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31 March 2007

Distributed Computing, Refrigerator Art, Overclockers, and the wonderful BOINC explosion all over Planet Earth!

Why yes, click, certainly.

What follows is about a quite remarkable quantum explosion in Distributed Computing

B erkeley [University of California @ Berkeley]
O pen
I nfrastructure for
N etwork
C omputing

which is a system, and general-purpose software, for rapidly distributing all sorts of computation-intensive problems (in physics, meteorology, pure mathematics, chemistry, and many other scientific fields) to tens of thousands of ordinary Personal Computers all over the world, automatically linked via the Internet.

SETI@Home -- a computerized sifting through vast volumes of received radio signals from outer space to identify the first message sent to Us from Extraterrestrial Intelligence -- was the first problem to use the BOINC system and software, but BOINC quickly "opened up" to dozens of fascinating and scientifically important new projects, and huge numbers of PC users have enthusiastically volunteered to donate unused CPU (Central Processing Unit -- the computer's Brain Chip) time to solving these problems.

So anyway, the BOINC site was asking for a new Logo and other images, so I cooked up this one, and sent it to BOINC's Big Cheese at U-Cal Berkeley.

Here's some stuff about the Intersection of Science, Art, and an amazing new way to cure Teenagers of their Addiction to meaningless mega-violent Computer Games -- while finding a cure for Multiple Sclerosis.

Distributed Computing is one reason I don't completely chuck Planet Earth and move to Planet Vleeptron permanently. For a real dose of the Weltschmertz, compare what Earth People are doing in Iran and Iraq and Afghanistan and Guantanamo, with what thousands of other Earth People are doing on the Internet with Distributed Computing and BOINC.



There are two reasons why this is in the style of Refrigerator Art. The first of course is that I am a crappy artist and stick figures is about as close to Life Study as I get. (A very undernourished young woman comes over once a week to pose for me, and when we're done, I make her eat a big pastrami sandwich.)

But as I screwed around with it, it dawned on me that when very little children see it on some adult's wall, they'll wonder why adults made and display Refrigerator Art, and they'll wonder what the image is trying to tell children and adults.

Here I should mention a very odd thing about this BOINC / Distributed Computing thing. All over the world, the hundreds of thousands of computer users who have linked up their unused computing power to solve dozens of important problems in medicine, chemistry, physics, pure math, are roughly split into two very different kinds of people.

The first are those drawn to Distributed Computing by scientific curiosity (even though you don't have to know squat about Science or Math to link up, you just have to know how to link up, which is about as difficult as clicking to get this e-mail).

But the other kind of D.C. enthusiast, these are technically called "overclockers," and they're in it for the Computer Game challenge, exactly like TCJ has the all-time high score on the Video Game at the pizzeria.

Overclockers spend all their money or max out the credit card on super-fancy computer Hardware, a gazillion gigs of RAM, the hottest CPU chip on the market, and tweak their computer's guts to make the system clock run much faster than the manufacturer recommends -- they are the Hot Rodders and Drag Racers of the Information Superhighway.

All these arcane scientific D.P. projects reward their volunteers with Stats -- points for all the hours of computation a volunteer's computer has contributed to the project. And the Overclockers, who couldn't give a rat's ass whether or not the project cures Alzheimer's or solves the Extended Riemann Hypothesis, all they want is Stats Stats and bragging rights to the massive amounts of Stats they've accumulated.

NEWS FLASH: This month Sony PlayStation 3 announced that it will automatically display the Folding@Home icon on player screens, and make it click-click easy for every PS3 owner to contribute to the Folding project (and amass mega-Stats). Finding the Cure for Cancer just took a Big Worldwide Power Leap.

All over the Web there are thousands of pages which barely mention the Science behind these projects (one may cure or eradicate malaria) or the Scientific aims of these projects, but are just long, long lists of Overclockers -- ordered High to Low -- and their various Stats. There are ferociously competitive national teams -- the Dutch Power Cows, the Scottish BOINC Team, BOINC.FR.Net, etc.

The Quest to hose up mega-Stats is so fierce that every Project now lists as its First Commandment:

Run this software on your own computer only, or obtain written permission to run this software on any computer you do not own.

... because they're always catching college students or insurance company computer geeks stealing Big Time from the boss's or the university's Big Mainframe to hose up the mega-Stats.

It's an authentic Variety of Theft, and sometimes the kids wind up (no photos available) in embarrassing little crime stories on Page 16. They never actually Go To Jail, but if they did, and their new cellmate asked, "What're you in for?", they'd have to say, "I stole 9000 hours of CPU time from my boss's mainframe to accumulate Stats for a Distributed Computing competition ..."

But Overclocker Culture means that lots of these freakazoids get addicted to Distributed Computing at the same age kids get addicted to ordinary Computer Games -- frighteningly young ages. But unlike "Saturn Marauders vs. Mechazoidz III" these BOINC addicts can actually boast that they are indeed finding the cures for diseases and solving profoundly significant questions in the sciences. (The Dutch Power Cows have won an important national award for their efforts. BOINC itself, at UC-Berkeley, runs on National Science Foundation grants, and a million volunteers.)

So the Refrigerator Art is intended to make a nine-year-old gamester ask questions and learn about a whole new world of Games -- just as challenging, just as competitive -- but which the Scientific World considers not as games at all, but as fundamental scientific research.

[In] V.1 all the D.C. stick people were Caucasian, and all were sitting Rightside-Up as we naturally do in the Northern Hemisphere, so in V.2 I have made some of the people Green and Purple and Non-White, and turned half the people Upside-Down, the way people compute in the Southern Hemisphere. BOINC and D.C. are Worldwide Endeavors.

(The Folding@Home map shows one Folder in the holy city of Mashhad and a handful of Folders in Tehran in Iran. (See map at top.) They help find a cure for genetic diseases, the West returns the favor by contemplating dropping The Big One on their evil heads.)

Well, I know my Weaknesses -- grievous and multiple -- as an Artist, and so I play to what pathetic strengths I possess. This is probably the first piece I've done in which Image and Visual Information outweigh Text and Typography.

It pleases me deeply that there are Clever People -- and even insane teenage Overclockers and insurance clerks who steal their boss's CPU time the way I used to steal stationery and office supplies -- who, in This World 2007, same Planet, right Here, right Now, are having So Much Fucking Fun doing So Much Good.

Who ever imagined Doing Good could be So Much Fun? Certainly not me. I've had the Fun, but very little of it cured cancer.



Dr. David P. Anderson
U.C. Berkeley Space Sciences Laboratory

Dear Dr. Anderson,

BOINC's "Logos and Graphics" page wasn't clear about whom to send submissions to, so please excuse this inbox invasion. Nevertheless I hope this bit of Refrigerator Art gives you some pleasure, and might be of use to BOINC.

I've been a distributed computing volunteer since soon after G.I.M.P.S. started, and now host Folding@Home. I've been amazed and fascinated at the ways such a magnificent idea has erupted and blossomed throughout the world.

Two years ago I noticed two clusters of host volunteers on the Folding@Home map of Iran, one in Tehran and the other in the big university city in the northeast. As already bad relations between the West and Iran have degenerated to frightening depths, distributed computing invites thoughtful women, boys, men, girls everywhere to ignore the blunders of governments and discover and expand knowledge to help Earth and enrich all who sail through space on her.

