Saturday, December 31, 2005

The Little Ice Age and the Industrial Revolution

I haven't done the research yet to make this a post on SHWI, but I am going to be headed that way eventually.

I wonder if you could do a little bit of research of plotting the roll out and adoption of the Industrial REvolution and ole Watts' toys vs the ending of the Little Ice Age. After all, that's when you start wholesale burning of coal, iirc, and that would introduce a whole lotta CO2 to the atmosphere. The timing looks very interesting and would have some baring on the current semi debate about the Global Warming. Indeed, it would push back the start some time ago.

Why do I call it a semi debate? There are zilch climatologists that believe its not happening. At this point, its a belief of how much and what's causing it. A little bit of historical evidence would help like doing the plots here. Yet, it'd hardly end it because there are some people just in denial, frankly.

One of those happens to be an SF writer that likes to mock climatologists. He likes to trot out that the American Revolutionaries counting on certain rivers freezing to pull their cannons across to make use on them on the poor, unsuspecting red coated targets and that there has been a steady warming trend during the 19th century.

Buda-boom. That's just it. The Industrial Revolution started about then. The Little Ice Age ended about 50 years afterwards. The warming trend continued rather unabated and as more sources of CO2 and other green house gases were introduced through more of the world's population being able to afford a CO2 mass producer of some sort, the fact that what we call Global Warming is nada more than an ramping up of a preexisting impact humanity was already having on the environment when there were fewer nations/peoples/whatever witht he coinage to afford the impacting technology.

So I guess you'd have to do a plot of global wealth, the number of CO2 sources, and the global temperatures during the desired time frames to make this even remotely plausible. It'd be a white paper at best, a BOE most likely, and just a thought at worst. However, it doe sseem worthwhile to do.

So, the SHWI tie in is this: No IR means a continued LIA? heh.


Friday, December 30, 2005

Russia's Funny Little Comment

Russian defence minister warned a defiant Kiev yesterday that attempts to review the status of a key Russian naval base in Ukraine could reignite a potentially dangerous border row.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, who is resisting Russia's demand for a nearly five-fold increase in gas prices in 2006, has hinted Ukraine could hit back by reconsidering the terms of leasing the Sevastopol base in the Crimean peninsula.

"The agreement on the Black Sea fleet base is one part of a bilateral treaty, the second part of which contains recognition of mutual borders," Sergei Ivanov said in televized comments. "Trying to revise the treaty would be fatal." [Emphasis added]


Now isn't that an interesting comment.

The link is here.

Let's review the situation. Ukraine has the Orange Revolution and Moscow's candidate gets tossed out on his apparatchik rump. Moscow then decides that it is going to violate the agreement that Ukraine's gas bill would climb steadily to market prices in 2009. Then Ukraine stated it would like to raise the transit tax and review other agreements with Russia (like the Black Sea Fleet basing, frex). Russia then sabre rattles. 'Fatal' mistake is pretty strong diplomatic language...

Interesting, no?

The mask slipped off there.

That Space Race Nouveau

Yahoo News has an article about China's moon probe taking another step:

China's plans to send a spacecraft around the moon have reached a new stage, with the unmanned orbiter and rocket entering production and testing, China's top aerospace official said on Thursday.

Luan Enjie, commander of China's "round the moon" project, said the Chang'e 1 Lunar Orbiter and a launch rocket are being assembled and tested, and the launch site and command system are also taking shape, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

Luan said the craft is still on schedule to be launched in 2007.


Interestingly, there's a little quote at the end of the article that might be a journalistic oops, but might not also:

Japan has also announced plans to land a person on the moon by 2025.


My, oh my. I wondered if the Japanese would throw their hat in the ring. If true, this race is going to be far more of a race for the New World than the last one was. The US-Soviet race was far more of the Viking Vinland and Irish fisherman model than the Columbian Contact.

Here's hoping for Columbus, not Bjorni (sp).


Thursday, December 29, 2005

Did Early Humans First Arise in Asia, Not Africa?

Two archaeologists are challenging what many experts consider to be the basic assumption of human migration—that humankind arose in Africa and spread over the globe from there.

The pair proposes an alternative explanation for human origins: arising in and spreading out of Asia.

Robin Dennell, of the University of Sheffield in England, and Wil Roebroeks, of Leiden University in the Netherlands, describe their ideas in the December 22 issue of Nature.

They believe that early-human fossil discoveries over the past ten years suggest very different conclusions about where humans, or humanlike beings, first walked the Earth.

New Asian finds are significant, they say, especially the 1.75 million-year-old small-brained early-human fossils found in Dmanisi, Georgia, and the 18,000-year-old "hobbit" fossils (Homo floresiensis) discovered on the island of Flores in Indonesia.

Such finds suggest that Asia's earliest human ancestors may be older by hundreds of thousands of years than previously believed, the scientists say.

"What seems reasonably clear now," Dennell said, "is that the earliest hominins in Asia did not need large brains or bodies." These attributes are usually thought to be prerequisites for migration.


Read the rest here.

Actually, I have a bit of a dispute with the comments that hominids needed large brains to migrate out of Africa. It seems to fly in the face of the fact that a great many species migrated out of their home territories without developing vast brains: horses, camels, mammoths and numerous others all did without developing to into Homo erectus...(or their equine or other equivalents). It doesn't even seem to be true of other primates for that matter...monkeys are a post Cretaceous evolutionary development after all.



Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Borscht is Forever

First Christmas has come and gone in the Baird household.

Wiat, you say, first Christmas?

Well, yeah, we celebrate both Christmases here: the Catholic and the Orthodox. It's not that my wife is particularly religious (she isn't). It's not that I am either (I am definitely not). But it sets our family apart from others and yet still allows us to participate in what everybody else is doing at the same time.

Yes, we also celebrate the New Year and the Old New Year. Schmatree, it's just plain fun.

My daughter made out like a bandit, just as you'd expect. Anything fromthe traditional stuffed animals and wooden blocks to more nouveau electronic teaching toys. She did rather well. My wife also did well with DVDs, clothing via Victoria's Secret and a piece of jewelry. I did pretty well. My wife's campaign to completely recloth me continues. My polo shirts continue a vigorous rearguard action though.

The most fun, after watching my wife and daughter open their gifts, was the cooking!

I baked three pumpkin pies (from scratch) and a rhubarb pie. I also made some homemade fudge. On Christmas Day I cooked a goose and also whipped up some habenero spiced black tiger shrimp. My wife made three traditional salads (one with meat and beans; another with pickles, peas and potatoes; another one is made of beets and nuts and liberal amounts of garlic). My wife also made akroshka with buttermilk, cucumbers, and carbonated water (yup, you read that right!). Most importantly though, on Christmas Eve, Lyuda made borscht.

Growing up, my mother made - on every Christmas Eve - New England Clam Chowder. It was good. It grew into a tradition. It seems to be a family tradition for each of my siblings. My brother's family makes chowder. My two sisters apparently make chowder. We, the Bairds of Emeryville, make borscht. Obviously, this is because my wife is a Ukrainian immigrant, right? Well, yes...and no. I wanted to continue the tradition of soup on Christmas Eve: that's an important one, but I wanted to make my family branch a little unique. I don't mind us being a Baird tree, just I'd like to speciate a bit. My wife concured.

So she made borscht.

It was good. No, that's unfair. It was amazingly good. Cooked with love and spiced with the holiday. And, oh, it's not Russian borscht. It's Eastern Ukrainian Borscht. It isn't sweet is fat, fat, fat because the carrots, beets, and onions are fried in lard prior to being added to the soup. mmm. I'm glad it's all but gone and it's a pain to make. I'd prolly die happy of a heart attack from it.

My daughter tried it, btw, and LOVED it. The title of the post comes from one of the two favorite food quotes from this holiday. This one was my wife talking to me about stains and the dangers of not putting a bib on Avrora when she's eating soups and drippy things. Stains come and go, but borscht is forever.

The other quote is for another time. and another post.


Friday, December 23, 2005

Which Superhero Am I?

