Tuesday, June 30, 2009

it's now legal to catch a raindrop

NYTimes | For the first time since territorial days, rain will be free for the catching here, as more and more thirsty states part ways with one of the most entrenched codes of the West.

Precipitation, every last drop or flake, was assigned ownership from the moment it fell in many Western states, making scofflaws of people who scooped rainfall from their own gutters. In some instances, the rights to that water were assigned a century or more ago.

Now two new laws in Colorado will allow many people to collect rainwater legally. The laws are the latest crack in the rainwater edifice, as other states, driven by population growth, drought, or declining groundwater in their aquifers, have already opened the skies or begun actively encouraging people to collect.

“I was so willing to go to jail for catching water on my roof and watering my garden,” said Tom Bartels, a video producer here in southwestern Colorado, who has been illegally watering his vegetables and fruit trees from tanks attached to his gutters. “But now I’m not a criminal.”

Who owns the sky, anyway? In most of the country, that is a question for philosophy class or bad poetry. In the West, lawyers parse it with straight faces and serious intent. The result, especially stark here in the Four Corners area of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah, is a crazy quilt of rules and regulations — and an entire subculture of people like Mr. Bartels who have been using the rain nature provided but laws forbade.

The two Colorado laws allow perhaps a quarter-million residents with private wells to begin rainwater harvesting, as well as the setting up of a pilot program for larger scale rain-catching.

Just 75 miles west of here, in Utah, collecting rainwater from the roof is still illegal unless the roof owner also owns water rights on the ground; the same rigid rules, with a few local exceptions, also apply in Washington State. Meanwhile, 20 miles south of here, in New Mexico, rainwater catchment, as the collecting is called, is mandatory for new dwellings in some places like Santa Fe.

2008 urban water supply rankings

SustainLane | How We Rated Cities

For 2008 we newly measured each city's water supply, in addition to tap water quality and other data. Desert cities and cities hundreds of miles away from their fresh water sources fell in this year's rankings largely because of our new water supply rankings. Data analyzed included distance in miles from primary source of untreated drinking water, dependence of water on snowpack, level of drought or other conflict, population growth rate and gallons of water consumed per person per day.

Tied for first place are Great Lakes cities of Chicago, Cleveland and Milwaukee. Following in rank for solid water supply longevity are Detroit at number four and New Orleans at number five.

Without steady supplies of fresh, drinkable water, our modern cities would quickly devolve into their previous selves: unsanitary, cholera-stricken, less populated. In a word, Medieval. Gigantic concrete and steel water delivery systems across deserts, state lines and over foothills ensure instant supplies of fresh water to each and every faucet and showerhead in cities without ample nearby supplies. Cities including Portland, Seattle and San Francisco depend on a stable water supply for their electricity as well.

Monday, June 29, 2009

the secret of el dorado

fist tap to Dale

eugenics and cannibalization are alive and well in the united states

Foundation | You hear on a daily basis of the cannibalization of body parts in the US for transplant operations. This cannibalization (“harvesting body parts”) is promoted because of the large amount of money it generates for the medical establishment. The practice of eugenics – genetic modification or culling to reduce unwanted traits or promote desired ones – is also thriving. One hears more and more of “selectionization” of embryos to destroy undesirable traits. What the agricultural sector has practiced for a long time – selective breeding – is now standard practice in the US medical establishment.

These practices, once frowned upon, are now thriving in the US because the medical establishment makes “big bucks” from them. When they were not so lucrative, they were discouraged or even proscribed.

It is interesting to observe the changing moral status of these and other practices, and how they are determined by economics. Slavery was once widespread because it was economically profitable. When the Industrial Revolution occurred and slavery become economically inefficient, it was banned by the economically developed nations. Cannibalization and eugenics were once banned, when there was little money to be made from these practices. Now that the medical establishment can profit handsomely from them, they are not only condoned, but encouraged. The charging of interest was once proscribed by all three Abrahamic religions (although Jews could charge interest to enemies). When, half a millennium ago, society desired large-scale lending to promote world trade, Christianity and Judaism promptly dropped their objection to it.

Now that the country is very wealthy, incredible amounts of money are spent to keep highly defective children alive. When I was a boy, this was not done. Joan Tollifson, author of Bare-Bones Meditation: Waking Up from the Story of My Life (Bell Tower, 1996) recounts the following interesting personal story, which illustrates well how mores have changed in just the past half-century.

“I was born in Chicago in 1948. I was born without a right hand. It had been amputated in the uterus by a strand of ruptured amnion. Newborn, I was brought to a room where there was a large pillow. My father was called out of the waiting area and taken to this room by the doctor. My father was left alone in there with me and the large pillow. He understood finally that he was being given the chance to smother me. But he didn't do it.

“The doctor knocked. "Are you finished yet?"

“My father didn't answer. The doctor came in and my father was still standing there. Together they brought me to my mother. I don't know what she felt. She has told me that this was the only time she ever saw my father cry. He wept. And then he went out and got drunk. It was probably the only time he ever got dead drunk.

“My aunt Winifred had a psychotic breakdown at the sight of me, and my uncle Harold insisted on always photographing me from the left side. In some of my childhood pictures my right arm is outside the frame or in the next room.

“People want babies, and females in general, to be unblemished. I soaked in everyone's responses to my imperfect reality. I was a kind of oxymoron. Sometimes strangers on the street would tell my mother that we were being punished by God.

privyet nigaz

The Peninsula | Gazprom, the Russian gas group, has signed a deal to invest at least $2.5bn in a joint venture with Nigeria's state-owned oil company to explore and to develop the country's vast gas reserves. Dmitry Medvedev, Russia's president, said during a visit to Abuja, Nigeria's capital, that he hoped the nations would become "major energy partners". "If we carry out all our plans, Russian investment in Nigeria can reach billions of dollars," Medvedev said.

The formation of the 50-50 joint venture between Gazprom and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), named Nigaz, follows a prolonged courtship by Russia which began under Vladimir Putin, the previous president and current prime minister.

Gazprom's action to secure a foothold in a country where western groups have led the development of the oil industry for the past half century has given rise to concerns in Europe that Moscow is seeking to gain control of Nigerian reserves to tighten its grip on the the European Union's gas supplies.

European governments see Nigeria's gas reserves - the seventh-largest in the world - as a potential route to diluting their reliance on Russia, which supplies up to half the gas consumed by the EU. Nigeria has struggled to develop its gas industry to anything like its full potential, due in part to its failure to come up with the viable regulatory framework and pricing mechanism needed to spur commercial investment.

The government of Umaru Yar'Adua, Nigeria's president, has designed a "gas masterplan" which intends to prioritise gas for domestic use to supply industries and tackle Nigeria's chronic power crisis. Implementation has been slow and some experts question whether the regulatory approach envisaged in the plan is viable.

