The real Amazons keep their secrets

October 30, 2014
Sarmatian (Amazon) warriior woman (image from RealmsofGold)

Sarmatian (Amazon) warriior woman (image from RealmsofGold)

The stories of the mythical warrior women of central Asia are largely based on the writings of the Greeks and the stories date back to the 8th and the 7th centuries BCE (Homer’s Iliad). By the 5th century BCE, Herodotus refers to a group pf warrior women taken prisoner by the Greeks, who overwhelmed their captors on board ship and then intermingled with the Scythians to give rise to the Sauromatians (6th – 4th centuries BCE) and who in turn evolved to become the nomadic Sarmatians around the 4th century BCE. The Sarmatians  held sway for some 900 years until around 500 CE. If the myths of the Amazon women are based on reality then the reality must pre-date Homer. The original Amazons must then refer to the warrior-women among the ancestors of the Sauromatian peoples who roamed the steppes of southern Russia / central Asia. On horse-back presumably.

By the time of the Sauromatians and the succeeding Sarmatians, the warrior women traditions have also evolved.  There is archaeological evidence from the graves of martial, noble women who were interred together with their finery, their weapons and even their horses. Many graves previously just assumed to be those of male warriors have now been revealed by DNA testing to be of women warriors. More than 25% of such graves are now thought to be of women. Such a wide-spread culture must have originated long before.

Adrienne Mayor has a new book out The Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Women Across the Ancient World which I have been reading over the last few days. It is a fascinating collection of the various myths surrounding the warrior women though it does not bring any light to bear on who they actually were beyond saying they were Scythians. But she does show that many of the myths are just myths and the reality was probably more mundane than the highly erotic, sensationalised version of the Greeks. In fact some of the Greek writings were clearly the tabloid press of their day. Her book is highly readable but it is a compendium of the writings about the Amazons rather than any new theory or hypothesis about their origins. She herself call it her “Encyclopaedia Amazonica”.

The steely women who cut off one breast to accommodate their archery needs was just fiction. There is no evidence that they were “man-eating” – in more ways than one – as the tabloids of the day were wont to narrate. The idea of man-hating, lesbian, hordes, armed to the teeth and rampaging and pillaging innocent heterosexual communities across the steppes made a good story then as it would today. Equally the vision of bands of warrior-virgins ensuring their own extinction was just pulp-fiction. The Persians like the Amazon were enemies who came from the East and many Persian characteristics were attributed to and embellished the Amazon myths. But in Greek – Amazon interactions, the warrior-woman is always conquered by a Greek hero figure!

But there is little doubt in my mind that around 3,000 years ago the Amazons existed.  They were a nomadic community across the steppes of central Asia where women were as likely to be warriors or rulers as men. The had a hierarchical structure but the hierarchy was not based on gender (probably). They were not a horde like the Mongols who came much later. But they were nomadic and they did not allow others to push them around as they rode across their territories. The women were clearly accomplished horse-women. Their economy was based on horses rather than cattle. They used hallucinogenic plant extracts and used tattoos (as marks of status or rank perhaps). They were probably the ancestors of the Sauromatians. They were also arguably the most gender-neutral culture ever to exist – and that includes the present day.

An excellent read.

Big Pharma’s “Pay-for-delay” tactics delay generic drugs and kill people

October 30, 2014

It is not often that the Huffington Post can bring itself to criticise President Obama. But even their usual blind support for Democrats in general and for Barack Obama in particular has taken a back-seat to their outrage over Obama’s support for Big Pharma and his opposition to generic drugs (often from India) and to Medicines Sans Frontiers (Doctors without borders).

Much of their indignation is due to the collusive practice of “pay-for delay” agreements made by Big Pharma with drug manufacturers – often in developing countries – to delay the introduction of generic medicines – many for life threatening conditions. The purpose of course is to keep their prices high and to maximise their profits on their successful drugs. They delayed the introduction of generic AIDS drugs and are now opposing the introduction of cancer fighting generics.

ThinkProgress: ….. the widespread and arguably collusive practice of “reverse payment” settlements — commonly referred to as “pay for delay” — between brand name drug manufacturers and their cheaper generic drug counterparts. Such arrangements involve brand name drug makers paying off generic manufacturers to delay a generic drug’s release into the market, allowing the brand name producers to further profit off of their significantly more expensive drugs. …..