Your results:
You are Spider-Man
Spider-Man
80%
Green Lantern
75%
Hulk
70%
Catwoman
60%
The Flash
60%
Superman
55%
Batman
50%
Iron Man
45%
Supergirl
45%
Robin
37%
Wonder Woman
25%
You are intelligent, witty,
a bit geeky and have great
power and responsibility.
Click here to take the "Which Superhero am I?" quiz...

Thursday, December 22, 2005

More Ukrainian-Russian Gas Head Bashing

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk said Thursday that his country is ready to maintain its partnership with Russia, but will not put up with blackmail or pressure.

"Ukraine confirms its willingness to maintain a partnership with Russia. However, our country will never tolerate blackmail or pressure, which look like desperate attempts [from Russia] to assert itself rather than the well thought-out policy of an international player," the minister told a news conference marking Diplomat's Day.
From here.


A very acrid opinion piece from the Ukrainian PoV:

When president Yushchenko makes an appeal not to make gas supply a political issue, there is no doubt he has common sense. This is the only way to cool down and create optimal conditions for the negotiations to go ahead.

However this matter had become a political issue long ago. In August “RIA Novosti”, a Russian pro-government information agency, put a lot of effort into publicising a leak from the Foreign Office, in which the Russian minister claims that Russia is commencing to use the energy-related linchpin to regain domination in Eastern Europe.

This policy is being put into action as Russia asks a new price for gas from the 1st of January 2006 at $160 per thousand cubic metres in the form of an ultimatum, and then the sum of $230 is mentioned.

Ukraine has an agreement with Russia which sets the price for gas at $50 until 2009. Russia demanding Ukraine paying the new price immediately is an equivalent of Ukraine is demanding that the Black Sea Fleet leave Sevastopol before the 1st of January 2006 regardless of any technical obstacles related to such a move.

Certain rules apply when such an agreement becomes subject to review. For instance, Georgia demanded an immediate withdrawal of the Russian military bases from their territory, however after the protracted negotiations the parties had agreed on a 3 year term.

That is why when Russia demands Ukraine to pay twice the price it is charging the Baltic states, that is solely due to political considerations. The Baltic states are protected by NATO and EU and Russia had lost the main means of manipulating there.

Russia is provoked by the Ukrainian temporary vulnerability which enables it to subject Ukraine to various experiments as it is not a member of the clubs mentioned above.

Russian historical tendency to breach agreements represents an issue in any negotiations with this country. German Chancellor Bismarck once said that all agreements signed with Russia are not worth the paper on which they are written.


It gets even more acidic here.

The Financial Times view:

Ukraine and Russia have had many disputes over natural gas, but have never come as close as now to reducing supplies to Europe.

Even through the break-up of the Soviet Union and crises that followed, Russia's gas exports to Europe, 80 per cent of which transit Ukraine, have always been reliable.

But unless Ukraine agrees to pay much more for the gas it takes from the pipeline for its own use – Moscow first asked for roughly a four-fold increase, but now suggests it should be more than five-fold – Russia has said it will cut out Ukraine's portion from the gas going into the pipe.

If Ukraine keeps taking gas, which Moscow says would be stealing, supplies to Europe could be cut by about 20 per cent.

Both sides have huge incentives to make a deal. Russia has no other way to get its gas to Europe, while Ukraine, which currently receives 30 per cent of its gas from Russia in a barter deal in lieu of transit fees, has no alternative source.

Yet both sides claim the other is refusing to negotiate seriously. Viktor Yushchenko, Ukraine's president, this week called Russia's position “irresponsible, unprofessional and naive”.


Read it here.

The gas war here isn't just a Ukrainian-Russian issue as you might expect. Now its a European issue. Ukraine cuts the gas line, Russia can't deliver its gas to Europe. Perhaps the EU ought to get involved?


China's Peaceful Development Road Map

China on Thursday, December 22, 2005 issued a white paper on its peaceful development, stating that it is the inevitable way for the country to achieve modernization. The 32-page white paper, titled "China's Peaceful Development Road" and published by the Information Office of China's State Council, fully explains the inevitability for the country to pursue peaceful development. The following is the full text of the white paper.


Read it here.

First off, try not to gag. China is only peaceful, only ever been peaceful, and never the aggressor. China is pro democracy. *cough*

Second, lotsa shots at the US on page 5.

Third, remember that this is a white paper put out by a government branch. Lotsa sins and worse (propoganda) hide in white papers. ;)


Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Woolly Mammoth: Close to African Elephant or Not?

The remains of a 28,000-year-old woolly mammoth fueled debate over the 21st-century science of genomics on Monday, as two teams offered evidence about the big mammal's genetic makeup.

Competing papers in the journals Science and Nature both focused on what is left of a woolly mammoth found in Siberia.

This mammoth was a good candidate for genetic analysis because it had been preserved in the natural deep-freeze of permafrost soil, which meant less of it was decomposed or contaminated by bacteria and other organisms.

The Nature team studied the mammoth's mitochondrial DNA -- genetic material located outside the nucleus of a cell, which is passed only from the mother -- while the Science team's study included DNA from the mammoth's cell nucleii, which contain the chromosomes that carry the bulk of the genetic blueprint for the animal.

Researchers from the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany, reported in Nature that the woolly mammoth was more closely related to the Asian than the African elephant, but that the divergence between the three occurred over a short time.

In Science, researchers from McMaster University in Canada and Penn State University in the United States said their work showed the mammoth's nuclear DNA was 98.5 percent identical to nuclear DNA from an African elephant.


Read more here.

Are the Japanese still trying to clone one? hrm. It appears that they haven't given up yet.



Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Mars Always Dry

Two new studies are challenging the notion that the desolate Martian plains once brimmed with salty pools of water that could have supported some form of life.

Instead, the studies argue, the layered rock outcrops probed by NASA's robot rover Opportunity and interpreted as signs of ancient water could have been left by explosive volcanic ash or a meteorite impact eons ago.

That would suggest a far more violent and dry history than proposed by the scientists operating Opportunity and its twin rover, Spirit, on the other side of the planet.

The new scenarios, published in Thursday's journal Nature, paint a rather pessimistic view of whether the ancient Martian environment could have supported life.


From here.

Soon after NASA's robotic rover Opportunity began exploring Mars, it found minerals and rocks that its handlers said were evidence of a warm, wet history. But two groups of scientists have now questioned this interpretation.

Most scientists agree that water flowed on Mars's surface at some point. The planet has deep valleys similar to Earth's own Grand Canyon, which are thought to have been carved by rushing water.

But it is unclear whether all the water on Mars came in sudden bursts a long time ago, when meteorites battered the ice deposits of the young planet, or whether some stood about in warmish puddles later in Mars' life, which might have given life time to evolve.

When Opportunity touched down on a part of Mars called Meridiani Planum, it came across geology that looked tantalizingly like the product of standing water. The researchers running the mission wrote that "surface conditions at Meridiani may have been habitable for some period of time in martian history".

Opportunity found a scattering of tiny round pebbles that looked as if they had formed in water, and rectangular holes in the crater wall that could have been left by dissolved mineral crystals. The team also saw ripple patterns in the rock, and a layering that looked like sediments that had settled out of water.

But in this week's Nature, other researchers suggest an alternative, dry, explanation.


From here.


Monday, December 19, 2005

Ukrainian-Russian Gas Dispue Turns Uglier

Ukraine bared its teeth in a row with Russia over the price of its natural gas on Tuesday, making a veiled threat it might consider raising the rent on Russia’s Black Sea Fleet in Crimea, Reuters reported.

By introducing the Fleet issue, pro-Western President Viktor Yushchenko injected new tension into relations already strained since he came to power last year in an “Orange Revolution” of street protests defeating a pro-Kremlin candidate.

Yushchenko, critical of Russia’s demand that Ukraine pay substantially more for its gas, said it was time to apply world standards to all economic matters, including how much Russia paid to keep its Fleet in the port of Sevastopol.

The president broached the emotive issue — one that has always loomed in the background of post-Soviet relations — as Russian negotiators piled on pressure for Ukraine to pay at least four times the rate it currently pays for gas supplies.

