Saturday, February 28, 2009

Barry Lopez

“How is one to live a moral and compassionate existence when one is fully aware of the blood, the horror inherent in life, when one finds darkness not only in one’s culture but within oneself? If there is a stage at which an individual life becomes truly adult, it must be when one grasps the irony in its unfolding and accepts responsibility for a life lived in the midst of such paradox. One must live in the middle of contradiction, because if all contradiction were eliminated at once life would collapse. There are simply no answers to some of the great pressing questions. You continue to live them out, making your life a worthy expression of leaning into the light.”

- Barry Lopez

Native American: Black Elk

"The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes within the souls of people when they realize their relationship, their oneness with the universe and all its powers, and when they realize that at the center of the universe dwells the Great Spirit, and that this center is really everywhere, it is within each of us."

- Black Elk (1863-1950)

"5 Tips for Handling Stress"

"Are you stressed? Who isn't? At one time or another, we're bound to feel stress from work, family, finances, social situations, or illness. It might be acute, short-term stress which comes from being stuck in a traffic jam or your boss confronting you at work. Or it could be chronic, long-term stress, the kind that comes from being in an unhappy marriage or taking care of a sick family member for a long time. At times, some stress is motivating, like when it helps you win a competition or meet a deadline. But we mostly think of stress as a negative or uncomfortable feeling that we associate with sweaty palms, a racing heart, and feeling out of control. Different things can trigger stress in different people. For instance, planning a big house party or having to give a speech might delight you but totally unnerve a friend.

How you respond to stressful situations depends on several things, including your:
• view of the stressful situation – How bad is this? Can you get through it?
• general outlook on life – Do you tend to be more positive or negative?
• general health and well-being – Are you well-rested or sleep-deprived? Do you have a healthy diet or live on junk food?

Do you get enough exercise or is there never enough time to fit it in? Are you healthy overall or do you have chronic health problems? Many people who never seem to get stressed have learned to cope successfully with stressful situations. Any stress that keeps occurring can lead to getting sick more often; problems concentrating, sleeping and eating; high blood pressure and heart disease; and anxiety and depression. In other words, left alone stress can be bad for both your physical and mental health. That's why you want to get control of your stress before it controls you. The time and energy you spend managing your stress will pay off in the long run by promoting health and happiness. Here are five steps to help you get started:

1. Make a list. Think of the things that cause you the most stress. Write them down, along with the level of stress they cause (off the charts versus a great deal) and how they affect you (keep you awake at night, make you feel shaky inside, etc).

2.Take control. Decide which things on your list you can do something about. Remember that you might not be able to control everything on your list. For instance, your children leaving home or traffic jams are the trying parts of life. Even though you can't control these events, you can control how you react to them. Instead of getting worked up during morning rush hour traffic, use the time in your car to listen to a book on tape or a morning radio show. Even small changes can make a difference and help you feel more in control of your life. Pick one or two of these suggestions and try them.
• Assign some of your household chores to other family members.
• Sign up for community services to help you care for a sick parent.
• Start planning early for the holidays – create a budget and stick to it.

3. Unload and learn to say "no." If there are things at home or at work that you just can't or don't want to do, let them go - cross them off your list if you can. And don't commit to new things just because you feel you have to. Say "no" to heading up that new project if you already have too many duties at work. Let someone else run the church bazaar this year. Learning to say "no" might take some practice. It might feel uncomfortable at first. But taking on too much and failing is more stressful than "passing" on a request in the first place.

4. Work on shedding the "perfection impulse." Don't expect perfection from yourself or others. For some things, doing an okay job is just fine.

5. Practice setting limits. The key to setting limits is to first set priorities. Decide what is most important for your family and you, and set time aside for those things, such as family meals, fun time, or retirement planning. For everything that falls outside your priority list, ask yourself, "What's the worst thing that would happen if I didn't do this?" If you can live with the answer, then drop it from your 'to do' list.

Learning to manage the stress in your life can help you live healthier and happier; enjoy your job, family, and friends more; and focus your energies on the things in life that really count."

The Daily "Near You?"

Tacoma, Washington, USA. Thanks for stopping by.

Robert Maynard Hutchins

"The goal toward which all history tends is peace, not peace through the medium of war, not peace through a process of universal intimidation, not peace through a program of mutual impoverishment, not peace by any means that leaves the world too weak or too frightened to go on fighting, but peace pure and simple based on that will to peace which has animated the overwhelming majority of mankind through countless ages. This will to peace does not arise out of a cowardly desire to preserve one's life and property, but out of conviction that the fullest development of the highest powers of men can be achieved only in a world of peace."

- Robert Maynard Hutchins (1899-1977)

A Look to the Heavens

"Distorted galaxy NGC 2442 can be found in the southern constellation of the flying fish, (Piscis) Volans. Located about 50 million light-years away, the galaxy's two spiral arms extending from a pronounced central bar give it a hook shaped appearance. This deep color image also shows the arms' obscuring dust lanes, young blue star clusters and reddish star forming regions surrounding a core of yellowish light from an older population of stars. But the star forming regions seem more concentrated along the drawn-out (right side) spiral arm. The distorted structure is likely the result of an ancient close encounter with the smaller galaxy seen near the top left of this field of view. The two interacting galaxies are separated by about 150,000 light-years at the estimated distance of NGC 2442."

Albert Einstein

"The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious."

- Albert Einstein

New "Life After Death/Near Death Experience" Study

"What happens when we die? It has to be one of life's biggest questions, if not the biggest. Many of those who have come close to death report surprisingly similar experiences – being in a tunnel of lights, or soaring out of their bodies and looking down on the medical staff trying to keep them attached to the mortal coil. In an effort to get to the bottom of this mysterious phenomenon, scientists have designed a new experiment to examine near-death experiences in heart attack survivors. Launched by the University of Southampton, it will be the largest ever international study into near-death experiences, involving 1,500 heart attack patients.And how are they going to prove whether humans really do have souls that break away from their bodies as they die and shuffle off towards eternity? With a bit of DIY and some postcards, it would seem. Researchers are setting up shelves above patients' beds on which a number of pictures will be put that can only be seen from above the ground.

Patients will then be asked to recall any memories from the time of their cardiac arrest. If they can describe the pictures on the shelves, the scientists will have some proof of whether or not these out-of-body experiences are real, or just illusionary dreams. The project is being led by Dr Sam Parnia, an intensive care specialist. "Contrary to popular perception, death is not a specific moment. It is a process that begins when the heart stops beating, the lungs stop working and the brain ceases functioning - a medical condition termed cardiac arrest. What people experience during this period of cardiac arrest provides a unique window of understanding into what we are all likely to experience during the dying process."

It sounds like a fairly straightforward exercise. But what if, while you were having your out-of-body experience, you didn't notice the pictures? You might, quite understandably, be otherwise engrossed in looking at your expiring self or wondering why your loved ones hadn't bothered to turn up at your deathbed. So can this experiment prove anything? And should science even be attempting to investigate this – shouldn't doctors be concentrating on how to save lives rather than researching what happens if they fail?"

Related: Dr. Raymond Moody,
Dr. Ian Stevenson,

Near Death Experience (NDE)
"Definition: A phenomenon reported by people who return to life after being declared clinically dead. In 1975, Raymond Moody re-ignited an explosion of interest in Near Death Experience through publication of his book, Life After Life. His book documented the experiences of 150 people who recovered after being declared clinically dead. Moody is also credited with coining the term "Near Death Experience", today often shortened to NDE. In the early 1980s, NDE researcher Kenneth Ring founded the International Association for Near Death Studies (IANDS), which today boasts chapters in the U.K., Europe, Canada, and Australia. Near Death Experience Articles have appeared in several prestigious medical journals such as the Lancet, the British Medical Journal, the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, and the American Journal of Psychiatry.

