Thursday, March 31, 2011

Iron Horse Roundup For March 2011- China's High Speed Graft Problem; BNSF Crew Killed in Shuttle Wreck; Southern Consolidated Returns to Steam photo- Yu Ming
CHINA: A series of internal government audits have found that China's much-vaunted high speed rail projects have been plagued by corruption, embezzlement, misappropriations and cost overruns, China's National Audit Office announced on Wednesday.
China’s state audit office said on Wednesday it had identified numerous cases of embezzlement and other irregularities from just a three-month period of construction on the Beijing-Shanghai high-speed line last year and has passed the cases on to judicial authorities for formal investigation.

China’s railway minister and the rail ministry’s deputy chief engineer were both removed from their positions last month for “severe disciplinary violations” — an allegation that usually results in criminal charges for corruption.

The former minister, Liu Zhijun, is the most senior government official to be implicated in corruption in the past five years and his downfall has raised doubts about the future of the hugely ambitious high-speed rail expansion plans he championed. Neither Mr Liu nor Zhang Shuguang, the former deputy chief engineer at the rail ministry, have been named in connection with the state auditor’s investigation into the 1,318km, $33 billion Beijing-Shanghai high-speed rail project, which is scheduled to open to the public next year.

The line is the longest and most expensive high-speed rail project in the country but it has been dogged by scandals and controversies and singled out in previous state audits for financial “irregularities”. In its latest report the auditor also cited numerous cases of flawed procurement procedures, overcharging, unexplained costs and fake receipts related to the project.

An intense safety review of all projects is under way because of fears that corruption and the speed with which the network has been built will result in poor quality tracks that are meant to carry trains travelling at up to 380 km/h

Chinese High Speed Rail Attendants- Xinhua Photo
According to the state-run Xinhua News Agency, auditors say that embezzlers made off with the equivalent of $28.5 million for just the Beijing-Shanghai high speed rail project.

As a matter of personal opinion, I think this stands out as a cautionary tale over pinning any sort of long term economic recovery on numerous massive public works projects that would make the Big Dig look well run and fiscally responsible in comparison. It doesn't help that some of the politicians who are the most enthusiastic backers of high-speed rail here in the USA also backed things like TARP, the Stimulus or various government bailouts and have demonstrated zero appreciation for the massive costs involved in building and maintaining a dedicated high speed line.
Photo- Bill Wagner/Longview Daily News
WASHINGTON: Two BNSF Employees and a shuttle driver were killed while a fourth BNSF worker was in critical condition after a BNSF grain train collided with the shuttle van carrying them on March 24th in Longview, WA.

58 year old engineer Tom Kenny, 28 year old conductor trainee Christopher Loehr- both based out of Seattle- and 52 year old Dwight Hauk of Auburn, WA were being picked up by 60 year old shuttle driver Steven Sebastian and take to Vancouver, WA after their shifts when they were struck by the train.

The crossing is a remote, private crossing with no lights or arms that lower and raise on a train's approach. Instead, the crossing features a warning signs on top of a stop sign. John Higginson
TENNESSEE: For the first time in 21 years, Southern Railway 2-8-0 consolidated #630 is under steam. The Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum spent the better part of a decade restoring the 1904-built ALCo to working order, with break-in runs taking place over the last weekend of March 2011.

Almost as noteworthy as the fact that the 2-8-0 is up and running once again is the fact that news of #630's revival was announced on Norfolk Southern's official Twitter page and a short video of the #630 being fired up on the company's official YouTube account. Norfolk Southern had announced last year that it would begin a partial revival of its steam program, using historic equipment form the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum.

Ermelo in happier, more derailment-free times- Eugene Armer photo
SOUTH AFRICA: A derailment on the Transnet line between Ermelo and Richards Bay in the northeastern corner of South Africa is expected to slow coal exports.
The accident, which occurred on Wednesday near Ermelo in South Africa's northeastern Mpumalanga province, is likely to add pressure on South African coal producers, already struggling to export all their coal due to bottlenecks on the rail lines.

Spokesman Sandile Simelane said one of the two lines would reopen on Friday but could not confirm when the other would reopen.

"We anticipate one of the lines to reopen tomorrow," he told Reuters, adding that an investigation into the cause of the derailment was ongoing.

He declined to comment on how much tonnage would be lost as a result of the derailment. Besides the immediate impact, it also means trains have to be rerouted, causing further disruption to the transport of coal.

South Africa is a major exporter of coal to power stations in Europe and Asia, but exporters have failed to ship all of their product because of bottlenecks on the lines approaching the huge Richards Bay Coal Terminal.

South Africa exported 63.43 million tonnes of coal last year, boosted by demand from China and India, but far below the terminal's expanded capacity of 91 million tonnes.

Industry representatives have said South Africa was unlikely to export 60 million tonnes this year due to frequent problems on the line.

Transnet is investing heavily in new and improved infrastructure, but it will take years before a substantial increase in transported tonnages is seen.

Possible Jihadi Probe of California Marine Base?

Officials with the United States Marine Corps said they have stepped up security procedures after a suspicious incident involving three Middle Eastern men took place at Camp Pendleton just north of San Diego last weekend.
SAN DIEGO -- One of the nation's largest military bases is reportedly under tighter security after three Middle Eastern men tried to enter without proper authorization. 10News learned the three men -- 40-year-old Afghani Ahmad Rahmani Naeem, 41-year-old Iranian Vahik Petrossian and 27-year-old Iranian Sengekdi Norvik Avanosian -- attempted to get into Camp Pendleton last weekend under what was considered suspicious circumstances.

According to a Be On the Lookout (BOLO) alert issued to high-ranking Camp Pendleton officials, someone reported hearing hateful comments and terrorist threats from three men at a gas station in Oceanside Saturday.

Investigators at Camp Pendleton said the men asked the attendant for directions on how to get to Camp Pendleton before they left the gas station. According to the alert, shortly after midnight Sunday, a rented silver Toyota Corolla driven by Naeem attempted to enter Camp Pendleton through the main gate.

As it was being searched, Petrossian and Avanosian drove up in a black Mercedes, but were told to wait. Instead, they continued past the gate and onto the base. Following a short pursuit, the Mercedes was stopped and searched. No weapons or contraband were found in the Mercedes, but base security noticed the air bag in the steering wheel of the Mercedes had been pulled out and re-attached with duct tape and had wires hanging free, the alert said.

According to the alert, Naaem told base security he was lost and was trying to go to Glendale. When interviewed, Petrossian and Avanosian said they were lost and trying to go to Glendale.

The three men claimed not to know each other, the alert said. Naaem, Petrossian and Avanosian were photographed and released after questioning, and a warning about the trio was posted to law enforcement. However, later that morning about 8:30 a.m., Naeem returned in the Toyota and tried to get on the base again, saying he made a mistake and was trying to enter Interstate 5, the alert said. After his vehicle was searched, Naeem was issued a letter of debarment from the base and escorted to the freeway.
[Petrossian and Avanosnian may very well be Armenian surnames, but keep in mind there is a sizable ethnic Armenian population in the northwestern corner of Iran around Tabriz, not to mention the two men could just as easily be travelling under an alias- NANESB!]

