Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas, courtesy of Jan Steen

I love this painting:

It's called "Het Sint-Nicolaasfeest" (The Feast of St. Nicholas) by Jan Steen.

I discovered it here: The Flemish Claim To Sinterklaas In America.

Yesterday, December 6th, children in Flanders received gifts. These gifts ostensibly come from Sinterklaas with the aid of his Moor assistant, "Swarte Piet". This tradition had strong Catholic origins, which of course made it anathema to 17th century convicted Calvinists. Thankfully, key members of the Dutch Reformed Church in Nieuw Nederland who had roots in officially Catholic Flanders, were unwilling to give up their cultural traditions. [...]

That inspired me to look up the facts about the painting. I didn't save the links, so I'm going to try to summarize what I read about it from memory.

It's believed to be painted around 1665-1668, and shows a Catholic family celebrating the Feast of St. Nicholas.

"Sinterklaas" would supposedly come down the chimney while everyone slept, and leave goodies in the shoes of the children. But if the children had been naughty, they would get something that wasn't nice. Thus, the fun begins!

See the boy on the left, who's crying? He apparently had been naughty, and got a lump of coal or something equally disappointing in his shoe. Witness the smirking older girl, probably his sister, passing the shoe around for everyone to see. And another sibling, a younger brother, pointing, who's also pleased by his brother's humiliation, in that way that siblings will do. The father can be seen sitting in the background, looking rather pleased with himself.

In the foreground, the mother is doting on a little girl (often described as "spoiled" in most of the descriptions I read), who is clinging to a doll. The doll is supposed to be a saint (I forget the name) who is known for protecting children.

Leaning against the table next to the mother is an odd piece of decorated bread. It's a special loaf made for the feast. The Protestants at one time passed laws forbidding the bread to be made, condemning the practice as "Papist". But apparently the law was largely ignored.

On the right of the painting you can see a young man holding a baby and pointing upward towards the chimney. He's telling the baby the story of Sinterklaas, and how he comes down the chimney bringing gifts. The little pie-faced boy next to them with his mouth wide open, is singing a song of thanks to the Saint, for bringing all the goodies.

And last but not least, in the background you see grandma, who seems to be motioning to the crying boy to come over to her. Does she have something for him behind that curtain? So it will be a happy Christmas for everyone after all!

The expressions on the faces are so realistic, and all the little things going on, the details... it's timeless. I love it!

A high-resolution version can be seen on Wikipedia. Click on the link, then click on the picture to zoom in even closer:

Jan Steen - Het Sint Nicolaasfeest

Merry Christmas, and best wishes to all for the Holidays.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Another Gold Fish Substitute: Rosy Barbs

A while back, I posted about the difficulty of keeping gold fish in an aquarium, and using Gold Barbs as a substitute. I've since found anther aquarium fish that's and excellent choice:

Details About the Rosy Barb Fish
One of the most popular types of freshwater tropical fish is the Rosy Barb fish, which is also known as the Red Barb fish. This tropical fish thrives in large groups, 5 or more red barb members. As a schooling fish, it is naturally sociable and peaceful when relating to its own kind, as well as other types of fish in the aquarium. With this kind of temperament, they are perfect for an aquarium with a lot of inhabitants. Here is more information about the Rosy Barb.

Physical Appearance

The body of the Rosy Barb can be described as tall, increasing width vertically as it gets older. It can be easily mistaken for gold fish from the perspective of novice fish observers because of its color which can range from yellow to red, but the most common coloration is metallic silver. The shade of red in the male Rosy Barb becomes more vivid during breeding time, and this is where the name of the fish comes from. The male is generally smaller than the female and it also rarely displays the color yellow on its body unlike the female. The body size and color may vary between sexes, but both of them have black dots in their tail fin and shiny scales that usually come in the color green and are highly reflective. [...]

The golden variety looks particularly like a goldfish:

The ones I have look more like this:

They remind me of Veiltail Goldfish. Very elegant, very hardy, easy to care for. The temperature range they like can go as low as 64 degrees, which is lower than most tropical fish can go. Real gold fish can tolerate much lower temperatures, but that's one of the reasons they do so well in ponds. So Rosy Barbs are more of a temperate water fish, than a cold water fish.

In the wild they can grow up to 6 inches, but in aquariums 4 inches seems to be the maximum size they reach.

I find Rosy Barbs to be an excellent Aquarium substitute for goldfish.

Also see:

Rosy Barb Family: Cyprinidae

Rosy Barb Fact Sheet

So what is holding up Congress?

The media sides with the president and says it's the Republican's "playing politics". But in truth, there is plenty of politics on both sides of the Isle:

Obama on payroll tax cut: "Enough is enough"
President Obama on Thursday continued his campaign on behalf of a short-term extension of the payroll tax cut, blasting House Republicans for holding up a Senate-passed bill and wondering, "Has this place become so dysfunctional that even when people agree to things we can't do it?"

"It doesn't make any sense," he told reporters in a press conference. "Enough is enough."


Mr. Obama, in his remarks, called on Republicans to get this done "sooner rather than later."

"This should not be hard," he said. "We all agree it should happen. I believe it's going to happen sooner or later. Why not make it sooner rather than later? [...]

This article just quotes Obama tut-tuting about the Republicans like an Old School Marm complaining about a naughty child. All too typical rubbishy reporting, that mostly just parrots what Obama says. Anyone would think this is happening for no-reason at all.

This next article looks a bit deeper, and at least attempts to anwswer Obama's rhetorical question, "Why not make it sooner rather than later?":

Understanding Congress' payroll tax cut fight
WASHINGTON (AP) — If President Barack Obama, the House and the Senate all want to extend a Social Security payroll tax cut and jobless benefits through next year, why are they fighting so bitterly over doing it?

Obama, House Democrats and lopsided majorities of both parties in the Senate want to immediately renew the tax cut and jobless benefits for the next two months, and find a way later to extend them through 2012. House Republicans want to do it for a full year right away.

That doesn't sound like an unbridgeable gap. Yet the fight has evolved into a year-end partisan grudge match with no clear resolution in sight and with huge political and economic stakes.


Q: While they work through these differences, why the fuss over whether Congress first approves a two-month or a one-year plan?

A: For one thing, many freshman and conservative House Republicans are tired of compromising with the Senate and want their leaders to take a stand. They also say a two-month extension of the payroll tax cut would create uncertainty for taxpayers and businesses and problems for employers' payroll systems.

Many House Republicans hate the idea of keeping the issue alive until March 1, when the two-month bill would expire. Democrats have damaged Republicans politically with proposals to pay for the payroll tax cut by boosting levies on the rich. GOP lawmakers solidly oppose that approach, saying it would discourage job creation, and Democrats have used that to argue that Republicans are defending the wealthy at the expense of the middle class.

That's not an argument Republicans want to spend the 2012 election year having. As a result, many want to avoid additional votes on the matter next year, and they don't want to let Obama spend next month's State of the Union address discussing it. They would rather spend 2012 voting on issues they feel are on their terrain, like blocking Obama administration regulations, reducing the size of government and cutting its spending.

Q: What about Democrats?

A: They say the tax cut and unemployment coverage must be renewed to protect the millions who would be hurt Jan. 1. They also have no desire to surrender leverage by abandoning the two-month deal negotiated by the Senate's Reid and McConnell.

