Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Some Say, When the Wind is Blowing Right, It Still Does

1,900-million years ago, Ontario smelled like rotten eggs.   Some say, if the wind is blowing just right...

A Voice from Guantanamo

When we think of the men held captive by the Americans at Guantanamo we probably conjure up images of men in orange jump suits with long beards but that's about it.  Although most of them have been held for years, the public hasn't heard their voices or learned much of their treatment in captivity.

Slate.com is changing all that by publishing a 3-part memoir from a 466-page manuscript handwritten by prisoner Mohamedou Ould Slahi.   In his years of captivity the captive has taught himself English.  He's still there even though nobody, not the authorities in his homeland of Mauritania, not the rendition interrogators in Jordan, not the interrogators and torturers in Guantanamo can come up with any evidence other than statements he made under torture.

In 2010 a U.S. District Court judge ordered Slahi freed.  He remains in captivity in Guantanamo.   Here are some excerpts from the first part of his memoir in Slate.

The punishment for talking was hanging the detainee by his hands with the feet barely touching the ground. I saw an Afghan fellow detainee who passed out a couple of times while hanging from his hands. The medics “fixed” him and hung him back up. Other detainees were luckier; they were hung for a certain time and released. Most of the detainees tried to talk while hanging, which makes the guards double their punishment.

There was a very old Afghani fellow, who reportedly was arrested to turn over his son. The guy was mentally sick; he could not stop talking because he didn’t know where he was, nor why. But the guards kept dutifully hanging him. It was so pitiful; one day one of the guards threw him on his face, and he was crying like a baby.

...Whenever I realized that a guard [was hostile], I pretended that I understood no English. I remember one cowboy coming to me with an ugly frown on his face.

“You speak English?” he asked.

“No English,” I replied.

“We don’t like you to speak English, we want you to die slowly,” he said.

“No English,” I kept replying. I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction that his message arrived. People with hatred have always something to get off their chests, but I wasn’t ready to be that drain.

... I considered the arrival to Cuba a blessing, and so I told my brothers, “Since you guys are not involved in crimes you need to fear nothing. I personally am going to cooperate, since nobody is going to torture me. I don’t want any of you to suffer what I suffered in Jordan.” I wrongly believed that the worst was over, and cared less about the time it would take the Americans to figure out I am not the guy they are looking for. I trusted the American justice system too much, and shared that trust with people from European countries. We all have an idea about how the democratic system works.

For a while Slahi was interrogated by FBI agents but eventually they left and at that point he fell into the hands of torturers.

A Moment to Ponder Time

If you want to beat your intellect to a pulp, ponder time.  What is it?  Does it exist?  Is it really what we perceive it to be or is it something else or many other things?

The fact is nobody can prove that time actually exists.  I heard that first from the commander of the U.S. Naval Observatory who oversaw the operation of the world's timepiece, the atomic clock.

Back in the fourth century, St. Augustine wrestled with the question of time.  Here's how he summed it up.  "What then is time? If no one asks me, I know what it is. If I wish to explain it to him who asks, I do not know."

We know vastly more about science today and physics in particular than ever before yet, when it comes to time, we remain beset by St.  Augustine's conundrum.   We know about some aspects of time but we're still unsure what time itself is. 

Two intriguing reports come from Wired.com.   One explores whether perpetual motion can actually exist, powered not by stored energy but from a break in the symmetry of time which might be theoretically possible if time actually exists.   An earlier article dealt with efforts to find a working theory of time, the quest to solve Augustine's conundrum.  It has something to do with "the arrow of time," the feeling of moving through time that we experience and how time probably exists where it could not be felt and somehow that means something or other.  If we can only figure out time, we can probably unlock most of the secrets that keep us from understanding our world and our place in it.

You're Not the Chamber of Commerce, You're the Government.

Canada's business community has the understandable view that the Harper government is the handmaiden of commerce.   And so, when the conservative government was caught out over abuses of the temporary guest worker programme and had to enact modest reforms, that set the business types to howling in indignation.

Doesn't this government understand that filling jobs with cheap foreign labour pads the bottom line?   The Chamber of Commerce (corporate sector) had a warning for the Chamber of Commerce (Harper sector) and the Canadian public - stand up to us and these businesses will leave Canada entirely.

“What is being proposed by the government today is not in the interest of Canadian business,” the Canadian Chamber of Commerce said in a statement shortly after the changes were announced.

“It’s frustrating to see Canadians underemployed. It would be worse to see whole communities damaged because a key employer relocated elsewhere.”

What are these guys, B-movie extortionist hoods?  "Nice community you got here.   It would be a shame if anything happened to it."

Here in British Columbia we've had the Chamber of Commerce running our legislature for a dozen years.  Their capture of political power - at the federal and provincial levels - is a growing threat to our democracy and the future of our children.

Climate Change News Round-Up

European Union nations have been warned to renew climate change adaptation programmes.   The European Environment Agency has released a report that concludes cities around Europe may have to install flood barriers similar to those that protect London.

Even Europe's vineyards may have to switch the types of grapes cultivated or move entirely.  EEA studies have found climate change impacts in all regions of Europe with rainfall diminishing in the south and increasing in the north and extreme fluctuations in temperatures.

In Washington, Congressional Democrats are focusing on the ways climate change impacts vulnerable women.  A dozen House Democrats have introduced a resolution recognizing that climate change hurts women more than men and can even lead to an increase in "transactional sex."

An Australian report, focused on what it calls the "The Critical Decade" for climate change action finds China is becoming a world leader in the fight against climate change, slowing its rate of growth of energy consumption and steadily introducing more wind and solar production.

The report describes China's development of renewable energy as "extraordinary", pointing to a 50-fold increase in the amount of energy generated from wind power since 2005. Its investment in clean energy in 2012 was $65.1 billion, which represents 30 per cent of the total investment by G20 nations that year.

One-third of member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) have achieved absolute reductions in greenhouse gas emissions but it's a matter of some, not enough.   And the Athabasca Tar Sands come in for special mention.

"There is significant momentum being driven by a mix of economic, political and environmental motivations," says John Wiseman from the University of Melbourne. "That in turn creates a range of risks that these trends could fall over or head in unpredictable directions." He says that while the US's energy independence policy has led to an increased uptake of renewables, it also uses more gas and is working to exploit carbon-intensive tar sand oil.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Every-Country-For-Itself Face of the Global Food Insecurity Crisis

Consider these two realities.   (1) The United Nations World Food Programme toils to keep millions of people alive (2) in the same African nations where affluent grain-importing countries like Saudi Arabia, China and South Korea are busy buying or negotiating long-term leasing rights on key agricultural lands.

As of mid-2012, hundreds of land acquisition deals had been negotiated or were under negotiation, some of them exceeding a million acres. A World Bank analysis of these “land grabs” reported that at least 140 million acres were involved - an area that exceeds the cropland devoted to corn and wheat combined in the United States. This onslaught of land acquisitions has become a land rush as governments, agribusiness firms and private investors seek control of land wherever they can find it.

There was a time when if we got into trouble on the food front, ministries of agriculture would offer farmers more financial incentives, like higher price supports, and things would soon return to normal. But responding to the tightening of food supplies today is a far more complex undertaking. It involves the ministries of energy, water resources and health and family planning, among others. Because of the looming spectre of climate change that is threatening to disrupt agriculture, we may find that energy policies will have an even greater effect on future food security than agricultural policies do. In short, avoiding a breakdown in the food system requires the mobilisation of our entire society.

