Nice way to end the year in space.
December 2011 Archives
Auld Lang Syne is attributed to Robert Burns, but it is believed the Scots poet adapted an old ballad and set the words to a traditional folk tune.
Its title translates as "old long since" and the words - printed in their entirety on the left - pay homage to people and memories of times gone by.
Burns expert Chris Rollie said he is not surprised by the poll's findings that few people know all the lyrics.
He said: "Plenty of songs are sung without people knowing the words and bear in mind this is usually sung at the end of a long day and night. But I think people understand its sentiment.
"Burns was sentimental. He had a frequent saying which was, 'I drink to the hope that the friends of youth may be companions in old age'.
"The words reflect this. And the elements of Auld Lang Syne are really simple - friendship, memories and drink to celebrate it. That's it."
Although known as a Hogmanay song, it is also used to symbolise endings or new beginnings.
Auld Lang Syne is belted out at the end of Scout Jamborees, the TUC Congress, and even when a British colony achieves independence.
This emotive song, performed holding hands with loved ones and total strangers alike, also has the power to bring together the most unlikely people.
Who can forget the unhappy expression on the Queen's face as she linked hands with Prime Minister Tony Blair to welcome in the new millennium?
Maybe Her Majesty was just shocked that he had forgotten the words...
The song has featured in more than 170 Hollywood films, including It's a Wonderful Life and When Harry Met Sally, and versions are sung as far away as Japan, Hungary and Finland.
The song has also been covered by Jimi Hendrix, who played a live version in New York on December 31, 1969, and Elvis Presley, on New Year's Eve, 1976, in Pittsburgh.
Last year, Maria Carey released it as a single. Billy Joel also sang it for his live CD, 2000 Years: The Millennium Concert.
And never brought to mind
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And auld lang syne.
For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We'll tak' a cup o' kindness yet
For auld lang syne.
And surely you'll be your pint stowp
And surely I'll be mine,
And we'll drink a richt guid willy waught
For auld lang syne.
We twa hae run aboot the braes
And pu'd the gowans fine,
But we've wandered monie a wearie fit'
Since auld lang syne.
We twa hae paidled in the burn
Frae morning sun till dine
But seas a'tween us braid hae roared
Since auld lang syne
And here's a hand my trusty fere
And gie's a hand o' thine
And we'll tak' a cup o' kindness yet
For auld lang syne.
This reminds me of the sort of reasoning some posters making comments on news articles online come up with.
Yikes...now here's a sticky wicket. I don't know enough about the background politics to know whether Iran is bluffing or not.. I suppose out gas prices will go through the roof in any event.
But the ridiculous thing in all of this is the Republican controlled house put through a bill which bars any attempt at resolving issues with Iran via diplomacy. What are these morons thinking?
Tehran says no crude will flow through Strait of Hormuz if its own is embargoed
Iran threatened on Tuesday to stop the flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz if foreign sanctions were imposed on its crude exports over its nuclear ambitions, a move that could trigger military conflict with economies dependent on Gulf oil.
Western tensions with Iran have increased since a November 8 report by the U.N. nuclear watchdog saying Tehran appears to have worked on designing an atomic bomb and may still be pursuing research to that end. Iran strongly denies this and says it is developing nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.
Iran has defiantly expanded nuclear activity despite four rounds of U.N. sanctions meted out since 2006 over its refusal to suspend sensitive uranium enrichment and open up to U.N. nuclear inspectors and investigators.
Many diplomats and analysts believe only sanctions targeting Iran's lifeblood oil sector might be painful enough to make it change course, but Russia and China - big trade partners of Tehran - have blocked such a move at the United Nations.
Iran's warning on Tuesday came three weeks after EU foreign ministers decided to tighten sanctions over the U.N. watchdog report and laid out plans for a possible embargo of oil from the world's No. 5 crude exporter.
"If they (the West) impose sanctions on Iran's oil exports, then even one drop of oil cannot flow from the Strait of Hormuz," the official Iranian news agency IRNA quoted Iran's First Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi as saying.
The U.S. State Department said it saw "an element of bluster" in the threat but underscored that the United States would support the free flow of oil.
The government has no business taking away my guns, has no business deciding for me what is safe or not, ...
What you are basically saying is that you think no one has the right to tell you to do anything you don't want to do...like a child yelling "you're not the boss of me", it's a puerile and short-sighted attitude which works fine if you are living in the woods away from others.
Collections of people living cooperatively is called a society or a civilization and requires the lubrication of both politeness and rules of conduct. It strikes me that libertarians want the conveniences of cooperative living but not the responsibilities that include checks on their individuality. You have the right and freedom to go off and live by your own rules any time you want...you just can't do that in the middle of a busy city.
Society has the absolute right to tell you where and when you can fire your weapons and even whether or not you have the character to own one. They can also stipulate other rules like seat belts and air bags because all too frequently they end paying for the uninsured libertarian's post accident medical bills.
