramids of Egypt and Central America have rather ghoulish histories, that might be better overlooked, should the energy economics of huge pyramids support arcologies.

Brian Wang has more on the Dubai building spree.

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Only a Coward is Totally Innocent

Innocence is vastly over-rated. Besides being virtually impossible to attain, who would want to be a member of the cowardly, mediocre innocent? We live by various overlapping systems of ethics. Our society is divided along the lines of different ethical systems. We are taught that innocence is good, so we want to be "innocent", but if we act in the real world--which we must--we necessarily break ethical rules of one system or another.

For example, to many ideologues it is impossible for a person of European extraction not to be a racist. The accused may protest the charge, asserting that they are not racists, that they have close friends among the minorities, work amicably alongside persons of colour, and may even be married to a non-European. It does not matter. They are racists by the very definition of some ethical system. And since in this society, persons guilty of "racism" cannot be members of polite company, the guilty must be driven out. That is merely one example of the assortment of "original sins" bestowed on large groups by the dominant ethical system in modern academia, media, and much of society at large (post-modern faux-multicultural monoculturalism).

Everyone who exists, acts, more or less. It is not possible that anyone is truly 'innocent.' That is just how oppressive police states like it, since "having something on everyone" is the best way of staying in control. It is also how political activists like it, because they do not have to actually prove someone's malfeasance to have that person fired, disgraced, or driven from public life.

The pretense of innocence is necessary if one is to make a life of loud and pompous judgments against others. And the best way of maintaining a pretense of innocence is not to act, overtly, other than performing acts of loud, clangorous judgment. Such loud ceremonial or demonstrative acts of judgment are best done in groups--as in protest marches, echo chambers, or political rallies. The strength of numbers in pronouncing judgment should never be underestimated by anyone susceptible to a lynching.

When susceptible to attack, a feeling of safety may be found within anonymity inside a group--as in a school of fish or a herd of grazing animals. An even stronger feeling of safety is anonymity within the group that is doing the attacking. A member of a lynch mob who stays back a bit from the front can be safe from the mob, yet still claim innocence.

Politicians exhibit this sort of "leading from behind" behaviour as often as possible. Particularly legislators, who are far less restricted in the claims they can make during campaigns, if their records are somewhat "undistinguished." A clear record of overt action can be somewhat inconvenient when conjuring up conveniently changeable images of oneself--depending upon the audience of the day.

When claiming the role of innocent judge of the guilty, it is best for one's prior actions to be few and mild, somewhat obscured, or conveniently deniable.

These innocent judges are not of any use to anyone whatsoever, but it is possible for them to acquire loud and powerful public voices, and to rise to positions of significant power in government, academia, media, and society. Particularly in a strongly divided political environment, the more chameleon-like a person can make himself, the better his prospects--up to a point.

What kind of society would grow such cowardly innocents to prominence? Dangerously brittle societies. Probably the society in which you live.

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25 August 2008

One of Many Reasons for the Emasculated Nature of the European Union and People

Under the defense umbrella of the US military, NATO and Europe long ago gave up any credible pretense of providing for their own defense. Instead, Europe spent its defense budgets on social programs, and began to pretend that the US--its defender--was the primary enemy that it must fight. Europe's primary weapons against the evil US empire were the concocted words and images of its incredibly biased news media. Generations have been raised under this propaganda campaign--this feint, if you will, distracting the people of Europe from the abject failure of their leaders to provide a credible defense from enemies foreign and domestic.

Understanding the "Catch-22" that their leaders have placed them under, European military forces are increasingly refusing to fight. Even when given direct orders to engage the enemy, European commanders and their troops are refusing to raise their weapons against deadly threats.
Over a decade of shrinking budgets has meant less money for realistic training. There are also equipment shortages. The net result is several layers of leadership that are really not well prepared for a shooting war....several Czech helicopter pilots, when told they were going to Afghanistan, basically said no. Not unless they got more training, and helicopters that could handle that kind of tricky flying. The crew of an Italian helicopter gunship was recently sent home because they refused to fire in combat. No one will say exactly what happened there, but that sort of thing is usually the result of poor preparation, and leadership. And then there's the recent ambush of a French patrol, which resulted in ten French paratroopers killed. Most of the casualties occurred because the troops had not practiced dealing with ambushes, and the way the Taliban operate. Worse, the French troops were trapped under fire for many hours, long past the time when air cover or ground reinforcements should have arrived. Again, this has all the marks of bad leadership and poor training.

... _StrategyPage
It is not just the post-cold war euphoria that led to cutting of defense budgets in Europe. As stated earlier, European governments had already decided to let the US taxpayer carry the load of defending Europe. Europe decided that it had grown beyond the conflict stage of human evolution. Given such a high level of evolution, homo Euro would simply allow a despised ally to take care of the dirty work of dealing with the more unsavoury aspects of existing on this planet.

If a group of people exists for along enough time in this protected limbo state, their sense of reality regarding foreign relations does tend to suffer a bit. The EU, after all, has no divisions. NATO has divisions. But without the US, NATO is a laughing stock. Since the member nations of NATO (other than new members from Eastern Europe) scorn the US as a Neanderthal, and the greatest threat to planet Earth, you can imagine the solidity of the alliance--and part of the reason why Russia has begun a new phase of expansionist neo-imperialism.

Self-emasculated homo Euro. The new androgynous reality of an old, shrinking subcontinent. Let's all hold a group shriek over Abu Ghraib, shall we? Or how about a round of condemnations over Guantanamo. Show those war-monger colonials who the civilised people are, shall we?

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Saving the World, One Tree at a Time

Moringa is a miracle tree. It grows in most any climate, and it provides nutrition, medicines, and fuel for all. God bless the children, and cause the Moringa to grow.
Beyond its sheer endurance--the plant is drought-resistant, though it does not flourish in the most arid of rain-fed lands--Moringa's wide-ranging attributes have earned it quasi-superstar status in parts of the developing world and among nutritional experts in the West.

