Thursday, January 31, 2013

Ask Maxy

Much to our delight, Maxy's Nana (89 years old) will be a guest advisor on 'Ask Maxy' for a few weeks; Providing us with her own unique view on the letters we receive.

Dear Maxy,
Some years ago , my wife and met a lovely couple while on a trip to Germany . We had such a good time together that we made arrangements for the four of us to take other trips . We kept in contact with cards, calls and emails . On the occasions where we travelled to their city, we had lunch with them .

We hadn't heard from them in a while, so I sent a card that came back "Deceased." We don't read the obituaries from their city, so we have no idea whether both of them died or one died and the other moved, or what happened .

The couple had several children who may have known of our friendship, although I never learned the children's names . It surely would be nice if their survivers would browse through the couple's address book and let the contacts know of their passing .
Missing Them

Dear Missing Them ,
This is a situation that comes up whenever someone dies . The survivors do not always think of going through the deceased's address book.... written or electronic ... and sending notes to those who are listed . I hope you find out what happened and have the opportunity to express your condolences.
Nana says;
You could make inquiries yourself. Although, it could be costly to find them through a computer location service or a private detective, you may wonder for the rest of your life if you do nothing. I know this from experience. Perhaps you will visit Germany again one day and clear the mystery up in person.

Dear Maxy,
I am a 22-year-old adoptee . My grandparents raised me from 6 months old and officially adopted me when I was 10 . They have three sons, my biological father and his two brothers . This is where the problems lies .

My "uncles" have never accepted that their parents are my parents . They never refer to me as their sister and frequently refer my parents as my grandparents . Most of these things I ignore, but there is one thing I cannot . My parents are in their early 60s and the subject of their death comes up often . Their sons have decided that when our parents die, I have no say in anything .

Maxy , these are the only parents I've ever had, I am legally adopted, so I have a legal right as well as a given right . How do I calmly explain they are my parents too ?
Their Child

Dear Their Child ,
You are not going to make your uncles treat you like a sibling . They see you as their brother's child . And although your parents are not that old , it is never too soon to prepare a will and other necessary legal documents . Your parents' wishes and the distribution of their assets are things they get to decide and they should discuss it with a lawyer . They should also have a family meeting and make sure that ALL of their children are aware of how they want this to be handled .
Nana says,
I understand both sides of this equation. With all the broken or extended families there are today, I am sure you are not alone in your unusual situation.
You are the legal child of your parents and their will is a legal and binding document stating their wishes. That will solve everything.
Your uncles find themselves in a strange situation with a sister/ niece. Their feelings may be a bit confused but remember they are older and were there first, so be patient. I am 89 and I am still here so you may all have a long wait.

Dear Maxy ,
I recently attended a cocktail party at the home of a former colleague from our deaf program . The speaker was a campaign worker for one of the Presidential candidates . The party hostess made arrangements in advance for a sign language interpreter .

When the speaker was done with his presentationn , I waited for my turn to talk to him . As I got clearance and began signing, I was interrupted by three hearing female guests who showed no respect for a deaf guest while the conversation took place . Their rudeness took me by surprise .

If I were to attend another such event and get the same treatment , what should I do ?
Deaf Professor

Dear Deaf Professor ,
This type of situation can occur whether a guest is deaf or not . People interrupt , block you from the conversation and behave rudely . An alert host would have interceded, and the speaker should have made every effort to be more inclusive . He allowed these women to hijack the conversation . You also could have enlisted the assistance of the interpreter . If you feel you were treated poorly because of your deafness , please discuss this in advance with your host at the next such event .
Nana says,
I agree with Maxy on this one Professor. You could have signed to the interpreter that you were just a little offended by their bad manners and she would have relayed the message to the chatty females. You have no choice but to adapt to the hearing world. They, on the other hand have never been taught to adapt to your silent world.

What is driving North Korea's nuclear test plan?

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (C) presides over a meeting on state security in an undated picture released by North Korea's official KCNA news agency in Pyongyang on 27 January 2013
 A nuclear test - if it went ahead - would be the first under Kim Jong-un

Official announcements from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), including a 24 January statement by the National Defence Committee (NDC), indicate that North Korea may be about to test a nuclear device - the third such instance, following two earlier tests in 2006 and 2009.
The NDC statement warns of the launch of a series of "long-range rockets" and a "higher level" nuclear test targeted against "the US, the sworn enemy of the Korean people".

Satellite imagery analyzed by US-based proliferation specialists reveals activity at Punggye-ri, the site of the 2006 and 2009 tests, and suggest that the North may be sealing a mountainside tunnel in imminent preparation for a test.

Why might the North be preparing to test?
1: Deterrence: Since as early as the 1960s, North Korea has sought to become a nuclear state to protect itself from its adversaries, most notably the US, with which it remains in a state of war.

Although Pyongyang has indicated its willingness to give up its nuclear capabilities, most recently in September 2005, when the North agreed to disable its nuclear programme in return for energy assistance and political recognition, its position has hardened appreciably since the collapse of the multilateral six-party talks in December 2008.

The lessons of Gadaffi's Libya, which abandoned its fledgling nuclear programme only to be overthrown by local opposition supported by the US and the international community, has impressed on the North's leaders the need to retain their ultimate security guarantee.

A third test would allow the DPRK to deter an attack from the US and its allies. America has some 28,000 troops stationed in South Korea (ROK) and ROK-US alliance relations will remain robust under the current administration of Lee Myung-bak and his successor Park Geun-hye who assumes office on Feb. 25.

North Korea's rocket blasts off on 12 December 2012 

2: Prestige and legitimacy: Passage by the UN Security Council of Resolution 2087, condemning North Korea's 12 December illegal launch of a satellite and imposing a fresh set of international sanctions, has irritated the North Korean leadership. It has stridently rejected the actions of the UN, while stressing its sovereign right to pursue rocket launches that it claims are primarily for peaceful space development.

In April of 2012, the government modified its constitution to define itself officially as a "nuclear armed nation". Under its youthful 29-year-old new leader, Kim Jong-un, the government has trumpeted its technical achievements, both missile launches and the nuclear weapons programme, as proof of the strength of the North Korean state and, by extension, the new leader.

