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Gravitational waves detected, providing the final piece of the puzzle for general relativity

by Two black holes colliding far out in space have produced gravity waves that have been detected ...

Two black holes colliding far out in space have produced gravity waves that have been detected by super-sensitive equipment on Earth for the very first time (Credit: Caltech)

 

An international team of scientists today announced what could be the biggest breakthrough in physics in a hundred years. Specifically, they claim to have at last detected gravitational waves, the enigmatic and elusive ripples in the fabric of spacetime that Albert Einstein first predicted in 1916, in his theory of general relativity.

Reported today by the Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (Advanced LIGO) team, astronomers say the detection of gravitational waves reveals an entirely new way to observe the universe, revealing distant events that aren’t able to be observed using optical telescopes, but whose faint tremors can be felt across the cosmos.

“This detection is the beginning of a new era: The field of gravitational wave astronomy is now a reality,” said Gabriela González, LSC spokesperson and professor of physics and astronomy at Louisiana State University.

First detected on September 14, 2015 at 5:51 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time (09:51 UTC), the gravitational waves were recorded by both of the twin Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) detectors, located in Livingston, Louisiana, and Hanford, Washington.

The event detected was the arrival of gravitational waves on Earth produced by two massive black holes colliding around 1.3 billion years ago. In the collision, some three times the mass of our sun was turned into gravitational waves in microseconds creating a power output at the height of the collision about 50 times that of the entire visible universe.

The LIGO device reflected laser beams repeatedly along two L-shaped detectors in its 4-km (2.5-mile)-long arms onto mirrors equipped with exceptionally sensitive movement sensors, to search for coincident expansions and contractions caused by gravitational waves as they passed by the Earth. As a result of the black holes colliding, the scientists measured minuscule changes in the length of the arms, as tiny as one thousandth the width of a proton.

A previously impossibly small perturbation to measure, LIGO has finally achieved its purpose some 50 years after it was originally proposed as a possible means of detecting gravitational waves by scientists from Caltech and MIT.

“Our observation of gravitational waves accomplishes an ambitious goal set out over five decades ago to directly detect this elusive phenomenon and better understand the universe, and, fittingly, fulfills Einstein’s legacy on the 100th anniversary of his general theory of relativity,” said Caltech’s David H. Reitze, executive director of the LIGO Laboratory.

When Einstein’s theory of general relativity turned Newton’s understanding of gravity on its head by showing that matter and time were inextricably linked, the theory of space-time was born and the four-dimensional structure of the universe in which matter, energy and gravity are all interlinked elements of that structure, gravitational waves became an inevitable conclusion from this theory.

Undetectable in Einstein’s time, these tiny ripples in the fabric of space-time are so weak that it took the eventual production of the most sensitive detectors ever made and the incredible force of two black holes crashing into each other to make their presence known.

“The description of this observation is beautifully described in the Einstein theory of general relativity formulated 100 years ago and comprises the first test of the theory in strong gravitation,” said Rainer Weiss, Emeritus Professor at MIT, and one of the original proponents of gravitational wave detection. “It would have been wonderful to watch Einstein’s face had we been able to tell him.”

LIGO research is performed by the LIGO Scientific Collaboration (LSC), a collective of more than 1,000 scientists from universities around the United States and 14 other countries. More than 90 universities and research institutes in the LSC develop detector technology and analyze data, and around 250 students are contributing members to the collaboration.

Source: Caltech

 

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A Dogs Purpose, part 2: Seamus

Seamus

This dog.

My stepmother died August 1, 2012. I returned to Florida for the interment of her ashes October 19, and my 84 year-old father announced he wanted to get married again.

I gently suggested he wait, and try to get his sea legs back under him. Not make consequential decisions from the standpoint of lack.

“God damn it, Scotty, I want a woman on my arm!” For some reason, at that moment I thought of a watch.

I suggested we start with a dog. He’d been talking about getting one, and had actually been going to his local Petco, unaware the only reason animals are there at all is to sell pet food.

“A dog’s a big responsibility.”

A spouse apparently paled in comparison. We tabled the marriage and dog discussions for the moment, and laid Joan to rest. I flew home.

I returned for Christmas a few months later.  Dad had managed to stay single, through no fault of his own. Persistent attempts to connect with “IrishRN53” on Christianmingle.com filled his e-mail box. There were other more salacious monikers. I was both disturbed and relieved to learn libido had a longer shelf life than I imagined.