BOINC is something new under the Sun, and it rocks. I'm going to wear its t-shirt, and I wish BOINC and all who make it work the huge success it deserves.

Bob Merkin

Northampton Massachusetts USA

29 March 2007

PIZZAQ: "Mark and Beverly Escaping from the Shopping Mall" / Cincinnati Museum of Forgotten Cliches

Clicking should do good things.

Okay, here's a big, clear shot of the painting on the wall at my grand-niece (?) Anya Rose's birthday party. For the Pizza, ya need to figure out the Artist and the Name of the Painting. When I saw it on the party photo, I realized the painting was so familiar/famous that I must have seen it 5000 times. But I had no idea who painted it or what it was. It's not Andy Warhol.

26 March 2007

1st Day Issue / Tierra de los Suen~os / TdSPosta / en famille avec des amies @ Anya Rose's 1st Birthday

Of course you should click.

I'm late! I'm late!
For a very important date!
No time to say Hello
I'm late!
I'm late!
I'm late!

-- the White Rabbit
Disney's "Alice in Wonderland"

Cooking meatless spaghetti sauce (somebody else is making meatballs) for 24! (I don't mean 24-factorial, I'm just excited.)

A rare photographic sighting of Bob, Bob's sister Margie, Cynthia ( = S.W.M.B.O.) and a new friend Amy, all at my sister's son's and daughter-in-law's daughter Anya Rose's 1st birthday last Saturday in Vermont USA.

Because he was one of 3 brothers, my nephew (not shown) began life (in my head) as either Huey, Louie or Dewey, but later became (in my head) Utopia Guy (with his brothers Ice Cube and Mush Boy). His RL name is Jonathan and his lovely and witty wife is Wendy.


----- 3 slices

PIZZAQ: my neighbor measures the time it takes for his radar to reach la Lune and return to his backyard

clicking makes it prettier
but not more helpful

4 slices with pepperoni, wild mushrooms and shallots:

My amateur radio neighbor aims his radar dish at the Moon. His radar signal bounces off the Moon, and his parabolic dish receives the echo 2.6367241033 seconds later.

At that moment, how far is my neighbor's backyard from the surface of the Moon? Please give your Answer in kilometers.

24 March 2007

VLEEPTRON UPDATE: Progress on the Travelling Easter Bunny Problem (a 13-Node Euclidean/Planar Traveling Salesperson Problem)

Click for larger, clearer.

But what are all such gaieties to me
Whose thoughts are full of indices and surds?

x² + 7x + 53
= 11/3

-- Lewis Carroll

Like Yo --

(I have to stop hanging on IRC, chatting with Youth is degenerating my language skills.)

I'd already solved the 7-Node Santa Problem when the mysterious mathematical mystic ramanuJohn submitted his totally unexpected and awesomely correct answer. The Travelling Santa Problem was a go-to-kitchen-get-a-cup-of-coffee run. The Travelling Easter Bunny Problem is a little less speedy.

I have a very robust core program ("very robust" means it hasn't blown up so far), and attached please find a whilst-sleeping run. Very roughly,

7 hours = 1.05 % of all 13! paths

so even more roughly, the whole job should take an eerily Satanic 666 hours, or about 28 days. In the New Yorker article about the Chudnovsky Brothers' world-record-breaking pi expansion (billion+ digits) with their homebrew mail-order supercomputer (cooled by hardware-store fans purchased in winter, at their cheapest) in their Spanish Harlem slum down the block from the sidewalk corpse, one top-tier professor told the reporter that all mathematics is essentially about aesthetic preferences.

Expanding pi to world-record distances races the brothers' pulses and gives the brothers stiffies, while other equally accomplished mathematicians look on this task as though it were an above-ground swimming pool full of swine vomit and elimination. When told about the Chudnovskys' pi computations, one distinguished number theorist authentically recoiled in horror and yelled, "What for?"

Well, of course the purpose of this kind of massive computation is clear. Supercomputer manufacturers traditionally enjoy testing new machines by stretching pi, and most of the recent world records are held by a Japanese guy and his latest-model Hitachi xTremeSoroban.
The Chudnovskys showed the reporter lots of amazing stats about these unimaginable distances of the pi expansion, and enthusiastically proclaimed that the farther you compute the expansion, the less you know or understand about pi.

(The reporter asked where they kept pi, and they handed him a hard disk. "It's in here," one brother explained.)

A retired telephone company guy has an antenna and dish farm at the corner of F******* Road and B**** P** Road. His ham specialty: He bounces radar signals off the Moon. I told a friend this, and she asked: "Why?"
I was at a loss to answer her, but I know Why.

Actually, I don't know Why, but I'm just totally kookoo for cocoapuffs about massive computation, and the tiny morsels of it I can cram into whatever outdated wheezing PC I've got plugged in under the desk [more about which later]. I guess at least half the proggies I write are Really Silly Things to murder mosquitos with a hydrogen bomb -- or more precisely, to murder an elephant by poking it with a sewing needle 4.55 x 10^40 times, while S.W.M.B.O. and I go out to dinner.

I think a lot of it is that I'm a really shitty mathematician and a worse math student, and my grasp on actual sophistication is so thready that I started substituting massive computation for the textbook elegance and straightforwardness I don't have and probably never will.

(When I can't find an antidifferential, I love to carve an area into a gazillion skinny rectangles and sum their areas; I go to the kitchen for coffee, I come back, the answer awaits. You have a problem with this?)

I took a first-gen Toshiba laptop with me to Europe once, and when I got to Communist Prague -- and even attended their lollapalooza Soviet Bloc Komputer Expo '88 -- it dawned on me that I was schlepping around the 2nd or 3rd most powerful computer in Czechoslovakia.

And a computer you buy for your kid at Wal-Mart has more punch in it than all the digital computers of all the combatants during World War II. Turing would have begged to borrow my Toshiba laptop, or would have had MI6 whack me for it. The computers the Poles first devised to crack the Germans' Enigma Code were electromechanical and went tik-tik-tik-tik, so they called them bombes. But they cracked the early Enigma codes. ENIAC, also largely electromechanical, reminded one visitor of a room full of knitting grandmothers.

The more I futz around with it, this Easter Bunny Problem turns out to be sincerely interesting (to me). Like Tantulus, I can see delicious grapes -- The Answer -- just out of my reach. But just a little bit out of reach, not an infinite, unimaginable out of reach.
And it's just out of my pathetic programming reach so far, but the Answer is certainly easily within my PC's reach if I just keep running the dumb proggie for 28 days.

There are, apparently, well-known techniques to furp back excellently short paths within a very short time. But only an exhaustive search of all paths can guarantee finding The Shortest Path. The overnight runs furp back

by order of

If you wish to know
this information,

in about 2 hours, and then can't find a shorter path for the rest of the night; after this one, then the serious 28-day thermonuclear mosquito hunt begins.

One particularly appealing aspect of TSP is that nobody's (yet) much smarter about TSP than I am, at least insofar as any shortcuts to actually find the shortest path. There are no shortcuts yet. Bob's Thinking into this problem is about as advanced as the Cal Tech Combinatorics professor's thinking. TSP is officially classified as NP-Hard. [see Wikipedia thing below] More than that, there's a buzz that there's a proof of This:

IF a shortcut to TSP can be found,
THEN such a shortcut will apply
to ALL NP-Hard problems.

