Monday, April 20, 2009

setting the stage....,

WaPo | A potentially troubling era dawned Sunday in Pakistan's Swat Valley, where a top Islamist militant leader, emboldened by a peace agreement with the federal government, laid out an ambitious plan to bring a "complete Islamic system" to the surrounding northwest region and the entire country.

Speaking to thousands of followers in an address aired live from Swat on national news channels, cleric Sufi Mohammed bluntly defied the constitution and federal judiciary, saying he would not allow any appeals to state courts under the system of sharia, or Islamic law, that will prevail there as a result of the peace accord signed by the president Tuesday.

"The Koran says that supporting an infidel system is a great sin," Mohammed said, referring to Pakistan's modern democratic institutions. He declared that in Swat, home to 1.5 million people, all "un-Islamic laws and customs will be abolished," and he suggested that the official imprimatur on the agreement would pave the way for sharia to be installed in other areas.

Mohammed's dramatic speech echoed a rousing sermon in Islamabad on Friday by another radical cleric, Maulana Abdul Aziz, who appeared at the Red Mosque in the capital after nearly two years in detention and urged several thousand chanting followers to launch a crusade for sharia nationwide.

Together, these rallying cries seemed to create an arc of radical religious energy between the turbulent, Taliban-plagued northwest region and the increasingly vulnerable federal capital, less than 100 miles to the east. They also appeared to pose a direct, unprecedented religious challenge to modern state authority in the Muslim nation of 176 million.

israel, iran, and fear

NYTimes | “The biggest risk to Israel is Israel.”

A core contradiction inhabits Israeli policy. While talking about a two-state solution — at least until Netanyahu redux — Israel has gone on building the West Bank settlements that render a peace agreement impossible by atomizing the 23 percent of the land theoretically destined for Palestine.

As Ehud Barak, now the defense minister, remarked in 1999: “Every attempt to keep hold of this area as one political entity leads, necessarily, to either a non-democratic or a non-Jewish state, because if the Palestinians vote, then it is a binational state, and if they don’t vote it is an apartheid state ...”

That’s right. The population of Arabs in the Holy Land, at about 5.4 million, will one day overtake the number of Jews. So a two-state solution is essential to Israel’s survival as a Jewish state. Persisting in the 42-year-old occupation and the building of settlements gnaws at the very foundations of the Zionist dream.

Netanyahu now wants Palestinian leaders in the West Bank, who have recognized Israel, to go further and recognize it as a Jewish state, even before he accepts a hypothetical Palestinian state. That’s a sign of the Israeli angst occupation has institutionalized.

Closure is the overcoming of horror. It is the achievement of normality through responsibility. It cannot be attained through the inflation of threats, the perpetuation of fears, or retreat into the victimhood that sees every act, however violent, as defensive.

goldman sachs - plunge protection team conspiracy?

HuffPo | The Working Group on Financial Markets, known colloquially as the Plunge Protection Team (PPT), was created in 1988 by Ronald Reagan, in response to the Black Monday stock market crash in 1987. Their operations have always been shrouded in secrecy, with a Washington Post article from 1997 writing that the group aims to prevent the "smoothly running global financial machine" from locking up.

Conspiracy theorists have long claimed that the PPT manipulates U.S. stock markets by using government funds to buy stocks in the event of market dislocation, but skeptics argue that such an operation would be unworkable.

Durden, author of the ZeroHedge blog, thinks he found some evidence of the PPT's interference with the market. He cites an unusual piece of data on program trading, a part of the stock market that is controlled by mysterious computer programs that use mathematical formulas to buy and sell stocks.

According to the New York Stock Exchange, last week's volume of program trading was 8% higher than the 52 week average. It's strange that program trading volume would be increasing so sharply when overall market volume is declining, says Durden. It's even stranger to note that principal trading, which occurs when a brokerage buys or sells stocks for its own account, is running 21% above 52 week average. New York Stock Exchange weekly volume, on the other hand, is running about 9% below 52 week average.

"A very interesting data point, also provided by the NYSE, implicates none other than administration darling Goldman Sachs in yet another potentially troubling development," writes Durden. "Key to note here is that Goldman's program trading principal to agency+customer facilitation ratio is a staggering 5x, which is multiples higher than both the second most active program trader and the average ratio of the NYSE, both at or below 1x."