“I need a nurse with a purse,” he half-joked. Alone at night, though, his searching gaze bored holes through his computer screen. He was deadly serious.

We talked more about the dog idea, and I finally convinced him to go out and look. We decided we’d start by going to Petco. It was a baby step.

We walked in, and inhaled the distinct, familiar odor of wood chips and dry dog food. A tiny, tanned, thickset woman with voluminous bronzed hair approached, tying her blue staff apron.  It was late afternoon, and she was just starting her shift.  Her toothy grin lacked a canine and a bicuspid on one side, but she clearly did not care.  She had a necklace made with twine and seashells. Her hand on her cocked left hip had a tattoo, pointing to a big silver and turquoise ring on her index finger.

“Can I help you?” A warm, amber-and-honey voice, a thick back-country drawl, and a direct gaze.

“My dad’s looking for a dog.”

She grinned again. “Oh, you ain’t gonna find one here. ‘Least not one that I’d…” She trailed off.

She zeroed in on my father. He was standing next to me, sincere and hopeful, with his hands in the pockets of his khakis. At 84, he looked like a boy who wanted a puppy. I felt like his parent.

“There’s a county shelter ’bout fifteen miles from here. It’s Sunday, but I think they might still be open.”

Strangely, my father knew exactly where it was, so we set out.

“Y’all gimme a call if y’get lost!” she hollered after us. Her name was Joy.

Leaving The Villages, FL for outer Marion County, the geo-demographics change dramatically. We left manicured boulevards packed tightly with franchise restaurants, box stores, and an impressive array of specialized medical plazas, and were soon whizzing at dangerous speeds down two-lane county roads past cow pastures, ramshackle trailers, and muddy sink holes. The car windows were open, and my father spoke loudly. “Before old man Schwartz started building down here,” he said, crossing a double yellow line to pass a pickup at 70 miles an hour, “this was all a watermelon patch.”  He waved his arm outside the car.

75 miles an hour now.

“Isn’t it amazing how this car just floats?” he said proudly. My dad had cut his driving teeth on the Cross-Bronx Expressway. I had long since learned to focus straight ahead and breathe.

We passed a huge gravel pile rising like a pyramid out of the red clay. “Buy land,” dad said, looking significantly at me. “God’s not making any more.”

We turned left across some railroad tracks onto a dusty dirt-and-gravel road, and approached a whitewashed cinder-block building in the shadow of the gravel pyramid. We parked, and entered the Marion County Animal Shelter.

“Can we see your dogs?”

It was 4:30PM, Sunday December 30, 2012. They closed at 5:00.

“That’s all we got is dogs. Out back,” the woman behind the counter said, looking at her watch.

It was Florida, after all, so the shelter animals lived mainly outdoors, even in the winter. In the first stall lay a half-starved Beagle-Bassett Hound, his gentle human eyes fixed on us. He was fervent and focused, his tail his only moving part, wagging slowly and steadily. He’d been there three months, two months past the usual stay of execution. The staff couldn’t bear to put him down. After him were at least 20 stalls of Pit Bulls, ten on each side, young and muscular, bristling with energy. They were gorgeous, but too much for an 84 year old man beginning to be unsteady on his feet.

“I think I found my guy,” my dad said, a little conspiratorially. The name on the cage with the Beagle-Bassett said “Ford.”

“Ford?” my dad asked. “What the hell kind of a name is that?”

Testing his instinct, my father walked up and down the dog stalls one or two more times, slowly and thoughtfully. The Pit Bulls were putting on a floor show. I loved their broad skulls. One pretty brindle she-Pit with a white pie-eye danced on her hind legs and pawed the air in front of her. I saw her in a tutu. Ford lay stock-still, never taking his human eyes off of us. Whenever we drew closer, his tail wagged ever so slightly faster.  He was a cool customer, and after 90 days, a veteran speed-dater. We went back inside and told the woman behind the counter which one we’d chosen. It was 4:45.

A restricted door opened, and another member of the shelter staff appeared. Far below him waddled Ford, hooked to a complimentary aqua-colored collar and leash emblazoned with cartoon bones, and the words “I Got Adopted!”

“By law, I have to inform you he’s tested positive for heart worm,” the woman behind the counter said.

