Monday, April 13, 2009

the brain - a mindless obsession

The Wilson Quarterly | To this day, no one knows exactly how psychoactive drugs work. The etiology of depression remains an enduring scientific mystery, with entirely new ways of understanding the disease—or diseases, since what we think of as “depression” now is probably dozens of discrete disease entities—constantly emerging. Indeed, the basic tenet of biological psychiatry, that depression is a result of a deficit in serotonin, has proven to be one that was too eagerly embraced. When this “monoamine” theory of depression emerged in the 1960s, it gave the biologically minded practitioners of psychiatry what they had long been craving—a clean, decisive scientific theory to help bring the field in line with the rest of medicine. For patients, too, the serotonin hypothesis was enormously appealing. It not only provided the soothing clarity of a physical explanation for their maladies, it absolved them of responsibility for their illness, and to some degree, their behavior. Because, after all, who’s responsible for a chemical imbalance?

Unfortunately, from the very start there was a massive contradiction at the heart of the monoamine theory. Whatever it is that Prozac and the other members of the widely used class of drugs called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) do to change brain chemistry, it happens almost immediately after they are ingested. The neurochemical changes are quick. However, SSRIs typically take weeks, even months, to have any therapeutic influence. Why the delay? No one had any explanation until the late 1990s, when Ronald Duman, a researcher at Yale, showed that antidepressants actually grow brain cells in the hippocampus, a part of the brain associated with memory and mood regulation. Such a finding would have been viewed as preposterous even a decade earlier; one of the central dogmas of brain science for more than a century has been that the adult brain is incapable of producing new neurons. Duman showed that the dogma is false. He believes that the therapeutic effects of SSRIs are delayed because it takes weeks or months to build up a critical mass of the new brain cells sufficient to initiate a healing process in the brain.

While Duman’s explanation for the mechanism of action of the SSRIs remains controversial, a consensus is building that SSRIs most likely initiate a series of complex changes, involving many neurotransmitters, that alter the functioning of the brain at the cellular and molecular levels. It appears that SSRIs may only be the necessary first step of a “cascade” of brain changes that occur long after and well “downstream” of serotonin alterations. The frustrating truth is that depression, like all mental illnesses, is an incredibly complicated and poorly understood disease, involving many neurotransmitters, many genes, and an intricate, infinite, dialectical dance between experience and biology. One of the leading serotonin researchers, Jeffrey Meyer of the University of Toronto, summed up the misplaced logic of the monoamine hypothesis: “There is a common misunderstanding that serotonin is low during clinical depression. It mostly comes from the fact that many antidepressants raise serotonin. This is a bit like saying pneumonia is an illness of low antibiotics because we treat pneumonia with antibiotics.”

The flimsiness of the entire enterprise was brought home to me in devastating fashion in a conversation with Elliot Valenstein, a leading neuroscientist at the University of Michigan, and the author of three highly regarded and influential books on psychopharmacology and the history of psychiatry. I was talking to Valenstein about why today’s psychiatric drugs address only a very small proportion of the neurotransmitters that are thought to exist. Virtually all these drugs deal with only four neurotransmitters: dopamine and serotonin, most commonly, and also norepinephrine and GABA (technically known as gamma-aminobutyric acid). While no one knows exactly how many neurotransmitters there are in the human ­brain—­indeed, even how a neurotransmitter is defined exactly can be a matter of ­debate—­there are at least ­100.

So I asked Valenstein, “Why do all the drugs deal with the same brain chemicals? Is it because those four neurotransmitters are the ones understood to be most implicated with mood and thought ­regulation—­that is, the stuff of psychiatric disorders?”

“It’s entirely a historical accident,” he said. “The first psychiatric drugs were stumbled upon in the dark, completely serendipitously. No one, least of all the people who discovered them, had any idea how they worked. It was only later that the science caught up and provided evidence that those drugs influence those particular neurotransmitters. After that, all subsequent drugs were ‘copycats’ of the ­originals—­and all of them regulated only those same four neurotransmitters. There have not been any new radically different paradigms of drug action that have been developed.” Indeed, while 100 drugs have been designed to treat schizophrenia, all of them resemble the original, Thorazine, in their mechanism of action. “So,” I asked Valenstein, “if the first drugs that were discovered had dealt with a different group of neurotransmitters, then all the drugs in use today would involve an entirely different set of neurotransmitters?”

“Yes,” he ­said.

“In other words, there are more than a hundred neurotransmitters, some of which could have vital impact on psychiatric syndromes, yet to be explored?” I ­asked.

“Absolutely,” Valenstein said. “It’s all completely arbitrary.”

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Saturday, April 11, 2009

the next oil crisis is coming


EnergyBulletin | A shortage of oil could trigger another global recession around 2013 – says the IEA. By 2010 the price will reach new highs.

The IEA in Paris is warning of a new, much more severe global economic crisis around 2013. The reason is that investments in oil from new projects are being cancelled by large oil companies. If demand starts increasing in 2010, the oil price could explode, fire up inflation and put global growth at risk.

