From my Dad - Dangerous Trampolines

One of the many dangers of the tampoline...


Uncontacted Tribes

Did you know there were still about 100 uncontacted tribes? I had no idea. Mostly in the Amazon, but still, the idea that there are people living currently with no idea of the outside world is amazing to me.

Though personally, I find the idea something like a living museum (or possibly The Village), I agree with the left wing anthropology majors on this one (I think thats a first..) and say that their way of life should be preserved and protected. Of course, I am not sure how long that will be able to go on. And to be honest, my interest is one of preservation and possible eventual remote study of these groups? Probably not the same way the anthro majors would look at it, but they are usually self-delusional anyway.

http://www.cnn.com/2008/WORLD/americas/05/30/brazil.tribes/index.html?eref=rss_topstories


Can you imagine that as the plane flew over, and took a picture of the group, they looked up at the sky with bows drawn and saw what? An act of god? A sign of some kind? And that is just a simple single engine plane, 100 year old technology. It does bring about thoughts of a Brave New World, though luckily we have not reached that point in our own society.

Is it right to not let these groups know about the outside world? In all likelihood, in their location it would not bring them much benefit. And the possible knowledge gained by the rest of the world on primative cultures invaluable. I think from a greatest common good perspective, you have to keep the isolated. Buy how long could it last? And is it a human zoo exhibit?

The role of the Fed

The Fed should return to its normal practices ``as soon as that would be consistent with stable, well-functioning markets,'' Kohn said yesterday. ``Central banks should not allocate credit or be market markers on a permanent basis.''
 
Hmm.. yeah. You think?

Norman Advice

Never look into the heart of a loofah.

Windows Vista/Me, Windows 7, and touch computing

Remeber Windows Me? You might, if you were unlucky enough to buy a computer after 2000 but before XP came out. It was a POS, with more holes in it that '98 SP2, and a clunky and terrible user interface. All of the best ideas (system restore.. and were there any others?) were used in XP. No one cares or remembers Me, the same will happen to Vista. The best things about it (which are... widgets? Multiple monitor support? Desktop search?.. if you did not have google desktop..) will all end up in Windows 7.

So this came about because Steve Ballmer and Bill Gates put on a little show yesterday of Windows 7, which is supposedly only two years out, and will have the huge upgrade of multitouch support. That would be amazing, and would be one of the biggest advances in general computing in a long time (yes, iPhone touting white box lovers will claim that their enlarged track pads really set the pace, and their beloved overhyped little status symbol they carry around was the real first multitouch computer. Sure, and none of that will have anything like the impact of Windows 7.)

I say this because we are about to have, for the first time in a very long time, a true revolution in how we interact with our computers. We've tried talking to them, which proved difficult, and mostly we've gotten by with a typewriter keyboard and a pointy stick you can poke things with. Not that I dont love a good mouse (especially when I am on my xbox, and instead of turning left slightly I swing wildly and fire that rocket right into the wall which is now 6 inches from my face.) But soon, that will all change, and we will be rocking out minority report style. With advances in haptics, it will also be possible to type on a flat screen and feel as though you were pressing keys, a tech already found in some cell phones. The possiblities are of course vast, from simple file management and navigation, to gaming, industry applications. This, combined with the other major trend of mobile internet devices and always available internet, will for the first time since the internet, completly change the nature of computing.

1 in 8 US High School Bio Teachers teach Creationism

If nothing else makes you sad for this country of polar opposites this will:

http://www.popsci.com/future-human/article/2008-05/one-eight-us-biology-teachers-teaches-creationism

Amazing. Our students are already not getting the education this country should provide, they are being indoctrinated with religion in the schools at the same time.

Roomba of Doom

I have a love hate relationship with my roomba. It does a good job cleaning up, but hes a needy pain in the ass sometimes, with a weak battery and a desire to get his large schnoz stuck on some room divider and lift his 1 inch wheels off the ground.

I think the relationship would be a whole lot different with this little guy:
http://blog.wired.com/defense/2008/05/metal-storm-iro.html

In case you dont know them, metal storm is a australian company developing an entirely new way of firing a gun. Forget the hammer, pin, and moving parts generally. You stack a bunch of bullets in a barrel, and fire them electronically. You can feed more in etc, but basically it lets you fire very very rapidly, and with little maintaince etc.

Now, put one of those on the back of a iRobot Warrior bot, and you have quite a weapons system. Yes, Foster-Miller has had a few .50cal equipped bots running around in Iraq, but I just like iRobot better. Because they made Norm Jr. and because they are not a typical giant defense contractor.

The thing is, the roles these things will be used for are the dangerous and boring ones, just like every other kind of automation the military has ever used. At first. It is one step towards the robot army this nation is striving for, and an important one. Dont worry, Skynet is not taking over any time soon, but more and more work will be carried out without fear of danger. Sometime, I will write a whole section on autonomous or remotely controlled fighting vehicles, but right now, suffice it to say that the ability to act without risk is a severe unbalancing of power.

What actually killed the dinosaurs..

Ok, this is not a definitive answer, but there is a new theory supported by some carbon remains that when an asteroid struck the Gulf of Mexico (a pretty widely accepted theory), its impact vaporized a huge oil reserve, which then exploded in a worldwide fireball.

Sounds lovely.

http://www.popsci.com/environment/article/2008-05/fiery-extinction

pH in the Oceans - its dropping

As a direct result of Co2, and whether or not your believe in the causal link between global warming and Co2, it has been shown that Co2 is in fact causing the pH in the oceans to drop. This is bad news for all you little exoskeletal dudes out there, because it is going to be a lot harder to find the calcium you need to make your home. We really have no idea what effect this is going to have long term, but I dont think I need to be the one to say it would likely be better if it did not happen.

http://www.popsci.com/environment/article/2008-05/ocean-ph-and-fate-food-chain

Man-Machine Interface

We are reaching the age of man where machine becomes a greater party of our daily life. At first, this will be subtle. Always having the internet with you, amputees receiving advanced prosthetics, etc. As we go along, it will completely alter human society, with mechanical replacement of natural human systems, integrated cloud computing, and enhanced reality computing.

In the meantime, and purely in the field of genetics, we are seeing three driving forces.
1) Rapid advancements in mechanical prosthetics
2) A massive wave of new amputees and disabled young citizens returning from the Iraq and Afghan wars
3) Breakthroughs in man machine interfaces.

Developments have been made in arm and leg amputations with connections to the severed nerves. However, a line of development focusing directly on interaction with the brain has taken a major step forward.
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/29/science/29brain.html?ref=science


Monkeys in the test were able to communicate with and operate a prosthetic limb. This has been done before in the same line of research, but this time, they were able to interact with the arm, using it as their own, with advanced controls and adaptations to certain scenarios (the offered marshmallow sticking to one of the pincers for example). There are a lot of challenges and a long way to go before you will see this effectively used for humans, but human trials are not far off, and rapid developments not far behind it.

Stonhenge - Always a cemetary

I have always been interested in the great structures which have survived from antiquity, and one of the most interesting to me (for obvious reasons) is Stonehenge.

Recent carbon dating shows that the henge was used as a burial site from the start. It seems likely that the burials were for a ruling elite, buried in successive generations over a long period of time. The article can be found here:
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/30/science/30stonehenge.html?_r=1&hp&oref=slogin

This is logical to me, and helps to solve one of the two great mysteries to the site: how, and why. Though a glimpse into why, this does not give any answers on the alignment of the stones etc. How, of course, is quite an impressive challenge.

Phoenix Lander - The Best Backhoe Ever

The most expensive (and one of the smallest) backhoes just touched down on Mars. Hopefully soon the communication bug is fixed and we can get down to some serious digging. The landing, needless to say, was very impressive, and amazing that everything worked well (Mars has a way of not letting that happen). Now if it could only dig up a little gold mine for NASA, the agency would have a way to survive the coming Democrat Dark Years.

My Brother Has a Blog!

Deciding that I was far too irreverent an upstart of a little brother to be the only Tallett pissing their thoughts to the wind, my older brother (James, for those of you not in the know), has started up a daily update over at:

http://thefourpartland.wordpress.com/

The topics are primarily space (and in a much more detailed way than I go about looking at such things), and his own writing. His writing is good fantasy writing, and the world he has developed is the four part land (hence the name).