And God only knows what else, I thought, looking at the ribs just showing through his pretty tri-color coat. The heart worm treatment was difficult and expensive, she said, and depending on what she called “the worm burden,” there was no guarantee he’d survive it. She waited. Over her reading glasses, her eyes fully expected us to back out of the deal.

My dad asked about his background, for whatever information they had about his life before. He’d been found wandering alone, starving, but friendly.  He’d been chipped, and his fourth birthday was tomorrow. His owners had been contacted when they found him. They didn’t want him any more.

“I think he deserves a shot,” my dad said.

Ford

20 minutes later he was in our car, and you could almost see him pinching himself. We stopped back at Petco to trick out his new crib with dog-bling: a thick, satiny-black nylon leash, shiny silver food & water bowls with no-skid rubber bottoms, IAMS grain-free nuggets, and nasty sodium and nitrite-filled training treats.

“Don’t they smell good?” my dad asked.

“Chow down,” I replied.

The topper: a telescoping pooper-scooper. High-end stuff.

Joy was thrilled, and gave Ford a treat made to look like a cupcake from one of the open bins by the cash register. The dog wagged his entire sausage body and rolled over for her, and she rubbed his belly.

“Oh, ain’t you won the lottery!” she cooed to him.  “Looka them eyes!”

She looked sideways up at my father. “You know dogs are chick magnets, right?”

She winked at me. “Don’t encourage him,” I said.

We brought him to the house and he immediately ran out to the tiled sun porch and peed, then jumped into a leather recliner, looking straight at me. He was home, and he knew it. I grabbed his snout, looked straight back at him, cleaned up his pee, and took him directly outside. As we walked together through my father’s perfectly-coiffed neighborhood, it was clear this dog had never been on a leash. He was compliant, but not obedient. His nose determined his path; he was a zig-zagging butterfly in a field of daisies. I foresaw leashes becoming tangled in unsteady old-man legs, and decided to delay my scheduled flight back to Ohio. I wanted to see my dad through the acclimation period, the vet visits, the establishment of routines, and make sure he could physically handle the responsibility.

At the vet the next morning, Ford tested positive for heart worm, and also what proved to be a pernicious parasite. One of his front paws had a badly ulcerated pad from the acid wash the shelter used to clean the stalls, and he was seriously malnourished. But those eyes never changed.

He didn’t seem interested in his food, but smells fascinated him. The first time we left him alone in the house, we returned to find the kitchen garbage strewn everywhere. Everywhere. Why not just eat out of the can, I thought, or in the area nearby? Why every room of the house? Contemplating the widespread pattern of destruction, I tried to enter the mind that had conceived it. This animal had vision. I learned how he’d survived on his own. I also learned how he’d likely contracted heart worm. A full garbage can, the base of a tree, or a pile of dog crap clearly did for him what a sunrise does for us. I could see his brain had gone into wondrous overdrive, endorphins exploding. Charged with such magnificent energy, how could you hoard your treasure? No! Spread it far and wide!

He was an olfactory epicure.  He reveled in his rubbish bounty, and on a walk, in every blade of grass.  His capacity for simple, complete happiness fulfilled and grounded me. It felt good to touch him.

I returned home to Ohio, hoping for the best.  About a week afterward, my phone rang around 10PM.  My dad was on the line. Apparently, he’d been out walking the dog. Overreaching to collect one of the dog’s offerings with his new telescoping pooper-scooper, he fell. Despite his best efforts, he could not get up.  He managed to crawl to the curb on bloody, prosthetic knees, and sat at the roadside in the dark, barely a block from his house. Ford had watched my dad struggle to stand, watched him crawl. When he finally made his way to the curb, the dog came and sat next to him, and stayed there.  They waited together in the dark. After a while, a car approached. Seeing Ford’s eyes flash in his headlights, the driver slowed, and then saw my father on the ground. He stopped, got out, and helped him up. He asked to make sure my dad was OK, then drove off.

I asked him the same question.

“I’m fine!” dad told me on the phone.  “Just hurt pride.”

There was a pause. In my mind’s eye, I saw them regard each other.

“That damned dog stayed right there.”

They were officially pals. Every day for nearly six months, my 84 year-old father gave him oral medication that finally killed the parasite. He saw him through the painful, risky, expensive heart worm treatments that involved injecting chemotherapeutic arsenic deep into his lumbar muscles. Dad healed his blistered paw with ointment he applied daily. He helped him learn where his territory was, and gradually got him interested in his own food. He rechristened him Seamus, after our venerable childhood dog. This was a great honor. They trusted each other.