But they, too, have political motivations.

Democrats cite economists who say the payroll tax would pump enough money into the economy to help it grow slightly next year. Knowing that the 2012 presidential and congressional races are likely to hinge on the economy's performance, they want to take no chances with anything that might tip the economy in the wrong direction. To them, that means the payroll tax cut and extra jobless coverage must be extended. [...]

There are more Questions with Answers within the article that explain things. But for most people, this will be "sound bites" portraying the Republicans as obstructionists. The Republicans had better learn to deal with it. Quickly.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Is Ham Radio in the US experiencing a revival?

It may be, if the number of people getting new licenses is an indicator:

Radio Days Are Back: Ham Radio Licenses at an All-Time High
The newest trend in American communication isn't another smartphone from Apple or Google but one of the elder statesmen of communication: Ham radio licenses are at an all time high, with over 700,000 licenses in the United States, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

Ham radio first took the nation by storm nearly a hundred years ago. Last month the FCC logged 700,314 licenses, with nearly 40,000 new ones in the last five years. Compare that with 2005 when only 662,600 people hammed it up and you'll see why the American Radio Relay League -- the authority on all things ham -- is calling it a "golden age."


According to the American Radio Relay League, retirees and emergency groups are among the main reasons for the nearly 30,000 new hams that pick up the hobby each year.

Ham is a boon for safety as well as a fun pastime: When normal communications methods fail and cellphone towers are jammed, ham radios will still work and can help out in disaster situations, because they don’t require towers to relay the signal.

“Amateur radio came into play very much during the major earthquake in the Bay Area in 1989. The only thing I had was a little handheld radio. Nothing else worked, telephones didn’t work, cellphones didn’t work, amateur radio just kept right on working,” Pritchett said. [...]

And besides being useful, it's interesting and fun too. Read the whole thing for embedded links, video and more.

Free South Africa... Again

Free it from the South African "State Secrets Act". It sounds like something from the apartheid days, that used to cause "International Outrage":

South Africa passes secrecy bill, opposition: dark day for freedom
South Africa’s parliament passed a law to protect state secrets Tuesday. Opposition parties, labor unions and media companies protested that it limits free speech and stifles efforts to expose corruption.

The ruling African National Congress pushed the Protection of State Information Bill through the parliament by 229 votes to 107. Under this law, anyone revealing a state classified secret would face up to 25 years in jail.


Critics are concerned that officials will abuse the bill, while the press criticized it as an attempt to silence journalists.

Members of the South African National Editors’ Forum and the Parliamentary Press Gallery Association took to streets in Cape Town.

“We are broken inside,” Mondli Makhanya, editor-in-chief of Avusa Ltd. Newspapers and the chairman of the forum. “We never thought we’d come here dressed in black to actually witness democracy, this constitution of ours, being betrayed.”

Desmond Tutu, the retired Anglican archbishop and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, said Monday that the legislation was an insult to South Africans.

The law raised doubts about the South Africa’s commitment to fight corruption. The state’s relationship with the local media has deteriorated as newspapers reported on scandals, including those of President Jacob Zuma.

“Today is a dark day for freedom of expression in South Africa. This fatally flawed bill, which is totally at odds with the South African Constitution, takes us right back to the apartheid-era restrictions on free speech,” said Noel Kututwa, Amnesty International’s deputy director for Africa.

Opposition parties plan to challenge the bill at the Constitutional Court. [...]

Where are the expressions of International Outrage now? How about even an international expression of disapproval? Or even a wimper of concern?

I won't hold my breath waiting.

But I am hoping that the bill will be successfully challenged and defeated.

Also see:

South Africa Passes Law to Restrict Reporting of Government Secrets

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Will Greece, Italy and other PIIGS sink the Euro?

For my fishtank, I got one of those Greco-Roman Ruins backgrounds. I thought perhaps, to make it contemporary, all I needed to do was add a Euro ATM machine:

It would be ironic if Greece and Italy, from which the principles of Western Civilization sprang, turn out to be also the springboard for it's collapse and ruin.

Is it really that bad? I can't say for sure. But it does look alarming, as the Europeans seem unable to contain the problem:

Spain and France: Market says you're next!
NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Next up on the 2011 Europe Financial Calamity tour? Spain and France.

Yes, government bond yields in Italy are still climbing -- even after the resignation of Silvio Berlusconi. With the Italian 10-year back above 7%, it's clear that investors are still very nervous about the debt problems in Europe's boot.

But perhaps more alarming is the fact that the market is now increasingly wary of Italy's Mediterranean neighbors as well.

Yields on Spain's 10-year bond have climbed to about 6.3%. That's dangerously close to the 7% level that many investors feel could signal the need for a Spanish bailout.

And France's bonds are starting to look like French toast. With yields now around 3.67%, that puts the "pain" in pain perdu. (Yes, I watch Top Chef.)


The verdict from the experts I spoke to: Unless the European Central Bank steps up to the plate with a real plan to stop the bleeding, Europe will keep bleeding.

"The market keeps looking ahead to the next potential victim in Europe," said Jurgen Odenius, chief economist for Prudential Fixed Income in Newark, N.J. "Volatility is rising because there is no comprehensive, credible solution. It's becoming readily apparent that there's only one game in town, an ECB rescue."

Europe: New leaders, same debt crisis

Odenius said he doubts that Europe will be able to convince China and other global sovereign wealth funds to put up enough capital to increase the leverage of the European Financial Stability Facility bailout fund. That means the ECB may have to be the proverbial lender of last resort.

If the ECB does not take more bold action -- namely a strong commitment to keep buying more sovereign debt -- Odenius thinks Spanish yields may soon hit 7% like in Italy. And if that happens, France could also be in serious trouble.

"The French have problems in their banking system related to Italy, Spain and other countries. Investors are not suggesting that France is a crisis just yet, but it is murky," he said.

Michelle Gibley, senior market analyst with the Schwab Center for Financial Research in Denver, agreed. European leaders need to bust out a "bazooka" to deal with the debt crisis, she said.


But the problem facing Europe right now is that leaders haven't even acknowledged they have a big financial weapon, let alone talk about a willingness to use it.

"I am concerned that European policy makers have yet to find the bazooka," Gibley said. "The crisis is rolling from one nation to the next. The contagion has not been contained."

Eurozone teeters on edge of recession

Her biggest worry is that European governments are simply choosing to focus on austerity to deal with their fiscal problems. But while budget cuts, higher taxes and more responsible spending can help cut onerous debt loads, such actions do nothing to help stimulate their economies.

"The debt crisis is now potentially entering a dangerous cycle where austerity just reduces growth, borrowing costs continue to rise and credit ratings get downgraded. That's because nobody is addressing growth," Gibley said. "How much more turmoil does there need to be before the ECB does more?" [...]

But how much more CAN they do? Can they stimulate economic growth, sufficient enough to stay on top of their debt payments? If they don't have a bazooka, will they get one in time?

It all remains to be seen. Hopefully not on a fish tank backdrop.

Also see:

Why Greece is in trouble. And a warning for us.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Curing Heart Failure? Is it possible?

Has the irreversible become reversible? The evidence is certainly interesting:

Studies: Stem cells reverse heart damage
[...] Conventional wisdom took a hit Monday, as Bolli's group and a team from Cedars-Sinai each reported that stem cell therapies were able to reverse heart damage, without dangerous side effects, at least in a small group of patients.

