Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Software drawings are almost art

A computer scientist, Simon Colton, has developed a software program called "The Painting Fool," which appears to draw creatively. The program runs web searches and examines social networks. These searches allow it to pick topics that interest humans. It can even draw fuzzy landscapes as though it had a rudimentary imagination. The internet even has a gallery of its recent paintings that can be reviewed.

from: http://www.newscientist.com/blogs/nstv/2012/01/painting-computer-surprises-viewers-with-its-artwork.html?DCMP=NLC-nletter&nsref=painting

Comment by the Blog Author

This computer and its program are performing craftsmanship and photoshop camera work. There’s nothing wrong with this, but it isn’t genuine art.

Smeary, fuzzy, senseless painting – which is inferior to the work of this software – isn’t art, either!

Monday, January 30, 2012

America's Bright Future -- Maybe! --

Mark P. Mills and Julio M. Ottino wrote an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal this morning. They project that the future of the U.S. is bright. They see these key factors:

Information technology has entered a big-data era.

Smart manufacturing

the unfolding communications revolution

The American culture is particularly suited to times of tumult and challenge

Then there's our educational system -- more than half of the world's top 100 universities remain in America
So there’s a strong argument for an American boom through most of the 21st century.


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Comments by the Blog Author

I think Mills and Ottino would have had a stronger argument if they went back 100 years and looked at a major economic power that didn’t make it, that shrank and sunk over its own weight.

Argentina was the fifth biggest economic power in 1912. Through economic mismanagement in an environment of centralizing power, and through financial chaos resulting in hyper-inflation, Argentina has moved from being the world’s fifth biggest economy to about 80th place.

Therefore I agree about America’s bright future if, and only if, the dollar is stable and the U.S.A. moves rapidly toward a balanced budget and expenses well below it’s G.DP.. To achieve this in a world of competing talent, America will need to sunset entitlements; the government itself admits that the unfunded promises of social security and Medicare amount to at least $45 trillion dollars. We need to balance the budget year after year, decade after decade, unless there is an on-going major war that threatens the nation itself.

With runaway entitlements, cowardly politicians, and money leaking away in expensive brushfire wars that aren’t strategically necessary, America could be this century’s Argentina. Let’s lock out that nightmare scenario before we gloat about ourselves.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

How To De-Personalize your Google Experience

By Molly McHugh, Digital Trends, January 25, 2012

If you've become overwhelmed with the amount of customized, curated content out there, here are a few ways you can get a little impersonal with Google.

While we’ve known for quite some time that Google likes to take account of our activity across its products for personalization purposes, consumer concern has been heightened by its new singular privacy policy system.

There are benefits to the upgrade, but some are worried about getting too much customization in with your search queries. If you generally want to keep your Google applications free of personalization, here are a few ways to circumvent the system.

Ad Preferences

Here you can find out the categories that Google has tied to your Web activity. You can edit or remove any or all of this (via the opt-out tool on the edit and remove page). Also interesting is how exactly Google has pegged you—and in cases (ahem, personal cases) they will be very, very wrong. Check this out under "your demographics," where your assumed age and gender are listed.

If you opted out entirely, be sure to go here so that it’s permanently saved.

You can also disable cookies entirely–it’s available in your browser privacy options, located in "under the hood" for Chrome users.

+1 settings

Much ado has been made about the +1 button, and while we know it does affect personalized search, to what degree is still a little uncertain. Visit this page if you want to disable Google from using your +1’s "and other profile information" to affect content and ads on non-Google properties. Just to be clear, this means that on outside sites, you won’t see +1s from people you know and yours won’t be shown to others.


You’ll have to take a different route when using Google products via smartphone. Android uses should go to the Android Market, select Menu and then Settings. Under here you should be able to adjust ad preferences.

iOS uses will need to visit this link and use the QR code to follow the next steps.


Here are a few ways you can control Gmail. First of all, if you don’t want to be subjected to ads when perusing your inbox, you can view via an HTML, POP1, or IMAP interface. It’s not an elegant solution, but it’s a simple one. There are also webmail blocker apps, like this one, that can help.

Google also introduced some new personalized features to Gmail this year. Most of these have to do with priority and shuffling your email into certain categories based on an automated system. If you’d rather forego this, visit your inbox preferences center. Under "Inbox Type" choose "classic," which should change it from "Important first."

Search Plus Your World

Recently introduced, Google’s latest go at combining social and search was less than well-received and has garnered some controversy. You could use the Don’t be evil button to see what social sites you’re missing out on, or you could use the Google-given toggle to decide whether or not you want Google+ content pulled into your search results.


Saturday, January 28, 2012

Silicon Valley Grows Up Politically

… they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind…
-- Hosea 8:7

Verily, verily, I say unto you, that when the reductionist posturers on Capitol Hill sought to control the internet with a feint by reference to protecting copyright through SOPA and PIPA, they aroused the wrath of all that dwell and rely upon Silicon Valley. Thus warned, the Valley correctly learned that immediately they must ever be ready to take up the sword.

Behold! It was so.

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Engine Advocacy Turns Tech
Nerds Into Political Experts

By Alex Fitzpatrick, Mashable blog, January 28, 2012

How do you turn technology nerds into political experts? That’s the question being asked by Engine

Advocacy, a group dedicated to getting "tech startups, entrepreneurs and technologists" involved in shaping public policy.

The goal of Engine Advocacy is "to give entrepreneurial people and businesses a voice in the Washington policy arena that they haven’t before," according to co-founder Michael McGeary.

The group has a stake in a variety of issues, including an open Internet, intellectual property rights, privacy laws, broadband access, spectrum reform and immigration reform. (Why immigration? Engine Advocacy wants a "startup visa" to make it easer for people to come to the U.S. to innovate.)

Engine Advocacy has no registered lobbyists working for it. Instead, the organization seeks to teach Silicon
Valley about Washington, D.C and to give technological innovators "action tools" for getting involved with public policy.

"Most people realize it’s not good enough as an entrepreneur or startup CEO to take the feeling of ‘let me do my job,’" says McGeary. "I come from the political world, I’ve worked on a couple of campaigns and I’ve come to Silicon Valley and I’ve been heartened to talk to so many smart people that are saying ‘ok, let’s figure out how to do this so we don’t have to be passive all the time.’"

McGeary says his organization is a "loosely formed coalition" that’s growing "quickly by the day." The idea to start the organization came before SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (PROTECT IP Act) became the hot-button issues of the day, but according to McGeary, they were the sparks that "set the building on fire," so to speak.

"What we thought was a good idea in the fall turned into ‘we have to do this right now,’" says McGeary. "[SOPA and PIPA] were a galvanizing moment."

Engine Advocacy isn’t just trying to educate tech innovators about Washington, it’s also doing the reverse. The organization is making an effort to educate politicians on technology and Internet issues.