Investigators at Camp Pendleton also said that a criminal background check on the three men turned up nothing. At a cursory glance, this would appear to be some sort of probe to gauge the security at Camp Pendleton (however poorly executed)- one vehicle to distract/occupy the guards while the second one would make their move on targets further into the base.

The incident comes a little over a week after the US Border Patrol arrested a van full of illegal immigrants who were wearing Marine uniforms. A Border Patrol agent who had previously served with the USMC grew suspicious while working at a checkpoint outside of Pine Valley, CA (some 40 miles east of San Diego) when the van full of men were unfamiliar with the Marine Corps' 'Ooo-Rah!' salutation or the Marine Corps birthday.

Also worth mentioning is that about 15 miles north of Camp Pendleton is Edison International's [NYSE: EIX] San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant, so there would be an abundance of potential targets out there for anybody interested in causing mayhem.

[Hat tip: The Jawa Report]

At Long Last, Opening Day is Here

After what seems like an eternity, that glorious day (where even the Pittsburgh Pirates or Kansas City Royals sport a perfect record) has arrived. With the bunting draped, the aroma of peanuts and popcorn wafting through the stands, kids of all ages playing hooky, and distant voices relaying the goings on at the ballpark on a crackling AM signal to listeners hundreds of miles away, America's pasttime gets underway with joy and anticipation- tempered by a cautious optimism- in the hearts of fans everywhere.

Now it seems as though there's nothing left to do but sit back and enjoy this most wonderful time of year.
Photo- Steve Stewart/MLB Blogs

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Veenal Sins Update- Outspoken Pakistani Actress Recieves Death Threats From Taliban

Not surprisingly, in a country where religious minorities and moderate politicians are assassinated by radical muslims on a shockingly regular basis, Pakistani actress Veena Malik and her family have received death threats by militants from the Tareek-e-Taliban for her controversial appearance on the Indian reality TV show Big Boss (the Indian equivalent of Big Brother) and her subsequent smackdown of an Islamic scholar on a Pakistani talk show when she was accused of 'immoral' behavior and 'shaming' Pakistan.

You had to figure that it was only a matter of time.

Malik, for her part, took it upon herself to point out during the interview-turned-shouting match that Pakistan has much bigger concerns at hand than what she wore while in India. It gets even more interesting when the mufti challenging her (via remote video feed) admitted that he hadn't even watched the Big Boss series where the Lollywood star was filmed cuddling and massaging the neck of one of her Indian housemates.

Malik is currently back in India taping for a show she is hosting called Big Toss, covering the Cricket World Cup through April 2. Her agent in Lahore, Pakistan was able to produce a copy of one of the threatening letters for the AFP, although the news outlet couldn't immediately verify the credentials sender.
"The letter says that Tehreek-e-Taliban has taken a decision as a Muslim to punish Veena Malik soon," [Malik's agent Sohail] Rashid told AFP.

"We want our daughters and sisters in our homes only and Veena Malik, who is humiliating Pakistan's name in India, will be punished soon," Rashid quoted from the letter.

"We are soon going to punish Veena Malik so that our future generations may be afraid of going to India. It is the responsibility of all Pakistanis and Muslims, but now we are going to accomplish it," Rashid quoted the letter as saying.

While testifying against ex-husband and Pakistani cricket player Mohammed Asif, before the International Cricket Council (cricket's international governing body) Malik's family reportedly received death threats last year. The popular Asif was implicated in a match-fixing scandal in September 2010 and Malik had provided the ICC with phone records proving that Asif had been in contact with an Indian bookmaker prior to a match with England.

Today's Train of Thought- Wheeling and Dealing, March 30, 2011

Today's Train of Thought bids us a not so fond farewell to the month of March as we all are getting ready to turn the page on the calendar and welcome the change of seasons.

Here, contributor J Alex Lang and company caught a pair of Wheeling & Lake Erie GP40s running light through the snow at sunset in Castle Shannon, PA on their way back to W&LE's Rook yard in Pittsburgh on December 20, 2009.

The Rio Grande paint scheme is no accident, either- Wheeling & Lake Erie #303 started out life as GP40 #3085 in 1969. #303 is one of many Wheeling & Lake Erie locomotives that remain in Denver, Rio Grande & Western markings- including a stable of SD40T-2s.

The original W&LE had merged with the Nickel Plate Railroad a few years after WWII, while the Nickel Plate in turn merged with the Norfolk & Western in 1964. The current version of the W&LE came about when Norfolk Southern spun off much of the original trackage from both the original Wheeling & Lake Erie and one-time rival Pittsburgh & West Virginia in 1990. Interestingly, the Pittsburgh & West Virginia [AMEX: PW] ceased to exist as a railway with its 1964 merger with Norfolk & Western (now Norfolk Southern) but still functions as a Real Estate Investment Trust (or REIT), owning the land under 132 miles of track as well as various facilities and offices since 1967. Essentially, P&WV owned the land and track and leases it back to the Norfolk & Western (and then the W&LE) under a 99 year agreement.

Wisconsin Stops Collecting Union Dues For State Workers, Unions Threaten Boycott of Neutral Businesses

Ten days after a Dane County, WI circuit judge blocked the publishing of Wisconsin's new collective bargaining law the administration of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker was no longer collecting dues on behalf of public employee unions and charging more for state employee's pensions and healthcare.
Madison — Gov. Scott Walker's administration no longer is collecting dues on behalf of state unions and, as of Sunday, is charging employees more for their pensions and health care, even though nonpartisan legislative attorneys say the changes are not yet law. Backing up the administration, the state Department of Justice argued that the new law - which eliminates most collective bargaining for public workers - is in effect and asked a judge to vacate a restraining order against the law. Meanwhile, a Dane County prosecutor asked a judge to declare that the law is not now in place. Highlighting the different legal interpretations, some local governments are not implementing the new law for their employees. Officials with the City of Milwaukee and Milwaukee County said they are waiting for answers from courts before making any changes on benefits and union dues.
The Dane County judge who filed the restraining order against the recently-passed bill from Gov. Walker is named Maryann Sumi. It's probably worth mentioning that Judge Sumi refused to order striking Wisconsin teachers back to work and that her son is a career operative for the unions like AFL-CIO and SEIU. More ominously, Judge Sumi issued a statement on Wednesday warning attorneys about their criticisms of how the case was being handled.
Before wrapping up a brief hearing Wednesday, Dane County Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi offered a word of caution to attorneys involved in high-profile lawsuits over collective bargaining in Wisconsin.

Sumi said emotions are running high over two cases she is hearing regarding Gov. Scott Walker's plan to eliminate most collective bargaining for public workers. That "spirited debate" is important in a democracy, but attorneys must keep in mind their professional ethics, Sumi said.

"They all have a responsibility to promote and not denigrate the judicial branch and, more importantly, the rule of law," she said.

She advised lawyers to review state Supreme Court rules that say: "A lawyer shall not make a statement that the lawyer knows to be false or with reckless disregard as to its truth or falsity concerning the qualifications or integrity of a judge...."

