Monday, September 29, 2014

Russian Engineers Say Malaysian Airline Shot Down by Fighter Jet

The Russian Union of Professional Engineers conclude in their report that Malaysian Flight MH17 was shot down by a jet fighter probably belonging to Ukraine's armed forces since the rebels are not equipped with aircraft and both sides agree there were no Russian aircraft in the vicinity. After examing flight recorder data and wreckage, the technical experts point to several facts about the crash to support their conclusion: holes about the size of 30mm aircraft cannon rounds are clearly visible in pieces of fuselage wreckage; the pilots did not issue a distress call because cannon fire from ahead caused immediate decompression of their cockpit; Russian military radars detected a fighter flying on an intercept course at a lower altitude than the airliner. The experts suggest the interceptor emerged from a cloud layer in front of Flight MH17, fired with its 30mm cannon killing the crew, and then proceed to the rear of the airliner from where it launched air-to-air missles. The damaged Boeing airliner then rapidly decompressed and fell from 10,000 meters breaking up at high altitude. That scenario is consistent with the extensive debris field. The United States has repeatedly maintained the airliner was downed by a surface-to-air missle launched by Russian supported rebels. Dutch accident experts have yet to release their findings.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Marine Reserve Expanded

Alamy: hermit crab on Howland Is.
The President signed an executive order expanding the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument to covers 370,000 square miles of the central Pacific. The order enlarges the reserve six times and makes it the largest marine reserve in the world. The designation makes the waters off limits to commercial fishing, thus protecting unique coral reefs and marine ecosystems. His executive action is part of the administration's efforts to take action against global warming and in favor of environmental preservation despite deadlock in Congress. This declaration is his 12th exercise of executive power under the Antiquities Act.

Bokikokiko, Christmas Is.
After protests from Hawaiian-based tuna fleets, the Current Occupant left seas around four islands (Howland, Baker, Palmyra and Kingman) open to fishing. Marine conservation advocates wanted all seven islands and atolls protected, which would have put 782,000 square miles of ocean beyond legal commerical fishing. Conservationists have called the vast area near pristine and some of the last real tropical ocean wilderness left on the planet. The small, independent island nation of Kiribati will soon announce that it is setting aside an ocean area about the size of California to protect the waters around the Phoenix Islands. That preserve is to come into effect in January 2015.

Wyoming's Wolves Again Under Federal Protection

After the state went on a wolf-hunting rampage, a federal district court has restored endangered species protection for the gray wolf in Wyoming. The shoot-on-sight policy will be halted until the state comes up with a credible, science based plan to protect their survival. Judge Amy Jackson said the US Fish & Wildlife Service accepted a state promise to maintain a wolf population without requiring adequate safeguards. The state's excuse for a management plan reclassified the wolf as a trophy animal which allowed seasonal hunting as well as labeling it a preditor that could be shot on sight in four-fifths of the state. Obviously there was a dissconnect between federal policy and Wyoming's wildlife department since it is logically impossible to reconcile the wolf's endanagered status while being classed as vermin on the state level. Wyoming's wolf hunt was scheduled to begin October 1st. The ruling will cause a lot of itchy trigger fingers among wolf haters.

Wyoming was required to maintain at least ten breeding pairs and 100 wolves outside the boundaries of Yellowstone National Park. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, there are 306 wolves outside the park now. However since federal protection was lifted by the Current Occupant in 2012 to pay off political favors, sixty-six were killed by trophy hunters and more than 60 killed in the areas in which it was classified as vermin. Wolves face similar persection in Idaho where an anti-wolf board establishes policy. Until state agricultural and sport hunting interests give up their wolf hatred, the species needs the protection of federal law so it can fully recover. The US Fish & Wildlife proposal to end endangered species protection everywhere except southern Arizona, New Mexico and a small area of North Carolina is therefore premature. Wyoming provides a case study of what will happen if wolves loose their endangered status. US Person suggests stuffing turkeys instead of wolves.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Obama's Illegal War

More:  As expected the US is justifying its Syrian bombing campaign under Article 51 of the UN Charter  because it is defending Iraq from ISIS. The UN ambassador wrote Secretary Ban Ki-moon that the self-defense exception is applicable because Syria has lost control of the territories occupied by the so-called Islamic State.  The American ambassador also claimed one of the groups targeted near Aleppo posed a direct threat to US security. The ambassador did not address the issue of compliance with domestic legal authority for war. [read below]

