Thursday, July 26, 2012


After being named Greenland for so long, but being snow white, maybe it's time for a change of name to Whiteland. In keeping with the obvious incongruity. It's going green whether the rest of us are or aren't.

And with major ramifications for rising sea levels.

NASA: Strange and sudden massive melt in Greenland
Nearly all of Greenland's massive ice sheet suddenly started melting a bit this month, a freak event that surprised scientists. What was unusual was that the melting happened in a flash and over a widespread area.

The ice melt area went from 40 percent of the ice sheet to 97 percent in four days, according to NASA. Until now, the most extensive melt seen by satellites in the past three decades was about 55 percent.

Even Greenland's coldest and highest place, Summit station, showed melting. Ice core records show that last happened in 1889 and occurs about once every 150 years.

Wagner and other scientists said because this Greenland-wide melting has happened before they can't yet determine if this is a natural rare event or one triggered by man-made global warming.

Whilst on an ice shelf in the white land far south, an important other dot was being connected:

Antarctic: Grand Canyon-sized rift 'speeding ice melt'
Antarctica is home to a geological rift system where new crust is being formed, meaning the eastern and western halves of the continent are slowly separating.

The team writes in Nature journal that the canyon is bringing more warm sea water to the ice sheet, hastening melt.

The Ferrigno rift lies close to the Pine Island Glacier where Nasa scientists found a giant crack last year; but the newly discovered feature is not thought to be influencing the "Pig", as it is known.

The rift lies beneath the Ferrigno Ice Stream on a stretch of coast so remote that it has only been visited once previously.

The British Antarctic Survey (BAS) project revisited the area two years ago in the person of Aberdeen University glaciologist Robert Bingham. The team towed ice-penetrating radar kit behind a snowmobile, traversing a total of about 2,500km (1,500 miles).

"What we found is that lying beneath the ice there is a large valley, parts of which are approximately a mile deeper than the surrounding landscape," said Dr Bingham. "If you stripped away all of the ice here today, you'd see a feature every bit as dramatic as the huge rift valleys you see in Africa and in size as significant as the [US] Grand Canyon.

"This is at odds with the flat ice surface that we were driving across - without these measurements we would never have known it was there."

The scientists suggest that during Ice Ages, when sea levels were much lower than at present, the rift would have channelled a major ice stream through the trough.

Now, they suggest, the roles are reversed, with the walls of the Belgica trough channelling relatively warm sea water back to the ice edge.

Ice loss from West Antarctica is believed to contribute about 10% to global sea level rise.
But how the West Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets respond to warmer temperatures is the biggest unknown by far in trying to predict how fast the waters will rise over the coming century and beyond.
A total melt of either sheet would raise sea levels globally by several metres.


Pouring concrete on troubled waters

Not content to fund concrete relationships with South Pacific island governments, China now bunkers down in its efforts to cement its claims on the South China Sea.

China establishes Sansha City
China on Tuesday officially set up the city of Sansha on Yongxing Island in the southernmost province of Hainan. The city government is located on the 2.13-square km Yongxing Island, the largest island in the Xisha Islands group.

The national flag was hoisted while the national anthem played after the signboards of the Sansha Municipal Government and the Sansha Municipal Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) were unveiled.

Luo Baoyou, Party chief of Hainan province, said in a keynote speech that Sansha was established to administer the Xisha, Zhongsha and Nansha islands and their surrounding waters in the South China Sea. "The provincial government will be devoted to turning the city into an important base to safeguard China's sovereignty and serve marine resource development," he said.

He said the main task now will be to build up political power in Sansha to ensure efficient management.
China placed troops on the disputed islands, forming a new city “Sansha”
In the conflict over the South China Sea, Beijing has achieved a diplomatic success. It managed to split the ASEAN – the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Some of these countries did not support Vietnam and the Philippines.

It takes 13 hours to reach the island from the mainland by sea. There are post office, bank, supermarket and hospital.
From the website of Holiday China Tour:
There is a city in China with a population of less than 10,000 and an area of almost one-fourth of China's territory. It is Sansha in Hainan province, People's Republic of China.

