Monday, January 30, 2006

We're back

I'll blog more tomorrow. Lots of fun and comments from the NM trip.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Russian Military Movements Around Ukrainian Lighthouse

Ukraine's Foreign Ministry on Thursday protested alleged Russian military movements around a lighthouse on the Black Sea coast, the latest development in a dispute between the neighbors over navigation facilities.

Ministry spokesman Vasyl Fylypchuk said that a note was sent demanding Russia observe an agreement governing the presence of Russia's Black Sea Fleet. The fleet's home port is in Sevastopol, on Ukraine's Crimean peninsula

"We don't want provocative steps to worsen our relations," Fylypchuk said.

Ukrainian media reported that Russia had blocked entrance to the Sarych lighthouse with armored vehicles. The Unian news agency also reported that the Russian fleet sent 15 armed marines to each of four main Crimean lighthouses.

Last week, Russia accused Ukraine of attempting to seize another Crimean lighthouse. Ukraine insists the lighthouse falls under its control, which Russia disputed.

Read the rest here.

This is going to spiral out of control...legally, the Ukrainians are right, but is this the time to 'poke the bear'?

Ukraine Seeks Control of Russian Naval Facilities

Ukrainian state authorities seized the Yalta lighthouse on January 13 from Russia's Black Sea Fleet, and a Ukrainian student organization is picketing the Russian radar station in Henychesk around the clock since January 15 with tacit approval from Kyiv authorities. The Ukrainian government wants Russia to agree to hand over by February all the 35 coastal installations (outside Sevastopol's bays) that Russia's Black Sea Fleet is using since 1997 without a legal basis.

Designated collectively as "hydrographic installations" and including mainly lighthouses and communications stations, these facilities are strewn along the Crimea's coasts and are manned by Russia Black Sea Fleet personnel. Kyiv seeks to transfer them to the Ukrainian Transport Ministry's Hydrographic Service for civilian use. Under the 1997 inter-state agreements, Russia's fleet is stationed in the Crimea until 2017 for a lease payment of just under $100 million annually. Yet the Russian side is failing to pay for rent and electricity at many of the "hydrographic installations," or is deeply in arrears on such payments.

The picket in Henychesk on the Azov Sea, amply televised in Ukraine, started one day after the Russia side had beefed up the guard by sending in 20 Marines from the main base in Sevastopol. As Ukraine's Ministry of Foreign Affairs pointed out in a statement, the deployment was illegal: under the 1997 agreements, any movement of troops and materiel of the Russian Black Sea Fleet may only take place with the Ukrainian authorities' approval. Compounding the violation of Ukrainian sovereignty, the guard hung up a sign, "Territory of the Russian Federation."

Read the rest here.

Remember that I said that the Gas War would get uglier? Well, here's the start of another round of it.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

US kills MTHEL

Sources inform ''Globes'' that the Pentagon has killed the joint US-Israeli Natulus mobile tactical high energy laser (MTHEL), designed to intercept aerial targets such as rockets, missiles, artillery shells and other aerial threats at ranges of 5-6 kilometers.

Over the past three years, Israel’s defense establishment developed a system to use lasers to intercept kassam rockets. The defense establishment has been informed of the US decision. A senior Ministry of Defense official said, “I feel we’ve missed an immense opportunity.”

Maj.-Gen. (res.) Prof. Yitzhak Ben-Yisrael, who served as IDF chief R&D officer when the decision to develop the Nautilus was taken said, “This is a fateful decision. We’ll have to live with kassam rockets for decades. Technologically, the laser system was the only solution in the foreseeable future that could intercept them.”

Read more here.

This is another not-so-surprising-turn-of-events. The US has been heavily investing in solid state lasers and the fact that the MIRACL->THEL->MTHEL line of lasers are chemical lasers and use deuterium and fluorine to work. Fluorine on the battlefield?! Yikes!

Reading update

I had a bit of a disruption for my reading habits. First off, we had our expedition to Seattle. Then we had Christmas come and go. Also my wife's classes ended, so my reading time in the evening went away after I put our daughter in bed.

Additionally, the book I was planning on reading in Seattle got left on the plane! I got it back but much delayed me reading it.

That said, I have read three books in the mean time. The first one was on the Chinese Space Program. The second was on drilled pier foundations. The third, which I just finished, was a biography of Marcus Tullius Cicero.

The book on the PRC's Chinese Space Program, entitled China's Space Program - From Conception to Manned Spaceflight, was a very inclusive book. It had more information about the Chinese space program than I had seen anywhere else. While it covered the history of the Chinese space program, it was enamoured with the prospect of rattling off all the places and capabilities of the space program, currently or in the past. I have to say that, despite it being a short book, it was one I ahd to plow through rather than enjoy. The prose was just, well, dull. I don't go for flowery in the nonfiction books, but this should have been a fascinating read (it wasn't). It was actually quite soporific.

The drilled pier foundation book was interesting, but turned out to have two of the same authors as one of the previous ones I read. a lot of the information (and even prose) was recycled from this one to the newwer book. That was disappointing.

The book on Cicero I picked up at a bookstore in Point Reyes Station when we were up there during my Xmas break. I was giving my wife a break by setting her up to go horseback riding while my daughter and I goofed off. My wife had a good time. My daughter and I explored the town of Point Reyes Station. Avrora had a good time talking, or babbling really, at some of the children we encountered in town. I realized that it was getting close to her nap time and was horrified to find that I forgot to bring a book. I thought perhaps that I could get one, cheaply, from a local book store. Cheaply? Not really. However, I do like to support independant bookstores because I love to browse them. While briefly considering a PK Dick story, I settled on this book since Cicero, and his actions, are the essential background character for the alternate history I am writing in what is probably going to be a vain attempt to get published. We'll see. Anyways, as Avrora settled down for her nap, I began to read. it's quite engaging and I would have finished it faster if I hadn't mislayed it for almost a week.

The next book I am going to read is about the economic and demographic problems of Siberia. This is the one that I left on the plane. Doh! After that I have another construction project book.