Gazprom has nevertheless signalled its intention to help Nigeria realise its ambitions to develop domestic gas infrastructure. The Nigaz joint-venture intends to explore for gas and build refineries, gas pipelines and gas-fired power stations throughout Nigeria, including a section of pipeline that could form part of a proposed transSahara pipeline to export gas directly to Europe.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

divvying up the spoils...,

Washington Post | Iraq is poised to open its coveted oil fields to foreign companies this week for the first time in nearly four decades, a politically risky move in a country eager to shake off the stigma of occupation.

Iraqi politicians and some veteran oil officials have said the deals are unduly beneficial to oil giants, which are viewed warily by many in this deeply nationalistic but cash-strapped country.

Oil executives have been following the matter with apprehension, industry analysts said, but they are eager to get a foothold in Iraq, which has the world's second-largest proven crude reserves and is seen as the only major penetrable market.

Iraq expelled foreign oil companies in 1972 amid a regional movement toward nationalization. Its national oil company performed well until the 1991 Persian Gulf War, which was preceded by sanctions imposed by the United Nations.

Violence and the exodus of scores of technocrats after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 have taken a toll on the industry. Pipelines in northern and southern Iraq are in dire need of repair, and much of the equipment at functioning oil fields is outdated or underperforming.

Iraq pumps an estimated 2.4 million barrels of oil a day. With foreign capital and expertise, oil experts said, the figure could grow to 10 million in a few years.

Iraq has an estimated 115 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, second only to Saudi Arabia. Other attractive markets, such as Venezuela and Russia, have in recent years asserted more state control over the industry.

inanity with a bully pulpit....,

NYTimes | I was at a conference in St. Petersburg, Russia, a few weeks ago and interviewed Craig Barrett, the former chairman of Intel, about how America should get out of its current economic crisis. His first proposal was this: Any American kid who wants to get a driver’s license has to finish high school. No diploma — no license. Hey, why would we want to put a kid who can barely add, read or write behind the wheel of a car?

Now what does that have to do with pulling us out of the Great Recession? A lot. Historically, recessions have been a time when new companies, like Microsoft, get born, and good companies separate themselves from their competition. It makes sense. When times are tight, people look for new, less expensive ways to do old things. Necessity breeds invention.

Therefore, the country that uses this crisis to make its population smarter and more innovative — and endows its people with more tools and basic research to invent new goods and services — is the one that will not just survive but thrive down the road.

We might be able to stimulate our way back to stability, but we can only invent our way back to prosperity. We need everyone at every level to get smarter.
One wonders precisely what uber-clown friedman's contribution will be beyond this handwavy sysiphean exhortation?

media fantasies

Guardian | Iranian Islamists' allegiances do not lie with saffron rice and Hafez's poems. They love God, then country, grind through life as factory workers and farmhands in addition to getting PhDs in engineering and medicine. Iranians loyal to their Islamic project recite prayers for their president, relish the martyrdom of Hussein, and wait for the return of their messiah. So did anyone really think that his terrestrial representative would allow more than a week of bank burnings and highway closures? Are we really shocked that the military would close rank, dissidents would be arrested, and political threats be neutralised as 250,000 US troops sit on the country's borders and Cheney's $400m support for regime subversion gets stamped by Obama?

Instead of trying to understand the complexity of Iranian Islamism and its fusion into the international political system, intellectuals in the west have dismissed its architects and supporters as brainwashed fanatics controlled by wicked priests. We have lived vicariously through its dissidents and exiles. We have cherished stories such as Reading Lolita in Tehran and recommended films such as Not Without My Daughter and Persepolis to our closest family and friends. It was only a matter of time, we so desperately believed.

But a match can only be lit once. Mousavi was from a generation that stood in front of the Shah's helicopter gunships, slept in trenches before Saddam's tanks, and waited hours in line for flour. But Tehran's tech-savvy are far from Frantz Fanon's lumpenproletariat. The hundreds of thousands trickled down to a few hundred this week precisely because they never came to revolt. Had they wanted a revolution, they could have had one when they crammed the streets in front of the state television and radio station. The bazaar shop owners, much less the oil refinery workers, have not gone on strike, nor will they. The opposition's tiny political infrastructure has all but been destroyed. The revolution will not be televised – or Twittered – because it was only going to happen in our imaginations.

Soon, Iran will fade from the news cycle and its horrors will blend with those of the rest of the world. Ahmadinejad will serve four years as a lame-duck president, tempered by Khamenei domestically and internationally. Mousavi, along with Khatami, will probably retire from politics while Rafsanjani secures his assets as quickly as possible. Larijani will be the supreme leader's new man and after leading the charge on election reform will probably be the next president.

Meanwhile, the "Iranian people" will continue living under the double sanction of a repressive state and an international boycott regime designed to cripple their development. Then intellectuals, journalists and diaspora Iranians such as myself can return to imagining them any way we want.
The power of the Revolutionary Guard had grown exponentially over the past six years precisely because there are 250,000 U.S. soldiers flanking Iran's borders. Anyone failing to comprehend what's actually transpiring in Iran, is simply not paying attention.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

failed imperial "realism"

Washington Post | Some have theorized that Mr. Ahmadinejad's repression of the massive popular uprising could at least make it easier for the United States to build a coalition able to impose tough sanctions. But this week brought a depressingly familiar indication of how that diplomacy will unfold. Russia, which along with China has recognized Mr. Ahmadinejad as the election winner, blocked a Group of Eight meeting from even condemning the government's violence. "Isolating Iran is the wrong approach," said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, repeating his standard line. With U.S. support, the G-8 ended up renewing its invitation to Iran to open negotiations on its nuclear program -- even though the blood on Tehran's streets is not yet dry.

That stance would seem to contradict the position Mr. Obama took on Tuesday, when he denounced the regime's violence, said the protest movement was "on the side of history" and suggested that his policy of engagement would be put on hold. After meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel yesterday, Mr. Obama refined that stance, saying that while "multilateral discussions" with Iran could proceed on the nuclear program, the "direct dialogue between the United States and Iran" would be subject to the wait-and-see approach. There may be some tactical sense in that: The administration could preserve the international coalition it is trying to build while denying the shaky supreme leader the political boost that would come from direct dialogue with Washington.

Still, by now it ought to be clear that the best chance to protect what Mr. Obama calls "core U.S. security interests" lies in a victory for the Iranian opposition. That may look unlikely for now. But it is considerably more probable than a turn toward detente by those now engaged in murdering young women. There may not be much that can be done to help the opposition, though some tangible steps -- more money for broadcasting into the country, for example -- are readily available. But at the least, nothing should be done that would harm the cause of change. That is not just the moral course; it is the most pragmatic and realistic.

auto manufacturers race for bolivia's lithium reserves

Wharton | Recently, Bolivia has become the nerve center of Latin America, attracting the interest of several multinational companies. The reason: The world’s largest reserves of lithium are in this country, in the Salar (Salt Flats) de Uyuni.