The reality is that individuals and their rights to be "free" do not arise except by way of human social groups in the first place. Hence, the individual is a secondary rather than primary aspect of what it means to be a human. There are good and inventive effects that come from romantic ideals of the lone wolf, but the pack is the superior and primary function of wolfdom.
Life is simply more important in the overall scheme of things than lives.
Every morning we wake up and regain consciousness -- that is a marvelous fact -- but what exactly is it that we regain? Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio uses this simple question to give us a glimpse into how our brains create our sense of self.
The longest traffic jam in the world recorded in China. Its length is 260 kilometers or about 165 miles.
hat tip to Mr Baker
By Paul Krugman
Consider the following picture: Recent growth has relied on a huge construction boom fueled by surging real estate prices, and exhibiting all the classic signs of a bubble. There was rapid growth in credit -- with much of that growth taking place not through traditional banking but rather through unregulated "shadow banking" neither subject to government supervision nor backed by government guarantees. Now the bubble is bursting -- and there are real reasons to fear financial and economic crisis.
Am I describing Japan at the end of the 1980s? Or am I describing America in 2007? I could be. But right now I'm talking about China, which is emerging as another danger spot in a world economy that really, really doesn't need this right now.
I've been reluctant to weigh in on the Chinese situation, in part because it's so hard to know what's really happening. All economic statistics are best seen as a peculiarly boring form of science fiction, but China's numbers are more fictional than most. I'd turn to real China experts for guidance, but no two experts seem to be telling the same story.
Still, even the official data are troubling -- and recent news is sufficiently dramatic to ring alarm bells.
The most striking thing about the Chinese economy over the past decade was the way household consumption, although rising, lagged behind overall growth. At this point consumer spending is only about 35 percent of G.D.P., about half the level in the United States.
So who's buying the goods and services China produces?
A good argument against reincarnation.
A novel idea of how to incentivize pharmaceutical companies outside of the patent/mark-up method of producing profit. It's called the Health Incentive Fund (HIF).
At TEDxCanberra, Thomas Pogge proposes a $6 billion plan to revolutionize the way medications are developed and sold.
Federal regulators have charged six former executives -- including former CEOs -- at mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac with securities fraud, alleging they misled investors about their exposure to risky subprime mortgage debt.
The Securities and Exchange Commission said it sued three former executives at Fannie Mae and three at Freddie Mac Friday. The civil charges were filed in two separate lawsuits in federal court in New York City. Among those charged were former Freddie Mac CEO Richard Syron and former Fannie Mae CEO Daniel Mudd.
"Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac executives told the world that their subprime exposure was substantially smaller than it really was," said Robert Khuzami, Director of the SEC's Enforcement Division. Khuzami added that these misstatements "misled the market about the amount of risk on the company's books."
The SEC said both firms have agreed to cooperate with the agency and have entered nto non-prosecution agreements.
Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae have been propped up by about $169 billion in federal aid since they were rescued by the government in 2008. Fannie and Freddie own or guarantee about half of U.S. mortgages, or nearly 31 million loans.
The Associated Press said lawyers for Syron and Mudd couldn't be reached.
The SEC said it is seeking financial penalties, disgorgement of ill-gotten gains with interest and to bar Syron, Mudd and the others charged from serving as directors on company boards.
The others charged include:
- Fannie Mae - former Chief Risk Officer Enrico Dallavecchia and former Executive Vice President of its single family mortgage business, Thomas A. Lund.
- Freddie Mac - former Executive Vice President and Chief Business Officer Patricia L. Cook, and former Executive Vice President for the Single Family Guarantee business Donald J. Bisenius.
By Paul Krugman
Apparently the desperate search of Republicans for someone they can nominate not named Willard M. Romney continues. New polls suggest that in Iowa, at least, we have already passed peak Gingrich. Next up: Representative Ron Paul.
In a way, that makes sense. Mr. Romney isn't trusted because he's seen as someone who cynically takes whatever positions he thinks will advance his career -- a charge that sticks because it's true. Mr. Paul, by contrast, has been highly consistent. I bet you won't find video clips from a few years back in which he says the opposite of what he's saying now.
Unfortunately, Mr. Paul has maintained his consistency by ignoring reality, clinging to his ideology even as the facts have demonstrated that ideology's wrongness. And, even more unfortunately, Paulist ideology now dominates a Republican Party that used to know better.
I'm not talking here about Mr. Paul's antiwar views or his less well-known views on civil and reproductive rights, which would horrify liberals who think of him as a good guy. I'm talking, instead, about his views on economics.
Mr. Paul identifies himself as a believer in "Austrian" economics -- a doctrine that it goes without saying rejects John Maynard Keynes but is almost equally vehement in rejecting the ideas of Milton Friedman. For Austrians see "fiat money," money that is just printed without being backed by gold, as the root of all economic evil, which means that they fiercely oppose the kind of monetary expansion Friedman claimed could have prevented the Great Depression -- and which was actually carried out by Ben Bernanke this time around.