"We are concerned, that oil companies are reducing their investment levels. When demand returns a supply shortage could appear. We are even predicting that this shortage could occur in 2013." Said Nobuo Tanaka, head of the IEA in an interview with Sueddeutsche Zeitung.

Oil reserves declining markedly
He is alarmed, because he has data that shows that the global oil supply capacity is declining and that oil reserves will likely be markedly reduced by 2013. The stronger oil demand will be in a recovery starting in 2010, especially in the US, China and India, the sooner the shortage will appear and strangle global growth.

According to the IEA, the oil price could then exceed the records achieved in the summer of 2008 and reach $200 per barrel. "We could be steering into a new crisis which could be greater than the current crisis", said Mr. Tanaka. "That is why we are warning oil companies to invest", said Mr. Tanaka. Despite billions in profits in the prior year, oil companies are cancelling their investments because at the current price of $40, they are barely profitable.

The investment levels are already down 25% from a year ago. The OPEC countries are reducing production, because they do not see sufficient demand. Of 130 large oil projects, 35 have been frozen by February, said OPEC general secretary Abdullah al-Badri.

The investments however, are necessary to meet demand when it starts picking up again. This is not a matter of oil running out, but IEA studies prove that the oil produced from 580 of the largest 800 fields is declining.

The CEO of the French oil company Total, Christophe de Margerie, is even predicting that global production will never exceed 89 million barrels per day, because the peak has passed and oil can only be extracted with ever increasing technical inputs.

volcanic lightning

Click on the image to go to the full article. Please carefully consider what this data suggests about the underlying nature of a lot of weather you think you understand. We REALLY do live in a more mysterious and electrical universe than many of us have been taught to believe....,

Friday, April 10, 2009

the swift collapse of britains major belief system

Guardian | Thoughtful sceptics warn that we should fear the consequences of the swift collapse of Britain's major belief system. The decline of religious faith has left behind a real and widespread need for wisdom and insight; the media offers only a "cruel sentimentality" and gives little space to the most difficult of our life experiences, such as failure, death or envy, nor does it offer ways to deal with them. The author Mark Vernon teaches on some School of Life courses. A former priest and atheist, he now advocates a principled agnosticism rooted in an understanding of the limits of human knowledge. He argues that the most interesting conversations about faith are among those just outside religious traditions and those just inside - along the borders of belief, if you like.

It's a perspective that Gray shares. Describing himself as a sceptic, he looks to another border of belief for deeper insight into the nature of faith: the dialogue between the theistic and non-theistic. Intriguingly, where Gray, Armstrong and Vernon all end up is with the apophatic tradition of theology. Apophatic is a word no longer even in my dictionary, but it's a major tradition of Christian thought, and central to the thinking of St Augustine and St Thomas Aquinas: it is the idea that God is ineffable and beyond powers of description. S/he can be experienced by religious practice, but as Armstrong puts it: "In the past, people knew we could say nothing about God. Certain forms of knowledge only come with practice." It makes the boundary between belief in God and agnosticism much more porous than commonly assumed.

But the modern distortion was to make God into a proposition in which you either did or did not believe. He was turned into an old man in the sky with a long white beard or promoted as a cuddly friend named Jesus. Arguing about the existence of such human creations is akin to the medieval pastime of calculating how many angels could fit on the head of a pin.

So the media has been promoting the wrong argument, while the bigger question of how, in a post-religious society, people find the myths they need to sustain meaning, purpose and goodness in their lives go unexplored. What worries Gray is that we forget at our peril that all systems of thought rely on myth. By junking the Christian myths, the danger is that the replacements are "cruder, less tested, less instructive". At times of crisis - such as the economic recession - the brittleness of a value system built on wealth and a particular conception of autonomy becomes all too apparent, leaving people without the sustaining reserves of a faith to fall back on. The consequences of that will certainly not be cause for celebration, he warns.

deep solar minimum?

IceageNow | Excerpts: “The sun has gone very quiet as it transitions to Solar Cycle 24." “Since the current transition now exceeds 568 spotless days, it is becoming clear that sun has undergone a state change. It is now evident that the Grand Maxima state that has persisted during most of the 20th century has come to an abrupt end.

“(The sun) might (1) revert to the old solar cycles or (2) the sun might go even quieter into a “Dalton Minimum” or a Grand Minima such as the “Maunder Minimum”. It is still a little early to predict which way it will swing. Each of these two possibilities holds a great threat to our nation.

“We are now at a crossroad. Two paths lie before us. Both are marked with a signpost that reads “Danger”! Down one path lies monstrous solar storms. Down the other path lies several decades of crushing cold temperatures and global famine.”

“Climate change is primarily driven by nature. It has been true in the days of my father and his father and all those that came before us. Because of science, not junk science, we have slowly uncovered some of the fundamental mysteries of nature. Our Milky Way galaxy is awash with cosmic rays. These are high speed charged particles that originate from exploding stars.