"We’ve met with several members of congressional staff," says McGeary, singling out Sen. Moran of Kansas.

"(Sen. Moran) and his staff are really committed to tech issues and wanting to get more education about them and trying to find ways to legislate in more productive ways. We’re young in the Senate, but together there’s power in injecting these two communities and I’ve been glad about that."

With SOPA and PIPA gone, what’s the next big fight for Engine Advocacy? We asked McGeary if ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) was on Engine Advocacy’s radar.

"Yes, but it appears to be mostly complete at this point. We’ll keep our eye on it as it rolls out, however, to see what implications there are for tech business going forward," he said.

"We’re keeping our eyes on (SOPA and PIPA), of course, just in case they make a stunning, election-year comeback from being mortally wounded," says McGeary. "Beyond that, we’re now taking some time to build and strengthen our organization and begin rolling out our legislative priorities for 2012, as well as beginning to develop campaign strategies looking toward the Fall. We’re looking at things like Startup Act and spectrum coming down the pike fairly quickly, but also beginning to beef up our web presence and policy research to be ready for the next fights as they come along."

Do you think it’s a good idea to get tech experts and innovators involved with the public policy process?

Sound off in the comments below.

[link to all the above (which was unedited)]:


Friday, January 27, 2012

Negative Quiddity: Securities and Exchange Commission

The inspector general of the Securities and Exchange Commission, David Kotz, is leaving. As he departs, he has prepared a report critical of the3 SECs approach to internal procedures he views are not minimizing the ramifications of recent court decisions about the SEC and hamstringing the agency’s statutory duties with respect to implementing the Dodd-Frank mandated procedures.

Reuters has issued a suffocatingly boring news story about this situation, an article written by Sarah Lynch with editing by Steve Orlofsky and Gary Hill. A link is below to the actual text.

Kotz wrote that the cost-benefit analyses used in making various rules varied and thus lacked consistency. This is an important finding because various business groups have taken action against the agency. One successful appeal rejected an SEC Dodd-Frank rule that sought to empower shareholders in more easily nominating directors to the boards of corporations. The court rejected this approach since the SEC had not weighed the economic consequences.

Some business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, question other new rules pending at the SEC. The SEC is responsible, through the Dodd-Frank Act, for writing about 100 new rules to police financial markets and organizations which malfunctioned during the financial crisis of 2007-9. To make these rules, an avenue is required for allowing public comments on the proposals.

Kotz has issued two reports examining whether the economic analysis was consistent, in response to concerns brought up by the Senate Banking Committee, particularly ranking Republican member Richard Shelby (R-AL). SEC’s inspector general’s office retained Robert H,. Smith, a finance professor at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business, to assist in the review.

Some of the activities examined included a rule permitting shareholders to hold non-binding votes on compensation, review of asset-backed securities rules, and proposals involving the reporting of "security-based swap data," or, in plain English, financial derivatives reporting.

Kotz’s report was critical of the SEC, noting that the agency’s former head lawyer had the opinion that the agency should perform thorough cost-benefit analyses on rules that are not explicitly required by Congress.
Friday's report covered a sample of Dodd-Frank rulemakings, including a rule allowing shareholders a non-binding vote on compensation, several asset-backed securities rules and two proposals pertaining to the reporting of security-based swap data.

Kotz's report was critical of the agency in a number of areas.

Rules mandated by Congress, however, generally would not need the same level of cost-benefit research, the memo said.
The attorney’s memo noted that rules mandated by Congress would not generally need the same level of cost-benefit analysis. SEC management disagreed because of "practical limitations" and "the distinct roles of Congress and administrative agencies."

SEC management noted:

"We think it is entirely sensible ... for the staff to focus its attention and the commission's limited resources on matters that the commission has the authority to decide."Summarized from:


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Comments by the Blog Author

Honestly, isn’t this the most tedious and obscure topic covered in this Daily Quiddity blog? It is involved entirely in the mind-numbing minutia of tiny bureaucratic turf wars and various hair-splitting legal distinctions.
But this is an important, in fact a vital, story. You should be interested in it. In 2008 the financial markets and institutions of the G7, except for Canada, came to the edge of a full meltdown because of government guarantees and over-leveraged derivatives contracts. Lobbyists in Washington successfully hobbled corrective legislation, leaving the brunt of the effort to prevent future problems with the understaffed and inexperienced Securities and Exchange Commission. The various guidelines, once implemented, are subject to being struck down in court.

This means that sheer inefficient corrective measures, intentionally passed at the urging of lobbyists from the finance industry and designed to be under-implemented, leave the door wide open for a more serious future crisis.

The SEC has also become the final editor of all corporate financial audit and reporting guidance (the proclamations of the Financial Accounting Standards board). Inviting another catastrophe, the agency has quibbled with and watered down FAS 157, which would have market derivative contracts to market. There are hundreds of trillions of dollars of notational value of these derivative contracts in the United States (and over quadrillion dollars’ worth worldwide). The SEC has ordered auditing CPAs not to mark these contracts to market, intentionally under-informing investors and disserving the public.

The SEC has no significant prior experience in writing massive financial guidance nor auditing and reporting pronouncements. Therefore, the SEC is decreasing the security and integrity of large-scale American finance and financial markets. The public is further mis-served when these brushfire wars are presented as tedious news articles not worth scanning, when this pillow fight has the potential to bring about a fire in the financial markets so huge that no one, not the federal government itself, can extinguish it.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Positive Quiddity: Edith Head

Edith Head
Edith Head (October 28, 1897 – October 24, 1981) was an American costume designer who won eight Academy Awards, more than any other woman.
Early life and career

She was born Edith Claire Posener in San Bernadino, California, the daughter of Jewish parents, Max Posener and Anna E. Levy. Her father, Max Posener, was a naturalized American citizen from Prussia, who came to the United States in 1876. Her mother was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the daughter of an Austrian father and a Bavarian mother. There is nothing to document if Max and Anna ever married or where they met. Just before Edith's birth, Max Posener opened a haberdashery in San Bernardino which failed within a year, and the stock and fixtures were sold for a fraction of their worth. Anna remarried in 1905 to Frank Spare, a mining engineer, originally from Pennsylvaia. The family moved frequently as Spare's jobs changed locations, and the only place whose name Head could later recall from her early years was the desert town of Searchlight, Nevada. Frank and Anna Spare passed Edith off as their mutual child, and, as Frank Spare was a Catholic, Edith ostensibly became one as well.

She received a bachelor of arts degree in letters and sciences with honors in French from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1919 and earned a master of arts degree in romance languages from Stanford University in 1920. She became a language teacher with her first position at Bishop’s School in La Jolla teaching French as a replacement. After one year, she took a position teaching French at the Hollywood School for Girls. Wanting a slightly higher salary, she told the school that she could also teach art, even
though she had only briefly studied the discipline in high school.

