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Thursday, March 30, 2017

US Stock markets declines as Trump rally slumps

March 22-- In the past the Trump administration has boasted of the performance of the stock market as evidence of the success of its policies. Now that the market has begun to drop, White House secretary Sean Spicer has changed his tune.

Spicer now says that it is unfair to judge the Trump administration's economic policy on the basis of the performance of the stock market. However, the market has done very well since the election and inauguration of Trump resulting in what has been termed the Trump rally. Just back on January 25th this year the Dow Jones Index broke through the 20,000 level. On March 1 the DJI broke through the 21,000 level and the Nasdaq and S&P indices also slashed records. Earlier at the beginning of February, Nouriel Roubini had predicted that the Trump honeymoon with the stock markets would soon be over. Perhaps his prediction is coming true now. Yesterday, the DJI, the S&P 500 and Nasdaq each fell roughly one percentage point. Spicer said: “You can’t look at one indices and say that’s the benchmark for an entire economy. You see confidence levels both in small business and other surveys that show there’s continued confidence in the market.”
As I write this on the morning of March 22, the Dow Jones is down marginally but still 20,657 a large increase even since he was inaugurated as president though down from it highs. Some type of correction was no doubt to be expected. The S&P and Nasdaq are up marginally. It is really too early to tell whether the Trump Rally is done. Trump is having troubles with his health care bill. He has yet to roll out his tax cuts and infrastructure spending program. When he does so this could boost the market.
The Trump administration began to crow about its performance when the DJI broke the 20,000 level. Kellyanne Conway, one of Trump's top advisers tweeted that it was "The Trump Effect". Anthony Scaramucci, a former hedge fund manager tweeted: “Dow 20,000 = big league. Thank you @POTUS @realDonaldTrump”
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin also joined the chorus of praise for the Trump administration: "There's a lot of confidence in the Trump administration and in the desire to invest in the U.S. This is a very competitive place to do business. We've got great companies, and you see that reflected in the markets." He also said that the stock market indices were absolutely a report card on Trump administration economic policy. The custom has been for administration officials not to take credit for stock rallies since the opposition will attack whenever there is a stock market decline.
It may be that the downturn is just temporary. A Business Roundtable survey of U.S. CEO's last week showed them to be the most optimistic they have been since 2009 and another survey of homebuilders found them the most optimistic since 2005. In spite of all the criticism of Trump and his continual lying and controversial tweets, his administration after all contains an enriched collection of creatures from Wall Street who are just waiting to feed on profits from deregulation, tax cuts and military spending. It should not come as a huge surprise that his administration has had a positive effect on markets. It is much too early yet to say whether the present market decline is a Trump Slump or simply a correction in a continuing Trump rally.


Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Islamic State captures police colonel and 8 officers in Mosul

(March 21) During fierce clashes in the Old City of Mosul early Monday Islamic State (IS) fighters captured an Iraqi police colonel and eight other officers as they ran out of ammunition according to an Iraqi Interior Ministry official.

The officers were captured about 3 in the morning in the Bab Jadid district in Mosul. The whereabouts of the officers is not known. The eastern half of the city has already been liberated but they are now battling in the Old City in western Mosul. The offensive on Mosul began about the middle of October last year and on western Mosul this February.The recent battles have been described in a Digital Journal article. Many thousands of civilians remain trapped in the area under IS control. The center of Old Mosul is home to the Al-Nuri mosque where IS leader Abu al_Baghdadi had declared a caliphate in territory controlled by the IS, in July of 2014. There are many narrow alleys in the area that military vehicles cannot enter. An extensive account of the Mosul offensive can be found here.
The Iraqi government now estimates that already 180,000 civilians have fled from Mosul. The government claims that there is enough room for 100,000 more at displacement camps. However, many refugees are having a difficult time finding accommodations. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is in Washington meeting with US President Donald Trump and other officials. He was promised that US support would not only continue but will accelerate. Many terrorist attacks are launched outside of the main battle area. A suicide car bomber in Baghdad killed 23 and wounded 45 more.
As the battle reaches more densely populated areas airstrikes cause many civilian casualties. As an article notes:Families fleeing Mosul in recent weeks have talked of high numbers of civilians killed by air strikes, and said that in many cases Islamic State fighters have already slipped away by the time the bombs hit.
'When the coalition see a sniper on a home, it's five or ten minutes before that house is hit,' Mohammed Mahmoud, a 40-year-old former police officer, told Reuters in another area of Mosul.
The appended video shows some of the cases where civilians were hit by bombing. The Islamic State fighters no doubt try to use the civilians as human shields. Snipers on civilian houses appear to be targeted by bombing attacks if the video is to be believed.


