Saturday, October 31, 2009

commander in chief bidnis....,

Fist tap Submariner

in congress, a call to review internal cybersecurity policies

Washington Post | House leaders on Friday called for an "immediate and comprehensive assessment" of congressional cybersecurity policies, a day after an embarrassing data breach that led to the disclosure of details of confidential ethics investigations.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said they had asked the chief administrative officer of the House to report back to them on the policies and procedures for handling sensitive data as a result of the breach. The inadvertent disclosure of a House ethics committee document, obtained by The Washington Post, summarized the status of investigations into lawmakers' activities on subjects such as influence peddling and defense lobbying.

"We are working diligently to provide the highest level of data security for the House in order to ensure that the operations of House offices are secure from unauthorized access," Pelosi and Boehner said in a statement.

The breach angered lawmakers who were the subject of the previously undisclosed investigations, and it raised questions about the security of other sensitive documents.

cracking the whip...,

Washington Post | House ethics investigators have been scrutinizing the activities of more than 30 lawmakers and several aides in inquiries about issues including defense lobbying and corporate influence peddling, according to a confidential House ethics committee report prepared in July.

7 on defense panel scrutinized

Sanchez sisters eyed by House ethics panel for alleged collusion

Rep. Shuler's land swap deal eyed by ethics committee

The report appears to have been inadvertently placed on a publicly accessible computer network, and it was provided to The Washington Post by a source not connected to the congressional investigations. The committee said Thursday night that the document was released by a low-level staffer.

The ethics committee is one of the most secretive panels in Congress, and its members and staff members sign oaths not to disclose any activities related to its past or present investigations. Watchdog groups have accused the committee of not actively pursuing inquiries; the newly disclosed document indicates the panel is conducting far more investigations than it had revealed.

Shortly after 6 p.m. Thursday, the committee chairman, Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), interrupted a series of House votes to alert lawmakers about the breach. She cautioned that some of the panel's activities are preliminary and not a conclusive sign of inappropriate behavior.

the big don bottleneck...,

once again on the upswing...,

Washington Post | A worldwide upsurge in a crime that officials say could stop trains, flood basements and darken homes has come to the Washington area, where this week's examples include the theft of a bus shelter roof.

The crime involves stealing copper, whether pipes, fittings or wiring. Authorities said the incidence of the thefts often rises with copper's price per pound, which has rebounded sharply in the past year to nearly $3.

In Fairfax City three major copper thefts were reported this week. On Thursday, police were told that a thief had filched the copper roof of a bus shelter at Jermantown Road and Carol Street. The same day, they said, "a large quantity" of wire was reported stolen from a Dominion Virginia Power storage yard in the 11100 block of Fairfax Boulevard. A similar theft was reported at the utility's substation in the 10500 block of Main Street.

In June 2008, with copper prices close to $4 per pound, theft soared around the world, and the consequences rippled through daily life.

As prices fell to about $1.30 in late December, pilferage appeared to decline. Now, in accounts from Australia to Atlanta and Canada to Cape Town, South Africa, officials say copper thieves appear increasingly active.

Friday, October 30, 2009

the victory of the commons

Yesmagazine | The biggest roadblock standing in the way of many people’s recognition of the importance of the commons came tumbling down when Indiana University professor Elinor Ostrom won the Nobel Prize for Economics.

Over many decades, Ostrom has documented how various communities manage common resources – grazing lands, forests, irrigation waters, fisheries— equitably and sustainably over the long term. The Nobel Committee’s recognition of her work effectively debunks popular theories about the Tragedy of the Commons, which hold that private property is the only effective method to prevent finite resources from being ruined or depleted.

Awarding the world’s most prestigious economics prize to a scholar who champions cooperative behavior greatly boosts the legitimacy of the commons as a framework for solving our social and environmental problems. Ostrom’s work also challenges the current economic orthodoxy that there are few, if any, alternatives to privatization and markets in generating wealth and human well being.

The Tragedy of the Commons refers to a scenario in which commonly held land is inevitably degraded because everyone in a community is allowed to graze livestock there. This parable was popularized by wildlife biologist Garrett Hardin in the late 1960s, and was embraced as a principle by the emerging environmental movement. But Ostrom’s research refutes this abstract concept with the real life experience from places like Nepal, Kenya and Guatemala.

“When local users of a forest have a long-term perspective, they are more likely to monitor each other’s use of the land, developing rules for behavior,” she cites as an example. “It is an area that standard market theory does not touch.”

Garrett Hardin himself later revised his own view, noting that what he described was actually the Tragedy of the Unmanaged Commons. Columbia University economist Joseph Stiglitz, also a Nobel winner, commented, “Conservatives used the Tragedy of the Commons to argue for property rights, and that efficiency was achieved as people were thrown off the commons…What Ostrom has demonstrated is the existence of social control mechanisms that regulate the use of the commons without having to resort to property rights.”

culture of "we" buffers genetic tendency toward depression

Physorg | A genetic tendency to depression is much less likely to be realized in a culture centered on collectivistic rather than individualistic values, according to a new Northwestern University study.

In other words, a genetic vulnerability to depression is much more likely to be realized in a Western culture than an East Asian culture that is more about we than me-me-me.

The study coming out of the growing field of cultural neuroscience takes a global look at mental health across social groups and nations.

Depression, research overwhelmingly shows, results from genes, environment and the interplay between the two. One of the most profound ways that people across cultural groups differ markedly, cultural psychology demonstrates, is in how they think of themselves.

"People from highly individualistic cultures like the United States and Western Europe are more likely to value uniqueness over harmony, expression over agreement, and to define themselves as unique or different from the group," said Joan Chiao, the lead author of the study and assistant professor of psychology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern.

In contrast, people from collectivist cultures are more likely to value social harmony over individuality. "Relative to people in an individualistic culture, they are more likely to endorse behaviors that increase group cohesion and interdependence," Chiao said.

Collectivist cultures may give individuals who are genetically susceptible to depression a tacit or explicit expectation of social support. "Such support seems to buffer vulnerable individuals from the environmental risks or stressors that serve as triggers to depressive episodes," Chiao said.

