Tuesday, May 17, 2005


The plan for Iran

Given how well the plan for Iraq has gone, the same numbskulls are pushing a plan for Iran. Here is the political component.


In an interview two months ago with Raw Story, former weapons inspector

Scott Ritter raged against the neocons as godless parasites whose only
gift is for destruction. He argued that the mission of Bush
appointees--Rice at the State Department, Paul Wolfowitz at the World Bank--is to
undermine and subvert the very institutions they run to render them
ineffectual and incapable of resistance. And Bolton as the U.S.'s UN
representative? Same deal. "A high level source, a NeoCon at that, within
the system has said to me directly that John Bolton's job is to destroy
the UN..."

Sounds a bit overheated, but the invaluable Steve Clemons who has waged
a noble campaign against Bolton at The Washingon Note has come to the
same stark conclusion:

"Now that we know that Frank Gaffney, David Frum, Gary Bauer, and
others at ConfirmBolton.com are worried about North Korea and Iran -- what
is their strategy -- other than sending Bolton to the U.N.?

"The fact is that they have no strategy -- that is apparent to TWN yet
-- on how to credibly confront and/or preempt the further creep of
North Korea's and Iran's nuclear pretensions.

"Their goal is to focus on blowing up the United Nations by using North
Korea and Iran confrontations that run the risk of yet again dividing
the U.S. and Europe.

"Their goal is not to look at the combination of policy initiatives,
including efforts at the U.N., to deal with the substantive threats posed
by North Korea and Iran.

"It's all about kicking apart the United Nations, reformed or not."

And what will that achieve, aside from satisfying the neocon lust for
wreckage? At antiwar.com Jude Wanniski provides the answer:

"My reliable sources tell me it is because there is a timetable that
makes it urgent for Bolton to be ready for action in June in order to
cripple the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) as part of the plan to
bomb the Iranian nuclear power plant at Bushehr. That's because Bushehr,
under construction with Russian supervision, will soon be ready to
receive the Russian fissionable material enabling it to produce power...

"On a recent, quite incredible Fox News special, Lt. Gen. Thomas
McInerney said we are already moving aircraft carriers into positions from
which we could strike. He was then asked: 'If you had to put a percentage
on it, the chances that the U.S. will eventually have to take military
actions against Iran, what would you put it at?' to which McInerney
replied casually: 'Well, I would put 1 percent of using ground forces,
boots on the ground in Iran, I would put up 50 percent on a blockade, and
I would put up 50 to 60 percent on precision air strikes on their
nuclear development sites.' He also observed casually that Iran wouldn't
dare take on the United States. Perhaps the 60 million Iranians would
greet our bombers with garlands and sweets. Do you see what I mean? Fox
News, as you may know, is commonly known as 'The War Channel,' for similar
work it did in promoting the war against Iraq.

"Is Iran this kind of threat to anyone? As far as I can tell, ladies
and gentlemen..., the answer is 'absolutely not,' at least as long as
they remain members in good standing of the NPT, which means they will
permit the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to inspect
intrusively and constantly, as they have been doing. It has been the mission of
John Bolton and his underling Stephen Rademaker to 'reform' the United
Nations in a way that dissolves the NPT and the need for the IAEA, not
only to pave the way for the bombing of Bushehr, but also to get out
from under the NPT provisions that require all the nuclear weapon powers
to make progress toward making the world a nuclear-free zone...

"For good measure, I'd hope those of you who are reading this memo to
the GOP senators and are among their constituents would urge them to
take a second look before they send Bolton to the United Nations. His
mission is not to clean up the so-called 'Oil-for-Food Scandal' or promote
UNICEF gift cards. It is to bomb the nuclear facilities in Iran after
undermining the work of IAEA and the need for the NPT."

Right on cue, the National Review editorializes that "Diplomacy's Over"
when it comes to Iran. Now is the time for action. "Congress is
considering legislation that would tighten existing U.S. sanctions, prevent
U.S. subsidiaries from doing business in Iran, and reduce aid to
countries whose businesses invest there. The threat of precision military
strikes also remains on the table, as it should; the Pentagon recently
announced that it plans to sell Israel 100 'bunker-buster' bombs, which can
attack underground facilities such as those reportedly used by Iran.
And of course there is Iran’s pro-democratic population, which may be the
United States’ greatest weapon against the mullahs."

