Thursday, August 30, 2012

US Preparing for Post-Israel Middle East?

A recent study may have given the Republicans more reason to talk about their support for Israel. It will be interesting to see how this study influences the message of the Obama campaign and the Democratic National Convention.

Source: Foreign Policy Journal

An 82-page paper entitled “Preparing For A Post Israel Middle East” concludes that the American national interest in fundamentally at odds with that of Israel. The authors conclude that Israel is currently the greatest threat to US national interests because its nature and actions prevent normal US relations with Arab and Muslim countries and, to a growing degree,the wider international community.

The study was commissioned by the US Intelligence Community comprising 16 American intelligence agencies with an annual budget in excess of $ 70 billion. The IC includes the Departments of the Navy, Army, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, Defense Intelligence Agency, Departments of Energy, Homeland Security, State, Treasure, Drug Enforcement Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Security Agency, National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, National Reconnaissance Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency commissioned the study.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Cheapest Generation

Source: The Atlantic

Half of a typical family's budget goes to housing (mortgage payment) and transportation (car payments) today. But that trend is changing amongst the youngest generation. It’s highly possible that a perfect storm of economic and demographic factors—from high gas prices, to re-urbanization, to stagnating wages, to new technologies enabling a different kind of consumption—has fundamentally changed the game for Millennials. The largest generation in American history might never spend as lavishly as its parents did—nor on the same things. Since the end of World War II, new cars and suburban houses have powered the world’s largest economy and propelled our most impressive recoveries. Millennials may have lost interest in both.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Human workers, Managed by an Algorithm

I'm fascinated by recent developments in a growing trend known as "crowdsourciing". Many companies have decided to outsource certain aspects of their businesses to various groups of people. Many are offering some sort of incentive to those who provide them a valuable service.

For example: have you ever done a google search in an effort to solve a technical problem and found the solution to your problem in a discussion forum? Those discussion forums are popping up all over the web. Companies are actually replacing a portion of their tech support workforce with message boards that connect customers with each other in an attempt to get customers the answers they need from other customers who have likely experienced the same problem. In many cases, those good Samaritans who help others receive no compensation, but they assist others out of the kindness of their hearts. In some cases, one can receive discounts or increased access as a reward for helping others.

Now this concept is developing into a new alternative workforce involving mostly unskilled workers being paid a small wage for performing repetitive and mundane tasks. I can imagine a future when there are more "crowdsource" workers than traditional workers. I can also imagine that this trend could explode if/when unemployment rises to unprecedented levels.

This is also an excellent way to enable increasing numbers of alternative workers to earn an income by working whenever and wherever they want to.

Human Workers, Managed by an Algorithm - Technology Review

Software developed by a startup called MobileWorks represents the latest trend in crowdsourcing: organizing foreign workers on a mass scale to do routine jobs that computers aren't yet good at, like checking spreadsheets or reading receipts.

By assigning such tasks to people in emerging economies, MobileWorks hopes to get good work for low price.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

From Jesus’ socialism to capitalistic Christianity

Gregory Paul's latest opinion piece demonstrates the glaring contradiction between the Christian doctrines and Libertarian "free market" principals upon which the core values of the Tea Party are based.

Source: Washington Post

Many conservative Christians,mostly Protestant but also a number of Catholics,have come to believe and proudly proclaim that the creator of the universe favors free wheeling,deregulated,union busting,minimal taxes especially for wealthy investors,plutocrat-boosting capitalism as the ideal earthly scheme for his human creations. And many of these Christian capitalists are ardent followers of Ayn Rand,who was one of -and many of whose followers are -- the most hard-line anti-Christian atheist/s you can get. Meanwhile many Christians who support the capitalist policies associated with social Darwinistic strenuously denounce Darwin’s evolutionary science because it supposedly leads to,well,social Darwinism!

To understand why the pro-capitalist stance of many modern religious conservatives is at odds with Christian doctrine we need to start with the Gospels.

