Book of the Month

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New #1 After Australian Final

Women's tennis will have a new #1 next week, and the current top-ranked player, Caroline Wozniacki, will drop to #4 in the WTA rankings. A lot of scenarios were possible before the semis, but now that third seed Victoria Azarenka and fourth seed Maria Sharapova are to play the finals, the winner will also secure the #1 ranking.

According to a contributor at Yahoo, if Azarenka wins, the points will stand at:
1. Victoria Azarenka 8585
2. Petra Kvitova 7690
3. Maria Sharapova 7560
4. Caroline Wozniacki 7085 [Read more]

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Operation Plowshare

I just added Operation Plowshare to the long list of stuff I never knew about.

Following links, I ended up at 1967 Recklessness in PA Equals Destruction? at How Should We Do the Mountain blog: [Read more]

In hindsight, the plan seems impossibly audacious: Explode a 24-kiloton atomic bomb in the thick shale beneath the Sproul State Forest near State College to create a massive cavern for storing natural gas. Known as Project Ketch, it was a partnership between the Columbia Gas System Service Corp. and the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, which was hungry to find peaceful purposes for nuclear technology. (Another commission brainchild of the era: to nuke its way across Panama to create a second canal.)

Back then, Harrisburg had the red carpet out for any nuclear project, no matter how bizarre, and the proposal caught on. Why not put all that empty forest land to good use? Pennsylvania could cash in big, because the industry and the AEC hoped to detonate as many as 1,000 nuclear bombs to allow gas storage in the Northeast.

While the plan had the blessing of lawmakers from downstream districts along the Susquehanna, the reception wasn’t as enthusiastic upstream. Among those opposed were the residents of Renovo, which was ground zero for Project Ketch.
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The Man Who Fell for Fusion

Back in the 1980s, no one could replicate Pons and Fleischmann's claims about cold fusion, and the idea of controlled fusion without tremendous costs became a sort of atomic snake oil. ITER's tremendously expensive controlled "hot" fusion is still decades away from practicality, but the hydrogen bomb seems to suffice as proof of concept. Cold fusion has crept back into the news, but not into peer-reviewed discussion. Skeptics attack the few articles published with a fury. Peak Oil guru Tom Whipple is used to doubt, and has followed the issue dispassionately in a handful of articles. His Cold Fusion Update discusses the current claims of Italian entrepreneur Andrea Rossi: [Read more]

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Australian Open begins

We're half a month into 2012. Novak Djokovic's streak is long gone and most of the top names are at the Australian Open. Even though Australia is not presently as big a tennis powerhouse as say, Russia, tradition has the AO as the first major of the year. While planning the first Grand Slam—winning all four majors in one year—Don Budge was advised to skip the Australian Championships. In 1938, Australia took several weeks to reach by steamship, and his friends warned that he was such an attraction that the Aussies would play him to death in preliminary tournaments. But Budge schemed to win all four majors before turning pro, and had to start down under—as did Maureen Connolly, Rod Laver (twice), Margaret Smith Court and Steffi Graf. [Read more]

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Hybrids: Alt Energi

Even though Detroit is hurting, the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) is still a big deal in the industry. The historically Big Three did fairly well in 2011, particularly Chrysler, which increased sales some 26% more than 2010. I hated Chrysler's product line at last year's Baltimore show, but their Imported From Detroit campaign included several redesigned models. I read one article that attributed Chrysler's comeback to a patriotic fervor stimulated by the 2011 Superbowl advertisement featuring Eminem. That would be ironic, because since June, Fiat owns about 58% of Chrysler Group, LLC. [Read more]

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EVs: Leaf and i-MiEV

I'm hoping Nissan shows the Leaf at the next Auto Show. I recently looked more closely at the specs. When the Leaf was first released, forced-air cabin heating was standard, and a cold weather package was optional. In chillier areas, the cold weather package was standard. In summer 2011, Nissan offered the cold weather package as standard throughout the US. It seems that cabin heating draws 3 to 5 KW and reduces the 75 or 100 mile range (depending on who you believe), which is already a source of concern for American drivers. Presumably front and rear heated seats, a heated steering wheel and a rear HVAC duct draw much lower wattage and eventually heat the cabin air. The package also includes a battery heater and heated outside mirrors. [Read more]

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2011 Documentaries

I took another quick look at Roger Ebert's site and ran across his top twenty list of documentaries released in 2011. Though I was vaguely aware that someone had done a documentary of Conan O'Brien, I hadn't heard a thing about the rest of them, including The Interrupters, above.
  [Read more]

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The Skinny on Fat

Now is the time for resolutions, exercise and diets - or so we are told in just about every media outlet. But why is this so?

Walking through Barnes and Noble a year or two ago, I noticed Fat History, written by my college professor Peter N Stearns. I'd enjoyed his classes, so I bought the book. I've started and stopped reading it on light rail several times since then, and am still only about halfway through it. I'd probably do about as well dieting.