The study by Chiao and Northwestern graduate student Katherine Blizinsky, "Culture-gene coevolution of individualism-collectivism and the serotonin transporter gene," will be published online in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.

The study compared genetic frequency information and cultural value data across 29 countries (major European countries as well as South Africa, Eastern Europe, South Asia, East Asia and South America). The serotonin transporter gene (STG) that the researchers studied has two variants - a short allele and a long allele. In Western populations, the short allele leads to a phenotype of major depressive episodes when people who carry it experience multiple life stressors.

long-term anti-depressant drug use

Science Daily | A dramatic rise in antidepressant prescriptions issued by GPs has been caused by a year on year increase in the number of people taking antidepressant drugs on a long-term basis, according to researchers from the University of Southampton.

In a paper, published in the printed edition of British Medical Journal (BMJ), scientists found that despite a drop in the number of new patients diagnosed with depression over 11 years, the number of prescriptions doubled.

"We estimate that more than 2 million people are now taking antidepressants long-term over several years, in particular women aged between 18 and 30," comments Tony Kendrick, a professor in Primary Medical Care of the University's School of Medicine, who led the study.

The number of prescriptions issued per patient rose from 2.8 in 1993 to 5.6 in 2004.

Prescription Pricing Authority data shows that more than 30 million prescriptions for SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) such as Prozac and Seroxat, are now issued per year, twice as many as the early 1990s. Researchers at the University of Southampton found 90 per cent of people diagnosed with depression are now taking SSRIs either continuously or as repeated courses over several years.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

skewering warsocialist stupidity

the case for legalization

AlterNet | By any objective standard, marijuana prohibition is an abject failure.

Nationwide, U.S. law enforcement have arrested over 20 million American citizens for marijuana offenses since 1965, yet today marijuana is more prevalent than ever before, adolescents have easier access to marijuana than ever before, the drug is more potent than ever before, and there is more violence associated with the illegal marijuana trade than ever before.

Over 100 million Americans nationally have used marijuana despite prohibition, and 1 in 10 -- according to current government survey data -- use it regularly.

The criminal prohibition of marijuana has not dissuaded anyone from using marijuana or reduced its availability; however, the strict enforcement of this policy has adversely impacted the lives and careers of millions of people who simply elected to use a substance to relax that is objectively safer than alcohol.

NORML believes that the state of California ought to amend criminal prohibition and replace it with a system of legalization, taxation, regulation and education.

cali gwan legalize it....,

NYTimes | These are heady times for advocates of legalized marijuana in California — and only in small part because of the newly relaxed approach of the federal government toward medical marijuana.

State lawmakers are holding a hearing on Wednesday on the effects of a bill that would legalize, tax and regulate the drug — in what would be the first such law in the United States. Tax officials estimate the legislation could bring the struggling state about $1.4 billion a year, and though the bill’s fate in the Legislature is uncertain, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, has indicated he would be open to a “robust debate” on the issue.

California voters are also taking up legalization. Three separate initiatives are being circulated for signatures to appear on the ballot next year, all of which would permit adults to possess marijuana for personal use and allow local governments to tax it. Even opponents of legalization suggest that an initiative is likely to qualify for a statewide vote.

“All of us in the movement have had the feeling that we’ve been running into the wind for years,” said James P. Gray, a retired judge in Orange County who has been outspoken in support of legalization. “Now we sense we are running with the wind.”

spitting into the food superpower wind...,

NYTimes | The “cautiously optimistic” authors of the United Nations food report believe that humanity will somehow be able to produce more food while still honoring the value of other species by protecting their habitat. And it’s true that this is not a zero-sum game. A 70 percent increase in food production doesn’t necessarily mean a 70 percent reduction in habitat.

But the Food and Agriculture Organization also warns that agricultural acreage will have to grow by some 297 million acres, a little less than three times the size of California. Add to this the ongoing rate of habitat destruction — including deforestation, often for fuel but usually for producing more food — and other threats like the growing production of biofuels, and it is hard to argue that there isn’t a profound conflict between what our species will need to survive by 2050 and the needs of nearly every other species on this planet.

The question isn’t whether we can feed 9.1 billion people in 2050 — they must be fed — or whether we can find the energy they will surely need. The question is whether we can find a way to make food and energy production sustainable in the broadest possible sense — and whether we can act on the principle that our interest includes that of every other species on the planet.

insight for IQ fetishists..,

Nature | An anatomical signature for literacy.

Language is a uniquely human ability that evolved at some point in the roughly 6,000,000 years since human and chimpanzee lines diverged1, 2. Even in the most linguistically impoverished environments, children naturally develop sophisticated language systems3. In contrast, reading is a learnt skill that does not develop without intensive tuition and practice. Learning to read is likely to involve ontogenic structural brain changes4, 5, 6, but these are nearly impossible to isolate in children owing to concurrent biological, environmental and social maturational changes. In Colombia, guerrillas are re-integrating into mainstream society and learning to read for the first time as adults. This presents a unique opportunity to investigate how literacy changes the brain, without the maturational complications present in children. Here we compare structural brain scans from those who learnt to read as adults (late-literates) with those from a carefully matched set of illiterates. Late-literates had more white matter in the splenium of the corpus callosum and more grey matter in bilateral angular, dorsal occipital, middle temporal, left supramarginal and superior temporal gyri. The importance of these brain regions for skilled reading was investigated in early literates, who learnt to read as children. We found anatomical connections linking the left and right angular and dorsal occipital gyri through the area of the corpus callosum where white matter was higher in late-literates than in illiterates; that reading, relative to object naming, increased the interhemispheric functional connectivity between the left and right angular gyri; and that activation in the left angular gyrus exerts top-down modulation on information flow from the left dorsal occipital gyrus to the left supramarginal gyrus. These findings demonstrate how the regions identified in late-literates interact during reading, relative to object naming, in early literates.

genomics richard stallman?