"Moringa leaves contain seven times the Vitamin C you find in the equivalent weight of oranges or orange juice, four times the amount of Vitamin A you'll find in the equivalent weight of carrots, four times the calcium you'll find in milk, three times the potassium you'll find in bananas," said Lowell Fuglie, the former West African regional head of Church World Service, who has worked assiduously in promoting Moringa in Senegal and elsewhere. "The plant satisfies many of the nutritional needs of an individual," he added in a recent interview in Dakar.

.... "Before, there was a lot of child malnutrition, but now it's really diminished," she said. "Because now women know Moringa is important. They plant Moringa in their homes." _Source
Here is more on Moringa:
Malunggay [moringa] is a source of moringa edible oil and biodiesel, but its vitamin A content which battles anemia, iron, calcium that was infused with the bread was found to have energized the sixty-four malnourished Grades 1 and 2 pupils from public schools in Mandaluyong City. The wonder bread is produced by PowerNut pastry shop.

Results of the 30-day feeding program and a research on the effects of malunggay on children showed that students who were diagnosed as anemic prior to the feeding program were discovered to have normal blood count, and the malady was gone. _Source
Moringa oilseeds produce a fine oil suitable for biodiesel, at a yield comparable to jatropha and pangomia. It is one more argument against the delusion of the "food vs. fuels crisis."

Moringa is not a product of bioengineering--unless you consider evolution by natural selection as a great bioengineering project on a larger than human scale. But it gives a small glimpse of what a bioengineered "Santa Claus Tree" might be able to toss off to children everywhere.


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24 August 2008

Russia's Obsolete Technology Infrastructure Defies All Attempts to Modernise

China has learned an important lesson in economics that Putin's Russia cannot seem to comprehend: sustainable wealth comes from allowing enough economic freedom for distributed decision making. Top-heavy, centrally dictated economies cannot maintain sustainable affluence. And without sustainable affluence, a nation cannot maintain a cutting-edge technological infrastructure.

Russia's mineral wealth--particularly in oil and gas--is substantial, and could form the nucleus for a healthy, diverse economy. But Putin and his ex-KGB cronies have grabbed all control of Russia's energy sector, creating a hyper-centralisation of both economics and political power in Russia. Such centralised decision-making prevents a healthy economy from growing, whatever you choose to call it. Without that broad-based economic infrastructure and a free flow of ideas, a healthy technological R&D infrastructure cannot grow.

A nation's military does not stand apart from that nation's technological base. So despite Russia's stated plans to spend large sums of money on updating the nation's technological infrastructure, without the infrastructure of human freedom and distributed decision-making, such plans are merely verbal Potemkin villages. Of course, no matter how much Russia claims to spend on "technology", the bulk of the money will end up in the Swiss bank account of one of Putin's friends. Corruption and cold winters have been Russia's most enduring characteristics over the past 500 years.

Americans can blithely discuss the development of weapons such as the following, which Russians can only hope to be able to steal eventually.
- Autonomous Weapons

....These Automatic Robotic vehicles can strike in air or on the ground without causing any damage to the friendly troops. These are equipped with sensors that can sense between enemy and the friendly troops and ask for a conformation from the ground forces to begin an attack....

- High Energy Lasers

High Energy lasers travel at the speed of light and can destroy an approaching missile in minutes and can also strike targets over thousands of kilometers...

- Space-Based Weapons

...A weapon in orbit will be able to see and destroy anything on the planet....

- Hypersonic Aircrafts (Scram Jet)

These are the aircrafts that can fly at a speed of Mach 5 that means five times the speed of sound. These aircrafts can reach any target on the planet within two hours. ...

- Active Denial System (Millimeter-Wave Weapon)

...A 2-meter long antenna and a generator produces and aims a 95 GHz wave on a group of people which causes them intense pain in the skin making them to flee....

- Nuclear Missiles


- Stun Guns


- High-Power Microwave Bombs (e-bombs)

These are known as e-bombs because they can totally damage computers, electronics and electric power. The technology uses high power microwave pulses that can burn the electrical equipment and particularly the semiconductor chips....

- Layered Missile Defense

This technology offers the best chance to shoot a missile before it reaches its target. Multiple systems are targeted on to the missile during different stages of its flight....

- Information Warfare

The technology interferes with the flow of information in the enemy channels totally disrupting it..... _Weaponsblog

Of course, these are the weapons publicly discussed, many of which are in use or quickly being made obsolete by the next generation of not so public weapons. Many of these weapons will never be used, and will probably be destroyed eventually without the public ever knowing of their existence--if their use is never required.

America's allies will be given some of these weapons to defend themselves against enemies of the free world such as Russia, North Korea, Iran, etc. Others will be reserved at the most secret levels, being deployable to any point on Earth or near space within an hour's time or less. This level of technology is only available to affluent, broad-based economies--which leaves Russia out.

Here are some other "game changers" which will only be available to broad-based technological infrastructures:
Solid-State Fiber Laser. Defined by ONR as: “A laser in which the active gain medium is an optical fiber doped with rare-earth elements such as erbium, ytterbium, neodymium, dysprosium, praseodymium and thulium”....

Free Electron Laser. A shipboard point defense weapon, the laser will fight off swarms of both high end anti-ship cruise missiles and low-tech, explosive laden small boats.......

High-Power Microwave Directed Energy Weapons. A focused microwave beam transmits high levels of energy via concentrated radio waves that will knock out computers, sensors, most anything electronic.......

The Revolutionary Approach to Time-Critical Long Range Strike (RATTLRS) Program. An ONR, DARPA, Air Force and NASA collaboration, started in 2004, to build a faster than Mach 3 air-breathing cruise missile. .....

Next Generation Integrated Power Systems. .....

Electromagnetic Railgun. A rail gun uses magnetic rails instead of an explosive charge to accelerate a solid projectile to super high velocities, around Mach 7, promising accurate strikes on targets out to 230 miles with damage inflicted by the projectile’s kinetic impact. ....

