SocraticGadfly: 4/22/07 - 4/29/07

April 28, 2007

Mac users, NO, you’re not “hack free”

Nine hours to hack OS X clearly says otherwise. Macs just don’t get attacked because they’re just 5 percent of the market.
“If a hacker turned their attention to the Mac, it would suffer just as much as Windows,” Ray Wagner said. “Attacking the 95 percent of the market gets them more attention.”

According to research Wagner did in the last year, an operating system would need to hit the 20 to 30 percent penetration level before it really becomes a target for hackers. This is the point where hackers will feel it is worth the time to expose a vulnerability.

That’s not so hard to understand now, is it?

What part of “dolphin-safe” does BushCo not understand?

Fortunately, the Ninth Court of Appeals told the Bush Administration that tuna claimed to be “dolphin-safe” in catch has to be empirically verified as to fishing method.
Congress enacted a law in 1990 that said companies could not market tuna as “dolphin-safe” if they caught the fish by purposely surrounding dolphins with the nets.

Worrying they could be shut out of the U.S. tuna market, officials in Latin America have since lobbied for a less stringent rule that would allow the “dolphin-safe” label if observers on the foreign boats had not seen dolphins killed or seriously injured.

The U.S. secretary of commerce has backed the rule change, but the 9th Circuit, reaffirming its 2001 ruling on the issue, said the U.S. effort was not based on proper scientific analysis on the impact to dolphins and was politically influenced. In the ruling, the court deemed the secretary’s findings “arbitrary and capricious.”

That’s not so hard to understand now, is it?

Hire an activist communications pro

Been a while since I've posted about my job search, so it's time to do so:

I’m looking to relocate from conservative small-town east Texas, In suburban Dallas, I was named North and East Texas Press Association Journalist of the Year, weekly division, and twice won overall competition sweepstakes from the Texas Press Association, in my circulation class, along with many individual contest category awards, such as design, news writing, editorials. Interested in traditional newspaper journalism as well as journalistic and non-journalistic advocacy work and other communications positions. I have more than 10 years of expeience, primarily at weeklies, but also a semiweekly and a five-day daily. Rescue me, my skills and my mindset from small-town journalism in conservative East Texas. In print against Patriot Act Oct. 2001, Iraq invasion summer 2002.

April 27, 2007

Corporatization of universities diminishes confidence in their results

A Stanford prof recently published a study saying ethanol could have more ozone problems than gasoline. Problems, though? Yes.

ExxonMobil has given $100 million to fund Stanford's Global Climate and Energy Program. True, the ethanol study wasn’t funded by that money, but Exxon and co-funders, including Toyota, have five-year exclusive rights to the program’s discoveries. Mark Jacobson claims he exposes what E-M stands for, but what if the XX starts pulling back some of that $100 million?

April 25, 2007

Abramoff web starting to catch up to DeLay

Here’s how the tentacles of Smilin’ Jack’s corruption are starting to be connected to The Bugman, as the Houston Chronicle reports.

The federal probe into corruption related to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff could be inching closer to former U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay of Sugar Land as investigators focus on a former DeLay chief of staff who later employed the Republican leader's wife.

DeLay has not been charged with any crime in the Abramoff case. And his lawyer, Richard Cullen, said federal investigators have given DeLay no indication that he is a target of the ongoing grand jury probe, such as subpoenaing documents.

But prosecutors could decide within weeks whether to bring charges against former DeLay staff chief Edwin Buckham, according to sources close to the investigation who spoke on the condition that they not be identified. The decision should give a clear signal on whether DeLay remains in legal jeopardy, the sources said.

In recent days federal prosecutors have served notice that their sprawling Abramoff case has remained very much alive.

Josh Marshall has more on why Buckham is joining other present and former Congressional staffers, and even one Congressman, Arizona’s Rick Rienzi, in the gunsights of federal prosecutors tracking down Abramoff threads.
Why the sudden explosion of movement on the Abramoff and other GOP corruption investigations? Is it tied in some way to the Purge story? It's always hard to infer just what the delays and speed-ups in these investigations mean. Most of the big developments we don't know about until long after the investigation is completed. Sometimes we never know. And that leaves us like the proverbial blind men and the elephant, each speculating based on our little patch of facts with little understanding of the big picture.
That said, there’s been such an avalanche of developments in recent days and weeks, that I think it's now quite reasonable to conclude that the turnaround is related to the fact that Gonzales and his crew are flat on their backs and aren't able to block them any more. This is the sort of question or charge people only make sheepishly and with some embarrassment. I've been reluctant to come to this conclusion as well. But now I think there are solid reasons to believe this is true.

Behind all this, let’s not forget that Ronnie Earle’s state-level investigation, which includes DeLay himself, is still out there, too.

April 24, 2007

Real estate market hits BIG pothole

Month-to-month existing-home sales hit a nearly 20-year rate of decline in March, as the subprime mortgage crisis continues to metastasize.

How bad was it?
The National Association of Realtors reported that sales of existing homes fell by 8.4 percent in March, compared with February. It was the biggest one-month decline since a 12.6 percent drop in January 1989, another period of recession conditions in housing. The drop left sales in March at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 6.12 million units, the slowest pace since June 2003.

