Friday, August 3, 2012

Decline and fall of the Italian villa: Haunting images of the forgotten palaces which are now spectacular ruins

  • Photographer charts decline of country homes from Piedmont to Tuscany
  • Believed to be more than 300 ghost villages - 'paesi fantasma' - in Italy
By Nick Enoch

A grand staircase lies in ruins - the steps have crumbled; its ornate railings covered in dust. On the decaying, bare walls, a splash of coloured panelling provides the last vestige of splendour.

This once-great Italian villa would most likely have been home to nobility during the Renaissance - but now, it and many others have been abandoned.
Yet there is still beauty to be found - frescoes depicting angels and rustic scenes, and vaulted ceilings which have managed to ward off the ravages of time.

To document their sad demise, photographer Thomas Jorion has roamed the north of the country - from Piedmont and Lombardy to Tuscany and Emilia Romagna - for his gallery series, entitled Forgotten Palaces.

Nuclear decay: Haunting images show the remnants of the Manhattan Project mission to build first atomic bomb



End of the line: Spectacular photographs show abandoned railway stations left to crumble and decay

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Maps: The Secrets Drillers Can Hide About the Fracking in Your Backyard

| Wed Aug. 1, 2012 3:00 AM PDT
A new analysis by the Natural Resources Defense Council shows that most states where fracking occurs have no disclosure laws at all, and that those that do are woefully behind when it comes to revealing behind-the-scenes details of their operations. While the Obama administration has put some new rules in place, many decisions about what drillers are allowed to hide are left to the states;

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar complained to Reuters that state-level regulation is "not good enough for me, because states are at very different levels, some have zero, some have decent rules."

That's a problem, study author Amy Mall said, because unlike coal plants and other large-scale energy operations, fracked natural gas wells are often in close proximity to houses, schools, or other high-traffic areas.

At stake is a trove of information: exact ingredients of the chemical cocktail used to frack a particular site, when and where drillers plan to frack, how toxic wastewater is to be dealt with, and many more basic details, all of which could be useful to local politicians and residents concerned about health impacts, groundwater and air pollution, and seismic activity associated with fracking.

"The state laws on the books aren't anywhere near where they need to be for the public to have information to protect their communities," Mall said.

The maps below highlight just a few areas covered by the report. Click on states for info on their laws, and for more detail check out the full version here

Harvard Scientists to Build Iron Man-like Suit for Military

Harvard University scientists are working on an Iron Man-like smart suit that could improve soldiers' endurance in war zones.

By Sharon Gaudin
Thu, July 19, 2012
Computerworld   — Harvard University scientists are working on an Iron Man-like smart suit that could improve soldiers' endurance in war zones.
 The university received a $2.6 million research grant for the project from DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), the research arm of the U.S. Department of Defense.

The suit, which is expected to include sensors and its own energy source, will be designed to delay the onset of fatigue, enabling soldiers to travel further in the field, while also supporting the body and protecting it from injuries when the soldier is carrying heavy loads.

A team of bioengineers at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard will work on the project.

The suit is designed to be lightweight, efficient and nonrestrictive, according to Harvard. It will be made from soft, wearable devices that will be connected to stretchable sensors for monitoring the body's biomechanics.

Another technology that is expected to be part of the suit will produce low-level vibrations that should increase the body's sensory functions and should give the wearer a better sense of balance.
This isn't the first effort to build a wearable mechanism that can bolster the human body.

Shocking satellite images of how drought is impacting U.S. crops

These maps just released from the Ecology and Agriculture Spatial Analysis Laboratory at Kansas State University and Farm Futures show the impact of this summer's severe heat wave and drought on U.S. crops. They're based on satellite data taken over a two-week period.
Here's a comparison of this year's vegetation to the 23-year average for this period (brown indicates 'decreased biomass' and green indicates 'increased biomass):

 And here's a comparison to last year alone:


Step away from the soda, says biologist: Fizzy drinks can cause permanent weight gain

Good news for the Bloomberg campaign against big sugary drinks. New study says frequent consumption could lead to lasting metabolic damage.

 By Meena Hart Duerson / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Tuesday, July 31, 2012, 7:24 PM

 A British biologist has a message for soda lovers: step away from the fizz!

Dr. Hans-Peter Kubis, the director of the Health Exercise and Rehabilitation group at Bangor University in England, has found that regularly drinking soda can not only cause weight gain but can actually change the metabolism in the human body, potentially triggering a whole host of other medical problems.

“If you’re thirsty and think of reaching for a sugary soft drink - don’t - it can compromise your long-term health,” the University warned in a statement publicizing Kubis’s findings.