Until the neocons fuck this up as badly as they did Iraq, and the
Iranians turn against us too. (Link)


Losing the War on Drugs

Limit you war to proper nouns. Common nouns are way too tough (i.e. France versus drug, terror).


Washington's "war on drugs" in Colombia is collapsing in chaos and corruption, and the drug producers are winning. The so-called Plan Colombia, which has cost the US more than $3bn in the past five years, is being abandoned, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has announced.
Last year, the hugely expensive effort to poison coca bushes - whose leaves are the source of cocaine - by aerial spraying ended in failure. More bushes were flourishing in January this year than in January 2004. Meanwhile, complaints have multiplied about the damage done by the chemical poisons to the health of humans, especially children, as well as to livestock, fish and the environment. (Link)


American Religous Leaders: "Stop the American Taliban"

I'll let this group speak for themselves.


Religious groups critical of Sen. Ken Salazar's support of the Senate filibuster for judges were denounced by clergy and political leaders as crackpots, American Taliban and the Gestapo. The intent of such groups, said the Rev. Bill Kirton of the Interfaith Alliance of Colorado, is to impose their religious values on others.

"This, my friends, is the Gestapo," said Kirton, a United Methodist minister. Later, Kirton defended his description saying, "I said Gestapo, and I meant it." Kirton was among speakers who rallied behind Salazar at a news conference at the state Capitol. In a supportive letter to Salazar, the group condemned "the pursuit and abuse of earthly power," which was driving religious groups to support an up-or-down vote of President Bush's court nominees.

"These are the actions of an American Taliban, of reactionary, religious zealots," said the Rev. Peter Morales, head of the public policy commission of the Interfaith Alliance. "We applaud the courage of Senator Salazar and his refusal to be bullied." (Link)


British military tell the pentagon its stupid

More confirmation of what everyone with a brain thinks of the Iraqi war.


British defence chiefs have warned United States military commanders in Iraq to change their rules for opening fire or face becoming bogged down in a terrorist war for a decade or more. The Telegraph has learnt that the warning was issued last month in response to a series of incidents that led to the deaths of Iraqi civilians, mainly at checkpoints, after soldiers opened fire in the mistaken belief that they were being attacked by suicide bombers. . .

American officers were told that when the British Army had made mistakes, such as in Londonderry in Northern Ireland in 1972 when troops shot dead 13 civilians during a civil rights march, the political and military consequences had been disastrous. . .

A British officer said that some of the tactics employed by American forces would not be approved by British commanders. The officer said: "US troops have the attitude of shoot first and ask questions later. They simply won't take any risk. . . "I explained that their tactics were alienating the civil population and could lengthen the insurgency by a decade. Unfortunately, when we ex-plained our rules of engagement which are based around the principle of minimum force, the US troops just laughed." (Link)


Newsweek retraction

Looks like the owners of Newsweek don't like controversy, because they are acting like cowards. This seems to indicate that the story is reasonable, and possibly quite accurate, but the magazine is been intimidated. Wimps.


After a drumbeat of criticism from the Bush administration and others, Newsweek magazine yesterday went beyond an apology it issued Sunday and retracted an article published May 1 that stated that American interrogators at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, had tried to rattle Muslim detainees by flushing a Koran down a toilet. . .

An article in the current Newsweek said the original report, written by a veteran investigative reporter, Michael Isikoff, and the magazine's national security correspondent, John Barry, relied on a "longtime reliable source" who told Mr. Isikoff that a new report on prisoner abuses at Guantánamo would include a mention of a Koran being flushed down a toilet. The magazine said it showed the original article to a Pentagon official who challenged one aspect of the story but not the report about the desecration of the Koran.

Because of other reports about prisoner abuses there, the magazine said, the toilet incident "seemed shocking but not incredible."

In fact, complaints from released inmates that the Koran had been thrown into a toilet go back at least two years.

Among the more detailed accounts of United States soldiers mishandling copies of the Koran were depositions from three Britons who were released from Guantánamo in the summer of 2004. Asif Iqbal, one of the men, who were from Tipton, England, and had been captured in Afghanistan, said that guards "would kick the Koran, throw it in the toilet and generally disrespect it."