Ban on electronic devices on flights has nothing to do with security

The United States is barring passengers on direct flights from eight Muslim-majority countries from carrying any electronic devices larger than a mobile phone according to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Senior U.S. officials told reporters that nine airlines from the Middle East countries and North Africa have been given 96 hours to ban the devices from the cabin. They can still be checked and stored in baggage compartment. The airports involved are in Egypt. Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and UAE. The devices banned include laptops, e-readers, cameras, tablets, electronic games and portable DVD players.
The DHS claimed that the ban was necessary as "terrorist groups continue to target commercial aviation and are aggressively pursuing innovative methods undertake their attacks, to include smuggling explosive devices in various consumer devices". The DHS issued a statement saying: "Based on this information, Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly and Transportation Security Administration Acting Administrator Huban Gowadia have determined it is necessary to enhance security procedures for passengers at certain last point of departure airports to the United States." The DHS cited the downing of a Russian airliner in Egypt and the attempted downing of an airliner in Somalia both in 2015 as examples of why the restrictions were necessary. One wonders why it took up until now to decide on the restrictions. The restrictions are ridiculous to begin with. A terrorist must simply make sure they not go directly to the US from any of these banned airports. Is there some technical reason the terrorist cannot store the laptop or whatever in the luggage area and detonate it remotely from inside the cabin? Interesting that no U.S. airlines are impacted by the ban. If the aim were security one would think that the ban would apply to direct flights from any airport.
Experts have criticized the ban. Technologists say that the ban at ten airports seems "illogical and at odds with basic computer science". Nicholas Weaver researcher at the International Computer Science Institute at the U of C Berkeley said: “It’s weird, because it doesn’t match a conventional threat model. If you assume the attacker is interested in turning a laptop into a bomb, it would work just as well in the cargo hold.” Just as I thought! Weaver also points out that the same risks would come with smaller devices such as cell phones which are not banned. Bruce Schneier, a security technologist, said the new rules were an onerous travel restriction: “From a technological perspective, nothing has changed between the last dozen years and today. That is, there are no new technological breakthroughs that make this threat any more serious today,. And there is certainly nothing technological that would limit this new found threat to a handful of Middle Eastern airlines.”
As often happens, security concerns can be used as a cover for actions that have a different purpose. In this case the purpose it to impose costs on mostly Middle East airlines that are successfully competing against other airlines including those in America and the U.K. The UK has followed the U.S. lead. A Guardian article notes:U.S. airlines have been lobbying the Trump administration to intervene in the Persian Gulf, where they have contended for years that the investments in three rapidly expanding airlines in the area – Etihad Airways, Qatar, and Emirates – constitute unfair government subsidies with which Delta, American and United cannot compete. All three Middle Eastern airlines are among the carriers affected by the electronics ban.
Trump said on Feb. 9 that he planned to help U.S. airlines compete with foreign carriers he regards as unfairly aided by their governments. Delta Air Lines, United Continental Holdings and American Airlines Group have all been prodding the U.S. government for the last two years claiming that $50 billion in state subsidies has contributed to the growth of Mideast Carriers. A recent article in the Economist goes into detail on this issue. Often those who take direct flights from these airports are business people who want to work on the plane. These customers will now fly to other airports first and then take other airlines to the U.S. The ban is just part of putting American airlines first using safety and defense against terrorists as a smokescreen. The technical complaints are not relevant except to show that the real intent is not the stated intent.


Saudi-led coalition blamed for massacre of over 40 migrants on boat

Foreign Affairs Minister Abdusalam Omer speaking to the Somalia news agency SONNA on state TV demanded answers to the attack on a refugee boat off the coast of Yemen that killed 42 Somali migrants.

Omer said: "We hold the government of Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi and the coalition responsible for the killing of 42 refugees in Yemen They must give dignified burial to the dead treat the wounded and contact their relatives". Omer claimed that the boat that carried over 140 migrants suffered 21 wounded as well as those killed. He said that the an Apache helicopter attacked the boat near the port of Al Hudeibiyah that is controlled by Houthi Shiite rebels who are at war with the Hadi government that is supported by a Saudi-led coalition.
An account in the Independent claims that the attack was not just by an Apache helicopter but a military vessel as well. The Somailia government has urged the U.S.-supported Saudi-led coalition to investigate. The vessel was more than 30 miles off the Yemen coast when attacked. The article quotes Omer as saying: “What happened there was a horrific and terrible problem inflicted on innocent Somali people. The Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen is responsible for it.” Omer said that the Yemen government of Mansour Hadi must give an explanation of the attack which he said injured 80 people--increasing the injured figure from an earlier report. He also said that those responsible for the attack must be brought to justice. In a separate statement Somali Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire described the incident as atrocious and appalling. The Houthi rebels also blamed the Saudi-led coalition for the incident.
Laurent de Boeck head of the Yemeni office of the International Organization for Migration said the agency believe that all those on board the boat were registered refugees. A survivor Al-Hassan Mohammed said the boat left from Ras Arra along the southern coast of Hodeida province in Yemen. It was near the Bab al-Mandab Strait when the attack happened. He said there was a scene of panic as migrants waved flashlights to show they were not combatants. Eventually the helicopter stopped firing but only after dozens were killed. A video of the aftermath shows dozens of slain migrants along with others who had suffered wounds or had broken arms or legs.
The Saudi coalition has been heavily bombing the coast and accuses the rebels of smuggling weapons in small boats. Since the beginning of the Saudi-led air campaign Yemen has been under an air and sea embargo. The Saudi coalition is the only party to the conflict with naval and air forces. Human rights groups have documented many air strikes in which civilians have been killed.
The Saudi-led coalition has denied responsibility for the raid. A statement said that the port of Hodeida should be placed under UN supervision but also said: “We are also aware of allegations that the attack was carried out by a helicopter and naval vessel belonging to the Saudi-led coalition. We can confirm the coalition was not responsible for any attack on a refugee boat on Friday and… there was no firing by any coalition forces on Friday in the area." Putting the port under UN supervision would help the flow of humanitarian aid and at the same time stop the use of the port for weapons smuggling and people trafficking the statement claimed.