In Bolli's study, published in The Lancet, 16 patients with severe heart failure received a purified batch of cardiac stem cells. Within a year, their heart function markedly improved. The heart's pumping ability can be quantified through the "Left Ventricle Ejection Fraction," a measure of how much blood the heart pumps with each contraction. A patient with an LVEF of less than 40% is considered to suffer severe heart failure. When the study began, Bolli's patients had an average LVEF of 30.3%. Four months after receiving stem cells, it was 38.5%. Among seven patients who were followed for a full year, it improved to an astounding 42.5%. A control group of seven patients, given nothing but standard maintenance medications, showed no improvement at all.

"We were surprised by the magnitude of improvement," says Bolli, who says traditional therapies, such as placing a stent to physically widen the patient's artery, typically make a smaller difference. Prior to treatment, Mike Jones couldn't walk to the restroom without stopping for breath, says Bolli. "Now he can drive a tractor on his farm, even play basketball with his grandchildren. His life was transformed."


"This is unprecedented, the first time anyone has grown living heart muscle," says Marban. "No one else has demonstrated that. It's very gratifying, especially when the conventional teaching has been that the damage is irreversible."

Perhaps even more important, no treated patient in either study suffered a significant health setback.

The twin findings are a boost to the notion that the heart contains the seeds of its own rebirth. For years, doctors believed that heart cells, once destroyed, were gone forever. But in a series of experiments, researchers including Bolli's collaborator, Dr. Piero Anversa, found that the heart contains a type of stem cell that can develop into either heart muscle or blood vessel components -- in essence, whatever the heart requires at a particular point in time. The problem for patients like Mike Jones or Ken Milles is that there simply aren't enough of these repair cells waiting around. The experimental treatments involve removing stem cells through a biopsy, and making millions of copies in a laboratory.

The Bolli/Anversa group and Marban's team both used cardiac stem cells, but Bolli and Anversa "purified" the CSCs, so that more than 90% of the infusion was actual stem cells. Marban, on the other hand, used a mixture of stem cells and other types of cells extracted from the patient's heart. "We've found that the mixture is more potent than any subtype we've been able to isolate," he says. He says the additional cells may help by providing a supportive environment for the stem cells to multiply.


Bolli says he'll have to temper his enthusiasm until he can duplicate the results in larger studies, definitive enough to get stem cell therapy approved as a standard treatment. "If a phase 3 study confirmed this, it would be the biggest advance in cardiology in my lifetime. We would possibly be curing heart failure. It would be a revolution."

Wow. Read the whole thing.

Friday, November 04, 2011

My Surrogate Goldfish Substitute: The Gold Barb

I did a post earlier about the shocking truth about the common goldfish; about how, when properly cared for, they can live for decades and grow to be a foot long, requiring enormous aquariums and frequent water changes. Too much fuss! They are more easily kept in a POND.

I wanted a SMALL, golden, coldwater fish that would stay small, to be a surrogate replacement for my desire to keep small gold fish. And I think I've found it:

The Gold Barb (Puntius semifasciolatus)
Max. size: 7cm / 2.8inches
pH range: 6 – 8
dH range: 5-19
Temperature range: 18 – 24°C / 64.5 – 75°F
Care Moderate

Common names- Gold Finned Barb, Golden Barb, China Barb

The Gold Barb is a popular fish amongst aquarium keepers. Living between four and six years they originate from the sub-tropical parts of South East Asia and is exclusively native to China, Laos and Vietnam although it has now been introduced to other countries The Bright colours of the Gold Barb and their active personality add charm to any aquarium. This coupled with their ease of care makes the Gold Barb an ideal fish for beginners and experts alike.

Gold Barb are shoaling fish and should ideally be kept in groups of at least six. Living up to six years in age they are docile fish that make a good addition to a community tank when paired with fish with similar personalities and care needs.

It is known by several different names, most commonly referred to in the USA as the China barb.

The Gold Barb belongs to the minnow family, and is a medium long barb. Its body has a complete lateral line and the last simple dorsal ray is serrated. It has a pair of barbels located at the corners of the mouth on the upper jaw. The female tends to be duller than the male and bulkier. During the breeding period, the male golden barb's belly will change colour to a vivid orange.

They are mid to bottom level fish and need a tank of around fifteen gallons or more to be kept happily.

They are very active fish and need plenty of open space with plenty of plants at the back and sides of the aquarium as well as a strong current to mimic their natural conditions. [...]

They aren't as much of a "cold" water fish as a true goldfish, but they can live in an unheated aquarium in a house kept at normal room temperature.

And of course, they get on with other barbs/minnows. I've never collected them before, so I'm looking forward to it.

Wikipedia: Gold Barbs
[...] The Gold Barb, a gold colour variant of the China Barb, is an active, peaceful schooling species that spends most of its time in the mid-level and bottom of the water. Its typical lifespan in captivity is around four to six years. This peaceful green-gold fish is often used in community tanks by fish keeping hobbyists. It breeds readily in outdoor pools and free-standing ponds during summer months, and withstands cooler temperatures better than other tropical fish. However, it does not stand the cold as well as its original plainer China barb counterparts.

Albino variants of the Gold barbs have been produced by Dennis Wilcox in the 1970s in the US. Gold barbs with no black markings have been observed by Stanislav Frank in Europe also around that time. Flesh colour (pink) specimens appeared by 1990s. Tri-colour, ie, black, orange and pink specimens appeared recently. [...]
So there are variations, too. Goody!

Also see:

Gold Barb Fact Sheet


A very large and growing sunspot has appeared

Visualization of solar flare being ejected from the sun on November 3
courtesy NASA Solar Dynamics

Monster sunspot poses threat of significant solar storms
A major sunspot is presently emerging on the surface of the solar disk facing Earth. According to Jess Whittington at NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC), the huge and still growing sunspot is the most active part of the sun since 2005.

The area is called Region 1339 and is being referred to as a “benevolent monster.” 8.3 times bigger than Earth, it generated a solar flare which shot out a burst of charged particles yesterday but - this time - was not aimed at Earth.

However, this extremely active area of the sun will be facing earth for about two weeks. At this time there is no way to predict whether new flares will generate significant solar storms aimed towards Earth and, if so, whether they could result in geomagnetic storms capable of dire consequences on “life as we know it”. [...]

Read the whole thing, for embedded links and more.

Who should be allowed to die?

And what is the criteria to decide?

Put the elderly on ice?
(CNN) -- No one has come out yet and explicitly suggested that old folks like me (I am about to turn 83) should be treated the way the Eskimos, as folklore has it, used to treat theirs: put on an ice floe and left to float away into the sunset. We are, however, coming dangerously close.


... Once we set an age after which we shall provide mainly palliative care, economic pressures may well push us to ratchet down the age. If 80 was a good number a few years ago, given the huge deficit and the pressure to cut Medicare expenditures, there seems no obvious reason not to lower the cut-off age to, say, 70. And nations that have weaker economies, the logic would follow, should cut off interventionist care at an even younger age. Say, 50 for Guatemala?

Above all, age is the wrong criterion. The capacity to recover and return to a meaningful life is the proper criterion.