The implication is that Goldman Sachs trades much more often for its own (principal) benefit. "In this light, the program trading spike over the past week could be perceived as much more sinister," he says. "For conspiracy lovers, long searching for any circumstantial evidence to catch the mysterious "plunge protection team" in action, you should look no further than this."

fist tap - unauthorized Goldman Sachs 666 blog.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

the ghost in your genes

Does some biological force beyond genes determine who we are? NOVA's "Ghost In Your Genes" traces the clues that have led scientists to a new picture of genetic control and expression called epigenetics. For more information

easter holy fire ritual

the christian mans evolution

Scientific American | After some 30 years of proselytizing about evolution to Christian believers, the esteemed evolutionary biologist at the University of California, Irvine, has honed his arguments to a fine point. He has stories and examples at the ready, even a shock tactic or two at his fingertips. One out of five pregnancies ends in spontaneous miscarriage, he often reminds audiences. Next he will pointedly ask, as in an interview with U.S. Catholic magazine last year, “If God explicitly designed the human reproductive system, is God the biggest abortionist of them all?” Through such examples, he explains, “I want to turn around their arguments.”

The 74-year-old Ayala is preparing for an exceptionally busy 2009. The year marks the bicentennial of Charles Darwin’s birthday and the sesquicentennial of the publication of On the Origin of Species, and the battle over the teaching of evolution is sure to heat up. Ayala says the need is especially great for scientists to engage religious people in dialogue. As evidence, he lugs over the 11-by-17-inch, 12-pound Atlas of Creation mailed out by Muslim creationist Adnan Oktar in Turkey to scientists and museums across the U.S. and France. This richly illustrated tome not only attacks evolution but also links Darwin’s theory to horrors, including fascism and even Satan himself.

In the U.S. the intelligent design–promoting Discovery Institute in Seattle has published biology textbooks questioning evolution and has promoted the 2008 film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed to make the case that anti-Darwinist scientists are persecuted. (For a rebuttal, see “Ben Stein’s Expelled: No Integrity Displayed,” by John Rennie, and related articles.) Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin has said she believes that creationism should be taught alongside evolution in schools. One in eight high school biology teachers already treat creationism as a valid alternative, according to a Pennsylvania State University poll.

Despite outreach efforts by scientists and constitutional rulings against them, creationists and intelligent design advocates “are not getting weaker,” Ayala says. “If anything, they’re more visible.”

Saturday, April 18, 2009


The Scientist | Our current scientific model claims that the universe was, until rather recently, a lifeless collection of particles bouncing against each other and obeying predetermined and mysterious rules. This view holds that life harbors consciousness -- a concept poorly understood by science -- but it is of little relevance in describing the universe.

There's a problem with this supposition. Consciousness is not just a pesky byproduct or irrelevant item, the way a buzzing mosquito might interfere with a biologist's concentration as she skims algae off a lake. No, consciousness is the very matrix upon which the cosmos is comprehended. It is the movie screen upon which our worldview is projected. If it is bent or distorted or contains some unsuspected color, then all our perceptions of the cosmos seem fundamentally erroneous.

Since May, 1926, when Nobel physicists Werner Heisenberg and Niels Bohr began to realize that the presence of an observer determined the results of experiments, it's become even clearer that attempts to explain the nature of the universe and its origins absolutely requires a worldview in which our presence plays a key role. After all, it is the biological creature that fashions the stories, that makes the observations, and that gives names to things. As Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in Experience: "We have learned that we do not see directly, but mediately, and that we have no means of correcting these colored and distorting lenses which we are, or of computing the amount of their errors." George Berkeley, the Irish philosopher for whom the university and city were named, came to a similar conclusion: "The only things we perceive," he famously said, "are our perceptions."

And this is one of the central themes of biocentrism: That the animal observer creates reality and not the other way around. This view of the world, in which life and consciousness are central to understanding the universe, hinges on how subjective experiences interact with physical realities.

Without perception, there can be no reality. Before applying this on a universal scale, consider your own kitchen. Its contents assume all of their familiar forms, shapes and colors, whether or not you are in it. Or do they? At night you click off the light and leave for the bedroom. Your kitchen stays the same all through the night. Right?

Wrong. The refrigerator, stove and everything else are composed of a shimmering swarm of matter/energy. Quantum theory tells us that not a single one of those subatomic particles actually exists in a definite place. Rather, they merely exist as a range of probabilities. In the presence of an observer--that is, when you go back in to get a drink of water -- each particle's wave function collapses and it assumes a position, a physical reality. Moreover, the shapes and colors known as your kitchen are seen as they are only because photons of light, which possess no inherent visual properties, bounce off objects and interact with your sensory system.