She referred to public comments made by attorneys after a Tuesday hearing, but did not elaborate.
Some observers consider Sumi's warning very one-sided and note that attorneys are within their rights to criticize the content of a ruling made by a jurist who had decided to insert themselves in the political process.

Meanwhile two Madison, WI labor unions and Dane County had abandoned efforts to consolidate their complaints over Walker's law after being told doing so would permit the state to bring the case for another judge.
Dane County and two city of Madison labor unions, AFL-CIO Local 236 and Firefighters Local 311, sought to consolidate their separate complaints over the act.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs asked the state to agree not to seek a substitution of judges before moving forward. But Judge Maryann Sumi said the defendants did not have to bind themselves to that commitment. The motion was then withdrawn.

Sumi also agreed with state attorneys that the motion to combine the cases was likely premature and cautioned attorneys in all cases related to the budget repair bill about their public comments when emotions are running high.

"They all have a responsibility to promote and not denigrate the judicial branch, and more importantly, the rule of law," Sumi said.
Meanwhile, the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees (AFSCME) circulated a letter threatening a boycott of local businesses that decline to display signs the union is passing out that prominently feature the AFSCME logo on the bottom half.

The letters ask businesses to express that support by displaying union signs in their windows.

"Failure to do so will leave us no choice but (to) do a public boycott of your business," the letter says. "And sorry, neutral means 'no' to those who work for the largest employer in the area and are union members."

Jim Parrett, a field representative of Council 24 for Southeast Wisconsin, confirmed the contents of the letter, which carries his signature. But he added that the union was also circulating letters to businesses thanking them for supporting workers' rights.

The union-led effort is an outgrowth of a boycott campaign by the Wisconsin Professional Police Association and other unions in which M&I Bank and Kwik Trip were targeted because either the companies themselves or their executives supported Gov. Scott Walker's budget initiatives.

Jim Haney, the outgoing head of Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, a pro-business lobby, said the union effort was appalling. And he said the campaign would backfire.

"It's kind of like the old protection racket," he said. " 'If you have the right sticker, we won't break your knees.' This is beyond the pale to force a small-business person to choose when they want to stay neutral. But that isn't good enough."

In the letter, Parrett writes: "It is unfortunate that you have chosen 'not' to support public workers rights in Wisconsin. In recent past weeks you have been offered a sign by a public employee who works in one of the state facilities in the Union Grove area. These signs simply said, 'This Business Supports Workers Rights,' a simple, subtle and we feel noncontroversial statement given the facts at this time."

Parrett said that since the letters were sent, he has received threatening phone calls as well as calls from people supporting the state workers.

"I've gotten a lot of threatening phone calls," Parrett said.

Parrett said similar letter campaigns had been launched in other parts of the state. His region includes Racine and Kenosha counties as well as parts of Waukesha and Walworth counties.

Parrett referred questions to Marty Beil, the head of the Wisconsin State Employees Union. Neither Beil nor Phil Neuenfeldt, head of the Wisconsin AFL-CIO, was available for comment.
The AFSCME effort comes more than two weeks after the executive director of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association circulated a letter to Gov. Walker's 2010 campaign donors also threatening a boycott. Interestingly, WPPA executive director Jim Palmer was arrested in December 2009 for drunken driving and never served in law enforcement himself.

Exit question: If union honchos like Palmer or Parrett had their way, do you think we would be seeing things like partisan response times from police and firefighters?

[Hat tip- Lonely Conservative, Red State/Labor Union Report, In.sur.rec.tion, Weasel Zippers, WisPolitics, Jammie Wearing Fool]

General Electric, General Motors Avoid Paying Taxes for 2010

While taxpayers and small business owners are poring over their IRS 1040 forms, I'm sure this bit of news from a pair of corporations that have benefitted from government bailouts and lagresse will bring a bit of joy and wrmth to their weary hearts.

A little over two months ago, GE Chairman Jeffery Immelt was appointed to an economic panel by the Obama Administration. This was the same conglomerate who lobbied for cap & trade back in 2009 and who's subsidiary TV networks of NBC and MSNBC acted as unabashed cheerleaders for Obama during his 2008 Presidential campaign. Now it's been learned that General Electric will pay nothing in taxes for 2010 and will in fact be getting $3.2 billion in tax breaks from the US government thanks in part to concentrating most of its $14.2 billion in profits offshore. More than half of GE's current workforce is outside the United States as well.

Back in November the Wall Street Journal reporteda few weeks before GM's stock was set to be re-listed in the NYSE that General Motors could wind up with tax breaks worth an estimated $45 billion thanks in part to lossesincurred prior to the bailout.
GM, which plans to begin promoting its relisting on the stock exchange to investors this week, wiped out billions of dollars in debt, laid off thousands of employees and jettisoned money-losing brands during its U.S.-funded reorganization last year.

Now it turns out, according to documents filed with federal regulators, the revamping left the car maker with another boost as it prepares to return to the stock market. It won't have to pay $45.4 billion in taxes on future profits.

The tax benefit stems from so-called tax-loss carry-forwards and other provisions, which allow companies to use losses in prior years and costs related to pensions and other expenses to shield profits from U.S. taxes for up to 20 years. In GM's case, the losses stem from years prior to when GM entered bankruptcy.

Usually, companies that undergo a significant change in ownership risk having major restrictions put on their tax benefits. The U.S. bailout of GM, in which the Treasury took a 61% stake in the company, ordinarily would have resulted in GM having such limits put on its tax benefits, according to tax experts.
"The Internal Revenue Service has decided that the government's involvement with these companies, both its acquisitions plus its disposals of their stock, means they should be exempt" from the rule, said Robert Willens, a New York tax consultant who advises investment banks and hedge funds.

The government's rationale, said people familiar with the situation, is that the profit-shielding tax credit makes the bailed-out companies more attractive to investors, and that the value of the benefit is greater than the lost tax payments, especially since the tax payments would not exist if the companies fail.
The pricetag for the GM bailout was thought to have reached at least $30 billion. The fact that the government was still a stakeholder in General Motors at the time could help explain the DOT's aggressive pursuit of Toyota Motors for a number of safety issues last year.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Quickie Helping of Sports Chowdah- No Doubting as Thomas Blocks Hawks; UConn Goes Four All the Marbles; Opening Day 2011 Around the Corner

NHL: It's been a busy past couple of days for the Bruins after their epic beatdown of Montreal last week. The weekend saw them lose at home by a 1-0 final to the New York Rangers on Saturday afternoon before travelling to Philly and coming from behind to win by a final of 2-1 to officially clinch a playoff berth [Interestingly, a cursory glance at the NHL standings shows that no less than 4 teams in the Eastern conference have clinched a spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs as of Tuesday night while aside from the Vancouver Canucks clinching, the field is still wide open out in the Western conference- NANESB!].