The practice has been quite successful in maintaining profits. But in the developed world the high – and protected – cost of medicines take away from other resources (people and equipment). In the developing world it denies treatment to many who need it. The difference in price between a generic drug and a “brand name” drug is almost obscene. AIDS treatments of over $12,000 per year reduced to less than $400 using generics from India. A generic version of Nexavar (for treatment of liver and kidney cancer) reduced cost of treatment from $5,000 per month to just $157 per month.

A generic drug only enters the market after patent protection has expired. The original developer has by then had his time to exploit his invention. Production costs at Big Pharma are perhaps upto twice that at low-cost manufacturers – but not much more. Yet they often have support from their governments in the developed countries (in extension of patent protection through patent “bombing” and in global and bi-lateral trade agreements) in maintaining prices which are hundreds of times higher than the production cost.

In an article today HuffPo writes:

Obama Has Been Fighting Doctors Without Borders For Years

It’s a little unusual to see the Obama administration singing the praises of Doctors Without Borders, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning nonprofit that is shipping doctors, drugs and supplies to West Africa to combat the Ebola outbreak. …… But the recent executive branch acclaim for Doctors Without Borders obscures a long-running struggle between the humanitarian group and the White House over global drug prices. Through trade talks, meetings with foreign governments and negotiations with multiple U.N. bodies, the Obama administration has aggressively pursued policies that prevent poor countries from accessing low-cost generic versions of expensive name-brand medications, despite persistent calls from Doctors Without Borders for the White House to reverse course.

Americans pay the highest prescription drug prices in the world. Those prices are elevated in large part by aggressive intellectual property standards that grant pharmaceutical companies long-term monopolies on new drugs, letting firms charge whatever they want without regard to traditional market pressures. Generic drugs can’t enter the market whenever those monopolies are in place. Doctors Without Borders, along with many other medical groups and nonprofits, has spent years advocating for looser standards and greater flexibility for developing countries.

Drug companies, of course, argue that they need patents and other government perks to recoup their research and development costs. Large U.S. drug companies don’t seem to be having trouble breaking even, however. Pfizer made $22 billion in 2013, while Merck & Co. posted a $4.5 billion profit and Eli Lilly & Co. earned $4.7 billion.

India’s generic drug market has been at the center of disputes between the White House and Doctors Without Borders. AIDS and HIV medication was wildly expensive in developing countries in the late 1990s — about $12,000 a year per patient in South Africa, a country with an average income of just $2,600 a year, for instance. When Indian generics entered the global market, they were priced as low as $1 a day, enabling programs like George W. Bush’s global AIDS relief plan to serve millions of people.

U.S. drug companies are particularly concerned about repeating that experience with expensive cancer treatments, and they’ve been backed up by the Obama administration, which has placed India on it’s international trade blacklist. In the spring of 2012, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Deputy Director Teresa Stanek Rea attacked India’s government in congressional testimony for approving a generic version of a Bayer AG cancer drug called Nexavar. The generic version cost patients$157 a month. Bayer had been charging over $5,000 a month there, in a country with a per capita income of just $1,410 per year, a price so high that less than 2 percent of potential patients were able to access the drug. But before Congress, Rea falsely called the generic approval an “egregious” violation of World Trade Organization treaties.

Doctors Without Borders called it “unprecedented, really shocking testimony,” but it wasn’t a one-time gaffe from an obscure agency official. In the summer of 2013, Secretary of State John Kerry went to India to pressure its government over its approval of generic versions of patented U.S. and European drugs. When India’s new prime minister, Narendra Modi, made his first visit to the United States in September of this year, Doctors Without Borders urged him to resist the Obama administration’s demands on generic medicine.

“India’s production of affordable medicines is a vital life-line for MSF’s medical humanitarian operations and millions of people in developing countries,” said Rohit Malpani, director of policy and analysis for MSF’s Access Campaign. “India’s patent laws and policies have fostered robust generic competition over the past decade, which has brought the price of medicines down substantially — in the case of HIV, by more than 90 percent. The world can’t afford to see India’s pharmacy shut down by U.S. commercial interests.”