Biocentrism is no minor perceptual tweak. Our entire education system assumes that we perceive external pre-existing realities and play little or no role in their appearance. Scientists and non-scientists alike typically imagine an external world existing on its own; with an appearance that more or less resembles what we see. By this reasoning, the human eye and brain allow us to cognize the actual visual appearance of things, and to alter nothing. Not so, says biocentrism.

are we organisms or living ecosystems?

SeedMagazine | To find a biological answer to the question “Who are we?” we might look to the human genome. Certainly, when the Human Genome Project first produced a draft of the 3 billion-base-pair sequence, it was touted as a blueprint for human life. Less than a decade later, however, most experts recognize that our genomes capture only a part of who we are. Researchers have become aware, for example, of the influence of epigenetic phenomena — imprinting, maternal effects, and gene silencing, among others — in determining how genetic material is ultimately expressed. Now comes the notion that the genomes of microbes within us must also be considered. Our bodies are, after all, composites of human and bacterial cells, with microbes together contributing at least 1,000 times more genes to the whole. As we discover more and more roles that microbes play, it has become impossible to ignore the contribution of bacteria to the pool of genes we define as ourselves. Indeed, several scientists have begun to refer to the human body as a “superorganism” whose complexity extends far beyond what is encoded in a single genome.

The physiology of a superorganism would likely look very different from traditional human physiology. There has been a great deal of research into the dynamics of communities among plants, insect colonies, and even in human society. What new insights could we gain by applying some of that knowledge to the workings of communities in our own bodies? Certain body functions could be the result of negotiations between several partners, and diseases the result of small changes in group dynamics — or of a breakdown in communication between symbiotic partners.

Recently, for instance, evidence has surfaced that obesity may well include a microbial component. In ongoing work that is part of the Human Microbiome Project, researchers in Jeffrey Gordon’s lab at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis showed that lean and obese mice have different proportions of microbes in their digestive systems. Bacteria in the plumper rodents, it seemed, were better able to extract energy from food, because when these bacteria were transferred into lean mice, the mice gained weight. The same is apparently true for humans: In December Gordon’s team published findings that lean and obese twins — whether identical or fraternal — harbor strikingly different bacterial communities. And these bacteria, they discovered, are not just helping to process food directly; they actually influence whether that energy is ultimately stored as fat in the body.

Even confined in their designated body parts, microbes exert their effects by churning out chemical signals for our cells to receive. Jeremy Nicholson, a chemist at Imperial College of London, has become a champion of the idea that the extent of this microbial signaling goes vastly underappreciated. Nicholson had been looking at the metabolites in human blood and urine with the hope of developing personalized drugs when he found that our bodily fluids are filled with metabolites produced by our intestinal bacteria. He now believes that the influence of gut microbes ranges from the ways in which we metabolize drugs and food to the subtle workings of our brain chemistry.

Scientists originally expected that the communication between animals and their symbiotic bacteria would form its own molecular language. But McFall-Ngai, an expert on animal-microbe symbiosis, says that she and other scientists have instead found beneficial relationships involving some of the same chemical messages that had been discovered previously in pathogens. Many bacterial products that had been termed “virulence factors” or “toxins” turn out to not be inherently offensive signals; they are just part of the conversation between microbe and host. The difference between our interaction with harmful and helpful bacteria, she says, is not so much like separate languages as it is a change in tone: “It’s the difference between an argument and a civil conversation.” We are in constant communication with our microbes, and the messages are broadcast throughout the human body.

Friday, April 17, 2009

hitler's co-conspirators

The Atlantic | The past two years have seen a flood of major works on Nazi Germany, books that include Life and Death in the Third Reich, Peter Fritzsche’s analysis of everyday life; Hitler, the Germans, and the Final Solution, a collection of essays focusing on social history, by Ian Kershaw, the author of the definitive biography of Hitler; Germany and the Second World War: German Wartime Society, the multiauthored, 1,000-plus-page English translation of the ninth volume of the gargantuan, quasi-official chronicle of the war issued by Germany’s Research Institute for Military History; and, just published in March, The Third Reich at War, by Richard J. Evans, the third and concluding volume of a work that will almost certainly be for a generation the authoritative general history of Nazi Germany in English.