“He’s the darling of the block!” my dad would crow on the phone in the Bronx accent he never lost, despite years of international business. Seamus had successfully garnered an invaluable commodity for a lonely old man: attention. My dad had buried two wives and his first born child. He was responsible for something again, and this time he had saved it. It didn’t die.

Six months later, dad almost did. Just as Seamus’s health began to improve, dad started falling with greater regularity. One June morning, his neighbor called me in Ohio after finding him on the floor of his garage.

“I’m not trying to tell you what to do.” she said. “I’m not. I’m not…this is none of my business, but…”

How do you tell your neighbor’s child you don’t think his father should live alone anymore? I made plans to fly down.

The next day while making breakfast, dad began bleeding profusely from his mouth, and fell in his kitchen. He was hospitalized with multiple organ failure, and was told he either had to have a pacemaker implanted or enter hospice. He opted for the pacemaker.

Seamus at the Club

Then, a whirlwind month. My father needed to heal.  He also needed to move, which took convincing. As he convalesced in a cardiac rehab facility, my niece – his firstborn child’s daughter – helped me pack up his house. I put it up for sale, and moved him to an assisted living facility near me in Ohio, selecting one that would accept Seamus. As long as dad could care for the dog himself, they said, he could stay.

As my dad gradually healed, it became clear he’d never be able to walk his dog again. Seamus seemed to understand exactly who he needed to suck up to, and magically became the “house dog” at my father’s new residence. Another stay of execution. Who says only cats have nine lives? The residents and staff adored him, and fought to take care of him.

Seamus BLT.jpg

Whenever I visited, he recognized my shape coming in the door across the lobby. He’d jump off the couch and toddle over, his entire, absurd body waggling like a harbor seal, and roll over onto his back.

On these visits, he began to speak to me for the first time using his voice. The cadence was dense and complex, and his tone was urgent.  I listened, then answered back, using the language I heard. He looked me in the eye to be sure I wasn’t making fun of him, then continued speaking. He had a lot to get off his chest. He was telling me about his life there, and about my father.

During the months that followed, my dad’s vitality gradually faded, and his focus grew less and less worldly. Seamus sensed himself on the verge of becoming anchorless again. He began to speak up, loudly and often.

“I’m sorry, Scott,” the facility director said on the phone. “I’m getting a complaint every 20 minutes.”

The staff at Berea Lake Towers lined up to say good bye, sobbing uncontrollably.

“He’d better be back to visit, ’cause I know where you work,” bawled Irene, the tough-as-nails receptionist.

“I promise,” I said. He moved into our house.

My father died nine months later at 5:15AM on December 12, 2014, on what would have been Frank Sinatra’s 99th birthday. That morning, as we waited for the funeral home to take his body, we brought Seamus in to say goodbye to his old friend. He approached my father lying lifeless in his bed with his tail wagging. As he stood watching, his tail gradually slowed to a stop. He turned and looked at me, and lay down at the side of the bed.

Fast-forward two years, and Seamus has become the center of our lives. He makes my heart happy. I still love to touch him. Our two cats have adjusted. Our nine chickens remain wary, as enchanted as he is with them. Seamus determines the rhythm of our day. Any plans we make involve consideration of his needs first. This seems right. He tends to put us first too.

He’s with me in Arizona now, asleep in the sun and the dirt. Even deep in his dreams, his nose doesn’t miss a trick.

Seamus dirt

Leave it to an animal to remind you what it is to be a human being.

 

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In Fact, Argue Experts, Sanders’ Medicare-for-All Numbers “Do Add Up”

“It’s indisputable that single-payer systems in other countries cover everyone for virtually everything, and at much lower cost than our health care system,” PNHP co-founder says

by Nadia Prupis –

Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton debate in Milwaukee on Thursday, February 11. (Photo: AP)

During Thursday night’s Democratic presidential debate, Hillary Clinton criticized Bernie Sanders’ proposal for a “Medicare for All” healthcare program, stating, “the numbers just don’t add up.”

“A respected health economist said that these plans would cost a trillion dollars more a year,” Clinton said, likely referring to a recent analysis by Emory University professor Kenneth Thorpe, who helped craft a single-payer healthcare system in Sanders’ home state of Vermont, which said Sanders’ proposal was off by an extra $1.1 trillion annually.