Big Pharma is surely entitled to make a reasonable profit from its inventions. The development costs of unsuccessful drugs also has to be paid for. But any concept of Intellectual Property (which itself is deeply flawed) can be defended when it is based on the denial of the benefits of the invention to other than a privileged few. A denial to the point of loss of life.

“Free will” is further circumscribed as two genes associated with violence are identified

October 29, 2014

The range of application of human “free will” is increasingly being circumscribed as we identify genes which are associated with specific behavioural characteristics. This is not to say that any gene or set of genes makes certain specific behaviour inevitable – but it does say that that particular behaviour is more probable for that individual. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that an individual’s gene set defines (and therefore constrains) the envelope of possible behaviour. But that itself means that he can only exercise “free will” within the envelope of possible behaviour that is available to him.

A new study from Finland has identified two genes associated with violent crime. The study of 900 Finnish criminals is published in Molecular Psychiatry.


Variants in two genes were significantly more common in Finnish criminals convicted of multiple violent crimes compared with the general population, researchers said.

Statistical analysis indicated that 5% to 10% of all severe violent crime in Finland could be attributed to these variants, affecting the genes for monoamine oxidase A (MAOA) and CDH13, a neuronal membrane adhesion molecule, according to Jari Tiihonen, MD, PhD, of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, and colleagues.

Offenders who had committed 10 or more serious violent crimes were significantly more like to carry one of several loss-of-function variants in the MAOA gene (odds ratio 2.66, 95% CI 1.60-4.42) or the so-called rs11649622 variant in the CDH13 gene (OR 2.72, 95% CI 1.77-4.15), versus participants in population-based survey studies in Finland who were considered representative of the general population.

Criminal offenders with no violent crime convictions showed no increases in risk of carrying the flagged MAOA/CDH13, with an OR of 1.12-1.13 relative to the population-based sample, which did not approach statistical significance.

In their report published online in Molecular Psychiatry, they acknowledged that crime “is a complex phenomenon, and the outcome is shaped by both genetic and environmental factors.”

But that doesn’t mean that genetic contributors cannot be identified, they argued. “It is plausible that while research of the genetic background of criminal or violent behavior is hampered by many confounding factors, focusing on extreme phenotypes might yield more robust results,” Tiihonen and colleagues wrote.

J Tiihonen et al, Genetic background of extreme violent behavior, Molecular Psychiatry , (28 October 2014), doi:10.1038/mp.2014.130

This may not have much practical application yet, and there are certainly many more genes which also predispose to violence and a genetic screening for “violent” tendencies is not coming any time soon. Violent tendencies are also certainly not only due to genes and nurture surely has a very significant part to play.

AbstractIn developed countries, the majority of all violent crime is committed by a small group of antisocial recidivistic offenders, but no genes have been shown to contribute to recidivistic violent offending or severe violent behavior, such as homicide. Our results, from two independent cohorts of Finnish prisoners, revealed that a monoamine oxidase A (MAOA) low-activity genotype (contributing to low dopamine turnover rate) as well as the CDH13 gene (coding for neuronal membrane adhesion protein) are associated with extremely violent behavior (at least 10 committed homicides, attempted homicides or batteries). No substantial signal was observed for either MAOA or CDH13 among non-violent offenders, indicating that findings were specific for violent offending, and not largely attributable to substance abuse or antisocial personality disorder. These results indicate both low monoamine metabolism and neuronal membrane dysfunction as plausible factors in the etiology of extreme criminal violent behavior, and imply that at least about 5–10% of all severe violent crime in Finland is attributable to the aforementioned MAOA and CDH13 genotypes.

I conceive an individual’s genes as defining the range of behaviour available to a human and his “nurture” as then determining his actual behaviour by the exercise of what we call “free will”. What is becoming increasingly obvious though, is that any individual’s “free will” is severely circumscribed. The application of “free will” is restricted to be within the envelope of behaviour that the genes allow.

Behaviour envelopes

I envision an individual whose limits are set by his genes. He cannot think faster or run faster or behave differently to what his genes allow. Thus no amount of “free will” (or nurture) could get an individual to behave outside the envelope of his possible behaviour as set by his individual set of genes.