The steep sales decline was accompanied by an eighth straight fall in median home prices, the longest such period of falling prices on record. The median price fell to $217,000, a drop of 0.3 percent from the price a year ago.

The fall in sales in March was bigger than had been expected and it dashed hopes that housing was beginning to mount a recovery after last year's big slump. That slowdown occurred after five years in which sales of both existing and new homes had set records.

The eighth-straight monthly fall isn’t just existing homes… that’s ALL home prices, too.

Basically, new home prices are cratering because of a variety of factors:
• The subprime loans are going bye-bye
• Many people in that market range can’t afford other loans
• The amount of “bubbling” from speculative and “investment” new home buying has started to burst
• Inventory of new homes has mounted up.

So, new-home prices have sunk enough to put pressure on existing-home sales. But, even with that pushing prices down, many buyers probably expect new home prices to fall even further, and so are going to sit and wait.

That, in turn, will push existing-home prices down yet more.

In other words, the residential real estate market faces the serious possibility of a growing vicious circle for at least several months.

Tillmans and Lynch call for demythologizing of government-generated Iraq heroes

Lynch, along with the family and military friends of Pat Tillman recently testified before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
Best comments?
“We believe this narrative was intended to deceive the family but more importantly the American public,” Kevin Tillman told the committee. “Pat’s death was clearly the result of fratricide,” he said, contending that the military’s misstatements amounted to “fraud.”

“The bottom line is the American people are capable of determining their own ideals of heroes and they don’t need to be told elaborate tales,” Lynch said. “The bottom line is the American people are capable of determining their own ideals of heroes and they don't need to be told elaborate tales,” Lynch said.

Of course, when you start a war on deception, there’s only one way to maintain it.

A new predictive angle on when Peak Oil will hit

Swedish graduate student Fredrik Robelius, a physicist and petroleum engineer at the University of Uppsala in Sweden, uses a “bottom-up” approach, versus the top-down version of traditional Hubbert’s Peak modeling, but still arrives at a similar prediction as more pessimistic Hubbert’s modelers.

He says the peak could hit next year and should hit by 2018.
Robelius built his model, which serves as his doctoral dissertation, after analyzing the fields’ past production rates and their ultimate recoverable reserves. Then he predicted how production will decline after peaking by incorporating rates of drop-off observed at other fields, ranging from six percent in a best-case scenario to 16 percent in a worst-case scenario. Finally, he combined his results with estimated forecasts for new field developments from sources such as the deep ocean and oil sands in Canada, but he says that these are unlikely to offset the upcoming declines from the giant fields — and there is little chance that new giant fields will be discovered in the future.

Of course, he’s already being poo-poohed by energy analysts with too much invested in believing otherwise.

The lack of giant field discovery is a no-brainer. No megafield has been discovered since Alaska’s North Slope, well over 30 years ago. And, some megafields of the present, like Mexico’s Cantarell, and British/Norwegian North Sea production, will be lucky if they only decline mildly in the next several years rather than plunging off a cliff.

More fun in science — a 20-foot tall fungus

Extinct for more than 350 million years, so no “Jurassic Portabello” ideas, please.

This monster comes from an era where trees were only about one-sixth its height and no animals were yet on dry land.

Today, we or other animals would eat it to extinction.

But, it’s another reflection on the wonders of science.

Found — one fossil rainforest, 300my old

That’s scientific shorthand for 300 million years old.

The world’s oldest known rainforest has been found inside an Illinois coal mine.

To anybody who talks about how “dry” science is, picture being with the scientists who walked through this.

There’s plenty of “magic” in scientific exploration.

April 23, 2007

Barack Obama: Just another internationalist Democrat?

A nice speech, this one to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

But, not a lot beyond “nice.”

I’m still looking for a Democratic candidate to mention Peak Oil, and not just global warming to the degree it gets mentioned in this context, as an element in our future foreign policy.

With the world’s most high-tech, high-mechanized infantry, Peak Oil hits our “throw weight” harder than it does anybody else’s.

Beyond that, this speech was mainly platitudes.

Rick Perry hypocrisy watch

If you’re going to proclaim this as “Cover the Uninsured” week, doesn’t that imply you actually intend to do something about it?

April 22, 2007

John Edwards needs to learn the diff between fair trade and industrial pandering

Especially when the issue at hand involves global warming and Peak Oil issues.

Actually, the more cynical liberal part of me knows he damn well knows the difference, and he’s being “just another politician.”

Edwards said in Michigan he opposes a U.S.-South Korea automotive free trade agreement because it lets Seoul keep a tax on engine displacement, calling that “unfair.”

Hey, we have a tax on gas-guzzlers here that falls most heavily on German imports. Get real, Edwards; you’re pandering to the auto industry and auto workers with the same scare tactics the Big Three have used on UAW rank and file for years to oppose further CAFÉ increases.

If you then claim to be worried about global warming (no Democratic candidate has talked seriously about Peak Oil), I’ll bust you in the chops.