Archive for June, 2009

US condemns North Korean threat

Sunday, June 14th, 2009

– See here for previous pieces on the North Korean problem:

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North Korea’s threat to “weaponise” its plutonium stocks is “provocative” and “deeply regrettable”, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says.

She said the move had been denounced around the world and would isolate North Korea’s government further.

The North said it would start enriching uranium and use the plutonium for nuclear weapons hours after a UN vote for tough new sanctions against it.

The US would vigorously enforce the new sanctions, Mrs Clinton said.

Speaking during a visit to Canada, she said that the latest UN moves provided the tools needed for “to take appropriate action” against North Korea.

The North says it will view any US-led attempts to “blockade” it as an “act of war”.

The warning from North Korea’s foreign ministry was carried by Pyongyang’s official news agency on Saturday.


Connected World Gives Viruses The Edge

Sunday, June 14th, 2009

“The findings also suggest that as human activity makes the world more connected, natural selection will favour more virulent and dangerous parasites.”

– This quote from the article text below is no surprise to me or to anyone who has looked at the logic of how contagious diseases spread.   You pack more and more people together and the situation begins to favors more and more virulent diseases.   The Black Death in Europe was, perhaps, the first concrete demonstration of this.  The world today is ripe and getting riper for this sort of thing.   We’ve been extremely lucky that some of the very nasty things around like Ebola have not thus far gotten loose in a population center.

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That’s one conclusion from a new study that looked at how virulence evolves in parasites. The research examined whether parasites evolve to be more or less aggressive depending on whether they are closely connected to their hosts or scattered among more isolated clusters of hosts.

The research was led by Geoff Wild, an NSERC-funded mathematician at the University of Western Ontario, with colleagues from the University of Edinburgh.

“Our study follows up on some recent findings that suggest that reduced dispersal of parasites across scattered host clusters favours the evolution of parasites with lower virulence – in the case of influenza, for example, a milder, possibly less deadly, case of flu,” said Dr. Wild.

“Some researchers had contended from this that the parasites were evolving to support the overall fitness of the group,” he added. “The argument for adaptation at the group level is that the parasites become more prudent to prevent overexploitation and hence to avoid causing the extinction of the local host population.”

However, Dr. Wild and his colleagues were not convinced that Darwinian theory – so successful in providing explanations based on the notion that adaptation maximizes individual fitness – was ready for such a major makeover.

The researchers decided to move the arguments from words to harder science. Together they developed a formal mathematical model that incorporated variable patch sizes and the host parasite population dynamics. It was then run to determine the underlying evolutionary mechanisms, the results of which were published in the Nature paper.


Recession fails to dampen world’s appetite for arms

Friday, June 12th, 2009

– Nice to know that some parts of the world’s economy are doing OK.

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STOCKHOLM – World governments spent a record US$1.46 trillion ($2.35 trillion) on upgrading their armed forces last year despite the economic downturn, with China climbing to second place behind top military spender the United States, a Swedish research group said.

Global military spending was 4 per cent higher than in 2007 and up 45 per cent from a decade ago, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, or SIPRI, said in its annual report.

“So far the global arms industry, booming from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and from spending increases by many developing countries, has shown few signs of suffering from the crisis,” SIPRI said.

However, the report added arms companies may face reduced demand if governments cut future military spending in response to rising budget deficits.

It also noted that US arms purchases – by far the highest in the world – were expected to rise less rapidly under President Barack Obama after sharp growth during the Bush Administration.


AP, Washington Times: “Experts suspect global warming may be driving wild climate swings that appear to be punishing the Amazon with increasing frequency”

Friday, June 12th, 2009

– This from the Climate Progress Blog – one of my favorites:

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Big media struggles with how — or even whether — to explain to the public that the increase in extreme weather we are seeing is precisely what scientists have been predicting would occur because of human-caused climate change (see, for instance, “CNN, ABC, WashPost, AP, blow Australian wildfire, drought, heatwave “Hell (and High Water) on Earth” story — never mention climate change“).

But the AP and the Washington Times has explained quite well (here) the likely source of Brazil’s double punch — brutal drought followed by brutal flooding, Hell and High Water:

Across the Amazon basin, river dwellers are adding new floors to their stilt houses, trying to stay above rising floodwaters that have killed 48 people and left 405,000 homeless.

Flooding is common in the world’s largest remaining tropical wilderness, but this year the waters rose higher and stayed longer than they have in decades, leaving some fruit trees entirely submerged.

Farmer Nelci de Fatima Goncalves pulls a cow across a cracked field caused by a drought in Passo Fundo, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, last month. Southern Brazilian states far from the Amazon have suffered from an extended drought, caused by La Nina, a periodic cooling of waters in the Pacific Ocean. (Associated Press)The surprise isn’t just the record flooding, it’s that the flooding followed record droughts:

Only four years ago, the same communities suffered an unprecedented drought that ruined crops and left mounds of river fish flapping and rotting in the mud.