Antares rocket on ISS supply mission explodes on launch

October 29, 2014

An unmanned Orbital Science’s, Antares, cargo rocket carrying a NASA payload to the International Space station has exploded at launch. An earlier launch attempt a day earlier had been scrubbed because a boat wandered into the launch area at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

Antares Rocket Explodes During Launch on Oct. 28, 2014

An Orbital Sciences Antares rocket explodes shortly after lifting off on a private cargo mission toward the International Space Station on Oct .28, 2014 from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Credit: NASA TV

Orbital also supports human space flight by supplying commercial cargo resupply services for the International Space Station using our new Antares® rocket and Cygnus™ cargo logistics spacecraft.  In addition, Orbital provides full service engineering, production and technical services for NASA, DoD, commercial and academic space programs.

Designed to provide responsive, low-cost, and reliable access to space, Antares is a two-stage vehicle (with optional third stage) that provides low-Earth orbit (LEO) launch capability for payloads weighing over 5,000 kg. Internally funded by Orbital, Antares completed a risk reduction mission and a demonstration of commercial re-supply services for the International Space Station (ISS) under a NASA Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) agreement in 2013. Antares currently is under contract for eight Commercial Resupply Missions (CRS) to deliver cargo to the International Space Station, the first of which was completed in early 2014

The previous 4 launches of the Antares have been successful. The business of operating private launch vehicles is still a risky and expensive business. Orbital Science’s contract with NASA in 2008 was for NASA to provide $171 million in addition to the $150 million to be funded by Orbital. As of December 2013 costs expended had reached $530 million with $288 million coming from NASA. Orbital is quoted on the NYSE and in 2013 had revenues of $1.36 billion with a net income of $68 million (c. 5%). They report an operating margin of 8.3% so development costs are a little over 3% of revenues.

A private Orbital Sciences-built cargo launch to the International Space Station ended in a fiery explosion just seconds after liftoff Tuesday night (Oct. 28).

Orbital’s unmanned Antares rocket exploded in a brilliant fireball shortly after launching from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia at 6:22 p.m. EDT (2222 GMT), crashing back down to the launch pad in a flaming heap. The Antares was carrying Orbital’s unmanned Cygnus spacecraft, which was toting 5,000 pounds (2,268 kilograms) of food, scientific experiments and other supplies on this flight — the third cargo mission to the space station under a $1.9 billion contract the company holds with NASA.

Antares visibility map

Antares first nighttime launch from Wallops Flight Facility planned for October 27th – Visibility area — image NASA


Did one false report in Swedish newspaper cause the submarine fiasco?

October 28, 2014

I have posted earlier about the “Russian submarine in the Stockholm archipelago” hysteria which gripped the Swedish media and – apparently – the Swedish military for 6 days. (Though my perception is that the hysteria was with the media and the military and not with the general public. It did not cause much general alarm but it did provide another subject for after-dinner conversation and for wild speculation in the bars).The hunt is now over and there is plenty of egg on many faces. The Russian press and social media are having a field day with Swedish military alarmism.

But all of it may have originated from just one false article in the right-leaning Svenska Dagbladet. Of course it was compounded by further false sightings. This is a report from the left-leaning Dagens Nyheter (the nearest media competitor to the Svenska Dagbladet).

Dagens Nyheter: The operation carried out by the Swedish armed forces in the Stockholm archipelago was not triggered by one emergency call in Russian. So says Naval Intelligence to DN.

On Saturday, October 18th the Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet revealed that an emergency call in Russian set off the alarm and started the hunt for a damaged Russian submarine in the Stockholm archipelago. The newspaper also said that there had been encrypted radio traffic between a transmitter in the archipelago and one transmitter located in Kaliningrad where large parts of the Russian Baltic Fleet is located. This news was reproduced by virtually all Swedish media, including DN. The disclosure also received international attention.

Already in last Friday’s paper newspaper DN revealed that no radio communications between the field of operation and Kaliningrad were intercepted during the six-day operation.

DN has now with the support of Freedom of Information rules obtained a copy of the transcript from the Armed Forces and has had the transcript translated.
Documents relating to military operations are usually completely or partly exempt under secrecy rules. When documents are denied the authorities are required to disclose an “Incident Report”.  Those denied documents can then appeal the decision. But no Russian emergency traffic ever occurred according to the military’s own investigation reported DN’s intelligence source. The documents just do not exist, according to the military.