Military officials dismissed the complaints as commanders at Guantánamo conducted media tours of the facility during which they emphasized steps taken to demonstrate respect for Islam. Inmates, they noted, were given copies of the Koran along with a cloth surgical mask, which they used as a kind of sling to suspend the book from the wire mesh walls to ensure it did not touch the floor.

The official accounts of Guantánamo began fraying in later months, as the International Committee of the Red Cross charged in a confidential report in November that the procedures at Guantánamo amounted to torture, and F.B.I. memorandums disclosed in December portrayed harsh and abusive treatment by interrogators. The F.B.I. memorandums, disclosed in a lawsuit, did not mention any mishandling of the Koran.

Last month, a former American interrogator confirmed to The New York Times an account given in an interview by a former Kuwaiti detainee, Nasser Nijer Naser al-Mutairi, who said that mishandling of the Koran once led to a major hunger strike. The strike ended only after a senior officer expressed regret over the camp's loudspeaker system, which was simultaneously translated by linguists at the end of each cell block, the former interrogator said.

In that case, the accusations were of copies of the Koran being tossed on the floor in a pile and treated roughly, but there was no assertion that any had been put in the toilet. (Link)


If Bush is a problem, go under him

Environmental hope from neo-con America. This is why even corrupt democracy is better then other forms of government.


Mayors from across the US are signing up to an initiative to get American cities to meet the US's Kyoto environmental target which George Bush repudiated: cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 7% by 2010.

The response has astounded the scheme's founder, Seattle's mayor, Greg Nickels, who persuaded eight other mayors to write on March 30 to 400 colleagues across the country.

Dozens of cities have since contacted his office with the total reaching 134 in 35 states yesterday.

The mayors who have signed up represent 29.3 million people. Although most are Democrats some 12 big cities with Republican mayors, representing 8 million people, have joined, including New York city. Mr Nickels is a Democrat but he said his campaign was non-partisan.

"This campaign has clearly touched a nerve with the American people," he said. "The climate affects Democrats and Republicans alike. Here in Seattle we rely on the winter snow for our drinking water and hydro-electricity but it is disappearing; in Florida they have had hurricanes; in California they have had unseasonal heavy rain. Our weather patterns are changing."

He said each city had a tough target of cutting its emissions by 7% and each mayor would choose "a different path". "Conditions in Hurst, Texas are different to here in Seattle," he said "but we both think we can do it."

He said the fight to prevent climate change would not be expensive. "There are changes we will have to make but there are many opportunities to create employment and make for a better life. In any event the costs of doing nothing are greater than doing nothing.

"Climate change is happening and causing a lot of problems already. This can only get worse and we have to start doing something about it now. Lots of other Americans appear to agree."

Among the proposals are running municipal vehicles on gas or electricity, investment in renewable energy, planting trees, promoting car pooling, improving public transport and providing cycle lanes.

Each city has signed up to produce a greenhouse gas inventory and a plan on how to reduce it.

In Seattle cruise ships are required to turn off their diesel engines in dock and hook up to the city's renewable energy supplies to cut emissions, a move which has caused some ships to refit their electricity systems. Salt Lake City has become Utah's biggest buyer of wind power in order to meet its target.

New York's mayor, Michael Bloomberg, who signed up last week, is trying to reduce emissions from the municipal vehicle fleet by buying hybrid powered vehicles.

Ray Nagin, the mayor of low-lying New Orleans and a Democrat, told the New York Times that he joined the coalition because a projected rise in sea levels "threatens the very existence of New Orleans".

In Hawaii, the mayor of Maui county, Alan Arakawa, a Republican, said he joined because he was frustrated by Washington's failure to recognise the scientific consensus that climate change was happening because of human activity.

Seattle's move is the latest in groundswell of concern about the Bush administration's failure to take action on climate.

The White House has poured money into research and believes technology will solve the problem while at the same time maintaining that taking action now would lead to higher energy prices and the loss of 5 million jobs.

In a separate alliance a number of states, including New York, have signed up to a carbon trading deal which would cut the emissions of fossil fuel burning power stations by exchanging carbon credits for cash. (Link)


Ecosystem Engineering

We have succeeded in creating new ecosystems before, but usually this has been an accidental affair with destructive consequences. In this case a Russian team is trying to restore a ecosystem that has been gone for 10,000 years, and in a side project not mentioned in the article, they are also trying to restore the extinct species of that time period: especially the Mammoth.