O.K., a brief digression: the Federal Reserve doesn't actually print money (the Treasury does that). But the Fed does control the "monetary base," the sum of bank reserves and currency in circulation. So when people talk about Mr. Bernanke printing money, what they really mean is that the Fed expanded the monetary base.
I hated and loved him in equal measure. Provocative and intemperate, brilliant and stubborn he did that best of all possible things, he made me think about how I think and for that alone I will miss him.
By Hillel Italie
WASHINGTON -- Christopher Hitchens, the author, essayist and polemicist who waged verbal and occasional physical battle on behalf of causes on the left and right and wrote the provocative best-seller "God is Not Great," died Thursday night after a long battle with cancer. He was 62.
Hitchens' death was announced in a statement from Conde Nast, publisher of Vanity Fair magazine. The statement says he died Thursday night at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston of pneumonia, a complication of his esophageal cancer.
A most-engaged, prolific and public intellectual who enjoyed his drink (enough to "to kill or stun the average mule") and cigarettes, he announced in June 2010 that he was being treated for cancer of the esophagus and canceled a tour for his memoir "Hitch-22."
Hitchens, a frequent television commentator and a contributor to Vanity Fair, Slate and other publications, had become a popular author in 2007 thanks to "God is Not Great," a manifesto for atheists that defied a recent trend of religious works. Cancer humbled, but did not mellow him. Even after his diagnosis, his columns appeared weekly, savaging the royal family or reveling in the death of Osama bin Laden.
"I love the imagery of struggle," he wrote about his illness in an August 2010 essay in Vanity Fair. "I sometimes wish I were suffering in a good cause, or risking my life for the good of others, instead of just being a gravely endangered patient."
Eloquent and intemperate, bawdy and urbane, he was an acknowledged contrarian and contradiction -- half-Christian, half-Jewish and fully non-believing; a native of England who settled in America; a former Trotskyite who backed the Iraq war and supported George W. Bush. But his passions remained constant and enemies of his youth, from Henry Kissinger to Mother Teresa, remained hated.
He was a militant humanist who believed in pluralism and racial justice and freedom of speech, big cities and fine art and the willingness to stand the consequences. He was smacked in the rear by then-British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and beaten up in Beirut. He once submitted to waterboarding to prove that it was indeed torture.
Hitchens was an old-fashioned sensualist who abstained from clean living as if it were just another kind of church. In 2005, he would recall a trip to Aspen, Colorado, and a brief encounter after stepping off a ski lift.
"I was met by immaculate specimens of young American womanhood, holding silver trays and flashing perfect dentition," he wrote. "What would I like? I thought a gin and tonic would meet the case. `Sir, that would be inappropriate.' In what respect? `At this altitude gin would be very much more toxic than at ground level.' In that case, I said, make it a double."
Homaro Cantu and Ben Roche come from Moto, a Chicago restaurant that plays with new ways to cook and eat food. But beyond the fun and flavor-tripping, there's a serious intent: Can we use new food technology for good?
Well he lit you up
like Amber Waves in his movie show
He fixed you up real good
till I don't know you anymore
from Ballet Class to a Lap Dance
Straight to video
And the pool side news
was that he would be
Into every young man's
Bedroom - you gave it up
on DVD and magazine-
you gave it up
a private rite of passage
you gave it up
to every boy's sweet dream
with their paper cuts
You said "he's got a Healing Machine
it glows in the dark, glows in the dark:
You say "there's not a lot of me
left anymore- just leave it alone.
But if you're by, and you have
the time, tell the Northern
Lights to keep shining -
Lately it seems like they're drowning"
He could light you up
and summon every swan
to the Lakeside
Off to Cabo San Lucas
for some optical stimulus
Then you started to guess
there was someone else
though His flint glass
seeing all of you
immersed in His sepia
So I went by -
'cause I had the time,
and told the Northern Lights
to keep shining
they told me to tell you -
- Tori Amos
And the race to the tax base bottom.
I despise people who use their wireless phones while driving for any reason.
A moving vehicle is a potentially lethal weapon. I no more want someone operating a moving vehicle and being distracted by a cell phone conversation than I want someone doing the same while loading or aiming a gun.
When you are given a license to operate a motor vehicle you are being asked to be professional and responsible as a driver, texting and chatting on a phone are neither, in fact they are both negligent behaviors.
Operating a vehicle is a highly dangerous activity, just because you are used to it, doesn't make it less dangerous, in fact your casualness make it all that more dangerous. Most accidents happen within people's comfort zones.
As far as the idea about how to go about enforcing a ban goes; it would be really easy for police to have a device in their car that monitors whether a vehicle is producing radio signals on the wireless frequency your cellphone uses. A car that has a driver using their cell phone would light up like a beacon and be tagged just like a speeder sets off a radar check.
It will likely take as long to get the public to realize the dangers of cell phone use in cars and accept it as a heavy penalty crime as it did to get them to accept the message about driving drunk. The problem is as much about people being self-centered and shallow as anything else. Let's face it, idiots abound.