The Final Solution is at the heart of all these books. This focus may seem obvious now, but 30 years ago, study of the extermination of the Jews hadn’t yet entered the mainstream of scholarship on Nazi Germany. In fact, the standard single-volume history, Karl Bracher’s analytical The German Dictatorship, devoted a mere 13 of its 580 pages to the subject. Also all but ignored 30 years ago were the attitudes and opinions of Germans toward the Jews and toward the anti-Jewish policies of the Nazi regime, an issue that today’s historians consider central. Most striking is these books’ consensus: despite their authors’ different aims and methods, and despite their contending interpretations of a host of questions, they all agree that, contrary to claims made after the war, the German people had wide-ranging and often detailed knowledge of the murder of the Jews.

None of the authors uses that conclusion to render easy moral judgments, nor to argue that the population fervently embraced the regime’s lethal anti-Semitism (pace Daniel Goldhagen’s now largely discredited Hitler’s Willing Executioners). But both indirectly and explicitly, these books make clear that just as the Final Solution itself is now understood to inform so many aspects of Nazi Germany, so too the Germans’ knowledge of the murder of the Jews influenced and altered the history of the Third Reich and the war it started.

taliban exploit class rifts to gain ground in pakistan

NYTimes | The Taliban have advanced deeper into Pakistan by engineering a class revolt that exploits profound fissures between a small group of wealthy landlords and their landless tenants, according to government officials and analysts here.

The strategy cleared a path to power for the Taliban in the Swat Valley, where the government allowed Islamic law to be imposed this week, and it carries broad dangers for the rest of Pakistan, particularly the militants’ main goal, the populous heartland of Punjab Province.

In Swat, accounts from those who have fled now make clear that the Taliban seized control by pushing out about four dozen landlords who held the most power.

To do so, the militants organized peasants into armed gangs that became their shock troops, the residents, government officials and analysts said.

The approach allowed the Taliban to offer economic spoils to people frustrated with lax and corrupt government even as the militants imposed a strict form of Islam through terror and intimidation.

“This was a bloody revolution in Swat,” said a senior Pakistani official who oversees Swat, speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation by the Taliban. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it sweeps the established order of Pakistan.”

The Taliban’s ability to exploit class divisions adds a new dimension to the insurgency and is raising alarm about the risks to Pakistan, which remains largely feudal.

latin leaders aim to redefine u.s. relations

NYTimes | The conference is focused on “human prosperity,” energy security and environmental sustainability, but the global economy will be central for Latin American leaders, including Mr. da Silva, who is still smarting over how the crisis threatens to derail one of Brazil’s greatest periods of prosperity in a generation.

White House officials also worry that economic contagion could reverse the region’s growth and poverty alleviation in the past half-decade.

“In the last year, these achievements have started to dwindle away,” said Jeffrey S. Davidow, the White House adviser for the summit meeting. “There is a real concern that Latin America or the hemisphere may be entering into another lost decade.”

The Latin American leaders are hoping Mr. Obama will not shy away from subjects that have historically been taboo at such meetings. In the past, the United States has vetoed discussions about Cuba and shrugged off criticism of its drug policy.

But the Obama administration has signaled it agrees with some leaders in the region who want to rethink the approach to curbing drug violence. Several of the region’s leaders have also said in recent months that lifting the embargo with Cuba would go a long way toward repairing relations between Latin America and the United States.

American officials said this week that the president welcomed the discussion, but he is not expected to go beyond steps announced on Monday: lifting restrictions on travel and money transfers to Cuba by Cuban-Americans.

“They may not lift the embargo or legalize drugs, but there will be more space to talk about those kinds of things,” Mr. Shifter said. “Something could happen on these issues that hasn’t really happened before, which is an open debate. That is Obama’s style.”

Thursday, April 16, 2009

the golden rule....,

Washington Post | At this weekend's Summit of the Americas in Trinidad, President Obama can expect to be importuned by Latin American leaders to go further than he already has to remove U.S. sanctions on Cuba. Leading the chorus -- or trying to -- will be Venezuela's Hugo Chávez, who has been propping up the hemisphere's oldest dictatorship with petrodollars. But Mr. Chávez probably will be joined by some of the moderate leftists the Obama administration is trying to court, such as Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

One odd aspect of this is that nothing much has changed in Cuba, despite the transfer of power from 82-year-old Fidel Castro to his 77-year-old brother Raúl. Political prisoners have not been released, nor have controls on the press been eased; desperate Cubans are still denied even the right to flee their country. Meanwhile, quite a lot has been happening recently in Venezuela, where democracy has been under relentless and escalating assault. The Latin presidents seemingly would prefer that Mr. Obama ignore this news while rewarding the oppressive stasis in Havana.