The Scientist | In the future, Hubbard says that gene-prediction programs need to get good enough that they can find genes without the aid of experimental data or comparative genome analyses to guide them. “Because that’s cheating,” he says. “For example, an RNA polymerase does not go and look at the mouse genome when it’s working out whether to transcribe a particular stretch of human sequence. But that’s what many of our algorithms do now.” Instead, he says that annotation programs should take an RNA polymerase–eye-view of the sequence, modeling the biology closely enough to accurately locate and assess the activity of genes. As we move into an era of personal genomics, such an approach will be necessary for predicting the effect that a certain SNP variant might have on gene function. He and his team have had some early success, producing a transcription start-site predictor that nails about half the genes in a genome sequence with very few false positives.

Hubbard also spends quite a bit of time working on issues of open access and the economics of innovation. “Governments are spending all this money for research and then not maximizing its value because they’re not investing enough in making sure people can access and reuse that data,” says Hubbard, who has discussed these issues at meetings of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the World Health Organization. Much of this work he does in his spare time. “Other people go fishing,” laughs Birney. “Tim likes to reform international patent law and go to UN conferences to discuss how open-access agreements should be arranged to maximize the way science gets translated into meaningful outcomes.”

Those outcomes, of course, include potential improvements in the diagnosis and treatment of disease, which makes the issue more urgent and more fraught. “If you look at the health implications of all the work being done in genomics, the opportunities are tremendous and the obstacles are staggering—and a lot of those are political,” says Haussler. “I just have the ultimate respect for Tim, as he’s willing to move through those political hurdles and try to get things to happen.”

“In a way, Tim’s contribution to the scientific endeavor is a very interesting one and rather different from most scientists,” says EBI director Janet Thornton. “Although he’s had a hand in producing many of the big genome publications, his unique input lies in his broad perspective, his sense of fairness, and his openness to new ideas. His diplomatic efforts have really been fundamental in making these large-scale, collaborative genomics projects work—and in making the data available so that the science can be put to good use for biology and medicine around the world.”

“A lot of things can be done by one person with a computer,” adds Flicek. “If the Internet age taught us anything, it’s taught us that.”

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

national institute of food and agriculture

The Scientist | Historically short-shrifted by federal funding bodies, academic agricultural research was recently promised redemption: a federal funding agency of its very own that will award competitive grants in a fashion similar to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). But will the new agency, the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), be able to put public-sector agricultural science on an equal footing with biomedical research?

NIFA, to be administrated by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), was modeled after the government's other large science funding agencies -- the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Energy, and especially the NIH. Its mission is to fund research addressing several pressing issues ranging from increasing sustainable food production to bioenergy, food safety, and global climate change while encouraging a renaissance in agricultural research at universities across the country.

Unlike university-based biomedical research, however, which in general has enjoyed robust funding in the recent past, academic agricultural research has withered under a USDA that has traditionally meted out small, non-competitive grants to land grant universities, often at the behest of US legislators trying to direct funds to their home districts or states. The result is an intellectual landscape where much of the knowledge surrounding plant science and agriculture resides not in universities but in industry, locked behind the walls of large agribusinesses.

"We're starting at a different point with NIFA than the one at which we find ourselves at NIH," said Keith Yamamoto, a University of California, San Francisco, molecular biologist who serves as an advisor to the NIH and led the agency's recent efforts to revamp its peer-review process. "The current tilt in the fundamental knowledge about plants, their growth, and development is on the industry side and I would say that it's precisely because of the lack of resources on the public side," he told The Scientist. "It's the basic, fundamental information that needs to be in the realm of the public sector."

The disparity between private and public agriculture research becomes apparent when one considers data from the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Lists of recent patent holders in technology classes related to biomedicine -- surgery, drugs, prosthesis, etc. -- are replete with universities, which typically hold patents generated by publicly-funded research. Agricultural patents from 2004-2008, however, are overwhelmingly held by large agribusinesses such as Monsanto, DuPont, and Syngenta. In the USPTO's "Multicellular Living Organisms and Unmodified Parts Thereof and Related Processes" technology class (which includes genetically modified organisms), six companies -- Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Monsanto Technology, Stine Seed Farm, DuPont, Syngenta, and Mertec -- were awarded a total of 255 patents in 2008, while the Regents of the University of California system, which held the most patents in that technology class out of any university or university system last year, was awarded only six. Other technology classes relating to agriculture, such as "Plant Protecting and Regulating Compositions" and "Planting," have been devoid of university-held patents over the past 4-5 years.

That balance must be corrected, experts say, and NIFA may be key. "What's been missing so long in USDA is the forcing of competitive research ideas," said Martin Apple, president of the Council of Scientific Society Presidents who has been involved with the formation of NIFA since Congress created it in the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008. "The ace in the hole at NIFA is peer-reviewed research."

a molecule of motivation

NYTimes | If you’ve ever had a problem with rodents and woken up to find that mice had chewed their way through the Cheerios, the Famous Amos, three packages of Ramen noodles, and even that carton of baker’s yeast you had bought in a fit of “Ladies of the Canyon” wistfulness, you will appreciate just how freakish is the strain of laboratory mouse that lacks all motivation to eat.

The mouse is physically capable of eating. It still likes the taste of food. Put a kibble in its mouth, and it will chew and swallow, all the while wriggling its nose in apparent rodent satisfaction.

Yet left on its own, the mouse will not rouse itself for dinner. The mere thought of walking across the cage and lifting food pellets from the bowl fills it with overwhelming apathy. What is the point, really, of all this ingesting and excreting? Why bother? Days pass, the mouse doesn’t eat, it hardly moves, and within a couple of weeks, it has starved itself to death.

Behind the rodent’s fatal case of ennui is a severe deficit of dopamine, one of the essential signaling molecules in the brain. Dopamine has lately become quite fashionable, today’s “it” neurotransmitter, just as serotonin was “it” in the Prozac-laced ’90s.

People talk of getting their “dopamine rush” from chocolate, music, the stock market, the BlackBerry buzz on the thigh — anything that imparts a small, pleasurable thrill. Familiar agents of vice like cocaine, methamphetamine, alcohol and nicotine are known to stimulate the brain’s dopamine circuits, as do increasingly popular stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin.