I am putting together what I will buy next month for my books to read. One is about terrrestiral ecologies through deep time. Two are about mass extinctions. Two are about precolumbian mesoamerican civilizations. Two are about insulating concrete forms. I am also considering on on the Little Ice Age. I am wishing that there was some fiction that was catching my attention, but, alas, there isn't.

We'll see. That'll be a post NM trip purchase in any case.

UKrainian WTO Laws stall...big surprise?

The Ukraine parliament Wednesday refused to consider another series of bills needed for the country to join the World Trade Organization, making it unlikely the measures will be taken up before the March parliamentary election.

President Viktor Yushchenko had initially pledged to take this ex-Soviet republic into the WTO by the end of last year, but the government repeatedly failed to win support among lawmakers for changes needed to legislation covering the banking, metals and cattle export sectors.

The latest setback means that WTO membership is likely to be pushed further off the agenda as parliament begins a break Friday. After the March 26 election, the new lawmakers are likely to be occupied initially with coalition talks, which will lead to the formation of the new government.

From here.

This is not unexpected. You're faced with a major election. You're faced with laws that are likely to be rather unpopular at home. Are you going to take them up prior to said election?


You're a very funny guy, President Yuschenko, sir!

Prediction: They're passed after the election if the Orange Team wins big.

A Fascinating Planetary Configuration

While reading James Nicoll's LJ I saw a note that linked to a blog of an astronomer. Inside there was a fascinating article entitled "i wish i had an evil twin" about multiple planetary bodies in a system with the same orbital period.

I'd love to see a SF setting with those worlds done right. I mean, wow...

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Blogging interruption

My daughter is sick and we're not getting much sleep. So don't count on much blogging for a bit.

On Friday we're also leaving for New Mexico as well.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Frog Extinctions Linked to Global Warming?

Global warming may cause widespread amphibian extinctions by triggering lethal epidemics, a new study reports.

J. Alan Pounds and colleagues suggest that many harlequin frog species (Atelopus) across Central and South America have disappeared due to deadly infectious diseases spurred by changing water and air temperatures.

"Disease is the bullet killing frogs, but climate change is pulling the trigger," said Pounds, lead study author and resident scientist at Costa Rica's Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve.

"Global warming is wreaking havoc on amphibians and will cause staggering losses of biodiversity if we don't do something fast."

Biodiversity refers to the number of species in a given area. It is often used to gauge the health of an ecosystem.

The study appears in today's issue of the journal Nature.

Read more here too.

Ukraine Bullied into Using RosUkrEnergo

"Today, the pipe, which goes from Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan to the Ukrainian border, is being filled up by the gas of the GazProm's contractor RosUkrEnergo company. We were to choose whether to agree on that circumstance or to transport gas via railroad. So, we didn't have a choice, the Premier said. Yuriy Yekhanurov expressed his doubts on holding a comprehensive audit of the RosUkrEnergo activities during signing the contract on establishment of a joint enterprise with the NaftoGaz Ukrainy. "We will send an inquiry to the Russian side with regard to this company. But I'm not sure about the answer. The only thing I know that if we want to receive gas, we have to work with it", the Prime Minister stressed. Yuriy Yekhanurov said all hopes to receive Turkmen gas in another way are groundless.

From here.

Sadly, that's about what I expected.


Cancukistani Electioneering is SOOOOO Cute!

Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin warned Canadians on Thursday that his main rival, Conservative leader Stephen Harper, would turn the country into a bastion for a U.S.-style extreme right.

"I really do believe that Canadians don't want to buy the far conservative right in the United States," Martin said in a television appearance.

"They don't want to see (it) imported here and they do understand that a sharing, working together has been the way we've built this country."


Conservative Leader Stephen Harper is saying "No" to Kyoto, "Maybe" to missile defence, and "Sort of" to aboriginals.

And that has Liberals shouting: "We told you so." Harper signalled Thursday that he would turn his back on the Kyoto climate-change accord and renegotiate a recent $5-billion federal-provincial deal with natives. And he left the door open to joining the controversial U.S. missile defence system, while promising to hold a free vote in Parliament before signing on.

The Liberals, who have been painting Harper as a pro-American, right-wing extremist, jumped on his statements.

From here and here respectively.

Aren't they just adorable. Sad part is from reading the blogs of the Canadians that the Liberals are actually the Least Bad decision. Ah well. Glad to see that Yanqi bashing is part and parcel of this election.

Further Russo-Ukrainian Relations Complications

The seizure by Ukrainian officials of the Russian Black Sea Fleet's lighthouse in Yalta, in Ukraine's Crimea, cannot fail to harm Russian-Ukrainian relations, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Friday.

The incident is "all the more disappointing in the light of the constructive meetings in Astana between the Russian and Ukrainian presidents," ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said.

The head of the Yalta lighthouse and two of its workers were prevented from working Friday morning on the grounds that the staff's documents enabling them to enter the port had allegedly expired, Russian officials said.

Ukraine has responded to Russia's complaints by saying that it has the right to use the facility, and that talk of a "seizure" constitutes deliberate disinformation on Russia's part.

Read here.

A Canuckistani Take on the Gas War

Ukraine gas dispute -- Has Putin gone nuts?

It’s more useful to assume that the answer is ‘no.’ Then we must ask what is Russia doing with its gas price policy demands and supply cut-off to Ukraine?

It’s clear that the move is one part of a complex series of Russian moves in the ongoing Grand Chess Game. That game is between Washington as sole global superpower, and Russia as a reconstructing nuclear power--one with a vast resource wealth needed by its Eurasian neighbours from China to Germany and beyond. Russia, which holds far the world’s largest known reserves of natural gas, is playing its own energy card with Ukraine as the current field of that battle.

Read here.

It's an interesting take on the whole affair. Unfortunately, there's biug fanfare about the new nuclear missiles that Russia is introducing (the Topol-Ms). When it comes to geopolitics, new nukes for an existing nuclear power are not that useful. If they'd been talking about completely revamped tank divisions or some such, I'd be worried, but as soon as the Russians use a nuke...well...they're worse than pariahs then.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Quantum Processor (Pre?)Prototype

It's both closer and further away than most people realize. :D

Read for yourself.