Can we solve this burgeoning food crisis?  Yes we can but not without the collective will to solve it and the willingness to accept the discipline, cooperation and sacrifices that mandates.  Wake me when we get there.

Amen to That, Babs

From the mouth of former First Lady and Presidential Mom, Barb Bush:

Amen to that, Babs

That Decision Just Got a Lot Easier

Looks like I'll be voting NDP in the upcoming British Columbia elections.  I had some qualms about backing the NDP or my party of choice, the Greens, especially when it appeared the NDP already have this election in the bag. 

Problem solved.  The Greens aren't fielding a candidate in my riding.   They're contesting 58 of the 85 ridings and mine isn't one of them.  I'm hoping the Greens have stood down to avoid undermining the NDP's chances of ousting the Liberals in a riding that The Tyee has concluded is "too close  to call."

Oh well the Liberals and Christy Clark have to go but I'm not wildly enthusiastic about the New Dems.   Adrian Dix seems like a decent enough fellow but experience shows that doesn't cut much ice within the rough and tumble internal politics of the B.C. NDP.  Mike Harcourt was a thoroughly decent fellow and a good premier in his turn.   Yet he got toppled, stabbed in the back, by British Columbia's last NDP premier, another Clark, Glenn Clark.   And it was Glenn Clark who almost single-handedly delivered Gordon Campbell's conservative Liberals a massive sweep to power.

I've listened to what Adrian Dix has had to say on the campaign trail and I think he's ready to govern my province.  I'm still left in doubt about whether he's strong enough to govern his party.

F-35 Cyber-Warplane, Cyber-Vulnerable

One of the big selling points of the F-35 is the warplane's stealth electronics.  The F-35's systems are so advanced that the maker had to write almost ten-million lines of onboard software code to make them work.   That's about six times more computer code than is needed for an F-18.

All that code runs elaborate sensors that, unlike radar, allow the F-35 to gather information without generating its own electronic emissions that would allow an enemy to spot it.  The F-35 relies on information gained elsewhere and transmitted to it.  This data enters the F-35 through electronic portals, windows if you like.

It didn't take long for the F-35's intended adversaries - yeah, Russia and China, that's you - to figure out these electronic portals were also windows of vulnerability through which they might hack the F-35's elaborate and complicated computer control systems.  The idea is to either scramble the attacker's computers or, even better, commandeer control.  There is worry that unknown hackers - yeah China, we know who - managed to hack enough code to figure out the F-35's cyber-vulnerabilities.

The story has gained enough traction that it sent the Pentagon scrambling last week to respond.

The Pentagon's F-35 program office issued a statement that the Department of Defense was "fully aware of evolving cyber threats and is taking specific action to counter them for all fielded systems, including F-35."

Is somebody whistling past the graveyard?

Why Mulcair Shouldn't Be Trusted to Govern Canada.

Any doubts whether T. "Tony" Mulcair is ready to govern Canada are resolved by his actions in the modest controversy over the Supreme Court of Canada's handling of the 1981 constitutional patriation case.

Author Frederic Bastien contends two justices of the SCC, Justice Willard Estey and Chief Justice Bora Laskin, made inappropriate disclosures of the court's deliberations.

Estey, Bastien claims, told British officials the court was dealing with the patriation issue.  Laskin allegedly told British and Canadian officials that the justices were divided on the question and suggested when he thought a decision would be delivered.

That, apparently, is it.  Two allegations of two supposed communications, arguably inappropriate but, even if true, essentially meaningless except to those looking for something, anything to re-ignite those fires now more than 30-years past.  Among them is NDP leader, Tony Mulcair.

There is no sense that the personal communications described in the book were designed to influence the Court’s decision. Nor, it should be noted, were they successful if that was the aim. Even if we twist this story into one of crazy conspiracy, where Laskin was working with Trudeau to help bring about patriation, they did not succeed: Laskin was on the losing side of a Court decision that said Trudeau was bound, by convention though not by law, to seek substantial provincial consent.

The Quebec National Assembly is up in arms and so too is Tony Mulcair.  They're all demanding complete disclosure of all the court's documents and records.  In response the Supreme Court of Canada has conducted an internal investigation and reported that, 
The Supreme Court of Canada conducted a thorough review of its records and it does not have any documents relevant to the alleged communications by former Chief Justice Bora Laskin and former Mr. Justice Willard Estey in relation to the patriation of the Constitution of Canada. This concludes the Court’s review.

There it is.  They went through the court's documents and files from 32-years ago and found no documents relevant to the allegations.

Apparently Tony Mulcair doesn't trust the Supreme Court of Canada.  In fact he dismisses the court's statement as "not credible."

You won’t find something you don’t ask for. Those documents were given to Mr. Bastien by the Canadian government … and large elements were taken out. So the first thing that one would have expected the Supreme Court to do is to ask for the full version, read them, and start an investigation. Instead, what they seem to have said from this cryptic, one-paragraph statement, is: ‘We looked in our filing cabinet and we don’t have them.’ … It’s a clear indication that the Supreme Court had no intention all along of ever dealing with this issue seriously. But unfortunately, it is an extremely serious issue.

It's not the Supreme Court's job to be demanding documents of the federal government.   The statement is not cryptic, except in Tony Mulcair's overheated mind.   The court reviews its documents, its records.  It can't even contact the judges.   They're long dead.  And no, Tony, this isn't an "extremely serious issue" except to those who see some political advantage in transforming it into one.

What's not credible is for an opposition leader, even one like Mulcair, to fan the flames for personal advantage.  I suppose Tony has read the latest polls showing the Liberals on the rampage in his former stronghold, Quebec.  Maybe Mulcair thinks his best shot at stopping Trudeau in his tracks is to re-ignite Quebec outrage from the nationalist side.   Mulcair is plainly reaching far beyond Bastien's allegations to suggest some much larger conspiracy and will fault the Supreme Court of Canada for not delivering evidence of what doesn't exist.

Or maybe Mulcair has figured out his federal chances are waning fast so he'd better settle for the chance to be the first New Dem premier of Quebec.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Time For the Left to Stage a Comeback?

In Paul Krugman's Friday NYT column, the nobel laureate economist took a broad and deserved swipe at the "Austerians" and what he calls their 1 Percent Solution.

At this point, the austerian position has imploded; not only have its predictions about the real world failed completely, but the academic research invoked to support that position has turned out to be riddled with errors, omissions and dubious statistics. 

Krugman sees a sado-masochistic puritanical penchant at play among the Austerians.

We lived beyond our means, the story goes, and now we’re paying the inevitable price. Economists can explain ad nauseam that this is wrong, that the reason we have mass unemployment isn’t that we spent too much in the past but that we’re spending too little now, and that this problem can and should be solved. No matter; many people have a visceral sense that we sinned and must seek redemption through suffering — and neither economic argument nor the observation that the people now suffering aren’t at all the same people who sinned during the bubble years makes much of a dent. 

Now that austerity, the hellspawn of incestuous mingling of rightwing politics and rightwing economics, has proven itself not only mistaken but horribly destructive, does this offer the Left an opportunity, even a mandate to stand up and reclaim its legitimate place?  Should our New Democrats not be the first to denounce corporatism and return to their labour roots and restore Canada's Left not to mention our democracy?