“We are coming to an understanding that all our economic relations must be in accordance with world, European standards,” Yushchenko told a news conference, when asked about the failure to clinch a gas deal at talks in Moscow on Monday.


Rad more here.

Tensions just went up several notches. The Black Sea Fleet is a very, very sensative subject for the Russians. For that matter, Crimea and Sebastapol are rather sensative subjects as well. There's going to be a lot of tit for tat about to happen here unless one side caves. This is not going to be pretty at all.

My personal prediction is that the Ukrainians get screwed on the prices for gas, but that the Russians lose the last of their influence as well including the basing rights in Crimea. Raising the price of gas isn't going to turn the Ukrainian populace into Russophiles. On the contrary, it'll discredit the Easterns more. It'll prolly discredit the Orange Revs as well though.


Nanotech at NASA-Ames?

A nanometer is about as wide as one DNA molecule, or the length a fingernail grows each second. It's life on the atomic scale, but also the focus of an entire industry: nanotechnology. State and congressional leaders believe it holds keys to California's future.

At a news conference today at NASA/Ames Research Center in Mountain View, U.S. Rep. Mike Honda, D-Campbell, and other civic leaders will unveil a number of proposals aimed at nurturing nanotechnology in California.

Looking at issues ranging from elementary school education to government investment, a task force convened by Honda and state Controller Steve Westly hope to define California as the heart of the industry.

In comparison to other, more established industries, nanotechnology is still in its infancy, said Larry Bock, chairman of Nanosys, which is based in Palo Alto.

``From a commercial standpoint, vs. a lot of other industries, there's a big leap between what goes on in academic labs and the type of research and development that venture capital folk would invest in,'' said Bock, who is also a special partner with Lux Capital, a $100 million venture capital fund. Government investment, he said, can help bridge the gap.


Read more here.

The wisdom of making NASA Ames a center for nanotech research is a little questionable. NASA has been refocusing lately on manned space exploration. Anything outside of that, at least while Mike Griffin and Shrub are in office, is a very risky venture to get involved in. I hate to say it, but if its not related to space or aeronautics directly, I am unconvinced it needs to be in NASA. In fact, I am unsure that aeronatuics and space exploration ought to be in the same agency. Aeronautics research is a worthy undertaking, but is it truly that compatible with astronautics? I have my doubts.


Thursday, December 15, 2005

Another Opinion Piece on Russia and the SCO

Russian President Vladimir Putin`s attendance of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit this week in Malaysia has been described as further evidence Moscow prefers closer interaction with Asia over integration with the West because of shared values. This claim fails to understand the Kremlin`s global foreign policy agenda.

The Russia-ASEAN summit, the first in 10 years of bilateral cooperation, discussed a joint declaration on comprehensive partnership covering nearly every area of interaction, from counter-terrorism to tourism and sport.

'It (the declaration) gives our country new partners, or to be more precise, new spheres of cooperation with partners that we have acquired in this important region,' Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.

In 2004, Russian trade turnover with the 10 ASEAN countries exceeded $4.5 billion. This figure is not significant, less than 1 percent of Russia`s foreign annual foreign trade, but compared to 2003 trade turnover it increased by more than $1 billion. This is a trend the Kremlin wants to cultivate.

Russian engagement of Asia is not solely centered on ASEAN. In July, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which comprises China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, transformed itself into a regional security forum.

Also this year, Russia held major separate military exercises with China and India. Russia is a member of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation organization and at that bloc`s recent summit Moscow`s primary focus was how it could meet Asia`s demand for energy to fuel the region`s economic development.

Does all this mean there is a decided eastern shift to Russia`s foreign policy?


Read more here.

It continues on to say it has more to do with economics than it does politics. Asia is the future (its saying) and Europe is not. hrm.


Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Earlier Europeans than thought previous?

Humans may have colonised northern Europe 200,000 years earlier than previously thought. Stone tools found in eastern England suggest that humans were there at least 700,000 years ago.

"We don't know for sure what species it was," says team member Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum in London, "but my bet is it's an early form of Homo heidelbergensis or Homo antecessor."

H. heidelbergensis is known to have been present in central Europe about 500,000 years ago. Bones were first discovered in 1907 near Heidelberg, Germany, and have since been found in France and Greece. Hominin remains about 800,000 years old have been found in Spain and Italy, indicating that early humans had colonised southern Europe by this time. These early humans have been classed as another species, H. antecessor, though arguments remain over whether it is a really separate species to H. heidelbergensis.


Rad the rest here.


No Free Love for Hayabusa

A Japanese spacecraft which failed on its landmark mission to collect asteroid samples suffered a new setback with its return to Earth delayed by three years until 2010.

The Hayabusa spacecraft, which last month approached the asteroid 290 million kilometers (180 million miles) from Earth, has been out of control since Friday because of a gas burst caused by leaking fuel.

The six-meter (20-foot) unmanned spacecraft was set to depart in mid-December, when the distance between Earth and the asteroid is ideal, and drop a capsule in the Australian outback in June 2007.

But the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said it now expected the spacecraft back in June 2010 as it will be another three years before the travelling distance is practical.

"This is disappointing, but we'll spend the coming year to rescue the craft and retrieve it in June 2010 if we can control it again by the beginning of 2007," project manager Junichiro Kawaguchi said at a press conference.

"There is a good possibility that the craft can be controlled again," he added.

[...]

But he doubted the space program would try again to take samples from an asteroid after the 12.7 billion yen (100 million dollar) Itokawa mission.

"There are many projects lining up after this," Nagasu said.


Read the rest here.

Looks like Japan is not going to be the asteroid miners in the near term at least.


Wednesday Baby Pictures



Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Multiple Immigration Waves to Americas

At least two distinct groups of early humans colonized the Americas, a new study says, reviving the debate about who the first Americans were and when they arrived.

Anthropologists Walter Neves and Mark Hubbe studied 81 skulls of early humans from South America and found them to be different from both modern and ancient Native Americans.

The 7,500- to 11,000-year-old remains suggest that the oldest settlers of the Americas came from different genetic stock than more recent Native Americans.

Modern Native Americans share traits with Mongoloid peoples of Mongolia, China, and Siberia, the researchers say.

But Neves and Hubbe found that dozens of skulls from Brazil appear much more similar to modern Australians, Melanesians, and Sub-Saharan Africans.

Neves and Hubbe describe their findings in this week's edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Read more here.


Mayan Mural Dates Mayan Civ to Older than Thought

Archaeologist William Saturno said Tuesday he was awe-struck when he uncovered a Maya mural not seen for nearly two millennia. Discovered at the San Bartolo site in Guatemala, the mural covers the west wall of a room attached to a pyramid, Saturno said at a briefing.

In brilliant color, the mural tells the Maya story of creation, he said. It was painted about 100 B.C., but later covered when the room was filled in.

"It could have been painted yesterday," Saturno said in a briefing organized by the
National Geographic Society, which supported his work and will detail the finding in the January issue of its magazine.


From here and even better:

Archaeologists today revealed the final section of the earliest known Maya mural ever found, saying that the find upends everything they thought they knew about the origins of Maya art, writing, and rule.

The painting was the last wall of a room-size mural to be excavated. The site was discovered in 2001 at the ancient Maya city of San Bartolo in the lowlands of northeastern Guatemala.

"It is really breathtaking how beautiful this is," said William Saturno, an archaeologist with the University of New Hampshire and the Harvard Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology.

The mural was painted by skilled artisans and reads like a Maya book, telling the story of creation, the mythology of kingship, and the divine right of a king, according to Saturno, who leads the San Bartolo excavation project.

The painted wall dates to 100 B.C., proving that these stories of creation and kings—and the use of elaborate art and writing to tell them—were well established more than 2,000 years ago ago, centuries earlier than previously believed.

"There are kings, they have art, they have writing," Saturno said. "All these things we attribute to the Classic [Maya period] are all in existence in the Preclassic. Now if we want to talk about origins, we need to be going back further in time."

The Classic period dates from about A.D. 250 to 1000. The Preclassic period dates from about 2000 B.C. to A.D. 250.

Prior to this find, researchers believed sophisticated Maya painting and writing wasn't firmly established until the seventh century A.D.