{23.09.14} Still operating under a long obsolete congressional grant of war authority to the Charlatan for war against the perpetrators of the September 11th terror attack, the Obamarama has run that domestic green light into bombing ISIS in a third country, Syria, which explains why the bomber-in-chief is publicly claiming "all terrorists are Al-Qaeda". Clearly they are not, since mainstream al-Qaeda broke with ISIS for being too extreme, and is fighting the organization on the ground in Syria's civil war. Commentators and even the New York Times are questioning the administration's policy overreach. No congressional authority to wage war in a third country without a UN security mandate, or invitation by the soverign nation, can be considered legal under international law. {12.09.14, War is Their Only Answer}

In the first meeting of the General Assembly, Iran's President Hassan Rouhani condemned ISIS for its barbaric acts, but also told news media that the US military action does not "have any legal standing" without a framework sanctioned by the UN. He also called US policy "confused" since it is bombing rebellious militants while also trying to undermine Syria's ruling regime of Bashar al-Assad. Iran is a close ally of President Assad, and opposes the so-called Islamic State declared by the extremists. Russia has also expressed its disapproval of Obama's unilateral decison to go to war against ISIS in Syria. The US does have an invitation from its quislings in Baghdad to operate against ISIS in Iraq.  Unlike Iraq, Syria has not made a request for assistance eventhough it has effectively lost control of part of its territory to ISIS.

When the Obamanator went to war against Libya's Muammar Qaddafi, he made sure he obtained a UN Security Council resolution authorizing NATO airstrikes. Once again the imperialists in the Washington security establishment are trotting out the limp pony of "commander-in chief-authority" as enough basis for war mongering anywhere in the world they allege a threat to America's apparently boundless security interests. Unfortunately, top government officials have repeatedly said ISIS does not present an immediate threat to the United States, so the remote attacks against it cannot qualify as self-defense. Nor can collective defense of Iraq be a legitimate basis since Iraq has not formerly declared that it is threatened by ISIS forces in Syria and involk the recognized exception of self-defense with a request for assistance from its allies.

The Obombanator will chair a US Security Council meeting in New York next week, where he could ask for a resolution authorizing the use of force against ISIS in Syria. Resolution 2170 concerning ISIS passed last month did not authorize the use of force. Russia will undoubtably veto any effort to give the United States international legal authority to further project its military power abroad given the on-going dispute over Ukraine.

'Toontime: The New Normal

credit: Chris Britt
Wackydoodle sez: Aid and comfort, aid and comfort, awk!
The UK's MPs maybe willing to have their air forces join the bombing campaign, but this stark statistic shows the depth of the problem confronting western military leaders: Three thousand Europeans have joined the jihadist crusade. The CIA estimates ISIS may have up to 31,000 fighters in Iraq and Syria where the organization has declared a caliphate in the parts of the two nations it controls. This large nunber of obstensible Europeans will give the terrorists the capability of launching terror attacks in Europe in retaliation for the bombing campaign that has launched over 200 hundred strikes:

Generally accepted is the conclusion that air power alone will not reduce ISIS. Proxy forces to replace a nearly useless Iraqi army will be necessary to reclaim lost territory, and right now there is no coordinated plan among countries willing to become involved in the crisis. Meanwhile, the important border crossing of Kabane on the Turkey-Syria border in under attack by the jihadis.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Electric Cars Making Headway

A new analysis from the Union of Concerned Scientists says that 60% of Americans live in areas where electric vehicles (EVs) produce less global warming emissions. That figure is up from 45% in 2012. Automakers are also producing more efficient EVs too. The average battery vehicle uses 0.325kw/mi a five percent improvement over 2011. The amount of electricity needed to power a 3000lb vehicle a mile is roughly equivalent to using toaster oven for 20 minutes. Elon Musk, founder of Tesla motors and maker of the successful but expensive Model S sedan plans to open a new battery factory in Nevada where his company hopes to make batteries even more efficient and less expensive. EVs can now beat any hybrid vehicle on the market in terms of emission reductions depending on the region from which they use electricity. In California they achieve an equivalent of 95mpg, in New York a whopping 112mph while in Colorado they only make 34mgp, still better than the average gasoline powered compact at 28mpg {graphic courtesy UCS}.