Jules Verne / ATV / EU Manned Space Program

So EADS gave the world its first look at what a European manned spacecraft might look like, and it is an ATV (a ferry for the ISS) with 3 people inside. None too shocking. Actually, the whole thing is very evolutionary, and not at all surprising. Its not really that exciting either, because I have never really found European nationalism that compelling. Then again, a third global space power would likely be a good thing for everyone. And the Soyuz really should not be what everyone on the ISS is still relying on in 2020.

That said, this is the EU and EADS we are talking about... recent notable moments:
1) Galileo. Yeah. Thats going well. The European GPS system lost private sector support, is years behind on its development, and would charge end users for the data. And this is meant to open a new world of commercial possibilities? We already have GPS. And its free. And Russia and China are building systems. I only need to know to turn left in 100 yards from one satellite system, though I must admit mine does tell me in a British accent.

2) Airbus A380.

There will be a European manned spacecraft by 2020. But it will be owned by Richard Branson, not the EU.

ISS Space News - Broken Toilet

It seems the toilet on the ISS is broken. The Russian made crapper crapped out last week, but thankfully not for crap. In the words of NASA: "The solid waste disposal is still functioning," its the liquid waste disposal which has been on the fritz. Supposedly, those wishing to use the loo have been forced to head over to the Soyuz liferaft and use its "limited capacity" toilet.

Ok, not as important as the phoenix landing, but entertaining nonetheless.

Cold War II and a Boeing Laser Test

So the US--well Boeing specifically--recently tested its C-130H mounted laser system from the aircraft for the first time. The aircraft was on the ground, but in-flight tests are expected to follow on shortly.

This one has been a long time coming, being in development for 20 years or more. The advantage to this system, unlike its much more expensive and ambitious space spaced big big brother, is that it can be used effectively in a specific theater of operations to neutralize common threats such as SCUD missiles, cruise missles, ICBM launch attemts, and the more mundane duty of blowing up stuff on the ground (which we already have a lot of options for). This tactical air-control will offer a huge advantage to the US, as well as protection for troops and to a lesser extent, citizens.

The second part of the story is perhaps the more interesting. The first thing that happened after the Boeing announcement? Russia claimed it had the same technology.. in 1972! Though not officially an official government response, a state controlled news agency put out the report that the US was actually 36 years behind, and Russia has since developed much more advanced systems etc. etc. The statement that Russia was able to build such a system of comparable effectiveness in the early 70's is of course ludicrous. Things get difficult when you are running your CAD software on this:
The interesting thing here is how it fits into the greater story of Russia trying to resestablish itself as one of the main powers in the world. It seems as though the only way Russia can think of establishing its power, is to act like it was 1972. They have started overflights of the north atlantic with bombers and ASW aircraft, they have started threatening neighbors such as Georgia with military action, and they have established a confrontational and defiant tone, trying to set themselves back up in the traditional binary opposition of the Cold war. The thing is, they are the only one still playing the game. No one else cares. Everyone learned after the end of the Cold War that most of the Russian "power" was a sham, the economy was a joke, and since the mid 60's they had simply fallen further and further behind the West in every measurable category. Sure they were glory times for Russia, and certainy I see the desire to return to such times, but the game is up, its been up for a while. Lets hope this is just nationalistic posturing for the benefit of citizens, but I do not believe that to be the case.

Pulse Detonation

From Colleen:
Pulse detonation is pretty interesting because it's really the first time they have thought about something really different than normal combustion for turbine engines (Brayton Cycle) that seems feasible. The biggest challenge right now for PDE (pulse detonation engines) is size vs output...which is definitely a problem for aircraft but not for power plants. Also, I guess for power plants they aren't running on a PDE but they are using the technology to increase efficiency. This is from teh GE global research blog:

"During the course of our research, we have found a more near term application for this technology that is helping power plant boilers run more efficiently. In fact, GE Energy introduced a product, called Powerwave+™ this past February. Powerwave+ harnesses shockwaves created through the pulsed detonation process and directs them at problem areas in the boiler. It does a tremendous job dislodging buildup and cleaning the boiler, so that it runs more efficiently.

Because it helps run boilers more efficiently, less energy is required to produce power. If you have Powerwave+™ in a coal-fired boiler, you can greatly reduce the amount of coal needed to produce power. That in turn can help reduce the carbon footprint, which is good for the environment. "

They are talking about the next step being to use a PDE to make power however for a "small power plant"....maybe for our ship applications.

And more on efficiency and how PDE's work from the blog...

"As the name implies, a PDE uses "detonations" to burn the fuel in a more explosive and more efficient manner compared to your usual steady deflagration flame. A deflagration is the normal way to burn fuel… you see it everywhere… a fireplace, a candle burning, inside an internal combustion engine, and inside today's aircraft engines. It's also what powers the world in today's large megawatt scale gas turbine based powerplants. A detonation, on the other hand, looks nothing like a deflagration. A detonation is a shock wave travelling at Mach 5 (5 times the speed of sound!!) that ignites the fuel-air mixture as it passes. The combustion products are at higher pressure (this is a key difference from a deflagration) and that translates into a more efficient conversion of the chemical energy stored in the fuel into useful work.

The reason why I am so excited about PDE's is that we can potentially reduce the amount of fuel burned by a whopping 5%!! That might not sound like much, but in the aircraft propulsion world a 1% improvement translates into hundreds of millions of dollars of savings per year!! Considering that present day deflagration-based gas turbine engines have already been highly optimized over the past 50 years (a 0.2% improvement is considered a major breakthrough)… "

Norm's take: Thats pretty damn sweet. I have always liked simple blow fuel up in a tube jets, as they operate efficiently and have a multitude of uses. The idea of a rotating gattling gun style engine... just think about that for a second. Of course, cutting fossil fuel use, saving money etc would be great side effects. The example below is not likely to be the future of travel.
http://www.autobloggreen.com/2008/05/15/for-those-with-a-death-wish-pulse-jet-powered-bicycle/

Old Graphic Work

Just found this, made it probably 4 years ago from a couple photos and some photoshop.

UK Govt = Big Brother

When I heard a few weeks ago that the UK plans to install 2,500 video cameras in the hats of police officers, it somewhat alarmed me, but basically seemed a little silly. Their hats? Right. But now things are getting downright scary in the mother country. A new project by the home office is effectively the last step in turning the UK govt. into big brother: they will now be able access all of your phone, internet, and email records. All of them. For the previous 12 months. Granted it is by court order, and only the terrorists should be worried blah de blah. Right. And you thought the patriot act was bad..

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1990999/Home-Office-plans-to-create-Big-brother-database-for-phones-calls,-emails-and-web-use.html

Nano soccer

Wow. The field is smaller than a grain of rice. This little dude is tiny. Nano tech has a lot of important implications, I will get into those some other time, right now, sit back, relax, and enjoy.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oAjSE_vvIO0

Aral Sea

Beacause of beaurocracy and irrigation projects, the Aral Sea - once the fourth largest lake in the world, is now only 10% of the size it once was. This is no effect of global warming, but rather the effect of USSR planning projects which turned Uzbeckistan into one of the largest global producers of cotton. The lake split into North and South sections, with the South further splitting and effectively dissapearing. Work has been done by Kazakhstan to bolster the North Aral Sea.

Quote from wikipedia:"The ecosystem of the Aral Sea and the river deltas feeding into it has been nearly destroyed, not least because of the much higher salinity. The receding sea has left huge plains covered with salt and toxic chemicals, which are picked up and carried away by the wind as toxic dust and spread to the surrounding area. The land around the Aral Sea is heavily polluted and the people living in the area are suffering from a lack of fresh water and other health problems, including high rates of certain forms of cancer and lung diseases. Crops in the region are destroyed by salt being deposited onto the land. The town of Moynaq in Uzbekistan had a thriving harbor and fishing industry that employed approximately 60,000 people; now the town lies miles from the shore. Fishing boats lie scattered on the dry land that was once covered by water, many have been there for 20 years. The only significant fishing company left in the area has its fish shipped from the Baltic Sea, thousands of kilometres away."