What has Venezuela's would-be "Bolivarian revolutionary" been up to while the U.S. media have been focusing on Cuba? Well, in the past month, his prosecutors and rubber-stamp legislature have brought corruption or treason charges against four of the opposition governors and mayors elected in November. Manuel Rosales, the mayor of Maracaibo, has gone into hiding to avoid arrest; former defense minister Raúl Baduel, who denounced Mr. Chávez as a dictator in the making, is already in jail. Opposition newspaper editor Teodoro Petkoff is under investigation for crimes allegedly committed in 1974.

To void an opposition victory in the Caracas mayor's race, Mr. Chávez had the National Assembly create a new presidentially appointed post to take over the mayor's powers. The mayoral offices have been occupied by pro-government thugs; troops seized ports in opposition-governed states. Government-controlled councils are being set up to undermine independent trade unions, while another new law is aimed at blocking foreign funding for human rights groups.

After a one-sided campaign, Mr. Chávez claimed victory in a February referendum that will allow him to remain president indefinitely. He describes the new crackdown as the "third phase" of his revolution. Little wonder that Venezuela's Catholic bishops said in an Easter message that Venezuela's democracy is now in "serious danger of collapse." Yet governments and media outside the country have largely ignored the new campaign. Human Rights Watch this week joined in the appeals for the liberalization of sanctions on Cuba but has taken no notice of the developments in Venezuela.

The Obama administration rightly is attempting to focus its Latin America diplomacy on big countries and constructive players such as Mr. Lula and Mexico's Felipe Calderón. No doubt Mr. Obama will listen to whatever Latin leaders have to tell him this weekend. But he ought to make clear that for the United States, at least, foreign policy will continue to be linked to democracy -- both for those countries that have denied it to their people for decades and those that now may seek to abolish it.

obama steps up effort to curb gun and drug trafficking

Washington Post | President Obama yesterday ratcheted up efforts to curb the flow of drugs and guns across the southern border, imposing financial sanctions against three of the most violent Mexican drug cartels and threatening to prosecute Americans who do business with them.

Since 2000, 78 drug kingpin groups and individuals have been blacklisted by the U.S. government, along with nearly 500 others who have supported them. The law has been used most extensively against Colombian drug traffickers, particularly the Cali cartel.

A Treasury Department official said its office of foreign assets control is working with other agencies to identify cartel assets, but the official described a much broader net of potential liability. Anyone who knowingly deals with a cartel representative or provides goods, services or other support can face penalties, the official said, including money launderers, front companies and other facilitators. That could include banks and other financial institutions, gun dealers, money-transfer companies and transportation firms.

"If you are a Mexican company buying or receiving weapons for a cartel, you can be designated," the official said. "If you are the U.S. person selling or transporting those weapons to the cartel or any [other] designated targets, you can be fined civilly and criminally prosecuted, or both."

Julie L. Myers, a former Justice Department official who led Immigration and Customs Enforcement until last fall, said kingpin designations have been powerful tools against Colombian drug cartels, in some cases persuading defendants to agree to plea deals to protect family assets.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

morality and the dopamine reward system | Hillary Clinton's proposal that "it takes a village to raise a child", and the conservative response, "it takes a family", highlights the genetic bandwidth variations in their respective social attitudes. All of our cognitive data on conservatives indicate a general bias towards altruistic behaviors over a smaller range of genes than liberals. These two political cohorts are playing two divergent sides in the same evolutionary game, with the conservatives favoring smaller, genetically similar social groups, while the liberals favor larger, genetically diverse social groups.

This evolutionary game is survival of the gene, with the conservatives banking on force of numbers to provide their genes an advantage in future generations. That is, if gene A from one parent is combined with gene A from another parent, then the offspring carry two copies of gene A. The liberals are banking on the value of diversity, with gene A from one parent combining with gene B from another parent, and hoping that the heterozygous condition of both genes A and B will have an advantage over the homozygous condition in future generations.