From here.


The Ukrainian-Russian Gas Wars

I haven't commented on it before now, but if you follow Ukrainian politics at all, you'd have noticed the ongoing dispute between Russia and Ukraine over the transit tax that Ukraine wants Russia to pay for the natural gas that goes through the pipeline in Ukraine to Europe.

Additionally, since the Orange Revolution Russia has been unwilling to continue to provide natural gas at the same prices as before. Russia is telling Ukraine to buy it at the market prices, which it was definitely not before, and that it is not willing to pay a hiked the transit tax. Furthermore, Russia is now threatening to cut off the gas supply altogether unless an agreement is reached by January 1st.

Yuschenko already sacked his Energy Minister for the inability to reach an agreement with Russia. It's...ugly. Ukraine needs the extra revenue. Russia needs the ubercheap transit taxes. A compromise would be in order. However, Russia is tiffed for having lost a satellite and his playing games to try to get her back.

Will it work?

We shall see.


Virgin Galactic homepage

It's here.

Long planned NM Spaceport gets its first resident

Virgin Galactic, the British company created by entrepreneur Richard Branson to send tourists into space, and New Mexico announced an agreement Tuesday for the state to build a $225 million spaceport. Virgin Galactic also revealed that up to 38,000 people from 126 countries have paid a deposit for a seat on one of its manned commercial flights, including a core group of 100 "founders" who have paid the initial $200,000 cost of a flight upfront. Virgin Galactic is planning to begin flights in late 2008 or early 2009.

New Mexico Economic Development Secretary Rick Homans said construction of the spaceport, to be built largely underground in the south of the state near the White Sands Missile Range, could begin in early 2007, depending on approval from environmental and aviation authorities.

Virgin will have a 20-year lease on the facility, with annual payments of $1 million for the first five years and rising to cover the cost of the project by the end of the lease.

"Experts predict that thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars of private investment will be created in the next 20 years as the private sector develops new commercial markets in the space industry in New Mexico," Homans said in London. "Virgin is the beginning and many other space companies will follow."

Virgin Galactic said it had chosen New Mexico as the site for its headquarters because of its steady climate, free airspace, low population density and high altitude. All those factors can significantly reduce the cost of the space flight program.


Read the rest here and some more here.

Good for New Mexico. They're setting themselves up for a good industry if the rocket-barnstormers are really going to, erm, take off.


Monday, December 12, 2005

ESA Head Reiterates Support For Kliper

It seems that the head of ESA hasn't given up trying to fund the Russian Kliper despite the funding setback that was delivered this last week. I udnerstand the desire to have independant access to space from the United States since we're a little of a capricious power these days from the European PoV. However, the head of ESA failed once already to round up the funding at the crucial moment. I'd be a little skeptical if he was able to over the next year. I'd be delighted to be wrong though.

The head of the European Space Agency said on Friday he was confident he could win enough support from member states to help develop Russia's next-generation spaceship.

Russia hopes its reusable Clipper shuttle will be ready for test flights early next decade and would then gradually take over from the veteran Soyuz spaceship, which has been putting cosmonauts in orbit since the 1960s.

Earlier this week, ministers from European Space Agency countries failed to pledge money to the Clipper program, despite agreeing to spend more on other space research. But ESA Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain remains optimistic. "I am convinced we can get wide support," he told reporters in Moscow after talks with Russia's Federal Space Agency.



Read the rest here.


Friday, December 09, 2005

East African Rift Splits Further, Dramatically

Ethiopian, American and European researchers have observed a fissure in a desert in the remote northeast that could be the "birth of a new ocean basin," scientists said Friday.

Researchers from Britain, France, Italy and the U.S. have been observing the 37-mile long fissure since it split open in September in the Afar desert and estimate it will take a million years to fully form into an ocean, said Dereje Ayalew, who leads the team of 18 scientists studying the phenomenon.

The fissure, now 13 feet wide, formed in just three weeks after a Sept. 14 earthquake in a barren region called Boina, some 621 miles north east of the capital, Addis Ababa, said Dereje.

"We believe we have seen the birth of a new ocean basin," said Dereje of Addis Ababa University. "This is unprecedented in scientific history because we usually see the split after it has happened. But here we are watching the phenomenon."

[...]

"The crust under Afar is becoming like the crust found in the Red Sea," said Dereje, head of earth science at Addis Ababa University. "Once the crust is formed you will have water because it is a low area and the water will migrate from the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. It becomes a basin."


Read more here.

Are we seeing the birth Lemuria finally?


Don't play this Great Game

To listen to Western commentators, Washington, Moscow and Beijing are in the early rounds of a new Great Game, akin to the 19th-century struggle between Czarist Russia and the British Empire for primacy in Central Asia. Unable to resist the analogy, analysts sound more like sports announcers, calling every play as a gain or loss for the players on the field.

This month's re-election of Kazakhstan's strongman president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, in a vote that was neither free nor fair, will surely be cited as the latest example of Soviet-style authoritarianism resisting the onslaught of Western-style democracy.

The July summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization - made up of China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan - was billed as a "NATO of the East," a new team to counter American global dominance. The SCO's call for a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. forces from bases in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan was seen as the opening play. Uzbekistan's subsequent decision to evict American forces and to forge a new defense pact with Russia last month was called a strategic loss for Washington and a win for Moscow.

Likewise, China's recent purchase of the second-largest oil company in Kazakhstan and a new oil pipeline and railroad between the two countries have been portrayed as proof of Beijing's unmatched economic prowess in the region.

While colorful, such commentary fails to capture the real situation on the ground.


Read the rest here. It's contrary to my own opinions, but it might be worth considering all the same.

NATO Secretary General on Ukraine in NATO

During the session the allies stressed that NATO's doors remain open to Ukraine, which may imply Ukraine's likely accedence to the Membership Action Plan, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer noted. However, he said, Ukraine's success in achieving the goal of joining NATO will depend on Ukrainian reforms' success. The NATO Secretary General also underscored the importance of military and political cooperation between NATO and Ukraine within the framework of the Intensified Dialogue. As he stressed, Kyiv still has much to do. We expect Ukraine to cover this road of establishing democratic institutes, of combating corruption, carrying out security reforms and the security sector's reformation, in general. NATO will assist Ukraine is these efforts as far as it can, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer stressed. As the NATO Secretary General noted, the coming parliamentary elections will have great importance in furthering NATO - Ukraine relations. According to the NATO Secretary General, today's Ukraine is an "exporter of security," participating in or supporting NATO's operations in Kosovo, Afghanistan, other countries. He also confirmed Ukraine's likely participation is NATO's training missions to Iraq.


Taken wholesale from here.


Bird Flu in Crimea, Ukraine

The mutation of the bird flu virus discovered in the Crimea, an autonomy on the Black Sea, is unlike any other that has been found in the world and is extremely dangerous for humans, Ukraine's ICTV channel reported Friday.

The TV channel said 7,000 birds suspected of the virus had been culled over the past 24 hours.

The final word on the type of virus strain will be announced after the test results are received from Europe.

The Ukrainian leadership recently imposed a state of emergency in the Crimea. Poultry imports from the area have been banned and mass vaccinations of the population are under way.

Read the little left here.

For those of you that don't know, Ukraine has declared a state of emergency in Crimea. Over 7k birds are supposed to have died there and the variant of bird flu is apparently very deadly for people.


Trips.

Since my wife and I got married we've been on a few trips.

The first one was a small downpayment on a real honeymoon trip to Greater Los Angeles, California. Disneyland in Anaheim was one stopping point. Hollywood was another. Duke's in Malibu was another still. We spent time with aunts and cousins. We had a pretty good time. That was in August, 2004.

The second trip was to Las Cruces, New Mexico. We met with old friends of mine and spent time there. We enjoyed it, but my wife was uberpregnant at that point so she got sick and didn't enjoy it nearly as much as she would have. That was in November, 2005.

The third trip was to Las Vegas, Nevada. We visited a very good friend of mine and then Lyuda checked out the strip. it's more her style than mine while I babysat. That was in May, 2005.