EVs are becoming increasingly popular among segments of the American population. California achieved its 100,000 unit sale earlier this month and the legislature aims to pass a bill to bring 1 million EVs to the state by 2023 through programs such as car-sharing, generous rebates and builiding charging infrastructure. Electric vehicle sales are expected to reach 250,000 nationally this month. Based on these trends that will make hybridization technologically superfluous, electric vehicles will play a large role in America's driving future.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Chart of the Week: Yuan Gets Harder

China's yuan became the second largest trading currency in the world, surpassing the Euro. It is still dwarfed by the almighty dollar however:

SWIFT, the bank and international payment service made the announcement last quarter of 2013, using a traditional and narrow definition of trade financed by letters of credit. Most world trade (80%) is now conducted on face-to-face terms. The yuan is steadily becoming more expensive against the dollar and that could account for its surpassing the Euro. If one looks at payments made in various currencies, the yuan is now seventh behind the Canadian dollar, hardly a new world reserve currency. Britain leads the growth in yuan payments, with a surge of 123.6% year over year. The City is never loath to miss a deal and they have been at it for centuries.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Creature Feature: Denali Revisited

Denali from Wonder Lake at dawn
Such a stunning wild landscape as Denali National Park & Preserve and its impressive wild creatures warrant a second look. US Person presents more of his digital photography for your enjoyment*. Despite the official designation as a national park (1917) and international biosphere (1976), it may interest readers of Persona Non Grata to know that the Current Occupant signed the Denali National Park Improvement Act 2013 which allows the National Park Service to issue permits to permit the construction of a natural gas pipeline in the park! Whether this unwelcome development project every becomes reality remains to be decided.  Denali itself is a granite peak that has the highest elevation gain of any peak in the world at 5500m.  Part of the Alaska Range, the mountain's hard granite is deeply carved by glaciers, but it is still rising due to convergence of the North American and Pacific tectonic plates. The park experiences seismic activity all the time, but only a few are large enough to be felt. On November 3, 2002 a 7.9 quake started thousands of land slides.
white spruce taiga

Most of the terrain is tundra since treeline is about 2500 feet. Trees that grow there are stunted due to harsh climate, thin soils, and permafrost. Three types of forest occur in the park according to altitude: bog, bottomland spruce-popular forest, and upland spruce-hardwood forest. Spruces, white and black and willows (11 types) dominate the forests. Tundra consists of mossess, ferns, grasses and lichens living in harmonious balance and forming a thick, springy mat covering the terrain. Wild berries, especiallly blueberries, cranberries and soap berries thrive in the tundra and provide an abundant food source for Denali's bears.
tundra contains bearberry (red) and caribou lichen (yellow)
Besides the more obvious mammals because of their size and number, Denali is also home to marmots, artic ground squirrels, beavers, pikas, snowshoe hares, foxes, martins, lynxes and wolverrines. Migratory species of birds stay in the park in late spring and summer. They include waxwings, artic warblers, pine grosbeaks, ptarmigan, grey jays and tundra swans. Preditory birds include the northern harrier (spotted by US), gyrfalcon and the golden eagle among others. Only one amphibian makes its home in Denali, the difficult-to-find wood frog.
big bull moose

The North American grizzly bear (Ursus arctos horribilis) is probably the large mammal every visitor wants to see besides Dall sheep. There are over 300 in the park today and chances are good that a casual visitor will see a bear, at least in the distance. But when a dark male uses the road beside you bus to chase an attractive blonde Toklat female, you have an unforgetable image to retain in your mind and hopefully find in your camera viewfinder. The park recorded its first ever human fatality from a bear encounter in August 2012. Most grizzlys are too busy with their own survival to threaten humans, but suprising one in the bush is definitely to be avoided. Boars will attack if they feel threatened, and their aggressiveness is only exceeded by a sow with cubs. During US Person's brief visit, rangers closed the Eielson Visitor Center due to intense bear activity in the area. Some areas such as Sable Pass are permanently off-limits to visitors to afford maximum protection to wildlife.