3: Technical advancement: US intelligence sources believe, contrary to North Korean denials, that Pyongyang has been seeking to develop a covert uranium-based nuclear weapons programme sufficient to generate enough fissile material to produce two nuclear bombs annually.  Unlike the plutonium-based 2006 and 2009 tests, a uranium-based test would be a step forward in the sophistication of the North's nuclear capabilities. Alternatively Pyongyang, in referring to a "higher level" test, may simply be aiming to test a larger device, substantially bigger than the 1 and 2 kiloton tests of 2006 and 2009.
If the North is determined to test, there is at best a slim possibility that it can be deterred. UN sanctions are relatively toothless, and China, the country with the greatest leverage over the North given its prominent trade and investment ties, may be disinclined to put substantive pressure on Pyongyang, notwithstanding Chinese concerns that the persistent security crisis in the region is bolstering strategic co-operation between the US and its allies in a manner that undercuts Chinese security interests.

The North's ballistic missile capabilities remain relatively underdeveloped. US intelligence sources suggest that the North has at best 30 intermediate range missiles, few technically proficient launch crews, and remains some years away from developing a genuinely indigenous missile programme.

A nuclear-equipped missile launch would only be attractive in extremis if the North's leadership felt that regime survival was an issue, rather than as a means of securing strategic assets in a future conflict. For this reason, the primary value of a nuclear test is more likely to be political through enhancing the prestige of the government, attracting international attention and allowing the North to enhance its bargaining leverage in future negotiations with the United States and its allies.

Whether such leverage is sufficient to persuade the Obama administration, preoccupied with a range of competing domestic and international challenges, to depart from a policy of "strategic patience" is still unclear, even allowing for the appointment of a new secretary of state - John Kerry - who reportedly favours a more engagement-centred approach to North Korea.

Team sees biggest black holes yet


Supermassive black hole  ESA / V. Beckmann (NASA-GSFC)

A US team has found the two biggest "supermassive" black holes known to science, Nature journal reports. Sitting at the centres of two nearby galaxies, the two objects have masses close to 10 billion times greater than our Sun. Such large black holes had been suspected to exist, but, until now, the biggest known was some 6.3 billion times the mass of the Sun.

The study is based on data from ground and space-based telescopes. Most massive galaxies, including our own Milky Way, are thought to harbour supermassive black holes at their centres.
But these newly discovered black holes are much bigger than would be predicted by extrapolating from observations from their host galaxies. This suggests that the factors influencing the growth of the largest galaxies and their black holes differ from those influencing smaller galaxies.

The findings come from observations of two nearby galaxies: NGC 3842 and NGC 4889. Nicholas J McConnell from the University of California, Berkeley, and colleagues report that NGC 3842 has a mass of 9.7 billion solar masses and that a black hole of comparable or greater mass is present in NGC 4889.

Indications that such big black holes must have existed came from observations of the powerful galactic light sources known as quasars.  Measurements of quasars from the early Universe showed that some must be powered by black holes with masses of about 10 billion solar masses.

"These objects probably represent the missing dormant relics of the giant black holes that powered the brightest quasars in the early Universe," Michele Cappellari, from the University of Oxford, wrote in an accompanying viewpoint article in Nature.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Chinese people more affected by 'Swine Flu'

H1N1 Virus

There's a reason why swine flu affects China more than other countries. British and Chinese scientists have found a genetic variant which explains why Chinese populations may be more vulnerable to the H1N1 virus. Experts say people with this genetic predisposition to severe flu should be treated earlier and more aggressively than others.

A genetic variant commonly found in Chinese people may help explain why some got seriously ill with swine flu, a discovery scientists say could help pinpoint why flu viruses hit some populations particularly hard and change how they are treated.  Less than one percent of Caucasians are thought to have the gene alteration, which has previously been linked to severe influenza. Yet about 25 percent of Chinese people have the gene variant, which is also common in Japanese and Korean people.

British and Chinese researchers analyzed 83 patients admitted to a Beijing hospital during the 2009-2010 swine flu pandemic. Of those with serious complications like pneumonia, respiratory or kidney failure, 69 percent had the genetic alteration. Among patients with mild illness, only 25 percent did. "It doesn't mean you should panic if you have this gene variant," said Andrew McMichael, director of the Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine at Oxford University, one of the study's authors. "Most people who have it won't run into any trouble at all."  He suggested people with this genetic predisposition to severe flu should be treated earlier and more aggressively than others.

  McMichael estimated that people with the genetic variant were five to six times more likely to get severely ill once they're infected. The gene alteration doesn't make people more likely to catch the flu, since that depends on other factors like environmental exposure and previous immunity. McMichael said the gene variant might give people the same susceptibility to get severely ill from other ailments including dengue, SARS and other flus. But it could also provide them with better immunity if they recover.

  The research was published online Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications. Some experts said it was an intriguing finding that shows a patient's response to a virus may determine how sick they will become.
 "The bug in someone who gets severely ill is not any different than the one that infects someone who has mild illness," said Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, who did not participate in the study. "It's the host that does all the damage to themselves."
If people carried the genetic variant, Osterholm said, their immune systems were more likely to kick into overdrive if they caught the flu, causing problems like organ damage or blocking their airways.

Scientists have long recognized that diseases don't strike all populations equally. Caucasian people are more likely to get the crippling Guillain-Barre syndrome after vaccinations.... and flu epidemics are often more fatal in indigenous populations in Australia and Canada. Records are too limited to know if previous flu outbreaks have been more lethal in Asia.

New Revelations...JonBenet's Murder

A grand jury believed there was enough evidence in 1999 to indict John and Patsy Ramsey on charges relating to the still-unsolved killing of their beauty queen daughter JonBenet Ramsey, ABC News sources say.
Six-year-old JonBenet was found dead in the basement of her family's upscale Boulder, Colo., home Christmas Day 1996. Suspicion fell on her parents, John and Patsy Ramsey, but they insisted an intruder was to blame and they were never prosecuted. In an interview with ABC News' Barbara Walters after her death, both of the girl's parents denied that they had killed her. They were eventually cleared by prosecutors.
After meeting for more than a year, a grand jury found sufficient evidence to indict the couple on charges of child abuse resulting in death, as first reported Sunday by the Boulder Daily Camera newspaper and confirmed by two separate sources by ABC News.
"This grand jury, in effect, came up with a compromise finding, 'No, it's not murder,' but, 'Yes, we think they were responsible' for the death based on abuse," ABC News legal analyst Dan Abrams said.
But District Attorney Alex Hunter refused to sign off on the grand jury's decision, saying there was too little proof.
"I and my prosecution task force believe we do not have sufficient evidence to warrant the filing of charges against anyone who has been investigated at this time," Hunter said then.
Hunter believed a conviction would be impossible. Abrams said that he agrees with the decision.
"I've seen the majority of the case files and I think Alex Hunter made the right call," he said. "I think there simply was not enough evidence to move forward."
Patsy Ramsey died in 2006 after a battle with ovarian cancer. John Ramsey remarried. His attorney told ABC News that Hunter is "a hero who wisely avoided a miscarriage of justice."
The case is still officially open but, as in 1996, investigators seem no closer to solving the crime this year, when JonBenet would have turned 23.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Child Brides.... Another Worldwide Atrocity

  Millions of girls across the world end up as child brides, despite the practice being outlawed in many countries. In rural Afghanistan, the problem of child brides and underage marriage is widespread.
Some families struggle to remain together and feel forced into allowing this illegal practice. It is a subject which is rarely spoken about and many of these marriages are organized to settle old disputes.
What is it like to be a child bride?