NASA CEV Requirements Revision

Congressional pressure to avoid a gap in U.S. human space access is behind a NASA push to accelerate the first piloted flight of the planned Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV).

While President Bush originally wanted an operation CEV by 2014, the final RFP for the shuttle replacement called for a first flight with crew "as close to 2010 as possible, but no later than 2012, without compromising safety." The new document also drops requirements for a LOX/methane engine on the CEV service module as a placeholder for future extraction of the fuel from the atmosphere of Mars, and for delivery of unpressurized cargo to the International Space Station, although nothing would prevent the winning team from proposing them, according to a program spokesman at Johnson Space Center.

Read the rest here and more here.

2010. Interesting.

Deep-rooted plants have huge impact on climate

Trees, particularly those with deep roots, contribute to the Earth's climate much more than scientists thought, according to a new study by biologists and climatologists from the University of California, Berkeley.

While scientists studying global climate change recognize the importance of vegetation in removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and in local cooling through transpiration, they have assumed a simple model of plants sucking water out of the soil and spewing water vapor into the atmosphere.

The new study in the Amazonian forest shows that trees use water in a much more complex way: The tap roots transfer rainwater from the surface to reservoirs deep underground and redistribute water upwards after the rains to keep the top layers moist, thereby accentuating both carbon uptake and localized atmospheric cooling during dry periods.

The researchers estimate this effect increases photosynthesis and the evaporation of water from plants, called transpiration, by 40 percent in the dry season, when photosynthesis otherwise would be limited.

Read more here.

Another argument for reforestation?

Innovation Comparison: EU, Japan, and USA

The European Union's record on innovation is so poor that it would take more than 50 years to catch up with the US, according to a survey presented by the
European Commission on Thursday.

The Innovation Scoreboard compares the performance of the 25 EU countries with the US, Japan and several other nations, and ranks them according to factors such as the number of science and engineering graduates, patents, research and development spending and exports of high-tech products. The survey finds that only four EU countries - Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Germany - can compete with the US and Japan in terms of their innovative abilities.

"The innovation gap between the EU25 and Japan is increasing and the one between EU and US is close to stable," the report notes. It adds that it would take more than 50 years to close the gap between the average EU performance and the current US level.

Read more of the news report here or better yet, go read the report itself.

Planetary Systems Can Form Around Binary Stars

New theoretical work shows that gas-giant planet formation can occur around binary stars in much the same way that it occurs around single stars like the Sun. The work is presented today by Dr. Alan Boss of the Carnegie Institution's Department of Terrestrial Magnetism (DTM) at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Washington, DC. The results suggest that gas-giant planets, like Jupiter, and habitable Earth-like planets could be more prevalent than previously thought. A paper describing these results has been accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal.

Read more here.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Kazakhstan Supports Belarus in SCO

Kazakhstan will support Belarus’ application to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization as an observer, speaker of the Senate of the parliament of Kazakhstan Nurtai Abykaev stated at a meeting with chairman of the Council of the Republic of the National Assembly of Belarus Gennadiy Novitskiy.

Read the pitiful rest here.

Now teh question is whether or not the SCO will allow Belarus to move past being an observer.

Birth Rates Among Immigrants In America

Analysis of data collected by Census Bureau in 2002 shows that women from the top-10 immigrant- sending countries living in the United States collectively tend to have higher fertility than women in their home countries. As a group, immigrants from these countries have 23 percent more children than women in their home countries, adding to world population growth.

Read the rest here.

Here Come the US Space Marines!

In July 2002, the Marine Corps released a Universal Needs Statement that defined the Small Unit Space Transport and Insertion (SUSTAIN) concept that, if successful, will give the US a “…heretofore unimaginable assault support speed, range, altitude and strategic surprise” capability. SUSTAIN is an RLV that will carry a squad (13 men) into space and land it anywhere on Earth within two hours with, among other requirements, “flexible launch on demand… to any orbital inclination.”

According to the needs statement, SUSTAIN is required because the US has virtually no ability to respond rapidly to current intelligence. This means that if there are strong indicators that a major terrorist leader is hiding in a particular village, it will take anywhere between 12 to 48 hours before the US military could launch an attempt to capture or kill him. To put it another way, intelligence information can move at the speed of light but commando forces, no matter how good, can only move at the speed of a C-17 or other transport aircraft.

When this requirement was published, the reaction of the space community, including many RLV advocates was, to put it politely, extremely skeptical. Neither the major defense contractors nor the space entrepreneurs have shown that they have any ability to build SUSTAIN, or even to demonstrate that the systems and materials needed could be developed in less than a decade. At first glance, it looks like a typical example of US technological overreach. On closer examination, though, it would seem that the men and women who wrote this requirement were not smoking illegal substances, but rather had a time frame in mind that more or less conforms to historical experience.

In his July 2003 statement to the Senate Subcommittee of Science, Technology and Space, Marine Corps Brigadier General Richard Zilmer said that “this challenging requirement is projected for initial operating capability (IOC) between 2025 and 2030.” That is, about 32 to 37 years after the first flight of the DC-X, which is the true precursor of the entire RLV idea. If one adds ten years, due to the usual delays inherent in any program of this sort, one gets near the half century that it seems to take to bring any revolutionary new major aerospace system into full service.

A realistic IOC date for SUSTAIN would thus be between 2035 and 2045. From the present until then, one can expect that the problems of materials, flight controls, and propulsion that now doom any near-term RLV effort will be solved. Just as similar problems on the V-22 were taken care of by advances in computer technology and engine design, a small-scale but long-term effort to take advantage of future technological progress could realistically lead to a decision to go ahead with the development of a SUSTAIN-type vehicle sometime around 2020.

Read the rest from here.

There's more information here, here, here (scroll down), and here.