Thus, if a person is young but has a terminal disease, say, advanced pancreatic cancer, and physicians determine that he has but a few months, maybe weeks, to live (a determination doctors often make), he may be spared aggressive interventions and be provided with mainly palliative care. In contrast, an 80-year-old with, say, pneumonia -- who can return to his family and friends to be loved and give love, contribute to the community through his volunteering and enjoy his retirement he earned with decades of work -- should be given all the treatments needed to return him to his life (which in my case includes a full-time job and some work on the side). [...]

Sounds like someone is worried about the "death panels" that Sara Palin warned about. A bit ironic, given the author's credentials. But the article is a thoughtful examination of the topic.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

The shocking truth about the common goldfish

When I was a kid, I got my first goldfish at a supermarket givaway. They were fish much like this:

Such fish can be found in pet stores as "feeder fish"; live food for larger fish to eat. I kept good care of mine, changed their water often, but they didn't last long anyway. I was told "gold fish don't live very long." But it got me interested in keeping fish, and got me started with my first 10 gal. tropical fish aquarium.

Since then I've always been interested in aquarium fish. In the early 1990's, I tried keeping goldfish again, fancy goldfish, just three of them in a 15 gallon aquarium, with good filtration, etc. Despite my best efforts, they didn't last all that long either.

Many years later; I'm living on a small farm. We have a 300 gallon tub, it's made to hold drinking water for livestock, but we just use it to hold rainwater or creek water for watering green house plants.

During the summer, it becomes a breeding pool for mosquitoes. We usually add anti-mosquito biscuits to the water, but this past summer, we bought a bag of "feeder" goldfish instead, and dumped them in to eat the mosquito larvae.

The water got murky, so we used an old pump and set up a charcoal/ammonia stone filter up in an old cat liter bucket, with a roll of floss-like material in it.

It worked quite well. The water stayed clean and clear. We took buckets of water out to water the greenhouse plants, and occasionally replenished the tub with water from our creek. We fed the goldfish flaked food for goldfish. They got very tame and friendly. There are about 16 of them now.

We figured the goldfish would croak by the end of summer, but they haven't. In fact, they seem to be thriving and getting bigger.

So why haven't they died, like all the one's I've kept in aquariums? Well, it seems that by keeping them in a large filtered tub, and taking out part of the water and replenishing it on a regular basis, we were inadvertently providing the ideal conditions for keeping goldfish.

I've been reading up on goldfish, from many different websites. It seems that goldfish aquariums require frequent partial water changes, of 30% or so, every few weeks. Even if the water is filtered! This is because goldfish have no stomaches, only an intestine. Thus they produce a lot of waste and foul the water quickly. Filtration alone will not prevent buildup of certain toxins over time, requiring water changes.

I also found out that Goldfish DO live very long, 20+ years typically, 40+ years rarely, if cared for properly. The following site lists several points worth noting about the proper care of goldfish:

Goldfish (Carassius auratus)
[...] Goldfish should NEVER be kept in unfiltered bowl environments. This is not a suitable home for any living creature.

Fancy Goldfish need at least 75.7 Litres (20 US G.) per Goldfish and Common Goldfish need at least 208.2 Litres (55 US G.) per goldfish. If well cared for, Fancies can get around 20.3cm (8") long and Commons over 30.5cm (12"), so adequate room for swimming and turning is also necessary. For this reason, Commons do best in a pond environment.

* It is myth that Goldfish only grow to the size of their tank or that there are slow growing varieties.

Goldfish are large and messy fish, so you should have filters that move at least four times the amount of water in the tank per hour. Very high flow rates greater than seven times tank volume may be harmful as some varieties of Goldfish are weak swimmers. Filters with separate areas for mechanical and biological are best. [...]

I was shocked that they suggest 55 gal. PER FISH, for a common goldfish. But those little feeder fish are only small because they are babies. According to one video, they can grow quite large in just 3 years:

Yikes! The large one is a foot long! They are in a 75 gal. tank. Some sites I read said you only need 20 gal. for the first fish, and 10 gal. for each additional fish. But perhaps that's for the fancy ones, which also get big, but are still smaller than the plain ones.

So now I know why my "feeders" have lived; they got plenty of room, and regular water changes. But what's next? Am I going to have them for 20+ years?

Who knows? It's early days yet. They have yet to survive an Oregon winter outside (but I believe the pool is deep enough to allow them to survive the types of freezes we have). The cat, and local raccoons haven't discovered them yet; but it's a deep pool, so they could have a hard time accessing it.

What I DO know for sure is, that they have already lived longer than they would have if they were sold as fishfood for larger fish, as they were meant to be. So whatever length of life they have now is gravy. I will keep taking care of them, and enjoy them for however much longer they last.

For more Goldfish FAQ and advice, also see:

Common myths about goldfish


Monday, October 31, 2011

Beggars can't be choosers. Or CAN they?

Greece to hold referendum on Europe debt deal
[...] "This referendum will be a supreme act of democracy and of patriotism," Papandreou said, apparently catching many lawmakers by surprise. "The [Greek] citizen will be called upon to say a big 'yes' or 'no' to the new loan arrangement."

But asking voters to support harsh austerity measures that were part of a painstakingly crafted bargain with Greece's creditors casts uncertainty over the country's ability to meet its part of the deal.

Greece is facing the possibility of a devastating default that could imperil the fate of Europe's single currency, shatter global markets and get the country evicted from the 17-nation Eurozone.


Angelos Tolkas, a government spokesman, said details involving a referendum were under review. It would be the first such public ballot in Greece since 1974, when voters decided to abolish the monarchy after a brutal military dictatorship.

"It will most likely take place in January and it will be binding," Tolkas said.


A poll published in the To Vima weekly newspaper over the weekend showed 6 in 10 Greeks opposing last week's rescue deal, many fearing more cutbacks in wages and jobs. Still, 54.2% supported the idea of a referendum, while 40% believed Parliament should decide whether the deal makes sense for Greece.

Whispers about a referendum had been heard for weeks. Still, Papandreou surprised opposition rivals, and even some of his aides.

Members of the Communist Party referred to the move as blackmail. Rival conservatives said Papandreou was dangerous, with New Democracy party spokesman Yannis Michelakis saying that instead of "withdrawing honorably, [Papandreou] dynamites everything."

Senior government officials said Papandreou could push the agreement through Parliament should the public knock down the debt deal in the referendum.

Whatever the contingency plan, Christopher Pissarides, a Nobel economics laureate, told Sky News, "a rejection [of the European deal] will be disastrous."

"Greece will default immediately," Pissarides said, "and I can't see them staying in the euro having rejected such a vital EU plan."

So if they decide having half of their debt eliminated isn't good enough, they will take the global economy down with them? I thought kicking them out of the EU was not an option?

Pure democracies always destroy themselves. Is that what we are going to see here? The Greek president using his "dynamite" and going out with a bang? And taking the global economy with him?

I guess we'll see in January, won't we?

Also see:

Why Greece is in trouble. And a warning for us.


Sunday, October 30, 2011

Sunday Funny 10-30-11

But is this really anything new? I don't think there has ever been a candidate I ever really got "excited" about, ever since I was able to vote. It's an imperfect world, with imperfect people, candidates, political parties and politics.

Quite often you have to choose the lesser of two evils, and make the most of it.
It's called "working with what you have", V.S. "pie in the sky".