So the humble, low-rent, trailer-park TSP is or can be the key to simplifying/shortening all NP-Hard problems.

The Near Future of the Easter Bunny Problem

1. As hinted above, I'm about to buy a new Dell, probably with an Intel Core 2 Duo, whatever the fudge that is. So from a HARDWARE standpoint, everything's coming up roses with the Easter Bunny, it's all Win-Win and Optimism and The Sun'll Come Out Tomorrow. I can see the Light At The End of the Tunnel. The Boys'll Be Home By Christmas.

2. Not so rosey with the SOFTWARE, me being Mister QuickBASIC FOR NEXT IF GOTO Guy. But I got me this Automatic Repeating Hammer and the sucker actually works. I suspect I'm a cinch to set the Guinness World Record for Slowest Solution ever found for a 13-Node [Euclidean / Planar] TSP. Maybe the Core 2 Duo thingie will cut it down to 24 days.

3. I have these 2.5 brainstorms:

A. add a Yank-Off-Save-and-Resume (YOSaR) routine, so BUNNY doesn't really have to run continuously for a month on a system where the cat likes to play with the red button on the power strip. Maybe I won't get the answer in time for Easter Sunday, but I would find it deeply pleasing to know that every time I power up or re-start the PC, BUNNY chugs toward the Summit for another 16 hours. YOSaR would prevent against a total-loss catastrophe that occurred when the program had analyzed 83 percent of all possible paths.

B. The Distributed Computing Thang

13! = 6,227,020,800

but 13!/13 = 12! = a mere 479,001,600

so I could carve the Bunny Problem into 13 13ths, and e-mail BUNNY and a bloc of 1/13th of all paths to 13 different PC users. This suggests each PC would only have to run BUNNY for 2.2 days. Each block of sequential paths would e-mail me its local minimum path, and the winner would be the shortest of the 13.

This way, if I could manipulate or finesse 12 other PC-owning suckers, I could actually get the damn thing solved before Easter, mirabilu visu.

Setting up the START path of each bloc, I am unhappy to report, exceeds my current Understanding of Combinatorics and the crappy IF-based method I'm using to generate all paths. It apparently won't be as falling-off-log simple as

Bloc . Start Path

02 B............

03 C............
04 D............
05 E............

06 F............
11 K............
12 L............
13 M............


more's the pity. But maybe a Flash Of Insight might come to me and I'll figure out a scheme to partition the Bunny into 13 distributed parts.

[UPDATE: I got the Flash Of Insight,
I can partition the Bunny into
13 equal parts now!]

C. Much Smarter Combinatorics You saw the Horror of my path-generator. Surely there's a path-generator which mechanically chugs out all paths, new path issuing mechanically from old path, with no IF statements. Just eliminating the IF delays in generating all paths would be a tremendous time-saver. I've been playing around with generating few-node path sets like ABCDE. I haven't got very far yet (and I've misplaced my Schaum's Combinatorics), but my early thinking uses the model of Refrigerator Magnets.

[see Figure 1.]

So then the trick is to find an algorithm that uses these primitive magnet manipulating functions to generate all possible paths. I had to cook up something very much like this to automate the Towers of Hanoi with large numbers of disks. (Also not Elegant, but if my PC isn't busy for a day or two, it can shift a stack of 64 disks from one pole to another one disk at a time.)

Okay, all this thinking is exhausting me, and I'm not very smart. I would be very appreciative of ramanuJohn's thoughts on these profound matters. Maybe you'll be stuck now and then in Wait Mode, and the Bunny might save you from having to read about Anna Nicole Smith in People magazine. Please carry a pad of graph paper and a calculator with you at all times.



from Wikipedia:


Euclidean TSP

Euclidean TSP, or planar TSP, is the TSP with the distance being the ordinary Euclidean distance. Although the problem still remains NP-hard, it is known that there exists a subexponential time algorithm for it. Moreover, many heuristics work better.
Euclidean TSP is a particular case of TSP with triangle inequality, since distances in plane obey triangle inequality. However, it seems to be easier than general TSP with triangle inequality. For example, the minimum spanning tree of the graph associated with an instance of Euclidean TSP is a Euclidean minimum spanning tree, and so can be computed in expected O(n log n) time for n points (considerably less than the number of edges). This enables the simple 2-approximation algorithm for TSP with triangle inequality above to operate more quickly. In general, for any c > 0, there is a polynomial-time algorithm that finds a tour of length at most (1 + 1/c) times the optimal for geometric instances of TSP (Arora); this is called a polynomial-time approximation scheme. This result is an important theoretical algorithm but is not likely to be practical. Instead, heuristics with weaker guarantees are often used, but they also perform better on instances of Euclidean TSP than on general instance


NP-Hard (Nondeterministic Polynomial-time hard), in computational complexity theory, is a class of problems informally "at least as hard as problems in NP." A problem H is NP-hard if and only if there is an NP-complete problem L that is polynomial time Turing-reducible to H, i.e. L \leq_T H. In other words, L can be solved in polynomial time by an oracle machine with an oracle for H. Informally we can think of an algorithm that can call such an oracle machine as subroutine for solving H, and solves L in polynomial time if the subroutine call takes only one step to compute. NP-hard problems may be of any type: decision problems, search problems, optimization problems.
As consequences of such definition, we have (note that these are claims, not definitions):

* problem H is at least as hard as L, because H can be used to solve L;

* since L is NP-complete, and hence the hardest in class NP, also problem H is at least as hard as NP, but H does not have to be in NP and hence does not have to be a decision problem;

* since NP-complete problems transform to each other by polynomial-time many-one reduction (also called polynomial transformation), therefore all NP-complete problems can be solved in polynomial time by a reduction to H, thus all problems in NP reduce to H; note however, that this involves combinig two different transformations: from NP-complete decision problems to NP-complete problem L by polynomial transformation, and from L to H by polynomial Turing reduction;

* if there is a polynomial algorithm for any NP-hard problem, then there are polynomial algorithms for all problems in NP, and hence P = NP;
* if P \neq NP, then NP-hard problems have no solutions in polynomial time, while P = NP does not resolve whether the NP-hard problems can be solved in polynomial time; * if an optimization problem H has an NP-complete decision version L, then H is NP-hard;

* if H is in NP, then H is also NP-complete because in this case the existing polynomial Turing transformation fulfills the requirements of polynomial time transformation;
A common mistake is to think that the "NP" in "NP-hard" stands for "non-polynomial". Although it is widely suspected that there are no polynomial-time algorithms for these problems, this has never been proven.


An example of an NP-hard problem is the decision problem SUBSET-SUM which is this: given a set of integers, does any non empty subset of them add up to zero? That is a yes/no question, and happens to be NP-complete. Another example of an NP-hard problem is the optimization problem of finding the least-cost route through all nodes of a weighted graph. This is commonly known as the Traveling Salesman Problem.

There are also decision problems that are NP-hard but not NP-complete, for example the halting problem. This is the problem "given a program and its input, will it run forever?" That's a yes/no question, so this is a decision problem. It is easy to prove that the halting problem is NP-hard but not NP-complete. For example the Boolean satisfiability problem can be reduced to the halting problem by transforming it to the description of a Turing machine that tries all truth value assignments and when it finds one that satisfies the formula it halts and otherwise it goes into an infinite loop. It is also easy to see that the halting problem is not in NP since all problems in NP are decidable in a finite number of operations, while the halting problem, in general, is not.