The Ukrainian Constitutional Crisis

Ukraine's president accused parliament Wednesday of destabilizing the country's political situation with its decision to oust the Cabinet over an agreement with Russia that sharply raises natural gas costs for the ex-Soviet republic.

President Viktor Yushchenko, speaking in Kazakhstan, called Tuesday's parliamentary vote "unclear, illogical and wrong" and criticized lawmakers for taking it 80 days before legislative elections.

"The decision was made by a parliament that was elected four years ago by the old regime and is living its last weeks," Yushchenko told reporters. "The decision only demonstrates one thing: destabilization of the situation."

Top Ukrainian officials, and even some opposition leaders, called the vote a ploy aimed at paralyzing Yushchenko's government ahead of March parliamentary elections. Those elections could determine whether Ukraine will continue on Yushchenko's pro-Western course.

Lawmakers in the 450-seat Verkhovna Rada voted 250-50 with two abstentions to fire Prime Minister Yuri Yekhanurov and his Cabinet, but required that the government continue working until a new Cabinet is appointed.

Yekhanurov dismissed the vote as illegal and vowed his Cabinet would continue working unimpeded.

From here.

As I thought, the Ukrainians are going into a constitutional crisis. The question is whether by this time next week whether or not the Verkhovna Rada will find common ground enough for the Ukrainian government to function until the elections.

Interestingly, its been suggested that it was Russian interests that pulled down the government. If this gets too out of hand, the Russians will have an excuse to intervene.


Is Putin that estupido?

One Year of Blogging

One year ago, I started blogging. This has been fun and interesting. I didn't foresee doing so much with the Ukrainian politics though. *chuckles* Aw, well.


Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Mexico et al to the US: Let Us In!

Diplomats from Mexico and Central America on Monday demanded guest worker programs and the legalization of undocumented migrants in the United States, while criticizing a U.S. proposal for tougher border enforcement.

Meeting in Mexico's capital, the regional officials pledged to do more to fight migrant trafficking, but indirectly condemned a U.S. bill that would make illegal entry a felony and extend border walls.

"Migrants, regardless of their migratory status, should not be treated like criminals," they said.

The countries represented at the meeting — including Mexico, Nicaragua, Guatemala,
El Salvador, Honduras, Belize and Panama — created a working group to design a regional policy to avoid migrant abuse and to follow the course of the legislation.

"There has to be an integrated reform that includes a temporary worker program, but also the regularization of those people who are already living in receptor countries," Mexican Foreign Relations Secretary Luis Ernesto Derbez said.

Derbez has called the measure — which passed the U.S. House of Representatives last month but still must go before the Senate — "stupid and underhanded," but was somewhat more restrained on Monday, saying "it's not the Mexican government's position to tell the U.S. Senate what to do."

The U.S. proposal has caused widespread resentment in Mexico, where some have accused President
Vicente Fox's administration of not being assertive enough in opposing it. Fox has called the bill shameful.

Mexicans working in the United States are a huge source of revenue for Mexico, sending home more than $16 billion in remittances in 2004, Mexico's second largest source of foreign currency after oil exports according to the country's central bank.

From here.

I have problems as I stated befroe with the legalization of illegal immigrants. For those that are here in the States illegally, moving the offense to a felony sounds good to me. Additionally, I have no problem with the idea of employing an illegal immigrant becoming a felony either. However, I am more than willing to liberalize the immigration laws. I am more than aware of the SERIOUS pita that dealing with US Immigration Services (or whatever they're calling themselves this month) is.

Additionally, I am more than willing to get into a discussion of the annexation of Mexico to the US. I think that would solve most of problems outright if it was done on the same pattern as was done with Texas: between peers and willingly. 31 nuevo states and 106,202,903 new voters would have quite a say and I think it'd be a net positive one. For that matter annexing (a willingly) Canda (producing ten new states) and the Central American countries (producing another 7 states) sounds moy bueno to me too.

Then again, I also realize all that is a pipe dream.

Russian-Ukrainian Gas War: It's Not Over

Parliament fired the Cabinet Tuesday because of a new deal with Russia that nearly doubled what Ukraine pays for natural gas. Prime Minister Yuri Yekhanurov and the justice minister, however, said the vote was nonbinding and vowed that the current Cabinet would continue working.

"People just wanted to play around, this will have no effect," Yekhanurov told reporters.

"The Cabinet can be formed only after new elections on the basis of a parliamentary coalition, which must be formed by the parliament within a month after the election," Justice Minister Serhiy Holovaty said.

Russia and Ukraine last week ended a bruising public fight over the supply over natural gas to this ex-Soviet republic with a deal with nearly doubles the price of gas for Ukraine. Earlier, Yekhanurov defended the deal, calling it a "compromise" needed to prevent Ukraine from being deprived of gas supplies.

Lawmakers in the 450-seat Verkhovna Rada voted 250-50 with two abstentions to fire Yekhanurov and his Cabinet, but required that the government continue work until a new Cabinet is appointed.

Political experts and analysts contacted by The Associated Press were divided over whether the parliament could fire Yekhanurov's government. Some experts said the parliament can dismiss only specific ministers, but not the whole Cabinet. Others said the Cabinet could be fired.

Read the rest here.

There are two asepcts to this. The first is not actually the gas war itself. This is, well, frankly, a constitutional crisis! Oy. Ukrainians. As if the Gas War wasn't enough, now they are going to go into a governmental crisis. Most likely some sort of compromise will be made that will allow the current Cabinet to function. It is always possible that the Duma and President's Cabinet will be unable to work something out...and that there will be a meltdown. It's not a high likelihood though, in my opinion. Worst case scenario would be the Clinton-Republican governmental standoff in the 1990s: not good, but the country survived easily. However, what happens after the elections will be even more interesting.

That very well may be the resumption of the Gas War! It all depends on which party ends up in the lead position. The constitutional reforms that were recently adopted make Ukraine far more a parliamentary democracy cast in the style of Europe than the presidential democracies like the US and (theoretically, or perhaps formerly?) Russia. If Timoshenko takes the Prime Minister position from her party taking the majority in the Duma, I fully expect that the Gas War will be resumed with a vengence! If Yuschkeno's party takes the Duma's majority, the Gas War will sit tight. If Yanukovich takes the majority, oy!, expect a whole lot of mess. I doubt that last one though.