“I thought it was exciting to read about the Russian emergency call you reported. But there is no such thing – the information is incorrect” says a source in Navy intelligence.

Has there been any radio traffic from Stockholm archipelago to and from Kaliningrad?

“There is traffic from Kaliningrad constantly, 24 hours a day. This is nothing strange. It’s just like any of our radio stations everywhere in Sweden – they transmit all the time” says DN’s source.

And if all the fuss was triggered by just one false report in the Svenska Dagbladet, it begs the question as to whether it was just bad journalism or whether there was another motive and a hidden agenda? And why did the Swedish military react so hysterically to just one bad media report?

Dutch prosecutor does not rule out possibility of Ukrainian fighter having shot down MH17

October 27, 2014

A few weeks ago I speculated that the finding of a deployed oxygen mask on one of the victims gave some credence to the theory (favoured by Russia) that it was a Ukrainian fighter which may have shot down the ill-fated MH17 aircraft.

The point apparently is that if the aircraft had been brought down by a Russian ground-to-air BUK missile – fired by the rebels – then the aircraft would have failed catastrophically and there would have been no time for the oxygen masks to deploy. All on board would have died almost instantaneously.

If instead MH17 had been brought down by a Ukrainian fighter jet – as the Russians suggest – then the air-to-air missile would not have been as immediately catastrophic as the much more powerful BUK missile. Then there may well have been time for some of the oxygen masks to deploy – even if the aircraft was later “finished off” by cannon fire. ….. 

But the bottom line is that if there was time for the oxygen masks to deploy then it is more likely that a Ukrainian jet was responsible rather than a BUK missile.

Now in an interview with Der Spiegel, the Dutch prosecutor does not rule out the possibility that MH17 may have been shot down from the air.

Der Spiegel: In an interview, the Dutch official leading the investigation of the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine addresses reports that German intelligence is convinced the plane got shot down by pro-Russian separatists.

Fred Westerbeke, 52, is the chief investigator with the Dutch National Prosecutors’ Office, which is currently looking into the circumstances behind the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine while en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur on July 17.

SPIEGEL: High-resolution images — those from US spy satellites, for example — could play a decisive role in the investigation. Have the Americans provided you with those images?

Westerbeke: We are not certain whether we already have everything or if there are more — information that is possibly even more specific. In any case, what we do have is insufficient for drawing any conclusions. We remain in contact with the United States in order to receive satellite photos.

SPIEGEL: So you’re saying there hasn’t been any watertight evidence so far?

 Westerbeke: No. If you read the newspapers, though, they suggest it has always been obvious what happened to the airplane and who is responsible. But if we in fact do want to try the perpetrators in court, then we will need evidence and more than a recorded phone call from the Internet or photos from the crash site. That’s why we are considering several scenarios and not just one.

SPIEGEL: Moscow has been spreading its own version for some time now, namely that the passenger jet was shot down by a Ukrainian fighter jet. Do you believe such a scenario is possible?

Westerbeke: Going by the intelligence available, it is my opinion that a shooting down by a surface to air missile remains the most likely scenario. But we are not closing our eyes to the possibility that things might have happened differently.

Two years of $70 oil could be the boost the global economy needs desperately

October 27, 2014

There are two questions here of course:

  1. How will oil price develop over the next 2 years? And the only certain thing is that forecasts will be wrong, and
  2. Can the net difference between the positive effect on oil consuming countries and the negative effects on oil producing countries be sufficient to lift the global ecoonmy out of its doldrums?

Oil prices have dropped 25% since June and currently WTI crude is at $81 and Brent crude is at $86 – down from around $110 – 115 in June. How far can prices drop and for how long? Of course this depends on supply and demand. But I think there is a new paradigm here and created by the injection of shale oil into the mix. I suspect that shale oil production now establishes a new floor price which means that the prices cannot drop lower than about $60 or possibly even $70. Oil from the traditional, large oil wells can still be produced profitably at much lower prices. But shale oil is more expensive to produce partly due to the costs of fracking but also due to smaller individual wells which last for shorter periods than the large oil wells. This in turn means that there is both a higher investment cost and a higher operating cost for shale oil compared to “traditional” oil. It is thought that as shale oil increases its contribution to the total mix, this production cost will set a floor for all oil at around $60-70 instead of the $30-40 needed for break-even (zero exploration) with traditional oil. The oil companies will maintain profits and dividends by scaling down jobs and their new exploration costs which is the variable they can play with . It is the oil producing countries who will lose tax revenues (offset by increased production – if any).

oil price 2710214

oil price 27102014

Goldman Sachs have forecast in a new research report that prices could drop to $70 by the second quarter of 2015.