Our fourth trip was to Monterey, California. We went to the Monterey Aquarium and shopped and had a very nice lunch. This was for my wife's birthday. This was in July, 2005.

The fifth trip was to Crater Lake, Oregon. It was for our first anniversary. We had a pretty good time. We had a horrible night in a good bed and breakfast outside Klamath Falls, OR. We were invaded by a bazillion midges and mosquitos that kept bothering us. It was our fault for turning on the light right next to the window...doh. That was in August, 2005.

The next trip is something we'd like to do over Christmas break: the Lab shuts down between Xmas and New Year's. Either a visit to where I was born and lived the first 10 years of my life (Santa Barbara, California) or a visit to some family for Christmas proper. We're not sure yet, but it'll be soon.

Next after that is something we've already got planne dand the plane tickets paid for. We're flying to northern New Mexico. We're going to go play in the snow. Lyuda loves skiing and we're going to see if Parajito, Santa Fe, or Taos will have snow. If there's not enough snow for skiing we'll see go exploring. I love hiking and there's lots to do there. Just have to make sure that the kidlet stays warm. We'll be flying into Albuquerque, NM first. Then staying there for the first day and then on to Los Alamos (where I spent the next eight years of my life after the Santa Barbara, CA area) and Abiquiu. We'll then hit up Santa Fe and end up in Taos before scurrying back to ABQ for our flight back home. This takes place in January, 2006.


A Commentary on PC

I am not normally a fan of Phil Hunt. Frankly, he seems to do more to piss me off when I read what he posts about than the average numbnuts from online. Our views of software couldn't be more opposed, frex, and our geopolitics couldn't be more different. That said, I still read his blog now and again.

What? Why? Isn't that a waste?

Ted Rall also pisses me off 99% of the time, but I still read him now and again. It's not to have something to laugh about, but because if you don't at least try to listen to the other side of the debate, you're not going to be able to have much of a discussion. All you have is a mutual ranting session. For politics to work, you have to have discussion and some sort of concensus. Or at least mutual equal pain.

The same thing applies to Phil. When it comes to the software world, his side is virtually opposing for what I believe. I am not necessarily the full opposite end of the patent and copyright issue like say, Microsoft, but I am definitely on the other end of the spectrum from Phil's POV.

Now and again, Phil has a gem about politics. This one is an insightful one rather than a giggle or snort. That is not meant as a stab at Phil, but rather a neutral comment. Those in the know prolly would find my blog a giggle at times too. However, his commentary about political correctness and its rules seems to be damned insightful.

It's something that we're going to be stuck with for the next...*thinks*...20 to 30 years too. Alas. At least until the Boomers have waned in their political power. Who'd thunk that the 1960s would have as much of an impact on American (and possibly British, but I know not) politics as the 1940s and 1930s did?

It will be interesting to see if the 90s and Oughts will have much of an impact politically since the X/Yers and Millenials are going through their formative stages then and now.


Hayabusa failed to collect samples?

The Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa is likely to have failed in its landmark mission to collect the first-ever samples from an asteroid, mission officials said on Wednesday. It also faces trouble returning to Earth.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) had earlier said the Hayabusa probe "most probably" succeeded in gathering material from the Itokawa asteroid, 290 million kilometres from Earth, on 26 November. The spacecraft was thought to have landed on the space rock for just one second, firing two metal pellets to throw up material for collection in a cone-shaped horn.

"But now we found that the possibility is very high that a metal bullet to collect samples was not actually fired," a JAXA official said. "And therefore the possibility is also very high that Hayabusa has failed to collect samples". The official added that the agency still had a "slim" hope that the probe may have caught some dust.


Mourn the rest here.


Kliper definitely toast for the next 2 years

ESA had hoped to fund a two-year study costing about €50 million ($59 million) into preliminary designs for the Kliper, a space plane Russia is developing to replace its workhorse Soyuz spacecraft. The spacecraft, billed as providing Europe with independent access to space, had received positive signs of support leading up to the meeting.

But on Monday, some of the largest contributors to ESA - such as Germany, Italy and France - failed to support the programme, forcing it to be cut from the budget. "It is a pity," says ESA spokesperson Franco Bonacina. "But in 2008 there is another ministerial meeting, so Kliper might pop up again."


Read more here.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Taipei Times: What exactly is China's ambition?

US President George W. Bush's recent visit to Asia made little news -- by design. But that's because Bush didn't begin to address the issue that is looming ever larger in the region: the changing face of security in Asia in view of China's growing economic and military might.

This summer, for example, China and Russia conducted their first ever grand-scale joint military exercise. This was followed by Russian news reports that China, Russia and India would conduct trilateral military exercises, named "Indira 2005," on the same scale before the end of this year.

In the past, such a combination of countries was almost unthinkable, and these exercises cannot be explained away as simple "one-off" affairs with little resonance. Instead, they reflect China's long-term strategic goal of establishing hegemony across Asia.

One tool of this ambition is the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), under which the Sino-Russian exercises took place. Established in June 2001, the SCO includes China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The SCO's original purpose was to mitigate tensions on the borders of China and the Central Asian countries after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the arrival of US military forces with the war in Afghanistan.

China regards the SCO as a stage for broadening its influence over a vast region, ranging from the Asia-Pacific to Southwest Asia, the Middle East, East Africa and the Indian Ocean. Indeed, its members include about 45 percent of the world's population, and 28 percent of the landmass ranging across the Eurasian continent.

China's active leadership of the SCO has resulted in policies that it favors. Gradually, the SCO shifted its focus to fighting Islamic radicals. Nowadays, however, the SCO is often used as a forum to campaign against supposed US unilateralism and to provide a united front -- especially between China and Russia -- against the US with respect to security and arms-reduction issues in the region. This includes joint anti-terror training and demands to reduce US forces in the region, particularly from Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.

The SCO provides China not only with a platform to confront the existing US-led alliance in the Asia-Pacific region, but is increasingly being used to prevent the formation of a US-led network to restrain China's advance. Ultimately, it is feared that the SCO could develop into a military alliance similar to the Warsaw Pact of the Cold War era, with an embryonic "Great China Union" at its core.

Read the rest of the author's opinion at here.

Remember, grain of salt. This is coming from Taiwan and they certainly have a different view of Beijing's activities than may be reality. It is in their interest to stir the pot between the US and PRC. They are supposed to be an errant province or legimate government of China depending on the point of view. They have to dance a might fine jig to keep their position from going too much one way or the other enough to provoke the PRC yet keep the US as its protector.


Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Lukashenko Finds Comrades in China

Rather an outcast in the West, Lukashenko was embraced in Beijing, where he was on an official visit till Tuesday and where he found complete support and understanding. After Uzbek President Islam Karimov, Lukashenko was the second CIS leader, reaching out for help to China. He was promised economic aid and protection from accusations in authoritarianism. But the core political achievements of the tour were, of course, the strategic partnership declaration and the dialog on Belarus entry into the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.
Read the rest here.

Wow. There's a biggie. I think this a big deal on multiple levels.

1. There's only been one color revolution in an SCO state (Kyrgyzstan) and somehow I doubt that Russia or China will let another go down. I'd have doubts if Belarus gets full membership of there ever being one there.

2. This would set the border for the EU. It's Ukraine and Georgia on the East then, folks.

3. It also sets up the rival for NATO on NATO's borders with muscle. Russia as yet doesn't have that muscle. It might should the economy keep humming along, but...we'll see.

4. Developments in Russia ought to be rather interesting, da? Not exactly a lot of democracies in the SCO.

Thoughts?




Europe not Supporting Kliper

As NASA prepares to once again send humans to the surface of the Moon, Russia is also developing its own plans for future manned spaceflight.

The country's Clipper project to develop a six-person spacecraft to deliver astronauts into Earth orbit, and potentially beyond, appears in some ways to be the Russian Federal Space Agency's answer to NASA's Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV).

"We're starting to design this new transportation system to support the International Space Station (ISS) once it's complete," said Nikolay Sevastiyanov, president of the Russian aerospace contractor RSC-Energia, during a recent space conference where the program was discussed.