This is evident in the greater propensity of liberals to interbreed across racial barriers than conservatives. We have previously proposed that the coefficient of inbreeding, F, is higher in conservative populations than in more liberal populations, although this difference is generally quite small, except in isolated religious groups.

Conservatives and liberals are, for the most part, unaware of this evolutionary game. So how are they playing it so successfully? We have long proposed that conservatives are more under the influence of the dopamine system in their cognitive styles, while the liberals are more likely to reflect the cognitive style of the noradrenergic (and serotonergic) systems.

The dopamine system is asymmetrically distributed in the left hemisphere, while the noradrenergic and serotonergic systems are asymmetrically distributed in the right, which is the reason we refer to "left-brained" conservatism and "right-brained" liberalism. Indeed, there is evidence that if these two hemispheres are separated by commissurotomy, they create two simultaneous and opposite political orientations in the same person! In one sense, we might all be conservative and liberal, with one mode being favored while the other is suppressed by the phenomenon of hemisphericity, or the way the brain resolves conflicts between competing neural regions in the brain.

And once again, the dopamine system also seems to be behind the conservative and liberal variations in the tolerance for genetic distance.

consciousness and the voices of the mind | I can sum up what I have said so far as three major ideas about the origin of consciousness. The first concerns the nature of consciousness itself and that it arises from the power of language to make metaphors and analogies. The second idea is the hypothesis of the bicameral mind, an early type of mentality. I think the evidence for its existence is unmistakable. Apart from this idea, there is a problem of explaining the origin of gods, the origin of religious practices in the back corridors of time that is so apparent with a psychological study of history. The bicameral mind offers a possibility to tie it all together and to provide a rationale for it. The third idea is that consciousness followed the bicameral mind. I have placed the date somewhere between 1400 B.C. and 600 B.C. This is a long period and that date may have to be adjusted. But I believe this to be a good approximation.

I would add here that there is a weak form of the theory. It says that consciousness could have begun shortly after the beginning of language or perhaps at certain times and places. After all, people could create metaphors at the beginning of oral language—that is how language grew. Consciousness could have originated in exactly the same way as I have described, and existed for a time in parallel with the bicameral mind. Then the bicameral mind is sloughed off at approximately 1000 B.C. for the reasons I have suggested, leaving consciousness to come into its own. This would provide easy ad hoc explanations for highly developed cultures such as Sumer which
otherwise are a challenge to bicameral theory. But I do not choose to hold this weak theory because it is almost unfalsifiable. I think we should have a hypothesis that can be disproved by evidence if we are going to call it a scientific hypothesis. Also, the strong theory has a vigorous explanatory power in understanding many historical phenomena of the transition period. Further, I do not see why there would be a need for consciousness alongside of the bicameral mind if the latter made the decisions.

A fourth idea that I shall end with is a neurological model for the bicameral mind. I want to stress, however, that it is not at all a necessary part of the theory I have presented. Since the bicameral mind was so important in history, responsible for civilization, what could have been going on in the brain? The proper strategy in trying to answer such a question is to take the simplest idea and set about to disprove it. If it is disproved, you then go on to something more complicated.

The simplest idea, obvious I think to anyone, would involve the two cerebral hemispheres. Perhaps in ancient peoples—to put it in a popular fashion—the right hemisphere was “talking” to the left, and this was the bicameral mind. Could it be that the reason that speech and language function are usually just in the areas of the left hemisphere in today’s people was because the corresponding areas of the right hemisphere once had another function? That is a somewhat questionable way to say it, because there are other reasons for the lateralization of function. But on the other hand, it raises issues that I like. What is an auditory hallucination? Why is it ubiquitous? Why present in civilizations all over the world?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

allied militants threaten pakistan's populous heart

NYTimes | Taliban insurgents are teaming up with local militant groups to make inroads in Punjab, the province that is home to more than half of Pakistanis, reinvigorating an alliance that Pakistani and American authorities say poses a serious risk to the stability of the country.

The deadly assault in March in Lahore, Punjab’s capital, against the Sri Lankan cricket team, and the bombing last fall of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, the national capital, were only the most spectacular examples of the joint campaign, they said.

Now police officials, local residents and analysts warn that if the government does not take decisive action, these dusty, impoverished fringes of Punjab could be the next areas facing the insurgency. American intelligence and counterterrorism officials also said they viewed the developments with alarm.