The Bruins would head back home on Tuesday night to take on the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks, who appear to be fighting for their playoff lives now. The game went without any scoring until about 12 minutes into the second period when Zdeno Chara would get an even strength goal followed by a Johnny Boychuck tally 2 minutes later to make it a 2-0 Boston lead. Nathan Horton would open up the Boston lead to 3-0 after scoring a little over 5 minutes into the 3rd period to make it a 3-0 final.

Tim Thomas stopped a total of 32 shots for his 9th shutout of the season and 25th of his career. Mark Recchi's assist on Boychuck's goal moved him to 1,532 career points, moving him past Paul Coffey and into 12th place all time in the NHL. Boston has now won 4 out of their last games after dropping 6 out of 7 games earlier this month. Despite the loss, Chicago still manages to hold onto the 8th and final playoff spot in the Western conference- 3 points ahead of Dallas and Calgary while one point behind Anaheim as of Tuesday night.

The Bruins will close out the month of March by hosting the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Garden on Thursday night. The Leaf's fairly slim playoff hopes are still alive after beating the Buffalo Sabres 4-3 on Tuesday night.

NBA: While the Bruins seem to be getting hot at the right time, the Celtics look for all the world like they're starting to wilt against a fairly unimpressive array of opponents. Now, part of me would like to think that this is some sort of intentional strategy by Doc Rivers to have the C's avoid certain teams that have given the C's a handful in the postseason.

Although they held off a late rally by Minnesota to win by a final of 85-82 on Sunday, Monday night was a different story wit Indiana's Roy Hibbert taking advantage of the Celtic's depleted front line, netting 26 points and 4 rebounds. Paul Pierce led the scoring in the losing effort for the C's, with 23 points and 5 rebounds in Boston's 100-107 loss in Indianapolis.

The road trip continues for Boston this week, with the C's travelling to San Antonio to take on the Spurs. While the C's have dropped 3 of their last 4, the Spurs are coming into Thursday night's game riding a 4-game losing streak. The game starts at 8PM ET (5 Pacific) and will be broadcast on TNT.

NCAA HOOPS: UConn survived a last second scare from Arizona's Jamelle Horne on Sunday while his 3-point attempt bounced off the rim as time expired in a 2-point game. UConn would hang on to win by a final of 63-65. The win (in which Kemba Walker had 20 points and 4 rebounds while freshman Jeremy Lamb had 19 points) sets up a showdown between UConn and the University of Kentucky Wildcats. The winner of that game will take on the victor of the VCU Rams/Butler Bulldogs game for the NCAA Men's Basketball championship.

MLB: Just a gentle reminder that we're less than 48 hours away from the opening day of the 2011 baseball season. There actually will be a slate of 6 games on March 31 starting with the Braves at Washington Nationals at 1:05 ET (10:05 AM PT) and finishing off with the World Series Champion Giants at Chavez Ravine to take on the LA Dodgers at 8PM ET (5 Pacific). Other teams getting underway Thursday will include Detroit @ the Yankees, Milwaukee @ Cincinnati, San Diego @ St. Louis and Anaheim @ Kansas City.

The Red Sox season doesn't officially get under way until Friday, April 1 at Texas where they'll take on the defending American League Champion Texas Rangers. The Red Sox home opener will be on Friday, April 8 against the NY Yankees.

Monday, March 28, 2011

124 Killed In Southern Yemeni Munitions Factory Explosion

An explosion at an ammunition plant in Southern Yemen on Monday is said to have killed scores of civilians- some of them burned beyond recognition- who were looting the factory after anti-government militants seized control of the 7th of October plant and nearby town of Jaar before leaving with armoured vehicles and cases of weapons and ammunition.

After they left, nearby residents reportedly began taking down cables and doors from the factory while siphoning fuel from abandoned vehicles and dumping out containers of gunpowder so they could use them to store more water.

According to local residents, the cause of the blast appears to be accidental- something likely sparked the gunpowder stored at the facility.

Yemeni officals, however, haven't ruled out the possibility of sabotage or the militants booby-trapping the facility after taking what they could.

The takeover of the factory by Salafist Islamic militants and subsequent explosion is just the latest in a series of problems facing the Western-backed President Ali Abdullah Saleh, with antigovernment protests calling for his removal gaining momentum over the last two months and Al Qaeda allied militants and tribesmen exerting increased control over much of the country's interior. The continued unrest in the capital and ongoing insurgency in the hinterlands threatens to destabilize the strategically located Arab nation. Earlier this month, at least 40 people were killed in clashes between protesters and Yemeni security forces outside the entrance of Sanaa University prompting Saleh to declare a state of emergency.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Belated First Look At the New Wonder Woman- sans Christina Hendricks

Well- for those of you dreaming that the voluptuous Christina Hendricks would be coming to the small screen in the upcoming Wonder Woman TV series, sad to say but the dream is over. Adrianne Palicki was announced as the titular (tee-hee) character last week and the revamped Wonder Woman costume was also revealed in a publicity photo released earlier this month. I'll let you compare and contrast if you're so inclined. As Jammie Wearing Fool had pointed out, the newer version of the Wonder Woman costume is supposedly controversial because it lacks the stars and stripes motif of the classic version- however, I wouldn't be surprised if that was some sort of contrived 'controversy' to try and gin up publicity for the TV Series. Here are some 'before' pictures of Ms Palicki to give you an idea of what she looked like before playing the Amazon brunette. Adrianne Palicki had previously appeared in the Friday Night Lights TV series and the 2010 film Legion. Palicki also logged some time as a voice actress on Adult Swim's Titan Maximum and Robot Chicken. While there's no Christina Hendricks, British actress and model Liz Hurley (who's well into her 40s and still looking good) is slated to appear as Wonder Woman's nemesis in the pilot episode. And without the role of Wonder Woman to fall back on, how exactly is Christina Hendricks getting by? Well, when she isn't drawing attention as 60's secretary Joan Halloway, Hendricks is now the face of Vivienne Westwood's collection of Palladium jewelry. No doubt the market price of Palladium shot up when word of that got out. [hat tip- Wyatt Earp; Jamie Wearing Fool]

Today's Train of Though- The Weather Outside? Still Kind of Frightful, March 27, 2011

One sure sign that spring is right around the corner? We're less than a week away from the start of baseball season!

But don't let that lull you into a false sense of security, as the weather in New England is always subject to dramatic change with no warning. One minute you could be enjoying tempratures higher than those in Florida or California, and the next you could be reduced to a shivering, soggy mess by an abrupt snowstorm or freezing rain.

Of course, contributor Ryan Parent likely didn't have that problem when he snapped this picture of northbound New England Central train 323. Since this picture was taken at the beginning of February 2008, Parent likely knew he was in for at least another month of inclement weather before 'mud season' but braved a snow squall to catch NECR GP38 #3849 and two other Rail America GP38s heading north through Cornish, NH.