Reuters 27/10: Brent crude futures fell below $86 a barrel on Monday after Goldman Sachs cut its price forecasts for the contract and for U.S. oil in the first quarter of next year by $15.

The U.S. investment bank said in a research note on Sunday that it had cut its forecast for West Texas Intermediate to $75 a barrel from $90 and that for Brent to $85 from $100, with rising production in non-OPEC countries outside North America expected to outstrip demand.

The bank expects WTI to fall as low as $70 a barrel and Brent to hit $80 in the second quarter of 2015, when it expects oversupply to be most pronounced.

Even Saudi Arabia now seems to have accepted that a regime of low prices will last  1 – 2 years.

Reuters 26/10The recent decline in global oil prices will prove temporary even if it lasts a year or so, since population growth will ultimately bring higher consumption and prices, the chief executive of Saudi Basic Industries Corp said on Sunday.

Mohamed al-Mady was speaking to reporters after the company, one of the world’s largest petrochemicals groups and the Gulf’s largest listed company, reported a 4.5 percent drop in third-quarter net income, missing analysts’ forecasts.

At these price levels for 2 years almost $3 trillion will shift from the “few” producers to the “many” consumers.  But most of this could fuel consumer growth (which it would not do to the same extent when in the hands of the oil producers). The consumer countries will also lose the foreign exchange constraints they must operate under for purchase of oil in US Dollars. It could release monies desperately needed for infrastructure projects. But the consumer countries need the prices to stay low for some time – and I would guess that 2 years is a minimum – for the public funds released to be utilised in “growth” projects.

The EconomistFor governments in consuming countries the price fall offers some budgetary breathing-room. Fuel subsidies hog scandalous amounts of money in many developing countries—20% of public spending in Indonesia and 14% in India (including fertiliser and food). Lower prices give governments the opportunity to spend the money more productively or return it to the taxpayers. This week India led the way by announcing an end to diesel subsidies. Others should follow Narendra Modi’s lead.

Producer countries will be hit. Russia has actually been helped by the fall in the rouble which has cushioned – a little – the rouble values of the dropping oil revenue.

The most vulnerable are Venezuela, Iran and Russia.

The first to crack could be Venezuela, home to the anti-American “Bolivarian revolution”, which the late Hugo Chávez tried to export around his region. Venezuela’s budget is based on oil at $120 a barrel. Even before the price fall it was struggling to pay its debts. Foreign-exchange reserves are dwindling, inflation is rampant and Venezuelans are enduring shortages of everyday goods such as flour and toilet paper.

Iran is also in a tricky position. It needs oil at about $140 a barrel to balance a profligate budget padded with the extravagant spending schemes of its former president, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad. Sanctions designed to curb its nuclear programme make it especially vulnerable. Some claim that Sunni Saudi Arabia is conspiring with America to use the oil price to put pressure on its Shia rival. Whatever the motivation, the falling price is certainly having that effect.

Compared with these two, Russia can bide its time. A falling currency means that the rouble value of oil sales has dropped less than its dollar value, cushioning tax revenues and limiting the budget deficit.

There are a number of other effects of $70 per barrel for oil.

Bio-fuels and bio-diesel, which are fundamentally unsound, have stayed alive on the back of subsidies on the one hand and a high oil price on the other. If the prices stay at $70 for 2 years or longer, land currently being wasted on bio-fuels could revert to food production. With lower fertiliser and transport costs in addition, a great deal of pressure on food prices go away. If the floor price is set by shale oil production costs, it may be too low for oil production from tar sands to take off in any big way. Electricity production costs will be bench-marked against the cost of gas turbine combined cycle plants.