“So if you’re having Medicare for all, single-payer, you need to level with people about what they will have at the end of the process you are proposing,” Clinton said. “And based on every analysis that I can find by people who are sympathetic to the goal, the numbers don’t add up, and many people will actually be worse off than they are right now.”

But according to other healthcare experts, both Clinton and Thorpe are working with false calculations.

Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, a professor in public health at City University of New York at Hunter College and co-founder of the advocacy group Physicians for a National Health Program, said Friday that the “numbers on single-payer do, in fact, add up.”

“It’s indisputable that single-payer systems in other countries cover everyone for virtually everything, and at much lower cost than our health care system,” Woolhandler said. “Experience in countries with single-payer systems, such as Canada, Scotland, and Taiwan, proves that we can have more, better and cheaper care.”

For example, “if the U.S. moved to a single-payer system as efficient as Canada’s, we’d save $430 billion on useless paperwork and insurance companies’ outrageous profits, more than enough to cover the 31 million Americans who remain uninsured, and to eliminate co-payments and deductibles for everyone,” she said.

In January, Woolhandler and her colleague Dr. David Himmelstein authored a response to Thorpe’s analysis that found it to be based on “several incorrect, and occasionally outlandish, assumptions,” including “administrative savings of only 4.7 percent of expenditures” and “huge increases in the utilization of care, increases far beyond those that were seen when national health insurance was implemented in Canada, and much larger than is possible given the supply of doctors and hospital beds.”

“Moreover, it is at odds with analyses of the costs of single-payer programs that he produced in the past, which projected large savings from such reform,” the professors wrote.

Woolhandler said Friday, “A single-payer system could save even more money by bargaining with drug companies for discounts on drugs. Other countries get discounts of about 50 percent, and as the biggest customer we could have the bargaining power to get similar savings…Finally, single-payer systems have been better at controlling costs over the long-haul.”

“Our medical arms race—with hospitals competing to offer expensive high tech care, even when they don’t do enough to be good at it—has driven up costs and compromised the quality of care. In contrast, single-payer nations have used thoughtful health planning, to invest in expensive high tech care where it’s needed, not just where it’s redundant but profitable,” she said.

During Thursday’s debate, Sanders rejected the argument that his plan was “unachievable.”

“Every major country on earth, whether it’s the UK, whether it’s France, whether it’s Canada, has managed to provide healthcare to all people as a right and they are spending significantly less per capita on healthcare than we are,” he said. “So I do not accept the belief that the United States of America can’t do that.”

“Please do not tell me that in this country, if—and here’s the if—we have the courage to take on the drug companies, and have the courage to take on the insurance companies, and the medical equipment suppliers, if we do that, yes, we can guarantee health care to all people in a much more cost effective way,” he said.

The charge that the numbers for a sweeping healthcare reform plan “don’t add up” is one that Clinton herself has been hit with in the past, regarding the Health Security Act—dubbed ‘Hillarycare’—introduced in 1993 under President Bill Clinton’s administration.

 

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Holy Cow! Pastor offers free prayers at coffee houses

By

Pastor Thomas Rusert (Courtesy Thomas Rusert)

Pastor Thomas Rusert (Courtesy Thomas Rusert)

Coffee is not exactly Thomas Rusert’s cup of tea.

Nevertheless, every Thursday morning Pastor Thomas indulges himself in a steaming cup of java at local coffee houses.

“I’m a tea drinker all the other days of the week,” said Thomas, the associate pastor of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. “I’m a weirdly patterned person.”

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It does seem a bit unusual – akin to a vegetarian ordering tofu at a barbecue joint. But it turns the pastor’s weekly coffee klatch is all about prayer. Yes, prayer.

Every Thursday morning, Pastor Thomas puts on a clergy collar and sets up shop in a local coffee house. He sets out a little sign that reads, “Free Prayer,” and then waits to see who God sends his way.

“I’m humbled all the time by the way that the Spirit works,” the pastor told me. “God is working to give people the courage to say, ‘All right – I’m going to take this pastor up on this offer.’”

And they have – by the hundreds.

The “Free Prayer” program started quietly last summer – inspired by a word of advice Pastor Thomas had received from another member of the clergy — a pastor is doing the job well when at least half of his or her time is spent outside the office.