Jesus is no free marketeer. Improving one’s earthly financial circumstances is not nearly as critical as preparing for the end times that will arrive at any minute. He does offer substantial encouragement for the poor,and warns the wealthy that they are in grave danger of blowing their prospects of reaching paradise,as per the metaphor of a rich person entering heaven being as difficult as a camel passing through the eye of the needle (a narrow passageway designed to hinder intruders).

But to understand just how non-capitalistic Christianity is supposed to be we turn to the first chapter after the gospels,Acts,which describes the events of the early church. Chapters 2 and 4 state that all “<b>the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods,they gave to anyone as he had need… No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own,but they shared everything they had…. There were no needy persons among them. From time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them,brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.</b>”

Now folks,that’s outright socialism of the type described millennia later by Marx - who likely got the general idea from the gospels.

The pro-capitalist Christians who are aware of these passages wave them away even though it is the only explicit description of Christian economics in the Bible.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Water shortages hit US power supply

Source: New Scientist

As the United States' extended heat wave and drought threaten to raise global food prices, energy production is also feeling the pressure. Across the nation, power plants are becoming overheated and shutting down or running at lower capacity; drilling operations struggle to get the water they need, and crops that would become biofuel are withering.

While analysts say the US should survive this year without major blackouts, more frequent droughts and increased population size will continue to strain power generation in the future.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

25 Cutting Edge Firms Funded By The CIA

Self-explanatory.

Read it at Business Insider.

This is pure conspiracy theory gold!

On a personal note, my employer NetApp has a business partnership with Cloudera. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that I may have benefited in a small way from the CIA's investments.

America will have to pay the bill for eurozone crisis

Source: Russia Today

Hans-Werner Sinn told RT's Oksana Boyko that since the American insurance companies have insured sovereign debt of Southern Europe with CDS (Credit Default Swap) contracts, once they default – the Americans would have to pay the insurance indemnification payment.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Study predicts imminent irreversible planetary collapse

This report leads me to believe that we are very likely going to face an extinction level event in our lifetime. If you read between the lines of the scientists' prescription it sounds as though survival of humanity on Earth would require a significant catastrophe such as pandemic or collapse of society as we know it. Either that, or most nations must immediately focus significant resources on interplanetary colonization efforts. I can't imagine many other ways to drastically lower our population quickly.

Source: Simon Fraser University

Human activity drives today’s global-scale forcing mechanisms more than ever before. As a result, the rate of climate change we are seeing now exceeds the rate that occurred during the extreme planetary state change that tipped Earth from being in a glacial to an interglacial state 12,000 years ago. You have to go back to the end of the cataclysmic falling star, which ended the age of dinosaurs, to find a previous precedent.

The exponentially increasing extinction of Earth’s current species, dominance of previously rare life forms and occurrence of extreme climate fluctuations parallel critical transitions that coincided with the last major planetary transition.

When these sorts of perturbations are mirrored in toy ecosystem models, they tip these systems quickly and irreversibly.

The authors recommend governments undertake five actions immediately if we are to have any hope of delaying or minimizing a planetary-state-shift. Arne Mooers, an SFU biodiversity professor and a co-author of this study, summarizes them as follows.

“Society globally has to collectively decide that we need to drastically lower our population very quickly. More of us need to move to optimal areas at higher density and let parts of the planet recover. Folks like us have to be forced to be materially poorer, at least in the short term. We also need to invest a lot more in creating technologies to produce and distribute food without eating up more land and wild species. It’s a very tall order.”

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Racial Profiling at Boston Logan Airport

Source: New York Times

In interviews and internal complaints,officers from the Transportation Security Administration's "behavior detection" program at Logan International Airport in Boston asserted that passengers who fit certain profiles - Hispanics traveling to Miami,for instance,or blacks wearing baseball caps backward -are much more likely to be stopped,searched and questioned for "suspicious" behavior.