But most importantly, another 2 years or longer with the public spending pressures reduced will allow a number of other countries to get their own shale oil (and gas) production going. And that will make Opec and the oil cartel obsolete. Oil and gas price speculation will no longer be possible.

It could provide the start for a long sustained period – perhaps even a decade or two – with oil prices stable at around $70 per barrel.

A waterfall that doesn’t

October 26, 2014


Extreme Winds Cause a Waterfall in England to Blow Upward wind weather waterfalls England

Upflowing water fall

Hikers exploring England’s Derbyshire Peak District earlier this week stumbled onto a rare phenomenon caused by extreme winds. The River Downfall, a 30-meter (98 foot) waterfall was blown back almost vertically by a powerful updraft, making it seem as if the waterfall was simply flowing into nothing. Very cool. (via Twisted Sifter)


Extreme Winds Cause a Waterfall in England to Blow Upward wind weather waterfalls England

Air safety video from Middle Earth

October 26, 2014

Bats attracted to wind turbines because they think they are tall trees?

October 26, 2014

A new study published in PNAS has used thermal imaging to test the the hypotheses that wind speed and blade rotation speed influenced the way that bats interacted with turbines.  They found that the air currents around slow speed turbines could be fooling the bats into thinking they were the air currents associated with tall trees. It is suggested that around trees the air currents led to the bats searching for roosts and nocturnal insect prey that could accumulate in such air flows. Thus bat behaviour which had evolved as being advantageous around tall trees might now be the reason why many bats die at wind turbines.

“Fatalities of tree bats at turbines may be the consequence of behaviors that evolved to provide selective advantages when elicited by tall trees, but are now maladaptive when elicited by wind turbines”.

Paul Cryan et al, Behavior of bats at wind turbines, PNAS, Vol. 111 no. 42,  15126–15131, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1406672111


Bats are dying in unprecedented numbers at wind turbines, but causes of their susceptibility are unknown. Fatalities peak during low-wind conditions in late summer and autumn and primarily involve species that evolved to roost in trees. Common behaviors of “tree bats” might put them at risk, yet the difficulty of observing high-flying nocturnal animals has limited our understanding of their behaviors around tall structures. We used thermal surveillance cameras for, to our knowledge, the first time to observe behaviors of bats at experimentally manipulated wind turbines over several months. We discovered previously undescribed patterns in the ways bats approach and interact with turbines, suggesting behaviors that evolved at tall trees might be the reason why many bats die at wind turbines.

Fig. 1.

Fig. 1 Still images of night-flying bats (green arrows) at wind turbines that were detected in thermal-infrared video footage. Cameras were positioned 12 m from the base of the turbine, looking up the 80-m monopole toward the nacelle (rectangular machinery enclosure) and rotor, to which three 40-m blades attach. Red circles represent the object identified as a bat by the automated software used for finding their presence in nightly (∼10 h) video recordings. A variety of detection conditions are illustrated, including a bat approaching fast-rotating (14 rpm) …


Wind turbines are causing unprecedented numbers of bat fatalities. Many fatalities involve tree-roosting bats, but reasons for this higher susceptibility remain unknown. To better understand behaviors associated with risk, we monitored bats at three experimentally manipulated wind turbines in Indiana, United States, from July 29 to October 1, 2012, using thermal cameras and other methods. We observed bats on 993 occasions and saw many behaviors, including close approaches, flight loops and dives, hovering, and chases. Most bats altered course toward turbines during observation. Based on these new observations, we tested the hypotheses that wind speed and blade rotation speed influenced the way that bats interacted with turbines. We found that bats were detected more frequently at lower wind speeds and typically approached turbines on the leeward (downwind) side. The proportion of leeward approaches increased with wind speed when blades were prevented from turning, yet decreased when blades could turn. Bats were observed more frequently at turbines on moonlit nights. Taken together, these observations suggest that bats may orient toward turbines by sensing air currents and using vision, and that air turbulence caused by fast-moving blades creates conditions that are less attractive to bats passing in close proximity. Tree bats may respond to streams of air flowing downwind from trees at night while searching for roosts, conspecifics, and nocturnal insect prey that could accumulate in such flows. Fatalities of tree bats at turbines may be the consequence of behaviors that evolved to provide selective advantages when elicited by tall trees, but are now maladaptive when elicited by wind turbines.



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