Northeast gets Snow, No Power, for Halloween

Snow smacks Northeast; power could be out for days
SOUTH WINDSOR, Conn. (AP) — Millions of people from Maine to Maryland were without power as an unseasonably early nor'easter dumped heavy, wet snow over the weekend on a region more used to gaping at leaves in October than shoveling snow.

The snow was due to stop falling in New England late Sunday, but Halloween will likely come and go before many of the more than 3 million without electricity see it restored, officials warned. Several officials referred to the combination of its early arrival and its ferocity as historic, yet another unwelcome superlative for weather-weary Northeasterners.

"You had this storm, you had Hurricane Irene, you had the flooding last spring and you had the nasty storms last winter," Tom Jacobsen said Sunday while getting coffee at a convenience store in Hamilton Township, N.J.

"I'm starting to think we really ticked off Mother Nature somehow because we've been getting spanked by her for about a year now."

The storm smashed record snowfall totals for October and worsened as it moved north. Communities in western Massachusetts were among the hardest hit. Snowfall totals topped 27 inches in Plainfield, and nearby Windsor had gotten 26 inches by early Sunday. It was blamed for at least three deaths, and states of emergency were declared in New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts and parts of New York.

"Look at this, look at all the damage," said Jennifer Burckson, 49, after she came outside Sunday morning in South Windsor to find a massive tree branch had smashed her car's back windshield. Trees in the neighborhood were snapped in half, with others weighed down so much that the leaves brushed the snow.

Compounding the storm's impact were still-leafy trees, which gave the snow something to hang onto and that put tremendous weight on branches, said National Weather Service spokesman Chris Vaccaro. That led to limbs breaking off and contributed to the widespread outages.

"We can't even use the snow blower because the snow is so heavy," Burckson said. [...]

Rare and deadly October storm hangs on in Northeast

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Next Level of Cyber Terrorism?

Are we there yet? See what you think:

Science fiction-style sabotage a fear in new hacks
[...] For years, ill-intentioned hackers have dreamed of plaguing the world's infrastructure with a brand of sabotage reserved for Hollywood. They've mused about wreaking havoc in industrial settings by burning out power plants, bursting oil and gas pipelines, or stalling manufacturing plants.

But a key roadblock has prevented them from causing widespread destruction: they've lacked a way to take remote control of the electronic "controller" boxes that serve as the nerve centers for heavy machinery.

The attack on Iran changed all that. Now, security experts — and presumably, malicious hackers — are racing to find weaknesses. They've found a slew of vulnerabilities.

Think of the new findings as the hacking equivalent of Moore's Law, the famous rule about computing power that it roughly doubles every couple of years. Just as better computer chips have accelerated the spread of PCs and consumer electronics over the past 40 years, new hacking techniques are making all kinds of critical infrastructure — even prisons — more vulnerable to attacks.

One thing all of the findings have in common is that mitigating the threat requires organizations to bridge a cultural divide that exists in many facilities. Among other things, separate teams responsible for computer and physical security need to start talking to each other and coordinate efforts.

Many of the threats at these facilities involve electronic equipment known as controllers. These devices take computer commands and send instructions to physical machinery, such as regulating how fast a conveyor belt moves.

They function as bridges between the computer and physical worlds. Computer hackers can exploit them to take over physical infrastructure. Stuxnet, for example, was designed to damage centrifuges in the nuclear plant being built in Iran by affecting how fast the controllers instructed the centrifuges to spin. Iran has blamed the U.S. and Israel for trying to sabotage what it says is a peaceful program.

Security researcher Dillon Beresford said it took him just two months and $20,000 in equipment to find more than a dozen vulnerabilities in the same type of electronic controllers used in Iran. The vulnerabilities, which included weak password protections, allowed him to take remote control of the devices and reprogram them.

"What all this is saying is you don't have to be a nation-state to do this stuff. That's very scary," said Joe Weiss, an industrial control system expert. "There's a perception barrier, and I think Dillon crashed that barrier."

One of the biggest makers of industrial controllers is Siemens AG, which made the controllers in question. The company said it has alerted customers, fixed some of the problems and is working closely with CERT, the cybersecurity arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Siemens said the issue largely affects older models of controllers. Even with those, the company said, a hacker would have to bypass passwords and other security measures that operators should have in place. Siemens said it knows of no actual break-ins using the techniques identified by Beresford, who works in Austin, Texas, for NSS Labs Inc.,

Yet because the devices are designed to last for decades, replacing or updating them isn't always easy. And the more research that comes out, the more likely attacks become.

One of the foremost Stuxnet experts, Ralph Langner, a security consultant in Hamburg, Germany, has come up with what he calls a "time bomb" of just four lines of programming code. He called it the most basic copycat attack that a Stuxnet-inspired prankster, criminal or terrorist could come up with.

"As low-level as these results may be, they will spread through the hacker community and will attract others who continue digging," Langer said in an email.

The threat isn't limited to power plants. Even prisons and jails are vulnerable. [...]

The complications of the modern age. Our Brave New World.

A San Francisco Treat... But Not for Me

I'm not really surprised. One of the reasons I left SF, was because of the political corruption. This sort of thing seemed inevitable:

Voter Fraud Allegations Hit San Francisco Mayor’s Race
Shocking voter fraud allegations are rocking the mayor's race in San Francisco. District Attorney George Gascon has launched an investigation and demands are growing for federal authorities to move in.

One campaign official fears the election could be stolen if nothing is done.

Supporters of incumbent Mayor Ed Lee, who is running for a full four-year term next month, are accused of illegally handling vote-by-mail ballots.

Witnesses say workers for the group, SF Neighbor Alliance, set up a makeshift sidewalk voting site in the city's Chinatown and accuse it of illegally casting absentee ballots for elderly Chinese voters.

The witnesses claim cell-phone videos show workers telling voters to vote for Lee, filling out ballots for the voters and even using a stencil to hide the names of rival candidates so the voters could only chose one -- Lee.

They also say that the completed ballots were stuffed in plastic bags, which is prohibited by state election law.

"At first we thought they were just helping them understand what absentee ballots were," witness Malana Moberg told Fox News, saying that she saw a worker filling out a voter's ballot.

But she said, "It was pretty blatant."

"I noticed that someone who was working at that booth, who had an Ed Lee shirt on, fill in an absentee ballot on behalf of the voter, and I was immediately shocked and couldn't believe that someone would actually fill in the ballot. I thought it was probably illegal, and if not at the very least, unethical," Moberg said, adding that "someone filling out a ballot for somebody else seemed completely inappropriate."

One of videos was shot by Adam Keigwin, a campaign official for State Sen. Leland Yee, one of Lee's opponents.

"Individuals were marking ballots for elderly voters. They would literally mark the ballot, seal it, and put it in bags behind them. There are so many violations there, almost too numerous to mention," he said.

Keigwin told us the alleged ballot stuffing happened right out in the open, for anyone to see. [...]

At least they got caught. This time. But it does shake your confidence when it can even happen so blatantly.

I wish I could say that I'm more confident about Oregon's voting sytem. But I'm not, as I've posted about previously:

Who Elected Kitzhaber as Oregon's Governor?

I think Oregon's voting system is one of the worst there is:

Vote-by-mail's vulnerability to fraud

Oh well. Vigilance must never go out of style, if we're smart.

Medicare's future, for those under age 55

People like me:

What no one is telling you about Medicare
[...] Cuts are inevitable. The real battle is over who bears the cost.