To improve her drawing skills, which at this point were rudimentary, she took evening art classes at the Chouinard Art College. On July 25, 1923, she married Charles Head, the brother of one of her Chouinard classmates, Betty Head. The marriage ended in divorce in 1936 after a number of years of separation, although she continued to be known professionally as Edith Head until her death.

The Paramount years

In 1924, despite lacking art, design, and costume design experience, Head was hired as a costume sketch artist at Paramount Pictures in the costume department. Later she admitted to borrowing another student's sketches for her job interview. She began designing costumes for silent films, commencing with The Wanderer in 1925 and, by the 1930s, had established herself as one of Hollywood's leading costume designers. She worked at Paramount for 43 years until she went to Universal Pictures on March 27, 1967, possibly prompted by her extensive work for director Alfred Hitchcock, who had also moved to Universal,
in 1960.

Head's marriage to set designer Wiard Ihnen, on September 8, 1940, lasted until his death from prostate cancer in 1979. Throughout her long career, she was nominated for 35 Academy Awards, including every year from 1948 through 1966, and won eight times – more Oscars than any other woman.
Although Head was featured in studio publicity from the mid-1920s, she was originally over-shadowed by Paramount's head designers, first Howard Greer then Travis Banton. It was only after Banton's resignation in 1938 that she achieved fame as a designer in her own right. Her association with the "sarong" dress designed for Dorothy Lamour in The Hurricane made her well-known among the general public, although Head was a more restrained designer than either Banton or Adrian. In 1944, she gained public attention for the top mink-lined gown she was credited for Ginger Rogers in Lady in the Dark, which gained notoriety due to its being counter to the mood of wartime austerity. The establishment in 1949 of the category of an Academy Award for Costume Designer further boosted her career, because it began her record-breaking run of Award nominations and wins, beginning with her nomination for The Emporor Waltz.
Head was known for her low-key working style and, unlike many of her male contemporaries, usually consulted extensively with the female stars with whom she worked. As a result she was a favorite among many of the leading female stars of the 1940s and '50s such as Ginger Rogers, Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwyck, Shirley MacLaine, Anne Baxter, Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, and Natalie Wood.b In fact, Head was frequently "lent out" by Paramount to other studios at the request of their female stars.

During the 1950s, she was dubbed the "queen of the shirtwaisters" by her detractors. However, this approach to costume design was in line with studio policy which discouraged films from becoming instantly dated through the use of short-lived costume fads (especially in late release or re-released films). Despite this trait, or even because of it, she has been cited as one of Alfred Hitchcock’s favorite costume designers and had a long association with Hal Wallis among others. She was also well-known for her work for Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday. Head also designed the costumes for many of the solo films of Jerry Lewis while he was at Paramount. During her long career, she was occasionally criticized for her working methods.

Early in her career, she opposed the creation of a union to represent studio-based costume designers and
outfitters and was accused of being anti-union on several occasions.

Even though a favorite of many stars, her design trademark of restraint on occasion brought her into conflict with the wishes of other film stars and directors. Claudette Colbert was one actress who apparently preferred not to work with Head, while her relationship with flamboyant film director Mitchell Leisen was by all accounts quite tense. Apocryphally, despite her own design accomplishments, she had a reputation for taking credit for others' work. However, this practice only became controversial in the latter part of her career, because, in the era of studio-dominated film production, a department head commonly claimed credit for design work created in his or her department.

The Universal years

In 1967, she left Paramount Pictures and joined Universal Pictures, where she remained until her death in 1981. As studio-based feature film production declined and many of her favored stars retired, Head became more active as a television costume designer, often designing outfits for film actors, such as Olivia De Havilland, who were now involved in television series or film work. In 1974, Head received a final Oscar win for her work on The Sting.

During the late 1970s, Edith Head was asked to design a woman's uniform for the United States Coast Guard, because of the increasing number of women in the Coast Guard. Head called the assignment a highlight in her career and received the Meritorious Public Service Award for her efforts. Her designs for a TV mini-series based on the novel Little Women were well-received. Her last film project was the black-and-white comedy Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, starring Steve Martin and Carl Reiner. For the production, she re-created fashions of the 1940s, extensively referencing the film clips from classic film noir motion pictures. It was released shortly after her death and dedicated to her memory.


Head died on October 24, 1981, four days before her 84th birthday, from myelofibrosis, an incurable disease of the bone marrow.

Hollywood Walk of Fame

Edith Head's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is located at 6504 Hollywood Boulevard.

Actors and Actresses designed for

Among the actresses Edith Head designed for were:
Among the actors Edith Head designed for were:

Academy Awards

Head received eight Academy Awards for Best Costume Design from a total of 35 nominations.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Positive Quiddity: Narrator Dick Tufeld

New Danger for Will Robinson as

Voice of ‘Lost in Space’ Robot Dies

By Adam Buckman, January 25, 2012 in TV News Now Will Robinson’s really in danger now that the voice of his robot pal has been silenced.

Yes, flags are flying at half-mast today all across TV Land (not the channel) following the news that "Lost in Space" voice artist Dick Tufeld has died at age 85. This obit in the Los Angeles Times said he died Sunday while watching an NFL playoff game at home, according to his family.

Tufeld enjoyed a long career as an announcer, including a 30-year stint as an announcer for ABC daytime shows, and hundreds of commercial and cartoon voiceovers. But it’s his work as the voice of the beloved "Lost in Space" robot from 1965 to 1968 for which he will be best remembered.

Few who watched that fanciful ’60s series about a family of astronauts stranded in outer space will ever forget the robot’s classic intonations of "Danger, danger, Will Robinson!" whenever some alien beast in a furry costume was hiding behind Styrofoam rocks nearby. Nor will the robot’s other catchphrases be forgotten, such as "It does not compute!" — uttered whenever the robot’s advanced electronic brain was stymied (which was kinda often!).

Young Billy Mumy starred as Will Robinson on this revered series, along with the late, great Jonathan Harris as the devious and cowardly stowaway Dr. Smith. In fact, Dr. Smith’s interactions with the robot were among the most memorable scenes in this show’s history, with the two trading insults. The Dr. Smith character became famous for the colorful epithets he leveled at the machine, including calling it: a "hopeless heap of tainted tin," a "blundering bag of bolts" and a "bubble-headed booby."

Tufeld made the most of his fame as the voice of TV’s most famous robot. He voiced the robot’s voice once again in the 1998 "Lost in Space "movie remake. His final performance as the robot’s voice was in a 2004 episode of "The Simpsons."

"Lost in Space" — the TV series — will never be forgotten, especially around here. We happen to have every single episode in their entirety, and we heartily recommend you check out one or more of them. This series really was one of the quintessential TV shows of the 1960s — silly, psychedelic, classic.