...New rocket motors using solid propulsion technologies, low erosion nozzles, pulse motors and advanced radomes designed for ultra-high speeds.

Nanotechnology and biotechnology are the real game changers, of course. That is why Putin has made so much noise about his intention to develop a strong nanotech infrastructure in Russia. That initiative, like so many Potemkin plans Russia has made, will no doubt send many billions more into Swiss bank accounts.

Corruption, thug psychology, laziness, predisposition to drunkenness....these are salient aspects to the character of the Russian male, at least. This primitive psychology is reflected in Russia's decrepit infrastructure, as it has been since the days of the Tsar. In Russia, very little changes for the better. With the demographic collapse of Russia approaching, time is running out.


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22 August 2008

New Study Revolutionises Atmospheric Science

All of those billion dollar atmospheric circulation models financed by NASA, the IPCC, and other big money funding agencies are now as good as garbage. A new study from Imperial College London is forcing a complete re-thinking of atmospheric science and the entire infant science of climatology.
New research suggests that scientists may have to radically rethink their understanding of how air circulates in the atmosphere. The study, published in the journal Science, reveals that warm, moist air rising in the mid latitudes plays an important role in the circulation of air around the globe....

'With more attention than ever before being focused on understanding our planet's climate, weather systems and atmosphere, it's important that scientists challenge their own assumptions and current theories of how these complex processes work,' commented Dr Arnaud Czaja of Imperial College London in the UK, one of the authors of the paper.....

Previously, scientists thought there were two major air circulation 'cells' in the atmosphere: one in the northern hemisphere, the other in the southern hemisphere....According to Dr Czaja, previous theories failed to take into account the important role water vapour plays in mid-latitude weather systems. By allowing for this factor, the scientists found that much more air rises in the mid-latitudes than was previously thought, and as much as half of the air rising into the upper reaches of the atmosphere comes from the mid-latitudes...

The findings have important implications for our understanding of climate change. 'As Earth's temperature rises, the amount of water vapour present in the atmosphere is extremely likely to increase as well,' the article concludes. 'Understanding how changes in temperature and humidity affect the dynamics of [...] circulation is a critical issue for better predicting mid-latitude climate in a warmer world.'

Of course, informed persons already understood that the huge gaps in understanding of atmospheric processes made current climate models worse than worthless. It is only those who stood to profit from climate alarmism--along with the supremely gullible and academically lobotomised--who carried the alarmist banner so belligerently.

As the infant science of climatology slowly becomes a bona fide science, a better understanding of the authentic processes of climate will emerge.

Also covered in PO


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Educating to Avoid Psychological Neoteny

Children and teenagers are capable of far more responsibility and productive exposure to the adult world than modern societies allow. The over-protective pampering of children and teens creates incompetent lifelong psychological neotenates--due to the missing of critical developmental stages. Better methods of child-raising and educating must learn to supply the missing pieces--particularly for children at risk. At Cristo Rey Catholic schools, kids are expected to work in the real world one day a week for tuition.
Placing high demands on kids reminds them that they are expected to do things with their lives. But talk to students at Cristo Rey schools, and they tell you that, for all their hours spent graphing algebraic equations, it is their jobs that get them thinking most about the future. In their gleaming office buildings, they see men and women who earn enough to afford nice, safe homes. They see how people set priorities and deadlines and execute projects. It’s easy to mock corporate America, but compared with the chaos of inner-city life, a cubicle with your name on it can seem like heaven.

“I like my job a lot, since when I grow up I want to be a defense attorney,” says Andrew Emanuel, a Christ the King freshman who works at the Newark branch of the law firm Kirkpatrick & Lockhart, Nicholson, Graham. “I really enjoy socializing and conversing with most of the attorneys at my job. I ask them what’s their motivation in life, and what keeps them going.” They in turn tell him to stay in school and do his homework. It’s standard advice, but it means more coming from people in his intended profession.

Cristo Rey students feel needed by their employers. When Christ the King Prep board chairman Neal Jasey goes around recruiting businesses to hire student teams, he mentions the P.R. and employee morale benefits of having young people around, but adds “I do argue that this is an economically sensible thing to do: $25,000 for a team of four kids—if you have that kind of [clerical] work—is a pretty reasonable cost.” It’s a win-win proposition; at full enrollment, earned income (which includes temp stipends and tuition) is supposed to account for 85 percent of a Cristo Rey school’s operating budget. That’s sustainable in a way that depending on church fund raising is not.

The kids are fully accountable for their performance at work. Christ the King Prep asked several students to leave this year because of difficulties with their employers. “They weren’t getting the job done at work,” says Principal Kevin Cuddihy. “And if you can’t work, you can’t pay the tuition, so you can’t come back. It’s that simple. Economic realities are harsh when applied to 14-year-olds, but that’s the market forces at work here.”

Largely because of these expectations, Cristo Rey kids are more polished and polite than even well-to-do teenagers. Each school holds a training camp in the summer to teach incoming freshmen how to behave in a professional environment. These young people shake hands. They look you in the eye. They know how to file and fax, and which fork to use if the boss offers to take them out to lunch. _Reason_via_JJ
The exposure to real world responsibilities and possibilities gives the kids something that 6 or 7 hours of sitting in classrooms every day never could. It also gives them a confidence based upon demonstrated competence in the real world. Until you witness the results of such ongoing experiments in teaching responsibility, it is easy to be lulled into complacency about current failed education and child-raising methods.

