Archive for the ‘news’ Category

More on the Oil Spill   5 comments

The President has said that BP is responsible for the cleanup, and BP is falling all over itself to assure everyone that they’ll foot the bill.  Oh, but it’s Transocean’s fault, not theirs.

Forgive me if I find this to be highly unlikely.  Following up on the last post, the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 limits corporate liability in oil spills.  The remainder of the cleanup comes out of government funds.

The Deepwater Horizon had a gross tonnage of 32,588.  Now, by my reading of Title 33, Chapter 40, Subchapter 1, Section 2704, the cap on liability for a vessel acting as a deepwater port is $350,000,000 (granted, I’m no lawyer).  The Coast Guard site has a different number ($373,800,000), but that’s for deepwater ports that aren’t covered by the previous classification.

Any way you slice it, BP is liable for less than $500,000,000.  Some people are estimating that the total cleanup for this spill will exceed that of the Exxon Valdez, which was $2.2 billion in cleanup costs.

Interestingly, the cap on payouts from the fund is $1 billion, and since we haven’t collected the tax that funds the cleanup fund (see last post for more details), we might not be able to contribute that amount in any event.

$2.2 billion – $350 million – $1 billion = $850 million.

If the CEO of BP actually authorizes the payment of $850 million dollars that the company is not legally obligated to pay, and the board approves such a payment, I’ll eat my hat.

I’ll be less than astonished if, when all the legal wrangling is said and done (likely sometime around 2020 if the Valdez spill is any indicator), we the American taxpayer will have dished out well close to the entire cost of the cleanup, less the $350 million that BP is actually obligated to pay.

Posted May 3, 2010 by padraic2112 in news, Uncategorized

Big Numbers: The Depressing Version   2 comments

From Object-Oriented Philosophy:

Just now I saw that the estimates for Haiti are 111,000 dead and 600,000 homeless, out of a nation of 8.3 million.

Percentage-wise, for the United States with 304 million, that would be 3,952,000 dead and 21,918,400 homeless.

Or in clearer intuitive terms: everyone in Oregon was killed, and everyone in Ohio and Michigan is homeless.

Posted January 25, 2010 by padraic2112 in news

That’s What I Call a Hefty Sum   7 comments

Karl Denniger links to a story that has some interesting details:

Italy’s financial police (Guardia italiana di Finanza) has seized US bonds worth US 134.5 billion from two Japanese nationals at Chiasso (40 km from Milan) on the border between Italy and Switzerland. They include 249 US Federal Reserve bonds worth US$ 500 million each, plus ten Kennedy bonds and other US government securities worth a billion dollar each. Italian authorities have not yet determined whether they are real or fake, but if they are real the attempt to take them into Switzerland would be the largest financial smuggling operation in history; if they are fake, the matter would be even more mind-boggling because the quality of the counterfeit work is such that the fake bonds are undistinguishable from the real ones.

What caught the policemen’s attention were the billion dollar securities. Such a large denomination is not available in regular financial and banking markets. Only states handle such amounts of money.

The question now is who could or would counterfeit or smuggle these non-negotiable bonds.

Karl’s take?

Those sound like Bearer Bonds – at least the Kennedy ones do.  We no longer issue those (nor does pretty much anyone else) for obvious reasons – they’re essentially money and can be had in VERY large size, making them great vehicles for various illegal enterprises.

But folks: This is $134.5 billion dollars worth.

If they’re real, what government (the only entity that would have such a cache) is trying to unload them?

If they’re fake, this is arguably the biggest counterfeiting operation ever, by a factor of many times.  I’ve seen news about various counterfeiting operations over the years that have made me chuckle, but this one, if that’s what it is, is absolutely jaw-dropping.

I can think of two other explanations, that neither Karl nor the AsiaNews reporter considered.  One, this might be the biggest heist in recorded history.  I can’t imagine that a government that lost $134.5 billion dollars would immediately start trumpeting that fact to the world… in fact, they’d be dying to cover that up, which might explain why U.S. media hasn’t picked up the story and run crazy with it (somebody made some phone calls).  Wow, you could make one heck of a caper movie out of that, inside job or not.  Two, this might be a case of money that belonged to a government that no longer existed; like, say, Saddam Hussain’s Iraq.  This seems less likely; while lots of the Iraqi treasury that was under the control of Saddam’s Baath party went missing, I haven’t seen any reports top the “tens of billions” mark.  They already *made* this one into a movie, so no artistic avenue there.

Personally, I’m not entirely certain this isn’t a hoax.  If it isn’t, though, I’m *really* hoping it’s a caper.  Can you imagine the details that would come to light in the next few years?