In the communal imagination, dopamine is about rewards, and feeling good, and wanting to feel good again, and if you don’t watch out, you’ll be hooked, a slave to the pleasure lines cruising through your brain. Hey, why do you think they call it dopamine?

Yet as new research on dopamine-deficient mice and other studies reveal, the image of dopamine as our little Bacchus in the brain is misleading, just as was the previous caricature of serotonin as a neural happy face.


real unemployment at ~17%

Table A-12. Alternative measures of labor underutilization

  HOUSEHOLD DATA                                                                                                            HOUSEHOLD DATA

Table A-12. Alternative measures of labor underutilization


Not seasonally adjusted Seasonally adjusted


Sept. Aug. Sept. Sept. May June July Aug. Sept.
2008 2009 2009 2008 2009 2009 2009 2009 2009

U-1 Persons unemployed 15 weeks or longer, as a percent
of the civilian labor force....................... 2.3 4.9 5.3 2.4 4.5 5.1 5.1 5.1 5.4

U-2 Job losers and persons who completed temporary
jobs, as a percent of the civilian labor force.... 3.0 6.0 6.0 3.5 6.2 6.2 6.2 6.4 6.8

U-3 Total unemployed, as a percent of the civilian
labor force (official unemployment rate).......... 6.0 9.6 9.5 6.2 9.4 9.5 9.4 9.7 9.8

U-4 Total unemployed plus discouraged workers, as a
percent of the civilian labor force plus
discouraged workers............................... 6.2 10.0 9.9 6.5 9.8 10.0 9.8 10.1 10.2

U-5 Total unemployed, plus discouraged workers, plus
all other marginally attached workers, as a
percent of the civilian labor force plus all
marginally attached workers....................... 6.9 10.9 10.8 7.2 10.6 10.8 10.7 11.0 11.1

U-6 Total unemployed, plus all marginally attached
workers, plus total employed part time for
economic reasons, as a percent of the civilian
labor force plus all marginally attached workers.. 10.6 16.5 16.1 11.2 16.4 16.5 16.3 16.8 17.0

NOTE: Marginally attached workers are persons who currently are neither working nor looking for work but indicate that they want and
are available for a job and have looked for work sometime in the recent past. Discouraged workers, a subset of the marginally attached,
have given a job-market related reason for not looking currently for a job. Persons employed part time for economic reasons are those
who want and are available for full-time work but have had to settle for a part-time schedule. For more information, see "BLS intro-
duces new range of alternative unemployment measures," in the October 1995 issue of the Monthly Labor Review. Updated population con-
trols are introduced annually with the release of January data.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

food will never be so cheap again...,

Telegraph | Biofuel refineries in the US have set fresh records for grain use every month since May. Almost a third of the US corn harvest will be diverted into ethanol for motors this year, or 12pc of the global crop.

The world's grain stocks have dropped from four to 2.6 months cover since 2000, despite two bumper harvests in North America. China's inventories are at a 30-year low. Asian rice stocks are near danger level.

Yet farm commodities have largely missed out on Bernanke's reflation rally in metals, oil, and everything else. Dylan Grice from Société Générale sees "bargain basement" prices.

Wheat has crashed 70pc from early 2008. Corn has halved. The "Ags" have mostly drifted sideways over the last six months. This divergence within the commodity family is untenable, given the bio-ethanol linkage to oil.

For investors wishing to rotate out of overstretched rallies – Wall Street's Transport index and the Russell 2000 broke down last week – this is a rare chance to buy cheap into a story that will dominate the rest of our lives.

Barack Obama has not reversed the Bush policy on biofuels, despite food riots in a string of poor countries last year and calls for a moratorium. The subsidy of 45 cents per gallon remains.

The motive is strategic. America is weaning itself off imported energy at breakneck speed. It will not again be held hostage by oil demagogues, or humiliated by states that cannot feed themselves. Those Beijing students who laughed at US Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner may not enjoy the last laugh. The US is the agricultural superpower. Foes will discover why that matters.

evolutionary past determines how leadership is chosen

ScienceDaily | Why did Barack Obama win the US election and did the fact he is over six feet tall influence the voters? In a synthesis of research, published in Current Biology this month, the authors of the paper 'The Origins and Evolution of Leadership' argue that due to 'a hangover from our evolutionary past' factors like age, sex, height and weight play a major part in the determining our choice of leaders.

Author Professor Mark van Vugt, an Associate Member of the Institute for Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology at the University of Oxford, said: 'Traits like height, age, gender, masculinity/femininity, and weight all appear to matter when we vote for our leaders. These are likely hangovers from our evolutionary past -- ancestral leadership prototypes that are context-dependent. When we face particular threats, like war, these elicit particular prototypes, such as the need for a masculine leader. Therefore, leaders who match these ancestral prototypes have a better chance of being elected.'

The article says that although human societies continue to rely heavily on political, economic, military, professional and religious leaders to function effectively, there is a consistently high rate of leadership failure. Nearly three quarters of business failures in corporate America are due to managerial incompetence, the study points out. It asks whether new approaches might be useful in understanding when and why human leadership succeeds and fails -- including Nature's own lessons on what works best in different contexts.

Author Dr Andrew King, from the Zoological Society of London, said: 'Evolution has fashioned principles governing leadership and followership over many millions of years. We need to ground the complex, even mystical, social phenomenon of leadership in science. Through empirical observation, theoretical models, neuroscience, experimental psychology, and genetics, we can explore the development and adaptive functions of leadership and followership. This analysis of data, combined with an evolutionary perspective on leadership, might highlight potential mismatches so we can see how evolved mechanisms of leadership are possibly out of kilter with our relatively novel social Justify Fullenvironment.'

obama declares h1n1 a national emergency

NYTimes | President Obama has declared the swine flu outbreak a national emergency, allowing hospitals and local governments to speedily set up alternate sites for treatment and triage procedures if needed to handle any surge of patients, the White House said on Saturday.