US ranks 14th in World Happiness Report, Norway first

The World Happiness Report, was released today the International Day of Happiness. The report is by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network funded by the Ernesto Illy Foundation.
 

The survey ranks 155 countries by their happiness levels. The report for 2017 is the fifth one to come out since 2012. The first report was in support of the UN High Level meeting on happiness and well-being. Happiness and well-being measures have since become important measures of human progress. The survey is of one thousand people in each country and asks them rank on a scale of 0 to 10 whether they are living their best life: "Researchers then use six measures to try to understand the results: gross domestic product per capita, life expectancy, support from relatives or friends, charitable giving, freedom to make life choices, and perceived levels of government and corporate corruption." The rankings use averages of the last three years of surveys.
The U.S. continued to fall in the rankings to 14th among the 155 countries but in terms of developed OECD countries it fared even worse coming in just 19th of the 34 countries in the organization. Economist, Jeffrey Sachs, one of the editors of the report said: “The predominant political discourse in the United States is aimed at raising economic growth, with the goal of restoring the American Dream and the happiness that is supposed to accompany it. But the data show conclusively that this is the wrong approach.” Sachs is show on the appended video. He appears to be talking about the previous years report.
This year Norway took the top ranking followed by Denmark previously at the top and then Iceland. Syria, Tanzania, Burundi, and the Central African Republic were the least happy. Canada was in the top ten ranking 7th.
The happiness level is not likely to be increased much by an increase in GDP as compared to improvement of other aspects of life researchers claim. For example, the happiness index is falling in part because of a perceived increase in corruption and a decrease in social support. To make up for this GDP would need to increase per person by a whopping $82,000. The authors estimate to get back to 2006 levels of happiness per-person GDP would need to grow by $133,000. As for ways to boost US happiness ratings:Sachs suggested five means by which to improve social trust: campaign finance reform, policies aimed at reducing income inequality (such as public financing of health), improved social relations between native born and immigrant Americans, working to move past the fear of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and improved access to high-quality education.Sachs claims that the U.S. was facing a social crisis not an economic one.
Canada's ranking of seventh is the lowest it has had since the rankings began in 2012. Canada has usually taken 5th or 6th spot. Canada's actual score this year was 7.316 versus 7.404 in 2016 and 7.427 in 2015. John Helliwell, an economist at the University of British Columbia and lead author of the report said: "It's the human things that matter. If the riches make it harder to have frequent and trustworthy relationships between people, is it worth it?' Of Norway the highest ranking country the report said that such qualities as freedom, caring, generosity honesty, health, income and good governance kept Norwegians happy even though revenues were falling due to the steep decline in oil prices. The report noted: "By choosing to produce its oil slowly, and investing the proceeds for the future rather than spending them in the present, Norway has insulated itself from the boom and bust cycle of many other resource-rich economies."
The top ten countries all ranked highly in terms of income, healthy life expectancy, having someone to count on in times of trouble, generosity, freedom and trust. The least happy countries all suffer from deep economic problems but also civil war or internal violence as well as in Syria.


Monday, March 27, 2017

Recent Global Wealth Report shows US most unequal

Figures released by the Credit Suisse Global Wealth Reports for November 2016 show that the US remains the fourth highest in mean wealth per adult at $344,692 after Switzerland, Iceland and Australia.