Posted June 12, 2009 by padraic2112 in news, security

Dave’s Down The Mountain   Leave a comment

Kitty’s cousin Dave Hahn successfully reached the summit of Everest for the 11th time.  He’s back in Katmandu, according to his Facebook status.  Always good to see everybody safely back down the mountain, and doubly so when they actually get to the top.  If you want to read the dispatches of this last climb, you can check out this blog.  Here’s the YouTube channel of the dispatches, and the last one of the team after they got back to base camp:

Posted May 29, 2009 by padraic2112 in news

Your Apology? Insufficient. Penance Required.   Leave a comment

From the Associated Press, via Yahoo News:

A fiercely debated, long-delayed investigation into Ireland‘s Roman Catholic-run institutions says priests and nuns terrorized thousands of boys and girls in workhouse-style schools for decades — and government inspectors failed to stop the chronic beatings, rapes and humiliation.

The full 2600 page report can be found here.

The response of the Church?

The leader of Ireland’s 4 million Catholics, Cardinal Sean Brady, and religious orders at the center of the scandal offered immediate apologies.

“I am profoundly sorry and deeply ashamed that children suffered in such awful ways in these institutions. Children deserved better and especially from those caring for them in the name of Jesus Christ,” Brady said.

And the Rev. Edmund Garvey, spokesman for the Christian Brothers order that once ran dozens of boys’ schools, said that reading the report’s “presentation of the history of our institutions, it is hard to avoid feeling shame.”

Well, that’s understandable.  So how does one engage that feeling of shame?  How does one attempt to cleanse the wound and begin the healing process?

But its findings will not be used for criminal prosecutions — in part because the Christian Brothers successfully sued the commission in 2004 to keep the identities of all of its members, dead or alive, unnamed in the report. No real names, whether of victims or perpetrators, appear in the final document.

Ah, no.  That’s not it.

I’m just flabbergasted that the Church still has not figured out what’s going on in the world.  The Church has no credibility.  The Church has no voice.  When the Pope speaks, only Catholics listen, and more and more of them are becoming disaffected with the inability of the Church to cope with this horrific internal problem.  Like *any* human organization (government, military, business, religion, whatever) oversight needs to come from outside the organization, not inside it.  If you’re too tightly coupled with another organization (like the Catholic reform institutions and the Irish government in the decades between the 1930s and the 1960s), you’re not going to get real oversight.  Screwing that up is bad enough, but covering it up is worse.

Right now, there’s several million Catholics in Ireland and the United States that don’t trust their clergy.  They don’t know which ones have a record of abuse.  They don’t understand why this information is being held secret.  Yes, some of those accused are innocent.  It will certainly hurt those who have been accused falsely to have their names bandied about in the same sentence as truly creepy child molesters.  That’s tough.  Your organization screwed up.  Your superiors protected those who were guilty.  Your silence about your own brothers aided and abetted their activities for years or decades.  Pick up your cross and bear it.  Your flock deserve to know which shepherds are wolves.

Irish church leaders and religious orders all declined to comment Wednesday, citing the need to read the massive document first. The Vatican also declined to comment.

What, you couldn’t think of anything to say in the last nine years?

Look, I went to a Catholic grade school.  I went to a Catholic high school.  I went to a Catholic college.  I learned a lot at all of those institutions, and for the most part the quality of the instruction and the environment was excellent.  I was never abused.  I know lots of priests; my uncle is a somewhat prominent one, and he always had friends come over to my grandmother’s house, so I met them in their “let’s have a drink and chew the fat” mode (btw, nothing adjusts your view of the priesthood quite like having three drunk Jesuits sing Irish songs with your grandmother).  I worked with a bunch of them, and found most of them to be absolutely fine human beings and upstanding people that anyone would do well to emulate.

I also went to high school when Angel Mariano was a Jesuit scholastic.  He seemed like a pretty good guy, very sociable with his students.  He never made any untoward advances towards me.  Imagine my surprise when I start looking around for him on the Internet 10 years ago and I find out he’s a sex offender.  He had opportunities to molest me, as a student.  After he was convicted, nobody in the Church ever contacted me to find out if he had done anything creepy when he was working at Bellarmine.  Why not?  Did he molest any of my classmates?  How would anyone know, if nobody ever bothered to ask?  Surfing around trying to find out what happened to other priests I’ve lost contact with brings all sorts of information regarding one of them.

How can you tell if it’s true?  I knew Jerry Linder, I co-moderated the role-playing game club with him the first year I worked at Loyola.  He was weird, but most gamers are in one way or another.  Weird does not equal creepy… he certainly didn’t seem to be a molester.  From the LA Times article:

In a sworn deposition, Lindner denied ever abusing anyone. In a statement to The Times, he said: “I have devoted my life to helping people, and I insist that the accusations against me are not true.” He said the Catholic sex-abuse crisis has “created an atmosphere where people like me are presumed guilty until proven innocent.”