The declaration came as thousands of people lined up in cities across the country to receive vaccinations, and as federal officials acknowledged that their ambitious vaccination program has gotten off to a slow start. Only 16 million doses of the vaccine were available now, and about 30 million were expected by the end of the month. Some states have requested 10 times the amount they have been allotted.

Flu activity — virtually all of it the swine flu — is now widespread in 46 states, a level that federal officials say equals the peak of a typical winter flu season. Millions of people in the United States have had swine flu, known as H1N1, either in the first wave in the spring or the current wave.

Although there has been no exact count, officials said the H1N1 virus has killed more than 1,000 Americans and hospitalized over 20,000. The emergency declaration, which Mr. Obama signed Friday night, has to do only with hospital treatment, not with the vaccine. Government officials emphasized that Mr. Obama’s declaration was largely an administrative move that did not signify any unanticipated worsening of the outbreak of the H1N1 flu nationwide. Nor, they said, did it have anything to do with the reports of vaccine shortages.

“This is not a response to any new developments,” said Reid Cherlin, a White House spokesman. “It’s an important tool in our kit going forward.”

Mr. Obama’s declaration was necessary to empower Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of Health and Human Services, to issue waivers that allow hospitals in danger of being overwhelmed with swine flu patients to execute disaster operation plans that include transferring patients off-site to satellite facilities or other hospitals.

h1n1 situation update

CDC | Each week CDC analyzes information about influenza disease activity in the United States and publishes findings of key flu indicators in a report called FluView. During the week of October 11-17, 2009, a review of the key indictors found that influenza activity continued to increase in the United States from the previous week. Below is a summary of the most recent key indicators:

Visits to doctors for influenza-like illness (ILI) increased steeply since last week in the United States, and overall, are much higher than what is expected for this time of the year. ILI activity now is higher than what is seen during the peak of many regular flu seasons.

Total influenza hospitalization rates for laboratory-confirmed flu are climbing and are higher than expected for this time of year.

The proportion of deaths attributed to pneumonia and influenza (P&I) based on the 122 Cities Report has increased and has been higher than what is expected at this time of year for two weeks. In addition, 11 flu-related pediatric deaths were reported this week; 9 of these deaths were confirmed 2009 H1N1, and two were influenza A viruses, but were not subtyped. Since April 2009, CDC has received reports of 95 laboratory-confirmed pediatric 2009 H1N1 deaths and another 7 pediatric deaths that were laboratory confirmed as influenza, but where the flu virus subtype was not determined.

Forty-six states are reporting widespread influenza activity at this time. They are: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. This many reports of widespread activity are unprecedented during seasonal flu.

Almost all of the influenza viruses identified so far are 2009 H1N1 influenza A viruses. These viruses remain similar to the virus chosen for the 2009 H1N1 vaccine, and remain susceptible to the antiviral drugs oseltamivir and zanamivir with rare exception.

self-help is not benign...,

WSJ | Self-help is not benign. The $11 billion industry can hurt you psychologically, it can hurt you financially and, as we see, it can hurt you physically. It can hurt your family and friends too.

Consider that today's increasingly popular "large group awareness training" (LGAT) incorporates tactics more commonly identified with psychological warfare. Facilitators bully attendees verbally and sometimes physically, call upon them to relive their worst experiences in humiliating detail in front of strangers, deprive them of sleep and even bathroom privileges—all in the name of self-actualization. In expert testimony in a 1992 lawsuit against the best-known of these LGATs, Landmark Forum (long a favored choice for corporate retreats), the clinical psychologist Margaret Singer observed that Forum "applies a number of powerful and psychologically disturbing, emotionally arousing and defense destabilizing techniques to large groups of people, in an intense, marathon-like period." How can this not have a catastrophic effect on people in a fragile emotional state—which is surely the case with a sizable contingent of those who seek out these "transformational" courses to begin with?

Other offerings, bracketed as "relationships therapy" or "assertiveness training," can wreak havoc on existing interpersonal bonds. Stories abound of couples whose marriages fell victim to gurus who celebrated promiscuity and "personal morality," or who chastised participants for their codependent (that is, caring and empathetic) ways.

Apologists argue that there are bad outcomes in any endeavor, that it's unfair to single out self-help when, say, conventional medicine kills thousands each year. The difference is that in medicine, practitioners share demonstrated expertise in methods that evolved over time and have been tested and retested for efficacy. A bad outcome in a field with proven benefits is unfortunate. A bad outcome in a field with little basis for existing in the first place is unforgivable. As noted psychologist Michael Hurd told me, "Gurus encourage these poor, already troubled souls to literally take leave of their senses, as if departing reason will somehow liberate you."

Meanwhile, the self-help industry continues to expand, with dozens of new gurus flooding the market each year, seeking their slice of the pie. Though modern self-help had its origins in works by classically trained psychiatrists like Eric ("Games People Play") Berne and his disciple Thomas ("I'm OK, You're OK") Harris, today's leading exponents have as much business trading in mental health as they do performing neurosurgery. They're snake-oil salesmen, pitching regimens that have never been validated.

Monday, October 26, 2009

grimm's reality tales...,

NYTimes | Over the past two years, government officials and experts have seen an increasing number of children leave home for life on the streets, including many under 13. Foreclosures, layoffs, rising food and fuel prices and inadequate supplies of low-cost housing have stretched families to the extreme, and those pressures have trickled down to teenagers and preteens.

Federal studies and experts in the field have estimated that at least 1.6 million juveniles run away or are thrown out of their homes annually. But most of those return home within a week, and the government does not conduct a comprehensive or current count.

The best measure of the problem may be the number of contacts with runaways that federally-financed outreach programs make, which rose to 761,000 in 2008 from 550,000 in 2002, when current methods of counting began. (The number fell in 2007, but rose sharply again last year, and the number of federal outreach programs has been fairly steady throughout the period.)

killer-ape targets

awol in the "good old days"...,

Sunday, October 25, 2009

epic fail...,

Reuters | On the auction block in Detroit: almost 9,000 homes and lots in various states of abandonment and decay from the tidy owner-occupied to the burned-out shell claimed by squatters.