I was changing the radio in my car while driving, but just about the time I got the old one out, I was pulled over for driving erratically.
- Emo Phillips
By Mike M. Ahlers
Federal accident investigators Tuesday called for a nationwide ban on the use of cell phones and text messaging devices while driving.
The recommendation is the most far-reaching yet by the National Transportation Safety Board, which in the past 10 years has increasingly sought to limit the use of portable electronic devices. It has recommended such bans for novice drivers, school bus drivers and commercial truckers.
The new recommendation, if adopted by states, would outlaw non-emergency phone calls and texting by operators of every vehicle on the road.
It would not apply to hand-free devices or to passengers.
By Alan Boyle
Physicists are revealing what they've found so far in their quest for the Higgs boson at Europe's Large Hadron Collider on Tuesday, and it's already being touted as a revolutionary revelation about a "God particle" that ranks right up there with Obi-Wan Kenobi and the Force. But the Higgs boson isn't a religious experience, and it won't help you destroy the Death Star. So what is the Higgs? And what do scientists know about it? Here's a small guide to the Large Hadron Collider's latest:
Why it's important: For decades, physicists have used a theory known as the Standard Model to explain the interactions of subatomic particles, and the theory works beautifully. It's guided our way through the world of nuclear power, television, microwave ovens and lasers. One problem: The theory needed something extra to explain why some particles have mass and some don't. Back in the 1960s, physicist Peter Higgs and his colleagues proposed the existence of a mysterious energy field that interacts with some particles more than others. That field is known as the Higgs field, associated with a particle called the Higgs boson.
Today, the Higgs boson is the last fundamental piece missing from the Standard Model. Finding it is the most commonly cited reason for building the $10 billion LHC. If the characteristics of the Higgs particle (or particles) match what's predicted by the current formulation of the Standard Model, that would bring a sense of completion to particle physics. If the Higgs isn't found, that might force physicists to tweak or even discard the Standard Model. "I find it difficult to imagine how the theory works without it," Peter Higgs recently told the London monthly Prospect. If a non-Standard Higgs is detected, that could open the door to new physics and totally change the way we see the universe. In the far future, we might even find a way to take advantage of the Higgs field, just as earlier physicists took advantage of radioactivity or quantum effects.
Where they're at: The quest for the Higgs is being conducted using two detectors at the LHC, which is housed at Europe's CERN particle physics center on the French-Swiss border. The collider has been built inside a 17-mile-round (27-kilometer-round) underground tunnel where two beams of protons are smashed together at 99.999999 percent of the speed of light.
The detectors, known as ATLAS (A Toroidal LHC ApparatuS) and CMS (Compact Muon Solenoid), are placed at key points on the collider ring. They're built somewhat differently, and they serve as a system of checks and balances to make sure one team can confirm what the other team is seeing. The LHC is the only collider on earth that can achieve the energies required to probe the Higgs boson's potential hiding places. (However, higher energies have been observed in cosmic ray collisions high above Earth's surface.)
This graphic shows a typical candidate event in the search for the Higgs boson, including two high-energy photons whose energy (depicted by red towers) has been measured in the CMS electromagnetic calorimeter. The yellow lines are the measured tracks of other particles produced in the collision.
What they've learned: The ATLAS and CMS teams are sharing their results in a series of public presentations at CERN, beginning at 8 a.m. ET Tuesday. You can watch the webcast via this page on the CERN website. Aidan Randle-Condle is liveblogging the event at the Quantum Diaries blog. Canada's Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics is presenting a webcast discussion after the announcement, at 12:30 p.m. ET.
The findings have already been telegraphed on several physics blogs, including Resonaances, Not Even Wrong, the Reference Frame and A Quantum Diaries Survivor. One of the key numbers has to do with the detected mass of the Higgs boson: The reports suggest that the mass is pegged at 125 billion electron volts, plus or minus a volt. (ATLAS is plus, CMS is minus.) Mass values above around 129 billion electron volts are excluded. Another key number describes the statistical confidence of the observations. Advance reports suggest that the confidence value is 2 to 2.5 sigma for CMS, and 3 to 3.5 sigma for ATLAS.
What's a sigma? Those numbers measure how likely it is that the effect seen amid the billions of collisions at the LHC is real rather than a statistical fluke. Suppose you have a machine that flips coins to check whether they've been stamped correctly with heads and tails, rather than two heads. You have to decide when to stop the conveyor belt to remove a coin with two heads, based purely on the machine's report. If the machine flips five heads in a row, you have more than 2 sigma confidence that there are heads on both sides of the coin. If it flips 10 heads in a row, the confidence goes up to more than 3 sigma. If it flips 20 heads in a row, you have a 5-sigma observation. (You could just have someone look at both sides of the coin, but you get the idea.)