That advice was something of an epiphany for the young Lutheran preacher. He wrote about his experiences next in a column titled, “Why I Offer ‘Free Prayer’ In A Coffee Shop.” “Sometimes we have to move beyond the shadows of a steeple to take care of our people,” he wrote. “And in so doing, we may just find that God takes care of us, too.

The preacher admitted to being a little more than nervous when he set up shop for the first time in the local outpost of Panera Bread.

“I went in with fear and trembling,” he recounted. “I put the sign up, put my nose into a book – I was afraid to make eye contact.”

But eventually, Pastor Thomas grew courageous – and soon the Lord was sending many customers to his table – wayfaring strangers looking for a place to cast their cares.

There was the owner of a Dunkin Donuts and the manager of Starbucks. There was someone whose nephew had an ailment and a schizophrenic who said she saw witches.

“Sometimes it’s a 45-minute conversation about someone who is searching for answers, saw the open chair and that invitation for prayer,” he said.

A stranger happened upon that empty chair last October. He had business at a nearby courthouse and had stopped by to get a cup of coffee. When he saw the pastor’s sign – tears filled his eyes. He left his coffee and the court documents on the table and walked outside. The pastor followed.

“As we strolled together over the next hour, I heard all the unuttered prayers and pains he had held inside for two years,” Pastor Thomas wrote of the encounter. “His wife had experienced an identity crisis and left him. A dear friend had died from a blood clot. An aunt had died from medical malpractice. Another friend had died from an overdose. Finally, death had taken his sister. Death had hollowed out [his] spirit, and he had spoken about it to no one.”

And so it was that on a brisk autumn day the spiritually wounded stranger had stumbled upon Pastor Thomas.

“It seemed that God had enacted a little apocalypse, an awakening in [his]) soul,” he wrote. ‘And all I had to do at first was sit there.”

Imagine what could happen if more of us followed the path of Pastor Thomas and stepped out of the church house and into the coffee house.

It doesn’t matter if you might be anxious. It doesn’t even matter if you don’t drink coffee.

“Trust that God is already sitting with you – encouraging you and giving you the confidence to put yourself out there for the sake of your community,” Pastor Thomas told me.

So if you happen to be going through a rough patch in life — consider making your way to a coffee house in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. Who knows – you just might discover a divine appointment of the caffeinated kind.

Todd Starnes is host of Fox News & Commentary, heard on hundreds of radio stations. His latest book is “God Less America: Real Stories From the Front Lines of the Attack on Traditional Values.” Follow Todd on Twitter@ToddStarnes and find him on Facebook.

 

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The Oil Industry Got Together and Agreed Things May Never Get Better

Thousands of industry participants gathered in London for their annual get-together, only to find a world awash in crude and hardly a life jacket in sight.

by Andy Hoffman

Brent-Calendar-Swaps-2016-17-12MNTHSU.S. Is Running Out of Room for Oil

The thousands of attendees seeking reasons for optimism didn’t find them at the annual International Petroleum Week. Instead they were greeted by a cacophony of voices from some of the largest oil producers, refiners and traders delivering the same message:
There are few reasons for optimism. The world is awash with oil. The market is overwhelmingly bearish.
No Hope
Producers are bracing for a tough year. Prices will stay low for up to a decade as Chinese economic growth slows and the U.S. shale industry acts as a cap on any rally, according to Ian Taylor, chief executive officer of Vitol Group, the world’s largest independent oil trader. Even refiners, whose profits have held up better than expected, are seeing a worsening outlook.

“The oil industry is facing a crisis,” said Patrick Pouyanne, CEO of Total SA, Europe’s biggest refiner. BP Plc boss Bob Dudley described himself as “very bearish” and joked that the surplus is so extreme that people will soon be filling swimming pools with crude.
As the world runs out of places to store oil, “I wouldn’t be surprised if this market goes into the teens,” said Jeff Currie, head of commodities research at Goldman Sachs Group Inc.
Cuts? What Cuts?
Crude prices surged briefly last month on speculation the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries would team up with Russia to cut production. The head of the nation’s biggest oil company had other ideas.
“Tell me who is supposed to cut?” said Igor Sechin, CEO of Rosneft. “Will Saudi Arabia cut production? Will Iran cut production? Will Mexico cut production? Will Brazil cut production? Who is going to cut?”