Taken together, the properties seized by tax collectors for arrears and put up for sale last week represented an area the size of New York's Central Park. Total vacant land in Detroit now occupies an area almost the size of Boston, according to a Detroit Free Press estimate.

The tax foreclosure auction by Wayne County authorities also stood as one of the most ambitious one-stop attempts to sell off urban property since the real-estate market collapse.

Despite a minimum bid of $500, less than a fifth of the Detroit land was sold after four days.

The county had no estimate of how much was raised by the auction, a second attempt to sell property that had failed to find buyers for the full amount of back taxes in September.

The unsold parcels add to an expanding ghost town within the once-vibrant town known worldwide as the Motor City.

50% more brits behind on their energy bills

Telegraph | The number of people falling behind with fuel bills soared by nearly 50pc during the past six months, a charity warned today.

Citizens Advice said it had seen a 46pc increase in the number of people contacting it during the six months to the end of September who had fuel debts, compared with the same period of the previous year.

It said the rise continued a trend seen in recent years, with the number of people who were in debt to their fuel supplier jumping by 82pc since 2005/2006.

The majority of people who owed money on their energy bills in 2008/2009 were of working age, with only 5pc of people aged over 65.

Eight out of 10 people who were behind with their energy bills had incomes which were half the national average, with 32pc living off less than £400 a month, while a quarter of people with fuel debt had a disability.

David Harker, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: "We are already seeing large increases in the number of people in fuel debt and it is not yet winter.

"With fuel prices remaining at historically high levels it is essential that people get all the help that is available.

"Recent Government increases in Warm Front Grants and Cold Weather Payments will go some way towards helping but information on what help is available, targeted to those who are most vulnerable, must be a prime focus for the Government and energy companies."

the sun slowly sets on the west's oil men

Telegraph | “Oh somewhere in the $60 to $90 range for the foreseeable” – that was the consensus for the oil price that most energy executives milling around at the Oil & Money conference in London gave this week.

That is until John B Hess, the man whose father founded the $120bn oil-exploring Hess Corporation 76 years ago, shook up the room with his apocalyptic outlook for the world’s galloping energy consumption.

The price of $140 per barrel oil was not an aberration. It was a warning,” he started. Some home truths from Mr Hess followed:

1 ) About 85pc of the world’s energy comes from hydrocarbons. Renewable energy does not have the scale, timeframe or economics to materially change this outcome.

2) Oil demand growth will be unrelenting, increasing 1m barrels per day each year. But non-OPEC production is in the process of, if not peaking, reaching a plateau. And 73 pc of the countries that produce oil have already peaked.

3) The role of the national oil companies [most OPEC nations] is critical. They need to invest more or allow others to partner with them. We do not have the luxury of time.

4) We will ultimately be at risk of supply rationing demand through skyrocketing prices that will threaten economic stability and prosperity. If we do not act now, we will have a devastating oil crisis in the next 5-to-10 years.

5) Emissions targets to limit global warming to no more than two degrees are unrealistic. To meet this target, global annual CO2 emissions would have to be reduced from today by more than 80pc by 2050. With world population growth and rising living standards, holding global CO2 emissions flat by 2050 would be a huge achievement
in itself.

So how far do we believe his doom and gloom? He is, after all, a man who sells oil for a living, with an interest in talking up the world’s dependence on fossil fuels. It depends how much faith you have in reduced demand for oil through energy efficiency and electric transport, but on balance, the dire warnings do not seem outlandish.

growing restless....,

Bloomberg | An Exxon Mobil Corp. executive overseeing the company’s $15 billion liquefied-natural-gas project in Papua New Guinea was beaten and stomped by a mob of 50 people in a dispute over landowner contracts.

Noel Wright, Exxon Mobil’s development officer overseeing plans to build a gas-export complex in the South Pacific nation, has returned to “normal duties” after the Oct. 20 attack outside his hotel in the capital, Port Moresby, said Margaret Ross, a spokeswoman for the Irving, Texas-based company.

Ross declined to provide details on Wright’s injuries, which the Post-Courier newspaper in Port Moresby said were severe enough to require hospitalization. Wright was “severely punched” in the face, knocked to the pavement, kicked and stepped on during the incident, the newspaper reported on Oct. 21. The attackers’ attempt to haul Wright away in a waiting vehicle failed when police intervened, the Post-Courier said.

“The reported assault is under police investigation,” Ross said today in an e-mailed statement. “The PNG LNG project places a high priority on the safety and security of its personnel and facilities and has programs and measures in place to provide security and safeguards to protect its people and operations.”

The attack won’t deter Exxon Mobil, the world’s largest company by market value, from proceeding with the LNG project, Ross said. Exxon Mobil will adhere to plans to make a final investment decision by the end of December, she said.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

continuously less and less....,

click the image to enlarge its details

Continuously Less and Less
The fundamental enabler of our industrialized American way of life is continuous access to enormous quantities of inexpensive nonrenewable natural resources (NNRs)—energy resources, metals, and minerals. Unfortunately, future NNR supplies will be insufficient to perpetuate our American way of life, for both geological reasons and geopolitical reasons.

Geologically, an ever-increasing number of NNRs are near, at, or past their peak production levels; NNR supplies available to the US are or will soon be in terminal decline.

Geopolitically, our foreign NNR suppliers, who are also our competitors for remaining global NNR supplies, are becoming less willing to export their increasingly scarce NNRs to the US in exchange for our continuously devaluing US dollars and our unrepayable US debt.

Since our continuously declining domestic NNR supplies are woefully inadequate to enable our American way of life, and our imported NNR supplies will decline continuously going forward, we will experience permanent NNR supply shortfalls in the not-too-distant future that will cause American society to collapse. The following paper presents quantified evidence to support this contention.

The paper provides a comprehensive analysis of 58 nonrenewable natural resources for which the US Geological Survey and US Energy Information Administration keep current and historic production, pricing, and utilization data. Specifically, the paper assesses the extent to which nonrenewable natural resource (NNR) supplies available to America are becoming increasingly scarce, and the extent to which America is vulnerable to an imminent and permanent NNR supply shortfall associated with each of the 58 analyzed NNRs.