Efforts are under way to restore part of Siberia to the way it was more than 10,000 years ago, before the end of the last ice age.

The "Pleistocene Park" experiment will try to turn the wet, boggy tundra back to the dry grasslands that once were home to large herds of stampeding mammals.

These creatures included bison, horses, reindeer, musk-oxen, elk, saiga, and yaks and even woolly rhinos and mammoths. There were top predators, too, such as cave lions and wolves.

It is hoped that by re-introducing some of the still-surviving species, grazing will begin again and restore the landscape.

"The idea is to do some scientific experiments which would explain why there was such a dramatic change in the ecosystem 10,000 years ago," said Sergey Zimov, director of the Northeast Science Station in Cherskii, Russia.

"We want to construct the ecosystem that existed here - an ecosystem that had a very big density of bison, horses, rhinos and many other herbivores and predators," he told the BBC World Service's Science In Action programme.

Theory tests

Dr Zimov believes that the vegetation of an area is determined by the animals that live there - rather than the other way around.

He hopes that by putting a lot of large grazing animals on to the modern tundra, they will chew up the mosses that currently keep the soil moist. The drier earth will then be suitable for grassland, which is what the animals prefer.

Dr Zimov plans to test his theory initially in a small area, and has the support of the government of the Republic of Yakutia to work in 160 sq km of Ko lyma lowland.

The reintroduced herbivores will include reindeer, moose, Yakutian horses and recently reintroduced musk-oxen, along with other smaller plant-eaters such as hares, marmots and ground squirrels.

Eventually, as the numbers of animals climb, the boundaries of the park will be increased and bison will be brought in from Canada. Ultimately, predators also will be re-introduced, such as Siberian tigers.

Human hunters

However, Pleistocene mammal expert Professor Adrian Lister, of University College London, UK, said that he did not know if this idea would actually work.

"[Dr Zimov] quite properly says that he appreciates that this is a theory, and I think the idea of massive landscape reconstruction on the basis of a theory is perhaps a bit dodgy," he added.

"But he says that he is going to take a relatively small area and try it out - take a fenced area, put some bison and horses in, and see if it works."

One of the points of the experiment is to try to prove why some of the great beasts, such as the mammoth and woolly rhino, became extinct.

"One of the prevailing ideas is that the climate changed at the end of the last ice age; it became wetter and warmer, and the normally accepted model is that that change turned the dry grasslands into the modern, wet tundra," explained Professor Lister.

"There is another idea - which I think Zimov is championing - which says it's actually the entry of modern humans into these vast areas which killed off the animals; they were over-hunted, and because those animals were no longer there to graze the grasses, it turned into this boggy tundra."

Dr Lister said he had problems with this "overkill" model. In particular, he explained that when people entered that area, it was in "pretty small numbers".

"You're talking about the extinction of probably millions of individuals, of huge animals like mammoth and woolly rhino. Even if they had the capacity to kill that many animals, why would they have needed to?"

Mammoth home

One further proposed benefit of restoring the grassland at Pleistocene Park is that it may prevent a large amount of carbon currently locked up in the permafrost of the tundra from being released into the atmosphere - with obvious consequences for global warming.

"The amount of carbon now sequestered in soils of the former mammoth ecosystem, and that could end up as greenhouse gases if released into the atmosphere by rising global temperatures, surpasses the total carbon content of all of the planet's rainforests," Dr Zimov wrote in an essay in Science magazine this month.

He believes the returning grasses and their root systems would help dry out and stabilise the soil.

"The albedo - or ability to reflect incoming sunlight skyward - of such ecosystems is high, so warming from solar radiation also is reduced. And with lots of herbivores present, much of the wintertime snow would be trampled, exposing the ground to colder temperatures that prevent ice from melting.

"All of this suggests that reconstructed grassland ecosystems, such as the ones we are working on in Pleistocene Park, could prevent permafrost from thawing and thereby mitigate some negative consequences of climate warming," he told Science readers.