While people have been upset with Yuschenko, the Gas War has made Russia's candidates look especially bad. If anything, it pushed the Ukrainians further into the European camp. It really, really pushed the Ukrainian people (as a whole) in that direction like a strap-on rocket booster. I don't want they were thinking, frankly, to make this work (Putin et al). It looks like a horrible miscalculation. That's a different discussion for a different time.

The question remains how far did the Russian actions push the Ukrainian people. Yes, it's turned them rather antiRussian at the moment, but did the results of the Gas War make people decide that they are rather ticked with Yuschenko? After all, he did end up with a compromise that almost doubled the cost of natural gas, verstehst? If it did push them too far and Ms Yulia can keep her sharp tongue from slitting her own electoral throat, expect her to win and resume teh gas the spring and summer when she has more time to negotiate. Otherwise, if Yuschenko is able to present himself as having navigated as best as anyone< could have and the Ukrainian people buy it, then he'll clean up big time. The only real loser in all of this is Yanukovich. Sucks to be him. Or associated with him.

Either Yuschenko or Timoshenko are going to finish the Great Slavic Divorce. If Yuschenko wins, expect the Sevastopol base treaty comes up for review, it gets shelved. If Timoshenko wins, she'll prolly shred the treaty and burn it with the Gas War resolution. The key difference between the parties will be when the divorce continues: now, under Ms Yulia, or later when the treaties expire, under Mr Viktor.


Monday, January 09, 2006

The New Crimean War

Atop one of the highest points in the Black Sea port city of Sevastopol the white, blue and red Russian flag ripples gently in the Crimean wind. Far below, much of Russia's Black Sea Fleet bobs up and down in one of the world's most serendipitous natural harbours.

Welders cling like barnacles to the side of a ship being repaired in a cavernous dry dock, young sailors smoke on the prows of ships bristling with rockets, and in the distance one of the fleet's most precious assets, the missile-cruiser Moskva, treads water on the grey January waves.

It is a scene that has remained broadly unchanged for more than 200 years since Sevastopol became the home of the Russian fleet in this strategically vital region, giving Moscow's ships access to the Mediterranean and a warm water port that never freezes over. But though Sevastopol in 2006 looks every inch a Russian naval town, complete with radar stations and pimply Russian sailors clad in greatcoats, technically it isn't.

In fact it's not even in Russia but in Ukraine and if powerful members of the Ukrainian establishment get their way the Russian tricolour will soon be run down the flagpole for the last time and replaced with the blue and yellow Ukrainian flag.

Indeed the Ukrainian navy already has its own headquarters there. Sevastopol, one of Russia's most famous naval bases, is under threat and the first salvoes in the battle to wrest control from Moscow have already been fired.

Read the rest and ponder if its a recipe for disaster or not.

The American Conservative View of Europe

Despite the bitter recrimination and growing rift between you and us, most Americans have not forgotten that a strong, confident Europe is still critical to the material and spiritual well being of the United States.

It is not just that as Westerners you have withstood — often later at our side — all prior challenges to the shared liberal civilization you created, whether the specter of an Ottoman global suzerainty, Bonapartism, Prussian militarism, Nazism, fascism, Japanese militarism, or Soviet Communism.

Nor is our allegiance a mere matter of history. Europe is the repository of the Western tradition, most manifestly in shrines like the Acropolis, the Pantheon, the Uffizi, or the Vatican. We concede that the Great Books — we as yet have not produced a Homer, Virgil, Dante, Shakespeare, or Locke, much less a Da Vinci, Mozart, or Newton — and the Great Ideas of the West from democracy to capitalism to human rights originated on your continent alone. And if Americans believe our Constitution and the visions of our Founding Fathers were historic improvements on Europe of the 18th-century, then at least we acknowledge in our humility that they were also inconceivable without it.

No, there is a greater oneness between us, an unspoken familiarity even now in the age of global sameness, that makes an American feel at home in Amsterdam, Paris, Rome, or Athens in a way that is not true of Istanbul, Cairo, or Bangkok.

In the multiracial society of the United States, an American black, Asian, or Latino finds natural affinity in London and Brussels in a way not true in Lagos, Ho Chi Min City, or Lima. For millions of Americans "Eurocentric" is no slur — for it is an appellation of shared values and ideas not of race.

Even in this debased era of multiculturalism that misleads our youth into thinking no culture can be worse than the West, we all know in our hearts the truth that we live by and the lie that we profess — that the critic of the West would rather have his heart repaired in Berlin than in Guatemala or be a Muslim in Paris rather than a Christian in Riyadh, or a woman or homosexual in Amsterdam than in Iran, or run a newspaper in Stockholm rather than in Havana, or drink the water in Luxembourg rather than in Uganda, or object to his government in Italy rather than in China or North Korea. Radical Muslims damn Europe and praise Allah — but whenever possible from Europe rather than inside Libya, Syria, or Iran.

Although we Americans think the European Union is a flawed notion and will not survive to fulfill its present aspirations, we hope in some strange way that it does — for both our sakes of having a proud partner in a more dangerous world to come rather than an angry and envious inferior, nursing past glories while blaming others for self-inflicted wounds of the present.

Written by Victor Davis Hanson and continued here.

New Horizons: Up, up, and Away!

The New Horizons Pluto flyby spacecraft is poised to become the fastest vehicle ever to depart Earth, blazing outbound at 10.07 mi. per sec.--zooming past the orbit of the Moon in just 9 hr.--on the first mission to the last known planet.

New Horizons' velocity will be about 10,000 mph. faster than most previous Earth escape flights to the Moon and planets.

Flying at 36,000 mph.--the Earthly equivalent to about Mach 50--New Horizons will reach Jupiter in only 13 months. Relative to the Sun, its Earth escape velocity will be 28.8 mi. per sec.

