Wednesday, June 21, 2017

"Dead Disk Galaxy" Found

Hubble Captures Massive Dead Disk Galaxy that Challenges Theories of Galaxy Evolution

NASA -- By combining the power of a "natural lens" in space with the capability of NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers made a surprising discovery—the first example of a compact yet massive, fast-spinning, disk-shaped galaxy that stopped making stars only a few billion years after the big bang.

Finding such a galaxy early in the history of the universe challenges the current understanding of how massive galaxies form and evolve, say researchers.

When Hubble photographed the galaxy, astronomers expected to see a chaotic ball of stars formed through galaxies merging together. Instead, they saw evidence that the stars were born in a pancake-shaped disk.

This is the first direct observational evidence that at least some of the earliest so-called "dead" galaxies — where star formation stopped — somehow evolve from a Milky Way-shaped disk into the giant elliptical galaxies we see today.

This is a surprise because elliptical galaxies contain older stars, while spiral galaxies typically contain younger blue stars. At least some of these early "dead" disk galaxies must have gone through major makeovers. They not only changed their structure, but also the motions of their stars to make a shape of an elliptical galaxy.

"This new insight may force us to rethink the whole cosmological context of how galaxies burn out early on and evolve into local elliptical-shaped galaxies," said study leader Sune Toft of the Dark Cosmology Center at the Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen, Denmark. "Perhaps we have been blind to the fact that early "dead" galaxies could in fact be disks, simply because we haven't been able to resolve them."

Previous studies of distant dead galaxies have assumed that their structure is similar to the local elliptical galaxies they will evolve into. Confirming this assumption in principle requires more powerful space telescopes than are currently available. However, through the phenomenon known as "gravitational lensing," a massive, foreground cluster of galaxies acts as a natural "zoom lens" in space by magnifying and stretching images of far more distant background galaxies. By joining this natural lens with the resolving power of Hubble, scientists were able to see into the center of the dead galaxy.

The remote galaxy is three times as massive as the Milky Way but only half the size. Rotational velocity measurements made with the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope (VLT) showed that the disk galaxy is spinning more than twice as fast as the Milky Way.

Using archival data from the Cluster Lensing And Supernova survey with Hubble (CLASH), Toft and his team were able to determine the stellar mass, star-formation rate, and the ages of the stars.

Why this galaxy stopped forming stars is still unknown. It may be the result of an active galactic nucleus, where energy is gushing from a supermassive black hole. This energy inhibits star formation by heating the gas or expelling it from the galaxy. Or it may be the result of the cold gas streaming onto the galaxy being rapidly compressed and heated up, preventing it from cooling down into star-forming clouds in the galaxy's center.

But how do these young, massive, compact disks evolve into the elliptical galaxies we see in the present-day universe? "Probably through mergers," Toft said. "If these galaxies grow through merging with minor companions, and these minor companions come in large numbers and from all sorts of different angles onto the galaxy, this would eventually randomize the orbits of stars in the galaxies. You could also imagine major mergers. This would definitely also destroy the ordered motion of the stars."

The findings are published in the June 22 issue of the journal Nature. Toft and his team hope to use NASA's upcoming James Webb Space Telescope to look for a larger sample of such galaxies.

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and ESA (European Space Agency). NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Maryland, conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., in Washington, D.C.

The Very Large Telescope is a telescope facility operated by the European Southern Observatory on Cerro Paranal in the Atacama Desert of Northern Chile.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

HIV Vaccine Is Studied

San Diego Team Tests Best Delivery
Mode for Potential HIV Vaccine
Optimized immunizations reliably elicit protective antibodies in preclinical study, marking an important milestone on the way to an effective HIV vaccine.

LA JOLLA, CA -- June 20, 2017 —For decades, HIV has successfully evaded all efforts to create an effective vaccine but researchers at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) and the La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology (LJI) are steadily inching closer. Their latest study, published in the current issue of Immunity, demonstrates that optimizing the mode and timing of vaccine delivery is crucial to inducing a protective immune response in a preclinical model.

More than any other factors, administering the vaccine candidate subcutaneously and increasing the time intervals between immunizations improved the efficacy of the experimental vaccine and reliably induced neutralizing antibodies. Neutralizing antibodies are a key component of an effective immune response. They latch onto and inactive invading viruses before they can gain a foothold in the body and have been notoriously difficult to generate for HIV.

“This study is an important staging point on the long journey toward an HIV vaccine,” says TSRI Professor Dennis R. Burton, Ph.D, who is also scientific director of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) Neutralizing Antibody Center and of the National Institutes of Health’s Center for HIV/AIDS Vaccine Immunology and Immunogen Discovery (CHAVI-ID) at TSRI. “The vaccine candidates we worked with here are probably the most promising prototypes out there, and one will go into people in 2018,” says Burton.

“There had been a lot of big question marks and this study was designed to get as many answers as possible before we go into human clinical trials,” adds senior co-author Shane Crotty, Ph.D., a professor in LJI’s Division of Vaccine Discovery. “We are confident that our results will be predictive going forward.”

HIV has faded from the headlines, mainly because the development of antiretroviral drugs has turned AIDS into a chronic, manageable disease. Yet, only about half of the roughly 36.7 million people currently infected with HIV worldwide are able to get the medicines they need to control the virus.

At the same time, the rate of new infections has remained stubbornly high, emphasizing the need for a preventive vaccine.

The latest findings are the culmination of years of collaborative and painstaking research by a dozen research teams centered around the development, improvement, and study of artificial protein trimers that faithfully mimic a protein spike found on the viral surface. At the core of this effort is the CHAVI-ID immunogen working group, comprised of TSRI’s own William R. Schief, Ph.D., Andrew B. Ward, Ph.D., Ian A. Wilson, D.Phil. and Richard T. Wyatt, Ph.D., in addition to Crotty and Burton. This group of laboratories in collaboration with Darrell J. Irvine, Ph.D., professor at MIT, and Rogier W. Sanders, Ph.D., professor at the University of Amsterdam, provided the cutting-edge immunogens tested in the study.

The recombinant trimers, or SOSIPs as they are called, were unreliable in earlier, smaller studies conducted in non-human primates. Non-human primates, and especially rhesus macaques, are considered the most appropriate pre-clinical model for HIV vaccine studies, because their immune system most closely resembles that of humans.

“The animals’ immune responses, although the right kind, weren’t very robust and a few didn’t respond at all,” explains Colin Havenar-Daughton, Ph.D., a scientific associate in the Crotty lab. “That caused significant concern that the immunogen wouldn’t consistently trigger an effective immune response in all individuals in a human clinical trial.”