silver tipped or blonde Toklat female

two Dall rams on distant ridge
Human habitation in Denali is estimated at about 11,000 years based on dated sites just outside the park boundaries. No remains of permanent settlements have been found, only evidence of hunting camps. The oldest site in the park is the Teklanika River site dated to about 7130 BC. Eighty-four archelogical sites are documented within the boundaries. Recently, ichnites or fossilized footprints of prehistoric animals have been found. In the Vistor's Center a cast of a hadrosaur footprint is on display. The park's Kantishna Hills region also hosted gold miners at the turn of the last century. A minor rush occurred in 1905 when placer gold was located in Eureka Creek. The camp that sprang up near the source of gold endured into the middle of the 20th century until the gold became uneconomic to mine. Today Kantishna, as it is now known, hosts a few visitor lodges and a nearby airstrip.
unusually clear view to Denali from the access road
*US Person uses a lightweight Leica V-Lux 4 with a 2.8f 24m-600m zoom lens

Friday, September 19, 2014

'Toontime: The Hypnosis of War

[credit: Daryl Cagle]
Wackydoodle sez: Consult yer doctor if yo'al brain dead!
Wars are so routine to American political culture that generating popular frenzy is a wrote exercise. The Current Occupant is just saying no, but even his generals contradict him in public. In remarks to the press, General Jack Keane, a retired four-star who worked on the Iraq "surge" in the last administration implied bombing runs were not enough to defeat ISIS. General Martin Dempsey of the Joint Chiefs also expressed an apparently different view on the issue of war against ISIS than his boss in testimony before the Senate Armed Services committee. He seemed to predict the failure of the US supplied Iraq army and Kurdish militia to defeat the jihadis by saying, "He [the Current Occupant] told me to come back to him on a case by case basis." The fact is American are already fighting on the ground under the flag of the CIA. A cunning plan? NOT! 49 of the captives held by ISIS are Turks from their former consulate in occupied Mosul. So don't expect too many boots from Turkey, revolution-torn Egypt or Jordan for that matter which is too close to the shooting in Syria. It is more than ironic that the most effective enemies of the Sunni loonies are Iran, Syria and Hezbollah. All of these organizations are on the official US enemies list. Independent Maine senator Angus King evaluated the situation: it is the "wack-a-mole approach" to anti-terrorism. The Obamarama show is tanking because of a war it inherited, so what do the nearly leaderless American people have to look forward to:

credit: Ken Catalino
BC Idowanna sez: You always hurt one you love!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

COTW: Another Scary Trend

This chart is based on NATO expenditures in 2011 constant US$:

The world spends more on weapons than it does on energy supply. Weapons are an expense, not an investment since they do not generate returns, obsolesce quickly, and are intended to be expended. So $1.7tn less is available each year to invest in productive assets, reducing fossil fuel consumption or the necessities of life. The former Soviet Union had 27,000 nuclear warheads at one time and although there are no reports of missing or stolen Soviet nukes, it is probably only a matter of time before some lunatics obtain enough fissionable material to make a bomb. Nuclear accidents involving weapons-- so-called "Broken Arrow" events in military code--also occur. Goldsboro, North Carolina was one arming switch away out of six from suffering a nuclear explosion when a B-52G failed catastrophically in 1961 and released its Mark 39 nuclear payload. One unarmed bomb remains buried were it came to rest near the town of Eureka. As detective Phillip Marlowe put it, "My, my so many guns around town, and so few brains." For your further consideration:

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Illinois Protects Large Mammals

Illinois is not the first state that comes to mind when one thinks of wildlife.
Governor Pat Quinn changed the game when he signed the Protection of Wildlife Bill which protects mountain lions, gray wolves and black bears from being killed without good cause. Large mammals are making a reappearance in Illinois, once covered in forests, according to Southern Illinois University. Researchers say seven gray wolves, four mountain lions and two black bears have been seen since 2000. Recently a third black bear bear was spotted near Rockford. Up until now these large carnivores could be shot on sight. Which is exactly what happened when mountain lions wandered across man's borders. A young male cougar in breeding health crossing a Whiteside County farm was shot last November by a state conservation officer armed with a state-issued rifle for the lack of more enlightened wildlife laws. The farmer, nervous about his family asked that the cougar be killed. The last cougar to be shot in Illinois was in 2008. Since 1890 cougars have attacked humans in North America only 145 according to National Geographic, not known for animal-lovers' bias. Considering that man has usurped their hunting territories almost exclusively, that is an amazing amount of restraint on the feline's part. Now, the new state law allows the killing of these carnivores only when the animals threaten livestock or public safety. The question is would the Whiteside cougar have been saved even under the new law since it could be argued his mere presence threatened the farmer? Whose fault is that, the farmer's or the feline's? There is no legislative cure for lack of guts. Governor Quinn, state senator Linda Homes and state Representative Kelly Cassidy were sponsors of the bill.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Creature Feature: Denali's Big Five

