Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year!

The Daily "Near You?"

Zürich, Zurich, Switzerland. Thanks for stopping by.

Congressional Hearings, Debate Continue

WASHINGTON (CNN) — "Top congressional Republicans and Democrats exchanged heated arguments, pictured above, over a massive stimulus package that lawmakers hope to send to President-elect Barack Obama shortly after he takes office next month. A House Democratic leadership aide told CNN on Tuesday that Congress will likely take up a stimulus bill the second week of January."

Charles Haddon Spurgeon

Is Extreme Bias/Prejudice a "Mental Illness?"

“The 48-year-old man turned down a job because he feared that a co-worker would be gay. He was upset that gay culture was becoming mainstream and blamed most of his personal, professional and emotional problems on the gay and lesbian movement. These fixations preoccupied him every day. Articles in magazines about gays made him agitated. He confessed that his fears had left him socially isolated and unemployed for years: A recovering alcoholic, the man even avoided 12-step meetings out of fear he might encounter a gay person.

"He had a fixed delusion about the world," said Sondra E. Solomon, a psychologist at the University of Vermont who treated the man for two years. "He felt under attack, he felt threatened." Mental health practitioners say they regularly confront extreme forms of racism, homophobia and other prejudice in the course of therapy, and that some patients are disabled by these beliefs. As doctors increasingly weigh the effects of race and culture on mental illness, some are asking whether pathological bias ought to be an official psychiatric diagnosis.

Advocates have circulated draft guidelines and have begun to conduct systematic studies. While the proposal is gaining traction, it is still in the early stages of being considered by the professionals who decide on new diagnoses. If it succeeds, it could have huge ramifications on clinical practice, employment disputes and the criminal justice system. Perpetrators of hate crimes could become candidates for treatment, and physicians would become arbiters of how to distinguish "ordinary prejudice" from pathological bias.

Several experts said they are unsure whether bias can be pathological. Solomon, for instance, is uncomfortable with the idea. But they agreed that psychiatry has been inattentive to the effects of prejudice on mental health and illness. "Has anyone done a word search for 'racism' in DSM-IV? It doesn't exist," said Carl C. Bell, a Chicago psychiatrist, referring to psychiatry's manual of mental disorders. "Has anyone asked, 'If you have paranoia, do you project your hostility toward other groups?' The answer is 'Hell, no!' "

The proposed guidelines that California psychologist Edward Dunbar created describe people whose daily functioning is paralyzed by persistent fears and worries about other groups. The guidelines have not been endorsed by the American Psychiatric Association, which publishes the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM); advocates are mostly seeking support for systematic study. Darrel A. Regier, director of research at the psychiatric association, said he supports research into whether pathological bias is a disorder. But he said the jury is out on whether a diagnostic classification would add anything useful, given that clinicians already know about disorders in which people rigidly hold onto false beliefs. "If you are going to put racism into the next edition of DSM, you would have enormous criticism," Regier said. Critics would ask, " 'Are you pathologizing all of life?' You better be prepared to defend that classification." "I think it's absurd," said Sally Satel, a psychiatrist and the author of "PC, M.D.: How Political Correctness Is Corrupting Medicine." Satel said the diagnosis would allow hate-crime perpetrators to evade responsibility by claiming they suffered from a mental illness. "You could use it as a defense."

Psychiatrists who advocate a new diagnosis, such as Gary Belkin, deputy chief of psychiatry at New York's Bellevue Hospital, said social norms play a central role in how all psychiatric disorders are defined. Pedophilia is considered a disorder by psychiatrists, Belkin noted, but that does not keep child molesters from being prosecuted. "Psychiatrists who are uneasy with including something like this in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual need to get used to the fact that the whole manual reflects social context," said Belkin, who is planning to launch a study on pathological bias among patients at his hospital. "That is true of depression on down. Pathological bias is no more or less scientific than major depression."

Advocates for the new diagnosis also say most candidates for treatment, such as the man Solomon treated, are not criminals or violent offenders. Rather, they are like the young woman in Los Angeles who thought Jews were diseased and would infect her -- she carried out compulsive cleansing rituals and hit her head to drive away her obsessions. She realized she needed help but was afraid her therapist would be Jewish, said Dunbar, a Los Angeles psychologist who has amassed several case studies and treated several dozen patients for racial paranoia and other forms of what he considers pathological bias. Another patient was a waiter so hostile to black people that he flung plates on the table when he served black patrons and got fired from multiple jobs. A third patient was a Vietnam War veteran who was so fearful of Asians that he avoided social situations where he might meet them, Dunbar said. "When I see someone who won't see a physician because they're Jewish, or who can't sit in a restaurant because there are Asians, or feels threatened by homosexuals in the workplace, the party line in mental health says, 'This is not our problem,' " the psychologist said. "If it's not our problem, whose problem is it?"

Opponents say making pathological bias a diagnosis raises the specter of social engineering -- brainwashing individuals who do not fit society's norms. But Dunbar and others say patients with disabling levels of prejudice should be treated for the same reason as are patients with any other disorder: They would feel, live and function better. "They are delusional," said Alvin F. Poussaint, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, who has long advocated such a diagnosis. "They imagine people are going to do all kinds of bad things and hurt them, and feel they have to do something to protect themselves. "When they reach that stage, they are very impaired," he said. "They can't work and function; they can't hold a job. They would benefit from treatment of some type, particularly medication."

Doctors who treat inmates at the California State Prison outside Sacramento concur: They have diagnosed some forms of racist hatred among inmates and administered antipsychotic drugs. "We treat racism and homophobia as delusional disorders," said Shama Chaiken, who later became a divisional chief psychologist for the California Department of Corrections, at a meeting of the American Psychiatric Association. "Treatment with antipsychotics does work to reduce these prejudices."

Amid a profusion of recent studies into the nature of prejudice, researchers have found that biases are very common. Almost everyone harbors what might be termed "ordinary prejudice," the research indicates. Anthony Greenwald, a psychologist at the University of Washington in Seattle, and Mahzarin R. Banaji, a psychologist at Harvard, developed tests for such biases. By measuring the speed with which people make mental associations, the psychologists found that biases affect even those who actively resist them.

"When things are more strongly paired in our minds, we can respond to them more quickly," Banaji said. "Large numbers of Americans cannot as swiftly make the association between 'black' and 'good' as they can between 'white' and 'good.' " Similarly, psychologist Margo Monteith at the University of Kentucky in Lexington found that people can have prejudices against groups they know nothing about. She administered a test in which volunteers, under time pressure, had to associate a series of words with either "America" or a fictitious country she called "Marisat." Volunteers more easily associated Marisat with such words as "poison," "death" and "evil," while associating America with "sunrise," "paradise" and "loyal." "A large part of our self-esteem derives from our group membership," Monteith said. "To the extent we can feel better about our group relative to other groups, we can feel good about ourselves. It's likely a built-in mechanism."

If biases are so common, many doctors ask, can racism really be a mental illness? "I don't think racism is a mental illness, and that's because 100 percent of people are racist," said Paul J. Fink, a former president of the American Psychiatric Association. "If you have a diagnostic category that fits 100 percent of people, it's not a diagnostic category." But Poussaint said there is a difference between ordinary prejudice and pathological bias -- the same distinction that psychiatrists make between sadness and depression. All people experience sadness, anxiety and fear, but extreme, disabling forms of these emotions are called disorders.

While people with ordinary prejudice try very hard to conceal their biases, Solomon said, her homophobic patient had no embarrassment about his attitude toward gays. Dunbar said people with pathological prejudice often lack filtering capabilities. As a result, he said, they face problems at work and home. "Everyone is inculcated with stereotypes and biases with cultural issues, but some individuals not only hold beliefs that are very rigid, but they are part of a psychological problem," Dunbar said. The psychologist said he has helped such patients with talk therapy, which encourages patients to question the basis for their beliefs, and by steering them toward medications such as antipsychotics. The woman with the bias against Jews did not overcome her prejudice, Dunbar said, but she learned to control her fear response in social settings. The patient with hostility against African Americans realized his beliefs were "stupid."