Alternative definitions

An alternative definition of NP-hard that is often used restricts NP-Hard to decision problems and then uses polynomial-time many-one reduction instead of Turing reduction. So, formally, a language L is NP-hard if \forall L^\prime\in \mathbf{NP}, L^\prime \leq_p L\!. If it is also the case that L is in NP, then L is called NP-complete.

NP-naming convention

The NP-family naming system is confusing: NP-hard problems are not all NP, despite having 'NP' as the prefix of their class name! However the names are now entrenched and unlikely to change. On the other hand, the NP- naming system has some deeper sense, because the NP- family is defined in relation to the class NP: NP-complete - means problems that are 'complete' in NP, i.e. the most difficult to solve in NP; NP-hard - stands for 'at least' as hard as NP (but not necessarily in NP); NP-easy - stands for 'at most' as hard as NP (but not necessarily in NP); NP-equivalent - means equally difficult as NP, (but not necessarily in NP);

22 March 2007

wtf??? ... dude's talking about the WEATHER and winning OSCARS and setting the planet on fire!!!

The Deluge, by Paul Gustave Doré
(French, 1832 - 1883)

The Vleeptron High Non-Junk Science Council will skip its own long rant about Global Warming and Planetary Climate Change.

Unfortunately, science has yet to find a way to harness Global Warming Rants as a source of environmentally clean energy. More's the pity. The controversy on this topic is HUGE, the volume of violently angry disputes is ENORMOUS and growing every day. If someone could find a way to squeeze electricity out of it, coal, oil and nuclear would go out of business overnight.

About three months ago, I answered an e-mail from the US political action group to go to the home of a neighbor (a Smith College professor) for an intimate little screening of Al Gore's documentary "An Inconvenient Truth." (I was asked to bring Postage Stamps and Snacks, and after the movie, wrote some letters to some politicians.)

The hell with the Science, the hell with the Truth about GW.

I mean -- are you asking me? Are you waiting for Vleeptron to tell you whether this is all crap, or whether you should move to higher ground and buy a canoe and a new pair of galoshes/wellies from LL Bean?

Go ahead. Ask. Leave A Comment. If you really want to know What Bob Thinks About Global Warming, I'll tell you.

Bob is Not a Climate Scientist. Bob has a Nephew who's a Glaciologist, but he's keeping his mouth fairly shut about the GW thing. In fact Nephew keeps his mouth fairly shut about just about Everything, so that doesn't prove anything.

But Bob does know a thing or two about News, about how some things just bore the crap out of everyone, while other things spontaneously burst into flames in the public and political imagination. That's all you get from Vleeptron in this post.

I am in total awe of Al Gore. In the past couple of years, this rather boring unemployed politician has rapidly positioned himself to be the Mother Theresa / Darth Vader / Winston Churchill / Joseph Stalin / Albert Einstein / Abraham Lincoln / Helen Keller / Stephen Hawking / Bertrand Russell / Savanorola / Rasputin / Carl Sagan of this issue.

After he lost (or maybe won) the 2000 presidential election, Al Gore's destiny was clear: He was supposed to vanish from American political life, get a quiet chair in political science at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, and make way for a new generation of political players. He was supposed to shut up and go away. We were never supposed to hear from him again -- except maybe to make a dignified speech now and then, but not in a prime-time hour, at Democratic Party conventions.

So much for his cooperation with his destiny. Dude just won an Academy Award, his documentary's theme song just won another Oscar, and on TV, on the news, on C-Span, on Oprah, on Letterman, it's Al Gore, Al Gore, Al Gore, Al Gore
, Al Gore, Al Gore, Al Gore, Al Gore, Al Gore, Al Gore, Al Gore, Al Gore, Al Gore.

Okay, no big deal, dozens of people win an Oscar every year.

But Al Gore?

And suddenly people CARE about the Oscar for Best Documentary?

How many documentaries have you ever gone to the movies and paid money to see? Check one:

[ ] None
[ ] One

Where are the tits? Where are the car chases? Where are the machine guns? Where are the gay cowboys? Where are the 300 pumped Spartans and the FX? Where's George Cloony?

This guy made a DOCUMENTARY about the WEATHER, for Christ's sake, and suddenly the entire population of Planet Earth is staring fixedly at Al Gore, and waiting for his next utterance about The Weather. Al Gore and Global Warming have practically pushed the Iraq War and Anna Nichole Smith off the front page.

Color Vleeptron Impressed!

And as many people hate Al Gore and his Weather as are worshipping him. Rich and powerful people want to assassinate Al Gore because of what he says about The Weather.

Only one thing could possibly explain all this: Al Gore sold his Soul to the Devil. Nothing else could possibly explain how Al Gore and his Weather PowerPoint Lecture Documentary could Rock Planet Earth this way. Dude sold his Soul to Satan.

I mean, Check This Out. Check out how Al Gore just went up to Congress to testify about The Weather, and it was like Moses parting the Red Sea.

And check out the ANGER! This isn't just Political Posing Anger. These guys are sincerely FURIOUS at Al Gore.

While others are waiting in long lines hoping to touch the hem of The Great Weather Prophet's garment.

Who is Al Gore's Press Agent? Who turned this cross-eyed smoked whitefish into Jesus Walking On The Water? Who tossed Al Gore into a big brown grocery bag and then reached in and pulled out Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison?

I want that Press Agent. He can have 19 Percent. I don't care. I want that Press Agent.



Opinions, arguments and analyses from the editors of Scientific American

March 21, 2007

06:23:43 pm, Categories:
Global Warming and Climate Change, Politics and Science, 1344 words

Gore Returns to Senate to Butt Heads
With Climate Change Skeptics,
Propose Real Solutions

by Christopher Mims

As soon as the Democrats took both houses of Congress, one thing became inevitable: Gore was coming back to the Senate, if only to address his all-consuming passion, climate change.

Today at 2:30 EST, at the behest of Barbara Boxer (D-California), the chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, Gore got 30 minutes to speak before a packed house. Immediately after, noted climate change skeptic Sen. James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma), who famously declared that global warming "is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American public," got a chance to lay in to the former vice president, at one point even attempting to ambush him by embarrassing him into signing a pledge that he reduce his emissions to those of a typical American household.


The gloves were off: it was political theater at its finest. Unfortunately, that meant that, save Mr. Gore and, in his better moments, Sen. Inhofe, few of those present addressed the science of climate change in a way that made it sound like they'd done their homework. To wit:

* When Senator Kit Bond (R-Missour) declared that sun spots were just as likely a cause of global warming as human emissions of CO2, I just about fell out of my chair. So did Mr. Gore, apparently, because he focused so much on answering this claim that he almost missed the bit of political stagecraft that preceded it, when Sen. Bond unveiled a giant poster of a little girl whose family is so poor they can't afford to heat their home in the winter, then asked how Gore could conscionably ask that folks like this pay more for energy (since clean coal and renewables are both more expensive than plain old dirty coal). It's a measure of how into the science Gore has become that he answered the sunspot question first and basically missed his opponent's attempt to pull the heartstrings of anyone too unimaginative to realize that energy efficiency would make it *less* likely that anyone would be cold in the winter rather than more likely.