There is underway now in Britain an instructive debate, a battle for the soul of the Labour Party.   Britain's Trade Union Council has declared war on the "Blairites" within the Labour Party's shadow cabinet.

In The New Statesman, John Pilger shows how Thatcherism survives into today's Labour Party, a cautionary tale for the Canadian party seemingly intent on emulating them.

Geoffrey Howe, a Thatcher minister between 1979 and 1989, said, “Her real triumph was to have transformed not just one party but two, so that when Labour did eventually return, the great bulk of Thatcherism was accepted as irreversible.”

In 1997, Thatcher was the first former prime minister to visit Tony Blair after he entered Downing Street. There is a photo of them, joined in rictus – the budding war criminal with his mentor.
When Ed Miliband, in his unctuous “tribute”, caricatured Thatcher as a “brave” feminist hero whose achievements he personally “honoured”, you knew that she had not died at all.

There are some New Democrats, the old faithful, who feel their own party is being Blairified by the redirection commenced by Jack Layton and now being pursued by Tom Mulcair.  To them their party seems to be jettisoning its longstanding principles to become centrist, doing whatever it takes for a chance at coming to power.

This abandonment of the Left, this shift to the right, comes at a real price to the New Dems, to Parliament, and to the country.  Even in their weakest moments in opposition, such as post '74, the New Democrats stood as the conscience of Parliament.  They were the watchdogs of all to their right, Conservative and Liberal.   Canada, the Canadian people and our Parliament need that conscience today more than ever before only no one is holding down the Left any more.   That position has been vacated, abandoned.

In Canada, organized labour has been under a virulent attack by the Harper government since it first took power.   The Liberals have shown no reason to believe they would restore Canadian labour to its rightful place.  Is this not the moment for the NDP to reclaim the Left in service not only to their constituencies but the country itself?

First He Gagged the Public Service and the Armed Forces. Now It's the RCMP, the Royal Conservative Mounted Police.

The Harper government seems to have politically captured the RCMP.

One of the most astonishing abuses of democracy perpetrated by the Harper conservatives has been the "capture" of Canada's public service and armed forces and their transformation into partisan political agencies of the PMO.

Harper quickly moved to isolate the government from the people by installing a gaggle of political commissars operating inside the Prime Minister's Office to regulate communications to and from the public.

Harper's commissars determine what communications are allowed to pass to the people who are supposed to serve the Canadian public.   They decide what questions may be asked.  They also filter responses to these questions to ensure they conform to and support Conservative policy.   In this way they transform the sequestered departments into their very own partisan political agencies.  In this way they blind the Canadian public and the outside world to realities they find politically inconvenient.

Now they're moving to sequester the RCMP.   Commissioner Bob Paulson has dutifully spread the word that senior Mounties must obtain clearance from his office before speaking even to MPs and Senators.

Peas in a Pod?

Here's the chilling bit of Paulson's directive.

In an email dated March 22 from Paulson to more than 50 chief superintendents, assistant commissioners and deputy commissioners, the commissioner said that meetings or lunches with parliamentarians "can have unintended and/or negative consequences for the organization and the government. Therefore, should you or your staff receive such requests, I am directing that you advise my office and the chief strategic policy and planning officer."

Did you get that?  Plain as day.  Mounties must not do anything that might have negative consequences for "the government."   Not the country, not the Canadian people, no - the government.   The Harper government.   Must be on guard not to do or say anything, no matter how true or important to the country, that might have negative consequences for "the government."

There it is.   Now it's the Royal Conservative Mounted Police, the national political police agency of the Conservative party.  But then again, it's been that way since Zaccardelli helped deliver Harper to power by meddling in a national election.    And when Zac had to go, they put in a Conservative backroom boy, Bill Elliott to be the first wholly-political Commissioner of the RCMP.   Elliott's finally gone but Paulson, it seems, is carrying on his work.

Harper Cons Are "Neanderthals" - James Hansen

Take that, Joe Oliver.  Retired NASA Goddard Space Laboratory director James Hansen says Harper and his underlings are lashing out at him because they're getting very worried.   Pipeline Minister A  (Oliver) recently attacked Hansen, accusing him of making "exaggerated comments" and "crying wolf."  Oliver said Hansen should be ashamed.

"I think he's beginning to get worried because the secretary of state, John Kerry, is well-informed on the climate issue and he knows that his legacy and President Obama's is going to depend upon whether they open this spigot to these very dirty, unconventional fossil fuels," Hansen said about Oliver. "We can't do that without guaranteeing disasters for young people and future generations."

"The current government is a Neanderthal government on this issue, but Canada can actually be a leader," he said. Hansen mentioned British Columbia's carbon tax as a positive step. "I have hopes that Canada will actually be a good example for the United States but the present government is certainly not."

Friday, April 26, 2013

Cut & Paste Leadership, the Modern Political Condition

In his thoroughly insightful book, American Fascists, Chris Hedges details how fundamentalists pervert Christianity by willfully excluding anything that doesn't suit their various ideologies.  That is why, according to Hedges, there are hundreds of versions of Jesus in the United States, each tailored to some particular sect or church's liking.   The fundamentalists even have a project to rewrite the Bible, excising anything (and there is a great deal) that seems even vaguely socialistic or too tolerant or forgiving.

Among America's rightwing political classes even extremists like Michelle Bachmann go all gushy over great presidents past, like Abraham Lincoln, but would positively recoil at so much of what Lincoln stood for, so much of what he said and wrote.   They want a Lincoln sanitized of views that don't conform to their own.  They want you to believe that they believe what Lincoln believed.  They want the public to believe that they stand for what Lincoln stood for when, in reality, it's anything but.

Rightwing politics also rely on economic philosophies that have been so cherry-picked, laundered and tuned up as to bear less than a passing resemblance to their economic gurus, Adam Smith being a useful example.   They hold up Smith as the father of free enterprise capitalism, elevating him to the status of a prophet.  And to make Smith's theories suit their own purposes they truly shred what he actually believed and espoused.   They don't want to hear Adam Smith.  They wish only to hear themselves as they would want Adam Smith to be.

Adam Smith had very unwelcome views on the mantra of growth.  He plainly foresaw the inevitability of society reaching a point at which further growth lost its utility.  In The Wealth of Nations, Smith correctly foresaw roughly 200 years as the longest period for sustained growth followed by the emergence of what we would today call steady state economics, the very era we are now entering.

Likewise Adam Smith was very wary of corporatism and its place in the public arena, something well understood by people like Lincoln, but rejected by today's rightwing corporatism.  Here's what Smith actually believed:

"The proposal of any new law or regulation of commerce which comes from [the business community] ought always to be listened to with great precaution, and ought never to be adopted till after having been long and carefully examined, not only with the most scrupulous, but with the most suspicious attention.  It comes from an order of men, whose interest is never exactly the same with that of the public, who have generally an interest to deceive and even to oppress the public, and who accordingly have, upon many occasions, both deceived and oppressed it."

Yet we have also entered an era in which corporate and political spheres are merging, perhaps in reaction to the restraint of growth.  Smith's injunction to be suspicious of corporate wiles has given way to organizations such as ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, a vehicle for the private sector to propose and sometimes even draft laws that are handed to elected representatives to enact into law.  ALEC is nothing else but an instrument to effect the further capture of economic and political power, a wedge to sever the elected from their electors.  Adam Smith?  Out the bloody window.