The State Council, or China's cabinet, approved in June the establishment of Sansha, a prefectural-level city that will administer the Xisha, Zhongsha and Nansha island groups and their surrounding waters in the South China Sea. The government seat of Sansha will be stationed on Yongxing Island, part of the Xisha Islands. Sansha exercises political sovereignty, both actual and claimed, over three disputed archipelagoes in the South China Sea. Nationally, it is the smallest prefecture-level city by both population and land area, the largest by water area, and the southernmost.

The founding of Sansha city will improve China's management of the region and help coordinate efforts to develop the islands and protect the marine environment, said Zhao Zhongshe, director of the Hainan provincial Department of Ocean and Fisheries.

There are two ways to reach Yongxing Island, by ship and by air. The airport on the island can now accommodate a Boeing 737, but there are no airlines based there. For most people, flying to Xisha Islands is still a wild wish. And traveling by ship is subject to weather on the sea, which changes a lot in June.

China stands firm on Sansha
Ruan Zongze, vice president of the China Institute of International Studies, told the Global Times on Wednesday that it's inappropriate for the US to criticize China on the establishment of the city, because what China has done is reasonable and is a logical move given the nature of Asian politics.

US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said at a news briefing on Tuesday that the country remains concerned regarding "unilateral moves of this kind," AP reported.

US Senator John McCain warned Tuesday that China was "unnecessarily provocative" in saying it would establish a military garrison on disputed South China Sea islands, and called for a multilateral solution to the dispute, according to AFP.

McCain said other actions by China, including the appointment of legislators to govern such disputes "only reinforces why many Asian countries are increasingly concerned about China's expansive territorial claims and the possibility that China will attempt to impose those claims through intimidation and coercion."

"The US should reflect on its diplomatic interference in the region which has sent inaccurate signals to neighboring countries. The recent statements from the US on the Diaoyu Islands have broken their promise to take no position on competing sovereignty claims and it will lead to damage to Sino-US relations," Ruan said.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was reported to say on Tuesday that the Diaoyu Islands will be included in a bilateral security treaty between the US and Japan.

"Establishing Sansha City is a domestic affair of China which shouldn't be interfered with by any other countries. The US has no reason or grounds to protest through diplomatic channels, which explains why the country has only released a statement," Ji Qiufeng, a professor at the School of International Relations at Nanjing University said, adding there's no need to worry that the establishment of the city will lead to military interference by the US.

Su Hao, director of the Asia-Pacific Research Center at the China Foreign Affairs University, told the Global Times that the establishment of Sansha city has shown that China will not back down when the matters concern sovereignty or compromise their principles, regardless of whether the issue is the South China Sea or the Diaoyu Islands.

Since the disputes over the South China Sea have intensified, it is time for China to show its confidence in its ability to protect its own rights and sovereignty, Ji added.
China's hawks gaining sway in S. China sea dispute
Most Chinese and foreign security policy analysts believe China wants to avoid military conflict across sea lanes that carry an annual $5 trillion in ship-borne trade, particularly if it raises the prospect of U.S. intervention.

However, they say Beijing is increasingly determined to block any unified effort from rival claimants to negotiate over disputes, preferring instead to isolate much smaller and weaker states in direct talks.

The official Xinhua news agency said the Sansha garrison would be responsible for "national defense mobilisation ... guarding the city and supporting local emergency rescue and disaster relief" and "carrying out military missions".

The city government is located on the 2.13-square km Yongxing Island, according to Xinhua, which contains a small military airport, a sea port, roads, a clinic, a post office and an observatory. This is in the Paracels, a group of islands also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan.

One of China's most hawkish army officers, Major General Zhu Chenghu, an influential teacher and strategy researcher at Beijing's National Defence University, has dismissed the entitlement of these rivals to the disputed waters.

In a speech to the World Peace Forum in Beijing earlier this month, Zhu said it was "unreasonable and illegal" for the Philippines and Vietnam to claim territory that historically belonged to China.

He said there had been no disputes in the South China Sea before the 1970s when maps published by rival claimants also acknowledged it was Chinese territory.

"Relevant countries did not begin to lay claim to islands and sea waters in the area until the discovery of large amounts of oil and gas reserves in the South China Sea," he said, according to an extract of his speech published in the official Global Times newspaper last week.

Zhu also blamed U.S. "meddling" for prolonging the current tension.

The retired general is best known for his assertion in 2005 that China should use nuclear weapons against the United States if American forces intervened in a conflict over Taiwan.

