Sidestepping Congress: The Debt Crises

One of the main arguments being put forward right now is that the government debt crises is "artificial" - there is no specific reason why there has to be a August 2nd deadline (that one's Obama's) and that congress can't just punt and raise the debt limit. That one is being blamed mostly on the Tea Party and Republicans. 

The claim is that there is basically no real crises, just something we made up to make a political issue out of it all.

In fact, an idiotic professor has put forward an idea about how another idiotic professor could sidestep Congress by issuing the Treasury two trillion dollar coins, or a two trillion option on government real estate. The man, a con law professor at Yale, is clearly exactly the kind of academic moron you would never want running the country... yeah..... 

The reality is that there is a crises. Yes, this specific limit is arbitrary, but so would any other limit be. Do you wait to hit $20 Trillion? $50 trillion (it wont take that long). At at this point there is a real risk that the govt debt of the United States gets downgraded, which would mean that every American company would have to pay more to borrow - which is a bad thing because they would then be able to spend and grow less. 

The crises is that we live in a country which is spending at a rate which has not been seen since WWII. This is not just a little bit of extra spending, we are running annual deficits which make the Reagan era look like El Dorado. 

We fundamentally have a decision to make as a country: are we going to let government run out of control, or are we going to try a limit spending to a reasonable proportion of GDP (say 20%)? The crises is that half or more of this country does not seem to have the balls to stand up and realize that taking the easy road now is not a solution. 

Where the Phones Stand

So, no much to glean from this other than Microsoft seems to be doing pretty well actually given the tiny number of phones which have actually been released (and how the bitter bitter taste of WinMo 6.5 still lingers).

Also, sadly Palm is down to 2% - and not much hope of a big increase soon if they are only going to release one slightly larger phone (albeit one which I really want, and am bitterly disappointed is not coming to Sprint).

Cutting the Budget vs. Long Term National Defense

I hate big government. I love aircraft carriers. 

No Cylons in sight
These two at first seem to be rather contradictory: small government, big military. However, I don't yet have to hand over my hat to Aristotle (at least on this anyway). I believe that long term military security is one of the fundamental purposes of a government, but that it can be done better.
The use of military force against a nation, or against a nation's interests, leads inevitable to the infringement of the rights of the citizens of that nation. And the protection of rights is why we have a government in the first place: protect us against each other, protect those who cannot protect themselves (no Obama, that is not "everyone but me"), and protect citizens from non-citizens. 

Any nation which is incapable of defending itself or its legitimate interests is violating the basic contract with its citizens. There are some nations which simply cheat, relying on other nations to protect them and their interests.... *cough* CANADA *cough*, but this only works because someone else is willing to pick up the tab. And usually, that someone else is the US.

But that kind of military spending, the ability to project power and establish superiority in a conflict, is incredibly valuable. There are many people out there who think this kind of military spending is outdated, unneeded in a world where terrorism and regional 3rd world conflicts are the main cause of concern.... but they are wrong, plain and simple.  Major conflicts could easily erupt in the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent or, of course, Taiwan. And China is preparing for a 1 vs. 1 conflict with the US, let there be no doubt about it. Most importantly, preparing for the conflict, and being sure that we will win it, is the best way to stop that conflict from happening. Well, other than market liberalization and economic development. 

In my opinion, there are three large chunks to military spending. 

1) Spending on current operations and operational readiness. This is the spending which is because we are on the ground, in the air, on the water, and we need to run the military. In times of war, this spending goes up. Whether you agree with the current wars or not does not really matter. This spending has a basic preparedness level (there has been no "peacetime" for the US military since the 1930's) and then a political motivated component of spending on actual conflict. 

2) Procurement of proven systems. This is pretty damn common. A lot of the basic military hardware just does not change that much. A lot of the nuts and bolts that we use to run the military now are the same nuts and bolts from 30, 40 or even 60+ years ago, depending on the platform and the technology involved. 