Denali National Park, Alaska contains a two million acre wilderness area and a  gravel road runs through it. Other than this single access route, it is essentially trackless and an immensely beautiful nature preserve dominated by the "High One", 20,320 feet (Mt. McKinley*). Denali presides over tundra moraine that in Alaska's early fall is alive with colors of white, gold, red and greens. A trophy hunter, Charles Sheldon came to the Kantishna Hills in 1908 and sojourned ten months. He quickly became concerned that market hunters would devastate the iconic Dall sheep, the only white wild sheep in the world. He joined
spot the ptarmigan
President Roosevelt's conservation campaign and lobbied to make Denali a National Park, the "Yellowstone of the North". He succeeded in making his vision reality. The original preserve was expanded to six million acres in 1980 when President Carter signed the Alaska National Interest Lands Convervation Act (ANILCA). It established over 100 million acres of new parks, preserves and wild refuges. He called signing the act into law one of the most satisfying actions of his entire public career.

the desire of...
The wildlife of Denali, especially the wolf, benefitted from the work of wildlife biologist Adolph Murie who was asked by the Park Service to study the relationship between wolves and Dall Sheep. Murie spent three years, 1939-41, in Park cabins and followed wolf packs in their daily activities. He also observed moose, caribou, and bear. Murie examined 1,174 scats to find out what these animals ate. The Government Printing Office first published his study, "The Wolves of Mt. McKinley" in which he concluded that wolves "have a salutary effect on sheep as as species" since they prey primarily on the young and infirm. Caribou is the wolf's "basic food supply in interior Alaska", supplemented by sheep, ground squirrels, marmots and mice. In the 30's that was akin to
rutting season
wildlife management heresy since wolves were uniformly portrayed as craven killers, the wild dog that refused to become enslaved to man. Pernicious remnants of that vilification still persist as a few western states have resumed killing the wolf because it is thought to compete with man's dominion over nature, especially animals hunted as trophies such as elk, moose and sheep.

2 year olds waiting for mom
Alaska, unfortunately, follows this persuasion. Only 55 wolves remain in Denali, at the low end of their historic population range of 50-120. In six years the Denali's wolf population dropped from 120. The Park Service attributes this population decrease to the ending of a buffer agreement with the state in 2010. Wolves roaming in the private Stampede enclave once again were subjected to hunting and trapping. Although no bounty is offered for killing wolves, they are subject to Alaska's "intensive management" program to increase moose and caribou
caribou grazing on exposed hillside
numbers. Intensive management includes the removal of natural predators.  Moose is a prized meat source even among urban Alaskans.  As a consequence wolf hunting regulations have been considerably relaxed. Although the Park Services is not "overly concerned" about the so few wolves living in the protected six million acres, Denali is designated a world-heritage biosphere. If wolves are decimated to the point they no longer function in their ecological role, reintroducing them from elsewhere would endanger its distinctive international designation.

male grizzly using the road
Today, the park really belongs to the wildlife. Humans are restricted to walking, flying, or as most of the 400,000+ annual visitors experience Denali, riding along the access road in buses, private and National Park operated.  In the future when climate change makes Alaska even more accessible to visitors, the current level of road and air traffic at about 10,000 road vehicles per year could increase dramatically.  The National Park Service must remain especially vigilant against adverse human impacts on the wilderness.  Water quality in streams near the access road must bemonitored closely to determine if road runoff is polluting otherwise clean water.  Air pollution from dust and vehicle exhaust must also be a priority concern of management officials.  If evidence of pollution warrants, vehicle numbers should be constricted to compatible numbers, or a switch to electric vehicles undertaken as soon as technological development permits.  Without these safeguards Denali could indeed become the Yellowstone of the North in a bad way.  Wilderness is the Creators work, but only man can preserve it.