Located in the Potosi region in the southeast of the country, 3,500 meters above sea level, the Salar de Uyuni holds five million tons of lithium, a mineral that is required for manufacturing batteries for hybrid and electric cars. The region represents an attractive investment option for global automotive manufacturers who are trying to break their dependence on petroleum and produce more fuel-efficient products.

For example, French manufacturer Bolloré has presented a proposal to Evo Morales, president of Bolivia, aimed at the massive exploitation and commercialization of the Uyuni mineral deposits. The race for Bolivian lithium has also been joined by Japan’s Mitsubishi Motors, followed closely by General Motors, which was engaged in talks with the Bolivian government before GM declared bankruptcy this year.

Potash Corp. slashes profit outlook

Globe and Mail | Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan Inc. (POT-T107.66-0.39-0.36%) dismantled its second-quarter profit guidance, warning investors that its earnings will be at least 45 per cent lower than expected as customers continue to shun the fertilizer giant's products.

Potash and other producers of chemicals used to enhance crop yields have been grappling with falling sales for months as farmers and big buyers like China delay purchases. Potash's first-quarter profit fell by nearly half from the previous year and other major rivals, such as Bunge Corp. and Terra Industries, have reported even steeper drops. At the time of its first-quarter report, the company said, “fertilizer sales had ground to a virtual halt.”

Thursday's steep profit warning provides strong evidence that potash sales have yet to recover. Potash reduced its per-share profit forecast to 70 cents (U.S.) a share from a previous target of between $1.10 to $1.50 a share.

“The sales to date this year have been softer than originally forecast. Pricing has remained relatively firm but the volumes have been certainly lower than forecast,” spokesman Bill Johnson said in an interview.

While Potash Corp. shares have outperformed for much of the year on the belief that fertilizer demand would recover, the company's stock price has been falling steadily in the past few weeks. Potash stock traded as high as $132 on May 19, but closed yesterday at $108.05, up 64 cents.

As potash prices have remained relatively buoyant during the recession, customers have deferred purchases.

Some farmers are choosing not to use fertilizer this year rather than pay the high prices.

Weather has also played havoc with farmers this spring in many parts of Canada and the United States. While those across the Canadian Prairies have experienced dry weather, many parts of the U.S. have had cool, wetter weather. All of that has delayed planting and could lower overall crop production.

The potash industry is highly concentrated and Potash Corp. has cut production in order to help stabilize prices. But this month K+S AG of Germany said the current price of around $750 (U.S.) a tonne was unsustainable and it announced it is lowering its price for some products by 22 per cent.
US farmers cut fertilizer use this spring. What will happen to global food production levels as the use of fertilizer falls?

Friday, June 26, 2009

why not us?

Washington Post | Mohamed Sharkawy bears the scars of his devotion to Egypt's democracy movement. He has endured beatings in a Cairo police station, he said, and last year spent more than two weeks in an insect-ridden jail for organizing a protest.

But watching tens of thousands of Iranians take to the streets of Tehran this month, the 27-year-old pro-democracy activist has grown disillusioned. In 10 days, he said, the Iranians have achieved far more than his movement has ever accomplished in Egypt.

"We sacrificed a lot, but we have gotten nowhere," Sharkawy said.

Across the Arab world, Iran's massive opposition protests have triggered a wave of soul-searching and conflicting emotions. Many question why their own reform movements are unable to rally people to rise up against unpopular authoritarian regimes. In Egypt, the cradle of what was once the Arab world's most ambitious push for democracy, Iran's protests have served as a reminder of how much the notion has unraveled under President Hosni Mubarak, who has ruled the country for 30 years.

"I am extremely jealous," said Nayra El Sheikh, 28, a blogger and Sharkawy's wife. "I can't help but think: Why not us? What do they have that we don't have? Do they have more guts?"

destabilization 2.0

Corbett Report | Iran was also the birthplace of the original CIA program for destabilizing a foreign government. Think of it as Destabilization 1.0: It's 1953 and democratically-elected Iranian leader Mohammed Mossadegh is following through on his election promises to nationalize industry for the Iranian people, including the oil industry of Iran which was then controlled by the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. The CIA is sent into the country to bring an end to Mossadegh's government. They begin a campaign of terror, staging bombings and attacks on Muslim targets in order to blame them on nationalist, secular Mossadegh. They foster and fund an anti-Mossadegh campaign amongst the radical Islamist elements in the country. Finally, they back the revolution that brings their favoured puppet, the Shah, into power. Within months, their mission had been accomplished: they had removed a democratically elected leader who threatened to build up an independent, secular Persian nation and replaced him with a repressive tyrant whose secret police would brutally suppress all opposition. The campaign was a success and the lead CIA agent wrote an after-action report describing the operation in glowing terms. The pattern was to be repeated time and time again in country after country (in Guatemala in 1954, in Afghanistan in the 1980s, in Serbia in the 1990s), but these operations leave the agency open to exposure. What was needed was a different plan, one where the western political and financial interests puppeteering the revolution would be more difficult to implicate in the overthrow.

Enter Destabilization 1.1. This version of the destabilization program is less messy, offering plausible deniability for the western powers who are overthrowing a foreign government. It starts when the IMF moves in to offer a bribe to a tinpot dictator in a third world country. He gets 10% in exchange for taking out an exorbitant loan for an infrastructure project that the country can't afford. When the country inevitably defaults on the loan payments, the IMF begins to take over, imposing a restructuring program that eventually results in the full scale looting of the country's resources for western business interests. This program, too, was run in country after country, from Jamaica to Myanmar, from Chile to Zimbabwe. The source code for this program was revealed in 2001, however, when former World Bank chief economist Joseph Stiglitz went public about the scam. More detail was added in 2004 by the publication of John Perkin's Confessions of an Economic Hitman, which revealed the extent to which front companies and complicit corporations aided, abetted and facilitated the economic plundering and overthrow of foreign governments. Although still an effective technique for overthrowing foreign nations, the fact that this particular scam had been exposed meant that the architects of global geopolitics would have to find a new way to get rid of foreign, democratically elected governments.

Destabilization 1.2 involves seemingly disinterested, democracy promoting NGOs with feelgood names like the Open Society Institute, Freedom House and the National Endowment for Democracy. They fund, train, support and mobilize opposition movements in countries that have been targeted for destabilization, often during elections and usually organized around an identifiable color. These "color revolutions" sprang up in the past decade and have so far successfully destabilized the governments of the Ukraine, Lebanon, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan, among others. These revolutions bear the imprint of billionaire finance oligarch George Soros. The hidden hand of western powers behind these color revolutions has threatened their effectiveness in recent years, however, with an anti-Soros movement having arisen in Georgia and with the recent Moldovan "grape revolution" having come to naught (much to the chagrin of Soros-funded OSI's Evgeny Morozov).