This spring the House passed a budget resolution designed by Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) that radically overhauls Medicare. The plan is unlikely to become law in its present form, but the ideas behind it will play a pivotal role in shaping Medicare reform.

Here's how the system would work: If you are younger than 55 today, your Medicare insurance would be replaced with a fixed voucher, or what Ryan calls "premium support," which you'd use to buy a private health insurance plan. In 2022 a typical 65-year-old would get about $8,000. Plans would have to take all comers, regardless of their health, and would charge the same price to people of the same age. Your premium support would go up as you got older or sicker. Low-income seniors would get extra cash.

You get skin in the game...

Premium support attempts to fight what economists call the moral hazard problem. If your insurance picks up a lot of your medical bills, you don't have much incentive to be a picky consumer. Your doctor prescribes, you comply. Even if there might be a cheaper way to get better results.

"Medicare has inherent in it inflationary pressures that push costs up very high, very rapidly," says Jim Capretta, a former George W. Bush administration budget official now at a think tank called the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

Ryan's approach would force you to make choices about what to do with your $8,000. You could pay a lot on top of that to get a generous plan or buy a cheap one that lets you see doctors within an HMO network and leaves you with a high deductible.

How much would that system reduce the cost of care? The answer is hotly contested. Some people would spend less but might also forgo care they really needed, says Juliette Cubanski, a Medicare policy analyst at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Gail Wilensky, who ran the Medicare system during the George H.W. Bush administration, thinks a market dynamic will help a lot, but cautions that much spending is concentrated on the very sick, whose costs have blown past any reasonable deductible. "The serious spenders are always going to be using someone else's money," she says.

Shifting to private plans also has costs: Insurers have to charge enough to pay for administration and marketing while clearing a profit. The CBO, which concedes a lot of uncertainty about how vouchers would change the market, believes total costs would go up. It estimates that private plans will be so expensive that in 2022 a typical 65-year-old would spend twice as much to get the same benefits Medicare provides. That's an extra $6,240 to you.

...but a shrinking benefit.

The voucher is also a tool to cap government spending on health care. In 2022, once the feds send you $8,000, they're done paying for the year. "What we do in Medicare today is say, 'We're going to set in motion an open-ended entitlement, and the government's going to subsidize whatever it takes to provide that package,'" says Capretta. "The Ryan budget says, 'Why don't we build a budget that sets a level of taxation that we can afford, and here's the level of entitlement spending that will fit within that?'"

The idea of imposing a limit isn't inherently conservative or liberal. Most other rich countries, with their universal insurance, set a health care budget; the reform law signed by President Obama last year tries to cap spending too. But Ryan's cap is remarkably austere.

Social Security checks to rise 3.6%

The value of his voucher would grow at the level of inflation, which is almost always less than the growth of the economy. But no industrial country keeps health spending growth below GDP growth.

"It's implausible to think costs would inflate at that level," says Boston University health economist Austin Frakt. If so, then over time premium support would buy you less and less insurance -- and less and less care.

There are countless ways to moderate the severity of the Ryan plan. Wilensky suggests a cap that grows a little faster than GDP, for instance. What's most important about the proposal, though, is not the specific growth target; it's the philosophical stake in the ground planted about how much of the cost of paying for health care should be shared collectively, through taxes, and how much should be a responsibility for you, the individual, to bear. The Ryan plan says clearly: more on you. [...]

Hmmm. I do believe that costs have gotten so far out of control, because once the "government" is paying, instead of an individual, then nobody cares about the costs or questions what is being charged and why. But if it goes too far the other way, then people under 55 might be getting a lot less, even though they payed into Medicare the same as people over 55.

Is there a happy medium, a balance, somewhere? One will have to be found, because it sure can't continue like it is; unsustainable.

It's quite a long article. From PART 2:

Medicare: How much more will they cut?
For all the chatter about how politicians have to buckle down and get serious about reining in Medicare, you might have missed this development: Last year's health reform bill cut $500 billion out of two big Medicare programs over a decade, while increasing the number of high-income retirees who have to pay larger Part B premiums.

"It's as if that never happened," says Jonathan Oberlander, a professor of health policy at the University of North Carolina.

To be sure, health reform wasn't a let's-shrink-the-government project. The reason Democrats got their hands grimy and made cuts to the program was to help pay for a new health care entitlement, making it easier for Americans under 65 to buy their own insurance. Still, the new law shows that liberal lawmakers will slice into Medicare if needed, and offers a glimpse into how they'll try to do it.

The central idea behind the maze of cost-control provisions health reform establishes: Focus on trimming fat before reducing benefits. One approach is to reduce the power of providers to drive spending. When your doctor says you need this test or that surgery, you tend to take his word for it, even if you have hefty out-of-pocket costs. Hospitals, meanwhile, have consolidated in recent decades, giving them considerable price-setting power.

Results: There's substantial evidence that doctors at times over-treat, and you overpay for just about everything. "For a long hospital stay we pay $18,000, vs. $4,000 or $5,000 in Germany or Japan," says Gerard Anderson, director of the Center.


In coming months one idea you'll hear debated a lot is imposing a numerical cap on future government spending or revenue -- say, 21% of GDP or even 18%.

No matter what the specific numbers proposed are, growing health care costs are on a path to push the size of government well beyond those limits. If that happens, Medicare would go from long-term challenge to immediate crisis. Big changes would have to happen fast. Budget hawks ought to be specific about what those changes will be.

All you can know for sure now: This country, not just the government, but each of us as individuals -- is facing a monster of a doctor's bill, and there's no easy way to get around paying it.


The New Portable Credit Card Reader

Square's credit-card swiper hits Wal-Mart
NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- After landing a massive cash infusion in June, mobile payments venture Square is taking a big step into the mainstream: Its mobile credit-card processing system is now on sale at Wal-Mart.

Square's card reader, aimed at small business owners and on-the-go merchants, is a smartphone add-on. It attaches to iPhone, iPad, and Android devices, and allows the owner to accept a credit card payment in return for a 2.75% transactional fee.

The aim is to bring down the barriers smaller business owners typically face when they want to accept credit card payments. [...]

Way cool. And good for small businesses.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Itchy & Scratchy Junker & Rompuy Show

Would you buy a used car from these guys? I wouldn't:

Eurogroup president Jean-Claude Junker and
Herman Van Rompuy, head of the European Council

EU officials scramble to solve the crisis
[...] As a work around, officials are reportedly considering a plan to use EFSF funds to provide loans that governments can use to partially insure new issues of domestic debt. But this would effectively add to already unsustainable levels of public debt.

"All of this is stupidity," said Columbia Business School professor David Beim. "All they can think to do is get an ever larger fund and throw it into ever worse assets."

Beim, like many economists, argues that the first step toward stabilizing the eurozone is to restructure the Greek government's debt load. All else merely delays the inevitable and perpetuates the crisis. [...]

If you read the full article, it sounds like it's all about going nowhere quickly. Re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Borrowing from Peter to pay Paul.

It sure doesn't inspire confidence. I wouldn't much care what they do, except that it will have global consequences. And what might those be?

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Great Irony in the Wall St. Protests

Well, at least the most obvious one:

Down With Evil Corporations! [Photo]
[...] Last night, Mark Levin used a caller as a foil to deconstruct this idiocy.