The lesson here is one of planning, and consequences. The dust and salt from the receding waters have created dust-bowl like effects, affecting foodstuff production and exacerbting the termperature swings of the seasons over the whole region.

As the US looks to its own water shortage, and eyes fall upon the bounty of the Great Lakes, the destruction of one of the worlds largest sources of fresh water should not be forgotten.

Animated GIF does not seem to work, go here for the original:
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/9f/Aral_Sea.gif

Property Rights in Space

Property Rights are essential to the functioning of a capitalist economy. Or any economy to be frank. Private enterprise will be what pushes development in space. The moon, with valuable resources such as helium-3, will be the first testbed for property rights beyond earth. The distinction here is that such property rights will be beyond and separated from national sovereignty. The only similar and pertinent cases are international maritime law, which is presented as relatively straightforward in the pop mechanics article, but are in fact incredibly complicated and ambiguous.

To effectively develop space (which will happen sooner than people think), nations need to get together and ratify a treaty to effectively delineate property rights.

An interesting wrinkle is the public/private divide: on earth, most actions that you undertake on your own property do not effect the property of others. In space, most notably because of space debris, your actions can and commonly will affect others. Thus, there needs to be the protection of property rights, but there also need to be an understanding of interrelated effects.

http://www.popularmechanics.com/science/air_space/4264325.html

Detailed Boston Globe article on the same issue:
http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2008/05/18/my_space/?page=full

Top 25 Hedge Funds

Assets in the top funds were up 35%, with the top 10 managing 20% of all HF assets, and the top 100 75%. The credit crises concentrated assets in the top funds, flight to quality in a whole new way.
 
1 JPMorgan Asset Management $44.7 billion
2 Bridgewater Associates $36 billion
2 Farallon Capital Management $36 billion
4 Renaissance Technologies $33.3 billion
5 Och-Ziff Capital Management $33.2 billion
6 D.E. Shaw Group $32.2 billion
7 Goldman Sachs Asset Management $29.2 billion
8 Paulson & Co. $29 billion
9 Barlcays Global Investors $26.2 billion
10 GLG Partners $23.9 billion
11 Brevan Howard Asset Management $21 billion
12 Man Investments $20.9 billion
13 Atticus Capital $20 billion
13 Citadel Investment Group $20 billion
15 Lansdowne Partners $18.9 billion
16 Harbert Management $18.1 billion
17 Lone Pine Capital $18 billion
18 Soros Fund Management $17 billion
19 Avenue Capital Group $16.5 billion
20 BlueBay Asset Management $16.4 billion
20 Cerberus Capital Management $16.4 billion
20 Fortress Investment Group $16.4 billion
23 Tudor Investment Corp. $16.1 billion
24 SAC Capital Advisors $16 billion
25 Sloane Robinson $15.1 billion

Scripps Research Institute

Not sure why I had a hunch this place would prove to be of interest a few weeks back, but here you go:
http://www.physorg.com/news130514852.html

"Scripps Research Institute awarded patent for remarkable chemical technology
The patent's diverse potential applications include the development of new drugs, bioactive nanomaterials, anti-bacterial and non-immunogenic coatings for medical implants, coatings for semiconductors, coatings and adhesives for ships’ hulls, self-healing materials, microelectronics and responsive nanomaterials, and surface-sensitive adhesives, to name a few.

Of many areas where the patented technology can be used, potential applications include the production of new pharmaceutical candidates and new polymeric materials, such as glues and coatings, for use in high-tech electronics applications. Triazoles are exceptionally stable at high temperatures, which makes them ideal for use in electronics, where computers and other devices must heat up and cool down countless times for years on end without the glues in their chips (or electronic components) breaking down. Certain triazoles are also exceedingly sticky, bonding strongly to metals and other materials including glass and certain plastics, another critical factor for electronics. "Together with our colleague M.G. Finn, we've already shown that we can make adhesives that are better at ‘welding’ metal components together than anything else on the market," says Fokin. Another advantage in developing adhesives is that the remarkable reactivity involved ensures that any two azides and alkynes can be bound together. That means designers can simply choose molecules from those groups that have needed properties, such as repelling water or absorbing certain chemicals, and bind them to form a single, web-like molecule, or polymer. In drug discovery work, the copper-catalyzed reactions display another side of their benefits. To identify potential pharmaceuticals, researchers often test libraries of thousands or even millions of molecules to identify those that might kill a particular virus or type of cancer cell. Because the azides and alkynes are so reactive when copper is around, large groups of both types of molecules can be combined, allowing bonding to form molecule libraries that can then be run through these disease tests. Using copper-catalyzed azide-alkyne cycloaddition, Scripps Research scientists have already identified molecules with potential for fighting AIDS, nicotine addiction, and other conditions. The reactions' gluing powers have also proven extremely effective at binding fluorescent alkyne dyes to proteins and other biological components, which allows researchers to observe how they behave in cells and what roles they may play in diseases. "

Map of threat to marine ecosystems

Not encouraging. Just as on land the issue is always save the cute fluffy ones. Or more correctly, save the mammals and the big ones we can identify with, the oceans recieve almost no attention. The WWF recently put out numbers that the average population of the 1,477 vertebrate species it tracks in its Living Planet Index showed an overall decline of 27 percent from 1970 to 2005. They believe that marine species have been even harder hit.

It is almost as if were were still in the 1800's, and the oceans were an infinite pool, too vast and powerful for mankind to ever effect (a common belief of the time). We are destroying marine habitat at a rapid rate, and have very little idea what the effect will be. A new and interesting map has been published showing the areas most affected.


Clathrate gun hypothesis - From Wikipedia

Basics: Clathrates are composites in which a lattice of one substance forms a cage round another. Methane clathrates (in which water molecules are the cage) form on continental shelves. These clathrates are likely to break up rapidly and release the methane if the temperature rises quickly or the pressure on them drops quickly — for example in response to sudden global warming or a sudden drop in sea level or even earthquakes. Methane is a much more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, so a methane eruption ("clathrate gun") could cause rapid global warming or make it much more severe if the eruption was itself caused by global warming.

Detail:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clathrate_Gun_Hypothesis

Extinction - to be expanded

Over 99% of the species which ever lived are now extinct. And yet we have a vibrant and powerful global ecology (not withstanding the mass extinction humans are bringing about).

That is the natural result of a free market: only the best suited survive, but complexity brings about innumerable different possibilities.

If I were to stand up as a US politician and state that 99% of all jobs which we have now will eventually disapear, to be replaced be new and different positions, there would be uproar. Human society, created in many ways to minimize the negative sides of a pure market, abhores extinction. And yet it is the most natural of processes. The only difference is that with humanity, those going extinct have the ability to change the rules, thus preserving their inefficient roles.

Biomimicry

The field of biomimicry has always interested me. Logically, it has often been most closely associated with pharmaceuticals and architecture. However, in this case a Brazilian beetle was found which created crystals for its exoskeleton which would be ideal for use in optical computing. A suitable crystal had proven difficult to develop through other means.

Nature, a purely competitive market in which competition has been forcing evolution for the last 3 billion years, has solved engineering concepts we have yet to even dream of. This case is of course most interesting because of its technological roots: its shows that bimimicry will continue to be of use beyond architecture and medicine.

http://www.physorg.com/news130481875.html

Trends - to expand on

  1. growing divide of rich and poor
    1. long life - longevity of modern science and medicine
    2. education - will become increasingly exclusive
    3. enhanced mental acuity - a lot to explore there
  2. Population growth in the developing world
    1. natural disaster in overpopulated areas
    2. Food issues - read Ishmael, current crises etc
    3. eventual shift of power to the developing world
  3. China hype overblown. Will crash, and then develop. Will have its own great depression. State lead industrialization is good only to a point, and that point is usually cars and electronics - see Japan for details.
    1. Chinese diaspora will/have take over from Japanese Keiretsu as dominant force in Asia
  4. Global warming - whether warming or cooling for the moment, it is certain humanity is having an impact, what that impact is, and how we are going to deal with it will be major challenges.
  5. Productivity enhancement
  6. Incomprehensible financial markets - a system of risk and risk management completely alien to retail investors.
  7. Technology and development
    1. a move away from fossil fuels
    2. the first fundamental changes to cars in 100 years
    3. always-on connectivity
    4. cloud computing
    5. enhanced reality
    6. targeted advertising
    7. data - data will become a new technological currency - the collection, mining and trading of data - a trend that will continue to blossom.