The winged crew vehicle, Clipper, would launch atop a Russian Soyuz 2-3 booster and could form the heart of potential Moon- or Mars-bound craft, according to RSC-Energia designs. Separate cargo pods could also launch atop a separate Soyuz rocket. Both the Clipper vehicle and cargo pods would be towed to the ISS.

Outside participation in the project by the European Space Agency (ESA) appears on hold after ESA ministers decided this week not to fund a two-year, $59.8-million (51-million euro) trial to study Clipper with the Federal Space.[emphasis and link added]


Read the rest here.

All I can say is 'ouch'. That's a huge blow to the Kliper program. With European participation, the Kliper would probably, if possibly slowly, been completed. Without that help, especially monetarily, I am not so sure that it will happen at all. The Russians had invited the Japanese to participate as well, but they stated they would only do it if the Europeans did it.

The quesiton is 'why'? Why did the Europeans decide not to participate?

I can speculate, but it'd be idle speculation, not backed up by anything.


Enceladus - Possible Plume Models



Tuesday, December 06, 2005

To Pluto!

Next month, NASA hopes to launch one of the most historic space exploration missions it has ever mounted. The mission is called New Horizons.

The objectives of the New Horizons mission are to make the first reconnaissance of planet Pluto (the only unexplored planet) and its moons, and to then explore onward, into the vast, ancient, and icy disk of other bodies that Pluto orbits with on the frontier of our planetary system—the so-called Kuiper Belt. New Horizons represents almost 17 years of work by the scientific community to finally complete the reconnaissance of our planetary system.


Read the rest here and go to the New Horizons homepage to see even more. Too bad its named that though. After all the great new missions were named for scientists of note like Cassini or Galileo or evoked exploration ideas like Viking or Mariner or Voyager...instead we have a name that's rather bland. Too bad.



That new Bornean Mammal


The WWF consulted a number of experts when they caught this critter on film. Most thought it was a new carnivore that looks something between a fox and a cat. However, some thought it looked like a lemur. I'll be damned if it doesn't look like one to me! I'd think that would be as exciting or more (actually) than a new carnivore. A lemur species! Outside Madagascar! Wow!


Mars not Ever Life Friendly?

Both Spirit and Opportunity uncovered geologic evidence of a wet past, a sign that ancient Mars may have been hospitable to life. But new findings reveal the Red Planet was also once such a hostile place that the environment may have prevented life from developing.

"For much of its history, it was a very forbidding place," said mission principal investigator Steven Squyres of Cornell University.

Scientists stressed that the rovers were investigating a snapshot in geologic time and that it's possible that other regions of Mars that have yet to be explored could have had a different environment.

The new analyses were presented Monday at an American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco.

Since landing on opposite sides of Mars in January 2004, the six-wheel rovers found conclusive evidence that the planet once had water based on examination of water-altered bedrock at their respective sites.

But the sedimentary rocks in the Martian plains where Opportunity landed also painted a picture of a past environment some 3 billion to 4 billion years ago that fluctuated between being very acidic and arid — conditions that were probably unfavorable to life.

The Gusev Crater region where Spirit touched down revealed an even more violent history. Three outcrops examined by the rover displayed deposits of water-altered debris from explosive events. Hot ash rained from the sky and space objects bombarded the surface about 4 billion years ago. During that time, water was present, but not a large amount.

Scientists acknowledged that such harsh environments probably would have posed challenges for life to start, but they did not rule out the possibility that limited life forms could have thrived under these extreme conditions.



From here.

Dr. Andrew Knoll of Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass., a paper co-author, said, "Life that had evolved in other places or earlier times on Mars, if any did, might adapt to Meridiani conditions, but the kind of chemical reactions we think were important to giving rise to life on Earth simply could not have happened at Meridiani."

Scientists analyzed data about stacked sedimentary rock layers 23 feet thick, exposed inside "Endurance Crater." They identified three divisions within the stack. The lowest, oldest portion had the signature of dry sand dunes; the middle portion, windblown sheets of sand with all the particles produced in part by previous evaporation of liquid water. The upper portion corresponded to layers Opportunity found earlier inside a smaller crater near its landing site.

Materials in all three divisions were wet both before and after the layers were deposited by either wind or water. Researchers described chemical evidence that the sand grains deposited in the layers had been altered by water before the layers formed. Scientists analyzed how acidic water moving through the layers after they were in place caused changes such as the formation of hematite-rich spherules within the rocks.

Experimental and theoretical testing reinforces the interpretation of changes caused by acidic water interacting with the rock layers. "We made simulated Mars rocks in our laboratory then infused acidic fluids through them," said researcher Nicholas Tosca from the State University of New York. "Our theoretical model shows the minerals predicted to form when those fluids evaporate bear a remarkable similarity to the minerals identified in the Meridiani outcrop."

The stack of layers in Endurance Crater resulted from a changeable environment perhaps 3.5 to 4 billion years ago. The area may have looked like salt flats occasionally holding water, surrounded by dunes. The White Sands region in New Mexico bears a similar physical resemblance. "For the chemistry and mineralogy of the environment, an acidic river basin named Rio Tinto, in Spain, provides useful similarities," said Dr. David Fernandez-Remolar of Spain's Centro de Astrobiologia.

Many types of microbes live in the Rio Tinto environment, one of the reasons for concluding that ancient Meridiani could have been habitable. However, the organisms at Rio Tinto are descended from populations that live in less acidic and stressful habitats. If Meridiani had any life, it might have had to originate in a different habitat.

From here.

Titan's Rivers Like Earth's

Recent evidence from the Huygens Probe of the Cassini Mission suggests that Titan, the largest moon orbiting Saturn, is a world where rivers of liquid methane sculpt channels in continents of ice. Surface images even show gravel-sized pieces of water ice that resemble rounded stones lying in a dry riverbed on Earth.

But with a surface temperature of minus 179 degrees Celsius and an atmospheric pressure 1 1/2 times that of Earth, could fluvial processes on Titan be anything like those on Earth?

"The idea that rivers of methane moving chunks of ice on Titan ought to obey the same rules as rivers on Earth is not what you would assume at first," said Gary Parker, the W. H. Johnson Professor of Geology and a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "However, if river dynamics are truly understood at a physical level, then relations that provide reasonable results on Earth ought to provide similarly reasonable results on Titan."

Parker, who has collected data from rivers all over the world, has calculated what should be key similarities and key differences between river networks on Earth and Titan.


Definitely read the rest here.


Monday, December 05, 2005

Looking Directly At Extrasolar Planets

A new optical device might allow astronomers to view extrasolar planets directly without the annoying glare of the parent star. It would do this by "nulling" out the light of the parent star by exploiting its wave nature, leaving the reflected light from the nearby planet to be observed in space-based detectors. The device, called an optical vortex coronagraph, is described in the December 15, 2005 issue of Optics Letters.

About ten years ago the presence of planets around stars other than our sun was first deduced by the very tiny wobble in the star's spectrum of light imposed by the mutual tug between the star and its satellite. Since then more than 100 extrasolar planets have been detected in this way. Also, in a few cases the slight diminution in the star's radiation caused by the transit of the planet across in front of the star has been observed.

Many astronomers would, however, like to view the planet directly - a difficult thing to do. Seeing the planet next to its bright star has been compared to trying to discern, from a hundred meters away, the light of a match held up next to the glare of an automobile's headlight. The approach taken by Grover Swartzlander and his colleagues at the University of Arizona is to eliminate the star's light by sending it through a special helical-shaped mask, a sort of lens whose geometry resembles that of a spiral staircase turned on its side.

The process works in the following way: light passing through the thicker and central part of the mask is slowed down. Because of the graduated shape of the glass, an "optical vortex" is created: the light coming along the axis of the mask is, in effect, spun out of the image. It is nulled, as if an opaque mask had been place across the image of the star, but leaving the light from the nearby planet unaffected.


Read the rest here.

I wonder how this effects the resolution...

Immigration. A tough issue

Republicans plan to use the vast problems caused by illegal immigration to try and divide Americans voting in next year's midterm election, Democratic National Committee chairman
Howard Dean said Saturday.

"Once again, the Republicans created problems so they think they can come in and solve them," Dean told DNC members meeting in Phoenix.