Supply exceeds demand by as much as 1.7 million barrels a day, so cutting 1 million from production would in theory make prices more “reasonable,” Sechin said. Nevertheless, Rosneft is focused on preserving its traditional markets against the competition, he said.

Cuts on the scale required to balance the market just aren’t happening. While some fields have started to fall victim to low prices, only 0.1 percent of global output has been curtailed because it’s unprofitable, researcher Wood Mackenzie estimates.
A Profitable Opportunity
Traders are the only ones enjoying the slump as they profit from sky-high volatility and a market structure called contango – where prices in the future are higher than today – that means they can make money just by keeping oil in storage tanks.
Goldman’s Currie Expects Oil Volatility to Go Higher
As the price of U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude slumped close to 12-year lows this week, another opportunity emerged: super-contango. Places to store oil on land are running out in some places, and the contango is getting so steep that it’s becoming profitable to hire supertankers, fill them with crude and anchor them offshore.
Terrible Market, Great Party
Throughout the gloom, champagne flowed, backed by a jazz quartet.
If it’s hard times for the industry, that wasn’t obvious from the cocktail party circuit. Kuwait Petroleum Corp. welcomed guests to ballroom of the Four Seasons hotel in London’s exclusive Mayfair district with hospitality as if nothing had changed since 2014, when oil was $100 a barrel. Tables were laden with shashlik, oysters and even a whole lamb carved by a chef. In the dessert room, a chocolate fountain bubbled alongside bowls of strawberries.
The State Oil Co. of the Azerbaijan Republic – where a currency crisis has provoked street protests – offered four whole roast lambs, a sushi bar and chocolate truffles to thousands of guests at Park Lane’s Grosvenor House Hotel.
“We didn’t cut back,” said Elshad Nassirov, the company’s vice-president of marketing and investments, “in order not to spoil the mood.”

 

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Closer than we think: Ruling from US agency solves a big problem for self-driving cars

by Lloyd Alter

self driving car

via Paleofuture

Back in 1958, Arthur Radebaugh started a comic series that set out visions of the future called Closer than we think; According to Matt Novak of Paleofuture, it “gave people a look at some of the most wonderfully techno-utopian visions that America had to offer”. One of those visions was of a self-driving car, and it really is now closer than we think.

Along with the technological problems to be solved are the legal ones, including the question of whether you can actually have a car without a driver. Google has concluded that the biggest problem with the self-driving car is the person in it, and wants to build them without steering wheels or brake pedals which software can handle but meatware screws up. Google “expresses concern that providing human occupants of the vehicle with mechanisms to control things like steering, acceleration, braking… could be detrimental to safety because the human occupants could attempt to override the (self-driving system’s) decisions.” The State of California didn’t like this idea and ruled last year that the cars should be capable of having humans drive them, but the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the regulatory body for the whole country, appears to be open to the idea.

self-driving carTom Vanderbilt/via

Last November Google asked the NHTSA for a ruling, in particular noting that their proposed car…

…is designed to perform all safety-critical driving functions and monitor roadway conditions for an entire trip. Such a design anticipates that the driver will provide destination or navigation input, but is not expected to be available for control at any time during the trip. This includes both occupied and unoccupied vehicles. By design, safe operation rests solely on the automated vehicle system.

The NHTSA responded in a letter recently, mostly positively. The key point of contention is whether the car’s self driving system (SDS) can be considered a driver; the key issue is a rule, S5.3.1, that all cars must have foot operated brakes.

Google argues that because the SDS will control all aspects of braking, it would not be necessary or beneficial for safety for a human occupant to be able to brake the vehicle….We agree that Google’s SDS may be deemed to be the driver for purposes of compliance with these provisions. Given that there will be no foot (or even hand) control to be activated. indeed, given that the SDS will have neither feet nor hands to activate brakes, we understand that Google’s described vehicle design would not comply with S5.3.1 as written.

Old image self driving carA future lost in time/via

This is very big; it lays out a legal path for approving the cars, and may well set the pattern for dealing with other issues of insurance and liability. On The Verge, one expert, Kelley Blue Book automotive industry analyst Karl Brauer, looks at the impact:

The intricate maze of legal questions surrounding autonomous vehicles is as big a hurdle to their arrival as the remaining technological challenges. However, if NHTSA is prepared to name artificial intelligence as a viable alternative to human-controlled vehicles it could substantially streamline the process of putting autonomous vehicles on the road.

