Saturday, February 28, 2009

He Stold Not Just Money, But Livelihoods

Madoff is a psychopath and he should receive a just punishment to fit his crime. Unfortunately, his victims are not just the people he swindled, but the charities and the people they helped as well. How can a court exact justice to match the scale of the crime?


Thursday, February 26, 2009

Sumatran Tigers 6 Humans 3

Sumatran tigers have killed 6 people carrying out illegal logging. The humans have killed 3 tigers. Ultimately, the tigers will lose. It would be a greater shame for the human race to kill the rest of them and destroy their habitat, but we have little appreciation for true wealth. For now, the tigers are fighting back.

Pete brought up the topic of the tiger parts trade in Sumatra as another cause of tiger decline. Between habitat loss and hunting them for medicine, tigers have little chance of survival in the wild. The demise of wilderness and all that that word encompasses will one day will be seen as a desecration and destruction of the Garden of Eden. The paradox is that it is easier to destroy than create, ravage than preserve. But economically, it is much cheaper to preserve rather than recreate those priceless things which are lost. For all we know, this stimulus plan for tigers may be more effective than Obama's plan to save the banks. Or, it may be even more futile. It depends upon people and their values.


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Carbon Dioxide Monitoring Mission Scrubbed

A fairing failed to separate thus preventing the satellite from deploying. It was essentially trapped inside its rocket. Now what's left of it is scrap at the bottom of the ocean. What a convenient failure! These things do happen, but not normally using expensive throwaway boosters such as these. It's just too costly a failure. Normally there would be insurance to cover the loss, but this is the government. Well, the satellite and booster contractors got a nice monetary gift from their work, and the scientists got screwed. I wonder what results they were expecting, and who had the most to lose from those results (like the United States and China). It doesn't take a genius to work this out. I don't usually believe in conspiracies, but ...

Most engineering failures are due to human errors, and this one may be as well. Why did it happen to a science mission that had huge political repercussions though? If volcanoes are pumping the majority of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere rather than mankind (in other words, the human contribution is negligible), and the biosphere couldn't absorb it all, this mission would have proved the anthropogenic climate change proponents wrong. Or, it might have vindicated them and finally shut up the critics. But it will be many years before a successor mission will be launched now, if ever.


Earthquake Mitigation Engineering (Geoengineering)

Hollister, California lies directly on the San Andreas fault, though it never experiences earthquakes. The fault is lubricated by a mineral that contains high amounts of talc. What this means is that water and certain minerals lubricate fault lines. The absence of these lubricants leads to violent dislocations in the earth as these faults relieve built up stress. We call these dislocations earthquakes. Right now, all we might be able to do with this knowledge is move cities at risk to areas which will not experience earthquakes based on their geology. (It's folly to build permanent structures (oxymoron) in a geologically unstable area. Gee, people are both stubborn and foolish.) The alternative is to drill into the fault and inject a talc-water slurry into it, thus lubricating the fault and possibly stabilizing the previously earthquake prone area. The issue is whether the earthquake mitigation engineering would cost more than other alternatives such as moving the city, or rebuilding it after the quake. One day such geoengineering will be routine assuming a cheap energy supply. A really cheap energy source and a lot of talc (baby powder) would be needed though.


Dennis Moore Economics ( Monty Python )

The government assumes that its citizens are morons, while AIG believes that government and the citizenry are both morons. The fleecing will continue until either the government exerts its will, or the People assert their collective Will. This corporate welfare shit has to stop. Calling it lemon socialism is catchy, but it obscures which wealthy groups are being subsidized by society. Wasn't money supposed to flow from the wealthy to the less wealthy according to trickle down economics?* That's what's supposedly been happening for the last 27 years. Only during year 28 do we who are not "rich"** discover the delusion we bought into. Shouldn't they call this form of economics, Dennis Moore economics?

* I never believed in trickle down economics. But one individual's belief is nothing when the collective buys into the belief hook, line, and sinker. A successful dissenter is called a prophet. An unsuccessful dissenter is called a pariah, traitor, or heretic. An untimely death generally befalls both types in times of great turmoil.

** We will either find our true collective wealth now as a society, or we will lose it all. Individually, some will become spiritually wealthy when everything false is stripped away even if society stays mired in delusion. The only thing our global society has in abundance at this moment is fear, if we believe the media.That is a lie. The people who fear the most are those who think they have the most to lose.


Monday, February 16, 2009

Has the U.S. Become a Nation Like Russia?

Bill Moyer's Journal has food for thought. Is America becoming an oligarchy?


Nature's Cleanup Crew


JP Morgan Chase and WaMu

An unknown JP Morgan Chase banker picking through WaMu's carcass. (The turkey vulture's identity has been masked to protect the family. It's too late for the raccoon.*)

*With apologies to turkey vultures and raccoons for the insult.


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Circling the Drain While Fools Ask for Stock Tips

Robert Reich has nailed the Obama Administration's Bailout Plan. Just like the Bush Administration, the Treasury will use the Fed to bailout Wall Street in a very shadowy and opaque way without notifying the American Public possibly leaving us with a debt to pay whose lower bound is $2 trillion dollars.

Martin Wolf ponders the possibility that the Obama Administration is already a failed enterprise for not being bold enough.

Meanwhile, the two men who warned the world that the financial system was broken before it broke, who have suggested solutions, are asked about stock tips by CNBC anchors. Paul Krugman compares their ordeal to a Monty Python sketch. We are seeing two disconnects with our government and our news media. This begs the question of asking whether our government and news media are as broken as our financial system.