Thousands of illegal immigrants cross America's borders each year to work better-paying jobs. The Pew Hispanic Center estimates that 11 million illegal immigrants now live in the United States.

Immigration is gaining prominence in politics, especially in Arizona and other states in the West, the busiest illegal entry point along the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border.

President Bush has urged Congress to let illegal immigrants get three-year work visas that could be extended for an additional three years. Then, they would have to return home for a year to apply for a new work permit.

Dean said the government should have an "earned legalization" program in which immigrants who contribute to society and pay taxes should be able to earn the right to become citizens.

Taken from here.

I really, really don't like Dean. Dean is the embodiment of what I hate about the Democratic Party. Unfortunately, Bush the Younger is the the embodiment of what I hate about the Republican Party. Both sides of the aisle in this case, as far as I am concerned, haven't an fscking clue about the immigration issue.

Let me come out and say, before I begin my rant, that I am pro immigration. My family is made of immigrants. My paternal grandmother was a German warbride. My maternal grandfather was an immigrant from Italy. One of my paternal great grandmother was an Irish immigrant. One of my great great grandmothers was a French immigrant. My wife is a Ukrainian immigrant. It's a pattern for my family that stretches back more than 300 years since Captain John Baird Sr. came to the then colony of New Jersey after being exiled from Scotland for being a PITA Coventer in 1688.

Ah ha! you say, "those are all Europeans." True, but for those of you that know me and my views, I am all for annexing chunks of the New World including Mexico, the Carribean, and Canada...mmmm...Canada. I lived in New Mexico, including on the border, for seventeen years. I would have no problem with the people of Mexico coming and mixing in with the rest of us in the North American continent freely, openly, and legally.

That's the rub.

It needs to be, y'know, legal.

Such a horrible thought, obeying the law. One of the prerequisites of being a good candidate for citizenship is being someone that obeys the law. People that come here illegally, shockingly enough, are breaking the law. GASP! SHOCK! HORROR! That makes them a little less than desirable to me. My wife, at the time, went through hell to get here. Legally. Immigration to the US is a royal PITA if its from a country that's poor. IDK abouta country that's well off, but I can speak from having seen from my wife's POV.

Now, would it be possible to make it legal for people to come here from Mexico, say, legally and a lot more easily? Yup. I even think its a good idea. How you go about dealing with it is very important. How many people remember the illegal immigration amnesty that took place in 1988? It was supposed to solve our problems by letting those already here to stay and we won't have to go policing anymore. Erk. Didn't work did it? In fact, those that accepted the amnesty often brought over relatives - illegally - to the US. Some places ahve put that number as high as eight people by everyone that had amnesty. That definitely wasn't a solution then, I would say, but rather encouragement.

Both sides in the debate, Bush and Dean in this case, claim to have a plan. Neither plan is really rooted in reality. That is we have people in a rule-of-law country that are simply flaunting that law. Both sides want to give a reward to those have already come: either a six year work visa (Bush) or a path to citizenship (Dean). Neither way is good because it will simply increase the number of illegals that come. Why both with the visa if it takes time (and it will)? Or worse yet, if you simply through open the doors like Dean means to? Either way, we still have the problem until Mexico's economy is good enough that there's little incentive to move here.

What would *I* like?

Annexing Mexico would solve the problem, but I doubt that's in the cards. It's not simple, but rewarding the illegals is not the answer. Punishing the companies that hire them might be part of it though. Get caught with an illegal and get a $100k fine per? Sounds doable. Sounds like a windfall to me. ;)


First Americans...1.3 million years ago?

In July a team of English researchers reported the discovery of human footprints in Mexico that appeared to be 30,000 years older than when most scientists believe humans arrived in the Americas.

Researchers commonly accept that humans came to the Americas some 11,500 years ago. But new dating of the Mexican find suggests that the features are in fact 1.3 million years old.

If the new dates are correct, the footprints could be among the most incredible hominid traces ever discovered—or, more likely, not footprints at all.

"One-point-three million years is a lot older than I expected," said Paul Renne, director of the Berkeley Geochronology Center at University of California, Berkeley.


Lotsa controversy there. Read more here.


3D Image of Terrain Near Huygens Landing Site


This perspective view shows dark plains on the surface of Saturn's moon Titan about 3 miles (5 kilometers) from the Huygens probe landing site. In this area many discrete bright feature are scattered across the dark plains.

Read the rest here.


Europe's Own Vision for Space Exploration

Ministers from 17 European countries are meeting in Berlin to discuss the future of Europe's space programme.

They will decide whether to give the go-ahead to a series of space missions proposed for the next decade.

A robotic Mars probe, a replacement for the lost Cryosat ice mission and a satellite network to monitor the Earth are all vying for funding.

The talks are regarded as pivotal to the future of Europe's space industry amid shrinking commercial markets.

This is made up of 3.1bn euros (£2.1bn) to fund the mandatory science programme until 2010, and a further 5.7bn euros (£3.8bn) to carry on with optional programmes and start new ventures.

New space proposals being discussed include:

* The ExoMars mission to put a lander on the Red Planet. Planned for 2011, it would explore for biology on our near neighbour.

* Work to define programmes that would lead to European cooperation on possible human missions to the Moon and Mars.

* The next phase of a programme to launch a series of satellites to monitor the health of the Earth, including building Cryosat 2, which would replace the ice-monitoring probe lost on launch in October.

* Implementing the GMES (Global Monitoring for Environment and Security) programme to improve environmental monitoring and policy making in Europe.

Other key issues to be discussed at the two-day meeting include:

* Proposals to join forces with Russia on its new spaceship, the Clipper, which will eventually replace the Soyuz capsule.

* Europe's access to space via the French-led Ariane 5 rocket and the Italian-led Vega rocket, which is currently in development.

Although the commercial market for space activities has witnessed a sharp decline in recent years, public expenditure on space is on the increase.

Read the rest at BBC.

Interesting stuff that seems to run a little contrary to earlier reports. The Clipper/Kliper seems to have not been decided on whether to join the Russians (or not) in building it, frex. That's a doozie. However, if they do so or if its considered a foregone conclusion, the others are all the more interesting. Consider that the discussions included are about whether or not to do precurser work for European Moon and Mars missions...which the Kliper might just be a part of.

Now factor in that the US is going to the Moon and possibly Mars. Then blend that the Chinese are talking about going to the Moon, that tells me that there is an awful lot of interest in expanding human occupation past the Earth. Does this mean that space race is 'on' again for prestige reasons?

Interesting final frontier related times indeed.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Kazakhstan: The Next Color Revolution?

Kazakhstan is electing a president Sunday amid little doubt that longtime leader Nursultan Nazarbayev will win - and dark speculation about what will happen thereafter.

In recent weeks, authorities have repeatedly accused the pro-democracy opposition of planning demonstrations modeled on the protests that drove President Askar Akayev of neighboring Kyrgyzstan out of the country in March.

Last week, Kazakhstan closed its border with Kyrgyzstan, either fearing an influx of troublemakers or trying to create the impression that an uprising was being plotted.

Nazarbayev's main challenger, Zharmakhan Tuyakbai, leaves the question open. He maintains the opposition won't mount any demonstrations that violate Kazakhstan's restrictive laws, but tells reporters that "if authorities provoke a standoff with people, civil unrest, we will stand by the people."


Read the rest here.

If Kazakhstan falls to a color revolution, it's a huge black eye for Russia. It'd be interesting to see if the Russians let it fall.

Planetary Society tries again

The Planetary Society solar sail team is working to try again to fly the world’s first solar sail spacecraft. With a tested spacecraft design, almost all flight components available, and at least two attractive launch vehicle possibilities, we are well positioned to reach our goal.

We’ve made considerable progress: Our Lavochkin/Space Research Institute team in Russia has identified two promising and affordable launch vehicles candidates for our spacecraft.

The Soyuz rocket with a Fregat upper stage successfully launched the European Space Agency’s Mars Express and Venus Express, among other missions. Soyuz is the reliable workhorse of Russian rockets and, with the Space Shuttle grounded, it is the only vehicle now taking astronauts to the International Space Station. It would carry our solar sail as secondary payload, piggybacking on a commercial launch.