A 14-year-old bride

 Families have been selling or trading their prepubescent daughters for centuries. Outlawing the practice made little if no difference.  But some girls are defying their families' attempts to marry them off. Some 10 million girls a year are married off before the age of 18 across the world, according to a Unicef report released this year.

Just last month South Africa's Archbishop Desmond Tutu, at the launch of the Girls Not Brides global initiative described child marriage as a "practice that robs millions of girls of their childhood, their rights and their dignity".

Both of my grandmothers and my aunt had had child marriages in my native Afghanistan. But their marriages were considered normal, even happy, by my family - so I decided to visit India and Bangladesh, which have some of the highest levels of under-age marriage in the world to get some understanding of what it was really like to be child bride.

Mamta (l) and Nel Hedayat
Mamta...married at six...on the left
Some 40% of the world's child marriages take place in India. In the northern state of Rajasthan I witnessed the wedding of two sisters who were about six and 11 years old. As older female relatives fussed over them - dressing them in sparkly red-and-gold outfits and applying full bridal make-up - the brides, like obedient children, quietly went along with it all.

Child marriages are illegal in India, and are punishable with a fine of Rs100,000 (£1,300) and two years in prison for anyone who performs, conducts or negligently fails to prevent a child marriage. But this didn't seem to bother any of the guests who danced merrily or the priest who solemnly chanted the wedding rites.

A 14-year-old child bride and her 19-year old-husband
The brides' grandfather complained: "I hate the government for trying to stop us. This is the way we've always done things. The government bans this, saying do not get under-aged children married, but we don't care and we do these weddings anyway."

Dinesh Sharma, a local non-governmental organization worker, explained that in remote villages child marriage is usually fully supported by the entire community, and it is rare for someone to inform the police so they can be stopped.

While child brides in Rajasthan tend to be married off very young, it is usually to grooms of a similar age and it is not until they are older, about 15 or 16, that they actually start living together as man and wife.  Even so, being married so young does limit their opportunities.  Rukhmani, a 26-year-old mother of two, was married at six years old and started living with her husband when she was 15. "Had I been married later, I'd have learned to read and write," she says. "If I'd studied, I wouldn't have had to work in the scorching heat, harvesting in the fields."

Mamta, another child bride, also regretted not being able to study, which she felt would have given her a chance to be independent. Instead, she'd felt she had no option but to endure regular beatings from her husband.

According to a study by The International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), girls in some Indian states who were married before 18, were twice as likely to report being beaten, slapped or threatened by their husbands than girls who married later.

Being forced into early marriage is one of the biggest obstacles to getting an education. For field workers of one small NGO in Rajasthan, Shiv Shiksha Samiti, encouraging girls to refuse marriage and stay on in school is crucial.

They helped 14-year-old Roshan Bairwa to find the confidence to say no to her parents' wishes and demand to stay on in school.
"Since I took a stand, not a single girl has been married off in my village," Roshan proudly told me. But Shivji Ram Yadav of Shiv Shiksha admitted the availability of a free local secondary school was key to convincing Roshan's family.

Neighbouring Bangladesh has the highest rate of child marriage in South Asia and the fourth highest in the world, despite child marriage being illegal here, too. In Bangladesh, young girls are married off soon after reaching puberty and usually move in with their husbands straight away.
Seema, aged 14, married and moved in with her 19-year-old husband a year ago. Her life now is radically different to her carefree childhood.

A 14-year-old child bride and her 19-year old-husband
Seema was fourteen when she was forced into immediate marriage

"After marriage, what is my work now? Washing dishes, cleaning the floor, washing clothes and cooking," she said.  Seema is now four months pregnant and overwhelmed. "Before I was a kid, and now I'm having a kid. Of course it's scary."

Farah Kabir, country director of Action Aid Bangladesh, explained that with a significant part of the population living below the poverty line, the priority for many families is to get their daughter or sister married off as soon as possible to a man who could provide for her even if he was much older.

One solution for some Bangladeshi girls is to start working in the country's garment industry. There, they earn a wage that can give them economic freedom and the confidence to reject early marriage.
Munni refused to be married off at 13 and found work sewing instead. "I don't think my parents want to marry me off now," she told me. "They think, 'Our daughter makes a lot of money, and she is helping us'."

Whether it is free education, or earning their own wage, the young girls I met needed options to convince their families not to marry them off. But in reality, these options are not always available. Until the laws banning child marriage are properly enforced, young girls will remain vulnerable.

Child marriage

  • There are 10 million child marriages a year worldwide
  • There are at least 50 million married child couples around the world and this will double by the end of the decade
  • The top three countries with the highest proportion of child brides are Niger, Chad and Mali
  • Bangladesh is fourth and India is 13th in the world table of child marriage statistics by proportion
  • An estimated 14 million adolescents between 15 and 19 give birth each year. Girls in this age group are twice as likely to die during pregnancy or childbirth as women in their 20s

Sunday, January 27, 2013

March on Washington - Gun Control

Greatest Nation on Earth.....Not Us, Apparently

Courtesy of 'Crooks and Liars' 

We Americans like to think, and in fact have been indoctrinated for decades to believe, that we are the greatest country in the world, the best at just about everything. Sadly, that hasn’t been true for quite some time. Words patriots once gave their lives for, like ‘freedom’... and ‘patriotsm’... have become almost meaningless.
So if you’re curious about who’s taken our crown, you might be surprised. The latest international index of 123 countries released by the Fraser Institute, Canada's leading public policy think-tank, and Germany's Liberales Institut, ranked New Zealand number one for offering the highest level of freedom worldwide, followed by the Netherlands then Hong Kong. Australia, Canada and Ireland tied for fourth spot. The survey measured the degree to which people are free to enjoy classic civil liberties - freedom of speech, religion, individual economic choice, and association and assembly - in each country surveyed, as well as indicators of crime and violence, freedom of movement, legal discrimination against homosexuals, and women's freedoms. Pretty extensive stuff. The United States tied Denmark for seventh. We didn’t even get bronze.