However, the United States dropped from 25th to 27th in median wealth per adult since the 2014 figures. The median now per adult is $44,977. While the figures show that the US is getting wealthier it is also increasing in inequality. One measure of inequality is the ratio between the mean and median wealth per adult. The 2017 Credit Suisse report can be found here.
The relatively low level of the median wealth shows that many Americans simply do not have adequate resources for retirement. Many will be particularly hard hit when their income drops precipitously when they retire. As many as 49% of private sector workers in the US have no retirement plan at all. If Social Security is cut as many Republicans want, there could be a great deal of poverty among seniors.
Ranked according to inequality based on the ratio of median to mean income the United States comes first. The median income is $44,977 and the mean is $344,692 or a ratio of 7.66. Number 2 is Denmark with median $52,279 and mean $259,816 for a ratio on 4.97. Canada was ranked 8th with a ratio of 2.80. The United States ratio is 50 percent higher than the next highest rate and over two and a half times that of Canada which is only 8th of 29 that are ranked.
The Report notes that wealth inequality is increasing across the globe:The report further establishes that wealth inequality, measured by the share of the wealthiest 1 percent and wealthiest 10 percent of adults, as compared to the rest of the world's adult population, continues to rise. While the bottom half collectively own less than 1 percent of total wealth, the wealthiest top 10 percent own 89 percent of all global assets.
The top one per cent alone own 51 percent of the world's total wealth.
The report also shows that emerging economies are contributing a larger percentage to world wealth. In 2000 they contributed only 12 percent but in 2016 they contributed almost 25 percent. Emerging nations are also home to 18 percent of those with ultra-high net worth. China alone accounts for 9 percent of this group, a much larger percentage than France, Germany or the United Kingdom. In 2016 Switzerland had a total household wealth of $3.5 trillion or 1.4 percent of global assets while it is has only 0.1 percent of global population.


Saturday, March 25, 2017

Islamist leader's body exhumed and displayed in Benghazi Libya

The Libyan National Commission for Human RIghts (LNCHR) has condemned the exhumation and apparent mutilation of the Islamist leader Jamal Makhzoum in Benghazi as a heinous war crime.

According to the Libya Herald there is a widely shared social media video showing the decomposing body of Makhzoum strapped to the front of a car. It was kicked and then paraded by LNA fighters. They also shoot guns in the air in celebration. The LNA just recently captured a 12-building apartment complex from Islamist opponents as shown on the appended video. Article 15 of the 1949 first Geneva Convention says that parties to a conflict must prevent dead bodies from being despoiled. The LNCHR claimed the treatment of Makhzoum's body was a "despicable and heinous crime incompatible with human values". Makhzoum was the former leader of the Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council (BRSC). He had been killed last week in the Ganfouda area which has just recently been completely taken by the Libyan National Army (LNA). Other photos show dead BRSC fighters thrown on top of each other and LNA fighters pose with the bodies taking "selfies". LNA spokesperson Ahmed Mismari said that a mass grave of Islamist militants had been found yesterday that included the body of Makhzoum and also that of several Ansar al-Sharia commanders. Many on social media found the footage disgusting and compared the behavior to that of the Islamic State that showed beheadings on line. During the time of Qaddafi images of hanged and mutilated corpses were often displayed. The LNCHR also called for an immediate investigation.
The Libya Observer, which is anti-Haftar, also covered the event. It notes that this was not the first desecration of bodies by Haftar in which members of the Sahawat units set fire to the bodies of dead BRSC fighters while shouting insults. The bodies were apparently taken out of the Benghazi Medical Centre and burned in the garden of the center while people watched.
In another incident a radical Salafist group that fought alongside Haftar's Libyan National Army showed a video in which a rival fighter was executed in Benghazi. The Tariq Ben Ziyad Fighting Brigade released the video of the execution of Randa Al-Abad a day after his arrest in the city of Ajdabiya. He was accused of belonging to the Islamic State (IS). Al-Abad was killed by a machine gun blast at close range.
The Observer reports that Makhzoum had been buried 5 days ago on March 14 in the Ganfouda area where BRSC controlled the 12 apartment complex. The Observer claims that the BRSC broke through the siege by Haftar's forces and managed to escape but 20 were killed and others became prisoners. According to the Observer, Makhzoum's body was not only paraded through the streets but also hung outside the Saiga Camp on display. The Observer claims that the crime was committed by Mahmoud Al-Wirfalli whom they claim is under instruction from radical Salafist scholars.
The head of the Presidential Council, Faiez Serrage reacted with a tweet: Serraj: "We condemn the exhumation of graves & regional slogans, #Libya will not be under military or individual rule". Another tweet compares the event to the treatment of Gaddafi who was savagely killed after being captured and eventually his body was put on display. A tweet says: Just like what happened to Qaddafi, LNA soldiers parade BRSC leader Jalal Makhzoum's corps."Not a good sign … #Libya." Another tweet argues the events aren't that comparable: @Eljarh just don't equate the2, both are awful, but to dig up a dead body, mutilate it and then parade it around town?No different form Isis. Another tweet notes that Haftar's forces call themselves a national army and should be expected to behave as such and follow the rules of war.


The theremin an early untouchable unique electronic instrument

The Theremin named after the Russian physicist Leon Theremin ( Lev Termin in Russian) is an early electronic musical instrument somewhat unique in that it is played without physical contact.