Blog Author’s Note

Billy Mumy, Jonathan Harris and the robot carried Lost in Space through three seasons of network television – whereas the original Star Trek only lasted two seasons. A lot of viewers were rooting for the robot.

 Lost in Space was supposed to be an adventure program. But the audience obviously preferred the characters of young Will Robinson (Billy Mumy), deceitful Dr. Zachary Smith (Jonathan Harris) and the B9 robot. So these three became the focus of a disproportionate number of episodes; it could be said that they took over the show and saved it. 

The B9 robot was the straight man to the comic vanity of Dr. Smith. Smith’s dishonesty, treachery, heroic cowardice and immaturity made him the most detailed and believable character in the show. He was also the most credible character to the children and teenagers who watched the program. Not everyone knows a successful master criminal like Noah Cross (masterfully played by John Huston) in Chinatown. But, even as children, we all know the petty selfishness of personal vanity in bad school authorities, counselors, pettifogging bureaucrats, quack doctors, and others who suppose themselves respectable.

Harris was perfect for the role, matching Gale Gordon’s Osgood Conklin (in Our Miss Brooks), Raymond Thomas Bailey’s greedy banker Milburn Drysdale (in The Beverly Hillbillies), Margaret Hamilton’s Elvira Gulch and witch (in The Wizard of Oz) and Joe Flynn’s agitated and neurotic Navy Captain Binghampton (In McCale’s Navy).

As for Dick Tufeld, he was a master of the voice-over and a perfect narrator. In the television field, perhaps only William Conrad (the narrator in Rocky and Bullwinkle, announcer for hundreds of commercial messages as well as the omniscient voice of God for The Fugitive) could match his skill.  

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Turkey Breaks In To Public Library

Deadwood, South Dakota, has always been a lively town. George Armstrong Custer announced that gold had been found at French Creek near the town now name Custer, South Dakota, and that started a gold rush that swelled Deadwood’s population to 5,000 (much larger than the current population). Gambling, prostitution and opium followed the gold rush into Deadwood. Deadwood is where "Wild Bill" Hickok was murdered holding aces and eights in a poker hand. Calamity Jane, who claimed to be Hickok’s last wife, is also buried in Deadwood. The population of the town has been slowly declining since 1940.

See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deadwood,_South_Dakota for more information about Deadwood.

Odd things have happened – and are still happening -- in Deadwood. There was an apparent break-in at the Deadwood public library recently. The library director, Jeanette Chaney-Moodie was informed of a break-in at the facility, and, of course, she went directly to the library. There was a broken window but no apparent footprints nearby, a police sargeant noted, who guessed that perhaps a snow blower had tossed a rock through the library window.

A closer inspection of the library revealed a wild turkey was loose in the building, flapping its wings and seeking to get back outside.  Turkeys are quite common in the Black Hills of South Dakota.  The sargeant and the librarian’s husband, John, spent 20 minutes trying to catch and control the turkey. Finally, a blanket was thrown over its head, and it was escorted outside.

The Associated Press covered this story at:


Monday, January 23, 2012

Stem Cell Experiments for Macular Eye Diseases

Two human volunteers in the United States were given embryonic stem cells. The treatment eased a degenerative form of blindness without showing any adverse effects, a peer-reviewed study published January 23, 2012, in The Lancet states. About 50,000 embryonic stem cells, which had become replacement cells for the pigmented layer of the retina were given to two volunteer recipients. One was in her seventies, the other in her fifties, and both had severe macular problems.
For six weeks both received drugs to blunt immune response. At the end of the test, there were no negative results, and both achieved slight improvement in vision, though this was not the purpose of the experiment.

This first-stage test was designed to check whether the treatment was safe; it had been announced earlier by Advanced Cell Technology (ACT) Inc., a Massachusetts biotechnology firm.

Embryonic stem cells are particularly versatile cells that are found in early-stage embryos. These cells can mature as specialized tissue for any use in the body.

The positive outcome in the United States opened the way to the first trials in Europe, which began on Monday.

Biologically, a problem with stem cells arises when they are rejected by the body through immune response or cause cancer. ACT used stem cells in the eye, where immune response is muted due to the blood-ocular barrier.

Clinical trials of novel drugs or treatments typically undergo a three-phase process, enrolling a progressively larger number of patients, to make sure they are firstly safe and, secondly, effective.

For the next test, twelve patients with Stargart’s macular dystrophy will undergo stem cell transplants, consisting of higher and higher doses of cells, at the Moorfields Eye Hospital in London.

Moral conservatives, who contend that stem cells are human life, hold a view which has slowed experimentation in this area.

Summarized from:


Sunday, January 22, 2012

Positive Quiddity: It's Better Not to Vote than to Bluff

Here’s a startling but sensible idea: It’s better not to vote than to go to the voting booth and bluff your way through by voting on issues you don’t understand and for persons you haven’t studied.

Bryan Caplan is a professor of economics at George Mason University and author of The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies. Much of the reasoning in this book is based on the analyses of Friedrich Hayek, especially in his work The Fatal Conceit.

John Stossel talked to Caplan and wrote an opinion article about it for Reason:
Caplan has a radical proposal for citizens: Be honest. If you know nothing about a subject, don't have an opinion about it. "And don't reward or penalize candidates for their position on an issue you don't understand."

And Stossel concludes:

"If Americans keep voting for politicians who want to pass more laws and spend more money, the result will not be a country with fewer problems, but a country that's governed by piecemeal socialism. Or corporatism. We can debate the meaning of those words, but there's no doubt that such central planning leaves us less prosperous and less free."
Text of the article is available at:

http://reason.com/archives/2012/01/19/dont-trust-your-instincts [this link contains a link to an audio version of the article as well.]

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Online Action Stops Piracy Legislation

In an Associated Press article written by Alan Fram, it is noted that the "outgunned" and outspent online and technology companies froze and stopped restrictive legislation that was aimed at internet piracy, but which also might have crimped internet growth and technology advances.

From the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to the National Songwriters Association, lobbyists descended upon Capitol Hill to support the anti-piracy legislation. But out of nowhere came a tidal wave of internet messages against this legislation, as well as standing in support of the 75,000 websites that went dark for a day [including, famously, the English-language Wikipedia site – a recent post of this very blog]. Protest leaders told the Associated Press that objections to the legislation totaled 3 million emails.

Google, its logo hidden beneath a stark black rectangle, solicited 7 million signatures on a petition opposing the bills. Craigslist counted 30,000 phone calls to lawmakers and there were 3.9 million tweets on Twitter about the bills, according to NetCoalition, which represents leading Internet and high tech companies.

"It's still something we're trying to comprehend," said Google spokeswoman Samantha Smith. "We had such an overwhelming response to our petition that it honestly far exceeded our expectations."
                                          -- the Associated Press [link below]

Bipartisan support for regulating the internet collapsed under the force of emails and petitions. Some feel a "watershed moment" has arrived in which the internet and its technical and entrepreneurial elements have announced their arrival as a lobbying force in Washington, at least as far as protecting their legal status.