In his history courses, Stearns generally taught us how things really were then, as opposed to how we believed they were, and how we got to how things are now. One course was called Sex and Death, another Work and Leisure. "Then" was usually the years immediately before the Industrial Revolution, and Stearns would lecture about how and why our attitudes had changed since preindustrial times.  [Read more]

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Flicks Watched Over Xmas Break

The weekend before before Xmas I watched some classic films I had seen many times before - Holiday Inn in black and white, White Christmas in color - but one morning TCM showed All Mine To Give, based on the true story of a Scots couple settling in Wisconsin in the 1850s. Played by Glynis Johns and Cameron Mitchell, the couple worked hard, raised a cabin with help from their neighbors, prospered and brought five or six children into the new country - the American dream. But first the father, and then the mother took sick and died while the children were still quite young, and the oldest son, all of thirteen, followed his mother's wish that he find families to adopt each child. It was heart-rending to see the boy pulling an empty sleigh at the end of the film, on his way to work in a lumber camp, but at least they had neighbors with compassion. [Read more]

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Marat élu

Named for the famous revolutionary who was stabbed in the bath, Marat Safin was about as talented and powerful as anyone that has played tennis. While the he earned a handful of good results on the tour, like defeating Sampras in the 2000 US Open and briefly claiming the #1 ranking, the rumor was that he spent too much time satisfying his female fans. Though charming off-court, he was known for angry outbursts on court and claims to have smashed over a thousand racquets. He once played the Hopman Cup, "sporting a bandaged right thumb, two black eyes, a blood-filled left eye, and a cut near his right eye, all suffered in a fight several weeks earlier in Moscow."

So he's well prepared for a life in Russian politics.

Marat Safin Reveals His Plans for His Future [Read more]

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Occupy Ogallala

I got another Keystone XL (KXL) email this morning, but it wasn't from Duncan Meisel or Bill McKibben: [Read more]

Dear Friend:

Thank you for writing.  President Obama has heard from many Americans concerning the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline project, and we appreciate hearing from you.

The President is committed to creating the most open and transparent Government in American history, and values your input.  Given your interest in this matter, you may be interested in reading a recent official White House response to a petition on this issue.  To learn more, please visit:

Thank you, again, for writing.


The White House
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Cups Runneth Down Under

Some live tennis is being played, but in a series called Love-30, the Tennis Channel has been mostly rebroadcasting the 30 best matches of the year. There certainly is live controversy Down Under, though, in advance of the Australian Open. On Tennis Channel's news crawler, I caught a glimpse of a story about players being fined $75K for playing the Hopman Cup, an exhibition tournament named after the legendary Aussie tennis coach.

Exhibitions have long been controversial. In 1991, Monica Seles ticked off a lot of people when she withdrew from Wimbledon, citing an injury, only to play an exo in Mahwah NJ for a guaranteed six-figure payday. There's no income equality in tennis. Once they've succeeded on the tour, top players can make stress-free money playing exos, but the tour and the tournament organizers need those top players to attract crowds that keep their tournaments profitable, and claim that without the tour, there would be no top players. Tennis politics is truly Byzantine. [Read more]

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Doom is Normal

I don't know who dubbed me "dag's doomer" over the masthead last week, but I had to laugh because I think of doomers as those guys that are predicting an imminent meltdown of society (or its cheese) but will gladly sell gold, shotguns and freeze-dried food to all comers. We're in the time of year when radio stations replay the classic songs, tv stations replay the classic movies, newspapers tally celebrity deaths, and doomers tell us just how lucky we were this year but just how bad next year will be. I'm sure James Kunstler, Dr (Doom) Nouriel Roubini, et al, will not disappoint us in the doomsaying department, but let's face it, folks, things are already bad right now. As Joseph Stiglitz writes in Vanity Fair:

It has now been almost five years since the bursting of the housing bubble, and four years since the onset of the recession. There are 6.6 million fewer jobs in the United States than there were four years ago. Some 23 million Americans who would like to work full-time cannot get a job. Almost half of those who are unemployed have been unemployed long-term. Wages are falling - the real income of a typical American household is now below the level it was in 1997.

 [Read more]

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Daniel Yergin Gets Tight

I watched Val Kilmer in Red Planet again last night. It's 2056 and Earth has been seeding Mars with algae because our blue marble is almost toast. The acting and SFX are OK, but the plot is contrived. I like scifi enough to overlook small errors, but some of the science in the fiction doesn't make a lot of sense. Spaceships swoosh as they go by, but just about every show does that. A helper robot ignores Asimov's three laws and decides to be a ninja assassin. A scientist calls some exoskeletoned Martian insects, "nematodes," which I recall as being simple roundworms. But hey, it's escapist fantasy.