3) R&D and new system procurement. This is where the US spends billions of dollars a year trying to come up with new and better systems for the military. A lot of the spending in recent years has been on just that: systems. The military is a beast of technology at this point, and trying to get everyone working together has become a central focus. 

The problem with the way the US military is run is the way money is allocated. We spend too little on operations and basic procurement - many servicemen are forced to go into combat with inferior gear because there is not the money in the budget for improved bulletproof vests or MRAP vehicles. Instead, we throw hundreds of billions of dollars a year down R&D rat holes. 

On his way out the door at the Pentagon, Robert Gates leveled with the military. A staggering $700 billion in defense R&D and gear since 9/11 led to only "relatively modest gains in actual military capability," Gates said on June 2. No giant robots, jet packs or sharks with lasers, this was mostly blown on systems which never worked and platforms where were never going anywhere. Need I remind you, $700 billion is a huge sum of money: it is equivalent to 10 years of military spending in China.

Rank↓Country↓Military expenditure, 2010[2]↓ % of GDP, 2009↓
1United StatesUnited States687,105,000,0004.7%
2People's Republic of ChinaPeople's Republic of China114,300,000,0002.2%
4United KingdomUnited Kingdom57,424,000,0002.7%
8Saudi ArabiaSaudi Arabia42,917,000,00011.2%
Where the hell does all that money, and possibly $100 billion or more a year on other questionable progras, go? Mostly it is wasted on cost-plus contract with the big defense firms. Delivering years behind schedule and over-budget is simply the norm. And why wouldn't it be, when you are paid for your cost plus a certain percentage. If cars were built that way, it would take $150,000 to put together a Camry. You end up with projects like the $1 trillion procurement for 2,500 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters (which, while not bad, are no where near as good for the Air Force as the F-22). 

Or you get the Future Combat Systems for the Army, where we spent $200 billion developing... light electric powered combat vehicles. Long story short, they sucked royally and none ever went into production. Yeah, $200 billion and we ended up getting... pretty much nothing out of it. Alternately, the military could have just bought 200 more B-2s, and that would have pretty much scared the living shit out of anyone else on the planet. 

You should most likely surrender if you see this

The list of shitty projects and cost overruns goes on. The V-22 Osprey entered service in the mid-2000s at more than twice its originally estimated cost while the amphibious Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle was canceled in January due to massive cost overruns. The Navy has canceled its next-generation CG(X) cruiser and limited its acquisition of DDG-1000 (Zumwalt) class destroyers to three ships at a total cost of about $3 billion per ship (and no, the toilets were not gold plated). The smaller Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) has more than doubled in cost, and the lead ship of one of the two LCS classes developed a six-inch crack in its hull during sea trials, which is considered "not good". The Coast Guard’s “Deepwater” fleet overhaul has also encountered numerous technical difficulties and cost overruns, including major cracks in refitted ships that then had to be removed from service.

And don't even get me started on the Air Force tanker program. That one is such a stinker that it has been in and out of court for the past 7 years, until the Air Force gave up and is buying 1/2 from Boeing and 1/2 from EADS/Airbus - which makes no freaking sense at all. 

The problem is that we award these massive development contracts on a cost plus basis to a handful of military contractors. Why do we keep going back to the same inefficient, ineffectual and often questionable contractors? Because the big contracts are approved by Congress - not just the military. So when Lockheed went to build the F-22, they made sure they had sub-contractors in 44 states, even though that turned out to be completely inefficient and costly. The more senators you can buy, the more likely you are to get your program funded. 

So what is to be done? First, the government should impose strict schedule cutoffs and/or cost ceilings at various steps in the development, testing, and production of military hardware that would either automatically cancel the project or require contractors to bear 100 percent of additional costs.

Second, we should spend money on what works. Yes, the couple trillion we have spent in the last 10 years on R&D has produced some results. But at that price, you would be much better off with many, many more of the old platform than a handful of the new. More than that, often times the new is not really much better than the old. 