Olympics

If you have not checked this out, you need to:
http://trojangames.com/

The best of the best in the Olympics..

Burma

What a total sham of a country. In the middle of a humanitarian disaster where little has been done, aid has been withheld, and tens of thousands die, the 'generals' hold a popular referendum on a new constitution which guarantees their power and protection. Amazingly, turnout was 99%, and 92% of the population supported the changes! What a crock. Sadly, we live in a world where many nations appease such dictators. Is there a difference if 50,000 die because of the govt. withholding aid and acting completely inept, or the govt. kills 50,000 directly? I would say no.

All this is just so that Gen Than Shwe can keep up the charade of government. Any child could see past it, but most of the members of the UN recognize the dictatorship as legitimate.

Usually, dictatorships and highly controlled nations such as Cuba are relatively good at dealing with natural disasters, as there are no protections of personal freedom, and close ties to the military. In this case, the government is so useless they cant even do that.

Greatest Common Good - Ethical Question

Recently I read an article which begged a question.The article was on the 'uninsurables' a 1.5 million strong caste of American society who cannot get private health care, usually because of pre-existing conditions.
http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=newsarchive&sid=a4BEIIi_OauQ
There is simply no reasonable market mechanism, as the costs are simply too high. Starting in the 80's, some states set up funds to provide healthcare for such individuals. In one such case--Oklahoma--there is a cap imposed of $500,000 for lifetime benefits.

The case involves a young girl who was born very prematurely. She has many medical issues, and will use up the $500,000 by the time that she is a teenager. The question is quite simple: should further benefits be extended? Should the $500,000 be spent in the first place?

I spent a while thinking about this. Sadly, I think there should be a cap. It is a terrible choice, but from a greatest common good standpoint, and from a standpoint of personal freedom (the cost of subsidizing all 1.5million would be astronomical, imposing a massive tax burden on the rest of the nation), the logical conclusion is that benefits should not be extended, and the cap should perhaps be lowered, so that a greater number of individuals may be served by such programs.

China the top Carbon Polluter

This comes as little surprise, but China has likely passed the US as the top producer of emissions. This will continue. China's central government has little effective power to limit regional greenhouse gas producers, and regional governments are pushing as hard as possible to develop rapidly. The estimates are that China brings a new coal plant on-line every 3 days. Each of these plants is roughly equivalent to the annual carbon emissions of the state of Vermont. The flaw in Kyoto was and is the allowances given to developing nations. Along with this, the Clean Development Mechanism is deeply flawed. The Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), allows projects in the developing world to receive emissions credits which can then be used and traded under the Kyoto or EU ETS trading system. This is administered through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). A WWF study suggests that 20% of carbon credit supported projects do not meet the threshold of additionality: they would have happened anyway. Also, certain distortions, such as for the reduction of certain refrigerant emissions, are completely out of whack. For example, HFC23, a refrigerant, operates at a multiple of 11,700 – so 11,700 CER’s (certified emissions reductions) are generated for one ton of HFC23, creating market bubbles, in this case for Chinese refrigerant factories. This helped collapse the last phase of the EU emissions trading scheme.

To truly combat global emissions, any future regulations will have to include developing nations.




China 'now top carbon polluter'
By Roger Harrabin BBC Environment analyst

The new research suggests China's emissions were underestimated
China has already overtaken the US as the world's "biggest polluter", a report to be published next month says.
The research suggests the country's greenhouse gas emissions have been underestimated, and probably passed those of the US in 2006-2007.
The University of California team will report their work in the Journal of Environment Economics and Management.
They warn that unchecked future growth will dwarf any emissions cuts made by rich nations under the Kyoto Protocol.
The team admit there is some uncertainty over the date when China may have become the biggest emitter of CO2, as their analysis is based on 2004 data.
Until now it has been generally believed that the US remains "Polluter Number One".
Next month's University of California report warns that unless China radically changes its energy policies, its increases in greenhouse gases will be several times larger than the cuts in emissions being made by rich nations under the Kyoto Protocol.
The researchers say their figures are based on provincial-level data from the Chinese Environmental Protection Agency.

They say analysis of the 30 data points is more informative about likely future emissions than national figures in wider use because it allows errors to be tracked more closely.
They believe current computer models substantially underestimate future emissions growth in China.
We are awaiting a formal comment from the UK Chinese Embassy, but Dr Max Auffhammer, the lead researcher, said his projections had been presented widely and no-one had raised a serious complaint.
All those concerned about climate change agree that China's emissions are a problem - including China itself.
CARBON EMISSIONS

Global carbon emissions statistics were last published in 2004. They show Chinese emissions began rising rapidly in 2002.
University of California research suggests China overtook the US as the worst producer of carbon emissions in 2006
But China and many other developing countries struggling to tackle poverty are adamant that any negotiated emissions reductions should not be absolute, but relative to a "business-as-usual" scenario of projected growth.
That is why this study is of more than academic interest.
If it becomes widely accepted that China's future emissions are likely to be much higher than previously estimated, that will have to factored into any future global climate agreement if the Chinese are to be persuaded to take part.
In brief, although this study looks bad for China's reputation, it may be good for China's negotiating position.
The Chinese - and the UN - insist that rich countries with high per capita levels of pollution must cut emissions first, and help poorer countries to invest in clean technology.
America's per capita emissions are five to six times higher than China's, even though China has become the top manufacturing economy.
US emissions are still growing too, though much more slowly.
Dr Auffhammer told BBC News that his projections had made an assumption that the Chinese government's recent aggressive energy efficiency programme would fail, as the previous one had failed badly.
"Our figures for emissions growth are truly shocking," he said.
"But there is no sense pointing a finger at the Chinese. They are trying to pull people out of poverty and they clearly need help.
"The only solution is for a massive transfer of technology and wealth from the West."
He acknowledged that this eventuality was unlikely.
Those scientists aspiring to stabilise global emissions growth before 2020 to prevent what they believe may be irreversible damage to the climate may be wondering how this can possibly be achieved.

No TopGear for the US

NBC's version of TopGear: "Gear" has officially been axed for this season. Much as I love car shows, this is a good thing, because there is no way they could do justice to the format. Now if I only got BBC America...

New favorite pic

Out of season now, with everything becoming green, but I really like this shot from the old quarry near home in Stockton.

Quote:

Quote from a financial white paper. It was specific in nature, but can be applied universally.

"As such, the Commission has a responsibility to balance self-regulatory rules and needs while simultaneously promoting market innovation. One possible means of achieving this balance would be to use principles based rule making where possible and save the prescriptive rule promulgation for only the more difficult issues."

I would posit that there are very few cases where a prescriptive rules system would b more effective or efficient than a principles based one.

Ships of the fleet

Ship

Type and Capability

Status

Serendipity

Fully rigged 43' ketch. 17 tons, three main berths with room for a crew of 10. Capable of any journey, with a 1500nm range inboard diesel as a supplement to sail power

Operational in one week. Fully upgraded with the latest in GPS mapping and forward-looking sonar. Possible future upgrades include a fully powered winch in the cockpit. Located in Stonington CT

Dizzy Lizzy

Lake cruising 23' power boat. 260HP inboard mercury engine. Tow-boat capable. Small cabin for overnight or shorter stays. No head or galley.

Recently purchased. Pending review, assumed to be fully operational. Location unknown, but likely in or around Meredith NH

AppleJack

19' Racing sailboat. No cabin, designed for a crew of three, with one on a trapeze. Fast at certain points of sail, unstable at others. Large sail area. Light, with a flat bottom and centerboard.