As for the idea that the United States is the envy of the world when it comes to free markets and business? Wrong again. The U.S. continues to lose ground against other nations in Forbes’ annual look at the Best Countries for Business. The U.S. placed second in 2009, but in 2012 it ranks 12th, trailing fellow G-8 countries Canada (5th), the United Kingdom (10th) and Australia (11th) The world’s biggest economy at $15.1 trillion scores abysmally when it comes to trade freedom and monetary freedom.

So, who did top the list for the Best Countries for Business?
New Zealand  New Zealand can boast a transparent and stable business climate that encourages entrepreneurship. New Zealand is the smallest economy in the top 10 at $162 billion, but it ranks first in personal freedom and investor protection, as well as a lack of red tape and corruption. Okay, so at least MIT is still the best university in the entire world, we’re still first at something...Well, according to the Association of American Colleges and Universities, there are two thousand six hundred eighteen accredited four-year colleges and universities in the United States, most of which operate privately or as part of state governments. Only fifty-four of these are in the top 200, very slightly over 2% . So who does top the educational rankings?

That would be New Zealand again, first in the world on the basis of performance in three areas: access to education, quality of education and human capital. The annual QS World University survey ranks institutions based on scores for academic reputation, employer reputation and how many international students it has, among other things. Up to 20,000 universities from around the world were surveyed to find the top 700 academic institutions from 72 countries, the best universities in the world.
New Zealand has eight universities nationwide, with slightly less than around a half million students. According to the QS World University Rankings, two of New Zealand’s universities – Auckland and Otago – rank in the top 200 of the 700 best universities in the world, and Auckland in the top 100 (83rd and 133rd respectively). That's 25% compared to the United State's 2.06%. All eight universities rank in the top 500, with Auckland University of Technology appearing on the list for the first time this year. That’s a 100% rating.

Even when New Zealand isn’t top of the list, they’re outranking and out-performing the United States on just about any index you want to consider. How about the environment? According to the Yale University and Columbia University 2012 Environmental Performance Index at the World Economic Forum, ranking 132 countries, New Zealand placed 14th in the top 30. The United States trailed at 49th.
We rank top of the list for the most expensive health care system in the world, but dead last overall compared to six other industrialized countries - Australia, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom – when it comes to quality, efficiency, access to care, equity and the ability to lead long, healthy, productive lives.

There are a few other things the United States tops the charts at: We’re fifth out of the top 25 countries in the world in terms of crime rate. New Zealand is 24th.  Auckland is ranked the third best city out of the top five for quality of living, after Vienna and Zurich, nothing in the United States making the list at all. Even when it’s just the Americas being ranked for quality of living overall (taking New Zealand out of the equation altogether), the top four cities are all in Canada, with Honolulu coming 28th.
Don’t even get me started on the All Blacks.
One of the smallest countries in the world is kicking our ass when it comes to actually living up to the standards we Americans pretend we still have. Isn’t it about time we stopped kidding ourselves, stopped living on past glories that mostly never were, and started actually trying to be at least as good as one of the smallest nations on earth?

Star Trek style 'tractor beam' created by scientists


tractor beam 

A real-life "tractor beam", which uses light to attract objects, has been developed by scientists.
It is hoped it could have medical applications by targeting and attracting individual cells.The research, published in Nature Photonics and led by the University of St Andrews, is limited to moving microscopic particles.

In science fiction programmes such as Star Trek, tractor beams are used to move much more massive objects. It is not the first time science has aimed to replicate the feat - albeit at smaller scales. In 2011, researchers from China and Hong Kong showed how it might be done with laser beams of a specific shape - and the US space agency Nasa has even funded a study to examine how the technique might help with manipulating samples in space.

The new study's lead researcher Dr Tomas Cizmar, research fellow in the School of Medicine at the University of St Andrews, said while the technique is very new, it had huge potential.
He said: "The practical applications could be very great, very exciting. The tractor beam is very selective in the properties of the particles it acts on, so you could pick up specific particles in a mixture.  Eventually this could be used to separate white blood cells, for example."

Usually when microscopic objects are hit by a beam of light, they are forced along the direction of the beam by the light photons. That radiation force was first identified by the German astronomer Johannes Kepler in 1619 when he observed that tails of comets always point away from the Sun.
Dr Cizmar's team's technique allows for that force to be reversed which he said some people might find counter-intuitive.
"It's surprising," he said. "Only when we looked in detail at the process did we see the reversal. It's quite a narrow field it occurs at."
The team at the University of St Andrews worked with colleagues at the Institute of Scientific Instruments (ISI) in the Czech Republic.
Prof Zemanek, from the ISI, said: "The whole team have spent a number of years investigating various configurations of particles delivery by light. I am proud our results were recognized in this very competitive environment and I am looking forward to new experiments and applications. It is a very exciting time."

Practical scientific theories on real-life tractor beams have been developed since 1960, but it is thought this is the first time a beam has been used to draw microscopic objects towards the light source.  Scientists have previously used a technique called an optical vortex to move individual particles using beams of light, but this new approach works in liquids and a vacuum.

The first appearance of a tractor beam in fiction is thought to have been in the American author EE Smith's story The Skylark of Space, which was serialized in 1928. The story contained references to an "attractor beam".
It has been a staple plot device in science fiction television and movies allowing objects like space ships to be trapped in a beam of light, but Dr Cizmar said this particular technique would not eventually lead to that.

He said: "Unfortunately there is a transfer of energy. On a microscopic scale that is OK, but on a macro scale it would cause huge problems.
"It would result in a massive amount of heating of an object, like a space shuttle. So trapping a space ship is out of the question."

Scotty Star Trek
In that case..don't beam me up Scotty.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Gun Control - "Fewer Dead Children"

Washington DC Mayor Vincent Gray (4th L) helps lead the March on Washington for Gun Control on the National Mall in Washington, 26 January 2013 

Thousands of people have rallied in Washington DC calling for stricter gun controls as they marched from the Capitol to the Washington Monument. The crowd included residents of Newtown, Connecticut, where a primary school shooting last month revived a debate over security and gun safety. They carried banners carrying the names of gun violence victims and daubed with messages like "Gun Control Now".  Speakers urged them to lobby politicians to back gun control reform.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said one student had died from guns every two weeks while he was chief executive of Chicago's public schools. But he denied that gun control was about limiting firearm rights guaranteed by the US Constitution.
"This is about gun responsibility. This is about gun safety. This is about fewer dead Americans, fewer dead children, fewer children living in fear," he said.