The unassuming Granite State town of about 1600 was home to the reclusive author JD Salinger and two covered bridges, including the 1866-built 450 ft-long Cornish-Windsor covered bridge spanning the Connecticut River between Cornish and Windsor, VT. Traversing the former Central Vermont Railway line to White River Jct and north to Burlington and St Albans, VT, train 323 will cross the Connecticut River into Windsor a few hundred yards to the south of the Cornish Windsor bridge on a steel trestle.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Horn of Africa Update- Who's Minding the Store? Maersk Alabama Saga Coming to Silver Screen? Attempt to Rescue Danish Family Botched

With all the naval assets from the USA and Europe being redeployed from antipiracy patrols in the Indian Ocean and Red Sea to the Mediterranian to support the blockade and no-fly zone overe Mumar Ghdaffi's Libya, one would think it would only be a matter of time before the pirates took advantage. Of course, even before the deteriorating situation in Libya, the pirates simply got around the increased international naval patrols by venturing further out into the Indian Ocean- from the Straits of Hormuz to the north, Mozambique to the south.
Photo- The Hindu
INDIA: The Indian Navy took 61 pirates into custody after the fast attack craft INS Kalpeni pursued and exchanged fire with a Somali pirate 'mother ship' earlier this month. The mother ship was the Vega 5, a Mozambique fishing vessel that was seized by pirates some 200 nautical miles southwest of the Comoros Isles in the straits of Mozambique in late December 2010.
According to naval officials, the operation began when they received a distress call from MV Vancouver Bridge which was under pirate attack on Friday last. A naval Dornier maritime recce aircraft located Vega 5 in the area. Seeing the naval aircraft, the pirates abandoned their attack and tried to flee. While the Dornier continued to track the pirate mother vessel Vega 5, the Navy's missile corvette Khukri and FAC Kalpeni, which had been deployed in the area for anti-piracy patrol, were diverted to intercept and investigate Vega 5, the Navy said. The pirate mother vessel launched two skiffs which fired at Kalpeni, which was closing in on Vega 5 in Saturday night. INS Kalpeni responded with limited firing. By then it was observed that a fire had broken out on Vega 5, apparently originating from the additional fuel drums that the mother vessels of the pirates are known to be carrying to fuel the skiffs. Personnel were also seen jumping overboard. INS Kalpeni along with INS Khukri nabbed 74 men, including 61 pirates and 13 members of the original crew of the fishing vessel. Preliminary investigations revealed that the pirates were carrying about 80 to 90 small arms and rifles and a few heavier weapons likely to be RPGs, the release said. Indian Navy has already apprehended two pirate mother ships on January 28 and February 11 and had nabbed 43 pirates in those two operations.
According to Oceanus Live the turnaround time for the pirates using a captured vessel as a 'mother ship' is remarkable.
The most surprising aspect of Somali piracy this week has been the speed of turnaround for capturing a merchant vessel and using it as a mothership to conduct operations against other innocent seafarers. The Indonesian MV Sinar Kudus was hijacked by up to 50 pirates, taking the 20 Indonesian crew hostage. Within 24-hours the vessel had enabled the pirates to carry out an attack on the MV Emperor. The Sinar Kudus capture followed the release of the MV Hannibal II, which had been held for 4 months and used as a mothership, for a ransom of $2million.
PUNTLAND: Earlier this month, an attempt by Puntland to rescue a Danish family held captive inland after their yacht was seized failed as the would-be rescuers were ambushed.
An attempt by Somali security forces to free a Danish family being held by pirates failed yesterday after the rescuers were ambushed. One of the pirates, Bile Hussein, told the Associated Press that armed forces from the northern region of Puntland, which is where most Somali pirates are based, tried to surround the village of Hul Anod and free the Danish family. He said some of the government forces were killed and others were captured in the botched rescue attempt. “We defended ourselves and foiled their attempt to recover the Danish family,” he told AP. “We have killed and captured some of their soldiers and burnt two (government) pickup trucks. They have run away back to where they came from …The hostages are safe and still in our hands.”
The Danish family was seized by pirates on the open waters of the Indian Ocean last month and have since been taken inland.
Photo- U.S. Army Africa
MOGADISHU: The African Union announced that it was going to commit another 3000 Peacekeepers to the AU's Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) in support of the UN-backed Transitional Federal Government. The soldiers will be deployed from Uganda and Burundi, although the defense minister for Somalia's Transitional government said that Djibouti and Ghana were preparing to send soldiers as well.

TUNISIA: Somali pirates have released a Panamanian-flagged Tunisian tanker and it's crew after negotiating a $2 million ransom with the Tunisian government.

The Hannibal II, whose 31 crewmembers are mostly Tunisian, is currently on its way to Djibouti in the Red Sea, the ministry said. "This release comes after the success of negotiations undertaken by the Tunisian government with the Somalia pirates and the payment of a ransom estimated at $2 million," the official TAP news agency quoted the ministry as saying. It did not say who paid the ransom, or how. The Tunisian shipowner Gabes Marine Tankers (GMT) had announced that the release of the ship was imminent late Wednesday. "Negotiations have not been easy and we cannot be sure the ship will be released until it leaves Somalian waters accompanied by a naval protection vessel," said company owner Farid Abbas. The crew is composed of 23 Tunisians, four Filipinos and one each from Croatia, Georgia, Russia and Morocco. "All possible means of security has been provided, and a civilian plane will be sent (to Djibouti) to repatriate the Tunisian crew today," the ministry said in a statement. "All the crew are in good health," it said. The 24,000 tonne chemical tanker was carrying vegetable oil from Pasir Guadang in Malaysia to Suez in Egypt when it was attacked and boarded by pirates some 860 nautical miles east of the Horn of Africa on November 11. The area where it was attacked is considerably closer to India that it is to Somalia.

'I'm ready for my close-up!'
HOLLYWOOD: Reports are circulating that actor Tom Hanks is set to portray MV Maersk Alabama captain Richard Phillips in an upcoming movie about the 2009 pirate attack on the vessel and ensuing standoff some 200 nautical miles off the coast of Somalia. The upcoming movie is being produced by the same team behind 2010's The Social Network.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Sports Chowdah Update- B's Drop Montreal Like A Bad Habitant; C's Neutered by Bobcats

Wow- what can I say? There's no other word for it aside from 'Le Spank'.

A couple of thoughts regarding Thursday night's Bruins/Canadiens game at the Garden:

1) That was fun!
2) I'd like to see that more often
All this talk of revenge and Zdeno Chara being persona non grata in Montreal was for naught as the Bruins delivered perhaps the most staggeringly one-sided beatdown of the regular season Thursday night against arch rival Montreal.

It was actually fairly close up until the 3rd period- not that 3-0 is anybody's idea of 'close', but squandering a 3 goal lead isn't unheard of either. Johnny Boychuck scored about a minute into the game, followed by an even strength tally by Gregory Campbell 13:43 into the first and a power play goal from Nathan Horton with just over 2 and a half minutes left in the first.

Carey Price would actually manage to keep the Bruins off the board altogether in the 2nd, but the back-breakers would just after the 4 minute mark in the 3rd on tallies from Nathan Horton and Adam McQuaid- only 26 seconds apart- to make it a 5-0 game and give Price the hook and replaced with Alex Auld. At the 11:27 mark, Auld would give up an even strength goal to Tomas Kaberle (his 1st as a Bruin) before Campbell would put the exclamation point on Thursday's game with a shorthanded goal at the 13:35 mark- did I mention that the Canadiens had a 2-man advantage at the time?