Solomon discovered she was most effective dealing with the homophobic man when she was nonjudgmental. When he claimed there were more gays and lesbians than ever before, she presented him with data showing there was no such shift. At those times, she reported in a case study, the patient would say, "I know, I know." He would recognize that he was not being logical, but then get angry and return to the same patterns of obsession. Solomon did not identify the man because of patient confidentiality. Standing in the central yard of the maximum-security California State Prison with inmates exercising around her, Chaiken explained how she distinguished pathological bias from ordinary prejudice: A prisoner who belonged to a gang with racist views might express such views to fit in with his gang, but if he continues "yelling racial slurs, assaulting others when it's clear there is no benefit" after he leaves the gang, the behavior was no longer "adaptive." Prison officials declined to identify inmates who had been treated, or make them available for interviews.

Chicago psychiatrist Bell said he has not made up his mind on whether bias can be pathological. But in proposing a research agenda for the next edition of psychiatry's DSM of mental disorders, Bell and researchers from the Mayo Clinic, McGill University, the University of California at Los Angeles and other academic institutions wrote: "Clinical experience informs us that racism may be a manifestation of a delusional process, a consequence of anxiety, or a feature of an individual's personality dynamics." The psychiatrists said their profession has neglected the issue: "One solution would be to encourage research that seeks to delineate the validity and reliability of racism as a symptom and to investigate the possibility of including it in some diagnostic criteria sets in future editions of DSM."


Winston Churchill

Karl Denninger: Economic Predictions for 2009

"• The economy will not recover in 2009. Job loss will continue through the year and unemployment will reach 8% in the "headline" statistic by the end of the year. U-6 (broad unemployment, or the closest to "real" unemployment without government "cooking") will top 15%. All the "talking heads" are predicting a turnaround in the second half of 2009. They will be wrong. Look at their records for 2008 - all of them were predicting closes at or above 1500 for the S&P 500. Why does CNBC continue to put people on the air who, if you listened to them, cost you 40% or more of your money?
• Deflation, not inflation, will become evident well beyond housing. Other capital goods beyond housing will see real price declines for the first time since the 1930s. Debt is inherently deflationary; the "hyperinflationists" will once again be shown to be wrong (how many years running will it be now?)
• Housing prices will continue to decline. I believe we're about halfway done with the price correction. Those who think we will turn this in 2009 are wrong - unless we get an all-on collapse in prices in early 2009, which I do not believe will occur. I've heard several claims we will have positive year-over-year home price changes in 2009. I'll take the other side of that bet.
• The Fed's attempt to "pump liquidity" will be shown to be an abject failure. We will see either a Treasury Market selloff or worse, severe instability in the dollar at some point in 2009.
• GDP will post a 12-month negative number and there is a decent shot that we will actually see an official depression print before the end of 2009, defined as a 10% decline peak-to-trough.
• The Stock Market has not bottomed although you may think it has for a few months. The annual range will be quite extreme; I would not be surprised at all to see 1,000 touched on the SPX in the first part of the year. I believe the SPX will at least touch 500 in the next 12-24 months and the current bottom will not hold. It is possible that we could see a crash to SPX 300 and DOW 3,000 some time this year, probably after the spring (when the "Obama Halo" wears off - if it isn't blown off by economic events first.) Yes, this means I am predicting a fifty percent swing in the SPX in 2009. Lots of money to be made as a trader if you're quick and good, but an absolute minefield if you're a long-term investor.
• Precious metals will not be a safe haven. The callers for $1600 and above on gold will be wrong, unless there is a major military conflict. I do not rate that probability as particularly high, but it is an event (along with a major terrorism incident - nuclear or biochemical - that would cause a rocket shot in Gold prices), so I am hedging that call. The risk of this sort of "response" to the economic crisis is, however, real, and will rise significantly going into 2010 and beyond. We'll revisit this one (a major war) next year.
• The Dollar will not collapse. This is not because we're in great shape or will truly recover, it is because the rest of the world is in worse shape than we are. Last year pundits were all calling for the dollar to collapse to 40 - it didn't happen. Now they're calling the dollar's strength a "Bear market rally." Nonsense; the simple truth is that while we're in bad shape the rest of the world is literally on the precipice of a full-on collapse. European banks are more-levered and less-transparent than our banks as just one example.
• The pound or euro - and perhaps both - will likely be where the FX dislocation initiates if it occurs. I see the potential for the pound and euro to both reach par with the dollar, although I'm not going to go that far out on the tree limb and predict it - yet. Needless to say that would rocket the Dollar Index but it won't be our strength that does it - it will be their weakness.
• The US Consumer will go from a negative savings rate to a seriously-positive one. I am predicting 4% in 2009 but it could go as high as 10%. The math on this is simple - the "consumerist legion of more" has run its course and all that's left is debt. It hurts and bad; expecting the American Consumer to cut off his other arm is just plain dumb. By the way this is a good thing in the longer term for America once the excess debt is forced out and defaulted through the system.
• Commercial Real Estate will effectively collapse and most commercial Real Estate REITs will be either insolvent or limping on life support. There will be calls for bailouts (which may be attempted; the calls are already starting to be heard) but it won't matter - a failed business is a failed business, bailout or no, and overcapacity must go away before sustainable business conditions can return.
• Along with the above, expect 10% of all retail stores to close, and that number could go as high as 20%. That's not going to be fun; there will be hundreds of malls that wind up literally shuttered across America. Stay away from most retailers and property groups as investments. Firms like SPG and VNO are levitating on the strength of their dividends (7-10% yields at present); I believe this is a sucker play; if retailer defaults force dividend cuts (and I believe they will) the commercial REITs will go straight into the toilet.
• Several states will get in serious financial trouble and outright default of one or more is possible in 2009. California leads this parade. But even if there is a default on a state basis, the effect will be highly localized, as county and municipal governments vary in their wisdom and budget process. The real pain comes in state-wide social and educational programs. Be very careful if you are in municipal bonds or thinking of getting back into them (I recommended they be dumped in 2007 - look at what has happened to the closed-end funds in 08! Aieeee!) as the default risk is VERY REAL. If you're buying individual issues and do the work to determine not only the risk of default but also the likely recovery if they do default there are some good deals out there - but only if you're doing the work. "Trust me" (as in buying funds, whether mutual funds or closed-end stuff) is very dangerous.
• Mortgages are not done. The story last year was "Subprime." This year's will be "ALT-A", "Option ARMs" and so-called "Prime". The Fed and Treasury know this, which is why they are playing games with "agency" debt in a desperate attempt to clear this market before the ticking nuclear devices go off. The amount of debt involved in these "bad deals" is vastly higher than that in the "subprime" space and if they fail to contain it (a near certainty) Round #2 of severe bank instability gets served up on us in the second half of 2009.
• If you want to refinance a mortgage you may get one brief shot at it with long rates around 4%. You're nuts to buy outright unless you intend to die in the home, but if you have a solid reason to be obtaining a mortgage or wish to refinance you will probably get the opportunity. This assumes the "buydown game" gets going before Treasuries dislocate; if you get the opportunity take it as it is likely to be fleeting. The few places in this country where homes wind up selling for 2.5x incomes (on average) and you have an opportunity to finance at 4% and change will be decent buying opportunities - if you're sure you can cash flow the note (e.g. your job and/or income stream is not in any danger of collapsing.)
• Those who have said that the corporate bond market is being "unreasonable" in its expectation for defaults will start to look like the jackasses they are. Actual default rates (not projections) on non-investment-grade debt will skyrocket starting in 2009 and there will be no sign of it turning around this year. If you're playing in this area of the market thinking that "the worst is behind us", I hope you like walking around bald as the haircuts handed out to folks like you will be especially severe and delivered with a straight razor.
• The calls for "more lending" to consumers and businesses will go exactly nowhere. The problem isn't credit availability - there's plenty of money available to lend if you are credit-worthy. Those who are being turned down now simply aren't credit-worthy when one looks at what they want to do with the money and what they're backing their repayment capacity with. The more "credit stimulus" is thrown into the economy (and there will be more) the worse the downturn will get.
• General Motors and Chrysler will fail to meet their targets and it will be labor that sinks the deal. At least one and probably both will wind up in some form of bankruptcy in 2009. The UAW is insane; Gettlefinger needs to be strung up by his genitals and pelted with rotten tomatoes by his union "brothers", and if they had a lick of sense they'd have already done it. They obviously don't. I give this mess six months tops, with Ford as the only possible survivor. The recent GMAC games show exactly how desperate they are; 0% 5 year loans to people with 620 FICO scores are flat-out insane and the default rates on those loans are going to wind up in economics textbooks five years hence.
• Protectionism and currency manipulation will rear their ugly heads in 2009, originating not here but in Asia as their economies go straight into the toilet. China and Japan are at severe risk here.
• Commodities will appear to be headed for a new bull market but this will turn out to be a false hope as demand continues to collapse. Attempts to manage oil output to prop up the price will fail. Several oil-producing nations will find themselves in serious economic trouble, with Russia being in the lead but by no means alone.
• Sovereign debt defaults will number at least three with many other nations on "watch" for same; we had one last year (Iceland.) Noise about a US "AAA" downgrade will continue. Highest on the list for probables are Russia, which needs oil at roughly double its current price - and stable - to be financially viable. Not going to happen in the near term.
• China will have its first large-scale rumbling of civil unrest as a consequence of collapsing export demand and thus employment. They'll manage to tamp it down - this year. Don't take a bet on that holding together longer-term. Those who think China will be "ok" are deluded; they have a horrifying overcapacity problem (debt-financed, of course) and there is no way for them to get out of it. They are truly going to "take it in both holes" down the road, but the worst of it won't be in 2009 - that is still a year or two in the future.
• Foreign uptake of Treasuries will be choked off - by necessity. It won't be because they want to screw the US (although they should have a long time ago, given our profligate and unsustainable habits), it will be because they will be forced to redirect their resources inward as their own economies collapse.
• "The City" (London to be precise, Britain generally) will be recognized as getting it "worse than we are" (in America.) This will be the first of many validations of my thesis "we're screwed, they're gang-raped."
• Things will get "revolting" in a number of nations. Not here in America. Yet. If we're lucky the American Sheep will wake up and stage some of that peaceful protest stuff I outlined above. If we're not so fortunate 2010 could be really bad.”