“Because they are charged, their travel is strongly influenced by magnetic fields. Our sun produces a magnetic field wrapped in the solar winds that extends to the edges of our solar system. This field deflects many of the cosmic rays away from Earth. But when the sun goes quiet (minimal sunspots), this field collapses inward allowing high energy cosmic rays to penetrate deeper into our solar system.

“As a result, far greater numbers collide with Earth and penetrate down into the lower atmosphere where they ionize small particles of moisture (humidity) forming them into water droplets that become clouds. Low level clouds reflect sunlight back into space. An increase in Earth's cloud cover produce a global drop in temperature.

“If the sun becomes quieter than the old solar cycles, producing more than 1028 spotless days, then we might slip into a Dalton Minimum or maybe even a Grand Minima such as the Maunder Minimum. This solar state will last for decades. Several solar scientist have predicted this will begin in Solar Cycle 25, about a decade from now. But a few have predicted this will occur now in Solar Cycle 24.

“A quiet sun will cause temperatures globally to take a nose-dive. We will experience temperatures that we have not seen in over 200 years, during the time of the early pioneers.

“Temperatures are already falling. Satellites provide generally the most accurate atmospheric temperature measurements covering the entire globe. From the peak year 1998, the lower Troposphere temperatures globally have fallen around 1/2 degree Celsius due to the quiet sun.

“This is despite the fact that during that same time period, atmospheric carbon dioxide (at Mauna Loa) has risen 5% from 367 ppm to 386 ppm. The main threat from a “Dalton Minimum” or “Maunder Minimum” event is famine and starvation (affecting millions or hundreds of millions worldwide) due to shortened growing seasons and harsher weather. In the past, in addition to great famines, this cold harsh weather has also lead to major epidemics.

the end of christian america

Newsweek | It was a small detail, a point of comparison buried in the fifth paragraph on the 17th page of a 24-page summary of the 2009 American Religious Identification Survey. But as R. Albert Mohler Jr.—president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, one of the largest on earth—read over the document after its release in March, he was struck by a single sentence. For a believer like Mohler—a starched, unflinchingly conservative Christian, steeped in the theology of his particular province of the faith, devoted to producing ministers who will preach the inerrancy of the Bible and the Gospel of Jesus Christ as the only means to eternal life—the central news of the survey was troubling enough: the number of Americans who claim no religious affiliation has nearly doubled since 1990, rising from 8 to 15 percent. Then came the point he could not get out of his mind: while the unaffiliated have historically been concentrated in the Pacific Northwest, the report said, "this pattern has now changed, and the Northeast emerged in 2008 as the new stronghold of the religiously unidentified." As Mohler saw it, the historic foundation of America's religious culture was cracking.

"That really hit me hard," he told me last week. "The Northwest was never as religious, never as congregationalized, as the Northeast, which was the foundation, the home base, of American religion. To lose New England struck me as momentous." Turning the report over in his mind, Mohler posted a despairing online column on the eve of Holy Week lamenting the decline—and, by implication, the imminent fall—of an America shaped and suffused by Christianity. "A remarkable culture-shift has taken place around us," Mohler wrote. "The most basic contours of American culture have been radically altered. The so-called Judeo-Christian consensus of the last millennium has given way to a post-modern, post-Christian, post-Western cultural crisis which threatens the very heart of our culture." When Mohler and I spoke in the days after he wrote this, he had grown even gloomier. "Clearly, there is a new narrative, a post-Christian narrative, that is animating large portions of this society," he said from his office on campus in Louisville, Ky.

There it was, an old term with new urgency: post-Christian. This is not to say that the Christian God is dead, but that he is less of a force in American politics and culture than at any other time in recent memory. To the surprise of liberals who fear the advent of an evangelical theocracy and to the dismay of religious conservatives who long to see their faith more fully expressed in public life, Christians are now making up a declining percentage of the American population.

what will global warming look like?

LATimes | Drought, fires, killer heat waves, wildlife extinction and mosquito-borne illness -- the things that climate change models are predicting have already arrived there, they say.

Reporting from The Murray-Darling Basin, Australia -- Frank Eddy pulled off his dusty boots and slid into a chair, taking his place at the dining room table where most of the critical family issues are hashed out. Spreading hands as dry and cracked as the orchards he tends, the stout man his mates call Tank explained what damage a decade of drought has done .

"Suicide is high. Depression is huge. Families are breaking up. It's devastation," he said, shaking his head. "I've got a neighbor in terrible trouble. Found him in the paddock, sitting in his [truck], crying his eyes out. Grown men -- big, strong grown men. We're holding on by the skin of our teeth. It's desperate times."

Thursday, April 09, 2009

madoff and the mafia?