Finally, instead of focusing on huge and unbelievably complex, we should focus on the cost effective. One of the advantages our enemies have is that of the "Assassin's Mace" or shashoujian. The basic concept is a simple cheap weapon which is capable of taking out a much more expensive, complex one. It is one of the central strategies to China's buildup of its military. We build an incredibly large and expensive blue-water navy (11 carrier groups), they build hundreds of small, cheap, 70's era diesel-electric submarines which can sit in littoral waters and take out carriers. They are developing missiles to take down our satellites, jammers to block our anti-SAM missiles from finding their targets, and fire-and-forget air-to-air missiles which can be loaded onto cheap and plentiful generation 4.5 aircraft (think F-16s, not F-22s) and ballistic and cruise missiles designed to be "carrier killers." Considering that no other nation on earth has more than 1 operational aircraft carrier, I wonder who those missiles are made to target... 

There is no reason that the US can't focus on cost effective also - we just don't. Instead, we spend trillions developing systems which fail and then complain that our military costs too much and all the hardware is getting old.

So, in the end, I believe that the US should be spending heavily on its military. I just don't think we need to be spending stupidly. 

Shocking News: Tabloids are sketchy!

I am not sure why the News of The World story is being regarded as such a scandal. I mean, the paper was a rag to start with. The fact that a rag tabloid broke the law? Not really shocking.

The News of the World in the UK is pretty much equivalent to The National Enquirer over here. Maybe a little better, with fewer alien baby stories, but The News of the World getting sued for liable is about as regular as Berlusconi facing sexual abuse allegations, and about as surprising.

So what did they do? Well, they hacked into phones - which is really not all that hard, and they paid off cops for information. Both of these are illegal, underhanded, sleazy violations of rights. But they are not surprising, at least not to me. I have no more faith in the integrity of journalists than I have in the integrity of used car salesman. Actually, more used car salesman probably have some integrity than journalists.

I used to work in securities lending - short selling. I worked there in the bad 'ol days of about three years ago when there were very limited regulations in the US about how and when you could short a stock. The collusion between elements of the financial media and certain hedge funds was so damn obvious that it took no skill at all to see it (proving it in court would be a whole different kettle of rotten fish). So maybe I got jaded, seeing 'journalists' taking kick backs from hedge funds in order to profit off of the falling share price and sometimes collapse of good companies.

I in no way condone what the News of the World did - especially the wire taps, that is a massive violation of rights. But I just don't find it that surprising. Does it say anything about the rest of News Corp? Well - not really. Yeah, News Corp should have been taking a closer look at what was going on, but really, it is wildly unlikely that News Corp proper and Murdoch especially had any damn idea about what is going on. Comments about how this reflects on the WSJ etc are just idiotic.

56MPG - Because Obama thinks you are an idiot

I have long held, as have many others, that the premise of the left is generally that people are idiots and incapable of fending for themselves.

This has certainly been the approach the current administration has taken, with massive new regulation and spending programs aimed at limiting choice, "leveling the playing field" and "protecting consumers from themselves."

Essentially, Obama et al believe that the vast majority of Americans are idiots.

The latest assault on choice is a proposed 56mpg CAFE (corporate average fuel economy) standard by 2025. Which is ridiculous considering there are no gasoline powered cars on the market today which get 56mpg average, not even hybrids.

CAFE means that of all the cars an automaker sells, they have to hit a certain average fuel economy. Essentially, the only way to get to 56mpg in 14 years is a massive switch from gasoline to electric, which Obama would of course love because he believes oil companies are pure evil, and we should all be running off of inefficient, overpriced and under-delivering alternative energy at this point.

The ONLY way that this proposal would make a damn bit of sense is if the government announced that at the same time it was granting regulatory approval for a wave of new nuclear power stations. Of course, nuclear power is somehow also hated by environmentalists, which makes about as much sense as construction workers hating pickup trucks, and driving Priuses instead.