Well known Market Commentator Karl Denninger runs 'The Market Ticker' website. A serious look at the daily operations of our Free Market and it's investment and financial practices.,-Where-Were-Heading-2009.html


'The Tragedy of Gaza, the Tragedy of Israel"

“Can anyone who is following the Israeli air attacks on Gaza-the buildings blown to rubble, the children killed on their way to school, the long rows of mutilated corpses, the wailing mothers and wives, the crowds of terrified Palestinians not knowing where to flee, the hospitals so overburdened and out of supplies they cannot treat the wounded, and our studied, callous indifference to this widespread human suffering- wonder why we are hated?

Our self-righteous celebration of ourselves and our supposed virtue is as false as that of Israel. We have become monsters, militarized bullies, heartless and savage. We are a party to human slaughter, a flagrant war crime, and do nothing. We forget that the innocents who suffer and die in Gaza are a reflection of ourselves, of how we might have been should fate and time and geography have made the circumstances of our birth different. We forget that we are all absurd and vulnerable creatures. We all have the capacity to fear and hate and love. "Expose thyself to what wretches feel," King Lear said, entering the mud and straw hovel of Poor Tom, "and show the heavens more just."

Privilege and power, especially military power, is a dangerous narcotic. Violence destroys those who bear the brunt of its force, but also those who try to use it to become gods. Over 350 Palestinians have been killed, many of them civilians, and over 1,000 have been wounded since the air attacks began on Saturday. Ehud Barak, Israel's defense minister, said Israel is engaged in a "war to the bitter end" against Hamas in Gaza. A war? Israel uses sophisticated attack jets and naval vessels to bomb densely crowded refugee camps and slums, to attack a population that has no air force, no air defense, no navy, no heavy weapons, no artillery units, no mechanized armor, no command and control, no army, and calls it a war. It is not a war. It is murder.”

"It is an unfolding humanitarian catastrophe that each day poses the entire 1.5 million Gazans to an unspeakable ordeal, to a struggle to survive in terms of their health," Falk has said of the ongoing Israeli blockade of Gaza. "This is an increasingly precarious condition. A recent study reports that 46 percent of all Gazan children suffer from acute anemia. There are reports that the sonic booms associated with Israeli overflights have caused widespread deafness, especially among children. Gazan children need thousands of hearing aids. Malnutrition is extremely high in a number of different dimensions and affects 75 percent of Gazans. There are widespread mental disorders, especially among young people without the will to live. Over 50 percent of Gazan children under the age of 12 have been found to have no will to live."

Before the air assaults, Gaza spent 12 hours a day without power, which can be a death sentence to the severely ill in hospitals. Most of Gaza is now without power. There are few drugs and little medicine, including no cancer or cystic fibrosis medication. Hospitals have generators but often lack fuel. Medical equipment, including one of Gaza's three CT scanners, has been destroyed by power surges and fluctuations. Medical staff cannot control the temperature of incubators for newborns. And Israel has revoked most exit visas, meaning some of those who need specialized care, including cancer patients and those in need of kidney dialysis, have died. Of the 230 Gazans estimated to have died last year because they were denied proper medical care, several spent their final hours at Israeli crossing points where they were refused entry into Israel. The statistics gathered on children-half of Gaza's population is under the age of 17-are increasingly grim. About 45 percent of children in Gaza have iron deficiency from a lack of fruit and vegetables, and 18 percent have stunted growth.

"It is macabre," Falk said of the blockade. "I don't know of anything that exactly fits this situation. People have been referring to the Warsaw ghetto as the nearest analog in modern times. There is no structure of an occupation that endured for decades and involved this kind of oppressive circumstances," the rapporteur added. "The magnitude, the deliberateness, the violations of international humanitarian law, the impact on the health, lives and survival and the overall conditions warrant the characterization of a crime against humanity. This occupation is the direct intention by the Israeli military and civilian authorities. They are responsible and should be held accountable."

The point of the Israeli attack, ostensibly, is to break Hamas, the radical Islamic group that was elected to power in 2007. But Hamas has repeatedly proposed long-term truces with Israel and offered to negotiate a permanent truce. During the last cease-fire, established through Egyptian intermediaries in July, Hamas upheld the truce although Israel refused to ease the blockade. It was Israel that, on Nov. 4, initiated an armed attack that violated the truce and killed six Palestinians. It was only then that Hamas resumed firing rockets at Israel.

"This is a crime of survival," Falk said of the rocket attacks by Palestinians. "Israel has put the Gazans in a set of circumstances where they either have to accept whatever is imposed on them or resist in any way available to them. That is a horrible dilemma to impose upon a people. This does not alleviate the Palestinians, and Gazans in particular, for accountability for doing these acts involving rocket fire, but it also imposes some responsibility on Israel for creating these circumstances."

The use of terror and hunger to break a hostile population is one of the oldest forms of warfare. I watched the Bosnian Serbs employ the same tactic in Sarajevo. Those who orchestrate such sieges do not grasp the terrible rage born of long humiliation, indiscriminate violence and abuse. A father or a mother whose child dies because of a lack of vaccines or proper medical care does not forget. A boy whose ill grandmother dies while detained at an Israel checkpoint does not forget. A family that loses a child in an airstrike does not forget. All who endure humiliation, abuse and the murder of family members do not forget. This rage becomes a virus within those who, eventually, stumble out into the daylight. Is it any wonder that 71 percent of children interviewed at a school in Gaza recently said they wanted to be a "martyr"?