He escaped any serious censure over what he stressed at the time were his personal views and has since become a regular member of high-level Chinese military delegations in security talks with U.S. counterparts.

Other officials calling for a tougher line include Cui Liru, president of the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, a Beijing think-tank closely linked to China's intelligence services, and Major General Luo Yuan, a retired army officer who is well known for his hard-line views and provocative media commentaries.

It is unclear how much sway these blunt speaking officials exercise over foreign and military policies or whether their views reflect official thinking.

But for the PLA, the persistent territorial disputes undermine a carefully-honed image as a force that will never allow foreign powers to encroach on Chinese territory as they did in the colonial period.

"The South China Sea situation is certainly highly frustrating for Chinese military officers," said Sun Yun, a Washington-based China security policy expert and a former analyst with the International Crisis Group in Beijing.

"If the PLA cannot even defend China's own territory at its doorstep, what capacity or legitimacy does it have to cruise around the world?"
Red Flag over Sansha City (And also)
There are nearly 300 cities in China. On June 21, the Chinese Government added another to that list: Sansha is the smallest city in China­.

China is the first country to discover, name and exercise sovereignty over the islands and their adjacent waters. The People's Republic of China set up a county-level administration office governing the area in 1959. In 1988, Hainan Province was established, and the administrative office was put under its auspices.

A spokesperson of the Ministry of Civil Affairs said on June 21 that the founding of Sansha will help improve China's administrative management in the area, promote its future development and protect the waters of the South China Sea.

In its 50-plus years of history, the administrative office had fulfilled its responsibilities, yet its functions were no longer compatible with the area's social and economic development, said Li.

Qu Xing, Director of China Institute of International Studies, said that setting up Sansha City will not only strengthen China's governance over these South China Sea islands and waters, but also safeguard the country's sovereignty and marine rights and interests in the area.

Through these actions, the Chinese Government is exercising legitimate jurisdiction over South China Sea islands, Qu said. Sansha will also handle fishery disputes in the South China Sea and protect fishermen's personal and property safety.

"This is a very good opportunity for foreign enterprises to invest in the area," Li said. Foreign companies can seek approval from the Sansha Municipal Government to build factories or make other forms of investment to tap local resources according to relevant laws and regulations of the country, he said.
CNOOC, Shell sign deals for oil exploration in South China Sea
The blocks, 62/02 and 62/17, lie in the Yinggehai basin off China's Hainan island, according to the agreement.

Shell will undertake 100 percent of the exploration costs in the blocks while CNOOC can take up to 51 percent of equity interest in any commercial oil and gas discovery in the blocks.

China Establishes New City on Disputed Waters

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Monday, July 16, 2012

No free munch for Maryland pitbulls

There is long and old common law to the effect (differently worded) that domesticated animals are presumed tame, therefore, to prove negligence, some distinctly undomesticated act must be proved to show that the unsafe keeping of such an animal is grounds for a negligence claim if the animal should (again) prove itself to be vicious. It's given rise to the short hand lore, "every dog gets at least one bite".

Well no more, at least not in Maryland, and at least as long as the recent 4-3 decision of the State's highest court lies undisturbed by an "activist" legislature. Oooops, It's courts what be derogotorally "activists". Legislatures are supposed to be non-derogotorally "activist", which they can't be if all they are is obstructionist. But Guambat digests.

The case is
Tracey v. Solesky(COURT OF APPEALS OF MARYLAND No. 53, September Term, 2011):
In Maryland the vicious mauling of young children by pit bulls occurred as early as 1916. Over the last thirteen years, there have been no less than seven instances of serious maulings by pit bulls upon Maryland residents resulting in either serious injuries or death that have reached the appellate courts of this State, including the two boys attacked by the pit bull in the present case. Five of the pit bull attacks in Maryland have been brought to the attention of this Court, and two have reached the Court of Special Appeals.

The present case involves an attack by a pit bull named Clifford. Notwithstanding his
relatively benign name, Clifford possessed aggressive and vicious characteristics. He escaped twice from an obviously inadequate small pen attacked at least two boys at different times on the same day.

Here, the trial court granted a judgment for the defendant landlord at the close of the Plaintiff’s case on the grounds that, according to the trial judge, the evidence was insufficient to permit the issue of common law negligence to be presented to the jury.