I am just so goddamn sick of this administration and all the shit that it pulls. Somehow, we are living through Atlas Shrugged and a big chunk of the population believes that the moron is doing a good job.

Jag Heading Back to LeMans

Jaguar at Le Mans

The last time Jag raced in LeMans was 1991. The year before that, they won it with their beautiful "Silk Cut" LMP1, which then played a big part in the creation of the XJ220, one of the most gorgeous cars ever made.

Tata Motors has put up the money to push back into LeMans racing, where Audi and Peugeot have been dueling for top honors after a few years of Audi winning every year.

Interestingly, it seems that many more car makers are going to be pushing into LeMans racing to make a name for themselves, as F1 no longer offers the opportunities or value for money they once did.

The 70% Marginal Tax Rate

This is pulled from the WSJ.

Again, all I have to say is that if you look at the UK post-WWII, very similar things happened, with long term results which were pretty freaking bad. Now, the UK has learned something from its old ways, and is actually trying to keep taxes down and instead--shockingly--cut spending.

However, in the US we are still stuck in the obstinate belief that because we have been the global superpower for the past 70 years (and especially the last 20) that nothing bad can happen, no matter the macro-economic policies.

So here we are, looking at a possible 70% marginal tax rate. And not just for "the rich" as the Democrats keep saying, unless you consider $60k/yr rich - which is ridiculous.

President Obama has been using the debt-ceiling debate and bipartisan calls for deficit reduction to demand higher taxes. With unemployment stuck at 9.2% and a vigorous economic "recovery" appearing more and more elusive, his timing couldn't be worse.
Two problems arise when marginal tax rates are raised. First, as college students learn in Econ 101, higher marginal rates cause real economic harm. The combined marginal rate from all taxes is a vital metric, since it heavily influences incentives in the economy—workers and employers, savers and investors base decisions on after-tax returns. Thus tax rates need to be kept as low as possible, on the broadest possible base, consistent with financing necessary government spending.
Second, as tax rates rise, the tax base shrinks and ultimately, as Art Laffer has long argued, tax rates can become so prohibitive that raising them further reduces revenue—not to mention damaging the economy. That is where U.S. tax rates are headed if we do not control spending soon.
The current top federal rate of 35% is scheduled to rise to 39.6% in 2013 (plus one-to-two points from the phase-out of itemized deductions for singles making above $200,000 and couples earning above $250,000). The payroll tax is 12.4% for Social Security (capped at $106,000), and 2.9% for Medicare (no income cap). While the payroll tax is theoretically split between employers and employees, the employers' share is ultimately shifted to workers in the form of lower wages.
But there are also state income taxes that need to be kept in mind. They contribute to the burden. The top state personal rate in California, for example, is now about 10.5%. Thus the marginal tax rate paid on wages combining all these taxes is 44.1%. (This is a net figure because state income taxes paid are deducted from federal income.)
So, for a family in high-cost California taxed at the top federal rate, the expiration of the Bush tax cuts in 2013, the 0.9% increase in payroll taxes to fund ObamaCare, and the president's proposal to eventually uncap Social Security payroll taxes would lift its combined marginal tax rate to a stunning 58.4%.
Martin Kozlowski
But wait, things get worse. As Milton Friedman taught decades ago, the true burden on taxpayers today is government spending; government borrowing requires future interest payments out of future taxes. To cover the Congressional Budget Office projection of Mr. Obama's $841 billion deficit in 2016 requires a 31.7% increase in allincome tax rates (and that's assuming the Social Security income cap is removed). This raises the top rate to 52.2% and brings the total combined marginal tax rate to 68.8%. Government, in short, would take over two-thirds of any incremental earnings.
Many Democrats demand no changes to Social Security and Medicare spending. But these programs are projected to run ever-growing deficits totaling tens of trillions of dollars in coming decades, primarily from rising real benefits per beneficiary. To cover these projected deficits would require continually higher income and payroll taxes for Social Security and Medicare on all taxpayers that would drive the combined marginal tax rate on labor income to more than 70% by 2035 and 80% by 2050. And that's before accounting for the Laffer effect, likely future interest costs, state deficits and the rising ratio of voters receiving government payments to those paying income taxes.
It would be a huge mistake to imagine that the cumulative, cascading burden of many tax rates on the same income will leave the middle class untouched. Take a teacher in California earning $60,000. A current federal rate of 25%, a 9.5% California rate, and 15.3% payroll tax yield a combined income tax rate of 45%. The income tax increases to cover the CBO's projected federal deficit in 2016 raises that to 52%. Covering future Social Security and Medicare deficits brings the combined marginal tax rate on that middle-income taxpayer to an astounding 71%. That teacher working a summer job would keep just 29% of her wages. At the margin, virtually everyone would be working primarily for the government, reduced to a minority partner in their own labor.
Nobody—rich, middle-income or poor—can afford to have the economy so burdened. Higher tax rates are the major reason why European per-capita income, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, is about 30% lower than in the United States—a permanent difference many times the temporary decline in the recent recession and anemic recovery.
Some argue the U.S. economy can easily bear higher pre-Reagan tax rates. They point to the 1930s-1950s, when top marginal rates were between 79% and 94%, or the Carter-era 1970s, when the top rate was about 70%. But those rates applied to a much smaller fraction of taxpayers and kicked in at much higher income levels relative to today.
There were also greater opportunities for sheltering income from the income tax. The lower marginal tax rates in the 1980s led to the best quarter-century of economic performance in American history. Large increases in tax rates are a recipe for economic stagnation, socioeconomic ossification, and the loss of American global competitiveness and leadership.
There is only one solution to this growth-destroying, confiscatory tax-rate future: Control spending growth, especially of entitlements. Meaningful tax reform—not with higher rates as Mr. Obama proposes, but with lower rates on a broader base of economic activity and people—can be an especially effective complement to spending control. But without increased spending discipline, even the best tax reforms are doomed to be undone.
Mr. Boskin is a professor of economics at Stanford University and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. He chaired the Council of Economic Advisers under President George H.W. Bush