And so we emerge with a grand political perversion, leadership by paragraph, cut and paste, driven by ideologies that are first formed and only then justified by what is selected and what is excluded from great minds of the past.

And look at our own Grand Dissembler with his unquestioning embrace of the Tar Sands industry and pipeline operators.  While he would proudly proclaim himself a disciple of Adam Smith, he and his minions toil tirelessly to protect Enbridge and the fossil fuelers from the most scrupulous, ...the most suspicious attention to their dodgy pipeline schemesIn reality, Harper's purpose is also that described by Adam Smith - to deceive and oppress.

Shame On You, Congress, Shame, Shame.

America's "bought and paid for" Congress is notorious for obstructing any meaningful action to respond to climate change.  Now a group, "Organizing for Action", is preparing a campaign to target climate change denialists on Capital Hill.   People like these guys:

Until Thursday, the group had focused on gun control, immigration and the budget. Climate change did not even rate its own heading on the OFA website. But Thursday's video and an accompanying petition campaign suggest that Obama's allies have now decided that climate change is a mainline political issue.

Good luck, OFA.  If you're hoping to change congressional representatives on climate change - or anything else for that matter including gun control or tax deals for the rich - you definitely have your work cut out for you.

The Latest in School Fashion - Body Armour

What's next, Kevlar helmets?   The latest sign of America's worsening dysfunction is ballistic armour for school kids.

Send your child to school with a bulletproof backpack so when the rounds start flying, and you know they will, the kid has a chance to take cover in the shelter of her rucksack.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Is America's Military Edge Slipping?

Imagine a world in which the U.S. and the rest of us could not count on America having the dominant military technology.  Put another way, imagine China, not the U.S., having the "latest and greatest" things that go boom.  Imagine us being the technological underdogs, vulnerable to a less than friendly country's superiority.  Imagine the arm twisters becoming the arm twistees. Ooh, ooh, child.

The head of America's military science & technology apparatus, DARPA or the Defense and Research Projects Agency, warns that America's technological lead could be wiped out before long.

Less than a year on the job as director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Arati Prabhakar is issuing a wake-up call. The Pentagon must stop living in past technological glory and prepare for a world in which U.S. adversaries are innovating faster and at a much lower cost than the Defense Department.

“Our research, innovation, and entrepreneurial capacity is the envy of the world, but others are building universities, labs, and companies with vigor and determination, and some are seeking to harm or confiscate our own capacity.

Not for nothing did the Bush Doctrine reserve to America the right to pre-emptively attack any nation or group of nations that dared to overtake American military supremacy.

Ms. Prabhakar also presents globalization as a threat to American security.

 Today our military systems are critically reliant on technologies that in some cases are available to everybody around the world, and in some cases are actually not even made anymore in the United States,” she said. “That's a trend that we expect will continue [and] we think that other nations will continue to grow their capabilities in terms of technology.”

You Can't Begin to Imagine What Your Life Would Be Like If This Happens

A strong warning from the 6th European Conference on Space DebrisThe conference, hosted by the European Space Agency, offers scientists an opportunity to gather to assess the state of the problem of junk whirling around in space.

What they're trying to figure out are the odds of a "cascade" or chain-reaction in which space debris starts hammering satellites and other orbiting products, causing them to explode into clouds of ever more space debris until the debris reaches a critical mass at which it effectively takes down all our satellites and renders space unusable for years, possibly decades.

Since 1957, more than 4,900 space launches have led to an on-orbit population today of more than 22,000 trackable objects, with sizes larger than 10 cm. Approximately 1,000 of these are operational spacecraft. The remaining 94% are space debris, i.e. objects which no longer serve any useful purpose. About 64% of the routinely tracked objects are fragments from some 250 breakups, mainly explosions and collisions of satellites or rocket bodies. In addition, an estimated 700,000 objects larger than 1 cm and 170 million objects larger than 1 mm are expected to be in Earth orbits.  
Due to relative orbital velocities of up 56,000 km/h, centimeter-sized debris can seriously damage or disable an operational spacecraft, and collisions with objects larger than 10 cm will lead to catastrophic break-ups, releasing hazardous debris clouds of which some fragments can cause further catastrophic collisions that may lead to an unstable debris environment in some orbit regions (“Kessler syndrome”). Space debris mitigation measures, if properly implemented by spacecraft designers and mission operators, can curtail the growth rate of the debris population. Active debris removal, however, has been shown to be necessary to reverse the debris increase.
Our civilization has grown utterly dependent on space craft, mainly satellites, for everything from navigation (GPS) to all manner of tele-communications, early warning systems,  weather and climate monitoring and, of course, the internet.   Your bank machine doesn't work without satellite communication.  Globalization itself would be nearly impossible to maintain without satellite access.  Oh no, the cable TV!  Break out the bunny ears.

In 2007 the Chinese tested an anti-satellite weapon, targeting a defunct low-orbit satellite.   When it was hit it broke into about a thousand pieces of debris large enough to be identified from earth.  It gave the Americans absolute fits.
We keep getting warned about this but we keep doing - squat.   Time is simply not on our side but cleaning up the debris could be massively expensive and there aren't many governments lining up to throw money at the effort. 

Decisions, Decisions

The Tyee has me tied up in knots.

According to  the paper, the BC NDP are poised to mop the floor with Christy Clark and her decidedly-conservative Liberals, ending their twelve year reign of terror.  That's the good news.

The bad news from The Tyee comes from their riding by riding outlook.  My riding, formerly a Liberal stronghold, is judged "too close to call."

Adrian Dix has the appearances of being ready to govern the province.  I would almost certainly support the NDP if I thought the outcome of the election was in doubt.  Much as I'd like to see the Liberal hold on my riding finally broken, I'm also a Green Party supporter.  The Greens have no chance of winning my riding, none at all.

Ah, decisions, decisions.  Will it be Greens or the NDP?

Now They're Coming for the Krill

People of the Pacific northwest know full well that krill are the foundation of our marine food chain.  Krill process plankton.  Krill feed the fish that feed the fish that feed the fish.  We eat the fish that ate the fish that ate the fish that ate the krill.  We're all connected.   Even the humpback and other giant baleen whales would starve without their diet of rich krill.

Which is why it was alarming to read in Asia Times Online that giant fishing trawlers from Europe and Asia are now stalking krill in Antarctic waters.

Penguins are a protected species, but the factory-sized trawlers are vacuuming up the tiny shrimp-like krill that are their main food source. The Southern Ocean is also becoming increasingly acidic from emissions of fossil fuels and will have a significant impact on krill populations, yet efforts to create two marine protected areas
in the Southern Ocean have been blocked by China, Russia and Norway.  

"The Southern Ocean is under increasing pressure from climate change and resource extraction, but areas such as the Ross Sea and East Antarctica are amongst the least impacted, healthiest, and most beautiful oceans in the world. They are one of the last remaining wildernesses on the planet and deemed a necessary ‘living laboratory' by scientists", said Onno Gross, a marine biologist and director of Deepwave, an ocean conservation NGO.

Of the world's 18 penguin species, 13 are now so threatened they need special protection. In the last few years, factory trawlers have made their way to the remote Southern Ocean to catch krill for the fast-growing trade to supply krill as fish meal for farmed salmon.