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Gun-Shy European Troops Help Lose Afghanistan

The emasculated nature of Europe has never been so clear as in present-day Afghanistan. The fear of European commanders to involve their troops in combat is leaving their troops far more vulnerable than if they would only function like proper soldiers.
The Taliban are taking advantage of the unwillingness of many NATO contingents to fight. Groups of Taliban gunmen are being sent to the vicinity of Kabul, where many of these less warlike NATO operate, and have launched attacks. They got lucky and killed ten French troops in one of these operations, in an action that highlighted the degree to which these troops, and their leaders, were unprepared for combat. By attacking, and inflicting losses, on these troops, the Taliban stir up political controversy back in Europe, leading, the Taliban hope, to withdrawal of the NATO troops from Afghanistan. _StrategyPage
As we saw in Spain after the Madrid train terror attacks, Europeans are afraid of conflict, and are unwilling to stand up for themselves or their allies if it involves any risk. Paradoxically, this quasi-cowardly stance creates far more risk to Europeans in the long run than if they had merely utilised the basic "tit for tat" strategy suggested by game theory.
The people of Afghanistan don’t realize that NATO has no overarching counterinsurgency strategy, or that many of the 70,000 troops cannot fire their weapons except in self defense. All they see is a degrading security situation, and since America is capable of anything if it can land a man on the moon, then there must be an ulterior motive, or so the Afghan people think. _CT
Combining the Euro tendency to retreat at the sign of any danger with the Afghan impressions that the US is responsible for all the troops in Afghanistan--whether or not they perform up to US standards--the PR battle is being lost in the primitive tribal country.

Pakistan's intelligence services continue to assist the Taliban and al-qaida in the border areas, which keeps the Taliban supplied with weapons and a safe haven. Of Iraq and Afghanistan, Afghanistan is the one that most strongly resembles the 60's war in Vietnam.

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21 August 2008

Biomass Is a Versatile Energy Suite

Biomass can be turned into gasoline, into a renewable natural gas, into bio-coal, into ethanol, or directly into electricity. Combined cycle biomass to electricity plants can be 45% efficient generating electricity. Even more efficiency can be achieved by using the waste heat productively.

What is biomass? It is waste wood from forestry, waste stover/straw/bagasse etc. from crops, waste cardboard and paper products, byproducts of paper manufacture etc. Or biomass can be grown specifically for energy production--miscanthus, switchgrass, fast-growing poplar, bamboo, etc. are all being tested for the ability to create a prolific bio-feedstock for conversion to energy.

Biomass energy makes far more sense currently than wind energy schemes. It is suitable as a local or regional enterprise--which means that thousands of small biorefineries and biomass processors and pre-processors will be set up across North America. Biomass is far less dense than most other forms of energy, and must be converted to other forms (pellets, cubes, bales, torrefied, gasified, liquified, etc) for transport or use.

As economies of scale are achieved by the most efficient producers, a significant shakeout of less efficient biorefineries and cellulosic electricity producers will occur over time.

The replacing of fossil fuels by bioenergy will be a gradual process that takes decades, at least. You do not replace a multi-trillion dollar infrastructure overnight. Over the next 40 years, current energy infrastructure will be largely replaced by bioenergy, by new generation nuclear energy, by solar and geothermal heat-to-power, by photovoltaics, possibly by orbiting solar power sats, and not so much by wind.

Al Fin Energy has many other articles and links on this topic and other energy topics.

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Poland Moves Closer to US and NATO

Besides Georgia, other areas threatened by Russian invasion--Ukraine, Poland, etc--people are moving closer to the US and NATO for protection. To these new democracies, Russia represent an oppressive, stifling past that they want no further part of.
On newsstands, the cover of the mainstream, right-leaning weekly magazine Wprost features an illustration of Vladimir V. Putin, Russia’s prime minister, with an instantly recognizable little mustache and sweep of hair across the forehead that make the headline, “Adolf Putin,” redundant. The Polish edition of Newsweek shows the outspoken and at times impolitic Polish president, Lech Kaczynski, in the pilot’s seat of an airplane cockpit under the headline, “You have to be tough with Russia.”

Radek Sikorski, Poland’s foreign minister and the government’s point man on missile defense, said in an interview this week, “Parchments and treaties are all very well, but we have a history in Poland of fighting alone and being left to our own devices by our allies.”

It is not a cold war mindset that drives Poland, Mr. Sikorski said, but one that harks all the way back to World War II, when, despite alliances with Britain and France, Poland fought Nazi Germany alone, and lost.

It was “the defining moment for us in the 20th century,” Mr. Sikorski said. “Then we were stabbed in the back by the Soviet Union, and that determined our fate for 50 years.”

As a result, Poland’s foreign policy is stamped by mistrust not only for Russia’s ambitions but also for hollow assurances from its own allies. Georgia’s lonely fight against an overwhelming Russian military served as an object lesson — a refresher that people here said no one needed — on the limits of waiting for help from friends.

“We’re determined this time around to have alliances backed by realities, backed by capabilities,” said Mr. Sikorski, pointing out that all Poland has now in terms of NATO infrastructure is one unfinished conference center. _NYT
Russia has no friends. No wonder. If Putin has command of the US military, what he could do! It is not likely that President Obama would be nearly as weak an appeaser as he seems to be. Is it?


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Russians Trying to Starve Georgians Out of Homes: Escalation of Violence Possible

In the face of a Russian default on its signed ceasefire agreement, ordinary Georgians are contemplating an extended insurgency campaign. Many are without food and basic supplies, due to Russian chokepoints throughout the country.
The Russian armored fighting vehicles that are blocking routes in and out of Gori are slowing the flow of humanitarian aid and stifling trade, he said...Travel is controlled by Russian soldiers; a McClatchy Newspapers reporter was turned back at checkpoints and had to slip in via a footbridge.

"If they stay, we won't get enough supplies and the war will start again," said Taturashvili, who works for the local power company. "People will take their guns and go to the forests."

While there are no signs of insurgency, it's clear that tempers are rising and nerves are fraying in Gori, an important waypoint on the country's main east-west corridor. The city sits near a route to South Ossetia, the breakaway region that Georgia tried to take earlier this month before being thrashed by Russian tanks and jets. The way to South Ossetia - where the Red Cross was allowed access only on Wednesday - is guarded by Russian armored vehicles and machine gun bunkers fashioned from concrete blocks.