Velvelonnationalaffairs | In papers it filed with Judge Chin just before the hearing on Madoff’s guilty plea and on bail, the government said that Madoff had promised some people returns as high as 46 percent. Dig that -- 46 percent. Now who the hell would you promise 46 percent to except gangsters? That kind of earnings rate just isn’t promised to people unless something is very wrong -- as when organized crime might be financing you at usurious exorbitant rates. And why else, except to keep organized crime satisfied lest his legs be broken at best or, worse, he be found in a concrete barrel at the bottom of the East River, would Madoff, if he was telling the truth about this in his allocution, have “felt compelled to satisfy my clients’ expectations, at any cost”? (Emphasis added.) Compelled to satisfy their expectations -- at any cost? It sounds like a Mafia deal to me.

That organized crime may have been involved in the Madoff deal is, at present, only a speculation. But the more one considers the already known evidence and the facts that lead to this speculation, the more likely it appears that the speculation could in fact be the truth. One wonders: are the FBI and the U.S. Attorney considering and investigating the possibility that Madoff was an organized crime deal? If they are not, why not? If they are, what are they finding and what and when will Madoff’s victims and the public be told? In ways that one can only begin to guess at now, the answers to these questions will bear on a host of crucial matters, ranging from various forms of possible restitution to victims to the standing of American markets in the world.

There are people who are in touch with relevant governmental actors. They, and the rest of us among victims, in the public, in the media, and in Congress, should begin to continuously demand to know the answer to the question of whether Madoff was or was not tied in with the Mafia. There seems to have been an awful lot of smoke here. Was there also a fire?

bibi's woof tickets...,

NYTimes | What’s critical right now is that Obama view Netanyahu’s fear-mongering with an appropriate skepticism, rein him in, and pursue his regime-recognizing opening toward Tehran, as he did Wednesday by saying America would join nuclear talks for the first time. The president should read Trita Parsi’s excellent “Treacherous Alliance” as preparation.

The core strategic shift of Obama’s presidency has been away from the with-us-or-against-us rhetoric of the war on terror toward a rapprochement with the Muslim world as the basis for isolating terrorists.

That’s unsustainable if America or Israel find themselves at war with Muslim Persians as well as Muslim Arabs, and if Netanyahu’s intense-eyed attempt to suck America into a perpetuation of war-on-terror thinking prevails.

The only way to stop Iran going nuclear, and encourage reform of a repressive regime, is to get to the negotiating table. There’s time. Those “months” are still a couple of years. What Iran has accumulated is low-enriched uranium. You need highly-enriched uranium for a bomb. That’s a leap.

Israeli hegemony is proving a kind of slavery. Passage to the Promised Land involves rethinking the Middle East, starting in Iran.

the quiet coup

The Atlantic | In its depth and suddenness, the U.S. economic and financial crisis is shockingly reminiscent of moments we have recently seen in emerging markets (and only in emerging markets): South Korea (1997), Malaysia (1998), Russia and Argentina (time and again). In each of those cases, global investors, afraid that the country or its financial sector wouldn’t be able to pay off mountainous debt, suddenly stopped lending. And in each case, that fear became self-fulfilling, as banks that couldn’t roll over their debt did, in fact, become unable to pay. This is precisely what drove Lehman Brothers into bankruptcy on September 15, causing all sources of funding to the U.S. financial sector to dry up overnight. Just as in emerging-market crises, the weakness in the banking system has quickly rippled out into the rest of the economy, causing a severe economic contraction and hardship for millions of people.

But there’s a deeper and more disturbing similarity: elite business interests—financiers, in the case of the U.S.—played a central role in creating the crisis, making ever-larger gambles, with the implicit backing of the government, until the inevitable collapse. More alarming, they are now using their influence to prevent precisely the sorts of reforms that are needed, and fast, to pull the economy out of its nosedive. The government seems helpless, or unwilling, to act against them.

Top investment bankers and government officials like to lay the blame for the current crisis on the lowering of U.S. interest rates after the dotcom bust or, even better—in a “buck stops somewhere else” sort of way—on the flow of savings out of China. Some on the right like to complain about Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, or even about longer-standing efforts to promote broader homeownership. And, of course, it is axiomatic to everyone that the regulators responsible for “safety and soundness” were fast asleep at the wheel.

But these various policies—lightweight regulation, cheap money, the unwritten Chinese-American economic alliance, the promotion of homeownership—had something in common. Even though some are traditionally associated with Democrats and some with Republicans, they all benefited the financial sector. Policy changes that might have forestalled the crisis but would have limited the financial sector’s profits—such as Brooksley Born’s now-famous attempts to regulate credit-default swaps at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, in 1998—were ignored or swept aside.

The financial industry has not always enjoyed such favored treatment. But for the past 25 years or so, finance has boomed, becoming ever more powerful. The boom began with the Reagan years, and it only gained strength with the deregulatory policies of the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations. Several other factors helped fuel the financial industry’s ascent. Paul Volcker’s monetary policy in the 1980s, and the increased volatility in interest rates that accompanied it, made bond trading much more lucrative. The invention of securitization, interest-rate swaps, and credit-default swaps greatly increased the volume of transactions that bankers could make money on. And an aging and increasingly wealthy population invested more and more money in securities, helped by the invention of the IRA and the 401(k) plan. Together, these developments vastly increased the profit opportunities in financial services.