Some of the critics of internet piracy legislation agree that piracy is a problem, but their position has been that the legislation goes too far, restricting free speech, strangling technical innovation and over-burdening online businesses.

Maplight, a nonpartisan group which analyzes money’s role in politics, shows that online businesses are rapidly increasing their lobbying activity in Washington, particularly Google and Facebook. Richard Gephardt (formerly the leader of House democrats as well as a presidential candidate) has been retained as a lobbyist for Google.

Much more at:

Friday, January 20, 2012

Positive Quiddity: Etta James (1938-2012)

Etta James (born Jamesetta Hawkins, January 25, 1938) died today. Her unique talent was a huge force for modernizing American popular music.

"Etta James was a pioneer. Her ever-changing sound has influenced rock and roll, rhythm and blues, pop, soul and jazz artists, marking her place as one of the most important female artists of our time," said Rock and Roll Hall of Fame President and CEO Terry Stewart. "From Janis Joplin to Joss Stone, an incredible number of performers owe their debts to her. There is no mistaking the voice of Etta James, and it will live forever."

-- Rock and Roll Hall of Fame President and CEO Terry Stewart,
quoted by the Associated Press, January 20, 2012
James will be remembered as a great vocalist. Though not a number one song, her rendition of "At Last" late in 1960 set a new standard that influenced many of the female singers since then.

Mack Gordon wrote the lyrics and the legendary Harry Warren wrote the music for "At Last." It was written for the movie Sun Valley Serenade, where it was sung by Pat Friday and Ray Eberle, backed by the Glenn Miller orchestra. Warren himself was a genius at composing pop songs, especially for motion pictures. He had more hits than George Gershwin and Cole Porter combined. A subsequent arrangement by Glenn Miller was a hit that became an American standard.

Etta James started out singing in her church choir as a child. She began recording with a girl-only group, singing mostly doo-wop. After James signed with the famous Chicago recording label Chess, she had some hits and began touring with famous performers like Little Richard, Bobby Vinton, Fats Domino, Gene Vincent, Jerry Lee Lewis and the Everly Brothers.

Early rock and roll, as well as doo-wop, frequently borrowed from American standards and pre-war hits as the basis for more modern songs. Fats Domino’s version of "My Blue Heaven" is an example. So are many of the top hits of the doo-wop giants The Platters, such as "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes." In 1960, James recorded a modernized version of "At Last" for Chess records. A boogie-woogie style piano beat came in after an introduction by strings, and the lyrics were sung slowly and sensually. It was a defining hit for rhythm and blues music.

                                         Etta James cover for "At Last"

Her version of "At Last" has become the ultimate interpretation among dozens of recordings of this song (many listed at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/At_Last ).  Her rendition was used in the mid-1990s as background for Jaguar television commercials.  Different versions of the song were used at the many inaugural balls in January of 2009 for President Barack Obama.

From Wikipedia:

Etta James
(born Jamesetta Hawkins; January 25, 1938 – January 20, 2012) was an American singer whose style spanned a variety of music genres including blues, rhythm n blues, rock and roll, soul, gospel and jazz. Starting her career in the mid 1950s, she gained fame with hits such as "Dance With Me, Henry", "At Last," "Tell Mama and "I’d Rather Go Blind" " for which she claimed she wrote the lyrics. She faced a number of personal problems including drug addiction before making a musical resurgence in the late 1980s with the album, The Seven Year Itch.

She is regarded as having bridged the gap between rhythm and blues and rock and roll, and is the winner of six Grammys and 17 Blues Music Awards. She was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1993, the Blues Hall of Fame in 2001, and the Grammy Hall of Fame in both 1999 and 2008. Rolling Stone ranked James number 22 on their list of the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time and number 62 on the list of the 100 Greatest Artists.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Storing Data In Only 12 Atoms

IBM Achieves Breakthrough in Data Storage Technology, Creates World's Smallest Storage Device 

By Amir Iliaifar, Digital Trends, January 18, 2012

There has been some pretty neat stuff coming out of the IBM camp as of late. Earlier this week we got a glimpse of the company’s plans to further develop battery technology in electric cars. Now it looks like another research and development division at IBM is hard at work pushing the envelope, and expanding computer storage space on an atomic level.

IBM is calling it Atomic-scale magnetic memory, and it could very well revolutionize the amount of data we are able to store. According to IBM, at its current state, the computer you are working on stores about one bit of data in about 1 million atoms. With IBM research efforts into atomic-scale magnetic memory, one bit of data could only require an array of 12 atoms.

It all has to do with data density. Being able to increase data density translates directly to how much data can be stored within a given space; in this case we are measuring space in atoms. IBM uses the example of being able to house your entire music and movie collection on a charm-sized pendant around your neck. That’s pretty impressive even by today’s standards when you consider the average size of USB and hard drives — even the smaller ones.

While the technology isn’t entirely new, IBM has been investigating nanotechnology for over two decades now. The fact that the company is turning its attention towards storage capacity isn’t entirely surprising considering there would be a wide demand both among businesses and consumers.

How does it work, though? And how were scientists from IBM’s research team able to accomplish such a task? Well it isn’t as confusing as you might imagine. The team at IBM started by creating a tiny storage device by arranging two rows of six iron atoms on a copper nitride surface, by utilizing antiferromagnetism, which occurs when atoms of an opposing magnetic orientation are positioned near one another, researchers were able to program and store IBM’s motto "Think" on the tiny array. The experiment took place at a temperature of absolute zero, but according to IBM would also be viable at room temperatures, which would bump the up the atom count to 150 — still a far cry from 1 million.

It’s still unclear as to how far off it will be before IBM can successfully offer its technology commercially to consumers, if at all, but it’s still impressive nonetheless. As we delve further into the HD era and the distribution of purely digital content, technology like IBM’s atomic-scale magnetic memory will prove to be quite useful. Besides, how else are we going to store all our favorite Star Trek episodes?

This article was originally posted on Digital Trends

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Positive Quiddity: Raphael Ravenscroft

Scottish singer-songwriter Gerry Rafferty died a year ago (on January 4, 2011). His biggest hit, deservedly, was "Baker Street" in the late 1970s. "Baker Street" was almost a ballad or folk song, but it contained an exquisite saxophone solo, often the signature of classic rock and roll music. "Baker Street" not only defined Rafferty as a star and make him a living, but it also provoked considerable interest in the saxophonist, Rafphael Ravenscroft, a session musician and music instructor.

Below is Ravenscroft’s biographical entry on Wikipedia. It explains how this musician got paid for the splendid solo saxophone work within "Baker Street."

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Raphael Ravenscroft

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Raphael Ravenscroft (born in Dumfries) is a Scottish saxophonist and author on saxophone play. He now resides in Exeter, Devon, England.