the dawn's early light
*Mt. McKinley is a misnomer at best and its continued use detracts from the evocative native Athabasca name, Denali. McKinley never visited his namesake.  The mountain was so named officially because a prospecting Ivy-leaguer wanted to draw attention to the gold standard supported by McKinley in his presidential campaign. If presidential relationships to geographic features are a criteria is should be re-named Mt. Carter. Politics aside, US Person and most fair-minded persons prefer Denali. All photos courtesy of US Person.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

BP Found Grossly Negligent in Deepwater Horizon Blowout

A federal district judge in New Orleans has finally decided what many following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster believed: British Petroleum was grossly negligent in its "conscious disregard for known risks" during the drilling and ensuing well blowout that caused the largest environmental disaster in the history of the US oil industry and killed eleven workers.{24.04.12, Weekend Edition: BP Concealed Caspian Blowout} Because of Judge Barbier's conclusions the company will be liable for the maximum amount of $4300 per barrel spilled under the Clean Water Act. That could amount to $18bn in penalties on top of the $4.5bn BP has already paid in criminal fines for manslaughter and $27bn in cleanup costs and restitution. The amount of oil spilled is still to be determined in another phase of the case, expected to begin in January. Government experts think 4.2 million barrels spilled into the Gulf of Mexico. The case has taken almost two years to litigate. Upon announcement of the decision, the company's shares fell more than 6%. The company is expected to appeal the decision that found it 67% responsible for the disaster; BP's contractors were also found culpable.

The largest spill in US history deserves the largest penalties, said an Audubon director. Thousands of birds and uncounted marine life died from crude oil contamination. Leaking oil from the Macondo wellhead is still killing wildlife in the area. BP faces yet another set of potential fines for violating the federal Oil Pollution Act of 1990. Those liabilities could cost the company another $10bn.  BP produced $24bn in profits last year.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Toontime: War Is Their Only Answer

credit: Cameron Cardow, Ottawa Citizen
Wackydoodle sez:  It fit when we issued it!
The Current Occupant's speech to the nation about ISIS was so predictably reactionary that US Person did not even bother to watch it. The proposed bombing campaign to be conducted on the soil of another sovereign nation without assent from Congress in accordance with the War Powers Act is both a violation of US and international law*. The use of US military power abroad is becoming so routine that our political leaders view any foreign situation that displeases them as a potential opportunity for "diplomacy by other means". The simple truth is that the POTUS does not have the power in law to protect Americans wherever they are. That is essentially the position taken by Russian President Putin who wants to protect ethnic Russians in Ukraine. The West is retaliating against Russia for his policy.

What the president has is a legal duty to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution". That document provides for cordinate control of war-making. POTUS is the "commander-in-chief" of US military forces, but Article I, Section 8 reserves the power to Congress to declare and finance wars which no amount of creative interpretation of the former term can alter. The War Powers Act was passed after Vietnam to correct the degradation of this important constitutional provision. Incredibly, in his speech the former constitutional law professor told the American people, "I'm confident that I have the authorization that I need to protect the American people." US Person asks about that bit of bravado: first, where was the vote* authorizing use of force as required by law, and two, how does attacking a international terrorist group abroad protect the American people? If anything, war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria will provoke an attempt to retaliate against the United States' homeland. Do our leaders really want that unintended consequence?

credit: Milt Priggee
Nor is it redundant to mention that an overly broad, open-ended congressional authorization passed in the hysterical aftermath of 9-11 substantially contributed to coaxing the ISIS jinn out of cauldron of post-Saddam political instability and Islamic extremism. Before the Charlatan's 2003 invasion and occupation there was no ISIS in Iraq. The murder of two American journalists by the jihadis is just that, two murders. Brutal and despicable surely, but depraved murders happen everyday in America; they are hardly a sufficient justification for starting another war that will spread a sectarian conflict throughout the Middle East. America seems fatally prone to repeating its numerous mistakes trying to counteract international terrorism with military might. ISIS is not a threat to the United States until our confused leadership makes it so by again inserting us into a foreign religious struggle. It is a mistake to take support for American re-involvement expressed by certain nations of the Islamic world as disinterested. These autocratic regimes all pursue their own regional agendas, and are willing to use our armed forces as proxies. American imperialists since the last world war have repeatedly looked for an excuse to apply military force because as a supposedly peace-loving democracy our country cannot do otherwise and still believe make its propaganda plausible. This attempt to reignite public anger over a single, spectacularly successful terror attack thirteen years ago is no coincidence.