Speaking alongside lawyers and Hollywood actors such as Kathleen Turner, the speakers backed President Barack Obama's call for a ban on military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, as well as wider background checks on gun buyers. Mr Obama has also proposed giving school districts funds to hire uniformed police officers to guard schools.
Guns in America

Gun murder graph
While some 46% of households and 29% of individuals said they owned a gun in 1990, two decades later this had fallen to 32% and 21%.
  • DC has the most gun homicides; Connecticut has fewer than average

Human Development Index
The Human Development Index (HDI) is a composite statistic of life expectancy, education, and income indices to rank countries into four tiers of human development. It was created by economist Mahbub ul Haq, followed by economist Amartya Sen in 1990, and published by the United Nations Development Programme.

File:2011 UN Human Development Report Quartiles.svg

 World map by quartiles of Human Development Index in 2011.
Very High
Data unavailable

Pentagon laying off 46,000 staff

Pentagon building in Washington, DC on 26 December 2011

The US defence department says it has begun laying off most of its 46,000 temporary employees, as automatic defence budget cuts loom in March. Deputy Defence Secretary Ashton Carter said the Pentagon was acting "because we're running out of time" to absorb potential changes to their budget.$50bn in cuts are due this year under the so-called fiscal cliff.

Lawmakers made a last-minute deal on 1 January to put them off for two months, but the ultimate outcome is undecided. Mr Carter said he was directing each military service to produce detailed plans by 1 February on reducing short-term spending. He also said the Pentagon could force its 800,000 civilian employees to lose one day of work per week without pay from April, in a move that would save $5bn.

The Pentagon and other parts of the US government face across-the-board cuts on 1 March, with an estimated $500bn decrease in the defence budget over 10 years. The US defence department unveiled a strategy in early 2012 designed to accommodate at least $450bn in Pentagon cuts over the next decade, as the country winds down the Afghanistan war. 

The automatic reductions due in March would be in addition to these savings.

Stooopid but Funny

The Most Stupid Man On Earth

There was a flood in a village. People started to evacuate.

One devout man said to the other villagers, “I’ll stay! God will save me!”

The flood got higher and a boat came and the man rowing it said “Come on mate, get in!”

“No” replied the man. God will save me!

The flood grew very high now and the man had to stand on the roof of his house.

A helicopter  came and the pilot offered to fly him to safety.”

No, God will save me!” he said

Eventually, of course, he died by drowning.

He got by the gates of heaven and he said to God “Why didn’t you save me?”

God replied, “For goodness sake! I sent a boat and a helicopter. What more do you want!”

Are Republicans the 'stupid party'?

Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal speaks to guests at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Rosemont, Illinois 8 June 2012 

 Governor Bobby Jindal
Bobby Jindal is warning that the Republicans must stop being the "stupid party". The Louisiana governor, a likely contender for his party's presidential nomination in 2016, said a number of Republicans had "damaged the brand" by making "offensive and bizarre" comments.

He's talking of course about those remarks about "legitimate rape" and how rape can't lead to pregnancy. The Republicans who made those comments did seem to be going out of their way to back up John Stuart Mill's 1866 comment: "I never meant to say that the Conservatives are generally stupid. I meant to say that stupid people are generally Conservative. I believe that is so obviously and universally admitted a principle that I hardly think any gentleman will deny it."

OK. That's the headline grabber. But it is hardly a revelation to point out that those who make ridiculous remarks during an election campaign should shut up. So it is worth looking at Gov Jindal's prescription in full. It is, after all, among the first contributions from a big name in the Republican party on how not to go down to defeat for a third time in a row.

He's adamant the party shouldn't change its principles. Not on taxation or big government, of course. But not on abortion or gay marriage either.  He rejects Mr Romney's apparent contention that 47% of voters were out of reach for Republicans, which was always, when you think about it, a council of despair.

Gov Jindal identifies a core Republican problem: they are overwhelmingly white in a country that is becoming more of a melting pot day by day.
"We must reject the notion that demography is destiny, the pathetic and simplistic notion that skin pigmentation dictates voter behaviour," he said.
He's a good person to say this. His parents came to the US from India in 1970. It says a lot about the way America has changed that he has become the governor of a state that resisted civil rights and defended segregation to the bitter end.

I don't want to underplay how important that is - but his speech doesn't say how Republicans can reach the fastest growing ethnic group - Latinos - without shifting their stance on immigration reform.  Moreover I am puzzled by what appears to be the core of his message. He rejects big government - but also seems to reject the fights about it in Washington.

He calls not only the debates about gun control, but also those on the fiscal cliff and debt ceiling "sideshows".
"These are in reality sideshows in Washington that we have allowed to take centre stage in our country - and as conservatives, we are falling into the sideshow trap," he said.
"We seem to have an obsession with government bookkeeping," he says. "We as Republicans have to accept that government number crunching - even conservative number crunching - is not the answer to our nation's problems."

Of course he's underscoring an inherent irony in conservatism - those politicians who dislike government put all their time and effort and will and money into becoming part of the government, so they can do away with much of it. Inevitably, they rather like being part of it, and stick around for years trying to slim down something they disapprove of, fanatical dieters insisting on eating at the best restaurants so they can better control the portion sizes.
Ironic; but I would have thought it was pretty essential for conservatives who want to control government spending to have be the party in control of that government. His argument seems to be that Republicans should spend their time encouraging the "real economy" and leaving it up to the states to spend what little public money he deems necessary.

Maybe this is merely a coded attack on those Republicans in the House of Representatives, who seem to think they won the election. If he is identifying them as a major part of the party's image problem, he is right, but he's not pointing a way out of their complex dilemma - the choice between being faithful Republicans or obstructionists in the minds of most Americans.

So an "A" for effort, grabbing headlines, and identifying the obvious, but a "C" for a rather confused economic approach, which looks more like a desire to say something jolting than a serious contribution.
I'm looking forward to hearing Florida Senator Marco Rubio, and even more, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, describe the way ahead. But Gov Jindal has made a start by confronting his rather complacent, party.