"They just pull aside anyone who they don't like the way they look - if they are black and have expensive clothes or jewelry,or if they are Hispanic," said one white officer,who along with four others spoke with The New York Times on the condition of anonymity.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

NRC puts nuclear licensing decisions on hold

Sourc: Businessweek

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is putting a hold on requests for new reactor construction and license renewals after a recent federal court ruling questioned the agency's plans for storing radioactive waste.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

USDA Looks to Approve Monsanto's Drought-Tolerant Corn

Source: New York Times

USDA noted that many corn varieties on the market match Monsanto's strain in their water use.

"The reduced yield [trait] does not exceed the natural variation observed in regionally-adapted varieties of conventional corn," the report says, adding that "Equally comparable varieties produced through conventional breeding techniques are readily available in irrigated corn production regions."

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Strict US immigration policies contribute to high unemployment

Source: Russia Today

Some 720,000 foreign students are currently studying in the US, but this privilege comes at a cost. International students at the university level pay tuition rates around three times higher than in-state students. And after paying tens of thousands of dollars to US colleges, many of these students are forced to return to their native countries, taking their talents and skills with them.

It’s called ‘reverse brain drain,’ and it’s a hotly debated subject, especially since some of the most successful global entrepreneurs hail from countries outside the United States.

“We found out recently that about half of the top 50 venture-funded companies had at least one immigrant founder. So if you keep such people out, you have less job creation and less innovation in the US,” Executive Director of the National Foundation for American Policy Stuart Anderson

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Russia to revive army bases in three oceans - English pravda.ru

It is no secret that in recent years, the U.S. created a buffer zone around Russia, involving in this process not only the countries of Central Europe, but also the Baltic states, Ukraine and the Caucasus. The only response to this could be an asymmetric expansion of the Russian military presence abroad, particularly in Cuba. In Cuba, there are convenient bays for our reconnaissance and warships, a network of the so-called "jump airfields." With the full consent of the Cuban leadership, on May 11 of this year, our country has not only resumed work in the electronic center of Lourdes, but also placed the latest mobile strategic nuclear missiles "Oak" on the island. They did not want to do it the amicable way, now let them deal with this," Putin said.

Startup dumps Facebook: 80% of ad clicks came from bots

On-line music start-up, Limited Run believes they've discovered a Facebook advertising scam.

Source Russia Today

“80% of the clicks we were paying for were from bots,” the company said in a post on its Facebook page. “That’s correct. Bots were loading pages and driving up our advertising costs. So we tried contacting Facebook about this. Unfortunately, they wouldn’t reply. Do we know who the bots belong to? No. Are we accusing Facebook of using bots to drive up advertising revenue. No. Is it strange? Yes.”

The company, formerly known as Limited Pressing, also claimed that the social media giant would not allow it to change the name of its Facebook page unless it committed to buy $2,000 of monthly advertising. “Facebook was holding our name hostage,” the post said.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Algorithmic trading gone wild, Knight Capital shares fell 24%

Business Insider

Word quickly spread through the trading community that the issues were centered around Knight Capital, a market maker.

Shares of Knight Capital, the market maker, immediately got slammed. They're down 24%!. People think the technical issues are originating from them.

Knight just released a statement about the issues to Business Insider, here it is:

"An initial review by Knight indicates that a technology issue occurred in the company’s market-making unit related to the routing of shares of approximately 150 stocks to the NYSE. Knight notified its market-making clients this morning to route listed orders away. The company’s OTC securities and trading in its other businesses are not affected. The company continues to review internally."

The NYSE has just issued a statement to Business Insider, here it is (emphasis added):

"The NYSE and NYSE MKT are currently reviewing irregular trading identified by our people and systems in 148 (140 NYSE/8 MKT) symbols between 09:30:00 a.m. and 10:15:00 a.m. ET today. The NYSE and NYSE MKT will provide updates with respect to these reviews. At this time, we believe NYSE systems and circuit breakers operated normally during this period, and we are working with all market participants on the issue."