Although Moody is recognized as a pioneer in NDE research, Near Death Experiences have been reported throughout history. Plato describes one in his Republic. Tibetan Buddhist history includes "returned from the dead" writings and NDEs are prevalent in the folklore of the indigenous peoples of North and South America, Australia, and Oceania. NDEs have been discussed in modern-day parapsychological literature since the 19th Century. The NDE transcends gender, age, class, and religious affiliation. As well as those subjects who take part in research studies, many famous people have lived to tell of their Near Death Experience. Mikhail Gorbachev, Roseanne Barr, George Lucas, Debra Winger and Donald Sutherland have experienced NDEs. The once fiery Louis Farrakhan attributes his kinder, gentler message of unity and peace to an NDE. Singer Della Reese, star of the TV series Touched by an Angel and an ordained minister, believes that she encountered angels in a brush with death that occurred due to a burst brain aneurysm.While the details of Near Death Experiences may differ, many share a common thread. Yet, there are two distinct types of NDE—positive and negative. Researchers estimate that one in ten people have some sort of NDE after surviving a life-threatening event.

'The Negative Near Death Experience,' P.M.H. Atwater: To those who have experienced a negative NDE, the process of dying is, indeed, hellish. People visit dark places, encounter demonic beings, and experience feelings of grief, depression, and fear. P.M.H. Atwater, a longtime NDE researcher reports that about 15 percent of adults and 3 percent of children enter "a threatening void or stark limbo or hellish purgatory," sometimes including "hauntings" from the past. One of the most vivid portrayals of such a hellish death is in the movie Ghost, where the earth literally opens a passage for the minions of hell to assail the evildoer and pull him into the bowels of the earth. Joyce Harvey, a 75 year old retired CID officer from Essex experienced such a negative NDE. While recovering from a chest infection, Ms. Harvey began having breathing problems. Suddenly she was paralyzed by cold. "I started going down and down in a life, with someone pulling my legs which were really hot," she said. "There were terrible noises, discordant notes, and screaming. I could see thousands of faces without bodies beneath me; they were trying to pull me down further and further. I was terrified."

'The Positive Near Death Experience': Often a positive near death experience begins when the person feels his or her consciousness separate and rise from the physical body. During this "out of body" experience (OBE), the subject is totally aware of the activity in the room below. Journalist Neil Marr remembered "watching over the shoulders of doctors and nurses as they hovered" around his bed as he lay with no heartbeat after undergoing a series of five heart attacks. Often, the second stage of a positive NDE finds the subject traveling through a tunnel towards a bright light. However, the type of tunnel varies from report to report with descriptions such as a tunnel of tiny stars, spirals of light, the inside of a sewer pipe, or an underground cave. Some people meet a deceased friend or relative who either takes them through the tunnel or meets them at the tunnel's end while others give their guides a celestial presence describing them as guardian angels or beings of light. Some people "return to their bodies" never seeing a tunnel, some are pulled back to "life" while journeying through the tunnel, and some are "sent back" by their guide.

Those who pass through the tunnel may go on to other experiences. Many report a sensation of being enveloped by love, peace, and joy. Some subjects undergo a "life review" where they experience both the joy and the mental anguish generated by their earthly actions. Some are "judged" by one or more religious figures while others experience self-judgment as they absorb a feeling of infinite understanding and heightened intellectual abilities. Those who have encountered religious figures during an NDE, see figures that are familiar from their personal ideologies. That is, Christians don't see Hindu religious figures and Hindus don't encounter Christian figures such as Jesus. Some people bring back their visions of supernatural vistas such as celestial gardens flowered with exquisite blossoms in fantastic colors. Some talk of a "city of light" while others reach a boundary where they may be asked or ordered to return to life. In some cases, the decision whether to cross the boundary or not is left up to the subject.

How NDEs Change Life: Although resulting in somewhat different changes, both positive and negative NDEs produce significant changes in lifestyle. The person who experiences a negative NDE may return with a greater fear of death and is actually more likely than the positive returnee to seek out organized religion. Remarkably, although many cultures view suicide in a negative light, those who experience an NDE because of a suicide attempt generally report feelings of joy and peace and return to life with renewed enthusiasm. Many of those returning from a positive Near Death Experience report either lessening or losing their fear of death. They also express a greater love for the world around them and often make career or life-style changes that allow them to reach self-fulfillment through working to benefit their fellows. Although they may become more spiritual, their new spirituality may differ from the traditional philosophies found in organized religions.

Among pioneers in the field of NDE Research is Bruce Greyson of the department of psychiatric medicine at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville and the editor of IAND's Journal of Near-Death Studies. In an interview Greyson related, "What happens is that when [those who have had an NDE] lose their fear of death, they also lose their fear of living life to the fullest because they're not afraid of taking chances anymore. They're not afraid of dying. So they actually get more interested in life and enjoy it much more than they did before."

Near Death Experience or Biological Melt Down? Although theories are many, so far traditional science has been unsuccessful at pinpointing any biological cause of NDE. The role of drugs, both prescription and illegal, has been implicated and impeached as a cause of Near Death Experience; impeached because NDEs often occur in situations that don't involve drugs of any kind. The chief psycho-neuro-biological theories of NDE have been theories of sensory deprivation or lack of oxygen to the brain. However, such theories often assume that an NDE is associated with a state of unconsciousness. Modern studies that induce NDEs have proven this a false assumption. NDEs may be induced using therapeutic techniques such as eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). Using this technique in grief therapy, living patients have undergone many of the same experiences reported by NDE returnees.

Theories based on stimulation of receptors in nerve cell membranes called NMDA receptors, on the effects of the neurotransmitter serotonin, and on the level of endorphins have also been proposed. However, Ray Moody and other scientists such as cardiologist Michael Sabom believe that none of these theories sufficiently explain the experiences of NDE returnees. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, a pioneer in the study of death and dying, supports their findings. Dr Bruce Greyson, from the University of Virginia, believes that NDEs are part of the way the body copes with unbearable stress. His study of 134 people who had been close to death, published in The Lancet, showed that 72 per cent of them had experienced some form of out of body experience.

In a 2006 study comparing 55 people with Near Death Experiences with 55 people who had no such experiences, neurologist Kevin Nelson of the University of Kentucky found that people who reported NDEs were also more likely to experience a variance in the brain's sleep-wake cycle, a "REM state intrusion." REM is the Rapid Eye Movement phase of sleep when we dream. The intrusion occurs when the subject awakes and feels unable to move, experiences sudden muscle weakness in the legs, or hears noises as they drop off to sleep. Neuropsychiatrist Peter Fenwick, coauthor of the study states, "If the mind and brain can be independent, then it raises questions about the continuation of consciousness after death. It also raises the question about a spiritual component to humans and about a meaningful universe with a purpose rather than a random universe."

Thomas Jefferson

"I was bold in the pursuit of knowledge, never fearing to follow
truth and reason to whatever results they led."

-Thomas Jefferson (1812)

Haven't You Had Enough? What More Will It Take?