In scientific observations, a level of 3 sigma constitutes "evidence" that an observed effect is real, and not just a fluke. You have to go up to 5 sigma to declare a "discovery." Thus, the observations so far are likely to be portrayed as intriguing evidence of the Higgs boson's detection, but not yet as a discovery.
Fermilab scientist Don Lincoln explains how the search for the Higgs boson is accomplished.
What's next? However the results are spun, more data will be required to nail down a confirmed detection of the Higgs. The proton beams have been shut down for CERN's holiday break, but they'll be started up again next year. The results so far have raised hopes that confirmation of the Higgs' existence (or its non-existence) will come by the end of 2012. After next year's round of experiments, the LHC will be shut down until 2014 for a major upgrade. It won't ramp up to its full power of 7 trillion electron volts per beam until after the upgrade. There'll be a long wait to get to the deepest mysteries of particle physics -- but based on the reports so far, there's renewed hope for the Higgs. Tune in on Tuesday for the full details.
Immigration debate in the US is not a debate at all...it's a hysterical clamoring from right wing types spreading misinformation and bigotry guised as concern for the integrity of the US borders. The article linked to below has a comment section rife with just such rightwing blather and a comment I found amazingly refreshing and uncommon.
It defies all logic why the right wing nuts keep trying to blame this on Obama.
1) This situation exists because Reagan gave 4 million illegal immitrants unconditional amnesty and another 8 or so million "conditional amnesty." This created an expectation that if you came here, worked hard, and kept your nose clean that you would be allowed to stay. Reagan did this because the GOP wanted to cash in on the emerging legal Latino vote. (Illegals do NOT vote.) It didn't work.
2) So far the Obama administration has deported more illegal immigrants than the the entire eight years of GW Bush plus 4 years of GHW Bush and then some. On an annulized basis 2010 was 170% of the record year (2009) and 2011 is already waaaaay past 2010.
3) The recent "cessation" of deportation for certain people was done because right wing religious nuts decided it was a good idea to "out" members of the U.S. military who are illegal immigrants or are married to illegal immigrants --- a six digit number that the military cannot afford to lose. The only people not being deported are those in college with a 3.0 or better GPA, members of the military, spouses of members of the military, people whose residency paperwork has been submitted but not yet ruled on, and a handful (less than 10 so far) whose "community roots" are so deep that it would be inhumane (this latter group is primarily people who came here as infants and only speak English.) And even these people are not on a path to citizenship --- they are considered "stateless" persons with temporary residency and a green card to allow them to work.
4) I live in Tuscaloosa (Roll Tide) and the Alabama immigration law is a disaster. So far the biggest arrests have been a German executive from Mercedes who left his passport in his hotel room and a Japanese executive who had an international drivers' license that is not recognized by the new law. The Chinese government which had proposed building an autopmobile plant here is "reconsidering." State tax collections lost because of the flight of illegal and legal immigrants already exceed $100-$120 million a year. Losses to local governments from closure of Latino businesses and loss of taxes is estimated at around $200 million and losses to farmers and farm transportation is estimated at another $400 million a year. The state is now trying to figure out what to cut to make up for the losses and the most likely at this point is to cut ALL senior services programs completely. A property tax increase in many localities is being studied. The Tuscaloosa school systems have lost millions because of Latino student absenses and flight, almost certainly causing future teacher layoffs. Good work idiots!
5) And the idea that "work-site raids" have declined by 70% is pure Glen Beck BS. Work site raids are way up, as are fines and the use by employers of eVerify and other status verification tools. That is just knowing GOP lies thrown like bones to stupid dogs to keep them quiet. Work site raids have been predicted to decrease in the future by as much as 50% because under the Obama administration repeat offenders get automatic minimum penalties and the federal and state governments are now forbidden to refund the employers contribution to Sopcial Security and Workman's Comp premiums. Previously under GW Bush when a company like Armour Meats was raided and fined these "refunds" more than covered the fines. No more.
6) There is zero possibilty that Americans will step up and take the farm labor jobs that immigrants were doing. The reason is that state and local governments, often using the guise of keeping kids in school, set up a huge network of laws aimed at keeping migrant workers away from their towns. These laws were aimed at the dust bowl internal refugees (read "Grapes of Wrath") and are still on the books. Alabama, for example can put you in prison for 10 years if your kid misses more than 5 school days in a year.
7) One little example of how stupid the idiots that wrote the Alabama law are: The law says that you must carry your "green card" with you. The green card says on it that you should keep it in a safe place and never carry it around with you.
Immigration has become a kind of intelligence test for many. When I hear the people spewing hatred toward illegal immigrants and blaming Obama and claiming that nothing is being done, I know that they are either so misinformed, ignorant, deceitful, or stupid that they have no idea of reality. Trying to discuss anything with them is a waste of time. They simply do not have the capacity to understand even simple issues.
And remember, lack of social conscience is a character flaw, not something to be proud of.