Unknown. Repairs were progressing last summer, but may or may not be sailable this summer. On a trailer at Windswept Circle

JY 14

14' Sailing dinghy. Stable, reliable, modern. Room for 4, but ideal for two.

Fully operational, trailerable. Currently at Deepwood in NJ.

The Puffin (Boston Whaler)

13' tender and small runabout. 20hp new Honda 4 stroke outboard. Room for 6 if needed. Unsinkable. Can tow a tube, but not a skier.

Fully operational. Currently back in her place on davits off of the Dip.

Aluminum Fishing Skiff

12' Metal fishing skiff for use on the Delaware. Older but reliable design, with 15hp unreliable 2 stroke mercury engine. Can seat 4.

Believed to be operational. Resides in NJ at Deepwood. Rarely used.

Grumman Canoe

21' canoe. Ideal for longer 2 person trips or short 4 person outings. Reliable, sturdy, and large for a ship of its class.

Ready for service, stationed at Deepwood in NJ.

YaK Board

10' Open top kayak. Ideal for surfing or playing around, a short, stable boat incapable of longer trips. Unskingable. Upgraded with a seat and backrest.

Ready for service, stationed at Deepwood in NJ. Usually moved to Serendipity for the summer.

Folding Dinghy

Original tender for serendipity. Collapsible design which allows for on-deck storage. Small 4hp(?) outboard.

Unused for many years. Mothballed at Deepwood. Replaced by the Puffin.

1955 Chris Craft

22' Classic older runabout. Mercury inline 6 inboard, with seating for 4. Not a tow-boat, designed as a inland launch.

Currently either sold or no longer operational. Destined to be sold if not sold already. Deemed too expensive to repair. Replaced by Dizzy Lizzy

Windsurfer

Board boat for single person use. Recreation only, with limited practical uses.

Fully operational, kept aboard Serendipity for the duration of

Financial Conspiracy?!?!?

A rabbithole, not as deep or complicated as it looks
http://www.deepcapture.com/

Our whole financial system in ruin?

Hardly. FTDs are common and need to be dealt with, as do naked shorts. The main thrust of this writers article is that a number of hedge funds front-run articles by prominent stock columnists. This is illegal, but hardly surprises me. As for fails, no one should be allowed to naked short, and we need a stronger locate requirement. This should coincide with the development of an electronic market for securities loans. As usual, transparency in the financial market is a good thing.

Biofuels - the great caper

Biofuels, in their current form, are a plague. They have contributed to global rises in commodity prices, hitting the poorest first, and are inefficient in their production of energy. They are not 'green,' they will not solve our problems, and they are not going to be the way of the future. At best, cellulosic ethanol will come to provide for some of the US' energy needs, but corn-based ethanol, along with other varieties such as switchgrass, are a sham. Though protected by that impenetrably dense cloud of liberal self-righteousness, it would be interesting to see if any member of greenpeace or other pro-ethanol group (some of which have now changed sides), would accept the blame for children starving to death in Haiti and Southeast Asia. Unlikely. In the US of course, it is a combination of PR, flyover zone politics, and corporate interests which created the ethanol industry. It is simply amazing to me that it has been accepted and supported as part of the 'green' ideology for so long.

The Biofuels Backlash
May 7, 2008; Page A18

St. Jude is the patron saint of lost causes, and for 30 years we invoked his name as we opposed ethanol subsidies. So imagine our great, pleasant surprise to see that the world is suddenly awakening to the folly of subsidized biofuels.

All it took was a mere global "food crisis." Last week chief economist Joseph Glauber of the USDA, which has been among Big Ethanol's best friends in Washington, blamed biofuels for increasing prices on corn and soybeans. Mr. Glauber also predicted that corn prices will continue their historic rise because of demand from "expanding use for ethanol."

Even the environmental left, which pushed ethanol for decades as an alternative to gasoline, is coming clean. Lester Brown, one of the original eco-Apostles, wrote in the Washington Post that "it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that food-to-fuel mandates have failed." We knew for sure the tide had turned when Time magazine's recent cover story, "The Clean Energy Myth," described how turning crops into fuel increases both food prices and atmospheric CO2. No one captures elite green wisdom better than Time's Manhattan editors. Can Vanity Fair be far behind?

All we can say is, welcome aboard. Corn ethanol can now join the scare over silicone breast implants and the pesticide Alar as among the greatest scams of the age. But before we move on to the next green miracle cure, it's worth recounting how much damage this ethanol political machine is doing.

To create just one gallon of fuel, ethanol slurps up 1,700 gallons of water, according to Cornell's David Pimentel, and 51 cents of tax credits. And it still can't compete against oil without a protective 54-cents-per-gallon tariff on imports and a federal mandate that forces it into our gas tanks. The record 30 million acres the U.S. will devote to ethanol production this year will consume almost a third of America's corn crop while yielding fuel amounting to less than 3% of petroleum consumption.

In December the Congressional Research Service warned that even devoting every last ear of American-grown corn to ethanol would not create enough "renewable fuel" to meet federal mandates. According to a 2007 OECD report, fossil-fuel production is up to 10,000 times as efficient as biofuel, measured by energy produced per unit of land.

Now scientists are showing that ethanol will exacerbate greenhouse gas emissions. A February report in the journal Science found that "corn-based ethanol, instead of producing a 20% savings, nearly doubles greenhouse emissions over 30 years . . . Biofuels from switchgrass, if grown on U.S. corn lands, increase emissions by 50%." Princeton's Timothy Searchinger and colleagues at Iowa State, of all places, found that markets for biofuel encourage farmers to level forests and convert wilderness into cropland. This is to replace the land diverted from food to fuel.

As usual, Congress is the last to know, but maybe even it is catching on. Credit goes to John McCain, the first presidential candidate in recent memory who has refused to bow before King Ethanol. Onetime ethanol opponent Hillary Clinton announced her support in 2006, as the Iowa caucuses beckoned. In 2006 Barack Obama proposed mandating a staggering 65 billion gallons a year of alternative fuel by 2025, but by this Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press" he was suggesting that maybe helping "people get something to eat" was a higher priority than biofuels.

Mr. McCain and 24 other Senators are now urging EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson to consider using his broad waiver authority to eliminate looming biofuel mandates. Otherwise, the law will force us to consume roughly four times the current requirement by 2022. In fact, with some concerned state governments submitting helpful petitions, Mr. Johnson could largely knock out the ethanol mandate regime, at least temporarily.

Over the longer term, however, this shouldn't be entrusted to unelected bureaucrats. The best policy would repeal the biofuel mandates and subsidies enacted in the 2005 and 2007 energy bills. We say repeal because there will be intense lobbying to keep the subsidies, or transfer them from projects that have failed to those that have not yet failed.

Like Suzanne Somers in "American Graffiti," the perfect biofuel is always just out of reach, only a few more billion dollars in subsidies away from commercial viability. But sometimes even massive government aid can't turn science projects into products. The industry's hope continues for cellulosic ethanol, but there's no getting around the fact that biofuels require vegetation to make fuel. Even cellulosic ethanol, while more efficient than corn, will require countless acres of fuel if it is ever going to replace oil. Perhaps some future technology will efficiently extract energy from useless corn stalks and fallen trees. But until that day, Congress's ethanol subsidies are merely force-feeding an industry that is doing far more harm than good.

The results include distorted investment decisions, higher carbon emissions, higher food prices for Americans, and an emerging humanitarian crisis in the developing world. The last thing the poor of Africa and the taxpayers of America need is another scheme to conjure gasoline out of corn and tax credits.

Climate Change Uncertainty

The party line has certainly become the oft stated 'truth' that climate change is warming up the earth because of human greenhouse gas emissions. Here are two important articles which show that fundamental mantra is deeply flawed. It is simply logical that mankind is having an impact on the environment, and reducing our impact is certainly a beneficial goal, but the current religious acceptance of 'green' climate change ideology is not the correct solution. If we wanted to really go green, we would built nukes and carbon scrubbers... but appearances as usual are more important than reality.

Article 1

A notable story of recent months should have been the evidence pouring in from all sides to cast doubts on the idea that the world is inexorably heating up. The proponents of man-made global warming have become so rattled by how the forecasts of their computer models are being contradicted by the data that some are rushing to modify the thesis.