On the state of the common law relating to dog attacks in existence at that time, the trial court was correct.

We are modifying the Maryland common law of liability as it relates to attacks by pit
bull and cross-bred pit bull dogs against humans.

With the standard we establish today (which is to be applied in this case on remand), when an owner or a landlord is proven to have knowledge of the presence of a pit bull or cross-bred pit bull (as both the owner and landlord did in this case) or should have had such knowledge, a prima facie case is established.

It is not necessary that the landlord (or the pit bull’s owner) have actual knowledge that the specific pit bull involved is dangerous. Because of its aggressive and vicious nature and its capability to inflict serious and sometimes fatal injuries, pit bulls and cross-bred pit bulls are inherently dangerous.
The dissent pointed out that hard facts make bad law, and the making of bad law was the perogative of the legislature.

It's an interesting and easily readable (if not digestible) opinion.

Guambat points out that no one is ever liable if that child-friendly, lovable peace-nik pitbull behaves itself.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Guess who's turning 20 (hint: you're very hot)

Here's another hint:

Yep, Internet pre-porn.

the first photo ever on the Internet
The image, uploaded by World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee in 1992, was edited on a color Mac in version one of Photoshop and saved as a .gif, according to Mother Board.

"When history happens, you don't know that you're in it," Silvano de Gennaro, an IT developer at CERN, told Mother Board.

The image contains a photo of a comedic musical group known as Les Horrible Cernettes. The group consisted of both admin assistants and significant others of scientists at the CERN laboratory in Geneva. de Gennaro took the photo of the Cernettes while he was backstage at the Hardronic Music Festival, an event organized by CERN's administrators, on July 18, 1992.

Read more at the link.


Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Dnasaurs spotted again walking the planks in Texas

John T. Harvey teaches economics at Texas Christian University, mildly characterized as a "traditional" school. And he's terrified. Terrified of the distinctly un-Christian Texas Republican Party's official party orthodoxy for 2012.

The Terrifying Texas GOP Platform
I am so distressed by the 2012 platform released by the Texas Republican Party that I find it impossible not to comment. it is difficult to believe that what the Republicans put together during their convention in Fort Worth was even written in the 21st century.

The document (available here) has already made headlines with the portion that opposes the “teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills” and “critical thinking skills.” Although a partial retraction followed, this was in terms of the wording, not the general meaning. It appears that their fear is that these “focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.”

This begs the question, who is really aiming to force their beliefs on our children, Texas schools or Texas Republicans?

The economic policies recommended by the document are equally impractical and ill-considered. In addition, they believe that the Federal Reserve system should be abolished and that the US should return to the gold standard.

This is not to say that there are not portions of the Texas Republican Party Platform that are perfectly reasonable. There are.

But, by and large, it reads as if it were written in another age and in ignorance of the social, economic, and scientific evidence of the past half century. Let there be no mistake about it: the Texas Republican Party Platform is terrifying.

Were its recommendations implemented, the US would resemble a third-world country with a cheap, uneducated workforce and a massive gap between rich and poor. Unemployment would be rampant, growth stagnant, and answers few and far between thanks to the systematic repression of higher order and critical thinking.

Texas GOP’s 2012 Platform Opposes Teaching Of ‘Critical Thinking Skills’
Here are some other notable planks for the RPT’s 2012 platform:

On the Patriot Act:

We urge review and revision of those portions of the USA Patriot Act, and related executive and military orders and directives that erode constitutional rights and essential liberties of citizens. Emergency War Powers and Martial Law Declarations - We strongly urge Congress to repeal the War Powers Act and end our declared state of emergency. Any Declaration of Martial law should be approved by Congress.

On “Livestock and Pet Locations”:

We oppose a mandatory animal identification system.

On the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA):

We oppose this act through which the federal government would coerce religious business owners and employees to violate their own beliefs and principles by affirming what they consider to be sinful and sexually immoral behavior.

On Campaign Contributions:

We support full disclosure of the amounts and sources of any campaign contributions to political candidates, whether contributed by individuals, political action committees, or other entities.

On the “Voter Rights Act” [sic]:

We urge that the Voter Rights Act of 1965 codified and updated in 1973 be repealed and not reauthorized.