In an effort to reliably induce a neutralizing antibody response, the collaborators tested multiple variations of the trimers and immunization protocols side-by-side to determine the best strategy going forward. Crotty and Burton and their colleagues teamed up with Professor Dan Barouch, M.D., Ph.D., Director of the Center for Virology and Vaccine Research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, who coordinated the immunizations.

The design of the study was largely guided by what the collaborators had learned in a previous study via fine needling sampling of the lymph nodes, where the scientists observed follicular helper T cells help direct the maturation steps of antibody-producing B cells. Administering the vaccine subcutaneously versus the more conventional intramuscular route, and spacing the injection at 8 weeks instead of the more common 4-6 weeks, reliably induced a strong functional immune response in all animals.

Using an osmotic pump to slowly release the vaccine over a period of two weeks resulted in the highest neutralizing antibody titers ever measured following SOSIP immunizations in non-human primates. While osmotic pumps are not a practical way to deliver vaccines, they illustrate an important point.

“Depending on how we gave the vaccine, there was a bigger difference due to immunization route than we would have predicted,” says Matthias Pauthner, a graduate student in Burton’s lab and the study’s co-lead author. “We can help translate what we know now into the clinic.”

Monday, June 19, 2017

Catherine Austin FItts Speaks

Catherine Austin Fitts is the president of Solari, Inc., the publisher of The Solari Report and managing member of Solari Investment Advisory Services, LLC.

Catherine Fitts is a reoccurring guest on the overnight radio program Coast to Coast AM.  [She is also seen in several YouTube videos and online interviews].

Background

Fitts served as managing director and member of the board of directors of the Wall Street investment bank Dillon, Read & Co. Inc., as Assistant Secretary of Housing and Federal Housing Commissioner at the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development in the first Bush Administration, and was the president of Hamilton Securities Group, Inc., an investment bank and financial software developer.

Fitts has a BA from the University of Pennsylvania, an MBA from the Wharton School and studied Mandarin at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catherine_Austin_Fitts

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The Popsicle Index is a quality of life measurement coined by Catherine Austin Fitts as the percentage of people - in a community who believe that a child in their community can safely leave their home, walk to the nearest possible location to buy a popsicle, and walk back home.


Quotes from Fitts

“We have a group of people who have the power to act with impunity.  They are above the law.  They are centralizing and consolidating economic and political power.  We have a political problem.  We don’t have an economic problem.”  Fitts’ analysis shows, “We’ve been on a debt model, and now we’ve got to get the planet on an equity model. . . .You are going to do everything you can do to get people into equities.  Slamming precious metals down helps do that.”  But Fitts says that won’t stop the gold bull because China and the rest of the world are buying the yellow metal.  Fitts contends, “What that means is there is going to be a much more broad-based bull market in gold. . . I think it’s going to more of a sound money system, and gold is going to be a part of that.”  Not everybody wants to be brought into the so-called new world order.  Fitts predicts, “Remember, to come out with a one world currency, you need everybody.  There can be no leakage.  There can be no exceptions. The Russians are determined to be the stinker at the party is what I think.” 

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Dangerous Bird Flu Mutations

Mutations that Allow Bird Flu Strain
to Spread Among Humans Identified
Monitoring for these mutations could enable
timely response to prevent pandemic

An international team of scientists has identified several genetic mutations that, should they arise, could potentially allow the avian influenza strain H7N9 to spread between humans. The findings are published in PLOS Pathogens.

PLOS – June 15, 2017 -- H7N9 is a strain of flu virus that normally infects birds but has spread to at least 779 humans in a number of outbreaks related to poultry markets. The virus is not currently capable of spreading sustainably from human to human, but scientists are concerned that it could potentially mutate into a form that can.

To investigate this possibility, James Paulson of The Scripps Research Institute, California, and colleagues analyzed mutations that could occur in H7N9's genome. They focused on a gene that codes for the H7 hemagglutanin, a protein found on the surface of flu viruses. This protein allows flu viruses to latch onto host cells.

Flu strains that circulate in avian viruses have different subtypes of hemagglutanin, called H1-H16. So far only three subtypes have been found in human flu viruses (H1, H2 and H3). Like other avian flu viruses, H7N9 has is specific for receptors on bird cells, but not receptors on human cells. However, a transition to human specificity could enable H7N9 to circulate among humans, just like other human flu strains that have caused pandemics in the past.

The research team used molecular modeling and knowledge of hemagglutanin's structure to identify mutations that would change the protein's amino acid sequence and cause a switch to human specificity. Then, they produced the hemagglutanin with different combinations of these mutations in an experimental cell line (testing the mutations in H7N9 viruses themselves could be dangerous).

The scientists harvested the mutant hemagglutanin proteins from the cells and tested how strongly they bound to human-type and bird-type receptors. Several forms with mutations in three amino acids bound far more strongly to human receptors; they had switched specificity from bird to human. These triple-mutant H7 hemagglutinins also successfully latched onto cells in samples of human trachea tissue.

Safety regulations prohibit introducing these mutations to actual H7N9 viruses, limiting scientists' ability to test their effects in animals. Nonetheless, the research team suggests that keeping an eye out for the development of these mutations in humans infected with H7N9 could help trigger a timely response to prevent potential spread.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Basics of Agitprop

Agitprop (portmanteau of "agitation" and "propaganda") is political propaganda, especially the communist propaganda used in Soviet Russia, that is spread to the general public through popular media such as literature, plays, pamphlets, films, and other art forms with an explicitly political message. In the Western world, agitprop often has a negative connotation.

The term originated in Soviet Russia as a shortened name for the Department for Agitation and Propaganda (отдел агитации и пропаганды, otdel agitatsii i propagandy), which was part of the central and regional committees of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The department was later renamed Ideological Department. Typically Russian agitprop explained the policies of the Communist Party and persuaded the general public to share its values and goals. In other contexts, propaganda could mean dissemination of any kind of beneficial knowledge, e.g., of new methods in agriculture. After the October Revolution of 1917, an agitprop train toured the country, with artists and actors performing simple plays and broadcasting propaganda. It had a printing press on board the train to allow posters to be reproduced and thrown out of the windows if it passed through villages.

It gave rise to agitprop theatre, a highly politicized left-wing theatre that originated in 1920s Europe and spread to the United States; the plays of Bertolt Brecht are a notable example. Russian agitprop theater was noted for its cardboard characters of perfect virtue and complete evil, and its coarse ridicule. Gradually the term agitprop came to describe any kind of highly politicized art.