Finally, the paper discusses the implications associated with NNR scarcity and NNR supply shortfalls on our American way of life and American society.

Supporting data tables, NNR myths, and possible sources of error associated with the paper’s analyses and findings are provided in the appendixes.

art of the samurai

MMOA | This will be the first comprehensive exhibition devoted to the arts of the samurai. Arms and armor will be the principal focus, bringing together the finest examples of armor, swords and sword mountings, archery equipment and firearms, equestrian equipment, banners, surcoats, and related accessories of rank such as fans and batons. Drawn entirely from public and private collections in Japan, the majority of objects date from the rise of the samurai in the late Heian period, ca. 1156, through the early modern Edo period, ending in 1868, when samurai culture was abolished. The martial skills and daily life of the samurai, their governing lords, the daimyo, and the ruling shoguns will also be evoked through the presence of painted scrolls and screens depicting battles and martial sports, castles, and portraits of individual warriors. The exhibition will conclude with a related exhibition documenting the recent restoration in Japan of a selection of arms and armor from the Metropolitan Museum’s permanent collection. This will be the first exhibition ever devoted to the subject of Japanese arms and armor conservation.
Accompanied by a catalogue.

The exhibition is made possible by the Yomiuri Shimbun.

Friday, October 23, 2009

the speech obama needs to (but will not) give...,

The Oil Drum | As I’m sure all of you are painfully aware, the United States, along with the rest of the world, is in the midst of some of the most profound economic, environmental, and energy troubles ever experienced by modern civilization.

I understand the deep pain, anger, and confusion many of you are feeling at this moment, and I sympathize. My goal tonight is to try to clarify our situation a bit, and in doing so, perhaps channel some of those feelings towards more constructive ends.

The economic, environmental, and energy problems we are currently experiencing are not ultimately the fault of any one person, political group, ethnic group, religious group, country, or region. They go much deeper than that. They are, instead, manifestations of the ongoing conflict -- a war really -- between a finite planet and a human species with infinite aspirations.

In such a war -- a war we are waging against our very life-support systems -- we have no hope of winning. Our best hope is to, as quickly as possible, call off the war, regroup, and fundamentally restructure our society around the acceptance of our planet’s finite nature – around limits.

My words here are, no doubt, striking to you. These are not ideas commonly expressed in “polite” circles -- in the national print media, on television, in board rooms, in Congress, in addresses from the President. They are revolutionary. But they are true and they are necessary.

Let me use an analogy from my experience as a father. As children grow towards adulthood, one of the most painful experiences – for both the child and the parent – is the child’s slow realization and eventual acceptance of limits. Such an embrace of limits is, in fact, one of the hallmarks of “growing up.” My fellow Americans, we need to grow up.

We, as a species, are now bumping up against -- slamming into, really -- some very immutable biophysical limits on a global scale. These limits and the mounting consequences for their continued violation have been predicted and well documented by our best scientists for many decades -- complete with dire warnings for the consequences of failing to change our course.

We have not heeded these warnings and we are now suffering the predicted consequences. It is our own fault.

We have reached limits in two very real and dangerous senses. Firstly, our voracious material wants have outstripped the Earth’s physical limits -- hard limits on how much and how rapidly the Earth can provide us with material and energy resources to run our industrial lifestyles. A partial list of these increasingly scarce resources includes fossil and nuclear energy sources, freshwater for drinking and irrigation, phosphate fertilizer, and various key metal ores. Even theoretically renewable resources such as our ocean fisheries, fertile soil, and forest products are being destroyed by persistent abuse.

In short, we cannot have infinite wants on a finite planet. These were childish wishes.

Secondly, the almost-unimaginable volumes of waste arising from our industrial activities have overwhelmed the Earth’s waste-disposal systems. The list of accumulating toxins is long and growing: greenhouse gases, PCBs, mercury and other heavy metals, radioactive waste, various endocrine disruptors, silt from eroded forests and farmland, excessive fertilizer, pesticides, and antibiotics from industrial factory farms in our estuaries and drinking water, as well as many others I could list. Most notable among this shameful list are the greenhouse gases arising from our civilization’s terminal addiction to fossil fuels. These have accumulated in our atmosphere to such an extent that a potentially disastrous suite of climatic changes has already been initiated – changes that may ultimately endanger our very survival as a species.

We have fouled our nest. Again, we are guilty of childish behavior – mindless, reckless, and irresponsible.

The End of Growth
Having recognized these limits, we are immediately challenged to renounce one of our most cherished beliefs as a civilization -- the idea of continuous material growth.

u.s. joins ranks of failed states?

ICH | According to reports, the US Marines in Afghanistan use 800,000 gallons of gasoline per day. At $400 per gallon, that comes to a $320,000,000 daily fuel bill for the Marines alone. Only a country totally out of control would squander resources in this way.

While the US government squanders $400 per gallon of gasoline in order to kill women and children in Afghanistan, many millions of Americans have lost their jobs and their homes and are experiencing the kind of misery that is the daily life of poor third world peoples. Americans are living in their cars and in public parks. America’s cities, towns, and states are suffering from the costs of economic dislocations and the reduction in tax revenues from the economy’s decline. Yet, Obama has sent more troops to Afghanistan, a country half way around the world that is not a threat to America.

It costs $750,000 per year for each soldier we have in Afghanistan. The soldiers, who are at risk of life and limb, are paid a pittance, but all of the privatized services to the military are rolling in excess profits. One of the great frauds perpetuated on the American people was the privatization of services that the US military traditionally performed for itself. “Our” elected leaders could not resist any opportunity to create at taxpayers’ expense private wealth that could be recycled to politicians in campaign contributions.

Republicans and Democrats on the take from the private insurance companies maintain that the US cannot afford to provide Americans with health care and that cuts must be made even in Social Security and Medicare. So how can the US afford bankrupting wars, much less totally pointless wars that serve no American interest?