The Israelis in Gaza, like the American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, are foolishly breeding the next generation of militants and Islamic radicals. Jihadists, enraged by the injustices done by Israel and the United States, seek to carry out reciprocal acts of savagery, even at the cost of their own lives. The violence unleashed on Palestinian children will, one day, be the violence unleashed on Israeli children. This is the tragedy of Gaza. This is the tragedy of Israel.”

- Chris Hedges,

Edmund Burke

"All that is necessary for the triumph
of evil is that good men do nothing."
- Edmund Burke

"Time Travel In The Brain"

“What are you doing when you aren’t doing anything at all? If you said “nothing,” then you have just passed a test in logic and flunked a test in neuroscience. When people perform mental tasks—adding numbers, comparing shapes, identifying faces—different areas of their brains become active, and brain scans show these active areas as brightly colored squares on an otherwise dull gray background. But researchers have recently discovered that when these areas of our brains light up, other areas go dark. This dark network (which comprises regions in the frontal, parietal and medial temporal lobes) is off when we seem to be on, and on when we seem to be off. If you climbed into an MRI machine and lay there quietly, waiting for instructions from a technician, the dark network would be as active as a beehive. But the moment your instructions arrived and your task began, the bees would freeze and the network would fall silent. When we appear to be doing nothing, we are clearly doing something. But what?

The answer, it seems, is time travel.

The human body moves forward in time at the rate of one second per second whether we like it or not. But the human mind can move through time in any direction and at any speed it chooses. Our ability to close our eyes and imagine the pleasures of Super Bowl Sunday or remember the excesses of New Year’s Eve is a fairly recent evolutionary development, and our talent for doing this is unparalleled in the animal kingdom. We are a race of time travelers, unfettered by chronology and capable of visiting the future or revisiting the past whenever we wish. If our neural time machines are damaged by illness, age or accident, we may become trapped in the present. Alzheimer’s disease, for instance, specifically attacks the dark network, stranding many of its victims in an endless now, unable to remember their yesterdays or envision their tomorrows.

Why did evolution design our brains to go wandering in time? Perhaps it’s because an experience is a terrible thing to waste. Moving around in the world exposes organisms to danger, so as a rule they should have as few experiences as possible and learn as much from each as they can. Although some of life’s lessons are learned in the moment (“Don’t touch a hot stove”), others become apparent only after the fact (“Now I see why she was upset. I should have said something about her new dress”). Time travel allows us to pay for an experience once and then have it again and again at no additional charge, learning new lessons with each repetition. When we are busy having experiences—herding children, signing checks, battling traffic—the dark network is silent, but as soon as those experiences are over, the network is awakened, and we begin moving across the landscape of our history to see what we can learn—for free.

Animals learn by trial and error, and the smarter they are, the fewer trials they need. Traveling backward buys us many trials for the price of one, but traveling forward allows us to dispense with trials entirely. Just as pilots practice flying in flight simulators, the rest of us practice living in life simulators, and our ability to simulate future courses of action and preview their consequences enables us to learn from mistakes without making them. We don’t need to bake a liver cupcake to find out that it is a stunningly bad idea; simply imagining it is punishment enough. The same is true for insulting the boss and misplacing the children. We may not heed the warnings that prospection provides, but at least we aren’t surprised when we wake up with a hangover or when our waists and our inseams swap sizes. The dark network allows us to visit the future, but not just any future. When we contemplate futures that don’t include us—Will the NASDAQ be up next week? Will Dallas win the Super Bowl?—the dark network is quiet. Only when we move ourselves through time does it come alive.

Perhaps the most startling fact about the dark network isn’t what it does but how often it does it. Neuroscientists refer to it as the brain’s default mode, which is to say that we spend more of our time away from the present than in it. People typically overestimate how often they are in the moment because they rarely take notice when they take leave. It is only when the environment demands our attention—a dog barks, a child cries, a telephone rings—that our mental time machines switch themselves off and deposit us with a bump in the here and now. We stay just long enough to take a message and then we slip off again to the land of Elsewhen, our dark networks awash in light.”

- Daniel Gilbert & Randy Buckner,

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Poet: Charles Baudelaire- "Contemplation"

THOU, O my Grief, be wise and tranquil still,
The eve is thine which even now drops down,
To carry peace or care to human will,
And in a misty veil enfolds the town.

While the vile mortals of the multitude,
By pleasure, cruel tormentor, goaded on,
Gather remorseful blossoms in light mood-
Grief, place thy hand in mine, let us be gone

Far from them. Lo, see how the vanished years,
In robes outworn lean over heaven's rim;
And from the water, smiling through her tears,

Remorse arises, and the sun grows dim;
And in the east, her long shroud trailing light,
List, O my grief, the gentle steps of Night.


“Look to this day! For it is the very life of life.
In its brief course lie all the verities and realities of your existence:
The bliss of growth, the glory of action, the splendor of beauty;
Today, well lived, makes every yesterday a dream of happiness
And every tomorrow a vision of hope.”

- Kalidasa

"Tips For Dealing With Sadness and Depression"

These are terribly stressful times, filling many with anxiety, fear, sadness and depression. This article may help you cope if you're feeling any of these emotions. Be advised, though, that this is not a substitute for professional assistance, which should be your first option.

“Depression with its characteristic sad face, stooped posture, and slow movements is universal; it is found not only in humans in all cultures, but even in animals, notably, monkeys, chimpanzees, and dogs. In the English language, we have even invented a metaphor to describe a sad face, the "hang dog" appearance.

Everyone now and then feels sad, unhappy or disappointed because of a thought, memory, behavior or spoken words. But then such feelings are cleared up in just a few hours and we get back to our normal mood. We refer to it "occasional sadness or blues. " In many cases, the sadness or depressed mood may last for not just hours but days and weeks, and may accompany problems, such as, loss of appetite, overeating, sleeplessness, excessive sleeping, lack of energy and drive, loss of interest and joy, etc.

Unlike the occasional sadness, it is referred to as, "depression." Forty percent of the population reported occasional sadness or blues last year, out of which about nine percent (21 million) people experienced mild, moderate, or severe depression. Far more people, especially, of the younger generation, report being depressed today, than they did twenty, ten, or even five years ago. Our lives are inevitably touched by depression; a friend, relative, family member, or we personally will experience depression sometime in life.

Here are a few "self help" tips to cope with occasional sadness and mild depression. Be aware these are not a substitute for treatment.

l. Take up a physical, repetitive action such as, skipping rope, bouncing a ball, jogging, housecleaning, yard work, gardening, etc. Take up anything in which you can gradually build up your ability to move your body for 20 to 30 minutes. In the beginning, your body may not want to move at all. You may have to start with a light physical action for just a few minutes. Don't compare what you can do now with that "vigorous work out" you could do in the pre-depressed state. That will only depress you further. Just whatever you can do deserves your praise.

If you want to compare what you are able to accomplish now with what you could do in the pre-depressed period, factor in the " 100 lb. formula. "Imagine that you have an invisible weight of 100 lb. tied to your back, legs, and arms. If you factor that in, you will have a correct appreciation of your performance in the depressed state.

2. Learn to divert yourself from the depressed mood by a) describing in minute detail the physical environment of a chosen area, such as the furniture, lights, fixtures, etc. b) expanding your awareness of the environment by seeing, hearing, feeling everything, relevant or irrelevant. c) engaging in an activity, such as, walking, reading, phone conversation, etc.

3. Resume activities that you have enjoyed in the past. A depressed person is likely to give up the activities that provided pleasure and enjoyment.