He is best known for his work with Gerry Rafferty, performing the saxophone solo on "Baker Street". Rafferty claimed he wrote the hook with the original intention that it be sung. Ravenscroft said differently, saying he was presented with a song that contained "several gaps". "In fact, most of what I played was an old blues riff," stated Ravenscroft. "If you're asking me: 'Did Gerry hand me a piece of music to play?' then no, he didn't." However, the 2011 reissue of City To City included Rafferty's demo of Baker Street which included the saxophone part played on electric guitar.

Ravenscroft, a session musician, was in the studio to record a brief soprano saxophone part and suggested that he record the now famous break using the alto saxophone he had in his car. Ravenscroft received no payment for a song that earned Rafferty an income of £80,000 per annum. The cheque for £27 given to Ravenscroft bounced and is now framed on the wall of his solicitor.

An urban myth was started by Stuart Maconie and the NME that the solo was played by Bob Honess.

Other Ravenscroft performing credits included work with ABBA, America, Kim Carnes, Marvin Gaye, Mike Oldfield, Pink Floyd, Chris Rea, Robert Plant, Brand X, Hazel O’Connor and Bonnie Tyler.

In 1979, Ravenscroft released the solo album Her Father Didn't Like Me, Anyway (CBS Portrait JR 35683). In 1983, Ravenscroft released the track "Maxine" which gained airplay, but performed poorly on the charts. His track "A Whole Lot of Something Going On" was sampled by producer Heavy D on the track "Feel It In The Air", by Beanie Sigel.

In 2010, Ravenscroft played on albums and with Duffy, UB40, and Mary Hopkin.

Ravenscroft is also the author of several books on saxophone technique including the instruction book, The Complete Saxophone Player (1990). Until 2004, he was a tutor of music in the UK at York College.

-- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raphael_Ravenscroft

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Wikipedia Blacked Out Worldwide As a Protest

SOPA stands for the "Stop Online Piracy Act," a U.S. House bill which seeks a crackdown on copyright infringement by restricting access by users of sites that host pirated content.  The main tarets of this legislation appear to be overseas sites like "Pirate Bay," which are full of ilegal copies of movies and digital files.

Copyright infringement is illegal already, but it is difficult to prosecute overseas sites. SOPA would make it illegal for American search engines, advertising networks and other providers to link to sites flagged by the federal government. For example, Google couldn’t list those pirate sites and PayPal couldn’t send any money to sites on the list.

A very similar bill in the Senate, PIPA (the "Protect IP Act"), got through committee approval in May and is now being looked at by the entire Senate.

So a furious fight is going on, with media and entertainment organizations ("Hollywood") up against computer hardware and software manufacturers, especially internet providers ("Silicon Valley").
More at: http://money.cnn.com/2012/01/17/technology/sopa_explained/index.htm

Wikimedia has stepped into this angry feud by blacking out Wikipedia’s search engine for a day. Here is the explanation for that action from the executive director of the foundation, Sue Gardner:

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English Wikipedia anti-SOPA blackout

From the Wikimedia Foundation
To: English Wikipedia Readers and Community
From: Sue Gardner, Wikimedia Foundation Executive Director
Date: January 16, 2012

Today, the Wikipedia community announced its decision to black out the English-language Wikipedia for 24 hours, worldwide, beginning at 05:00 UTC on Wednesday, January 18 (you can read the statement from the Wikimedia Foundation here). The blackout is a protest against proposed legislation in the United States—the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the U.S. House of Representatives, and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) in the U.S. Senate—that, if passed, would seriously damage the free and open Internet, including Wikipedia.

This will be the first time the English Wikipedia has ever staged a public protest of this nature, and it’s a decision that wasn’t lightly made. Here’s how it’s been described by the three Wikipedia administrators who formally facilitated the community’s discussion. From the public statement, signed by User:NuclearWarfare, User:Risker and User:Billinghurst:

In making this decision, Wikipedians will be criticized for seeming to abandon neutrality to take a political position. That’s a real, legitimate issue. We want people to trust Wikipedia, not worry that it is trying to propagandize them.

But although Wikipedia’s articles are neutral, its existence is not. As Wikimedia Foundation board member Kat Walsh wrote on one of our mailing lists recently,

The decision to shut down the English Wikipedia wasn’t made by me; it was made by editors, through a consensus decision-making process. But I support it.

Like Kat and the rest of the Wikimedia Foundation Board, I have increasingly begun to think of Wikipedia’s public voice, and the goodwill people have for Wikipedia, as a resource that wants to be used for the benefit of the public. Readers trust Wikipedia because they know that despite its faults, Wikipedia’s heart is in the right place. It’s not aiming to monetize their eyeballs or make them believe some particular thing, or sell them a product. Wikipedia has no hidden agenda: it just wants to be helpful.

That’s less true of other sites. Most are commercially motivated: their purpose is to make money. That doesn’t mean they don’t have a desire to make the world a better place—many do!—but it does mean that their positions and actions need to be understood in the context of conflicting interests.

My hope is that when Wikipedia shuts down on January 18, people will understand that we’re doing it for our readers. We support everyone’s right to freedom of thought and freedom of expression. We think everyone should have access to educational material on a wide range of subjects, even if they can’t pay for it. We believe in a free and open Internet where information can be shared without impediment. We believe that new proposed laws like SOPA—and PIPA, and other similar laws under discussion inside and outside the United States—don’t advance the interests of the general public. You can read a very good list of reasons to
oppose SOPA and PIPA here, from the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Why is this a global action, rather than US-only? And why now, if some American legislators appear to be in tactical retreat on SOPA?

The reality is that we don’t think SOPA is going away, and PIPA is still quite active. Moreover, SOPA and PIPA are just indicators of a much broader problem. All around the world, we're seeing the development of legislation intended to fight online piracy, and regulate the Internet in other ways, that hurt online freedoms.

Our concern extends beyond SOPA and PIPA: they are just part of the problem. We want the Internet to remain free and open, everywhere, for everyone.

On January 18, we hope you’ll agree with us, and will do what you can to make your own voice heard.

Sue Gardner,
Executive Director, Wikimedia Foundation
Unedited from: http://wikimediafoundation.org/wiki/English_Wikipedia_anti-SOPA_blackout
We depend on a legal infrastructure that makes it possible for us to operate. And we depend on a legal infrastructure that also allows other sites to host user-contributed material, both information and expression. For the most part, Wikimedia projects are organizing and summarizing and collecting the world’s knowledge. We’re putting it in context, and showing people how to make to sense of it.
But that knowledge has to be published somewhere for anyone to find and use it. Where it can be censored without due process, it hurts the speaker, the public, and Wikimedia. Where you can only speak if you have sufficient resources to fight legal challenges, or, if your views are pre-approved by someone who does, the same narrow set of ideas already popular will continue to be all anyone has meaningful access to.