  • Read more from Christopher Booker
    Polar Bears in Alaska
    Last September's data, showed ice cover had shrunk over six months to just 3 million but by March the ice had recovered to 14 million sq km

    So a German study, published by Nature last week, claimed that, while the world is definitely warming, it may cool down until 2015 "while natural variations in climate cancel out the increases caused by man-made greenhouse gas emissions".

    A little vignette of the media's one-sided view was given by recent events on Snowdon, the highest mountain in southern Britain. Each year between 2003 and 2007, the retreat of its winter snow cover inspired reports citing this as evidence of global warming.

    In 2004 scientists from the University of Bangor made headlines with the prediction that Snowdon might lose its snowcap altogether by 2020. In 2007 a Welsh MP, Lembit Opik, was saying "it is shocking to think that in just 14 years snow on this mountain could be nothing but a distant memory".

    Last November, viewing photographs of a snowless Snowdon at an exhibition in Cardiff, the Welsh environment minister, Jane Davidson, said "we must act now to reduce the greenhouse gases that cause climate change".

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    Yet virtually no coverage has been given to the abnormally deep spring snow which prevented the completion of a new building on Snowdon's summit for more than a month, and nearly made it miss the deadline for £4.2 million of EU funding. (Brussels eventually extended the deadline to next autumn.)

    Two weeks ago, as North America emerged from its coldest and snowiest winter for decades, the US National Climate Data Center, run by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued a statement that snow cover in January on the Eurasian land mass had been the most extensive ever recorded, and that in the US March had been only the 63rd warmest since records began in 1895.

    While global warming enthusiasts might take cheer from the NOAA's claim that "average global land temperature" in March was "the warmest on record", this was in striking contrast to a graph published last week on the Climate Audit website by Steve McIntyre.

    Tracking satellite data for the tropical troposphere, it showed March temperatures plunging to one of their lowest points in 30 years.

    Mr McIntyre is the computer expert who exposed the infamous "hockey stick" graph - that icon of warmist orthodoxy which showed global temperatures soaring recently to their highest level for 1,000 years. He showed that the computer model that produced this graph had been so designed that it would have conjured even random numbers from a telephone directory into the shape of a hockey stick).

    On April 24 the World Wildife Fund (WWF), another body keen to keep the warmist flag flying, published a study warning that Arctic sea ice was melting so fast that it may soon reach a "tipping point" where "irreversible change" takes place. This was based on last September's data, showing ice cover having shrunk over six months from 13 million square kilometres to just 3 million.

    What the WWF omitted to mention was that by March the ice had recovered to 14 million sq km (see the website Cryosphere Today), and that ice-cover around the Bering Strait and Alaska that month was at its highest level ever recorded. (At the same time Antarctic sea ice-cover was also at its highest-ever level, 30 per cent above normal).

    The most dramatic evidence, however, emerged last week with an announcement by Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory that an immense slow-cycling movement of water in the Pacific, known as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), had unexpectedly shifted into its cool phase, something which only happens every 30 years or so, ultimately affecting climate all over the globe.

    Discussion of this on the invaluable Watts Up With That website, run by the US meteorologist Anthony Watts, shows how the alternations of the PDO between warm and cool coincided with each of the major temperature shifts of the 20th century - warming after 1905, cooling after 1946, warming again after 1977 - and how the new shift to a cool phase could have repercussions for decades to come.

    It is notable that the German computer predictions published last week by Nature forecast a decade of cooling due to deep-ocean movements in the Atlantic, without taking account of how this may now be reinforced by a similar, even greater movement in the Pacific.

    Mr Watts points out that the West coast of the USA might already be experiencing these effects in the recent freezing temperatures that have devastated orchards and vineyards in California, prompting an appeal for disaster relief for growers who fear they may have lost this year's crops.

    Mr Watts's readers are amused by the explanation from one warmist apologist that "these natural climate phenomena can sometimes hide global warming caused by human activities - or they can have the opposite effect of accentuating it".

    It is striking, in view of the colossal implications of the current response to "the greatest challenge confronting mankind" - as our politicians love to call it - how this hugely important debate is almost entirely overlooked by the media, and is instead conducted largely on the internet, through expert websites such as those run by Mr McIntyre and Mr Watts.

    On one hand our politicians are committing us to spending unimaginable sums on wind farms, emissions trading schemes, absurdly ambitious biofuel targets, and every kind of tax and regulation designed to reduce our "carbon footprint" - all based on blindly accepting the predictions of computer models that the planet is overheating due to our output of greenhouse gases.

    On the other hand, a growing number of scientists are producing ever more evidence to show how those computer models are based on wholly inadequate data and assumptions - as is being confirmed by the behaviour of nature itself (not least the continuing non-arrival of sunspot cycle 24).

    The fact is that what has been happening to the world's climate in recent years, since global temperatures ceased to rise after 1998, was not predicted by any of those officially-sponsored models. The discrepancy between their predictions and observable data becomes more glaring with every month that passes.

    It won't do for believers in warmist orthodoxy to claim that, although temperatures may be falling, this is only because they are "masking an underlying warming trend that is still continuing" - nor to fob us off with assurances that the "German model shows that higher temperatures than 1998, the warmest year on record, are likely to return after 2015".

    In view of what is now at stake, such quasi-religious incantations masquerading as science are something we can no longer afford. We should get back to proper science before it is too late.

  • Article 2

    God, climate change and EU

    Does the European Union have God on its side? Yes. When it comes to fighting climate change, the EU's next big thing, Brussels has the blessing of all the Faiths.

    Ancient of Days, by William Blake
    God smiting an SUV driver

    The Gods Squad, various clerics, imams, vicars, cardinals, archbishops, bishops, Grand Muftis (is there a collective noun for them?) and rabbis, all trooped into the European Commission's Berlaymont HQ on Monday to fight the good fight against us "greedy" consumers and our nasty CO2 emissions.

    It is perhaps fitting that an out of touch, unpopular and referendum-phobic EU should look for divine help. After all both the eurocrats and theocrats have plenty in common. Both are a pretty preachy bunch and like nothing more than to lay on the guilt trips. Most importantly, both derive their authority from a higher source than the public.

    Climate change has become the new orthodoxy for our times. It is the moral fable that justifies new limits and restrictions for our shiny 21st century. It provides, in a post-tradition world, a new internalised framework for individuals to govern their behaviour in the name of reducing their carbon footprint.

    The new moral edicts of the climate change brigade - Don't go on holidays abroad! End cheap flights! Ban SUVs! Recycle! Switch off that light! – are all the more pervasive (certainly more than the nostrums of organised religion) because society is suffused with the anti-humanist sentiments that lie behind them.

    Janez Jansa, the Slovenian PM and current holder of the EU presidency, speaking alongside the representatives of Europe's combined clergy, put it well. Climate change, he said, is about "changes in habits, philosophy and world outlook", getting rid of "things we do not really need", like overseas holidays, cheap flights, SUVs etc.

    In this battle, science and religion have united behind the same orthodoxy to lower our expectations (one with a secular, environmentalist but deeply anti-humanist pedigree). "It is important to have a coordinated approach between science and the different types of religion," said Mr Jansa.

    "The joint approach is needed to lead to changes in habits… The role of religion is a big one… We have to overcome deep rooted ideas in public opinion."

    For EU officials, old-time religion has the purely instrumental appeal of helping to legitimise policy, in this case climate change proposals, some of them, like the biofuels target, are getting a bit tarnished as we get to know more about them.

    For clerics, the global warming agenda seems to provide them with a new source of moral authority in a relativistic world which no longer looks to organised religion for guidance on what is right or wrong.

    It is not really about belief for either group. It is an unholy alliance of convenience to give their respective illegitimate forms of authority a gloss of relevance.

    Moreover, religious leaders jumping on the green bandwagon in a scramble for contemporary relevance are doing their faith no favours.

    While the god-fearing can unite with environmentalists in terms of a shared conformist credulity towards doom-mongering clap trap and junk science, the wider agenda is a problem.

    Most modern religions still have man, for good or ill, at the heart of the moral universe.