Launch of this "fantastic voyage" on 2.4 million lb. thrust from the most powerful version of the Lockheed Martin Atlas V is scheduled for 1:24 p.m. EST Jan. 17. There will be daily launch windows to Pluto through Feb. 14 should weather or technical factors scrub the first opportunity.

New Horizons is carrying material commemorating Pluto's discoverer, astronomer Clyde Tombaugh, who was cremated after his death 1997 at age 90. The spacecraft is also carrying a small piece of Burt Rutan's SpaceShipOne, the first private manned spacecraft, and the names of more than 430,000 space enthusiasts.

The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., led the hardware design and development of the 1,054-lb. spacecraft. APL's challenge was to build as much capability as it could into the lightest New Horizons package possible (see cover).

Given the spacecraft's need for speed, the solution was to launch it on the biggest booster available to achieve the fastest velocity to reach Pluto 3 billion mi. away as early as July 2015.

Read the rest from AvWeek.

Martian Festoons

Friday, January 06, 2006

Details of the Ukrainian-Russian Gas Deal

Ukraine's former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko made public yesterday [January 5] the confidential text of the Russia-Ukraine gas agreement, signed on January 4 in Moscow. Three aspects that officials on both sides downplayed or omitted in their briefings stand out in the confidential text (UNIAN, January 5).

First, this is not just a bilateral interstate agreement, but has a third, co-equal signatory: RosUkrEnergo, an ostensibly private though shadowy offshoot of Gazprom. Second, Ukraine forfeits any possibility to import gas from Turkmenistan -- an option that Kyiv had pursued up to the last day in 2005. And, third, Naftohaz Ukrainy -- hitherto solely responsible for marketing all imported gas in Ukraine -- yields one half of that business to RosUkrEnergo.

Under the agreement, RosUkrEnergo shall purchase a staggering 41 billion cubic meters of Turkmen gas in 2006, plus 17 billion cubic meters of Russian gas, and resells the aggregate amount to Ukraine. The total figure of 58 billion cubic meters is also stipulated for 2007. On the Turkmen front, this means that Gazprom has locked in almost the entire volume available in Turkmenistan for export to Europe, as well as using up almost the entire capacity of the trunk pipeline out of Turkmenistan.

Read the rest here.

So, Russia took away the possibility of Turkmen gas supplies surplanting Gazprom. This looks like a closing of a potential loophool for Ukraine to jump through. I suspect that things will be interesting. If Russia wants to keep a low profile, yet try again with the gas card later, this was a wise move. This way they set the precident that Ukraine will buy gas from Gazprom at the desired price of $230. Then if the proposed Baltic gas line gets laid down, it can try again (even legally) in 5 years. It'll be post Putin (maybe), but...

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Oldest Mayan Writing Found

Archaeologists excavating a pyramid complex in the Guatemalan jungle have uncovered the earliest example of Mayan writing ever found, 10 bold hieroglyphs painted on plaster and stone.

The 2,300-year-old glyphs were excavated last April in San Bartolo and suggest the ancient Maya developed an advanced writing system centuries earlier than previously believed, according to an article published Thursday in the journal Science.

The glyphs date from between 200 B.C. and 300 B.C., and come from the same site in the Peten jungle of northern Guatemala where archaeologist William Saturno found the oldest murals in the Mayan world in 2001. Radiocarbon tests indicate the writing is 100 years older than the murals depicting the Mayan creation myth.

The glyphs, thin black paintings on off-white stucco, lay in a plastic tub in a laboratory in an old house in the colonial city of Antigua on Thursday as archeologists cleaned and cataloged other stones from the San Bartolo site.

Although the writing is mostly indecipherable, Saturno and his team claim one glyph could be an early version of the word "ajaw," or "ruler."

Read the rest here.


Russia is seeking to rapidly consolidate the strategic gains it made in Central Asia during 2005.

The last 12-to-18 months have witnessed a stunning geopolitical reversal in Central Asia, with Russia’s influence reviving at the expense of the United States. Central Asian states, Uzbekistan in particular, soured on cooperation with Washington amid the so-called "color revolution" phenomenon, which produced regime change in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Many regional officials perceived Washington to be the catalyst for revolutionary developments, even though US leaders denied direct involvement in events. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Russia has rushed to fill the strategic vacuum, highlighted by Moscow’s rapid expansion of defense cooperation with Uzbekistan. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].

Despite the dramatic decline in its influence, the United States remains a powerful geopolitical force in Central Asia, underscored by the continuing presence of US forces at the Manas air base in Kyrgyzstan. To keep the United States on the defensive, Russian planners have developed a multi-faceted blueprint to significantly expand Moscow’s strategic reach in Central Asia, as well as tighten tactical coordination with other regional players, especially China and India.

Underlying Russia’s regional plans for 2006 is a desire to significantly raise the profile of both the Russian military and the country’s defense industry. For example, Moscow revealed in December that it had sealed a deal with Uzbekistan to jointly produce 40 Il-76 transport planes for sale to China. Around the same time, Russia announced an agreement under which Russian and Indian troops would share an air base in Tajikistan.

Read the rest here.

Russia takes an imperial step forward there and a step back in Europe. I wonder if someone has done the same analysis for China in the region?

100 KW Pulsed Laser Weapon Testbed in 3 years.

Northrop Grumman Corporation has been selected to develop "military-grade," solid-state laser technology that is expected to pave the way for the U.S. military to incorporate high-energy laser systems across all services, including ships, manned and unmanned aircraft, and ground vehicles.

The 36-month, $56.68 million contract for Phase 3 of the Joint High Power Solid-State Laser (JHPSSL) program was awarded to Northrop Grumman's Space Technology sector on Dec. 22, 2005.

Designed to accelerate solid-state laser technology for military uses, the JHPSSL program is funded by the Army Space and Missile Defense Command, Huntsville, Ala; Office of the Secretary of Defense - Joint Technology Office, Albuquerque; Air Force Research Laboratory, Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M.; and the Office of Naval Research, Arlington, Va.

