Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Italian Super Volcanos and Antarctic Palm Trees (Link Round-Up 8/8/12)

[Via Metafilter]

Italian Super Volcano near Pompeii could kill millions
The boiling mud and sulphurous steam holes of the area west of Naples known as the Campi Flegrei or Phlegraean Fields, from the Greek word for burning, are a major tourist attraction.

But the zone of intense seismic activity, which the ancients thought was the entrance to hell, also could pose a danger of global proportions with millions of people literally living on top of a potential future volcanic eruption.

"These areas can give rise to the only eruptions that can have global catastrophic effects comparable to major meteorite impacts," said Giuseppe De Natale, head of a project to drill deep under the earth to monitor the molten "caldera". "

However, the project, funded by the multi-national International Continental Scientific Drilling Programme, has run into major opposition from some local scientists who say the drilling itself could cause a dangerous eruption or earthquake.
A dozen (unnamed) countries to meet in Iran to discuss Syria
“The consultative meeting on Syria will be held tomorrow in Tehran with 12 to 13 countries from Asia, Africa and Latin America” represented, Salehi said on Wednesday, the official news agency IRNA reported. “Our main argument is an end to the violence and the holding of national dialogue in Syria. Iran’s efforts are aimed at ending the violence in Syria as soon as possible,” he said.
Iran is the key ally to the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad. US pressure excluded Iran from a previous diplomatic initiative led by former UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan to engage countries with influence in Syria in dialogue. On Monday, Iran’s foreign ministry announced it was calling the conference, and said nations having “a principled and realistic position on Syria” would take part.
Brazilian Central Bank workers go on strike
Irony aside, the broader issue here is that on the one hand the Brazilian government is trying to reduce the amount of inflation in the economy while on the other hand Brazilian public employee unions writ large are trying to get higher wages in order to stay ahead of inflation. If they get their raises, it'll be that much harder to contain economy-wide inflation. But if inflation isn't controlled, it'll be that much harder to contain militant labor action.

These are the kind of problems that the U.S. government ran into in the late 70s (the famous PATCO strike involved exactly this kind of demand for a huge nominal wage increase in the face of high inflation) and that many right-of-center commentators still seem obsessed with today. Pay attention to Brazil and you'll see that these aren't fake problems, they're just the problems of a very different country from the one we live in today. A country with a lot more underlying inflation and a lot more union militancy than the US in 2012.
Palm trees grew on Antarctica
Scientists drilling deep into the edge of modern Antarctica have pulled up proof that palm trees once grew there.

Analyses of pollen and spores and the remains of tiny creatures have given a climatic picture of the early Eocene period, about 53 million years ago.

The study in Nature suggests Antarctic winter temperatures exceeded 10C, while summers may have reached 25C.
African diplomats in Israel afraid to walk down streets 
According to the foreign diplomats, the racial slurs directed at them harm Israel's public image in Africa. They emphasized Israel's right to deport foreign migrants, but asked that the issue be dealt with in a humane manner.

They further said that the publicized deportation of migrants humiliates them and depicts them as dangerous criminals.
Social security benefits will be docked for unpaid loans, even if it's your grandkid's fault
The amount that the government withholds varies widely, though it runs up to 15%. Assuming the average monthly Social Security benefit for a retired worker of $1,234, that could mean a monthly haircut of almost $190. "This is going to catch an awful lot of people off guard and wreak havoc on their financial lives," says Sheryl Garrett, a financial planner in Eureka Springs, Ark.

Many of these retirees aren't even in hock for their own educations. Consumer advocates say that in the majority of the cases they've seen, the borrowers went into debt later in life to help defray education costs for their children or other dependents. Harold Grodberg, an elder law attorney in Bayonne, N.J., says he's worked with at least six clients in the past two years whose problems started with loans they signed up for to help pay for their grandchildren's tuition. Other attorneys say they're working with older borrowers who had signed up for the federal PLUS loan -- a loan for parents of undergraduates -- to cover tuition costs. Other retirees took out federal loans when they returned to college in midlife, and a few are carrying debt from their own undergraduate or graduate-school years. (No statistics track exactly how many of the defaulting loans fall into which category.)

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