Now we arrive at Destabilization 2.0, really not much more than a slight tweak of Destabilization 1.2. The only thing different is that now Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other social media are being employed to amplify the effect of (and the impression of) internal protests. Once again, Soros henchman Evgeny Morozov is extolling the virtues of the new Tehran Twitter revolution and the New York Times is writing journalistic hymns to the power of internet new media...when it serves western imperial interests. We are being asked to believe that this latest version of the very (very) old program of U.S. corporate imperialism is the real deal. While there is no doubt that the regime of Ahmadenijad is reprehensible and the feelings of many of the young protestors in Iran are genuine, you will forgive me for quesyioning the motives behind the monolithic media support for the overthrow of Iran's government and the installation of Mir-Houssein "Butcher of Beirut" Mousavi.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

the road

how the foodmakers captured our brains

NYTimes | Dr. Kessler is perhaps best known for his efforts to investigate and regulate the tobacco industry, and his accusation that cigarette makers intentionally manipulated nicotine content to make their products more addictive.

In “The End of Overeating,” Dr. Kessler finds some similarities in the food industry, which has combined and created foods in a way that taps into our brain circuitry and stimulates our desire for more.

When it comes to stimulating our brains, Dr. Kessler noted, individual ingredients aren’t particularly potent. But by combining fats, sugar and salt in innumerable ways, food makers have essentially tapped into the brain’s reward system, creating a feedback loop that stimulates our desire to eat and leaves us wanting more and more even when we’re full.

Dr. Kessler isn’t convinced that food makers fully understand the neuroscience of the forces they have unleashed, but food companies certainly understand human behavior, taste preferences and desire. In fact, he offers descriptions of how restaurants and food makers manipulate ingredients to reach the aptly named “bliss point.” Foods that contain too little or too much sugar, fat or salt are either bland or overwhelming. But food scientists work hard to reach the precise point at which we derive the greatest pleasure from fat, sugar and salt.

The result is that chain restaurants like Chili’s cook up “hyper-palatable food that requires little chewing and goes down easily,” he notes. And Dr. Kessler reports that the Snickers bar, for instance, is “extraordinarily well engineered.” As we chew it, the sugar dissolves, the fat melts and the caramel traps the peanuts so the entire combination of flavors is blissfully experienced in the mouth at the same time.

Foods rich in sugar and fat are relatively recent arrivals on the food landscape, Dr. Kessler noted. But today, foods are more than just a combination of ingredients. They are highly complex creations, loaded up with layer upon layer of stimulating tastes that result in a multisensory experience for the brain. Food companies “design food for irresistibility,” Dr. Kessler noted. “It’s been part of their business plans.”

But this book is less an exposé about the food industry and more an exploration of us. “My real goal is, How do you explain to people what’s going on with them?” Dr. Kessler said. “Nobody has ever explained to people how their brains have been captured.”

eleven inherent rules of corporate behavior

Dieoff | A hundred years ago, even fifty years ago, it did not seem urgent that we understand the relationship between business and a healthy environment, because natural resources seemed unlimited. But on the verge of a new millenniums we know that we have decimated ninety-seven percent of the ancient forests in North America; every day our farmers and ranchers draw out 20 billion more gallons of water from the ground than are replaced by rainfall; the Ogalala Aquifer, an underwater river beneath the Great Plains larger than any body of fresh water on earth, will dry up within thirty to forty years at present rates of extraction; globally we lose 25 billion tons of fertile topsoil every year, the equivalent of all the wheatfields in Australia. These critical losses are occurring while the world population is increasing at the rate of 90 million people per year. Quite simply, our business practices are destroying life on earth. Given current corporate practices, not one wildlife reserve, wilderness, or indigenous culture will survive the global market economy. We know that every natural system on the planet is disintegrating. The land, water, air and sea have been functionally transformed from life-supporting systems into repositories for waste. There is no polite way to say that business is destroying the world. —Paul Hawkin, THE ECOLOGY OF COMMERCE

big oil ready for iraq

WSJ | Western oil companies were kicked out of Iraq in 1972, part of a wave of Mideast petroleum nationalization. Oil production hit at least three million barrels a day before Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, then fell sharply to 300,000 barrels after economic sanctions and trade embargoes were imposed. Production rebounded to about 2.5 million barrels before the U.S. invasion in 2003.

Iraqi lawmakers have squabbled for years over a draft petroleum law that would set a legal framework for foreign companies to start drilling again. Tired of waiting, Mr. Shahristani in 2008 unilaterally invited oil companies to bid on contracts. Because global companies are reluctant to explore undeveloped fields in Iraq without an oil law, Mr. Shahristani has focused on getting foreign help pumping from existing fields. "We have done what we can with our national resources, and now we need outside help," he says.

Despite security risks, Western oil companies are clamoring to get in. Iraq is still relatively unexplored, offering big companies a potentially easy-to-tap source of growth. Some are touting Iraq as the most important opening of petroleum fields since the discovery in 2000 of the giant Kashagan field in the Caspian Sea.

Some 120 companies expressed interest in bidding for the contracts at the June 29 and 30 auction, according to the oil ministry. Thirty-five companies qualified to bid, including Exxon Mobil Corp., Royal Dutch Shell PLC, Italy's Eni SpA, Russia's Lukoil and China Petroleum & Chemical Corp., or Sinopec. The six oil fields at stake are believed to hold reserves of more than 43 billion barrels. Foreigners won't get the most prized piece of the action -- ownership stakes in the reserves -- but will be paid fees for ramping up output.

Just over 20 of Iraq's roughly 80 known oil fields have been fully or partially developed, and most of its production comes from just three giants, North and South Rumaila and Kirkuk. Because lots of the black gold is considered relatively easy to extract, oil experts estimate that exploration and development in Iraq costs $1.50 to $2.25 a barrel, compared with about $5 in Malaysia or $20 in Canada.

"We're talking about a huge volume of crude flowing through their system for the companies who win the bids," says Samuel Ciszuk, IHS Global Insight's Middle East Energy analyst. "On the other side, Iraq desperately needs technology, and these companies can bring it."

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

come to save the day....,

what does it mean?

is 2009 the year of the global food crisis?

Nowpublic | After reading about the droughts in two major agricultural countries, China and Argentina, I decided to research the extent other food producing nations were also experiencing droughts. This project ended up taking a lot longer than I thought. 2009 looks to be a humanitarian disaster around much of the world

To understand the depth of the food Catastrophe that faces the world this year, consider the graphic below depicting countries by USD value of their agricultural output, as of 2006.

Now, consider the same graphic with the countries experiencing droughts highlighted.

The countries that make up two thirds of the world's agricultural output are experiencing drought conditions. Whether you watch a video of the drought in China, Australia, Africa, South America, or the US , the scene will be the same: misery, ruined crop, and dying cattle.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

california collapsing

Money@Markets | Washington and Wall Street seem to be treating California as if it were a sideshow in the financial circus of these turbulent times.

It’s not.