By Mark Mardell

Are they the "Stupid Party"?  They seem to be the obstructive, narrow minded, intolerant party to some observers..... Bobby didn't offer any intelligent solutions to party image problems. It may have been just a rather bizarre grab at public approval; just showing folks how discerning and aware he is of the fundamental flaws in his party. A little self agrandizement goes a long way when you have the White House in your sights....The Genie

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Definition of Irony


James Cameron..The Final Word

James Cameron's epic 1997 film Titanic won 11 Oscars and grossed well over a billion dollars worldwide. Now, National Geographic Channel joins the director and explorer-in-residence for the ultimate forensic investigation into the most infamous shipwreck of all time in Titanic: The Final Word With James Cameron. Cameron, who has made more than 30 dives to explore the Titanic, brings together a team of engineers, naval architects, artists, and historians to solve the lingering mysteries of why and how an "unsinkable" ship sank. With their combined expertise, they'll examine the feature film and determine what technology has revealed since its release. An investigation of this magnitude has never been attempted before, and some of the revelations may alter the fundamental interpretation of what exactly happened to the Titanic on April 14, 1912.

Airing on National Geographic Channel Jan 24 2013

Ask Maxy

Much to our delight, Maxy's Nana (89 years old) will be a guest advisor on Ask Maxy for a few weeks; Providing us with her own unique view on the letters we receive.

Dear Maxy ,
I just went to a reunion at my college . I graduated more than 20 years ago and have gone back only once or twice over the years . This was a big event , so I decided to go . It was awkward , because I hardly remembered anybody, but many of my former classmates remembered me . They kept coming up, very nicely to reminisce about things that occurred years ago, and I honestly didn't remember, I tried to be nice, but it felt weird .
Now I've been asked to come back next year for another reunion . It makes me think my former classmates didn't notice how disconnected I was . What should I do to smooth things over if I attend again ?

Dear Forgetful ,
The more time you spend with your college classmates, the easier it will be to remember them by name . you can be cordial and kind to people without making a big investment of time and enegry in remembering their names .
What people want most is to be acknowledged . When I see people whose names or faces I don't remember, I simply greet them warmly . If needed , I ask them to remind me of their name . If they get an attitude , it's on them , but that rarely happens .
One other thing to keep in mind is that it's perfectly normal not to remember people you haven't seen in more than 20 years . You can say you're sorry you can't remember someone with out feeling guilty.
Nana approved and agreed with our advice on this letter and pronounced it more than adequate .

Dear Maxy ,
May I vent a little about the extended family of a caregiver ? My relatives live out of state and rarely visit . This for them :
Please don't tell the primary caregiver what to do or how to do it . You don't have all the details and you do not control every situation . Good caregivers are proactive and vigilant . You are loved and your opinions matter . But unless you are a medical expert in these areas, please listen rather than resort to preconceived ideas .
When you do visit , don't say , "I guess you get the day off ." There is never a day off , especially if the loved one is in the hosiptal or rehab and preparations need to be made for what happens after they are discharged .
And while you may think it's "too early" to discuss assisted living or nursing home care , some of these places have waiting lists . It's never to early .
You may want to have a light, enjoyable visit , but some things still need to be handled , even unpleasant things . Life doesn't get put on hold simply because you are in town .
If you want to take over the full-time care , you are more than welcome . Otherwise , please respect the primary caregiver's role and responsibilities, and keep your interference to a minimum . You have no idea what it is like to have a family plus elderly parents to care for , with all the activities , medical appointments, medications and therapies to coordinate and facilitate . You purposely choose to live states away . Please don't fly in and start telling me what to do .
Serving as a primary caregiver is an honor and a privilege . It carries with it a tremendous responsibility and self-sacrifice . I do it out of love and I want what is best for them .
Walk a Mile in My Shoes

Dear Walk ,
I have heard this plea many times and know you speak for thousands of devoted caregivers .
But I also know that many relatives who live away need to feel as if they are contributing and often react by making recommendations and creating stress  .
Sometimes , all they need is a task to perform that will make them feel they are needed in a concrete way . I hope it helps them to understand what it's like to be a caregiver.

Nana feels that 'Walk' is perhaps a little harsh or even a touch bitter in her judgement of her relatives' behavior. Nana does not feel they want to "take over". They just want to take part in some small way. And Nana suggests that it may not be possible for them  to move to 'Walk's' state and be caregivers, so perhaps 'Walk' should not hold that against them.  She should consider their recommendations and take their visit in stride. After all, according to 'Walk' it only happens rarely.

Dear Maxy ,
I spent a lot of time with a guy over the summer as friends . There's a good chance he may have had romantic feeling toward me . I had feeling for him as well , but we never talked about it .
I thought we'll still be friends once school started , but we barely talk, and our last conversation was really awkward . Should I give up on being friends at all or try to talk to him about it ?
Missing Him

Dear Missing Him ,
Too bad neither of you acted on your interest in each other . It's not too late though for you to clarify things at the very least .
Definitely seek this guy out and tell him you want to talk . When you are together, start by telling him that you miss him . Remind him of how much fun you two had over the summer .
Nana thinks perhaps you should keep it light but indicate you would like to elevate your friendship to a new level. Men react differently to strong emotion than women and you would not want to  frighten him away. If he feels the same, he will say so in his own good time (no pressure).  Don't ask him what turned him off. Just be yourself and let  nature take it's course.

North Korea 'plans third nuclear test'


North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un claps his hands to celebrate the launching of the rocket on 12 December 2012 at the general satellite control and command centre in Pyongyang 
Kim Jong-un
North Korea says it is proceeding with plans for a third nuclear test.  In a statement carried by KCNA news agency, the top military body said the "high-level nuclear test" and more long-range rocket launches were aimed at its "arch-enemy", the US.

The statement gave no time-frame for the test. North Korea has conducted two nuclear tests, in 2006 and 2009.  The move comes two days after a UN Security Council resolution condemned Pyongyang's recent rocket launch.  The Security Council also expanded sanctions against the isolated communist country following its December launch, which was seen by the US and North Korea's neighbours as a banned test of long-range missile technology.

North Korea said the rocket was solely aimed at putting a satellite into space for peaceful purposes.
The statement, which came from North Korea's National Defence Commission, hit out at the resolution as "illegal", before pledging a response.
"We do not hide that the various satellites and long-range rockets we will continue to launch, as well as the high-level nuclear test we will proceed with, are aimed at our arch-enemy, the United States," KCNA quoted it as saying.
"Settling accounts with the US needs to be done with force, not with words," it added.