Forms of Agitprop

During the Russian Civil War, agitprop took various forms:

  • Censorship of the press: Bolshevik strategy from the beginning was to introduce censorship over the primary medium of information in the former Russian Empire in 1917, the newspaper. The provisional government, born out of the March Revolution against the tsarist regime, abolished the age-old practice of censoring the press. This created free newspapers that survived on their own revenue. The Bolsheviks' power over the provisional government lay in the Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies, because they could shut down industry and government by calling in workers and soldiers to strike and demonstrate. This ability to orchestrate strikes was especially helpful in the newspaper printing factories because a strike would mean a large loss in revenue, and the inability to continue to operate. The capability of strikes allowed the Bolsheviks to shut down any newspaper they wanted, creating a highly effective censorship mechanism that put a stop to the voice of the opposition. Lenin took control of the socialist newspaper Pravda, making it an outlet to spread Bolshevik agitprop, articles, and other media. With the Bolshevik capability to censor and shut down newspapers of opposing or rival factions, Pravda was able to become the dominant source of written information for the population in regions controlled by the Red Army .



  • Oral-agitation networks: The Bolshevik leadership understood that to build a lasting regime, they would need to win the support of the mass population of Russian peasants. To do this, Lenin organized a Communist party that attracted demobilized soldiers and others to become indoctrinated in Bolshevik ideology, dressed up in uniforms and sent to travel the countryside as agitators to the peasants. The oral-agitation networks established a presence in the isolated rural areas of Russia, expanding Communist power.
  • Agitational trains and ships: To expand the reach of the oral-agitation networks, the Bolsheviks pioneered using modern transportation to reach deeper into Russia. The trains and ships carried agitators armed with leaflets, posters and other various forms of agitprop. The agitational trains expanded the reach of agitators into Eastern Europe, and allowed for the establishment of agitprop stations, consisting of libraries of propaganda material. The trains were also equipped with radios, and their own printing press, so they could report to Moscow the political climate of the given region, and receive instruction on how to custom print propaganda on the spot to better take advantage of the situation.
  • Literacy campaign: Lenin understood that in order to increase the effectiveness of his propaganda, the cultural level of the Russian people would have to be raised by bringing down the illiteracy rate. The peasant society of Russia in 1917 was largely illiterate making it difficult to reach them through printed agitprop. Lenin created the People’s Commissariat of Enlightenment to spearhead the war on illiteracy. Instructors were trained in 1919, and sent to the countryside to create more instructors and expand the operation into a network of illiteracy centers. New textbooks were created, containing Bolshevik ideology to indoctrinate the newly literate members of Soviet society, and the literacy training in the army was expanded.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Helmut Kohl Dies

Helmut Josef Michael Kohl (3 April 1930 – 16 June 2017) was a German politician who served as Chancellor of Germany from 1982 to 1998 (of West Germany 1982–1990 and of the reunited Germany 1990–1998) and as the chairman of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) from 1973 to 1998. From 1969 to 1976, Kohl was Minister President of Rhineland-Palatinate.

                                                                Helmut Kohl in 1989

Kohl's 16-year tenure was the longest of any German Chancellor since Otto von Bismarck. Kohl oversaw the end of the Cold War and is widely regarded as the mastermind of German reunification. Together with French President François Mitterrand, Kohl is considered to be the architect of the Maastricht Treaty, which established the European Union (EU) and the euro currency. His life in the immediate years after his chancellorship was overshadowed by a donations scandal.

Reunification of Germany

Kohl was described as "the greatest European leader of the second half of the 20th century" by U.S. Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Kohl received the Charlemagne Prize in 1988 with François Mitterrand; in 1998 Kohl became the second person to be named Honorary Citizen of Europe by the European heads of state or government.

Following the breach of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the East German Communist regime in 1989, Kohl's handling of the East German issue would become the turning point of his chancellorship. Kohl, like most West Germans, was initially caught unaware when the Socialist Unity Party was toppled in late 1989. Well aware of his constitutional mandate to seek German unity, he immediately moved to make it a reality. Taking advantage of the historic political changes occurring in East Germany, Kohl presented a ten-point plan for "Overcoming of the division of Germany and Europe" without consulting his coalition partner, the FDP, or the Western Allies. In February 1990, he visited the Soviet Union seeking a guarantee from Mikhail Gorbachev that the USSR would allow German reunification to proceed. One month later, the Party of Democratic Socialism — the renamed SED — was roundly defeated by a grand coalition headed by the East German counterpart of Kohl's CDU, which ran on a platform of speedy reunification.

On 18 May 1990, Kohl signed an economic and social union treaty with East Germany. This treaty stipulated that when reunification took place, it would be under the quicker provisions of Article 23 of the Basic Law. That article stated that any new states could adhere to the Basic Law by a simple majority vote. The alternative would have been the more protracted route of drafting a completely new constitution for the newly reunified country, as provided by Article 146 of the Basic Law. An Article 146 reunification would have opened up contentious issues in West Germany, and would have been impractical in any case since by then East Germany was in a state of utter collapse. In contrast, an Article 23 reunification could be completed in as little as six months.

Over the objections of Bundesbank president Karl Otto Pöhl, he allowed a 1:1 exchange rate for wages, interest and rent between the West and East Marks. In the end, this policy would seriously hurt companies in the new federal states. Together with Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, Kohl was able to resolve talks with the former Allies of World War II to allow German reunification. He received assurances from Gorbachev that a reunified Germany would be able to choose which international alliance it wanted to join, although Kohl made no secret that he wanted the reunified Germany to inherit West Germany's seats at NATO and the EC.

A reunification treaty was signed on 31 August 1990, and was overwhelmingly approved by both parliaments on 20 September 1990. On 3 October 1990, East Germany officially ceased to exist, and its territory joined the Federal Republic as the five states of Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia. These states had been the original five states of East Germany before being abolished in 1952, and had been reconstituted in August. East and West Berlin were reunited as the capital of the enlarged Federal Republic. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Kohl confirmed that historically German territories east of the Oder-Neisse line were definitively part of Poland, thereby relinquishing any claim Germany had to them. In 1993, Kohl confirmed, via treaty with the Czech Republic, that Germany would no longer bring forward territorial claims as to the pre-1945 ethnic German Sudetenland. This treaty was a disappointment for the German Heimatvertriebene ("displaced persons”).

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Coming: Better Solar Cells

‘Magic’ Alloy Could Spur Next
Generation of Solar Cells

ANN ARBOR—June 15, 2017 -- In what could be a major step forward for a new generation of solar cells called "concentrator photovoltaics," University of Michigan researchers have developed a new semiconductor alloy that can capture the near-infrared light located on the leading edge of the visible light spectrum.

Easier to manufacture and at least 25 percent less costly than previous formulations, it's believed to be the world's most cost-effective material that can capture near-infrared light—and is compatible with the gallium arsenide semiconductors often used in concentrator photovoltaics.