As Wikipedia describes the theremin's control:
The instrument's controlling section usually consists of two metal antennas that sense the relative position of the thereminist's hands and control oscillators for frequency with one hand, and amplitude (volume) with the other. The electric signals from the theremin are amplified and sent to a loudspeaker.Here is an early clip of Theremin demonstrating the instrument:
Theremin was an inventive genius and was working on wireless TV between 1925 to 1927: "During this time Theremin was also working on a wireless television with 16 scan lines in 1925, improving to 32 scan lines and then 64 using interlacing in 1926, and he demonstrated moving, if blurry, images on 7 June 1927.[19]"
Theremin's invention of the Theremin was virtually accidental. He was doing Soviet government sponsored research into proximity sensors. He noticed that when he moved his hand closer to a unit that the sound changed. This was in October 1920. He made a lengthy tour of Europe demonstrating his instrument to packed houses. Theremin subsequently move to the United States where he patented the Theremin in 1928. He eventually sold rights to the Theremin to RCA.
The Theremin has featured in many movie soundtracks such as Spellbound and the Day the Earth Stood Still. The complex opening theme of the Earth Stood Still uses two Theremins among many other instruments:
Although the Theremin failed commercially there were still performers who were able to draw crowds to hear it and a number of composers created music for it. The theme of the television drama Midsomer Murders also features the Theremin as shown on the appended video:
Theremin made an abrupt return to the Soviet Union from the United States in 1938. There were various stories about why he left. Some people claimed he was simply homesick. Others believe he had been kidnapped by Soviet officials. Theremin's wife at the time Livania claimed he had been kidnapped from his studio by some Russians and she felt he would be taken out of the country. The real reason Theremin left was due to tax and financial problems in the US. No doubt his wife's story was designed to keep debt collectors away!
However, not long after he returned to the USSR he was imprisoned and sent to work in Kolyma gold mines. However, there were many rumours he had been executed. In fact, Theremin was put to work not in the gold mines but in a secret lab that was part of the system. The Soviet Union rehabilitated him in 1956.
Apparently Theremin's talents were put to work by the USSR while in prison as he invented a listening device called The Thing:Theremin invented another listening device called The Thing. Disguised in a replica of the Great Seal of the United States carved in wood, in 1945 Soviet school children presented the concealed bug to U.S. Ambassador as a "gesture of friendship" to the USSR's World War II ally. It hung in the ambassador’s residential office in Moscow and intercepted confidential conversations there during the first seven years of the Cold War, until it was accidentally discovered in 1952.[29]
Theremin visited the United States again in 1991. He ended up dying in Moscow at the ripe old age of 97 in 1993.
After the end of the Second World War, the Theremin began to fall into disuse as newer electronic instruments were introduced and were much easier to play. It still remained of interest to a few electronics enthusiasts, including Robert Moog who began building Theremins in the 1950's while still a high school student. Moog claimed that what he learned from the experience helped his create the famous Moog Synthesizer. The release of the award winning film "Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey" in 1994 revived interest in the Theremin. The music critic Harold Schonberg claims that the theremin sound is like "a cello lost in dense fog, crying because it does not know how to get home".
There are many different type of Theremin. On 20 July 2013, a group of 272 theremin players (Matryomin ensemble) in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka, Japan, achieved a Guinness world record as the largest theremin ensemble. The name Matryomin is from the words matryoshka, the Russian dolls, and theremin.


Mass demonstration in Tripoli against militias in the city

Thousands of Libyans have mounted a mass demonstration against the powerful militias that dominate Tripoli. The demonstration was in the Martyr's Square.

The demonstrators shouted slogans against the militias and demanded a unified army and police. The city has been rocked by clashes the last few days. Khalifa Ghwell who was attempting a coup lost his headquarters at the Rixos hotel complex. A ceasefire was reached yesterday but some key militia rejected it and there have been further clashes since.
There were some who shouted support for Khalifa Haftar commander of the rival Libyan National Army linked to the Tobruk-based House of Representatives (HoR). Haftar is opposed not only to the Tripoli militias but the UN-brokered Government of National Accord as well. Mohamed Zein, a 27-year-old protestor said: "We won't go home until our demands are met. We ask for all militias that have come from outside of Tripoli to leave immediately."
The protesters marched peacefully demanding that all illegitimate militia leave Tripoli as was also part of the recent ceasefire agreement. They demanded the activation of police and army institutions in the capital. The Libya Observer claims that supporters of Khalifa Haftar had infiltrated the protests and started to shout slogans in support of him as well as racist slogans against the city of Misrata. Some militia in Tripoli come from Misrata.
After this happened gunmen in pickups stormed the square and fired shots into the air in order to intimidate the protesters and disperse the protestors. In spite of the gunfire, there has as yet been no report of casualties. The Grand Mufti, Al-Sadiq Al-Gharyani, accused Khalifa Haftar as being behind recent clashes. He denounced the silence of the official authorities toward the ongoing clashes. The PC was able to reach a ceasefire as mentioned earlier but it does not include some key militia. There appear to have been a number of different causes of the clashes among militia with varying agendas.
There have been numerous tweets on the demonstrations and related events. One tweet notes that 22 militia announce that they support the GNA government: "22 Local militias in Tripoli announce (for the first time) that they are part of Libyan UN backed gov. UN gov supporting militias officially." No doubt this sudden loyalty to the GNA is related to a desire not to be ordered out of Tripoli. Another tweet reports on the gunmen who broke up the demonstration: Witnesses: "3 vehicles fired shots in the air to intimidate protesters against militias in Tripoli. #Libya." The gunmen have yet to be identified.