Losing the Euro is the worst thing that can happen out of the austerity fiasco that is currently infecting leadership in Europe; far worse will be the loss of democratic institutions and constituencies and the resurgence of right wing nationalistic chauvinisms.
By Paul Krugman
It's time to start calling the current situation what it is: a depression. True, it's not a full replay of the Great Depression, but that's cold comfort. Unemployment in both America and Europe remains disastrously high. Leaders and institutions are increasingly discredited. And democratic values are under siege
On that last point, I am not being alarmist. On the political as on the economic front it's important not to fall into the "not as bad as" trap. High unemployment isn't O.K. just because it hasn't hit 1933 levels; ominous political trends shouldn't be dismissed just because there's no Hitler in sight.
Let's talk, in particular, about what's happening in Europe -- not because all is well with America, but because the gravity of European political developments isn't widely understood.
First of all, the crisis of the euro is killing the European dream. The shared currency, which was supposed to bind nations together, has instead created an atmosphere of bitter acrimony.
Specifically, demands for ever-harsher austerity, with no offsetting effort to foster growth, have done double damage. They have failed as economic policy, worsening unemployment without restoring confidence; a Europe-wide recession now looks likely even if the immediate threat of financial crisis is contained. And they have created immense anger, with many Europeans furious at what is perceived, fairly or unfairly (or actually a bit of both), as a heavy-handed exercise of German power.
Nobody familiar with Europe's history can look at this resurgence of hostility without feeling a shiver. Yet there may be worse things happening.
1) Who thought this up?
2) How do you hide 50 metric tons of stolen corn containers until you can fence them?
3)Why did they leave the 10 metric tons of sugar?
RIO DE JANEIRO -- Police in Brazil's southeastern Sao Paulo state are investigating the theft of 50 metric tons (55 U.S. tons) of corn from a moving train.
A police report says the thieves greased the train tracks, making the wheels of the 54-wagon locomotive skid and slow down before they used a tow truck with a hook to remove the corn-filled containers.
The report says the theft occurred as the train traveled through a rural area about 180 miles (300 kilometers) north of the capital. The train was headed to the southeastern port of Santos with 60 metric tons (66 U.S. tons) of corn and sugar.
The case is reminiscent of Wild West robberies, where bandits on horses stole from moving trains.
It's actually a really cool design, but it does look like the twin towers exploding.
A Dutch architectural firm says its design for a South Korean housing complex is simply meant to convey the feeling of being in the clouds, but others see something they'd rather not remember: the collapse of the World Trade Center towers on Sept. 11, 2011.
"A real media storm has started and we receive threatening emails and calls of angry people calling us Al Qaeda lovers or worse," the firm, MVRDV, posted on its Facebook page on Friday after a Dutch newspaper, the Algemeen Dagblad, published a front-page architectural rendition of the project and the headline: "Inspired by Twin Towers?"
"MVRDV regrets deeply any connotations The Cloud project evokes regarding 9/11, it was not our intention," MVRDV added. "The Cloud was designed based on parameters such as sunlight, outside spaces, living quality for inhabitants and the city. It is one of many projects in which MVRDV experiments with a raised city level to reinvent the often solitary typology of the skyscraper.
The cloud structure is used to connect the two towers with corridors that also serve as meeting places. The complex is set to open in Seoul in 2015.
By Lisa de Moraes
On the Tuesday edition of his Comedy Central faux newscast, "Daily Show" anchor Jon Stewart declared war on Christmas. More accurately, he declared war on those who have declared war on those they believe have declared war on Christmas.
"If there has been a war, Christmas is the aggressor nation," Stewart began.
Watch here -- ADULT LANGUAGE. Consider yourself warned:
In what may be a bit that ends up on "The Daily Show," Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi were both asked to urinate in a cup at separate news conferences today and Wednesday.
Scott seemed embarrassed but Bondi played along, supplying a cup of apple juice to news conference crasher Aasif Mandvi, a former Tampa resident who is now a correspondent for Comedy Central's "Daily Show with Jon Stewart."
Mandvi ambushed Scott at a news conference in Tallahassee on Wednesday on his proposed state budget. Mandvi held out a cup and asked the governor to prove that he's not on drugs. He approached Bondi with the same question at her Thursday news conference in opposition to opening more gambling in Florida.
Mandvi, a former student at the University of South Florida, made references to a bill Florida legislators passed last year that requires all welfare recipients to pass a drug test. The law is being challenged in court by the America Civil Liberties Union.
When pressed to provide a urine sample by Mandvi on Wednesday, a surprised Scott responded, "I've done it hundreds of times" but he wouldn't accept the cup. Scott tried to ignore Mandvi and move on to other questions. But when Mandvi persisted, Scott said, "You're not running this," meaning the news conference.
Bondi, also from Tampa, is defending the welfare drug test law in court. She was ready to be confronted by Mandvi. According a Miami Herald reporter who witnessed the exchange, Bondi pulled out a small plastic container filled with a liquid, noting that "as attorney general, I'm always prepared." Her name was written on top of the container.