His study, published in the European Journal of Nutrition in June, looked at the effects of increased soda intake on a group of 11 men and women described as “lightly active, healthy, lean subjects with sporadic soft drink consumption.”

This group was given sugar-sweetened beverages over a course of four weeks while researchers kept track of their vitals.

The study found that even in that short time, the extra soda led their bodies to process calories differently, switching to “an inefficient metabolism.”

“Regularly drinking soft drinks changes the way our muscles use food as fuel, making them prefer to burn sugars over fats,” researchers found, noting the research indicated “these changes are lasting.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Mitt Romney Olympic Archive Still Off-Limits

Mitt Romney at a news conference
about the 2002 Winter Olympics
July 23, 2012, ABC News

More than a decade has passed since Mitt Romney presided over the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, but the archival records from those games that were donated to the University of Utah to provide an unprecedented level of transparency about the historic event, remain off limits to the public. And some of the documents that may have shed the most light on Romney's stewardship of the Games were likely destroyed by Salt Lake Olympic officials. 

The archivists involved in preparing the documents for public review told ABC News that financial documents, contracts, appointment calendars, emails and correspondence are likely not included in the 1,100 boxes of Olympic records, and will not be part of the collection that will ultimately be made public. 

The Salt Lake City Winter Olympics represent a crucial chapter in the Romney biography -- his selection to oversee the Games came in the wake of a bribery scandal.  

Romney ... frequently cites the experience as part of what qualifies him to assume the presidency. But the absence of publicly available records that detail the decisions he made while running the games has increasingly become an uneasy subject for the library, which has for months been receiving inquiries from journalists and other researchers trying to subject Romney's version of the events to an analysis based on documents from the events. 
Romney [has] already faced criticism for his decisions to keep secret some of his past tax records and some details about his investment holdings.

Note: For lots more from reliable major media sources on institutional secrecy, click here.

Wealth doesn't trickle down – it just floods offshore, research reveals

Exploiting gaps in global tax rules.
July 21, 2012, The Guardian (One of the UK's leading newspapers)

The world's super-rich have taken advantage of lax tax rules to siphon off at least $21 trillion, and possibly as much as $32tn, from their home countries and hide it abroad – a sum larger than the entire American economy. James Henry, a former chief economist at consultancy McKinsey and an expert on tax havens, has conducted groundbreaking new research for the Tax Justice Network campaign group – sifting through data from the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and private sector analysts to construct an alarming picture that shows capital flooding out of countries across the world and disappearing into the cracks in the financial system.

"This offshore economy is large enough to have a major impact on estimates of inequality of wealth and income; on estimates of national income and debt ratios; and – most importantly – to have very significant negative impacts on the domestic tax bases of 'source' countries," Henry says. John Christensen of the Tax Justice Network [commented]

"Inequality is much, much worse than official statistics show, but politicians are still relying on trickle-down to transfer wealth to poorer people. This new data shows the exact opposite has happened: for three decades extraordinary wealth has been cascading into the offshore accounts of a tiny number of super-rich."

In total, 10 million individuals around the world hold assets offshore, according to Henry's analysis; but almost half of the minimum estimate of $21tn – $9.8tn – is owned by just 92,000 people. Note: Henry's report, entitled The Price of Offshore Revisited, is available here.

For more on this, click here.

The Bank of England told us to do it, claims Barclays

Baroness Vadera. Business Minister Shriti
July 3, 2012, The Telegraph (One of the UK's leading newspapers)

The Deputy Governor of the Bank of England encouraged Barclays to try to lower interest rates after coming under pressure from senior members of the last Labour government, documents have disclosed. 

A memo published by Barclays suggested that Paul Tucker gave a hint to Bob Diamond, the bank’s chief executive, in 2008 that the rate it was claiming to be paying to borrow money from other banks could be lowered. 

His suggestion followed questions from “senior figures within Whitehall” about why Barclays was having to pay so much interest on its borrowings, the memo states. Barclays and other banks have been accused of artificially manipulating the Libor rate, which is used to set the borrowing costs for millions of consumers, businesses and investors, by falsely stating how much they were paying to borrow money. 

The bank claimed yesterday that one of its most senior executives cut the Libor rate only at the height of the credit crisis after intervention from the Bank of England. 

The memo, written on Oct 29, 2008, by Mr Diamond and circulated to two other senior bank officials, said: “Mr Tucker reiterated that he had received calls from a number of senior figures within Whitehall to question why Barclays was always toward the top end of the Libor pricing.” Government sources suggested that Baroness Vadera, one of Gordon Brown’s closest colleagues, was responsible for the contact with the Bank of England. 