Recent reports from South Korean and US bodies which monitor North Korea's nuclear test sites had said North Korea could be preparing for a third test. Earlier on Thursday, a South Korean defence ministry spokesman said it appeared that North Korea was "ready to conduct a nuclear test at anytime if its leadership decides to go ahead". Regional neighbours and the US have urged it not to proceed.
"We hope they don't do it, we call on them not to do it. It will be a mistake and a missed opportunity if they were to do it," said Glyn Davies, the US special envoy on North Korea policy who is currently visiting Seoul. "This is not a moment to increase tensions on the Korean Peninsula."

A South Korean foreign ministry spokesman said Seoul deeply regretted the North Korean statement and "strongly" urged it not to go ahead. China's foreign ministry, meanwhile, called on all relevant parties to "refrain from action that might escalate the situation in the region".

Beijing - North Korea's closest ally and biggest trading partner - backed Tuesday's Security Council resolution, something which correspondents say will have angered its northern neighbour.
Both North Korea's previous nuclear tests followed long-range rocket launches.

North Korea's rocket lifts off on 12 December 2012 

If it were to go ahead, this would be the first nuclear test under Kim Jong-un, who took over the leadership after the death of his father Kim Jong-il in December 2011.

There was no explanation in the statement of what "high-level" test might mean. Experts believe the two previous tests used plutonium as fissile material, but North Korea is also believed to have been working on a programme to produce highly-enriched uranium.

It is thought that North Korea is not yet able to make a nuclear device small enough to mount on a long-range missile, although the US believes that is Pyongyang's ultimate goal.

North Korean nuclear tests

  • Two underground nuclear tests have been carried out by North Korea, in 2006 and 2009
  • They were believed to have used plutonium, but experts believe the planned test could use highly-enriched uranium as the fissile material
  • Analysts say a new test tunnel has been prepared in Punggye-ri, the site of the previous tests
  • North Korea is thought to have enough nuclear material for a small number of bombs, but not the technology to make a nuclear warhead
  • Multiple rounds of multi-national talks have failed to categorically convince Pyongyang to commit to giving up its nuclear ambitions

XL pipeline could define Obama's green agenda

Pipeline protestors  

Even before he was sworn in for a second term President Obama's in-tray has been bulging with letters about climate and energy issues. The big, looming problem that encompasses both areas is the Keystone XL pipeline.

This $7bn, 1,700 mile trans-national project is meant to bring oil from the tar sands of Alberta to the refineries of Texas. Backed by industry but opposed by environmentalists it has become hugely divisive, with protestors taking to the streets outside the White House.

A year ago, President Obama kicked the issue into the long grass.  But the long grass has now wilted and the President will shortly have to give a final yea or nay.

In a recent letter to the President, 18 well known climate scientists urged him to reject the pipeline on the grounds that it increases US reliance on fossil fuels.
"Eighteen months ago some of us wrote you about the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, explaining why in our opinion its construction ran counter to both national and planetary interests," the letter said.
"Nothing that has happened since has changed that evaluation; indeed, the year of review that you asked for on the project made it clear exactly how pressing the climate issue really is."

But another letter, from the premier of the Canadian province of Saskatchewan and signed by 10 state governors, stressed that the pipeline guaranteed energy supplies into the future from a reliable source.
"With the Keystone XL Pipeline, U.S. imports from Canada, a democratic friend and ally, could reach 4 million barrels a day by 2020, twice what is currently imported from the Persian Gulf." it said.

It is an unenviable dilemma for a President who in his first term tended to steer a middle course on climate and energy issues, sometimes supporting the environmental argument sometimes supporting the economic rationale.  He championed the reduction of emissions from cars and power plants, while at the same time expanding exploration for oil and gas in the Arctic. If he now supports the pipeline, he will be accused of giving in to industry. Reject it and he will be accused of sacrificing American jobs for ideology.

In his inaugural address the President indicated that climate change would (once again) be a priority - but more than words, his actions on XL will be likely to set the tone for energy and climate issues in his second term.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Canada gripped by deep-freeze...Extreme cold advisory


Skating on the Rideau Canal in Ottawa

The teeth-chattering cold snap that has caught many Canadians off-guard, seizing vehicle engines and setting cold-weather records in many parts of the country, is expected to last at least until the weekend.

Frigid wind chill temperatures brought on by an arctic air mass will begin to taper off for the Prairies and central Canada in the coming days as the jet stream moves it east.
Earlier Wednesday morning, the coldest measured temperature in the world was –43.1 C in the North West Territories ( N.W.T.), that is 43.1 degrees below freezing for all you Farenheit people with Rouyn Airport in Quebec second at –40.3 C and Jakutsk, Russia, recording –38.8 C.

Hydro-Québec set a record for power consumption, with system demand reaching a historical peak of 38,910 megawatts (MW) this morning, exceeding the 37,717 MW peak recorded on Jan. 24, 2011.
While all of its production facilities remain in operation, Hydro-Québec is asking the public to reduce power consumption during peak periods of 7-9 a.m. on Wednesday and Thursday, and 4-8 p.m. Wednesday.
Temperatures for Montreal and Québec City for Thursday are forecasted to be –40 C with the wind chill.

Ottawa Public Health issued a frostbite warning after the capital was at its coldest in eight years. The lows are forecasted to continue into Thursday with northwest winds making temperatures –39 C with the wind chill.

Health officials are advising people to wear layers if going outside, reminding them it only takes five to 10 minutes for exposed skin to freeze once the temperature dips to –25 C and below. Elderly people are advised to stay indoors  if they can or make activities outside as brief as possible. In fact the advisory recommends all people stay indoors if at all possible.

"Shelters are full, they're at capacity," said the CBC's Ashley Burke, adding that staff at homeless shelters were laying down mats to create makeshift sleeping quarters.  A homeless man was found dead of hypothermia in Toronto; the unconfirmed conclusion is that he froze to death. There may be others before the Arctic front moves on. If you can take someone to a shelter, please do it.  Or if you spot homeless people in need of shelter you are advised to call the City of Toronto's 311 hotline.

But the cold weather in Ottawa wasn't all bad news, as the Rideau Canal opened another three-kilometre stretch for skaters keen to get outside no matter how cold it gets.
Shaun Pereira was doing excavation work at an outdoor site in downtown Toronto on Wednesday and called the cold snap very jarring.
"This morning was brutal. Everything was frozen, my hands, my face, " he said.  Pereira, who works outside "all day, every day," thinks the cold weather was long overdue.
"I honestly cannot remember it being as cold as it has been this week. But I'm always ready for it, I was born in Canada. A few extra layers and some coffee is all I need."