“There will be no improvement in the economic condition of our nation until each and every one of us ask ourselves these questions, honestly contemplate our answers, and then put our outrage (or desire) for those economic conditions into firm, no-nonsense peaceful action to force our elected and unelected government officials to act as we direct. Please realize that if just one third of one percent of the population of America was to get upset enough with the blatant fraud, theft, Racketeering and Ponzi Finance that has literally decimated the economic structure of our nation, American households and our future (not to mention our children) and were to show up in Washington DC in peaceful protest, occupying The Mall, Constitution Avenue and surrounding areas and refused to leave until every one of these charlatans resigned in disgrace or committed seppuku on national TV the protesters would number one million.

Such a mass of people would be literally impossible to refuse to answer to. That we have not yet seen it simply means that the population of this nation either doesn't care that it is being systematically looted, is too full of Prozac to pay attention to the racketeering and theft or is simply not paying attention. (My vote, by the way, goes to the latter - at least for now.) Further, if we the people were to organize as few as one hundred individuals in each major city we could effectively slow commerce to the point that it would break down entirely, all through peaceful means.

How? Envision your local freeway; you, and three of your friends (four lanes each way, four drivers) line up parallel and then slow to a crawl (if you're in "rush hour" traffic) or to 20mph if not. Traffic would instantaneously snarl behind you and remain that way for hours. Your risk? A traffic ticket. A few hundred dedicated people in each major city could very effectively demand that real reform take place and that all the fraudsters go to jail, refusing to stop their daily protest until it was done. Again - a tiny fraction of one percent of the population of this nation could, through entirely-peaceful actions in protest, force a stop to this nonsense.

It hasn't happened. Why not? Are there not a few hundred unemployed as a consequence of this fraud in every major city across America? Are we really all so neutered as Americans that we will refuse to peacefully protest in an effective manner?

You want to know why the fraudsters - including everyone screaming to be bailed out of their ill-conceived schemes - are winning? It is because Americans refuse to get off their ass, even though very effective and fully-peaceful means of demonstrating and demanding change - Constitutionally Protected means of expression that would have vast and immediate effect - exist. Simply put, we are consenting as individuals and a nation to the economic rape being served upon us by the scams and schemes of the few.”

The "Greatest Honors English" Paper in History!

Please click for larger size. "So bad it borders on genius."
Laughing hysterically, I am literally speechless...


US Recovery? No American Manufacturing Base Left!

"The strength of the federal economic stimulus package is seriously diluted by the fact that many of the manufactured goods that will be purchased for the attempted recovery must be imported from outside the United States. America simply doesn't make lots of things, anymore. That means many billions of dollars that folks assumed would go towards fueling an American economic comeback, will instead provide work and paychecks to employees in other countries, that still have manufacturing bases. That's fine with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which is dominated by large multinational corporations - the same guys that began stripping the United States of manufacturing jobs decades ago. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce was one of the main lobbyists opposed to provisions that would have mandated that stimulus money go to U.S. companies. The Chamber is a U.S. organization in name only, like its finance capital comrades, the guys that gave the world such a bad case of the dreaded "American Disease," much of the planet is praying that cash-rich China will eventually bail everybody out.

The United States' lack of a manufacturing capacity makes it even less likely that anything resembling a lasting recovery can emerge from President Obama's approach to the economic crisis. The infrastructure projects that are supposed to be central to the recovery scheme are only valued at $150 billion - which is not much of a jolt, especially when much of what will have to be bought is only available in other countries, made by foreign workers. Barack Obama has put a huge emphasis on building a green economy. However, according to the New York Times , most of the sources of solar panels and wind turbines are located in Europe and Asia. There can be no green economy without a mass transit makeover of the United States, but the U.S. hasn't made subway and light rail cars in many years. They'd have to be imported. "Most of the sources of solar panels and wind turbines are located in Europe and Asia." Every product that must be imported for the infrastructure project means a watering down of the stimulus impact of the dollars spent. You can't put people to work in American factories that don't exist.

A true national recovery effort would mean re-industrialization, on a grand scale and a green model, through massive direct federal creation of state-owned industries independent of the finance capitalists who murdered American manufacturing and then blew up their own businesses on Wall Street. But this is already nearly impossible, since President Obama is committed to saving the banking class through unlimited infusions of public money, and then allowing these reborn zombies to resume their roles as lords of development. The bankster parasites have neither the capacity nor the intention to build anything other than mountains of debt for the rest of us. Therefore, Obama's partnership with them spells doom for national recovery. Like Billy Preston said, 'Nothin' from nothin' leaves nothin'. The U.S. cannot create the conditions for economic health without rebuilding a manufacturing capacity. And the remnants of Wall Street have nothing to contribute to an economic recovery, but an infinite capacity to steal."

Peter Schiff: "Butcher, Baker, Candlestick Maker"

"In his first televised speech before Congress, President Obama asserted that prosperity will return once the government restores the flow of credit in the economy. It may come as a surprise to him, but an economy cannot run on consumer loans. Furthermore, credit stopped flowing in the U.S. for a very good reason: there was no more savings left to loan. Government efforts to simply make credit available, without rebuilding productive capacity or increasing savings, are doomed to destroy what's left of our economy.

The central tenets of Obamanomics appear to be that access to credit will enable people to borrow money to buy stuff, the spending will spur production and employment, and thus the economy will grow. It's a neat and simple picture, but it has nothing whatsoever to do with how an economy works. The President does not understand that consumption is made possible by production and that credit is made possible by savings. The size and complexity of modern economies has obscured these simple concepts, but reducing the picture to a small scale can help clear away the fog.

Suppose there is a very small barter-based economy consisting of only three individuals, a butcher, a baker, and a candlestick maker. If the candlestick maker wants bread or steak, he makes candlesticks and trades. The candlestick maker always wants food, but his demand can only be satisfied if he makes candlesticks, without which he goes hungry. The mere fact that he desires bread and steak is meaningless. Enter the magic wand of credit, which many now assume can take the place of production. Suppose the butcher has managed to produce an excess amount of steak and has more than he needs on a daily basis. Knowing this, the candlestick maker asks to borrow a steak from the butcher to trade to the baker for bread. For this transaction to take place the butcher must first have produced steaks which he did not consume (savings). He then loans his savings to the candlestick maker, who issues the butcher a note promising to repay his debt in candlesticks.

In this instance, it was the butcher's production of steak that enabled the candlestick maker to buy bread, which also had to be produced. The fact that the candlestick maker had access to credit did not increase demand or bolster the economy. In fact, by using credit to buy instead of candlesticks, the economy now has fewer candlesticks, and the butcher now has fewer steaks with which to buy bread himself. What has happened is that through savings, the butcher has loaned his purchasing power, created by his production, to the candlestick maker, who used it to buy bread. Similarly, the candlestick maker could have offered "IOU candlesticks" directly to the baker. Again, the transaction could only be successful if the baker actually baked bread that he did not consume himself and was therefore able to loan his savings to the candlestick maker. Since he loaned his bread to the candlestick maker, he no longer has that bread himself to trade for steak.

The existence of credit in no way increases aggregate consumption within this community, it merely temporarily alters the way consumption is distributed. The only way for aggregate consumption to increase is for the production of candlesticks, steak, and bread to increase. One way credit could be used to grow this economy would be for the candlestick maker to borrow bread and steak for sustenance while he improves the productive capacity of his candlestick making equipment. If successful, he could repay his loans with interest out of his increased production, and all would benefit from greater productivity. In this case the under-consumption of the butcher and baker led to the accumulation of savings, which were then loaned to the candlestick maker to finance capital investments. Had the butcher and baker consumed all their production, no savings would have been accumulated, and no credit would have been available to the candlestick maker, depriving society of the increased productivity that would have followed. On the other hand, had the candlestick maker merely borrowed bread and steak to sustain himself while taking a vacation from candlestick making, society would gain nothing, and there would be a good chance the candlestick maker would default on the loan. In this case, the extension of consumer credit squanders savings which are now no longer available to finance other capital investments.