• Who's the biggest health insurer in the country?
• Who's the biggest bank in the country?
• Who's the biggest land-owner in the country?
• Who runs the biggest retirement plans in the country?
• And who alone has the force of law to force you to comply with their decisions?

That would be the federal government, an extra-constitutional monolith that controls every aspect of our lives, from shower-heads, to automobile bumper design, to thermostats, to building codes, to carbon dioxide emissions, to the size of toilet tanks, to health insurance plans, to... [...]

It goes on to make a comparison with the Soviet Union.

Too much government. It's not the answer; it's the PROBLEM.

And there's one more Great Irony to consider:

Occupy Wall Street: the "herbal tea party"
I know where they're coming from - but...

Do you want chamomile or patchouli in your hot water?

I was born and raised in Africa and to me these "impoverished" neo-hippies are risible.

Taylor Marvin checks the math of the above image, which has been making the rounds: [...]

It's not far off.

Also see:

Adbusters behind "Occupy Wall Street"


Sunday, October 09, 2011

Where the jobs are: Health Care

I've posted previously about MBTI personality testing as a tool for choosing a compatible career. I tested as an ISTJ, one of 16 personality types.

At the Keirsey website, the sixteen types are divided into four temperament groups: Guardians, Idealists, Artisans and Rationals. And there are four sub-types for each of those. My type, ISTJ, is a Guardian, with the sub-type being The Inspector.

Anyhow, one link on their right sidebar was to an article that said there is one job sector that continues to enjoy job growth, and is expected to continue to do so for the foreseeable future. And that sector has jobs that suit each one of the personality types! I found it quite interesting:

Rx For an Ailing Career Outlook:
Health Care is a Growth Industry

With the economy in seeming freefall, and companies daily announcing layoff plans, the employment picture is looking bleak for those entering the workforce, or those hit by the layoffs needing to find new jobs.

However, there is one employment sector that is continuing to show steady growth. According to Joanne Giudicelli, Talent Management Consultant and author of HIRE POWER: A Radical New Strategy for Defining and Executing Successful Hiring, the health care sector is itself one of the healthiest in terms of employment opportunities. According to Giudicelli, "As the large crop of Baby Boomers age, the need for health workers has increased. The need is not only found in the United States, but in countries throughout the world." Backing Giudicelli's statement, an August 1, 2008 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) stated that "employment continued to fall in construction, manufacturing, and several service-providing industries, while health care continued to add jobs."


Career Coach and Author Alice Fairhurst points out, "While most people are aware of the critical need for primary care physicians, physician assistants and nursing staff, many do not realize the shortage in the allied health professionals such as respiratory care practitioners, medical transcriptionists, radiographers and lab technicians. Those with the highest projected need include physical therapist assistants, dental hygienists and pharmacy technicians. Some health care providers are working with two year colleges to provide needed clinical training."

Mid-career workers who have lost their jobs due to downsizing are taking training to enter these fields where demand is high. And people who worked in health care in another country are getting certification in the United States to fill the need.

To help sort out the various opportunities in this growing sector, Fairhurst recommends individuals take the Keirsey Temperament Sorter which can help guide a person into which of the careers might be more satisfying. [...]

The full article gives examples of suitable jobs for the different types. If you don't know your type, but want to find out, try taking the MBTI test for free, here or here.

A job skill that will always be in demand, is a nice thing to have. And if it's one that suites your personality too, so much the better.

Also see:

What to do in college right now

Best alternative to grad school

Bad career advice: Do what you love

There Are No Bad Bosses, Only Whiny Employees.

Overcome the willpower myth

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Magic Mushrooms make you Young At Heart

Permanantly. See for yourself:

Magic Mushroom Drug Has an 'Anti-Aging Effect' on Personality
Sept. 29, 2011 -- Psilocybin, the drug in “magic mushrooms,” helps many people become more open, creative, and curious after they take a single high dose, a new study shows.

Ordinarily, researchers say, after age 30 personality is a pretty fixed part of who we are.

When people do change their stripes, it’s usually in the wake of significant life events that cause emotional upheaval, like marriage, divorce, or getting fired from a job.

Researchers say the new study, which is published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, is one the first to show that a drug, when used in an experimental setting, can alter personality long term.

Specifically, the study found that psilocybin affects a dimension of personality called openness. Openness relates to the ability to see and appreciate beauty, to imagine, to be aware of our own and other people’s feelings, and to be curious and creative.

“Personality, after the age of 25, is relatively stable, and if anything happens, openness decreases across decades, just very slightly, but generally people become more rigid and less creative,” says researcher Roland R. Griffiths, PhD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore. “And this is showing an anti-aging affect if you will, on openness.” [...]

Read the whole thing for details of the study, and embedded links.

I'll just say... they don't call them "Magic" for nuthin!


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Who's Missing a Planet?

We are, apparently. And not a rocky one, like the asteroid belt might have been formed from. THIS missing planet was supposedly a Gas Giant:

Did our solar system once harbor an extra planet?
A computer simulation has shown that our solar system couldn't have formed without an extra planet. But if that theory is true, what happened to it?

A new study based on computer simulations has demonstrated that our solar system might be missing a planet. In fact, without an extra planet, it seems unlikely that our solar system could have formed at all, reports

The startling discovery suggests that Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune were not the only gas giant planets around during the formation of our solar system. There had to be a fifth gas giant, similar to Uranus and Neptune, orbiting some 15 times further from the sun than our planet Earth.

David Nesvorny from Colorado’s Southwest Research Institute reached the conclusion after performing around 6,000 computer simulations about the formation of the solar system, nearly all of which required the extra planet to work. Almost all of the simulations that factored in only the planets we know of in our solar system showed the four gas giants violently destroying one another. In the few simulations in which they survived, several of the rocky planets, such as Earth, were destroyed instead.

After adding the mysterious fifth planet, Nesvorny was able to greatly improve the odds of our solar system forming as we currently know it.

So the question remains: if our solar system is missing a planet, what happened to it?

The computer simulations also explain the fifth planet's fate. [...]

Read the whole thing to find out.

Interesting. Theoretical, but interesting.

Is the EU financial crisis more important than ours because it's possible financial collapse is more imminent?

Or is it?

Why Europe Won’t Implode
The global financial system is currently being roiled by one thing and one thing only: the fate of Europe. This past weekend, high-level meetings of both the International Monetary Fund and the G20 nations took place in Washington, and the predominant focus was on Europe and whether the nations of the European Union and the euro zone would be able to stave off what increasingly appears to be a make-or-break crisis over banks, the sovereign debt of Greece, and the stability of the international financial system.


Contrary to what many are now predicting, Europe—reeling though it is—will not implode.

The fear is that the European Union as constituted doesn’t have the ability to move quickly enough. It isn’t the size of Greek debt per se, but the fear that the hundreds of billions of dollars potentially exposed will so undermine European banks that the whole system—and that means the entire global banking system—might be imperiled. With so many actions dependent on each of the legislative branches of the 17 euro-zone countries, there is a viable concern that real-world events will move far more rapidly than the political institutions can respond. A Greek default on debts would then trigger various runs on French and German banks, which would then lead to massive selling of any liquid assets anywhere—and stocks above all—which would then cascade around the globe in a fashion not unlike what happened after Lehman Brothers collapsed three years ago this month.