Not surprisingly, Wall Street ran with these opportunities. From 1973 to 1985, the financial sector never earned more than 16 percent of domestic corporate profits. In 1986, that figure reached 19 percent. In the 1990s, it oscillated between 21 percent and 30 percent, higher than it had ever been in the postwar period. This decade, it reached 41 percent. Pay rose just as dramatically. From 1948 to 1982, average compensation in the financial sector ranged between 99 percent and 108 percent of the average for all domestic private industries. From 1983, it shot upward, reaching 181 percent in 2007.

The great wealth that the financial sector created and concentrated gave bankers enormous political weight—a weight not seen in the U.S. since the era of J.P. Morgan (the man). In that period, the banking panic of 1907 could be stopped only by coordination among private-sector bankers: no government entity was able to offer an effective response. But that first age of banking oligarchs came to an end with the passage of significant banking regulation in response to the Great Depression; the reemergence of an American financial oligarchy is quite recent.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

fear, uncertainty, doubt - CONTROL

In the news this morning;

Reuters | Cyberspies have penetrated the U.S. electrical grid and left behind software programs that could be used to disrupt the system, the Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday.
The spies came from China, Russia and other countries, and were believed to be on a mission to navigate the U.S. electrical system and its controls, the newspaper said, citing current and former U.S. national security officials.

The intruders have not sought to damage the power grid or other key infrastructure but officials said they could try during a crisis or war, the paper said in a report on its website.

"The Chinese have attempted to map our infrastructure, such as the electrical grid," a senior intelligence official told the Journal. "So have the Russians."

The espionage appeared pervasive across the United States and does not target a particular company or region, said a former Department of Homeland Security official.

"There are intrusions, and they are growing," the former official told the paper, referring to electrical systems. "There were a lot last year."
This should by no means be considered new news. As Deputy Attorney General, Jamie Gorelick sought sweeping Federal access to digital communications on behalf of the Clinton Administration. So this longstanding elite ambition, i.e., of controlling and accessing the only truly democratic technology infrastructure in the world continues unabated.

According to Mother Jones, Senators John Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) think so. On Wednesday they introduced a bill to establish the Office of the National Cybersecurity Advisor—an arm of the executive branch that would have vast power to monitor and control Internet traffic to protect against threats to critical cyber infrastructure. That broad power is rattling some civil libertarians.

The Cybersecurity Act of 2009 (PDF) gives the president the ability to "declare a cybersecurity emergency" and shut down or limit Internet traffic in any "critical" information network "in the interest of national security." The bill does not define a critical information network or a cybersecurity emergency. That definition would be left to the president.

The bill does not only add to the power of the president. It also grants the Secretary of Commerce "access to all relevant data concerning [critical] networks without regard to any provision of law, regulation, rule, or policy restricting such access." This means he or she can monitor or access any data on private or public networks without regard to privacy laws.

Rockefeller made cybersecurity one of his key issues as a member of the Senate intelligence committee, which he chaired until last year. He now heads the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, which will take up this bill.

"We must protect our critical infrastructure at all costs—from our water to our electricity, to banking, traffic lights and electronic health records—the list goes on," Rockefeller said in a statement. Snowe echoed her colleague, saying, "if we fail to take swift action, we, regrettably, risk a cyber-Katrina."

This is the typical buildup of fear, uncertainty, and doubt that inevitably accompanies ham-handed attempts by the political establishment to legislate and thereby legitimate sweeping powers to access and control the democratically and organically distributed Internet infrastructure. It's not as if they could ever accomplish such an objective, however, they consistently and perennially seek to grant themselves the perogative to try. As with prior attempts in this direction, this attempt is worth watching to determine its outcome.

consequences of the oil shock of 2007-08

Econbrowser | In a paper presented at the Brookings Panel on Economic Activity Thursday, University of Calif.-San Diego economist James Hamilton crunched some numbers on how consumer spending responds to rising energy prices and came to a surprising result: Nearly all of last year’s economic downturn could be attributed to the oil price shock.

The paper uses a number of different models that had been fit to earlier historical episodes to see what they imply about the contribution that the oil shock of 2007-08 might have made to real GDP growth over the last year. The approaches surveyed include Edelstein and Kilian (2007), who examined the detailed response of various components of consumer spending, Blanchard and Gali (2007), who studied the extent to which the contribution of oil shocks has significantly decreased over time, a 2003 paper, which emphasized the role of nonlinearities, and a model-free data summary of the observed behavior of different economic magnitudes following this and previous oil shocks. Although the approaches are quite different, they all support a common conclusion: had there been no increase in oil prices between 2007:Q3 and 2008:Q2, the U.S. economy would not have been in a recession over the period 2007:Q4 through 2008:Q3.