credit: Daryl Cagle
*Only the UN Security Council can authorize the use of military force against a member nation or on the territory of a member nation for mutual security reasons.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014


US will be on safari this week and next. Come back for more high-impact blog at Person Non Grata later this month.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

COTW: Mind the Gap

US Person does not ordinarily post speeches by current US political leaders lest he be accused of partisan purpose or endorsement. But VP Joe Biden, not the most eloquent speaker and standing at the podium of a bankrupt American city who radical "free-marketeers" believe was undermined by unionism, referred to a central fact of America in his Labor Day speech: unions spread the wealth created in a plutocracy, and that economic democratization is responsible for the country's relative social stability over a long period of time since the Civil War. That relative equity and social consensus is rapidly disappearing as this chart shows:

Foreign wars that only benefit international corporations and their ruling plutocrats are also responsible for widening the social gap between poor and rich. The poor spill their blood to protect the business interests of the wealthy elites who neither need their labor nor want to pay decent wages. Keep you ear and eye on the NATO conference in Wales next week. There will be precious little talk of peace, but plenty talk of confronting "an expansionist Russia". Ask yourself this question: How many nations that share a border with Russia in Europe are now members of NATO compared to 1990? Unless you are a plutocrat neo-imperialist, the answer might surprise you. Europe will join the US in putting the financial screws to Gazprom, Russia's 800lb economic gorilla, but it probably will not be enough to dissuade Mr. Putin from his plan for the Donbass. The energy scimitar cuts both ways in Ukraine and Europe. Russia has more leverage when it comes to energy; it again demonstrated its willingness to foster Chinese-Russian cooperation by signing an agreement in Yakutsk to begin construction of a new 3,968km pipeline linking gas fields in Siberia to China, soon to be the world's biggest economy. In return for $400bn Russia will transport 38bn m³ of gas over thirty years. That contract represents a real pivot to the east, not just rhetorical fireworks.

Here is something else to think about. Marx projected the eventual crisis of capitalism in his seminal critique, Das Capital. There he wrote that the capitalist's blind faith in ever expanding markets supplied by ever-growing production utilizing slave wages, unlimited natural resource exploitation, and ever-cheaper credit would lead to economic collapse (he did not mention ecological disaster) through over-supply and under-consumption. One case on point: Samsung, the world's #1 producer of cell phones, sells about 930 million units world-wide a year, extrapolating from 2013 last quarter sales. World cell phone capacity including Apple, LG Electronics and Lenovo is estimated about 2bn a year. The world's population growth in 2013 was 69 million for a total world population of 7.1bn. Are you a rocket scientist? No, well, you only need to understand arithmetic to realize there is a gross over-production of cell phones in the world. This condition will lead to a price collapse unless everybody decides immediately they need 28 mobile phones for every baby born in the world, every year! No amount of Madison Avenue cynicism can induce that amount of perceived need. Fully functional cellphones are thrown in the trash because the resale value of a cellphone is practically nil. Even smart phones resell at a 95% discount. A similar over-production exists for automobiles. Just check out a seaside new car dump in South Korea, Japan, Brazil, UK or the USA. It is the crisis of capitalism, and it was predicted by an irrelevant, antiquated economic genius, Karl Marx.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Bird Brains, NOT!