    Environmentalists tend to view man as a harmful pathogen and elevate nature's blind nihilism over man's purpose or civilisation. In fact, in the case of climate change ideology, man's activity and human history itself is seen as the source of the problem.

    At least, religion (and I say this as an atheist), accords man a soul, with humanising possibilities of redemption and transcendence. We may have to be meek (really bad advice, by the way) but we shall inherit the earth.

    Not so with the environmentalists.

    For them we are fleshy gene machines, mere equals amongst others in the animal kingdom, with the misguided hubris to believe our civilisation, our soul, is beyond nature. Climate change is a sharp slap to put us back in our place.

    The clerics want us to get on our knees and humble ourselves before God (an old story). More recently, the greens, and many of our rulers, want us to abase ourselves before their bureaucratic requirements in the name of a totally impersonal force, nature.

    Thoughts to be expanded

    The natural growth of complexity: biological self regulation and the financial industy with its balance sheet funding and lending - hedge funds, and derivatives and securitization.

    Student Loan Debacle

    Recently we have been through a complete fiasco in the student loan market. The end result has been the fed allowing banks to use these positions as collateral against repo loans, which basically moves high-risk student loans onto the balance sheet of our central bank. The anti-market SNAFU was, with no surprise, engineered by Capitol Hill democrats. The self-righteous idiocy is pretty appalling in this one:

    "Guess who's asking Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson and Federal ReserveChairman Ben Bernanke for a bailout now? Hint: They are members of anexclusive club who bet wrong on the credit markets last fall. No, it'snot a cabal of Wall Streeters, but Democrats in Congress.
    We're referring to the "student loan crisis" now appearing in a mediaoutlet near you. In September, Congress vowed to make education moreaffordable by passing the "College Cost Reduction and Access Act." Thelaw reduced the interest rates borrowers pay on federally insuredstudent loans. Backed by the Federal Family Education Loan Program,these loans account for more than 70% of education lending. Taxpayerswill fork over $7 billion by 2012 to pay for the rate cuts.

    But Congress didn't stop there. Convinced that the private lenders whomake these loans were reaping too much profit, Congress also cut theyield on each loan. The return on the popular Stafford loan forundergrads was reduced by 70 basis points. For loan consolidations,Congress cut returns by 65 basis points. In a vibrant market, banksmight have absorbed these hits and continued to lend. But thecombination of legislative fiat and fewer investors willing to buyasset-backed securities amid the credit crunch has put the squeeze onlenders.

    What's now clear is that Congress didn't merely wring the profits outof student lending. It's blown up the entire student loan market.Market leader Sallie Mae says it now loses money on every new federaleducation loan. Sallie continues to lend in hopes of a change in D.C.,or increased investor demand for securitized loans.

    Others can't wait. A third of the nation's top 100 lenders to studentsin 2007 have temporarily suspended new loan originations or exited thebusiness altogether. Citibank subsidiary Student Loan Corporationcited "unprecedented federal legislation" in announcing its recentwithdrawal from much of the market.

    Usually, the law of unintended consequences takes so long to revealitself that no one remembers the culprits. But the speed at whichCongress's student lending changes have gone south is raisingpolitical danger for Democrats, if Republicans had the wit to point itout. (They don't; that's why they're Republicans.)

    Democrats would thus like to clean up the mess they created beforeMay, when a flood of college-bound seniors will seek loans. But thepols can hardly repeal their autumn blunder mere moments after takingcredit for it. No doubt many of them are still sending outtaxpayer-financed mail bragging of their "achievement."

    The result is that the same man who authored last year's bill to cutlenders' returns has crafted a new bill to subsidize those samelenders. Last week the House passed Education and Labor ChairmanGeorge Miller's latest foray into collegiate finance. The bill givesthe Department of Education new authority to purchase loans directlyfrom lenders.

    To summarize: Congress mandated a return on student loans that is toolow to attract private capital in the current market. So Congress willnow use your money to create artificial investor demand. Taxpayerswill bear more risk so that Congress can fashion a new business modelto replace the one it just destroyed. The Bush Administration,unwisely but typically, has endorsed this approach.

    Oh, there's more. Mr. Miller's allies in the Senate understand thatlegislation moves more slowly on their side of the Capitol. There maybe too little time before the angry phone calls from parents targetthe 202 area code. So the same Senators who gave us the autumnaccident have begun a letter-writing campaign to request that bailoutwe mentioned earlier.

    Daniel Akaka, Bob Casey, Tom Carper, Chris Dodd, Tim Johnson, BobMenendez and Jon Tester are desperately seeking a bureaucrat with alarge checkbook to rescue them from their self-made politicaldisaster. Last Thursday they wrote Mr. Bernanke asking him to acceptstudent loans as collateral under the Fed's new Term SecuritiesLending Facility. They sent a similar letter to Treasury SecretaryPaulson asking him to order the Federal Financing Bank to buystudent-loan-backed securities.

    So having raised solemn alarms when the Fed began to accept dodgymortgage-backed securities as collateral, the Senators are nowdemanding that the Fed accept dodgy student-loan paper too. TheSenators helpfully note in their letter that a virtue of theirproposals is that they can be implemented quickly. Indeed, November isjust around the corner.

    Needless to say, none of this legislative history is appearing in themultiple media sob stories about students who can't get loans. Butlike airline passengers stranded this month due to panickyinspections, the current student loan "crisis" didn't have to happen.It is entirely a product of Congress."

    Housewife Explorers

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/main.jhtml?xml=/education/2008/04/21/st_womenexplorers.xml&page=1

    Article on three women houswives who explored an area of the Himalayas where no Westerner had gone before. It is a very impressive story, not the least because of the wonderful British trait of simply following through on impossible ideas. The role of women in exploration and development is too often ignored.

    1984

    Email to Fed Boston employees. There was a series of emails, mine was the last reply. Sorry for the lack of context.

    But yeah, that does smack of paranoia. To go a little english major on it, what actually impresses me is that there is no central body of the government which understands and plans this stuff. The whole thing only holds together if people dont question the idiocy. Instead they fight over whether Obama really thinks small town folks are narrow-minded little followers or whether they really should be forced to lose that house they bought with a 110% ARM. English majors/professors/writers, not exactly well known for their deductive reasoning, generally assume that the govt, major corporations, and media all work together in a big brother kind of way to make sure everyone ignores reality. Its rather impressive to me that they dont, but it often seems to work that way anyway (especially in the case of the govt.)

    "Supporters of Congressman Ron Paul are organizing peaceful protests around the country today, April 15 (tax filing deadline) at post offices and possibly Federal Reserve buildings. Congressman Paul has unfavorable views of both the IRS and the Federal Reserve System.The Bank's Law Enforcement Unit is monitoring the situation and is in close contact with Boston police. We will keep you apprised and we will alert all staff if we learn of anything significant in our vicinity. Again, we expect that any protests will be peaceful."

    Airship

    I love the idea of this. It is a total anachronism, it is slow, big, and impractical for passenger travel. But I love it. The attraction of cruise ships is usually the places you visit. The beauty of this will be the places you fly over. Granted, it will largely appeal to the same crowd as cruise ships: families and retired couples, but the idea of floating over the Okavango in June.. amazing:

    The FAA has accepted the Aeroscraft Aeros ML866 for certification, the aircraft which is neither an airship nor a dirigible or an airplane or an helicopter or a UFO, but is "classified as a fourth type of air vehicle, a buoyancy assisted air vehicle." However, don't hold your breath for a pleasant trip in this long-range, 210-feet-long, 5,000-square-feet cruise liner of the skies: the company told the Giz that the "ML866 is preliminary scheduled to begin the flight test activities in 30-36 months."

    World's Best Hedge fund

    Great Article. Not mine. Innovation and foresight will always be the tools of a great trader:



    Best hedge fund? Recently I visited the home of the world's best-ever hedge fund manager and I often re-read his writing on investment topics. On my way to his house I saw some black swans on a lake which seemed appropriate and later ate at a restaurant that had run out of rice which appeared even more significant. It is sometimes the minor data points that lead to major opportunities.