California is home to the largest manufacturing belt in the United States and to Silicon Valley, the nation’s largest high-tech center.

California is America’s most populous state with 38 million people. Its GDP of $1.8 trillion is the largest in the U.S. Its economy is bigger than those of Russia, Brazil, Canada, or India.

And it’s collapsing.

Major California counties are ground zero in the continuing mortgage meltdown:

Los Angeles County with 5.32 percent of mortgages 90 days past due … Monterrey County, 8.02 percent … Imperial, 8.13 … San Bernadino, 8.66 … Madeira, 9.21 … San Joaquin, 9.53 … Riverside, 10.2 … Merced, 10.57 … and more!

California’s inventory of foreclosed homes is skyrocketing. Home prices are plunging. And the impact of surging unemployment is just beginning to show up in the data …

Worst Unemployment in 64 Years

The state’s unemployment rate has surged to 11.5 percent, the worst since World War II.

Last month, California lost 68,900 jobs. And since July 2007, it has lost 859,000 jobs, including 739,500 just in the past 12 months.

Even if the economy recovers, an unlikely scenario in my view, economists agree that California will continue to be slammed by layoffs, at least through the end of this year and probably well into 2010.

And even assuming a national recovery, UCLA’s Anderson Forecast projects an average unemployment rate of 12.1 percent from this fall through next spring.

What about without a national recovery? California’s jobless could go beyond 15 percent.

Worse, if you include part-time workers seeking full-time work plus workers who have given up looking entirely, it could reach 25 percent, exceeding the worst national unemployment levels of the Great Depression.

“Our wallet is empty.
Our bank is closed. And
our credit is dried up.”

These are not the words of a Dr. Doom in New York or a forlorn banker in Georgia. They represent the confession of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger before a rare joint session of the California legislature … and with no exaggeration!

Monday, June 22, 2009

the user illusion

Exerpt from : Meme, Myself, I By Susan Blackmore

Heart of the selfplex
These vast memeplexes, with their varied means of propagation, form the very stuff of our lives. Yet there is one memeplex, perhaps the most powerful of all, that we readily overlook. That is our own familiar self. Like other animals, we have a body image--a plan of our body used for organising sensations and planning skilled actions. We also have, as some other animals do, the ability to recognise other individuals and understand that they, too, have desires and plans. So far so good--but now we add the capacity to imitate, the use of language and the word "I".

At first "I" may mean just "this body", but soon it begins to change. We say "I like ice cream", "I can't stand shopping malls", "I want to be famous", or "I believe in Father Christmas". And the "I" no longer refers just to a body, but to some imagined inner self that has intentions, possessions, fears, beliefs and aspirations.

This "I" forms the heart of the selfplex. And all the memes in your selfplex thrive because you work to defend them in arguments, to promote them in discussions, perhaps even to write about them in books and articles. In this way these self-related memes succeed where others fail, and so the selfplex grows.

Once the "self" has begun to form, it meets each new idea it comes across with "Yes, I agree with this" or "No, I don't like that". Although each self is unique in the body it describes as "mine", and in the ideas it picks up along the way, those ideas are all memes and the self offers them a safe haven.

I think modern neuroscience makes it clear that the self cannot be what it appears to be. We may feel as though we have a special little "me" inside, who has sensations and consciousness, who lives my life, and makes my decisions. Yet, this does not fit with what we know about the brain. Look inside a brain and what do you see? There is no central place into which all the impressions come and from where the orders go out. Rather, there is a massive processing system dealing with numerous things at once, only very few of which ever reach consciousness.

It may feel as though "my" consciousness starts the actions this body performs, but as Libet's experiments showed, conscious awareness takes about half a second to build up, far too long for it to initiate reactions to a fast changing world. And the brain is constantly being changed by everything that happens to it, so that "I" am not the same as I was ten years, or even a few moments, ago.

There is a long and venerable tradition of thinkers who have rejected the idea of a real and persistent self. The Buddha proclaimed that actions and their consequences exist, but that the person who acts does not. According to the Buddhist doctrine of anatta, the self is more like an ever-changing construction than a solid entity. The 18th-century philosopher David Hume likened the self to a bundle of sensations tied together by a common history.

Using more contemporary metaphors, Dennett argues that the brain builds multiple drafts of what is happening as information flows through its parallel networks. One of these drafts becomes the story we tell ourselves and includes the idea of an author of the story, or a user of the brain's virtual machine--consciousness is a "benign user illusion". So rather than being a permanent, persisting entity, the self may be more like a story about a self that does not really exist.

I believe these ideas have implications for the way we live. As society becomes more complex, and memes spread faster and farther, so our selves become more complicated. The unhappiness, desperation and psychological ill-health of many modern people may reflect the fact that increasing numbers of memes are using our poor over-stretched brains to construct a false self for their own propagation. Perhaps the user illusion is not so benign after all. Some would even say that belief in a permanent self is the cause of all human suffering--of fear, jealousy, hatred and unkindness.

But is it possible to live life without the illusion? One way might be to calm your mind. Techniques such as meditation, say, can still the memes that are constantly competing for your brain space, forcing you to keep thinking. Long traditions of training in meditation show this is possible: that years of practice can bring emptiness, compassion and clarity of mind. Meditation, at its simplest, consists of just sitting quietly and clearing the mind of all thoughts, and then, when more arise, just letting them go.

Meditation is itself a meme, but is, if you like, a meme-clearing meme. Its effect is not to obliterate all awareness, but rather to create an awareness that is more spacious and open, and seems, perhaps paradoxically, to be without a self who is experiencing it.

If this memetic analysis is correct, the choices you make are not made by an inner self who has free will, but are just the consequence of the replicators playing out their competition in a particular environment. In the process they create the illusion of a self who is in control.

Dawkins ends The Selfish Gene with his famous claim that: "We, alone on earth, can rebel against the tyranny of the selfish replicators". Yet, if we take his idea of memes seriously, and push it to its logical conclusion, we find that there is no one left to rebel.

SUSAN BLACKMORE is a lecturer in psychology at the University of the West of England, Bristol.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

i am god

Reality Sandwich | While you might expect the marriage of progressive sociopolitical goals and the culture of spirituality to ground activism in ethics, it turns out that just the opposite is true. That’s because what we think of as “spirituality” today is not at all a departure from the narcissistic culture of consumption, but its truest expression. Consumer materialism and spirituality coevolved as ongoing reactions against the seemingly repressive institutions of both state and church.

The Wizard in the Emerald City can provide anything to anyone, and especially to pure- hearted Dorothy as long as she believes. It is mind cure at its best: carpe diem. And it quickly became a foundation myth for the new spirituality of self.