What would happen if a natural disaster destroyed all the equipment used to make candlesticks, bread and steak? Confronted with dangerous shortages of food and lighting, Barack Obama would offer to stimulate the economy by handing out pieces of paper called money and guaranteeing loans to whomever wants to consume. What good would the money do? Would these pieces of paper or loans make goods magically appear? The mere introduction of paper money into this economy only increases the ability of the butcher, baker, and candlestick maker to bid up prices (measured in money, not trade goods) once goods are actually produced again. The only way to restore actual prosperity is to repair the destroyed equipment and start producing again.

The sad truth is that the productive capacity of the American economy is now largely in tatters. Our industrial economy has been replaced by a reliance on health care, financial services and government spending. Introducing freer flowing credit and more printed money into such a system will do nothing except spark inflation. We need to get back to the basics of production. It won't be easy, but it will work. President Obama would have us believe that we can all spend the day relaxing in a tub while his printing press does all the work for us. The problem comes when you get out of the tub to go to dinner and the only thing on your plate is an IOU for steak."

Military "Thought Helmets?"

"Soldiers barking orders at each other is so 20th Century. That's why the U.S. Army has just awarded a $4 million contract to begin developing 'thought helmets' that would harness silent brain waves for secure communication among troops. Ultimately, the Army hopes the project will "lead to direct mental control of military systems by thought alone."

If this sounds insane, it would have been as recently as a few years ago. But improvements in computing power and a better understanding of how the brain works have scientists busy hunting for the distinctive neural fingerprints that flash through a brain when a person is talking to himself. The Army's initial goal is to capture those brain waves with incredibly sophisticated software that then translates the waves into audible radio messages for other troops in the field. "It'd be radio without a microphone, " says Dr. Elmar Schmeisser, the Army neuroscientist overseeing the program. "Because soldiers are already trained to talk in clean, clear and formulaic ways, it would be a very small step to have them think that way."

B-movie buffs may recall that Clint Eastwood used similar "brain-computer interface" technology in 1982's Firefox, named for the Soviet fighter plane whose weapons were controlled by the pilot's thoughts. (Clint was sent to steal the plane, natch.) Yet it's not as far-fetched as you might think: video gamers are eagerly awaiting a crude commercial version of brain wave technology — a $299 headset from San Francisco-based Emotiv Systems — in summer 2009. The Army doesn't move quite as fast as gamers though. The military's vastly more sophisticated system may be a decade or two away from reality, let alone implementation. The five-year contract it awarded last month to a coalition of scientists from the University of California at Irvine, Carnegie Mellon University, and the University of Maryland, seeks to "decode the activity in brain networks" so that a soldier could radio commands to one or many comrades by thinking of the message he wanted to relay and who should get it. Initially, the recipients would most likely hear transmissions rendered by a robotic voice via earphones. But scientists eventually hope to deliver a version in which commands are rendered in the speaker's voice and indicate the speaker's distance and direction from the listener.

"Having a soldier gain the ability to communicate without any overt movement would be invaluable both in the battlefield as well as in combat casualty care," the Army said in last year's contract solicitation. "It would provide a revolutionary technology for silent communication and orientation that is inherently immune to external environmental sound and light." The key challenge will be to develop software able to pinpoint the speech-related brain waves picked up by the 128-sensor array that ultimately will be buried inside a helmet. Those sensors detect the minute electrical charges generated by nerve pathways in the brain when thinking occurs. The sensors will generate an electroencephalogram — a confusing pile of squiggles on a computer screen — that scientists will study to find those vital to communicating. "We think we can train a computer to understand those squiggles to the point that they can read off the commands that your brain is issuing to your mouth and lips," Schmeisser says. Unfortunately, it's not a matter of finding the single right squiggle. "There's no golden neuron that's talking," he says.

Dr. Mike D'Zmura of UC-Irvine, the lead scientist on the project, says his task is akin to finding the right strands on a plate full of pasta. "You need to pick out the relevant pieces of spaghetti," he says, "and sometimes they have to be torn apart and re-attached to others." But with ever-increasing computing power the task can be done in real time, he says. Users also will have to be trained to think loudly. "How do we get a person to think something to themselves in a way that leaves a very strong signal in EEGs that we can read off against the background noise?" D'Zmura asks. Finally, because every person's EEG is different, persons using "thought helmets" will have to be trained so that computers intercepting their unspoken commands recognize each user's unique mental pattern.

Both scientists pre-emptively deny expected charges that they're literally messing with soldiers' minds. "A lot of people interpret wires coming out of the head as some sort of mind reading," D'Zmura sighs. "But there's no way you can get there from here," Schmeisser insists. "Not only do you have to be willing, but since your brain is unique, you have to train the system to read your mind — so it's impossible to do it against someone's will and without their active and sustained cooperation." And don't overlook potential civilian benefits. "How often have you been annoyed by people screaming into their cell phones?" Schmeisser asks. "What if instead of their Bluetooth earpiece it was a Bluetooth headpiece and their mouth is shut and there's blessed silence all around you?" Sounds like one of those rare slices of the U.S. military budget even pacifists might support."

"Earth's Magnetic Field and Climate Change"

"The Earth's climate has been significantly affected by the planet's magnetic field, according to a Danish study published Monday that is unlikely to challenge the notion that human emissions are largely responsible for global warming. "Our results show a strong correlation between the strength of the Earth's magnetic field and the amount of precipitation in the tropics," one of the two Danish geophysicists behind the study, Mads Faurschou Knudsen of the geology department at Aarhus University in western Denmark, told the Videnskab journal. He and his colleague Peter Riisager, of the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland (GEUS), compared a reconstruction of the prehistoric magnetic field 5,000 years ago based on data drawn from stalagmites and stalactites found in China and Oman.

The results of the study, which has also been published in scientific journal Geology, lend support to a controversial theory published a decade ago by Danish astrophysicist Henrik Svensmark, who claimed the climate was highly influenced by galactic cosmic ray (GCR) particles penetrating the Earth's atmosphere. Svensmark's theory, which pitted him against today's mainstream theorists who claim carbon dioxide (CO2) is responsible for global warming, involved a link between the earth's magnetic field and climate, since that field helps regulate the number of GCR particles that reach the earth's atmosphere. "The only way we can explain the (geomagnetic-climate) connection is through the exact same physical mechanisms that were present in Henrik Svensmark's theory," Knudsen said.

"If changes in the magnetic field, which occur independently of the Earth's climate, can be linked to changes in precipitation, then it can only be explained through the magnetic field's blocking of the cosmetic rays," he said. The two scientists acknowledged that CO2 plays an important role in the changing climate, "but the climate is an incredibly complex system, and it is unlikely we have a full overview over which factors play a part and how important each is in a given circumstance," Riisager told Videnskab."

Gamel Nasser

“The genius of you Americans is that you never make clear-cut stupid moves,
only complicated stupid moves which make us wonder at the possibility
that there may be something to them we are missing.”

- Gamel Nasser

Niall Ferguson: "We Need a Great-Restructuring. Soon."

"It began as a sub-prime surprise, then became a credit crunch and is now a global financial crisis. At last month's World Economic Forum at Davos there was much finger-pointing - Russia and China blamed the US, everyone blamed the bankers, the bankers blamed everyone - but little in the way of forward-looking ideas. From where I was sitting, most attendees were still stuck in the Great Repression: deeply anxious, but fundamentally in denial about the nature and magnitude of the problem.