The enormous scale of foreign borrowing and money creation necessary to finance Washington’s wars are sending the dollar to historic lows. The dollar has even experienced large declines relative to currencies of third world countries such as Botswana and Brazil. The decline in the dollar’s value reduces the purchasing power of Americans’ already declining incomes.

An unmistakable sign of third world despotism is a police force that sees the pubic as the enemy. Thanks to the federal government, our local police forces are now militarized and imbued with hostile attitudes toward the public. SWAT teams have proliferated, and even small towns now have police forces with the firepower of US Special Forces. Summons are increasingly delivered by SWAT teams that tyrannize citizens with broken down doors, a $400 or $500 repair born by the tyrannized resident. Recently a mayor and his family were the recipients of incompetence by the town’s local SWAT team, which mistakenly wrecked the mayor’s home, terrorized his family, and killed the family’s two friendly Labrador dogs.

If a town’s mayor can be treated in this way, what do you think is the fate of the poor white or black? Or the idealistic student who protests his government’s inhumanity?

In any failed state, the greatest threat to the population comes from the government and the police. That is certainly the situation today in the USA. Americans have no greater enemy than their own government. Washington is controlled by interest groups that enrich themselves at the expense of the American people.

The one percent that comprise the superrich are laughing as they say, “let them eat cake.”

$400.00/gallon gas drives debate over afghan war

TheHill | The Pentagon pays an average of $400 to put a gallon of fuel into a combat vehicle or aircraft in Afghanistan.

The statistic is likely to play into the escalating debate in Congress over the cost of a war that entered its ninth year last week.

Pentagon officials have told the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee a gallon of fuel costs the military about $400 by the time it arrives in the remote locations in Afghanistan where U.S. troops operate.

“It is a number that we were not aware of and it is worrisome,” Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), the chairman of the House Appropriations Defense panel, said in an interview with The Hill. “When I heard that figure from the Defense Department, we started looking into it.”

The Pentagon comptroller’s office provided the fuel statistic to the committee staff when it was asked for a breakdown of why every 1,000 troops deployed to Afghanistan costs $1 billion. The Obama administration uses this estimate in calculating the cost of sending more troops to Afghanistan.

The Obama administration is engaged in an internal debate over its future strategy in Afghanistan. Part of this debate concerns whether to increase the number of U.S. troops in that country.

The top U.S. general in Afghanistan, Stanley McChrystal, reportedly has requested that about 40,000 additional troops be sent.
Democrats in Congress are divided over whether to send more combat troops to stabilize Afghanistan in the face of waning public support for the war.

Any additional troops and operations likely will have to be paid for through a supplemental spending bill next year, something Murtha has said he already anticipates.

Afghanistan — with its lack of infrastructure, challenging geography and increased roadside bomb attacks — is a logistical nightmare for the U.S. military, according to congressional sources, and it is expensive to transport fuel and other supplies.

t. boone speaks his mind...,

Reuters | Oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens told Congress on Wednesday that U.S. energy companies are "entitled" to some of Iraq's crude because of the large number of American troops that lost their lives fighting in the country and the U.S. taxpayer money spent in Iraq.

Boone, speaking to the newly formed Congressional Natural Gas Caucus, complained that the Iraqi government has awarded contracts to foreign companies, particularly Chinese firms, to develop Iraq's vast reserves while American companies have mostly been shut out.

"They're opening them (oil fields) up to other companies all over the world ... We're entitled to it," Pickens said of Iraq's oil. "Heck, we even lost 5,000 of our people, 65,000 injured and a trillion, five hundred billion dollars."

President Barack Obama has pledged to withdraw U.S. troops in Iraq.

"We leave there with the Chinese getting the oil," Pickens said.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

drop in foreclosures called "very scary"

DaytonDailyNews | Nobody is sure exactly how many bank walkaways are occurring. For various reasons, they can’t be identified in searches of public real estate and court data without individually pulling case files, experts say.

But nobody questions that they are on the increase.

David Rothstein, a researcher with Policy Matters Ohio, summarized the way they occur like this:

• The lender files a foreclosure, gets the foreclosure judgment in court, takes the property to sheriff’s auction but doesn’t bid on it if no one else does.

• The lender files as above, gets the judgment, sets the sheriff’s auction, then cancels the sale at the last minute.

• The lender files as above but then never requests a sheriff’s auction.

• The lender doesn’t even bother to file foreclosure.

All of these actions leave the foreclosed property in the hands of the original owner who, in many cases, has moved out and is unaware the lender hasn’t taken it.

One indicator of the trend in walkaways is the gap between the number of foreclosure filings by lenders and the number of properties actually sold at sheriff’s auction.

A Dayton Daily News analysis of Montgomery County records found that, through September, foreclosure filings are on a pace this year to decrease by 8 percent. Meanwhile, foreclosed properties sold at sheriff’s sale will be down more than 21 percent. Over the three years an average of 2,500 foreclosure filings have not made it to sale at auction.

A foreclosure filing may not make it to auction for a number of reasons, including owners coming up with the money or lenders working out deals with them. But, Rothstein said, the growing difference between filings and sales suggests walkaways are playing an increasing role.

“When we look at the numbers, it’s not like thousands of people are getting loan modifications that would lift them out of the foreclosure process,” he said. “So what’s happening to those other properties?”

american poverty higher than ever now

NYDailyNews | The level of poverty in America is even worse than first believed.

A revised formula for calculating medical costs and geographic variations show that approximately 47.4 million Americans last year lived in poverty, 7 million more than the government's official figure.

The disparity occurs because of differing formulas the Census Bureau and the National Academy of Science use for calculating the poverty rate. The NAS formula shows the poverty rate to be at 15.8 percent, or nearly 1 in 6 Americans, according to calculations released this week. That's higher than the 13.2 percent, or 39.8 million, figure made available recently under the original government formula.

That measure, created in 1955, does not factor in rising medical care, transportation, child care or geographical variations in living costs. Nor does it consider non-cash government aid when calculating income. As a result, official figures released last month by Census may have overlooked millions of poor people, many of them 65 and older.