More recently, krill are being used to supply the booming health food and pharmaceutical markets for omega-3 three fatty acids believed to prevent heart disease and inflammatory conditions such as arthritis

I wonder how many of British Columbia's factory salmon farms use southern ocean krill?   As though we need another reason to rid the coast of that scourge.

The Liberals' Renaissance in Quebec.

Quebec's federal and provincial Liberals appear to be enjoying something of a renaissance.  The Toronto Star's Chantal Hebert figures the Trudeau Libs now give Mulcair's New Dems' Quebec-centric power base a serious challenge.

In an ever-expanding forest of positive polls for the Liberals, the latest CROP snapshot of Quebec public opinion stands out but not necessarily for the usual Justin Trudeau-related reasons.

...the poll suggests that Quebec is undergoing a Liberal revival, with both the federal and provincial parties in first place in voting intentions at 38 per cent.

Trudeau and Couillard are associated with a better-established brand than both their NDP and CAQ rivals. Over the past decade, that brand has been tarnished by the federal sponsorship scandal and by allegations of provincial corruption. With a fresh face at the helm of each of them, the CROP data suggests the impact of those episodes is fading.

Francophone voters are the agents of the Liberal recovery.

Society of Ob-Gyns Wants Boys Vaccinated for HPV

Canada's Society of Obstetricians & Gynecologists has set the cat among the fundamentalist pigeons this time.   They want all Canadian provinces to follow Prince Edward Island's lead and make HPV vaccination available to boys as well as girls.

HPV, or human papillomavirus, is generally considered a disease transmitted unknowingly by infected males to females.  There's a mistaken belief that males are unaffected by HPV and that the virus only plagues females.   Not so.  HPV can cause a variety of cancers in males also.

Because HPV is sexually transmitted it gets plenty of straight-laced parents' knickers in a bunch when talk comes around to vaccinating their virginal daughters who would never do that sort of thing, sex, by which they could become exposed.  No, of course not, what were we thinking?  It doesn't help that to be fully protected, the vaccine needs to be given during adolescence.  And there's also the reflexive resistance from the anti-flouride/anti-vaccine home schoolers.

So, good luck with that Ob-Gyns of Canada.  We salute you.

Why Does the F-35 Have Just One Engine? Blame It On Those Damned JarHeads.

A huge limiting factor of the F-35 is that it has just one engine.  In a vast, sparsely populated country with extreme weather (yes, that would be Canada), twin-engine reliability is a huge bonus.  One engine goes out - from a bird strike or mechanical failure, whatever - and you've still got one to let you limp back to the barn.

The F-35's vastly more capable big brother, the F-22, has twin engines.   So why just a single, massive jet engine for the F-35?  There is an answer.

When the F-35 was conceived it had to be designed to suit a lot of potential users.   It was supposed to replace most of the American fighter inventory.  That included the F-16, the F-18 and the AV8B, the Harrier.   That dictated three versions of the F-35, all of them sharing a somewhat similar airframe - similar but different.

The U.S. Air Force wasn't picky.   They wanted the ordinary, straight up warplane.   The U.S. Navy wanted a beefier version capable of operating at sea and withstanding the pounding of carrier launches and landings.   But - and there's always a "but" - the U.S. Marine Corps wanted a plane that could fly like their venerable Harrier jump jets.  The U.S.M.C. wanted a short-take off/vertical landing ground pounder.

The U.S.M.C. requirement meant that all three variants of the F-35 would be single-engine.   The airframe had to be designed to suit one big-ass boiler.   And it's for the convenience of the United States Marine Corps that Canada, and the rest of America's Aerial Foreign Legion, is going to have to bite it and go single-engine with all the problems and risks that entails.

Aviation Week's Bill Sweetman pondered what a twin-engine F-35 might look like.   Then it struck him.   It would look pretty much like this:

In case you didn't get the memo, that's China's new J-31 stealth fighter that has more than a passing resemblance to the F-35.   Some speculate that's because China is believed to have filched a lot of the design and computer code from F-35 contractors.

Oh well.

Crunching the F-35 Numbers. It's Anything You Want.

There's one thing F-35 pilots won't be seeing as much as they'd like - the inside of an F-35.   Instead they'll be spending a good deal more time pretending to be inside an F-35, in a simulator inside some cavernous hangar.

Now how the balance between actual stick and rudder time and simulator time is struck will depend on a lot of factors, some of them political.

One of the big political issues of the day, at least to prospective purchasers and operators of the F-35 light attack bomber, is the cost of operating the warplanes.   Some critics seem to think they'll be very expensive to fly.

U.S. Air Force general Chris Bogdan recently told nervous Dutch legislators that the F-35 would be barely 10% costlier than the hourly flying costs of their F-16s.  What's that old line - figures don't lie but liars figure? 

When it comes to crunching the F-35 numbers there are a lot of figures to be fiddled with.

Pentagon acquisition chief Frank Kendall says the cost-per-flying-hour figure for the F-35A recently provided by the stealthy fighter’s program executive officer to The Netherlands is more aggressive than the official figure that will go next month to Congress.

“It is with a certain set of assumptions,” Kendall told reporters during a roundtable April 24 at the Pentagon, that Bogdan arrived at that figure. “I’m not sure we want to use that set of assumptions.”

The figure forthcoming to Congress next month, however, will be lower than that provided in last year’s selected acquisition report (SAR) to Capitol Hill, he says. That report cited the F-35A flying hour cost at $31.9 thousand versus $22.5 thousand for the F-16 C/D.

He says that there are at least six different ways to calculate F-35 cost per flying hour, depending on what assumptions go into the figure. And, it can be misleading. If you fly a fleet less – as the F-35 is expected to be used owing to advances in simulators – the per-hour cost goes up. But, the overall ownership price may be as much or less than legacy fleets.

“The question that I think matters is what is the cost of ownership?” Kendall says. “What is it going to cost you to have comparable levels of readiness for that aircraft? … And, that is going to vary by country.” This depends on how much each operator flies the aircraft, how many spares are procured and what level of skilled maintainers are used for specific tasks, among other things.

The Aviation Week story makes clear there is an enormous amount of leeway if one wants to manipulate the numbers for the F-35.  And it turns out that Canada is saddled with a government that likes nothing better.

Give Me a Boilin' Hot Cup of Joe

Ol' Joe is in the hotseat in the House of Commons today.  The New Democrats plan to grill NatResMin Oliver over his remarks smearing leading climate scientist James Hansen.  Oliver who is openly inimical to parts of the country, including the entire province of British Columbia, accused the former head of NASA's Goddard Space Laboratory as "always crying wolf" for his opposition to the Athabasca Tar Sands and the Keystone XL pipeline.

Slackjaw Joe is also on record as claiming that he heard somewhere that the whole business of global warming is less than true.  That is a remarkable expression of sheer, willful ignorance from any politician, especially one claiming to represent Canada or any other Arctic nation.  The Arctic, where global warming is double the overall rate, where the sea ice is vanishing, where the tundra is drying out and catching fire, whose people are beginning to retreat from the rising sea, where the polar jet stream now lashes the northern hemisphere - all this means nothing to a Natural Resources minister.   What a despicable, evil creature is this Oliver.

Hint to Joe - It's an axiom of politics that one should never lead with one's chin.   That holds true for the chinless too, Joe.

And, Joe, here's something else to remember.  Natural resources are more than Athabasca sludge.  British Columbia is one giant natural resource - our forests, our rivers, our mountains, our coast, our fishery (the one Ottawa hasn't managed to kill off yet) - they're all natural resources and if you won't defend them, we will.

