Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Nightowl Newswrap

Large Hadron Collider shut down for repairs The largest science experiment the world has ever seen has been temporarily suspended while repairs are made. The laboratory issued a statement saying that an electrical connection between the magnets had melted because of the high current. To fix it, engineers will have to warm that section of the tunnel, and then cool it all the way down to near-absolute zero again. Physicists say such setbacks are an inevitable part of starting up such a large and complicated machine, which has cost $8 billion and taken 14 years. “This is just an unfortunate fact of life when starting up a machine like the L.H.C,” Dr. Gillies said.

Under pressure, South Africa's Mbeki will step down President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, the loser in a prolonged power struggle with his rival, Jacob Zuma, agreed Saturday to resign after the top leaders of his party, the African National Congress, asked him to step down. The party’s fateful decision is a harsh rebuke to Mr. Mbeki, the aloof and scholarly man who succeeded Nelson Mandela, leading the nation to an unprecedented run of economic growth and yet unable to restrain an ever-widening gap between the rich and poor. Mr. Mbeki had first served the party as an acolyte in the nation’s freedom struggle and later for two decades as one of its guiding lights. The power — though not yet the presidency — now shifts to Mr. Zuma, an economic populist who has promised to loosen the manacles of poverty from the millions still living in shanties.

Nice little scam they got workin' there - someone needs to put a stop to it The statistical probablility that 97% of all retirees from the Long Island Rail Road would be disabled is infinitesimally small. “Short of the gulag, I can’t imagine any work force that would have a so-to-speak 90 percent disability attrition rate,” said Glenn Scammel, long one of Capitol Hill’s top experts on railroads. “That defies both logic and experience.”

Here's one for the "blind pigs and acorns" file Senator Jim Bunning of Kentucky exited the womb decrying the Federal Reserve system, but saying that the current bailout is the end of the republic and that next summer Americans will be celebrating Bastille Day instead of the Fourth of July is a bit hyperbolic even for Bunning.

It's still more likely that "Westerners" were the target, but still: The attack on the hotel, which is favored by foreigners and the Pakistani elite despite being previously targeted by extremists, came as diners packed the restaurants to break the day-long fast of the Muslim month of Ramadan with the traditional Iftar evening meal. Suspicions immediately focused on Islamic insurgents allied with al Qaida. Only hours earlier, recently elected President Asif Ali Zadari, the husband of assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, urged in his first address to Parliament a continued crackdown on the al Qaida-allied Islamic insurgency based in the country's tribal area bordering Afghanistan. There were suggestions that the bomber's original target may have been the nearby home of Prime Minister Yousef Raza Gilani, where Zardari and many members of Parliament, top officials and military commanders were having an Iftar meal. But finding security there too tight, the truck headed for the Marriott a few hundred yards away.

Lear Jet crashes in South Carolina: A private jet carrying six people, including Travis Barker of blink-182 and his performing partner DJ-AM, crashed late Friday night at the Columbia Metropolitan Airport. Barker and DJ-AM, whjose real name is Adam Goldstein, were critically injured. The four dead included the plane's pilot and co-pilot, Barker's personal assistant and a Barker body guard. The privately owned aircraft never got off the runway, airport spokesperson Lynne Douglas. Officials said air traffic controllers reported seeing sparks as the plane rorared down the runway. It then hurtled off the end of a runway and crashed through antennas and a fence. It came to rest on an embankment across a five-lane highway and was engulfed in flames, said Debbie Hersman, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board.

And we care?Rising partisanship and a sinking state economy are taking a toll on Gov. Charlie Crist's once-stratospheric popularity, but Crist's support for offshore oil-drilling is striking a chord with voters, according to a new survey. The Miami Herald-St. Pete Times poll of Floridians' attitudes on state issues also shows that a proposal to ban gay marriages -- which Crist supports but won't campaign for -- is falling shy of the 60 percent needed for approval. Crist's fortunes seem to be falling in tandem with the state's job losses, which lead the nation. A majority of Floridians polled -- 51 percent -- said the state is "headed in the wrong direction.'' At least, in Florida, they know what "accountability" means.

As California goes, so goes the nation? Median home sales prices plunged further during August in Stanislaus, San Joaquin and Merced counties and throughout most of California. As usual, the housing meltdown was worst in the Northern San Joaquin Valley, according to MDA DataQuick sales statistics released Thursday. Stanislaus County median sales prices fell to $185,000 in August. That's a one-year drop of 41.3 percent. Even more depressing, it's 53.3 percent below what homes were selling for at the building boom's December 2005 peak. Stanislaus prices haven't been this low since the spring of 2002. Six years of appreciation have been wiped out. Blame foreclosures for the price drops. The Northern San Joaquin Valley continues to be the fore- closure capital of the universe.

The days of the $600 hammer are coming back? The decline of the U.S. military's acquisitions workforce, and the resulting reliance on private contractors to perform oversight on weapons program, is "going to be sooner or latter one of the biggest stories of the military complex in this half of the century," according to one longtime defense industry professional. Our source, who asked to kept anonymous since he is still employed by a major defense firm, said the rise of the "Lead Systems Integrator" -- whereby industry manages weapons buys on the government's behalf -- is "dumb as bag of $600-hammers." He's referring, of course, to the notorious "$600 hammer" story from the 1980s. Reportedly, the Pentagon was spending hundreds of dollars for simple, inexpensive items.

At this rate, she may face a recall come November 5 From an editorial in todays Anchorage Daily News: Is the McCain campaign telling Alaskans that Alaska's governor can't handle her own defense in front of her own Alaska constituents?...Way back when, before John McCain chose Palin as his vice presidential running mate, Palin promised to cooperate with the investigation...Now she won't utter a peep about it to Alaskans. Nor will her husband, Todd, who definitely needs to explain his role in Troopergate...Instead, Alaskans have to sit back and listen to John McCain's campaign operatives handling inquiries about what Alaska's governor did while governing Alaska...Residents of any state would be offended to see their governor cede such a fundamental, day-to-day governmental responsibility to a partisan politician from another state. It's especially offensive to Alaskans...O'Callaghan said Todd Palin objects to the subpoena because the Legislature's investigation "has been subjected to complete partisanship." That's the kind of dizzying spin that Washington has perfected. It is the McCain-Palin campaign that has worked overtime to politicize the entire matter in a transparent attempt to justify the stonewalling...BOTTOM LINE: Official state business -- like Troopergate -- should be handled by the governor of the state, not by McCain presidential campaign operatives.

About that Black Sea Fleet Although the breakup of the Soviet Union left Ukraine a sovereign nation, the Black Sea Fleet continued to put into port in the Ukrainian city of Stevastopol as it always had, and the arrangement has gone forth without incident for 17 years. Now in the wake of the dust-up between Georgia and Russia in August, the Black Sea Fleet has moved to the center of tensions between Russia and U.S. allies in the region. The Crimea belonged to Russia until 1954, when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev gifted it to Ukraine in what was at the time a symbolic gesture. Then the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, and many in Crimea would have rather not become part of an independent Ukraine. In interviews on the streets of Sevastopol, college students, engineers and housewives alike said they sympathized with Russia far more than with Viktor Yushchenko, Ukraine's pro-Western president. Any move to join NATO, they said, almost certainly would lead to a backlash. "The majority of people here are against NATO," said Viktor Kiselyov, a local artist. "The reason is that NATO is confronting Russia, and Russia is us." Here is hoping that the next president doesn't push the NATO-on-Russias-threshold lunacy and instead let people in other countries sort things out for themselves.