On Thursday, Gori's streets were mostly empty of cars; at the sound of an approaching engine, people turned their heads quickly to see whether it was a Russian truck. Dozens of people at a downtown square shouted and pushed their way to the window of an aid-distribution station.

"We're all running out of food," said Nana Nazadze, who was watching two old women scream at each other. "I ran out yesterday; my neighbor gave me some sausage."

Lamara Tinikashvili motioned in the direction of a Russian checkpoint down the road: "They're allowing aid in, but it's not being given to us."

After speaking, Nazadze implored a reporter, "Please be careful about where you use my name or the Russians will get me." _Source
Small amounts of food are getting past Russian checkpoints, but no one knows how long that will last.

Russian-sponsored Ossetian terrorists and paramilitaries continue seizing ground and driving Georgians off their land.
Here in the town of Akhalgori, only a 45-minute drive from the capital Tbilisi, the red, white and yellow flag of Ossetian separatists flew Thursday over a police station and local administration building seized by the rebels....Russian forces were camped on the main road into town, with at least four armoured personnel carriers and a dozen troops stationed at two checkpoints. _Source

Russia is tightening control of large parts of occupied Georgia.
The continuing Russian presence in Gori appears to be hampering humanitarian aid efforts. The International Committee of the Red Cross describes the situation in and around Gori as difficult. "There have been more people outside today … mostly old people. They’ve been asking for food and medicine," said Jessica Barry, the ICRC spokeswoman in Tbilisi...The dangers around Gori are not limited to food shortages. Human Rights Watch on August 21 charged that Russia used cluster bombs to the north of Gori during the fighting with Georgia. Many submunitions, or clusters, did not explode, thus leaving large areas strewn with "hundreds" of unexploded ordnance. _Source


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Russians Really Know How to Occupy a Country

Unlike weak Americans, whose idea of an occupation of a country is to rebuild schools, soccer fields, and civil infrastructure, Russians have always known how to rape, pillage, and terrorise a population. Occupations should be mindlessly brutal and cruel, and such is the Russian occupation of Georgia.
It is a military zone sealed off by Russian military checkpoints, a land broken by roaming bands of looters that operated behind the Russian Army and made eerily empty by depopulation caused by flight. The Kremlin has allowed only official tours for journalists, accompanied by government minders, of the region, which Georgia has claimed endured organized intimidation and ethnic cleansing.

The tens of thousands of refugees who staggered out to Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital, took with them accounts of mass looting, of arson and, on what thus far seems a smaller scale, of killing on ethnic lines....In Variani, further up the road, the scene was bleaker. The Rev. Tadeoz Kebadze, the priest at a small Georgian Orthodox church, said that after the rocket attacks had come rounds of what he called “lawless marauders.” More than 1,200 of the village’s roughly 1,500 people had fled, he said.

...Almost all the people interviewed asked that their names be withheld, out of fear of reprisal while they lived in the lawless zone. Three were so reflexively jumpy by the experiences of the past week that they dashed into the remains of a store at the sound of an approaching car....Some Georgian residents said they had been robbed in repeated cycles of home invasion: Three or four armed men would show up with a truck or car, rush through the house and cart off whatever they desired, and then go away. Later, another car would arrive with a different gang.

This went on for days, and apparently was committed by a legion of criminals. But assessing the origins of each individual offense was difficult. Victims spoke of looters from Ossetia, Russia, and, in one case, Chechnya. _NYT
Reminiscent of the nightmare that was Bosnia under the Serbian genocide, Russian soldiers have clearly fallen back on old habits of looting, burning, and drunken assault on civilians. When Russian soldiers are not committing the crimes, they are standing by to protect Ossetians and Chechnyans who perform the acts of pillage and rape.
On Tuesday, a photographer on a Russian tour of the northern area saw what appeared to be a concerted effort to raze some of the villages.....Homes were ripped apart. Sections of courtyard walls lay crushed next to the road. Dozens of men dressed in mismatched fatigues stood on the main road, watching an orange backhoe tear the facade off of a burned stone house.

Timur Kiguradze, a 22-year-old journalist who was wounded by Ossetian soldiers on Aug. 8 outside Tskhinvali, said he felt nervous in the hospital there when wounded Ossetian soldiers discovered that he was Georgian....“They said, why are you being treated?” Mr. Kiguradze recalled. “They should take you out and shoot you.” _NYT
And of course they did take large numbers of Georgians out and shot them. They merely slit the throats of others.

Putin has decided to test the rubbery will of the EU and NATO. How far will they go to protect a small democracy that is not an actual member of the alliance? The effeminate EU has no divisions. But NATO is backed by the only credible worldwide military force in existence. NATO has only to decide whether to hold Russia to its signed ceasefire agreement.

In the meantime, Russian troops are happy where they are. They are enjoying the traditional Russian spoils of war.


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20 August 2008

Underpopulation Sucking Europe to Nothing

Europe's largest, most pressing problem for the next century is underpopulation. Europe is an emasculated continent unable to stand up to Serbia, much less Russia. But unless European women start having babies soon, Europe is likely to be conquered by a ragtag, high-breeding group of third world illiterates and untrainables. European welfare systems are quite generous, but if they are not funded by productive workers' wages and corporate profits, Europe may become the next Darfur or Gaza.
The magic figure for demographers is 2.1 births per couple. That, allowing for the fact that some girls die before they reach child-bearing age, is the figure at which a population replaces itself. In Europe the last time that fertility was above replacement level was in the mid-1960s. But now, for the first time on record, birthrates in southern and eastern Europe have dropped below 1.3 – well below the 1.5 which the United Nations has marked as the crisis point. If things continue the population there will be cut in half in just 45 years. In Italy, one recent survey put it at 1.2. Cities such as Milan and Bologna recorded less than 1, the lowest birthrates anywhere.