"You have a sample of your urine!," Mandvi said. "Is this really your urine?"
Bondi and her entourage walked away. "Thank you, have a great day," she said.
"How do we know it's your urine," Mandvi continued. "How do we know it's not apple juice. We will test this in the lab."
He then opened it, smelled it and proclaimed it was apple juice. "She just has incredibly beautiful smelling urine," he said.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's truly remarkable speech... "Gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights."
Check the date of the poll below...Dec. 1995. Back then people saw him for the scammer he is The Grand Bloviator had just been censured by over 75% of his House peers and lost his job as House Speaker because of his blatant ethics violations. That was Dec 6, 1996...16 years ago today.
Democrats of course are praying as hard as they can that Gingrich will be the Republican nominee because it would all guarantee an Obama win. And it looks at the moment as if their prayers are being answered:
Iowa: Newt 33% / Romney 18%
South Carolina: Newt 38% / Romney 22%
Rachel Maddow's take on it:
Because modern Republican policies are themselves so untenable in the face of reality, rightwing voters are forced to choose between candidates who are insincere clowns and flip-floppers.
By Paul Krugman
There are two crucial things you need to understand about the current state of American politics. First, given the still dire economic situation, 2012 should be a year of Republican triumph. Second, the G.O.P. may nonetheless snatch defeat from the jaws of victory -- because Herman Cain was not an accident.
Think about what it takes to be a viable Republican candidate today. You have to denounce Big Government and high taxes without alienating the older voters who were the key to G.O.P. victories last year -- and who, even as they declare their hatred of government, will balk at any hint of cuts to Social Security and Medicare (death panels!).
And you also have to denounce President Obama, who enacted a Republican-designed health reform and killed Osama bin Laden, as a radical socialist who is undermining American security.
So what kind of politician can meet these basic G.O.P. requirements? There are only two ways to make the cut: to be totally cynical or to be totally clueless.
Mitt Romney embodies the first option. He's not a stupid man; he knows perfectly well, to take a not incidental example, that the Obama health reform is identical in all important respects to the reform he himself introduced in Massachusetts -- but that doesn't stop him from denouncing the Obama plan as a vast government takeover that is nothing like what he did. He presumably knows how to read a budget, which means that he must know that defense spending has continued to rise under the current administration, but this doesn't stop him from pledging to reverse Mr. Obama's "massive defense cuts."
Mr. Romney's strategy, in short, is to pretend that he shares the ignorance and misconceptions of the Republican base. He isn't a stupid man -- but he seems to play one on TV.
Unfortunately from his point of view, however, his acting skills leave something to be desired, and his insincerity shines through. So the base still hungers for someone who really, truly believes what every candidate for the party's nomination must pretend to believe. Yet as I said, the only way to actually believe the modern G.O.P. catechism is to be completely clueless.
And that's why the Republican primary has taken the form it has, in which a candidate nobody likes and nobody trusts has faced a series of clueless challengers, each of whom has briefly soared before imploding under the pressure of his or her own cluelessness. Think in particular of Rick Perry, a conservative true believer who seemingly had everything it took to clinch the nomination -- until he opened his mouth.
The good news? It's gentle and doesn't bite...people.
Is this the world's biggest bug? As with all superlatives, it depends on your definition. But the sight of a New Zealand giant weta chomping down on a carrot surely has to give you the creeps, even if it's rivaled by other giant creepy crawlies.
This particular species of the cricketlike creature -- known as a giant weta or wetapunga to the Maori, and as Deinacrida heteracantha to scientists -- is found only in protected areas such as New Zealand's Little Barrier Island. That's where Mark ("Doctor Bugs") Moffett, an entomologist and explorer at the Smithsonian Institution, found the specimen after two nights of searching.
"The giant weta is the largest insect in the world, and this is the biggest one ever found," Britain's Daily Mail quoted Moffett as saying. "She weighs the equivalent to three mice. ... She enjoyed the carrot so much she seemed to ignore the fact she was resting on our hands and carried on munching away. She would have finished the carrot very quickly, but this is an extremely endangered species, and we didn't want to risk indigestion."
The carrot-crunching cricket went viral today, and now questions are starting to emerge about the "biggest bug" label. The information accompanying the picture lists the insect's weight at 2.5 ounces (71 grams) and its length at 7 inches (17.8 centimeters, supposedly for wingspan, but keep reading).
By Paul Krugman
Can the euro be saved? Not long ago we were told that the worst possible outcome was a Greek default. Now a much wider disaster seems all too likely.
True, market pressure lifted a bit on Wednesday after central banks made a splashy announcement about expanded credit lines (which will, in fact, make hardly any real difference). But even optimists now see Europe as headed for recession, while pessimists warn that the euro may become the epicenter of another global financial crisis.
How did things go so wrong? The answer you hear all the time is that the euro crisis was caused by fiscal irresponsibility. Turn on your TV and you're very likely to find some pundit declaring that if America doesn't slash spending we'll end up like Greece. Greeeeeece!