4. Imagine pleasant and relaxing experiences: Imagine scenes and situations that are pleasant and enjoyable to you, such as, playing golf, winning a lottery, basking in the sun on a sandy beach, etc. You can imagine a scene of the past , such as a vacation you had, or a happy event that is occurring in the future. The more details you can imagine, the less depressed you are likely to feel. Note, if you start picturing a negative, unpleasant experience in your mind, stop, get up, and do some activity or divert yourself.

5 . Look for the humor or irony in a situation that makes you sad.

6. Pretend being back in time when you were not depressed. Start with 15 or 30 minutes and gradually increase the duration. Look at the pictures, slides, or movies of yourself of happy times so you can exactly copy the facial expressions, body posture, talk, voice, etc.

7. Assign a "depression time" for yourself, for example, "5.00 to 6.00 p.m.," when you allow yourself to feel as depressed as you really are. At other times, try to involve yourself more fully in performing various tasks and achieving set goals. Whenever you feel the depressed mood coming on, remind yourself as to when you will let the depression have its time.

8. View depression as a "nuisance" and not as a "catastrophe." Instead of telling yourself, "I can't stand this!" say, "I am strong enough to take this on" or "I will time it how long I can stand this. " This way you can avoid being anxious about depressed mood.

9. Eschew self criticism. Compliment yourself for coping with depression.

Get a professional evaluation to check your progress and need for treatment. These ideas can be used along with treatment.”
- Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D,

The Daily "Near You?"

Van Buren, Arkansas, USA. Thanks for stopping by.

Astronomy: "Largest Black Hole in the Universe?"

“Whatever gave birth to this monster can be real proud. The biggest black hole in the universe weighs in with a respectable mass of 18 billion Suns, and is about the size of an entire galaxy. Just like in the Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny Devito flick “Twins”, the massive black hole has a puny twin hovering nearby. By observing the orbit of the smaller black hole, astronomers are able to test Einstein's theory of general relativity with stronger gravitational fields than ever before.The biggest black hole beats out its nearest competitor by six times. Fortunately, it’s 3.5 billion light years away, forming the heart of a quasar called OJ287. Quasars are extremely bright objects in which matter spiraling into a giant black hole emits large amounts of radiation.

The smaller black hole, which weighs about 100 million Suns, orbits the larger one on an oval-shaped path every 12 years. It comes close enough to punch through the disc of matter surrounding the larger black hole twice each orbit, causing a pair of outbursts that make OJ287 suddenly brighten. General relativity predicts that the smaller hole's orbit itself should rotate over time, so that the point at which it comes nearest its neighbor moves around in space. This effect is seen in Mercury's orbit around the Sun, on a much smaller scale. In the case of OJ287, the tremendous gravitational field of the larger black hole causes the smaller black hole's orbit to precess at an impressive 39° each orbit. The precession changes where and when the smaller hole crashes through the disc surrounding its larger sibling.

About a dozen of the resulting bright outbursts have been observed to date, and astronomers led by Mauri Valtonen of Tuorla Observatory in Finland have analysed them to measure the precession rate of the smaller hole's orbit. That, along with the period of the orbit, suggests the larger black hole weighs a record 18 billion Suns. So just how big can these bad boys get? Craig Wheeler of the University of Texas in Austin, US, says it depends only on how long a black hole has been around and how fast it has swallowed matter in order to grow. "There is no theoretical upper limit," he says.

The most recent outburst occurred on 13 September 2007, as predicted by general relativity. "If there was no orbital decay, the outburst would have been 20 days later than when it actually happened," Valtonen told New Scientist, adding that the black holes are on track to merge within 10,000 years. Wheeler says the observations of the outbursts fit closely with the expectations from general relativity. "The fact that you can fit Einstein's theory [so well] ... is telling you that that's working," he says."
- Rebecca Sato,

"The Boiling Point"

"Who Are The Real Terrorists?"

“The patience of all decent men must surely be exhausted. Today’s slaughter of innocents in Gaza, with at least 230 reported killed in raids on “Hamas terror operatives” (as the Israeli military put it), amounted to “a mass execution”, said Hamas.

Can there now be any doubt who the real terrorists are?

The killing spree couldn’t have happened without the tacit approval of America, Britain and the EU. The political pea-brains that direct the pro-Israel western alliance were partying, gorging themselves on Christmas fare or binge-shopping while this massacre of hungry women and children and their despairing menfolk in Gaza was being planned and executed.

According to the US's own definition of terrorism Israel is squarely in the frame. Under Section 3 of Executive Order 13224 "Blocking Property and prohibiting Transactions with Persons who commit, threaten to commit, or support Terrorism", the term “terrorism” means an activity that…
(i) involves a violent act or an act dangerous to human life, property, or infrastructure; and
(ii) appears to be intended
• to intimidate or coerce a civilian population;
• to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or
• to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, kidnapping, or hostage-taking.

The order and its definition of terrorism, signed 23 September 2001 by George W Bush, is used to outlaw and crush any organization, individual or country the US doesn’t like. The Israeli regime’s "amoral thugs", as a British MP branded them, have plainly been terrorizing the Palestinians for the last 60 years.

The long drawn-out siege and blockade of Gaza, and the numerous military assaults on its people and their legitimate government, are only the latest crimes in a catalogue of torment and terror. They are clearly attempts to "intimidate and coerce", while the mass destruction of Gaza's infrastructure, the withholding of humanitarian aid, the assassinations, the abductions, the bulldozing of Palestinian homes, and the many violent and dangerous acts including indiscriminate bombing and shelling (and the use of cluster bombs in Lebanon), ensure Israel’s ugly head is a perfect fit for America’s terrorist hat.

How does the world feel about Obama pledging to “forge an unshakeable bond” with the "miracle" of Terrorist Israel? How do we feel about the EU rewarding Israel for its terrorist acts with enhanced benefits under the EU-Israel Association Agreement? How do we Brits feel about our Intelligence and Security Committee being chaired by a Friend of Terrorist Israel and 5 out of its 9 members also being the Zionist regime’s devoted Friends? How do we feel about our Foreign Affairs Committee being chaired by a Friend of Terrorist Israel...and our Defence Committee too?

Britain’s prime minister Brown and his predecessor, now peace envoy Blair, both self-confessed Zionists, have given their undying support to a terrorist state and steered Britain’s foreign policy on a course that has earned the opprobrium of civilised people. The best Brown could do today was urge “restraint”. He called on Gazan “militants” to “cease all rocket attacks on Israel immediately”, but didn’t urge his bosom pals to end the siege and their illegal occupation which, as every sane person knows, are the cause of the strife. Our Foreign Office went so far as to say they were “deeply concerned” then spouted the mantra: “The only way to achieve a lasting peace is through peaceful means”.

The only peaceful means of achieving a lasting peace is for Western leaders to pull the plug on Israel until the regime conforms to international law and the will of the United Nations (without whose misguided generosity there would never have been a state of Israel), pulls back behind the 1967 border and strictly observes the principles of universal human rights. If they don’t shoulder their responsibility, they risk a mighty moral backlash from ordinary people, who are beginning to learn the awful truth."
- Stuart Littlewood,

"Your failure to inform yourself does not make me a whacko." Or a terrorist...

Peter Kraus Got $25 Million for 3 Months Work!

"This is a little off the beaten track for me, but it is a very real example of how taxpayer money is being spent wasted on bailouts for failed executives. It's particularly important to publicize this sort of wretched excess, known as the privatization of profits and socialization of loss, as we approach the opening of the 111th Congress and the battle for affordable and guaranteed healthcare for all Americans goes into high gear. As sure as night follows day, we will hear some many say, the United States can't afford to provide healthcare to all our citizens. When this deceit gets going, please remember that a huge amount of taxpayer money is raining on people like Peter Kraus- no questions asked.

