Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Last Call

Can we finally stop pretending that Michele Bachmann was ever a serious candidate for anything?

Michele Bachmann has had her fair share of foreign policy stumbles, but she just hit a whole new level.

According to a tweet from NBC News’ Jamie Novogrod, Bachmann responded to the recent raiding of the British embassy in Iran, by saying that if she was President, she would close down the U.S. embassy there.

There’s just one problem: The U.S. has not had an embassy in Iran ever since the Iranian hostage crisis, when revolutionaries from the budding Islamic state held 52 Americans for 444 days. Indeed, frustration over this helped bring down Bachmann’s bete noire Jimmy Carter by defining his presidency as weak. The two countries have not had official diplomatic relations since that time. Furthermore, President Obama’s short-lived offer of outreach “without preconditions” was a critical part of Republican attacks against his foreign policy.

"Complete ignorance" doesn't begin to describe the woman on one level, and yet it describes her perfectly.  She is so completely, totally, perfectly unqualified for the White House that it pains me to see her having entered the race in the first place, if only to remind us that a functional representative democracy needs at least two functional parties.

The Republican party right now?  Broken.  I'm not sure it can be repaired. At the very least it's going to need a total overhaul.

And here's the kicker:  Even if Bachmann never actually said this, she's still so one hundred percent not qualified for President based on al the other idiotic things she has said, that not even the Republicans are paying attention anymore.

Persona Non Grata, Govnah

In retaliation for the storming of the British Embassy in Tehran, the British Parliament has given all Iranian diplomats in the UK 48 hours to vacate the country.

Foreign Secretary William Hague told the House of Commons that Britain had also withdrawn its entire diplomatic staff from Iran after angry mobs hauled down Union Jack flags, torched a vehicle and tossed looted documents through windows.

The rare move to kick out a country's entire diplomatic corps marks a significant souring of ties between Iran and the West, amid deepening suspicions over Tehran's pursuit of nuclear weapons. Tensions were heightened in October when U.S. officials accused agents linked to Iran's Quds Force — an elite wing of the powerful Revolutionary Guard— of a role in an alleged plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to the U.S.

Germany, France and the Netherlands all recalled their ambassadors from Iran late Wednesday for consultations on further action in response. Norway closed its embassy in Tehran as a precaution.

For many, the hours-long assault Tuesday on the British embassy in Tehran was reminiscent of the chaotic seizure of the U.S. embassy there in 1979. Protesters replaced the British flag with a banner in the name of a 7th-century Shiite saint, Imam Hussein, and one looter showed off a picture of Queen Elizabeth II apparently taken off a wall.

"The idea that the Iranian authorities could not have protected our embassy or that this assault could have taken place without some degree of regime consent is fanciful," Hague told lawmakers.

Iran currently has 18 diplomats in Britain, according to Britain's foreign ministry.

Not for much longer.   Iran of course plans to return the favor.  And with zee Germans, the Dutch, and the French all withdrawing their ambassadors from Tehran for "consultation" it looks to me that things are pretty bloody awful right now, diplomatically.  Pakistan is still fighting mad.  The Saudis aren't returning our calls.  Violence is on the rise in Iraq.  Japan is still suffering a nuclear nightmare.  The eurozone is on the verge of currency breakdown, and now this mess in Iran getting worse by the day.

Cooler heads need to prevail right now or it's going to turn into a carnage-filled carnival.

Now THAT'S How You Use A CAT Scan

A Stradivarius violin has been "recreated" using an X-ray scanner normally used to detect cancers and injuries, according to researchers.

The US-based group used a computerised axial tomography (CAT) scanner on the 307-year-old instrument to reveal its secrets.

They then used the data recovered to build "nearly exact copies".

The team said the technique could be used to give musicians access to rare musical equipment.

Their findings have been presented to the Radiological Society of North America at a conference in Chicago.