The Bruins simply beat down Montreal by a 7-0 final. Tim Thomas faced 24 shots from the Canadiens in his shutout while Price stopped 28 of 33 shots he faced and Auld stopped 2 of 8 shots faced. Gregory Campbell and Nathan Horton had 2 goals each while Zdeno Chara and David Krejci each had 3 assists.

Boston's next game will be at home against the New York Rangers on Saturday afternoon at 1 PM ET before making the relatively short trip to Philadelphia on Sunday night to take on the Flyers at 7 PM ET. Both games will be broadcast on NESN.

NBA: The Celtics failed to stave off a late rally by the Bobcats on Friday night at the garden, losing to Charlotte by a 83-81 final. The Bobcats were down by as much as 13 points late in the 4th quarter, but started clawing back thanks to a 16-0 run where they took their first lead of the night with just under 4 minutes left in the 4th quarter.

The win puts Charlotte within 2 games of the Eastern conference's final playoff spot while Boston has lost 6 of their last 10 games, including Wednesday's game against the Memphis Grizzlies.

NCAA HOOPS: After a fairly close game in front of a partisan crowd in Southern California, the UConn Huskies managed to pull away late from the San Diego State Aztecs thanks in part to Huskies G Kemba Walker's 22 second half points (36 total). The final from Thursday's game in Anaheim, CA was 74-67- although much of the game was basically a 1-possession game.

UConn's win sets up a match against the Arizona Wildcats at the Honda Center in Anaheim on Saturday at 4PM Pacific, 7 PM ET.

Libyan 'Kinetic Military Action' Update, Now with Kung Fu Grip!- Downed US Pilots Rescued by Marines; Ghdaffi Arming 'Volunteers'

We're bombing a new Muslim dictator with a smaller coalition and no Congressional approval. This is, indeed, change we can believe in.
- Jim Geraghty,
National Review
You thought this was a war with Libya? Don't be silly! It's a 'kinetic military action'. Then again, one man's 'kinetic military action' is another man's 'man caused disaster'.

BENGHAZI: Two Aviano, Italy-based U.S. Air Force Pilots were uninjured after their F15E crashed in rebel held territory outside of Benghazi earlier this week. Within a half hour, Marines on the amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge deployed two Harriers, two CH53E Super Stallion helicopters and two V22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft (pictured above) to rescue the downed pilots in what the USMC called a 'tactical recovery of personnel'. At least one of the pilots had reportedly made contact with some of the Libyan rebels before the Marines showed up.

The cause of the crash is thought to be a malfunction, as the F15E was reportedly well beyond the range of ground fire. The two pilots, who's names haven't been disclosed, are undergoing evaluation in Germany.

TRIPOLI: Libyan leader Mummar Ghdaffy is said to be distributing arms to 'volunteers' in the capital city of Tripoli, according to a Pentagon report.
"We've received reports today that he has taken to arming what he calls volunteers to fight the opposition," Vice Admiral William Gortney said on Friday.

"I'm not sure... if they are truly volunteers or not and I don't know how many of these recruits he's going to get, but I find it interesting that he may now feel it necessary to seek civilian reinforcements."

Advertisement: Story continues below The official said Gaddafi "has virtually no air defence left to him and a diminishing ability to command and sustain his forces on the ground" following seven days of coalition air raids.

"His air force cannot fly, his warships are staying in port, his ammunition stores are being destroyed, communications towers are being toppled, his command bunkers rendered useless," Gortney said.
ELSEWHERE : Call it a coalition of the unwilling, I guess. NATO has tentatively agreed to take over part of the multinational operations against Libya, but attacks on ground targets will continue to fall under the command of the USA- which has indiacted it eagerness to relinquish that role.

Meanwhile, rebels in Eastern Libya have appeared to borrow a page from Ghdaffi's playbook, arbitrarily detaining and interrogating suspected Ghdaffi loyalists.
For a month, gangs of young gunmen have roamed the city, rousting Libyan blacks and immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa from their homes and holding them for interrogation as suspected mercenaries or government spies.

Over the last several days, the opposition has begun rounding up men accused of fighting as mercenaries for Kadafi's militias as government forces pushed toward Benghazi. It has launched nightly manhunts for about 8,000 people named as government operatives in secret police files seized after internal security operatives fled in the face of the rebellion that ended Kadafi's control of eastern Libya last month.

"We know who they are," said Abdelhafed Ghoga, the chief opposition spokesman. He called them "people with bloodstained hands" and "enemies of the revolution."

Any suspected Kadafi loyalist or spy who does not surrender, Ghoga warned, will face revolutionary "justice."
The roundup by the Libyan rebels seems to primarily target black immigrants in Libya, as there were reports of the Libyan dictator hiring black, french-speaking mercenaries from sub-Saharan Africa to crush the protests and uprising that began several weeks ago.

However, long before the uprising many West Africans had also found work in Libya as construction workers and day laborers.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Home Invader Dispatched by Florida Beauty Queen With Pink .38

Meet Meghan Brown of Tierra Verde, FL. By her own admission, the 2009 Miss Tierra Verde is a terrible shot.
However, her lackluster marksmanship would be put to the test in a late night encounter with a home intruder ealier this month.
[42 year old ex-convict Albert Hill] barged into the home at around 3 a.m. after Brown responded to a knock at the front door, according to a police report. He allegedly grabbed the 110-pound Brown around her nose and mouth and dragged her to an upstairs bedroom.

The woman’s fiance, Robert Planthaber, said in an interview that he was quickly awakened by the altercation and ran to Brown’s side.

"I attacked him and took a severe beating to the head," Planthaber told "But I got him off of her long enough for her to scramble to the room where she keeps her pink .38 special.”

Brown snatched her gun from a nearby bedroom and shot the suspect several times – hitting him in the chest, groin, thigh and back, her fiance said. Hill was pronounced dead at the scene.
Hill had been in and out of prison on burglary, grand theft and battery charges since 1986. His most recent run-in with the law was a drunk and disorderly charge back in September 2010.
Not actual pink gun used
The gun in Ms. Brown used to shoot the intruder was a pink .38 Special she recieved as a Christmas present from her fiance.

It's probably for the best that Mr. Hill was pronounced dead at the scene. I mean, aside from taking one to the groinal reigon- if you're some badass convict, could you imagine anything more awkward than explaining upon your return to the big house that you got capped by a chick with a pink gun?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Waivers, Requests for Exemptions Mark 1-Year Anniversary of 0bamacare Being Signed Into Law.

Today marks the one year anniversary of President Obama signing HR 3590- better known as 0bamacare- into law after months of contentious public debate and last minute wrangling. [I don't know about you, but I for one was tired of stepping around all the corpses of people without adequate healthcare who collapsed and died in the middle of the sidewalk- NANESB!]

The bill passed the US Senate on Christmas Eve and squeaked through the House of Representatives by a 217-212 margin in March 2010 after a bloc of reportedly pro-life Democrats caved in exchange for a worthless piece of paper in the form of an executive order.

