In a dark hour


Journey of the Magicians

It is late, and I am sitting alone by the window, watching the snow fall on a midnight shift at the Children’s Home. The kids are all in bed and sleeping. The other night I dreamed I taught one of them how to hold fire in his hand.

Winter and darkness bring solitude, strange thoughts. The psalmist writes that night with night shares its knowledge. Above the obscuring clouds and the drifting snow the stars might appear to turn in hand with wandering travelers of long ago. At night we still wonder, what can it mean? What signify, the half-heard music above the hillside? To what destination might the lights make their way in the sky?

Winter’s darkness has fallen again. The earth on its axis is turned. In the fastness of night we remember the magi, imagine them murmuring to themselves while they poke about in their dens, kneeling at the hearthside stirring the embers and smiling in memory of another time when, on a foreign plain and in the company of shepherds, expending much enchantment, they drew themselves together before the child. The obscurities of prophecy had been made plain then in the skies breathing auroras over them, the air beat with wings on fire. And the stillness of it, the unearthly calm that had given voice to the question, so that we said aloud to one another, what have we done? What are we that we should be taken notice of so?


Can the GOP survive?

Stewie Griffin, Master of the Universe

Stewie Griffin, Master of the Universe

How many of you wish they’d all die a lingering death? Yeah, uh-huh — that’s what I thought.

GOP Senators voice opposition to auto aid bill

By JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON – Senate Republicans say they have grave concerns about the agreement between congressional Democrats and the Bush White House to speed billions of dollars to struggling U.S. automakers.

Sen. George V. Voinovich, a Republican from Ohio and a leading supporter of the emergency measure, says it doesn’t have the necessary Republican votes to pass Congress.

Administration officials who were dispatched to Capitol Hill to sell the agreement got an earful of criticism from GOP senators during a closed-door luncheon.

The revolt came as the House began procedural votes on the package. Democrats are pushing to pass it this week.

A sham of a debacle of a travesty of a sham …

Planning to E-Vote? Read This First

With less than three months before the presidential election, the hotly contested state, Ohio, along with others, continue to have problems with E-voting technology

Larry Greenemeier

Scientific American

In their rush to avoid a repeat of the controversy that plagued the 2000 presidential election, and to meet the requirements of Congress’s hastily mandated 2002 Help America Vote Act (HAVA), states and counties flocked to electronic voting systems they hoped would eliminate hanging chads and other flaws inherent in paper-based systems. Six years later, with another presidential election less than three months away, many e-voting systems are fraught with security glitches, and the technology has yet to prove itself as the solution voters were looking for.

Such systems could allow voters and poll workers to place multiple votes, crash the systems by loading viruses, and fake vote tallies, according to studies commissioned by the states of California and Ohio within the past year. Makers of these systems have countered that the test settings were unrealistic. But that is not helping election officials sleep better at night.

One of the reasons e-voting systems turned out to be such a failure is that the only people involved in checking these systems were the vendors, who wanted to sell their technology, and the local election officials, who were ill-equipped to understand the security issues, says David Dill, a Stanford University computer science professor and founder of the Verified Voting Foundation, a nonprofit organization pushing for the implementation of voting processes that can more easily be verified and audited. “There was a certification process in place,” Dill says, “but it had very little to do with security.”

Dill is the author of Attackdog, threat modeling software that can examine more than 9,000 potential ways a voting system can be attacked, including computer hacking, ballot tampering and voter impersonation. Attackdog is part of a larger effort called A Center for Correct, Usable, Reliable, Auditable and Transparent Elections (ACCURATE) , which was launched in 2005 by the National Science Foundation with $7.5 million in funding. “Nothing we do now will affect the November election,” Dill says. “We don’t know how to make secure paperless voting.”

Oil Slick

A Few Speculators Dominate Vast Market for Oil Trading

Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 21, 2008

Regulators had long classified a private Swiss energy conglomerate called Vitol as a trader that primarily helped industrial firms that needed oil to run their businesses.

But when the Commodity Futures Trading Commission examined Vitol’s books last month, it found that the firm was in fact more of a speculator, holding oil contracts as a profit-making investment rather than a means of lining up the actual delivery of fuel. Even more surprising to the commodities markets was the massive size of Vitol’s portfolio — at one point in July, the firm held 11 percent of all the oil contracts on the regulated New York Mercantile Exchange.

The discovery revealed how an individual financial player had gained enormous sway over the oil market without the knowledge of regulators. Other CFTC data showed that a significant amount of trading activity was concentrated in the hands of just a few speculators.

The CFTC, which learned about the nature of Vitol’s activities only after making an unusual request for data from the firm, now reports that financial firms speculating for their clients or for themselves account for about 81 percent of the oil contracts on NYMEX, a far bigger share than had previously been stated by the agency. That figure may rise in coming weeks as the CFTC checks the status of other big traders.

Some lawmakers have blamed these firms for the volatility of oil prices, including the tremendous run-up that peaked earlier in the summer.

Solar Tree Hits the Streets, Passes the Test

 Check it out:

 Solar street lighting

It wasn’t the first time we’d seen solar street lights (other examples can be seen here, here and here), but it was probably the most beautiful. When we first saw the solar tree concept by Welsh designer Ross Lovegrove we really were pretty taken aback. It is a gorgeous example of a marriage between form and function.

However, often such concepts remain just that – concepts – so we were delighted to hear, via Renewable Energy Access, that the design has now undergone real-world testing on the streets of Vienna, with positive results: “The solar cells on the tree were able to store enough electricity in spite of receiving no direct solar light for days at a time because of the clouds. They showed that solar trees really are a practical form of street lighting,” Christina Werner from Cultural Project Management (Kulturelles Projektmanagement, Vienna) told

Solar Tree Hits the Streets, and Passes the Test : TreeHugger