And here's a tip for the Frugal Fundamentalist, Sideshow Steve Harper.  Want to cut government spending?  You have way too much redundancy within your own cabinet.   You have four guys all doing the same job - Energy, Industry, Natural Resources, Environment - they're all pimping bitumen - all bitumen, all the time.  Pull the string in the back of their heads, they all come out with the same words. For all the good they're doing, one can do the job of four.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

English as the Official Language of the European Union?

There's a move afoot to have English declared the common language of the European Union and it's a German who is pushing the idea.   Here The Guardian gives a pretty clear reason why a common language might be helpful when representatives of the constituent nations sit down to parlay.

Money talks, especially in Brussels. A billion euros are usually "mil milhoes de euros" in Portuguese, or a thousand million. In Spanish, likewise, "billón" means a million million, so billion is "mil millones de euros". Confusingly, "billion" translates as "milijarde" into Croatian, or "miljard" into Dutch. When the French talk of "un billion", they are referring to what Britons call a trillion. Oh, and a German "Billiarde" is a French "quadrillion". Of course.

And so the suggestion of a common language to cut out the translation and communications nightmares.  Why English?  Because that's the language younger Euros are increasingly favouring.

In a keynote speech on the future of European integration in February, Joachim Gauck suggested English should become the EU's official language: "It is true to say that young people are growing up with English as the lingua franca. However, I feel that we should not simply let things take their course when it comes to linguistic integration." It was music to the ears of federalists and fiscal hawks: with English spoken in the corridors of Brussels, the EU would become more streamlined and more efficient.

But how realistic is it? To an extent, it would just confirm a trend already taking place. Since the "big bang" of eastern European enlargement in 2004, the use of French has declined in conference meetings – and German is these days an "official language" on paper only. 

It's a sensible proposal, no question, but that doesn't translate into universal acceptance.  The French, for example, are said to fear creeping Anglo-Saxon influence on notions political and economic.

Americans Settling In to Reality of Terrorism

The American people might just be getting terrorism fatigue after more than a decade of efforts by their politicians and media to keep them in a heightened state of anxiety.  How long can anyone do that and stay sane?   What price has already been exacted of them by those who have manipulated them since September, 2001?

A majority of Americans say occasional acts of terrorism are "part of life", and many doubt the government can do much more to prevent them, a new poll finds.

About three-quarters of Americans said they agree that "occasional acts of terrorism in the US will be part of life in the future", according to the Pew Research Centre for the People and the Press.

The share of Americans who see terrorist acts as "part of life" has stayed high since soon after the September 11, 2001, attacks. But the figure had declined a bit in recent years, with people younger than 30 notably less likely to expect terrorist acts. In the aftermath of the Boston marathon bombings, younger people have joined their elders in saying that some terrorist actions can be expected. 

The shift among the young has pushed the overall percentage of those who feel that way back to its previous high point.

Although most Americans expect terrorist acts will happen, a small minority say they are "very worried" about the prospect.

This is bad news for would-be terrorists and just as bad for the political classes and media barons who have accommodated the terrorists by inculcating fear among their own people.

Well, if they can reclaim the "home of the brave" maybe they can start working to recover the "land of the free."

It's a "No Lose World" Once You Have Captured the Political Process

The Great Recession of 2008 devastated broad swathes of the population of the developed world.  Foreclosures, unemployment, insolvency, homelessness, the gamut of economic misery.  For most but not for all, not for some.

A new report from the Pew Research Center finds that the first two years of the recovery were Manna from Heaven for those who had already cemented their capture of both economic and political power, the richest of the rich.   Nowhere was this more apparent than in the United States.

During the first two years of the nation’s economic recovery, the mean net worth of households in the upper 7% of the wealth distribution rose by an estimated 28%, while the mean net worth of households in the lower 93% dropped by 4%, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of newly released Census Bureau data.

From 2009 to 2011, the mean wealth of the 8 million households in the more affluent group rose to an estimated $3,173,895 from an estimated $2,476,244, while the mean wealth of the 111 million households in the less affluent group fell to an estimated $133,817 from an estimated $139,896.

These wide variances were driven by the fact that the stock and bond market rallied during the 2009 to 2011 period while the housing market remained flat.

From the end of the recession in 2009 through 2011 (the last year for which Census Bureau wealth data are available), the 8 million households in the U.S. with a net worth above $836,033 saw their aggregate wealth rise by an estimated $5.6 trillion, while the 111 million households with a net worth at or below that level saw their aggregate wealth decline by an estimated $0.6 trillion.

Because of these differences, wealth inequality increased during the first two years of the recovery. The upper 7% of households saw their aggregate share of the nation’s overall household wealth pie rise to 63% in 2011, up from 56% in 2009. On an individual household basis, the mean wealth of households in this more affluent group was almost 24 times that of those in the less affluent group in 2011. At the start of the recovery in 2009, that ratio had been less than 18-to-1.

When was the last time your net worth ballooned 28 per cent in the midst of a severe recession?   Now that wouldn't happen when government is "of the people, by the people, for the people."  It's more than just likely, however, when you have government of a few people, by a few people, for a few people.  This is not market-driven inequality but politically engineered inequality, the very sort of affliction documented by Stiglitz in The Price of Inequality.

How Do You Like Your Odds?

A decade ago, Britain's Astronomer Royal, cosmologist Martin Rees, wrote "Our Final Hour, A Scientist's Warning:  How Terror, Error, and Environmental Disaster Threaten Humankind's Future In This Century - On Earth and Beyond."   In it he makes compelling arguments that, with bio-terror and bio-error and similar man-made hazards that confront us today, mankind has a no better than 50/50 chance of surviving this century.

Lord Rees is convinced we are now on the verge of a post-humanity era that will see mankind undergo various forms of geo-engineering of our minds and bodies, various combinations of mind and computer, body and robot.  Gradually the percentages will shift and that won't be in favour of the human component either.

Now a team of the best and brightest have gathered at Oxford to explore whether we have reached the point of becoming a self-extinguishing species.

An international team of scientists, mathematicians and philosophers at Oxford University's Future of Humanity Institute is investigating the biggest dangers.

And they argue in a research paper, Existential Risk as a Global Priority, that international policymakers must pay serious attention to the reality of species-obliterating risks.

Last year there were more academic papers published on snowboarding than human extinction.

The Swedish-born director of the institute, Nick Bostrom, says the stakes couldn't be higher. If we get it wrong, this could be humanity's final century.

Bostrom thinks mankind could probably survive most of the major threats we commonly worry about - from nuclear war to asteroid strikes - based on our sheer numbers and our history of surviving major catclysms such as these in the past.  It's events we haven't experienced and can't properly foresee that worry him.

Dr Bostrom believes we've entered a new kind of technological era with the capacity to threaten our future as never before. These are "threats we have no track record of surviving".
  Likening it to a dangerous weapon in the hands of a child, he says the advance of technology has overtaken our capacity to control the possible consequences.

Experiments in areas such as synthetic biology, nanotechnology and machine intelligence are hurtling forward into the territory of the unintended and unpredictable.

Synthetic biology, where biology meets engineering, promises great medical benefits. But Dr Bostrom is concerned about unforeseen consequences in manipulating the boundaries of human biology.

Nanotechnology, working at a molecular or atomic level, could also become highly destructive if used for warfare, he argues. He has written that future governments will have a major challenge to control and restrict misuses.