And if the mammoth ecosystem is restored what chance is there we might one day see the mammoths themselves back on the plains? Fanciful perhaps but the recent development of cloning technology has at least got people talking about the subject.

Dr Lister said that even if it were possible to recreate the great beast, he would be against it.

"Of course it would be wonderful to actually see the thing alive, rather than just working with piles of bones all the time," he explained.

"Having said that, I've always been anti the idea of cloning these animals... just to create one or two lonely individuals in Pleistocene Park just for our own enjoyment wouldn't, I think, be quite the right thing to do." (Link)


The Orange Order is growing... in Africa?

The world is strange. The heart or the Northern Irish protestant loyalism is the Orange Order. These are the people who's parades have been disrupted in recent years because of the potential for conflict. Here in Canada, in a village called Lucan, both Irish Catholics and Orangemen settled. It became known as the most violent part of the British Empire. So, when I say the Orange Order is intimately tied to notion of protestant Irishness, believe me, which is what makes this story interesting.


The Orange Order is expecting to have its biggest Twelfth celebrations in a long time - not in Belfast though but in west Africa.

The order is having a revival there, according to research conducted by a University of Ulster academic.

The Protestant order celebrates the 1690 Battle of the Boyne victory of Prince William over Catholic King James I every 12 July.

Dr Rachel Naylor, a lecturer in sociology at the Magee campus, says the level of interest and commitment to the Orange Order in parts of Ghana and Togo might come as a surprise to people living in Northern Ireland.

"Although numerically small, those involved are highly committed and the level of interest is certainly significant," she said.

There are currently about 20 Orange lodges in west Africa.

But membership at a number of youth lodges in Ghana is increasing after years of relative decline

Return of democracy

Most of Dr Naylor's research to date has been concentrated on Ghana where the revival of Orangeism has coincided with the return of democracy.

Several African members have travelled to the July celebrations in Northern Ireland but the majority of the Ghana lodges mark the Battle of the Boyne with a traditional church service and parade at home.

Like their counterparts in Northern Ireland, male lodge members in Ghana wear suits and collarettes and march behind their lodge's banner.

Orangewomen wear their collarettes over white dresses.

However, although they march and dress in much the same fashion as in Northern Ireland, it is nonetheless difficult to make comparisons, says Dr Naylor, who believes the political, ethnic and religious context is very different

"The current emphasis in Ghana is very much on the spiritual and social support elements of the Order," she said.

The wider sociological issues raised by Dr Naylor's study will form an element of a new sociology module at the University of Ulster to be launched in the next academic year. (Link)


Monday, May 16, 2005


Torture as Control

This is why I oppose any use of torture, because its usual justification: as an information gathering tool it is useless. It is a tool of social control through terror, or in other words, a tool of tyrrany. Since I oppose tyrrany (understatement) I also oppose any use of torture.


This is torture's true purpose: to terrorize--not only the people in Guantánamo's cages and Syria's isolation cells but also, and more important, the broader community that hears about these abuses. Torture is a machine designed to break the will to resist--the individual prisoner's will and the collective will.

This is not a controversial claim. In 2001 the US NGO Physicians for Human Rights published a manual on treating torture survivors that noted: "perpetrators often attempt to justify their acts of torture and ill treatment by the need to gather information. Such conceptualizations obscure the purpose of torture....The aim of torture is to dehumanize the victim, break his/her will, and at the same time, set horrific examples for those who come in contact with the victim. In this way, torture can break or damage the will and coherence of entire communities."

Yet despite this body of knowledge, torture continues to be debated in the United States as if it were merely a morally questionable way to extract information, not an instrument of state terror. But there's a problem: No one claims that torture is an effective interrogation tool--least of all the people who practice it. Torture "doesn't work. There are better ways to deal with captives," CIA director Porter Goss told the Senate Intelligence Committee on Feb. 16. And a recently declassified memo written by an FBI official in Guantánamo states that extreme coercion produced "nothing more than what FBI got using simple investigative techniques." The army's own interrogation field manual states that force "can induce the source to say whatever he thinks the interrogator wants to hear."

And yet the abuses keep on coming--Uzbekistan as the new hot spot for renditions; the "El Salvador model" imported to Iraq. And the only sensible explanation for torture's persistent popularity comes from a most unlikely source. Lynndie England, the fall girl for Abu Ghraib, was asked during her botched trial why she and her colleagues had forced naked prisoners into a human pyramid. "As a way to control them," she replied.