Concentrator photovoltaics gather and focus sunlight onto small, high-efficiency solar cells made of gallium arsenide or germanium semiconductors. They're on track to achieve efficiency rates of over 50 percent, while conventional flat-panel silicon solar cells top out in the mid-20s.

"Flat-panel silicon is basically maxed out in terms of efficiency," said Rachel Goldman, U-M professor of materials science and engineering, and physics, whose lab developed the alloy. "The cost of silicon isn't going down and efficiency isn't going up. Concentrator photovoltaics could power the next generation."

Varieties of concentrator photovoltaics exist today. They are made of three different semiconductor alloys layered together. Sprayed onto a semiconductor wafer in a process called molecular-beam epitaxy—a bit like spray painting with individual elements—each layer is only a few microns thick. The layers capture different parts of the solar spectrum; light that gets through one layer is captured by the next.

But near-infrared light slips through these cells unharnessed. For years, researchers have been working toward an elusive "fourth layer" alloy that could be sandwiched into cells to capture this light. It's a tall order; the alloy must be cost-effective, stable, durable and sensitive to infrared light, with an atomic structure that matches the other three layers in the solar cell.

Getting all those variables right isn't easy, and until now, researchers have been stuck with prohibitively expensive formulas that use five elements or more.

To find a simpler mix, Goldman's team devised a novel approach for keeping tabs on the many variables in the process. They combined on-the-ground measurement methods including X-ray diffraction done at U-M and ion beam analysis done at Los Alamos National Laboratory with custom-built computer modeling.

Using this method, they discovered that a slightly different type of arsenic molecule would pair more effectively with the bismuth. They were able to tweak the amount of nitrogen and bismuth in the mix, enabling them to eliminate an additional manufacturing step that previous formulas required. And they found precisely the right temperature that would enable the elements to mix smoothly and stick to the substrate securely.

"'Magic' is not a word we use often as materials scientists," Goldman said. "But that's what it felt like when we finally got it right."

The advance comes on the heels of another innovation from Goldman's lab that simplifies the "doping" process used to tweak the electrical properties of the chemical layers in gallium arsenide semiconductors. During doping, manufacturers apply a mix of chemicals called "designer impurities" to change how semiconductors conduct electricity and give them positive and negative polarity similar to the electrodes of a battery. The doping agents usually used for gallium arsenide semiconductors are silicon on the negative side and beryllium on the positive side.

The beryllium is a problem—it's toxic and it costs about 10 times more than silicon dopants. Beryllium is also sensitive to heat, which limits flexibility during the manufacturing process. But the U-M team discovered that by reducing the amount of arsenic below levels that were previously considered acceptable, they can "flip" the polarity of silicon dopants, enabling them to use the cheaper, safer element for both the
positive and negative sides.


"Being able to change the polarity of the carrier is kind of like atomic 'ambidexterity,'" said Richard Field, a former U-M doctoral student who worked on the project. "Just like people with naturally born ambidexterity, it's fairly uncommon to find atomic impurities with this ability."

Together, the improved doping process and the new alloy could make the semiconductors used in concentrator photovoltaics as much as 30 percent cheaper to produce, a big step toward making the high-efficiency cells practical for large-scale electricity generation.

"Essentially, this enables us to make these semiconductors with fewer atomic spray cans, and each can is significantly less expensive," Goldman said. "In the manufacturing world, that kind of simplification is very significant. These new alloys and dopants are also more stable, which gives makers more flexibility as the semiconductors move through the manufacturing process."

The new alloy is detailed in a paper titled "Bi-enhanced N incorporation in GaAsNBi alloys," published June 15 in Applied Physics Letters. The research is supported by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science Graduate Student Research.

The doping advances are detailed in a paper titled "Influence of surface reconstruction on dopant incorporation and transport properties of GaAs(Bi) alloys." It was published in the Dec. 26, 2016, issue of Applied Physics Letters. The research was supported by the National Science Foundation.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Grenfell Tower Fire

The Grenfell Tower fire occurred on 14 June 2017, at the 24-storey Grenfell Tower, a block of public housing flats in the upmarket area of North Kensington, western London, England. The fire started shortly before 1 a.m. local time.

                                   The fire at 4:43am local time

Hundreds of firefighters and 45 fire engines were involved in efforts to control the fire. Firefighters were trying to control pockets of fire on the higher floors after most of the rest of the building had been gutted. Residents of surrounding buildings were evacuated out of concerns that the tower could collapse, though the building was later determined to still be structurally sound.

There could have been up to 600 people in the 120 one- and two-bedroom flats of the block at the time of the fire. By the afternoon of 14 June, twelve had been confirmed dead, with more fatalities expected to be reported; police spoke of "around 200 residents and a lot unaccounted for". Sixty-five were rescued by firefighters. Seventy-four people were confirmed to be in five hospitals across London, twenty of whom were in a critical condition. Ongoing fires on the upper floors and fears of structural collapse hindered the search and recovery effort.

The cause of the fire is not yet known. Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said there were "questions that have to be answered" about the fire safety conditions at the Grenfell Tower. Khan criticised the safety instructions telling people to stay in their flats in particular: "We can't have people's lives being put at risk because of bad advice or lack of maintenance." The residents' organisation, Grenfell Action Group, had repeatedly warned of major fire safety lapses since 2013. The group warned in November 2016 that only a "catastrophic" fire would finally force the block's management to treat fire precautions and maintenance of fire-related systems to a proper standard

Description of the Fire

Fire broke out in the 24-storey Grenfell Tower block of flats on the Lancaster West Estate in North Kensington, western London early in the morning of 14 June 2017; the London Fire Brigade were first called to the fire at 00:54 BST (UTC+1). The fire reportedly began on the second floor but spread at a "terrifying rate" upward and to the other side of the building. A team of 250 firefighters from forty fire engines attempted to control the blaze and rescue people, the first responders arriving six minutes after the alarm, but the fire's extreme temperature hindered rescue attempts. At 04:14, officials from the Metropolitan Police addressed the large crowd of onlookers and urgently instructed them to contact anyone they knew who was trapped in the building—if they are able to reach them via phone or social media—to tell them they must try to self-evacuate and not wait for the fire brigade. Firefighters entered the building to try to rescue people but reported they were hindered by the extreme heat.

According to witnesses, there were people trapped inside, waving from windows for help, some holding children. There were two witness accounts of parents dropping their children down to people below, including a baby who was caught after being thrown from the ninth or tenth floor, and a small boy thrown from the fifth or sixth floor. There were also eyewitness reports that some people were jumping out. At least one person used knotted blankets to make a rope and escape from the burning building. Frequent explosions that were reported to be from gas lines in the building were heard.