By and large, the Democrats who voted for 0bamacare found themselves out of a job when voters went to the polls in November 2010. Meanwhile, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has been issuing a steadily increasing number of waivers- many of them going to unions, school districts or municipalities. The Lonely Conservative is reporting that the number now exceeds 1000 waivers (including the State of Maine) with more to come.

In addition to the waivers, a number of Federal judges have declared parts of the law or the entire thing unconstitutional. More than half the states in the union are actively seeking to block implementation of 0bamacare.

Perhaps the most glaring example of unmitigated chutzpah comes from Conressman Anthony Weiner (D-NY 9)- who reportedly has is interested in running for mayor of New York City. Weiner was one of 0bamacare's most strident and obnoxious cheerleaders in the debate leading up to it's passage in Congress. However, one year later Congressman Weiner is having second thoughts saying that his office was looking into whether or not a waiver for New York City would be feasible.

Hmm....a waiver? Interesting. Why not some slight modifications to this otherwise flawless gem you were pom-pom shaking for, Congressman Weiner [heh heh.....I said....ah, nevermind- NANESB!]. Unless you were for the bill (as a Congressman) before you were against the bill (as a Mayoral candidate).

Perhaps by this time next year, Congress can completely cut off funding for this thing, or like cap & trade, this monstrosity will languish thanks to legal challenges and key provisions being blocked or de-funded. I suspect this very issue will be an albatross around the neck of the Democrats who voted for this and are running for re-election in 2012.


Cleopatra demands Mr Bubble!
Actress Elizabeth Taylor passed away at the Cedar Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles on Wednesday. She was 79 and had been reportedly suffering from congestive heart failure for the last few years.
Born to American parents in London, Taylor started her film career early in life, most notably depicting a plucky teenager in 1944's National Velvet who trains an unwanted horse to compete in England's Grand National Steeplechase.

In the postwar years, Taylor made the transition to more mainstream, adult roles fairly smoothly and by 1960 had won an Oscar for her portrayal of a promiscuous bachelorette in Manhattan (even though she was unimpressed with the role) and signed a $1 million contract for Cleopatra, making her the highest paid actress in Hollywood at the time (she would reportedly double her salary to $2 million by working overtime on the set).

In 1967, Taylor would win a second Oscar for her role in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolfe?, portraying the belligerent and alcoholic wife of a New England college professor. Taylor's box office appeal would fade by the 1970s, however, and she married a grand total of 8 times with 4 children.

Besides the divorces and treatment for alcoholism, she was seen in her later years making cameos on The Simpsons and the soap opera General Hospital while launching a line of jewelry available through Christie's and fundraising for AIDS research.

One Killed, 35 Injured in Downtown Jerusalem Bus Stop Bombing

A 60 year old Israeli woman was killed and at least 35 commuters were wounded when a bomb ripped through a downtown Jerusalem bus stop on Wednesday.

Israeli investigators say that the bomb likely was left inside an unattended bag at a phone booth near the bus stop and consider the bombing an act of terrorism.

The Jerusalem bombing comes a few days after mortar attacks on an Israeli border town from the Hamas-held Gaza Strip. The IDF had retaliated with tank fire and air strikes.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Sports Chowdah Update- C's Rally in the Knick of Time; Boston B-Devils Jersey; Madness Marches On; Manny Returns; NHL Dishes Suspension to Cooke

MLB: For those of you keeping track (which I'll admit I've been doing a piss poor job of) tonight's Sox-Rays game marked Manny Ramierez's first appearance at Ft. Meyer's City of Palms Park as a Tampa Bay Ray. The former Indians, Red Sox and Dodgers slugger went 1 for 1 with two walks and scored a run on Tuesday while on the mound, 2010 AL Cy Young winner David Price outlasted John Lackey, who gave up 5 runs over 5 ⅓ innings and was hung with his first loss of the Spring training for a 2-1 record, with the Rays winning 7-4. The Red Sox have tomorrow off and will next face the Florida Marlins at Jupiter, FL on Thursday with first pitch at 1:05 ET. OTHER RED SOX NEWS: The agent for 1B Adrian Gonzalez, John Boggs, has said that his client and the Red Sox are close to agreeing on a seven year contract extension for the former San Diego infielder. In his final year with the Padres, Gonzalez hit 31 home runs and had a .298 BA while playing half his games in the very pitcher friendly PetCo Park. NHL: After Saturday's disappointing 5-2 loss to the Maple Leafs in Toronto, the Bruins would head home and take on the struggling New Jersey Devils. Although the Bruins came into March riding an impressive 6-game road winning streak, the B's would then go on to win only two of their next eight contests (although they would garner a point or two for losses taking place in OT or the shootout- and curiously, they have yet to relinquish 1st place in the division this month). Tuesday night's game looked as though it would be more of the same when the Devil's Ilya Kovalchuck scored first to give New Jersey the 1-0 lead. Shawn Thronton would get the equalizer at the with just over four and a half minutes remaining in the first period. In the 2nd period, Zdeno Chara would put the B's up for good with a power play goal (the Bruins went 1 for 5 with the man advantage on Tuesday night) while Milan Lucic would score for Boston in the 3rd and Mark Recchi would get an empty-netter as the exclamation point in the Bruin's 4-1 win over New Jersey. Zdeno Chara came up big, for lack of a better term, coming up with the game winning goal and 2 assists on Tuesday night. Tim Thomas stopped 30 shots, not allowing a goal after Kovalchuck's power play goal in the 1st period. The win all but finishes off whatever postseason aspirations the Devils might've had to begin with. The Bruins next game will be on Thursday at home against Montreal. The 2nd place Canadiens are coming off of being shut out 2-0 by the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night. OTHER NHL NEWS: The NHL has decided to hand down a suspension to enforcer Matt Cooke for not only the final 10 games of the regular season, but also the first round of the playoffs after his elbow to the head against the Ranger's Ryan McDonagh on Sunday. Dennis Savard had his 2009-2010 season ended by a concussion after taking an elbow to the head from the Penguins cheap shot artist. NBA: Like the Bruins, over the last several games the Celtics have been looking like a playoff bound team by virtue of racking up the wins earlier in the season that didn't threaten to do much once they arrived there. After starting out their most recent road trip with a 93-77 loss to the Houston Rockets on Friday, the C's managed to bounce back with an 89-85 win over the New Orleans Hornets before heading to Madison Square Garden to wrap up their 3 game raod trip against the Knicks. Now, most of the time the Knicks are a punchline or laughingstock who's only claim to fame is having Spike Lee mouth off at the visiting players. Now although the recently made headlines by acquiring Carmello Anthony in a trade from Denver, the were at one game over .500 coming into Monday night's game against Boston. By halftime on Monday night's game, it looked as though Boston's March woes would continue, as the Knickerbockers headed into halftime with a fairly commanding 51-37 lead over the visitors. However, the Celtics would mount a spirited comeback in the 2nd half of what some would consider a possible playoff preview, with their defense holding the Knicks to just 35 points in the 2nd half, with Rajon Rondo putting Boston in the lead for good after hitting a jumper with just over 3 minutes left in regulation. Shortly after making the shot, Rajon and Carmello Anthony collided while 'Melo was attempting to steal a pass, resulting in a gash above Anthony's eye. Rondo came up with the ball and passed to Big Baby for a layup that but Boston up 90-86. Pierce nailed a jumper to make it a 6 point game before Ray Allen's dunk made it 94-86 with 40 seconds left in regulation before following ti up with two successful free throws. Kevin Garnett led the scoring for Boston with 24 points along with 11 rebounds on Monday night, followed by Paul Pierce's 21 points and 6 rebounds. The C's still are in first place for the Atlantic conference, although now they are a half point behind the Chicago Bulls for1st overall in the Eastern Conference. Interestingly, despite the .500 record and 3 game skid, the Knicks are still very much in the playoff hunt. The Celtics will return home on Wednesday night to take on the Memphis Grizzlies at 7:30 PM ET. NCAA HOCKEY: While everybody from the leader of the free world on down is keeping track of their March Madness brackets, just a reminder that the NCAA Men's Hockey Tournament gets underway this Friday. The schedule is as follows: Friday, March 25 3 p.m., East Region: Minnesota-Duluth vs. Union (Bridgeport, CT), ESPNU 5:30 p.m., West Region: Michigan vs. Nebraska-Omaha (St. Louis, MO), ESPN3 6:30 p.m., East Region: No. 1 Yale vs. Air Force (Bridgeport, CT), ESPNU 9 p.m., West Region: No. 1 Boston College vs. Colorado College (St. Louis, MO), ESPNU Saturday, March 26 1:30 p.m., Midwest Region: No.1 North Dakota vs. Rensselaer (Green Bay, WI), ESPN3 4 p.m., Northeast Region: No. 1 Miami vs. New Hampshire (Manchester, NH), ESPNU 5 p.m., Midwest Region: Denver vs. Western Michigan (Green Bay, WI), ESPN3 7:30 p.m., Northeast Region: Merrimack vs. Notre Dame (Manchester, NH), ESPN3 NCAA HOOPS: Perhaps to nobody's surprise, Kansas had sent to BU Terriers packing in the first round last week, while UConn- the sole remaining New England team in the tournament now- bested the Cincinnati Bearcats by 30 points. This sets up a match against the San Diego State Aztecs (who need double OT to get past Temple this weekend) at the Honda Center in Anaheim, CA on Thursday night at 7:15 PM ET, 4:15 PM Pacific.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Libyan Rebels Attempt to Advance While US, Coalition Airstrikes Target Libyan Air Defences