There were the people calling the bottom of the recession by the middle of this year. There were the people claiming India and China would be the engines of recovery. There were the people more worried about inflation than deflation. And, above all, there were the people trusting John Maynard Keynes would save us. I heard almost no criticism of the $US800 billion ($1.2trillion) stimulus package then making its way through Congress (and mutating as it went into something more like a pork barrel). The general assumption seemed to be that practically any kind of government expenditure would be beneficial, provided it was financed by a big deficit.

There is something desperate about the way people on both sides of the Atlantic are clinging to their dog-eared copies of Keynes's General Theory. Uneasily aware that their discipline almost entirely failed to anticipate the crisis, economists seem to be regressing to macro-economic childhood, clutching the multiplier like an old teddy bear. The harsh reality that is being repressed is this: the Western world is suffering a crisis of excessive indebtedness. Many governments are too highly leveraged, as are many corporations. More important, households are groaning under unprecedented debt burdens. Average household sector debt has reached 141per cent of disposable income in the US, 156per cent in Australia and 177 per cent in Britain. Worst of all are the banks in the US and Europe. Some of the best-known names in American and European finance have balance sheets 40, 60 or even 100 times the size of their capital. Average US investment bank leverage was above 25 to 1 at the end of 2008. Eurozone bank leverage was more than 30 to 1. British bank balance sheets are equal to a staggering 440 per cent of gross domestic product. The delusion that a crisis of excess debt can be solved by creating more debt is at the heart of the Great Repression. Yet that is precisely what most governments propose to do.

The US could end up running a deficit of more than 10per cent of GDP this year, adding the cost of the stimulus package to the optimistic 8.3 per cent forecast from the Congressional Budget Office. Nor is that all. Even before Barack Obama entered the White House, his predecessor's administration had already committed $US7.8 trillion in the form of loans, investments and guarantees. Now the talk is of a new "bad bank" to buy toxic assets from the banks that, despite the $US700billion Troubled Asset Relief Program, are still in deep trouble.

No one seems to have noticed that there is already a bad bank. It is called the Federal Reserve System, and its balance sheet has grown by 150 per cent - from just over $US900 billion to more than $US2 trillion - since this crisis began, partly as a result of purchases of undisclosed assets from banks. Just how much more toxic waste is out there? The economics professor at the Stern School of Business at New York University, Nouriel Roubini (who predicted the housing bust in 2005), puts US banks' projected losses at $US1.8 trillion. Even if that estimate is 40 per cent too high, the banks' capital will still be wiped out. A bad bank could therefore represent another hole in US public finances more than twice the size of the TARP. And all this is before any account is taken of the unfunded liabilities of the US Medicare and social security systems, the net present value of which is estimated at about $US60 trillion to $US70 trillion.

With the economy contracting at a rate (excluding inventory accumulation) of minus 5 per cent, we are on the eve of a public debt explosion that the CBO's forecast - $US4 trillion over the next 10 years, but peaking at 54 per cent of GDP - surely understates. The fact that so many other countries are adopting comparable measures means a flood of new issuance is about to hit national and international bond markets. The born-again Keynesians seem to have forgotten that their prescription stood the best chance of working in a more or less closed economy. But this is a globalised world, where unco-ordinated profligacy by national governments is more likely to generate bond market and currency market volatility than a return to growth. After all, a rising proportion of US public and private borrowing since 2000 has been financed from foreign sources, as a result of negligible domestic saving.

The dramatic contraction of world trade means the end of the process of Asian and Middle Eastern reserve accumulation that previously funded American deficits. Already foreign investors are net sellers of long-term US securities. Soon it is going to become painfully clear that new debt is not the solution, but could in fact make matters worse by driving up long-term rates or pushing down the dollar to the point that Europe and Japan can justly accuse America of currency manipulation.

There is a better way to go, but it is in the opposite direction. The aim must be not to increase debt but to reduce it. In past debt crises - which usually affected emerging market sovereign debt - this tended to happen in one of two ways. If, say, Argentina had an excessively large domestic debt, denominated in Argentine currency, it could be inflated away. If it was an external debt, then the government simply defaulted on payments and forced the creditors to accept a rescheduling of debt and principal payments.

Today, Argentina is us. Former investment banks and German universal banks are Argentina. American households are Argentina. But it will not be so easy for us to inflate away our debts. The deflationary pressures unleashed by the financial crisis are too strong (consumer prices in the US have been falling for three consecutive months; the annualised rate of decline for the last quarter of 2008 was minus 12.7 per cent.) Nor is default quite the same for banks and households as it is for governments. Bankruptcy can be a complicated business. Understandably, monetary authorities are anxious to avoid mass bankruptcies of banks and households, not least because of the knock-on effects on asset prices of distressed sales of assets. The solution to the debt crisis is not more debt but less debt. Two things must happen. First, banks that are de facto insolvent need to be restructured, a word that is preferable to the old fashioned nationalisation. Existing shareholders will have to face that they have lost their money. Too bad; they should have kept a more vigilant eye on the people running their banks. Government will take control in return for a substantial recapitalisation after losses have meaningfully been written down. Bondholders may have to accept either a debt-for-equity swap or a 20 per cent "haircut" - a disappointment, no doubt, but nothing compared with the losses suffered when Lehman Brothers went under.

There are precedents for such drastic action, notably the response to the Swedish banking crisis of the early 1990s. The critical point is to avoid the nightmare of a state-dominated financial sector. The last thing the US needs is to have all its banks run like the Amtrak national passenger train network or, worse, the US Internal Revenue Service. State life support for moribund dinosaur banks is an expedient designed to avert the disaster of a generalised banking extinction, not a belated victory for socialism in North America. It should not and must not impede the formation of new banks by the private sector. Financial history is, after all, an evolutionary process. When old banks die, new banks swiftly take their place. It is therefore vital that state control does not give the old banks an unfair advantage. So recapitalisation must be a once-only event, with no enduring government guarantees or subsidies. And there should be a clear timetable for re-privatisation within, say, 10 years.

The second step we need to take is a generalised conversion of American mortgages to lower interest rates and longer maturities. About 2.3 million US households face foreclosure and that number is certain to rise. For example, $US97 billion of $US200 billion of option adjustable-rate mortgages will reset in the next two years. The average monthly payment will increase by more than 60 per cent. As a result, up to eight million households could be driven into foreclosure, driving down home prices even further. Few of those affected have any realistic prospect of refinancing at more affordable rates. So, once again, what is needed is state intervention. The idea of modifying mortgages appalls legal purists as a violation of the sanctity of contract. But, as with the principle of eminent domain, there are times when the public interest requires us to honour the rule of law in the breach. Repeatedly in the course of the 19th century, governments changed the terms of bonds that they issued through a process known as conversion. A bond with a 5 per cent coupon would simply be exchanged for one with a 3 per cent coupon, to take account of falling market rates and prices. Such procedures were seldom stigmatised as default. Today, in the same way, we need an orderly conversion of adjustable rate mortgages to take account of the fundamentally altered financial environment. Another objection to such a procedure is that it would reward the imprudent. But moral hazard only really matters if bad behaviour is likely to be repeated. I do not foresee anyone asking for, or being given, an option adjustable-rate mortgage for many, many years. The issue, then, is simply one of fairness.