In America's New Energy Security, Daniel Yergin jumps on the tight oil bandwagon, claiming that everything's going to be fine because we're finding plenty of new oil in the good old US of A. [Read more]

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City Police Evict Occupy Baltimore

We now have kittens in PA, so we can't walk around in bare feet anymore without stepping on something they've batted under the door. Which I did Sunday evening. As I was pouring hydrogen peroxide over the hole in my heel this morning, the WBAL traffic crawler noted that a large police presence had closed traffic at Pratt & Light. At the same time, WBAL's weather cutie Ava Marie was telling us about the Festival of Lights at the Power Plant, which is not very far at all from McKeldin Square. I had the feeling that the festivities would not be including Occupy Baltimore, and I couldn't help but wonder if Darrick's taunting of the mayor at the Santa parade had set the stage for this morning's eviction. [Read more]

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Exciting Food Prices

In January 2011, Lester Brown, President of the Earth Policy Institute, predicted The Great Food Crisis of 2011, and followed up in May 2011 with The New Geopolitics of Food.
  [Read more]

In the United States, when world wheat prices rise by 75 percent, as they have over the last year, it means the difference between a $2 loaf of bread and a loaf costing maybe $2.10. If, however, you live in New Delhi, those skyrocketing costs really matter: A doubling in the world price of wheat actually means that the wheat you carry home from the market to hand-grind into flour for chapatis costs twice as much. And the same is true with rice. If the world price of rice doubles, so does the price of rice in your neighborhood market in Jakarta. And so does the cost of the bowl of boiled rice on an Indonesian family's dinner table.

Welcome to the new food economics of 2011: Prices are climbing, but the impact is not at all being felt equally. For Americans, who spend less than one-tenth of their income in the supermarket, the soaring food prices we've seen so far this year are an annoyance, not a calamity. But for the planet's poorest 2 billion people, who spend 50 to 70 percent of their income on food, these soaring prices may mean going from two meals a day to one. Those who are barely hanging on to the lower rungs of the global economic ladder risk losing their grip entirely. This can contribute -- and it has -- to revolutions and upheaval.
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An Ill Wind

You've probably read that eight Ferraris, a Lamborghini, and three Mercedes, traveling at a highly-efficient 80 to 100 mph, crashed when one of the Ferraris had to pass a slow-moving Prius, and hit a slower-moving guardrail. In a twist of irony, after causing the accident, the Prius was the only undamaged vehicle. This $3 million debacle proves that Priuses, and other non-ICE vehicles, represent a hazard to normal traffic. Maybe Priuses should be made to drive on the sidewalk, where they can't obstruct efficient, high-speed drivers. [Read more]

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Posse Come and Get Us

While we argue about economics, candidates and option backs, political voices as disparate as revolutionary Anonymous (youtubing in a typical Guy Fawkes mask), the ACLU, right-wing Forbes Magazine, left-wing Mother Jones and the libertarian Reason Magazine are railing against two sections of the latest National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

Defense appropriations are nothing new, of course, but Sections 1031 and 1032 are said to allow, even require, military personnel to engage in domestic law enforcement—a violation of Posse Comitatus. Someone must be for those provisions, because each house of Congress has quietly passed the bill, and the Big Four (Levin, Graham, McCain and Sessions) are now working on a reconciliation to be sent to President Obama, who has the option of a veto. Some outlets claim he has vowed to veto it, but others claim he only wants to veto it because it doesn't provide enough secrecy. [Read more]

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Occupy Envy


Occupy Baltimore plans to "put on a show." 
We will be having the first meeting of those theatrically minded individuals interested in performing street theater renditions of social justice related works. Our first production will be a half hour rendition of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.
Not sure how you play Dickens in half an hour.

Meanwhile, in What You Don't Often Hear About Those 'Greedy' One Percenters, Forbes Magazine revives Rush Limbaugh's politics of envy trope - a tirade he aimed at anyone that dared suggest the rich were not deservedly different than you and me.

The rise of the Occupy Wall Street movement has brought with it a renewed emphasis on the impoverishing notion of envy. To the Occupiers, along with much of the political class, society’s economic rules favor the top 1 percent at the certain expense of the other 99.

Great rhetoric for sure, but also quite a lot of nonsense. People who should know better bemoan the economic means possessed by the 1 percent, but rarely do they consider the gargantuan efforts required by those at the top to get there in the first place.

 [Read more]

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The Unbelievable Adventures

I just read that John Neville, who played Baron Munchausen in The Adventures Of ..., and the Well-Manicured Man on The X-Files, has died. In stories, Munchausen was a comical hero able to lift himself to the moon by his own bootstraps, or out of a swamp by his own hair, and so on.

In the 1970s, I wanted an EV so I could avoid sitting in gas lines. On the one hand pretty girls would walk up and down the line selling coffee, doughnuts, and Washington Posts but on the other there were fistfights and guns drawn over one's place in line. I bought a 120 mpg moped and filled it from my car's tank, so my fingers smelled like gasoline but I only had to refill every 1000 miles. [Read more]

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