This is 720 Park Avenue in New York City. It's one of the most expensive buildings in Manhattan. Peter Kraus and his wife Jill, just paid $37 million for an apartment in this building. This year, Peter Kraus received a payout of $25 million dollars for working at Merrill Lynch for just three months. You can't make this stuff up. Merrill Lynch received TARP funds--taxpayer money. Lots of our money has fallen into the hands of executives who destroyed and looted their companies and are walking away with huge payouts. Peter Kraus is one such executive.

And he should be publicly shamed.

In New York like most localities, real estate sales are public records. A local New York Real Estate paper, The Real Deal searches for high profile sales and in doing so, the newspaper often turns up examples of staggering greed and excess. This transaction is a further startling indictment of our times:

'Investment advisor Carl Spielvogel and his wife Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel sold their cooperative apartment at 720 Park Avenue for $36.63 million, nearly twice what they paid for it two years ago. The sale of the seventh-floor unit closed December 18, according to property records posted Friday. The buyer was identified as Jill Kraus, wife of Peter Kraus, a former executive vice president at Merrill Lynch who reportedly received a $25 million bonus after working at the firm for three months this year. However, only her name was listed on the property report. He was hired as chairman and CEO of AllianceBernstein on December 19. A Merrill Lynch spokeswoman would not comment on his pay package.’ -

So where's our taxpayer money going? Well Mr. Paulson says it's fungible, so it's hard to trace. We've been told that banks will not reveal what they're doing with taxpayer money. Money is "fungible", so how can we expect them to fess up? Do you blame thieves for not being truthful ? Dianne Feinstein is miffed. "At present, we don't know whether these companies are using these funds to fly on private jets, attend lavish conferences or lobby Congress," Feinstein said in a statement.”

$25 Million for 3 months... So, if he worked 40 hours per week for 12 weeks that would total 480 hours.
$25,000,000 divided by 480= $52,083.33 PER HOUR, or $868.05 PER MINUTE.
And how's YOUR job going?

Bertrand Russell

"The fact that an opinion has been widely held is no
evidence whatever that it is not utterly absurd."
- Bertrand Russell

Space Shuttle "Columbia" Disaster Final Report Released

WASHINGTON – “Seat restraints, pressure suits and helmets of the doomed crew of the space shuttle Columbia didn't work well, leading to "lethal trauma" as the out-of-control ship lost pressure and broke apart, killing all seven astronauts, a new NASA report says. At least one crew member was alive and pushing buttons for half a minute after a first loud alarm sounded, as he futilely tried to right Columbia during that disastrous day Feb. 1, 2003.

In fact, by that time, there was nothing anyone could have done to survive as the fatally damaged shuttle streaked across Texas to a landing in Florida what would never take place. But NASA scrutinizes the final minutes of the shuttle tragedy in a new 400-page report released Tuesday. The agency hopes to help engineers design a new shuttle replacement capsule more capable of surviving an accident. An internal NASA team recommends 30 changes based on Columbia, many of them aimed at pressurization suits, helmets and seatbelts.

As was already known, the astronauts died either from lack of oxygen during depressurization or from hitting something as the spacecraft spun violently out of control. The report said it wasn't clear which of those events killed them. And in the case of the helmets and other gear, three crew members weren't wearing gloves, which provide crucial protection from depressurization. One wasn't in the seat, one wasn't wearing a helmet and several were not fully strapped in. The gloves were off because they are too bulky to do certain tasks and there is too little time to prepare for re-entry, the report notes. Had all those procedures been followed, the astronauts might have lived longer and been able to take more actions, but they still wouldn't have survived, the report says.

The new report comes five years after an independent investigation panel issued its own exhaustive analysis on Columbia, but it focused heavily on the cause of the accident and the culture of NASA. The new document lists five "events" that were each potentially lethal to the crew: Loss of cabin pressure just before or as the cabin broke up; crew members, unconscious or already dead, crashing into objects in the module; being thrown from their seats and the module; exposure to a near vacuum at 100,000 feet; and hitting the ground.

Columbia disintegrated as it returned to Earth at the end of its space mission. The accident was caused by a hole in the shuttle's left wing from a piece of foam insulation that smashed into it at launch. The breach in the wing brought it down upon its return to Earth. Killed in the disaster were commander Rick Husband, pilot William McCool, Michael Anderson, David Brown, Kalpana Chawla, Laurel Clark, and Ilan Ramon of Israel.

A timeline of what was happening in crew compartment shows that the first loud master alarm — from a failure in control jets — would have rung at least four seconds before the shuttle went out of control. Twenty-six seconds later either Husband or McCool — in the upper deck with two other astronauts — "was conscious and able to respond to events that were occurring on board." Shortly after that, the crew cabin depressurized, "the first event of lethal potential." That would have caused "loss of consciousness" and lack of oxygen. It took 41 seconds for complete loss of pressure.

Dr. Jonathan Clark, a former NASA flight surgeon whose astronaut wife, Laurel, died aboard Columbia, praised NASA's leadership for releasing the report "even though it says, in some ways, you guys didn't do a great job. "I guess the thing I'm surprised about, if anything, is that (the report) actually got out," said Clark, who was a member of the team that wrote it. "There were so many forces" that didn't want to produce the report because it would again put the astronauts' families in the media spotlight.

Some of the recommendations already are being applied to the next-generation spaceship being designed to take astronauts to the moon and Mars, said Clark, who now works for the National Space Biomedical Research Institute at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

Kirstie McCool Chadwick, sister of pilot William McCool, said a copy of the report arrived at her Florida home by FedEx Tuesday morning but that she had not read it. "We've moved on," Chadwick said. "I'll read it. But it's private. It's our business ... Our family has moved on from the accident and we don't want to reopen wounds.”

Correspondent Mike Schneider in Orlando, Fla., contributed to this report.

George Bernard Shaw

"Pursue Your Dreams Directly"

“Be direct about your dreams. This is where I speak from great experience. If your heart isn't in it, don't do it. It's not a 100% rule. We've all pursued ventures that our heart wasn't in but still succeeded. The point is, you can actually be happy if your heart is in it. Without heart- you won't work the long hours and put in the sweat equity.

This is a principle I learned time and time again. Sometimes I was still foolish enough to disobey this precept. I get paid pretty decently in the day jobs I've worked for the last six years. But I've hated them all with passion. And it only takes, maybe three months for that full blown hate to blossom. I sit at work and daydream/reminisce about writing. About all things writing. So-

Here's a story: A salesman tries to sell something to you. Not a product, but an opportunity. What's a common technique for salesman to pitch opportunities? They ask you about your dreams. Then they get you to expound on said dream.

Dreaming is like Magic. You fall into that comforting trance of make believe that doesn't come as naturally as it did when you were a child. But with that simple command "Imagine" the salesman can whisk you away to a far away land of your own specific design. Your personal bliss. Your mental sanctuary. Once you get attached and emotional on that dream, once he gets you to visualize the existence, then he attaches his product to your dream. His job is to "make you believe" his product is a viable way to reach your dream.

"If I sell enough of these vending machines to corporations, I'll have the money to sit back on an island and write the Great American Novel."

"Hey, our fearless leader has a Yellow Viper, if I follow his lead I can have a Yellow Viper too. I'm joining this obvious pyramid scheme."

"Well, this plan wasn't that sound to me initially, but I would like to quit my job. Wow, the more I hate my job, the saner his plan sounds. Because I love imagining walking away from that evil hell hole that mocks employment."

"Hmm, my friends are all involved- and I don't want to be left out. Sure I'm not feeling this strategy, but I don't want to drive this Ford Escort when they're pushing around the mayonnaise colored Mercedes Benz. I too want a Miracle Whip! I'm jumping on the bandwagon."

The moral of this story: Pursue your dream directly. Don't waste time taking indirect routes when you know where your heart lies.