Under the current phase, the program's goal is for a laser system to reach 100 kW, setting the stage for a variety of force protection and strike missions such as shipboard defense against cruise missiles; wide-area, ground-based defense against rockets, artillery, and mortars; and precision strike missions for airborne platforms.

Earlier this year, the Northrop Grumman-led team surpassed a critical milestone on the JHPSSL 2 program when it demonstrated a laser system with a total power of greater than 27 kW with a run time of 350 seconds.

"We're anxious to move forward with scaling up to the 100 kW power level in Phase 3 of the program," noted Alexis Livanos, president of Northrop Grumman Space Technology. "With parallel funding for attendant laser weapon system technologies and demonstrations, systems using very high-power lasers could be deployed in as little as four to five years."

Read the rest here.

We just discussed the idea of ubiquitous HELs on the battlefield on ahf. Another step forward.


One of the things that's bugged me for some time is that the the environmental groups are often picking the wrong things to tackle. The causes that they pick are often the wrong ones. Lawsuits often piss off more people than they actual accomplish anything. Sometimes they choose to oppose things on estupido reasons that have little or nothing to do with the science of it, frex, nuclear power.

If you really want to deploy a technology now (not tens years, not twenty years from now) that's as clean as any of the others, including solar, then the new reactors are it. People choke at the idea that the nuclear reactors are cleaner than solar power. The fact of the matter is if you take into account the end to end environmental costs of solar, its far messier than nuclear power. The byproducts of manufacturing solar panels are nasty, nasty stuff and when the panels breakdown they stiff have to be disposed of ...and they're nasty poisonous things themselves that last a long, long time. They don't suddenly flush out of the biosphere any faster than nuclear material does and even at the best projected efficiencies the solar panels will have more nastiness laying about the biosphere per kilowatt produced than nuclear power will.

Another one that really bothers me is the global warming problem. It's happening, no doubt about it now. While I agree that more efficient cars and, frankly, getting out of our oil addiction is a good thing, there are somethings that can be done that are helpful in environmental restoration and carbon sequestrian. One of these is reforestation. There are a few projects for reforestation being done in the US already:

Of the sequestration projects reported for 2000, 342 (69 percent) involved either afforestation or reforestation. The carbon sequestration and emission reductions reported for these projects totaled 627,902 metric tons carbon dioxide, representing 7 percent of the total sequestration reported for 2000. All the afforestation and reforestation projects reported for 2000 were domestic.

American Forests, a nonprofit conservation organization, and American Electric Power, Inc. (AEP), a large investor-owned utility, together accounted for more than one-half (56 percent) of the 342 afforestation and reforestation projects reported for 2000. American Forests reported a total of 164 projects under its Global ReLeaf Forests program, 30 of which were initiated in 2000. Global ReLeaf supports the restoration of U.S. forest ecosystems that have been damaged by natural events or human actions. American Forests reported that, through 2000, it has planted a total of 14.4 million trees, which sequestered 108,880 metric tons carbon dioxide in 2000—enough to offset carbon dioxide emissions from more than 100,000 automobiles. All but 6 of the Global ReLeaf projects involved reforestation. AEP reported 26 afforestation projects on land owned by its operating companies, which sequestered a reported 90,204 metric tons carbon dioxide in 2000. Two of the projects were initiated in 2000.

From here.

I have fond spot for redwood forests. They're, frankly, amazingly tranquil and beautiful places. Some of the worst tragedies was when the redwoods were cleared out of the American West. 5% of the redwood forest that existed 150 years ago now remains. Interestingly, an acre of mature redwood forest sequesters 1800 tons of carbon. If the redwood forest were to be automagically restored, it would sequester 3,427,200,000 tons of carbon from the atmopshere. That's the equivalent of over 30 thousand times what was done in the example report for the 100k cars. That's the equivalent of all the cars emissions in the US over 5 years.

Automagically restoring the redwoods would merely cover the US' CO2 production for energy of 2004 (here) for 1.29 years. It normally takes a few hundred years for that growth (not one) and sequestrian, so at best you'd be getting a percent or two if you replanted the entire redwoods at once. It's not really a feasible thing to do. To say the least. Except that there are now large areas of the US that were once farms or clear cut that can be returned to their previous state...if people are willing to pony up the money.

Marin County, almost as radical as Berkeley hotbed, was once nothing but redwoods. It was close to clearcut in the late 1800s. It's a pretty rich place. It covers an area of 521 square miles or 333,440 acres. Fully grown that would sequester 600,192,000 tons of CO2. However, there are 247,289 residents in Marin County as of 2000's census. If the average of one car for two people for the US were true, Marin would need to replant about 38 square miles of redwood forest to completely negate their CO2 emissions assuming that it would sequester .3 percent of the final amount (1800 tons/acre). Or whatever the equivalent of automagically reforesting and sequestering 74 acres per year is.

Interestingly, I've not heard of anything even discussed about this by the 'Think Globally, Act Locally' crowd. I'll have to play around to see what the costs are. That'd be the telling bit. I suspect it'd not be as expensive as the list price would be though.

Deinosuchus Found in New Mexico

Unlabeled fossils — a jawbone, some teeth and armored plates — have been identified as those of a 30-foot-long crocodile, the largest that ever lived in prehistoric New Mexico.

The fossils of the predator had been stored, unclassified, for six years among the 100,000 fossils at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science here.

"It just got sort of stuck in the collection, and nobody noticed it," said paleontology curator Spencer Lucas said.

The plump-looking armored plates intrigued Lucas, because crocodile plates typically are thin and flat. He investigated and determined its pedigree: the first deinosuchus from New Mexico.

"This is the biggest crocodile that ever lived in New Mexico," Lucas said. "Its contemporaries living at the same time were about half its size."

Read more here.

This the the creature that was formerly phobosuchus. This expands the western colony of deinosuchus a lot.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Baby Pix 2006!