* Sen. Inhofe declared that the Antarctic is gaining ice, not losing it. This makes a nice sound-bite (gee, if the coldest place on earth is growing, not shrinking, doesn't that mean the earth is cooling and not warming, or something?) until you realize that the climate models actually predict increased snowfall over antarctica, mitigating to some extent the sea-level rise that will come about as a result of global warming. It's also worth noting that this data is patchy, at best, and only goes back a few decades.

* Inhofe also whipped out a poster with "over a thousand names" on it of scientists who don't agree with the consensus on global warming. This was a nice touch, but Gore responded appropriately: the IPCC just declared the evidence for anthropogenic climate change to be unequivocal. The National Academies of Science of the 16 most developed countries all concurr. In other words, for every name on that poster, there are a dozen, maybe a hundred scientists, maybe more, who don't dispute the basics of anthropogenic climate change. (It was also nice to hear Gore cite the September 2006 single-topic special issue of Scientific American on the future of energy, even if it was only to note that in it the editor in chief declared that the debate on anthropogenic global warming is over.)

To me, Inhofe's poster o' climate change skeptics is the equivalent of trotting out a bus full of young-earth creationists--sure, there are people on this Earth who think that dinosaurs and humans co-existed, but that doesn't make it so, nor does it mean that there is any real debate about whether or not our planet is 6,000 years old.

To his credit, Inhofe did bring up one point where Gore may have exaggerated in his film: the link between global warming and an increased number of hurricanes. Certainly scientists believe a warmer earth will cause more intense hurricanes. But more hurricanes overall? The jury's still out. Chris Mooney, who is about to come out with a book on just this subject, has more at his blog The Intersection.)


Some folks may still think this is a political issue, but the many Republican Senators on the Senate Environment committee who were more insterested in talking about solutions than debating the science would disagree with those folks. It was gratifying to finally see this becoming a bipartisan issue.

Here is Gore's 9-point plan for dealing with climate change, starting today, directly from his speech:

1) I think we ought to have an immediate freeze on co2 reductions and start from there.

2) We should use the tax code. What I'm about to propose I know is is very much outside the range of what is now politically feasible.

I think we ought to cut taxes on employment and make up the difference with pollution taxes - principally CO2 taxes. Some countries are talking about it seriously.

In the developed world our big disadvantage is that these developed countries have access to tech and container shipping. We don't want to lower our wages - but we don't want to pile on top of those wages these taxes.

We ought to use some of the revenue [from carbon taxes] to help the poor with the adjustments that are coming forward.

3) I'm in favor of cap and trade and I supported Kyoto. but I understand the realities of the situation.

I think the new president should take office at a time when our country has a commitment to defacto compliance with Kyoto. And I think we should move the start of the new treaty period from 2012 to 2010. We need a tougher treaty that starts in 2010. And we need to find a creative way to get China and india involved sooner rather than later.

That's important not least of which because China's emissions will exceed ours in the next couple of years.

We need to ratify a cap and trade system so the market will work for us rather than against us.

4) We should have a moratorium on new coal plants that are not fixed with carbon capture and sequestration technology.

5) I think our congress should fix a date beyond which incadescent lightbulbs are banned. [aside: Australia is about to do this.]...

It's like wal-mart. It's not taking on the climate crisis simply out of the goodness of their heart. They care about it but they're making money at it.

6) The creative power of the information revolution was unlocked by the Internet. When the science and engineering pioneers came up with arpanet and this senate empowered them with a legislative framework and money for r&d, that came together.

We ought to have [an analogous] electro-net and we ought to encourage widely distributed power generation. We ought to take off the caps and let individuals sell back as much as they want on the grid.

Know that the opposite of a monopoly is a monopsony - a single buyer who dictates prices, so we need to have an open market to deal with that [so it's not just the utility company dictating the value of electricity sold back to the grid]. You give individuals the ability to do that and you watch - families, small business will go to town on this.

7) I think we ought to raise the CAFE standards. Don't single out autos, but as part of it.

8) Pass a carbon-neutral mortgage association. Here's why: buyers of new homes and buyers and sellers all focus on purchase prices. But the expenditures that go into more insulation and window treatment and those that don't pay back immediately but pay back over 2-3 years, those don't get counted as savings. Put those in a separate instrument - then have a Connie May [like the government's Fannie Mae, which handles mortgages] which can create a separate instrument. So that people can save and reduce co2 at the same time.

9) Require corporate disclosure of carbon emissions. Investors have a right to know about material risks that could affect the value of their stocks in the future.

Posted by Christopher Mims

Comments, Pingbacks:

Comment from: monocrater [Visitor]

Global Warming or Climate Change is not a political issue, it can be substantiated with empirical evidence. Anthropogenic Global Warming IS political and it is largely a theoritical soft-science because it is primarily focused on future predictions based on limited and selective present knowledge. While well-intentioned, Mr. Gore, the IPCC, environmental organizations, and the liberal left have latched onto AGW and promoted it as a catastrophic fact, creating a new fear to shift political and social power. AGW has been hyped, overblown, exaggerated, and promoted as unequivocal fact without any separation of reality from myth. Now, every storm, heat wave, drought, migration, flood, cold spell, disease, sleepless night, and a host of other maladies are being attributed to AGW as a result. Follow the money trail for research into AGW - largely the the IPCC and government agencies are funding this research - and all come with deep pockets.

Climate researchers who's hypothesis inetend to show alternative causes to GW are not funded to the same degree as those whose hypothesis aim to show a human cause. The reason? Human cuases are scarier and "correctable" and "legislateable" - something the UN and government agencies excel at. Pro AGW hypothesis are going to get funded and as a proverb in economcs goes "when you fund something, you'll get more of it". Environmentalists sit back and enjoy the show as their exaggerated AGW scare has gotten these agencies to fund their cause in a "take no chances" panic.

Many scientists in the AGW camp are by nature sympathetic to environmental causes and are generally not friendly to industry. In other words, imagine a poet being a neo conservative? An artist who supports the NRA? A biologist who supports the death penalty? It is a positive sympathetic feedback system in the AGW science camp. Peer reviewed? By sympathetic peers who are not held accountable by the funding agencies? What are the official peer review standards anyway in IPCC AGW science? How are these researchers held accountable for review?

While I remain skeptical of AGW claims, and largely because history has shown "flavor of the month science", I am open to the further study of this issue. However, I am not supportive of sweeping and costly political legislations at this point. There are plenty of other natural explanations that have yet to be fully funded and ruled out. Funding is the key here, and who is doing the funding will often dictate the results. If you agree with this principle (since it seems to apply when industry funds) then it must be decided on the science. And since science has shown radical and rapid climate change in recent geologic times, how can the AGW science we are being told is a "consensus" be explained as the absolute truth when funding is taken into account? This is fundamental skepticism from a critical thinking perspective.

And please spare the holier-than-thou "climate contrarian" and "climate denier" labels. They are further evidence of politics manifesting itself in climate change debate.