Exactly. As an interrogation tool, torture is a bust. But when it comes to social control, nothing works quite like torture. (Link)


America the Weak

Here is what I've been saying for ages. That the Iraqi war has seriously weakened the U.S.. This conflict has shown the limits of American power. Against an another army in the field the American military is unstoppable. But who is going to put an army into the field to face them. No, your going to scatter your militaary to field in the crowded streets. You going to raise your people against them.


Is there any point, now that November's election is behind us, in revisiting the history of the Iraq war? Yes: any path out of the quagmire will be blocked by people who call their opponents weak on national security, and portray themselves as tough guys who will keep America safe. So it's important to understand how the tough guys made America weak.

There has been notably little U.S. coverage of the "Downing Street memo" - actually the minutes of a British prime minister's meeting on July 23, 2002, during which officials reported on talks with the Bush administration about Iraq. But the memo, which was leaked to The Times of London during the British election campaign, confirms what apologists for the war have always denied: the Bush administration cooked up a case for a war it wanted.

Here's a sample: "Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and W.M.D. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy."

(You can read the whole thing at www.downingstreetmemo.com.)

Why did the administration want to invade Iraq, when, as the memo noted, "the case was thin" and Saddam's "W.M.D. capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea, or Iran"? Iraq was perceived as a soft target; a quick victory there, its domestic political advantages aside, could serve as a demonstration of American military might, one that would shock and awe the world.

But the Iraq war has, instead, demonstrated the limits of American power, and emboldened our potential enemies. Why should Kim Jong Il fear us, when we can't even secure the road from Baghdad to the airport?

At this point, the echoes of Vietnam are unmistakable. Reports from the recent offensive near the Syrian border sound just like those from a 1960's search-and-destroy mission, body count and all. Stories filed by reporters actually with the troops suggest that the insurgents, forewarned, mostly melted away, accepting battle only where and when they chose.

Meanwhile, America's strategic position is steadily deteriorating.

Next year, reports Jane's Defense Industry, the United States will spend as much on defense as the rest of the world combined. Yet the Pentagon now admits that our military is having severe trouble attracting recruits, and would have difficulty dealing with potential foes - those that, unlike Saddam's Iraq, might pose a real threat.

In other words, the people who got us into Iraq have done exactly what they falsely accused Bill Clinton of doing: they have stripped America of its capacity to respond to real threats.

So what's the plan?

The people who sold us this war continue to insist that success is just around the corner, and that things would be fine if the media would just stop reporting bad news. But the administration has declared victory in Iraq at least four times. January's election, it seems, was yet another turning point that wasn't.

Yet it's very hard to discuss getting out. Even most of those who vehemently opposed the war say that we have to stay on in Iraq now that we're there.

In effect, America has been taken hostage. Nobody wants to take responsibility for the terrible scenes that will surely unfold if we leave (even though terrible scenes are unfolding while we're there). Nobody wants to tell the grieving parents of American soldiers that their children died in vain. And nobody wants to be accused, by an administration always ready to impugn other people's patriotism, of stabbing the troops in the back.

But the American military isn't just bogged down in Iraq; it's deteriorating under the strain. We may already be in real danger: what threats, exactly, can we make against the North Koreans? That John Bolton will yell at them? And every year that the war goes on, our military gets weaker.

So we need to get beyond the clichés - please, no more "pottery barn principles" or "staying the course." I'm not advocating an immediate pullout, but we have to tell the Iraqi government that our stay is time-limited, and that it has to find a way to take care of itself. The point is that something has to give. We either need a much bigger army - which means a draft - or we need to find a way out of Iraq. (Link)


Not your usual weather warning

The more we learn, the more we travel, the more we can predict, the more we can warn about. Call it a sign of the times. But space weather can effect us down here. More than just scrabbling satelites. A space storm brought down the Quebec power grid in the early nineties and can do so again. If anything our power grid is more fragile then a decade ago. Witness the great blacout a couple years ago.


Forecasters at the NOAA Space Environment Center in Boulder, Colo., observed a geomagnetic storm on Sunday, May 15, which they classified as an extreme event, measuring G-5—the highest level—on the NOAA Space Weather Scales.