60 Missile Warheads Stolen

Police guard the freight train. 18 July 2011
60 Missile warheads were stolen off of a train heading from Romania to Bulgaria. Local officials say that they were probably stolen for scrap value.... yes... yes.....

Yo quiero warheads

The Unique Species of the Belly Button

"The Belly Button Biodiversity Project, run by scientists at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, has been analyzing navel swabs from a host of volunteers. So far, they’ve found 1,400 distinct bacterial strains, of which 662 have never been seen before."

Yeah... I can't make this stuff up. Legitimately, they have been swabbing belly buttons and found almost 700 new types of bacteria... which is amazing.. and a little disturbing.


The Sabre-Toothed Sausage: The Most Amazing Creature Alive?

Meet one of the best adapted animals on the planet, and possibly the key to long life and a cure for cancer.

It is pudgy, white skinned, lives underground, has an exceptionally long life and has bad teeth. So basically, it is Bilbo Baggins. It can be described as a "saber-toothed sausage," which passes for pretty intimidating in the benign land of Hobbitown.

Num num num

It is... the Naked Mole Rat.

Needless to say, these are some odd critters. They live in groups - which is rare for mammals of this type, with colonies of usually 80-100 individuals but up to 300 at times.

They also took a page from ant's book: there is only one breeding female, the queen. And she is big - roughly twice the size of the others. She mates with one to three breeding males. All the others in the colony, male or female, have their sexuality repressed. Clearly, this means they end up writing bizzare stories about girls on opium trips.

Now with more saber-tooth
The social nature continues: small rats are workers, enlarging the colony and keeping tunnels clear etc. Larger rats are defensive or territorial.

Naked mole rat (SPL)
Are you brave enough to take this guy on?
And here is where it gets a little interesting, and a little bizarre...