An early electronic instrument the Trautonium

The Trautonium is an early electronic musical instrument invented about 1929 by Friedrich Trautwein in Berlin at his Musikhochschule' music and radio lab, the Rundfunkversuschstelle. The instrument is named after Trautwein.

Soon Trautwein was joined by Oskar Sala who helped develop the Trautonium until his death in 2002. Sala was a German physicist, composer, and a pioneer of electronic music. In 1948 Sala further developed the Trautonium into the Mixtur-Trautonum:
The Mixtur-Trautonium allowed for the first time in music history the execution of sounds which had only been known in theory since the Middle Ages, but were never actually playable[example needed]. Sala's invention opened the field of subharmonics, the symmetric counterpart to overtones, so that a thoroughly distinct tuning evolved.[6]
During the 40's and 50's Sala worked on numerous film scores perhaps the best known the non-musical soundtrack for Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds. Click the You Tube icon to watch the video:
Oskar Sala was a pupil of the German composer Paul Hindemith who was quite interested in the Trautonium and wrote a number of selections for it. On the 20th of June 1930, the Trautonium was introduced by Hindemith and Sala at a concert called Neue Musik Berlin 1930. The concert included the 7 trio pieces for three Trautoniums by Paul Hindemith. A more recent performance is available on You Tube:
Hindemith himself played the top part, Sala the middle part, and Rudolph Schmidt the bass part. There was a positive response to the music that caused Hindemith to write more for the Trautonium including a concertino for trautonium and strings:
Sala did not teach his art to any pupils until Peter Pichler a Munich musician and artist met Sala in his Berlin studios in 1996. Pichler had heard the sound as a young man and was fascinated by the emotional impact and dynamic range of the sound. He searched far and wide for someone who understood the instrument and finally tracked down Sala. Much of Sala's knowledge has been preserved as a result. Pichler is one of the few musicians who has mastered the Trautonium as well as composing for it. There is an appended video with Pichler playing two short pieces by Hindemith in a very weird studio! The Trautonium is an early predecessor of the much more versatile electronic synthesizers such as the Moog synthesizer.


Friday, March 24, 2017

Tripoli ceasefire among militias fails to hold

(March 16) The Presidency Council(PC) of the UN-brokered Government of National Accord (GNA) was able to broker an agreement among many brigades to stop fighting in Tripoli after many clashes the previous night.

For some reason Faiez Serraj the PM and head of the PC was not in attendance. PC member Ahmed Hamza and the Defense Minister Mihid al-Barghati chaired the meeting. The meeting was held in the Abu Sittah Naval Base one of the few secure areas to meet in Tripoli no doubt. The municipal councils of Misrata, Souq Al-Jonaa and Central Tripoli also took part. Commanders of loyal armed brigades from Misrata and Tripoli also participated.
The agreement requires all armed brigades "rival ones" to withdraw from Tripoli as set out in the Libya Political Agreement (LPA). The Tripoli Revolutionaries' Brigade(TRB) and Ghaniewa of the UN PC launched an offensive again other groups several days ago and drove them out of several areas of the capital. However under the agreement control will be handed over to other loyal brigades from the city of Misrata:“Brigade 301 of the Ministry of Defense will be tasked to guard the Ministry of Interior,” the agreement indicated. Brigade 301 is from Misrata and known as Al-Halboos Brigade. Regarding protection of Rixos compound, the agreement stated that it would be handed over to Brigade 14 and Brigade 155, both are also Misrata. Brigade 17, also from Misrata, was tasked with the protection of Airport Road, a region where several rival groups are located.The agreement immediately ran into difficulties as Ghaniewa that is in control of the RIxos compound backed out and said it was not part of the agreement.
The above account is from the Libya Observer. The Libya Herald also covers the ceasefire. The Herald account notes that in the fighting the leader of the National Salvation Government, Khalifa Ghwell who was attempting a coup against the GNA had been injured in the fighting. As discussed in a recent Digital Journal article, Ghwell was driven out of his headquarters in the Rixos hotel complex. He is said to have been taken to Misrata for treatment. According to the Herald the agreement provides for the departure of armed factions "beyond the law" from Tripoli as required by the LPA. It is not clear which militia are "beyond the law" or who is to ensure that the agreement terms are obeyed by militias. It may not matter because it seems that several important militia groups did not agree to the deal according to reports. The Rada Special Deterrence Force headed by Abdul Kara, and the Abu Sleem Central Security Force headed by Gheneiwa or Abdul Al-Kikli have not agreed to the deal.
Earlier today Bunyan Marsous commanders from Misrata said they were sending 1500 armoured vehicles to "force the establishment of peace and security in Tripoli". The Herald did not know what had happened to the operation.
In a later article, the Herald notes that the ceasefire had been rejected by the Tripoli Revolutionaries Brigade headed by Haytem Tajouri . The Brigade said it would continue its advance and there were unconfirmed reports of minor clashes breaking out again. The TRB said that with no legitimate army to keep order it would protect the people. The TRB said that it would never be satisfied with "half measures and formal agreements". The TRB also accused fighters from other towns of sowing instability in Tripoli.
There was an attack on al-Hadhba prison today that killed several guards as reported in a recent tweet: Very serious developments, heavy fighting near al-Hadhba prison, where former regime senior officials are held. There may be more clashes happening soon as the PC agreement does not include at least three key militia groups in Tripoli.