March 21, 2007 @ 19:48

Comment from: Wall Street Journal [Visitor] ·
Wall Street Journal article by Antonio Regalado and Dionne Searcey about Al Gore's Penguin army comes to mind.
March 21, 2007 @ 20:48


Comment from: Eco Author Chris Eldridge [Visitor] ·

With how important his message is, I have to wonder why some people are so hateful and distrustful of it. Isn't environmentalism the right thing to do regardless? Basically, you really don't even really need to believe in global warming to want to live more efficiently, right? I mean, it's the right thing to do for many critical reasons. Apart from improving our health:

Living more efficiently SAVES MONEY. Yeah, like you have to twist my arm for that... To think how companies can save millions in just the efficient design of their office buildings. Economy cars can also save you like $16,000 in gas over the life of the car when figured at just $2.00 per gallon. Isn't that worth it right there?

It improves our national security. Oil could spike to $5.00 a gallon tomorrow if something happened in the Middle East or a hurricane hit Huston. If that happened, the economy would be greatly weakened, Duh!

Burning less fuel creates less smog, less air pollution, and less soil contamination. Go figure ...

Living more efficiently ultimately lowers our impact on wildlife and forest areas in the form of less acid rain, fewer catastrophic oil spills, and less strip mining.

Finally, if we can become more energy self-sufficient on a very local level we become that much less vulnerable to region-wide disasters like Hurricanes or mass blackouts. In this regard, renewable energy, isn't just good for the environment. It's also the key to keeping the power on when everybody else is sitting in the dark.

Overall, isn't wastefulness and carelessness "morally" wrong? We have to expand our thinking to find solutions that address the broadest possible array of problems. Being able to work productively from home or in our own communities would be the most 'cut-to-the-chase solution' of them all as it would eliminate the need for a daily commute in the first place while giving us five more hours of free time! It's what LA is trying to do to curb the extraordinary amount of traffic they have: create consolidated communities where people live, work, and have recreational facilities nearby! Got to think that's smart at some level, right?
March 21, 2007 @ 21:10


Comment from: Keira [Visitor]

[about 20 porn site URLs]


Comment from: Truman Witherspoon [Visitor]

Mr. Eldridge,

In response to your question I would offer the following; while no response should be hateful, I can fully understand the distrust. Absolutely environmentalism is a worthy endeavor. However, to couple the cause with fear tactics intended for political and financial gain is quite troubling. Further, the omissions of critical facts from the analysis to make the “climate crisis� story more compelling is akin to the claims of WMD and linking of al qaeda to Iraq as a justification for invasion. These are highly charged issues with millions of dollars and elite cabals of power pulling the strings. These groups have historically use tactics of this type to incite advocates on both sides. Unfortunately, we [the people] loose when political and social leaders use these tactics. A nation misguided and divided ensures that a corrupt group of elitists can remain in power.

Also, while the notions you suggest regarding fuel efficient cars, green homes and consolidated communities are excellent goals to strive for, I trust that you don’t expect these changes to occur within Mr. Gore’s timeframes. Saving $16,000 in fuel costs is not that compelling to the average income family who would have to spend $30,000+ to buy the vehicle in the first place. To upgrade the average home in the U.S. to a “green� home would put the homeowner in debt for 14 years. Although this is clearly the direction society needs to move in, there is just not enough economic capacity to move in this direction quickly.

With Respect,

Mr. Truman Witherspoon
March 21, 2007 @ 23:28


Comment from: Christopher Mims [Member]
Chris, I have to agree. Let's say you don't believe in AGW at all. Isn't it still a good idea to save yourself money by increasing the efficiency of your car, your home, etc.? Maybe you don't believe CO2 is an issue, fine... there are plenty of other pollutants our actions produce (Sulfur Dioxide and acid rain, anyone?) that should make us want to use less and use what we've got more efficiently.

Let's extend it further--isn't investing in R&D on new energy sources a good way to get us off the foreign oil teat? How about the idea that we might someday produce solar power for less than we now pay to make that energy with coal. Wouldn't that be nice? I personally get so many peripheral (mainly psychological) benefits from taking steps to reduce my own impact (saving money isn't the least of them, I can tell you) that I wonder why there is so much harsh rhetoric... would it kill us all to buy locally and strive for energy independence?

March 21, 2007 @ 23:39

20 March 2007

I have an alibi

I wish I could find the guy who carried this sign at the anti-war protest in Washington DC this past weekend. If I didn't have an air-tight alibi, I'd be certain he was me.

My Army buddy R.B., who lives in the USA state shaped like the palm and fingers of the right hand, sent me this picture, which a photographer friend took at the very large demonstration. Our e-mails prompted the poem of the previous post.

The anti-war demonstrations and protests and vigils -- in more cities than Washington DC -- is a big Flashback for us sexagenarian-somethings. It's one more indisputable proof that the Iraq War is absolutely, thoroughly, completely different from the Vietnam War.

See? In the Vietnam protests, nobody had an iPod or a cell phone.

Other than that, the fear, the dread, the dead bodies, the amputations, the destroyed lives, the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, the escalation ("troop surge") and the ferocious anger that Americans have grown to feel toward the psychopaths who designed the Iraq War and lied their asses off to get it started ... it's Flashback City for me, and obviously for the old sign-carrying guy.

In case anyone's in any doubt, I vote for Cut and Run, immediately. Bring the Boys and the Girls Home immediately.

Over on the Fox News Channel, anyone who's for Cut & Run is not only a traitor and a girrlyman and a left-wing radical who hates America, but ending the Iraq War would cause a bloodbath in Iraq, quickly followed by emboldened Jihadist terrorist attacks on the US Homeland. That's why we're fighting a war in Iraq -- so we won't be attacked in the Homeland.

Well -- I'd confess to being a traitor and a girrlyman and a left-wing radical who hates America, but this damn certificate of my US Army service, and the medals, and the letter from my Commander-in-Chief, Richard M. Nixon, thanking me for my patriotic wartime service keep confusing the indictment.

You get confused about simple things when you're my age. I thought Vietnam meant we'd never again do something that fucking stupid.

Obviously it meant nothing of the sort.

It's about time to start calling for designs for the Iraq War Memorial, not far from the Vietnam War Memorial, in Washington DC. If you'd like to Leave A Comment with your sketch or your design ideas, we might as well start it now, we've amassed enough dead soldiers and Marines, and all we've achieved is the same outrage among Americans that Americans felt against Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon.