Despite its antiauthoritarian and self-affirming style, the mind-cure movement didn’t offer a genuine alternative to American Protestantism, or a break from its manufactured individualism. Both movements focused on the salvation of the self -- one through grace, the other through positive thinking. Throughout the twentieth century, personal freedom would become the rallying cry of one counterculture or another, only serving to reinforce the very same individualism being promoted by central authorities and their propagandists. We were either individuals in thrall of the masquerade, or individuals in defiance of it. Corporatism was the end result in either case.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

santa clara blues - corporate personhood vs democracy

III Publishing | What Corporate Personhood Is

Corporate Personhood is a legal fiction. The choice of the word "person" arises from the way the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was worded and from earlier legal usage of the word person. A corporation is an artificial entity, created by the granting of a charter by a government that grants such charters. Corporation in this essay will be confined to businesses run for profit that have been granted corporate charters by the States of the United States. The Federal Government of the United States usually does not grant corporate charters to businesses (exceptions include the Post Office and Amtrak).

Corporations are artificial entities owned by stockholders, who may be humans or other corporations. They are required by law to have officers and a board of directors (in small corporations these may all be the same people). In effect the corporation is a collective of individuals with a special legal status and privileges not given to ordinary unincorporated businesses or groups of individuals.

Obviously a corporation is itself no more a person (though it is owned and staffed by persons) than a locomotive or a mob. So why, in the USA, is a corporation considered to be a person under law?

In the United States of America all natural persons (actual human beings) are recognized as having inalienable rights. These rights are recognized, among other places, in the Bill of Rights and the 14th Amendment.

Corporate personhood is the idea (legal fiction, currently with force of law) that corporations have inalienable rights (sometimes called constitutional rights) just like real, natural, human persons.

That this idea has the force of law both resulted from the power and wealth of the class of people who owned corporations, and resulted in their even greater power and wealth. Corporate constitutional rights effectively invert the relationship between the government and the corporations. Recognized as persons, corporations lose much of their status as subjects of the government. Although artificial creations of their owners and the governments, as legal persons they have a degree of immunity to government supervision. Endowed with the court-recognized right to influence both elections and the law-making process, corporations now dominate not just the U. S. economy, but the government itself.

global systemic crisis

LEAP | As anticipated by LEAP/E2020 as early as October 2008, on the eve of summer 2009, the question of the US and UK capacity to finance their unbridled public deficits has become the central question of international debates, thus paving the way for these two countries to default on their debt by the end of this summer.

At this stage of the global systemic crisis’ process of development, contrary to the dominant political and media stance today, the LEAP/E2020 team does not foresee any economic upsurge after summer 2009 (nor in the following 12 months) (1). On the contrary, because the origins of the crisis remain unaddressed, we estimate that the summer 2009 will be marked by the converging of three very destructive « rogue waves » (2), illustrating the aggravation of the crisis and entailing major upheaval by September/October 2009. As always since this crisis started, each region of the world will be affected neither at the same moment, nor in the same way (3). However, according to our researchers, all of them will be concerned by a significant deterioration in their situation by the end of summer 2009 (4).

This evolution is likely to catch large numbers of economic and financial players on the wrong foot who decided to believe in today’s mainstream media operation of “euphorisation”.

Friday, June 19, 2009

synchronized brain waves focus attention

Wired | Separate brain regions firing in unison may be what keeps us focused on important things while we ignore distractions.

A deluge of visual information hits our eyes every second, yet we’re able to focus on the minuscule fraction that’s relevant to our goals. When we try to find our way through an unfamiliar area of town, for example, we manage to ignore the foliage, litter and strolling pedestrians, and focus our attention on the street signs.

Now, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have discovered that the brain’s control center syncs up to its visual center with high-frequency brain waves, directing attention to select features of the visual world.

“It’s been known that the prefrontal cortex plays an important role in focusing our attention, but the mystery was how,” said neuroscientist Robert Desimone, who led the study, published in Science Friday. “Now we have some insight into how it has that focusing role — through this synchrony with our sensory systems.”

This novel understanding of attention may inform future studies on disorders like schizophrenia and ADHD, in which patients are easily distracted and the prefrontal cortex is thought to be impaired. The region’s newly discovered role as a source of synchronized brain activity may be crucial to understanding these diseases.

Fist tap and double dap to Dale. This is the equivalent of telling you that doing situps will increase the strength of your abdominal muscles and it delineates a big part of the quintessential Gurdjieff - who re-minded you always and everywhere - to remember your self.

revisiting "realms of the human unconscious"

RealitySandwich | In the early stage of my psychedelic research, I suggested that the potential significance of LSD and other psychedelics for psychiatry and psychology was comparable to the value the microscope has for biology and medicine or the telescope has for astronomy. My later experience with psychedelics only confirmed this initial impression. These substances seem to function as relatively unspecific amplifiers that increase the cathexis (energetic charge) associated with the deep unconscious contents of the psyche and make them available for conscious processing. This unique property of psychedelics makes it possible to study psychological undercurrents that govern our experiences and behaviors to a depth that cannot be matched by any other method or tool available in mainstream psychiatry and psychology. In addition, it offers unique opportunities for healing of emotional and psychosomatic disorders, for positive personality transformation, and for consciousness evolution.

Naturally, the tools of this power carry with them greater risks than more conservative and far less effective tools currently accepted and used by mainstream psychiatry, such as verbal psychotherapy, anti-depressants, or tranquillizing medication. Clinical research has shown that these greater risks can be minimized by responsible use and careful control of the set and setting. The safety of psychedelic therapy, when conducted in a clinical setting, was demonstrated by Sidney Cohen's study based on information drawn from more than 25,000 psychedelic sessions run by therapists in different parts of the world. According to Cohen, LSD therapy appeared to be much safer than many other procedures that had been at one time or another routinely used in psychiatric treatment, such as electroshock therapy, insulin coma therapy, and psychosurgery (Cohen 1960).

However, legislators responding to unsupervised mass use of psychedelics did not get their information from scientific publications, but from the stories of sensation-hunting journalists. The legal and administrative sanctions against psychedelics did not deter lay experimentation, but they all but terminated legitimate scientific research of these substances. For those of us who had the privilege to explore and experience the extraordinary potential of psychedelics, this was a tragic loss for psychiatry, psychology, and psychotherapy. We felt that these unfortunate developments wasted what was probably the single most important opportunity in the history of these disciplines. Had it been possible to avoid the unnecessary mass hysteria and continue responsible research of psychedelics, they could have undoubtedly radically transformed the theory and practice of psychiatry. This new knowledge could have become an integral part of a comprehensive new scientific paradigm of the twenty-first century.

Now, thirty-five years after I stopped conducting official research with psychedelics, I can make an attempt to evaluate what has been called the "golden era of psychopharmacology" -- to review the past history of psychedelic research and try to glimpse into its future. After having personally conducted over the last fifty years more than four thousand psychedelic sessions, I have developed great awe and respect for these compounds and their enormous potential, both positive and negative. They are powerful tools and, like any tool, they can be used skillfully, ineptly, or destructively. The result will be critically dependent on the set and setting.

summing up iran

Guardian | Mousavi's campaign was critical of the level of support given to Hezbollah and Hamas, while Ahmadinejad's supporters argue that only toughness can win western acceptance of Iran's status as a new regional power.