Things are as bleak in Japan. There the total fertility rate declined by nearly a third between 1975 and 2001, from 1.91 to 1.33. The average family size has remained the same, but there are fewer families. Half of Japanese women have not married by the age of 30, and 20 per cent of them are not marrying ever.

But it is not just the developed world. The birthrate is plummeting in east Asia, too, in countries which were, until three decades ago, considered poor. Overall in Asia the fertility rate fell from 2.4 in 1970 to 1.5 today. China's rate is down from 6.06 to 1.8 and declining. Thailand is now 1.5. Singapore, Taiwan and Burma are similar. The lowest is South Korea with only 1.1 children per couple.

"South East Asia has plummeted to levels it took Europe 150 years to reach in just 30 years," says Dr Jane Falkingham, Professor of Demography and International Social Policy at the University of Southampton. Alarmed by this extremely low fertility, South Korea has slashed government spending on birth control. Singapore is now offering tax rebates to couples with more than two children. Japan is piling money into nurseries and childcare.

...Populations may be expected to shrink in Italy, Spain, Greece and Germany (which is losing 100,000 people a year) and decline even more rapidly further east in Russia, Romania and Bulgaria, which is set to plunge by almost half....Childlessness is now a fashionable lifestyle choice, as it is in Germany where 27.8 per cent of women born in 1960 are childless, far more than any other European country.... _Independent
Russia is losing half its population every 40 years or so. Spain, Italy, and Greece are almost as bad. Who will defend Russia's vast empire when there are not enough young men to field an army? Who will work to pay for Europe's generous welfare benefits to the voluntarily unemployed, and to polygamous emigrants with many wives and children?

It has always been the way of the proliferating tribe to push the non-proliferating tribes out of the best land. History has not been canceled in that regard. Europe's tribes from Russia to Spain to Sweden to the UK are due to be displaced and forgotten. Uneducated, quasi-untrainables from the third world who have not forgotten how to procreate will take their places.

The singularity is not the answer, unless you enjoy living in an empty fantasy. Migrating to Switzerland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, or the US will only speed the overrunning of those you leave behind. Besides, the same basic underlying dynamic is at work in all of the developed countries, just running at different rates.

The first step would be waking up.

Further reading:

The Global Baby Bust
Europe's Baby Bust
America Alone (Google Books excerpt)
America Alone (Amazon page)
A Return to Pastoral Europe?
Birth of an Empire
Fiscal Policy and Fertility in the US
Transition of Europe and Japan to labour shortage economies
Fascinating Philip Longman PDF presentation on depopulation
Russian plans to reverse population decline
No Easy Answers

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19 August 2008

....And That is the Reason That My Skin is Blue

It isn't easy to live longer than a century. A human being requires some help to avoid cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer's, and other maladies that cut a life short of its useful span. Methylene Blue, a simple heterocyclic aromatic, can be of some benefit in that regard.
A new study conducted by researchers at Children's Hospital & Research Center Oakland shows that a century-old drug, methylene blue, may be able to slow or even cure Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. Used at a very low concentration – about the equivalent of a few raindrops in four Olympic-sized swimming pools of water – the drug slows cellular aging and enhances mitochondrial function, potentially allowing those with the diseases to live longer, healthier lives.

A paper on the methylene blue study, conducted by Hani Atamna, PhD, and a his team at Children's, was published in the March 2008 issue of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) Journal. Dr. Atamna's research found that methylene blue can prevent or slow the decline of mitochondrial function, specifically an important enzyme called complex IV. Because mitochondria are the principal suppliers of energy to all animal and human cells, their healthy function is critical. _SD
First the urine turns blue, then the lymph, and finally the skin. It is a bitter pill to swallow, but growing old must be more bitter still.

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18 August 2008

Russians Sponsoring Ethnic Cleansing in Georgia: US Media Remains Silent

Russia shows no sign of withdrawing from Georgian territory. Instead, Russian troops are overseeing a murderous round of ethnic cleansing in the Georgian city of Gori and surrounding areas. US media appear to be boycotting much of the Russian misconduct, for curiously unstated reasons. Can any readers think of why the US media would focus on a dud of a tropical storm Fay, rather than cover an ongoing war?
...the Times Online informs us that Russians have been forcing the people of Gori - an extremely important rail and road junction that is the lifeline for the capitol Tblisi - to leave. And they are killing them if they stay:

"We didn't have any guns, so he shot Georgi in front of me without saying a word," she said. "A neighbour helped me to bury him in our garden and then I just fled."

Manana Galigashvili, 53, whose husband Andrei stared vacantly from a bed behind her, said that Ossetian soldiers had returned later and torched the house. They, too, had left after a soldier threatened to slit their throats.

Frightened refugees told similar stories all over the city of Gori yesterday as the Russian army extended its reach deep into Georgian territory despite a ceasefire agreement signed by President Medvedev that requires them to withdraw.

Back in Gori, the forcible depopulation of a city under threat of death represents an escalation in Russian brutality. So where's the American media? All we are getting from the New York Times is story after story that this is our fault, or Georgia's fault, or NATO's fault - anything but face the fact that Russia is raping and pillaging a tiny neighbor. _AT
Russia has suffered significant problems in the course of its barbaric treatment of a non-threatening neighbor:
As hundreds of battered Russian armored vehicles wound through the mountain passes toward Tskhinvali, an AP reporter saw a number of tanks broken down in the road, blocking traffic; or being repaired, with soldiers working underneath them with wrenches; or even being towed by other vehicles....Russia said 74 soldiers died and more than 170 were wounded in fighting, but Georgian officials claimed Russian losses were much higher....While Russia would have to expect to lose some low-flying ground attack jets, former Russian air force chief Anatoly Kornukov said the loss of the heavy bomber - which the military said was on a "reconnaissance mission" - should have been avoided... _PostIntelligencer
A half dozen other Russian planes were shot down, and a handful of Russian boats were sunk by the Georgian navy. Russia's decrepit military could barely handle the feeble defense of tiny Georgia! I wonder how it intends to maintain its hold on Georgia after pressure from the international community led by the US and UK forces them to pull back at least to Ossetia and Abkhazia? Oh, right. They are ethnically cleansing huge swathes of Georgia and arming Ossetian and Abkhazian rebels--using them as cats' paws--as well as leaving Spetnatz commandoes embedded with the terrorist rebels. Very clever, although brutal beyond what Serbia's fascists did in Kosovo. I wonder if the world court will indict Putin?