After three hours, the original crew of firefighters were replaced by a new crew. By sunrise, the firefighters were still battling the fire and trying to spray areas where people were seen trapped. The watching crowd were pushed back from the building because of falling debris. At 05:00, the building was still burning and severely damaged. Assistant fire commissioner Dan Daly said, "Firefighters wearing breathing apparatus are working extremely hard in very difficult conditions to tackle this fire. This is a large and very serious incident and we have deployed numerous resources and specialist appliances."

The fire continued to burn on the tower's upper floors into the afternoon of 14 June. Firefighters were expecting to continue tackling the blaze for at least a further 24 hours. Although fears were expressed that the building could collapse, structural engineers determined that it was not in danger and that rescue teams could enter it to search for survivors and casualties.

Cause of the Fire

The cause of the fire has not yet been determined. Several media outlets reported that it may have been caused by a faulty appliance. A fourth-floor resident told the media that it was his neighbour's refrigerator that caught fire around 1:00 am, and that they immediately began knocking on doors to alert people. He said that within half an hour the building was entirely engulfed in flames.

While there was much criticism of the lack of sprinkler systems, Geoff Wilkinson, the building regulations columnist for the Architects' Journal, wrote in a comment on 14 June, before the cause was known ("we should avoid speculating"), that if a leaking gas riser or the cladding were at fault, sprinklers would have had little effect. He said he had seen extracts of a fire risk assessment and talk of combustible material stored in the common walkways, suggesting poor overall management.

Criticism of the Building and of Management

Some residents said no fire alarms went off when the fire started. Residents said they were alerted to the fire only by people screaming for help or knocks on the door and not by a fire alarm. Others reported that they survived by ignoring the council's "stay put" policy, its directive instructing residents to remain in their flat in case of fire.

The London-wide Radical Housing Network, a citizens' action "group of groups... fighting for housing justice across London" of which the Grenfell Action Group is a member, said that the fire was "a horrific, preventable tragedy" that was the result of a "combination of government cuts, local authority mismanagement, and sheer contempt for council tenants and the homes they live in".

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Powerful Oceanic Lightning

Florida Tech Study Confirms Lightning More Powerful Over Ocean Than Land

Findings Could Help Guide Improved
Development of Ships, Off-Shore Structures       
 
MELBOURNE, FLA. — June 9, 2017 -- People who live and work along Florida’s coasts – and coastlines everywhere – may be more likely to experience a super-charged lightning strike, according to new research from Florida Institute of Technology that shows lightning can be much more powerful over the ocean than land.

Florida Tech’s Amitabh Nag, assistant professor of physics and space sciences, and Kenneth L. Cummins, research professor at Florida Tech and the University of Arizona, recently published, “Negative First Stroke Leader Characteristics in Cloud to-Ground Lightning Over Land and Ocean” in the American Geophysical Union’s Geophysical Letters.  The scientists analyzed lightning over parts of Florida and its coasts using data provided by the U.S. National Lightning Detection Network.
Some previous indirect observations led scientists and others to believe that strikes over sea water tend to be more powerful, but the Nag and Cummins study represents the first time that an independent measurement has validated those beliefs.

Lightning scientists break down every cloud-to-ground strike into sub-processes to get a better understanding of the way it formed. Plenty of physics is packed into fractions of a second from when charged particles in thunderclouds form into downward channels of electricity that “attach” to electrical, charge-carrying channels rising from land or water to form that familiar zigzag bolt.
In their study, which measured peak currents of various cloud-to-ground lightning strikes over land and ocean from 2013 to 2015, Nag and Cummins calculated the duration of the “negative stepped leader” – the electrical channel that moves down toward ground from a thundercloud. When this leader touches ground a surge of current, typically with a peak value of around 30 kilo amperes, flows upward to the cloud. The durations of negative stepped leaders over the ocean were significantly shorter than those over land, which indicates that they carry more charge in them. This leads to a higher following current surge from ground.

Nag and Cummins found that with strikes over water in western Florida, the median stepped-leader duration was 17 percent shorter over ocean than over land, and in eastern Florida the median durations were 21 and 39 percent shorter over two oceanic regions than over land. Using a relationship between leader duration and lightning peak current derived in this study, the authors estimate that lightning with peak currents over 50 kilo amperes is twice as likely to occur in oceanic thunderstorms.

These findings suggest that people living on or near the ocean may be at greater risk for lightning damage if storms develop over oceans and move on-shore. This new understanding of the nature of lightning could inform how off-shore infrastructure and vessels are to be built to minimize the risk of super-powerful lightning bolts from thunderstorms formed over the sea.

Monday, June 12, 2017

"Outlier" Laboratory Results

In statistics, an outlier is an observation point that is distant from other observations. An outlier may be due to variability in the measurement or it may indicate experimental error; the latter are sometimes excluded from the data set.

Outliers can occur by chance in any distribution, but they often indicate either measurement error or that the population has a heavy-tailed distribution. In the former case one wishes to discard them or use statistics that are robust to outliers, while in the latter case they indicate that the distribution has high skewness and that one should be very cautious in using tools or intuitions that assume a normal distribution. A frequent cause of outliers is a mixture of two distributions, which may be two distinct sub-populations, or may indicate 'correct trial' versus 'measurement error'; this is modeled by a mixture model.

In most larger samplings of data, some data points will be further away from the sample mean than what is deemed reasonable. This can be due to incidental systematic error or flaws in the theory that generated an assumed family of probability distributions, or it may be that some observations are far from the center of the data. Outlier points can therefore indicate faulty data, erroneous procedures, or areas where a certain theory might not be valid. However, in large samples, a small number of outliers is to be expected (and not due to any anomalous condition).

Outliers, being the most extreme observations, may include the sample maximum or sample minimum, or both, depending on whether they are extremely high or low. However, the sample maximum and minimum are not always outliers because they may not be unusually far from other observations.

Naive interpretation of statistics derived from data sets that include outliers may be misleading. For example, if one is calculating the average temperature of 10 objects in a room, and nine of them are between 20 and 25 degrees Celsius, but an oven is at 175 °C, the median of the data will be between 20 and 25 °C but the mean temperature will be between 35.5 and 40 °C. In this case, the median better reflects the temperature of a randomly sampled object (but not the temperature in the room) than the mean; naively interpreting the mean as "a typical sample", equivalent to the median, is incorrect. As illustrated in this case, outliers may indicate data points that belong to a different population than the rest of the sample set.

Estimators capable of coping with outliers are said to be robust: the median is a robust statistic of central tendency, while the mean is not. However, the mean is generally more precise estimator.