The naked mole rat can live for over 30 years.. in captivity. Which means it lives far far longer than other related creatures of similar size - rats generally live for just 4 years.

The small wrinkly guys also have very little or no pain sensation in their skin and a low metabolic rate that allows them to live with limited oxygen.

To top it all off, the naked mole rat is highly resistant (and possibly immune) to cancer and many other diseases: "To date, there have been no reported deaths of cancer, and there are [teams] around the world that have kept and studied naked mole rats for decades."

In other words, if you want to live to be 400 or so, live free of cancer, and feel no pain, you should probably strip down naked, find a nice dirt tunnel system, and convince 99 of  your best friends to join you... though I would recommend sorting out who was the queen first...

Alternately, you could wait a few years, because scientists have just decoded the genome of this amazing animal, and are hoping to learn its secrets (though as we all know, payoffs in genetic manipulation is frustratingly slow).

As a final note - these guys are actually from East Africa, and are not, contrary to earlier reports, Hobbits.

The Lost Decade: Is Global Warming Happening?

Between 1998 and 2008 global temperatures... fell.

Which is kind of inconvenient for the inconvenient truth folks, because it makes it rather difficult to claim that anthropogenic global warming will be the end to civilization as we know it, or at least make it difficult to ski Zermatt in May.

Now, a new theory has emerged: the Earth's temperature fell between 1998 and 2008 because Asia was pumping out so much pollution. Yeah, that's not a typo: because they were pumping out so much pollution, temperatures fell.

Specifically, they pumped out a lot of sulphur (or sulfur for the Americans) which caused the planet to cool down, counteracting all of the CO2 and CO equivalents which they also pumped out. Yeah...

Most of Asia's carbon emissions came from coal and with coal emissions comes sulfur. Sulfur is a key ingredient in the formation of aerosols, which form hazy cloud layers that reflect heat from the sun back into space. These aerosols, the paper argues, are responsible for the halt in rising temperatures.

But they say - this won't last because sulphur regulations will get more serious and then we will be back to warming up like DC in August in no time.

So... what's wrong with sulphur? Or more to the point - why the hell do I care about emissions anyway? Honestly, build a couple of big collectors, take in the CO2, sequester it until such time that algal fuels or CO2 to Methanol makes sense. Problem freaking solved. In the meantime, sulfur seems to be doing the trick - or something else does, because the bottom line here is that global warming is not happening.

Actually, what this really means is that everyone driving around in old Mercedes diesels would be better off burning old school diesel rather than veggie fuel. So if you converted your old Merc to run on McDonalds, you are hurting the environment by not pumping out world-cooling sulphur you selfish bastard.

China's Rare Earth Setbacks

First, let me say that most of the claims that we are running out of rare earth metals are way overblown. We have enough of most of the the fifteen lanthanoids to last until mankind has decided walking is not really our thing, and go the way of the whale and float around for a living.

That said, there are still a few elements which China does have quite strong hold on. Or should I say, had.

This week, there have been two big setbacks for China. First was that Japanese geologists say they’ve found huge concentrated deposits of rare earths in the Pacific seabed that could total 100 billion tons--or enough in a single square mile of seafloor to cover nearly half the world’s annual demand.

The second was that the WTO ruled against China in a case brought by the US and others over China's hoarding of rare earth elements. The result of this is that China should not be able to pull any more "unofficial embargo" stunts like last year.

So go ahead and make your hybrid motors, solar panels, wind turbines and high capacity batteries. Because China no longer will control the market, there is some chance that your earth-saving devices will not longer be created by strip mining vast swaths of Southern China (with little side-effects like lead poisoning, deforestation, water sources being destroyed, radiation poisoning and rampant pollution in general).
this is actually one of the largest rare earth mines in the world.... and it's in China

The End of the Shuttle - The Beginning Of the Same Damn Mistake

The Shuttle was a mistake. It was not that over-budget to develop, but it was wildly expensive to operate, costing roughly 20x the initial estimates. Because of this, NASA also never had the money (or there was never the political will) to build a new alternative. Instead, heavy launch went to the Delta and Atlas programs (Boeing and Lockheed Martin) and the Space Shuttle has been stuck sending up pieces of the ISS and running somewhat questionably cost effective science missions.