The widely shared belief is that the United States is either in or on the verge of a recession; that China is slowing precipitously based on weakening exports, imploding urban real-estate bubbles and slack consumer demand; and that Europe is on the verge of an unraveling as historic as the forces that brought it together 20 years ago when the European Union was formed.

So the question is, will Europe implode? Contrary to the widespread assumption, I think not.

It isn’t just that Angela Merkel, Germany’s answer to Margaret Thatcher, has drawn what for her is an unequivocal line that Greece will not leave the European Union or the euro zone. It’s that slowly, sloppily, the governments of Europe are awakening to the realization that since they have tethered their collective economic fate to each other, the costs of unraveling are so immense as to be untenable. No government feels comfortable demanding more funds to bail out Greece or shore up banks or create a backstop for the tenuous finances of Italy. But each government understands at some animalistic level that no electorate will celebrate the consequences of doing too little. Even those supposedly dour, disapproving burghers of Düsseldorf who are tired of bailing out what they see as profligate Greeks would blanch at the market consequences of the end of the euro. Germany doesn’t just pay to maintain that union; it benefits mightily as well.

There is no way to prove that the officials of the EU will access their better angels at the last moment (however auspiciously named the German chancellor is). But this crisis is shaping up as the European version of the American debt-ceiling debate: messy, disheartening, but when pushed to stare at the alternatives, deeply clarifying. [...]

This article makes some good arguments as to why the EU will try to hang in there and make it work; they have invested too much in it. They won't let the EU unravel, because the consequences of that aren't likely any better than what they are facing now.

But the article does not convince me that they can avoid financial implosion. Sure, they are motivated to stop it. Yes, they would not just "let" it happen. But the question is, do they have the power to STOP it from happening?

Clearly, they are going to try. And clearly, whatever happens, the effects will be felt globally, in our Brave New World. Lets hope it's Brave enough.

Also see:

Merkel risks rebellion on euro rescue fund


Advice for America from a Mexican Tycoon

Carlos Slim Fixes the Economy
Mexican telecom tycoon Carlos Slim Helú—whose family fortune of about $74 billion makes him the world’s richest human (well ahead of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett on the Forbes list of billionaires—plays against type.


How do we fix this recession?

“With the same things that were done in 2000 and 2001, when it was temporarily solved with big expenditures and very aggressive monetary and fiscal policy,” he tells me. “Aside from lowering taxes, we should be directing more money to the real economy, not to the financial economy. The volatility of the markets is so great that more is won or lost in a single day than in five years of accumulated interest. And that’s not a good thing.”

I ask if he agrees with President Obama’s so-called Buffett rule, which would mandate that rich people like Warren Buffett—who benefits from a 15 percent tax rate because his money comes from capital gains—pay at least the same rate as their secretaries.

“I don’t know what Warren Buffett pays,” Slim says, “but I think that the fiscal policy should be fair. You don’t need to raise taxes on rich people, because they create capitalization and investment. But you need to tax speculation—meaning capital gains. Why should it be just 15 percent? Salaried people pay 35 percent. Why shouldn’t that be paid on capital gains?”

Anything else?

“The welfare policies that you are following—you and Europe—are unsustainable,” Slim argues. “You cannot have people retiring at 60 years old, and you cannot provide universal health care the way you do. That’s crazy. The focus should be the support of small- and middle-size business. That is where the employment is. And there should be investment in the real economy. Infrastructure is an example. And the best way to do that is with the private sector. It’s more efficient.”

I ask what should be done about the terrible violence surrounding the illegal Mexican drug trade, with grisly murders in the tens of thousands.

“It’s a problem coming from the United States,” Slim says.

Because of the demand?

“Because of everything. You stay with the money and the drugs. We stay with the weapons and the violence. And you’re selling the weapons to the consumers in Mexico. And the retail price [of the drugs] is, I don’t know how much bigger, let’s say 10 times in the U.S. what it is in Mexico. And that means the demand is here and the money is here. It’s like what used to happen during Prohibition in Chicago. You had a lot of violence there.”

What’s the solution?

“Follow the money.”

Would it help to legalize the drugs and, as with Prohibition, eliminate the incentive for crime?

“It doesn’t ‘help,’ ” Slim says. “It finishes.” [...]

Interesting. The article has a photo.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Space Weather: Aurora as seen from Space

Recent solar weather has been stimulating Aurora's on earth. This video from the International Space Station shows us the view from above the earth's atmosphere:

Amazing... and stunningly beautiful.

WATCH: An unusual view of the Aurora Australis, from space
[...] This weird, gripping shot of earth was recorded on Sept. 17, 2011, as a solar storm battered the atmosphere with ionizing particles. Waves of Ecto-Cooler-green luminescence shimmer over the surface of the planet like an iridescent oil slick. The video was shot while the Space Station passed south of Madagascar to north of Australia over the Indian Ocean, thus these lights are known as the Aurora Australis.

The sun has been frantically blatting with these plasma outbursts over the past 36 hours, an indication that it is ascending toward the peak of its 11-year solar cycle. Yesterday, the star unleashed one of the largest class of flares, an X-1, with a corresponding strong radio blackout. Here's what that looked like. NOAA's Space Weather Prediction agency is advising heavenly forecasters that more solar ejections could be in the forecast from the cursed Region 1302: [...]

Read the whole thing. With embedded links.

Racism VS Equal Treatment at UC Berkeley

That's the point of the "racist" bake sale:

Pay-by-race bake sale at UC Berkeley still on, student Republican group says
(CNN) -- It's meant to be racist, and it's meant to be discriminatory.

And the controversial "Increase Diversity Bake Sale" hosted by the Berkeley College Republicans is still on, the club's president said, despite "grossly misguided comments" and threats aimed at supporters of the University of California, Berkeley, student group.

During the sale, scheduled for Tuesday, baked goods will be sold to white men for $2, Asian men for $1.50, Latino men for $1, black men for 75 cents and Native American men for 25 cents. All women will get 25 cents off those prices.

The bake sale is meant to draw attention to pending legislation that would allow California universities to consider race, gender, ethnicity and national origin during the admissions process.

Student defends 'race' bake sale Bake sale prices based on race
"We agree that the event is inherently racist, but that is the point," BCR President Shawn Lewis wrote in response to upheaval over the bake sale. "It is no more racist than giving an individual an advantage in college admissions based solely on their race (or) gender."

Similar events have been held at other colleges across the country, generally organized by college Republican groups. In some cases -- such as at Berkeley -- the plan sparked controversy and protests.


But the bake sale is intended to be a direct, "physical counterpoint" to an ASUC-sponsored phone bank -- also scheduled for Tuesday -- during which students will be encouraged to call Gov. Jerry Brown's office to support the legislation, Lewis said. The ASUC has endorsed the legislation, SB 185.


Loomba, the student government president, said she is concerned about students potentially feeling ostracized due to the bake sale.

"I have heard that from numerous students who have said this makes students feel unwelcome on campus," she said. "For that reason alone, we should think about what events we have on campus."

Loomba described the situation as a "campus climate issue."

"UC Berkeley stands for a place where everyone -- regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation -- should feel inclusive," she said. "I think they should be able to express their opinion, but keep that value in mind." [...]

If Loomba means what she said, then shouldn't the University be treating all the students the same regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation? Duh?

I guess some people are just "more equal" than others. Too ironic!