One solution would be for the US government-controlled mortgage lenders and guarantors, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, to offer all borrowers, including those on fixed rates, the same deal. Permanently lower monthly payments for a majority of US households would almost certainly do more to stimulate consumer confidence than all the provisions of the stimulus package, including the tax cuts. Ever since the New Deal, American politicians have proclaimed their faith in the "property-owning democracy" and the "American dream of home ownership". For years they have actively encouraged the expansion of the sub-prime market. But the result has been an American nightmare. With housing prices still falling precipitously - the Case-Shiller index of US home-prices indices puts the annual rate of decline at minus18per cent - there is an urgent need for action.

No doubt those who lose by such measures will not suffer in silence. But the benefits of macro-economic stabilisation will surely outweigh the costs to bank shareholders, bank bondholders and the owners of mortgage-backed securities. Americans, Churchill once remarked, will always do the right thing - after they have exhausted all the other alternatives. But if we are still waiting for Keynes to save us when Davos comes around next year, it may well be too late. Only a Great Restructuring can end the Great Repression. It needs to happen soon."

- Niall Ferguson. Glasgow-born Ferguson is Laurence A. Tisch professor of history at Harvard University and William Ziegler professor of business administration at Harvard Business School. He is also a senior research fellow at Jesus College, Oxford University, and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. His books include "The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World."

"How It Really Is"

Sound Familiar? Ireland: "Rich Gain, Poor Pain Struggle"

"There is no money left in Ireland. At least that’s what you might think after listening to Brian Cowen, Enda Kenny, IBEC and the parade of capitalist economists and pundits who parrot this nonsense. Yes, we are heading into a deep recession but guess who is expected to pay the cost? The Government has no problem finding money to bail out bankers and speculators, it’s only when cash is needed for special-needs teachers, the sick, or to improve run-down schools and hospitals that nothing can be found. The attack on pay and pensions is a class struggle by employers and the government against working people.

It may sound old-fashioned to talk of class struggle, but what else do you call it when one class wants to preserve its wealth at the expense of the other class? When private sector workers see 90% of pension funds they paid into for years going down the tube, Brian Goggin of Bank of Ireland thinks he is hard done by because he will “take home less than €2 million” this year. We had a financial regulator, Patrick Neary, who waltzed off with a golden handshake of €600,000 and a pension of €140,000 per year. That pension alone is the equivalent of what four workers and their families on the average industrial wage live on. And what did Neary do to deserve this, apart from turning a blind eye to massive financial ‘irregularities’ in the banking industry?

Workers in the public service are told to suffer a €1.4 billion cut in wages, those on €35,000 will see their pay cut by €43 a week. Yet the wealthiest 1%, with €87 billion in assets, pay nothing at all. To add insult to injury the government has torn up the Public Sector Pay Agreement, denying 260,000 workers their small but agreed pay increases. At the same time billionaire businessman Sean Quinn can lose €1 billion and say it’s no problem “you win some, you lose some”. When you have an annual income of €500 million that’s very true!

IBEC’s aim is to reduce Irish wage rates and to make us think that a reasonable pension in old age is a privilege rather than a right. The attack on the public sector is just the start. Private sector wages are being driven down too. Even the Minimum Wage of €8.65 an hour is criticised as too high by Fianna Fáil ministers like Billy Kelleher, who ‘earns’ a cool €139,266 before expenses (and that’s after his 10% cut - and after the 65% pay rise TDs have received in the last four years). Their goal is to subject working people to a Thatcher-style defeat. They want wholesale wage cuts across the economy. If we don’t fight back they will keep coming back to take more out of our pay packets, close down more of our services and give our children a lower standard of living than we had. The rich are good at looking after their class interests – we should take the same attitude. They didn’t share the wealth in the Celtic Tiger years, why should we share the pain today?"

I truly admire the Irish people- at least they have the courage to take to the streets in protest over being financially raped by the wealthy, unlike their beaten down, cowardly American counterparts...

Economist Nouriel Roubini Interview, 2/27/09

Friday, February 27, 2009

John Denver

"Come dance with the west wind, and touch all the mountain tops,
Sail o'er the canyons and up to the stars,
And reach for the heavens, and hope for the future,
And all that we can be, not what we are..."

John Denver, "The Eagle and the Hawk"

A Look to the Heavens

"Large, dusty, spiral galaxy NGC 4945 is seen edge-on near the center of this rich telescopic image. The field of view spans nearly 2 degrees, or about 4 times the width of the Full Moon, toward the expansive southern constellation Centaurus. About 13 million light-years distant, NGC 4945 is almost the size of our own Milky Way Galaxy. But X-ray and infrared observations reveal even more high energy emission and star formation in the core of NGC 4945. The other prominent galaxy in the field, NGC 4976, is an elliptical galaxy. Left of center, NGC 4976 is much farther away, at a distance of about 35 million light-years, and not physically associated with NGC 4945."


"What is a friend? A single soul dwelling in two bodies."


The Human Need for a "Higher Purpose"

"One of the more compelling reasons why some people hope for the existence of a purposeful creative process is because it can give a sense of meaning to their lives. Believing in a purposeful process is like having faith that our existence is orderly and meaningful, whereas to reject the possibility of purpose is like resigning yourself to the notion that our existence is ultimately meaningless, mindless, and possibly chaotic.

The idea that consciousness has some kind of higher purpose has always been popular because it offers people a more meaningful reason to live other than to simply pursue their selfish needs and desires. Believing in a higher purpose can motivate people to sacrifice their selfish desires and unite their efforts to carry out whatever they believe to be their common cosmic purpose. Without any higher purpose, there would be no ultimate justification for unconditional cooperation or personal self-sacrifice. Our only arguable reason for caring about each other, other than feelings of affection or sympathy, would be for the anticipation of some mutual benefit. As long as we continued to enjoy advantages, and as long as we perceived no future disadvantage, we would have no reason not to indulge ourselves at the expense of powerless strangers. This entire universe would never be anything more than a cosmic battlefield for evolutionary competition and the conscious struggle for power. As evil as this sounds, it describes exactly how much of the world has always behaved.

Faced with the choice between a selfish meaninglessness struggle and unification through common purpose, throughout history, priests, prophets, and moral philosophers have used every technique in the art of religious persuasion to convince people to believe that human consciousness does have some kind of cosmic purpose. Without any evidence to prove it, the most common strategy has been to craft myths in order to uphold the kinds of moral values that bring strangers together to work selflessly for the pursuit of some perceived common cause. The possibility that consciousness might have a higher purpose has created an opportunity around which myths and morals have been able to evolve, usually introduced at revolutionary times by charismatic thinkers who were able to attract enthusiastic followings, and then perpetuated by priesthoods who continued to reinvent these myths and morals in ways that accommodated the prevailing cultural conditions. Unfortunately, the formation of religious myths and morals has also created opportunities for political extremists to manipulate believers, often in ways that continue to threaten peace and prosperity.

Judging by the continued popularity of religion around the world today, it is doubtful whether the majority of people would ever accept the idea that our world has no true purpose in nature. They will probably always want to believe that their lives have some kind of cosmic significance and that humankind has some special relationship to the forces that created the universe. Without any rational explanation for our existence that gives people a sense of purpose and meaning, they will continue to follow the irrational teachings of their ancient religious scriptures, and they will continue to be manipulated by their traditional religious institutions. They will continue to reject the theory of evolution because their religious leaders will keep telling them that evolution is a godless philosophy, and they will continue to be doubtful of scientific explanations because atheist academics will keep telling them that life is essentially absurd and meaningless.

