Sunday, November 27, 2011

Last Call

The next bailout is in the works for the Eurozone, and it's looking to be Italy's windfall at the expense of Germany and France.

The IMF could bail out Italy with up to 600 billion euros ($794 billion), an Italian newspaper reported on Sunday, as Prime Minister Mario Monti came under pressure to speed up anti-crisis measures.

The money would give Monti a window of 12 to 18 months to implement urgent budget cuts and growth-boosting reforms "by removing the necessity of having to refinance the debt," La Stampa reported, citing IMF officials in Washington.

The IMF would guarantee rates of 4.0 percent or 5.0 percent on the loan -- far better than the borrowing costs on commercial debt markets, where the rate on two-year and five-year Italian government bonds has risen above 7.0 percent.

The size of the loan would make it difficult for the IMF to use its current resources so different options are being explored, including possible joint action with the European Central Bank in which the IMF would be guarantor.

"This scenario is because resistance from Berlin to a greater role for the ECB in helping states in difficulty -- starting with Italy -- could be overcome if the funds are given out under strict IMF surveillance," the report said.

That joint action gimmick is the giveaway, and that means that the world's players are now invested in saving the Euro by saving Italy's bond market.  The problem is a whole host of other European countries are having bond auctions in the next week or so, and if they fail as badly as this week's auctions did, it's going to be a bloodbath.

We'll see how the markets respond.

DNA Testing... Dinner

This actually has a lot of really cool applications, as the rest of the article makes clear.  It will help us build a database of knowledge that we can use to cross-reference and check against what we know (or think we know) about eating habits of all creatures.  It has endless scientific potential, and will lead to several discoveries just because we're using new information for several different things.

But first, let's make sure our caviar is from the region and of the quality we expect.

CANBERRA, Australia -- Restaurants around the world will soon use new DNA technology to assure patrons they are being served the genuine fish fillet or caviar they ordered, rather than inferior substitutes, an expert in genetic identification says.

In October, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration officially approved so-called DNA barcoding – a standardized fingerprint that can identify a species like a supermarket scanner reads a barcode – to prevent the mislabeling of both locally produced and imported seafood in the United States. Other national regulators around the world are also considering adopting DNA barcoding as a fast, reliable and cost-effective tool for identifying organic matter.

David Schindel, a Smithsonian Institution paleontologist and executive secretary of the Washington-based Consortium for the Barcode of Life, said he has started discussions with the restaurant industry and seafood suppliers about utilizing the technology as a means of certifying the authenticity of delicacies.

"When they sell something that's really expensive, they want the consumer to believe that they're getting what they're paying for," Schindel told The Associated Press.

Pretty neat.  I'm not as concerned with the delicacies so much as the other areas of improvement, but it's gotta start somewhere!

Cain Unable, Part 10

So Herman Cain went on CNN this morning to defend his TSA profiling program of "targeted identification" as entirely not like a profiling program, only that it would accomplish the same things.

In an interview Sunday, CNN’s Candy Crowley pressed Cain on what he meant by “targeted identification.”

“I don’t see it as another word for profiling,” Cain explained. “Targeted identification is a deliberate approach to figure out patterns associated with people who have tried to kill us.”

“But this sounds a little bit like ‘flying while Middle Eastern,’ not unlike ‘driving while black,’” Crowley noted, referring to the fact that African Americans are often stopped by law enforcement more often than whites.

“Candy, you are trying to pull me into the rhetoric that gets people in trouble, and what I’m trying to do is not be drawn into that,” Cain objected. “No. I am not trying to identify a particular religion, a particular color, a particular ethnicity. I’m simply saying, we should not be afraid to identify those characteristics that basically have been consistent in people who have tried to hurt this country. That’s all I’m saying.”

Right, we just generalize people for extra scrutiny and accuse them of being security threats based on completely physical, if not racial criteria but it's not profiling and it's not like "driving while black" at all.

Can Herman Cain even name those "characteristics" that he would have the TSA look for in suspects?  No, because a truly fair system would A) acknowledge that we have a domestic terror problem with white male terrorists and that they exist, and B) we'd have to do something about them. Better to say "we're keeping an eye on that young male Muslim looking guy."

Cain's done, but to see his last gasps like this?  Just depressing.

"It's Crazy" Indeed

PEABODY — A Peabody man still on probation after his 17th drunken-driving conviction persuaded a judge yesterday not to send him back to jail, after he was caught driving again in September.

Charles Stefanilo Jr.'s license had been revoked for life as a result of his long history of drinking and driving. But that didn't stop him from getting behind the wheel over the Labor Day weekend, and probation officials wanted a judge to revoke his probation as a result.

"That means I would be doing eight years in jail," Stefanilo, 55, complained to Judge Timothy Feeley. "It's crazy."

Stefanilo, who hasn't had a valid license to drive since at least 1995, served nearly five years in jail following his 16th drunken-driving conviction in Massachusetts. He also has at least one out-of-state conviction.

His 2004 arrest in Peabody was actually his 20th drunken-driving arrest, but he was able to beat four of the cases on his record, which dates to 1977.

Under the terms of an unusual sentence imposed after that 2004 arrest, Stefanilo also received a suspended two-year jail term for being a habitual traffic offender and an almost-unheard-of 25 years of probation, along with a $50,000 fine.

How is it that guys like this get by?  He says it's crazy, and he's right.  Just in the totally opposite way he meant it.  Granted, I am biased against drunk driving because a good friend of mine was killed by one and I nearly was on a different occasion.  But even by normal standards, this passed crazy a long time ago.

Sealing The Deal

Things are looking up for the little ginger-coloured seal pup whose fate touched the world after being rejected by the rest of its sleek black family.

Left as an outcast, the vulnerable creature was found huddling under a pile of logs on Tyuleniy Island in the far east of Russia.

Photographer Anatoly Strakhov, 61, took heartbreaking pictures of the world's loneliest seal, which would have been unable to survive in the wild.

Two months on and Russians have taken the rare albino seal - who turns out to be female - to their hearts.

Named Nafanya - after a lookalike Soviet cartoon character - the seal was given VIP treatment and has now moved into a plush new home at the country's leading aqauarium.

Nafanya was taken on a 7,890-mile odyssey to the Russian mainland and then by special plane to Adler, near Sochi on the Black Sea coast, where she is rapidly becoming a star attraction.

A little kindness goes a long way. She will get plenty of love and attention, and after quarantine will live in captivity but adored. It's the best possible outcome for her.
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