Coalition airstrikes against Libyan military targets began over the weekend in what's being called Operation Odyssey Dawn. Although Pentagon and NATO officials sounded optimistic at the early success in taking out Libyan air defences and Libyan rebels seemed to be regrouping, a defiant Mummar Ghdaffi promised to drag out the conflict for as long as possible.

Although the rebels claimed they were able to shoot down some of Ghdaffi's fighter planes in skirmishes, aircraft manned by pilots loyal to the Libyan ruler have largely enjoyed air supremacy over the rebels. On top of that, it's thought that only 10% of the rebels have any kind of military experience.

(Proposed No-Fly zone map courtesy of
Participants in Operation Odyssey Dawn so far include the USA, the UK, France, Italy and Canada with ships or aircraft from Spain, Denmark, Belgium, Qatar and Norway ready to participate in enforcing the no-fly zone over the next few days. After strikes against military targets in Benghazi, Sirte, Misrata, Zuwara and Tripoli, more than a dozen French aircraft started off the second day of Odyssey Dawn by patrolling the proposed no fly zone without incident over the weekend. Rebels based out of the stronghold of Benghazi have begun pressing back south on the highway to Ajdabiya after the road was cleared by coalition aircraft on Monday, hoping to retake one of the cities they lost to troops loyal to Ghdaffi last week.

Meanwhile an Algerian TV station is reporting that Ghdaffi's 6th son and commander of the feared Khamis Brigade was killed when a rebel Libyan pilot crashed his aircraft into the brigade's barracks in a suicide mission on Saturday. The Ghdaffi regime denies the report that Khamis Ghdaffi, 27, was killed in the attack while other sources indicated it was a British cruise missile that slammed into the Khamis Brigade headquarters.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Japan Update: Trouble Persists at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant; More Dramatic Video Surfaces; Death Toll Mounts as Rescuers Still Finding Survivors

Workers attempting to bring the damaged reactors at TEPCO's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant under control were evacuated temporarily on Monday after a plume of grey smoke rose from the plant's reactor #3.
The news came after TEPCO confirmed power cables had been connected to all six nuclear reactors at the stricken power plant

The last two reactors to be hooked up to power from the main grid today were reactors No. 3 and No. 4, the two most badly damaged units, company officials told a briefing.

The company, meanwhile, is checking for damage to the plant's reactor cooling systems and other plant machinery before attempting to power them up.

It is operating equipment using grid power at reactor No. 5 only, one of the least damaged reactors, the officials said.

The cooling systems - designed to protect the plant's six reactors from a potentially disastrous meltdown - were knocked out by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, and engineers have been battling rising temperatures ever since.
Workers had been struggling all week to shut down the quake damaged reactors after the strongest quake in Japan's recorded history and subsequent tsunami damaged some of the backup power and cooling systems. While the surrounding 12 miles of the plant were evacuated, some 200 Volunteers have been working in shifts of 50 each to operate the equipment, monitor gauges and clear obstructions from the various pipes in the facility.

The JSDF had also been called in last week to use Chinook helicopters to dump seawater and a compound consisting of boron onto the overheating reactors. This step was considered a 'last resort' by many observers as the salt water would be highly corrosive, meaning that the reactors could never be used again. The JSDF had also brought in at least six fire trucks capable of continuously pumping seawater onto spent fuel rods and overheating reactor #3.

Meanwhile, over the weekend, the Japanese government had reported that higher than normal levels of radiation were found in spinach and milk at farms in the vicinity of Fukushima- some farms as far as 100km away. While positioned off of Japan's east coast, the USS Ronald Reagan had detected increased levels of radiation last week and 17 crew members had to undergo decontamination after returning to the carrier from search and rescue duties.

ELSEWHERE IN JAPAN: As the situation unfolds in Fukushima Daiichi, more eyewitness video is surfacing demonstrating the staggering impact of the quake (which the USGS has officially changed to 9.0) and subsequent tsunami. This video embedded below shows black, churning water cascading over a seawall at Miyako in the Iwate prefecture while boats and cars caught up in the wave getting tossed around like bathtub toys

Another videotape has surfaced that was filmed from inside a car driving right next to the coast when the tsunami hit.

Searchers and rescue workers have discovered survivors in the rubble or washed out to sea in the week following the quake, including a 4 month old baby girl in the town of Ishinomaki, an 80 year old woman and her 16 year old grandson were pulled from the rubble of their home in the same town nearly a week later and a 60 year old man was rescued after being stranded on the roof of his demolished home that was washed 10 miles out to sea.