“The greatest warrior is the one who conquers himself.” -Samurai saying

- Liquid Fiction,

Gideon Levy: "The Neighborhood Bully Strikes Again"

“December 29, 2008 "Haaretz" Israel embarked yesterday on yet another unnecessary, ill-fated war. On July 16, 2006, four days after the start of the Second Lebanon War, I wrote: "Every neighborhood has one, a loud-mouthed bully who shouldn't be provoked into anger...Not that the bully's not right - someone did harm him. But the reaction, what a reaction!"

Two and a half years later, these words repeat themselves, to our horror, with chilling precision. Within the span of a few hours on a Saturday afternoon, the IDF sowed death and destruction on a scale that the Qassam rockets never approached in all their years, and Operation "Cast Lead" is only in its infancy. Once again, Israel's violent responses, even if there is justification for them, exceed all proportion and cross every red line of humaneness, morality, international law and wisdom.

What began yesterday in Gaza is a war crime and the foolishness of a country. History's bitter irony: A government that went to a futile war two months after its establishment - today nearly everyone acknowledges as much - embarks on another doomed war two months before the end of its term. In the interim, the loftiness of peace was on the tip of the tongue of Ehud Olmert, a man who uttered some of the most courageous words ever said by a prime minister. The loftiness of peace on the tip of his tongue, and two fruitless wars in his sheath. Joining him is his defense minister, Ehud Barak, the leader of the so-called left-wing party, who plays the role of senior accomplice to the crime.

Israel did not exhaust the diplomatic processes before embarking yesterday on another dreadful campaign of killing and ruin. The Qassams that rained down on the communities near Gaza turned intolerable, even though they did not sow death. But the response to them needs to be fundamentally different: diplomatic efforts to restore the cease-fire - the same one that was initially breached, one should remember, by Israel when it unnecessarily bombed a tunnel - and then, if those efforts fail, a measured, gradual military response. But no. It's all or nothing. The IDF launched a war yesterday whose end, as usual, is hoping someone watches over us.

Blood will now flow like water. Besieged and impoverished Gaza, the city of refugees, will pay the main price. But blood will also be unnecessarily spilled on our side. In its foolishness, Hamas brought this on itself and on its people, but this does not excuse Israel's overreaction.

The history of the Middle East is repeating itself with despairing precision. Just the frequency is increasing. If we enjoyed nine years of quiet between the Yom Kippur War and the First Lebanon War, now we launch wars every two years. As such, Israel proves that there is no connection between its public relations talking points that speak of peace, and its belligerent conduct.

Israel also proves that it has not internalized the lessons of the previous war. Once again, this war was preceded by a frighteningly uniform public dialogue in which only one voice was heard - that which called for striking, destroying, starving and killing, that which incited and prodded for the commission of war crimes.

Once again the commentators sat in television studios yesterday and hailed the combat jets that bombed police stations, where officers responsible for maintaining order on the streets work. Once again, they urged against letting up and in favor of continuing the assault. Once again, the journalists described the pictures of the damaged house in Netivot as "a difficult scene." Once again, we had the nerve to complain about how the world was transmitting images from Gaza. And once again we need to wait a few more days until an alternative voice finally rises from the darkness, the voice of wisdom and morality. In another week or two, those same pundits who called for blows and more blows will compete among themselves in leveling criticism at this war. And once again this will be gravely late.

The pictures that flooded television screens around the world yesterday showed a parade of corpses and wounded being loaded into and unloaded from the trunks of private cars that transported them to the only hospital in Gaza worthy of being called a hospital. Perhaps we once again need to remember that we are dealing with a wretched, battered strip of land, most of whose population consists of the children of refugees who have endured inhumane tribulations.

For two and a half years, they have been caged and ostracized by the whole world. The line of thinking that states that through war we will gain new allies in the Strip; that abusing the population and killing its sons will sear this into their consciousness; and that a military operation would suffice in toppling an entrenched regime and thus replace it with another one friendlier to us is no more than lunacy.

Hezbollah was not weakened as a result of the Second Lebanon War; to the contrary. Hamas will not be weakened due to the Gaza war; to the contrary. In a short time, after the parade of corpses and wounded ends, we will arrive at a fresh cease-fire, as occurred after Lebanon, exactly like the one that could have been forged without this superfluous war.

In the meantime, let us now let the IDF win, as they say. A hero against the weak, it bombed dozens of targets from the air yesterday, and the pictures of blood and fire are designed to show Israelis, Arabs and the entire world that the neighborhood bully's strength has yet to wane. When the bully is on a rampage, nobody can stop him.”

- Gideon Levy,

Actual US Unemployment, 12/2008: 16%

“The SGS Alternate Unemployment Rate reflects current unemployment
reporting methodology adjusted for SGS-estimated "discouraged
workers" defined away during the Clinton Administration added
to the existing BLS estimates of level U-6 unemployment.”

Monday, December 29, 2008

Aquila Ka Hecate: "Holy Mother"

“A two-year-old little girl is raped on Christmas Day.

Israel bombs the hell out of the Gaza.

A woman and a six-year old girl are burned to death in their hut, and an 86 year old woman is hacked to death after being accused of witchcraft.

Bombs continue to go off in Baghdad, protesting the enemy occupation, civilians are routinely slaughtered in the DRC, Guinea promises to end a curfew after the military coup, and people die, and people die, and people die, in Zimbabwe as a result of greed, lack of compassion and a general closing of the eyes from 'leaders' domestic and foreign alike.

As much as I laud the actions of the young and pissed off around the world in protesting the stale and airless evil of civilisation, so much do I long to curl up into a foetal ball and wail my eyes out at what we have become.

I cannot help but see the direct line of influence from monotheistic male-dominated religions and the lack of empathy, the hunger for power-over and the almost indiscriminate murder of any and all Life which stands in the way.

Holy Mother indeed - seep up through the soles of our souls, infuse our deadened hearts and insane minds. Give back to us the community of reason, of life, of caring for our fellow deities which once was our birthright.

I pray Thee - for I have not enough Will, it seems, to bear this Earth-wide pain much longer.”

Aquila Ka Hecate is an Anarcho-Primitivist Shaman from Johannesburg, South Africa

Improve Cognitive Abilities With Chocolate, Tea, Wine

“All that chocolate might actually help finish the bumper Christmas crossword over the seasonal period. According to Oxford researchers working with colleagues in Norway, chocolate, wine and tea enhance cognitive performance. The team from Oxford’s Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics and Norway examined the relation between cognitive performance and the intake of three common foodstuffs that contain flavonoids (chocolate, wine, and tea) in 2,031 older people (aged between 70 and 74). Participants filled in information about their habitual food intake and underwent a battery of cognitive tests.Those who consumed chocolate, wine, or tea had significantly better mean test scores and lower prevalence of poor cognitive performance than those who did not. The team reported their findings in the Journal of Nutrition.

The role of micronutrients in age-related cognitive decline is being increasingly studied. Fruits and beverages such as tea, red wine, cocoa, and coffee are major dietary sources of polyphenols, micronutrients found in plant-derived foods. The largest subclass of dietary polyphenols is flavonoids, and it has been reported in the past that those who consume lots of flavonoids have a lower incidence of dementia. The latest findings seem to support the theory, although the researchers caution that more research would be needed to prove that it was flavonoids, rather than some other aspect of the foods studied, that made the difference.The effect was most pronounced for wine.

However, say the researchers, those overdoing it at Christmas should note that while moderate alcohol consumption is associated with better cognitive function and reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, heavy alcohol intake could be one of many causes of dementia– as well as a host of other health problems.”


A Look to the Heavens

“This new image taken with NASA's Hubble Space Telescope depicts bright, blue, newly formed stars that are blowing a cavity in the center of a star-forming region in the Small Magellanic Cloud. The Small Magellanic Cloud, in the constellation Tucana, is roughly 200,000 light-years from the Earth. Its proximity to us makes it an exceptional laboratory to perform in-depth studies of star formation processes and their evolution in an environment slightly different from our own Milky Way.