Toronto is a far cry from other cold regions of the country like Churchill, Man., which on Thursday morning has a projected high of –25 C with an extreme wind chill making it –46 C.

Snow squall warnings forecasted for western and southern Newfoundland remain in place tonight and through to tomorrow. Temperatures across the Maritimes will be into the minus double digits again for daytime highs, and wind chill values are expected to range from the –20s to well into the –30s for New Brunswick, P.E.I. and parts of central Nova Scotia.

Bundle up Canada and don't forget to dress in layers. Wrap your children warmly and remember, ears and cheeks get frosbitten very quickly. Winter has arrived.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

French Yachtsman Rescued by Cruise Ship

A French yachtsman has been rescued from the Southern Ocean after spending three days in a life raft.
Alain Delord was forced to abandon his yacht after it was damaged in a storm. The crew of an Australian cruise ship picked up his distress signal and captured the rescue on film.

Pro Gun Rallies Held Across America

Rallies have been held across America to defend the right to own firearms in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre.

The protests come after New York state, which already has among the strictest gun laws in the US, widened its ban on assault weapons last week.

Across the country, there has been a fierce response by pro-gun activists towards plans that would reintroduce a nationwide ban.

Tom Mabelitini, who joined a protest in Medina, Ohio said: "You can tell the left-wing liberal idiots there in Washington and all of them, leave our guns alone, we are not hurting anything. It is the criminals, deal with the criminals".

US President Barack Obama has also called for ban on high-capacity magazines - which dramatically increase a weapons firing power - and more stringent background checks on anyone who buys a gun.

But pro-gun activist Craig Bevil, from Texas, is adamant that the second amendment right to bear arms should be upheld.

"We had the unfortunate thing that happened in Newtown. We had the horrible thing that happened in Aurora, and instead of coming up with logical solutions, you know, mental health, criminal background checks, making them a little more strict or more enforceable maybe, instead he's (President Obama) using it as a way to make a gun grab."

The mass shooting at a primary school in Connecticut in December, which killed 20 children and six adults, was the deadliest in a string of US shooting rampages last year.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Inauguration: " Seize the moment"

A woman listens during the 57th inauguration ceremonies for Obama and Biden at the U.S. Capitol, in Washington


 President Barack Obama pays his respects at the Martin Luther King, Jr. statue in the Capitol rotunda during the inauguration ceremonies in Washington

 U.S. President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, and Speaker of the House Boehner clap during the Inaugural Luncheon in Washington

 Former U.S. President Clinton and Secretary of Defense Panetta talk during the Inaugural Luncheon in Washington

The head table for the Inaugural luncheon is photographed at Statuary Hall in Washington

Obama laughs with Reid, Alexander, and Schumer after signing a proclamation after swearing-in ceremonies in the U.S Capitol in Washington

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and wife Rosalynn Carter arrive for the presidential inauguration on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington


President Barack Obama waves to crowd after his Inaugural speech at the ceremonial swearing-in on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol during the 57th Presidential Inauguration in Washington, Monday, Ja

                    "My fellow Americans, we are made for this moment, and we will seize it"


Crowds congregate in The National Mall for the ceremonial swearing-in for President Barack Obama at the U.S. Capitol during the 57th Presidential Inauguration in Washington, Monday, Jan. 21, 2013. (AP

Inauguration 2013

Inauguration 2013
President Obama has told the American people to "seize the moment", in a speech in Washington DC inaugurating his second term as US president. He issued a plea for political unity while embracing liberal causes such as immigration reform, gay rights and the fight against climate change.

Mr Obama, 51, who is the 44th US president, was sworn in for his second term by Chief Justice John Roberts. Hundreds of thousands of people crammed the ceremony on the National Mall. Former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, along with dozens of senators, congressional leaders and other dignitaries, attended the event at the US Capitol.

In his inaugural address, the Democratic president laid out his vision for the next four years and repeatedly declared: "Our journey is not complete."
"This generation of Americans has been tested by crises that steeled our resolve and proved our resilience," he said. "A decade of war is now ending. An economic recovery has begun. America's possibilities are limitless."
He added: "My fellow Americans, we are made for this moment, and we will seize it - so long as we seize it together."

In a roughly 18-minute, 2,100-word speech, Mr Obama called for "collective action" to preserve American freedom, which he linked to social and economic equality.
"We, the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it," he said.

In an era of congressional deadlock, the president said Americans must make hard choices to reduce the deficit and debt.  But he defended costly federal healthcare programmes which Republicans want to pare back. "These things do not sap our initiative, they strengthen us," he said.  And after four years of hyper-partisan struggle, during which he has repeatedly tussled with conservatives, he challenged Washington to change the tone of its politics.
"We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate," he said.

Without making specific policy recommendations, Mr Obama said the US must overhaul the tax code, reform its education system, revamp the voting system and address climate change.
"Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought and more powerful storms," he said.

Mr Obama also referred to his just-launched campaign to curb gun violence.
"Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for, and cherished, and always safe from harm," he said, naming the town in Connecticut where 20 children were massacred in a shooting at a primary school last month.

Mr Obama also said there was a need to "find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity."

As he was sworn in, Mr Obama placed his left hand on bibles owned by legendary American civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr and President Abraham Lincoln. Vice-President Joe Biden took the oath as well.  Mr Obama was also sworn in at a small White House ceremony on Sunday, as the US Constitution dictates presidential terms begin on 20 January.

After Monday's speech, Mr Obama attended the traditional inaugural lunch, dining on bison and lobster with US lawmakers in the Capitol building's Statuary Hall.  The president's motorcade then set off on the parade route down Pennsylvania Avenue toward the White House. The president and first lady emerged from the limousine to walk part of the route hand in hand.

The zone surrounding the National Mall in the US capital was in virtual lockdown, with movement of people and vehicles tightly restricted. White tents, trailers and generators lined the parade route, while nearby buildings were adorned with red, white and blue bunting.

Officials estimate about 700,000 people were to attend the inauguration, down significantly from 2009, when about 1.8 million people witnessed Mr Obama be sworn in as America's first black president. About 260,000 people attended George W Bush's second inauguration ceremony in 2005.

In the evening, the Obamas donned formal attire for two inaugural balls in Washington, where 40,000 people were expected to attend.

Inauguration Day schedule

1155: Obama publicly sworn in as president by Chief Justice John Roberts
1200: Obama delivers inaugural address
1239: Obama signs nomination papers for his Cabinet
1300: Inaugural lunch in Statuary Hall at the US Capitol
1436: Inaugural parade on Pennsylvania Avenue, ending at White House