That’s a fair point.  But the sex-abuse crisis is the fault of the Church.  People jump to conclusions, because for decades the Church systematically buried these incidents when they actually did occur.  If this is to be corrected, you can’t just draw a line in the sand and say, “After this point, we’re going to be extra careful not to let this happen again”.  That means you need to tell your congregation and the public who was accused of what, when it supposedly happened, and the specific conclusions of the investigation.  Without that, you’re going to wind up with middle aged Catholics having huge faith crisis moments when they start surfing around on the Internet and find this sort of thing.  One of the brothers who taught me at Loyola Marymount was arrested at one point for having child porn on his computer.  He was cleared and went back to work, but trying to find information about the case was like trying to explore a cave when you don’t have a flashlight and your arms have been cut off.  Now, being in the techie business, I can imagine exactly how child porn winds up on anybody’s computer (undoubtedly the box was hacked and turned into a webserver for creepizoids).  I can picture in my head a forensic analysis of what his computer probably looked like right after he was arrested.  None of that information ever was made public.  There was never a well informed statement from the university.  Google results still show the arrest report.  The LA Times article reports:

The investigation began in October, when a technician repairing Smulders’ university office computer discovered images of apparent child pornography, LAPD Det. Jim Brown said.

At Smulders’ Ramsgate Avenue home, LAPD detectives allegedly recovered dozens of computer disks and magazines containing child pornography, Brown said.

Wait, were there actual magazines?  If so, that disclaims the botnet explanation.  Or were there?  Maybe Brown misrepresented the evidence.  Maybe the reporter made an error.  The point is that there is nothing to explain this.  Anywhere.  No retraction by the paper.  No explanation by the police department.  No reprimand for Brown for telling the wrong thing to the reporter, or allowing himself to be misquoted.  No statement from the University, explaining the charge against Brother Smulders, the investigation, and the University’s decision to reinstate him.

In the absence of real data to the contrary, when there is already evidence of a long standing conspiracy, people assume more conspiracy.  Knock it off, already.

Posted May 20, 2009 by padraic2112 in news, rants, religion, Uncategorized

New Blog   1 comment

I’ve started a new blog over here.  This one will still be running, of course.

Posted February 4, 2009 by padraic2112 in information science, news, research, science, security

You are Number Six.   1 comment

Patrick McGoohan died today.

So did Ricardo Montalban.

Here’s one of my favorite Ricardo parts, from the movie Battleground (1:04).

Posted January 14, 2009 by padraic2112 in movies, news

Attention, Wal-Mart Shoppers   4 comments

“This is the store manager speaking.  In your crazy, materially-obsessed mob rush into the store, you trampled and killed one of my employees.  This store is now closed, we will not sell you incredibly self-absorbed people any merchandise today.  Happy Holidays! Go home and tell your kids that you killed a man today because you couldn’t act like adults.”

No, that’s not what the manager said… but by God, that’s what he should have done.

Before police shut down the store, eager shoppers streamed past
emergency crews as they worked furiously to save the store clerk’s life.

Posted November 28, 2008 by padraic2112 in news

Judging Intent   3 comments

Minnesota Public Radio has up an interesting article (with viewer voting) showing some of the contested ballots in the Franken-Coleman race.

It’s illustrative.  When people complained about the last two elections, there were a lot of “how HARD IS IT to fill out your ballot properly?!??!” comments on all sides.  This article shows some pretty interesting examples of how (in a sufficiently large number of ballots) some of the contested ballots get mis-marked in a way that brings some measure of doubt into their intent.  Of course, some of them are blindingly obvious and are challenged as a matter of form, but it’s an interesting article.  Go vote on which way you think the ballots should go, and see how you match up with everyone’s opinion…

[edited to add: Ed Felten posted about this as well]

seems pretty obvious on this one, right?

On the other hand, there’s a reason why you should take voting seriously…

Does writing in a candidate but not bubbling the selection indicate anything?

Does writing in a "candidate" but not bubbling the selection indicate anything? Does the previous section matter?

Posted November 22, 2008 by padraic2112 in news, politics

We Meet Again, At Last. The Circle Is Now Complete.   8 comments

California’s budget, as any current resident is aware, is in deep trouble.

In a new report, Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor forecast that the state would need to close a $27.8-billion budget gap during the next 20 months. That projection is more than $3 billion higher than the Schwarzenegger administration has estimated.

That’s not chump change.  Arnold’s proposed solution is to raise the sales tax.  The response:

Though calling the governor’s proposal “credible,” the analyst said raising the sales tax would further hurt the economy by discouraging Californians from buying local products and instead send them to Internet purchases that escape the state sales tax.

Schwarzenegger’s proposed increase would make Californians’ average sales tax the highest in the nation, about 9.5%, the analyst said. Taylor recommended a smaller increase of 1 cent on the dollar.

The analyst favored increasing the annual vehicle license fee, from 0.65% of a car’s value to 1%. It is an idea that already has traction among Democratic lawmakers, but one that Schwarzenegger has resisted.

Ah, the vehicle license fee.  That fee that encourages people to only own the cars that they need.  That fee that cuts down on beaters being on the road.  That fee that… got… Davis… recalled.  Yes, there were some problems with it (its horribly regressive, even when applied to the car’s value), but I can’t help but wonder… how much more money the state would have in its coffers right now (not to mention fewer cars on the road) if that fee had been around since 2003…

Posted November 11, 2008 by padraic2112 in news