But the truth is nearly the opposite. Although Europe's leaders continue to insist that the problem is too much spending in debtor nations, the real problem is too little spending in Europe as a whole. And their efforts to fix matters by demanding ever harsher austerity have played a major role in making the situation worse.
The story so far: In the years leading up to the 2008 crisis, Europe, like America, had a runaway banking system and a rapid buildup of debt. In Europe's case, however, much of the lending was across borders, as funds from Germany flowed into southern Europe. This lending was perceived as low risk. Hey, the recipients were all on the euro, so what could go wrong?
For the most part, by the way, this lending went to the private sector, not to governments. Only Greece ran large budget deficits during the good years; Spain actually had a surplus on the eve of the crisis.
Then the bubble burst. Private spending in the debtor nations fell sharply. And the question European leaders should have been asking was how to keep those spending cuts from causing a Europe-wide downturn.
Instead, however, they responded to the inevitable, recession-driven rise in deficits by demanding that all governments -- not just those of the debtor nations -- slash spending and raise taxes. Warnings that this would deepen the slump were waved away. "The idea that austerity measures could trigger stagnation is incorrect," declared Jean-Claude Trichet, then the president of the European Central Bank. Why? Because "confidence-inspiring policies will foster and not hamper economic recovery."
But the confidence fairy was a no-show.
Wait, there's more.
By Nicholas D. Kristof
If you want to understand why the Occupy movement has found such traction, it helps to listen to a former banker like James Theckston. He fully acknowledges that he and other bankers are mostly responsible for the country's housing mess.
As a regional vice president for Chase Home Finance in southern Florida, Theckston shoveled money at home borrowers. In 2007, his team wrote $2 billion in mortgages, he says. Sometimes those were "no documentation" mortgages.
"On the application, you don't put down a job; you don't show income; you don't show assets," he said. "But you still got a nod."
"If you had some old bag lady walking down the street and she had a decent credit score, she got a loan," he added.
Theckston says that borrowers made harebrained decisions and exaggerated their resources but that bankers were far more culpable -- and that all this was driven by pressure from the top.
"You've got somebody making $20,000 buying a $500,000 home, thinking that she'd flip it," he said. "That was crazy, but the banks put programs together to make those kinds of loans."
Especially when mortgages were securitized and sold off to investors, he said, senior bankers turned a blind eye to shortcuts.
"The bigwigs of the corporations knew this, but they figured we're going to make billions out of it, so who cares? The government is going to bail us out. And the problem loans will be out of here, maybe even overseas."
One memory particularly troubles Theckston. He says that some account executives earned a commission seven times higher from subprime loans, rather than prime mortgages. So they looked for less savvy borrowers -- those with less education, without previous mortgage experience, or without fluent English -- and nudged them toward subprime loans.
These less savvy borrowers were disproportionately blacks and Latinos, he said, and they ended up paying a higher rate so that they were more likely to lose their homes. Senior executives seemed aware of this racial mismatch, he recalled, and frantically tried to cover it up.
...like a vet from serving in Iraq in Afghanistan, how are you likely to treat regular folk?
Even those people putting their lives on the line for their country may not be safe from the American foreclosure crisis.
Ten lenders are reviewing close to 5,000 foreclosures of homes belonging to active-duty service members in an attempt to discover if they were carried out improperly, according to data from the , cited by the Financial Times. The OCC's report is based on projections prepared by the lenders and and their consultants. said it is reviewing 2,400 foreclosures of homes belonging to active-duty service members and said it's looking at nearly 900 cases. Citigroup is reviewing 700 foreclosures, the bank said.
The Servicemembers Civil Relief act aims to protect active-duty members of the military from financial difficulty, including through measures that restrict foreclosures on properties owned by active-duty military members. Still, as the OCC data indicates, thousands of active-duty members of the armed forces have lost their homes while fighting abroad.
Bank of America and Morgan Stanley reached deals with the Justice Department earlier this year, agreeing to pay more than $20 million to settle claims that they foreclosed on more than 175 active-duty service members without court orders.
They're not the only ones. JPMorgan Chase also admitted to illegally foreclosing on the families of 27 active-duty military members earlier this year and has very publicly attempted to give the families back their homes or compensate them for damages if the house was sold.
The bank also agreed to pay $27 million in cash to about 6,000 active-duty service members who were overcharged on their mortgages, Bloomberg reports.
Illegal foreclosures have affected service members like U.S. Army Sgt. James Hurley who lost his house to foreclosure while he was serving in Iraq. Tim Collette said in June that he had been negotiating with JPMorgan Chase since 2008 to save his house from foreclosure while his son was serving in Iraq.Though illegal foreclosures may be some of the most egregious examples of lenders mistreating service members, banks have wronged members of the military in other ways. An October lawsuit claims that 13 banks and mortgage companies charged hidden and illegal fees from veterans trying to refinance their homes.