So why is the US media boycotting coverage of an ongoing ethnic cleansing in a country friendly to the west? Because revealing the true extent of Russian brutality and blatant dishonesty in perpetuating an ongoing genocide in Georgia would reveal how wrong their analyses have been, and would also make their boy Obama look bad. As simple as that. Obama really and truly dropped the ball here, and no one in the media wants to put that brutal reality front and center in front of voters just before the DNC Denver festivities begin.

Everyone who wants to relax and take a complete "hands off" approach--just let Russia do whatever it wants within its "sphere of influence," must not play strategy games very well. Because Putin thinks Russia's sphere of influence encompasses all of Europe, all of Central Asia, and most of the Arctic. Bad boy Putin is on a collision course with reality, but how many will he take with him when he goes? The longer he is allowed to crash through newly democratic neighborhoods, the freer he will feel to reach out further and further--sound like any other hyper-ambitious lebensraum seeking dictator you may have read about somewhere?

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Russia Becomes International Pariah

As NATO deliberates the measures it will take to support the democratically elected government of Georgia against a Russian invasion and ongoing ethnic cleansing campaign, the international community is slowly beginning to understand that Vladimir Putin is deadly serious about becoming the "Mr. Big" of all Europe and Central Asia. Hoping to use the weapon of energy blackmail in combination with threats of more violent interventions, Putin hopes to terrorize all of Europe into being part of Russia's "sphere of influence."

Putin sees the west as weak, and unprepared to stand up to any level of intimidation and brutality. Russia will continue to stall in meeting the terms of any cease-fire, continuing with an Obama-like shuck and jive, while grinning and winking for the camera. Meanwhile, pundits in the media, academia, and government bureaucracies will continue to run flack for the Russian neo-imperialists.

But among European and western leaders who are not quite ready to drop their pants and bend over for Putin, discussions will continue for the indefinite future, over the best ways to counter Russian belligerence and criminal actions.

Russia inherited a lot of international ill will from the days of the USSR. It is not helping its shaky future by creating more.


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Clumsy Bully Russia Isolates Itself Internationally

Russia's blundering invasion of Georgia has exposed Moscow's leadership for neo-imperialists and thugs. The good thing about Putin's miscalculation is how well it exposed the EU's "soft diplomacy" for the idiocy that it is. Putin respects the EU's soft diplomace as much as he respects doormats and toilet paper. But he would have been much more clever to make the EU think otherwise for a while longer.
The price that Russia is paying for the invasion of Georgia is increased isolation. The major regional powers of the modern world are the US, China, the EU, Russia, India and Japan. Since the Georgian invasion, Russia has had strained relations with the US and Europe, and no major friends. Russia is a large Asian power, stretching to the Pacific Ocean, but the three most important Asian powers, China, India and Japan, do not have close or trusting relations with it.

Of the six world powers, or groups of powers, Russia is seen as the least reliable, the least friendly.....Russia is increasingly isolated from its “near abroad”. To Georgians, Ukrainians or citizens of the Baltic states, Mr Putin's Russia appears to be following a “bad neighbour policy”. For the Russian voter, Putinism may appear to be reasserting Russia's position in the world; to its neighbours, Russia is now an ugly threat....

Russia has essential interests in common with the West. Global trade, a stable European market for oil and gas, resistance to Islamic terrorism, avoidance of military conflict, investment in modernisation. It was hoped that Russia and the West could build on these interests to cement good relations and strengthen the global economy.

The first European reactions to the invasion of Georgia showed that Europe hoped to protect this co-operative policy. Had Russia limited the Georgian operation to the protection of South Ossetian refugees, but kept troops out of Georgia proper, a co-operative policy might have been maintained. Instead, there has been broad Russian aggression against Georgian territory.

The delay in the ceasefire and the extension of the invasion far beyond the boundary of South Ossetia has created a very different climate, made worse by threats to target nuclear weapons against Poland and, it appears, Ukraine as well.

In a world of global trade, Russia cannot afford to be isolated. No doubt the Kremlin hawks are riding high now. Yet as Sir Robert Walpole said of a mid 18th-century war: “They now ring the bells, but they will soon wring their hands.” _Timesonline
Of course Putin is slicing off his own nose to spite his face. He is adding miscalculation to miscalculation. Is anyone in a position of leadership within Russia capable of recognising the increasingly suicidal course that Putin has set for the country? If so, they are afraid for their lives, so they remain silent.

Russia is underpopulated for the size of its territory as it is, but considering Putin's ambitions--on top of the crashing demographic decrease of ethnic Russians--and Russia will simply be unable to defend its borders within a few decades.

If Russia were a friend to anyone in the world, perhaps it could rely on its neighbors for mutual aid and protection, like Canada does with the US. But almost all of Russia's neighbors have been turned into enemies, except perhaps China. And China is only biding its time until it can seize Russia's immense Siberian mineral wealth.

And so we see the mindlessly self-defeating nature of Putin's macho gesture against the Georgians. The fallout is just beginning.