At the heart of the star-forming region, lies star cluster NGC 602. The high-energy radiation blazing out from the hot young stars is sculpting the inner edge of the outer portions of the nebula, slowly eroding it away and eating into the material beyond. The diffuse outer reaches of the nebula prevent the energetic outflows from streaming away from the cluster.” -

James Baldwin

“When a man asks himself what is meant
by action he proves that he isn't a man of action.
Action is a lack of balance.
In order to act you must be somewhat insane.
A reasonably sensible man is satisfied with thinking.”

- James Baldwin

The Daily "Near You?"

Hartford, Vermont, USA. Thanks for stopping by.

2008: How It Really Is

American "Freedom": The Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri Story

"In a world where the president has the power to label anyone, whether a citizen or permanent resident, an enemy combatant and detain that person indefinitely without trial, no liberty exists and everyone is potentially an "enemy combatant." According to the Bush Administration, Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri is such a person.

This legal alien was residing in Peoria, Ill., with his wife and children and attending college when he was swept up by government agents. Although three charges were initially filed against al-Marri by the government—credit card fraud, false statements to the FBI and on a bank application and identity theft—they were dropped less than a month before trial. In their place, a declaration was issued by George W. Bush asserting that al-Marri was an enemy combatant. Thereafter, al-Marri was transferred between facilities, eventually ending up, in 2003, in a South Carolina military prison, where he has been held since. Amazingly, for the first 16 months of his imprisonment, this man's family was not allowed to see him, speak to him or even reassure themselves that he was alive and well.

Al-Marri has been repeatedly interrogated in ways that border on, and sometimes amount to, torture—including sleep deprivation, painful stress positions, extreme sensory deprivation and threats of violence or death. And because al-Marri was labeled an enemy combatant, the government has denied him basic constitutional protections, such as the right to hear the charges against him, consult an attorney and appear before a judge to determine if, in fact, he is guilty of anything.

To some people, this is as it should be. But that's not the way things are supposed to work in America. Even the worst criminals in American history, such as domestic terrorist bomber Timothy McVeigh, were afforded an attorney and a trial. This issue is bigger than al-Marri. It's even bigger than the American government and its so-called war on terror. The groundwork has been laid for a new kind of government where it will no longer matter if you're innocent or guilty, whether you're a threat to the nation or even if you're a citizen. What matters is what the president thinks. And if he or she thinks you're a threat to the nation and should be locked up, then you'll be locked up with no access to the protections the U.S. Constitution provides. In effect, you will disappear.

Pandora's Box has been opened for presidents to become imperial rulers, which should terrify anyone with a sense of history. Sadly, few Americans are up in arms over the ramifications, let alone concerned that this might impact them in any way. "I'm a law-abiding citizen," one man remarked. "I have nothing to worry about." That statement might have been true once upon a time, when a person was innocent until proven guilty and the judicial system could be relied upon to hear facts and ascertain truth. But such is no longer the case. We are now operating under a system of government where anything goes and everyone is suspect.

Fortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court will now decide al-Marri's fate. The Court will determine some of the most fundamental questions in the war on terror: Can the president by fiat order the indefinite military detention of lawful residents of the U.S.? Does the president have the right to set aside all the constitutional protections afforded those living on American soil? In other words, can the president declare the U.S. Constitution null and void whenever he or she sees fit?

We would all do well to remember that in America, the rule of law has always taken precedence over the power of government bureaucrats. What does this mean? At a minimum, the accused has the right to present his side to a judge and jury. The Constitution protects "persons," not just citizens. Indeed, the Fifth Amendment guarantees that "no person" will be "deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." The Sixth Amendment secures our right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury, to be informed of the charges brought against us and access to a lawyer. Together, these portions of the Bill of Rights ensure that the government cannot take our freedoms away unless they charge us with a crime, place us before a judge and jury and give us a fair opportunity to confront the witnesses and evidence presented against us.

We must remember that America's reputation as a defender of the rule of law is worth preserving. At one time, the Statue of Liberty symbolized America's commitment to fairness, liberty and a decent respect for the rights of all human beings. Today, the military commissions and secret military detention camps represent America's hypocrisy and a disregard for everything the country stands for.

The Bill of Rights ensures that no public official can by fiat declare us outside the boundaries of the Constitution. We must always be leery of government reactions to emergencies and crises because the government's natural response is to rein in liberty for safety. But, as Benjamin Franklin once insisted, "Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety." Finally, it is easy to talk about freedom and democracy. But that's nothing more than idle rhetoric until the ideals and values they represent are put into practice.”

- John W. Whitehead,

Ministry of Homeland Security Message

Edward Teller

"When you come to the end of all the light you know,
and it's time to step into the darkness of the unknown,
faith is knowing that one of two things shall happen:
Either you will be given something solid to stand
on or you will be taught to fly."

-Edward Teller

"You're fired!" 7 Tips to Prepare Yourself

"You're wonderful! "You're a terrific performer." "I don't know how we can run this business without you." "But, sorry, old chap, we have to let you go. And by the way, clear out your desk, turn in your keys and leave the building by 3 p.m. Company policy, you know." So runs the baleful scene, in one form or another, tens of thousands of times each day in U.S. business. "No matter who you are, you can lose your job at any time," says executive adviser Gail McDaniel of McDaniel Coaching in Scarsdale, N.Y. Says Chris Farrell, economics editor at Los Angeles-based American Public Media: "No one is safe anymore, and everyone should have a backup plan, to preserve your career." So, for sheer self-protection in modern-day capitalism, everyone should have a Plan B. Figure out what you must do to make the most of a bad situation if and when the terrible swift sword falls on you. Here are seven ideas to prepare:

1. Don't wait for it to happen. Plot out ahead of time what you should say to the company apparatchik who gives you the news and what you will ask for in compensation from the company.
2. Employees who are being fired can do little about saving their jobs but very much when negotiating the terms of their departure. Whatever the set policy, try to bargain for better terms, In some companies, you might negotiate for larger settlement payments, especially if you are older than 40. Some companies have a practice of not offering you outright what they are prepared to give. They are willing to kick in more, figuring that it's a good thing if you leave feeling that you have "won" something from the company.
3. There's no time like the present to take a long and critical look at your résumé. Does it fully and adequately describe the contemporary you? Bring it up to date with the aid of a couple of the good books on the market about writing an effective résumé. Put the finished product in your top desk drawer, ready for you to pull it out at a moment's notice.
4. Even if you have not been fired, it's smart to visit your human resources office and ask for an estimated full accounting of the worth of your accumulated company assets, such as the value of your pension, if any. That will help you negotiate over severance and other benefits if you are laid off. Find out what the size of your package is scheduled to be.
5. Make sure you have a backup of any personal files that you store on a company computer. If they are clearly nonconfidential, you might be wise to take them home for valuable future reference. Consider the worth of a company staff directory or lists of important clients.
6. Work hard to improve and expand your network of mentors, colleagues and sources. Some headhunters recommend that you build a list of about 25 people in your field - folks at your level or higher - and call them every three to six months, just to say hello or perhaps discuss some industry issues. "You should open as large a net as soon as possible," says Farrell. Aim to make connections with at least ten people both inside and outside your company. Call them at least once a month to exchange nonconfidential information. Build a paper trail of notes of praise from higher-ups to you, citing specific jobs well done by you.
7. Figure out ahead of time how to control your emotions when you are called in to be fired. No matter how well you plan it, your emotions - grief, anger, etc. - are most likely to be stronger than you anticipate. Don't hurl insults at the boss who actually does the firing, who is probably more uncomfortable than you are. Besides, you may encounter that person on some job in the future, where you may want to gain an ally. Finally, after you've been fired, start looking for a new job almost immediately, ideally the very next day. When you're on the street, any day spent without a job interview is a wasted day.”
- MarketWatch reporter Bao Ong in New York contributed reporting to this story.