One of the most interesting calculations was to look at the implications of the 2003 model. Using those historically estimated parameters to find the answer to the following conditional forecasting equation. Suppose you knew in 2007:Q3 what GDP had been doing up through that date and could know in advance what was about to happen to the price of oil. What path would you have then predicted the economy to follow for 2007:Q4 through 2008:Q4?

The answer is given in the diagram below. The green dotted line is the forecast if we ignored the information about oil prices, while the red dashed line is the forecast conditional on the huge run-up in oil prices that subsequently occurred. The black line is the actual observed path for real GDP. Somewhat astonishingly, that model would have predicted the course of GDP over 2008 pretty accurately and would attribute a substantial fraction of the significant drop in 2008:Q4 real GDP to the oil price increases.


Tuesday, April 07, 2009

lynn margulis - symbiogenesis


Scoop | Whereas speciation by accumulation of "random DNA mutations" has never been adequately documented, a plethora of high-quality scientific studies has unequivocally shown symbiogenesis to be at the basis of the origin of species and more inclusive taxa.

Members of at least two prokaryotic domains (a sulfidogenic archaebacterium, a sulfide-oxidizing motile eubacterium) merged in the origin of the earliest nucleated organisms to evolve in the mid-Proterozoic Eon (c. 1200 million years ago).

Such a heterotrophic, phagocytotic motile protoctist was ancestral to all subsequent eukaryotes (e.g., other protoctists, animals, fungi and plants).

The defining seme of eukaryosis, the membrane-bounded nucleus as a component of the karyomastigont, evolved as Thermoplasma-like archaebacteria and Perfilievia-Spirochaeta-like eubacteria symbiogenetically formed the amitochondriate LECA (the Last Eukaryotic Common Ancestor). Their co-descendants (that still thrive in organic-rich anoxic habitats) are amenable to study so that our videos of them will be shown here.

There are no missing links in our scenario. Contemporary photosynthetic (green) animals (e.g., Elysia viridis, Convoluta roscoffensis), nitrogen-fixing fungi (Geosiphon pyriforme), cellulose digesting animals (cows, Mastotermes darwiniensis termites) and plants (Gunnera manicata) make us virtually certain that Boris Mikhailovich Kozo-Polyansky's (1890-1957) analysis (Symbiogenesis: A New Principle of Evolution, 1924) was and still is correct.

Symbiogenesis accounts for the origin of hereditary variation that is maintained and perpetuated by Charles Darwin's natural selective limitations to reaching the omnipresent biotic potential characteristics of any species.

ron eglash on african fractals

Monday, April 06, 2009

missouri documents withdrawn

A couple weeks ago, I posted a link to a KCStar article about official law enforcement documents detailing The Modern Militia Movement. This is an update on the status of those documents.

ALIPAC | A national scandal emerged in Missouri, after their MIAC Fusion Center issued an eight page document which made many false claims. The documents attempted to politicize police and cast suspicion on millions of Americans. The 'Missouri Documents', as they came to be called, listed over 32 characteristics police should watch for as signs or links to domestic terrorists, which could threaten police officers, court officials, and infrastructure targets.

Police were instructed to look for Americans who were concerned about unemployment, taxes, illegal immigration, gangs, border security, abortion, high costs of living, gun restrictions, FEMA, the IRS, The Federal Reserve, and the North American Union/SPP/North American Community. The 'Missouri Documents' also said potential domestic terrorists might like gun shows, short wave radios, combat movies, movies with white male heroes, Tom Clancey Novels, and Presidential Candidates Ron Paul, Bob Barr, and Chuck Baldwin!

The Southern Poverty Law Center was cited as a research source for the 'Missouri Documents'. Furthermore, the attempt of these documents to cast suspicion of violent and life threatening behavior on millions of Americans who are concerned about these issues is consistent with the regularly released political materials of both the SPLC and ADL.

Since the SPLC was listed as a source in the MIAC Missouri Documents, ALIPAC sent a letter of inquiry to the Missouri Governor Jay Nixon on March 20, 2009 asking for more specific sourcing information.

"When many of us read these Missouri Documents we felt that the false connections, pseudo research, and political attacks found in these documents could have been penned by the SPLC and ADL," said William Gheen of ALIPAC. "We were shocked to see credible law enforcement agencies disseminating the same kind of over the top political propaganda distributed by these groups."

Colonel James F. Keathley, Superintendent of the Missouri State Highway Patrol issued a letter of response to ALIPAC and other sources on March 25-26, which states that the Missouri militia documents are being withdrawn, more oversight will be applied to future releases, the Missouri Documents do not meet the high quality standards expected from the MIAC, and that "certain subsets of Missourians will not be singled out inappropriately in these reports for particular associations".

FOX Radio Network is reporting that Missouri Lieutenant Governor Peter Kinder (R-MO) has asked that Missouri Public Safety Director John Britt be placed on administrative leave. The report also says Kinder has issued a public apology to Presidential candidates Ron Paul, Bob Barr, and Chuck Baldwin.