Occurrence and Causes of Outliers

In the case of normally distributed data, the three sigma rule means that roughly 1 in 22 observations will differ by twice the standard deviation or more from the mean, and 1 in 370 will deviate by three times the standard deviation. In a sample of 1000 observations, the presence of up to five observations deviating from the mean by more than three times the standard deviation is within the range of what can be expected, being less than twice the expected number and hence within 1 standard deviation of the expected number – see Poisson distribution – and not indicate an anomaly. If the sample size is only 100, however, just three such outliers are already reason for concern, being more than 11 times the expected number.

In general, if the nature of the population distribution is known a priori, it is possible to test if the number of outliers deviate significantly from what can be expected: for a given cutoff (so samples fall beyond the cutoff with probability p) of a given distribution, the number of outliers will follow a binomial distribution with parameter p, which can generally be well-approximated by the Poisson distribution with λ = pn. Thus if one takes a normal distribution with cutoff 3 standard deviations from the mean, p is approximately 0.3%, and thus for 1000 trials one can approximate the number of samples whose deviation exceeds 3 sigmas by a Poisson distribution with λ = 3.

Outliers can have many anomalous causes. A physical apparatus for taking measurements may have suffered a transient malfunction. There may have been an error in data transmission or transcription. Outliers arise due to changes in system behaviour, fraudulent behaviour, human error, instrument error or simply through natural deviations in populations. A sample may have been contaminated with elements from outside the population being examined. Alternatively, an outlier could be the result of a flaw in the assumed theory, calling for further investigation by the researcher. Additionally, the pathological appearance of outliers of a certain form appears in a variety of datasets, indicating that the causative mechanism for the data might differ at the extreme end (King effect).

                               More at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Outlier

 

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Ranching and Livestock

A ranch is an area of land, including various structures, given primarily to the practice of ranching, the practice of raising grazing livestock such as cattle or sheep for meat or wool. The word most often applies to livestock-raising operations in Mexico, the Western United States and Canada, though there are ranches in other areas. People who own or operate a ranch are called ranchers, cattlemen, or stockgrowers. Ranching is also a method used to raise less common livestock such as elk, American bison or even ostrich, emu, and alpaca.

Ranches generally consist of large areas, but may be of nearly any size. In the western United States, many ranches are a combination of privately owned land supplemented by grazing leases on land under the control of the federal Bureau of Land Management. If the ranch includes arable or irrigated land, the ranch may also engage in a limited amount of farming, raising crops for feeding the animals, such as hay and feed grains.

Ranches that cater exclusively to tourists are called guest ranches or, colloquially, "dude ranches." Most working ranches do not cater to guests, though they may allow private hunters or outfitters onto their property to hunt native wildlife. However, in recent years, a few struggling smaller operations have added some dude ranch features, such as horseback rides, cattle drives or guided hunting, in an attempt to bring in additional income. Ranching is part of the iconography of the "Wild West" as seen in Western movies and rodeos.

Ranch Occupations

The person who owns and manages the operation of a ranch is usually called a rancher, but the terms cattleman, stockgrower, or stockman are also sometimes used. If this individual in charge of overall management is an employee of the actual owner, the term foreman or ranch foreman is used. A rancher who primarily raises young stock sometimes is called a cow-calf operator or a cow-calf man. This person is usually the owner, though in some cases, particularly where there is absentee ownership, it is the ranch manager or ranch foreman.

The people who are employees of the rancher and involved in handling livestock are called a number of terms, including cowhand, ranch hand, and cowboy. People exclusively involved with handling horses are sometimes called wranglers.

Origins of Ranching

Ranching and the cowboy tradition originated in Spain, out of the necessity to handle large herds of grazing animals on dry land from horseback. During the Reconquista, members of the Spanish nobility and various military orders received large land grants that the Kingdom of Castile had conquered from the Moors. These landowners were to defend the lands put into their control and could use them for earning revenue. In the process it was found that open-range breeding of sheep and cattle (under the Mesta system) was the most suitable use for vast tracts, particularly in the parts of Spain now known as Castilla-La Mancha, Extremadura and Andalusia.

End of the Open Range in the USA

The end of the open range was not brought about by a reduction in land due to crop farming, but by overgrazing. Cattle stocked on the open range created a tragedy of the commons as each rancher sought increased economic benefit by grazing too many animals on public lands that "nobody" owned. However, being a non-native species, the grazing patterns of ever-increasing numbers of cattle slowly reduced the quality of the rangeland, in spite of the simultaneous massive slaughter of American bison that occurred. The winter of 1886–87 was one of the most severe on record, and livestock that were already stressed by reduced grazing died by the thousands. Many large cattle operations went bankrupt, and others suffered severe financial losses. Thus, after this time, ranchers also began to fence off their land and negotiated individual grazing leases with the American government so that they could keep better control of the pasture land available to their own animals.

Ranches Outside the Americas

In Spain, where the origins of ranching can be traced, there are ganaderías operating on dehesa-type land, where fighting bulls are raised. However, the concept of a "ranch" is not seen to any significant degree in the rest of western Europe, where there is far less land area and sufficient rainfall allows the raising of cattle on much smaller farms.

In Australia, the equivalent agricultural lands are known as 'stations' in the context of what stock they carry — usually referred to as cattle stations or sheep stations. New Zealanders use the term runs and stations.

In South Africa, similar large agricultural holdings are simply known as a farm (occasionally ranch) in South African English or a plaas in Afrikaans.

The largest cattle stations in the world are located in Australia's dry rangeland in the outback. Owners of these stations are known as 'grazier', especially if they reside on the property. Employees are known as stockmen, jackaroos and ringers rather than cowboys. A number of Australian cattle stations are larger than 10,000 km², with the greatest being Anna Creek Station which measures 23,677 km² in area (approximately eight times the largest US Ranch). Anna Creek is owned by S Kidman & Co.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Moore's Law for Transistors

Moore's law is the observation that the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years. The observation is named after Gordon Moore, the co-founder of Fairchild Semiconductor and Intel, whose 1965 paper described a doubling every year in the number of components per integrated circuit, and projected this rate of growth would continue for at least another decade. In 1975, looking forward to the next decade, he revised the forecast to doubling every two years. The period is often quoted as 18 months because of Intel executive David House, who predicted that chip performance would double every 18 months (being a combination of the effect of more transistors and the transistors being faster).

Moore's prediction proved accurate for several decades, and has been used in the semiconductor industry to guide long-term planning and to set targets for research and development. Advancements in digital electronics are strongly linked to Moore's law: quality-adjusted microprocessor prices, memory capacity, sensors and even the number and size of pixels in digital cameras. Digital electronics has contributed to world economic growth in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Moore's law describes a driving force of technological and social change, productivity, and economic growth.