“I don’t think a lot of people understand the gravity of the issue,” said a senior police official in Punjab, who declined to be idenfitied because he was discussing threats to the state. “If you want to destabilize Pakistan, you have to destabilize Punjab.”

As American drone attacks disrupt strongholds of the Taliban and Al Qaeda in the tribal areas, the insurgents are striking deeper into Pakistan — both in retaliation and in search of new havens.

homeland security on guard for 'right-wing extremists'

WND | Returning U.S. military veterans singled out as particular threats. A newly unclassified Department of Homeland Security report warns against the possibility of violence by unnamed "right-wing extremists" concerned about illegal immigration, increasing federal power, restrictions on firearms, abortion and the loss of U.S. sovereignty and singles out returning war veterans as particular threats.

The report, titled "Right-wing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment," dated April 7, states that "threats from white supremacist and violent anti-government groups during 2009 have been largely rhetorical and have not indicated plans to carry out violent acts."

However, the document, first reported by talk-radio host and WND columnist Roger Hedgecock, goes on to suggest worsening economic woes, potential new legislative restrictions on firearms and "the return of military veterans facing significant challenges reintegrating into their communities could lead to the potential emergence of terrorist groups or lone wolf extremists capable of carrying out violent attacks."

The report from DHS' Office of Intelligence and Analysis defines right-wing extremism in the U.S. as "divided into those groups, movements and adherents that are primarily hate-oriented (based on hatred of particular religious, racial or ethnic groups) and those that are mainly anti-government, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority, or rejecting government authority entirely. It may include groups and individuals that are dedicated to a single issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration."

"[T]he consequences of a prolonged economic downturn – including real estate foreclosures, unemployment and an inability to obtain credit – could create a fertile recruiting environment for right-wing extremists and even result in confrontations between such groups and government authorities similar to those in the past," the report says.

essential skills for the post-apocalyptic world

The Independent | I couldn't believe classes like this even existed. In the last 48 hours, I'd learned to hot-wire a car, pick locks, conceal my identity, evade attack dogs, and escape from handcuffs, flexi-cuffs, duct tape, rope, and nearly every other type of restraint.

The course was called Urban Escape and Evasion, which offered the type of instruction I'd been looking for to quell my anxieties about the headlines I read in the newspapers every day, threatening riots, terrorism, economic collapse, and citywide strikes. The objective of the class was to learn to survive in a city that had turned into a battleground. Most of the students were soldiers and contractors who'd either been in Iraq or were about to go, and wanted to know how to safely get back to the green zone if trapped behind enemy lines.

The class was run by a company called onPoint Tactical. Its founder, Kevin Reeve, had been the director of Tracker School, America's pre-eminent wilderness survival centre, before setting off on his own to train Navy SEALs, Special Forces units, SWAT teams, paratroopers, marines, and snipers. As a bounty hunter, his partner, Alwood, had worked with the FBI and Secret Service to help capture criminals on the Most Wanted list.

For our next exercise, we walked inside to a shooting range behind the classroom where an obstacle course had been set up. Alwood handcuffed me again, adding leg chains to my feet. I then ran as fast as I could through the course, ducking under and climbing over chairs and benches, simulating a prison escape.

"We're nine meals away from chaos in this country," Reeve lectured afterward, explaining that after just three days without food, people would be rioting in the streets. "With gas and corn prices so high, recent events have made it much more likely that you'll be needing urban escape and evasion skills in this lifetime."

Monday, April 13, 2009

goldman sachs seeks to shut down blog

UK Telegraph | Goldman Sachs hires a law firm to shut blogger's site. Goldman Sachs is attempting to shut down a dissident blogger who is extremely critical of the investment bank, its board members and its practices. The bank has instructed Wall Street law firm Chadbourne & Parke to pursue blogger Mike Morgan, warning him in a recent cease-and-desist letter that he may face legal action if he does not close down his website.

Florida-based Mr Morgan began a blog entitled "Facts about Goldman Sachs" – the web address for which is – just a few weeks ago. In that time Mr Morgan, a registered investment adviser, has added a number of posts to the site, including one entitled "Does Goldman Sachs run the world?". However, many of the posts relate to other Wall Street firms and issues.

According to Chadbourne & Parke's letter, dated April 8, the bank is rattled because the site "violates several of Goldman Sachs' intellectual property rights" and also "implies a relationship" with the bank itself.