ALIPAC would like to advise all media sources, law enforcement officers and agencies, that the ADL and SPLC are political organizations, with stated political goals and agendas which are contrary to the candidates, political parties, and millions of Americans besmirched by the MIAC documents.

While both the ADL and SPLC actively market themselves and seek roles as advisers to law enforcement and the media, both groups regularly engage in political tactics like those observed in the now withdrawn Missouri Documents. Materials from one or both organizations contributed to this scandal.

"In the past, these groups have served a helpful role in America by providing information about racist and potentially violent groups like the KKK and Neo Nazis," said William Gheen. "Unfortunately, their mission has drifted into political efforts to paint almost any American or group who opposes their broader political agendas as being associated with racist or potentially violent groups just like what we saw in these scandalous MIAC documents in Missouri."

ALIPAC hopes that future scandals can be avoided by issuing this advisory and promoting awareness of the faulty information distributed to police and media in America by the Anti Defamation League and Southern Poverty Law Center to prevent future scandals of this nature.

can pakistan be governed?

NYTimes | Pakistan feels as if it’s falling apart. Last fall the country barely avoided bankruptcy. The tribal areas, which border on Afghanistan, remain a vast Taliban sanctuary and redoubt. The giant province of Baluchistan, though far more accessible, is racked by a Baluchi separatist rebellion, while American officials view Quetta, Baluchistan’s capital, as Taliban HQ. American policy has arguably made the situation even worse, for the Predator-drone attacks along the border, though effective, drive the Taliban eastward, deeper into Pakistan. And the strategy has been only reinforcing hostility to the United States among ordinary Pakistanis.

Pakistan has made itself the supreme conundrum of American foreign policy. During the campaign, Obama often said that the heart of the terrorist threat was not Iraq but Afghanistan and Pakistan, and once in office he had senior policy makers undertake an array of reviews designed to coordinate policy in the region. They seem to have narrowed the target area even further, to the Pakistani frontier. “For the American people,” Obama announced on March 27, “this border region has become the most dangerous place in the world.” Some officials see Pakistan as a volcano that, should it blow, would send an inconceivable amount of poisonous ash raining down on the world around it. David Kilcullen, a key adviser to Gen. David Petraeus, the Centcom commander, recently asserted that “within one to six months we could see the collapse of the Pakistani state,” a calamity that, given the country’s size, strategic location and nuclear stockpile, would “dwarf” all other current crises.

And amid all that, Pakistan’s president appeared to be playing with fire. Zardari was setting his security forces on peaceful demonstrators, just as his authoritarian predecessor, General Musharraf, did — against members of Zardari’s own political party — several years earlier. The government crackdown, designed to prevent the marchers from reaching the capital, began on March 11. The police swept through the homes of opposition-party leaders, lawmakers, activists, “miscreants” and ordinary party workers. Many leading officials were already underground, but hundreds of arrests were made. By the 12th, the first day of the march, much of the country was glued to the television, where swarms of heavily armed policemen could be seen knocking down protesters and dragging them off to the paddy wagons. Nawaz Sharif, the leader of the main opposition party, saw the protests as the “prelude to a revolution,” while Rehman Malik, a key Zardari adviser, accused Sharif of “sedition.”

The posturing and hyperbole would have been comical if the stakes weren’t so high. Although in Pakistan, it’s true, the stakes always feel high.

jetliner graveyard....,

AP | Old jets come here, empty engine pods shrink-wrapped in white, tall red tails fading to pink in the desert sun. More will come soon. Some will never fly again.

Airlines have announced plans over the past year to take 1,700 planes out of service as fewer people fly. United Airlines is retiring all 94 of its Boeing 737s by the end of this year, and Northwest Airlines has cut its old DC-9 fleet by about a third.

The number of planes in storage has jumped 29 percent in the past year to 2,302, according to aerospace data firm Ascend Worldwide. That includes 930 parked by U.S. operators alone.

Eventually, some will be sold, some scrapped, some will sit at desert facilities in southern California, Arizona, and New Mexico. But at the moment, their number is growing faster than expected. The banking crisis has made it very difficult to get loans to buy aircraft, and the drop in commodity prices has gutted their scrap value.

That makes for busy times at facilities like Evergreen Maintenance Center near Marana. Its super-sized hangar fits a 747, and there are plenty of active planes on hand, including one 747 used to test Pratt & Whitney engines and another converted to fight forest fires.

But outside there's a ghost fleet of 204 parked planes. Some of Northwest's retired 747s are here. Planes from defunct ATA Airlines, 767s from Air Sahara and MaxJet, and a hodgepodge of other airlines from around the world are here, too.

The people who run these facilities chafe at the idea that they're groundskeepers in a graveyard. While Evergreen scraps roughly 15 planes a year, most of the stored planes still get checks, extensive record-keeping and federally mandated maintenance that will let them return to service if travel demand and the price of jet fuel cooperate in the future. Storing a 747 with the required maintenance checks costs $60,000 a year at Evergreen, half that for a smaller jet.