On Homosexuality:

We affirm that the practice of homosexuality tears at the fabric of society and contributes to the breakdown of the family unit. Homosexual behavior is contrary to the fundamental, unchanging truths that have been ordained by God, recognized by our country’s founders, and shared by the majority of Texans. Homosexuality must not be presented as an acceptable “alternative” lifestyle, in public policy, nor should “family” be redefined to include homosexual “couples.” We believe there should be no granting of special legal entitlements or creation of special status for homosexual behavior, regardless of state of origin. Additionally, we oppose any criminal or civil penalties against those who oppose homosexuality out of faith, conviction or belief in traditional values.

On the UN Treaty on the Rights of the Child:

We unequivocally oppose the United States Senate’s ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The Republican Party of Texas’ recently adopted 2012 platform contains a plank that opposes the teaching of “critical thinking skills” in schools. Contacted by TPM on Thursday, Republican Party of Texas (RPT) Communications Director Chris Elam said the “critical thinking skills” language made it into the platform by mistake.

Mistake my Tex-ass. See more on the Dinosaurs of Texas
Texas Bored of Education decision too complex to result from chance

Dinosaurs in Texas: But Wait, There's More!

Dinosaurs at it again in Texas

Hattip to that Son of a Guambat

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Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Drug crimes

GlaxoSmithKline to pay $3 billion for health fraud
Of the penalties, $1 billion covers criminal fines and forfeitures and $2 billion is for civil settlements with the federal government and the state governments of Massachusetts and Colorado.

GlaxoSmithKline to pay $3bn in US drug fraud scandal
The drug giant is to plead guilty to promoting two drugs for unapproved uses and failing to report safety data about a diabetes drug to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

GSK, one of the world's largest healthcare and pharmaceuticals companies, admitted to promoting antidepressants Paxil and Wellbutrin for unapproved uses, including treatment of children and adolescents.

The illegal practice is known as off-label marketing.

The company also conceded charges that it held back data and made unsupported safety claims over its diabetes drug Avandia.

In addition, GSK has been found guilty of paying kickbacks to doctors.

"The sales force bribed physicians to prescribe GSK products using every imaginable form of high-priced entertainment, from Hawaiian vacations [and] paying doctors millions of dollars to go on speaking tours, to tickets to Madonna concerts," said US attorney Carmin Ortiz.

GSK said in a statement it would pay the fines through existing cash resources.

Yep, just a cost of doing business the Big Pharma way.


Sunday, July 01, 2012

Cable to cabal: man up

Vince Cable: 'endemic corruption' in banking
Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, has urged shareholders to "get a stronger grip" on the banks, where "incompetence, corruption and greed have been endemic".

After a week in which a computer glitch at RBS left millions of customers unable to pay bills or move money; rate fixing allegations engulfed Barclays; and the Financial Services Authority reached a settlement with banks over the mis-selling of interest rate hedging products to small business customers, Mr Cable said that we were "faced with a moral quagmire of almost biblical proportions".

Mr Cable added last week's "banking scandals" demolished the myth that the banking crash "was all the fault of a few colourful rogues". "We have been reminded, instead, that the rot was far more widespread. Incompetence, corruption and greed have been endemic in British banking," he wrote in The Observer.

Outlining steps to address "the mess", he said that banks need to be "made safe"; that steps to ringfence investment banking from retail banking needed to be implemented; and that there needed to be "accountability".

"Regulators are a backstop: they don't own banks," Mr Cable added. "The governance at the top of our leading banks has been lamentably weak. No one at the top of Barclays will take responsibility for systemic abuse.

Cable urges shareholders to get 'stronger grip' on banks
Business Secretary Vince Cable has urged shareholders in British banks to “get a stronger grip” on the boards and executives responsible for “systemic abuse”.

He said that nobody at Barclays was prepared to take responsibility for the rate-rigging scandal that has engulfed the company in recent days and that shareholders ought to take action.

“The governance at the top of our leading banks has been shown to be lamentably weak. No one at the top of Barclays will take responsibility for systemic abuse.”

He added: “Shareholders, the owners, have a major responsibility here. I am bringing in legislation to strengthen their control over pay and bonuses, through binding votes, but shareholders have to get a stronger grip on weak boards and out-of-control executives.”

In vain in a similar mood across the Pond:
Banks Conspire to Fleece the Public

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