Unsurprisingly for a man who has conjoined the bank's name with the Number of the Beast – although he jokingly points out that 666 was also the S&P500's bear-market bottom – Mr Morgan is unlikely to go down without a fight.

He claims he has followed all legal requirements to own and operate the website – and that the header of the site clearly states that the content has not been approved by the bank.

biology, not mechanics, is our mecca

NYTimes | Frederick Soddy, born in 1877, was an individualist who bowed to few conventions, and who is described by one biographer as a difficult, obstinate man. A 1921 Nobel laureate in chemistry for his work on radioactive decay, he foresaw the energy potential of atomic fission as early as 1909. But his disquiet about that power’s potential wartime use, combined with his revulsion at his discipline’s complicity in the mass deaths of World War I, led him to set aside chemistry for the study of political economy — the world into which scientific progress introduces its gifts. In four books written from 1921 to 1934, Soddy carried on a quixotic campaign for a radical restructuring of global monetary relationships. He was roundly dismissed as a crank.

He offered a perspective on economics rooted in physics — the laws of thermodynamics, in particular. An economy is often likened to a machine, though few economists follow the parallel to its logical conclusion: like any machine the economy must draw energy from outside itself. The first and second laws of thermodynamics forbid perpetual motion, schemes in which machines create energy out of nothing or recycle it forever. Soddy criticized the prevailing belief of the economy as a perpetual motion machine, capable of generating infinite wealth — a criticism echoed by his intellectual heirs in the now emergent field of ecological economics.

A more apt analogy, said Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen (a Romanian-born economist whose work in the 1970s began to define this new approach), is to model the economy as a living system. Like all life, it draws from its environment valuable (or “low entropy”) matter and energy — for animate life, food; for an economy, energy, ores, the raw materials provided by plants and animals. And like all life, an economy emits a high-entropy wake — it spews degraded matter and energy: waste heat, waste gases, toxic byproducts, apple cores, the molecules of iron lost to rust and abrasion. Low entropy emissions include trash and pollution in all their forms, including yesterday’s newspaper, last year’s sneakers, last decade’s rusted automobile.

Matter taken up into the economy can be recycled, using energy; but energy, used once, is forever unavailable to us at that level again. The law of entropy commands a one-way flow downward from more to less useful forms. An animal can’t live perpetually on its own excreta. Neither can you fill the tank of your car by pushing it backwards. Thus, Georgescu-Roegen, paraphrasing the economist Alfred Marshall, said: “Biology, not mechanics, is our Mecca.”

Following Soddy, Georgescu-Roegen and other ecological economists argue that wealth is real and physical. It’s the stock of cars and computers and clothing, of furniture and French fries, that we buy with our dollars. The dollars aren’t real wealth, but only symbols that represent the bearer’s claim on an economy’s ability to generate wealth. Debt, for its part, is a claim on the economy’s ability to generate wealth in the future. “The ruling passion of the age,” Soddy said, “is to convert wealth into debt” — to exchange a thing with present-day real value (a thing that could be stolen, or broken, or rust or rot before you can manage to use it) for something immutable and unchanging, a claim on wealth that has yet to be made. Money facilitates the exchange; it is, he said, “the nothing you get for something before you can get anything.”

Problems arise when wealth and debt are not kept in proper relation. The amount of wealth that an economy can create is limited by the amount of low-entropy energy that it can sustainably suck from its environment — and by the amount of high-entropy effluent from an economy that the environment can sustainably absorb. Debt, being imaginary, has no such natural limit. It can grow infinitely, compounding at any rate we decide.

Whenever an economy allows debt to grow faster than wealth can be created, that economy has a need for debt repudiation. Inflation can do the job, decreasing debt gradually by eroding the purchasing power, the claim on future wealth, that each of your saved dollars represents. But when there is no inflation, an economy with overgrown claims on future wealth will experience regular crises of debt repudiation — stock market crashes, bankruptcies and foreclosures, defaults on bonds or loans or pension promises, the disappearance of paper assets.

It’s like musical chairs — in the wake of some shock (say, the run-up of the price of gas to $4 a gallon), holders of abstract debt suddenly want to hold money or real wealth instead. But not all of them can. One person’s loss causes another’s, and the whole system cascades into crisis. Each and every one of the crises that has beset the American economy in recent years has been, at heart, a crisis of debt repudiation. And we are unlikely to avoid more of them until we stop allowing claims on income to grow faster than income.