Moore's law is an observation or projection and not a physical or natural law. Although the rate held steady from 1975 until around 2012, the rate was faster during the first decade. In general, it is not logically sound to extrapolate from the historical growth rate into the indefinite future. For example, the 2010 update to the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors, predicted that growth would slow around 2013, and in 2015 Gordon Moore foresaw that the rate of progress would reach saturation: "I see Moore's law dying here in the next decade or so."

Intel stated in 2015 that the pace of advancement has slowed, starting at the 22 nm feature width around 2012, and continuing at 14 nm. Brian Krzanich, CEO of Intel, announced that "our cadence today is closer to two and a half years than two." This is scheduled to hold through the 10 nm width in late 2017. He cited Moore's 1975 revision as a precedent for the current deceleration, which results from technical challenges and is "a natural part of the history of Moore's law."

However, in April 2016, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich stated that "In my 34 years in the semiconductor industry, I have witnessed the advertised death of Moore’s Law no less than four times. As we progress from 14 nanometer technology to 10 nanometer and plan for 7 nanometer and 5 nanometer and even beyond, our plans are proof that Moore’s Law is alive and well". In January 2017, he declared that "I've heard the death of Moore's law more times than anything else in my career," Krzanich said. "And I'm here today to really show you and tell you that Moore's Law is alive and well and flourishing."

Today, hardware has to be designed in a multi-core manner to keep up with Moore's law. In turn, this also means that software has to be written in a multi-threaded manner to take full advantage of the hardware.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Examples of Malapropisms

A malapropism (also called a malaprop or Dogberryism) is the use of an incorrect word in place of a word with a similar sound, resulting in a nonsensical, often humorous utterance. An example is the statement by baseball player Yogi Berra, "Texas has a lot of electrical votes", rather than "electoral votes". Malapropisms also occur as errors in natural speech and are often the subject of media attention, especially when made by politicians or other prominent individuals. Philosopher Donald Davidson has noted that malapropisms show the complex process through which the brain translates thoughts into language.

Examples from Fiction

The fictional Mrs. Malaprop in Sheridan's play The Rivals utters many malapropisms. In Act 3 Scene III, she declares to Captain Absolute, "Sure, if I reprehend any thing in this world it is the use of my oracular tongue, and a nice derangement of epitaphs!" This nonsensical utterance might, for example, be corrected to, "If I apprehend anything in this world, it is the use of my vernacular tongue, and a nice arrangement of epithets", —although these are not the only words that can be substituted to produce an appropriately expressed thought in this context, and commentators have proposed other possible replacements that work just as well.

Other malapropisms spoken by Mrs. Malaprop include "illiterate him quite from your memory" (instead of "obliterate"), and "she's as headstrong as an allegory" (instead of alligator).

Malapropisms appeared in many works before Sheridan created the character of Mrs. Malaprop. William Shakespeare used them in a number of his plays, almost invariably spoken by comic ill-educated lower class characters. Mistress Quickly, the inn-keeper associate of Falstaff in several Shakespeare plays, is a regular user of malapropisms. In Much Ado About Nothing, Constable Dogberry tells Governor Leonato, "Our watch, sir, have indeed comprehended two auspicious persons" (i.e., apprehended two suspicious persons) (Act 3, Scene V).

Modern writers make use of malapropisms in novels, cartoons, films, television, and other media.

Real-life Examples

Malapropisms do not occur only as comedic literary devices. They also occur as a kind of speech error in ordinary speech. Examples are often quoted in the media. Welsh Conservative leader Andrew Davies, encouraged the Conservative party conference to make breakfast (i.e. Brexit) a success. Bertie Ahern, former Taoiseach of Ireland, warned his country against "upsetting the apple tart" (i.e., apple cart) of his country's economic success.

Former Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley referred to a tandem bicycle as a "tantrum bicycle" and made mention of "Alcoholics Unanimous" (Alcoholics Anonymous).

It was reported in New Scientist that an office worker had described a colleague as "a vast suppository of information" (i.e., repository or depository). The worker then apologised for his "Miss-Marple-ism" (i.e. malapropism). New Scientist noted this as possibly the first time anyone had uttered a malapropism for the word malapropism itself.

Texas governor Rick Perry has been known to commonly commit malapropisms, for example describing states as "lavatories of innovation and democracy" instead of "laboratories".

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Oldest Homo Sapiens Skull


Jebel Irhoud is an archaeological site located near Sidi Moktar, about 100 km (60 mi) west of Marrakesh, Morocco. It is noted for the hominid fossils that have been found there since the site's discovery in 1960. Originally thought to be Neanderthal, the specimens have since been assigned to Homo sapiens and have been dated to over 300,000 years ago. This makes them the oldest known fossil remains of Homo sapiens and there is some speculation that humans were present throughout Africa far earlier than previously thought, but the fossil record to date is too sparse to prove this idea.

Finds at the Site

The site is the remnants of a solutional cave filled with 8 metres (26 ft) of deposits from the Pleistocene era, located on the eastern side of a karstic outcrop of limestone at an altitude of 562 metres (1,844 ft). It was discovered in 1960 when the area was being mined for the mineral baryte. A miner discovered a skull in the wall of the cave, extracted it and gave it to an engineer, who kept it as a souvenir for a time. It was eventually handed over to the University of Rabat, who organised a joint French-Moroccan expedition to the site in 1961, headed by the French researcher Émile Ennouchi. Ennouchi's team identified the remains of around 30 species of mammals, some of which are associated with the Middle Pleistocene, but the stratigraphic provenance is unknown. Another excavation was carried out by Jacques Tixier and Roger de Bayle des Hermens in 1967 and 1969 in which 22 layers were identified in the cave. The lower 13 layers were found to contain signs of human habitation including a Mousterian-period industry of Levallois facies. These included blades, arrowheads, knives, scrapers, drills and other tools made of flint.

The site is particularly noted for the hominid fossils found there. Ennouchi discovered a skull which he termed Irhoud 1 and is now on display in the Rabat Archaeological Museum. He discovered part of another skull, designated Irhoud 2, the following year and subsequently uncovered the lower mandible of a child, designated Irhoud 3. Tixier's excavation found 1,267 recorded objects including skulls, a humerus designated Irhoud 4 and a hip bone recorded as Irhoud 5. Further excavations were carried out by American researchers in the 1990s and by a team led by Jean-Jacques Hublin from 2004. Animal remains found at the site have enabled the ancient ecology of the area to be reconstructed. It was quite different to the present and probably represented a dry, open and perhaps steppe-like environment roamed by equids, bovids, gazelles, rhinoceros and various predators.