There are also fears about how artificial or machine intelligence interact with the external world.

Such computer-driven "intelligence" might be a powerful tool in industry, medicine, agriculture or managing the economy.
But it also can be completely indifferent to any incidental damage.

We are already running risks of technology that's racing ahead of us, artificial intelligence nearing the point of turning autonomous.  There was a time, just a few decades ago, where much leading-edge scientific research was conducted in government labs in a sufficiently open setting where errors and hazards could be identified and contained or corrected.   Now much research has been privatized and is conducted behind closed doors.  Important good developments may remain cloaked because the funding corporation hasn't found a way to commercialize them or fears competition or some other factor.   Likewise, hazards are at greater risk of going undetected or being concealed, leaving the public at risk.

Lord Rees, along with Cambridge philosopher Huw Price and economist Sir Partha Dasgupta and Skype founder Jaan Tallinn, wants the proposed Centre for the Study of Existential Risk to evaluate such threats.

So should we be worried about an impending doomsday?

This isn't a dystopian fiction. It's not about a cat-stroking villain below a volcano. In fact, the institute in Oxford is in university offices above a gym, where self-preservation is about a treadmill and Lycra.

Dr Bostrom says there is a real gap between the speed of technological advance and our understanding of its implications.
"We're at the level of infants in moral responsibility, but with the technological capability of adults," he says.

"There is a bottleneck in human history. The human condition is going to change. It could be that we end in a catastrophe or that we are transformed by taking much greater control over our biology.

"It's not science fiction, religious doctrine or a late-night conversation in the pub.

"There is no plausible moral case not to take it seriously."

 If this has piqued your interest, here's a video of Lord Martin Rees giving one of his now classic addresses.

Footnote - Among his achievements, Lord Rees won the Templeton Prize in 2011.  The prize, worth about 1.2-million quid to the lucky winner, is awarded to a person who "has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life's spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works."

You might think that an odd award for a man who has no religious beliefs of any sort.   Lord Rees says he does go to church because it's part of his culture, not because he believes in the existence of god.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Trudeau Wastes No Time in Showing His Hand

If the polls are right and Justin Trudeau's Liberals manage to reclaim power from the Harper Cons in 2015 all signs are that Canada will continue to be governed on the principle of cynical opportunism.

The spinelessness of the Liberals in joining Harper on the undemocratic terrorism amendments and the FIPPA trade sellout to China suggests the Liberals will continue on the disastrous (for Canada) path charted by Ignatieff.

My suspicions that Justin is more Margaret than Pierre are confirmed.

Don't Mess With Texas, It Doesn't Need Any Help From You

In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings last week, word got out of a horrific explosion at a fertilizer plant in the town of West in Texas.   By some accounts the West Fertilizer Company was a disaster waiting to happen, poorly monitored and regulated.

Just reading about the disaster was enough to leave heads shaking.  But it wasn't until I saw this aerial view of the blast site in West, Texas, from Daily Kos that I truly appreciated that Texan "Lone Star" spirit.

Yeah, you saw it.  You have a potentially high-explosive fertilizer plant built smack in the midst of a high school, a middle school, a playground and a retirement home.

A Sensible Response to Terrorism

We North Americans are unduly susceptible to acts of terrorism if only because terrorist acts on our doorstep, while dramatic, are infrequent.

In the reign of Bush the Junior, an act of terrorism could call down All the King's Men and All the King's Horses on the perpetrators, real and imagined.

This week Der Spiegel has praise for Obama's handling of the Boston Marathon bombings.

The first official reactions heard in America after the bombings in Boston are encouraging. President Barack Obama took pains to remain calm, breaking with the deplorable tradition of the Bush years to promise revenge while invoking the rule of law. Obama knows full well that the United States needs no new anti-terrorism laws, no new government agencies, no expansion of police and intelligence operations and, most of all, no more inflammatory speeches.

The dramatic search for the two bombing suspects was undeniably a manhunt, and the social networks, especially Twitter, were filled with false accusations and hateful tirades. But none of this changes the quality of Obama's behavior, whose speech was statesmanlike in a positive sense: relaxed and filled with confidence in the president's own, broadly legitimized civil power.

Queen Elizabeth II served as a role model when she managed to set a similar tone after the London bombings in 2005. She spoke to her subjects of her sadness and sympathy for the victims, she thanked the emergency services and the people of London, and then she said, briefly and concisely: "Those who perpetrate these brutal acts against innocent people should know that they will not change our way of life."

This is what the voice of civilization sounds like, and it cannot be allowed to fall silent merely because a few cave dwellers are constantly feeling marginalized. Today and in the future, we should always reiterate the thoughts of the Queen's and Obama's calm words whenever terror happens to strike once again. In fact, the message to such murderers must always be the same: You cannot change our lives. You can blow up your bombs, but our culture, our values and our societies are stronger than your desire to destroy them. These are the best answers to terror of any stripe.

Unfortunately, Canada doesn't have political leadership of the calibre of Queen Elizabeth or Barack Obama.  We have third-raters like Harper and Toews who reflexively leap at the opportunity to exploit these incidents, inculcate fear to justify new, authoritarian powers, and, however unintentionally, make the terrorists' objectives that much more achievable.

Our leaders need to grow up.   So too do we.

Sinn Fein's Sordid Moment

Gerry Adams' brother, Liam stands in the dock, but it's Gerry Adams and Sinn Fein that are on trial.

Liam is accused of molesting and raping his daughter, Aine.  She claims to have been sexually assaulted by her father from 1977, when she was four, until 1983.

The greater question now has become how much Gerry Adams knew about the incest, when he knew it and whether he concealed the crimes to protect Sinn Fein.

Mr Adams testified he had known for many years about the rape allegations but did not tell police what he knew until 2009, shortly before Aine Adams went public with her accusations on Northern Ireland television.

She accused Sinn Fein of wanting her to stay silent for the party's image.

She accused Sinn Fein of wanting her to stay silent for the party's image.

Gerry Adams, 64, said his brother confessed he had molested his daughter when the two walked on a beach in the rain in 2000.

"He said it only happened the once," Mr Adams told Belfast Crown Court on Monday.

His brother's lawyer Eilis McDermott repeatedly accused him of lying under oath about his motives.

The lawyer said Gerry Adams made his 2009 statement to police "to save your political skin", with Sinn Fein about to be accused of hiding rapists within its movement.

Mr Adams countered that had he wanted to protect himself politically, he would not have got involved at all.

Gerry's account doesn't have the ring of truth to it.   By his own admission he knew about his brother's actions for years but he only went to the police about it when his niece was going public? 

Japan Threatens Force In Confrontation With China

Eight  Chinese government ships have entered disputed waters apparently headed for the Senkaku-Diaoyu islands.

Japan has warned that it will "expel by force" any Chinese landing on the islands.

The latest clash over the islands came as nearly 170 Japanese lawmakers visited the controversial Yasukuni war shrine in central Tokyo on Tuesday, seen as a potent symbol of Japan's imperialist past, riling its neighbours China and South Korea.

Tokyo summoned the Chinese ambassador to Japan after the state-owned Chinese ships entered its territorial waters while Beijing called the shrine visit an "attempt to deny Japan's history of aggression".
The flotilla is the biggest to sail into the disputed waters in a single day since Tokyo nationalised part of the archipelago in September.
The islands are surrounded by rich fishing grounds and are believed to harbour vast natural resources below the seabed.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vowed to "expel by force" any Chinese landing on the islands in the East China Sea, and promised "decisive action".