US deployment of missile system in South Korea angers China and Russia

While the sped-up deployment of the US Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) to South Korea increased tension with North Korea, it also led to angry responses from Russia and China particularly China.

Early reports indicated that THAAD missiles would have a relatively short range that would reach throughout North Korea. The system will actually have a much longer range able to penetrate deep into Chinese and Russian territory:
According to China’s Xinhua news outlet, South Korea earlier had claimed that the THAAD would be deployed with a detection range of some 600 kilometers, sufficient to cover its North Korean foe. Now though it appears that the US Pentagon is upgrading the radar working range of the system to reach 2,000 kms. With that much greater additional scope, the American missile system on the Korean Peninsula will be able to penetrate deep into Chinese and Russian territory. Beijing and Vladivostok are less that 1,000 kms from South Korea’s capital Seoul.
There have been protests from China and Russia about the deployment. There are even protests in South Korea where residents of areas where THAAD will be deployed worry that they will become targets. The reaction in China has been particularly heated with threats to take retaliatory action. One article suggests that Chinese should not travel to South Korea as tourists and should not buy goods from the country: "Chinese consumers should become the main force in teaching Seoul a lesson, punishing the nation through the power of the market."
Both China and Russia claim that the deployment would upset the balance of power in the region. While the US and South Korea claim that the move is simply defensive it also allows the US to have the power of first strike not just against North Korea but also against Russia or China since THAAD can respond to any attempt to respond to the strike.
The speed-up in deployment was apparently a response to four ballistic missiles test-fired by North Korea recently. Components of the system arrived in South Korea aboard a giant C-17 military transport plane based in Texas. However, the North Korean action was itself as response to what it considers US South Korean provocations:The communist government of Kim Jung-un had warned that the latest ballistic test firing would go ahead in response to the current US war maneuvers being conducted with its South Korean ally. The Foal-Eagle US war exercises are carried out every year and last for two months, involving up to 300,000 troops, aircraft carriers and aerial bombers. The annual «war games» have been going on for decades since the end of the Korean War in 1953, which North Korea has repeatedly denounced as a drill for the eventual invasion of its territory.
Both Russia and China are worried that the real target for the missile systems are them rather than North Korea. North Korea is used as an excuse for deployment. For Russia the situation appears similar to the US missile deployments in Romania and Poland supposedly meant to defend Europe against Iranian ballistic missiles. Moscow considers that the real target is Russia. As with the THAAD system in Korea, the eastern European system protects the EU against any first strike response by Russia to an attack by NATO or others.
The US also has increased tensions with China by deploying the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson to the disputed waters of the South China Sea claiming this is just part of maritime "routine operations". Accompanying the aircraft carrier is the guided-missile destroyer USS Wayne Meyer. The Vinson has more than 60 aircraft. Trump appears to be taking a more confrontational approach towards China, although Obama was also trying to increase US power in the region with his Pivot to Asia.. The US defends its actions by claiming that it is defending the freedom of navigation in disputed territories. However it also sends a message that the US is still the hegemon in the region. The THAAD deployment also pleases and feeds the US military industrial complex:The THAAD system is being designed, built, and integrated by Lockheed Martin Space Systems acting as prime contractor. Key subcontractors include Raytheon, Boeing, Aerojet, Rocketdyne, Honeywell, BAE Systems, Oshkosh Defense, MiltonCAT and the Oliver Capital Consortium.[6]


Thursday, March 23, 2017

PM of Libyan Salvation government driven from his headquarters in Tripoli

There were many different clashes taking place in Tripoli last night but one involved the Rixos hotel and adjacent buildings that are the headquarters of the Salvation Government and Khalifa Ghwell its leader.