A thousand scans later, they were able to measure the things that make a Strad a Strad. Wood density, touches from the craftsman, even dings and the wear of the strings over the centuries shape the instrument. They were able to get respectable copies, and violinists were able to coax a superior sound from the product.

This is an amazing gift. Students may someday have access to a reasonably priced superior instrument. I paid dearly for mine for years, and it is average. A serious musician usually has to seek sponsors and investors to help finance an instrument. It's hard to get money from millionaires so you can really make that high E scream. It will allow talent to flourish and give more opportunities for people to learn how to play a variety of instruments.

It is also a chance for us to rediscover the art of crafting violins. This study also looked at other string instruments and gathered data. There are still master luthiers in our day and time, but we could learn about how violins were made hundreds of years ago and compare it to now. We may even learn some things that died with the original masters.

Renowned luthier Samuel Zygmuntowicz noted that violin makers have long studied Stradivari, Guarneri and other classic instruments to match their sound.

He said Dr Sirr's work may have helped democratise the process by making it possible for more people to study such antique violins. But he added that the most highly skilled luthiers would remain in demand.

"This process will streamline that effort to copy an instrument," said Mr Zygmuntowicz.

"But the very last stretch - the very last 2% - still involves exact judgements about relative thicknesses of the wood, the exact strength of the bracing, the exact varnishes and wood preparations and general optimising of the whole form.

So I would say a skilled maker with this in his hands could save himself a lot of work, and an unskilled maker would save himself a certain amount of education."

Nothing can replace the originals, but letting more people enjoy the feel of a near replica would be a wonderful treat.  Violins really do have individual voices.  I can tell in a second if I'm listening to Lucia Micarelli or Vanesssa Mae.  Their primary instruments are as distinctive as my husband's voice when I hear him in a crowded room.  The technique of the musician and the composer make a difference, but in the end the sound relies largely on the instrument and the tiny things that make it different from any other.  Thanks to this breakthrough, we can now get a better understanding of how that happens.

U.S. Invasion By Ants Underway. Yes, Ants.

I try not to get all bent out of shape when the world changes around us.  Don't get me wrong, I'm all for protecting endangered animals and plants, but I also see that change is inevitable and often suits a bigger picture that we can't see.  In the end, I have to hope that natural selection is smarter than we are, because that's how the chips are falling.  This article has some pretty cool information about species that are taking over and the changes they may bring.  The ants is the one that horrifies me the most.  It makes me think of nature fighting technology, which is a horrifying thought.  If history has taught us anything, it's that nature wins.  The link above takes you to the whole article, but I quoted the part I found most interesting.

The latest addition to the list of non-native creepy-crawlies is the hairy crazy ant. The tiny foragers are believed to have come from South America. They first got to the Caribbean in the late 19th century and are working their way through Florida and the Southeast.
First discovered in 2002 in Texas by exterminator Tom Rasberry, they are now also in Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi, says Jim Fredericks, director of technical services for the National Pest Management Association in Fairfax, Va. According to Texas A&M University, the ants are semitropical, so cooler temperatures as they move northward should eventually stop them.

When the insects encounter another colony of crazy ants, they become a supercolony and "can overrun an area — hundreds of thousands of ants can darken a sidewalk or a building," Fredericks says. "When they get into folks' homes, it's like a scene out of a horror movie." The ants can bite, but the biggest danger is that they're attracted to circuit boxes. The reason isn't known but their sheer numbers can create an ant bridge between connections, shorting out entire electrical systems.

Yeah. Sleep tight knowing that.

Giant Tesla Coils? Lighting On Demand? Hell Yeah, We Got That.

Sometimes, all it takes to push the boundaries of science is a wacky idea and a machine to prove it. Greg Leyh, founder of Lightning On Demand (LOD), may do just that, with plans to build two, ten-story-tall Teasla coils that can shoot hundreds of feet of lightning.

“Historically, new scientific machines produce unexpected discoveries,” said Leyh in an e-mail interview. “Many new discoveries are viewed as problems, where others provide fascinating new insights.”