"We would never allow a landing," Mr Abe told parliament in response to questions from lawmakers, adding: "It would be natural for us to expel by force if [the Chinese] were to make a landing," he said.

It is feared in some quarters that war could inadvertently be triggered by Japanese and Chinese brinkmanship.  

The Need for Speed, Why Go Anywhere Without It?

When you're going "state of the art" you always run the risk that the adversaries you have in mind will quickly find the Achilles' Heel(s) in your latest & greatest technology.  It can be a lot easier and infinitely cheaper to find ways to counter a dramatic new technology than it was to create that advance in the first place.  It's the sort of thing that makes the boffins go "Doh" just like Homer Simpson.

There are growing signs of just that sort of early obsolescence happening with the overdue, over-priced and under-performing F-35 Joint Strike Fighter light attack bomber.

What do our "bad guys" know?  Plenty.  There has been plenty written about the F-35.   They're also believed to have stolen big chunks of its 9-million lines of code and other manufacturing and design data.  The Iranians snagged one of Lockheed's RQ-170 stealth drones and the Chinese are reported to have pillaged it, taking away materials and electronics.  It's a safe bet the Chinese won't stop anytime soon and will continue to filch whatever they can until the F-35 is finished testing in 2019.

When you're banking on secret technology and the other guy has made off with the blueprints, it loses a certain amount of its lustre.

The Chinese and the Russians believe they have already negated a good deal of the F-35's wow factor and they've got several more years to keep at it.

But we're told Canada must find a replacement for our aging fleet of CF-18s and very soon.   Fair enough.   We could always go for a '35, one that would fly the pants off Lockheed's F-35, Sukhoi's Su-35.   Even Business Insider says with all the current crop of fledgling 5th Generation fighters plagued with technical problems, the Russian 4th Gen Su-35 is the best thing on the market.

The Su-35, with L-band radar arrays fitted into its wing leading edges, is a stealth killer.  It's not limited to the X-band radars of most fighters, the radar that stealth technology is designed to defeat.  The Sukhoi has both.

The Russian super fighter also has a quality that was the hallmark of 4th Generation fighter technology, supercruise, and that it has in spades.   Supercruise is the ability to fly at supersonic speeds without having to resort to fuel-guzzling afterburner power.  All the best Gen 4 fighters have supercruise capability.  Why does it matter?  It allows the aircraft to cover great distances very quickly which is important when you're trying to intercept a target and even more important when you're trying to stay safely ahead of your pursuers.   When you have a limited range bomber like the F-35 that's not remotely stealthy from behind, not being able to outrun the competition is game over.

A few years ago a company known as Tactical Air Support was able to fly two privately owned Su-27's, the forerunner of today's Su-35.  The company's chief operating officer, Gerry Gallop, was a former U.S. Navy Top Gun instructor who had logged many hours in everything from the F-4 Phantom including the F-14, F-15, F-16 and  F/A-18.

Gallop was amazed at how effortlessly and fuel efficiently the Su-27 maintained supersonic speeds.

"I take it out of burner and I'm just at mil power and the speed dropped down to--I was still supersonic," he says. "By the time we got done, 25 minutes supersonic, I looked at the gas and go 'you know I could turn around fly back the way I came supersonic and still have a normal amount of gas left to land'," Gallop says. "I had more fuel when I was done that profile than a single centerline Hornet had on the ramp."
The Flanker holds 9,400Kg (20,700lbs) of fuel, which is similar to an F-14 with two external tanks, Gallop says. "I'm up there clipping off 13 nautical miles a minute and I'm burning 110kg per minute," he continues. "I took off with 9,400 and I'm burning 110kg per minute at Mach 1.3, so you look at that and go 'I can be supersonic a long time and you look at how many miles you can fly at that speed.'"
Part of the reason the Flanker performs so well at those speeds is because the jet was optimized to perform in the transonic and low supersonic regime--between Mach 1.05 and Mach 1.2--but it will easily run to Mach 2+.
The Su-35 may be the best fighter in the air for decades to come but it's a political non-starter for Canada.  We're stuck beneath America's umbrella which probably means we'll be shelling out huge bucks for a light bomber that's almost certain to deliver far less than was promised.

A Canadian Muslim Speaks Out

Straight from enduring TorStar Rosie DiManno's stomach-churning screen on the terrorists in our midst, I came upon Toronto Muslim, Murtaza Hussain's insightful comments in The Guardian.

It is a curious experience to feel that the benign normality of your life is constantly held hostage to forces outside your ability to control. That effort of cultivating a positive image – building relationships, respecting the law, living honestly, giving charity, contributing to civil society – could potentially be degraded or wiped out by forces far beyond your scope of influence as an individual.

Today, many Americans live in fear of the random nihilistic violence of terrorists. A 2011 Gallup poll showed that roughly 36% of Americans worry about a potential terrorist attack killing them or one of their family members – down from post-9/11 highs but still very significant. While academic studies on the subject have shown that the actual risk of such an event occurring is extremely low, the heinous violence at the Boston Marathon this past week shows that even the rarest of "black swan events" do eventually come to pass.

However, to Muslim Americans and other ordinary Muslim citizens of western countries, the fear of being victimized by a terrorist attack is magnified many times. While, like their fellow citizens, the chance of them being personally harmed in such an attack is remote, they are haunted by the very real danger that in the aftermath they will be subjected to greater public scrutiny, abuse, suspicion and hostility. Besides the fear of governments targeting their communities and curtailing their individual freedom, there exists an even broader and more diffuse fear.

While hate crimes targeting Muslims tend to spike in the aftermath of terror attacks (as has sadly been evidenced in attacks against ordinary Muslim Americans in Boston and New York after the marathon bombing), these tend to be exceptional cases. The real damage done to the social fabric by such attacks is the erosion of trust and respect between society at large and its Muslim minorities.

Regardless of the actions of individual Muslims – the overwhelming majority of whom experience events such as terrorist attacks with just as much disbelief, trauma and helplessness as their co-citizens – they are nevertheless viewed as being somehow associated with them, simply due to their ethnic or religious background. In the aftermath of the Boston bombings, the unanimous feeling among my many Muslim friends, family and acquaintances was one of overwhelming fear and dread that the perpetrator might also be someone who professes to share our religious identity. 

For many Muslim citizens of western countries – especially among the young – where they live today is the only home they have ever known and the only place they have ever thoroughly understood or felt affection for. The anxiety that despite respecting society's rules, the welcome mat may still one day be pulled out from under you is very real and common. Given the statements of some politicians and popular media figures, these concerns do not seem such a stretch.

Contrary to some hyperbolic depictions of Muslim minorities as a nefarious fifth column within society, the average Muslim has about as much control of, or connection to, the vile actions of terrorists as the average white American does to school shootings or movie theater massacres. But based on the fact that there are violent individuals in the world who identify as Muslim, some completely deny that moderate Muslims even exist.

At present, the public discourse around terrorism and minority groups renders law-abiding, honest citizens unable to feel completely secure in society. However much we condemn such attacks, distance ourselves from them, identify with the victims, and offer our support to society, we are liable to be viewed with reflexive suspicion, as perennial "outsiders" in the national fabric.