Due to the popular desire for cosmic purpose and the unarguable possibility that there might be one, religious explanations will probably always exist, and so religious persuasion will probably always have an enormous influence over the political power struggle. However, there is no good reason to continue to tolerate political and religious extremism. The opportunity now exists for us to dispel the kinds of myths that continue to create opportunities for extremists to manipulate believers. Rather than complaining about the god of the gaps, we now have the knowledge and freedom to develop a purposeful progressive scientific philosophy to fill the gap and displace the traditional religious myths by leaving no uncertainties that can be exploited by conservative anti-science opportunists. Choosing to either believe or not believe in a cosmic purpose requires having blind faith in some unproven assumption. The only understanding that requires no leap of faith, and so therefore the only understanding in which we can be totally confident, is to keep our minds open to both possibilities, and to thoroughly examine them both to their eventual conclusions."


"Years ago I sat in a supervision group with a group of colleagues in which we discussed various cases. We were all new at this counseling thing, and frequently brought our "worst" cases to the group for any sort of help we could get. One particular day someone brought up a couple they were counseling, and reported they were at a horrible impasse. The therapist had tried communication skills, Cognitive Restructuring, Family Sculpting … I think you get the idea. The couple just hated each other.

Our supervisor asked the group for any suggestions. The group remained silent. It was everyone's worst nightmare. A client comes to you for help, and you don’t know how to help them. After a few moments of silence, the supervisor began to share with us something he said we wouldn't find in our text books. Following is what he told us:

The Ingredients of Forgiveness:

1) Your feelings are legitimate. It is silly to pretend that someone did not hurt you when in fact, they did. Even if it was unintentional, pretending it didn’t hurt is being dishonest with yourself. You know that it really did hurt, and you may spend a lot of time trying to convince yourself of something that you know not to be true. Perhaps you were too sensitive, but this stage is not the place to begin telling yourself to get over it.

) There is no such thing as revenge. It simply does not exist. You can hurt someone, even worse than they hurt you, yet it will never, "even the score," There is a saying, "Acid does more damage to the vessel it is stored in than to what it is poured on."

3) Forgiveness is not what you feel
. It is what you do with those feelings. If someone runs over a loved one with a car, it is going to take awhile for me to get over the anger. Yet, I can forgive the person more quickly. How? Because the action part of forgiveness is the "laying down of weapons." What are weapons? Getting even, yelling, name calling, being passive aggressive, and the like. Anything I do to purposely hurt someone is a weapon. I may have to lay down my weapons 10 times in 10 minutes. It is something I am in control of, as opposed to controlling the way I feel. You cannot always control your feelings, but you can control your actions.

4) Forgiveness is not the same as trust.
Most people believe that to forgive someone means I have no ill feelings towards them. However, it takes time for feelings to change. Trust always takes time. Time to see if the person is in fact trustworthy. To trust someone before they have proven to be trustworthy is foolish. Those who try to trust too quickly confuse forgiveness with condoning. Condoning means to simply pretend something never occurred. This is the quality that makes Grandparents so lovable. They simply smile, and ignore it. While we should forgive someone, to continue to trust them if the behavior continues, will only reinforce and/or encourage the behavior to continue.

5) Forgiveness means to Grieve.
It is acknowledging that we have been hurt. Whatever was done to you, you let it go. Let it die. There is no way to get even, it will only haunt you. Let yourself grieve whatever was done to you, that you might be free of that injury. Forgiving them will enable you to be free. By letting it go that simply means you choose to not get even, either through thought or deed. Once you are able to do this, you will cease to be haunted by what was done to you."

- Bob Grant, L.P.C.

The Daily "Near You?"

Charlotte, North Carolina, USA. Thanks for stopping by.

"Collateralized Debt Obligations-CDOs- Lost 95% Value"

"Just how much should a debt vehicle backed by subprime mortgage bonds be worth these days? Two years ago, most banks and insurance companies assumed the answer was close to 100 per cent of face value – or more. Since then, however, that “price” has clearly collapsed, triggering tens of billions of dollars worth of writedowns, particularly in relation to a product known as collateralised debt obligations of asset-backed securities (CDO of ABS.) But as the zeroes relating to writedowns multiply, a peculiar – and bitter – irony continues to hang over these numbers. Notwithstanding the fact that bankers used to promote CDOs as a tool to create more “complete” capital markets, very few of those instruments ever traded in a real market sense before the crisis – and fewer still have changed hands since then. Thus, the “prices falls” that have blasted such terrible holes in the balance sheets of the banks have not been based on any real market numbers, but on models extrapolated from other measures such as the ABX, an index of mortgage derivatives. What has blown up the capital markets is thus a set of theoretical swings in prices that were always pretty abstract.

This takes the concept of virtual banking onto a whole new, terrible level. But now, at long last, one shard of reality has just emerged to piece this gloom. In recent weeks, bankers at places such as JPMorgan Chase and Wachovia have been quietly sifting data trying to ascertain what has happened to those swathes of troubled CDO of ABS. The conclusions are stunning. From late 2005 to the middle of 2007, around $450bn of CDO of ABS were issued, of which about one third were created from risky mortgage-backed bonds (known as mezzanine CDO of ABS) and much of the rest from safer tranches (high grade CDO of ABS.) Out of that pile, around $305bn of the CDOs are now in a formal state of default, with the CDOs underwritten by Merrill Lynch accounting for the biggest pile of defaulted assets, followed by UBS and Citi.

The real shocker, though, is what has happened after those defaults. JPMorgan estimates that $102bn of CDOs has already been liquidated. The average recovery rate for super-senior tranches of debt – or the stuff that was supposed to be so ultra safe that it always carried a triple A tag – has been 32 per cent for the high grade CDOs. With mezzanine CDO’s, though, recovery rates on those AAA assets have been a mere 5 per cent.

I dare say this might be an extreme case. The subprime loans extended in 2006 and 2007 have suffered particularly high default rates and the CDOs that have already been liquidated are presumably the very worst of the pack. Even so, I would hazard a guess that this is easily the worst outcome for any assets that have ever carried a “triple A” stamp. No wonder so many investors are now so utterly cynical about anything that bankers or rating agencies might say these days.

After all, when the ABX started taking a dramatically bearish tone 18 months ago, many banks claimed that it was ridiculous that they were writing their mortgage assets down to prices extrapolated from the ABX, since it was popularly claimed that the ABX overstated likely future loss. Even the Bank of England appeared to share that view. But with the ABX now suggesting that triple A subprime mortgage assets are worth around 40 cents on the dollar (depending on the precise vintage), the message from that might almost be too optimistic in relation to some CDOs. So where does that leave the banks? In reality we will not know whether that horrific 95 per cent loss is unusual until the rest of the CDO of ABS are liquidated too. But for my part, I suspect that the saga strengthens the case for financiers now biting the bullet – and conducting some open auctions of this stuff, to get a bit of market price discovery.

Hitherto, most bankers – and policy makers – have vehemently resisted that idea since they feared that public sales would produce painfully low prices. That is a valid fear. After all, there are very few investors in the system right now with any appetite or capacity to take risk. But in a world where investors already feel utterly terrified by the inability to determine values – and the recovery rate on triple A assets has tumbled to just 5 per cent – conducting an open fire sale might now be the least bad of some terrible options. After all, if an open auction ends up pricing mortgage-linked CDOs near zero, at least the capital hit to the banks and insurance companies will be clear; and if it is higher than zero, it might even cheer investors up.

Either way, until investors get some sense of what something might – or might not – be worth, it will be painfully hard to rebuild trust in capital markets and banks alike. Those American officials who are implementing flashy new “stress tests” of banks would do well to take note."

Remember, according to the Bank of International Settlements, there are over $1.2 Quadrillion of these toxic "products" in existance, which must be resolved. This is the literally toxic garbage the US Treasury is buying up from the criminal banks, worthless paper, paid for with your tax dollars, and enslaving our grandchildren with the debt...