Arthur Radebaugh was a little ahead of himself, but the self-driving car really is closer than we think. Planners and city-builders had better get ready.

Tags: Cities | Self-driving car

 

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National Federation of the Blind and Disability Advocates Charge Federal Health Agency with Civil Rights Violations

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After forty years of the federal Rehabilitation Act and a new world of technology, blind people still forced to rely on others to read inaccessible materials
Springfield, Massachusetts (February 10, 2016): The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) and individual plaintiffs Juan Figueroa, Derek Manners, and Martti Mallinen announced the filing of a major federal lawsuit today in US District Court, District of Massachusetts, Western Division. The lawsuit charges the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) through its sub-agency, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), and its CMS sub-contractors, with systemically violating the civil rights of blind Medicare recipients.

The action seeks to require HHS to provide blind individuals meaningful and equally effective access to their Medicare information, as required by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794 (Section 504). CMS, a sub-agency of HHS, is the largest single payer for health care in the United States, providing health care coverage to nearly ninety million Americans through Medicare, Medicaid, and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.

CMS regularly communicates information to blind persons via inaccessible print and electronic formats which they cannot read. Mr. Figueroa, Mr. Manners, Mr. Mallinen, and many other NFB members have thus faced or been at risk for loss of benefits and healthcare disruption. For example, Mr. Mallinen has received information about denial of benefits and his right to appeal said denial that he could not read, potentially adversely affecting his appeal rights.

Mark A. Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind, said: “We are outraged that blind people do not have access to their personal Medicare and Medicaid information forty years after the passage of the Rehabilitation act and almost a year after CMS promised to implement a plan for equal access. Today blind people readily access information in more ways than ever before but even large print access, the simplest possible solution for those with sufficient residual vision, is not made available. This continued disregard for the privacy and civil rights of the blind is inexcusable, and blind Americans will not tolerate it.”

At a time when smart technology is presumed to be improving the lives of people with a variety of disabilities, blind Americans who rely on healthcare services provided through Medicare and Medicare contractors are forced to divulge personal and financial data to a sighted third-party when responding to CMS.  Electronic and online materials may not be any more accessible than printed ones. As a result, blind Medicare beneficiaries are often unnecessarily prevented from independently reading, filling out, signing and submitting online forms.

Appropriate auxiliary aids and services for blind individuals may include providing documents in alternative formats such as Braille, large print, audio CD, and digital navigable formats supported by computers and digital talking-book players, transmitted through data CD, e-mail, or other requested media.

The filing follows an investigation launched by Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund (DREDF) to establish that there were widespread incidences of communication access barriers in CMS systems. In August 2014, in response to complaints filed with the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) in 2011 and 2012 under Section 504, CMS entered into an agreement with OCR. The complaints were filed on behalf of blind Medicare beneficiaries, and those similarly situated, who were not provided with notice of their rights or with effective communication under Section 504.  The agreement signed by CMS and OCR, entitled the “Commitment to Action to Resolve DREDF Section 504 Complaints” (Commitment to Action), established a timeframe within which CMS would take specified actions to ensure the agency’s compliance with Section 504 in the areas raised in OCR’s investigation of the complaints, found at http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/civilrights/activities/agreements/cms.html.

DREDF Senior Attorney, Silvia Yee, said, “CMS was required to complete a ‘Long-Term Action Plan’ by April 2015 that would ensure effective cross-disability communication access, as well as the timely provision of auxiliary aids and services to CMS beneficiaries and consumers. To date, we have not seen a Plan. People with disabilities have not been notified of any such plan. As a public entity that deals every day with people with disabilities and older Americans, CMS should lead the way to ensure compliance with disability civil rights laws, not lag behind by four decades.”

Plaintiffs are represented by DREDF; Brown, Goldstein & Levy; and Sugarman, Rogers, Barshak & Cohen (SRBC).
 

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The National Federation of the Blind
The National Federation of the Blind knows that blindness is not the characteristic that defines you or your future. Every day we raise the expectations of blind people, because low expectations create obstacles between blind people and our dreams. You can live the life you want; blindness is not what holds you back. https://nfb.org

Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund
Founded in 1979 by people with disabilities and parents of children with disabilities, the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund (DREDF) is a national law and policy center based in Berkeley, CA and is dedicated to protecting and advancing the civil rights of people with disabilities. www.dredf.org.

 

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