Further: European magpies (Pica pica) are traditionally viewed as the thieves of the bird world. In lore the these clever corvids cannot resist things that sparkle and will routinely steal small, bright objects for their nests including jewelry. NOT says a new study from the University of Exeter; the species is actually frightened by new and unfamiliar objects. All the recorded observations show both wild and rescued birds have a fear of new things be they sparkly or no. Scientists attribute the folklore to a cultural generalization of anecdotes rather than objective observation. The study was carried out on the campus of Exeter U. where magpies are accustomed to human activity. They tested shinny metal screws, foil rings, and small retangles of aluminum foil. Half of the objects were painted with matte paint and the other half left in shiny condition. Food was placed near piles of the shiny and painted objects. In only 2 of 64 tests did the wild magpie subject choose a bright object--foil rings--which it immediately discarded. Captive birds ignored the non-food objects altogether. The authors of the study say the experiment again demonstrates the intelligence of corvids who have large brains and a complex social system. They are not compulsively drawn to a shiny object but are able to decide to keep a safe distance when confronted with novel or unexpected conditions.

{25.08.14} More: A new study shows that ravens are benefiting from man's disruption of the natural landscape. The study sponsored by the Wildlife Conservation Society, USGS and Idaho State University, looked at the nesting habits of a variety of bird predators living in Idaho sagebrush prairie over a three year period. Compared to red-tailed, Swainson's and ferruginous hawks, common ravens are adapting well to artificial structures such as mobile phone towers, transmission towers, billboards and buildings. Of the four species, ravens overwhelmingly prefer man's constructions as nest sites. The three hawks stay away from artificial structures. Classified as an uncommon breeder in 1986, ravens now predominate with 46% of the nests in the study site. These corvids have a long history of symbiotic relationship with man. Anecdotes of ravens leading human hunters to prey abound; consequently the bird has achieved totemic status in North American tribal culture. Ravens have also adapted well to modern urban environments, aided by their opportunistic foraging and high intelligence. Hawks tend to be strongly territorial, intolerant of humans, and prefer live prey that occupy similar habitats. US Person has often seen ravens mobbing red tail hawks and driving them away with repeated dives against the larger bird of prey. Another piece of bad news for hawks and the sage grouse on which they prey is that ravens young birds and eggs without regard to species.

{18.08.14} US Person is always intrigued by ravens that inhabit his suburban neighborhood. Observing them one can see their intelligence as they nonchalantly dodge traffic while picking up scraps of road kill, or notice their strong bonds as they forage on the ground in family groups of two, three or four. Their vociferous squabbles with neighbors are equally apparent, yet family members often communicate with each other in a small voice. Humans are greeted with raised head feathers, an alarm display. The family of corvids (Corvidae) includes ravens, crows, and jays and magpies. Biologists are beginning to understand just how intelligent this bird family is. European magpies have exhibited self-awarness in experiments, and crows (especially a New Caledonia species) are observed using tools. Their brain-to-body mass is equal to great apes and whales, only slightly less than humans.

But can corvids think about thinking? Humans do this all the time as they constantly plan their next move and anticipate the results. This higher level of cognition is called by scientists metacognition. Finding it in animals is tricky because such a complex process can often be explained by simpler behaviors. Studies of apes and birds have not been able to isolate metacognition until a recent study involving scrub jays, species of corvid. Western scrub jays (Aphelocoma californica) are known to have complex memories because they store surplus food in scattered, hidden caches that they can accurately recover after long periods of time. They also steal from other birds' caches based on an accurate memory of observation. To reduce food pilferage, they sometimes store bright, but inedible objects that might attract a thief, and they look around for bird "spies" before making a cache. Scrub jays seem to have a mischevious streak along with obvious intelligence.

So a scientist at Cambridge University naturally picked scrub jays as his experimental subject when testing for metacognition in birds. The question is: are scrub jays aware they are thinking? Arii Watanabe devised a clever plan to answer the inquiry. Five jays were allowed to watch researchers hide a wax worm. One research hid a worm in one of four open cups; another researcher also had four cups, three of which were covered. The second worm was put in the one open cup out of four. Both researchers hid their worms at the same time, thus allowing the jays to choose which human to watch. If scrub jays used metacognition, they could understand that watching the second researcher with only one open cup would allow them to easily find his worm; consequently, they could spend more time watching the first researcher hide her worm in one of four identical cups. Remembering in which cup that worm was placed could be useful in the future, just as memorized spatial information is useful to a wild jay retrieving a cache made weeks ago. Results came in and the jays passed! They spent more time watching the first researcher. Watanabe's results are published in the peer journal Animal Cognition. His experiment does not prove scrub jays have consciousness in the human sense, but as Watanabe describes it, "some birds study for a test like humans do."  But then not all humans do that much.