Other Findings

When comparing the fossils with those of modern humans the main difference is the elongated shape of the fossil braincase. According to the researchers this indicates that brain shape, and possibly brain functions, evolved within the Homo sapiens lineage and relatively recently. Evolutionary changes in brain shape are likely to be associated with genetic changes of the brain's organization, interconnection and development and may reflect adaptive changes in the way the brain functions. Such changes may have caused the human brain to become rounder and two regions in the back of the brain to become enlarged over thousands of years of evolution.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jebel_Irhoud

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Corrupt Omar Bongo

El Hadj Omar Bongo Ondimba (born Albert-Bernard Bongo; 30 December 1935 – 8 June 2009) was a Gabonese politician who was President of Gabon for 42 years from 1967 until his death in 2009.

Omar Bongo was promoted to key positions as a young official under Gabon's first President Léon M'ba in the 1960s, before being elected Vice-President in his own right in 1966. In 1967, he succeeded M'ba to become the second Gabon President, upon the latter's death.

                                                        Bongo in 2001

Bongo headed the single-party regime of the Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG) until 1990, when, faced with public pressure, he was forced to introduce multi-party politics into Gabon. His political survival despite intense opposition to his rule in the early 1990s seemed to stem once again from consolidating power by bringing most of the major opposition leaders at the time to his side. The 1993 presidential election was extremely controversial but ended with his re-election then and the subsequent elections of 1998 and 2005. His respective parliamentary majorities increased and the opposition becoming more subdued with each succeeding election. After Cuban President Fidel Castro stepped down in February 2008, Bongo became the world's longest-serving non-monarch ruler. He was one of the longest serving rulers in history.

Bongo was criticized for in effect having worked for himself, his family and local elites and not for Gabon and its people. For instance, French green politician Eva Joly claimed that during Bongo's long reign, despite an oil-led GDP per capita growth to one of the highest levels in Africa, Gabon built only 5 km of freeway a year and still had one of the world's highest infant mortality rates by the time of his death in 2009.

After Bongo's death in June 2009, his son Ali Bongo—who had long been assigned key ministerial responsibilities by his father—was elected to succeed him in August 2009.

Allegations of Corruption

Italian fashion designer Francesco Smalto admitted providing Bongo with Parisian prostitutes to secure a tailoring business worth $600000 per year .

Bongo was one of the wealthiest heads of state in the world, his wealth attributed primarily to oil revenue and alleged corruption. In 1999, an investigation by the US Senate Permanent Subcommittee on investigations into Citibank estimated that the Gabonese President held US$130 million in the bank's personal accounts, money the Senate report said was "sourced in the public finances of Gabon".

In 2005, an investigation by the United States Senate Indian Affairs Committee into fundraising irregularities by lobbyist Jack Abramoff revealed that Abramoff had offered to arrange a meeting between U.S. President George W. Bush and Bongo for the sum of US$9,000,000. Although such an exchange of funds remains unproven, Bush met with Bongo 10 months later in the Oval Office.

In 2007, his former daughter-in-law, Inge Lynn Collins Bongo, the first wife of his son Ali Bongo Ondimba, caused a stir when she appeared on the US music channel VH1's reality show, Really Rich Real Estate. She was featured trying to buy a US$25,000,000 mansion in Malibu, California.

Bongo was cited in recent years during French criminal inquiries into hundreds of millions of euros of illicit payments by Elf Aquitaine, the former French state-owned oil group. One Elf representative testified that the company was giving 50 million euros per year to Bongo to exploit the petrol lands of Gabon. As of June 2007, Bongo, along with President Denis Sassou Nguesso of the Republic of the Congo, Blaise Compaoré of Burkina Faso, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea and José Eduardo dos Santos from Angola was being investigated by the French magistrates after the complaint made by French NGOs Survie and Sherpa due to claims that he has used millions of pounds of embezzled public funds to acquire lavish properties in France. The leaders all denied wrongdoing.

The Sunday Times (UK) reported on 20 June 2008 as follows:

A mansion worth £15m in one of Paris's most elegant districts has become the latest of 33 luxury properties bought in France by President Omar Bongo Ondimba of Gabon ... a French judicial investigation has discovered that Bongo, 72, and his relatives also bought a fleet of limousines, including a £308,823 Maybach for his wife, Edith, 44. Payment for some of the cars was taken directly from the treasury of Gabon ... The Paris mansion is in the Rue de la Baume, near ther Elysee Palace ... The 21,528 sq ft (2,000.0 m2) home was bought in June last year by a property company based in Luxembourg. The firm's partners are two of Bongo's children, Omar, 13, and Yacine, 16, his wife Edith and one of her nephews... [T]he residence is the most expensive in his portfolio, which includes nine other properties in Paris, four of which are on the exclusive Avenue Foch, near the Arc de Triomphe. He also rents a nine-room apartment in the same street. Bongo has a further seven properties in Nice, including four villas, one of which has a swimming pool. Edith has two flats near the Eiffel Tower and another property in Nice. Investigators identified the properties through tax records. Checks at Bongo's houses, in turn, allowed them to find details of his fleet of cars. Edith used a cheque, drawn on an account in the name of "Prairie du Gabon en France" (part of the Gabon treasury), to buy the Maybach, painted Côte d'Azur blue, in February 2004. Bongo's daughter Pascaline, 52, used a cheque from the same account for a part-payment of £29,497 towards a £60,000 Mercedes two years later. Bongo bought himself a Ferrari 612 Scaglietti F1 in October 2004 for £153,000 while his son Ali acquired a Ferrari 456 M GT in June 2001 for £156,000. Bongo's fortune has repeatedly come under the spotlight. According to a 1997 US Senate report, his family spends £55m a year. In a separate French investigation into corruption at the former oil giant Elf Aquitaine, an executive testified that it paid Bongo £40m a year via Swiss bank accounts in exchange for permission to exploit his country's reserves. Bongo denied this. The latest inquiry, by the French antifraud agency OCRGDF, followed a lawsuit that accused Bongo and two other African leaders of looting public funds to finance their purchases. 'Whatever the merits and qualifications of these leaders, no one can seriously believe that these assets were paid for out of their salaries', alleges the lawsuit brought by the Sherpa association of judges, which promotes corporate social responsibility.

In 2009, Bongo spent his last months in a major row with France over the French inquiry. A French court decision in February 2009 to freeze his bank accounts added fuel to the fire and his government accused France of waging a "campaign to destabilize" the country. It is for this reason that he was hospitalized and spent his last days in Barcelona, Spain and not in France.