Iran is of course at the centre of an arc of crisis across the greater Middle East, from Palestine to Pakistan: the legacy of the Bush administration's catastrophic failure in Iraq and the wider war on terror. And as the US attempts to reconstitute its hegemony in the region on a new basis – for which Obama's speech to the Muslim world in Cairo was supposed to set the tone – there's reason to believe that the birth pangs of the new order may yet turn out to be as painful as the death throes of the old.

Last Friday, even before the polls had closed in Iran, the US president ­commented that people were ­"looking at new possibilities" in Iran, just as they had in Lebanon's elections the previous weekend. In fact, the unexpected defeat of Hezbollah's opposition coalition (which nevertheless won the largest number of votes) seems to have had more to do with local Lebanese sectarian issues and large-scale vote buying than the Obama effect. But the implications of his remarks were not lost in Iran, where the US is still spending hundreds of millions of dollars in covert destabilisation programmes.

Obama's public engagement over the Israel-Palestine conflict has so far elicited a commitment by Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu to the paper ­principle of a Palestinian state – backed by both his predecessors and George Bush and hedged around with so many restrictions it would barely merit Ruritanian status – but no climbdown over illegal settlement expansion. The chances of a negotiated deal in such conditions seem minimal, particularly in the absence of Hamas, and the prospects that a US plan for a settlement might then fail and plunge the region back into conflict relatively high.

Meanwhile, ­resistance and wider violence have been growing again in Iraq, as US occupation troops pull back from the cities. And in Afghanistan, far from ­winding down the occupation, Obama is ­escalating the conflict as promised, with another 21,000 US troops being sent this ­summer to fight the ­unwinnable war, as attacks on Nato forces have reached an all-time peak. At the same time, the spread of the Afghan war into ­neighbouring Pakistan has left thousands of civilians dead, created more than two million refugees and led to a civilian carnage from US drone attacks across the northwest of the country.

In case anyone imagined such wars of western occupation would become a thing of the past in the wake of the ­discredited Bush administration, ­General Dannatt, head of the ­British army, recently set out to disabuse them. Echoing US defence secretary Robert Gates, he insisted: "Iraq and ­Afghanistan are not aberrations – they are signposts for the future".

In such a context, the neutralisation of Iran as an independent regional power would be a huge prize for the US – defanging recalcitrants from Baghdad to Beirut – and a route out of the strategic impasse created by the invasion of Iraq. But so far, the signs from Tehran are still that that's unlikely to be achieved by a colour-coded revolution.

too stupid to survive

JamesKunstler | Coming home from the annual meet-up of the New Urbanists, I was already agitated from the shenanigans of United Airlines -- two-hour delay, blown connection -- when I waded into this week's New York Times Sunday Magazine for further evidence that our ruling elites are too stupid to survive (and perhaps the US with them). Exhibit A was the magazine's lead article about California's proposed high-speed rail project by Jon Gertner.

The article began with a description of California's current rail service between the Bay Area and Los Angeles. A commission of nine-year-olds in a place like Germany could run a better system, of course. It's never on schedule. The equipment breaks down incessantly. A substantial leg of the trip requires a transfer to a bus (along with everybody's luggage) with no working toilet. You get the picture: Kazakhstan without the basic competence.

The proposed solution to this is the most expensive public works program in the history of the world, at a time when both the state of California and the US federal government are effectively bankrupt. By the way, I wouldn't argue that California shouldn't have high-speed rail. It might have been nice if, say, in the late 20th century, some far-seeing governor had noticed what was going on in France, Germany, and Spain but, alas.... It would have been nice, too, if the doltish George W. Bush, when addressing extreme airport congestion in 2003, had considered serious upgrades in normal train service between the many US cities 500 miles or so apart. The idea never entered his walnut brain.

The sad truth is it's too late now. But the additional sad truth, at this point, is that Californians (and US public in general) would benefit tremendously from normal rail service on a par with the standards of 1927, when speeds of 100 miles-per-hour were common and the trains ran absolutely on time (and frequently, too) without computers (imagine that !). The tracks are still there, waiting to be fixed. In our current condition of psychotic techno-grandiosity, this is all too hopelessly quaint, not cutting edge enough, pathetically un-"hot." The fact that it is not even considered by the editors of The New York Times, not to mention the governor of California, the President of the United States, and all the agency heads and departmental chiefs and think tank gurus and university engineering professors, is something that will have historians of the future rolling their eyes. But for the moment all it shows is that we are collectively too stupid to survive as an advanced society.

$134.5 billion bearer bond mystery continued...,

Seeking Alpha | Thus far, about the only piece of information that appears to be reliable as reported by various news sources regarding this huge mystery is the remarkable authenticity of the 249 seized bearer bonds in denominations of USD $500 million. If any of the other facts, as they are being reported, are remotely accurate, then the bearer bonds were likely counterfeit. Still, the interesting part of this story, at least to me, is that the smugglers seemed intent on being caught with the counterfeit bonds. This leads me back to my previous question. What possible reason would the smugglers have for wanting to be caught? One of the quickest ways to sabotage and usher in the death of a currency is to raise legitimate questions about its ability to withstand counterfeiting efforts. Prove that counterfeiting is not only possible but highly likely, and the world’s confidence in the sabotaged currency will undoubtedly plummet.

In fact, this very tactic was applied during World War II when the Nazis launched Operation Bernhard in an attempt to crash the British economy by producing, by 1945, 132 million expertly counterfeited British pounds, a figure that represented roughly 15% of all real British pounds in circulation at the time. The counterfeit pounds were produced by expert printers and engravers supervised by an SS officer named Bernhard Krueger. As well, historical evidence exists that the Allies considered launching a counter-counterfeit plan against the Nazis as well. During this time, it was also alleged that the Bank of Italy counterfeited their own money by issuing the same securities twice with identical registered numbers and codes in order. The purpose of this counterfeiting was to secretly expand monetary supply without public transparency or accountability. Perhaps then, this $134.5.billion bearer bond mystery was an attempt of a nation state to shake the world’s confidence in the position of the US dollar as the world’s reserve currency.

There should be little debate that the world’s emerging economies in Russia, Brazil, China and certain Gulf Nations are at economic war today with the world’s Western nations and their economic allies. The currency war being fought today is sure to get much uglier in the foreseeable future, in both open tactics as well as secretly executed tactics. Currently, if the currency war were the world series of poker, the US and the UK would be holding a pair of 2s and relying on nothing but bluffs to keep the rest of the world at bay. Conversely, the Chinese and other emerging nations with large surpluses would be holding straight or royal flushes, and likely quietly maneuvering to go “all in” at some point.