Khalifa Ghwell attempted a coup against the UN-brokered Government of National Accord (GNA) last October. While he did not succeed, he and his supporters were able to take over the Rixos hotel and adjacent residences. They have even been involved in opening a power plant and of part of the repaired Tripoli International Airport.
A summary of the situation in Tripoli as of today is given by the Libya Observer. After clashes last night, the Rixos hotel is now said to be under control of the Ghaniewa armed brigade loyal to the Presidential Council (PC) of the GNA. There is no traffic and several roads are blocked and there are several security checkpoints. The Libya Herald reports that the pro-Ghwell were driven out by the Tripoli Revolutionaries Brigade of Haytem Tajouri who joined forces with Ghaniewa led by Abdul al-Kikli. Ghaniewa's forces are now said to be protecting the hotel and associated buildings. PM of the Salvation government, Khalifa Ghwell is reported to have been slightly injured before he and his guards retreated under heavy fire.
Since Ghwell's forces are mostly from Misrata there were allegations that Tajouri, had deliberately targeted homes of those originally from Misrata, but Tajouri has denied this. Al-Nabaa TV an opponent of the GNA but also of Haftar was attacked and burned. Some believe that Al-Nabaa is controlled by Abdulhakim Belhadj.
The Habda hospital near the Rixos complex suffered a fire in the children's ward caused by the nearby fighting. The children were being moved to the nearby Tripoli Medical Centre
The fighting in Tripoli shows that the GNA is weak but it is also weakening those associated with Ghwell who are strongly opposed to Haftar. With the retaking of the oil ports and a continuing offensive against the Benghazi Defense Brigades, Haftar appears to be strengthening his position. However, he has his troubles. According to the Libyan Observer, Haftar's Arrest and Investigation Squad led by Ahmed Gharor was ambushed in the city of Ajdabiya. Sources say that Gharor was killed among other fighters in the squad as a result.
The Tripoli clashes make it even more evident that to be successful Tripoli must solve its militia problem. The most urgent security need for the GNA is to replace the numerous militias in its area of control, especially in Tripoli, by one army and police force. Perhaps the Salvation Government will disappear from the scene at least temporarily as it has done before.


Turkish military claims to have killed more than 70 Kurdish fighters in Syria in one week.

A statement by the Turkish military claimed that Turkish troops have killed at least 71 fighters from Kurdish YPG during the past week in Syria. They also claimed that since invading Syria they have killed 425 Kurds.
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Wikipedia, describes the YPG as follows:
The People's Protection Units (Kurdish: Yekîneyên Parastina Gel‎, یەکینەکانی پاراستنی گەل pronounced [jɑkinæjen pɑrɑstinɑ gæl]; YPG) is the militia of the Democratic Union Party, the primary component of Rojava's Syrian Democratic Forces, and the Syrian affiliate of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) according to the Turkish government.
The Turkish government considers the YPG as a terrorist group but not the Americans who support the YPG. The YPG are part of the umbrella group Syrian Democratic Forces(SDF) that includes more than Kurds. The U.S. has been attempting to try to prevent clashes between the YPG and Turkish troops as discussed in a recent Digital Journal article.
The US already has embedded a number of Army Rangers in the city of Manbij to forestall any Turkish attack. The Turks originally focused on Islamic State targets but have always said that they intend to eliminate not just the Islamic State but the YPG as well. However, the U.S. considers the YPG to be a key ally in defeating the Islamic State. Turkish officials have expressed anger that the U.S. claims that the Kurds are not all terrorists insisting the the U.S. has lost its senses.
Cihan Sheikh Ehmed, a spokesperson for the SDF forces said that it has enough forces to take the de facto Islamic Syrian capital with the help of the U.S.-led coalition. This statement is perhaps a veiled warning to Turks not to become involved as they are also heading towards the city. U.S. troops appear to be playing a larger role on the ground in the offensive towards Raqqa. Ehmed's remarks are likely to anger Turkey as it would like Turkish troops and rebels it supports to lead the offensive not the SDF dominated by the YPG that it considers terrorists.
The U.S. has been launching many air strikes on Raqqa as the SDF forces advance closer to the city. 13 strikes were reported on various targets. The Turks and allied Syrian rebels claim to have killed 2,647 Islamic State (IS) fighters and added more than 2,000 square kilometers (772 square miles) to the territory they control. The Assad regime wants Turkey to remove its troops. Syrian state media reported last Friday that Turkish troops had shelled Syrian army positions killing and wounding several troops.
Trump was given a new plan for defeating the Islamic State late in February. While the White House has yet to decide upon the options outlined in the plan, recent deployments of U.S. troops into Syria suggest that the Pentagon is being allowed greater flexibility in making routine combat decisions and increasing troop numbers.
The Russians also have been on the offensive in Syria helping Assad and defeating the IS:The Russian military said Friday that its warplanes have killed more than 600 militants in just one week while backing the Syrian army's offensive against IS. Col. Gen. Sergei Rudskoi of the military's General Staff said Russian aircraft have carried out 452 airstrikes in support of the Syrian government forces. In addition, Rudskoi stated that Syrian government forces have recaptured 92 towns and villages across a territory of 479 square kilometers, or 185 square miles, from IS in the past week.
While the IS seems to be close to losing the last major city it holds in Iraq there is increasing danger of further conflict of Turkish forces with the SDF, a situation the U.S. is anxious to avoid.