Previously published at abu al-fin


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17 August 2008

2nd Generation Biofuels

Popular Mechanics boils 2nd generation biofuels down to the basic essentials. There is a lot more involved, which will determine the big winners and losers in the biofuels jackpot. But it is looking more and more like it will be a matter of years, rather than decades, before biofuels will begin to make a difference in the global energy picture.

celluosic ethanol biological method
Process*: Raw biomass is typically ground up and pretreated in an acid steam bath before soaking in a massive hot tub for several days. Enzymes break down rigid cellulose into simple sugars like xylose, similar to the sweetener in toothpaste, which can be fermented by yeast or bacteria; it is then distilled into fuel-grade ethanol.
Bottom Line: Fermenting cellulose currently involves a lot of water and several time-consuming steps, adding to expense. The first commercial facility is expected to open in Iowa by late 2011.
Innovators: Iogen (backed by Shell), POET, SunEthanol, Verenium
Freshwater Usage:** 3 gallons
Energy Yield***: 66%

celluosic ethanol [chemical ] method
Process*: Cornstalks, garbage and even old tires are blasted with several-thousand-degree heat in an anaerobic chamber. With no oxygen, biomass can’t combust. Instead, feedstocks break down into carbon monoxide, hydrogen and carbon dioxide. This synthesis gas, or syngas, is cleaned, cooled and either ingested by bacteria or mixed with catalysts to produce ethanol and other alcohols.
Bottom Line: This method uses substantially less water and provides greater yields, but it has yet to be scaled to levels that compete with the ethanol fermentation industry. Plants are set to open in Pennsylvania and Georgia in late 2009.
Innovators: Coskata (backed by GM), Range Fuels
Freshwater Usage:** 1 gallon
Energy Yield***: 66%

algal biodiesel
Process*: Specially selected or genetically modified strains of algae are grown in enclosed bioreactors—tubes or plastic bags filled with water—and fed waste CO2 from heavy emitters like coal-fired power plants, cement kilns or breweries. The algae are then separated from water by centrifuge, and the oil is extracted with a solvent. It is then processed in
Bottom Line: Algae produce thousands of gallons more oil per acre than crops such as soy or palm, but growing and processing them at scale still present challenges. A number of U.S. facilities are slated to come on line by 2012.
Innovators: GreenFuel, HR Biopetroleum (backed by Shell), Solazyme, Solix
Freshwater Usage:** None
Energy Yield***: 103%

green gasoline
Process*: Simple sugars—either derived from breaking down tough, cellulosic feedstocks or from sources such as sugarcane—are reacted over solid catalysts to remove the oxygen locked inside their molecules and form high-energy hydrocarbons. Like crude run through traditional refineries, raw sugar feedstocks are separated to create the range of molecules in the fuels we know as gasoline, diesel and jet.
Bottom Line: Green incarnations of today’s fuels are the holy grail, but until cellulose can be cheaply converted to simple sugars, domestic potential will be limited. Virent hopes to have its gas in car tanks by 2012.
Innovators: Virent (backed by Shell and Honda)
Freshwater Usage:** None
Energy Yield***: 100%

Process*: Like ethanol, biobutanol is fermented by microorganisms from sugars, which are broken down from raw feedstocks and mixed with water. But for this process, the microbes have been genetically modified to produce an alcohol with a longer chain of hydrocarbons. Since butanol doesn’t mix with water at high concentrations, the finished fuel can be stored easily and transported within existing gasoline pipelines.
Bottom Line: Butanol is the rocket fuel of alcohols, but it has traditionally been derived from petroleum. Plants to produce it cheaply from renewable sources by 2012 are in the works in the U.S. and U.K.
Innovators: Cobalt Biofuels, Dupont (backed by BP), Gevo, Tetravitae Bioscience
Freshwater Usage:** N/A
Energy Yield***: 90%

designer hydrocarbons
Process*: By swapping out natural genes for synthetic ones, scientists trick microorganisms such as E. coli and yeast into converting simple sugars to diesel, gasoline and jet fuel instead of into fats or alcohols. As in traditional ethanol production, microbes ferment the sugars (in this case, from sugar cane) in a slurry, but since finished fuels don’t mix with water, the hydrocarbons are easily separated by centrifuge without expensive distillation.
Bottom Line: Designer fuels are ready to drop into engines, but unless they’re made in a closed-loop system, they’re water-intensive. The first commercial plant will be located in Brazil and is expected to start producing diesel in 2010.
Innovators: LS9, Amyris
Freshwater Usage:** 3 gallons
Energy Yield***: 106%

fourth gen fuels
Process*: Scientists have genetically engineered algae not just to turn CO2 into oil, but to continuously excrete that oil directly into the surrounding water. Since oil floats, harvesting it becomes simple work compared with the energy-intensive drying and extraction traditionally used for typical algae, which store oil within their cell walls. As with second-generation methods, the oil can then be processed into biodiesel.
Bottom Line: If they can perform at scale, these mutant algae may well be game changers. Synthetic Genomics hopes to have commercial amounts of biodiesel on the market within five years, though no plants have been built yet.
Innovators: Synthetic Genomics
Freshwater Usage:** None
Energy Yield***: 103% _PopMech
These are not the only approaches to next generation biofuels out there. Finland's Neste Oil has a hydrogenation process it applies to plant oils that creates a better diesel than anything that comes from an oil well. Germany's Choren creates hydrocarbons from biomass using gasification and Fischer-Tropsch synthesis. And there is constant jockeying for the best ethanol feedstock between maize, wheat, cane, sorghum, cassava, beets, and other plants including cattail! Likewise the competition between oilseed crops for biodiesel is a strong race between soy, rape, palm, and latecomers jatropha, moringa, and pongamia.

Longshot biofuel sources include the "diesel tree" from Brazil, and a scattering of natural hydrocarbon excretors including euphorbias and other latex producers.

Genetic engineers all over the world are working on ways to create more feedstock for the scores of biofuels processes being developed. The huge brouhaha earlier in the year over "fuels vs. foods" was fueled by uninformed hysteria similar to the climate hysteria that Al Gore leads. It is to be expected at any time when a centuries old infrastructure is to be replaced by something new. It was no surprise, though, that it was Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, and several Saudis from OPEC who were loudest in condemning biofuels.

Bioenergy is ready for local and regional production at this time. Within ten years, bioenergy will grow to the national and international scale. If you want to get in on the ground floor, this is the time to make your move.

Much more on bioenergy and other energy topics at Al Fin Energy


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