    How does one define "best" in the fund manager universe? I have looked at lots of funds, both traditional and alternative. Here is the performance chart of one I analyzed a while back: Seems pretty good. It is a real fund and you could, if you want, invest in it. No lemon apparent with this product; the fund exists and that chart and performance numbers have been audited many times. A 20% compound annual return with ten consecutive winning years. Heavily regulated and open to investors everywhere. Zero management and incentive fees - 0 and 0 is better than 2 and 20. No leverage, no lockup and no valuation risk. The manager can accept $100 or $100 billion without damaging performance or capacity and offers full position transparency. The fund only invests in listed common equities on the world's largest stock exchange by market capitalization. Sounds like an ideal fund but after thorough research I concluded this fund was not a suitable candidate for investment. I decided to try to figure out who is the best fund manager ever. The criteria for an investable fund are complex but necessary to identify the "best". If we were to define the top hedge fund as that which extracted the highest percent amount of absolute alpha over several decades, the wealth accumulated by the portfolio manager from his trading acumen, the consistency and repeatability of that performance, the existence of clearly defined protectable edges in fundamental and quantitative analysis and a legacy of investment theory, then the best ever hedge fund manager is pretty clear.

    That person was of the great Munehisa Honma who managed a long/short commodities hedge fund during the 18th century. His house is well designed and much larger than most hedge fund managers, but his book "Fountain of Gold" is brilliant. Probably the best investment book ever written. His trading ability enabled the Honma family to go on to become the largest land owner in Japan for over a century. In today's money, his likely net worth was much more than $100 billion. Some years he would have "taken home" the equivalent of $10 billion so it is curious that there are those excited about John Paulson's "record" pay of $3 billion; fair compensation for the $12 billion absolute alpha he generated for investors that they would not otherwise have. But Honma's returns were higher. Back in 1755 he knew that it was psychology and the irrational actions of market participants, not economic logic that drove markets.

    The study of behavioral finance isn't new, it's over 253 years old. Also he didn't buy and hold rice and wait to be compensated for its high risk. He did not "expect" a commodity risk premium. And even though rice futures were heavily traded and analyzed back then, the liquidity did not produce an efficient market. Like good traders today, he worked out that if he worked hard to develop competitive informational and analytical advantages, he could extract absolute alpha out of other rice traders, regardless of whether rice prices themselves were rising or falling. Munehisa Homna had many insights that paved the way for the absolute return managers of today. Translated adages from his main book: - "Market action is more important than news." "Prices do not reflect actual value." "Buys and sells are decided on emotion not logic." He discovered the truth all that time ago and without the computers and communication systems we have. His fund's results speak for themselves.

    The Swedish Central Bank should retrospectively give him one of those "Nobel" prizes that the efficient, equilibrium economists still have as they continue their fruitless search for a rational, random market. Honma wrote of the returns to be made buying when all others are selling and shorting when everyone is buying. Consult the market about the market. Even today so many spend time on Fed, ECB and BoJ-watching when they could be watching what the market is saying. The market told us we were entering a recession several months ago. It also clearly implied the credit crisis was not "contained". Mr. Market informed us that rice, oil, gold and sulphuric acid were going up while the pundits claimed inflation was under control. However Honma did spend a lot of time on fundamental analysis, what moved rice prices, who was buying or selling and why. He also had detailed historical weather data and analyzed it to predict a key factor driving rice crop yields. His trading required good execution latency so, despite the pre-electricity era, he established a signaling system all the way from Sakata to the Dojima Exchange in Osaka to get orders in and prices back as quickly as possible. He developed many quantitative techniques to maintain his competitive advantage; some simple ones, like candlesticks, have entered the public domain but many others he kept to himself. Honma was the original black box algorithmic trader and system developer. As his impact on the markets grew, he evolved from market-taker to market-maker. He leveraged his informational advantages and adapted to the situation as needed. Many techniques can be traced back to Honma.

    It is interesting how sometimes Western investors get caught out trying to trade Japan. I've seen more than a few "star" bond or treasury traders get blown away by JGB futures. Some fixed-income hedge funds got hurt by Japanese bonds recently. The yen carry trade has damaged some that didn't realize that a low interest rate doesn't mean a weakening currency. And of course there are equity strategists and some beta dependent Japan "hedge funds" who have been saying "Japan is cheap" since the Nikkei was at 16,000 but now it is down in the 12,000s. As Honma said, the cheap can get much cheaper. Some investors might be skeptical of technical analysis and know nothing about Japanese technical analysis. Fair enough. There are plenty of fundamental ways to make money. But if another bigger investor with lots of yen to put to work does believe in Dojis, Harumis, Ichimoku, Kagi or Rengo, that may impact the markets and lose money for those who do not keep up with such methods. As Honma knew and John Maynard Keynes succinctly implied, the key is working out what others will do and how they value securities, not your own estimate of its value. The market may never value it "correctly" as some activist investors in Japan have found out to their cost. Equity analysts visiting companies is useful in many countries but I have seen little evidence of its utility in Japan. Honma was probably the first successful quant in finance. Isaac Newton's earlier market forays weren't very good but then gravitation modeling is easier than financial modeling. The sun will rise tomorrow but the motion of the markets is less predictable.

    It is interesting how today more scientific method and new math is being applied to the markets. But then the old math and old economic theory have not coped well with reality. Assets classes affect each other and the ways they interact change over time. The equity market neutral crowd will be keeping a close eye on credit traders from now on and vice versa but they should have been doing that all along. Honma kept an eye on many things even if they had no apparent connection to rice prices. Everything is related and nothing is independent. Japanese electronics, washing machines and subway systems make use of fuzzy logic. Fuzzy logic was a trend in Japan for quite a while though it was first developed in the US. It is disdained by those who think we live in an orderly bivalent world of right and wrong and 0s and 1s. Many years ago I developed a fuzzy model to measure the bullishness or bearishness of the market. It used to give nice projections for the daily ranges for the JGB, Nikkei and yen fx markets. Given the inappropriateness of Ito's stochastic integral for pricing derivatives, I also tried adapting Sugeno's fuzzy integral to derive a more accurate option trading model. Isn't the world itself fuzzy, so fuzzy logic could be of use? Subways run on time in Japan. That some hedge fund strategies are short volatility - and can be modeled as effectively short sellers of options and hoping a black swan won't show up to transform the fund into a lemon - is old news. Fortunately there are many other hedge funds run by managers who are fully aware of potential "rare" event tail risks, carefully hedge and maintain a long volatility profile. Some hedge funds are indeed lemons but there is lots of other quality "produce" in the investment grocery aisle. So Japan had the world's best ever hedge fund - Honma's long short rice trading hedge fund managed from the 1740s to the 1790s - but also surprisingly the world's best performing index fund over the long term of 50 years - still the Japanese TOPIX. The fund chart above is the fund performance from 1980-1989. Below is the full performance chart from 1980-2008. Past performance was not very indicative for future performance. Things haven't been too good since the high water mark of December 1989. Interestingly the 1980s weren't the best period; the 1950s compounded at a 25% CAGR and returned 10X investors' money plus even more in high dividends. Even now, 18 years into the bear market, the TOPIX remains the best index performer in the post war period. Would I therefore invest in it? Absolutely not. I prefer the manager risk, security analysis and trading skills of today's Munehisa Honmas, not the market risk of every stock that happens to be listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange. Ditto for other countries and asset classes. Honma would have thrived in current market conditions and with three billion people eating rice as a staple, the recent rice price rises are potentially very important. Possible recession and inflation are going to make the absolute alpha generated by the best fund managers important to portfolios and they have Honma, among other great traders, for inspiration.

    "Restless tonight, because I wasted the light"

    The future of widebody aircraft

    What people do not realize is that the A380 and the 787 target very different markets. The future is not in one or the other, but both. The 787 with the GE GEnx engine (if both ever actually get working) will become the dominant aircraft for what we all think of as standard routes - flying inside the US or the EU. The A380 will take over in developing nations with the ability to build the airports required, newly wealthy populations demanding cheap air travel, and the development capital to pull it all together. The two aircraft are simply two different visions of the future of air travel, and both are correct.