If you'd like to Leave A Comment to explain why the Iraq War is a great American achievement, and why we Must Stay the Course, and just give the new Free and Democratic government in Iraq just a little time to get its shit together and become a Western-friendly oil-producing dependable ally, and why Victory is Just Around the Corner, knock your socks off. Please address all military-solution hallucinations to

Bob the Old Girrlyman Traitor who Hates America
SP5 US Army 1969-1971

old guy's anniversary poem

If this long after, I got my motorcycle back
and the hippie communes and the parties all weekend long came back
and really great music started coming over the radio again
that would be just dandy

If this long after, the drug dealer was packing
an acoustic guitar
and forced me to harmonize with him
while he played folksongs
that would be really cool

If this long after, the President had to vamoose on the helicopter
and go away forever
the Attorney General went to federal prison
and 20 assorted White House dickheads went to federal prison
that would be totally awesome
If this long after, LSD came back
and sitar music while I stumbled around
and Time got all stretchy like a rubber band
and insights into What It's All About
flashed like the brilliance of a thousand suns
inside my head
and I routinely forgot them all the next morning

If this long after, embroidered bellbottoms came back
and paisley came back
and tie-dye came back
and long long hair came back
and smiles all day long came back
and laughing all night long
until the sun came up came back
and bras went away

If this long after, the city was as much fun
as the country and the woods and the mountains and the seashore again
that would be rad phat bitchin

But it's this long after, and all that's back
is this war

20 March 2007 / 4th anniversary of start of Iraq War
Copyright (c) 2007 by Robert Merkin, All Rights Reserved

19 March 2007

fucking up a wet dream: privatizing Walter Reed Army Medical Center in the midst of two wars

This is a very rich story, just overflowing with fascinating details about how a partnership between the Army and the Defense Department, and a division of the Halliburton Corporation, managed to sicken, weaken and spread dysfunction throughout Walter Reed Army Medical Center -- for a century the crown jewel of Army medicine -- just as the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars began and large numbers of combat wounded were being flown back to Walter Reed for treatment.

Perhaps some things shouldn't be privatized and outsourced. In matters where we have very high expectations of excellence -- for example, medical treatment and associated housing and administrative services for wounded combat troops -- the only way to guarantee that we can meet very high expectations is to have the agency ultimately responsible -- the Army -- do nearly all the work itself.

Particularly since, in this case, the Army hospital has a century's worth of experience performing all the necessary tasks involved in treating, housing, rehabilitating and administering combat casualties.

Halliburton is a huge private corporation which does a huge number of things, and all for profit and return to its investors.

Walter Reed Army Medical Center does only one thing, and has been doing it, and even inventing pioneering ways of doing it, since 1904. It provides top-quality medical care to members of the U.S. military and their family members.

Making a profit, or a return on investment, is not part of Walter Reed's mission or structure.

At the end of each quarter, Halliburton must justify all its activities by analyzing the profit it made.

At the end of each quarter, Walter Reed must justify all its activities by analyzing how many patients it treated, and how well.

These are fundamentally different aims, and are destined or doomed to achieve fundamentally different results.

Congress last week made its first loud peep to keep Walter Reed Army Medical Center open after all, and not close it as planned by 2011. With a vile scandal placed in front of them like a plate of puke, the Einsteins of Congress have begun, slowly, to conclude that perhaps closing the jewel of Army medicine might not be a really great idea in the midst of two long and very nasty wars (while the Bush administration rattles sabers for more possible wars). To really rub it in, The Washington Post broke the story of substandard care for wounded combat troops at Walter Reed precisely at the moment when the Bush "surge" of 20,000 more U.S. troops was deployed to Iraq.

It's the heightened expectations that are causing so much noisy trouble in this story. Americans are increasingly making the Connection between agreeing to wars, and insisting that those Americans wounded in the wars get the best medical treatment America has to offer, at any price.

Americans are making the Connection.

The way the Defense Department and the Department of Veterans Affairs assemble and maintain the machine to provide medical treatment to our soldiers, marines, sailors, air force personnel, etc. may reflect Congress's legislative will.

But Jeez -- they way they go about trying to accomplish this mission -- these people could fuck up a wet dream. And they're the people the wounded troops and their families depend on to do the job the way the American people expect them to.


The Associated Press
pickup in Seattle Post-Intelligencer (Washington state USA)
Sunday 18 March 2007

Walter Reed deal
hindered by disputes

by Donna Borak, AP Business Writer

A section of wallpaper that was pulled back to reveal mold is seen as Army Master Sgt. Gary Rhett, right, building manager, looks on in room 416 of Building 18 of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, which was used to house recovering wounded soldiers, in Washington,Thursday, March 15, 2007. An Army contract to privatize maintenance at Walter Reed Medical Center was delayed more than three years amid bureaucratic bickering and legal squabbles that led to staff shortages and a hospital in disarray just as the number of severely wounded soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan was rising rapidly. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

WASHINGTON -- An Army contract to privatize maintenance at Walter Reed Medical Center was delayed more than three years amid bureaucratic bickering and legal squabbles that led to staff shortages and a hospital in disarray just as the number of severely wounded soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan was rising rapidly.

Documents from the investigative and auditing arm of Congress map a trail of bid, rebid, protests and appeals between 2003, when Walter Reed was first selected for outsourcing, and 2006, when a five-year, $120 million contract was finally awarded.

The disputes involved hospital management, the Pentagon, Congress and IAP Worldwide Services Inc., a company with powerful political connections and the only private bidder to handle maintenance, security, public works and management of military personnel.

While medical care was not directly affected, needed repairs went undone as the non-medical staff shrank from almost 300 to less than 50 in the last year and hospital officials were unable to find enough skilled replacements.

An investigative series by The Washington Post last month sparked a furor on Capitol Hill after it detailed subpar conditions at the 98-year-old hospital in northwest Washington and substandard services for patients. Three top-ranking military officials, including the secretary of the Army, were ousted in part for what critics said was the Pentagon's mismanaged effort to reduce costs and improve efficiency at the Army's premier military hospital while the nation was at war.

IAP is owned by a New York hedge fund whose board is chaired by former Treasury Secretary John Snow, and it is led by former executives of Kellogg, Brown and Root, the subsidiary spun off by Texas-based Halliburton Inc., the oil services firm once run by Vice President Dick Cheney.

IAP finally got the job in November 2006, but further delays caused by the Army and Congress delayed work until Feb. 4, two weeks before the Post series and two years after the number of patients at the hospital hit a record 900.

"The Army unfortunately did not devote sufficient resources to the upfront planning part of this, and when you do that, you suffer every step of the way," said Paul Denett, administrator for federal procurement policy at the Office of Management and Budget, the White House unit that prepares the president's budget and oversees government contracts.

The contract includes management of Building 18, which houses soldiers with minor injuries and was highlighted in the Post series as symptomatic of substandard conditions: black mold on the walls of patient rooms, rodent and cockroach infestation, and shoddy mattresses.

Those 54 rooms are now vacant. Interior work cannot be started until a badly damaged roof is repaired, and that will need another contract because it's not covered in the IAP contract, Walter Reed officials said.

"These rooms are exactly as they were left," Sgt. Gary Rhett, manager of Building 18, said Thursday. "No changes have been made."

The Army has confirmed the timing of the contract delays but declined several requests for comment on why the protest and appeal process took so long, even as more and more injured soldiers were arriving.

The trail goes back to the end of the Clinton administration. The Army began studying the cost benefits of privatization in 2000.

When President Bush took office, he mandated the competitive outsourcing of 425,000 federal jobs. At the time, the Pentagon was aggressively pushing for increased outsourcing, and in June 2003, then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told a Senate committee he was considering outsourcing up to 320,000 nonmilitary support jobs.

That's the same year that the Army asked for bids on Walter Reed and, coincidentally, the same year the United States invaded Iraq.

One company responded: Johnson Controls World Services Inc., which would be acquired by IAP in March 2005. It initially bid $132 million, but it and Walter Reed's then-management agreed that the Army was underestimating the cost.

By September 2004, the Army had decided it would be cheaper to continue with current management, which said it could do the work for $124.5 million. Johnson Controls filed a protest with the Government Accountability Office.