As Roubini points out, it's not a question of nationalizing the failed banks, it's when nationalization takes place. The longer that decision is postponed, the more damage to the economy takes place. As Taleb points out, cash is king. Stocks are too risky and the people who have caused all of this mess are still in power. Throw the bums out by nationalizing the failed banks. The FDIC knows how to do this. Extremely wealthy people got themselves into this mess. It would be funny to see free market capitalists' ideals be realigned with reality except for the fact that these professed capitalists want the people whose retirement funds they've destroyed or damaged to bailout their jobs and their fortunes. For the record, I'm a regulated market capitalist. Governments should regulate markets to preserve commons and level economic playing fields which is what markets are.


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Whale Stranding

A bunch of whales are stranding themselves in Manila Bay in the Pacific. The best explanation for mass strandings is that the animals were deafened by an undersea earthquake making them essentially blind. At least it makes sense.


Monday, February 02, 2009

Science Stuff

UC Davis researchers have developed flood tolerate rice using precision breeding developed in New Zealand. It brings the best tools of molecular biology, genetic engineering, and plant genetics together. Actually, all it really is is genetic engineering without the bits of bacterial DNA known as a vector sequence. Plant sequences are used to avoid the resulting plants being called transgenic, because there is no transfer of foreign DNA. Still, the plants will be called GM for genetically modified. I'm all for it. The technique will be a boon for crop scientists and save a lot of money in development of new crops. The problem is similar to Frankenstein's monster though. All natural human parts were used to create a a man-made human being in Shelly's novel. People feared the process and the product. Much needless suffering ensued. Will much needless suffering ensue because people fear man-made crops that are no different from man-made crops now except that they were created a bit more precisely? Vitamin A rice isn't being cultivated because it is a transgenic rice strain. Rice doesn't make beta-carotene. A crucial gene to make beta-carotene had to be introduced from elsewhere. Other genes had to be modified to make more of their products which make the precursors to beta-carotene. Thousands of children go blind due to vitamin A deficiency every year.

Scientists have found a cheap harmless way to kill antibiotic resistant bacteria dubbed MRSA. Meanwhile, the use of tetracycline by swine farmers is causing the spread of MRSA in pigs and workers. I'm not eating pork, bacon, or ham ever again. I wonder if MRSA is spreading in the poultry industry since tetracycline is used there as well. The use of antibiotics in the livestock trade is the Ag industry's dirty little secret. The CDC and FDA have been trying to stop the practice of feeding antibiotics to poultry and livestock without much success because animals on antibiotics put on weight faster than animals that aren't given antibiotics. But, infected meat from the treated animals usually contains antibiotic resistant strains of E. coli or Salmonella.

There's no such thing as a Siberian tiger. It appears that tigers migrated to Siberia from the Caspian Sea region according to mitochondrial analysis. Mitochondria have their own DNA and are maternally inherited. It would be nice to see a Y chromosomal study using the same samples to see if the paternal and nuclear DNA results confirms the mitochondrial study. It would be nice if tigers could be reintroduced to the Caspians. It would be even nicer if the Chinese would give up using tiger parts as medicine so that the South China tiger stands a chance of survival.


Great Blue Heron

Yesterday, at the Ft. Worth Botanical Gardens. I ran into the resident heron fishing in a South pond near the boundaries of the gardens.

Great Blue Heron catching fish

A better view

What an interesting theropod!


Blue Jay and Cardinal

We had freezing rain on January 27 and 28. On the morning of January 28, I filmed these birds on my porch. These pictures were isolated from the film.

Closeup of female Nothern Cardinal:
Northern Cardinal female

Blue Jay and Cardinal together.
Blue Jay and cadinal

See the ice on the porch?


Financial Crises

Financial crises are not new. One could say that they are practically built into the system because of the lack of regulation and individual human greed which has its roots in never having one's need for more being met. When there is no civilized law, it comes down to "might makes right". When there is law and regulation, what then? Alan S. Binder in this New York Times article presents six choices that weren't made in hindsight that could have prevented or cushioned the impact of the current crisis.

In 33 A.D., the Romans had their own credit crisis as documented by Tacitus. It is not known if the instigators of the crisis were ever brought to justice, but the sole scapegoat was likely an "innocent" rich man whose wealth fueled the recovery. To be fair, we know so little about the Accused, we don't know if he deserved what befell him or not, though it is likely the charges were trumped up.

Perhaps if a few instigators of this mess fell out of their high rise penthouse apartments in Manhattan or "fell on their swords" in other ways, the average man, whom these same people likely hold in contempt, might feel that a little justice has been served. As it is, it takes a certain foolish and greedy genius to turn countless billions of dollars into countable ones. Such foolish genius should be rewarded with an entirely appropriate response, and should said fool survive the reward, that person should never practice banking or finance ever again.

As it is, the American and Chinese people are rewarding them and their stockholders for their failure. Joe Galloway noticed that TARP funds are being used to ensure that the banks are "too big to fail" as they buy more banks with that money. What are our leaders thinking? There are other ideas about how to solve the problem.

A new phase has entered the American vocabulary. It's called lemon socialism. It appears to be practiced by both Republicans and Democrats alike. The causes may be different, but the effect will be the same. With Republicans, it was idealogical. With Democrats, it is listening to either incompetent economists or banking lobbyists, or perhaps both. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. (If Obama's not careful.)


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