It is the opinion of the English Wikipedia community that both of these bills, if passed, would be devastating to the free and open web.
Over the course of the past 72 hours, over 1800 Wikipedians have joined together to discuss proposed actions that the community might wish to take against SOPA and PIPA. This is by far the largest level of participation in a community discussion ever seen on Wikipedia, which illustrates the level of concern that Wikipedians feel about this proposed legislation. The overwhelming majority of participants support community action to encourage greater public action in response to these two bills. Of the proposals considered by Wikipedians, those that would result in a "blackout" of the English Wikipedia, in concert with similar blackouts on other websites opposed to SOPA and PIPA, received the strongest support.
On careful review of this discussion, the closing administrators note the broad-based support for action from Wikipedians around the world, not just from within the United States. The primary objection to a global blackout came from those who preferred that the blackout be limited to readers from the United States, with the rest of the world seeing a simple banner notice instead. We also noted that roughly 55% of those supporting a blackout preferred that it be a global one, with many pointing to concerns about similar legislation in other nations.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Euro Zone Rescue Fund Downgraded

Nations within the European Unions 27 members that participate in the single currency (17 members) have access to a rescue fund in the event of financial reversals. This fund, established in 2010, is called the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF). The EFSF is composed of Euro Zone members who maintain a triple-A bond rating (AAA) as sovereign nations. EFSF loans have already been made to Ireland and Portugal. If Greece needs more liquidity, EFSF would be a prime candidate for providing such assistance.

Last week, Standard and Poors (S&P) downgraded French and Austrian debt from AAA to AA+, a move which booted France and Austria out of membership in the EFSF. The present AAA members of EFSF are Germany, Luxembourg, Finland and the Netherlands. Today, the EFSF itself was downgraded by S&P from AAA to AA+, because there were so few remaining members capable of financing a large assistance package. Luke Baker of Reuters has reported on these events as well as on their impact to the on-going Greek financial crisis.

"We consider that credit enhancements that would offset what we view as the now-reduced creditworthiness of the EFSF's guarantors and securities backing the EFSF's issues are currently not in place. We have therefore lowered to AA+ the issuer credit rating of the EFSF, as well as the issue ratings on its long-term debt securities."                               -- S&P statement on the EFSF downgrade, quoted by Reuters

Reuters further reports that a number of officials, including one at S&P, are warning of an upcoming Greek default following a breakdown in talks between Greece and creditors on Friday. Greece was under pressure to attain last-minute agreements with its private creditors in which those creditors would accept voluntary losses ("haircuts") on their Greek bond holdings. Greece could face bankruptcy when 14.5 billion Euros in loans come due late in March. A private sector bond swap involving writedowns is needed for additional loans.

A new bailout agency, the European Stability Mechanism or ESM, is being hurried into existence by the middle of 2012. French and German officials express confidence in the EFSF since this follow-on agency is about to come on line with an effective capacity of 500 billion Euros.

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For weeks, the Economist has been running a poll on whether the Euro will survive 2012. Polltakers can then make comments. Here is one such comment:

None of us mere mortals can begin to do anything more than guess at how strong the Euro, or any other key component of the global economy, really is. If we've learned one thing during the 2011 phase of the every-shifting "financial crisis", it's that everything the money-men in government and banking are doing is basically just polishing a turd. This is why each new problem is allegedly an unexpected surprise. The crisis began with a long-running and successful (until then) conspiracy to make bad private debt (mortgages) look like good private debt (highly-rated bonds). After that gig was up, we come to find out that there was lots of other bad debt out there as well.

Now we have Greece doing the big-money equivalent of getting a payday loan to pay its mortgage, only unlike the destitute homeowner, it's the mortgage-holder that's arranging for the payday loan so as to enable him to pretend for a while longer that the mortgage will still be repaid.

Until we can answer some basic questions like "What debt is really bad?" and "Who owns the bad debt?" there is no way we can speculate about how all that bad debt, distributed via an inscrutable web of derivatives, could impact the viability of the Euro.

-- http://www.economist.com/economist-asks/will-euro-survive-2012-intact

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Simulations slice an electron in half

Though Nature Does Not
Allow Electrons To Split

Particle accelerators smash protons and other subatomic particles together to see what the components are for matter. But electrons can’t be smashed like that; they won’t break apart.

But there may be other ways of spliting electrons, though it hasn’t been done yet. The January 13, 2012, issue of Science describes a computer simulation of such electron splitting, an article that was summarized by Ashley Yaeger in Duke Today, the college newspaper in Durham, North Carolina.

Duke Universitry physicist Matthew Hastings, with Sergei Isakov of the University of Zurich and Roger Melko of the Universtity of Waterloo in Canada, have developed a virtual crystal by setting the temperatures very low in the computer model, where this cryastal turned into a quantum fluid (itself an exotic state of matter) from whence the electrons began to condense.

Various materials can form as electrons condense when chilled close to absolute zero (approximately minus four hundred fifty-nine degrees Fahrenheit). Particles stop moving at this temperature* and individual [subatomic] particles, such as electrons, can cooperate rather than repel each other.

The cooperating electrons behavior then becomes like individual particle behavior, much as a sound wave can act like a fundamental particle but is in reality the sum of motion from many atoms.

Under such ultra-cold condition, electrons act this way; collective motion is just like the movement of an individual particle. Unlike sound waves, though, electrons and other particles (called "collective excitations" or "quasiparticles") can to other astonishing things. Hastings and his colleagues placed a virtual particle with the charge of an electron into the simulated quantum fluid, where the particle fractured into two pieces, each taking half of the original particle’s negative charge.

The physicists continued to watch these new sub-particles and changed the constraints of the simulated environment. The article in Duke Today states "they were also able to "measure several universal numbers that characterize the motions of the electron fragments. The results provide scientists with information to look for signatures of electron pieces in other simulations, experiments and theoretical studies."

The article avers that there are other ways to "coax a particle to reveal itself" in addition to having physicists smash matter into pieces.

Summarized from:


this reference itself cites a source:

CITATION: "Universal Signatures of Fractionalized Quantum Critical Points," by S.V. Isakov; R.G. Melko; M.B. Hastings. Science. 2012. 335: 193-195.
DOI: 10.1126/science.121220

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* Note by the blog author: inter-molecular motion ceases at absolute zero, however, bond flexing within a molecule continues. So, ultimately, it is not strictly true that "all motion" ceases at absolute zero, a point not made clear in the Duke Today article.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Hacker May Release Norton antivirus Source Code

Reuters reporter Frank Jack Daniel has a story about a hacker who calls himself "Yama Tough." This hacker threatened to release the full source code for "Norton," a major software antivirus program from Symantic Corporation. "Yama Tough" said on Twitter, "This coming Tuesday behold the full Norton antivirus 1.7 Gb src, the rest will follow."