The protest was dismissed in June 2005, but the Army agreed to reopen bidding three months later to include additional costs for services. In January 2006, after two rounds of protests by IAP and two appeals by Walter Reed employees to the U.S. Army Medical Command, IAP was named the winner, according to Steve Sanderson, a Walter Reed spokesman.

Instead, in an unusual turn of events, the contract wasn't awarded for another 11 months, the GAO said. Walter Reed officials blame several factors, including an additional protest to the GAO filed by Deputy Garrison Commander Alan D. King, a separate appeal to the U.S. Army Medical Command by Walter Reed's public works director, at least one intervention by Congress, and delays on required congressional notifications about government employee dismissals.

IAP spokeswoman Arlene Mellinger said "it was up to the Army to decide when to begin that contract." The company was ready to start at any time, she added.

In August 2006, led by Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., lawmakers asked then-Army Secretary Francis J. Harvey to hold off on the contract until Congress finished work on the fiscal 2007 defense appropriations bill. Congress approved that bill Sept. 29.

The Army's plan then was to eliminate 360 federal jobs at Walter Reed in November and turn the work over to IAP, according to the American Federation of Government Employees, a federal workers' trade union. But the Army failed to notify Congress 45 days in advance, as required by law, so the turnover was delayed until early this year.

Then it was IAP's turn to have problems.

When work finally began at the hospital, IAP made an immediate request, which the Army approved, to hire 87 temporary skilled workers for up to four months "to ease the turbulence caused by employees being placed into positions or other installations and otherwise finding new jobs early," said Sanderson, the Walter Reed official.

However, a "tight" job market in the Washington area meant that only 10 qualified temporary employees were found, he added. Meanwhile, injured soldiers continue to arrive weekly to a short-handed, deteriorated hospital, which the Army still plans to close in 2011.

- 30 -

18 March 2007

LAHAR! volcano disaster in New Zealand -- but lots of warning, nobody hurt

TOP: Depiction of an eruption-generated lahar flowing from the summit of Mount Ruapehu in New Zealand. (The Australasian Journal of Disaster and Trauma Studies)

BOTTOM: Recent chart about the expected impending Ruapehu lahar in The Dominion Post newspaper, New Zealand.

A lahar is a huge mudflow or mudslide triggered by a volcanic eruption or by the unstable geology at the top of an active volcano. The damage and deaths are caused not by fire, lava or hot toxic gas, but by huge volumes of fast-descending mud. Lahars are one of the most common ways that volcanos kill people.

In places with an advanced scientific and civil-defense infrastructure, potential lahars can be predicted, and effective and automatic early warning systems can be established. Ruapehu went lahar in 1953, wiped out a railroad bridge, swept a passenger train into a lake, and killed 151 people.

This time the lahar killed nobody.


Lahar sweeps down
New Zealand mountain

Sunday 18 March 2007 4:59 GMT (1st Lead)

Wellington, New Zealand -- A massive lahar, or volcanic mudflow, swept down New Zealand's 2,797-metre high Mount Ruapehu on Sunday after its steaming crater lake burst its banks releasing thousands of tonnes of rock-filled water.

It had long been expected and police and civil defence officials said alarms and safety system installed after a similar lahar 54 years ago which killed 151 people on a train when a rail bridge was swept away, had worked perfectly.

They said the lahar, confined by a new stopbank, had kept to its expected course down the mountain into the Whangaehu River valley and past the village of Tangiwai, near the rail bridge, without incident.

Police, alerted by a series of automatic alarms monitoring the crater lake's temperature and level, closed all roads in the area, including the highway between the capital Wellington and the country's biggest city Auckland, and stopped trains on the main trunk line.

Hundreds of motorists and train passengers were stranded but officials said the lahar had not reached the road, nobody was hurt and no settlements had been affected.

The lahar kept to its predicted path eventually moving out to the sea.

Civil Defence Minister Rick Barker said bad weather over the weekend had fortuitously kept hikers and climbers off the mountain, an active volcano that is the North Island's highest peak.

Scientists had been closely monitoring the 17-hectare crater lake, which sits about 250 metres below the summit of Mount Ruapehu, since January when seeping water threatened to sweep away the rim.

Weathermen said extremely heavy rain had fallen on the mountain for more than three hours which probably accounted for the rising lake level.

The Department of Conservation had earlier predicted that a lahar would travel at about 21 kilometres an hour down the mountain and a spokesman described Sunday's event as 'moderate.'

The National Crisis Centre in Wellington was activated and officials said the lahar emergency response plan had worked as expected.

- 30 -

© 2007 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur


The Dominion Post (daily newspaper, New Zealand)
Tuesday 2 January 2007

Dam on the brink of bursting

by Emily Watt

Mt Ruapehu's crater lake is at a record high level, and the dam wall is beginning to erode.

Scientists say if the lake keeps rising as predicted, the dam could blow by March. They say it is a case of "not if, but when" for the lahar, which is expected to burst the dam and flow down the Whangaehu River on the eastern side of the mountain to Tangiwai and out to the coast.

Unlike the 1953 lahar that led to the Tangiwai rail disaster that killed 151 people, this one is unlikely to threaten residential areas but roads, bridges and rail lines could be affected. When a multimillion-dollar early warning system sounds, police will have 20 minutes to cordon off key roads, including State Highway 1. The system also triggers automatic road and rail barriers.

A 300-metre concrete barrier has been built to prevent the flow entering the Waikato Stream and Tongariro River; the road bridge on State Highway 49 has been raised and strengthened; and riverbanks have been cleared of pine trees to lessen the risk of their being wedged against the bridge.

Last Friday, Conservation Department staff measured the lake at a record high of 2.8 metres below the top of the dam, and there is evidence of the dam seeping at up to 10 litres a second. Department earth scientist Harry Keys said that marked the beginning of the dam's eroding. The lower the lake levels when this happens, the less water that escapes. "The sooner it happens the better," Dr Keys said. "This needs to be resolved. It's an issue hanging over the local community."

The lahar warning level remains at two, with a 1 to 2 per cent chance of an immediate lahar. There is also a wave hazard as chunks of the ice cliff fall into the lake, causing water to slosh on to the top of the dam. A large wave could spill over the dam and flow down the mountain. The lahar threat becomes more significant when the lake rises another 0.8 metres, which could be in two weeks, but more likely by February.

- 30 -

© Fairfax New Zealand Limited 2007. All rights reserved.

16 March 2007

leave Earth, ride a sightseeing helicopter above the surface of Mars

Click and good things will probably happen.

A still photograph of the Iani Chaos region of Mars taken in October 2004 by the High Resolution Stereo Camera aboard the European Space Agency's orbital probe Mars Express.

Do you have just a few minutes?
I'd love to take you completely off Planet Earth and show you an incredible movie -- you'll float above the surface of Another Planet, as if you were in a sightseeing helicopter over the Grand Canyon or Niagara Falls.

from the site:

This movie was produced using images from the High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) on board [the European Space Agency's] Mars Express spacecraft. Its first part shows a simulated flight over the upper reaches of Ares Vallis, a large outflow channel on Mars, and parts of its source region, Iani Chaos.

I think I've seen movies like this on other blogs. Can I filch a movie like this and put it on Vleeptron? How do I do it? If you know how, Leave A Comment. I think it's another of my many PEBKAC problems.