Given that the discovery of $134.5 billion of bearer bonds in the suitcases of two Japanese nationals in Chiasso, Italy on the border of Switzerland qualifies as one of the largest smuggling operations in history, and given the various implications of such an act and the possible players involved, the silence regarding this huge story is simply stunning. It is not a huge story, per se, because of the counterfeiting operation, because accusations and revelations of massive money counterfeiting operations have occured in the past. It is a huge story, rather, due to all the inconsistencies of the story and the potential explanations that could explain these inconsistencies. The larger story at hand is, who are the players (nations) involved, and what was the intention of this likely counterfeiting operation? Maybe the future will reveal the answers to these questions. But maybe no

Thursday, June 18, 2009

when "keeping it real" goes wrong...,

NPR | Two of the three people charged with killing a Hispanic man and his daughter in Arizona had ties to a group that strongly opposes illegal immigration.

Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik says the motive behind the killings was robbery — and he believes the money was to fund the suspects' anti-immigration activity.

Raul Flores, 29, and his 9-year-old daughter were shot in the head May 30 after a group of people dressed in camouflage entered their home in the small southern Arizona town of Arivaca. The girl was apparently shot because she was a witness. Her mother, whose name is not being released, was shot in the leg.

The woman was on the phone with a 911 operator when the attackers returned. She had a pistol and fired at the attackers. She wounded one man, but the group got away. Then late last week, Dupnik announced the three arrests and discussed the motive.

"The husband who was murdered has a history of being involved in narcotics and there was an anticipation that there would be a considerable amount of cash at this location, as well as the possibility of drugs," Dupnik said.

One of the three suspects lived in the area. But the other two, Shawna Forde and Jason Bush, are leaders of an anti-illegal-immigrant group in Washington state called Minutemen American Defense. Its Web site says it secures the U.S. border from human and drug trafficking.

Three years ago, Forde appeared on a local PBS TV program in Yakima, Wash. "I know the Minutemen and many other organizations will not stop," Forde said. "We will start at a local level and work our way up. We will not stop until we get the results that we need to have."

The two largest Minuteman organizations — the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps and the Minuteman Project — said Forde and Bush are not associated with them.

$134 billion in a suitcase...,

Bloomberg | Two Japanese men are detained in Italy after allegedly attempting to take $134 billion worth of U.S. bonds over the border into Switzerland. Details are maddeningly sketchy, so naturally the global rumor mill is kicking into high gear.

Are these would-be smugglers agents of Kim Jong Il stashing North Korea’s cash in a Swiss vault? Bagmen for Nigerian Internet scammers? Was the money meant for terrorists looking to buy nuclear warheads? Is Japan dumping its dollars secretly? Are the bonds real or counterfeit?

The implications of the securities being legitimate would be bigger than investors may realize. At a minimum, it would suggest that the U.S. risks losing control over its monetary supply on a massive scale.

Think about it: These two guys were carrying the gross domestic product of New Zealand or enough for three Beijing Olympics. If economies were for sale, the men could buy Slovakia and Croatia and have plenty left over for Mongolia or Cambodia. Yes, they could have built vacation homes amidst Genghis Khan’s Gobi Desert or the famed Temples of Angkor. Bernard Madoff who?

These men carrying bonds concealed in the bottom of their luggage also would be the fourth-largest U.S. creditors. It makes you wonder if some of the time Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner spends keeping the Chinese and Japanese invested in dollars should be devoted to well-financed men crossing the Italian-Swiss border.

This tale has gotten little attention in markets, perhaps because of the absurdity of our times. The last year has been a decidedly disorienting one for capitalists who once knew up from down, red from black and risk from reward. It almost fits with the surreal nature of today that a couple of travelers have more U.S. debt than Brazil in a suitcase and, well, that’s life.

ready yet?

cellular cloud computing

Science Daily | Gene regulatory networks in cell nuclei are similar to cloud computing networks, such as Google or Yahoo!, researchers report today in the online journal Molecular Systems Biology. The similarity is that each system keeps working despite the failure of individual components, whether they are master genes or computer processors.

This finding by an international team led by Carnegie Mellon University computational biologist Ziv Bar-Joseph helps explain not only the robustness of cells, but also some seemingly incongruent experimental results that have puzzled biologists.

"Similarities in the sequences of certain master genes allow them to back up each other to a degree we hadn't appreciated," said Bar-Joseph, an assistant professor of computer science and machine learning and a member of Carnegie Mellon's Ray and Stephanie Lane Center for Computational Biology.

Between 5 and 10 percent of the genes in all living species are master genes that produce proteins called transcription factors that turn all other genes on or off. Many diseases are associated with mutations in one or several of these transcription factors. However, as the new study shows, if one of these genes is lost, other "parallel" master genes with similar sequences, called paralogs, often can replace it by turning on the same set of genes.

That would explain the curious results of some experiments in organisms ranging from yeast to humans, in which researchers have recently identified the genes controlled by several master genes. Researchers have been surprised to find that when they remove one master gene at a time, almost none of the genes controlled by that master gene are de-activated.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

too poor to make the news...,

NYTimes | Overcrowding — rural, suburban and urban — renders the mounting numbers of the poor invisible, especially when the perpetrators have no telltale cars to park on the street. But if this is sometimes a crime against zoning laws, it’s not exactly a victimless one. At best, it leads to interrupted sleep and long waits for the bathroom; at worst, to explosions of violence. Catholic Charities is reporting a spike in domestic violence in many parts of the country, which Candy Hill attributes to the combination of unemployment and overcrowding.

And doubling up is seldom a stable solution. According to Toni Muhammad, about 70 percent of the people seeking emergency shelter in St. Louis report they had been living with relatives “but the place was too small.” When I asked Peg what it was like to share her trailer with her daughter’s family, she said bleakly, “I just stay in my bedroom.”

The deprivations of the formerly affluent Nouveau Poor are real enough, but the situation of the already poor suggests that they do not necessarily presage a greener, more harmonious future with a flatter distribution of wealth. There are no data yet on the effects of the recession on measures of inequality, but historically the effect of downturns is to increase, not decrease, class polarization.

The recession of the ’80s transformed the working class into the working poor, as manufacturing jobs fled to the third world, forcing American workers into the low-paying service and retail sector. The current recession is knocking the working poor down another notch — from low-wage employment and inadequate housing toward erratic employment and no housing at all. Comfortable people have long imagined that American poverty is far more luxurious than the third world variety, but the difference is rapidly narrowing.

Maybe “the economy,” as depicted on CNBC, will revive again, restoring the kinds of jobs that sustained the working poor, however inadequately, before the recession. Chances are, though, that they still won’t pay enough to live on, at least not at any level of safety and dignity. In fact, hourly wage growth, which had been running at about 4 percent a year, has undergone what the Economic Policy Institute calls a “dramatic collapse” in the last six months alone. In good times and grim ones, the misery at the bottom just keeps piling up, like a bad debt that will eventually come due.