Palaeocene/Eocene Thermal Maximum Shifted Ocean Currents

An extraordinary burst of global warming that occurred around 55 million years ago dramatically reversed Earth's pattern of ocean currents, a finding that strengthens modern-day concern about climate change, a study says.

The big event, the Palaeocene/Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), saw the planet's surface temperature rise by between five and eight degrees C (nine and 16.2 F) in a very short time, unleashing climate shifts that endured tens of thousands of years.

Scientists Flavia Nunes and Richard Norris of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in California explored how these warmer temperatures might have affected ocean currents.

They measured carbon-13 isotopes from 14 cores that had been drilled into the deep floor in four different ocean basins, taking samples from sediment layers deposited before, during and after the PETM.

These isotopes are considered to be an indicator of the nutrients deposited by the water at the time. The higher the isotope value, the likelier that the source came from the deep ocean, the prime source for nutrients.

With a painstaking reconstruction, Nunes and Norris found that the world's ocean current system did a U-turn during the PETM -- and then, ultimately, reversed itself.

Before the PETM, deep water upwelled in the southern hemisphere; over about 40,000 years, the source of this upwelling shifted to the northern hemisphere; it took another 100,000 years before recovering completely.

What unleashed the PETM is unclear. Most fingers of blame point to volcanic eruptions that disgorged gigatonnes of carbon dioxide, or coastal reservoirs of methane gas, sealed by icy soil, that were breached by warmer temperatures or receding seas.

The huge temperature rise may have occurred within just few thousand years, but as Nunes and Norris point out, the effects were enduring and the lesson for mankind today is clear.

"Modern CO2 input to the biosphere from fossil fuel sources is approaching that estimated for the PETM, raising concerns about future climate and circulation change," they warn.

Read the rest here.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

U-R Gas War Pipeline Map

Spirit on Husband Hill

TV Shows

I'm taking a breather a bit from the pace of Ukrainian-Russian politics for a moment and talking about TV shows. My TV shows that I like. There are not that many, frankly, that I have on my Must-See category. It's not to say that I don't enjoy others, but there are three that I watch and get very annoyed if I miss. Oh, no worries, I have a Tivo, but even so, I still want to see these ones asap.

The first one is the SciFi Channel's Battlestar Galactica. If I miss all others, this one keeps me happy. I mean, wow. This show is really, really good. Looking at genocide from the victim's PoV and then still asking hard questions of them is just damned brilliant. The characters and acting are good too. Some, like Olmos' Adama, are just plain amazing in what they convey.

The second show is a guilty pleasure. NBC's E-Ring. I have always enjoyed the two lead actors, Dennis Hopper and Benjamin Bratt. This time its no different. The backstabbing, legal manuvuering, sometimes questionable judgements, and idealism all seem to fit what I've faced in working for the government. Having a little action and some played up drama, makes it worthwile to watch.

The third will be a little bit of a surprise after the first two: it's Mexico: One Plate at a Time with Rick Bayless. I rather enjoy seeing some of the different styles of Mexican food that Senor Bayless presents. It's not gripping TV and they do some annoying camera work at times, but the dishes are interesting and gathered from all over Mexico. I've started using bits and pieces of his tips in my own cooking and my wife completely supports me in this one. ;) That said though, my true loyalty for Mexican food lies in the New Mexican styles, especially the Mesilla Valley cooking. Sorry folks, can't beat those flavors. I still appreciate the others, but...*bemused shrugs*

There are other shows that I enjoy, but . Surface has grown on me some, but the X-Files-ish aspects of it are a little annoying and the pace is a tad slow even for me. My wife and I enjoy Globe Trekker, but some of the hosts are frakking annoying. However, one of them impressed my wife alot even though she calls him an idiot after his fun in Murmansk. I also watch Nova a fair amount, but its not one that if I miss (with a few exceptions on the program subject) that I get annoyed about.

There are others that are occasionals, but...alas, poor TV...not very many.

Monday, January 02, 2006

This is Only Going to Get Uglier

Right now the Ukrainians and the Russians have escalated rather than defused the Gas War. Neither side has compromised really. The Russians have offered up some grandstanding proposals. The Ukrainians claim they've offered several to the Russians and all have been rejected.

Now the Russians have cut off gas to Ukraine for Ukraine's own use. Then the Europeans complained that the gas pressure in their lines - which come from Russia and cross Ukrainian territory - had dropped: the Germans even went as far as to state thtat they'd reconsider buying gas from Russia if the problem continued. The Russians accused the Ukrainians of theft. The Ukrainians have denied it. The Russians then stated they'd up the pressure to compensate for the Ukrainians gas "diversions".

The Ukrainians claim that they are innocent and that the Russians are blowing smoke. They also say that they have gas reserves to cover until summer. They've been making applies to the US and Europe for help in their negotiations. They want the next round to be mediated by international third parties. Ukraine also states that they are willing to make a transition to market pricing, just not all at once. They ahd an agreement with Russia before to make the transition by 2008. The blow up over the ownership of the transit pipes and the new proposed transit tax is part of what sparked all of this.

Ukraine has been saying that this is all blackmail to coerce her back into Russia's fold. The Orange Revolution took Ukraine out of Russia's orbit into a transfer orbit into the West. While not a fast transfer, it put Ukraine on the way towards joining NATO and the EU.

Unnoted until recently in all of this is that Moldova has had its gas supply from Russia also cut. Moldova has also been making moves towards becoming a Western nation as well.

If the Ukrainians are, in fact, stealing gas, the Russians just got humiliated big time because their attempted blockade just seriously failed. The Russians are stuck because something on the order of 90% of the gas they sell to Europe transits Ukraine. The Russians are stuck short of following up on some recent comments. If they do that - and the Great Russians have been just been twitted by the Little Russians, so don't assume that they won't necessarily - expect all hell to break loose.

To make matter worse for the Great Russian ego (or better? They're being taken seriously again), the Europeans are really letting them have it.

So what will NovImperial Russia do? I predict things will get hairier before better.

Unfortunately for my in-laws, they're really up a creek. They jsut converted their house to using gas instead of coal for heating. :(