Experts suspect global warming may be driving wild climate swings that appear to be punishing the Amazon with increasing frequency.

The BBC also got the story right last month, “Experts say global warming may be behind the wild climate swings that have brought periods of unprecedented droughts and flooding to the Amazon in recent years.”


Global Warming Will Wreck Your Business Plan

Friday, June 12th, 2009

Climate change will increase water scarcity, alter food production and dramatically change energy supply and migration patterns, according to a new report released by Lloyd’s, the world’s leading specialist insurance market.

Climate change and security: risks and opportunities for business, launched in conjunction with the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), highlights that these changes will bring threats – and opportunities – for businesses.

Lloyd’s Chief Executive, Dr Richard Ward, said:

“Climate change will change the way we live and work, and will lead to greater competition for scarce resources, such as food and water. This is likely to result in increased economic nationalism and greater global insecurity, which will in turn add to the complexity and cost of doing business.”

Wow…this guy has some balls. To mention that shortages “such as food and water” will “add to the complexity and cost of doing business…” I mean who cares about all the death and destruction that will cause…can’t have the cost of business get higher.

He goes on to say:

“Every organization needs to have a clear understanding of its particular vulnerabilities and have in place a range of mitigation strategies. Their ability to understand what the impacts of climate change are going to be could not only protect them from threats but could also open up new business opportunities.”

Yea so you know, take a look at the world falling to pieces and see where you can get in there and make a buck.

IISS Director of Transnational Threats and Political Risks, Nigel Inkster, said:

“Climate change has the potential to act as an accelerator of global instability and has been recognized in both the USA and Europe as an issue affecting national security. Climate change could lead to increased competition between states for ever more scare resources and could in the worst case lead to inter-state conflict.”


– Hat tip to The Naib at The Sietch Blog for this

What women find attractive

Friday, June 12th, 2009

A study conducted by UCLA’s Department of Psychiatry has revealed that the kind of face a woman finds attractive on a man can differ depending on where she is in her menstrual cycle.  For example:  if she is ovulating, she is attracted to men with rugged and masculine features.  However, if she is menstruating or menopausal, she tends to be more attracted to a man with duct tape over his mouth and a spear lodged in his chest while he is on fire.

No further studies are expected.

– Research thanks to Katy A.

Swine flu pandemic declared

Thursday, June 11th, 2009

LATEST The World Health Organisation has told its member nations it is declaring a swine flu pandemic – the first global flu pandemic in 41 years.

In a statement sent to member countries, WHO said it decided to raise the pandemic alert level from phase 5 to 6, meaning that a global outbreak of swine flu has begun.

The decision was made after the UN health agency held an emergency meeting on swine flu with its experts.

Countries were preparing for tighter swine flu controls as some nations said they had received advance notice of the declaration from the WHO.

Moving to phase 6, the highest level, means a pandemic has begun. It triggers drugmakers to speed up production of a swine flu vaccine and prompt governments to devote more money to containing the virus.

The last pandemic – the Hong Kong flu of 1968 – killed about 1 million people. Ordinary flu kills about 250,000 to 500,000 people each year.

On Wednesday, the WHO reported that the virus has infected at least 27,737 people in 74 countries and caused 141 deaths. Most cases have been in North America, but Europe and Australia have seen a sharp increase in recent days.

Four patients with swine flu were fighting for their lives in Melbourne hospitals, while Thailand’s Public Health Ministry said the country’s case load had nearly tripled to 46, including 17 infected at a disco in the resort town of Pattaya.

Earlier there had been speculation that a  jump in infections in Australia could push WHO to finally announce a pandemic. Australia’s cases reached 1275 by late Wednesday.


My motorcycle is running

Wednesday, June 10th, 2009
Me and my ride!

Me and my ride!

Now, I know it doesn’t compare to the end of civilization as we know it and the other sorts of fare we normally serve here – but, hey, I’ve got a personal life too, ya know?

So, today I got my Honda CB700SC running again after it’s been down for several weeks and I’ve been missing out on some fantastic riding weather. So this, my friends, is something to celebrate.

You know, the world may, indeed, be going to hell in a hand basket, but I, for one, intend to look it square in the eye *and* to enjoy the time I have.

Cheers all!

For 300 years Britain has outsourced mayhem. Finally it’s coming home

Wednesday, June 10th, 2009

– I’ve long thought that Britain has had a lot to own up to that it has largely been in denial of.   Things like selling salt from the sea to the Indians during Gandhi’s years of protest. Not that the U.S., with its Monroe Doctrine and its manipulation of Latin American events for its own benefit, hasn’t much of the same history and denial.   But Monbiot (one of my favorites authors) surely nails the paper to the church door here.   I think the average U.S. and British citizen, living blissfully within the cocoons of wealth created by these rapacious adventures, has very little idea how much of their comfort came at what cost to others.