The reality is this: people are expensive to get into space. And they don't really 'need' to be there for science missions. The reason that people need to be in space is because we need people in space in order to expand as a civilization and ensure the long-term survival of the species. And finally, people need to be in space so that we can make $ off of space - which is the only way we are going to really move off-planet.

So the Space Shuttle has been a failure, though a cool failure. And now it is retiring - and for political reasons we are developing a new human rated heavy launch rocket to do.... something. We actually have no idea what it is for. We have given up going to Mars - so that is not the point. And there are much better and cheaper ways to get people or stuff into low earth orbit, so that is not the point either. What the hell are we building this new rocket for? We are building it because if we don't "jobs will be lost". Which could be said about a lot of things, like a bridge across the great lakes, a tunnel under Iowa or a recreation of the Gaza pyramid in New Mexico.

The mistake we made with the Space Shuttle is that we had no REASON to go to space all the time. Well, they thought they did when they built it - to launch large satellites - but that dried up as it turned out it is a lot cheaper to launch satellites without 3 pudgy humans along for the ride.

The reason for going to space is all important. And the reason that we should send the next generation out there needs to be a good one. It can be money, it can be exploration, but it sure as hell needs to be something, and right now, we got nothing.

Only 3 Bids for the Winter Olympics

Sadly, the winter Olympics are generally a money-losing proposition. They don't have the global draw of the summer games, because most of the Earth's population does not really care about winter sports (witness the tiny delegation sent by India to the Vancouver games, and China really only sent gymnasts).

Because of that, the global recession, and the fact that there was a clear preference for one city, there were only three bids to hose the 2018 games: Pyeongchang, Munich, and the small French city of Annecy.

Pyeongchang, located in the Alpensia mountains east of Seoul, narrowly lost out to Vancouver for the 2010 Olympics and to Sochi, Russia, for the 2014 Games. They are widely expected to win these games.

Interestingly, it is the fewest number of bids to stage a Winter Olympics since 1981, when three finalists competed for the 1988 Olympics, which were awarded to Calgary. There were seven bids for the 1992 Games, four for 1994, six for 1998, nine for 2002 (cut to four finalists), six for 2006, eight for 2010 (reduced to four finalists) and seven for 2014 (decreased to three finalists).

So, it seems that either nations were unwilling to front the cost right now (likely) and most expected S. Korea to take the icing.

Yoga Is Not Old

I have never really been a big believer in yoga - other than the fact that stretching is good for you etc etc, I just could never buy into the "ancient Indian meditation and spiritualism" mumbo jumbo. And turns out... its all just mumbo jumbo.

Yoga was invented by this guy, who is still around today:

Most of your Steve Jobs loving, prAna wearing, OOOOoddwaalllaa drinking friends will tell you that yoga is 5,000 years old. Which is about as accurate as saying that sitting on your ass is 5,000 years old, because those claims are based on statues where people are sitting on the ground cross-legged.

Yoga is first mentioned by name in some 2,500-year-old Hindu religious texts called the Upanishads, but this is actually a term relating to a method of strapping horses together -- literally the origin for our word "yoke." The Upanishads use it as a metaphor for a mental prayer technique, but as far as all those weird stretches are concerned, the texts mention exactly one physical posture, and that posture is pretty much "sit in a way that makes meditation comfortable." So the word "yoga" might describe an old Hindu teaching, but then so does the word "avatar," and nobody's claiming that the James Cameron movie reflects an unbroken line of ancient sacred tradition.