Note: For deeply revealing and reliable major media reports on corruption and criminality in the operations and regulation of the financial sector, click here.

Wall Street Legend Sandy Weill: Break Up the Big Banks

Citigroups Sanford I. Weill
July 25, 2012, CNBC

Former Citigroup Chairman & CEO Sanford I. Weill, the man who invented the financial supermarket, called for the breakup of big banks in an interview on CNBC Wednesday.

 “What we should probably do is go and split up investment banking from banking, have banks be deposit takers, have banks make commercial loans and real estate loans, have banks do something that’s not going to risk the taxpayer dollars, that’s not too big to fail,” Weill told CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” 

He added: “If they want to hedge what they’re doing with their investments, let them do it in a way that’s going to be mark-to-market so they’re never going to be hit.”  

He essentially called for the return of the Glass–Steagall Act, which imposed banking reforms that split banks from other financial institutions such as insurance companies. 

He said banks should be split off entirely from investment banks, and they should operate with a leverage ratio of 12 times to 15 times of what they have on their balance sheets. Banks should also be completely transparent, Weill said, with everything on balance sheet. “There should be no such thing as off balance sheet,” he said.

Note: For deeply revealing and reliable major media reports on corruption and criminality in the operations and regulation of the financial sector, click here.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

National Debt? No Such Thing

GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney is among
the super rich with money in offshore accounts.
(photo: AP)
By Carl Gibson, Reader Supported News
28 July 12

Reader Supported News | Perspective
magine sitting at the kitchen table, stressing out over your family's finances. Between the student loan debt, the credit card debt, the car loan, the mortgage, the phone bill, the groceries, electricity and the water, you only have so much in your bank account to cover a few of those things. To avoid defaulting on your debt or having your car repossessed, you'll either have to forgo electricity for your home, or you can simply collect the debt owed to you by your rich neighbors, all of which totals more than you would make in 10 years. Would you shut off your lights, or collect what you're owed and settle all of your debt?

Any politician who bemoans the national debt, whether they be American, Greek, Spanish or otherwise, is lying to you if they blame anyone but the richest 0.001% for the country's massive debt. Because the richest 0.001% have anywhere between $21 trillion and $32 trillion stashed in overseas bank accounts simply to avoid paying their fair share of taxes. It's a number that's simply beyond comprehension. Even if someone had spent a million dollars a day since Jesus was born, they would have only spent $700 billion by today, just $0.7 trillion.  READ MORE

A home from home: Five planets that could host life

       Gliese 582g
~    Similarity to Earth (ESI): 0.92
~    Minimum mass: 2.2 times that of Earth
~    Distance: 20.3 light-years

It's one of the big questions: Are we alone on this blue marble or is there life elsewhere in the cosmos? 
To shed some light, astronomers are searching for habitable worlds circling far-off stars.

A team has now published updated evidence for a planet that could be the most Earth-like yet. According to the US Planetary Habitability Laboratory, it would be the fifth potentially habitable world known outside our Solar System.

So what do we know about these five Earth-like planets, and how likely is it that they could support life?

Earth "twin"

The discovery of Gliese 581g was announced in September 2010 by a US-led team. But as soon as they made the announcement, doubts began to surface. The team at the Geneva observatory which had discovered all four other planets around the star Gliese 581 failed to detect it in their own data. 

However, the original discoverers of 581g have now published an analysis using a greater amount of data to provide more promising evidence for its existence.

This would be significant because the Earth Similarity Index (ESI), devised by a team including Dirk Schulze-Makuch from Washington State University and Abel Mendez from the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) in Arecibo, shows that Gliese 581g is the most Earth-like planet discovered to date. The ESI measures characteristics of exoplanets on a scale from zero to one, with one being identical to Earth. Accordingly, the online Habitable Exoplanets Catalog, based at UPR, has decided to include it in their list of the most promising worlds to support life.

Like the other worlds in the catalogue, Gliese 581g orbits in a "sweet spot" around its star - the habitable zone, or Goldilocks zone - that is neither too hot nor too cold to allow for liquid water. It is just over twice the mass of Earth and, although the planet is closer to its parent star than is Earth, it receives about the same light flux (a measure of the star's apparent brightness) as our planet because Gliese 581 is a red dwarf star and therefore dimmer than our own Sun. Steven Vogt, from University of California, Santa Cruz, US, one of original discoverers, said Gliese 581g orbits "squarely in the star's Habitable Zone at 0.13 AU, where liquid water on planetary surfaces is a distinct possibility".

But it remains to be seen whether the new evidence will convince the doubters.   READ MORE