The other launch vehicle possibility is the Kosmos-3M which recently launched several independent payloads from different countries. It, too, is very reliable, and although there were plans to shut down production, that plan has been reversed, and the rocket is now being built for small commercial and scientific launches.

With these new opportunities opening up, our members are backing a reflight, responding strongly by giving us the funds to begin again. We also have a small amount of insurance reimbursement in Russia that can be applied to part of the spacecraft re-build. This, with our members’ donations, allows us to keep our team together and restart the spacecraft development process.

But we will need much more to reach orbit. The total funding required for our project is $4 million, and we will need a major corporate or individual sponsor.


Read the rest here.

If you love solar sails and the idea of people getting somewhere with this tech, give, folks, give.

Archaeopteryx Fossil Pict

Archaeopteryx Fossil Had Dinosaur Feet

A new analysis of Archaeopteryx, the earliest known birdlike animal, shows it had feet like dinosaurs — a finding that adds weight to the belief that the birds frequenting backyard feeders today are descendants of mighty ancient carnivores.

While not all scientists agree, many consider Archaeopteryx the first bird, since it had wings and was the first fossil found with feathers.

Details have been lacking on the animals, however, since only a few fossil specimens have been found. The new one, reported in Friday's issue of the journal Science, is the 10th known and one of the most complete.

Contrary to what had been thought, the new fossil shows that the first toe was not reversed in Archaeopteryx, as is the case on current birds, according to a team led by Gerald Mayr of Research Institute Schenkenberg in Frankfurt, Germany.

Lack of the reversed toe would hamper the animal's ability to perch like current birds, the researchers said.

On the other hand, it's second toe could be extended, like those of theropod — beast-footed — dinosaurs, a group that included such well known examples as T. rex.

[...]

Archaeopteryx was originally identified as the earliest fossil bird because of its feathers, Carrano said. Since then other dinosaurs with feathers have been found; if Archaeopteryx were discovered today it probably would be considered more dinosaur than bird, he said.

Read the rest here

Now that this is out...is it a bird? Or a dinosaur with feathers that we simply misidentified because of our own prejudices? hmmm?


We have FOUR Teeth...and maybe five.

Top right incisor and bottom right second incisor and maybe the top left incisor.

No wonder she wakes up all the time at night these days.

Permian Extinction Caused by Vulcanism

The world's largest mass extinction was probably caused by poisonous volcanic gas, according to research published today.

The research, published in the journal Geology, reveals vital clues about the mass extinction at the end of the Permian period, 250 million years ago, when mammal-like reptiles known as synapsids roamed the earth.

Many scientists had previously thought that an asteroid hitting the earth or a deep-sea methane release had caused the extinction, which obliterated more than two-thirds of reptile and amphibian families.

However, analysis of a unique set of molecules found in rocks taken from the Dolomites in Italy has enabled scientists to build up a picture of what actually happened. The molecules are the remains of polysaccharides, large sugar-based structures common in plants and soil, and they tell the story of the extinction.

The molecules date from the same time as a major volcanic eruption that caused the greatest ever outpouring of basalt lava over vast swathes of land in present day Siberia.

The researchers believe that the volcanic gases from the eruption, which would have depleted earth's protective ozone layer and acidified the land and sea, killed rooted vegetation. This meant that soil was no longer retained and it washed into the surrounding oceans.


Read the rest here.

What I have always found interesting when people study extinctions is that there is always an attempt to find a single reason for all of the extinctions rather than studying each individually. Perhaps that is just because the asteroid killer guys were one of the first ones I was exposed to with the related hypothesis of 'Nemesis' or the other extinction theorists were reacting to affore mentioned group, I don't know. Or I am just really misunderstanding the whole debate (always possible, it's not my area of expertise).

What's interesting is that in one case, the KT Event that ended the Age of Dinosaurs, might have only been a good case of bad timing. There is some evidence that the dinos were suffering a bit at the end of the Cretaceous. The numbers and variety of dinosaurians had been dropping according to some of the paleontological sites. Some people have put forward that the dinosaurs were already going extinct. What seems more likely to me was that the dinos were in the midst of not going extinct so much as going through of their 'minor' extinction events. They had some during the Cretaceous, a whopper in the end of the Jurassic, and another couple whoppers in the Triassic. The timing of the asteroid might have just been 'right' to kill them off.

If it had come when the dinos were more vibrant, it might not have had the same impact...

erm.

No pun intended.


Thursday, December 01, 2005

Very Small Exoplanet Around Red Dwarf

One of the smallest planets ever found in another solar system was discovered by astronomers at the European Southern Observatory in northern Chile, the observatory announced.

A team of French and Swiss astronomers said they detected the small exoplanet -- a planet orbiting a star other than the sun -- orbiting the red dwarf star Gl 581 in the Libra constellation, 20.5 light-years away from Earth.

While the star has a mass of only one-third of the sun, the exoplanet is roughly as large as Neptune, which is 17 times larger than Earth.

"Our finding possibly means that planets are rather frequent around the smallest stars," said Xavier Delfosse of the Grenoble Astrophysics Laboratory in France.

"It certainly tells us that red dwarfs are ideal targets for the search for exoplanets," said Delfosse in a statement.

The discovery was made using the HARPS spectrograph at the European Southern Observatory, located at La Silla, about 400 kilometers (250 miles) north of Santiago.

Of some 200 red dwarf stars studied, only two have been shown to have exoplanets in their orbits.

[...]

It travels in an orbit six million kilometers (3.7 million miles) away from the star, and takes 5.4 days to complete its orbit.

Mercury, the closest planet to the sun in our own solar system, is 58 million kilometers (36 million miles) from the sun and takes 88 days for one revolution.

That close to its host star, the planet is probably extremely hot, around 150 degrees C (302 F), the observatory said.

Read the little bit more here.

Poll shows Ukraine, Russia EU backing, No to Turkey

Europeans would rather see Ukraine and Russia than Turkey in the European Union, according to a French poll.

The poll also says, however, that just more than one-half of Ukrainians contacted want in the EU.

Ironically, the survey was conducted for a lobbying group promoting Ukraine's entry into the union.

Around 1,000 people in each of the EU´s six largest countries -- Germany, France, Italy, Poland, Spain and Britain -- were queried about their choices for EU additions.

The question was asked with regard to Turkey, which opened EU talks in October, and Ukraine, Russia and Morocco, none of which expects membership talks in the near future, the EU Observer said.

But, non-candidate states Ukraine and Russia appeared to enjoy more popularity among Europeans than Turkey.

Kiev and Moscow got a "yes" from 51 and 45 percent of respondents, respectively, as opposed to 40 percent backing Turkish membership.


Taken outright from here.

Take with a large grain of salt because of "Ironically, the survey was conducted for a lobbying group promoting Ukraine's entry into the union."

Ukraine, a market economy, so sayeth the EU

The European Union has agreed to declare Ukraine a free market economy, handing President Viktor Yushchenko his first big victory as he seeks a closer partnership - and eventual membership - for this ex-Soviet republic in the 25-nation bloc.

The market economy status, which should open EU markets to Ukrainian companies, was the top prize to emerge from the EU-Ukraine summit. But EU officials also backed Ukraine's ambitions to join the World Trade Organisation and called Ukraine's progress "on track."

"All of these are important in their own right, but the greatest importance is the symbolism of a newer and deeper and stronger relationship between the EU and Ukraine," British Prime Minister Tony Blair said during the brief summit in Kiev.

The gathering was the first EU-Ukraine summit since last year's so-called Orange Revolution, during which hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians amassed in the capital to protest at election fraud.

Yushchenko, a Western-leaning opposition leader who won a court-ordered revote last year, hailed the protests as a sign of Ukraine's European values and pledged to secure a place for this poor nation of 47 million in the EU.

An enlargement-wary EU, however, has given only a lukewarm reception. Also, Yushchenko's efforts to join the World Trade Organisation this year suffered setbacks because of strong opposition in parliament, so receiving market economy status was a prize he needed.


Read the rest here.