"This event registered a 9 on the K-Index, which measures the maximum deviation of the Earth's magnetic field in a given three-hour period," said Gayle Nelson, lead operations specialist at NOAA Space Environment Center. "The scale ranges from 0 to 9, with 9 being the highest. This was a significant event."

Possible impacts from such a geomagnetic storm include widespread power system voltage control problems; some grid systems may experience complete collapse or blackouts. Transformers may experience damage. Spacecraft operations may experience extensive surface charging; problems with orientation; uplink/downlink and tracking satellites. Satellite navigation may be degraded for days, and low-frequency radio navigation can be out for hours. Reports received by the NOAA Space Environment Center indicate that such impacts have been observed in the United States.

NOAA forecasters said the probability of another major event of this type is unlikely, however, other minor level (G-1) geomagnetic storms are possible within the next 24 hours.

This event was forecast by NOAA as the result of a solar flare that occurred on Friday, May 13.

The NOAA Space Environment Center, one of the NOAA National Centers for Environmental Prediction, is home to the nation's early warning system for solar activities that directly affect people and equipment on Earth and in space. The NOAA Space Environment Center’s 24/7 around-the-clock operations are critical in protecting space and ground-based assets. Through the SEC, NOAA and the U.S. Air Force jointly operate the space weather operations center that continuously monitors, analyzes and forecasts the environment between the sun and Earth. In addition to the data gathered from NOAA and NASA satellites, the center receives real-time solar and geophysical information from ground-based observatories around the world. NOAA space weather forecasters use the data to predict solar and geomagnetic activity and issue worldwide alerts of extreme events.

NOAA, an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce, is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of the nation's coastal and marine resources. (Link)


Reality 1 Fiction 0: The Piano Man

This a strange, amazing, tragic story. A silent man found wandering the streets, but he is a master of the piano.


A helpline set up to identify a mystery man who stunned carers by giving a virtuoso classical piano performance has been inundated with calls.

The man has not said a word since police picked him up wandering the streets of Sheerness, Kent, in a soaking wet suit and tie on 7 April.

His social worker Michael Camp said the man, in his 20s or 30s, is usually very anxious but "comes alive" at the piano.

Orchestras around Europe are being contacted to see if they know him.

The National Missing Persons Helpline is appealing to anyone who recognises the man to come forward.

Mr Camp said there had been a "fantastic" response.

"We have had one definite lead, but I haven't had time to follow it up yet.

"A name has been given of a possible person from the Sussex area.

"We had one of these before, from the local area, and it sounded promising but... we'll just have to wait and see."

The man's talent came to light after staff at the Medway Maritime Hospital gave him a pen and paper in the hope he would write his name.

Instead the patient, dubbed The Piano Man, drew very detailed pictures of a grand piano.

The man shocked staff with a performance of classical music after Mr Camp showed him the piano in the hospital's chapel.

Mr Camp said: "When we took him to the chapel piano it really was amazing. He has not spoken since the day we picked him up.

"He does not make any sounds but I think I can communicate with him through tiny nods."

The man has since written music, which has been verified as genuine.

Mr Camp added: "It is extraordinary. The first time we took him down to the piano he played for several hours, non-stop."

Several lines of inquiry have been followed, and the hospital brought in interpreters to see if the mystery patient was from Eastern Europe.

He is now being held in a secure mental health unit in north Kent while an assessment is carried out. Mr Camp said he was "extremely distressed" and may have suffered a trauma.

'Very frightened'

Karen Dorey-Rees, adult mental health manager for the West Kent NHS and Social Care Trust, said the mystery man was very vulnerable.

"He is not talking at all, he is very frightened," she said.

"We are aware that he is a very vulnerable man and we would be putting him in a dangerous situation if we let him go."

She said that the labels had been removed from every item of clothing the man was wearing when he was found on The Broadway in Minster, Sheerness.

The case has drawn comparisons with the 1996 film Shine which depicts the story of acclaimed pianist David Helfgott who suffered a nervous breakdown.

Ms Dorey-Rees was unable to say what music he had played.

"Nobody was skilled enough to recognise the music, they just knew it was classical music and he played very well." (Link)


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