Steve Coffaro, vice president of marketing and sales at Evergreen, points all this out with pride as he drives around the airfield here, focusing on the company's ability to return these planes to the air safely. Out the left window: Planes that could fly again. Out the right: The scrap area, with the lower half of a fuselage standing upright, 20 or so rows of seats exposed, tray tables dangling open.

The deserts in the U.S. Southwest have become one of the top destinations for airliner storage because of the perfect combination of cheap land as far as the eye can see and a dry climate that preserves the planes. Planes deteriorate quickly in high humidity.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

liar's loans...,



Bill Moyers | Bill Black, welcome to the Journal.

WILLIAM K. BLACK: Thank you.

BILL MOYERS: I was taken with your candor at the conference here in New York to hear you say that this crisis we're going through, this economic and financial meltdown is driven by fraud. What's your definition of fraud?

WILLIAM K. BLACK: Fraud is deceit. And the essence of fraud is, "I create trust in you, and then I betray that trust, and get you to give me something of value." And as a result, there's no more effective acid against trust than fraud, especially fraud by top elites, and that's what we have.

BILL MOYERS: In your book, you make it clear that calculated dishonesty by people in charge is at the heart of most large corporate failures and scandals, including, of course, the S&L, but is that true? Is that what you're saying here, that it was in the boardrooms and the CEO offices where this fraud began?

WILLIAM K. BLACK: Absolutely.

BILL MOYERS: How did they do it? What do you mean?

WILLIAM K. BLACK: Well, the way that you do it is to make really bad loans, because they pay better. Then you grow extremely rapidly, in other words, you're a Ponzi-like scheme. And the third thing you do is we call it leverage. That just means borrowing a lot of money, and the combination creates a situation where you have guaranteed record profits in the early years. That makes you rich, through the bonuses that modern executive compensation has produced. It also makes it inevitable that there's going to be a disaster down the road.

BILL MOYERS: So you're suggesting, saying that CEOs of some of these banks and mortgage firms in order to increase their own personal income, deliberately set out to make bad loans?

WILLIAM K. BLACK: Yes.

BILL MOYERS: How do they get away with it? I mean, what about their own checks and balances in the company? What about their accounting divisions?

WILLIAM K. BLACK: All of those checks and balances report to the CEO, so if the CEO goes bad, all of the checks and balances are easily overcome. And the art form is not simply to defeat those internal controls, but to suborn them, to turn them into your greatest allies. And the bonus programs are exactly how you do that.

BILL MOYERS: If I wanted to go looking for the parties to this, with a good bird dog, where would you send me?

WILLIAM K. BLACK: Well, that's exactly what hasn't happened. We haven't looked, all right? The Bush Administration essentially got rid of regulation, so if nobody was looking, you were able to do this with impunity and that's exactly what happened. Where would you look? You'd look at the specialty lenders. The lenders that did almost all of their work in the sub-prime and what's called Alt-A, liars' loans.

BILL MOYERS: Yeah. Liars' loans--

WILLIAM K. BLACK: Liars' loans.

BILL MOYERS: Why did they call them liars' loans?

WILLIAM K. BLACK: Because they were liars' loans.

BILL MOYERS: And they knew it?

WILLIAM K. BLACK: They knew it. They knew that they were frauds.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

why sleep?

The Scientist | Why do we sleep? For some researchers who study memory, the findings support a popular theory that the purpose of sleep is to replay and consolidate memories from the previous day. To them, sleep is important for memory, and the deep, slow waves seen in the same part of the brain used in a task indicate that the brain circuits involved in the task are reactivating. Such reactivation, or "replay," could explain why participants perform the task with greater accuracy after a night of sleep.

But for Cirelli and Tononi, their findings suggested an entirely different—and controversial—theory was perhaps true. Sleep's core function, Cirelli and Tononi say, is to prune the strength or number of synapses formed during waking hours, keeping just the strongest neuronal connections intact. Synapse strength increases throughout the day, with stronger synapses creating better contact between neurons. Stronger synapses also take up more space and consume more energy, and if left unchecked, this process—which Cirelli and Tononi believe occurs in many brain regions—would become unsustainable.2,3 Downscaling at night would reduce the energy and space requirement of the brain, eliminate the weakest synapses, and help keep the strongest neuronal connections intact. This assumption is based on the principle in neuroscience that if one neuron doesn't fire to another very often, the connection between the two neurons weakens. By eliminating some of the unimportant connections, the body, in theory, eliminates background connections and effectively sharpens the important connections.

It's unclear how slow waves could affect synaptic strength at a molecular level, but Cirelli and Tononi suspect the slow-wave activity triggers a weakening of synapses, and the more slow waves, the more subsequent downscaling. Their belief stems from the timing of the slow waves, which swell early in the night and taper off. Plus, molecular and electrophysiological evidence indicates synapses are stronger at the beginning of the night and weakest after a long bout of sleep. To Cirelli and Tononi, the weakening of synapses overnight—which could also theoretically help people perform better on a task the next day—is the ultimate purpose of sleep.