It wasn't until the 19th century that an Indian prince named Krishnaraja Wodeyar III produced something resembling what we call yoga: a manual called the Sritattvanidhi, which listed 122 poses mostly taken from Indian gymnastics. What really kicked-started modern yoga, though, was the influence of the Imperial British, who introduced Indians to the new exercise craze that was sweeping Europe at the time.

Later a guy named B.K.S. Iyengar (he of the amazing eyebrows) came up with the idea of combining these exercise techniques with some of the teachings described in old Hindu texts like the Yoga Sutras and let the result loose on America in the 1960s. Since then, yoga fans have grown by the millions, with few realizing that they are practicing a chanted-up version of early 20th-century gym class.

Portugal Downgraded, EU Fires back at Ratings Agencies

Ratings agencies came out of the recession with more mud on their faces than a bullfrog in the spring. They were the architects of many of the derivatives which turned out to have absolutely no value. You would ask the rating agency how to get a good credit rating, and for a fee, they would tell you. I am amazed they came out of it with as much credibility as they did, and really, they probably deserved to be fined and sued out of existence.

That said, they are still around, and kicking. Mostly because there is not a clear alternative at this point, though smaller independent competitors are springing up.

This time, Moodys has pissed off the EU and the Germans in particular for its downgrade of Portugal to "junk" status.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble told a news conference that he wanted to "break the oligopoly of the ratings agencies" and limit their influence. He mentioned that "panzers" and "a quick but strong offensive using motorized vehicles backed by infantry and air cover" might also be involved.

All over the EU, the ratings agencies were not getting a lot of love:

"The timing of Moody's decision is not only questionable, but also based on absolutely hypothetical scenarios which are not in line at all with implementation," said European Commission spokesman Amadeu Altafaj.

"This is an unfortunate episode and it raises once more the issue of the appropriateness of behaviour of credit rating agencies."

Commission President Manuel Barroso added that the move by Moody's "added another speculative element to the situation".

He also said it was strange that none of the ratings agencies were based in Europe.

"[This] shows there may be some bias in the markets when it comes to the evaluation of specific issues of Europe," he said.

All in, it seems to me that the EU might be setting up their own alternative to the ratings agencies, which could be a good thing if done right (independent companies) or a disaster (ruled from Brussels). Though honestly these days if you are looking for good pro-capitalist regulation, you need to leave the US and head to the EU.

Worlds Loudest Animal uses gentleman's sausage to create song

Bit of an odd piece of news.

The loudest animal in the world (relative to body size) turns out to be the Lesser Water Boatman - yeah, you have probably seen them skimming away from you over the surface of some small pond or backwater.

FrFrom Wired:

"The male lesser water boatman, aka Micronecta scholtzi, can create mating calls as loud as 99.2 decibels, which is the equivalent of sitting in the front row of a loud, full-blown orchestra, or standing 15 meters away from a hurtling freight train.

“Remarkably,” said Stratchclyde University’s James Windmill in a press release, “even though 99 percent of sound is lost when transferring from water to air, the song is so loud that a person walking along the bank can actually hear these tiny creatures singing from the bottom of the river.”

To make this colossal acoustic din, the male water boatman rubs his penis (or “genitalia appendage”) against the ridged surface of his abdomen, like a wooden spoon against a washboard. Size doesn’t matter for this tiny marine animal, though, as the whole area measures about 50 micrometers across — roughly the width of a human hair.

The act of rubbing two body parts together to make a noise is called stridulation, and is seen in insects from grasshoppers to spiders. The only known mammal to stridulate is the streaked tenrec, a spiky hedgehog-like critter from Madagascar that rubs its quills together.

Windmill and his team looked at lots of marine and terrestrial creatures and measured their different auditory outbursts in “acoustic pressure” to find out how loud animals are in relation to their body size.

So while an African elephant’s rumbling call can be 117 decibels, if the trunked beast was reduced to the size of a water boatman, the marine insect would far outclass it. As would, it turns out, a snapping shrimp, a speckled bush cricket, a bronze dainty frog, an alligator and a human."