Over the past week, fragments of the source code have been released as well as a cache of Symantec emails. The hacker claims that all the data was taken from Indian government servers.

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The Huffington Post, in a Reuters story reported by Dan Levine with editing by Gerald E. McCormick, had some additional information on this hacking situation. Symantec has stated that some source code had been taken from a third party, but that the firm’s own network had not been breached. Symantec also states that the code was several years old.

This article in the Huffington Post also mentions a proposed class action lawsuit, filed this week in the U.S., which alleges Symantec has been scaring customers into buying its products with misleading statements about the health of their computers. This suit labels Norton Utilities as a type of "scareware."  Symantec has stated the suit has no merit and that the company will vigorously defend itself.

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Friday, January 13, 2012

S&P Downgrades Ratings of Nine Euro Nations

Mattias Sobolewski and Dina Kyriakidou of Reuters reported today that nine Euro nations have had their debt downgraded by S&P:

"Today's rating actions are primarily driven by our assessment that the policy initiatives that have been taken by European policymakers in recent weeks may be insufficient to fully address ongoing systemic stresses in the eurozone," Standard and Poors, the U.S.-based ratings agency said in a statement.Ratings changes:

Italy (down two notches)
Spain (down two notches)
Portugal (down two notches – to "junk" status)
Cyprus (down two notches)
France (down one notch – no longer AAA)
Austria (down one notch)
Malta (down one notch)
Slovakia (down one notch)
Slovenia (down one notch)

Additionally, 14 nations received a "negative outlook" hinting at a possible further downgrade, including France, Austria, Finland (itself still triple A), the Netherlands and Luxembourg.

Only Germany remained AAA with a "stable outlook."


Negotiators for Greece have often voiced confidence in a deal for which private creditors would writedown 50 percent of the face value of their Greek bond holdings, but the European credit downgrades make them less hopeful. The other side of the negotiations is represented by the Institute for International Finance, which is negotiating on behalf of the banks holding Greek debt. The ultimate effective interest rate after negotiations is complicated by hedge funds, some of which have bought up Greek debt and want to be paid in full or trigger default insurance.

The national credit downgrades and complications of Greek debt negotiation have terminate the good feeling earlier in the week that was coming from Spain and Italy being able to rollover large debts at lower borrowing costs.

The European Financial Stability Facility

Reuters reports:

"S&P said the euro zone faced stresses, including tightening credit conditions, rising risk premiums for a growing number of sovereigns, simultaneous deleveraging by governments and households, and weakening economic growth prospects.

"It also cited political obstacles to a solution to the crisis due to "an open and prolonged dispute among European policymakers over the proper approach to address challenges."

"Austerity and budget discipline alone were not sufficient to fight the debt crisis and risked becoming self-defeating, the ratings agency said."
The French and Austrian national banks are exposed to the debt of peripheral euro-zone countries as well as Hungary. France itself is the second-largest guarantor of the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), which itself has an AAA rating. John Chambers, as chairman of Standard and Poor’s sovereign rating committee, said preserving the EFSF rating of AAA would require the four guarantors still rated AAA to increase their commitments to EFSF. This could be very difficult, as German, Finnish and Netherlands voters have resisted ending more support to Euro lending.

French Politics

French President Sarkozy had been vowing for months to preserve France’s AAA rating. Now, he is having significant political problems of his own, since his centrist opponent, Francois Bayrou, and Socialist opponent, Martine Aubry, are blaming him and his party for the S&P downgrade of their country.

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Thursday, January 12, 2012

Our Galaxy May Have More Planets Than Stars

A study published in the Nature journal and another study released at the American Astronomical Society’s conference in Austin, Texas, indicate that most stars in the Milky Way have planets. There are about 100 billion stars in this galaxy, and that could mean 160 billion to more than 200 billion planets. Over 700 planets outside our own solar system, called "exoplanets," have been found. Thousands more are waiting to be confirmed as planets, Seth Borenstein reported for the Associated Press on January 11.

Many of the new planets are discovered through the new Kepler planet-finding telescope from NASA.

The Kepler telescope goes beyond the old method of using telescopes in South America, frica and Australia to check for increase3s in brightness that indicate the presence of a planet. That brightness measurement method only locates the large planets that are at a significant distance from their stars, rather like Saturn or Uranus in our own solar system. Kepler can find smaller planets closer to the star. Kepler has even found three rocky planets, smaller than earth, circling a dwarf star itself only slightly bigger than Jupiter.

Additionally, San Diego State University astronomy professor William Welsh has used Kepler to find three different solar systems which have a pair of stars at their center rather than simply a single star.

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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Negative Quiddity: Guantanamo Detainees

Elizabeth O’Shea has written an editorial for the Sydney Morning Herald, one of the leading newspapers in Australia. She reminds readers that the Guantanamo Bay detention camp "represents an affront to the bedrock principles that underpin Western legal systems," in such matters as "freedom from arbitrary arrest, the right to a fair trail and the presumption of innocence." She notes that the New York Times has reported that of 779 prisons, 600 have been release to date.

O’Shea reminds readers that one of Barack Obama’s first acts as president was to pledge to close Guantanamo within a year, yet after three years, 171 men are still incarcerated. "Only three were released in the past year, and only one left alive; the other two left in body bags." Of the 171 who are still imprisoned, "89 have been cleared for release," yet a congressional bill passed in 2011 blocked "the release of these men by cutting off funds for their transfer or release."
Ominously, she mentions:

"Another 46 detainees are classified as ''indefinite detainees'': men the US has no evidence to charge but who nonetheless are classified as too dangerous for release until the cessation of hostilities. It is not clear if hostilities will ever cease. "This leaves 36 detainees, a group that should be slated for trial, though "it seems a mere six are facing criminal charges." They face a military tribunal, which is not exactly a court in the sense that the accused have restricted rights compared to a genuine court.

So Guantanamo represents a few paltry prosecutions in an operation that "the Washington Post estimates the cost of the camp at close to $2 billion

Due process has not been granted these prisoners. Torture, "including beatings, the use of stress positions and psychological torment" were employed. "Many US officials have used weasel words to absolve themselves, but there is no denying this treatment is in breach of the Convention Against Torture." 
"Eight of the 779 detainees have died in the prison over its 10-year history. Three of these, as reported by Harper's Magazine, were suspected homicides. When the bodies were released, the throats of the men had been cut out and, as such, it was not possible to confirm the cause of death." O’Shea also states that two Australian citizens have been held at Guantanamo, and a complaint to the United Nations Human Rights Committee has received only silence from the Australian government. It was through WikiLeaks that the information was obtained about what went wrong.

O’Shea also notes that "President Obama has just signed the National Defense Authorization Act, which allows indefinite detention of people suspected to be associated with terrorism. This far-reaching legislation was signed on New Year's Eve with very media little attention."

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