Henry David Thoreau

Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you’ve imagined!

- Henry David Thoreau

A Moment with Nature

“The beauty of a Tassajara, California, sunset is enhanced by towering cumulonimbus clouds—but they will likely spoil the serene scene. These tallest of all clouds often produce violent storms of rain, thunder, lightning, hail, and high winds.” Photograph by Gary Crabbe/Alamy

Archaeology: "13,000 Year Old Tools Found in Colorado"

"Someone left their tools in a Boulder yard- 13,000 years ago. The Clovis era stone tools, uncovered last year, appeared to have been used to butcher ice-age camels and horses that roamed this part of North America until they became extinct. The find was announced by the University of Colorado at Boulder on Wednesday.

Scientists examining the tools found protein residue from extinct camels and horse protein residue, said CU-Boulder Anthropology Professor Douglas Bamforth. The tool cache is one of only a handful of Clovis-age artifact caches that have been unearthed in North America, said Bamforth, who studies Paleo-Indian culture and tools. Named the Mahaffy Cache, after Boulder resident and landowner Patrick Mahaffy, the collection is one of only two Clovis caches - the other is from Washington state - that have been analyzed for protein residue from ice-age mammals, said Bamforth. In addition to the camel and horse residue on the artifacts, a third item from the Mahaffy Cache is the first Clovis tool ever to test positive for sheep, and a fourth tested positive for bear.

The Mahaffy Cache consists of 83 stone implements ranging from salad plate-sized, elegantly crafted bifacial knives and a unique tool resembling a double-bitted ax to small blades and flint scraps. Discovered in May 2008 by Brant Turney, head of a landscaping crew working on the Mahaffy property, the cache was unearthed with a shovel under about 18 inches of soil and was packed tightly into a hole about the size of a large shoebox. It appeared to have been untouched for thousands of years, Bamforth said. Although the surface of the house lot had been lowered by construction work over the years, an analysis of photos from the Mahaffy Cache excavation site by CU-Boulder geological sciences Emeritus Professor Peter Birkeland confirmed the approximate age of sediment layer containing the Clovis implements. The site appears to be on the edge of an ancient drainage that ran northeast from Boulder’s foothills, said Bamforth.

"The idea that these Clovis-age tools essentially fell out of someone’s yard in Boulder is astonishing," he said. "But the evidence I’ve seen gives me no reason to believe the cache has been disturbed since the items were placed there for storage about 13,000 years ago." The artifacts were buried in coarse, sandy sediment overlain by dark, clay-like soil and appear to have been cached on the edge of an ancient stream, said Bamforth. "It looks like someone gathered together some of their most spectacular tools and other ordinary scraps of potentially useful material and stuck them all into a small hole in the ground, fully expecting to come back at a later date and retrieve them."

Bamforth said he knew immediately that much of the stone used to craft the tools in the cache originated from Colorado’s Western Slope and perhaps as far north as southern Wyoming. The stone appears to have come from at least four distinct regions, including sites in Colorado’s Middle Park, south of Steamboat Springs, he said. One of the tools, a "stunning," oval-shaped bifacial knife that had been sharpened all the way around, is almost exactly the same shape, size and width of an obsidian knife found in a Clovis cache known as the Fenn Cache from south of Yellowstone National Park, said Bamforth. "Except for the raw material, they are almost identical," he said. "I wouldn’t stake my reputation on it, but I could almost imagine the same person making both tools."

Climatic evidence indicates the Boulder area was cooler and wetter in the late Pleistocene era and receding glaciers would have been prominent along the Front Range of Colorado, he said. "The kind of animals that were wandering around present-day Boulder at the end of the last ice age - elephants, camels, huge bears and ground sloths - are creatures we would expect to see in a zoo today." "There is a magic to these artifacts," said Mahaffy. "One of the things you don’t get from just looking at them is how incredible they feel in your hand -they are almost ergonomically perfect and you can feel how they were used. It is a wonderful connection to the people who shared this same land a long, long time ago." Mahaffy said the artifacts will likely wind up in a museum except for a few of the smaller pieces, which will be reburied at the cache site."

"Taxing the Rich- About Time!"

"We've seen, in recent weeks, an outpouring of public outrage over the mega millions that keep flowing – despite the escalating economic meltdown – into the pockets of America's top bankers and corporate executives. "I'm angry," Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) of Missouri told her Senate colleagues late last month, as she introduced a bill to cap pay for bailed-out CEOs at $400,000 a year. "Wall Street [is] kicking sand in the face of the American taxpayer." "I will not tolerate it," President Obama added a few days later, as he announced a $500,000 executive pay cap at firms getting substantial bailout dollars.

The amount of money that goes into executive pockets is staggering. So is the amount that comes out of those pockets in taxes: precious little. America's super-rich are paying far less of their incomes in taxes than average Americans who punch time clocks. This is grossly unfair. The good news: Under Mr. Obama's new plan to cut the deficit in half, the very richest Americans will start paying something closer to their fair tax share. It's been a while since they've done that. As recent IRS data show, these elites are paying less in taxes – much less – than their deep-pocket counterparts used to pay.

In 2006, the 400 highest-income Americans together reported $105 billion in income,
an average of $263 million each.

Having trouble visualizing that? To pocket $263 million a year, you would have to take home over $60,000 an hour – and work 12 hours a day, seven days a week, for an entire 12 months. Sounds tiring, doesn't it? But most of the top 400 make their fortunes buying and selling assets, everything from stocks and bonds to the exotic paper that helped inflate the housing bubble. Uncle Sam taxes income from those assets – whether that income be capital gains or dividends – at a much lower rate than income from work. The current top tax rate on "ordinary" work income sits at 35 percent. But dividends and capital gains from the buying and selling of most assets face only a 15 percent top rate. That's why in 2006, America's top 400 paid just 17.2 percent of their $263 million average incomes in federal tax. Millions of middle-class American families, once you tally income and payroll taxes, pay far more of their incomes in tax. One particularly striking example from billionaire investor Warren Buffett: In 2006, he paid 17.7 percent of his income in total taxes. His secretary, who made $60,000, paid 30 percent of hers.

How did we end up with this sorry state of affairs? Lawmakers in Congress have spent the past several decades systematically slicing the tax rates on America's top income brackets. Their rationale? Lower taxes on the top, free up capital for investment, and boost productivity. In actual economic practice, those lower taxes have served instead to fuel speculation and increase budget deficits. For the ultrarich themselves, the tax savings have been nothing short of breathtaking. Back in 1955, America's top 400 paid more than 50 percent of their incomes in federal tax, almost triple the rate of today's top 400.

We can fix this. Obama just announced his plan to end the Bush administration's high-income tax cuts. This is an important step. We can insist, also, that lawmakers end the preferential treatment of dividends and capital gains. And we can raise the tax rate that kicks in when taxpayers start collecting more than $10 million and $20 million a year.

Steps like these would help get our future in order. But what about the past – and all those windfalls the super-rich have been pocketing as our economy veered into the ditch? Are we going to have to watch these billions multiply, generation after generation, into a new American aristocracy of wealth? Not if we save the estate tax, the only federal levy on grand accumulations of private wealth. The rich and their retainers have been trying to repeal the estate tax for 20 years now.

They haven't succeeded, but they have slashed the tax rate on the fortunes the ultrawealthy leave their heirs. Congress is about to begin debating legislation that would freeze the estate tax at the current bargain-basement rate set by President Bush. We can't let that happen. More than ever, America needs its ultrarich to chip in more."