– But, irony abounds.   Those who were disadvantaged by these manipulations; China with the Opium, Chile with the Copper and etc., are quick to point at their wounds and moralize.   But, inevitably, as the winds of history shift, they will come into ascendance and practice all the same self-aggrandizements at the expense of the weaker.  Indeed, I find myself wondering frequently what sort of a world-master China is going to make - given the current trends.

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Opium, famine and banks all played their part in this country’s plundering of the globe. Now it’s over, we find it hard to accept

Why now? It’s not as if this is the first time Britain’s representatives have been caught out. The history of governments in all countries is the history of scandal, as those who rise to the top are generally the most ambitious, ruthless and unscrupulous people politics can produce. Pushing their own interests to the limit, they teeter perennially on the brink of disgrace, except when they fly clean over the edge. So why does the current ballyhoo threaten to destroy not only the government but also our antediluvian political system?

The past 15 years have produced the cash-for-questions racket, the Hinduja and Ecclestone affairs, the lies and fabrications that led to the invasion of Iraq, the forced abandonment of the BAE corruption probe, the cash-for-honours caper and the cash-for-amendments scandal. By comparison to the outright subversion of the functions of government in some of these cases, the is small beer. Any one of them should have prompted the sweeping political reforms we are now debating. But they didn’t.

The expenses scandal, by contrast, could kill the Labour party. It might also force politicians of all parties to address our unjust voting system, the unelected Lords, the excessive power of the executive, the legalised blackmail used by the whips, and a score of further anachronisms and injustices. Why is it different?

I believe that the current political crisis has little to do with the expenses scandal, still less with Gordon Brown’s leadership. It arises because our economic system can no longer extract wealth from other nations. For the past 300 years, the revolutions and reforms experienced by almost all other developed countries have been averted in Britain by foreign remittances.

The social unrest that might have transformed our politics was instead outsourced to our colonies and unwilling trading partners. The rebellions in Ireland, India, China, the Caribbean, Egypt, South Africa, Malaya, Kenya, Iran and other places we subjugated were the price of political peace in Britain. After decolonisation, our plunder of other nations was sustained by the banks. Now, for the first time in three centuries, they can no longer deliver, and we must at last confront our problems.

There will probably never be a full account of the robbery this country organised, but there are a few snapshots. In his book Capitalism and Colonial Production, Hamza Alavi estimates that the resource flow from India to Britain between 1793 and 1803 was in the order of £2m a year, the equivalent of many billions today. The economic drain from India, he notes, “has not only been a major factor in India’s impoverishment … it has also been a very significant factor in the industrial revolution in Britain”. As Ralph Davis observes in The Industrial Revolution and British Overseas Trade, from the 1760s onwards India’s wealth “bought the national debt back from the Dutch and others … leaving Britain nearly free from overseas indebtedness when it came to face the great French wars from 1793”.

More, much more…

– Research thanks to Robin S.

Europe swings Right as depression deepens

Wednesday, June 10th, 2009

– The economic situation is beginning to exert powerful effects on the political landscape.  Witness this analysis of current events in Europe.

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The establisment Left had been crushed across most of Europe, just as it was in the early 1930s.

We have seen the ultimate crisis of capitalism — what Marxist-historian Eric Hobsbawm calls the “dramatic equivalent of the collapse of the Soviet Union” — yet socialists have completely failed to reap any gain from the seeming vindication of their views.

It is not clear why a chunk of the blue-collar working base has swung almost overnight from Left to Right, but clearly we are seeing the delayed detonation of two political time-bombs: rising unemployment and the growth of immigrant enclaves that resist assimilation.

Note that Right-wing incumbents in France (Sarkozy) and Italy (Berlusconi), survived the European elections unscathed.

Left-wing incumbents in Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, Hungary, Poland, Denmark, and of course Britain were either slaughtered, or badly mauled.

The Dutch Labour party that has dominated national politics for the last half century fell behind the anti-immigrant movement of Geert Wilders (banned from entering Britain). It serves them right for the staggeringly stupid decision to force through the European Constitution (renamed Lisbon) after it had already been rejected by their own voters by a fat margin in the 2005 referendum.

The Portuguese Socialists face Siberian exile after seeing a 18pc drop in their vote. The slow drip-drip of debt-deflation for a boom-bust Club Med state, trapped in the eurozone with an overvalued exchange rate (viz core Europe, and the world), has suddenly turned into a torrent. The country is already in deflation (-0.6pc in April). It has been suffering its own version of Japanese perma-slump for half a decade.

Portugal’s opposition is calling for an immediate vote of no censure, while the Government clings to constitutional fig-leaves to hide its naked legitimacy. “O Governo está na sua plenitude de funções,” said the chief spokesman. You can guess what that means. Not long for this world, surely.

In Germany and Austria, the Social Democrats suffered their worst defeats since World War Two. I don’t say that with pleasure. A vibrant labour-SPD movement is vital for German political stability. It was the peeling away of Socialist support during the Bruning deflation of the Depression years — so like today’s Weber-Trichet deflation — that led to the catastrophic election of July 1932, when the Nazis and Communists took half the Reichstag seats.


– Research thanks to Robin S.