But theories, and an experimental accident of the Siberian Institute for Power Engineering, found “laboratory-scale electric arcs start to gain lightning-like abilities once they grow past about 200ft in length,” according to the website.

Thus, the team at LOD aims to build two Tesla coils at the scale needed to generate electric arcs large enough to mimic natural lightning.

These will be the largest Tesla coils ever built, and will run at full output—around 4 million watts—to fill a football field with continuous bolts of lightning. They then plan to increase the voltage to 14 million volts and change the distance between the towers “to explore this mysterious region where normal electric arcs transform into lightning,” according to the project website.

I don't know how much of this is solid experimentation and how much is a Mythbusters-like mad scientist binge, but who cares? Lightning on demand to perfect testing and learn more about something that has taken hundreds of years because we can't just make it happen when we're ready?


Tick Tock, Euro Clock

Not a few days after the Financial Times's Wolfgang Munchau warned that the EU had basically until the end of next week to get a solution in place or the euro is done then we see the EU's money man, Oli Rehn, is warning of the same thing.

Europe faces a crucial 10 days to save the euro zone after agreeing to ramp up the firepower of its bailout fund but acknowledging it may have to turn to the International Monetary Fund for more help to avert financial disaster.

"We are now entering the critical period of 10 days to complete and conclude the crisis response of the European Union," Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn said on Wednesday as EU finance ministers met.

Euro zone ministers agreed on Tuesday night on detailed plans to leverage the European Financial Stability Mechanism (EFSF), but could not say by how much because of rapidly worsening market conditions, prompting them to look to the IMF.

Italian and Spanish bond yields resumed their inexorable climb towards unsustainable levels on Wednesday, as markets assessed the rescue fund boost as inadequate.

Stocks fell and the euro weakened after ratings agency Standard & Poor's hit some of the world's leading banks with a credit downgrade.

And yes, yesterday's mass banking sector ratings agency downgrade hit banks like Goldman Sachs,  Bank of America, and Wells Fargo.  The contagion scenario from a euro collapse is guaranteed.  All of that explains this morning's stunning announcement from the Fed:

Central banks from the world's leading developed economies said on Wednesday they will take coordinated steps to prevent a lack of liquidity in the global financial system.

The U.S. Federal Reserve, the European Central Bank and the central banks of Canada, Britain, Japan and Switzerland said in a joint statement they had agreed to lower the cost of existing dollar swap lines by 50 basis points from December 5, as well as take other measures.

Woot, "other measures" are always fun.  Helicopter Ben's Magic Printing Press has gone international.  Hello, QE3!  The roller coaster is back folks.  Time to ride.

Cain Unable, Part 11

Herman Cain will here in Cincinnati this morning on the "campaign trail", which apparently means "the slow, agonizing death of his run for President where everyone but Herman Cain himself admits it's over."  His first stop this morning:  Orange Julius country up in the northern suburbs.

Republican Presidential candidate Herman Cain will appear at a 9 a.m. rally Wednesday at the Marriott Hotel off Interstate 75 and Union Centre Boulevard.

The former pizza company executive is making a three-city swing through the state. West Chester is in a key Republican belt in Ohio, typically a pivotal swing state in presidential elections

The longtime married man has denied allegations in recent days he had a 13-year affair with a Georgia businesswoman. The allegations come after several women alleged he sexually harassed them.

Speculation swirled in the national media Tuesday night that he may quit the race. But Cain has said he will not quit unless his wife tells him she no longer believes in him.

Good god, Gloria Cain.  Spare the country this nonsense, tell him it's over, and let's get back to the GOP doing something insane like nominating Newt Gingrich, assuring an Obama win. I mean at this point, Team Cain Unable has even lost J-Mart:

Herman Cain is in the midst of “reassessing” whether to continue his 2012 bid, but its legacy is already settled: His campaign will go down as one of the most hapless and bumbling operations in modern presidential politics, setting a new standard for how to turn damaging press coverage into something far worse.

We've got work to do to get him to leave, I guess.


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